An Argument for Steroid Users in the Hall of Fame

bonds:clemens.jpeg
Barry Bonds (left) and Roger Clemens (right), two of the greatest players of the last thirty years, and known steroid users.

Just over two weeks ago, Vice Chairman of the Baseball Hall of Fame Joe Morgan, a Hall of Famer himself, made a plea to voters asking that they not vote for players who failed drug tests, admitted to using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League Baseball’s steroid investigation. While on the surface, this letter is justified and reasonable. However, I’d like to get in the weeds with this issue. Let’s look further into this plea by wondering about: who is saying it, the generation he comes from, and steroids in sports in general.

In 2006, Mike Schmidt opened up in his book about the use of “greenies,” or amphetamines, in baseball. Schmidt insists that the use of the drug was well-known and that they were readily available in MLB clubhouses. Greenies were used to become more focused and enhance reaction times, and to stay healthy and energized. At a drug trial in 1986, John Milner claimed that Willie Mays had a bottle of amphetamines in his locker when they played for the Mets from 1972-1973. Now, if Mays was using the drug in that time frame, then surely Morgan was around for that era (he played from 1963-1984). I am not implying that Morgan took greenies, but if Schmidt, a Hall of Famer and arguably the greatest third baseman of all-time, insists that these drugs were rampant in that era and the aforementioned trial corroborated those claims, then it is all the more likely that Morgan knew what was going on.

If he knew about it, then this comment is extremely hypocritical. Are amphetamines not performance-enhancers? Again, they were used to help increase focus and reaction times, which are fairly important in a sport where a batter has fractions of a second to decide what pitch is coming and what to swing at. Likewise, it is very important for a fielder to react to a hard-hit groundball or a screaming line drive. The answer seems fairly obvious to me.

Going by Morgan’s logic, anyone who used performance-enhancers (in this case, greenies) should be ineligible from being in the Hall. That would mean that Willie Mays, who many consider the greatest player who ever lived, would not be a Hall of Famer, and who knows how many others. Morgan is so dead-set on criminalizing players of the 1990s and 2000s, but is hush on players of his own era who may have been using. I believe that’s something to consider.

Steroids, much like amphetamines, are used to increase muscle strength and increase healing rate. That’s…pretty similar to the benefits of greenies, in which they were used to stay healthy and energized. Many players have stated that they used steroids or Human Growth Hormone to stay healthy or come back from injury. How crazy! The same reason to take greenies! Also, if you know anything, you know that steroids don’t make you hit a baseball any better. What can make you see a baseball better, though?

::cough::

Greenies

::cough::

As far as steroids in sports go, the 1963 San Diego Chargers are the first known instance of steroid use in sports. So, if steroids were available in 1963, what would stop baseball players from getting a hand on them in the same time period? That time period, by the way, was Joe Morgan’s. So steroid use could have very well been rampant in that generation as well, but it was under the radar – just like greenies.

Additionally, if you are going to criticize steroid users and want them banned from the Hall, then you should feel the same way about Commissioner Bud Selig who oversaw the league during the Steroid Era. Selig, of course, was elected to the Hall of Fame this year. Many believe that he knew about steroid use and was complicit with it because steroids were good for baseball. Prior to the 1998 race to break Roger Maris’ single-season home run record, ticket sales were down before shooting up in time for the home run race. Likewise, television ratings were down before increasing during the Steroid Era. Steroids were good for baseball, and Selig knew it. So he kept quiet. At least, that’s what you would believe if you thought he knew about it. Which I do. But that’s neither here nor there. Like it or not, players in the Steroid Era helped save the sport because, to put it simply, people like home runs. With players like Mark McGwire hitting 70 long balls in a season, it brought a new level of excitement and attention to baseball. There is a major possibility that Selig knew this and allowed it to happen. If that’s the case, people like Joe Morgan should be rioting in the streets because of the fact that Selig is in the Hall of Fame.

Going back to Morgan’s request, maybe he should go after the players from his era who cheated before he goes after steroid users. Be fair. Be equal. If you are not going to discredit the players who used greenies as a performance enhancer, then you should not discredit steroid users when they were used for the same personal gains. Until you do that, steroid users should be allowed in the Hall of Fame. The players that Morgan is attacking played an integral part in the game’s history and the resurgence of the sport, and they deserve to be acknowledged for it, just as those players from the “Greenies Era” have been.

Both or none. That is what it comes down to.

By: Chris Perkowski

 

2017-18 Free Agent Predictions

The 2017 MLB season has come and gone. The Houston Astros are celebrating the first World Series Championship in franchise history while 29 other teams are going back to the drawing board and seeing what they can change. Some teams will take a swing at trades or aim towards the June draft, while others may ultimately lean towards Free Agency. With that, let’s take a look at the Top 20 Free Agents and see where they might end up this coming season (all rankings as per MLBTradeRumors).

1. Yu Darvish

Yu Darvish had a ghastly performance in the World Series. The Dodgers key mid-season acquisition accounted for a 21.60 ERA in the Fall Classic in just 3.1 frames of work, giving up nine runs on nine hits. Still, he remains the top-rated pitcher in free agency after five years of consistent work (a career 3.42 ERA and averaging 265 K’s per season). He should have plenty of suitors, mainly the Cubs who will likely lose Jake Arrieta to free agency, so they could be in the market for a top-line starter. Don’t be surprised if the rebuilding Phillies look to add the Ace, or if the Cardinals, or an unexpected team like the Twins get involved. The Cardinals could go after Darvish as they likely won’t retain Lance Lynn, and Adam Wainwright’s best days are behind him. Having Carlos Martinez and Yu Darvish as the one-two punch in St. Louis could be deadly in the NL Central. The Twins could use the rotation help, too, and adding Darvish would be a big splash. I can certainly see the Angels make a play for the Japanese right-hander, though that may be less likely after already committing $106M to Justin Upton early in the offseason.

Prediction: Cubs. Five years, $130M

2. J.D. Martinez

Where do we start with Martinez? He was arguably the best hitter in baseball in the second half of the year, hitting 19 HRs in a 29 game stretch from August 26 to September 27. He had the best year of his career to date, hitting 45 HRs for 104 RBI and a 166 OPS+ (all career highs). Still only 30 years old, teams will be clawing for a piece of the slugging corner outfielder. He has two detractors, though: his defense has declined drastically, amounting to a -27 Rdrs from 2016-2017, a trend that would likely force him to be limited to a DH within the next two or so years. That would likely eliminate most NL teams from courting him. The second detractor comes as reports have said that his agent, Scott Boras, is looking for a $200M contract for his client. That, again limits the possible number of teams who could go after him. The Red Sox could come calling, as they always love to add an impact bat to the line-up. The Giants seem to have a need for a power-hitting corner outfielder (they’ve been linked as a possible trade partner with the Marlins for Giancarlo Stanton). I think one particular dark-horse team could attract Martinez: the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto needs some protection for Josh Donaldson in the line-up, and a signing of Martinez could also convince Donaldson to work out an extension with the team before becoming a free agent next offseason.

Prediction: Blue Jays. Seven years, $180M

3. Eric Hosmer

As was mentioned in my previous post, Hosmer is coming off of the best season of his career, and is now a four-time Gold Glove Award winner, although I believe the win for this year is completely undeserved, considering his negative dWAR and Rdrs this past season. However, with a career high OPS+ (132) and wRC+ (135), he is primed for a big pay-day and has expected to turn down a Qualifying Offer from the Royals. I would not rule out the Royals making a strong push to keep him. I imagine that the Red Sox will make a run for Hosmer if they miss out on Martinez. I would have imagined that the Cardinals would be in on the first baseman, but Derek Goold of the St. Louis Dispatch suggests that the Cards are more likely to acquire an impact bat through a trade rather than free agency. The Mariners are another team that likes to spend and Hosmer could be the offensive piece that puts them over the hump.

Prediction: Red Sox. Six years, $165M

4. Jake Arrieta

Arrieta wasn’t great this season. He sported a respectable 3.53 ERA, but his strikeout rates are down while his hit, walk, and home run rates are up. Still, teams will come spending in hopes that he can get back to form and repeat his 2015 season in which he went 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA and 215 ERA+ en route to the NL Cy Young Award. He may not go too far from Chicago. The Brewers have money to spend and a young pitching staff who could benefit from a strong veteran presence. The Phillies, Rangers, Mariners, Braves, Twins, Cardinals, and Angels are all teams looking for a top-of-the-rotation arm. If they can make it work monetarily, someone will go after the Cy Young Award winner.. I imagine that Arrieta has more suitors than not.

Prediction: Phillies. Five years, $110M

5. Mike Moustakas

Coming off a knee injury this year, Moustakas hit a career high 38 HRs (also a Royals franchise record). His defensive work has always been average to above-average. He doesn’t walk all that much, which lends to a usually low on-base percentage. Still, his power from the left-side of the plate is something many teams will fight for. The Braves may be one of those teams, as they don’t have any prominent third base prospects coming up and have a major hole at the hot corner. The Angels could also look to add another bat to go along with Mike Trout and Justin Upton. In my opinion, the biggest fit is in Queens. The Mets need to accept the fact that David Wright’s playing career is over and they need to find a replacement at third base…and soon.

Prediction: Mets. Four years, $74M

6. Lorenzo Cain

The third Royals free agent on this list and we’re not even out of the Top Ten, yet. A career .290 hitter and a dynamic defensive center fielder, Cain could be in for a modest payday after another good year. Cain is a fantastic number two hitter, with a career .307 batting average and .361 BAbip (Batting Average on Balls in Play); I expect Cain’s agent to have a busy winter fielding calls and offers. The Mets, again, immediately stand out. Unless they view Brandon Nimmo as the center fielder of the future, I think Cain is a can’t-miss acquisition for the Mets. Otherwise, the Mariners, Rangers, and Giants make sense, as they all have money to spend and need major upgrades at center field.

Prediction: Mariners. Four years, $68M

7. Wade Davis

Though his walk numbers were a career high in 2017 and he was used in multiple innings several times in the postseason to less than stellar results, Davis finds himself as the top closer on the market. With the recent release of closer Trevor Rosenthal, Davis could find himself donning Cardinals red next season. Other than that, the rebuilding Braves could be an appealing fit, along with the Angels, Twins, Rangers, Nationals (further bolstering the bullpen and possibly moving closer Sean Doolittle to a set-up man role), or the World Champion Astros. All of those teams could look for a significant upgrade at closer.

Prediction: Braves. Five years, $70M

8. Lance Lynn

Lynn comes off a typically solid year with the Cardinals, and kicks off the second-tier of free agent starters behind Darvish and Arrieta. He reached 33 starts this year, one of only 12 pitchers to accomplish that feat. Though his strikeout and walk rates were career worsts. He somehow still managed a very respectable 3.43 ERA. He should have interest from some teams who can’t afford Darvish or Arrieta’s asking prices. Contrastingly, Lynn’s asking price is 5 years/$100M which seems incredibly unrealistic. I expect teams like the Rangers, Orioles, Twins, Braves, Brewers, and Phillies to have interest as all of those teams need rotation help. The Phillies have the money, however, to sign two starters. Therefore, I wouldn’t be totally surprised if that were to transpire.

Prediction: Brewers. Three years, $45M

9. Greg Holland

Holland is an interesting case. After spending a year away from baseball following elbow surgery, he returned to the league on a one-year deal with Colorado. He led the NL with 41 saves, though he had a 3.61 ERA thanks to a rough eight-game stretch in August. Still, he proved that he can be a very effective late-innings arm, and he should be paid handsomely for his efforts. Expect the same teams as Wade Davis to be interested in Holland.

Prediction: Cardinals. Four years, $48M

10. Alex Cobb

The 30 year old Cobb, to me, is one of the most interesting free agents. After finishing the season with a 3.03 ERA over his final 17 starts, he has momentum on his side. The question is whether or not Cobb can replicate that late success and translate it to a full season. I think he’ll have quite a few teams coming his way. The Orioles seem like the most obvious, as they have a desperate need for starting pitching. Again, I would add the Twins, Rangers, Angels, Mariners, and Braves to that list of teams.

Prediction: Orioles. Five years, $67M

11. Carlos Santana

Santana seems like the second-best Free Agent first baseman after Eric Hosmer, and could get a big payday once Hosmer is off the market. He averages 105 walks per year, with a great career .365 OBP. On top of that, he hits for power and plays a very good first base. Still, teams could look at him as a DH option. He’s not getting younger (32 in April, so his body could break down soon, but that remains to be seen). A reunion with Cleveland is certainly plausible, though he could be in for more money elsewhere. An interesting landing spot that I haven’t seen mentioned much: the Yankees. They have a clear need at DH and he could spell the young Greg Bird if he needs a day off at first base. On top of that, the Royals, Angels, Twins, or Red Sox could have major interest. The Angels will likely look to upgrade from CJ Cron at first base, while the Red Sox could also look at Santana at first base or DH.

Prediction: Yankees. Four years, $62M

12. Zack Cozart

Cozart could not have picked a better time to hit free agency for the first-time in his career. Coming off a 4.9 WAR and putting up the best offensive numbers of his career (a slash-line of .297/.385/.548 with a 141 OPS+), Cozart finally put it all together and became a complete player. Already known for his great defense at shortstop, he is now seen as a huge commodity: a power-hitting middle infielder (a career high 24 HRs in 2017). There are few teams with openings at shortstop, but if he opens up to the idea of becoming a utility infielder and playing second or third base as well, then the interest level could increase greatly. Those teams with interest could be the Mets, Blue Jays, Braves, Angels, Nationals and Padres. The Padres might want a veteran presence on a young rebuilding team. The Mets, Blue Jays, Braves, and Angels need second basemen, and considering there are not many free agent second baseman available, this makes Cozart more valuable if he plays multiple positions. The Nationals are an interesting case, as they don’t have a need at shortstop but they do have an opening in left field. Hear me out: they can move Trea Turner from shortstop back to center field, shifting Adam Eaton to left field and putting Cozart at shortstop. A little crazy, but it could work. Don’t forget about the Rays as a dark-horse candidate, though, as they too need an upgrade at second base (Brad Miller hit a measly .201 this season).

Prediction: Blue Jays. Three years/$42M (club option for a fourth year)

13. Jay Bruce

Bruce was a major part of the Indians run to a 22-game winning streak. He offers some versatility with the ability to play right field and first base, as well as DHing. I don’t expect him to go to an NL team, as he could be very useful as a DH in the coming year or two. What hurts him is his asking price: ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick tweeted that Bruce is seeking a five year deal worth $80-90M which I don’t believe to be realistic. This could hurt his chances of returning to Cleveland (where I believed he would re-sign). I wouldn’t totally rule out a return to the Indians, but I think the chances are much slimmer if that asking price is true. Perhaps some teams like the Royals, Orioles, Red Sox, or Giants could make sense for reasons mentioned prior.

Prediction: Royals. Five years, $75M

14. Logan Morrison

Morrison was probably the most surprising player in baseball in 2017. Following seven disappointing seasons in which he did not live up to his offensive potential, he finally broke out this year with Tampa in the tune of 38 long balls, 85 RBI, and a .516 SLG%. His offensive output will attract the same teams that will go after Hosmer and Santana.

Prediction: Twins. Three years, $38M

15. Addison Reed

Reed will be looking to get a contract similar to Andrew Miller. Having been one of the more dominant set-up men in all of baseball over the last two seasons, he has a good chance to do so. He has an extremely low walk rate, with a 1.6 BB per nine innings pitched. That kind of control makes Reed a very popular target for teams looking to bolster their bullpens. I would say the Astros, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Braves, Twins, Angels, and Red Sox could come with some big offers as all look to bolster their bullpens in the late innings.

Prediction: Cardinals. Four years, $40M

16. Todd Frazier

Frazier is a mid-level free agent option who will come in as a cheaper alternative to Mike Moustakas. I don’t believe Frazier has been very good over the last two years, slashing .220/.322/.448 from 2016-2017, though he offers above average defense at third base. What helps his market is that he is a great clubhouse leader, a reputation he has carried through his entire big league career. If the Mets don’t sign Moustakas, I think they would sign Frazier as a much cheaper back-up option. Otherwise, there should be interest from the Angels, Braves, and Royals. I don’t see a return to the Yankees being likely.

Prediction: Braves. Two years, $24M

17. Mike Minor

A former starter with the Braves, Minor recharged his career in the bullpen with the Royals in 2017. After missing two years due to a shoulder injury, Minor helped out the Royals to the tune of a 2.55 ERA, 10.2 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. To put it simply, he was excellent this past season and the 29 year old should be one of the highest paid relievers in the league. The Royals could look for a reunion, while teams like the Cardinals, Dodgers, Twins, Astros, and Nationals could make a strong push for the lefty.

Prediction: Twins. Four years, $32M

18. Brandon Morrow

Morrow is one of the best stories in baseball. A former pitching prospect with the Mariners, he never caught on in Seattle before being traded to the Blue Jays where he found some moderate success (even coming within one out of a no-hitter against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010). Injuries would pile up and force him to miss major parts of the 2012-2016 seasons. The Dodgers signed him to a minor league deal this past season and called him up in May, at which point he became the team’s set-up man to closer Kenley Jansen. Morrow pitched to a stellar 2.06 ERA with a 204 ERA+ and a 10.3 K/9 ratio. The 33 year old flamethrower will be paid handsomely, and he’ll have plenty of offers. Ryan Madson, another pitcher with an injury history who got a three year deal last year, probably set the stage for the type of contract that Morrow will get. Expect interest from the Rockies, Diamondbacks, Giants, Red Sox, Cardinals, Mets, or Braves.

Prediction: Giants. Three years, $26M

19. Jonathan Lucroy

Lucroy picked the worst possible time to have a bad season. From 2010-2016, Lucroy slashed .284/.343/.441, and was worth a 19.6 WAR over that timeframe. He was always an average defender behind the dish, but he was more known for his bat – being considered one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. That all changed this year, when he hit .242/.297/.338 with a 66 OPS+ with the Rangers before being shipped to Colorado. While he was better with the Rockies (.310/.429/.437 in 46 games after the trade), the power never showed up, only hitting 6 HRs this season. He’ll have to prove himself on a one or two year deal. If the Rockies don’t re-sign him, the Athletics or White Sox might give him a try as a veteran presence on a young, rebuilding team.

Prediction: Rockies. Two years, $20M

20. CC Sabathia

CC enjoyed a bounce back year in the Bronx, with a 3.69 ERA (his lowest since 2012) and some dominant performances in the postseason, putting up an ERA of 0.96 in the ALCS. Sabathia has stated that he would like to return to the Yankees, who could feasibly give him a one year deal while they wait for prospects Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield to continue developing. If the Yankees don’t want him back, he could go across town to the Mets or back home to California with the Angels.

Prediction: Angels. One year, $10M

In the coming weeks and months, we will see who stays and goes, who is wearing new colors, which teams are improved or worsened, and most importantly, if I got any of these right.

UPDATE:

Shohei Otani

“The Japanese Babe Ruth” is coming to Major League Baseball, as it was announced on Friday that the Nippon Ham Fighters would be posting pitcher/outfielder Shohei Otani. Jon Heyman of FanRag tweeted that Otani would be posted for the $20M maximum, but there could be a hiccup in the posting process as the MLB Players Association could have a problem with that deal. In the new collective bargaining agreement, an international player cannot sign the same kind of deal as another free agent.

Otani has a career 42-15 record with a 2.52 ERA in the Japan Pacific League, as well as a career slashline of .286/.358/.500 with 48 HRs and 166 RBI. 2016 was his best season in which he hit 22 HRs and drove in 67 runs, while pitching to a 2.12 ERA. If Otani were to sign with an American League team, he could be used as a starter every fifth day, while playing the field or DHing the other days. It remains to be seen how he will be used, though. Still, because he can be offered so little, literally every team in the league will be in on this kind of talent. Though, only six teams have enough money in uncommitted international pool that can offer him seven figures: the Rangers ($3.535M), Yankees ($3.25M), Twins ($3.245M), Pirates ($2.2M), Marlins ($1.74M), and Mariners ($1.57M).

Prediction: I have none. This kind of free agent is completely unprecedented and it is literally anyone’s ballgame.

(All predictions as of 11/9)

By: Chris Perkowski

 

 

 

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

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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

Are the Mets About to Clean House?

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A Mets fan reacts following a loss in mid-May.

The news came just this past Friday. ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the Mets would listen to offers for some of their short-term veterans. This can’t come as much of a surprise to Mets fans. Despite a three-game sweep of the abysmal San Francisco Giants, the Mets enter Monday with a 34-41 record. They sit 11.0 games out of first in the NL East, and 11.5 games out of an NL Wild Card spot. Missing their Ace Noah Syndergaard likely until the end of August with a lat tear, along with multiple injuries to their roster; star left fielder Yoenis Cespedes was sidelined for over a month with a hamstring strain in late April, while Matt Harvey was recently placed on the DL with injuries to his throwing shoulder. This is the latest in a long line of injuries to the former Ace; in Harvey’s breakout 2013 season, he suffered a partially torn UCL in his right elbow which required Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss the entire 2014 season. In 2016, Harvey complained of shoulder pain and then had season-ending surgery to relieve a condition called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which is a condition that compresses the nerves from the collarbone to the first rib. Now, Harvey was placed on the DL with a “stress reaction” in his right shoulder.

Not just this, but the Mets have lost Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera, Zack Wheeler, Jeurys Familia, and Juan Lagares to varying periods of time due to injuries. Most notably, the Mets have been without captain David Wright for over a year, playing his last game on May 27 of last season. Wright was diagnosed with spinal stenosis in 2015, and was diagnosed with a right shoulder impingement in February of this year. He has yet to be cleared since then.

Part of the Mets’ recent woes could easily be attributed to these unfortunate setbacks for their players. A big factor is a lack of youth. Baseball Reference offers the average age of each team on each roster page. The average age of the Mets roster is 29.9, the oldest in the National League. In a league that has been lead by a youth movement (the World Series Champion Cubs, Royals, and Giants had average ages of 27.4, 29.2, and 28.5, respectively) the veteran Mets need a youthful jolt. Being the oldest team in the NL may be the reason for these frequent injuries. Or it could be from a terrible strength and conditioning program. Or both! Yay, variety!

With the team near the basement of the NL East and far out of a Wild Card spot, and especially with little reason to think that they may make a comeback, selling seems to be their best choice. Contending teams will always take on a veteran presence in hopes of adding to a postseason run, and the Mets would be able to add prospects, improving the farm system and getting younger: a win-win for both sides. You know what that means, dear reader: I speculate about trades again, so buckle up!

As Buster Olney alluded to on Friday, the Mets are considering selling. One of the more attractive options to contending teams would be Jay Bruce. Bruce would be a great addition to the AL Central leading Minnesota Twins. The Twins, who have surprised everyone this year, have a 0.5 game lead over the reigning American League Champion Cleveland Indians, and could use a boost in the lineup. Starting right fielder Max Kepler has given them a .249/.316/.414 slash line with only 8 HRs and 29 RBI. Likewise, Robbie Grossman has slashed .253/.388/.395 with 6 HRs and 22 RBI in the DH spot. Bruce has had a very strong year, boosting his trade value, hitting .270/.339/.543 with 20 HRs and 52 RBI. Throw those numbers into the Twins lineup, and he would be fourth in batting average, fifth in on-base percentage, and second in slugging percentage. Also, he would lead the team in home runs and tie for the lead in RBI.

The Mets could ask the Twins for catching prospect Ben Rortvedt. According to scouting reports, he has great defensive instincts behind the plate, not to mention a strong arm and raw, powerful bat speed. The Mets could use a young catcher. Travis d’Arnaud has not been effective, to say the least. The oft-injured backstop has topped 100 games in a season once (2014), and when he has been healthy, he hasn’t been very productive: his career slash line is .242/.307/.400. He is a below-average defensive catcher, with a career dWAR of -1.3 and accounts for -23 defensive runs saved for his career. While Rortvedt is still growing as a player, it’s worth taking a shot on a young catcher like him who could be up in the Majors by the start of the 2020 season. d’Arnaud’s contract is up after the 2019 season, which would fit perfectly for the Mets. Another player the Mets can get out of this would be pitching prospect Thomas Hackimer, who the Mets originally drafted in 2015. Hackimer opted not to sign and returned to college, and was drafted by the Twins in 2016. The side-arm throwing Hackimer was recently called up to A+ Fort Myers, and has pitched to a 1.57 ERA with 35 K’s in 34.1 relief innings between two levels this year. If he continues to pitch effectively out of the bullpen, Hackimer can continue to climb up through the minor league ranks and become an effective MLB reliever, throwing an average fastball with late life that fools hitters from his deceptive arm angle.

Asdrubal Cabrera is another Met who could be shopped before the deadline. As a matter of fact, Cabrera recently requested a trade after being moved to second base. It’s worth noting that Cabrera did not have a problem playing 48 games at second base when he was traded to the Nationals in 2014. So perhaps playing for the Mets has simply caused Cabrera to lose his will to live. Who’s to say? What is clear is that he wants out of Flushing. The Tampa Bay Rays seemed to be an ideal partner, though they just acquired shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria from the Miami Marlins. The Baltimore Orioles find themselves one game under .500 but only 4.5 games out of the AL East lead and 2.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. With J.J. Hardy injured with a fractured wrist, they could look for an outside replacement. Baltimore may even be thankful that Hardy went down, as his horrid .566 OPS represented a massive hole in the lineup, and replacement Ruben Tejada hasn’t been much better, slashing .182/.250/.242. The veteran switch hitting Cabrera offers a slash line of .263/.343/.405. The 31 year old still gets on base at a good rate, though he won’t set the world on fire with his glove (he has a .938 fielding percentage and -0.8 dWAR this season).

Another area of need for the Orioles is in the bullpen. The Orioles have a team ERA of 5.15, last in the American League, and Addison Reed offers a good solution at the back-end of the bullpen until closer Zach Britton can come back from the DL with a left forearm strain that has cost him much of this season. Reed has enjoyed a career resurgence with the Mets, pitching to a 2.12 ERA, striking out 147 batters compared to just 23 walks in 131.1 innings with the Mets. Compare that to his two years in Arizona where he pitched to a 4.23 ERA with 103 K’s and 29 walks in just 100.0 innings with the D-Backs. Reed has really blossomed in New York, and could take that success to Baltimore in the role of a set-up man, helping to improve that bullpen.

Now, the Mets can package Cabrera and Reed together in a deal for shortstop prospect Ryan Mountcastle and pitching prospect Paul Fry. Mountcastle has plus-bat speed and hand-eye coordination, but some believe that he will not stay at shortstop, as he doesn’t have the arm for it. Second base is a better option for him (and for the Mets, as shortstop prospect Amed Rosario is expected up next season) due to this defensive deficiency. Fry was acquired by the Orioles in a prospect-for-prospect trade earlier this year, and is an interesting player. He is someone that had a lot of hype as he came up in the Mariners system, but after strong seasons in 2014, 2015, and 2016, he has since racked up an ERA of 7.71 and 6.94 over two levels this year. Though, this makes him an interesting bounce back candidate. If he can put it all back together, he could conceivably become a possible lefty specialist in the big leagues. The Mets would take that any day.

The final trade candidate is Lucas Duda. Featuring big lefty pop, Duda is an on-base machine who offers decent defense at first. With a slash line of .251/.362/.553 plus 13 HRs and 29 RBI, Duda could be a big trade target to contenders looking for help at first base. The Yankees or Astros could be ideal trade targets, the Yankees especially looking for help at first base after getting .152/.268/.292 from Chris Carter and Greg Bird up to this point. Though Tyler Austin was recently called up, Duda could be an option for the Yankees if Greg Bird does not return to form when he is activated from the disabled list. With an electric curveball, a plus fastball, and a developing change-up, Drew Finley could be an under-the-radar acquisition for the Mets here. They would likely be able to ask for Hoy Jun Park in return for Duda, or even an established player, like Rob Refsnyder, who could probably benefit from a change of scenery as he does not seem to have a place in the Yankees plans at all.

The Astros may be interested in a bit more production at first base. Yuli Gurriel has had a solid season at the plate (.278/.305/.443), but has only hit 8 HRs and 32 RBI. A platoon with Duda could be big for Houston. In return for Duda, the Astros could offer Riley Ferrell, whom many see as a quality reliever at the big league level, and starting pitching prospect Brady Rodgers, who could help a depleted Mets rotation as early as this summer if included in said hypothetical trade.

Bruce, Cabrera, Reed, and Duda are all free agents after this season (Cabrera has a club option for 2018). The Mets would be able to trade four pending free agents and actually get a return for them before they go elsewhere. Duda and Cabrera do not have a future in Queens, as Top Prospects SS Amed Rosario and 1B Dominic Smith are expected to debut for the Mets at the start of next season. Along with those four, they would lose Curtis Granderson to free agency (who likely wouldn’t draw much interest at the trade deadline as the 36 year old sports a lowly .235/.328/.457 slash line with depleted range in the outfield, with a dWAR of -0.1 this year compared to 4.6 for his career), along with Neil Walker and Jose Reyes, thus clearing up a lot of payroll: $68.98M in total.

This newfound capital allows the Mets to spend in the offseason. Two big name signings could be Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas and center fielder Lorenzo Cain. In all likelihood, David Wright isn’t playing again. Moustakas offers the Mets good defense and a strong power bat (I went over Moustakas’ upsides in my last blog post). Cain, who finished third in the AL MVP vote in 2015, offers the Mets a viable starting center fielder. Cain has been one of the best defensive center fielders in all of baseball over the past few years, sporting a dWAR of 9.1 from 2013-2016. The career .287 hitter could be great in the leadoff spot, averaging 28 stolen bases a year in his career, and averaging 33 doubles a year.

The 28 year old Moustakas can be had on a 5 year deal for roughly $72.5M (worth $14.5M per year), while I believe the 31 year old Cain would be available on a 4 year deal for $64M (worth $16M per year). This allows the Mets to play budding star Michael Conforto in a natural corner outfield spot (likely right field), with Yoenis Cespedes in left field and Cain in center field (offering the Mets a natural center fielder who can actually hit for the first time in recent memory). The infield would be made up of Moustakas at third, Rosario at shortstop, possibly giving Wilmer Flores an actual shot to prove himself at second base, and Dominic Smith at first base, with Travis d’Arnaud catching. These trades built up the Mets’ farm system and budding youth movement, while saving a lot of money and being able to spend on valuable pieces who can help the Mets to get back to the postseason immediately. I think these are important moves for the future of the organization.

Or maybe they just need a new strength and conditioning program. The world may never know.

By: Chris Perkowski