Tigers Pay the Price and Win

Tigers LHP David Price

Tigers LHP David Price

The Detroit Tigers confused the world of baseball this winter when they traded right-hander Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals for Robbie Ray. Fister had three years of team control remaining, and he was coming off of two very good seasons (3.29 ERA, 1.19 WHIP) in Detroit. Ray was rated as the 97th best prospect prior to the 2014 season by MLB.com, but after the Tampa Bay Rays were able to get the haul that they did (including Wil Myers) for two years of control of James Shields, it was assumed by many that Fister would bring much more than a single prospect, particularly one that had posted most of his solid 2013 numbers while repeating High-A.

Still, the deal was made, and the Tigers still had a rotation that featured reigning AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Anibal Sanchez, while management was hoping that young pitchers Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly could step up to take on the slack at the back of the rotation. Porcello had taken that step, winning 12 of his 20 starts with the best season, to date, of his career, but Dave Dombrowski wanted more.

With the Oakland A’s adding Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, and, on Thursday morning, Jon Lester, via trades, the Tigers would need to make a move to compete with the dynamic rotation that Billy Beane and company had manufactured, while keeping the core of the team together. Just before the trade deadline, that move was made.

The Detroit Tigers acquired David Price in a three-team deal with the Tampa Bay Rays and the Seattle Mariners.

The deal broke down like this:

Detroit Received: LHP David Price

Seattle Received: CF Austin Jackson

Tampa Bay Received: LHP Drew Smyly, 2B/SS Nick Franklin, and SS Willy Adames (minor leaguer)

The Mariners needed a center fielder and a right-handed bat, which Jackson filled nicely. The Tigers wanted another arm to counter the A’s move, and they certainly did that by getting the top arm on the market in Price. And, well, the Rays traded Price, knowing that the team acquiring him would be on the hook for nearly $20 million next year through arbitration, which resulted in a less than “wow” type of package in return; however, the Rays now have Smyly, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb, and Chris Archer in their rotation, making it quite strong, while adding a piece that could, ultimately, allow them to deal Ben Zobrist, who is still under team control (due to an option) for 2015, or plug him into another position with Franklin taking over second base. Adames has performed well in the Low-A Midwest League at the age of 18, showing some patience and power that could excite the Rays as he continues to climb the ranks.

PriceThe deal has positives for everyone involved, but the Tigers getting Price was definitely the haul, and adding him to the rotation immediately makes the club the team to beat in the American League. They now have the last three AL Cy Young winners in their rotation, while featuring Miguel Cabrera, the reigning two-time MVP, offensively.

With Max Scherzer heading towards free agency, the Tigers just replaced him for the 2015 season, while making sure that they get a compensatory pick, which will come due to a qualifying offer rejection from Scherzer prior to his signing with a new club this winter. David Price didn’t cost as much as many expected, especially with the rumored demands that were leaked regarding the Indians and Dodgers, and he will not only help the Tigers this season, he will make them a top team entering 2015. Whether he signs an extension with Detroit is to be determined, but if there are any Tigers fans out there who are upset about losing Drew Smyly, Austin Jackson, and a low level prospect for David Price, feel free to throat punch them.

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Reds In on Alex Rios?

The Texas Rangers are 23.5 games out in the AL West, actually one game behind the Houston Astros. Needless to say, there could be some activity today as the deadline looms. The Cincinnati Reds are six games out in the NL Central, but just 4.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. With Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto out due to injuries and the Reds scuffling at the plate, they need a bat to improve upon their chances of catching up with just 55 games to go.

Enter, Rangers outfielder Alex Rios.

Rios, 33, will be due the remainder of his 2014 contract of $12.5 million (approximately $4.25 million) if the Rangers don’t kick in some cash in any potential deal, and with the Reds shopping Ryan Ludwick, the move and rumors make perfect sense.

Rios is due a $1 million buyout or $13.5 million on a 2015 team option, and clearing Ludwick and his $9 million (or $4.5 million buyout) would make sense for such a clear offensive upgrade. Sure, on the surface, Rios is having a down season, but comparing the two is really no comparison:

Year Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2014 35 78 280 249 20 65 15 0 6 27 0 21 66 .261 .326 .394 .720 98
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/31/2014.
Year Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2014 33 104 421 395 45 120 22 8 4 43 16 20 75 .304 .335 .430 .765 170
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/31/2014.
Rangers OF Alex  Rios

Rangers OF Alex Rios

Ludwick, the top player in the statistics above, has missed some time (or ridden the bench, at times), while Rios has shown speed and gap power while producing some runs in a injury-ravaged Rangers’ lineup this season. Rios’ power is way down, but he does lead the AL in triples (8). His 6’5″ frame was long projected to be capable of big power and speed numbers in his career, and, while he never fully lived up to expectations, Rios has certainly had his share of All-Star caliber seasons (2006, 2007 – All-Star, 2012 earned MVP voting shares).

Ludwick’s contract has hampered the Reds’ ability to go all-in on re-signing Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, and Aroldis Chapman, and while Rios would be additional costs, his production and ability to deal his contract prior to the 2015 season would likely be much easier than the sunken costs in the Ludwick deal.

The right-handed of bat of Rios would be an excellent addition to the middle of the order, and a Billy Hamilton, Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto, Rios, Jay Bruce, Devin Mesoraco, Todd Frazier, and Zack Cozart lineup would allow the pitchers to keep doing what they always do, helping the Reds get back on top – if not in 2014, then certainly in 2015.

With the Cardinals adding Justin Masterson and John Lackey, the Reds need bats. Now.

Red Sox Deal Lester – Now What?

The Red Sox have traded left-handed pitcher Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes to the Oakland A’s for Yoenis Cespedes. They now have received an intriguing, powerful outfielder  to pair with Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Mookie Betts, and the stars who have yet to arrive in Boston in preparation for the future, while Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz hang around. Now…what happens next?

After the 2011 collapse and the 2012 fire-sale, what is really going to happen in Boston? Prior to the 2013 season, the money saved by moving Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett was used to sign veteran free agents Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino, and while the 2013 season resulted in a culmination of immeasurable good-guy-ness in the clubhouse and another World Series title, the investments in aging stars didn’t play out so well when injuries ravaged the 2014 season and young players proved incapable of stepping up.

Red Sox LHP Jon  Lester

Red Sox LHP Jon Lester

So, in a market that went so long without a title and now demands competitive rosters going forward, how will Boston management construct the Red Sox in 2015 and beyond?

The leadership and dedication to the city of Boston by Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz is one thing, but with Lester saying he would return to Boston as a free agent, helping the Red Sox two times over by being traded for assets and returning next season, the first place to start is: Why? Why would Lester return?

Shouldn’t he and his agent remember “Lowball Gate“?

Oh yes, this spring, Lowball Gate was when the Red Sox offered their ace a four-year, $70 million deal within the same time period and market in which Clayton Kershaw had just received $215 million over seven years in an extension and the Yankees tossed $155 million to Masahiro Tanaka before he ever threw a pitch in MLB. Lester had established himself as an ace between 2008 (when he claimed a full-time role in the rotation) and 2013, going 89-54 while logging 1,232 innings and posting a 3.65 ERA and 1.27 WHIP while pitching in, arguably, the toughest division in baseball. His 27.4 WAR over those six seasons left him ranked 8th most valuable pitcher, just behind Kershaw, yet Lester found himself worthy of just $17.5 million per season in annual value in the reported offer.

In 2014, Lester has been the 3rd most valuable pitcher in baseball in 2014 (behind only Felix Hernandez and Corey Kluber), and as he heads into free agency after his time in Oakland, is he going to give a discount to Boston and will Boston be willing to offer what the rest of the market could, or will, for the soon-to-be 31-year-old?

For Lester, saying that he was willing to return to Boston in free agency opened the door for another “hometown discount” offer from Boston, who would have the leverage if Boston is where Lester wants to be; however, with Rubby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo, Henry Owens, Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, Matt Barnes, and recent acquisition (from San Francisco) Edwin Escobar in the mix and near-ready to contribute at the major league level, why would Boston want to gamble on an aging arm in the post-PED era?

Courtesy: Hardballtalk.nbcsports.com

Courtesy: Hardballtalk.nbcsports.com

With Yoenis Cespedes on board, at least for the time being (he could still be flipped prior to the deadline), and Napoli, Ortiz, and Pedroia around through at least the 2015 season, the Red Sox are, offensively, ready to win now. With all of the young pitching talent, even with a potential trade of John Lackey today, the Red Sox could have the depth to move on without Lester. As Lester said, it’s a business, and, while he may have enjoyed his time in Boston, this trade could lead to two unknown results:

1. A Red Sox rebuild – based on the youth and high-end prospects currently on the MLB roster and in the pipeline, or…

2. The beginning of another spending spree on free agents to win now – including Lester.

Unfortunately, it will be months before we know which direction Boston goes, and the decision will likely stem on the decision and action on a single player in free agency – Jon Lester.

Eric Chavez Quietly Retires

On Wednesday, 36-year-old, part-time Arizona Diamondbacks infielder Eric Chavez announced his retirement. The news was largely overshadowed by the Justin Masterson deal between St. Louis and Cleveland, as well as the never-ending swirl of rumors with Thursday marking the non-waiver trade deadline for 2014. It’s quite unfortunate that Chavez will disappear from the game, pushed away by a knee injury that is just one of many, many ailments that derailed his once elite career.

Since August of 1999, Chavez had been on the disabled list a whopping 12 times, having missed 385 games since the start of the 2009 season while on the DL. From concussions, knee issues, elbow problems, and an aching shoulder, it was just one thing after another. Chavez was basically just “hanging around” since 2007, playing in just 449 games over the last eight seasons (about 56 games per season), which was his age-29 season. However, it wasn’t always disappointment and injuries, as Chavez was dominant.

Courtesy: Fangraphs

The list above shows the top 20 position players in baseball (based on Fangraphs WAR) from 2000 to 2006. In those seven seasons, Chavez won six Gold Gloves and one Silver Slugger, but he never made an All-Star Game. ESPN reported that: “Chavez’s career .970 fielding percentage ties him for third best all-time with Ken Reitz among players with a minimum of 800 games played. Only Mike Lowell (.974) and Brooks Robinson (.971) are better.” Also, on the list above, you’ll notice several names of players who have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs, and, if they are taken out (as they have been by the BBWAA for the Hall of Fame), Chavez and his numbers would slide up at bit.

Eric Chavez

Eric Chavez

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, due to the brief period of production, Chavez certainly won’t earn a plaque in Cooperstown; however, there are a couple of things to mention regarding his career:

  • Chavez ranked 40th all-time among third basemen in WAR7, ahead of 4 Hall of Fame members (George Kell, Freddie Lindstrom, Deacon White, and Pie Traynor).
  • Chavez is 43rd all-time among third basemen in JAWS, ahead of 3 Hall of Famers (Kell, Traynor, and Lindstrom).

Jay Jaffe (@Jay_Jaffe on Twitter), of Sports Illustrated, created the JAWS system to compare players from different eras based on their greatest years of production. The statistic is available HERE, and this is a brief explanation from Baseball Reference:

A player’s JAWS is his career WAR averaged with his 7-year peak WAR (not necessarily consecutive years). For non-pitchers, all non-pitching WAR (offense, defense, baserunning) is included in determining the averages, but any pitching WAR they might have accrued is not; right fielders aren’t penalized by the additional value Babe Ruth accumulated on the mound, for example. The current Hall of Famers are then grouped by position and a position average JAWS is computed. For the purposes of comparison, a player is classified at the position where he accrued the most value, which may be different from the position where he played the most games, particularly as players tend to shift to positions of less defensive responsibility as they age.

I asked Jaffe about Chavez, knowing that Chavez’s argument for the Hall of Fame is a very weak one, but worth looking at. I asked:

Chavez2Chavez was never an All-Star and his injury history derailed his career, but based on his production, is there any case for him due to his tremendous defense? I’m very anti- Omar Vizquel for the HOF myself, but if he is going to get votes due to defense and production/numbers caused by longevity, is there any hope for Chavez?

Jaffe responded with:

 

Short answer: no. Career far too short; forget defense – nobody in the post-1960 expansion era gets in with less than 2,000 hits and he’s only at 1,477. Beyond that, 3B is pitifully under-served by HOF voters and the line ahead of him would include Ken Boyer, Graig Nettles, Darrell Evans, Buddy Bell, Ron Cey and others, with Beltre and Wright having stronger cases today and still active. as well.
Chavez may have been a HOF-caliber talent, but he just couldn’t stay healthy enough to get there. Still a good career but less than it might have been.
So, Chavez, temporarily great, heads off into the sunset having served the last several years in a part-time role, incapable of playing at the highest level of his career due to several injuries. Despite tremendous defensive and offensive skills, the longevity factor will keep Chavez out of Cooperstown, though there will be those lucky enough to remember him at his peak, as he became the cornerstone of the Moneyball Oakland A’s clubs, showing the defense, patience, and power necessary to be the era’s poster boy for sabermetric value. While he’ll never get into the Hall of Fame, he was, at one time, a very, very strong talent who was overshadowed by some of the greatest cheaters in the history of the game, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. With that being said, he will become just another very good third baseman who will didn’t do enough for enshrinement.

Best Of The Baseball Haven

I’ll be on a 10-day hiatus with little to no internet access, so I figured I would link to the articles that I am most proud of over my three years of running the site. Additionally, feel free to check out Wahoo’s on First, a Cleveland Indians’ blog, where I am co-editor, and you’ll be able to hear podcasts, read about the trade deadline, and other Tribe news. Thanks for finding me and enjoy the second half!

 

"Twins

2014 Top 50 Mid-Season Prospects: Self explanatory title.

The Sudden Emergence of J.D. Martinez: A look at the breakout Tigers’ outfielder.

Why Matt Kemp to the Reds Makes Sense: Mat Latos for Matt Kemp and some cash? Read why that makes sense.

Time for Cincinnati to Extend the Toddfather?: Todd Frazier is breaking out and soon he could break the bank. The Reds need to extend him.

Is 755 Still Meaningful?: A look at the number and if it will last longer than Barry Bonds‘ number.

Beyond Color: The Value of Jackie Robinson: Jackie Robinson is much more than the No.42 and the man who tore down the color barrier.

When Arguing By History Goes Horribly Wrong: Albert Pujols thinks he’s as big or a bigger deal than Mike Trout…or he did…should he?

The Flaw of Sabermetrics: How WAR Can Ruin Payrolls:  Can the statistic of Wins Above Replacement take a larger role in free agency, and, if it can, how could that ruin the game or increase spending to new heights?

"<strong

Losing the Captain and the Heart of Baseball: Derek Jeter is retiring. If you watched the All-Star Game, you may have heard. Why is it really such a big deal?

Vladimir Guerrero: Overlooked Greatness: I interview Sports Illustrated’s Jay Jaffe and discussed Guerrero’s Hall of Fame resume, along with how his JAWS system compares him to other greats.

Pitchers Who Won’t Come Up Short: Short pitchers that throw hard – it’s a thing, but so is the label of not being able to hold up due to their height.

Jack Morris: Why He Isn’t a Hall of Famer: Self explanatory.

MLB TV Contract Eliminates Excuses for “Small-Markets”:  Don’t tell the fans you don’t have the money when this is out there.

2014 Top 100 MLB Prospects: The preseason list.

10 Bold Second Half Predictions

On the eve of the second half of the 2014 season, after looking over my horrid preseason predictions, it is time for take two. Here are 10 bold predictions for the second half of the 2014 season, likely to be horribly, horribly wrong…once again:

Orioles 3B Manny Machado

Orioles 3B Manny Machado

1. The Baltimore Orioles run away with the AL East: Chris Davis‘ numbers scream a return to his 2013 first half numbers (.315/.392/.717)…ok, so maybe not THAT drastic, but he is much better than the .199/.309/.391 line that he has posted to this point. Add in a healthy, productive Manny Machado to Adam Jones and Nelson Cruz, and the offense could be scary. Buck Showalter can finally break the chains off of Kevin Gausman, arguably the club’s best starter this season, plugging him into the rotation for the rest of the year instead of shuttling him back-and-forth between Baltimore and Norfolk. With Dylan Bundy returning from Tommy John surgery and, likely, taking over an important relief role late in the season to help put the team over the hump. With injuries to the Yankees’ rotation and the Blue Jays needing an arm to maintain contention due to possible innings limits on Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman late this season, the O’s have what it takes to get back on top.

2. The Pirates will come back to win the NL Central. Sure, they’re in 4th place right now, but they are the only healthy team in the division. The Reds are missing Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips for the next several weeks, the Cardinals could be without Michael Wacha for some time, and the Brewers have lost 11 of their last 13 games. With Andrew McCutchen heating up and Gregory Polanco continuing to adjust, the Bucs will prove that last year was just the beginning of a long, competitive run.

3. Bryce Harper will stay healthy and hit 20 home runs over the next 69 games.

4. Javier Baez will take over the second base job vacated by a Darwin Barney trade. He quickly erupts, proving his boredom in the minors led to his struggles.

5. Todd Frazier will continue his productive season, ending the season with over 30 home runs and 100-RBI. While the Reds lose the division behind the Pirates and injuries to Votto and Phillips, they still win a Wild Card.

6. Alex Guerrero will take over the third base job in Los Angeles and put up numbers that rival those of Yasiel Puig in his first month last season (.436/.467/.713 in 107 plate appearances). While that seems unreasonable, Guerrero has a .380/.423/.729 line in 37 minor league games, including some time off after getting part of his ear bitten off by a teammate.

Angels OF Mike Trout

Angels OF Mike Trout

7. Mike Trout continues running away with the AL MVP, finally winning the award that he should have won at least once over the last two seasons. He will finish the season with a WAR over 10.0, and McCutchen will win the MVP in the NL with a tremendous second half.

8. The Rays will keep David Price, riding a hot streak on their way to barely missing the final Wild Card spot. They will try to move him in the offseason, while getting all that they can out of their star left-hander, as he was worth more to them than a package that didn’t meet the demands of Andrew Friedman and Company.

9. The Colorado Rockies trade Carlos Gonzalez, opening up a full-time job for both Corey Dickerson and Charlie Blackmon on the outfield corners, with Drew Stubbs in center. The injuries are too much for ownership, while CarGo’s contract is friendly enough (three-years, $53 million between 2015 and 2017) to warrant a team taking on the deal and his skill-set. Seattle, seeking a return to glory, can offer Taijuan Walker, Gabby Guerrero, and Erasmo Ramirez for the slugging outfielder, instantly upgrading their offense.

10. The San Diego Padres will trade Huston Street to the Baltimore Orioles for Eduardo Rodriguez, solidifying the back-end of the bullpen that was patched together and healed by breakout closer Zach Britton.

The Reasons for Pete Rose…

"Charlie Hustle"...Has it been long enough?

“Charlie Hustle”…Has it been long enough?

Baseball came together for the All-Star celebration at Target Field, bowing in awe at the accomplishments of Yankees’ great Derek Jeter, while basking in the glory of the greatest superstar of the current generation taking control of yet another game, with Mike Trout running away with the MVP and a sweet new Chevrolet Corvette. All-Star Weekend brought the future of the game into the festivities for the 16th year, as top prospects from around the league took to the stage in the Futures Game, while Giancarlo Stanton‘s monster shots weren’t enough to keep Yoenis Cespedes from becoming the first back-to-back home run derby champion since Ken Griffey, Jr. accomplished the feat in 1998 and 1999. Still, when baseball comes together to celebrate its stars, there is always one thing that comes up:

Pete Rose.

Pete Rose, who gambled on baseball.

Pete Rose, who bet on the team that he was managing.

Pete Rose, who ruined the credibility of the game.

Pete Rose, the greatest hit collector in the history of baseball.

Pete Rose, the man who won’t stop fighting for an opportunity to return to the game that made him who he is, while leaving a legacy of hustle, production, and passion that hasn’t been matched since his ban from the game in August of 1989.

For many people, the integrity of the game is all that matters. Former commissioner Fay Vincent seems to have made it his lifelong goal to uphold the ban, placed by the late A. Bartlett Giamatti; however, with Bud Selig stepping down from the commissioner role, is there an opportunity to leave a legacy beyond inter-league play, the Wild Card, twenty years of labor peace, and record revenues?

In 2015, there will be a new commissioner, and, awkwardly, the All-Star Game will be held at Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark. Selig has now gone on the record in saying that Rose will be allowed to participate in the festivities surrounding the event, but how much should he be involved? Is there truly a reason for Rose to still be banned?

Selig had this to say regarding Rose’s inclusion in next year’s All-Star events in the “Queen City”:

Selig would not answer a question about specific guidelines the Reds would have to follow.

“It’s sort of subjective, they’ve done some things with Pete, but they’ve been very, very thoughtful and limited,” Selig said. “That’s a subject that I’m sure they’ll discuss in the next year. They’re all here, but that’s not a subject that’s come up.”

As for Rose’s overall status with Selig, who is scheduled to step aside at the end of the year, the commissioner said there has been no change in Rose’s status.

“It’s a matter under advisement. That’s my standard line,” Selig said. “I’m the judge and that’s where it’ll stay. There’s nothing new.”

The game certainly has its own idea of how great a sin is. You can’t gamble on baseball, but you can take drugs illegally and influence your production and earning potential. You can’t bet on baseball, but you can cheat by using foreign substances to alter how a pitch assaults a batter. You can’t bet on baseball, but you can be a racist, bigot, and a social embarrassment to the sport. For all of the character flaws of Pete Rose, the character clause of the Hall of Fame has overlooked so much worse, and while there hasn’t truly been a “steroid user” inducted to-date, the moment that one of those players finally earns that honor is the last day that Pete Rose and the Black Sox can spend on the outside of enshrinement, or so you would think.

Pete Rose is a Hall of Fame baseball player. He may be a Hall of Fame moron for what he did as a manager, but you can’t put an asterisk next to 4,256 hits, 17-time All-Star, 1973 NL MVP, 1975 World Series MVP, and the effort and fire that has been unmatched.

Has it been long enough? Next month, Rose will have been gone from the game for 25 years. He has missed out on an opportunity to assist young players through coaching, he has missed out on the opportunity to lead a team as a manager, and he has missed an opportunity to discuss the game as a great should be able to do, with respect from his peers. He didn’t help his cause over the years with his failure to admit to his faults immediately, but baseball has a lot to gain from the years left in Rose’s life, having shoved him aside long enough, just as they did the truth about steroids for so many years in the great sport.

Sneaky Second Half Fantasy Surgers

You can see the players who have surprised in the first half, here, but what about players who could provide surprising power going forward? Below, you’ll see players who could be heading towards huge second half production.

Stephen Vogt, C, Oakland A’s

Vogt is 30-for-80 over the last month (.375/.414/.563), with seven extra-base hits and 12 RBI. While he’s 29 and he doesn’t have a track record, having played in just 98 games in his entire career and accumulating 287 plate appearances, Vogt has been receiving time in the outfield and first base, as well as catcher. Beyond his versatility, raise your hand if you knew that Vogt had a 12-game hitting streak entering play on Sunday…He’s hot, he’s playing, and he’s eligible at an offensively starved position, and he has an incredible offense around him. Buy low.

 

Rays 2B/OF Ben Zobrist

Rays 2B/OF Ben Zobrist

Ben Zobrist, 2B/SS/OF, Tampa Bay Rays

Zobrist has managed to hit .271/.360/.440 over the second half since 2011, covering 2,403 plate appearances, while having the 5th highest second half WAR over that time behind only Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Miguel Cabrera, and Robinson Cano. Add in the fact that Zobrist is hitting .368/.450/.559 over his last 17 games, just in time for a potential trade at the deadline to a club with more offensive talent. Like Vogt, his versatility is just an added bonus to his potential production.

Omar Infante, 2B, Kansas City Royals

The first half wasn’t all that friendly to the Royals second baseman, who hit a mediocre .277/.318/.383, but the last seven days have really helped out the overall line. During that span, Infante has hit .464/.483/.500 with 13 hits in 28 at-bats. The Royals have been starved for offense all season, and you’d have to expect Infante will continue to rebound, while guiding Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer along with him, especially if they are going to compete in the AL Central. The last week is a sign of production, a production that had been lacking for most of the season for Infante.

Kevin Kiermaier, OF, Tampa Bay Rays

Unlike Zobrist, Kiermaier won’t be going anywhere at the trade deadline. He is under team-control through the 2019 season and he plays incredible defense due to his tremendous speed, which hasn’t quite been evident in his game just yet. Since June 1, Kiermaier has played in 40 games and has a .911 OPS over 151 plate appearances, including a .476/.522/.714 line over the last week, as he continues making adjustments at the major league level. I hit the wrong button and cut him by mistake in a dynasty league, but you shouldn’t make the same mistake, or overlook him much longer. His speed will allow him to create hits, even when he struggles, and he will continue to play moving forward as the Rays go towards a rebuild.

 

Rays RHP Jake Odorizzi

Rays RHP Jake Odorizzi

Jake Odorizzi, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays

Odorizzi was a top prospect several years ago, but he hit a bump as he reached the majors, appearing to lack an out pitch with his 6.7 K:9 in a brief trial the last two seasons. Well, the 2014 season has been quite different. Sure, the ERA is at 4.01, but Odorizzi’s FIP is 3.20 and he has a whopping 10.3 K:9 over 19 starts and 101 innings. He’s just 24 and has always had a tremendous arsenal and plenty of potential, and he could be sneaking under the radar during a breakout 2014 season, including a 2.79 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over his last eight starts.

Ramon Santiago, 2B/SS, Cincinnati Reds

Santiago has been very good at the right time. Over the last week, Santiago has hit .476/.577/.619, going 10-for-21 just as the Reds have lost Brandon Phillips. The long-time utility player has an opportunity to shine, barring a trade, while sharing time with Kristopher Negron in Cincinnati. While he is quite unlikely to hit close to .500, he is hitting in front of Todd Frazier in the Reds order, with Billy Hamilton ahead of him, distracting the pitcher when he is on base. Santiago could be surprisingly productive.

Jesse Hahn, RHP, San Diego Padres

Hahn is getting better each start and the numbers could continue due to his home ballpark. Hahn has a 1.46 ERA and 0.95 WHIP while going 5-1 over his last six starts. Over those six starts, he has 42:14 K:BB with a .163 average allowed over 37 innings. His 10.4 K:9 over his seven career starts is impressive, and the 24-year-old should be added in every league, while he could be expensive due to his early success. His minor league numbers were nearly identical to what he is doing in San Diego.

Wade Miley, LHP, Arizona Diamondback

Miley was very, very frustrating to own early this season, but he has really taken off recently, posting a 2.98 ERA with a 1.13 WHIP over his last seven starts, with a 46:12 K:BB over 45.1 innings. Beyond his recent strong performance, Miley has been slightly better in his career over the second half during his career.

 

Royals LHP Danny Duffy

Royals LHP Danny Duffy

Danny Duffy, LHP, Kansas City Royals

Since June 1, Duffy has a 2.19 ERA and 0.99 WHIP, posting a 43:12 K:BB over 49.1 innings. The hard-throwing, 25-year-old has impressed this season, finally throwing enough strikes to live up to the lofty expectations that were once put on him. Now healthy and getting starts, the focus on James Shields and Yordano Ventura could lead to continued underestimated value by Duffy owners. There could be an innings limit here, but he should continue to surprise over the second half.

Chris Coghlan, OF, Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are unlikely to promote Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, or Jorge Soler this season, so Coghlan should maintain a share of an outfield job at the least. He once won a Rookie of the Year and had a bright future, and after hitting .386/.446/.632 over his last 16 games, with 10 extra-base hits and 10 RBI. He may not carry your team, but Coghlan shouldn’t be tossed aside as just another hot streak. After all, we always have J.D. Martinez to remind us how a hot streak can become a breakout or extended, valuable outburst.

Fantasy Baseball’s Fabulous First Half Figures

With the All-Star break starting after Sunday’s action, there are some baseball fans who are feeling like a train ran over them, weeping at the thought of discussing their fantasy baseball teams due to horrific production, numerous injuries, and running their squads with their hearts instead of their heads – sitting in last place. The cellar isn’t so bad until all of the wine is gone, but some of us have players to thank for tremendous starts to the 2014 fantasy baseball season. Not all of us can have Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Felix Hernandez, and Troy Tulowitzki, so these are the players who are helping to separate the contenders from the pretenders in the first half of the season:

Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2014 ★ 24 HOU 91 410 380 47 128 27 2 2 27 41 23 28 .337 .376 .434 .810 165
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

Altuve is having a career year, on pace for over 220 hits and 70 stolen bases. In an era of huge swing and miss on the offensive side of the game, Altuve lacks patience but makes consistent contact, putting the ball in play to utilize his speed. He leads MLB with his 128 hits, with 20 of those coming on infield hits. With Jon Singleton and George Springer joining him in Houston this season, a glimpse into the Astros’ future is upon us.

 

Indians OF Michael Brantley

Indians OF Michael Brantley

Michael Brantley, LF, Cleveland Indians

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2014 ★ 27 CLE 88 382 343 62 112 22 1 14 62 10 30 31 .327 .387 .519 .906 178
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

“Dr. Smooth” has already eclipsed his previous career-high in home runs (10 in 2013) this season, and will easily surpass his career bests in several other categories, and if that wasn’t enough, he is tied for the MLB lead in outfield assists (10, though he has negative defensive value). You likely don’t earn anything for those throws, but Branley’s bat has kept an up-and-down Indians club in the AL Central race all season. His career contact rates suggest that this breakout is legit – not bad for the player to be named later in the C.C. Sabathia deal, huh?

Dee Gordon, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2014 ★ 26 LAD 89 384 351 51 104 14 9 2 25 42 27 56 .296 .348 .405 .753 142
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

To think that Gordon was “in the mix” for the second base job this spring after the Dodgers signed Cuban infielder Alex Guerrero seems absurd when looking at his offensive impact this season. The speedster has obviously assisted fantasy players with the league-leading 42 stolen bases, but getting on base (formerly a problem) has allowed him to be driven in by Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, and the other Dodger hitters. Sometime you just need a long-term look to show what you have. The Dodgers committed to him, and Gordon is rewarding many people so far this season.

Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati Reds

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2014 23 CIN 88 348 323 45 92 18 6 5 38 37 16 63 .285 .318 .424 .742 137
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

I wasn’t much of a believer in Hamilton given his struggles in Triple-A last season, but he has certainly proven me wrong. While he isn’t leading the league in steals, he has certainly given the Reds an dynamic defender in center and a threat to score at will. The power is just icing on the cake for fantasy owners. His recent tear (.344/.375/.574 over the last 15 games) has not only increased his numbers, they have helped put the Reds back in contention in the NL Central.

Charlie Blackmon, OF, Colorado Rockies

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2014 ★ 27 COL 91 373 341 52 101 17 1 14 50 16 21 46 .296 .343 .475 .818 162
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

Blackmon is an All-Star. He barely had a grasp on the starting left field job when spring training started, so that is about all that you need to know; however, I will share his home and road splits because I’m not so sure his value is legitimate unless you play him during long home stands -

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
Home 46 42 199 180 37 61 10 1 11 34 10 13 22 .339 .394 .589 .983 106
Away 45 37 174 161 15 40 7 0 3 16 6 8 24 .248 .285 .348 .633 56
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

 

Cincinnati Reds 3B Todd Frazier

Cincinnati Reds 3B Todd Frazier

Todd Frazier, 3B, Cincinnati Reds

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2014 ★ 28 CIN 92 390 353 55 102 17 1 17 48 13 31 79 .289 .351 .487 .839 172
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

Todd Frazier is the second most valuable third baseman in baseball in 2014 (based on WAR, 3.5), ahead of the likes of Evan Longoria, David Wright, and Adrian Beltre. He’s hitting for power, he’s running, and, the best part, nothing in his numbers truly suggest a regression. With the hot months ahead of us and Great American Ballpark being a notoriously friendly environment, we could easily see 30 home runs and 100 RBI next to his name at the end of the season.

Garrett Richards, RHP, Los Angeles Angels

Year Age Tm Lg W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO FIP WHIP H9
2014 26 LAA AL 11 2 2.55 19 0 0 123.1 88 35 35 4 43 127 2.68 1.062 6.4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

Perhaps we should have seen this coming after Richards had one of the top fastball velocities in baseball in 2013. After all, if you consider that his average fastball was 94.8 mph in 2013, he would have ranked in the top four in baseball behind Matt Harvey, Stephen Strasburg, and Jose Fernandez. Good company. Better results.

Alfredo Simon, RHP, Cincinnati Reds

Year Age Tm W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO FIP WHIP H9
2014 33 CIN 12 3 2.70 18 0 0 116.2 94 36 35 14 28 75 4.32 1.046 7.3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

Simon is leading MLB in the all important WIN. Ugh…the win…well, it still matters in fantasy. The FIP suggests he could see regression, but the bigger question is the number of innings he will log, as his career-high for innings was in 2011 when he reached 115.2 for Baltimore. He will likely spend some time in the Reds’ bullpen to limit those down the stretch, or a burnout is likely.

 

A's LHP Scott Kazmir

A’s LHP Scott Kazmir

Scott Kazmir, LHP, Oakland Athletics

Year Age Tm W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO FIP WHIP H9
2014 ★ 30 OAK 11 3 2.38 19 1 0 117.1 88 33 31 10 27 108 3.18 0.980 6.8
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

His career was nearly over in 2011 due to shoulder issues, he missed all of 2012 and then the solid return in Cleveland was special…but this is incredible. Kazmir deserves this success after overcoming so many obstacles, and the A’s look intelligent, as always, in their wise investment – as do fantasy owners.

Henderson Alvarez, RHP, Miami Marlins

Year Age Tm W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO FIP WHIP H9
2014 24 MIA 6 4 2.63 19 3 3 120.0 129 43 35 7 22 73 3.34 1.258 9.7
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

Alvarez has a heavy fastball that he can’t blow by many, but it manages to keep the ball on the ground and in the park. That has helped him take a big step forward in his production on the mound this season. At 24, he is a strong dynasty option. He really knows how to pitch and his command will keep him relevant if and when he loses his velocity.

Chicago Cubs: Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Depth?

A's new RHP Jeff Samardzija

A’s new RHP Jeff Samardzija

When the Chicago Cubs trade Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics last week, they gained a nice return, adding shortstop Addison Russell, outfielder Billy McKinney, right-handed pitcher Dan Straily, and a player to be named later. With the Cubs sitting at 39-52 entering play Friday, there was little reason for the club to hang onto Hammel, an impending free agent who wouldn’t be worth a qualifying offer, and Samardzija, who had another year of team-control but likely would have been very pricey in his final year of arbitration.

The Cubs added a 25-year-old starting pitcher in Straily who won’t be a free agent until after the 2018 season. While Straily struggled a bit this season, he has proven that he can get major league talent out, logging 157.1 innings for the A’s in 2013 while finishing 4th in AL Rookie of the Year voting. McKinney has been moved aggressively, jumping to High-A as a 19-year-old this season, and he has shown some nice power (though the California League could be responsible for some of that) and on-base skills considering that he is 3.7 years younger than others in his league. Both could be very interesting pieces for the Cubs down the line, with Straily likely to pitch at some point after the All-Star break in Chicago.

However, neither of those players possess the talent and potential of Addison Russell. Russell, who was recently ranked 4th among my mid-season top 50 prospect list, was drafted 11th overall in the 2012 MLB Draft, has moved quickly through the minors, jumping to Double-A in 2014 at the age of 20 (4.6 years younger than others in his league). Jason Parks, of Baseball Prospectus, said this about the Cubs’ new shortstop:

Addison Russell has the most well-rounded profile at the shortstop position in the minors, with above-average chops in the field (including double-plus hands), and impact potential with both the hit and power tools. Russell has lost half a season to injury, but could challenge for the top spot in the minors with a strong second half.

Cubs SS prospect Addison Russell

Cubs SS prospect Addison Russell

Parks isn’t alone in the Russell love, though:

MLB.com says:

Russell has established himself as one of the best shortstop prospects in baseball and erased any concerns about his long-term future at the position. He has the hands, range and arm strength needed to make stunning plays in the field. Russell uses the whole field to hit, and his quick hands enable him to make consistent hard contact. He has surprising pop and could develop above-average power in the future. He isn’t a speedster, but he gets the most out of his solid speed, and he’s aggressive on the base paths.

Rich Wilson of Prospect361.com says:

Every time I’ve seen him play, he screams “Star”. He’s athletic with a great hit tool and bat speed that should produce 20 home runs. There’s also speed in his game and a 20/20 player at shortstop should be in the cards.

Mike Rosenbaum of Bleacher Report says:

Russell’s trade to the Cubs has actually improved his prospect stock, as he’s more likely to stay at shortstop than future teammate Javier Baez and therefore ranked higher.

Beyond the Boxscore’s Daniel Schoenfeld recently focused on how the Cubs have utilized one-year deals the last two offseasons in acquiring middle-tier starting pitchers and moving them prior to the trade deadline:

They are incurring minimal risk to acquire high upside potential by focusing their efforts on finding players they consider undervalued by the market and signing them to fleeting deals at mid-range money. The Cubs thus take a relatively small gamble on assets that carry the upside of the prospect of being flipped in the three months before the deadline for far more value than they paid.

Indeed the Scott Feldman signing, which led to the deal with Baltimore last year for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop, and Hammel signing have worked out nicely if the Cubs are going to look at players as stocks, but when are they going to stop acquiring the wrong kind of talent for their never-ending push to bring a title to the “Windy City”?

For how great Russell could be, the Cubs have a few things stopping him from being great for them:

Cubs SS Starlin Castro

Cubs SS Starlin Castro

1. Starlin Castro, just 24 years old, who is signed through 2019 (with a $15 million team option for 2020 that has a $1 million buyout). From 2015 through 2019, Castro is guaranteed $43 million and he is a shortstop. While he struggled in 2013, Castro is now an All-Star for a third season, all before the age of 25.

2. Darwin Barney has struggled offensively since his rookie season (2011), which still wasn’t all that great (.666 OPS). However, the 28-year-old is an elite defensive second baseman, and he is under team-control through the 2016 season. The Gold Glover is making $2.3 million this season and he could be a non-tender candidate, but considering his slick fielding capabilities, he isn’t completely without value in today’s offensively starved game.

3. Javier Baez was the Cubs “other” shortstop of the future. Also blocked by Castro, Baez didn’t really profile as a shortstop due to his anti-Barney efforts on defense. Baez had 44 errors in 2013, but he has just 11 in 80 games to-date in 2014. Still, Baez has power and bat speed that could make him an elite, All-Star level talent at another position. He was rumored to be going to third base, but…

4. Kris Bryant could be the long-term option for the Cubs at the hot corner. While his defense could be very Miguel Cabrera-like, he does have some athleticism and he deserves an opportunity to stick at third. Like Baez, he could fit in another position, such as an outfield corner, but if both Baez and Bryant are unable to handle playing third defensively…

5. Jorge Soler could be left without a spot to play long-term, as he isn’t really an option in center, where Albert Almora is the long-term answer, and he can’t play the infield. Soler, like Baez, has immeasurable raw power, capable of monstrous offensive production. He profiles as a future All-Star in right field, but he just needs to stay on the field in order to reach that potential.

6. Somewhere along the way, Arismendy Alcantara, a second baseman who recently moved to the outfield in Triple-A, will also need to find a spot to play for Chicago. He could replace Barney as early as this year, considering his recent promotion, which would make a position change for one of the other shortstops that much more difficult or confusing.

While the Cubs have so many options offensively for their potential future dominance, including first baseman Anthony Rizzo (signed through 2019 with team options for 2020 and 2021), they really do not have very many options to put on the mound. After trading two arms without gaining an elite pitching prospect back, Chicago is left with a group of incredibly gifted offensive prospects in an era where pitching and strikeouts are dominating.

Cubs 1B Anthony Rizzo

Cubs 1B Anthony Rizzo

Certainly, things could swing the other way for the Cubs and they could dominate opposing pitchers and outscore their competition, but they will still need a five-man rotation to give them some innings – the game won’t change that dramatically.

The cost saving methods of avoiding large contracts, drafting wisely, and spending internationally over the last several seasons could lead to the Cubs adding to their payroll by signing David Price, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, or other options who currently have deals set to expire after the 2015 season. However, there comes a time when the Cubs will need to develop their own pitching prospects or make deals that includes some of their gluttony of offensive talent to make it happen.

As nice as it was to add Addison Russell to the list of Bryant, Baez, Alcantara, Almora, and Soler, the Cubs needed pitching depth to try stockpile their system for a run in the future. There are only so many players who are like stocks. With more pieces for their future than the diamond can hold, they could be losing leverage in future deals, as clubs will know that they need to deal a “shortstop of the future”. If ownership and management are using the stock market logic, they have to understand risk, and adding Russell to the mix may not have been the smartest of moves for the pitching barren Chicago system.

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