SweetSpot: Detroit Tigers
What do they need? They've already been active, trading away Prince Fielder and Doug Fister and signing Joe Nathan, but everyone seems to think they have one big move left in them -- sign a free agent outfielder to play left field. Shin-Soo Choo is the best one remaining now that Carlos Beltran and Curtis Granderson are off the board.
Do you trust the bullpen depth? Not yet. They signed Nathan, but Drew Smyly is now in the rotation and Joaquin Benoit is a free agent. Hard-throwing Bruce Rondon will be expected to take a bigger role, but look for them to make another move here, maybe a lefty like Manny Parra or J.P. Howell.
How much better will the defense be? Much better. Some quick math. Fielder was minus-13 in Defensive Runs Saved in 2013; Cabrera was minus-3 when he last played there in 2011. Ian Kinsler was +11 in 2013 versus Omar Infante's minus-5. Jhonny Peralta and Jose Iglesias both rated at 0 DRS at shortstop, although most view Iglesias as the superior defender; let's say he's a +5 defender. Cabrera was minus-18 at third base; rookie Nick Castellanos isn't viewed as a great defender, so let's say he's minus-5 DRS. Overall, we're talking about potentially 40 runs better in infield defense. How happy are Max Scherzer and company right now?
What do they need? The lineup looks set so they need a starting pitcher to replace free agent Ubaldo Jimenez. Maybe Ubaldo Jimenez?
How's the bullpen shaping up? Replacing Chris Perez at closer with Cody Allen should be a minor step up, but they've also lost Joe Smith, their primary setup guy in recent seasons. The Indians' pen went 33-16 in 2013 but a 3.62 ERA in 2013 -- eighth in the AL -- so the win-loss record was a little bit misleading. A trade is more likely here than spending on a free agent.
Will they be shopping Asdrubal Cabrera? This is an interesting one. Top prospect Francisco Lindor reached Double-A last season and just turned 20 years old, but his glove may be big-league ready. Could that lead to a trade for Cabrera, in the final year of his contract? It seems like a long shot to bet on Lindor being rushed, but the Indians could play Mike Aviles at short until Lindor is possibly ready at midseason.
Kansas City Royals
What do they need? Offense. The Royals were 11th in the AL in runs scored in 2013, scoring 28 fewer runs than the year before. Considering it's likely the pitching will regress at least a little bit after leading the league in runs allowed, they need to find more punch to remain a playoff contender. They were rumored to be in on Beltran, but he's gone, leaving second base as the one position they can upgrade.
Who could they get? The Angels have been shopping Howie Kendrick. Nick Franklin of the Mariners is available now that they have Robinson Cano. Brandon Phillips was rumored at one point to be available, but Reds GM Walt Jocketty has now said a trade involving him is unlikely. They could a take a chance on Dan Uggla. Or just stick with Emilio Bonifacio.
Umm, how good is the rotation? Right now, it needs help. James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas, Danny Duffy and Wade Davis don't look like a playoff rotation to me, although hard-throwing Yordano Ventura showed potential big-time potential in three September starts. The Royals have excess bullpen arms but will likely use them to upgrade second base and hope Duffy and Ventura can stick in the rotation.
What do they need? The Twins already made their "big" splash by signing Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to help shore up the league's worst rotation. Otherwise, the Twins are primarily sitting tight and waiting for prospects like Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano to reach Minnesota.
Anybody they can or should be shopping? Josh Willingham is signed for $7 million for 2014, and he's superfluous for a rebuilding team. Unfortunately, the Twins should have traded him a year ago when he was coming off a 35-homer season. After hitting .208 with 14 home runs, he won't net much in return. But a team like the Orioles or Mariners that needs a left fielder or DH could take a chance.
Any chance the offense gets better? Only the Astros and White Sox scored fewer runs but don't look for anything but minor moves, such as signing a backup catcher (John Buck?). The outfield could use help, but the Twins will likely give Aaron Hicks another shot in center, give Oswaldo Arcia a full season in right, and hope Buxton tears up the minors and joins this group in 2015.
Chicago White Sox
What do they need? Just about everything.
No, seriously, will they do something? Well, they did sign Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu while also re-signing Paul Konerko. Adam Dunn is still here, but he's a 34-homer guy that would be difficult to trade. The "strength" of the team is a rotation that did have a 3.99 ERA (eighth in the AL), but there isn't depth there to trade from.
Would they trade Chris Sale? Can't see that happening; he's signed to a team-friendly contract through 2019 and is clearly the face of the franchise.
Personally, I think the one-to-one ratio of Hall of Famer per team sounds about right. It's fewer than the overrepresented 1920s and 1930s, about what we have for the '50s and '60s but fewer than what we have for the '70s and '80s.
So, who is missing from the '70s and '80s? Here are 10 guys I would put in. WAR totals and rankings from Baseball-Reference.com.
Tim Raines (69.1 WAR, 105th all time)
Ballot history: After starting out with just 24 percent of the vote in 2008 he's started climbing in recent years and was up to 52 percent last year.
This will be Raines' seventh year on the ballot, and while he'll probably stagnate in the next couple years with some big names on the ballot, he looks like he'll eventually get in before his 15 years is up.
Alan Trammell (70.4 WAR, 94th)
Ballot history: After 12 years on the ballot, he was at 33 percent last year. He won't get elected via the BBWAA.
I've never understood why Trammell was never able to build a case. His career numbers are very similar to Barry Larkin's, minus a few steals, and Larkin made it in on his third year. Even if you think Larkin was a little better, if Larkin's case is 100 percent then Trammell's should be about 98 percent. Two differences: Larkin won an MVP and Trammell finished second when he should have won; Larkin didn't have Cal Ripken in his league.
Lou Whitaker (74.8, 77th)
Ballot history: Got 3 percent his first year and fell off.
Whitaker's career numbers are pretty similar to Roberto Alomar's: .276/.363/.426 with a 117 OPS+ versus .300/.371/.443 with a 116 OPS+. Alomar had more steals and the better defensive reputation although Whitaker was very good and won three Gold Gloves. It's not necessarily that Whitaker was as good as Alomar but that he compares very favorably. The case against him is that his peak wasn't as high -- his five best seasons were worth 28.9 WAR compared to Alomar's five best at 33.0 -- but he was very good even up to his final season. You know what hurt him? He hit the ballot in 2001, when even middle infielders were putting up huge offensive numbers. Whitaker's good seasons looked less impressive at the time.
Dwight Evans (66.7, 125th)
Ballot history: First came on in 1997, lasted three years before getting booted.
Evans had received 10 percent his second year, which while not great at least gave him some momentum from his first year. Maybe his case would have exploded like Bert Blyleven's. But the 1999 ballot added Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount and everybody else suffered as a result. Evans, of course, is a sabermetric darling. He did things well that Jim Rice, his Hall of Fame teammate on the Red Sox, didn't: draw walks, play superb defense. The walks meant that Evans posted a higher on-base percentage even though Rice had the higher average. You'd think a guy who won eight Gold Gloves, hit 385 home runs in the pre-steroid era, drove in 1384 runs and scored 1470 would have been more appreciated. Part of his problem was that he was better in his 30s than his 20s. He wasn't a Hall of Famer for the first half his career so not enough people thought of him as one.
Bobby Grich (71.0, 90th)
Ballot history: One and done.
Yes, another sabermetric favorite. He had good power for a second baseman for his era, drew a ton of walks and won four Gold Gloves. An enormously valuable player in his time -- Baseball-Reference ranks him as one of the top seven position players in the AL in seven different seasons, including first in 1973.
Orel Hershiser (56.8, 209th)
Ballot history: Received 11 percent his first year and then fell off in his second. Odd.
Hershiser won "only" 204 games and thus his early exit from the ballot. I'm not saying he's a lock candidate, but why has Jack Morris' case taken off while Hershiser was dumped so quickly? At his peak, Hershiser was more dominant and his 1988 postseason heroics certainly are the equal of Morris' Game 7. OK, Morris won more games. Maybe a better comparison is another former Dodgers pitcher, Don Drysdale, who made it in with 209 career wins. Hershiser's career ERA isn't as good but he also had to pitch in the high-scoring late '90s during the decline phase of his career. Like Drysdale, he was famous during his peak (not mention Hershiser broke Drysdale's scoreless-inning record). Postseason career: 8-3, 2.59 ERA in 22 games (18 starts).
Keith Hernandez (60.1, 177th)
Ballot history: Stayed on for nine years, peaking at 11 percent.
As a first baseman, you make the Hall of Fame for your bat, thus Hernandez never drew much support. Still, he was a .296 career hitter, drew walks, played on two World Series champs and is regarded as maybe the best defensive first baseman ever. His career WAR is Hall of Fame borderline but Hernandez was also one of the most iconic players of the '80s, if you want to put stock into that. (And, yes, Hernandez over Don Mattingly, who simply had too short of a peak.)
Luis Tiant (66.7, 125th)
Ballot history: Stayed on for 15 years.
Here's what's interesting about Tiant: He received 30 percent of the vote his first year on the ballot, 1988. People have been elected with worse starting positions -- Rice, Blyleven, Bruce Sutter. Drysdale received just 21 percent his first year. So initially there was a strong belief in Tiant as a possible Hall of Famer, with his 229 career wins and popular personality. He to fell 11 percent his second year. What happened? Gaylord Perry and Fergie Jenkins entered the ballot in 1989. Then Jim Palmer. Then Tom Seaver in 1992, Phil Niekro in 1993, Steve Carlton in 1994. He wasn't as good as those guys so everyone forgot about him.
Ted Simmons (50.2, 289th)
Ballot history: One and done. He's on the Veterans Committee ballot this year.
I'm on the fence with Simmons, but he does rank 10th all time in catcher WAR and I'd argue that the top 10 at each position are strong Hall of Fame candidates. He wasn't Johnny Bench, but who was? From 1971 to 1980 he hit .301 and averaged 90 RBIs per season.
Pete Rose (79.4, 64th)
Ballot history: Actually received 9.5 percent of the vote in 1992.
OK, maybe including Rose is cheating a bit.
* * * *
So that's 10 players. Others you could argue for: Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Willie Randolph; Graig Nettles isn't that dissimilar from Brooks Robinson; Rick Reuschel's career WAR is higher than Palmer, Drysdale, Sutton or Juan Marichal; Lee Smith has done pretty well in the BBWAA voting and is still on the ballot. Tommy John, Dave Concepcion, Dave Parker, Steve Garvey and Dan Quisenberry are on the Veterans Committee ballot this year, which makes them all candidates, although I think only John has a strong case. (Quisenberry is no different from Sutter, however, so there's that.) Dave Stieb was dominant in the '80s; with a little more luck he could have won three Cy Young Awards and been a stronger choice.
Part of the problem voters face is that as the quality of talent improves over time it becomes harder for the great players to separate themselves. So Stieb looks like Hershiser who looks like Bret Saberhagen who looks like Dwight Gooden and none of them were Tom Seaver so nobody gets in.
I know many (most?) of you believe electing guys like those above would weaken the Hall of Fame. That's sort of my ultimate point; if your Hall of Fame is Willie Mays and Hank Aaron and Cal Ripken, then your bar is way above the established level of actual Hall of Famers. Let's just give guys from recent decades their fair due.
Let's start with the Astros acquiring Dexter Fowler from the Rockies. The Rockies have seemingly been shopping Fowler for years, but apparently the market for him was more lukewarm than a three-day-old cup of Starbucks. Jordan Lyles is still young and throws strikes but has been hit hard at the major league level (5.35 career ERA with 65 starts) and doesn't possess a quality strikeout pitch; he's the kind of pitcher who will get absolutely destroyed at Coors Field.
Even if the Rockies will put a better defense behind Lyles than the Astros did -- Troy Tulowitzki and Nolan Arenado will help in that department -- Lyles appears to be a long shot to succeed. Brandon Barnes was a 27-year-old rookie center fielder who posted a .289 on-base percentage, struck out 127 times while walking just 21 times, and was 11-for-22 in stealing bases, a package that made him one of the worst percentage players in the majors. His defense is OK but he looks like a fourth outfielder at best.
What did the Astros get? A player with two years remaining until free agency who has averaged a consistent 2.4 WAR over the past three seasons. He's a good player whom the Rockies always expected more from, perhaps creating a poor read of his actual value. There is the possibility that his numbers will crater outside of Coors Field -- he's hit .298 there in his career, .241 on the road -- but as a guy who takes his walks I like his chances to produce once he gets away from the Coors effect. Kudos to the Astros for acquiring some talent without giving up much in return. With prospect George Springer presumably ready to take over center, I wouldn't be surprised to see Fowler move to left field; his bat won't play as well there but he'll improve the Astros' defense dramatically over the statue-like Chris Carter.
What were the Rockies thinking? Who knows. The Rockies and Mariners seem like the two franchises without any semblance of a game plan right now. Are the Rockies trying to win now? Are they trying to rebuild? Were they merely dumping a salary (Fowler will make $7.35 million in 2014, a relative bargain for a 2-WAR player)? Are they trying to improve the rotation or the offense? If I had to guess, the Rockies see this as a salary dump to clear space to sign a free-agent pitcher. Last year, Roy Oswalt, Jeff Manship, Drew Pomeranz, Collin McHugh and Chad Bettis combined to go 0-19 in 26 starts with a 7.42 ERA. Can't wait to see the Rockies sign Ervin Santana and be shocked when he gives up 40 home runs.
But there was more that happened on Tuesday ... much more!
- The A's traded for Orioles closer Jim Johnson. The Rays traded for Diamondbacks closer-by-default Heath Bell. What's going on here? Are the A's and Rays, the beloved darlings of the sabermetric guild, admitting they believe in Proven Closers? Well ... yes and no. The A's aren't going to pay big bucks for a closer with a long-term deal, so with Grant Balfour leaving as a free agent they picked up Johnson, who has one year remaining before free agency. It's a rental without giving up anything of value (no, Jemile Weeks doesn't count as "value"). The A's may have gone with Ryan Cook as their closer, but he struggled down the stretch with his command last year so Billy Beane undoubtedly wanted more of a sure thing. Now they just need Johnson not to blow nine saves like he did for the Orioles. As for Bell, I don't quite see what the Rays see in him (he gave up 12 home runs in 2013), but they turned Fernando Rodney into a top closer, so Bell will probably go out and record 45 saves with a 2.50 ERA. Bell is due to make $9 million, but the Marlins are paying $4 million of that, so the Rays get a potential closer for the tidy sum of $5 million.
- The A's added further depth to their bullpen by acquiring Luke Gregerson from the Padres for Seth Smith. The A's get another one-year rental, but Gregerson has been one of the majors' most consistent relievers the past few seasons. He held batters to a .203 average in 2013, .226 over the past three years. Yes, Gregerson pitched in pitcher-friendly Petco Park, but he moves to another pitchers' park and his sinker means he's pretty good at preventing home runs anyway. The A's gave up outfielder/DH Smith, who didn't really hit like a corner outfielder/designated hitter needs to hit. Score this as a win for the A's.
- Have I mentioned that I love Billy Beane? To replace Smith and the departed Chris Young, he picked up Craig Gentry from the division rival Rangers for Michael Choice. Gentry is the perfect fourth outfielder, a plus defender in center who can hit left-handed pitching. He doesn't have power but has a .391 OBP the past three years against lefties. He's a terrific platoon-slash-role player. The Rangers get Michael Choice, a former top prospect who hit .302 with 14 home runs at Triple-A. The Rangers get some potential upside here in the former 10th overall pick, but outside of a big year in the California League, his power potential hasn't completely materialized. A worthwhile gamble by the Rangers, however.
- The Tigers are apparently close to signing Joe Nathan -- the move everyone has been predicting all offseason. Clearly the Doug Fister trade was made to clear some salary space. Is there another move in the works? Do the Tigers still bring back Joaquin Benoit to set up Nathan? Is there another big signing -- Shin-Soo Choo? -- coming? Stay tuned!
- The Red Sox signed A.J. Pierzynski. Makes sense. One-year deal, leaving the possibility of Blake Swihart or Christian Vazquez to take over at catcher in 2015. Love what the Red Sox are doing here. They could have an extremely young core of Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Swihart in a couple years ... leaving plenty of payroll to spend on David Price when he becomes a free agent after 2015. It's good to be a Red Sox fan right now.
- What else? The Rays acquired Ryan Hanigan. Interesting because they just signed Jose Molina. That gives them two of the best defensive catchers in the game. Brian Wilson looks like he's returning to the Dodgers. Makes sense for the Dodgers; surprising only because everyone thought Wilson wanted to close. Oh, yeah ... the Mariners have emerged as major players in the Robinson Cano sweepstakes, according to an ESPN New York report. The Mariners have money; they want to spend money; Cano wants money. Who knows, maybe it actually will happen. And then don't be shocked when the Mariners also sign Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Ubaldo Jimenez. Of course, that could just be my head spinning after this crazy day.
This is Morris' final year on the BBWAA's Hall ballot. He's received 66.7 percent of the vote each of the past two elections, so in order to get to the 75 percent needed for election he'll have to pick up an additional 42 votes if the same 569 ballots are cast again. That's not unreasonable -- players often receive a spike in their final year -- but it's complicated this year by the crowded ballot and the new eligibility of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina, three pitchers with much stronger résumés than Morris.
Joe Posnanski is in the anti-Morris crowd. He admits he's a little obsessed by Morris (he's written many columns on Morris over the years), maybe too obsessed. He wrote the other day:
If someone wanted to make a Hall of Fame case for Jack Morris, they could say this:
1. He was an extremely durable pitcher who never missed a start and completed 175 games in his career.
2. He pitched one of the greatest World Series games.
3. He compiled borderline Hall of Fame caliber stats with his 254 wins and 2,478 strikeouts and his durability, the respect he built from teammates and opponents alike and his Game 7 push him over the border.
4. He was probably better than a handful of starters already in the Hall.
This isn't necessarily the most compelling argument, but this is what you have to work with. The trouble is, many people seem ABSOLUTELY SURE there is more to Morris' case. They just know -- absolutely know -- that Morris had to be better than that relatively tepid argument. And so they go searching.
More from the anti-Morris side. Recently on Twitter, ESPN Insider contributor Dan Szymborski compared Morris to some other pitchers via a series of tweets:
The case against Morris is simple: Relative to Hall of Famers, he wasn't very good at preventing the other team from scoring runs.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 27, 2013
To match Morris's career ERA+/IP, Kevin Appier needs 1228.2 IP of 6.23 ERA. Would 6 horrific seasons make Appier better candidate?— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 27, 2013
To get to Jack Morris's IP/ERA+, Kevin Brown would need 567.2 IP of a 7.92 ERA.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 27, 2013
By request, to match Morris's career IP/ERA+, Dave Stieb would need 928.2 IP of 8.07 ERA.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 27, 2013
To catch Morris IP/ERA+, Rick Reuschel would need to come back and throw 275.2 IP of a 7.31 ERA.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 27, 2013
Morris finished with a 3.90 career ERA. Over his final seven seasons, it was 4.48, despite which he managed to go 92-81.
In his piece, Posnanski cited this pro-Morris column from Joel Sherman of the New York Post:
I think there has been retroactive cherry-picking of Morris' career. In his era, he was valued as an unquestioned ace, a workhorse No. 1, the kind of starter who prided himself on working deep into games, saving bullpens, etc. My friend, Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, noted last year the righty pitched at least eight innings in 248 starts, which is the most by an AL pitcher in the DH era and represented 52 percent of his starts.
Here is one I note: Sparky Anderson, Tom Kelly and Cito Gaston combined to manage 8,146 regular-season games and each won two World Series. Every time Morris was available to start Game 1, those experienced managers started him. That was six times in seven series. The only time he didn't was the 1987 ALCS for Anderson's Tigers. He had thrown nine innings in Game 161 against Toronto to help Detroit clinch at least an AL East tie with the Blue Jays and so wasn't available until ALCS Game 2.
I guess the sabermetric crowd could know more today about Morris than those three managers knew then, but I am going with the managers.
Posnanski goes on to refute Sherman's arguments, so I won't do that here.
I do think there's something else going on that elevated Morris from a Hall of Fame afterthought -- he received less than 25 percent of the vote his first four years on the ballot -- to viable inductee.
Morris' first full season in the majors was 1979. His last good one was 1992. He's not really part of the Tom Seaver-Nolan Ryan-Steve Carlton-Phil Niekro-Don Sutton generation that pitched in the late '60s and early '70s, when offense was down, and racked up big innings, often in four-man rotations, and all won 300 games. (Bert Blyleven didn't win 300 but is part of that generation, as well.) Morris isn't really part of the Maddux-Glavine-Mussina-Randy Johnson-Pedro Martinez-Curt Schilling generation that kicked into high gear right as Morris was departing.
No, Morris is kind of a man on an island. Think of all the great pitchers who followed Morris in the '80s:
- Fernando Valenzuela: Burned out after six seasons, won 173 games.
- Dave Stieb: Developed shoulder problems, won 176 games.
- Dwight Gooden: Drug issues, but career ultimately derailed by shoulder issues. Won 194 games.
- Bret Saberhagen: Couldn't stay healthy. Won 167 games.
- Orel Hershiser: Tore his rotator cuff, although managed a comeback. Won 204 games.
- Frank Viola: Tommy John surgery. Won 176 games.
Then you have flickering rays like Mario Soto and Jose Rijo. Only Roger Clemens, who debuted in 1984, and Jamie Moyer, who debuted in 1986, began their careers in the 1980s and won more games than Morris' 254. The Hall of Fame has elected one starting pitcher since 1999 -- Blyleven in 2011, and he began his career in 1970.
Those guys above were all better than Morris at their peaks. With the exception of Valenzuela, they all had a higher career WAR. But they didn't win 254 games. They didn't win more games than Bob Gibson or Juan Marichal or Whitey Ford.
In the end, that is what Morris' case is all about -- 254 wins and that Game 7 shutout. It's not about how he was viewed as an ace or that his managers trusted him or other such arguments. It's about survival. And now Morris may have survived long enough on the Hall of Fame ballot to finally get elected to Cooperstown.
Diamondbacks: Trade Adam Eaton, acquire Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins
Mariners: Trade Nick Franklin, acquire Eaton
Royals: Trade Herrera, Collins, acquire Franklin
The Royals are trying to contend with the likes of Emilio Bonifacio, Chris Getz or Johnny Giavotella playing second base, with Bonifacio the front-runner based on hitting .285 in a 42-game showing with the Royals last season. Please. Don't be fooled: That's the upside of Bonifacio's production and it still comes with no power and not enough walks. The Royals need power after finishing last in the American League in home runs, and Franklin is the rare middle infielder with 20-homer potential (Alex Gordon led the club with 20). The Royals have plenty of depth to deal from their league-best bullpen, and Luke Hochevar can assume the primary setup role and Louis Coleman and Donnie Joseph are available to replace Herrera and Collins.
The Mariners can afford to trade Franklin because they have Dustin Ackley, a very good defensive second baseman whose bat and glove don't profile as well in center field. Move him back to second base, hope his second half (.304/.374/.435) was for real and hand center over to the speedy Eaton.
The Diamondbacks are looking for bullpen help after tying the Astros for the most blown saves in the majors with 29. Attempting to rely again on veterans Heath Bell and J.J. Putz is risky. Herrera throws 100 mph and could develop into a dominating closer while Collins adds left-handed depth. In replacing Eaton, the D-backs can still play A.J. Pollock, a quality defender, in center or move Gold Glover Gerardo Parra over from right. Cody Ross is still around and Martin Prado could play left field with Matt Davidson taking over third.
Dodgers, Rays, Tigers
Dodgers: Trade Andre Ethier (and cash), Corey Seager, Ross Stripling, acquire David Price
Rays: Trade Price, acquire Rick Porcello, Seager, Stripling
Tigers: Trade Porcello, acquire Ethier (and cash)
What, you think the Dodgers are done with the signing of Dan Haren? You know they'd love to add Price to slot alongside Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Imagine a rotation of those three, plus Haren and Hyun-jin Ryu. To get Price, they give up Ethier and millions in cash to help defray the cost of the minimum $71.5 million owed Either through 2017, their 2012 first-round pick in Seager, one of the top shortstop prospects in the minors, and pitcher Stripling, a fifth-round pick in 2012 out of Texas A&M, where he was a teammate of Michael Wacha.
The Rays replenish their farm system with Seager (.269/.351/.473 in Class A at age 19 with 16 home runs) and Stripling (127.2 IP, 115 H, 30 BB, 117 SO, five homers between Class A and Double-A). Even if Seager doesn't stick at shortstop, he has the bat to move over to second and eventually replace Ben Zobrist. Stripling is a polished college pitcher who should be ready in 2015. More importantly, the Rays add Porcello to help them contend the next two years. Get him away from some of that porous Detroit defense and over to Tampa and their infield shifts and watch his ERA drop. He should receive about $8 million in arbitration for 2014, not too expensive for the Rays, and still has another season after that until free agency.
The Tigers can play Ethier in left field while moving Drew Smyly into the rotation to replace Porcello, with Ethier providing a left-handed bat to help balance righties Miguel Cabrera, Austin Jackson, Kinsler and Torii Hunter.
Indians, Orioles, Reds
Indians: Trade Asdrubal Cabrera, Joe Wendle, acquire Homer Bailey
Orioles: Trade Bud Norris, Mike Wright, acquire Cabrera
Reds: Trade Bailey, acquire Norris, Wright, Wendle
This one lines up like this: The Indians need a starting pitcher with Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir likely departing as free agents, the Orioles need a second baseman, and the Reds may want to get something for Bailey as he enters his walk year.
The Orioles would slide Cabrera over to second base and hope he rebounds from a subpar 2013. The Indians get Bailey while throwing in second-base prospect Wendle, who hit .295 with some power in Class A. Wendle was old for the league, but scouts like his bat. The Reds give up the best player in the deal, but would still have a strong rotation with Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake, Tony Cingrani and Norris (with Aroldis Chapman still a possibility with Bryan Price replacing Dusty Baker as manager). Moving back to the National League should help Norris; he has two years remaining until free agency and will cost about $5 million less than Bailey in 2014, money the Reds can spend elsewhere, maybe on an outfielder. Wright is a back-end rotation prospect and Wendle could replace Brandon Phillips down the road.
Marlins: Trade Steve Cishek, Justin Nicolino, Jake Marisnick, acquire Dexter Fowler, Jordy Mercer
Pirates: Trade Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson, Mercer, acquire Troy Tulowitzki
Rockies: Trade Tulowitzki, Fowler, acquire Polanco, Hanson, Cishek, Nicolino, Marisnick
It's time for the Rockies to end all those Tulowitzki trade rumors and do something about rebuilding this franchise. The Pirates need a middle-of-the-order bat. The Marlins need to acquire some major league players. One of the big problems the Rockies have is so much of their payroll is tied up in just two players, Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. The team is going nowhere, needs depth and the farm system isn't highly rated. Enter the Pirates.
The Rockies get one of the top outfield prospects in the minors in Polanco, who hit .285/.356/.434 with 38 steals while reaching Triple-A at the age of 21. He may need a little more seasoning but isn't far away from the majors. Hanson becomes the Rockies' shortstop of the future. For the Pirates, they have to absorb Tulowitzki's contract -- he's signed through 2020 (with a 2021 team option) -- and maybe it's too much for their taste, but they're not going to be a postseason regular riding just Andrew McCutchen. The MVP needs help. And with McCutchen and Starling Marte plus options like Jose Tabata, Andrew Lambo, Travis Snider and Jerry Sands, the Pirates can still piece together a good outfield trio for 2014 and beyond.
The Marlins would get a center fielder to put between Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich, while the Rockies get a closer (they could then flip Cishek during the season if they wanted), a top pitching prospect in Nicolino and outfield prospect in Marisnick from the Marlins, and Mercer from the Pirates to help shore up their middle infield.
Cubs, White Sox, Yankees
Cubs: Trade Mike Olt, C.J. Edwards, Jorge Soler, Dan Vogelbach, acquire Chris Sale, David Phelps
Yankees: Trade Gary Sanchez, Zoilo Almonte, Vidal Nuno, Phelps, acquire Addison Reed, Olt, Vogelbach
White Sox: Trade Sale, Reed, acquire Edwards, Soler, Sanchez, Almonte, Nuno
OK, OK, OK, the White Sox aren't going to trade Sale -- especially to their city rivals. But we can dream, right? And there's no denying the White Sox are a franchise in need of a reboot, with talent issues on the 40-man roster and in the minors. Sale is an enticing trade bait since he's signed through 2019 and would help get some talent to the South Side as the team rebuilds.
The Cubs have a deep list of prospects, but what they don't have is an ace. They give the White Sox their top pitching prospect in Edwards, who came over from the Rangers in the Matt Garza trade last summer. Edwards dominated Class A, allowing just 76 hits in 116.1 innings while striking out 155 -- and giving up just one home run. The White Sox also get Cuban outfielder Soler, a powerfully built 21-year-old who could reach the majors in 2015. Desperately in need of a catcher, from the Yankees the White Sox get Sanchez, the Yankees' top prospect who can be dealt with the signing of Brian McCann. Almonte and Nuno are cheap roster fillers who have some potential to contribute.
Olt and Vogelbach are blocked in Cubs land by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, so they go to the Yankees. Olt can replace Alex Rodriguez at third base -- immediately -- and Vogelbach would give the Yankees a power-hitting prospect for first base or DH.
But fans still believe in it. Media members still believe in it. Even some people who work in baseball believe in it. When Prince Fielder was traded to the Rangers, I read and heard people talking about how Miguel Cabrera will now suffer as a result -- without the fear of facing Fielder next, pitchers won't have to throw strikes to Cabrera. It's a topic you'll never change opinions on.
After all, didn't Cabrera just win back-to-back MVP Awards? Of course lineup protection exists! Don't be silly.
Here are Cabrera's last four seasons. Can you tell which two were the ones with Fielder hitting behind him and the two that weren't?
.344/.448/.586, 108 BB
.348/.442/.636, 90 BB
.328/.420/.622, 89 BB
.330/.393/.606, 66 BB
The two Fielder seasons are the second one (2013) and the fourth one (2012). In terms of wOBA, you'd rank them 2013, 2011, 2010, 2012. Cabrera's worst season was actually the best of Fielder's two seasons, and in theory the season when Cabrera received the most "protection."
OK, but let's dig into the numbers a little deeper. One way possible way to measure whether pitchers are pitching around Cabrera or challenging him more often is to look at the percentage of fastballs thrown him. If pitchers don't want to walk him -- and thus face Fielder with a runner or runners on base -- than Cabrera should see more fastballs to hit since the fastball is the easiest pitch command.
Here are the percentages of fastballs thrown to Cabrera the past four seasons:
2010: 52.3 percent
2011: 53.8 percent
2012: 54.0 percent
2013: 54.5 percent
OK, he has seen a few more fastballs. What does that mean in terms of total pitches? Cabrera has averaged about 2500 total pitches per season over the past four years; the difference between 52.3 percent and 54.5 percent is 55 pitches -- or about one extra fastball every three games.
What about the percentage of total pitches in the strike zone?
2010: 42.2 percent
2011: 41.5 percent
2012: 44.7 percent
2013: 44.8 percent
Again, a minor uptick -- an 82-pitch difference between 41.5 percent and 44.8 percent, or about one extra pitch in the strike zone every other game. That doesn't seem significant, especially once you factor in intentional walks (more on that in a second).
Now, there are two numbers which point in favor of Fielder helping Cabrera. He hit 68 home runs in 2010-11 but 88 in 2012-2013. That's 20 more home runs that maybe resulted from some juicier pitches Cabrera saw, right? Maybe. At the same, however, his doubles have gone down, from 93 in 2010-2011 to 66 in 2012-2013, leaving his isolated power relatively unchanged, other than a dip in 2011 when he hit just 30 home runs: .294, .241, .277, .288.
Yes, he had the injury at the end of 2013 that dragged down his final numbers; however, keep in mind that Fielder was much worse in 2013 than in 2012, and thus pitchers didn't have to "fear" him as much as in 2012. And it's true that Cabrera's walk rate increased in 2013 from the season before, perhaps because he was pitched around more (although note that the percentage of fastballs and pitches in the strike zone were basically identical both seasons).
Of interest as well is where those home runs were hit. The biggest increase the past two years came on home runs classified as being hit to "center" -- 22 versus eight over 2010-2011. Much of that is simply because Cabrera has done more damage on cripple pitches -- he hit .542 on pitches located in the middle of the strike zone the past two season versus .448 in 2010-2011, with the additional home run power.
The other category to note is intentional walks. Cabrera's intentional walks since 2010: 32, 22, 17, 19. So the intentional walks dropped a bit, particularly from 2010, when Brennan Boesch most often hit behind Cabrera.
This is the one argument you can make where protection comes into play. In 2010-2011, Cabrera batted 121 times with a runner on second and was intentionally walked 26 times (21 percent); in 2012-2013, he batted 145 times with a runner on second and was intentionally walked 18 times (12 percent). With runners on second and third, the ratios were 10 out of 29 and 5 out of 24.
So, yes, there were arguably about 10 plate appearances a season where Cabrera got to hit thanks to Fielder's protection. But also note that with Victor Martinez hitting behind him in 2011, the intentional walks were down from when Boesch hit behind him.
As for those who say Cabrera will just get a ton of free passes in 2014, here are his unintentional walk rates the past four seasons (removing all intentional walks from both total plate appearances and total walks):
2010: 9.3 percent
2011: 10.0 percent
2012: 7.2 percent
2013: 11.2 percent
He walked more often this year than the year Brennan Boesch was hitting behind him.
When you add it all up, there just isn't evidence that Prince Fielder made Miguel Cabrera a better hitter. Cabrera will be great again in 2014 because he's a great hitter.
In his newsletter yesterday -- sent out before the big trade -- Joe Sheehan wrote a column titled, "Money Don't Matter," making an argument that there's so much money flowing into the game now, and a relatively low percentage going back to the players (4 percent less of total revenue than NFL players receive), that our traditional methods of evaluating contracts are becoming outdated. Joe wrote:
It is so much money that it has a distorting effect on the market for talent, not just breaking our models, but arguably invalidating the first principle: that the opportunity cost of spent money matters. The combination of so much extra cash combined with so little talent becoming freely available -- due to teams locking up the best players in baseball long-term through their peaks -- means that there isn't much opportunity cost to spending. The money is there, and if it isn't spent on free agents it's not going to be spent in the draft or in the Dominican or on a superstar because the next superstar might not hit the market for another two years.
The money doesn't matter. It's not about whether the marginal cost of a win on the free-agent market is five million bucks or $7 million or $13 million; it's about that framework no longer being the way to evaluate signings. The extra dollars a team might spend to bring a player into the fold -- and turn a contract from a sabermetric win to a sabermetric loss -- are meaningless in the big picture because there's just no other good application of those dollars. The opportunity cost of not signing the player isn't "having the money to sign someone else", it's "having cash and no good way to use it."
This is essentially the argument for the Rangers trading for Fielder. They have money, they needed power and especially left-handed power, and Fielder was available, warts and all. The Rangers were willing to absorb his contract simply because they have the budget to do so.
On the other hand, the excellent Marc W. wrote this at the U.S.S. Mariner blog (scroll down to the bottom of the piece, past the stuff about the Mariners' 40-man roster moves):
Still, I wonder if we'll come to see the Fielder deal as some sort of peak in the value of pure power hitters on the open market. The Pujols deal may end up looking worse in time, and the Ryan Howard contract is still so bad it's basically in a separate category, but throw in Mark Teixeira and you're looking at a lot of dead money for 1Bs. As Dave's mentioned, this is part of a trend where contracts have lengthened, showing that teams are holding the line on single-year salary and stretching their commitment over time instead. But while Fielder's deal isn't going to seriously impact Robinson Cano’s negotiations, I wonder if we may not see many deals like, say, Joey Votto's extension for a while. We won't really be able to see for a while, not until the very reasonable extensions for young players like Arizona's Paul Goldshmidt run out, but the fact that the Reds will be paying Votto $25m in 2023 looks odd, and Votto's a much better hitter than Fielder. Basically, will this lead to a re-valuation of good-not-historically-great ballplayers?
This is essentially the sabermetric argument against the Rangers trading for Fielder -- that his decline in 2013 could be a harbinger of things to come, making him a very expensive player for his relative value. You can also argue that money is still a factor; for the Tigers, moving Fielder creates needed space to sign Max Scherzer to a big extension.
While that's likely true, you can also argue that for the Tigers this was strictly a baseball trade. They needed a second baseman and Kinsler fills that hole; they needed to improve the defense, and getting rid of Fielder and moving Miguel Cabrera to first base and installing highly rated rookie Nick Castellanos at third will do that. Even without Fielder's bat the Tigers may be a better team in 2014.
Some other reaction from across the interwebs, starting with Keith Law of ESPN Insider:
Compared to Fielder, Kinsler is showing greater signs of decline, with two disappointing offensive years as his legs have lost strength and his power has evaporated. After two 30-homer seasons in three years (2009, 2011), he's hit 32 total in the past two seasons in a good ballpark for power bats. His defense at second base improved with effort in his late 20s but has started to regress with his legs, and it's fair to worry that in a year or two his range will make him a liability at the position. He does fill a critical hole for the Tigers at second base in the short term, probably three wins above any internal options they had for the position, but their biggest gain in the deal is financial -- they save $76 million, which they can put toward retaining Max Scherzer or filling other needs. From a baseball perspective, however, I'd rather roll the dice on Fielder than Kinsler -- and with multiple sources indicating to me that the Rangers had shopped Kinsler but found no takers, it seems they had little choice.Dave Cameron, FanGraphs:
If you're a Tigers fan, this is a deal to celebrate. Don't worry about narratives like "big bats" and "Cabrera needs protection," or listen to the criticisms of Kinsler's good-at-everything-great-at-nothing skillset. The Tigers just made a fantastic trade that sets them up to be even better in 2014 than they were the last two years.
Dave Dombrowski has made a lot of good trades; this might end up being one of his best.
Sam Miller, Baseball Prospectus, on Fielder's 2013:
Most of the lost value came in two areas: his walks dropped and he quit hitting as many of his fly balls over the fence. His plate discipline didn't show much change -- he didn't swing more overall, he didn't get thrown more strikes, he didn't chase more; the only real change was a couple-percentage-point drop in contact rate—so we can chalk that up almost entirely to a drop in intentional walks, perhaps a combination of batting behind Miguel Cabrera (lineup protection sometimes works both ways) and batting in front of a switch-hitter for most of the season.
So then the home runs. Had his fly balls left the yard at exactly the rate that they typically do, he would have hit 10 more home runs. Say five of those lost homers turned into doubles and five into outs. Had he hit those 10 homers, and had he drawn 13 more intentional walks to match his 2012 total, his line goes up to .287/.381/.504, hardly a decline at all. Why give him credit for those home runs? You probably shouldn't! But 10 fly balls pulling up just short is hardly enough to declare a guy's career over. And his average fly ball, at 294 feet, went just two feet shorter than his average fly ball in 2012, and four feet shorter than in 2011.
John Niyo, Detroit News, addressed Fielder's second straight disappointing postseason:
Fielder’s brief tenure as the Tigers’ cleanup hitter and the highest-paid player in franchise history finished amid a cascade of boos in Comerica Park and that infamous third-base flop at Fenway Park. But it also ended with a series of puzzling postgame interview sessions that revealed Fielder as either tone deaf or just plain dumb. ...Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPNDallas:
And yet his nonchalant explanation after Game 3 against the Red Sox last month was, "If they throw a mistake, I hit it. If not, I won’t." That comment didn't sit well with other leaders in the Tigers clubhouse, and though Fielder's work ethic was never questioned -- "He played hard, he played every day," (GM Dave) Dombrowski said -- it's not hard to understand why.
Prince Fielder wasn't brought here simply to hit mistakes.
Sure, there's risk involved. Fielder is a big man, and there's a chance he'll have a dramatic decline as he nears the end of his deal.Jeff Passan, Yahoo:
No guarantees exist in pro sports. Every deal of consequence contains risk. The best GMs aren't paralyzed by fear.
They study the deal from every angle, then make a pragmatic baseball decision.
The reality is [Jon Daniels] is on a pretty good streak when it comes to making franchise-altering moves.
More importantly, the move allows Jurickson Profar to play second base instead of being miscast as a utility infielder. Now, the Rangers have their middle infield of Profar and shortstop Elvis Andrus locked up for at least five seasons.
No, this was about what Kinsler isn't: a $168 million cost over the next seven years. Even after sending cash to Texas, Detroit freed up $76 million to lock up Max Scherzer long-term or re-up Miguel Cabrera before his contract runs out after the 2015 season. Coming off the AL Cy Young, Scherzer likely never will find his market value as high as it is now. That didn't stop Detroit from giving Justin Verlander a $180 million contract over seven seasons after back-to-back years in which he finished first and second in Cy Young voting, and unless the Tigers divert their pot of gold to a left fielder -- (Shin-Soo) Choo makes all the sense in the world, actually -- it could be Scherzer's.Dustin Parkes, The Score:
Just as likely is Detroit putting it toward the Let Miggy Retire a Tiger Fund. This is worth remembering: Cabrera will be only 32 after the 2015 season. Jayson Werth received $126 million at age 31. A $200 million contract for Cabrera is almost a certainty, even if he does go to first base, which is the logical next step after the Fielder deal.
I think what’s most interesting about this deal, though, is what we thought when these players signed their contracts with their previous teams. Fielder's nine-year, $214-million contract from a Tigers team with Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Alex Avila already vying for future plate appearances from the 1B/DH spot seemed ridiculous. Kinsler signing his five-year, $75-million extension after a seven-win season in 2011 was a stroke of genius for the Rangers.Jon Paul Morosi, Fox Sports:
Since that time, Detroit has won two straight divisions, and made a World Series appearance. Fielder has put up seven wins, and arguably given room for Miguel Cabrera to emerge as not just an elite hitter, but perhaps the greatest many of our generation will have seen. Kinsler could never equal his 2011 performance. Since signing the deal, he’s become only a slightly above average player with most of his value coming from his defensive play.
It's not all roses for Fielder, nor is it Death Valley for Kinsler. The Rangers new first baseman had one of the worst years of his career last season, causing many to believe that the long-believed-to-be-impending decline due to his weight had finally begun. Meanwhile, Kinsler's contributions over the last two seasons have been limited as he battled injuries. With good health, Detroit's new second baseman could easily regain his status as one of the best up the middle players in the league.
I fully expect Fielder will find greater contentment and gaudier power numbers in Texas. It won't surprise me at all if he swats 40 or 45 home runs next year, thanks to the welcome scenery change and hitter-friendly environment at Rangers Ballpark. Meanwhile, Miguel Cabrera is likely to see fewer pitches to hit now that Fielder isn't protecting him any longer. (Remember: Fielder has batted behind an MVP in each of the last three seasons -- Ryan Braun with the Brewers in 2011, Cabrera for the last two. That is not an accident.)
"It's going to be a bat we miss at times," Dombrowski admitted.
Last word to Miguel Cabrera ... considering all the pictures of Fielder and himself that he posted on Twitter, I think he's going to miss the big guy:
Boston Red Sox
2013 statistics: 3.70 ERA (10th in AL), .710 OPS (12th), 23.3% K rate (6th), 8.7% BB rate (7th)
Record: 30-23, 33 saves, 23 blown saves, 76-7 when leading after six innings
Closer: Koji Uehara
Top setup guys: Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow
Others: Andrew Bailey, Brandon Workman, Franklin Morales, Andrew Miller, Rubby De La Rosa, Brayan Villarreal
Free agents: Joel Hanrahan, Matt Thornton
GM Ben Cherington struck gold when he signed Uehara to a one-year, $4.25 million contract that included a vesting option for 2014; the Red Sox will end up paying $9 million to $10 million or so for two years of Uehara's services. When Hanrahan and Bailey went down with injuries, Uehara took over the closer's role and had one of the best relief seasons in history. Can he do it again? Probably not at that level, and while he's always been underrated the concern is he threw 88 innings in 2013 (including the postseason) after throwing just 103 innings combined over 2011 and 2012. Even if the oft-injured Bailey is brought back (teams have until Dec. 2 to tender a contract to players or they become free agents), I expect them to make a move for at least one free-agent reliever to bolster the depth.
Grade: B+. There are some intriguing young arms like Workman and De La Rosa, who could start for some teams but don't have room in the Boston rotation. Villarreal is a guy who touched the upper 90s with the Tigers in 2012. Still, the depth behind Uehara, Tazawa and Breslow remains somewhat unknown and/or injury-prone.
Tampa Bay Rays
2013 statistics: 3.59 ERA (7th), .645 OPS (2nd), 24.9% K rate (2nd), 9.3% BB rate (9th)
Record: 27-24, 42 saves, 18 blown saves, 70-9 when leading after six innings
Top setup guys: Joel Peralta, Jake McGee
Others: Alex Torres, Wesley Wright, Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes, Alex Colome, Enny Romero, Jeff Beliveau
Free agents: Fernando Rodney, Jamey Wright, Jesse Crain
After two seasons of Rodney, who is the next reclamation project for Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey? Can you say "Joba Chamberlain, Tampa Bay closer?" OK, maybe not. More likely, with the emergence of Torres, Maddon moves McGee to the closer role, with Torres and Peralta setting him up. Look for the Rays to make a minor signing or two here, or to pick up a reliever in a potential David Price trade.
Grade: B+. The lack of a Proven Closer isn't the issue, as McGee and Peralta were both better pitchers than Rodney was in 2013. After two years of one of the best bullpens in the league, however, the Rays could simply be headed for a downturn in late-inning production.
2013 statistics: 3.52 ERA (6th), .697 OPS (9th), 21.5% K rate (11th), 7.3% BB rate (1st)
Record: 29-26, 57 saves, 27 blown saves, 61-18 when leading after six innings
Closer: Jim Johnson
Top setup guys: Darren O'Day, Tommy Hunter
Others: Brian Matusz, Troy Patton, T.J. McFarland, Josh Stinson, Edgmer Escalona
Free agents: Jairo Asencio
Check those losses when leading after six innings: Second most in the league behind the Astros. Johnson tied with Craig Kimbrel for the most saves in the majors, which only proves how saves are overrated. Johnson also lost eight games, although that late-inning record indicates he wasn't the only reliever blowing leads.
Grade: C. Johnson has to be considered a shaky option at closer and Hunter allowed a .535 slugging percentage against lefties. Buck Showalter doesn't really trust Matusz against righties (65 games, 51 innings) and sidearmer O'Day allowed a .309 average to left-handers. It's a pen that works when Showalter manages to get the matchups but can be abused if he doesn't. It really needs a right-hander Showalter can trust against both sides. I could see the O's going after a guy like Joaquin Benoit, whose changeup makes him effective against left-handers.
New York Yankees
2013 statistics: 3.66 ERA (9th), .717 OPS (13th), 23.7% K rate (4th), 8.2% BB rate (4th)
Record: 30-14, 49 saves, 13 blown saves, 59-6 when leading after six innings
Top setup guys: David Robertson, Preston Claiborne
Others: David Phelps, Shawn Kelley, Adam Warren, Brett Marshall, David Huff, Cesar Cabral
Free agents: Mariano Rivera (retired), Joba Chamberlain
With the Robertson/Rivera late-inning duo the Yankees were terrific in protecting leads and the bullpen managed to go 30-14 despite some otherwise mediocre numbers in ERA and OPS allowed. Robertson can certainly handle the ninth-inning role -- don't give me Proven Closer nonsense -- but don't be surprised if the Yankees go after one of the closers out there -- Joe Nathan, Grant Balfour or Rodney.
Grade: C-. Robertson is great but until they lock in a closer and a lefty to replace Boone Logan, this doesn't look like a playoff pen.
Toronto Blue Jays
2013 statistics: 3.37 ERA (4th), .685 OPS (6th), 22.0% K rate (8th), 8.5% BB rate (5th)
Record: 28-31, 39 saves, 19 blown saves, 51-12 when leading after six innings
Closer: Casey Janssen
Top setup guys: Brett Cecil, Steve Delabar
Others: Aaron Loup, Sergio Santos, Dustin McGowan, Chad Jenkins, Neil Wagner, Brad Lincoln, Jeremy Jeffress, Esmil Rogers
Free agents: Darren Oliver (retired)
While Toronto's team -- a World Series favorite on paper -- was blowing up, the bullpen was actually doing pretty well. Setup guys Cecil and Delabar both made the All-Star team. My concern is the pen wasn't as effective in the second half, its ERA rising from 2.90 to 4.03; some of that could have been fatigue (only Twins relievers threw more innings) but some of the decline could have been regression from a hot first half. If Santos can ever get healthy he's another weapon, and Jeffress and Rogers (if he doesn't start) are power arms who could excel if the light suddenly goes on.
Grade: B-. If everyone's healthy this could be a dominant pen, but Delabar, Santos, McGowan and Janssen all have significant injury histories in their past.
2013 statistics: 4.01 ERA (12th), .709 OPS (11th), 23.7% K rate (5th), 9.5% BB rate (10th)
Record: 17-25, 39 saves, 16 blown saves, 77-12 when leading after six innings
Top setup guys: Drew Smyly, Al Alburquerque
Others: Bruce Rondon, Phil Coke, Luke Putkonen, Jose Alvarez, Jose Ortega, Evan Reed
Free agents: Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Jose Veras
Can you say "Please come to Detroit, Joe Nathan?" Smyly is the team's best reliever but he may move to the rotation if Rick Porcello is traded (although that is now less likely after the Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler trade). Alburquerque has that killer slider but also the inability to throw it for strikes at times. Rondon, the closer-in-waiting, still throws 100 mph but needs to prove himself over an entire season before being handed the ninth inning. So that leaves the Tigers likely going after a closer plus maybe re-signing Benoit or another reliever like J.P. Howell or Oliver Perez.
Grade: D+. I like Smyly and Rondon has big-time potential, but until more reinforcements are gathered this group is pretty weak.
2013 statistics: 3.62 ERA (8th), .690 OPS (7th), 22.5% K rate (7th), 10.0% BB rate (10th)
Record: 33-16, 38 saves, 22 blown saves, 67-6 when leading after six innings
Top setup guys: Cody Allen, Vinnie Pestano
Others: Bryan Shaw, Marc Rzepczynski, Nick Hagadone, C.C. Lee, Preston Guilmet
Free agents: Chris Perez, Joe Smith, Matt Albers, Rich Hill
Despite mediocre numbers, the Indians' pen excelled in tight games, as it went 33-16 and did a good job of holding leads. That wasn't because former closer Perez was anything special; in fact, he'd lost his job by the time the Indians played the wild-card game. With Perez gone and the valuable Smith also a free agent, that leaves Allen as the likely closer. He has the 95 mph heater that managers love late in games and should be solid in the job. The question: Who fills out the rest of the pen? Pestano, after a terrific 2012, was demoted back to the minors in 2013; maybe he resurfaces. Regardless, the Indians are going to have to spend some money here.
Grade: D+. While I like Allen, I see the potential for this pen struggling in the seventh and eighth innings, especially if the Indians spend their available resources to re-sign Ubaldo Jimenez or another starter.
Kansas City Royals
2013 statistics: 2.55 ERA (1st), .628 OPS (1st), 26.2% K rate (1st), 8.6% BB rate (6th)
Record: 33-24, 54 saves, 21 blown saves, 63-12 when leading after six innings
Closer: Greg Holland
Top setup guys: Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar
Others: Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Louis Coleman, Will Smith, Donnie Joseph
Free agents: Bruce Chen, Luis Mendoza
First in ERA, first in OPS allowed, first in strikeout rate -- you can't do much better than that ... except the Royals still lost 12 games they led after six innings (Herrera lost seven games). So there's room for improvement if you look beyond the glossy statistics. If anything, the Royals have too much depth here -- Herrera pitched just 58 innings, Crow just 48 -- and then factor in more work for Coleman, who allowed two runs in 29 2/3 innings. The Royals should cash in one of these guys to get some help on offense.
Grade: A-. What's not to like about this pen? It's deep, it's young, they throw hard and they don't cost much money. The only minor downgrades are that Holland may not be quite as dominant and more consistency is needed from Herrera.
2013 statistics: 3.50 ERA (5th), .680 OPS (5th), 21.2% K rate (12th), 7.7% BB rate (3rd)
Record: 27-22, 40 saves, 18 blown saves, 41-8 when leading after six innings
Closer: Glen Perkins
Top setup guys: Jared Burton, Casey Fien
Others: Brian Duensing, Anthony Swarzak, Caleb Thielbar, Ryan Pressly, Michael Tonkin
Free agents: None
Quietly effective although Perkins is really the only top-shelf guy here. There's a good chance that guys like Fien and Thielbar take a step backward. The Twins are more likely to spend their resources on starting pitching -- the right decision -- and hope that this group can repeat.
Grade: B-. Solid if unspectacular, but one more power arm in front of Perkins would be nice.
Chicago White Sox
2013 statistics: 4.00 ERA (11th), .705 OPS (10th), 20.8% K rate (14th), 10.3% BB rate (14th)
Record: 19-36, 40 saves, 20 blown saves, 49-13 when leading after six innings
Closer: Addison Reed
Top setup guys: Nate Jones, Matt Lindstrom
Others: Donnie Veal, Dylan Axelrod, Jake Petricka, Daniel Webb
Free agents: None
Ugh. The home park doesn't help, but the numbers don't lie: This group was not good. Reed's peripherals are better than his 3.79 ERA suggests but he still blew eight saves, including five in which he allowed two or more runs. Jones can touch 100 mph but struggled with runners on base (.288, four home runs), leading to an inflated ERA. After those two, the depth and quality falls off in a hurry. Looks for GM Rick Hahn to surf for some of the second-tier relievers like Matt Albers.
2013 statistics: 3.22 ERA (3rd), .657 OPS (4th), 21.5% K rate (10th), 7.7% BB rate (2nd)
Record: 24-18, 46 saves, 21 blown saves, 74-9 when leading after six innings
Top setup guys: Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook
Others: Dan Otero, Jerry Blevins, Jesse Chavez, Evan Scribner, Pedro Figueroa
Free agents: Grant Balfour, Pat Neshek
With Balfour likely departing after a strong season as the closer, who takes his place? In mid-August you would have said Cook, who closed some as a rookie in 2012. But he was hit hard the final six weeks, allowing 21 hits and 10 walks over his final 12 innings. That may give the edge to Doolittle, a lefty with power stuff who can get both sides out. Otero was the big surprise here, a guy picked up off waivers in late March from the Yankees (who had just claimed him a day earlier after the Giants let him go). He's not overpowering, which is why he spent seven years in the minors, but he had a 2.02 career ERA in the minors and 1.38 in 39 innings with the A's (no home runs allowed).
Grade: B-. Doolittle or Cook can handle the closer role, but I could also see the A's making a pitch for Brian Wilson, who looked good in the postseason for the Dodgers and shouldn't be as expensive as the Nathan-Balfour-Rodney group.
2013 statistics: 2.91 ERA (2nd), .645 OPS (3rd), 21.1% K rate (13th), 8.8% BB rate (8th)
Record: 35-18, 46 saves, 11 blown saves, 69-5 when leading after six innings
Closer: Open for battle
Top setup guys: Tanner Scheppers, Joakim Soria
Others: Neftali Feliz, Neal Cotts, Robbie Ross, Jason Frasor, Joseph Ortiz, Michael Kirkman, Chaz Roe, Josh Lindblom
Free agents: Joe Nathan, Travis Blackley
With a deep arsenal of arms, the Rangers will let Nathan leave after he declined his player option. Feliz and Soria have been closers in the past and Scheppers will likely be considered due to his upper 90s fastball and 1.88 ERA. All three come with red flags, however: Feliz and Soria have to prove they're healthy, and while both were pitching at the end of the season they'll need to show they have the command to be trusted in the ninth inning; as for Scheppers, he struck out just 59 in 76 2/3 innings, so he'll be hard-pressed to repeat that .214 batting average allowed unless he misses more bats. Cotts may actually be the best reliever here, a guy who altered his mechanics after years of injuries and was dominant in his first stint in the majors since 2009. Ross adds more depth from the left side.
Grade: B+. If Feliz and Soria can return to something close to what they were once, this could once again be the best pen in the AL even without Nathan.
Los Angeles Angels
2013 statistics: 4.12 ERA (13th), .692 OPS (8th), 21.8% K rate (9th), 10.1% BB rate (13th)
Record: 20-27, 41 saves, 17 blown saves, 56-14 when leading after six innings
Closer: Ernesto Frieri
Top setup guys: Dane De La Rosa, Michael Kohn, Sean Burnett, J.C. Gutierrez, Cory Rasmus, Kevin Jepsen, Nick Maronde, Robert Carson
Free agents: None
Frieri is the closer for now, although the Angels may look to upgrade after he allowed 11 home runs in 68 2/3 innings. He does strike batters out, however, and finished with 37 saves in 42 chances. The bullpen woes you see in the numbers above came more from the setup guys. De La Rosa is a 30-year-old minor league vet the Angels picked up from the Rays and he had a decent year but has had battled control issues in the past. Kohn is another guy who throws in the mid-90s but must refine his command. Burnett missed most of the season with an elbow injury.
Grade: C-. There is some upside here and some good arms, but the Angels will undoubtedly be in the market for relief help.
2013 statistics: 4.58 ERA (14th), .724 OPS (14th), 24.2% K rate (3rd), 10.1% BB rate (12th)
Record: 16-33, 43 saves, 23 blown saves, 56-10 when leading after six innings
Closer: Danny Farquhar
Top setup guys: Charlie Furbush, Yoervis Medina
Others: Tom Wilhelmsen, Carter Capps, Stephen Pryor, Lucas Luetge, Bobby LaFromboise, Hector Noesi, Chance Ruffin
Free agents: Oliver Perez
After a strong showing in 2012 -- fifth in the AL in bullpen ERA -- the Mariners were excited about their pen heading into 2013, with Wilhelmsen closing, backed up by Capps and Pryor, three guys with high-octane fastballs. Instead, Pryor got hurt, Capps got torched by left-handers and Wilhelmsen's confidence fell to the point where he was sent down to Triple-A. Farquhar took advantage and became the closer and while his ERA was 4.20, he flashed good stuff and struck out 79 in 55 2/3 innings while allowing just two home runs.
Grade: C. As indicated by that strikeout rate (third best in the AL), this is a group that has a good chance to bounce back from a horrible season. The Mariners' focus will be on upgrading the outfield and maybe adding a starting pitcher or two, so I wouldn't expect a major move here. Which means they'll probably give Rodney too much money to close.
2013 statistics: 4.92 ERA (15th), .816 OPS (15th), 17.5% K rate (15th), 10.5% BB rate (15th)
Record: 14-40, 32 saves, 29 blown saves, 36-21 when leading after six innings
Closer: To be determined
Top setup guys: Josh Fields, Chia-Jen Lo
Others: Jose Cisnero, Paul Clemens, Josh Zeid, Rhiner Cruz, Kevin Chapman, Darin Downs, Raul Valdes
Free agents: None
The numbers say it: This was one of the worst bullpens in history, right up there with the 2007 Tampa Bay bullpen that went 21-34 with a 6.16 ERA. But that Rays team was 50-13 when leading after six innings; the Astros were an abysmal 36-21.
Grade: F. Nowhere to go but up.
I've been saying all along that I believed the Texas Rangers were the sleeper team in the Robinson Cano sweepstakes; swapping Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder is a move that helps increase the likelihood of that happening.
Yes, the immediate reaction is that this merely opens the door to play Jurickson Profar at second base; but I think Rangers CEO Ray Davis and general manager Jon Daniels have something even bigger in mind.
Here's what I mean. Trading Kinsler for Fielder by itself doesn't really make the Rangers all that much better; in fact, you can argue Kinsler, with his all-around game that includes defense and baserunning, is a better player than Fielder. Of course, Fielder isn't directly replacing Kinsler, but rather Mitch Moreland (or everyone the Rangers used at DH in 2013). Here are the Steamer WAR projections for 2014 published at FanGraphs:
Total: 4.6 WAR
Total: 5.1 WAR
So based on the projections (which predict Fielder to bounce back from his subpar 2013), the Rangers are making only a minor upgrade for 2014, while absorbing a large portion of Fielder's remaining contract in the process. Why do that?
More likely, this puts the Rangers in the bidding for Cano. The Rangers need and want power, having to replace Nelson Cruz, leaving as a free agent, and needing a general upgrade in that department as well. Fielder hit 25 home runs last year (30 in 2012) while Kinsler has averaged 16 the past two seasons. So that's an upgrade, but doesn't make up for the loss of Cruz.
Enter Cano. With Nolan Ryan ousted as CEO, Davis is eager to make a big splash. What bigger splash than trading for Fielder and signing the biggest free agent on the market? Meanwhile, that still leaves Daniels the option of trading Profar for a corner-outfield bat. How about making this deal: Profar for Cardinals prospect Oscar Taveras? It's a perfect match with the Cardinals needing a shortstop; instead of spending money on injury-prone Stephen Drew, they could use that money to bring back Carlos Beltran and/or go after Shin-Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury.
For the Rangers, that would give them this potential lineup:
SS Elvis Andrus
RF Alex Rios
2B Robinson Cano
3B Adrian Beltre
1B Prince Fielder
LF Oscar Taveras
DH Mitch Moreland
C Geovany Soto/other
CF Leonys Martin/Craig Gentry
Cano to the Rangers. I don't know if Cano will get the $300 million he and agent Jay-Z have reported asked for, but Ray Davis isn't going to balk at $200 million.
Situation AVG OBP SLG
Pitcher Ahead .196 .203 .289
Even Count .297 .383 .470
Hitter Ahead .339 .470 .572
The league is taking to the coaching of Walker and his peers as the overall percentage of first-pitch strikes has improved each of the past five seasons. According to the data from ESPN Stats & Info, the percentage of first-pitch strikes was 58.1 percent in 2009 and has incrementally improved each season to 60.1 percent in 2013. That first pitch is an integral part of the three-pitch plan toward the statistical high ground in any matchup.
This past April, Jon Roegele of Beyond The Boxscore reviewed the pitching philosophies of the pitching coaches in the American League East. Roegele found quotes from Rick Peterson, Juan Nieves and Jim Hickey that each preached the importance of being up in the count after three pitches. Peterson, the Orioles' director of pitching development, advocated for his pitchers to throw high-percentage strikes in 1-1 counts, and Red Sox pitching coach Nieves told Tim Britton of the Providence Journal that it was simply his favorite count. Boston won the World Series this season in spite of the fact they were the fifth-worst team in all of baseball in getting to Nieves' favorite count. Hickey feels when pitchers are ahead, they all become David Price on the mound. The data backs that up:
Count AVG OPS
0-0 .336 .881
0-1 .311 .780
1-0 .333 .882
1-1 .331 .840
The data in the table shows that there is no clear advantage for either party for these counts (although a small edge goes to the pitcher when he's ahead 0-1) -- but the outcomes diverge greatly with the third pitch in a plate appearance. In 2-1 counts, batters hit .351 with a .932 OPS but in 1-2 counts, they hit just .166 with a .412 OPS. That 185-point difference in batting average and 520-point different in OPS makes it easy to see why coaches such as Peterson, Nieves, and Hickey preach the importance of getting ahead early.
In looking at all plate appearances after those counts were reached, batters hit .255/.387/.412 after reaching a 2-1 count but just .179/.228/.271 after reaching a 1-2 count, still a 300-point difference in OPS.
Max Scherzer was an exceptional example of the 1-1 philosophy in 2013.
Scherzer led all of baseball in 2013 with a 74.3 percent strike rate in 1-1 counts. It marked the second consecutive season he topped the 70 percent mark and the third straight season he improved on that percentage from the previous season. The divergence in outcomes for Scherzer from the 1-1 count was even more pronounced than the numbers league-wide. Batters hit just .127 against him in 1-2 counts with a .306 OPS but hit .391 with a 1.087 OPS in 2-1 counts. Scherzer was able to mitigate that damage by getting to 1-2 counts 72 percent of the time.
It was not until Scherzer's fourth full season in the major leagues that he started to reap the benefits of getting ahead early in the count and putting hitters into protect mode rather than attack mode. When pitchers fall behind in the count, they tend to throw more fastballs and Scherzer was no exception to the rule. Scherzer went to his fastball 66 percent of the time in the 2-1 counts this season, but just 48 percent of the time when he got into the 1-2 counts. Scherzer was able to leverage his advantage in those counts to collect strikeouts 48 percent of the time.
The pitcher-batter matchup, by its very nature, is decidedly in the favor of the pitcher. On average, the pitcher will retire the batter nearly 70 percent of the time. Over the past five seasons, that figure jumps to 80 percent when the pitcher is ahead in the count. It took Scherzer a few seasons to grasp the concept, but he has excelled at his craft since he began getting ahead of batters with increased regularity earlier in the count. Some may point to the fact Scherzer had the fourth-highest run support of all American League starters as a reason for his impressive win-loss record, but that is a secondary factor in his success story. A combination of hard work and refocusing his career after a personal tragedy is the big reason he won the Cy Young Award last year.
Jason Collette writes for The Process Report, a blog on the Tampa Bay Rays, and also contributes to FanGraphs and Rotowire.
While most people are drawn to the top of the names at the MVP ballot, I always find myself checking the bottom of the list.
I've always found the one-vote wonders intriguing -- someone who one person out of 30 voters found worthy of recognition.
In the past, I've voted in small-college football and basketball polls and have tried to find instances in which I could be that voter, one who had a good (often unnoticed) reason to deem someone legitimate. I found it to be a fun and challenging exercise and it's one I've decided to repeat here.
I can fully understand wanting to reward the 10 players whose value was greatest, but I think it would be cool if any of these five got a single 10th-place vote.
Mark Ellis, 2B, Dodgers
Ellis hit .270 with six home runs and 48 RBIs, so it's not his offense for which we're rewarding him. Ellis was credited with 12 Defensive Runs Saved, the most by an NL second basemen and that helped him finish with 3.0 WAR, which ranked just outside the top 40 among NL position players.
But Ellis was probably worth more than that when you consider the Dodgers' alternatives at second base. Five other players combined to play about 500 innings there and they were worth a combined -14 Defensive Runs Saved. The Dodgers went 69-37 when Ellis started in 2013. They were 23-33 when he didn't.
Drew Smyly, RP, Tigers
There are a couple of directions I could have gone in for picking a non-closing relief pitcher (whether one is really worthy of a vote is a subject of legit debate).
I went with Smyly over a couple of other options (Alex Torres and Luke Hochevar among them) because I liked his versatility. He could get one out when needed and more when necessary. He gave the Tigers a relief-pitching option who was just as good as their starting pitchers.
If you wonder how good he was, just ask the teams in the AL East.
Smyly pitched 13 games against the Yankees, Orioles, Blue Jays, Red Sox and Rays. In them, he pitched 20 innings and allowed no runs and 10 hits, with 22 strikeouts and one walk (and for those asking, I excluded the postseason appearances, since the MVP is based on regular-season production).
Martin Prado, 3B/LF/2B, Diamondbacks
This one seems counter-intuitive, given that Prado's WAR dropped from 5.5 in 2012 to 2.3 in 2013.
But I call your attention to him because he was the NL leader in a cool stat.
Prado had a dozen plate appearances in the seventh inning or later in which he either tied the game or gave the Diamondbacks the lead. That was two more than the Diamondback who will rightfully get lots of MVP votes (Paul Goldschmidt) and matched the major-league best totals of Chris Davis and Jose Bautista.
Lest you say that Prado racked these up when the Diamondbacks were wilting, that's not true. His 11th of those 12 came on Aug. 27, a date on which they were still within five games of the wild-card spot.
Eric Young Jr., OF, Mets
Full disclosure here: Eric's father worked with me on Baseball Tonight for three seasons and I enjoyed his time at ESPN. So if you accuse me of not thinking clearly on this one, that's fine.
But the Mets were not just a better team when Young started (46-44 when he did, and an ugly 28-44 when he didn't), they were much more watchable. Young's presence made the Mets more reliant on their baserunning and that was a good thing. He led the NL in FanGraphs' baserunning metric (UBR) and the Mets led the majors in that stat.
The Mets also defended much better in the outfield because it cleared out Lucas Duda in favor of a player who wound up rating second among left fielders in the SABR Defensive Index used to aid in the Gold Glove voting.
Yes, the Mets also added Zack Wheeler around the time they added Young, but Wheeler only pitched every fifth day. Young played every day and played well.
Jason Castro, Astros
You know how bad the Astros were.
But imagine how much worse they would have been without Castro, who finished with 4.5 WAR, nearly two wins better than anyone else on the team.
It was the fourth-highest WAR for anyone who played at least 50 percent of their games at the position last season. The three guys ahead of him were Yadier Molina, Joe Mauer and Buster Posey.
And since I can't get away with calling any of those three underrecognized, I'll go with Castro, who played a significant role in preventing the Astros from being mentioned in the same sentence as the 1962 Mets.
Kershaw, with his 16-9 record and 1.83 ERA, was the clear choice in the National League. Jose Fernandez had a similar dominance over hitters -- Kershaw allowed a .195/.244/.277 batting line, Fernandez .182/.257/.265 -- but Kershaw pitched 63 more innings, making that comparison moot. Adam Wainwright was terrific, going 19-9 with a 2.94 ERA, walking just 35 batters in 34 starts while leading the majors in innings pitched, but he allowed 28 more runs while pitching just 5.2 more innings.
The American League race arguably had a little more flavor to it if you looked past Scherzer's shiny 21-3 record. Over at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron outlined the specifics of the debate when it came to using advanced metrics to evaluate the candidates:
We have two different models of pitcher WAR: one based on FIP, and one based on runs allowed. These represent the extreme opposite ends of the viewpoints on how much credit or blame a pitcher should receive for events in which his teammates have some significant influence. If you go with strictly a FIP-based model, a pitcher is only judged on his walks, strikeouts, and home runs, and the events of hits on balls in play and the sequencing of when events happen are not considered as part of the evaluation.
If you go with the RA9-based model, then everything that happens while the pitcher is on the mound -- and in some cases, what happens after they are removed for a relief pitcher -- is considered the pitcher's responsibility, and he's given full credit or blame for what his teammates do while he's pitching.
Scherzer fared best in the Fielding Independent Pitching version of WAR, with his terrific strikeout and walk rates; Yu Darvish and Hisashi Iwakuma, because they allowed slightly fewer runs in a similar number of innings, fared best in the runs-based model. Iwakuma, for example, led the AL in Baseball-Reference WAR, which focuses more on runs (while considering other factors like team defense and quality of opposition). But as Cameron pointed out, Scherzer rates high in both models. Scherzer likely won so easily because of his 21-3 record, but he's a deserving winner even if he'd gone 17-7.
Did either pitcher have a historic season? Scherzer did have the fifth-highest winning percentage for a pitcher who won 20 games:
Ron Guidry, 1978 Yankees: .893 (25-3)
Lefty Grove, 1931 A's, .886 (31-4)
Cliff Lee, 2008 Indians: .880 (22-3)
Preacher Roe, 1951 Dodgers: .880 (22-3)
Scherzer, 2013 Tigers: .875 (21-3)
But Scherzer's 2.90 ERA wasn't historical, and teammate Anibal Sanchez had an even lower ERA. Scherzer was hard to hit and had a high strikeout rate, but his .583 OPS allowed ranks just 31st during the wild-card era. I'm not trying to diminish Scherzer's season, just suggesting the win-loss record overstates his dominance a bit. He took a huge leap forward, however, and is now correctly labeled as one of the best in the majors.
It's easier to make the case for Kershaw. Since 1950, we've had just 33 seasons where a starter allowed an ERA under 2.00, with 21 of those coming in the 10-year span between 1963 and 1972, when pitching dominated. Going back to 1994 and the wild-card era, just seven times has a pitcher finished with an ERA under 2.00: Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez twice, Kevin Brown, Roger Clemens and now Kershaw. Kershaw's .521 OPS allowed is third-best in that era, behind Martinez in 2000 and Maddux in 1995. I would rate Kershaw's season behind those two since they pitched in much higher-scoring leagues.
In fact, Baseball-Reference isn't all that impressed with Kershaw's season, valuing it at 7.9 WAR -- just 38th since 1990. Consider the other factors in play: He pitched in a good pitcher's park, offense across the majors was at its lowest point since 1992 and he didn't face a particularly tough slate of opponents.
Not that 7.9 WAR isn't anything but awesome. It is awesome. Kershaw is clearly the best starter in the majors right now, having finished first, second and first in the past three Cy Young votes while leading the majors in ERA all three seasons. He doesn't turn 26 until next March. I don't think he's going to stop at two Cy Young Awards.