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Friday 22nd Sep 2017

To say it has been a busy week in the Hot Stove League would be a wee bit of an understatement.

Before I get to the 500-pound gorilla in the room, let’s take a look at some other recent moves.

D-Backs Get a Loogy

The Diamondbacks added pitcher Matt Reynolds to their bullpen. The lefty has been used as loogy with good reason (9+ K/9 career), but actually has produced solid strikeout and control numbers against righties too. Unfortunately, Reynolds has case of chronic gopheritis (17%+ HR/FB career) that is holding him back. In exchange the Rockies snagged corner infielder Ryan Wheeler. The book on the 24-year old is fair contact hitter with mid to high teens per season power and defense that really limits the lefty to first base. Looks like an organizational or bench player long term.

Inning Eater

Jeremy Guthrie will receive $25 million over three years in exchange for his durability and strike throwing Guthrie is not in danger of winning any pitching awards, but owns a career 2.7 BB/9 and has started at least 26 games per season since 2007. The former Indian does not miss bats. He is not an extreme ground ball or fly ball pitcher. The righty just eats innings, thank you very much. An ERA under 4.00? Bet against.

Veteran Addition

Torii Hunter parlayed a .300+ batting average into a two-year pact with Detroit. The 37-year old, however, is in clear decline. Three straight seasons of increasing strikeout rates. Four straight seasons of declining power as seen in his isolated power and four straight season of declining fly ball rates. And finally an astronomical .389 BABIP that is well beyond any previous career high. A .260 12 HR 8 steal 2013 seems quite possible.

The 500-Pound Gorilla

Enough has been made about the economics and audacity of the deal, so let’s just focus on the players.

Jose Reyes takes over at shortstop and leadoff.  While no longer a prolific base stealer, 40 steals are still within the 29-year olds abilities. That combined with a great batting eye, well above average raw speed and gap power still make Reyes a dynamic player. The only chink in the armor might be a three-year decline in fly ball rates that could impact the switch-hitter’s ability to return to double digits in HRs.

Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson move into the rotation, pushing the entire existing rotation of Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, and J.A. Happ back. Instantly the Jays go from trotting in rookies to a complete veteran staff. Guthrie may be an inning eater, but Buehrle is something of a throwback to a different time. Since 2001 the lefty has started no fewer than 30 games, nor has he pitched fewer than 201 innings. Over each of the past three seasons, Buehrle has improved his control while also improving his strikeout rates. While it is likely Buerhle will once again devour innings, a .270 BABIP and second highest career strikeout rate suggest that at least a bit of a regression is coming and a return to a 4+ ERA should not be unexpected.

Buehrle may be filling the role of rock, but Johnson is filling the role of "ace". The soon-to-be 29-year old has had just two 30+ start campaigns over his career and just three of more than 25 starts. The lefty has also seen his BB/9 rates increase each of the past three seasonds and seen the reverse trend for strikeouts rates and fastball velocity. The stuff and youth is still there for a very solid 2013 but there is a fair amount of risk surrounding Johnson that should temper your bidding.

John Buck and Jeff Mathis are simply flip-flopping back-up catching roles. It is possible that one or both of the players, given their contracts, could be move again. Buck still has some power and patience, but has too much trouble making contact to hit much above .220. Much the same can be said about Mathis, but less so in the power department.

Emilio Bonifacio pushes Maicer Izturis into a utility role, but given Bonifacio’s up and down career, a time share seems more likely. The 27-year old switch hitter simply makes far too infrequent contact for someone with so little power to remain a viable starter.

Yunel Escobar will shift to third base while Adeiny Hechavarria will start at shortstop. Escobar, 30, could rebound in 2013 given good contact skills and double-digits HR power, but keep in mind that Escobar is an extreme ground-ball hitter who hits fewer than 30% of balls in play in the air. That means, a suppressed .270 BABIP and .253 batting average are not as fluky as they might seem in the context of the rest of Escobar’s career.

Hechavarria has a good glove and gap power, but is an aggressive hitter who might be overmatched in the Majors. Despite above average speed, Hechavarria is not a base stealer. Keep your expectations low.

Henderson Alvarez will take a rotation spot and youngsters like Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi are more likely to win rotation spots with the veterans dealt. Alvarez reminds me way too much of former Twin, Carlos Silva. The righty generates a great deal of grounders, but is entirely too hittable and will always have an ERA close to or above 5.00 if he cannot figure out a way to miss more bats.

Outfielder Jake Marisnick has at least 20-20, starting centerfielder potential, but needs work in the plate discipline department. The righty has the potential to be the gem of the deal for the Marlins, but does have some potential to be a flop. The 21-year old’s saving grace could be his ability to at least make contact which when combined with

Pitcher Justin Nicolino was a 2010 second round pick who will move up to A+ ball in 2013.The lefty has good command of three pitches and changes speeds very well. The 21-year old has middle of the rotation potential, but has an ETA of possibly 2015.

Finally, Anthony DeSclafini has a live arm and throws quite a few strikes (1.8 BB/9), but does not miss as many bats as college pitcher should in lower-A ball. Looks like a candidate for middle relief in the long run.

Happy Thanksgiving all. More Hot Stove talk next week!

Getting a Shot

After years of toiling as a quasi-part time player for the Angels, Maicer Izturis has inked a three-year deal (with a team option for a fourth year) with the Toronto Blue Jays to become their latest starting second basemen.

Coming off a 2012 campaign that saw Izturis struggle with perhaps one of his worst seasons, the multi-year pact seems a bit late in coming considering Izturis is post prime at 32-years of age. Although an excellent contact hitter, the switch-hitter is just a .273 career hitter and has experienced a three-year decline in the power department, down to a measly 2.7% HR/FB rate and paltry .059 isolated power. It is also noteworthy that Izturis produced the second highest ground-ball and second lowest fly-ball rates of his career in 2012 and unless these figures are outliers, could be harbingers of the beginning of the end.

On the flip side, Izturis provides position eligibility at second, third, and shortstop. The former Expo is still a very good base runner and was successful in 17 of 19 attempts, a career best and made contact 88% of the time with a .289 BABIP. In other words, there is room for some amount rebound and value to be had. The stolen bases could earn Izturis double-digits, but it seems wiser to focus on him as a sub $10 pick given the risk that he could be pushed back into the role he had with the Jays.

Reestablishment Deal

Scott Baker is attempting what Chris Capuano and others have done recently. Sign a reasonable one-year deal with incentives that could serve as a spring board to a larger long-term contract. The type of deal is a potential win-win for both Baker and the Cubs. Should the team fall from contention, Baker becomes an easily tradable commodity.

The righty is coming back from Tommy John surgery and could be back as soon as late spring training, but quite easily as late as next June. Baker is a control artist with a career 2.1 BB/9, so it will be rather easy to see how well his elbow has healed/how good a feel for pitching again he has quite quickly.

When healthy, Baker has a solid four-pitch mix and has a good track record for creating swings and misses despite a lack of a blazing fastball. Baker is primarily a fly ball pitcher and the long ball on occasion has been almost single-handedly been the culprit of inflated ERAs. Baker could be one of the better NL-only end game targets of 2013.

Lefty Love

Jeremy Affeldt has parlayed two outwardly identical seasons into a three-year deal to stay with the San Francisco Giants. Actually, the last five years have been somewhat similar at least in the strikeout department. Since 2010 Affeldt’s walk rate has trended downwards from the mid 4’s to a solid 3.3 and remained at that level for two years. 2012, however, was a marked improvement in other  areas too. The lefties’ splits vs. righties were nearly identical to that of his splits against lefties. In the past, Affeldt has posted wider splits and struggled at times in the command department against righties. Additionally, Affeldt’s HR/FB was 7% below career norms in 2012. Yes, Affeldt is a very dominant groundball pitcher, but also one known for leaving the ball up in the zone and 2012 looks like an aberration when contrasted against the context of his career. The 33-year old should still be an effective left-hand specialist for the Giants in 2013, but some regression against righties and in the homerun against department should be expected.

Minor Moves

The Royals were busy making room on their 40-man roster and managed to make a few trades rather lose players to waivers altogether. Tommy Hottovy went to the Rangers for cash and a player to be named while cash only was received from the Blue Jays in exchange for Jeremy Jeffress.

Hottovy is a 31-year old minor league veteran. The lefty had a breakout campaign where in 41 Triple-A  games he posted an 11.0 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 and then appeared in 9 games for the Royals. Hottovy’s a soft-tossing fastball/curveball guy who could challenge for a situational spot with the Rangers next spring.

Jeffress was once a highly regarded prospect with the Brewers and was part of the package for Zack Greinke. The righty can still hit the mid to upper nineties with his fastball  and struck out more than a batter per inning in the minors.  For much of his career, Jeffress has been more “thrower” than “pitcher” and command/control have been elusive. 2012 was a high-water mark as the former first-round pick produced a 3.9 BB/9 over 58 innings. It is most likely that Jeffress will begin 2013 in Triple-A and it is also very possible that the Blue Jays will try to pass him through waivers to clear up room on their own 40-man. The move is a good example of a low-risk, potential high-reward move.

In late breaking news, post this article's completion, the Marlins/Blue Jays blockbuster that would send Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, others and cash to the Jays has yet to be finalized. Once it is official, it will broken down as a special MastersBlog piece.

Depth Moves

Mike Aviles never got to play a single game for the Blue Jays. Instead, he is now with Cleveland along with Yan Gomes in exchange for Esmil Rogers. While with the Jays it appeared Aviles would be the likely replacement for free agent Kelly Johnson, a clear path to a starting role is not a given in Cleveland. Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera block the righty in the middle infield leaving third base and designated hitter as the most likely landing spots. Aviles has played third in his career and given the struggles of the Indians to get any production from the hot corner in 2012, it's within the realm of possibilities they hand the job to the former Royal and/or make him part of a platoon. The other possibility could be Aviles never plays a single game for the Indians either.  While not expensive in the grand scheme of everyday players, Aviles is arbitration eligibility and could get a $1M-plus pay increase after being the primary shortstop for the Red Sox in 2012. That might not be an expense the Indians want to incur if they intend to use Aviles as a utility man.

Yan Gomes was the other, less expensive, portion of the deal. Originally a catcher, Gomes was primarily a corner-man at Triple-A Las Vegas. There the righty enjoyed a career year with a .328 .380 .557 line and 17 overall HR's between stops in the minors and Majors. Overall, Gomes is an aggressive hitter who draws too few walks and strikes out too often. Though the 25-year old showed some pop this year, one must consider the context of the rest of his career and the environment in which that 2012 production was accomplished. Long-term Gomes profiles as a borderline MLB player, particularly as long as he lacks the defensive chops to stay behind the plate as his offensive game will not meet the expectations required for the other positions he plays.

Esmil Rogers was miscast for years as a starter as a guy with a plus fastball, suspect command, and quality of his secondary pitches. The Rockies and Indians came to their senses and moved the right-hander to the bullpen in 2012 where the ground-baller added velocity and more importantly, started throwing strikes. While with the Tribe, Rogers struck out more than a batter per innings and walked just 2.8 per nine innings. Given the context of the rest of Roger’s career, I am not yet a complete convert, especially given a 53 innings sample size. Still there is talent and at least setup man potential given a mid-nineties fastball and the ability to induce a high rate of balls hit on the ground.

Oldies But Goodies

The Rays are bringing back Joel Peralta for another campaign. Peralta, who will be 37 when the season begins, has actually improved with age.  The righty posted the highest K/9 of his career in 2012 (11.3) while continuing to throw strikes just about on par with the rest of his career (2.3 BB/9). His difficulties are related to extreme-fly ball tendencies (48.7% career fly-ball rate) and have on occasion inflated his ERA. Peralta has never been a hard thrower, averaging around 90 mph on the fastball while relying a good curve about 20 to 25-percent of the time and has a good track record for being able to combat righties and lefties alike.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, brought back Big Papi for two more years. David Ortiz will celebrate his 37th birthday in less than two weeks, but has actually become a more potent offensive force in recent seasons as a highly disciplined, contact-hitter, who can hit for average, get-on base, and hit for above average power. If not for an injured Achilles Tendon, Ortiz was actually hitting for the most power he’s shown since 2007 and was on pace to eclipse 30+ HR. The advanced skills and still very much evident power make it extremely hard to write Ortiz off anytime soon, but at his age and the type of injury sustained in 2012, its hard to expect or bid for a return to the 600+ plate appearance plateau.

Desperate times called for desperate measures. Oliver Perez found himself basically on the scrap heap, fighting for his baseball career as the lefty watched his velocity decline to the high eighties with the Mets. The measure was a move to Triple-A and the Seattle Mariner’s bullpen where the 32-year old added 4 to 5 mph his fastball and became a strict, fastball/slider left-handed specialist. In 33 games for the Mariners, Perez a solid 7.3 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 and close to a batter per inning when facing strictly lefties. The former Padre may have just found a way to add several more seasons to his MLB career.

Regardless of being suspended for drugs, the A’s are bringing back Bartolo Colon for another season. If the A’s intend to use him as their fifth starter, then the remaining of five games of his suspension could be moot, particularly if they don’t need a fifth starter until the second week or so week of the season as is oft the case. Regardless of PEDs, Colon is not the pitcher he once was, no longer cracking 6.0 in the K/9 department. Instead, the soon-to-be forty-year old throws strikes with greater frequnency including a three-year trend of improving walk rates. This is not all that surprising when one considers that Colon utilized his fastball almost 90% of the time last year, 83% of the time in 2011, and 90% of the time in 2009. The pitch obviously lends itself to being placed in the zone. Colon’s success last year was also the result of solid ground-ball rates, a slightly suppressed BABIP (.286), and HR/FB of 9.1%. Slight regressions, especially when considering his pitch-to-contact-style, could easily push the veteran back over the 4.00 range.

Coming next week, more Hot Stove League analysis!

The hot stove season began in earnest this week with teams needing to decide whether to pick up team options on some of their personnel.

Admittedly, few of these decisions come as much of a surprise as they are directly related to the ratio of cost vs. performance or lack thereof.

Let’s first take a look at some of the players staying with their 2012 clubs.

Mets Moves

The Mets, unsurprisingly, exercised their options on both David Wright and R.A. Dickey as they are working towards long term deal for both players and did not want have to combat other teams in order to bring them back. Wright had a nice comeback at the right time, his excellent plate discipline and power reemerging. Interestingly, Wright’s  fly-ball rate was one of the lowest marks of his career, so it’s actually possible a slight HR total uptick might be possible for 2013. Dickey, 38, threw his knuckleball over 80% of the time, showing an ability to vary its speed and throw it for strikes. So a two to three year deal is actually reasonable given the limited wear and tear of the knuckleball. 2012 was Dickey’s third straight season of posting sub 2.5 BB/9, but his first posting over a 6.0 K/9, so some regression has to be expected.

Dodger Head Scratcher

In the most surprising move thus far, Brandon League parlayed 27.1 innings of a 8.9 K/9 and 4.6 BB/9 into a three-year deal with an option for a fourth. League’s been up and down with both his strikeout and his control skills throughout his career, so a commitment of this magnitude could be mistake.

Economical Options

The Tigers quickly picked up the options of Octavio Dotel and Jhonny Peralta. $3.5 M for a pitcher with closing experience and a long history, including 2012, of being able to strike out more than a batter per innings makes sense. The righty is absolute death on righties with a career .186 .252 .331 line against. Meanwhile $6 M is pretty much a steal for a starting shortstop with power, even if Peralta is something of a one-year-on, one-year off type of player with up and down batting averages on balls in play. Given Peralta’s perennial fairly high line-drive rates, 2013 is a far bet for a bounce back season after hitting .239 with a .275 BABIP compared to a career .310 BABIP.

Moving On

The White Sox tried to make a move to the post season and came up short. While the Sox extended the contract of Jake Peavy for two additional years for $29 M both Brett Myers and Kevin Youkilis were let go. Peavy will turn 32 at the end of next May and is coming off his first 30+ start season since 2007. That said, Peavy’s skills and talents have never waned as the former Padre posted an 8.0 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9. In other words, Peavy pitched like the ace the Sox needed and was rewarded as such. Given his health history, however, a one-year-at-a-time approach really seems more prudent. On the open market, however, Peavy probably would have received even more.

The Sox were certainly prudent, when it came to Youkilis, preferring to pay the veteran a $1 M dollar buyout rather than $13 M dollars. The righty will be 34 prior to the start of 2013, has begun to wear down due to injuries and is no longer a significant on-base or power-threat. Youkilis struggles against righties to great degree, batting .234 and .220 against them in back to back seasons. Though the White Sox used Youk at third, there was a reason the Red Sox had been using him primarily at first in recent years. Sad to say, but the Jewish Greek God of walks is now best suited to wrong side of the platoon split duty.

Brett Myers has been rather effective as both a starter and as a reliever for the Astros over the past three seasons. However, the righty’s K/9 has declined each of the past three when one would have at least expected an uptick in 2012 given the change in role to relief, but that was not the case despite a 3 mph improvement in fastball velocity. That’s either a red flag or an anomaly. Like Youkilis, a $10M option for someone likely to be used in a setup role was an easy decision. Now the field is wide open for Myers who can pick amongst offers to either start or relieve.

Hitting Homers Isn’t Everything

In two seasons with the Orioles, Mark Reynolds hit 50 HRs, yet hit .221 with sub .340 OBPs in each of those years while playing a sub-par 3B. So when faced with a $500K buyout vs. a $11 M option, this was once again a rather easy decision. Reynolds is actually still arbitration eligible, but given the likelihood that the righty might actually a, it will be rather shocking to see the Orioles even offer it when the time comes.

Injury Moves

The Royals and Twins declined the options Joakim Soria and Scott Baker respectively. Both are working their ways back from Tommy John surgery. Soria had an $8.75 M option with a $500K buyout and Baker a $9.25M option. It is very possible both pitchers will return to their respective clubs at much lower prices with incentives and options for when they return to health. Baker underwent surgery in April of this year, so it is hard to see the righty making much of a contribution before mid-season. Soria’s timetable is slightly better (March surgery) and a relief role may expedite the former closer’s return.

Special thanks to Cot’s baseball contracts for being the most awesome contract info site on the internet!

While the Giants and the Tigers and most of the focus is surrounding the World Series, it’s clear from the recent actions of other organizations that their focus is also on the World Series, just not this year's.

The Red Sox desire for John Farrell to be their manager wasn’t a secret. What impact Farrell will quantitatively have upon the Sox is tough to say. Even though there are managerial preferences, runs scored and runs prevented correlate most strongly to personnel. Managerial preferences, total number of stolen base attempts for example, are also heavily personnel influenced. The Sox attempted fewer than 130 steals in 2012 while the Blue Jays under Farrell attempted over 180. To go further, one might note that some of Valentine’s last teams with the Mets attempted a similar number of steals to the Sox in 2012. However, if Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford had been healthy, it would have been a different story. Looking more closely at those Mets squads, they lacked base stealers and team speed overall (think Todd Zeile, Mike Piazza, etc). So for now, I would not read too greatly into the impacts, though certainly a chage in clubhouse atmosphere can only be a positive for the Red Sox and the toxicity found there in 2012.

As for the players involved in the Farrell deal, we have Mike Aviles and David Carpenter. Aviles is quite likely to take over as the starting second basemen with Kelly Johnson prepared to depart as a free agent.  Aviles was a good play in 2012 given eligibility at 2B, SS, and 3B but now heads into 2013 with qualification at shortstop only.

The former Royal started out strong and still showed double-digit HR and SB talents, but also has shown a lack of development in his plate approach. Aviles remains a very aggressive contact-hitter with a career 4.2% walk rate and therefore is quite susceptible to streaky play. But because of Aviles’ ability to make contact, hit a few line drives, and aforementioned power/speed tools, the righty still could surprise a swing upwards in the batting average department at anytime. In Aviles’ favor to hold the Jays’ second base job is a lack of organizational depth behind him and a prolonged slump may not have the impact upon his playing time that it could have in another organization.

Carpenter, meanwhile, is a a 27-year old reliever with a fair history for generating swings and misses, but inconsistent command. For now, Carpenter is likely slated as Triple-A roster filler and has an upside of right-handed specialist reliever with his power fastball/slider combo.

Three-Way Deal

The Farrell deal might be getting more headlines, but the three-way deal between the Diamondbacks, A’s, and Marlins is far more interesting. The writing was well on the wall for Heath Bell who had been more than a little bit vociferous regarding his displeasure in Miami. Now the former closer is a Diamondback where veteran J.J. Putz is currently closing. To say any closer is entrenched is a joke, but Bell’s projection for amassing saves is not great not only because of Putz, but because of David Hernandez. The former Oriole is roughly 8 years Bell’s junior and has lately shown both better command and far better swing and miss skills than the former Padre and Met.  In Bell’s favor, the righty does still strikeout over 8 batters per innings pitched and generates a fair amount of groundballs. There are far less attractive end game options available to take a flier on.

Now the price for Bell was Yordy Cabrera who came over to the D-backs along with Cliff Pennington. Cabrera is a 22-year old shortstop who hit .232 in A+ ball where he struck out nearly a third of the time. The righty is a tools guy with projectable power, a decent glove, a good arm, and at least average speed. Though a shortstop now, at 6’1”, his long term future is more likely at third. Given his age and lack of success at A+ ball, I have difficulty seeing him make the Major Leagues. This is more of a case of the Marlins unloading a veteran and eating some cash and trying to get at least a little upside out of the deal.

As mentioned, Cliff Pennington is now a Diamondback and will likely open 2013 as their starter at shortstop. The former first round pick’s game has changed little over the years as a good gloveman, with modest power and speed skills and mediocre OBP and batting average skills. In other words, .260 to .270 with 15 to 20 steals and 5 to 8 HRs is Pennington’s upside and less than that is the more likely expectation, though the .215 batting average of 2012 smacks of an aberration given a .259 batting average on balls in play as contrasted to near .300 career mark and a consistent history of fairly high line-drive rates.

Finally, this brings us to Chris Young. The 29-year old struggled to be effective and also dealt with multiple injury issues over the course of 2012. Young has established his ceiling as low-batting-average power/speed/good defensive player in the mold of Mike Cameron. More of the same should be expected. Young is an extreme fly ball hitter with fairly significant career platoon splits against righties (.228 vs .271 hitter). As of the acquisition, the A’s have no plans to trade any of the group of Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, or Seth Smith. The most likely casualty though is Jonny Gomes and a likely outcome may simply be the utilization of Young as a right-handed portion of a platoon which could greatly negate Young’s playing time, but could also of course help him to be less of a batting average sink.

This past Saturday, as you all well know by now, Tout Wars 2012 was held at the SiriusXM studios in New York City. Whether I play in AL or NL Tout, it is a great time and the draft I look forward to most every single season for the camaraderie and level of challenge it always is.

This year I returned to AL Tout and with a planned budget of around $190 on hitting and $70 on hitting (or a 73%/27%) split. But then I am never quite that exact. My main tool at any auction is my budget tracker which I slotted for fourteen hitters and 9 pitchers. Yes, I set it up for a $190/$70 split originally, but I do it in excel for the purpose of being flexible and really giving myself a budget range of $180 to $200 on hitting (and conversely $60 to $80 on pitching) to take advantage of opportunities as they presented themselves throughout the draft. I also gave myself a soft ceiling of not going above $25 on any player, but ended up going above it twice. Ultimately I ended up with a 74%/26% split, so overall I ended up sticking pretty much to my original intent.

Before I go on, I should note that this year Tout Wars included a new wrinkle of a swing man that allows participants to carry their choice of an extra utility hitter or a tenth pitcher rather than a fifth outfielder. I opted to go the traditional 14 hitter/9 pitcher route with the idea of utilizing that rule on an in-season basis depending on my team needs at any particular time.

So, who did I purchase and why?

C:  Kurt Suzuki $9, Salvador Perez $2
1B: Mike Carp $13
2B: Mike Aviles $9
3B: Kevin Youkilis $24
SS: Alexei Ramirez $19
MI: J.J. Hardy $18
CI: Adrian Beltre $29
OF: Ichiro Suzuki $24
OF: Torii Hunter $18
OF: Josh Willingham $15
OF: Seth Smith $3
UT: David Murphy $3
SWG: Josh Donaldson $2

P: Justin Verlander $28, John Danks $13, Derek Lowe $2, Drew Smyly $2, Danny Duffy $3, Garrett Richards $2, Brian Fuentes $2, Jerome Williams $2, Joe Nathan $16

Reserves: Travis D’Arnaud, Mike Montgomery, Ben Francisco, Joe Benson

Catcher: Kurt Suzuki was a particular target of mine prior to the draft.  He’s no offensive force, but I like his combination of contact and moderate power skills. He has posted two straight seasons of a .240 or less batting average on balls in play and for a player who hits line-drives around 20% of the time more often than not, there is upside still to be found here. At $9, this was a very comfortable purchase. I had only allotted a few dollars for my second catcher, so knowing I would be likely drafting a catcher who receives a smattering of at-bats throughout the season, why not say “$2” and try to get someone who might actually provide some help in the batting average department when they are around. Yes, Perez will miss most of the season, but it is possible that he will be around when I need him most during my stretch run. Of course this left with me a gaping hole at my second catcher slot, so I utilized one of my end-game choices on Josh Donaldson, currently leading the pack for the third base job at the time of this articles writing also at $2. He has a good history of producing power and drawing walks over his minor league career and at third base won’t have the wear and tear of catching. Plus once he gains third base qualification, then later in the season m roster has more flexibility. Finally, knowing that both Donaldson and Perez are still on the risky side, I took Travis D’Arnaud with my first pick in the reserve round as a potential impact mid-season replacement.

The corners: I originally intended to spend in the mid-twenty dollar range on a first baseman, targeting mostly Paul Konerko at this spot. He went a bit higher than I was willing to spend at the time, so I had to reroute my budget around a bit, shifting my first base monies to the low to mid-teens with a focus on Justin Smoak, Mike Carp, and Kendrys Morales. Carp was who I ended up landing late in the auction at $13. Carp is certainly no high-end option, but he is a patient hitter with legitimate 20+ HR potential and is capable of hitting .260. Plus he has multiple position eligibility.

To account for my budget rerouting, I then targeted Adrian Beltre to make up for missing out on a bat like Konerko. When Beltre came out, the number of other options at his level caliber were few, so I pushed it to $29 to make sure I rostered him. In my planning I had specifically targeted spending $20, if not to $25 on third basemen knowing the dearth of talent at the position. So my two main options here were Kevin Youkilis and Michael Young. I was in on the bidding on both and came away with the former at $24. While not my initial intent, carrying two third basemen of this caliber could easily be a boon as I look for trade partners later in the season. It is scary to note that looking at Beltre’s performance last year, he actually underperformed in the batting average department when you consider his BABIP as compared to his 2009 and 2010 campaigns.

Middle Infield: I flushed out much of my middle infield in the early to middle portion of the draft, focusing on my sub $25 plan. At this point I had missed out some of the bigger sluggers, so I targeted J.J. Hardy ($18) on the premise he would help make up for some of that loss. Granted I expect regression given the sudden return of his power for the first time since his 2007 and 2009 campaigns, but he has shown mid-twenties or better power three-times in his career now and it is a skill he owns, so I still expect a return to at least the 20+ HR plateau. Seeking consistent, repeatable production (drafting boring players has always been a large component of my drafts), I focused and bought Alexei Ramirez at $19.

OF: I continued the theme of boring and mostly dependable with Ichiro at $24, Torii Hunter at $18, and Josh Willingham at $15. All three players are post prime, but they are not quite done yet. Both Willingham and Hunter retain their power. Ichiro is still durable and has some speed left. His BABIP last year was well out of the context of his career norms and while it may be the result of having lost a step, his plate discipline skills remain and his speed scores were actually higher in 2011 than they were in 2010. I think he has at least one more good year and a rebound year at that left in him. As for Seth Smith and David Murphy, I had both valued in the low-teens and was pleasantly surprised to get them so cheap and it was because I did that I probably left $2 on the table. Smith should be the primary left-handed DH for the A’s and occasional outfielder while Murphy always finds at-bats given the questionable ability of the rest of the Texas outfield to stay healthy.

Pitching: I like having anchors in the rotation and the bullpen. Joe Nathan showed he had regained most of his former form and was a straight forward purchase at $16. Justin Verlander was not a part of my original plan. I had originally planned to buy two starters in the upper teens, but when I saw Verlander who I valued in the $30s floundering at $27, I threw out a $28 bid and didn’t mind at all landing the Detroit ace. I then lowered my amount for my second tier pitcher and ended up with John Danks at $13. The rest I focused on lower end pitchers, mostly with upside (Garrett Richards, Danny Duffy, and Drew Smyly) as well as Derek Lowe and Jerome Williams (also providing a handcuff for Richards) to provide innings. Obviously I am not trying to necessarily win ERA or WHIP here, but to gather innings, wins, and strikeouts, and perhaps catch some lightening in bottle from one of my youngsters, also including Mike Montgomery from the reserve round. Smyly may be optioned to Triple-A to start the season, but between him, Andy Oliver, and Jacob Turner, he is actually the most MLB ready in terms of repertoire and ability to command his stuff, so I expect him to be recalled soon even if I have to find a temporary replacement. Finally, as Grant Balfour is far from a sure thing as the A’s closer given how his fastball tends to be rather straight, it didn’t hurt adding Brian Fuentes at $2.

Reserve Round: Ben Francisco was rostered to move in for when I place Perez on the DL and move Donaldson to catcher. That will free a spot for Smyly on reserve as I will probably, barring an Andy Oliver late spring training implosion, be replacing him temporarily on the active roster.

So is the team a winner? Right now I can’t say that. No draft day team is the same as the final day squad. Winning a fantasy baseball league is a 162-game process. All I can say is that I’ve laid a pretty good foundation on offense provided my veterans do not all show their age at once and break down. My rotation has upside built in, but in case some of the youngsters fail, I am not overly committed to them given my low-investment and will be constantly hunting the FAAB wire for replacements as needs be.

 

The Cubs have been conducting a facelift of their rotation this past week starting with Carlos Zambrano shipped out of town for Chris Volstad, Andrew Cashner being dealt for first basemen Anthony Rizzo, and probably not ending with Paul Maholm’s signing. Matt Garza has been rumored to be on the market all off-season and may not be with the team by the time spring training opens. If he is, he will headline the rotation.

Ryan Dempster will end up the default ace if Garza does indeed depart. Dempster has been a workhorse since 2008 starting no fewer than 31 games and throwing no less than 200 innings. He has consistently posted solid strikeout rates and has greatly improved his control and command since joining the Cubs in 2007. Last season, however, the 34-year old produced his first 4+ ERA since joining the Cubs rotation. It needs to be instantly noted that Dempster’s 2010 and 2011 peripheral numbers are almost identical.

                K/9         BB/9      HR/9      BABIP    LOB%    HR/FB%

2010       8.7          3.6          1.0          .294        71%        11%

2011       8.5          3.7          1.0          .324        70%        11%

See anything that stands out? Well one’s batting average on play will most certainly rise when your line-drive rate jumps over 5%. So Dempster’s command and perhaps concentration were not as good as it has been in the past. The skills all clearly point to a rebound season. Dempster’s age (he turns 35 in May), however, along with his performance may keep his price lower though.  If the bidding starts to peter out in the low-teens (NL only leagues), his durability and strikeout skills make him quite desirable.

From then on who is #2 through #4 is fairly irrelevant and will likely come down to early season matchups. That said, Paul Maholm’s experience and contract likely make him the #2 with Chris Volstad and Randy Wells as a flip-floppable #3 and #4.

Paul Maholm, as pitchers go, has been quite reliable since 2007. That is if you define reliable based on peripheral numbers and being relatively healthy. In 2011, Maholm made the fewest starts of any of his full seasons in the Majors with only 26. The lefty is consistently around or above the 50% mark on ground-balls, is usually around the 2.7 mark in walks, and just above 5.0 in strikeouts. His pitch selection has remained fairly consistent too, working with a standard four-pitch package with his best pitch being his changeup. What has varied quite a bit from season to season are his left-on-base percentages and batting average on balls in play. In other words, his defense and bullpen with Pittsburgh has had varied effectiveness issues too. In theory, the infield defense should be stronger for Maholm in 2012 with Ian Stewart, Starlin Castro, and Darwin Barney behind him, but I would instead focus on the fact that though Maholm does indeed have some skills, his overall package speaks to being more of a 4’s ERA pitcher than a 3’s, and that is where you should set your expectations. Anything better should be considered gravy.

Volstad, 25, is a bit more intriguing given his size and youth which suggests there may still be upside to be found here. The results, thus far, however, have not been all that exciting and it is tough to justify more than a $1 or 2 at NL-only auctions given his history. It really comes down to command with Volstad. Like Maholm he is a ground-ball pitcher, but he is harder thrower and a right-hander who can generate some swing and misses given his 6.4 K/9 in 2011. He has started to translate his minor league strike-throwing abilities with a 2.7 BB/9 in 2011 and 3.1 in 2010, but has line-drive rates against him of 18% and 20% each of the past two years too along with a 16% HR/FB in 2011. Volstad strikes me as a pitcher who is really still just learning his craft and who perhaps needs to mature more in terms of really command his pitches. Throwing strikes is not enough. He’s the type of pitcher who could breakout at any time (upside as a #3 starter though) or just as easily remain in mediocrity. Not a bad choice in the end game if you’re looking for some innings.

2012 will be right-hander Randy Wells' fourth year in the Cubs’ rotation. He continues the theme of ground-ball inducing, middling bat-missing, striking throwing pitchers in the group. A 6.7 K/9 raised some eyes in 2011, but that feels like a fluke when you consider Wells works in the high eighties and that there is not a great deal of separation of velocity in any of his four pitches. Despite a .275 BABIP, his 2011 ERA was at 4.99, though this was in large part due to an out of characteristic issue with the long-ball. Still, his upside is that of a mid-4’s ERA inning eater who could easily be supplanted by an up and comer at anytime.

Speaking of possible up and comers, the number five spot is wide open if Garza departs. It is possible the Cubs will seek additional free agent help to fill this void, but also they do have  a few options already in house to give a try.

Leading the charge is Jeff Samardzija who the Cubs claim will be stretched out as a starter this spring. The soon to be 27-year old is still blessed with a power arm, averaging about 95 mph on his fastball last year in combination with his slider to generate an 8+ K/9. Relief is probably his best role and this experiment is not one to look upon with too much optimism. As a starter, Samarzija works 2 mph lower and does not have the depth in his repertoire or the control or the command of his pitches (5+ BB/9) to be a reliable starter. It’s quite possible 2011 could have been a career year for the right-hander unless he makes the transition from thrower to pitcher.

On the other side of the spectrum is Andy Sonnanstine was brought in as a minor league free agent. He has held onto a rotation spot for an entire season only once and his command and control have not been the same since 2008.  Instead he has pitched mostly in middle relief since that time and is now on the wrong side of 30. It is more likely he is used as Triple-rotation filler or as a short-term option if given a starting role.

Another option, and perhaps the best option, may be Travis Wood who the Cubs acquired from the Reds in the Sean Marshall trade. The almost 25-year old leftymade 18 starts last year with a solid 6.5 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9. He works primarily with a high-eighties fastball, a cutter, and a plus-changeup. Last year was rough for him, but he has enough depth in his repertoire and pitchability to rebound. His one shortcoming is his fly-ball tendencies. So far this has not been an issue as it relates to giving up the long-ball, but is something of which to be apprised.

Right now, especially if Garza departs, the Cubs will feature a rotation mostly consisting of inning-eater and back-end of the rotation types with the exception of Dempster. While this group may be able to keep the Cubs in many ballgames, they are not putting an offensive juggernaut on the field. They managed just a .314 OBP and .401 SLG last year as a club and are returning neither of their best two power hitters in Carlos Pena and Aramis Ramirez. Alfonso Soriano is also rumored as trade bait meaning Geovany Soto and Rizzo or Bryan LaHair along with Ian Stewart will have to provide the thunder. In other words, unless some more positive moves occur, the Cubs may have some difficulty attaining the 71 wins they achieved last season and wins for Cubs starters could be scarce.

The Oakland A’s starting lineup will almost entirely be in a state of open competition this spring. Discerning not only who will win those starting jobs, but those players who are the best bets to retain those jobs and/or be promoted into the starting lineup as the season progresses is an important exercise, particularly for AL-only leaguers. Why? Well, given the number of potential open slots and potential bargains available, the roster is ripe with potential sleepers and busts who could be the difference in putting a team over the top.

Catcher – One of the few undisputed positions. Kurt Suzuki will be the A’s backstop. He is signed through 2013 with an option for 2014, so this is not a mid-season trade candidate. While Suzuki has decent power and makes good contact, he still runs like a catcher and has produced BABIPs in the .240's each of the past two seasons. A return to the .270’s is possible with a little luck, but to expect much more than that would be foolish. Journeyman Anthony Recker is the early favorite to be his backup, but all eyes will be on the progress of Derek Norris. The former fourth-round pick is noted for his patience and power potential, but he struggled to hit for average for the second straight year, managing just a .210 batting average. It is clear that another full-season in the Minors is needed and given Norris’ strikeout rates, I am starting to wonder whether he will end up a wrong-side of the platoon player.

First Base/Designated Hitter – The A’s have a collection of former top prospects in competition here. The A’s rescued Brandon Allen from the Diamondbacks last year. There is a ton of power potential here, but despite another extended opportunity failed to translate his minor leagues skills, most notably in terms of strikeouts (30%+ rather than low twenty-percent), he will be 26 to start the season and could be on a short leash. Brandon Allen has more potential than Daric Barton, who hit .212 last year, but there will still be a competition. It should be noted that Barton posted a .325 OBP despite his batting average, continued to make contact as well as draw walks. It looked like Barton’s trending upward fly-ball rates might precursor a power outbreak, but the opposite occurred. There’s still a .280+ hitter in this skill set, but he is not going to be more than a low to mid-teens home run per season player at best. Former Royal Kila Ka’aihue is yet another option. The soon to be 28-year old gets it done year after year in the Minors, making contact, drawing walks, showing some pop, and hitting for average. In the Majors we simply haven’t seen much. A hot spring training could push Kila into the forefront, but he may be simply considered Triple-A roster filler at this point. The A’s last option is Chris Carter. Carter is noted for raw power, high strikeout rates, and terrible defense. The 25-year old is a right-handed hitter who struggles against righties and is the least likely to win a long-term starting job given those aforementioned limitations. The safest bet is probably Barton, but Allen is the early favorite while it is hard not to pull for Ka’aihue to put things together. On the positive side for this lot, it is quite possible that two players from this group will earn starting jobs with the designated hitter spot open too.

Second Base – Jemile Weeks already has the starting job for Oakland and is one of the few in the lineup with further upside. Despite hitting .303 last year, Weeks has not fully shown his minor league skills in the Majors. He has been well noted for his plate discipline and leadoff-hitting abilities. If he can do that in combination with his speed, he has the ability to be a consistent .300 hitter for years to come. He does have a long history of injuries at the minor league level, so keep your expectations for playing somewhat tempered. If a significant injury occurs, pay attention to Adrian Cardenas. He makes contact, can hit for average, and has some gap power.

Third Base- Tigers castoff Scott Sizemore has the third base job for now. Unlike many other Athletics, Sizemore finally translated his minor league skills to the Majors, showing a combination of mid-teens per season home run potential and patience. I am, however, skeptical regarding his ability to hit for average long-term given his right-handedness and his rather mediocre contact-making skills.

Shortstop – The final incumbent holding onto his starting job is Cliff Pennington, despite back to back seasons with a .319 OBP. For a hitter with limited power, he hits far too many fly balls which turn into far too many outs. This is particularly disappointing when you consider Pennington is also a good line-drive hitter.  Fortunately for Pennington, however, the A’s are not deep at shortstop and he should go relatively unchallenged despite his shortcomings.

The outfield is almost completely up in the air. Coco Crisp re-signed and will once again man center field. His speed makes him a valuable fantasy player (49 steals), but he too has a long injury history. Despite a .314 OBP in 2011, his two-year $14M deal will keep him in the lineup. Other than that, former top prospects Collin Cowgill, Josh Reddick, and Michael Taylor are the primary competitiors for the other two slots. Cowgill is no star in the making but plays good defense, is a very disciplined hitter, and is capable of mid to high-teens home runs per season and more than 20 steals. Josh Reddick broke through in 2011, hitting .280 with power and making contact more than 80% of the time. However, he is not the most patient of hitters and posted a .357 BABIP against lefties while hitting .275. Michael Taylor was once thought to be a potential 30-30 or 30-20 player, but struggled upon being traded away from the Phillies. He rebounded in Triple-A with 16 homers, an 80% contact rate, 12% walk rate, and 14 steals with a .272/.360/.456 line. With just 35 MLB plate appearances, however, he is far from a sure thing. So this is a decent-reward level outfield, but keep in mind these are not young prospects. Taylor is 26, Reddick will be 25 in February, and Cowgill is already 25. All three players could easily end up back in the Minors if they struggle and be sentenced to journeyman careers. One option that might work would be to play Cowgill in left full-time while utilizing a platoon of Reddick and Taylor in right. As far as help from the farm, prospect Grant Green is another, but the former first-round pick is 24 and does not have any particular standout skills or tools to get overly excited about.

So as you can see, there is quite a bit of uncertainty with respect to this roster.  For now, I recommend targeting Weeks. If I had to choose one of the more unproven quantities it would be Cowgill given his combination of plate discipline skills, speed, and power. He is a darkhorse .300 AVG 15 HR 25 SB player.

 

The White Sox have made it well known that they are retooling and perhaps even rebuilding their club. This comes on the heels of the new collective bargaining agreement which may mean that they will be engaging in several other big moves prior to the start of the season after having already dealt closer Sergio Santos for a prospect and letting long-time starter Mark Buehrle depart via free agency.

Carlos Quentin figures to be the most likely candidate as an upcoming free agent after the 2012 season. As a reminder under the new CBA, teams acquiring potential free agents do not gain the benefit of compensation pick should they ultimately let these players walk. In other words, it decreases teams with potential free agents’ leverage and ability to extract a quality price in exchange for said players. As an aside, it makes me wonder whether the exciting deadline will move from July to the day before the season begins. Because of the new CBA, teams may be forced to make decisions to compete or rebuild all the sooner.

In addition to Quentin, Gavin Floyd (club option for 2013), Jason Frasor, Dayan Viciedo, A.J. Pierzynski, and Will Ohman are trade candidates too.

However, Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, Alex Rios, etc, are all signed beyond, and in some cases well beyond, the 2012 season. In other words, with all that money still under contract, it may be difficult for the White Sox to follow through on their desires now unless they wish to eat most of that salary. I think a retooling effort is more likely. Unfortunately given the aging nature of many of those contracts, this could result in a few more ugly seasons for White Sox fans unless they make some dynamic additions rather than subtractions to their core.

The John Danks extension is a partial signal that the White Sox, per the above contracts, cannot facilitate an actual rebuilding/house cleaning effort yet, and instead are moving forward with what they have to try to contend once again in the AL Central.

Danks will now be with the White Sox, provided he is not dealt, through the 2016 season. The left-hander will turn 27 shortly after opening day. By the end of the contract he will be 31. Without looking at the numbers, the age question make sense as it in theory takes him through his prime years and should also in theory avoid the decline phase.

Despite a 4.33 ERA and his lowest innings pitched total since 2007, Danks actually had one of his better seasons from a peripheral statistics point of view. 2011 included his career high single-season K/9 of 7.1 and his second career lowest BB/9 of 2.4. These skills, when you include a 40%-plus ground-ball rate, improved ability to keep the ball in the park in general, and the highest batting average on balls in play of his career, all point towards a return to the sub-4.00 ERA level.

My one recommendation, however, is not to get excited about the rise in K/9. Danks did not have any changes in velocity or have any significant changes in his pitch selection. Instead, having to pitch fewer innings (oblique strain, nothing to panic about long-term) is more likely to simply have kept him fresher to the point where his strikeout rates did not digress to his normal sub 7.0 range.

While I am, in general, not a big fan of long-term signings for starting pitchers and it very much remains to be seen whether or not Danks will be healthy for all of it or even most of it, the White Sox at least gave out such a deal at the right age where he is past the early-career breakdown stage and is prior to the post-prime decline phase of his career.

 

The past week’s theme has been pretty much focused, with the exception of the resurgent Bruce Chen, on players coming off sub-par seasons.

For example, John Jaso took over the catcher’s gig for Tampa Bay in 2010, translating his excellent plate discipline to the Majors, most notably providing a .372 OBP while making contact more often than he struck out. Fast forwarding to 2011, the left-handed hitting catcher failed to crack a .224 .298 .354 line. Yes, he still drew walks, but his strikeout and walk rates almost flip-flopped while his batting average on balls in play fell from a .282 (fairly typical for a slow-running catcher) to .244. The fact is Jaso is a strict platoon catcher, failing to hit over .200 against lefties in each of his two big league seasons. In 2011, however, there was little to no fluctuation in where he put the ball in play and in fact, against righties he still made contact over 90% of the time while walking more often than he struck out, he just failed to hit the ball where they ain’t. Now Jaso will head to Seattle where he will serve as a backup and possible platoon partner. He has the skills for a rebound of sorts, but his lack of speed and power preclude him from being more than a single-digits value AL-only catching option.

Josh Lueke, acquired by the Rays, is a MLB-ready middle reliever who in fact pitched 32+ innings for the Mariners last season, posting an 8.0 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9. He has a low to mid-nineties fastball, curve, and a split-finger fastball and has the potential to be more than just a right-handed specialist.

Meanwhile, the Rays catching situation has been turned upside down with the departures of both Jaso and Kelly Shoppach. They have brought in defense only receiver Jose Molina on a one-year deal and also retained Robinson Chirinos. I was high on Chirinos going into last season as an almost right-handed hitting clone of John Jaso to form an interesting OBP-machine platoon. Instead, Chirinos battled injuries and suddenly struggled to make contact in both the Majors and the Minors. The Rays other option is Jose Lobaton. The 27-year-old has gap-power, knows how to work the count, and despite limited MLB experience, he is the one option of the three that can hit left-handed. Keep an eye on him as he could potentially end up the primary portion of a platoon.

Royals Address Their Pitching

As mentioned, the Royals retained Bruce Chen. The 34-year old lefty received a two-year contract after a 25-start season that saw him walk fewer than three batters per nine innings and produce a sub-4.00 ERA. Do not expect more of the same. A .278 batting average on balls in play coupled with an 8.6% HR/FB rate, a 75% strand rate and mediocre abilities to miss bats marks him as a 4+ ERA-type innings eater. While I believe the soft-tosser can retain his peripheral skills, there is more room for regression here than for upside.

The Royals bullpen, other than Joakim Soria, has not had much success over recent years. In a surprising move, they were able to lure Jonathan Broxton away from a chance to potentially close for other teams to a setup role. Broxton spent much of 2011 disabled or ineffective. As it turns out, he required surgery to remove bone chips from his pitching elbow. While it tends to cost pitchers time, over the long-term this is a surgery that most pitchers come back from fully, and the Royals should have cause for optimism. His awful near 1:1 K/BB and 6.4 BB/9 last season will likely give much pause, but I would recommend taking a shot if he falls to the late single-digits. The Royals are currently denying that they will move Soria to the rotation, but the possibility of it is greater with Broxton in the fold if he proves he is 100%.

Sizemore Returns

It looked like Grady Sizemore’s days in Cleveland were over, but instead the Indians have decided to give their former star another shot. The 29-year-old is a wild card. He has not played a full season since 2009 and his ability to stay healthy remains questionable. His ability to make contact and his plate discipline skills have also fallen apart as he struck out nearly 30% of the time last year as opposed to making contact around 80% of the time or better during his heydays. He did at least show some power last year, producing an isolated power near .200, but his speed game looks to be a thing of the past and it will be interesting to see if he is now better off in a corner outfield spot rather than in center. He is still young enough to enjoy a full rebound, and those willing to take a risk could be well rewarded, but it is also hard to justify a bid out of the single digits given his recent track record. Watch him this upcoming spring. Purchasing him will be a league context issue. If others are bullish on a recovery, bid him up. If everyone ducks and covers and he falls under $10, rolling the dice may not be a bad thing.

 

The Rangers signed Joe Nathan to be their closer this week, but this is not the real news. The real news is that it means the Rangers have decided to let C.J. Wilson walk and are moving Neftali Feliz back into the rotation. The move make sense as only Feliz amongst their rostered pitchers has the makings of a #1 or #2 starter to fill Wilson’s cleats.

While exciting in theory, keep several things in mind. First off, Feliz saw his K/9 drop to a 7.8 and struggled with his control, watching his BB/9 rise two full points from 2010. Also keep in mind that his single season high innings pitched was 69.1 in the Majors. In the minors his single season high was 127.1. In other words, one cannot expect Feliz to replace Wilson’s 200+ innings immediately. Admittedly, Wilson himself went from 73 innings to over 200 innings for two straight years, but keep in mind that the lefty was much further along the physical development curve as a 29-year old being moved to a starting role. Converting a 23-year old who spent time on the disabled list to such a role is worthy of greater scrutiny.

As for Nathan, he came back well from Tommy John surgery, showing his pre-injury control, albeit with a slightly reduced K/9 to an 8.7. It was the first time the right-hander had failed to strikeout more than a batter per innings since 2002 and it is not surprising to note that also averaged a full mph less than he had previously and was down two mph from his peak seasons on his fastball. Nathan could bounce back somewhat now that he is more removed from surgery, but at 37 years of age, it is more likely we are in for more of the same, which is not bad at all.

Insurance Policy

The Phillies were active again in the band aide market this weekend. Now in addition to Jim Thome, the Phillies acquired Ty Wigginton for a player to be named or cash. Ryan Howard is recovering from a ruptured left Achilles tendon and while some reports out there are optimistic and may even have the slugger back with the team by mid-April, the Phillies still did not want to take chances. Wiggington, even after Howard returns, is a good spare part for a contending team. He has experience at a variety of positions (this does not mean he is good at any), makes contact, and provides some power.  Last season he hit just .242, but this was due in great part to a .270 batting average on balls in play when you consider he made contact over 80% of the time and an isolated power of .175. He is best utilized in a platoon role with a career .354 OBP, .461 SLG against lefties and .314 .437 marks against righties. Wigginton will mostly see action at first base and third base next year (Placido Polanco is coming back from injury too), but his total playing time is up in the air and will be determined by the health of the rest of the roster.

Just How Bad is the Free Agent Market for Shortstops?

Clint Barmes received a two-year deal worth over $10 million dollars. If he played another position, Barmes would likely have to settle for a minor league deal or could have ended up a minor league journeyman long ago. Instead his above average defensive skills at shortstop along with decent power and contact making skills for the position made him an “in-demand” commodity. Consequently it lead to a multi-year deal despite having  a career .302 OBP.

The right-handed shortstop has been pretty much at the same offensive level for years, making contact more than 80% of the time, making into the low-teens in the home run department (2009 with the Rockies sticks out as a clear fluke in the power department). Despite his contact rate, he has rarely been able to hit much above .250 (career .252 hitter). The reason? Like Wigginton, he is a platoon player, failing to crack a .244 .292 .379 line against righties over his career. In NL only leagues last year, Barmes earned $8. Expect more of the same.

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