Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Milwaukee Brewers Should Keep Prince Fielder

He stands 5 feet, 11 inches tall and is listed as weighing 270 pounds. He was the seventh overall pick in the 2002 draft and is entering his final year of arbitration. To the Milwaukee Brewers, Prince Fielder is an integral part of the team.

Coming off the worst season of his career, rumours are swirling as to what Brewers GM Doug Melvin will do this off-season. Does he trade his prized possession in the hopes of re-stocking his farm system, or does he hold onto Fielder and make a push for the playoffs in 2011?

Fielder's 2010 salary of $10.5-million was affordable for the Brewers, but what will he get this year if he goes to arbitration? His 2010 season does not indicate that a huge raise is on the horizon, but someone could probably expect a salary of around $13-$15-million for the 2011 season. The fact that the Brewers have failed to lock up Fielder long term tells me that he definitely intends to test free agency after the 2011 season where he could fetch upwards of $20-million a year on the open market.

However, at this point, Fielder may not be the prize of the 2011 free agent market. First basemen Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals and Adrian Gonzalez of the San Diego Padres are also due to hit free agency at the same time, and provided neither player is signed to a lucrative contract over the next year, we may see a very interesting off-season next year regarding first basemen.

What exactly does Fielder bring to the Brewers? His 50 home runs during the 2007 season are a start. The fact that he almost hit .300 last year while finish with a .299 batting average is something else. But in 2010, he had probably the lowest offensive output of his career. His slash line of .261/.401/.471 is impressive, but not by his own standards. He led the National League with 114 walks, but had less than 100 RBI for the first time since 2006 while posting a total of just 83 this year.

The low number for RBI can perhaps be offset by teammates Casey McGehee, Ryan Braun and Corey Hart having totals of 104, 103 and 102 respectively. Fielder still led the team with 32 home runs and made just 4 errors in the field all season.

The Brewers had no problems with offence in 2010, but if they can improve their starting rotation for the 2011 season, I think it would be better for them to hold onto Fielder for the season. Of their starters, only Yovani Gallardo had an ERA below 4. Only three National League teams scored more runs than the Brewers in 2010, but at the same time, only two teams allowed more runs. If the Brewers do trade Fielder, they would need to receive pitching in return and go out and get a replacement.

Another way of improving their pitching staff would be to trade prospect Brett Lawrie. Lawrie could certainly get the Brewers some young pitching that could be with the team for years to come, and it would not compromise the 2011 season. Trading away top prospects like Lawrie is always hard, but for the Brewers, it may be worth it in this case.

Essentially, I think that the Milwaukee Brewers should hang onto Prince Fielder this season and attempt to improve their pitching any way they can. If they had even remotely respectable pitching this past season, they would have reached the playoffs. Beyond Gallardo, their starting rotation left a lot to be desired. Some may argue that guys like Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson had winning records. But if you think about it, would other pitchers with their ERAs really have that many wins on teams with much lower run support? Likely not. The Brewers have a strong offensive team, but just need to improve their pitching to be successful. If they can acquire some effective starters and relievers this off-season while keeping Fielder in the lineup, they could very well run away with the division title.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

How do the Yankees replace Jeter?

We have all read the reports. The New York Yankees are offering this, Derek Jeter is asking for this. Who really knows what to believe? Regardless of the years and dollar figures being thrown around by the media, I have decided to take it upon myself to make an attempt at asking a question many people may be asking: What will the Yankees do without Jeter?

We all know that the Yankees were considered finalists to sign Cuban Adeiny Hechavarria before he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. Why did Hechavarria not sign with the Yankees? He did not want to be stuck behind Jeter in the Yankees’ depth chart.

Looking internally, the Yankees would appear to have very little in the way of prospects who could step in for 2011 or even beyond that. Ramiro Peña logged almost 100 innings at shortstop this season, but his .227/.258/.247 slash line is hardly impressive.

How about the free agent market? There are certainly some better options here. Guys like Orlando Cabrera, Cristian Guzman, Cesar Izturis and Edgar Renteria could be options for the Yankees.

Cabrera has never been anything special with the bat, but has two Gold Glove awards to his credit. He spent the 2010 season with the Cincinnati Reds and helped them get to the playoffs for the first time in years while hitting .263/.303/.354 on a $2.27-million salary. Defensively, Cabrera would be an upgrade over Jeter but offensively, the Yankees would take a hit.

After playing his entire career at shortstop, the Washington Nationals moved Guzman to second base this season before shipping him off to the Texas Rangers, who also played the 34-year old Guzman primarily at second base. Throughout his career, Guzman has never quite been a force with the glove, making at least 20 errors in a season four times throughout his eleven year career. Offensively, his numbers are trailing off as well. The man that once stole 28 bases in a season while hitting 20 triples managed just 4 of each this season while hitting .266/.311/.337 for the Nationals and Rangers. Overall, Guzman would definitely be a downgrade from Jeter, but could cost the Yankees far less.

In ten seasons, Izturis has spent time with six different teams. A former Gold Glove winner, there are absolutely no questions about his defence. The part that may worry some is his lack of offence. A career .256/.296/.323 hitter, Izturis saw a drop in those numbers this season with the Baltimore Orioles. While being an upgrade over Jeter defensively, the lost offence may be too much to pursue Izturis.

Renteria is fresh off a 2010 season that saw him win the World Series MVP and then see the Giants decline to pick up his $10.5-million option for the 2011 season and decline to offer him arbitration. He is still above average as a shortstop, and his offensive numbers from this season were very comparable to Jeter’s. Essentially, Renteria may be the best option for the Yankees if they look to fill a void left by Jeter via the free agent market.

What about replacing Jeter via trade?

J.J. Hardy immediately stands out as a possibility. Regarded by some as a potential non-tender candidate, the shortstop may no longer fit into the Minnesota Twins’ plans after the organization won the bidding for Japanese shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka. That said, the Yankees could potentially wait to see if the Twins do in fact offer arbitration and if not, he could be obtained without giving up anything of value. A career .263/.323/.423 hitter, Hardy would certainly not be an offensive upgrade over Jeter. Though, if he can regain his power stroke, he would certainly be a welcome presence in the lineup. While Hardy has never won a Gold Glove award, his defence is regarded as above average and certainly has more range than the 36-year old Jeter.

One final option for the Yankees could be Stephen Drew of the Arizona Diamondbacks. At 27, Drew hit .278/.352/.458 for the D’backs in 2010 while swatting 15 homers and swiping 10 bags in 151 games. He even played above average defence and is locked into a contract that will pay him $31.5-million over the next four seasons. If the reports of the Yankees offering Jeter $45-million over three years are correct, Drew could save the team some money while potentially being a better option than Mr. November himself. That said, he would probably cost the Yankees quite a bit to acquire.

Overall, the Yankees would probably be best to keep Jeter provided his contract demands do not seem too outrageous. But there has to be a line drawn. As soon as his demands cross that line, it could become beneficial for the Yankees to look elsewhere and find a replacement for their long-time captain and shortstop. Guys like Renteria and Drew would be good replacements for Jeter, but would certainly not be the same.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Blue Jays Infield Options

The 2010 edition of the Toronto Blue Jays saw many struggles for the infielders on the team. Despite the fact that they received at least 20 home runs from each of the regulars, (Lyle Overbay with 20, Aaron Hill with 26, Edwin Encarnacion with 21, and Alex Gonzalez and Yunel Escobar combined for 21), Escobar was the only one to finish the season with a respectable slash line of .275/.340/.356 during his time with the Jays.

Escobar will return to the Jays for the 2011 season as the shortstop, while Hill will look to rebound from a 2010 in which he hit just .205/.271/.394. However, it is not yet clear which side of the infield Hill will find himself on when Opening Day rolls around. He has spent time at three of the four infield positions during his Major League career, and some believe he would have made the move to third base had the team successfully acquired Dan Uggla earlier this off-season. Keeping in mind that Hill can play either second or third, the Jays will need to go out and fill at least one of those holes.

As far as first base goes, Adam Lind logged 76 innings at the position this season and although he made no errors, he often looked out of place. With his lengthy contract extension and the current outfield situation that faces the Jays (Wells, Snider, Bautista, Lewis and Davis for 3 spots), it makes sense for the Jays to try Lind at first base in 2011 instead of going out and acquiring somebody new to man the position.

Knowing that first base and shortstop are taken care of, and that Hill will play either second or third this season, I have decided to compile a list of five players who I think the Blue Jays could realistically have fill the vacancy.

Brad Emaus, Las Vegas 51s
Emaus, 24, would be the most affordable option. He has never seen any time in the Majors so his service time clock is still at zero, and he spent time at both second and third base during the 2010 season although he is probably better suited for third due to his strong throwing arm. In 125 games at the AA and AAA levels last year, Emaus hit a combined .290/.397/.496 while mashing 15 homers and stealing 13 bases. While not currently on the Jays’ 40-man roster, I see Emaus as a good candidate to play the hot corner for the 2011 Blue Jays or at least be a good bench player.

Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals
Gordon, 26, has struggled offensively during his time in the Majors. Through parts of four seasons with the Royals, Gordon has hit .244/.328/.405 while spending most of his time at third base. The Royals moved him to the outfield this season, but that does not mean he could not make a return to the infield if acquired by the Blue Jays. Mike Moustakas made it all the way to Triple-A this year, and could challenge for the starting third baseman job for the Royals in 2011, making Gordon somewhat expendable. He would likely cost the Jays a couple of minor league arms to obtain, but if he can finally match his 2010 minor league numbers through 75 games (.310/.451/.567), any deal the Jays can make would be worth it.

Orlando Hudson, Free Agent
Hudson, 32, is the oldest player of the bunch that I will recommend for the Jays. He is a Type-B free agent who was offered arbitration, but the Jays would not lose a draft pick by signing him. In 2010, Hudson hit .268/.338/.372 for the Twins while making just 8 errors in the field. Signing Hudson would bring him back to Toronto, a team he was with from 2002-2005, and would cause Hill to move to third base. Hudson could provide Gold Glove-calibre defence in the field and be a great option for the second spot in the batting order. He has signed late in the off-season the past two years, but the Jays could likely get him for less than what they paid Overbay last season if the O-Dogg is willing to make a return to Toronto.

Gordon Beckham, Chicago White Sox
Beckham, 23, has already been mentioned in trade rumours this off-season. According to Yahoo’s Tim Brown, many clubs expect the White Sox to listen to offers for him. Acquiring Beckham would give the Blue Jays another good, young option for the infield. Although he took a step back in his sophomore campaign by posting numbers of .252/.317/.378, Beckham could easily rebound from that. Like Hill, Beckham also came up as a shortstop and has Major League experience at both second and third base, so it is unclear as to where he would play if the Jays acquired him. I would think that the team would stick with Hill at second and move Beckham to third.

Brett Lawrie, Milwaukee Brewers
Lawrie, 20, was ranked the as the #59 prospect by Baseball America heading into the 2010 season. Drafted as a catcher, Lawrie has made the move to second base and is thriving in the minors. This past season, he hit .285/.346/.451 with 30 stolen bases for the Double-A Hunstville Stars, a minor league affiliate for the Milwaukee Brewers. One could argue that it would be more realistic for the Brewers to trade Rickie Weeks, a player who crushed a career-high 29 home runs this season, but if the Brewers hang onto Prince Fielder it is clear that they will be making a playoff push this season. One thing that is important for a team hoping to make the playoffs is starting pitching, something the Brewers lack and something the Jays have an abundance of. The Jays could potentially deal one of their arms for a future second baseman. Lawrie may not be ready for the Majors yet, but he could prove me wrong in Spring Training. Making a trade for Lawrie would be a smart move for the Jays, but it would also need to be accompanied by another move such as signing Hudson or giving Emaus a shot at the Major League level.

These are just five options for the Blue Jays, who certainly have many more. But I see them all as realistic targets for a team looking to reach the post-season for the first time since 1993.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Has Lyle Overbay's Recent Play Made Him a Trade Target For Teams?

The man at first base for the 2010 edition of the Toronto Blue Jays is Lyle Overbay. He’s been with the team since his trade from Milwaukee in December of 2005. Compared to John Olerud, Jays fans were gung ho for Overbay from the start hoping he could replicate some of the numbers the 1993 AL batting champion put up.

He immediately produced for the Jays, putting up the best season of his career in 2006 by posting numbers of .312/.372/.508. Add to that his 46 doubles, 22 homers and 92 RBI and he definitely seemed worthy of the 4-year $24-million extension he signed that off-season. Since signing that extension, Overbay has left a lot to be desired.

From 2007 to 2010, Overbay has put up a slash line of .258/.346/.422 while hitting only 118 doubles and 51 home runs through three and a half seasons. Granted, he spent parts of 2007 and 2009 on the disabled list, but that slash line is below average for a first baseman.

Of all the knocks on Overbay, one thing you can’t knock is his defence. He has a career fielding percentage of .995 at his position, and has been known to make outstanding diving catches.

This season, Overbay is hitting .251/.329/.413 which seems to be well in line with his averages over the past few seasons. However, what many people should notice is how he has been playing lately.

Through the month of April, Overbay posted a slash line of .171/.281/.329. This was well below average and fans were calling for him to be benched. Overbay improved in the month of May while hitting .243/.296/.430. He improved offensively, but still not enough for many fans as they only saw his overall numbers to that point.

June was a turning point for Overbay as he posted a line of .282/.378/.376, well above his career averages with the Jays. Despite the fact that Overbay was becoming more effective at the plate, fans still sought to rid themselves of a man they have dubbed Lyle Overpaid in favour of young prospect Brett Wallace.

Through July, Overbay has worked to silence his critics with a line of .323/.380/.538 so far. These are Olerud-worthy numbers to say the least, and Overbay has certainly earned his salary this month.

The issue the Blue Jays face right now is whether or not they can capitalize on this and trade Overbay for prospects or whether they should hold onto him and hope he gains Type A or B status as a free agent this off-season.

The aforementioned Wallace is doing quite well at Triple-A this season. He is hitting .296/.359/.497 with 16 home runs through 89 games as the team’s primary first baseman and many Toronto fans would love to see what he can do at the Major League level.

The question now becomes: do other teams want Lyle Overbay? It’s clear that his defence is superior to many other first basemen, so my inclination is to say ‘yes’. However, that $7-million salary he earns this season is somewhat of a hindrance when combined with his limited no-trade clause that many of us learned of today courtesy of Jon Paul Morosi at Fox Sports.

When you look at Overbay’s numbers over the past few months, you have to think that some teams would want him. The Angels, for example, after having lost Kendry Morales for the season are in need of a first baseman. Mike Napoli has done an admirable job in Morales’ absence, but Jeff Mathis does not provide much offence behind the plate so a trade that could see Napoli move back there would benefit the entire team seeing as how Napoli has thrown out 29% of potential base stealers this season compared to Mathis’ 21%.

The Rangers are another team that could be looking for a first baseman with Chris Davis struggling at the plate.

It is unclear at the moment as to which teams are on Overbay’s no trade list, but it has been claimed that none of the teams currently looking for first basemen are on it. It also remains to be seen whether the Blue Jays will trade him or not. He does not project to be a Type A or B free agent this off-season, so it could be in the best interest of the team to deal him for something at the deadline. However, if he keeps playing like he has through June and July, he may be able to just sneak into Type B territory.

Whatever happens, I’d be surprised if we didn’t see Overbay’s named mentioned in rumours over the next week. He may be on a hot streak now, but the Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos may be able to capitalize on that much like he did when he sent Alex Gonzalez to Atlanta for Yunel Escobar.

Outfielder Market Just Got Interesting

When David DeJesus ran into the wall while trying to catch a ball hit by Derek Jeter, he removed himself from the rumour mill and also removed one of the best available outfielders from the market. This season-ending injury opened the way for the Brewers’ Corey Hart to become the best available outfielder until he ran into the wall in a game against the Nationals.

What do these injuries mean for the Royals, Brewers and other teams looking to either buy or sell outfielders this trading deadline? It means that teams looking to sell can now ask for more for their players while teams that are buying should expect to pay much more to receive lesser value.

With DeJesus and Hart now off the market, guys like Jose Guillen, Cody Ross and Jose Bautista have become much more valuable to prospective buyers. While the Royals would have undoubtedly received more for DeJesus, GM Dayton Moore could now potentially ask for slightly more if he trades Guillen. This does not necessarily mean that he’ll get more, but it is definitely a possibility.

The injuries to DeJesus and Hart came at a horrible time. In trading DeJesus, the Royals could have potentially brought in some young prospects that they really need. By trading Hart, the Brewers could have brought in some young arms for a very poor starting rotation.

Now, the Royals could still get those prospects by trading Guillen, but may have to eat more salary than they would have by dealing DeJesus.

In a matter of days, the lead up to the trading deadline just got a lot more interesting without any trades going down.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ted Lilly's Value To Other Teams

With the trading deadline only just over a week away and the Chicago Cubs currently sitting 11½ games behind the division-leading Cardinals, it would appear as though the team will go into full out sell mode on the 31st of July.

Among the list of possible trade candidates according to the media is Ted Lilly. Lilly is in the final year of a 4-year contract that is paying him $12-million this season. What many media outlets fail to point out is the fact that Lilly has a partial no-trade clause in his contract, and would potentially have to waive it for any deal to go through. Although, it could probably be assumed that he may waive it in order to make a move to a contending team.

With Lilly’s name on the block, I thought I’d take a look at his performance on the season. Lilly is a two-time All-Star, being selected in his first year with Toronto in 2004 and last year. Lilly has consistently had above average control throughout his career and has had the ability to strike out his opponents, but has always been susceptible to home runs.

Last year we saw Lilly with a career low in HR/9 at 1.1. When compared to his career average of 1.3 it doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but that coincided with the lowest ERA of his career of 3.10. This year, he is allowing 1.5 HR/9, while certainly not a career high for Lilly, when it is combined with his other numbers I start to get a little worried. Lilly’s H/9 is at 8.0, HR/9 at 1.5, BB/9 at 2.1, and K/9 at 6.5 with a K/BB ratio of 3.12. These numbers are less than stellar, and to put things in perspective, the NL averages for this season are as follows: 9.0 H/9, 0.9 HR/9, 3.4 BB/9, 7.2 K/9, 2.11 K/BB.

While Lilly’s numbers are not the best overall, the majority are still better than the league average. The main thing about those numbers that concerns me is the high home run ratio. Though, there may be a good reason for that.

Lilly gas never been a groundball pitcher, as noted by his career 34.1 GB%. He had his best performance in his final year with Toronto in 2006 when he posted a 37.7% groundball rate. But every year since then, we have seen a steady decline in that number. He posted a 33.7% rate in 2007, 33.6% in 2008, 31.9% in 2009, and an amazing 29.4% so far this season. If Lilly can somehow improve upon that, I think he can regain some of his effectiveness.

Another aspect of Lilly’s game that is deteriorating is his velocity. Once again, we have seen a steady decline in the velocity on his fastball since his days with Toronto. In 2006, he was clocked at an average of 89.9 MPH while with the Blue Jays. This was followed up by a 2007 average velocity of 88.4 MPH, 87.4 MPH in 2008, 87.1 MPH in 2009, and now 86.0 MPH in 2010.

One positive aspect about these drops in velocity is that Lilly’s walk rate has been lowered substantially, while his other numbers seem to have gotten worse. This has led me to wonder: who would want to acquire a guy like Lilly for the stretch run? Would he really benefit another team? Where would he fit into another team’s rotation?

We’ve seen Lilly linked to teams such as the Mets, Tigers, Dodgers and possibly the Yankees. Of these four teams, the Tigers are the only ones without a valid left-handed option in their starting rotation. Seeing as how Andrew Oliver is 0-4 with a 7.36 ERA through 5 starts, I don’t really see him as a good option just yet.

With the Yankees and Dodgers, I don’t see Lilly as being much of an upgrade at all but more of an insurance policy should one of their current starters suffer an injury such as the one suffered by Andy Pettitte that should keep him out for the next month. Though, I could see a trade to the Yankees as being a disaster for Lilly seeing as how the New Yankee Stadium is arguably the most hitter friendly park in the Majors. His home runs allowed number could potentially skyrocket.

If Lilly were to head to the Mets or Tigers, I could see slightly different scenarios playing out. With each team, he’d certainly be inserted into the rotation immediately and could even become a #2 starter with Detroit. One thing the Mets have going for them is the fact that Citi Field is a pitcher friendly park, and could reduce the number of home runs allowed by Lilly.

Essentially, I see Lilly as having some value to a contending team. It’s clear that if he is traded, he’ll provide his new team with good control while keeping his walks low but could have some trouble keeping the ball out of the bleachers in hitter friendly parks such as Yankee Stadium.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Kevin Gregg's Seemingly Poor Outing on Saturday

As I was about to sit down and write an article about Kevin Gregg's performance against Baltimore on Saturday night, I stumbled across this particular article over at The Blue Jay Hunter.

While watching the game, I found myself questioning many calls the umpire made. When Shawn Camp came into the game, I even found myself questioning the umpire as well. Anyways, the article is worth a read.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Despite Recent Trades, Rangers Still Need Players

Over the past few weeks, they have seen Josh Hamilton go on a rampage and raise his batting average to .351 for the season. They have also acquired catcher Bengie Molina and starting pitcher Cliff Lee. With these two trades, the Texas Rangers filled two of their biggest holes.

Since coming to the Rangers, Molina has hit just .185/.219/.296 in 8 games.

Cliff Lee did not fare much better in his debut despite going the distance for a 6-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles while allowing a season-high three home runs and striking out a season-low two batters, something he had already done twice this season.

In order to obtain Lee, the Rangers traded starting first baseman Justin Smoak, who was not having a brilliant rookie season. At the time of the trade, Smoak was hitting just .209/.316/.353 for the Rangers and has gone 1-for-12 in three games with the Mariners.

The departure of Smoak left a vacancy at first base to be filled by Chris Davis, the man who began the season as the Rangers’ starting first baseman. Davis is hitting just .203 on the season, but .273 in 4 games since assuming the role of starter. While Davis can certainly provide the Rangers with power, he also provides them with a player who could probably strike out about 200 times a season if given enough playing time.

While Davis is certainly not the worst batter in the world, the Rangers may need to look to the trade market for an upgrade.

Players that could be available to the Rangers include Lyle Overbay, Lance Berkman, Adam Dunn and Mike Lowell.

Perhaps the best option of that list would be Dunn. He’s a left-handed batter who would thrive in Texas with that short porch in right. Add to that the fact that he is having a career year at the plate, with a .288/.372/.588 slash line and is set to become a free agent at the end of the season. The main problems with acquiring Dunn are that he would probably strike out just as much as Davis, and his free agent status is projected to be Type-A meaning the Nationals may ask for a lot in return.

Overbay is a player who has struggled for most of the season, but has seen his average reach a more respectable .250 while hitting safely in 10 of his past 11 games. He is not projected to be a Type A or B free agent at the end of the season so could possibly be had for very little, but with Alex Anthopoulos in charge of the Blue Jays that does not seem likely.

Berkman, in the final guaranteed year of six year contract makes $14.5-million this year and has a full no-trade clause. Would he accept a trade to another team in the same state? Perhaps if the Rangers agreed to exercise his $15-million option for 2011, but then again, that price tag may be a little too high for a player such as Berkman at this stage in his career.

Though still on the disabled list, Lowell could find himself playing for the Rangers by the end of the month. His $12-million salary makes it hard for the Red Sox to move him, but the very little playing time that he has seen while healthy is an indicator that they may be willing to eat some salary just to rid themselves of Lowell. That said, they may not necessarily give him away and would probably want roster players in return as they go for a playoff push of their own.

Whatever the Rangers do, they will probably ask teams to eat some salary in any trade they make like they did when acquiring Lee from the Mariners. The impending sale of the team makes it hard for them to take on any payroll for the remainder of the year, though has not had as much of a hindrance on the team as expected.

Before closing out, I’d like to put out two final options for the Rangers. It could be worthwhile to take a look at players that are currently not contracted to any MLB teams and take a look at some free agents. Specifically, Carlos Delgado and Jermaine Dye.

If healthy, Delgado would be a huge help to the Rangers. In Arlington, Delgado has a career slash line of .316/.400/.781 with 19 home runs in just 40 games. Those 19 home runs are the most that Delgado has hit in any ballpark that he has not called home throughout his career. We know that he had off-season surgery and was not expected to play until June or July, but we do not currently know how he is progressing or if he will even be able to play this year. Still, it’s something worth looking into.

Unable to find a Major League contract at the start of the season, Dye may find a home in Texas if he is willing to play first base. We saw a decline in Dye’s numbers in 2009, but the power was still there and at 36, is still a much more reliable option than Davis. Being a free agent, the team would not have to give up any players to obtain him. Though, money could be an obstacle for the Rangers.

At the moment, it is not clear if the Rangers will be able to acquire any more players. The only thing that can be observed by watching them is that they have a definite need for a new first baseman. Barring any injuries, it should be all they need to go deep into the post-season.

They have great production from all other positions, some quality arms in the starting rotation and a reliable bullpen. The Rangers may win the division title with the current squad, but obtaining one more offensive threat to play first base will almost certainly guarantee it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Yunel Escobar Shall Help The Blue Jays

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about how I thought the Blue Jays needed to go out and obtain a new leadoff hitter. I contended that Fred Lewis would help the team much more as the second batter in the order and I listed a couple of guys who I thought the Jays could potentially go after. At that point, the team was still above .500 and thoughts of the playoffs did not seem to be all that far-fetched. Now, a few losses later, we see that the Jays have gone and made a trade.

The Jays sent Alex Gonzalez, Tim Collins and Tyler Pastornicky to the Atlanta Braves for Yunel Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes.

Beginning with the players the Braves receive, it seems as though they are making a push for this season. Gonzalez leads all Major League shortstops at this point in the season with 17 home runs despite a slash line of .259/.292/.497. While his batting average and on base percentages are well in line with his career averages, that slugging percentage is the highest of his career by far. Defensively, Gonzalez has been above average while posting a UZR/150 of 4.0 for the season which is rather low for him. Still, the aforementioned 17 home runs are more than any current Braves player. His $2.75-million salary for this season is not too expensive, and the Braves will have a $2.5-million option for 2011.

Collins, a 20-year old left-handed reliever has spent the year at Toronto’s Double-A affiliate in New Hampshire. In 35 games there he has a 1-0 record with a 2.51 ERA in 35 relief appearances. He has pitched 43 innings and struck out an amazing 73 batters.

Pastornicky, a 20-year old playing in Single-A Dunedin, is one of three shortstops involved in this trade. With Dunedin, Pastornicky has hit .258/.348/.376 in 77 games. Perhaps the most intriguing part about Pastornicky is his ability to steal, as he has stolen 24 bases this season while being caught 7 times. At to that his 57 steals from 2009 and 27 from 2008 and it’s clear that Pastornicky is a threat on the basepaths, something the Jays have lacked for years.

Moving onto what the Jays receive, I’ll start with Jo-Jo Reyes. The 25-year old left-hander has struggled during his time in the Majors. Through 41 games in his career (37 starts), he has a won-loss record of 5-15 with an ERA of 6.40. Reyes has struggled with control (4.5 BB/9), has shown a proneness to the long ball (1.5 HR/9), and has a slightly below average rate of strikeouts (5.9 K/9). While his minor league numbers are much better in all three categories, this has failed to translate to success at the big league level.

I have a theory that Reyes and his 90-91 MPH fastball would be better suited as a left-handed specialist as lefties are only hitting .215 against him throughout his career. Reyes has faced 698 right-handed batters throughout his career, and has walked 80, struck out 84 and allowed 27 home runs for a slash line of .320/.399/.549. However, against lefties, he has faced 186 and walked 18 while striking out 44 and allowing 6 home runs for a slash line of .215/.301/.374. To put those numbers against lefties into perspective, if Reyes had faced 698 left-handed batters based on averages he would have walked 68, struck out 165 and allowed 23 home runs. While we only see small differences between the walks and home runs, the strikeout rate has almost doubled.

Despite pitching at Triple-A in the Braves’ organization, Reyes has been assigned to Double-A New Hampshire. I just hope it’s to convert him to a full-time reliever.

Finally, the main prize of the trade in my opinion, 27-year old shortstop Yunel Escobar, is heading to the Blue Jays. In 2009, Escobar was on fire. He hit .299/.377/.436 with 14 home runs while playing above average defence. However, in 2010, those offensive numbers are not as pretty. Escobar has struggled with a line of .238/.334/.284. While he certainly seems to get on base more than Gonzalez, his batting average and slugging percentage are just terrible. He has no home runs this season and only 12 extra base hits total, all doubles.

Defensively, Escobar has been excellent with a UZR/150 of 9.5 so the Blue Jays may actually improve defensively with this trade. Escobar’s 2010 salary of $435,000 is only slightly over the Major League minimum and the Jays will control his rights through the 2013 season.

After looking at Escobar’s slash line, I ask myself one question: where has the power gone? All his other numbers seem to be normal, but there is an obvious absence of power. One has to think that if he had say maybe even 5 home runs, his batting average would be about 20 points higher. I’m no expert and have admittedly seen very little of Escobar’s play this year so I may be wrong on this idea, but after seeing what manager Cito Gaston and hitting coach Dwayne Murphy have done with the power-hitting Blue Jays, one has to think that they can bring Escobar’s game around again. Who would have seen guys like Jose Bautista and John Buck being All-Stars at the beginning of the season, let alone Bautista leading the Majors in home runs?

Trading Escobar for Gonzalez has given the Braves power from a middle infield position while sacrificing the ability to get on base. At the same time, it has given the Blue Jays payroll flexibility and a player who, despite his recent struggles, has a higher on base percentage (.334) than all but two regulars on the team (Bautista .361 and Fred Lewis .334).

With Escobar’s ability to get on base, I would like to see him in the leadoff spot for the Blue Jays. I still believe that Lewis will help the team much more as a #2 hitter, but I do realize that Escobar is certainly not as fast. Still, I’d much rather have a guy who can get on base as the lead-off hitter and a guy with a good average and some gap power as the second batter in the order. If Cito and Murphy can help Escobar to regain his power stroke, I’d have trouble deciding on who to have bat lead-off.

I see this as a win for both teams, but think the Jays will do better in the long-term. Escobar’s presence at the Major League level will allow the Jays to develop Adeiny Hechavarria efficiently and without rushing him. If the Jays can get the two players to be in the Majors at the same time, deciding which Cuban to make the starting shortstop would be a nice predicament to be in.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Phillies May Not Have The Players To Cope With Recent Injuries

When Phillies’ All-Star second baseman Chase Utley went down with a thumb injury, the Phillies’ offense took a huge hit. At the time of the injury, Utley was hitting .277/.383/.466 for the Phillies who currently sit in 3rd place in the NL East.

Two days earlier, Placido Polanco was placed on the disabled list with inflammation in his left elbow. The most logical player to replace Utley at second base and current starting third baseman for the team was hitting .318/.349/.433 during his first year back with Philadelphia after signing with the team as a free agent this past off-season.

Jimmy Rollins is now back as the team’s starting shortstop, hitting .282/.392/.518 in just 23 games. But beyond Rollins, the back-ups have been less than stellar.

Replacing Rollins at shortstop for much of the year has been the light-hitting Wilson Valdez, who hit .269/.289/.414 during Rollins’ absence. Over at third base, the Phillies have had Greg Dobbs play most of the time there in the absence of Polanco, and Dobbs has hit just .163/.230/.238. Recently, the Phillies brought up Cody Ransom who is a career .236/322/.401 hitter.

With guys like Valdez, Dobbs and Ransom in the lineup, the Phillies can’t expect much in the way of offense. Add to that the less-than-stellar defensive ability of the trio, and it is clear that the Phillies need to acquire some help if they wish to get to the post-season.

The Red Sox and Rockies have also suffered injuries to key players such as Dustin Pedroia and Troy Tulowitzki. But the one thing the Phillies have is a reliable replacement at second base in Polanco. When he returns in just a few weeks, it would be a good idea to have the Phillies place him at second base in the absence of Utley and acquire a new player to play third base.

Polanco has already played 20 innings at second base this season while starting two games there, and won a Gold Glove for his performance at the position in 2007 and 2009 so it is clear that he would make an excellent temporary replacement and may even outperform Utley defensively.

Aside from Domonic Brown, the Phillies have a rather poor farm system at the moment. Over the past year, they have used much of it to acquire players such as Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. Despite the fact that it certainly grades lower than it did at this time last year, and Phillies still have some serviceable prospects that could potentially net them a rental player nearing free agency. Although it’s not necessarily always ideal to trade for rental players, I see very few options for the Phillies at the moment.

By looking at the Phillies’ minor league system, it is clear that they will have to look outside the organization if they want reliable reinforcements. With the presence of Polanco on the team, the Phillies have the option of shopping for third basemen as well, which could make things a little easier on them.

With guys like Miguel Tejada, Jorge Cantu and Christian Guzman projecting as Type A or B free agents at the moment, teams may ask for a little more than what the Phillies could potentially give. Unfortunately, they may be stuck with dealing for lesser players such as Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Lopez or Jhonny Peralta.

Despite the fact that looking outside of the organization may be the best option for the team to improve itself immediately, how will it affect the team in the long run? We’ve already seen them trade away guys like Kyle Drabek, Jason Donald and Michael Taylor in attempts to improve the team immediately. Only time will tell what the Phillies should do. But their current 3-6 skid against the Blue Jays, Reds and Pirates with more games coming against the Braves and Reds before the All-Star break, should have fans slightly worried that if nothing is done to improve this team soon, they may be out of contention.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How has Brandon Morrow improved so much lately?

Forget for a second that he’s walked a batter almost every two innings this season or that he’s never really had a full-time job as a starting pitcher at the Major League level until this season. Ignore his rough April and focus on what he’s done lately.

In his first ten starts this season, Brandon Morrow went 3-4 with a 6.66 ERA. He had an 11.7 K/9 rate and 5.76 BB/9 during those ten starts, only one of which lasted longer than six innings. As a team, the Toronto Blue Jays were 5-5 in games that Morrow started.

Since a May 31st start against the Tampa Bay Rays, Morrow has been on fire. He has since gone 2-2 with a 1.80 ERA. His K/9 rate has gone down to 7.88 K/9 but what’s amazing is his 2.7 BB/9 number, not to mention the fact that he has only allowed one home run in six starts. But what has changed? What has caused Morrow to transform himself from an average pitcher to an above-average hurler that the Blue Jays can now rely on?

Well, that improved BB/9 rate is a start. Allowing almost 3 less walks per nine innings is certainly a step in the right direction, and shows that he has harnessed some control as we roll into summer.

But there’s more to it than that. Looking at Morrow’s career numbers, he’s never really been a groundball pitcher. He’s typically allowed more fly balls, which has made him somewhat prone to allowing home runs. This season is different. While Morrow began the season allowing more fly balls, we have seen a reversal in his numbers of late.

By looking at the chart at FanGraphs, it is clear that Morrow’s increased groundball rate has something to do with his success. Coincidentally, we see perhaps the sharpest increase of all in his LOB% (runners left on base). In his first 10 games, Morrow was only able to strand more than 70% of runners twice. Prior to his game against Cleveland, Morrow had stranded more than 70% of runners in his last four starts, and more than 75% in his last two.

Despite the fact that Morrow’s strikeout numbers have dropped off slightly, his improved walk rate combined with the new found ability to induce ground balls has helped him much more. Less runners on base means less chances for the other team to score, and more ground balls means more chances for double plays if anybody manages to get on.

Should Morrow continue with these types of performances, it will be clear that the Blue Jays won the trade they made this off-season when they sent Brandon League and Yohermyn Chavez to Seattle to acquire the young right-hander.

Morrow was initially drafted by the Mariners with the 5th overall pick in the 2006 draft. Though he managed to make five starts in 2008 and another ten in 2009, he was primarily used as a reliever during his time in the Majors while even spending time as the closer for Seattle.

Since the trade to the Blue Jays, he has become a full-time starter. With just over 2 years in service time to start the season, Morrow’s rights will be under team control until the end of the 2013 season. One year longer than Brandon League.

Can the Red Sox Win With So Many Injuries?

The Boston Red Sox currently sit in second place in the AL East with a record of 47-31. They are only one game behind the New York Yankees and lead the American League’s wild-card race by two games on their closest rival, the Tampa Bay Rays. With the Red Sox in the thick of the playoff hunt as we near the half-way point of the season, the recent slew of injuries has to have many people worried.

Starter Josh Beckett has been out since May 18th with a lower back strain, and is expected to make a rehab start before the All-Star break and should return sometime in July. However, when he has been healthy this season, he has not performed well. In 8 starts for the 2010 season, Beckett is 1-1 with a 7.29 ERA. His only win came in his second start of the season, an 8-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals. How walk rate has risen this season from allowing one every 16.1 batters in 2009 to one every 11.2 batters this season. His strikeout rate has fallen from one every 4.4 batters in 2009 to one every 5.3 batters in 2010. Beckett seemed to have lost a bit of velocity of his fastball early in the season, but we’ll have to wait and see if he can regain some of that upon his return and hopefully he will be able to improve his numbers.

Clay Buchholz, one of the Red Sox’ best starters this season, suffered a hamstring injury during his last start against the San Francisco Giants on June 26th but is expected to miss only one start and avoid a trip to the disabled list. This is good news for Sox fans, and Buchholz has the most wins on the team while posting a 10-4 record and is third in the AL with a 2.45 ERA. Fans should expect to see Buchholz back July 6th when the Red Sox face Tampa Bay.

Losing two of your top five starters is never easy to overcome. But the Red Sox have managed to do well, but are now running into problems with their starting lineup. When they faced the Rays on Tuesday night, they did so without five key members.

When Jacoby Ellsbury collided with teammate Adrian Beltre on April 11th, he fractured his ribs and was placed on the disabled list. The speedy outfielder returned on May 22nd to play only three games before returning to the DL with the same injury. Ellsbury later claimed that he returned too soon and that probably worsened his condition. Without Ellsbury in the lineup, the Red Sox have lacked a true stolen base threat. Ellsbury stole 50 bases in 2008 before swiping 70 last season when he set a Red Sox record.

Replacing Ellsbury in left field, at least until June 9th, was Jeremy Hermida. The Red Sox acquired him in an off-season trade with the Marlins and has been a disappointment this season hitting just .217/.268/.384. Like Ellsbury, Hermida fractured his ribs while playing left field.

Since the injury to Hermida, playing time in left field has been split between Bill Hall (.179/.258/.214 in 9 games) and rookie Daniel Nava (.294/.368/.490 in 14 games). Nava clearly has the statistical advantage over Hall, but is it enough for the Red Sox to stick with the rookie instead of looking outside the organization for help?

Ellsbury currently has no clear timetable for his return and Hermida is expected to be out until after the All-Star break, so barring any more injuries, the Red Sox will have to go with an outfield involving Hall, Nava, Darnell McDonald, Mike Cameron and J.D. Drew until the others return. Of those five, only Cameron and Drew were expected to be part of the regular starting lineup this season. Though players like Nava and McDonald have been pleasant surprises, with McDonald even outperforming Cameron offensively.

Moving to the infield, Jed Lowrie has been out all season due to mononucleosis, but he would not have had a spot in the starting lineup anyway with guys like Dustin Pedroia, Marco Scutaro and Beltre ahead of him. Still, it would have been nice for the Red Sox to have Lowrie come off the bench in tight games.

Speaking of Pedroia, the 2008 AL MVP suffered a broken foot in a game against the Giants on June 25th and is expected to miss about six weeks. At the time of the injury, Pedroia was having another All-Star calibre season hitting .292/.370/.502 while leading the team with 8 stolen bases and making only 2 errors in the field in 73 games.

In the 3 games that Pedroia has missed, Hall has been the second baseman going 3-for-9, which is a little better than he had done while playing in left field.

Making it to the DL a few days before Pedroia was the lightly-used Mike Lowell. While appearing in only 31 games this year, Lowell has struggled to the tune of a .213/.308/.350 slash line which is well below his numbers from last season and his career average. Being used as primarily a pinch hitter this season, Lowell has only started 10 of the 31 games he’s played in all year leading many people including himself to believe that he no longer has a role on the Red Sox. This has lead to speculation that he would be traded before July 31st, but this latest hip injury has other teams wondering whether he will be able to return to full health before the trading deadline.

With Pedroia, Lowrie and Lowell out, the Red Sox are missing a good core of infielders. But luckily for them, Pedroia is the only starter on the team.

Two days after Pedroia’s injury, catcher Victor Martinez broke the thumb on his catching hand and is now expected to return immediately after the All-Star break. Still, with Martinez out of the lineup, the Red Sox will have to rely on rapidly aging veteran Jason Varitek, a player who has seen his numbers drop consistently over the past 5 seasons.

Essentially, the Red Sox have some great depth in their organization that should help them get through this troubling time. Almost any other team would be crippled with injuries to star players like Pedroia, Ellsbury and Beckett. But the Red Sox have other guys who can fill those holes. The only worry now is what will they do if something happens to the backups or the rest of the team?

J.D. Drew has never played more than 140 games in his time with Boston and has a history of shoulder problems. Beyond Varitek, who do the Red Sox call on for catching help? Can Gustavo Molina be expected to be effective as the team’s starting catcher if both Varitek and Martinez are out? Or would they trade for another catcher?

The next two weeks will be tough for Terry Francona and company as they look to catch the Yankees and build upon their league in the wild-card race. With five more games to go against Tampa Bay and three games against each of Baltimore and Toronto, the Red Sox will play eight games against two of the teams chasing them down in the standings. If they can hold their ground until the All-Star break, they should be in good shape to make a run at the playoffs. If not, we may see another team leading the way.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Another Trevor Cahill Article...This One is More Informative

If you play fantasy baseball in any format, I’m sure you’ve run across articles telling you all about Trevor Cahill of the Oakland Athletics. As a sophomore, Cahill has drastically improved his numbers from his rookie year.

As a rookie, Cahill went 10-13 with a 4.63 ERA in 32 starts during the 2009 season. He also walked 72 while striking out 90 in 178.2 innings. In 2010, he is 7-2 with a 2.88 ERA in 12 starts. Additionally, Cahill has walked only 24 while striking out 52.

According to FanGraphs, Cahill’s fastball averaged about 89.8 MPH in 2009 compared to 90.4 MPH in 2010. He has also been throwing his curveball much more at a rate of 11.9% this season compared to 2.7% in 2009. What’s also interesting is the change in speed. While his fastball seems to have picked up an additional 0.6 MPH on average, his curveball has gone from 79.1 MPH in 2009 to 77.8 MPH in 2010. It’s a small difference, but certainly enough to fool hitters.

His 2009 numbers would have shown a difference of 10.7 MPH between his fastball and curveball, while his 2010 numbers show a 12.6 MPH difference. That’s almost 2 miles per hour. That may not seem like much to the average fan, but the bigger difference between pitches does a much better job in throwing off a hitter’s timing at the plate.

Cahill’s groundball rate has also improved from 47.8% in 2009 to 53.3% in 2010. This has led to a sharp decrease in home runs allowed. In 2009 he allowed one every 28.6 batters he faced. In 2010, Cahill allows a home run every 37.1 batters. Essentially, he allowed about 1 every game last year and one every two out of three games this season.

It is clear that Trevor Cahill has improved his numbers this year. By reading this article, I hope you understand how and why he has managed to improve those numbers. The only thing I would like to know is how did he manage to increase the velocity on his fastball? Is it something he worked on, or should we expect to see that velocity drop as the season goes on?

Possible Write-Ins For All-Star Ballot

With the deadline for All-Star voting quickly approaching, I thought it would be a good idea to list some deserving players who did not make the ballot. These players will have exhibited All-Star calibre numbers, but may require some write-in votes. The only criteria: each player must not have his name on the 2010 MLB All-Star ballot.

Brennan Boesch, Detroit Tigers
Boesch was essentially an unknown to most people at the start of the season. In fact, a search for him on Google will bring up a page with his minor league stats before his major league stats on Baseball-Reference. Go ahead, try it and see for yourself. Boesch did not make his Major League debut until April 23rd, a game in which he went 2-for-4 against the Texas Rangers. Since then, he has been on a tear. For weeks, Boesch was listed near the top of the AL batting race. He has since trailed off, and is now hitting .338/.389/.621 for the Tigers through 53 games. He has been a pleasant surprise for the Detroit Tigers as their left fielder, and shows no signs of slowing down as his numbers have been fairly consistent throughout the season. With a batting average and slugging percentage this high, Boesch deserves to be in the All-Star game.

Andrés Torres, San Francisco Giants
Torres has been around for a few years. At 32 years of age, he’s no rookie. He played in 75 games for the Giants in 2009 and put up good numbers. But his 2010 has been great. Torres has a slash line of .276/.375/.448 through 66 games while playing all three outfield positions for the Giants and flashing some speed on the basepaths with 13 steals to date. Of his 61 hits this season, only 33 have been singles. His on base percentage and stealing ability may make him a good leadoff hitter, but combine that with his extra base power and it makes him a great #2 guy in the lineup. Torres deserves to be in that All-Star game with the numbers he is putting up this season not simply because of his batting average, but due to his ability to hit for extra bases and ability to move into scoring position after reaching base.

Ángel Pagán, New York Mets
Taking over the everyday job in centre field from the injured Carlos Beltran, Pagán has performed quite well. He has managed a slash line of .302/.363/.443 as the everyday centre fielder for the Mets, but stands to lose his starting job with Beltran’s return coming closer. There’s a great article over at Amazin’ Avenue that states what the Mets should do when Beltran returns, but chances are that Pagán will not get as much playing time as he deserves. His 14 steals this year and the fact that he has made only two errors in the field should dictate that he would be an integral part of the Mets’ lineup, but we’ll have to see what the Mets actually do.

These three guys may not be the best players in baseball, but they are certainly going beyond expectations with their performances this season. The problem with all three is that they were either not on the big league roster to start the season, or they assumed starting roles due to injury and were therefore left off the official MLB All-Star ballots. Many people may not vote for these guys if their names were on the ballots to begin with, but they definitely deserve recognition for their great seasons.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Branyan Heading Back To Seattle

In a questionable move, the Cleveland Indians have sent Russell Branyan to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for minor leaguers Ezequiel Carrera and Juan Diaz.

The 26-47 Indians, currently in last place in the AL Central and 14.5 games behind Minnesota, manage to unload the 34-year old Branyan who signed with the team as a free agent this past off-season and has hit a respectable .263/.328/.491 with the Indians. He has a $2-million salary this season with a mutual option for 2011 at $5-million.

The move allows Cleveland to use Matt LaPorta as their everyday first baseman, and gives them two good prospects.

Ezequiel Carrera was hitting .268/.339/.315 for Seattle Triple-A affiliate, the Tacoma Rainiers at the time of the trade while primarily playing centre field.

Juan Diaz was hitting .295/.345/.433 for the High Desert Mavericks of the Single-A California League while playing shortstop.

For the Mariners, this trade does not make much sense. First of all, they are in last place in the AL West and trailing the Texas Rangers by 14 games as I write this. Does GM Jack Zduriencik think his team has a shot at the playoffs with Erik Bedard nearing a return from the DL?

The Chicago White Sox had their winning streak snapped at 11 games today, after they improved from 28-34 to 39-34. So I guess anything is possible. The Mariners currently have a strong starting rotation, but very little offense in their lineup.

Branyan is certainly an upgrade over Casey Kotchman, but why make this trade at this point in the season with your team so far out of the playoff race?

They've gotten by with great pitching so far, but can it carry them all the way?

Through 74 games they have a team ERA of 3.03 which leads the Majors by a wide margin. They are tied with the New York Mets with 10 shutouts as a team. Their pitching staff has struck out more batters than any other team this year and of the 6 guys in their bullpen that have pitched in at least 20 games, the highest ERA is 2.92.

This same team has a team batting average of .245 and on base percentage of .315, better than only four other teams in the Majors. The four guys that have spent the most time patrolling their outfield have a combined slash line of .216/.303/.364. Not a very good offensive output by any means.

The 2010 edition of the San Diego Padres is just downright dominant on the pitching mound. However, this dominance combined with a lack of offence essentially means that the Padres will win most of their games by only a few runs.

As noted in this article by Tim Sullivan of the San Diego Union Tribune, Jed Hoyer is fine with winning games by only a few runs. In fact, he has developed a strategy where he tries to make San Diego an appealing destination for free agent pitchers. Having the only manager in the league who is a former pitcher himself in Bud Black certainly helps.

There was much talk in the media this off-season of Adrian Gonzalez being traded with many outlets listing the Red Sox as a prime destination. With the Padres holding onto a 3.5 game lead over the Giants atop the NL West, it would appear as though Gonzalez will not be going anywhere this season.

Another name mentioned in trade rumours as recently as only a few weeks ago, Heath Bell, has saved 21 games for the Padres this year. Despite the fact that the entire Padres bullpen has mowed down the competition this year, Bell is the only experienced closer on the team. This should be a signal that the Padres should not trade Heath Bell this season as doing so may hurt their chances of reaching the post-season. It has been said that closers have a different mentality than other members of the bullpen. Bell clearly has this mentality, and is thriving in his role as closer.

Looking at the Padres lineup, some holes and gaps are clearly visible. Aside from Adrian Gonzalez, no other member of the team has an average above .300, and he leads the team with 16 home runs while two others on the team, Will Venable and Scott Hairston, are tied for second on the team with 7.

While their infield could use some offensive help, it is the outfield that is the biggest cause for concern at the moment. While Tony Gwynn Jr. and Will Venable have swiped 13 and 14 bases respectively this year, neither of these guys manage to get on base frequently enough to provide the Padres with consistent offence.

If the Padres are to make a real playoff push this year, they need to acquire another outfielder who can put the ball in play more than the current group. While I also think that the Padres would do well to pick up some speed in the outfield, they would do better to pick up somebody who could be a threat to hit for extra bases every time he comes to the plate. Based on this criteria, let’s take a look at some potential trade targets.

David DeJesus, Kansas City Royals
While some may argue that Scott Podsednik could be a good fit in San Diego, I agree with this idea but think the team would be much better off to go after David DeJesus. First of all, Podsednik has been limited to playing only left field in recent years whereas DeJesus has played all three outfield positions within the past few seasons. Second, while it is clear that Podsednik is much more of a stolen base threat, DeJesus is more of a threat to hit for extra bases as shown in his .326/.394/.479 slash line for this season. While he has only 5 home runs so far this season, he has an amazing 22 doubles. That shows extra base power, and that is clearly something that the light-hitting Padres need. If you go to David DeJesus’ player page on the MLB web site and look at his hitting chart here, you can see that some of the doubles, triples and fly outs that he’s had at Kauffman Stadium this year would have been home runs at Petco Park as it is a shorter distance to centre field and the power alleys are about 18 feet shorter in Petco. I realize there are other factors to account for such as wind and elevation, but this is certainly promising. DeJesus could come over to San Diego and take over any one of the outfield positions, and his $4.7-million salary with a club option for next year would be affordable for the Padres to take on.

Corey Hart, Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers are now 33-41 and 8.5 games behind the Reds in the NL Central. Leading the team in home runs and RBIs is not Prince Fielder or Ryan Braun, but Corey Hart. Primarily a right fielder throughout his career, Hart has managed 18 home runs this year while putting up a slash line of .272/.339/.576. Hart is almost three years younger than DeJesus, and makes only a little more money this season at $4.8-million with another year of arbitration left. Historically, Hart has been more of a stolen base threat than DeJesus, but he has seen a drop in those numbers this year most likely due to his increased power. Hart would most likely play right field with the Padres, moving Venable to either left or centre. Another thing Hart has going for him is his tendency to pull the ball. From looking at his home hit chart for this season, he could potentially have about 5 more home runs or at the very least 5 more base hits off the wall had he been playing at Petco Park instead of 5 fly outs due to the shorter porch in right that Petco has when compared to Miller Park.

Austin Kearns, Cleveland Indians
I’m not as big a fan of Kearns as I am of the other two guys, but you can’t argue with those numbers he’s put up in Cleveland. He’s managed a slash line of .279/.359/.438 in 61 games this year, so he would still be an upgrade over what the Padres currently have. Kearns is not the same extra base threat that the other two are and is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season, but his $750,000 salary makes him much more affordable. It should also be noted that Kearns has seen a dip in his batting average lately and is hitting only .253 for the month of June, so there are indications that he is now settling back in line with his career numbers and thus may not be as valuable at the trade deadline should the Indians elect to trade him. Though, he could still be an upgrade for many teams such as the Padres.

Of the three guys I have listed, I think Kearns would be the easiest to obtain for the Padres, but I would like to see them go after either DeJesus or Hart. The only question now is: what would those teams want in return?

Is Wilson Ramos Trade Bait?

Much has already been written on Wilson Ramos and the fact that he is blocked from making to the Major League level by 2009 AL MVP Joe Mauer. When Mauer went down with an injury earlier in the season, Ramos was called up and instantly took over the everyday catching duties from Drew Butera, so it’s clear that the Twins see him as the second best catcher in the organization.

The problem? He’s young and will easily get more playing time with the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate in Rochester. As a result, we see another rookie with a slash line of .186/.222/.279 through 16 games as the backup to Mauer.

Seeing that Ramos will most certainly not make it as a catcher with the Twins with Mauer signed through to the end of the 2018 season, so it is probably in the team’s best interests to trade Ramos. At the moment, two of the most glaring needs for the Twins are starting pitching and somebody to play on the left side of the infield.

Edwin Encarnacion passed through waivers last week when Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos designated him for assignment, and Encarnacion is now swinging the bat and manning the hot corner for the Las Vegas 51s. Encarnacion could have provided more power than Nick Punto gives the Twins, but he has struggled to hit just .200 this season with an OBP below .300.

The aforementioned Punto has a slash line of .255/.333/.333 in 58 games this season with the majority of those games coming as the third baseman. Meanwhile, J.J. Hardy has not fared quite as well as the team’s shortstop. Since being brought to the Twins in an off-season trade with the Brewers, Hardy has hit .217/.265/.333 in 37 games at short. Defensively, Hardy has been great as evidenced by his 1 error this season. But in order to justify his $5.1-million price tag, those offensive numbers need to increase.

Hot prospect Danny Valencia made his Major League debut this season, and through 15 games he is hitting .302/.348/.326. Although he has not provided the power a team may seek from a corner infielder, he’s certainly making contact and getting on base thus providing slightly more offence than Nick Punto was.

As for the Twins’ rotation, it is currently anchored by Carl Pavano and a healthy Francisco Liriano. Scott Baker has done quite well, but lately, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn have struggled.

In his past three starts, Slowey is 0-2 with a 12.41 ERA. Although, it should be noted that all three of these starts came against National League teams that he will not have to face again this year.

Blackburn, aside from his brilliant May, has struggled for most of the season. If you take away those 5 starts in May where he went 5-0 with a 2.65 ERA, his numbers do not look very good. In his other 9 starts, Blackburn is 1-5 with a 10.01 ERA. What’s even more troubling is that in those 9 starts, he has walked 17 while striking out only 16. Blackburn has never had more than 98 strikeouts in a season, but whenever a pitcher walks more guys than he strikes out, managers tend to get alarmed.

Unfortunately, the Twins do not really have any suitable replacements at the minor league level. Through 14 games, one of the more experienced pitchers, Glen Perkins, is 1-8 with an 8.10 ERA at Rochester. So it is clear that if the Twins have any hope of contending, they need to look outside of the organization for pitching help.

If the Twins are to trade for pitching help, there is a very good chance that Wilson Ramos will be part of a package leaving the Twins. But who do the Twins target? What other teams are in need of not catching prospects, but young catchers who can play right now? Let’s have a look at two potential trade targets:

Cliff Lee, Seattle Mariners
At 31-43, the Mariners are 14 games behind the division-leading Rangers and appear as though they will miss the playoffs this year. This has caused many members of the media to speculate not if Lee will be traded, but when he will be traded and where he will end up. Being a free agent at season’s end, and one who is almost certain to gain Type A status, the Mariners will likely be looking for a package of high-calibre prospects in return. Seeing as how the Mariners do not have any catching prospects who could contribute immediately, Ramos would be a great addition to the team. One could argue that Adam Moore is a good, young catcher who is currently contributing, but he’s about 3 years older than Ramos.

Paul Maholm, Pittsburgh Pirates
I realize Maholm is signed through 2012, but I still see him as a possible trade target for the Twins. Former catching prospect Jeff Clement is now the starting first baseman for the Pirates, with Ryan Doumit behind the plate. By flipping Maholm to the Twins in a trade for Ramos, the Pirates could make Doumit the everyday first baseman. A position he has made 3 starts at this season. Trading Maholm may not be the best idea for the Pirates at the moment, but they clearly have no shot at the post-season at this point. They have a great young outfield with guys like Andrew McCutchen, Lastings Milledge and Jose Tabata. Garrett Jones is swinging the bat well and could easily play left field or first base. With Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez around as well, it seems that the Pirates just need to fill in the catching position and find a shortstop for the future and they will be set. By trading for Wilson Ramos, they can fill one of those needs. I guess the point of this is not to show how much Paul Maholm could help the Twins, but to show how trading him could help the Pirates fill future needs.

I see Lee and Maholm as the main guys the Twins should target if they are to trade Wilson Ramos. There are a couple other pitchers I could see them targeting as well such as Jeremy Guthrie and Brett Myers, but those teams have no need for catching. The Orioles have Matt Wieters and the Astros have Jason Castro, both currently playing in the Majors. I’ve also ruled out guys like Roy Oswalt and Jake Westbrook due to financial reasons, and the fact that I question whether Oswalt would approve a trade to Minnesota or whether the Indians would trade Westbrook within their division; not to mention the fact that they already have Carlos Santana as their catcher.

As mentioned earlier, the Twins are clearly in need of a third baseman. Danny Valencia has done well so far, but can he keep it up, and can he show more power? To fill the need at third, the Twins could target guys like Ty Wigginton, Miguel Tejada, or Jhonny Peralta. All three guys could provide some power to the lineup with a respectable average. But most importantly, they are all financially affordable and are fully capable of playing multiple infield positions. I don’t see any of these guys being traded for Wilson Ramos, which is why I did not give them their own little blurbs along with Lee and Maholm. But the Twins could likely put something together for these guys.

Over the next month we will see this list of trade candidates change. Teams will hit slumps and lose some ground, while others may begin to tear it up and pull away from the pack. While we may also see some of the players mentioned here be traded to other teams, causing teams to target new players and the media to speculate on other moves. The month of July should be interesting for baseball fans everywhere as they look to see whether their favourite teams look to upgrade or throw in the towel and look to next year.

As for the Twins, their main goal at the moment should be to find another starter for that rotation. When going for a playoff run, it’s always good to have six guys who can take the ball on any given night and give you a chance to win. That way, if one guy gets injured, you still have an effective 5-man rotation that you can use. At the moment, the Twins do not have that 6th guy and with the performances that Nick Blackburn has been giving them lately, it’s now questionable as to whether they have a reliable 5th man anymore.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Jays Need Speed

The last time we saw playoff baseball in Canada, the Blue Jays had one of the best lineups in baseball. John Olerud, Paul Molitor and Roberto Alomar finished 1,2,3 in the American League batting race and the Jays had four guys steal at least 20 bases. Roberto Alomar lead the team with a total of 55 by the end of the season.

This year’s installment of the Blue Jays is quite different. While Jose Bautista and Vernon Wells sit near the top of the American League home run race, the team needs to pick it up in other offensive categories.

As a team, the Jays are hitting .239 going into Saturday’s action. That’s good enough for worst in the American League, and better than only Houston’s .237. They have an AL-worst OBP of .307, meaning they’re not getting guys on base when needed. Yet, they are second to only Boston with a .446 slugging percentage. Finally, the Jays have a Major League-low 25 stolen bases to this point and are on pace for only about 54 steals as a team for the entire season, one below Roberto Alomar’s mark of 55 in 1993. Former Jay Alex Rios, whom the Jays lost to the White Sox through waivers last season, has 20 so far this year.

The Jays’ reliance on the home run to score is not exactly a good thing. If facing a good pitcher who can induce a lot of ground balls like Roy Halladay, their offence becomes almost non-existent.

When the Blue Jays acquired Fred Lewis from the San Francisco Giants in April, they acquired a potential leadoff hitter for themselves. Since joining the Jays, Lewis has managed a slash line of .288/.331/.459. The man who the Jays had leading off to start the season, Jose Bautista, has established himself as a true home run threat now that he leads the AL with 20 home runs to date.

If the Jays have any chance of either winning the division or at least the wild card, they will need to make some changes to their offence. With Edwin Encarnacion being demoted to Triple-A Las Vegas, the door was opened for Jarrett Hoffpauir to come to the Majors. While he has only played in four games so far this year, Hoffpauir has not exactly provided what the Jays really need: speed on the basepaths and the ability to get on.

Essentially, the Blue Jays need to find themselves a better leadoff hitter and move Fred Lewis to the number two hole. There are several reasons for this.

First of all, Lewis has consistently had his batting average around the .280--.290 range for the last few weeks. This shows that he is certainly a reliable hitter. However, that .331 OBP is currently a career low for him, and his 5 stolen bases are far lower than one would like to see from somebody in the leadoff spot. He has 21 doubles as the leadoff hitter with 3 triples. Some may argue that due to this, he does not need to steal as many bases as he puts himself into scoring position right off the bat. For those of you who may subscribe to that point of view, allow me to provide another theory.

The Jays would be best suited to obtain a new leadoff hitter and move Lewis to the #2 spot in the order because with numbers like that, the leadoff guy may not necessarily need to steal a lot of bases. With a guy on deck who can conceivably hit about 40-45 doubles in a season, that could potentially allow a fast runner to score all the way from first base. With Lewis’ .288 average, we know he can be a reliable hitter. Putting somebody else in front of him with speed and who can get on base will allow the Jays a chance of having other ways to score aside from waiting for the next home run.

Now, some of you may be wondering who the Jays should go after at this point. As noted earlier, Encarnacion has been demoted to the minors, allowing the Jays some flexibility with the lineup. To keep Bautista’s power bat in, he could potentially be moved to third base. Adam Lind can remain the DH, with an everyday outfield consisting of Vernon Wells and Fred Lewis plus a newcomer at least until Travis Snider returns.

By looking at the current standings, I can see many potential trade targets for the Blue Jays to go after on teams that will likely not make the playoffs at this point. In no particular order, I would like to present my two favourite options:

Michael Bourn, Houston Astros
Michael Bourn is fast. He managed 61 steals last season and already has 22 this season in 28 attempts. Despite his .257 average, he has an OBP of .334 which is only slightly higher than Fred Lewis’. Bourn has a $2.5-million salary this season and is arbitration eligible for two more years, so the Astros may ask for quite a bit. From looking at the Astros’ farm system, it is clear that they need help. The Blue Jays could provide this in the form of young pitching, either off their current roster or in the form of prospects. Although Bourn currently plays centre field and was a 2009 Gold Glove winner, he has had some Major League experience at all three outfield positions and could possibly make a move to right field with the Blue Jays. Overall, Bourns ability to get on base, move himself into scoring position and great defence are something that the Blue Jays need.

Scott Podsednik, Kansas City Royals
Podsednik seems to have revived his career both this season and last season. He is currently hitting .295/.342/.375 for the Royals with 20 steals in 28 attempts while playing left field. His current salary of $1.65-million is far less than Bourn’s, and Podsednik comes with a $2-million club option for 2011 with a $100,000 buyout. However, it should also be noted that Podsednik can void this option with 525 plate appearances this year and with 312 through 69 games, he appears to be well on his way to reaching that milestone. Defensively, Podsednik is not quite as sharp as Bourn, and he’s also 7 years older. Although, Podsednik managed to help the White Sox win the World Series in 2005 and performed quite well throughout the playoffs that year.

There are likely many other guys the Jays could go after. But I feel as though these two guys would provide the most help to a lineup that is in dire need of baserunners and speed. It’s amazing what having a little speed on the basepaths can do to a pitcher’s mindset.

Realistically, I’m aware that simply acquiring one of these two players may not solve all the problems the Blue Jays have and get them to the post-season for the first time since 1993. There are many other holes that need to be filled as well. However, I feel that it is certainly a step in the right direction. We have not seen somebody with the ability to steal 40-50 bases a year on the Blue Jays since the days of Shannon Stewart. By bringing in Bourn or Podsednik and moving Lewis to the #2 spot in the batting order, I believe that the Blue Jays could make themselves a much more competitive team that could make a trip to the post-season.

Do you agree?