Johnny Cuetowill not be a Cincinnati Reds’ pitcher come August 1st. The question is no longer if but when the right-handed ace gets traded by Cincinnati, and, just what is he going to be worth?
Cueto, a free agent after the season, will be owed less than $5 million over the rest of the season. He will not net the team that receives him a draft pick if he leaves in free agency, so does that mean the Reds won’t receive a generous package for him?
For comparisons sake, there have been a few free agency bound starters who were traded over the last several years:
Jon Lester was dealt by the Boston Red Sox to the Oakland Athletics, along with Jonny Gomes, last season for Yoenis Cespedes and a competitive balance (Round B) pick. Cespedes, an All-Star last season, was under team-control for 2015 ($10.5 million), but he was dealt to Detroit over the winter for RHP Rick Porcello, who was under control for 2015 before signing a four-year extension. Lester, 30 at the time of the trade, was a year older than Cueto, yet, he had six seasons with 190 or more innings pitched in his career, while Cueto only has two. Lester would leave Oakland for a six-year, $155 million deal with the Chicago Cubs after the 2014 season.
Zack Greinke was traded from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Los Angeles Angels in 2012 for Jean Segura, Johnny Hellweg, and Ariel Pena. Segura headlined the deal, ranking No.55 overall (by both MLB.com and Baseball America) prior to the 2012 season. He earned an All-Star appearance in 2013 and was a fixture at shortstop for the Brewers by August after the deal. Greinke was 29 at the time of the deal, the same age as Cueto, and had reached 200 innings in three seasons during his career at the time of the deal. Greinke signed a six-year, $147 million deal with the crosstown Los Angeles Dodgers after the 2012 season.
CC Sabathia was traded from the Cleveland Indians to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008 for Matt LaPorta, Zach Jackson, Rob Bryson, and a player to be named, who became Michael Brantley. LaPorta was the supposed prize of the package, as he ranked the No.23 prospect in baseball by Baseball America prior to the 2008 season. Sabathia would go on to sign his eight-year, $182 million deal with the New York Yankees after having shown himself as a dynamic workhorse with seven seasons with at least 180 innings pitched and a Cy Young award by the age of 27, when he was traded. The Indians have benefited most from Brantley, who was an All-Star for the first time in 2014, but LaPorta hasn’t been in the majors since 2012 and is now out of organized baseball after compiling a .238/.301/.393 line over 1,068 career plate appearances in MLB.
It is anyone’s guess as to what Cueto is actually worth; however, these deals provide a sort of blueprint for what the Reds could be seeking. Below are the names of some teams who are rumored to be interested in trading for the Reds’ ace, and some prospects who may interest Cincinnati.
Kansas City Royals
Raul Mondesi– ranked 27th by Baseball Prospectus, he has moved quickly through the minors and has more glove and speed than offensive production to this point; however, he has projectability in his ability to hit the ball. He would be a tremendous get for the Reds, though, they may have him spend some time in the minors to let his game even out a bit.
Miguel Almonte – Almonte doesn’t have eye-popping numbers like some prospects have in the minors, but he would be a solid addition to the Reds rotation by mid-2016. He has three solid offerings, including a change that he can use as a punch-out pitch. He was ranked as the No.56 prospect in baseball by Baseball Prospectus prior to the 2015 season.
Scott Blewett – A 6’6″, 19-year-old right-hander, Blewett possesses electric stuff. He is only in the short season South Atlantic League, so he is a project, but he has the kind of fastball that would make him a nice additional piece in a possible deal including either of the two players above.
Jorge Bonifacio – This 22-year-old outfielder hasn’t lived up to his potential to this point, but he has a dynamic arm for right field and plenty of power potential. He was rated as the No.90 prospect in baseball prior to the 2014 season, but saw his stock fall a bit due to some struggles in Double-A. Now repeating the level, Bonifacio has 18 doubles and 15 homers. Again, he isn’t a centerpiece in a Cueto deal, but he would be a solid piece.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Chris Anderson – The big (6’3″, 235 pounds) right-hander has the makings of an innings-eating, mid-rotation starter. He was a first round pick in 2013 out of Jacksonville University, and he would be someone who could help the Reds by the middle of the 2016 season, having already made 17 starts at Double-A. He has three potential above average pitches in his fastball, slider, and change.
Jose De Leon – The 22-year-old right-hander has catapulted himself into prospect watcher’s eyes by striking out 251 batters in just 171 innings since the start of the 2015 season. Ranked as the No.7 prospect in the Dodger system by Baseball Prospectus prior to the season, he will give Julio Urias a run for the money in a race to Los Angeles, and may have performed his way out of becoming a piece in a trade.
Toronto Blue Jays
Daniel Norris – The 22-year-old left-hander jumped four level, all the way to Toronto, by dominating at every stop last season. His reward was five starts to begin April with the Blue Jays before being sent down to work on his craft. He hasn’t dominated in Triple-A this season, but he has the stuff to be an asset in Cincinnati. He would be a tremendous addition, though his No.17 prospect ranking by MLB.com prior to the season could make him a long-shot.
Jairo Labourt – The 21-year-old lefty looked solid in the Futures Game. He has a fastball that can reach the mid-90’s and can miss bats (9.8 K:9 last season), but he needs to work on his command (5.2 BB:9 this season). He would make for an interesting project.
Anthony Alford – After giving up football, Alford has taken off this season. In 20 games since being promoted to High-A Dunedin, he has a .349/.406/.523 triple-slash with 10 extra-base hits and six stolen bases. As a center fielder with tremendous athleticism, he could take over the gig if Billy Hamilton continues to lack the on-base skills necessary to utilize his speed in the near future.
As we celebrate Independence Day in the United States, we feel that pounding in our chests from the explosions high above, while many of us listen or watch our favorite baseball teams and eat apple pie. It is the epitome of America in a single day, but many of us are reminded that our teams just aren’t doing enough to win. Some of our favorite teams will be seeking help to improve their chances of winning, while others will begin dumping talent to build a winner next year. With less than four weeks remaining until the non-waiver trade deadline, where does your team stand? Does the additional Wild Card opportunity continue to lead to many clubs standing pat? Who needs what and who could be on the market?
The standings tell an interesting story. In the American League, there isn’t a single team more than six games out of the Wild Card hunt. The Oakland Athletics feature a 38-46 record after some huge deals this winter haven’t truly materialized as Billy Beane hoped; however, the A’s are 13-7 over their last 20 games, so they may not be as willing to deal a Ben Zobrist or Scott Kazmir (both free agents after the 2015 season) to continue the club’s unending rebuild and collection of controllable talent. With other woulda-coulda-shoulda-been contenders just ahead of Oakland in Seattle, Boston, and Chicago, the American League could see plenty of clubs reloading rather than rebuilding when the deadline approaches.
In the senior circuit, the National League has its share of contending teams, but they also have four clubs sitting 11 or more games under .500 (Miami, Colorado, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia). Another team that is on the border of Wild Card contention could be Cincinnati, who sits six games out in the Wild Card; however, with the St. Louis Cardinals leading the Reds by 15 games, the team may need to begin looking into dealing Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Aroldis Chapman, and/or Jay Bruce to get back on the same page as their NL Central foes. Even if the Reds aren’t sellers, names like Cole Hamels, Aaron Harang, Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Dan Haren, and Mat Latos will likely head elsewhere from the four bottom-feeding clubs.
So, where could these names end up? Who are the contenders likely to make deals or stand pat?
St. Louis Cardinals
It isn’t an even year, so the Giants won’t be taking the World Series championship. That leaves the Cardinals, who have the best record in baseball, locked-in and ready to seek another title, utilizing the “Cardinal Way”, aka computer hacking, to make it happen. Though they continue to win games, St. Louis is without Matt Adams and Adam Wainwright for the entire season. With Jaime Garcia continuing to struggle to stay healthy, St. Louis could be in the market for another bat or arm. Stephen Piscotty could get a look if Mark Reynolds isn’t the option at first, but the Cards would be wise to shore-up the rotation a bit – just in case another injury strikes. They’re again loaded and talented, and they could take advantage of their strong farm to improve their chances once again.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are just three games out in the AL East and 1.5 games out in the Wild Card. With their lineup featuring so many capable sluggers, they just need some pitching to get over the hump. Toronto continues to develop strong pitching prospects, so they could offer some of that talent to acquire an arm for a big push down the stretch. The Blue Jays’ 4.59 starter ERA ranks 26th in MLB, and you have to wonder if Hamels, Kazmir, or Cueto could help the pitching staff enough to allow Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, and Edwin Encarnacion to do their thing with the bats.
New York Mets
The Mets’ pitching staff is too good for the club to run out a lineup of Triple-A and MLB bench quality players on a nightly basis. While the club isn’t going to deal their entire farm system and start from scratch, the Mets would be wise to deal some of their young pitching depth to acquire some semblance of an offensive weapon. The Troy Tulowitzki rumors were a big thing earlier this season, but that wouldn’t be enough to help this lineup on its own, especially when he’d be replacing one of the Mets major producers, Wilmer Flores (11 2B, 10 HR, leads team with 34 RBI), at short.
Chicago White Sox
Chicago would probably burn again if the White Sox trade Chris Sale. At just five games out in the Wild Card, the team isn’t going to fold after spending big on Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche, and David Robertson in free agency this past winter, and they still have Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu to produce in the lineup, along with a deep, strong rotation with Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Rodon, Jose Quintana, and John Danks joining Sale in the group. If the White Sox do anything, they could afford to get a second baseman, as the team has received a .193/.239/.232 from the keystone position this season, easily the worst in baseball.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are somehow managing to compete in the AL East this season, even after dealing with many injuries to their rotation to start the season. When Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Drew Smyly, and Jake Odorizzi are on the shelf at the same time, you, likely, wouldn’t expect the Rays to still be just three games out in the division and 1.5 games out of the Wild Card. While Tampa Bay could make a few upgrades, they aren’t really in a position to deal from their minor league system due to continued financial limitations, while they are likely to get production from a healthy Moore, Smyly, and Odorizzi in the second half, who will join Cy Young consideration worthy Chris Archer to squander the opposition and win plenty of games.
Whatever the club can manage to pry away to get rid of Ryan Howard and/or Chase Utley would be wise. This team is 27-55 entering play Saturday, well on their way to the first overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft. It has to be a miracle that Ruben Amaro, Jr. is still employed. He may be a great guy, but he has ruined this franchise for years to come. If the club can deal Hamels and get great prospects WHILE dumping Hamels salary and allowing the team to start fresh next winter, it would be wise to do so. Dealing Jonathan Papelbon to a contender would also be a great move, as a highly-paid closer on a team that doesn’t win games is an absolute waste of time and money.
I mentioned before that the Reds could stand pat, but they need to deal Cueto and get value out of him, as I wrote recently. Jay Bruce’s production could make him hard to deal, but the club has Marlon Byrd under contract next year (vesting or team option at $8 million) with Jesse Winker showing he isn’t over-matched in Double-A to fill in the spaces around Billy Hamilton. Perhaps there is a match with the White Sox with Brandon Phillips, though his contract is as steep as his age. The Reds are more likely to play on the moon than get a team to take on Joey Votto‘s contract, so they’ll need some cheap, controllable pieces to collect and pray for production from. With a payroll that continues to be labeled “small-market”, the Reds are in serious danger of being awful in the next couple of seasons without acquiring near-ready talent.
We’ve seen the arrivals and contributions of the Cubs’ Kris Bryant and, most recently, the Rangers’ Joey Gallo, but they won’t be the last of influential rookies to make splashes in Major League Baseball this year. With Maikel Franco, Addison Russell, Steven Souza, Jr., and Joc Pederson, youngsters will continue to create value in fantasy leagues this season. So…who is next?
Schwarber would be best served as a DH or first baseman, but with Anthony Rizzo in town and the Cubs residing in the NL, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Schwarber has done nothing but rake since being taken 4th overall in the 2014 draft. He isn’t much of a catcher, however, allowing a whopping 45 stolen bases in 31 games behind the dish. He could certainly provide more punch in the order than Chris Coghlan in left, but he hasn’t played a game in the outfield yet this season. With Jorge Soler’s recent injury, maybe the time for a transition is coming sooner than expected.
Sano is back at the hot corner after missing all of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery and he’s back to being a powerful producer in Double-A. While Trevor Plouffe has been providing some production at the Major League level, the Twins are in need of some help at the designated hitter spot. Sano’s ability to stay at third has long been debated, so plugging him in at DH would likely provide an upgrade to the .238/.289/.308 line that the Twins’ have received out of that spot in 2015. Sano ripped 35 homers at the age of 20, so it’s easy to see why he is someone to get excited about.
After some shoulder troubles in 2014, Berrios has been lights out this season. He continues to increase his strikeout rate, and, at just 21, looks like someone who can help a staff that is already 13th in starting pitcher ERA. Where the Twins lack talent is starters who can miss bats. The team has just 193 strikeouts (28th in MLB) and a .276 batting average allowed (second worst in MLB). The club has had an impressive season, but by adding Berrios down the stretch, they’d likely be adding a pitcher who is more capable of dominance than anyone on the club’s current staff.
Troy Tulowitzki is still the shortstop, even with the rumors flying that he could be dealt, but Story is more likely to develop his own narrative as the Rockies’ second baseman. The Rockies may have more interest in dealing the large contract that Tulowitzki has in order to rebuild, but D.J. LeMahieu, the club’s reigning NL Gold Glove winner at second, may be a nice asset, as well. Since he is arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason, he’ll likely be due a substantial raise thanks to his glove. However, his bat is playing up this season, as the 26-year-old is hitting .339/.394/.495 after posting a .276/.314/.361 line over his first 1,281 career plate appearances. Story could handle the keystone position, allowing the Rockies to clear LeMahieu and his increasing salary and surprising bat. After looking at what Story has done, he’ll be another fine offensive force for the thin-air aided Rockies.
The Blue Jays continue to develop talented pitchers and Boyd could be the next to arrive. Since being drafted out of Oregon State, Boyd has dominated the minors. He is a crafty lefty who works 88-90 with a solid change and curve. He will look the part of Mark Buehrle and could replace the aging lefty in the Blue Jays rotation when Buerhle reaches free agency after the season. He may not be an ace, but Boyd certainly knows how to pitch, and with those bats behind him, he just needs to take the next step to Toronto to continue his mature pitching approach.
Of the many reasons that Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. has been mocked, one of the larger reasons was the fact that Nola wasn’t invited to spring training. It seems like a strange thing to be ridiculed over, but Nola was certainly deserving of a long look considering the club’s lack of MLB-ready talent. The right-hander hasn’t disappointed in 2015, showcasing his talent at the minor league level. While he won’t get much help from the so-called talent on the Philadelphia roster, he does have enough to be a serviceable option for the Phillies right now.
While the club is only 5.5 games out, the recent deal that sent Mark Trumbo to Seattle is a tell-tale sign of things to come in Arizona. The Diamondbacks don’t have the talent to compete with the Giants, Dodgers, and Padres in the NL West. While O’Brien wouldn’t make the team contenders, he certainly provides more offensively than the likes of David Peralta and Ender Inciarte in an outfield corner. He got a case of the yips this spring, unable to return the ball to the pitcher from the catcher spot, so he is likely in the outfield to stay. He has power that will only play up in the desert, so continue to expect impressive power, though the batting average totals are likely to slip as he adjusts to MLB pitching.
Matz somehow gets lost in the shuffle when the Mets’ young pitching is discussed. With Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, and Zack Wheeler already reaching the majors, it’s fair to wonder when Matz will get his shot. After dominating since he has returned from Tommy John surgery, Matz is likely the next arm to be called upon – should the Mets have a need. He is a hard-throwing lefty whose stuff seems to continue to gain traction. After missing all of 2010, 2011, and most of 2012, he has been creating a track that leads directly to the Mets rotation. It won’t be long before he gets that shot, which will make the Mets a viable threat in the playoffs with Harvey, Colon, deGrom, and Matz to deal with in a series.
Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks!
Toronto Blue Jays
2015 Projected Record: 83-79 (3rd in AL East, 11th in MLB)
Manager: John Gibbons (462-472 in seven seasons with Toronto)
Saunders has battled injuries throughout his career, but there is quite a bit of unlocked potential within him that could burst out in the tremendous lineup that the Blue Jays possess. Even after having knee surgery in February, Saunders will get enough plate appearances to carve out value. In his native Canada, he could find levels of comfort that he wasn’t able to in Seattle, and at just 28, he has his prime and a solid power/speed combination to become another offensive force in Toronto.
Sanchez was electric out of the bullpen in 2014, posting a 1.09 ERA and 0.70 WHIP over 33 innings and 24 appearances. He has electric stuff, but the inability to control it, as well as some shoulder issues, have led to a cautious approach from Toronto, but it still wasn’t enough to keep him from making his debut at 21. Now, seemingly locked into a rotation spot, Sanchez will have an opportunity to shine as a starter. It won’t always be pretty, especially with the potential for high walk totals, but he has enough stuff to warrant roster consideration in any and all formats.
Offseason Overview: Possibly the biggest addition a team could have made this winter was signing C Russell Martin, as his pitch framing and ability to produce solid offensive numbers impact the roster tremendously. If you consider the power and punch in the lineup, you’ll see that his true value will lie in his ability to work with the pitching staff. While Josh Thole will likely remain R.A. Dickey‘s personal catcher, Martin could play aÂ hugeÂ role in the success and maturation of Opening Day starter Drew Hutchison (23), RHP Aaron Sanchez (21), and LHP Daniel Norris (21). The Jays lost 1B/DH Adam Lind to Milwaukee, they were able to sign former can’t-miss prospect Justin Smoak to an affordable deal, while handing the center field job over to Dalton Pompey after Colby Rasmus left via free agency. Adding Josh Donaldson was a coup to an already incredible offense, and his defense is just as stellar as the bat.
The Verdict: The loss of Marcus Stroman really hurt the rotation. As much as I, personally, wanted Aaron Sanchez to be a starter, he isn’t ready, and he would have been better served in the bullpen until the club knew that he had harnessed his stuff. That isn’t to say that who is around isn’t valuable. Hutchison should come into his own this season, and Dickey and LHP Mark Buehrle are about as sure a bet as you can get to penciling in 200 innings and 32 starts. With Norris and Sanchez as high potential wild cards, the Toronto rotation will certainly be worth monitoring. The offense is outrageously talented. Adding Donaldson to Edwin Encarnacion and Bautista makes the Blue Jays lineup an absolute nightmare for opposing pitchers. The AL East will continue to be a demanding division, but the Jays are heading in the right direction. They have plenty of major league talent and are utilizing their system to acquire more of it, as they did with Donaldson. The 83 wins seem about right, but, with Martin leading the pitching staff, 87 and contending for a wild card spot is within reason.
When I search minor league stats, I look for strikeouts and WHIP leaders out of guys with solid frames at pitcher, solid plate discipline, gap power, and speed out of hitters. I am not a scout that can go to games, but I tend to find some pretty interesting talent on numbers alone, and while you can’t judge projection much while just using numbers, players have to produce to move up. Working with numbers alone worked for Billy Beane, right? Here is a list of some players to get to know or keep an eye on based on their production.
Not since Tony Cingrani dominated the California League to the tune of a 1.11 ERA and 0.92 WHIP over 10 starts in 2012 have the Reds had a pitcher doing what Lively is doing this season. Since being drafted out of Central Florida last season, the 6’4″ right-hander has done nothing but dominate at each stop. The control is legit and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him jump to Double-A Pensacola in the next couple of weeks, moving him on the fast tracks to the majors, while joining Robert Stephenson as a member of the Blue Wahoo rotation.
Bowman is a Princeton product and, if nothing else, his intelligence could lead to long-term success; however, he seems to have some talen, as well. He is creently dominating Double-A for the Mets and continuing in his ability to keep runners off the base paths at every stop. With his continued ability to throw strikes, the Mets could team Bowman with Rafael Montero in New York to have young, strike-throwing machines within the rotation.
He’s left-handed and breathing, so he will get a long look, but Boyd has posted some pretty impressive numbers in his brief professional career. The strikeout totals are impressive for a southpaw, and it will be interesting to see how quickly the Blue Jays move him considering his collegiate pedigree.
Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler get a lot of hype for their abilities, results, and projection within the Rockies’ system, but Winkler continues to post solid strikeout totals and numbers in tough environments on his way up the organizational ladder. His early-season results have been quite impressive once again, as he gets a longer look at Double-A after making just five starts in Tulsa in 2013.
A 6’3″ right-hander out of Ohio University, Streich has put up solid numbers in the challenging pitching environment of the California League in the early-going of 2014. Improved strikeout numbers are evident, but, most importantly, he is keeping the ball in the park. With the A’s having to deal with injuries to Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin this season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them push some of their college arms who are posting solid numbers.
Merrit’s early-season success is very impressive, particularly the one earned run in 24.1 innings. He doesn’t miss enough bats to be considered an elite prospect within the Tribe system, but if he continues to keep runs off of the board, perhaps he could be a solid back-end of the rotation starter. You could view him as a Tommy Milone-like arm.
Another solid pitching prospect for an absolutely loaded system, Gonzales is a southpaw out of Gonzaga on the fast track to St. Louis. With a lack of left-handed options within the Cardinals’ rotation due to the constant shoulder woes of Jaime Garcia, his selection was a wise choice for the perennial contenders. Gonzales will be a solid addition to the Cardinal rotation, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the youngster end up making a dozen starts in Double-A this season.
At just 6′, 175 pounds, Landazuri is going to have to overcome the same “too short” labels that have landed upon Roy Oswalt, Johnny Cueto, Kris Medlen, and flame-throwing rookie Yordano Ventura. When he isn’t pitching in a challenging environment (like the Northwest League and the California League), Landazuri has posted very impressive numbers. Now, a younger-than-average starter in Double-A, the righty is striking out more than a batter per inning and keeping the opposition from getting on with just 4.7 hits per nine innings and a 0.65 WHIP after four starts. He’s someone to watch within the Mariners rotation in 2014, as they try to work through injuries to Hashashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton.
Pinder, a shortstop at Virginia Tech, has moved to second base this season and he has produced solid numbers in the early-going in the hitter-friendly Cal League. His 17 extra-base hits in just 24 games is impressive for anyone, let alone a middle infielder. With Eric Sogard occupying second at the major league level, Pinder could be a viable long-term option for the A’s in the next couple of seasons. Another few weeks of this type of production, and Pinder could be moved to Double-A very quickly.
Everyone should already know his name thanks to his 40 home runs at the age of 19 in his first full season. The fact that he is showing some semblance of plate discipline this season while still showcasing his elite-level power makes Gallo one of the top prospects in the minor leagues right now. With so many slugging, elite prospects suffering through injuries this season (Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Javier Baez are all currently disabled), Gallo will shoot up mid-season prospect lists with similar months. His long-term outlook will only beam brighter due to his ballpark and offensive projection for the Rangers.
Due to Gary Sanchez being in Double-A, O’Brien was forced to return to the Florida State League, but he hasn’t disappointed, posting solid power numbers in Tampa, though, he is a bit old for the league at this point. O’Brien’s ability to hit for power should make him a decent option for, at least, a backup catching spot. He’d likely have a better career than J.P. Arencibia, who could hit for power and couldn’t walk at the same clip that O’Brien has over his brief career. If he continues to hit like he has, the Yankees may move him off of catcher or use him as trade bait.
Another solid hitter found by the St. Louis Cardinals scouting department out of the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, Rodriguez has handled the corner infield positions throughout his minor league career, but he has only played first in 2014. With Matt Adams ahead of him, another season of solid production will likely make him trade bait for St. Louis. Solid gap power, a solid approach, and good contact skills will make this right-handed bat a decent platoon player in a worst case scenario.
The Rangers system may not be as loaded as it was in years past due to the failure of so many elite prospects in 2013 in Hickory with their huge strikeout numbers, but Rua can’t be grouped in with those players any longer. He is raking in Double-A now, skipping the High-A level with his assignment this season and his brief promotion last year. There seems to be his continued power with early improvements in his plate discipline, and with Adrian Beltre potentially becoming a free agent after 2015 (he has a $16 million vesting option for 2016), Rua could be Gallo to the hot corner in Texas.
Betts is already nothing more than trade bait in Boston, given that he profiles as a second baseman and Dustin Pedroia has that spot locked down through 2021. Betts has incredible bat-to-ball skills, tremendous plate discipline, and solid speed. With his early-season production in Double-A at the age of 21, the Red Sox may be able to utilize this chip for an elite addition if they are making another playoff run in 2014.
I love this guy’s name and he has some intriguing tools that could even play in Seattle. His plate discipline isn’t elite, but there is enough there to be , and he has enough power and speed in his 6’5″ frame to be a very good producer, and, after being selected three times in the draft, he must have something in his game to make him an intriguing name to follow.
The beginning of the season is full of hope and joy…and when reality sets in, that hope and joy can become fear and anger. It makes fans begin to second guess their team’s season after just four games in a 162-game season. Although the first week isn’t officially over, there are already players who have developed a following of Twitter rage, a second guessing that doesn’t allow for patience, and the fear that could result in a player being added to a sell-low trade in their fantasy league after just 12 to 25 at-bats. These players have become the talk of their respective towns for the wrong reasons.
Even after spending the offseason tinkering with his swing, Upton’s ability to make contact has seemed to completely vanish. Upton has gone from a 4.5 (2007) and 4.8 (2008) WAR player to having a -0.6 WAR in 2013 when he hit .184 and had a 56 wRC+. In just the second year of a five-year, $75.2 million deal with Atlanta, the outfielder, who will turn 30 in August, certainly hasn’t provided anything close to what he has been paid by Braves brass. Although it is early in the season, this type of production, or lack there of, will only force the Braves into difficult choices – like moving Evan Gattis to left while playing Jason Heyward in center and Justin Upton in right, while giving Christian Bethancourt some at-bats behind the plate – allowing Upton an opportunity to continue to alter his swing or pray to the baseball gods for some sort of guidance in what appears to be a hopeless adventure.
Can He Rebound?: Upton has had success in the past, but after his failures in 2013, it’s fair to wonder if the tools that made him a half-way decent player have eroded to the point that he can’t be considered a toolsy player anymore. If he doesn’t have tools, he can’t produce. He has talent around him to hide his issues, potentially seeing more fastballs due to the presence of Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman protecting him in the Atlanta order. I can see him rebounding, but he never was a .300 hitter. Even reaching .250 is going to be a chore, but the power and speed combination is always worth waiting on. The Braves paid a lot for him, so he’ll get a long look.
Did anyone think that Hamilton was going to hit .368 like he did in his September call-up last season after he managed to hit just .256 in Triple-A prior to the promotion? You gotta love the golden quote from “classy” St. Louis beat writer Derrick Goold on Hamilton, but his sarcasm and mocking ways aren’t all that different from Reds fans, who are already pretty upset with the breeze that Hamilton is creating near the Ohio River. During Wednesday night’s game, Hamilton’s bunting skills were quite questionable, as well, going directly to Michael Wacha and Matt Carpenter with consecutive attempts – DIRECTLY. I was talking to my wife and said the same thing that Goold said, in a different way: “Speed doesn’t matter when it’s walking back to the dugout.” Maybe Hamilton is trying to hit the ball to the gaps, maybe he is feeling the pressure of replacing an All-Star after the departure of Shin-Soo Choo…Regardless, what he is doing isn’t working, and after injuring his finger on his stolen base attempt on Friday night in New York, hitting may be even more difficult until he is 100 percent.
Can He Rebound?: Hamilton didn’t prove anything in Triple-A last season to overcome the questions in his bat. His speed helps his defense play up, but it doesn’t do anything until he starts getting on base. No one has ever had 200 hits while getting 200 bunt singles in a season, and that won’t happen this year either. Don’t be shocked to see his struggles continue, leading to Chris Heisey and Roger Bernadina manning center while Hamilton refines his craft in Louisville. He will need to get it going quickly there, as well, as Phillip Ervin could easily replace him as the center fielder of the future in Cincinnati.
When considering that this is a contract year for Rasmus, this certainly isn’t the start that he was hoping for. After posting the highest WAR of his career in 2013 (4.8), things were looking up. With Rasmus, though, the swing and miss in his game can overshadow the large, end-of-year counting stats. At one time, Rasmus had a .361 on-base percentage and walked in nearly 12 percent of his at-bats…but that was in 2010, and Rasmus’ patience has seemed to drop while his power numbers ballooned and his defensive skills increased. Which Colby Rasmus is going to show up in 2014? That really can’t be answered, but if he is going to cash-in on his free agency after the season, he needs to get those numbers back to last year’s really quick-like.
Can He Rebound?: Rasmus, like Upton, has a lot of talent around him in Toronto. He has always had crazy abilities, but the makeup has been questioned due to his run-ins with Tony LaRussa and his defensive numbers looking so week prior to 2013. The power is legit and the payoff for success will be huge due to the lack of center field depth in free agency after the 2014 season. It would be easier to see Rasmus rebounding if he wasn’t struggling so much with making contact, while also seeing drops in his plate discipline numbers. He’s at the right age for a huge breakout, and I can see him hitting 30 home runs in 2014, but it won’t always be pretty.
With Roy Halladay retired and Cole Hamels on the disabled list due to shoulder woes, there was a lot expected of the Phillies’ No.1 starter this season. Even though he earned the win, in spite of allowing eight earned runs in five innings (KILL THE WIN!!!), the fans of Philadelphia can’t be pleased with how Lee looked on Opening Day. However, Lee rebounded tremendously this afternoon against the Cubs, tossing seven scoreless innings (10 hits, 6:0 K:BB) to make things a little more “normal” with a 6.00 ERA. Some may warn that the successful outing was due to the opponent, but Philly fans should anticipate more outings like Saturday’s going forward.
Johnson has been, quite possibly, the worst development of the first week of the season. He had faced all of 12 batters and NINE of them had reached base – five of them scoring – heading into Saturday. He did get through an inning today while striking out two, allowing zero runs (hooray!), and allowing only one hit. After imploding in his first two appearances, it was fair to wonder if the A’s would give him the ball in the next save situation, especially with a solid bullpen in Oakland. Today was proof that they aren’t giving up on hit just yet, and with a $10 million salary for this season, it seems very unlikely that Johnson will lose his job too quickly.
Can He Rebound?: Johnson blew nine saves in 2013, lost eight games, and still managed an ERA under 3.00 while closing 50 games out for Baltimore. In fact, he has 101 saves since the start of the 2012 season. This was a lot of money for a team like Oakland to spend on a closer, which leads me to two conclusions: 1) The A’s will win a lot of games this season, and 2) Jim Johnson will remain the closer.
After acquiring R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and Melky Cabrera through trades and free agency prior to the 2013 season, it would have been easy to assume that the Toronto Blue Jays would become contenders in the American League East – immediately. With Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion already on board offensively, the Jays possessed a dynamic offense, and the added pieces to the rotation and the top of the order seemed like enough to help Toronto find their way back to the early-1990’s glory days.
Instead, the Jays went 74-88, 23 games back of the Boston Red Sox, battling Justin Bieber for the title of Biggest Canadian Train-wreck of 2013.
Johnson is now in San Diego and the Jays look to be struggling to develop a solid rotation around Dickey and Buehrle, as Brandon Morrow, who has battled numerous injuries and ailments over the last couple of seasons, Esmil Rogers, J.A. Happ, Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, and Todd Redmond will battle to fill out the remainder of the Jays rotation in 2014. For that reason, the Jays will likely need to win games by outscoring the opposition.
How can the Jays fix their already present issues?
First, the club needs to move Brett Lawrie back to second base. Ryan Goins, Brent Morel, and Maicer Izturis are currently listed on the club’s depth chart for second, and Lawrie would obviously be a huge offensive upgrade. Lawrie played 249 games at second in the minors and did a nice job fielding the position. If he were to stay healthy and live up to his lofty expectations, he would produce at an All-Star level offensively, likely becoming a fantasy darling and very valuable within the sabermetric community due to his ability to run – and his athletic ability should allow him to thrive as an up-the-middle player, once again.
Obviously, third base would then be open if the Jays moved Lawrie back to second. Edwin Encarnacion played the position horrendously in Cincinnati, but Toronto could move Jose Bautista back to third. Bautista has played all of 21.1 innings at third since 2011 and he posted negative value at the position in his career, but with such low expectations from the current options at second base, Bautista’s negative influence at third could still be smaller than what the Jays will likely receive from Goins, Morel, and/or Izturis.
To be honest, one of the major reasons that this move makes sense is because of the outfield options that the Blue Jays have. Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra could provide value to the club if either player was given a full-time opportunity, and both warrant a longer look than what they will likely be given due to the current lineup alignment.
Gose is just 23 and has two years of experience at the major league level, as he has 342 plate appearances in Toronto. Gose has over 900 plate appearances at Triple-A, though, and while he has a lot of swing and miss in his game, he seems to have a lot of similarities to Michael Bourn with a lesser hit tool. Tremendous speed and defensive skills will be his calling card, but he does have some power, as well. Giving him a bigger role in 2014 will allow the Jays to have a better idea of options on-hand for the 2015 offseason, as center field will be very weak and the club could lose Colby Rasmus on the open-market.
Sierra, 25, has shown some power at the major league level, posting an .827 OPS (126 OPS+) in 35 games in 2013, including 14 walks in 122 plate appearances after walking all of 17 times in 422 minor league plate appearances last season. The power seems legit, though, as Sierra ripped 46 home runs in 1,395 minor league plate appearances since the start of 2011. He profiles nicely as a corner outfielder, and, while he doesn’t have elite speed, he seems to understand how to utilize the skills that he does possess (77 stolen bases in his minor league career). Maybe he was just bored in the minors and it led to his horrific approach?
Of course, maybe the offense wouldn’t have to be manipulated in any way to improve the team’s chances if the Blue Jays signed another starting pitcher or two. Considering that the Jays’ 9th overall and 11th overall picks in the 2014 MLB Draft are both protected, why weren’t they more aggressive in the top-flight pitcher market? They would, essentially, be giving up a second round pick for a player who is tied to compensation, and their win-now approach, evident from their trades last offseason, warrants that type of investment.
It wouldn’t be too surprising for the Jays to settle on a one-year deal with Ervin Santana, just to show some kind of effort this offseason. A better option, however, would likely be Cuban right-hander Odrisamer Despaigne, whose unfamiliarity with the league would at least allow for early success – if he were dropped immediately into the rotation. Other options at this point are not good – Joe Saunders, Barry Zito, Clayton Richard, Jeff Niemann, Jason Marquis, Jeff Karstens, Jair Jurrjens, Johan Santana, and Jon Garland are all that remain of major league free agent starters, while Brett Myers “could” be tried in that role once again after failing horrifically due to injuries with the Cleveland Indians in 2013.
Outside of changing the team’s offensive alignment or signing a free agent starter, the Blue Jays appear to be heading towards another last place finish in the AL East. The Yankees and Orioles made some interesting additions, the Rays re-upped with James Loney and have their core intact, and the Red Sox are only the defending champions. After mortgaging the clubs future (Noah Syndergaard, Travis d’Arnaud, Justin Nicolino, Henderson Alvarez, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Jake Marisnick) to make a run in 2013, the quiet offseason should be disappointing to fans. After altering the competitive window, the club is now just out there in the land of mediocrity – not strong enough to truly contend and not bad enough to win the Carlos Rodon sweepstakes in 2014, and whoever the top player in 2015 will be sweepstakes, as well.
Marcus Stroman is nearly ready for the rotation, but the Aaron Sanchez‘s and Roberto Osuna‘s are too far away for the Jays to count on in 2014. After dealing so many of their near-ready prospects last year, the only way to salvage the season is to give Moises Sierra and Anthony Gose a larger role, while increasing the team’s ability to outscore their opposition.