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.