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.