The Royals Should Have Sold at the Trade Deadline

royals core four
Three of the Royals “core four” (Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas, left to right. Alcides Escobar not pictured) say goodbye to Kansas City in what was likely their last game wearing Royals blue. (Photo Courtesy: MLB)

Eleven years ago, Dayton Moore became the General Manager of the Kansas City Royals. He said that he had an eight-to-ten year plan that involved building up the farm system and making a 25-man roster of homegrown players. He would do this through drafting and smart trades (i.e. shipping away Zack Greinke to Milwaukee) rather than signing high-priced free agents. He wanted a team that was developed on chemistry. He assured the fans that it wasn’t just a .500 team that he was aiming for, but promised a World Series Championship. Fans became impatient waiting for things to change. They complained about the players whom the Royals could’ve drafted, but hindsight is 20/20.

In 2014, those complaints would all be for naught as things finally took a turn for the better. After a surge in August, the Royals found themselves in playoff contention. Backed by homegrown players like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo CainAlcides Escobar, and Salvador Perez, the Royals won the AL Wild Card and eventually the AL Pennant, leading to their first World Series appearance since 1985. They were unsuccessful in their pursuit of a title that year, but would eventually repeat as AL Champs in 2015 and after defeating the New York Mets in five games, would bring the World Series trophy back to Kansas City for the first time in 30 years. That eight-to-ten year plan that Moore promised? It was spot on. Through drafting and smart trades, he built up a farm system of core players who grew up and developed together from the minors to the majors.

Of course, those good times wouldn’t last into 2016, as they finished 81-81 and in third place in the AL Central. This was due to a number of factors, though the injury bug greatly plagued the Royals that year. Third baseman Mike Moustakas only played in 27 games, Lorenzo Cain only played 103, and Alex Gordon’s offensive decline began in the first year of a 4yr/$72M contract. On top of that, they had major inconsistency in the rotation, having nine different pitchers start games, and only combining for a 4.50 ERA.

They had the same relative misfortunes in 2017. Despite career years from Hosmer and Moustakas (more on that later), they finished in third place in the AL Central once again, this time at 80-82. Alex Gordon’s decline continued, this year slashing .208/.293/.315 and a dreadful 62 OPS+. In addition to that, their pitching staff was, for lack of a better phrase, real bad. They had a team ERA of 4.61, ranking tenth out of 15 teams in the AL, with a team ERA+ of 97 (with 100 being the league average). They traded closer Wade Davis to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Jorge Soler. The logic of the trade was that Davis was in a contract year and Soler had four years of team control and untapped potential. Soler would end up being…well, we’ll call it “unsatisfactory.” The 25 year old disappointment would play in 35 games and hit .144/.245/.258 with an OPS+ of 34. No, that can’t be right. 34 is way too low. No one could be that bad.

Double checks.

Triple checks.

Quadruple checks.

Nope. That is right. An OPS+ of 34. I need to go lie down.

To be fair, it wasn’t all bad for the 2017 season. On the morning of the trade deadline, the Royals were 55-48 and had a 2.5 game lead for the second wild card spot. Going into the season, the Royals knew that four of their core players would be hitting free agency at the end of the season; those four players being Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Alcides Escobar. So they had two choices: buy and bolster their roster for a possible late-season playoff run, or sell and acquire some prospects to fix a depleted farm system by trading away your expiring contracts.

Dayton Moore chose the former.

The Royals acquired Trevor CahillRyan BuchterBrandon Maurer, and Melky Cabrera. However, they would not help as expected. Aside from Buchter, who compiled a nice 2.67 ERA in 27 IP, Cahill and Maurer would combine for an 8.16 ERA over 36 appearances. Cabrera performed fine, slashing .269/.303/.399, though it was nowhere near his first-half production (.295/.336/.436). You can certainly point to these poor acquisitions as one of the reasons that their season fell apart in the second half (the Royals went 25-34 from July 31st to October 1st).

So here we stand. The Royals missed the playoffs by five games. Hosmer, Cain, and Moustakas are almost certain to sign elsewhere (I don’t believe Escobar’s asking price or interest level will be huge, so the Royals should have a chance to bring him back. Due to this, we won’t be discussing him). Their farm system, as a I said before, isn’t good. They have a whopping zero prospects listed in MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects List. What are they to do?

As I mentioned earlier, Hosmer and Moustakas had career years. Hosmer slashed .318/.385/.498 with a 132 OPS+, all career highs. Though, his defense had never been worse (a career low -7 Rdrs), he still had a career high 4.0 WAR, and I believe Hosmer deserves to be a top five finalist in the AL MVP voting. Moustakas, on the other hand, set the Royals single-season Home Run record with 38. Additionally, Moose’s 85 RBI, .521 SLUG%, .835 OPS, and 75 Runs were all career highs. His defense, too, was terrible, as he cost the Royals eight runs in the field. Cain had another fine season, slashing .300/.363/.440. Not really known for his power, he still slugged 15 bombs among a career high 175 hits, and had 26 stolen bases as opposed to being caught stealing only twice. His WAR was a fantastic 5.3, and he saved five runs in the outfield this year. Either one of these three players would be a great acquisition to any team. But they will also cost quite the lump sum.

The Royals are more than likely to extend the 1yr/$18M qualifying offer to each of these three, but I think it would be a huge surprise if any one of them accepted, seeing as there is a big payday ahead of each of them. Assuming they reject these offers, and sign contracts upwards of $50M, the Royals would receive compensatory picks just after the first round. This is ideal for the Royals who desperately need to acquire some more prospects. Including their first round pick, the Royals would have four drafts picks before the second round even starts. This is big for the franchise, and if they scout well enough, they could fix things rather quickly.

Still, these are three major talents who would’ve brought in major prospect hauls from offense-needy teams at the deadline. Think about the hauls that the Yankees got in the Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman trades. Likewise, think of the package that the Nationals sent to the White Sox in exchange for Adam Eaton. Both deals single-handedly put the Yankees and White Sox farm systems in the top three in all of baseball. The Royals could’ve had something even remotely close to that if they would have followed suit and sold at the deadline.

As we already know, they didn’t follow this route. As a result, they have no farm system and they’re about to lose three of the major pieces from their World Series run. Dayton Moore messed up. Depending on the qualifying offer process and whatever compensatory picks they take, things can potentially look a bit brighter, but as of now, they are relatively dim. Maybe Dayton Moore will work some magic again and everything will be fixed in eight years. I wouldn’t count on it, though, judging from his decisions over the past year or so. It might be a miserable stretch in Kansas City for the next few years.

By: Chris Perkowski

Is it Smart for the Marlins to Rebuild?

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Miami Marlins
Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton salutes the crowd after falling one home run shy of 60 for the season. (Photo Courtesy: CBS Sports)

The regular season is behind us and the off-season is now looming rapidly, so naturally, with that comes trade speculation and rumors. Though, players aren’t usually the ones starting those rumors. That is, until this past weekend. Marlins slugger, and likely NL MVP, Giancarlo Stanton told Jon Heyman that he wants out of Miami if the Marlins rebuild, saying “I’ve lost for seven years…I don’t want to rebuild.” This report comes from the same weekend where Stanton fell short in his chase for 60 home runs, finishing at 59 for the year. He took a curtain call for the home fans as the modest crowd of 25,222 cheered wildly for their franchise hero. All of this begs the question, why would the Marlins rebuild? Would it even be a smart move?

For starters, the Marlins have no shortage of offensive talent. As a team in 2017, they ranked second in the NL in batting average (.267) and hits (1,497), fourth in total bases (2,412), fifth in runs (778), sixth in on-base percentage (.331) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.761).

Individually, you’ve got Marcell Ozuna putting together a career year, slashing .312/.376/.548 (all career highs), with 37 HRs and 124 RBI, not to mention an OPS+ of 145. He put together a 5.8 WAR season, as well as compiling 10 Rdrs (defensive runs saved) in the field, the second highest total of his career (11 in 2014). Looking at this, it is pretty evident that the move from center field to left field was very effective this year.

Along with Ozuna would be Christian Yelich, who, while not as effective as in 2016, still put up solid offensive numbers. With 18 HRs and 81 RBI to go with a slashline of .282/.369/.439. He had a WAR of 3.9, though he put together a dWAR of -0.3, possibly due to an Rdrs of -6.

Rounding out their outfield is, obviously, Stanton. .281/.376/.631. That was his slashline this year in a 59 HR, 132 RBI season in which he compiled an OPS+ of 165, 65 points higher than the league average, which was second in the NL to only Joey Votto (168). Stanton also had 10 Rdrs this season to go with a .988 fielding percentage and 0.4 dWAR, not to mention a 7.6 WAR.

Aside from these three stars (who might combine to be the best outfield in baseball), you have some surprise contributors, such as catcher J.T. Realmuto or first baseman Justin Bour.

Realmuto was superb this year, ranking second in batting average (.278), hits (148), runs (68) and doubles (31), third in OBP (.330), SLG (.453), OPS (.783), and sixth in RBI (65) among all MLB catchers.

Meanwhile, Bour finally lived up to his offensive potential, swatting a career high 25 HRs and 83 RBI, along with career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage (.289/.366/.536). He also had an OPS+ of 139, plus a 2.3 WAR. His dWAR was -0.8 and had a -2 Rdrs, so that’s not terribly promising, but he showed great improvement in power this year and that’s something that most teams would take at first base rather than defense. He also did this in just 108 games. He hit at a 162 game pace of 37 HRs and 124 RBI.

In contrast to their surplus of talent, Miami still has several holes. Their weakness lies in their pitching. With an abysmal team ERA of 4.82 (good for 13th in the NL) and absolutely no closer to depend on, their pitching staff is just a black hole of talent, in that it is non-existent. There was just one even remotely decent spot in the rotation, and that was Jose Ureña. Ureña went 14-7 with a 3.82 ERA and a 1.273 WHIP, which all just screams “okay.” He was the only Marlins starter with an ERA+ over 100, which is incredibly sad. But still, those numbers are fine for a solid number three or four starter. However, he was their best pitcher. By a lot. Woof. They need an upgrade in the rotation, badly. The Marlins reached by signing Wei-Yin Chen to a five year/$80M contract before the 2016 season. He responded by 7-6 with a 4.72 ERA, 1.228 WHIP, and an 84 ERA+ in just 31 games over the last two seasons. So that investment is paying off handsomely.

In the bullpen, there’s a who’s who of “who the hell is that?” Aside from former Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa (who was terrible this year), there was nobody notable aside from David Phelps, who was shipped to Seattle before the trade deadline, and A.J. Ramos, who is now pitching in the division with the Mets. I’m not going to go too more in depth about the Marlins bullpen because nobody should have to do that. Brian Ellington had a 7.25 ERA, a WHIP of nearly 2.0 (he finished the year at 1.858) and an ERA+ of 57, which I didn’t know could be done so I guess it’s sort of impressive.

Now, they have two clear choices: build upon their outstanding offensive core by fixing their holes, or cutting bait and rebuilding. One major issue, and the clear case for rebuilding, is that the Marlins owe $400M in debt. They really shouldn’t be signing big name free-agents, but I don’t believe that selling off players like Yelich, Ozuna, Realmuto, Bour, or Stanton would bring back prospects who live up to that caliber. You really can’t bet on that, considering how rarely prospects pan out. At the same time, the Marlins do not have a farm system, so trading these players quickly would be the only way to rebuild a barren minor league system. Plus, Stanton’s contract is going to be a nightmare to move, with the Marlins likely having to eat much of the $310M remaining on that contract (though only $77M of that is guaranteed, as Stanton has an opt-out clause after the 2020 season). However, in doing so, the Marlins are setting themselves up for several more years of failure before any of those prospects would be ready to come up and form a competitive team. Are the new owners willing to do that? Doing so would alienate an already apathetic fan-base and likely force a perennially empty stadium to be even more empty.

If Derek Jeter and co. don’t want to lose for the foreseeable future, they’ll need to open up the purse strings this offseason. The pitching staff is the clear weakness, so they could throw money at either Jake Arrieta and hope that he will return to the form of his NL Cy Young season, or hand Yu Darvish a blank check and tell him to name his price. At the same time, if Masahiro Tanaka opts out of his contract with the Yankees, the Marlins could offer him a contract as well. Tanaka doesn’t have much bargaining power considering the inconsistency of his 2017 season, which helps the Marlins chances. Still, any one of those starters are likely to command upwards of $20M per year. Along with one of those three pitchers, the Marlins could try and sign Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn on reasonable contracts (presumably in the $10M-15M range).

As for the bullpen, Greg Holland is likely to decline his 2018 option following a year in which he led the NL in saves with 41 after a year-long absence from baseball. The Marlins could spend on him or his former Royals teammate Wade Davis. Both are dominant closers and would cost, like Cobb and Lynn, in the $10M-15M range. This would potentially fill their holes, though, and makes them a more competitive team (on paper, of course).

With these hypothetical moves, the Marlins will have signed two starters and a closer for a rough estimate of $50M per year. If they now have an ace, a number two starter, and a top of the line closer, they can presumably compete for a Wild Card as soon as next year. A competitive team (something the city hasn’t seen from the franchise since 2009 when the Fish finished in second place in the NL East at 87-75) means more revenue in ticket and merchandise sales. This year, Miami was in the bottom three in attendance for the third time in the last five years. Some kind of significant change needs to be made to improve team revenue and I think the only way to make money is to spend money in this particular instance. This is not to say that selling won’t create revenue; it will, but it won’t help significantly for quite some time.

The new owners have a huge decision to make, and it’s not an easy one. A rebuild means losing for another four or five years, I would imagine. Though it makes it easier to pay off the debts that they have inherited from former owner Jeffrey Loria (a historically awful owner), I don’t think it’s the right answer right now. You can still pay off that debt over time if you field a competitive, winning team, which is certainly possible to do as early as next season. It is true that rebuilds are effective and helpful in the transformation of teams. I just don’t think it is the right choice right now for this franchise. Ultimately, who knows what the new owners will do? All we do know is that we will soon find out if Stanton’s season finale curtain call was also his final moment in a Marlins uniform.

(All stats as of 10/2/17)

By: Chris Perkowski

The Phillies Patience is About to Pay Off

rhys hoskins
Rookie sensation Rhys Hoskins homers during MLB Players Weekend in August. (Getty Images)

It’s been a rough few seasons in Philadelphia. Following five consecutive NL East titles (including two consecutive World Series appearances, winning in 2008), the Phillies have not had a winning season since 2011. In fact, they’ve finished dead-last in the division twice in the last five years, and seem destined to do it again this year, sitting at 60-91 and five games behind the fourth place New York Mets. None of this seems promising for the Fightin’ Phils, but if you look beyond the surface, you’ll see that there is a lot to be excited about when looking at the Phillies future.

For the most part, they have a talented core of young talent. Odubel Herrera can have some mental gaffes in the field but he is still a talented All-Star caliber player. An NL All-Star last year, he has hit .286/.331/.459 with 40 doubles, 13 HRs, and 51 RBI. To top that off, he has offered solid defense in the field, putting up a 1.0 dWAR and a .993 fielding percentage.

In addition to Herrera, César Hernández has been very helpful to the Phillies this season. The 27 year old second baseman has offered a slashline of .288/.359/.413. While he doesn’t have a lot of pop, he has hit 24 doubles, stolen 14 bases, and accumulated a WAR of 2.2. His defense leaves a little bit to be desired though, as his .979 fielding percentage and 0.0 dWAR are pretty much league average.

German-born left fielder Aaron Altherr has had a very good season. Altherr has a slashline of .281/.351/.539 and hit 21 doubles, 19 HRs, and driven in 60 runs. He has a 1.8 WAR, though he has been putrid in the field, with a -1.0 dWAR. He does have a .990 fielding percentage, though that is a bit misleading, seeing as that he has actually cost the Phillies six runs this season (as shown by his -6 Rdrs). Rdrs, or Defensive Runs Saved Above Average shows the number of runs the player was worth above or below an average player. Still, those are promising offensive numbers to build around.

Aaron Nola, though he had a rough run from August 17th through September 7th (1-3, 6.59 ERA) has had a good season and solidified himself as the team’s number one starter. He has a record of 12-10 with a 3.56 ERA and a 1.210 WHIP, 175 K’s through 162 innings. He had an extremely dominant run from June 22nd to August 12th, in which he allowed two runs or less in ten consecutive starts. In that stretch, he went 6-2 with a 1.71 ERA, and 78 K’s compared to just 19 BB’s in 68.1 innings pitched. He’s a reliable young pitcher and should be at the forefront of their rotation for years to come.

Finally, the Phillies have received a major boost from breakout rookie Rhys Hoskins. In 40 games this season, Hoskins has hit 18 HRs with 43 RBI, and slashing and insane .294/.429/.728. Hoskins has been homering at a historic rate, and there is no sign of slowing down. Since starting his career 1-13, he has hit .317/.448/.797. This shouldn’t be a surprise. This season in AAA, Hoskins hit .284/.385/.581 with 29 HRs and 91 RBI in 115 games. Sure, nobody should’ve expected him to hit at this ridiculous rate, but it should not be a surprise that he is raking in his first taste of “the show.” Hoskins has primarily played first base in his career, but came up playing left field. That is now changing as he is getting more time at first base, finally putting an end to the Tommy Joseph experiment. Tommy Joseph is the worst. Sure, he can hit some homers (21 last year, and 22 this year), but he has an OPS+ of 89, 11 below the league average, and a WAR of -1.1, the fourth lowest total in baseball. Also, people hate this guy. I attended a Phillies game in August and Philly fans actually booed him when he successfully fielded a ground ball, which helped the Phillies! They dislike him that much! He’s not a good baseball player. The Phillies are certainly grateful that they have found their new first baseman (and franchise star) in Hoskins because lord knows it wasn’t Joseph.

On top of all that, they have a stacked farm system. Philadelphia has six prospects ranked in MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list. Their top prospect, Mickey Moniak, was the first overall pick in the 2016 draft and is expected to be ready for the majors in 2019 or 2020. He makes hard contact from the left side of the plate, he runs well, and covers a lot of ground in center field. Sixto Sanchez is looked at as a potential impact starting pitcher. His fastball has been clocked at 98mph, and he has good command of it, plus a developing curveball, and a solid change-up. J.P. Crawford is viewed as the shortstop of the future in Philly. He has a good walk rate and rarely strikes out. Power isn’t necessarily his game, but he does make good contact. Although, he is widely regarded for his defense.

There are two luxuries in baseball: prospect depth, and spending ability, and the Phillies have a lot of money freed up after letting many contracts come off the books. As of press time, the Phillies have the eighth lowest team payroll in baseball. This is significant because even two years ago, they had the ninth highest payroll in baseball. As a matter of fact, from 2011 to 2014, they were at least in the top four highest payrolls in all of baseball (2011201220132014). Over the last four years, the Phillies have removed $140 million from their payroll after cutting ties with Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee, and Roy Halladay. Removing eight enormously constricting contracts brings Philly the ability to spend some money in the coming years.

Which leads us to the 2019 Free Agent class.

It has been long assumed that the Yankees rebuilding effort has been in preparation for the 2019 Free Agent class (following the 2018 season), but the same can be said for the Phillies. With many All-Star players like Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, and Andrew Miller set to become Free Agents, the possibilities are endless.

I don’t need to tell you what Bryce Harper would be able to do in the Phillies line-up. It is important to note that in 38 career games at Citizens Bank Park, he has hit 12 HRs and 26 RBI with a slashline of .296/.361/.627. If you want to do the math, you would calculate that in 81 games at Citizens Bank Park, he would average 25 HRs and 55 RBI per year at home. Those are real good numbers, and would certainly be promising if he were to sign in Philadelphia.

Manny Machado would serve as an obvious upgrade to current third baseman Maikel Franco. Though Franco is in his second 20 HR season in three full years, he also has a putrid OPS of .678, and a 78 OPS+, which is terrible. He has offered the Phillies a -0.7 WAR and a -0.5 dWAR. He, like Tommy Joseph, is bad.

Compare that to Machado, a three-time All-Star, who is in the middle of his third straight 30 HR season, and is on pace to drive in 100 runs for the first time in his career (he’s at 92). He’s accumulated a WAR of 3.8, with a dWAR of 0.9 (though that is the second lowest in his six year career). The two-time Gold Glove winner would be a welcome addition in Philly, who has not really had a franchise third baseman since Scott Rolen from 1996-2002.

Dallas Keuchel would be a huge addition to the Phillies rotation, taking some pressure off of Nola’s shoulders. Keuchel, since 2014, is 54-33 with a 3.16 ERA, a 123 ERA+, a 1.139 WHIP, and a 3.24 K/BB ratio. He has had some injury concerns this year, limiting him to just 21 starts, but this is still a Cy Young Award winner, and a possible Cy Young candidate again this year. Adding a pitcher of his caliber would be huge.

As for Kimbrel and Miller, well, those are two of the best relievers in baseball. Adding either of these pitchers would be enormous. The Phillies bullpen holds a team ERA of 3.46, which is about average. Add Craig Kimbrel, a man who has led the league in saves four times (289 saves in eight seasons), and a career 1.79 ERA. That is already a huge help. Or add Andrew Miller. Since moving to the bullpen full-time in 2012, Miller has a 2.04 ERA with 506 K’s in just 326.1 innings. So, yeah, add any of those two guys to the bullpen, and that’ll make a huge impact late in games.

Oh, and Mike Trout kind of said he wanted to play for the Phillies one day.

With a solid core of young players, great looking prospects, and the ability to pay out the wazoo, the Phillies are almost certain to make a splash in the coming years. Stars like Hoskins don’t come every day, and the ability to spend boatloads of money to surround him with some stars is not an opportunity that is bestowed upon too many teams. If their prospects payoff, and they are able to make some noise in free agency after 2018, then this could be a team that contends in a few years. One thing is for sure: the Phillies are going to be very good, very soon.

(All stats as of 9/21/17, before gametime)

By: Chris Perkowski

MLB Year-End Awards Predictions

September is finally here. The dog days of summer are over and we’re in the home stretch of the 2017 MLB season. With that comes the postseason, and with the postseason comes the year-end awards for the American and National leagues: Manager of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, and Most Valuable Player. Here, I will take a look at each award and it’s presumed contenders and see who I believe will win each award.

American League Manager of the Year: Generally, this award goes to a manager whose team exceeded pre-season expectations. For example, Terry Francona of the Cleveland Indians won the award last season, taking the Indians to the World Series following an 81-80 season in 2015. In 2015, Jeff Banister of the Texas Rangers won, as he led the Rangers to the AL West title a year after they were the worst team in the American League. In 2014, Buck Showalter won the award, bringing the Orioles to their first AL East title since 1997. This year, I think the award goes to Paul Molitor of the Minnesota Twins. The Twins currently sit in the second Wild Card spot in the American League despite selling at the trade deadline. This, of course, comes a season after finishing 59-103, the worst record in baseball in 2016.

Honorable Mentions: A.J. Hinch – Houston Astros, John Farrell – Boston Red Sox, Mike Scioscia – Los Angeles Angels

National League Manager of the Year: This one doesn’t really take much thought. To me, Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers seems like a shoo-in to repeat as NL Manager of the Year, as the Dodgers have the best record in baseball at 92-45 and are on pace to win 109 games. Roberts does have some competition in the form of two NL West rivals, though: Bud Black of the Colorado Rockies and Torey Lovullo of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Rockies, at 73-64, are in the midst of one of their best regular seasons in franchise history (on pace for 86 wins, which would be the third most in franchise history). The Diamondbacks are 80-58 and have won 11 games in a row, including a three game sweep of the Dodgers. Both teams have had a stranglehold on the two NL Wild Card spots for pretty much the entire season.

Honorable Mentions: Joe Maddon – Chicago Cubs, Craig Counsell – Milwaukee Brewers, Don Mattingly – Miami Marlins

American League Rookie of the Year: I don’t see either Rookie of the Year award winner being a shock. In the AL, I think it’s Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees. Arriving on the scene as one of the biggest and brightest new stars in the sport, Judge has hit 38 HRs, which leads the AL, and driven in 85 runs this year. It has been the tale of two seasons for Judge this year. Prior to the All-Star break, Judge was a bonafide MVP candidate, slashing .329/.448/.691, with 30 HRs and 66 RBI in 84 games. Since the All-Star break, Judge has slashed .182/.349/.358 with just 8 HRs and 19 RBI in 48 games, including a stretch in which he struck out in 37 consecutive games, a Major League record. He’s less disciplined at the plate following the All-Star break, swinging on breaking pitches out of the zone that he was laying off of in the first half of the season. Despite this dreadful slump, he still sits with a slash-line of .277/.412/.573 for the season, and has walked 103 times (five away of breaking the MLB rookie record held by Ted Williams). Among qualified AL rookies (min. 200 ABs), Judge is first in HRs (38), RBI (85), walks (103), runs (101), OBP (.412), SLG (.573), and OPS (.985).

Honorable Mentions: Trey Mancini – Baltimore Orioles (.290/.337/.504, 23 HRs, 72 RBI), Andrew Benintendi – Boston Red Sox (.276/.360/.438, 19 HRs, 74 RBI), Yuli Gurriel – Houston Astros (.295/.325/.483, 16 HRs, 63 RBI)

National League Rookie of the Year: Again, I don’t think this one is very much competition. I believe the Los Angeles Dodgers will have their second consecutive unanimous winner of this award, this time in the form of Cody Bellinger. Bellinger has been ridiculous in every sense of the word this year, slashing .270/.349/.608. He leads all qualified NL rookies in HRs (36), RBI (82), runs (74), OBP (.349), SLG (.608), OPS (.957). Along with this, he’s third in hits (106), third in walks (48), sixth in AVG (.270), and sixth in doubles (19).

Honorable Mentions: Josh Bell – Pittsburgh Pirates (.264/.343/.495, 24 HRs, 82 RBI), Paul DeJong – St. Louis Cardinals (.287/.323/.543, 21 HRs, 55 RBI), Ian Happ – Chicago Cubs (.256/.330/.529, 21 HRs, 53 RBI)

American League Cy Young Award: The winner of the AL Cy Young Award isn’t as clear-cut as it was maybe a month ago. Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox is one of the front-runners, for sure, though. Sale has pitched out of his mind this year, compiling a 15-7 record with a 2.85 ERA, and striking out an absurd 270 batters in just 189.2 innings of work. In his first year in Boston, the lanky lefty leads all AL pitchers in wins (15), innings pitched (189.2), and strikeouts (270). He is second in the league in ERA (2.85), opponent’s AVG (.201), and WHIP (0.94). Sale certainly makes a good case to bring home his first career Cy Young Award.

The other front-runner would be Corey Kluber of the reigning AL Champion Cleveland Indians. Kluber, gunning for his second career Cy Young Award, has been excellent all year long, pitching to a 14-4 record and an AL-best 2.56 ERA. Since June 1, Kluber is 12-6 with a 1.85 ERA. As mentioned, he leads the AL in ERA, not to mention opponent’s AVG (.194), and WHIP (0.90). Lastly, he is second in the AL in wins (14) and third in strikeouts (222). With his dominant run dating back to before the All-Star break, I think Kluber makes an equally compelling argument to win his second Cy Young Award.

Honorable Mentions: Luis Severino – New York Yankees (12-6, 3.03 ERA), Marcus Stroman – Toronto Blue Jays (11-6, 3.08 ERA), Ervin Santana – Minnesota Twins (14-7, 3.35 ERA)

National League Cy Young Award: This one is tricky. Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is an obvious answer, though he missed all of August with a back injury. Despite that, the three-time Cy Young Winner and one-time NL MVP has a record of 16-2 and an unbelievable 1.95 ERA. With just those two stats, he would seem to be the clear winner. However, missing a month of action will certainly hurt his chances of winning his fourth career Cy Young Award.

Another option would be reigning NL Cy Young Winner Max Scherzer. The Washington Nationals ace also missed two starts in August due to a neck injury, but has replicated his Cy Young winning season from last year, pitching to a 13-5 record and a blistering 2.19 ERA. He leads the NL in WAR (7.3), strikeouts (232), opponent’s AVG (.172), and WHIP (0.85). These could be good enough to allow Scherzer to bring home Cy Young Award number three.

Honorable Mentions: Gio Gonzalez – Washington Nationals (13-6, 2.58 ERA), Stephen Strasburg – Washington Nationals (11-4, 2.90 ERA), Kenley Jansen (5-0, 1.21 ERA, 36 Saves)

American League Most Valuable Player: My pick for AL MVP is the pint-sized second baseman deep in the heart of Texas, Jose Altuve. Altuve has helped lead the Houston Astros to the best record in the American League, slashing .354/.415/.561 with 21 HRs and 73 RBI. He has the possibility of amassing 30 doubles, 30 home runs, and 30 steals for the season. He is on pace for his third career batting title and his fourth consecutive 200 hit season. Also, he leads the AL in WAR (7.3). There’s not much else to say about Altuve. He’s one of the very best young players in the league, still only 27 years old and with his best years still ahead of him. Altuve finished third in the AL MVP voting last year. I’m predicting that the voters go this way, and Altuve takes that leap forward and brings home the award.

Honorable Mentions: Mike Trout – Los Angeles Angels (.329/.464/.662, 27 HRs, 61 RBI), Jose Ramirez – Cleveland Indians (.310/.363/.558, 23 HRs, 67 RBI), Eric Hosmer – Kansas City Royals (.318/.385/.504, 23 HRs, 80 RBI)

National League Most Valuable Player: To me, there are three main candidates for this award. The first is the power-hitting first baseman for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Paul Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt would be a household name if he played anywhere other than Arizona. He is a top-five position player in baseball and it is time he gets his due. His fantastic season is partly responsible for the DBacks success thus far. Slashing .314/.424/.597 with 33 HRs and 109 RBI, he finds himself in the top five in many major offensive categories: second in OBP (.424), third in runs (102), RBI (109), walks (87), fourth in HRs (33), fifth in SLG (.597), in OPS (1.022), and in WAR (6.2, third among position players).

Another candidate would be Joey Votto, who continues to be one of the only bright spots on the Cincinnati Reds (as well as one of the most under-appreciated players in the league, in my opinion). Votto has slashed .312/.448/.588. That .448 is an absurd on-base percentage. To put it into perspective, Votto has 44 more walks than he does strikeouts this season. He is far and wide the most disciplined hitter in all of baseball. Along with those lofty numbers, he has 28 doubles, 34 HRs, and 93 RBI. Votto, as well, is third in the NL in WAR (6.4, second among position players). Could Votto take home his second career MVP award?

The last candidate has been the hottest player in the majors over the last two months. Giancarlo Stanton has hit 29 HRs with 56 RBI over the last 50 games. In that time frame, he is slashing .311/.430/.842. Your math is correct. He has an awe-inspiring 1.272 OPS over the last 50 games. Now, for the season he has a slash line of .286/.381/.657 with 53 HRs and 112 RBI, and he has a WAR of 6.7, good for second in the NL and first among position players. This one is simple in my opinion. If Stanton hits 60 home runs for the season, then it is undoubtedly his award. The Marlins slugger would become just the sixth player in MLB history to hit 60 home runs in a season. So, if Stanton puts his name in the history books, then he deserves the award. But until then, I think it’s a fight between these three men.

Honorable Mentions: Charlie Blackmon – Colorado Rockies (.342/.406/.625, 33 HRs, 86 RBI), Nolan Arenado – Colorado Rockies (.303/.362/.577, 30 HRs, 111 RBI), Max Scherzer – Washington Nationals (13-5, 2.19 ERA)

These are, of course, my predictions based on stats and general history of how the voters tend to make these decisions. For instance, while the two Colorado Rockies stars (Arenado and Blackmon) are having monster years, the awards voters don’t tend to vote for Rockies players due to the “Coors Field effect,” which is the belief that the dimensions and elevation of Coors Field lend to more offense from it’s players. For instance, a look at the home and away splits for these two players:

Nolan Arenado: 

Home – .331/.385/.639/.1.024, 16 HRs, 70 RBI

Away – .280/.342/.519/.861, 14 HRs, 42 RBI

Charlie Blackmon: 

Home – .390/.466/.781/1.247, 21 HRs, 47 RBI

Away – .292/.340/.469/.808, 12 HRs, 39 RBI

Look at those splits! That’s a drop of over 300 points in slugging percentage from Blackmon! Those are drastic drops in all categories from both players. I’m a fan of both players, but those drop-offs in productivity within the confines of Coors Field and elsewhere are too big to justify a vote over the other candidates. Of course, this is just an example of how I’m basing this from just one of the awards. As I said, I’m basing these predictions off of voter habits in recent years. We’ll certainly see after the postseason how these predictions turned out.

(All stats as of 9/5/17, before game time)

By: Chris Perkowski

The Orioles Might Be Turning A Corner

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The Orioles celebrate after Manny Machado’s walk-off grand slam last night. (Credit: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Don’t look now, but the Orioles are making some noise in a crowded AL Wild Card picture. Through July 28th, the Orioles were 48-54 and 6.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. Somehow, after a 12-8 stretch over their last 20 games, they sit 2.0 games out of the second Wild Card spot with no signs of slowing down. Led by a resurgent Manny Machado (.343/.373/.607 with 11 doubles, 8 HRs, and 34 RBI since the All-Star break), do the O’s have what it takes to withstand a tough AL Wild Card field? After all, eight teams are within three games of a Wild Card spot as of press time. What has been the reason behind the Orioles recent surge?

The aforementioned Manny Machado will likely lead the way. The three-time All-Star third baseman has been having the worst season of his career. Prior to the All-Star break, Machado was hitting a gruesome .230/.296/.445 with 18 HRs and 47 RBI through 83 games. In the 34 games since, he has nearly matched his season total in RBI (47/34) and raised his batting average 34 points (now slashing .264/.319/.494). This is still below his usual standards; In his first five seasons, Machado was a .284/.333/.477 hitter, averaging 28 HRs per year. His recent hot streak is certainly promising though as Baltimore goes forward (.438/.424/.1.063 through his current 7-game hitting streak).

Along with Machado are two breakout stars in their own rights. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop was the lone Oriole in the All-Star game this year, and for good reason. The Curacao-born infielder has been on a tear all year, slashing .299/.349/.535 and an OPS+ of 134. Not to mention, he’s already achieved career highs in HRs and RBI (26/86). On the other hand, you have breakout left fielder Trey Mancini. If it weren’t for Aaron Judge, Mancini may be your AL Rookie of the Year. Among qualified AL Rookies (at least 150 AB), Mancini is fourth in batting average (.287), second in slugging percentage (.512), second in OPS (.849), third in doubles (19), third in home runs (21), and third in RBI (62). Mancini has been above and beyond what the Orioles have needed in the outfield, taking the starting left field job away from Hyun Soo Kim (now with the Phillies). With these two young stars (both are only 25), the Orioles future looks bright.

After a Trade Deadline deal with Tampa Bay, the Orioles seem to have found their franchise shortstop in Tim Beckham. Acquired for minor league reliever Tobias Myers, Beckham has been a godsend for the Birds. In 87 games with Tampa Bay this year, Beckham amassed a slash line of .259/.314/.407 with a WAR of 1.2. In 17 games with Baltimore this year, he has slashed .479/.500/.845 with a WAR of 1.7. That’s right, he has been worth more wins to Baltimore than he was to Tampa Bay in less than 20 percent of the games. Playing well above the production of J.J. Hardy (with an ugly slash line of .211/.248/.308 this season), the Orioles really lucked out with this under-the-radar acquisition.

Though they’ve got a lot of promise in the lineup, ranking second as a team in the AL in batting average (.264), second in slugging percentage (.446), and third in home runs (180), they’ve got a few under-performers as well. Mark Trumbo made waves last season, crushing a league leading 47 HRs along with 108 RBI. It would have been a lot to expect him to live up to those lofty totals, but they were probably hoping for better than 19 HRs and 53 RBI from the slugging DH this season. His totals this year, .240/.301/.716, may be closer to what you’re actually going to get from him. You see, those 47 HRs seem to have been awfully misleading. For example, he was only worth a WAR of 1.6 last season and only had an OPS of .850 last year, as well. How can you hit nearly 50 homers and not crack an OPS of .900? That’s pretty hard to do. If you take a look at the last ten players before Trumbo to hit at least 45 home runs, nine of them had an OPS above .900. I’ll break it down here:

  1. 2015 – Chris Davis: 47 HRs, .923 OPS
  2. 2013 – Chris Davis: 53 HRs, 1.004 OPS
  3. 2010 – Jose Bautista: 54 HRs, .995 OPS
  4. 2009 – Albert Pujols: 47 HRs, 1.101 OPS
  5. 2009 – Prince Fielder: 46 HRs, 1.014 OPS
  6. 2009 – Ryan Howard: 45 HRs, .931 OPS
  7. 2008 – Ryan Howard: 48 HRs, .881 OPS
  8. 2007 – Alex Rodriguez: 54 HRs, 1.067 OPS
  9. 2007 – Prince Fielder: 50 HRs, 1.013 OPS
  10. 2007 – Ryan Howard: 47 HRs, .976 OPS

Of the last ten players to hit 45 HRs in a season, only Ryan Howard had an OPS lower than .900, and at .881, his was still higher than Trumbo’s OPS of .850. If you want to look at OPS+ to compare, Howard’s 125 is also higher than Trumbo’s 123. That’s simply not very good.

Lefty slugger Chris Davis has also been…uh…well, bad. L.E. Miller over at Charm City Sports Network put out an article two weeks ago highlighting Davis’ struggles. Over the last two seasons, Davis has .221/.327/.447 in 1,041 plate appearances. As Miller notes, he has struck out in nearly 40 percent of his at-bats over the last two years. He does have 56 HRs over the last two years, but that can be misleading, as we’ve seen with Trumbo. Slugging just .426 this year, let’s compare that to the rest of the team. To be fair, we’ll look at Orioles with at least 200 ABs this season. By those guidelines, Davis is eighth in slugging percentage among eleven qualified Orioles hitters. Yet manager Buck Showalter refuses to take him out of the clean-up spot! Why? What has he shown that would justify keeping him that high in the order? As Miller notes again, he’s not turning a corner. Since June 1st, he is slashing .211/.304/.381. I don’t know about you, but that’s exactly the kind of production I look for from my four-hitter. Good lord.

The pitching isn’t much better. Aside from Beckham, the Orioles made one other deadline deal: Jeremy Hellickson. Hellickson was pretty good for the Phillies last year, going 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA, an ERA+ of 113, 154 Ks in 189 innings, plus a 2.9 WAR. It would make a lot sense to acquire a pitcher like that, right, especially when your starting rotation has a combined ERA of 5.75?

No, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense, considering Hellickson has been having arguably the worst year of his career. This year, in 24 starts between Philadelphia and Baltimore, he has an ERA of 5.00, a 7-7 record, just 83 Ks in 135 innings. Not to mention, he’s already given up a career high 28 HRs and we still have more than a month to go in the season. His ERA+ is 86, 14 points below the league average. He also has a career low of 5.5 K/9IP. Why would they trade for him? Aren’t you trying to improve arguably the worst rotation in the league? I sincerely cannot wrap my head around that thinking.

You know I can’t mention bad pitching without bringing up Ubaldo Jimenez. Jimenez may be the worst starting pitcher in all of baseball. Since 2011, he has averaged a record of 11-14, accumulated an ERA of 4.78 with a WHIP of 1.467. This year alone, he has a 5-8 record, an ERA of 6.47 (how?!) and an ERA+ of 67. He makes $12.5M per year. The Orioles could pay me a fraction of that and I would give them that kind of production. I don’t mean to be crass, but how is he still employed? The Orioles don’t have a single pitching prospect who could step in and replace him in the rotation and even be a little better? He must have some kind of dirt on Orioles GM Dan Duquette. That’s the only explanation.

Hey, at least they didn’t trade closer Zach Britton at the deadline. Britton has saved 59 consecutive games, having not blown a save since September of 2015. Britton headlines a very good bullpen (O’s bullpen has an accumulative 2.86 ERA). Brad Brach did a nice job of relieving Britton, who missed nearly three months of the season with a forearm injury. Brach has a 2.70 ERA with 16 saves and 53 Ks through 50 innings this season. Likewise, Mychal Givens has been lights out this year, pitching to 2.28 ERA with 62 Ks through 59.1 innings.

Is this run sustainable? The short answer: Maybe. With Machado heating up at the perfect time, and breakout stars Jonathan Schoop, Trey Mancini, and Tim Beckham leading the way (plus veterans Adam JonesWelington Castillo, and Seth Smith enjoying fine seasons), also a really good bullpen, the Orioles may be able to stay in the AL Wild Card race. It would be a big help if manager Buck Showalter would come to his senses and move the lineup around (perhaps you drop Davis down to the six or seven spot in the lineup and move Schoop to cleanup). The catalyst is the rotation. If even one of these pitchers can grab the reins and settle into a groove in the last month of the season, then they may be onto something. But until that happens, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

(All stats as of 8/19/17 before gametime).

By: Chris Perkowski

It’s Always Sonny in the Bronx: Trade Deadline Roundup

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Sonny Gray, the newest Yankee, delivers a pitch. (Credit: USA Today Sports)

The July 31st Trade Deadline finally arrived at 4:00pm on Monday, with teams buying and selling as they prepare for a postseason run or for the distant future. Several rumored deals came to fruition, bolstering lineups, rotations, and bullpens. Let’s take a look at some of the major deals that took place on Monday, and in the days leading up to it.

Sonny Gray: After over a week of speculation, the A’s and Yankees finally came to an agreement, as Gray heads to New York in exchange for three prospects: outfielder Dustin Fowler, pitcher James Kaprielian, and shortstop/outfielder Jorge Mateo. Gray joins a Yankees rotation that has an ERA of 4.06, looking for a jolt after Michael Pineda went down for the season with a UCL tear requiring Tommy John surgery. Gray, enjoying a bounceback season in Oakland (6-5, 3.43 ERA) will help a rotation that also just acquired southpaw Jaime Garcia from the Twins (the Twins acquired Garcia from Atlanta just five days prior).

The prospect package going back to Oakland is lighter than some expected, as the A’s were pestering the Yankees to include Clint Frazier or Gleyber Torres in a deal. James Kaprielian is three months removed from Tommy John surgery to his right throwing elbow, his second elbow injury in two years. Dustin Fowler injured his knee in the first inning of his MLB debut last month, and no one knows what position Jorge Mateo is supposed to play. Even though the Yankees gave up three top 30 prospects (according to MLB.com), they were able to get a front of the rotation arm with two years of team control without giving up any of their top prospects. GM Brian Cashman has to be thrilled about that.

Yu Darvish: The Dodgers acquired the Japanese Ace from the Rangers for second baseman/outfielder Willie Calhoun, pitcher A.J. Alexy, and infielder Brendon Davis. Those three prospects are all listed in the top 30 in the Rangers organization now (according to MLB.com). Los Angeles, in return, adds to their dangerous rotation as they try to win a World Series championship for the first time in almost three decades. Darvish would join the injured Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Rich Hill, and Kenta Maeda in the rotation. Darvish hasn’t been his usual self this year, as the man with a career 3.42 ERA has pitched to a meager 6-9 record with a 4.01 ERA, and a career low K/9 rate (9.7 strikeouts per nine innings this year). Still, he figures to give the Dodgers a boost as they make a run for the post season.

The Dodgers weren’t done there, adding relievers Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani in an attempt to improve their bullpen. The Dodgers have a team ERA of 3.01, good for first in the NL, so it’s not like they needed to add to it, but you can never have enough firepower in the ‘pen. Watson was delivered to the Dodgers from the Pirates in exchange for prospects Oneil Cruz and Angel German. MLB.com ranks Cruz as the 16th best prospect in the Pirates organization, now. Cingrani arrived from Cincinnati for outfielder Scott Van Slyke and catching prospect Hendrik Clementina.

Addison Reed: A big storyline heading into deadline day: who will the Mets trade? Along with first baseman Lucas Duda (we’ll get to him), the Mets dealt current closer Addison Reed to the Red Sox in exchange for three pitching prospects: Gerson Bautista, Jamie Callahan, and Stephen Nogosek, the latter two now ranking in the top 30 prospects in the Mets organization. Reed has been superb for the Mets over the past three seasons, pitching to a sterling 2.09 ERA, striking out 156 batters over 142 frames. He figures to be the set-up man for Boston’s Craig Kimbrel.

Lucas Duda was acquired by the Tampa Bay Rays, sitting 2.5 games back for the second AL-Wild Card slot and looking for offensive help. In return, the Mets received pitching prospect Drew Smith, ranking as their 30th best prospect. Duda has enjoyed a solid year at the plate, with 19 HRs and 40 RBI, plus a career high .909 OPS. He will split time at first base and DH for the Rays.

The Nationals bullpen has struggled mightily this season, sporting a team ERA of 4.76. It has been the NL East powerhouse’s only weakness thus far, and they worked hard to improve it at the deadline, adding Minnesota’s closer in Brandon Kintzler. The Twins received minor league hurler Tyler Watson and international pool money in the trade. Kintzler, an All-Star in 2017, has pitched to a 2.94 ERA with 45 saves over 101 frames in one and a half seasons with the Twins.

He joins a formidable duo brought over from the A’s a few weeks ago in Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle. The Athletics received reliever Blake Treinen, and prospects Jesus Luzardo and Sheldon Neuse, who currently rank as the number 7 and 15 prospects in the A’s system, respectively. Madson missed three seasons due to a major elbow injury between 2012-2014, but has come back strong since, helping the Royals win the World Series in 2015. He’s had a strong year in Oakland, throwing to a 2.06 ERA in 40 games. Doolittle, on the other hand, has been serviceable thus far, pitching to a 3.38 ERA in 23 games. Kintzler, Madson, and Doolittle figure to form a strong combo at the back-end of the Nats bullpen.

The Rockies probably could’ve afforded to add a starter at the deadline (their rotation has a 4.60 ERA) but they felt that they needed to add a set-up man for All-Star closer Greg Holland. Enter Pat Neshek. The two-time All-Star was the only bright spot for the Phillies this year, pitching to a 1.43 ERA in 47 games. He joins Colorado whose team ERA ranks 12th in the NL at 4.71. The Phillies received prospects Jose Gomez (now the number 19 prospect in the Philadelphia system), Alejandro Requena, and J.D. Hammer.

Colorado wasn’t done there, acquiring catcher Jonathan Lucroy from the Rangers for a player to be named later. To see why this is noteworthy, let’s rewind one year. At last year’s deadline, the Rangers acquired Lucroy and reliever Jeremy Jeffress for outfield prospect Lewis Brinson, pitcher Luis Ortis, and a player to be named later (who turned out to be outfielder Ryan Cordell). Brinson now ranks as the top prospect in the Brewers organization. So, Lucroy went from being the centerpiece of a blockbuster deal to being traded for scraps in just one calendar year. How? Lucroy, a free agent at the end of the season, has been real bad in Texas this year, slashing .242/.297/.338 and just 4 HRs in 77 games. The Rockies are hoping that he simply needed a change of scenery, as he’s been pretty much identical to the production that they’ve received from Ryan Hanigan, Tony Wolters, and Dustin Garneau so far (combined .242/.312/.338).

Lastly, the reigning World Champion Cubs made a splash, acquiring reliever Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila from the Tigers for third base/first base prospect Jeimer Candelario, shortstop prospect Isaac Paredes, and a player to be named later OR future cash considerations. Here, Chicago gets a lefty reliever enjoying the best season of his career (Wilson has a 2.68 ERA and 55 K’s through 40.1 innings with Detroit) and a veteran back-up catcher, which they’ve needed since the Miguel Montero debacle. In return, the Tigers get Candelario and Paredes, who rank third and eighth among prospects in their farm system. Candelario, a highly touted prospect who plays third base and first base, was blocked in the system by All-Stars Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. Now, he projects to battle Nick Castellanos for the third base job in Spring Training next season. Paredes, a shortstop who some believe will fit better at second base, too was blocked by Addison Russel and Javier Baez. Now, there is a clear opening for him in the future (current Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler is a free agent at the end of the year, and shortstop Jose Iglesias is a free agent after next year).

Which one of these moves will pay off the most? Will the defending champion Cubs repeat on the strength of their improved bullpen? Will the Yankees title hopes come sooner than expected after a handful of big moves? Can Colorado surprise after picking up a set-up man and a catcher? Will the Nationals finally make it past the NLDS after building up their bullpen? As always, we’ll see at the end of the season who came out as winners and losers in these trades.

By: Chris Perkowski

The Hot Stove is…well, Hot

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J.D. Martinez celebrates a home run. (Getty Images)

It was first reported at 6:25pm on Tuesday by Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi that the Tigers and Diamondbacks were close to a deal involving star right fielder J.D. Martinez. Shortly after, it became known that the Tigers were receiving three infield prospects in return: Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara, and Jose King. Now, the second NL Wild Card spot belongs to the Diamondbacks, who have bolstered their already impressive lineup, sporting a three-headed monster of first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, third baseman Jake Lamb, and the aforementioned Martinez. Martinez was arguably the best rental bat on the market and was surprisingly cheap to acquire.

None of the three prospects heading to Detroit are listed in the Top 100 Prospects lists of MLB.comFangraphs, or Baseball America. As a matter of fact, heading into the season, Minor League Ball had the Diamondbacks listed as the number 29 farm system in all of Major League Baseball. This was due to Arizona trading the number one overall pick in the 2015 Draft, Dansby Swanson, to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Shelby Miller. Along with Swanson, the D-Backs sent outfielder Ender Inciarte and pitcher Aaron Blair.

To show what the D-Backs lost, Inciarte was named to the NL All-Star team this year and won a Gold Glove award for Atlanta last year. Blair, on the other hand, was…not good in his rookie season last year. He went 2-7 with a 7.59 ERA in 15 starts for the Braves, before being sent down to AAA Gwinnett, where he still finds himself. Swanson was called up in August of last year and set the baseball world on fire, dazzling with the glove and compiling a slash line of .302/.361/.442 in just 38 games. However, he has come back down to earth this year, batting just .220/.297/.321.

Shelby Miller was just plain bad last year. In 20 starts in the desert in 2016, he went 3-12 with a 6.15 ERA and a 1.673 WHIP. ERA+ is a stat that adjusts to the players’ ballparks, with 100 being the league average.

Miller’s ERA+ in 2016 was 72.

Seventy-two. 

Now, enough about Arizona’s terrible farm system and onto this trade. The Diamondbacks gave up three middle of the pack infield prospects for an All-Star outfielder. How? Martinez missed the start of the season due to a sprained ligament in his foot, and yet he was the Tigers leader in home runs (16), batting average (.305), slugging percentage (.630), and OPS (1.018) and he played in just 57 of 92 games. He joins a Diamondbacks outfield that had a combined WAR of 2.4. Martinez had a WAR of 1.7, alone. Scouting reports on Lugo and Alcantara from MLB.com show that they are viewed as borderline MLB players, as a utility role is probably their ceiling. To show how highly touted Jose King is as a prospect, I can’t find a single scouting report on him, whatsoever. Tigers GM Al Avila gave up his All-Star right fielder for three prospects that may never be more than bench players in the majors. That’s really something to think about. Seriously, he gave up one of his best players for pretty much nothing.

As I mentioned before, Arizona is getting a huge bat to their already impressive line-up. Martinez gives the D-Backs an immediate upgrade from the, how do I put this nicely, disappointing Yasmany Tomas, who is currently on the 10 day DL. The Cuban defector has been “alright” at-best for Arizona, providing them with a -2.3 WAR over three big league seasons. OPS+, like ERA+, takes into account players’ ballpark factors. The league average is 100, just like for ERA+. Tomas’ career OPS+ is 98, showing he is rated as a slightly below-average player. Not to mention, he has a glove made of stone in the field. He has a career fielding percentage of .973 and a dWAR of -5.1. He has cost the Diamondbacks five games because of his glove over three years. Considering the fact that WAR values a player against a replacement player, Tomas is well below-average here as well.

To be fair, we’ll compare Martinez over the last three seasons with Tomas. Martinez has a WAR of 8.6 over that time period, and OPS+ of 145, a fielding percentage of .982 and a dWAR of -3.7. While not a great defender, he is still an upgrade from Tomas in the field, and he more than makes up for his defensive shortcomings with his bat. Once again, he joins a stacked Diamondbacks lineup consisting of Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb, Brandon Drury and Chris Owings (who are both enjoying career years), A.J. Pollock and David Peralta. Peralta likely shifts to left field while Martinez will be plugged in in right field.

I love this deal for the Diamondbacks. They gained a very good hitter and gave up next to nothing for him. You truly can’t ask for anything more.

Offense aside, the pitching staff has been bolstered by a bounceback season from team Ace Zack Greinke (11-4, 2.86 ERA), while All-Star Robbie Ray (9-4, 2.97 ERA), Taijuan Walker (6-4, 3.61 ERA), and Zack Godley (3-4, 3.09 ERA) have been very effective. The only question mark as the Diamondbacks work towards a playoff push would be the bullpen. Closer Fernando Rodney has 20 saves this season, but he also has a 5.58 ERA and a WHIP of 1.337. An upgrade from him could prove to be helpful as the season goes on.

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Todd Frazier rounds third and heads for home. (Matthew Stockton)

The second big trade that occurred on Tuesday night involved the Yankees acquiring third baseman Todd Frazier, and relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for outfield prospect Blake Rutherford (the number 30 prospect in all of baseball, according to MLB.com), outfield prospect Tito Polo, pitching prospect Ian Clarkin, and reliever Tyler Clippard. I mentioned Frazier as a possible trade option for the Yankees last month.

While I’m not a huge fan of Frazier, he offers the Yankees more power at the hot corner than they have received from Chase Headley this year. This season, Frazier has a slash line of .206/.329/.431, while Headley has a slash line of .257/.339/.368. That .206 batting average certainly leaves a lot to be desired, but the power numbers are there. Frazier currently sits at 16 HRs and 44 RBI, compared to Headley’s 4 HRs and 37 RBI. Most impressive, though, are Frazier’s numbers outside of Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field. Let’s compare his road stats from 2016-2017 with Nolan Arenado, arguably the best offensive third baseman in baseball:

Frazier: .849 OPS, 35 HRs, 84 RBI

Arenado: .848 OPS, 26 HRs, 80 RBI

The Bronx Bombers will take that production any day as they have struggled recently (they’re in a miserable 10-21 stretch).

A big part of that slip was due to the bullpen’s woes, with Tyler Clippard’s struggles this season being a major factor. Clippard, once a two-time All-Star in Washington, enjoyed a career renaissance with the Yankees last summer, pitching to a 2.49 ERA in 29 games following a mid-season trade to New York. This season, however, he has not been the same pitcher. He has accumulated a 4.95 ERA in 40 appearances. Simply, he became a liability and the Yankees, tight in a wild card and division race, needed an upgrade.

An upgrade is exactly what they got, reuniting with former set-up man David Robertson and one-time Yankees prospect Tommy Kahnle. Robertson was in the middle of his best season as a South Sider, sporting a 2.70 ERA with 13 saves and 47 K’s in 33.1 innings of work. Kahnle is enjoying a breakout season, as he has a 2.43 ERA with 62 K’s in just 37 innings of work. Did I mention these two are also controllable? Robertson is under contract through next season, and Kahnle is under contract through 2020. That is a major boost to the ‘pen as the Yankees continue their youth movement and try to chase a pennant over the next few years. The Yankees pretty much need their starters to give them five quality innings before turning it over to some combination of Kahnle-Betances-Robertson-Chapman to close out the game. Think about that. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Glad to have you back! That’s a pretty scary combo, right?!

Looking at what the Yankees gave up for a rental third baseman and two controllable, high quality relievers, it’s less than you’d expect. Blake Rutherford, the Yankees first round pick in 2016, and the number 30 prospect in all of baseball according to MLB.com, is the main player going to Chicago in this deal. He became expendable, though, as he doesn’t project to be up until probably 2020, still in A-Ball. Ahead of him in the organizational depth chart would be Clint Frazier, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, and the injured Dustin Fowler, not to mention Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury. Though, the latter duos future roles with the organization remains unknown as the Yankees move toward getting younger and lowering the team payroll. With all of that talent in front of him, Rutherford didn’t really have a major role on the team in the near future. If Fowler can come back from his knee injury and and play quality center field at the big league level, then this losing Rutherford won’t hurt for the Yankees, assuming Robertson and Kahnle can keep it up with the Yanks.

The second prospect in this deal is Ian Clarkin. Clarkin, now the number 18 prospect in the White Sox organization, has been solid at High-A Tampa this year, pitching to a 2.62 ERA and a 4-5 record in 15 games (14 starts). His ceiling seems to be as a mid-rotation starter. The Yankees are loaded with young pitching prospects (they have four pitchers in their top ten prospects, 14 in their top 30), so this made Clarkin expendable, as well. Tito Polo, an outfield prospect, was the third prospect in this trade. He’s viewed as a possible fourth outfielder at the big league level, so that in-and-of itself is not a huge loss. Clippard, as I mentioned, struggled mightily this season, so including him in the deal helped the Yankees, if anything.

I really don’t mind this deal for the Yankees. The idea of losing a prospect the caliber Rutherford may hurt now, but with the addition of two very good relievers (giving the Yankees what I believe to be the best bullpen in the American League) as they continue to build toward a postseason run this year, and in the immediate future, I believe there is a lot to like about this. Reports also indicate that the Yankees are interested in acquiring a controllable starting pitcher (namely Sonny Gray), as well as an upgrade at first base, so they may not be done dealing just yet.

By: Chris Perkowski