Some thoughts on a few recents things that have popped up:
The Colorado Rockies outfielder started off slow in 2015, hitting .219 with four home runs through May, but belted 27 home runs in the second half and finished with a .271/.325/.540 batting line with 40 home runs. After an injury-plagued 2014, that strong second half rebuilt his trade value, and now the Rockies are listening to offers.
With two years left on his contract at $17 million in 2016 and $20 million in 2017, Gonzalez could be an attractive, shorter-term outfield option for those teams wary of giving $100 million-plus to Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes or betting an Alex Gordon to remain productive into his mid-30s. Gonzalez would be an obvious fit for all three teams that have shown interest: The Nationals are currently counting on Jayson Werth, coming off a .685 OPS season, and Michael Taylor, who posted a .640 OPS as a rookie; the Cardinals just lost Jason Heyward and could use a power bat, and they could put Gonzalez in right field and play Stephen Piscotty at first base; the Giants are looking for a left fielder.
Gonzalez's value is also very difficult to peg. He played just 180 games in 2013 and 2014 combined, and everyone is going to point to his home/road splits: Over the past three seasons, he has a .952 OPS at Coors Field, .780 on the road. If teams are going to discount Gonzalez because of that, are the Rockies better off just hanging on to him? There's also the possibility that those splits are overblown, that if Gonzalez is traded then what I call the "Coors Effect" will go away and the splits will normalize. The bigger concern may be that Gonzalez hasn't hit lefties well in recent seasons, including 2015, when he had a .530 OPS against them.
Still, he's a 30-homer bat if he stays healthy and a capable defender in a corner outfield position. If I'm one of those teams above, I like the idea of trading prospects for Gonzalez rather than spending big money on one of the free agents.
2. Houston Astros trade Mark Appel.
The Ken Giles deal with the Philadelphia Phillies was officially finalized, and it included different names than the ones in the initial report. The big change was Appel going to the Phillies instead of outfielder Derek Fisher. This had to be a hard pill for the Astros to swallow, admitting that they blew the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 when they took Appel over Kris Bryant.
The Pirates, you may remember, drafted Appel eighth overall in 2012, but the right-hander didn't sign and instead returned to Stanford for his senior season. Despite a career 5.14 ERA in the minors, the Astros kept saying they believed in Appel as a future member of the rotation. The minor-league numbers suggest otherwise, of course, as Appel has been very hittable -- 280 hits in 253 innings and 26 home runs allowed -- and Keith Law wondered the other day if Appel's delivery is simply too pretty, lacking any deception.
I talked with Appel at the Future Games in Cincinnati. He was very positive, appreciative of the Astros giving him the opportunity to pitch in the game, and, as you may expect from a Stanford graduate, well-spoken and intelligent. He made sure to shave that morning, recognizing he was representing the Astros organization and laughing that he didn't look too good with a mustache.
He said one thing I found interesting: "I can only perform to my God-given ability." On the one hand, it was a mature response to being labeled a disappointment or failure as the No. 1 pick in the draft, taking the attitude that he can't worry about the results as long as he's trying his best. In essence, he was saying that if his stuff isn't good enough, then it isn't good enough. On the other hand, maybe you'd like to see a larger degree of frustration, showing that he believes his stuff should be producing better results. But maybe that's not fair either.
Anyway, he seemed like a good kid. Maybe a change of scenery and lower expectations will help; he's still just 24 and struck out 8.0 batters per nine innings at Triple-A, so he's far from a lost cause.
Jerry Dipoto's busy offseason continued with the signing of a much-needed reliever. The Mariners signed Cishek for two years and $10 million, with another $7 million in incentives if he ends up closing. At this point, he'll battle Joaquin Benoit for that role.
Good acquisition? I'm a little skeptical. After four solid seasons with the Marlins, including two-plus years as their closer, Cishek struggled out of the gate early in 2015 and was eventually traded to the Cardinals. In 27 appearances with the Cardinals, he posted a 2.31 ERA and seemingly fixed himself. His peripheral numbers tell a different story. His walk rate actually increased with the Cardinals, and he didn't compensate with a higher strikeout rate. His fielding-independent pitching (a stat that simulates what a pitcher's ERA would be if defense weren't a factor) was actually higher with St. Louis than Miami, even though his ERA was more than two runs lower. Here's the story:
2011-2014: 26.5% K rate, 8.6% BB rate, 0.9% HR rate
2015: 19.8% K rate, 11.1% BB rate, 1.6% HR rate
Cishek has a low arm angle, relying on his sinker to get ground balls and his slider to generate strikeouts. His fastball velocity was down 1 mph from 2014 and was down in 2014 from previous seasons. In 2011, he averaged 92.6 mph with his fastball; in 2015, 90.7. Dipoto is banking on a comeback, and it's certainly possible, but relievers often burn quickly.
Dipoto is also banking on better seasons from Justin De Fratus and Evan Scribner, two other bullpen acquisitions. As Marc W. wrote over at the U.S.S. Mariner blog, while teams like the Astros and A's are adding power arms to their bullpens, Dipoto went the opposite route. He traded the best relief arm he had, Carson Smith, to acquire starter Wade Miley from the Red Sox. The Mariners look better on paper, but after the bullpen fell apart in 2015, it's still a big question mark and will go a long to way to determining the team's success or failure in 2016.