Results tagged ‘ Cincinnati Reds ’

First Week Failures: Fun Overreactions to Small Sample Sizes

strikeoutThe beginning of the season is full of hope and joy…and when reality sets in, that hope and joy can become fear and anger. It makes fans begin to second guess their team’s season after just four games in a 162-game season. Although the first week isn’t officially over, there are already players who have developed a following of Twitter rage, a second guessing that doesn’t allow for patience, and the fear that could result in a player being added to a sell-low trade in their fantasy league after just 12 to 25 at-bats. These players have become the talk of their respective towns for the wrong reasons.

B.J. Upton, CF, Atlanta Braves

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB
2014 29 ATL 4 16 16 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 9 .063 .063 .063 .125 -65 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/5/2014.

Upton HeywardEven after spending the offseason tinkering with his swing, Upton’s ability to make contact has seemed to completely vanish. Upton has gone from a 4.5 (2007) and 4.8 (2008) WAR player to having a -0.6 WAR in 2013 when he hit .184 and had a 56 wRC+. In just the second year of a five-year, $75.2 million deal with Atlanta, the outfielder, who will turn 30 in August, certainly hasn’t provided anything close to what he has been paid by Braves brass. Although it is early in the season, this type of production, or lack there of, will only force the Braves into difficult choices – like moving Evan Gattis to left while playing Jason Heyward in center and Justin Upton in right, while giving Christian Bethancourt some at-bats behind the plate – allowing Upton an opportunity to continue to alter his swing or pray to the baseball gods for some sort of guidance in what appears to be a hopeless adventure.

Can He Rebound?: Upton has had success in the past, but after his failures in 2013, it’s fair to wonder if the tools that made him a half-way decent player have eroded to the point that he can’t be considered a toolsy player anymore. If he doesn’t have tools, he can’t produce. He has talent around him to hide his issues, potentially seeing more fastballs due to the presence of Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman protecting him in the Atlanta order. I can see him rebounding, but he never was a .300 hitter. Even reaching .250 is going to be a chore, but the power and speed combination is always worth waiting on. The Braves paid a lot for him, so he’ll get a long look.

Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati Reds

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB
2014 23 CIN 4 13 12 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 6 .000 .077 .000 .077 -76 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/5/2014.

Did anyone think that Hamilton was going to hit .368 like he did in his September call-up last season after he managed to hit just .256 in Triple-A prior to the promotion? You gotta love the golden quote from “classy” St. Louis beat writer Derrick Goold on Hamilton, but his sarcasm and mocking ways aren’t all that different from Reds fans, who are already pretty upset with the breeze that Hamilton is creating near the Ohio River. During Wednesday night’s game, Hamilton’s bunting skills were quite questionable, as well, going directly to Michael Wacha and Matt Carpenter with consecutive attempts – DIRECTLY. I was talking to my wife and said the same thing that Goold said, in a different way: “Speed doesn’t matter when it’s walking back to the dugout.” Maybe Hamilton is trying to hit the ball to the gaps, maybe he is feeling the pressure of replacing an All-Star after the departure of Shin-Soo Choo…Regardless, what he is doing isn’t working, and after injuring his finger on his stolen base attempt on Friday night in New York, hitting may be even more difficult until he is 100 percent.

Can He Rebound?: Hamilton didn’t prove anything in Triple-A last season to overcome the questions in his bat. His speed helps his defense play up, but it doesn’t do anything until he starts getting on base. No one has ever had 200 hits while getting 200 bunt singles in a season, and that won’t happen this year either. Don’t be shocked to see his struggles continue, leading to Chris Heisey and Roger Bernadina manning center while Hamilton refines his craft in Louisville. He will need to get it going quickly there, as well, as Phillip Ervin could easily replace him as the center fielder of the future in Cincinnati.

Colby Rasmus, CF, Toronto Blue Jays

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB
2014 27 TOR 5 21 18 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 8 .056 .190 .111 .302 -14 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/5/2014.

When considering that this is a contract year for Rasmus, this certainly isn’t the start that he was hoping for. After posting the highest WAR of his career in 2013 (4.8), things were looking up. With Rasmus, though, the swing and miss in his game can overshadow the large, end-of-year counting stats. At one time, Rasmus had a .361 on-base percentage and walked in nearly 12 percent of his at-bats…but that was in 2010, and Rasmus’ patience has seemed to drop while his power numbers ballooned and his defensive skills increased. Which Colby Rasmus is going to show up in 2014? That really can’t be answered, but if he is going to cash-in on his free agency after the season, he needs to get those numbers back to last year’s really quick-like.

Can He Rebound?: Rasmus, like Upton, has a lot of talent around him in Toronto. He has always had crazy abilities, but the makeup has been questioned due to his run-ins with Tony LaRussa and his defensive numbers looking so week prior to 2013. The power is legit and the payoff for success will be huge due to the lack of center field depth in free agency after the 2014 season. It would be easier to see Rasmus rebounding if he wasn’t struggling so much with making contact, while also seeing drops in his plate discipline numbers. He’s at the right age for a huge breakout, and I can see him hitting 30 home runs in 2014, but it won’t always be pretty.

Cliff Lee, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies

Year Age Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2014 35 PHI 1 0 1.000 14.40 1 1 0 0 5.0 11 8 8 1 1 0 1 2.400 19.8 1.8 1.8 1.00
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/5/2014.

LeeWith Roy Halladay retired and Cole Hamels on the disabled list due to shoulder woes, there was a lot expected of the Phillies’ No.1 starter this season. Even though he earned the win, in spite of allowing eight earned runs in five innings (KILL THE WIN!!!), the fans of Philadelphia can’t be pleased with how Lee looked on Opening Day. However, Lee rebounded tremendously this afternoon against the Cubs, tossing seven scoreless innings (10 hits, 6:0 K:BB) to make things a little more “normal” with a 6.00 ERA. Some may warn that the successful outing was due to the opponent, but Philly fans should anticipate more outings like Saturday’s going forward.

Can He Rebound?: He already did. Trust in him.

Jim Johnson, RHP, Oakland Athletics

Year Age Tm W L W-L% ERA G GF SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO BF ERA+ WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2014 31 OAK 0 2 .000 45.00 2 0 0 1.0 5 5 5 0 3 1 0 12 13 8.000 45.0 27.0 0.0 0.00
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/5/2014.

Johnson has been, quite possibly, the worst development of the first week of the season. He had faced all of 12 batters and NINE of them had reached base – five of them scoring – heading into Saturday. He did get through an inning today while striking out two, allowing zero runs (hooray!), and allowing only one hit. After imploding in his first two appearances, it was fair to wonder if the A’s would give him the ball in the next save situation, especially with a solid bullpen in Oakland. Today was proof that they aren’t giving up on hit just yet, and with a $10 million salary for this season, it seems very unlikely that Johnson will lose his job too quickly.

Can He Rebound?: Johnson blew nine saves in 2013, lost eight games, and still managed an ERA under 3.00 while closing 50 games out for Baltimore. In fact, he has 101 saves since the start of the 2012 season. This was a lot of money for a team like Oakland to spend on a closer, which leads me to two conclusions: 1) The A’s will win a lot of games this season, and 2) Jim Johnson will remain the closer.

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How the Cincinnati Reds Ruined Their Window

Over the last nine games of the season, the Cincinnati Reds were 2-7, including their National League Wild Card loss in Pittsburgh, which would be their fifth loss against the Pirates in the nine game span. Needless to say, after a disappointing collapse in the 2012 National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants, the collapse at the end of the 2013 season wasn’t pleasing to the fans, or the front office. Dusty Baker was canned shortly thereafter, replaced by pitching coach Bryan Price, who, in his first year as manager, has been dealt with the task of rebuilding a roster with a lot of question marks into a perennial power, all the while continuing to look up at the St. Louis Cardinals, who have built a system of winning from within.

Now, the Reds must replace their lead-off hitter, Shin-Soo Choo, who only managed a .423 on-base percentage and 107 runs scored while reaching base 305 times by hit, walk, or hit-by-pitch, after watching Choo run to the Texas Rangers in free agency for seven-years, $130 million.

BruceCertainly, it wasn’t within the budget to re-up with Choo at $18.7 million per year, not with Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips combining to make $33 million in 2014, $38 million in 2015, and $45.5 million in 2016, that is, of course, if one of them isn’t traded. The Reds have long had a payroll between $80 and $100 million under current owner Bob Castellini, but is it time to start questioning what the long-term goal of the franchise is, after sputtering around the free agent market while trying to replace their best lead-off hitter since Joe Morgan and Pete Rose were flapping and flopping around Riverfront Stadium. Whether television contracts and Major League Baseball Advanced Media revenue will allow the “small-market” Reds to increase their payroll further is a valid question, but with Matt Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Mike Leake under team-control through 2015, and Homer Bailey headed towards free agency after the 2014 season, how else can the team remain contenders, especially with St. Louis constantly reloading and the Chicago Cubs reaching their contention window, just as the Reds is becoming questionable?

This offseason was difficult, clearly. The Reds couldn’t be in on Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, or any other big-name free agent, but with very little money to spend, GM Walt Jocketty could have been more active in the trade market, or at least the minor league free agent route. Dick Williams, the VP of Baseball Operations, told me during the Reds’ caravan that the club lost out on Grady Sizemore due to his relationship with one of Boston’s trainers, who had been with Cleveland during his time there. While Sizemore wasn’t a lock to produce, or stay healthy, he fit the bill as a low-cost centerfield option. He wasn’t a leadoff hitter, though, at least he hadn’t shown those skills since his last somewhat healthy season, 2009. Which left the club with little choice but to give their in-house candidate, Billy Hamilton, the job.

The issue with Hamilton, though, is that, though he has otherworldly speed, is he capable of thriving long-term in center, a position that he has been playing since the start of the 2012 season. His experience in Triple-A left a lot to be desired, as he posted a .256/.308/.343 triple-slash, stealing 75 bases and scoring 75 runs in 123 games for Louisville. We all know about his brief September audition, when Dusty Baker allowed him to receive all of 22 plate appearances, while Baker pinch-ran him often to allow the speedy Mississippian to accumulate 13 stolen bases in 14 tries.

In addition to plugging Hamilton into center, here is the laundry list of exciting moves that the Reds have made this winter:

October: Signed LHP Trevor Reckling and RHP Timothy Adleman to minor league contracts; signed OF Jason Bourgeois to a minor league contract and invited him to Spring Training;

November: Signed LHP Manny Parra, 2B Skip Schumaker, and C Brayan Pena to major league contracts; Signed OF Mike Wilson, LHP Nick Schmidt, and RHP Ross Ismail to minor league contracts; Signed C Max Ramirez, LHP Lee Hyde, and 3B Rey Navarro to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training;

December: Signed 3B Ruben Gotay and RHP Trevor Bell to minor league contracts; Invited non-roster RHP Jose Diaz and 2B Kristopher Negron to Spring Training; Signed RHP Chien-Ming Wang, C Corky Miller, and SS Argenis Diaz to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training; Acquired LHP David Holmberg from Arizona for Ryan Hanigan;

January: Sign RHP Bob Keppel, RHP Sean Black, OF Thomas Neal, LHP Jeff Francis, 2B John Tolisano, and 2B Hernan Iribarren to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training;

So, the club lost Shin-Soo Choo, Xavier Paul, and Derrick Robinson from last season’s 90-72 squad, so why should fans feel like this offseason is a failure?

Well, Choo’s production won’t be replaced by Hamilton, speed or no speed. Even if Hamilton increases his on-base percentage to .340 over 600 plate appearances, he doesn’t have the patient approach that Choo had, and, while he can move himself from base to base with his wheels, he just won’t be on as often. If Choo’s production is a clear downgrade, where are they upgrading?

Mesoraco1Is Devin Mesoraco set for a breakout season, replacing the putrid production that Ryan Hanigan provided in 2013? Is Todd Frazier going to post an .829 OPS, as he did in 2012, or something similar to his .721 OPS from 2013? Is Zack Cozart even worth starting anymore, given his career .680 OPS over 1,256 plate appearances? Ryan Ludwick had a nice 2012 and his 2013 was ruined due to his Opening Day shoulder injury, but was he ever worth a two-year, $15 million extension, especially when you consider it was back-loaded with an option for 2015, making him guaranteed $13 million, including his 2015 buyout? Brandon Phillips, 103 RBI or not, saw his OPS fall to .705 in 2013. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce seem like locks for success, but Bruce continues to be one of the streakiest players in all of baseball, while Votto’s patience seems to have overtaken his ability to actually produce at his 2010 MVP level ever again.

As far as the rotation, it remains pretty deep, but once you get past the top five, there are question marks. While that wouldn’t be a huge deal for most clubs, you have to remember that Johnny Cueto only had one full season and he immediately got hurt in the first game of the 2012 playoffs. Bailey, Latos, and Leake are very good options, and Tony Cingrani was impressive, even with just one good pitch, but having Wang, Francis, and nothing else as fallback options is rough, which may lead to the club rushing top prospect Robert Stephenson if there was an injury in 2014, not to mention how the rotation is going to function if Bailey leaves via free agency or Cueto’s 2015 option isn’t picked up. Who will be starting games and why don’t the Reds have options waiting like the Cardinals?

The bullpen is still built to dominate, as Aroldis Chapman is as shutdown as it gets. A full season of Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton, a former closer in his own right, serving as a setup man, and J.J. Hoover, Sam LeCure, Manny Parra, and Alfredo Simon rounding out the group helps the Reds bullpen look tremendous for another season…but a bullpen doesn’t have a lot of value if they aren’t protecting more leads than deficits.

The Reds haven’t been active enough. The Reds haven’t drafted enough high-ceiling talent. The Reds haven’t had enough success on the international market.

Braun1The Reds are a lot like the Milwaukee Brewers, locking up talent for just a little while, and then watching that talent and the contention window fly way in the breeze. You see, the Brewers were a competitive team until Prince Fielder left. They traded a lot of good, young talent to acquire Zack Greinke and CC Sabathia to help them contend. They bought in to that window and went for it. It is hard for a small-market to commit a lot of money to talent like Greinke and Sabathia, only to watch them leave for big-markets once they hit free agency, but the revenue that comes with a playoff run or a World Series title would alleviate a lot of those dollars. The Brewers, then, went into quite a funk the last several seasons, and they have yet to recover, but the worst part is that their farm system is terrible. If Ryan Braun doesn’t rebound, the club still has Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura, but the rest of the organization is quite barren.

The Reds are a lot like the Brewers because they haven’t had many successful recent drafts. While a lot of the key names on the major league roster are homegrown, there isn’t a whole lot of depth currently in the minor league system. The Reds did trade a couple of solid young players (Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso, and Brad Boxberger) to acquire Mat Latos and Choo (Didi Gregorius and Drew Stubbs), but outside of Stephenson and Hamilton, much of the high-level talent was in Low-A or the Rookie levels last season, specifically Phillip Ervin, Jesse Winker, and Nick Travieso.

So, what will happen when 2015 rolls around without an Oscar Taveras waiting to take over left field for Ludwick? Who fills the rotation without a Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon ready to step in for A.J. Burnett? Who will push Todd Frazier at third base without a Kris Bryant or Javier Baez?

While the Reds and Brewers have weaker farm systems and question marks at several spots, the Cubs, Cardinals, and Pirates have done it right. They have managed to stay active and have taken risks with draft picks to make sure that they are getting the talent necessary to maintain solid depth within their organization. Sure, the Pirates and Cubs have had higher picks due to their lack of success over the years, but the Cardinals have a lot of talent and they haven’t had a season below .500 since 2007, while making the playoffs in 11 of the last 18 seasons, including four World Series and two titles.

PujolsThe conservative nature of the current regime in Cincinnati may not look awful as the Reds compete in 2014, but when Chicago, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis have their high-level minor league talent stepping in within the next two to three seasons, Reds fans will forget about the nightmares that Albert Pujols used to bring, and will instead be kept awake by Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Gregory Polanco, Oscar Taveras, and others who will make their names in the depths of the thriving systems in the rest of the National League Central. Meanwhile, the Brewers and Reds will continue to cry small-market when they have, instead, chosen to be smarter at the right times.

There are still names on the free agent market that can help the Reds contend, but none of them will make them as good as they were last season, in 2012, or in 2010, when Cincinnati has reached the playoffs. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at this point to scrap what has been built. Instead, run out there with what you have and hope for the best, which, apparently, was Walt Jocketty and Bob Castellini’s plan all offseason.

Pretend GM: Signings and Trades That Should Be Made

With the big signing of Masahiro Tanaka by the New York Yankees on Wednesday, the market for free agency and trades could explode over the next several days. With that in mind, I was thinking about some deals that would make tremendous sense for several teams…although, they could just make sense to me. Regardless, here are some deals that I’d like to see made over the next few weeks before pitchers and catchers report.

Cincinnati Reds Trade Brandon Phillips to the New York Yankees for Brett Gardner

PhillipsWhy This Trade Makes Sense: The Yankees clearly want to get back to the top, as their $155 million investment in Tanaka showed. With Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson, and Scott Sizemore as the current options at second base, New York could use a more reliable name to replace Robinson Cano. While the Reds don’t have an immediate replacement ready for Phillips (outside of Henry Rodriguez or another position change for Billy Hamilton), they need to clear some payroll in order to lock up Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Mike Leake, all of whom are eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, as well as Homer Bailey, who will be a free agent after the 2014 season. Phillips, who is due $50 million over the next four years, could be a bargain based on the current market, while his ability to play defensively at an elite level will provide quite a bit of value, as well. Gardner is unlikely to provide the on-base skills that Shin-Soo Choo provided last season in Cincinnati, but he would provide elite-level defensive skills, speed, and solid on-base skills (career OBP of .352). Gardner, earning $5.6 million in 2014 prior to reaching free agency after the season, would be an upgrade over a 2014 version of Hamilton, while providing quite a bit of financial flexibility to shore up the rotation for the coming seasons in Cincinnati. Even if Cincinnati had to chip in $10 million in salary relief, it would be an interesting deal for both clubs.

Baltimore Orioles Sign A.J. Burnett to a one-year, $14 million deal

burnettWhy This Signing Makes Sense: In 2012, the Baltimore Orioles surprised the world by contending and finishing 2nd in the AL East with 93 wins. In 2013, there was a slight regression, as the team dipped to 85 wins after doing very little over the offseason. The Orioles have been very active in the minor league free agent market this winter, but they could use a splash, and Burnett would be a tremendous addition to the club’s rotation. Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris, and Kevin Gausman make a good, young rotation, but Burnett would be the anchor for the staff, and his presence would allow the club to move Norris to a (more appropriate) bullpen role. Burnett is from Maryland and he has been rumored to be retiring if he doesn’t re-sign with Pittsburgh, but Baltimore is close to home and he can keep his wife happy, and the spare change for one year would be worth it for both sides. Burnett rebuilt his value with two tremendous seasons with the Pirates, and he is worth a one-year deal for Baltimore for another shot at the AL East for the tattooed right-hander. Sure, it seems like it is going to be Pittsburgh or bust, but the Orioles are contenders with a healthy Manny Machado and consistent production from Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and Matt Wieters – the O’s need to do their due diligence here.

Toronto Blue Jays Sign Matt Garza to a five-year, $60 million deal (I know he was rumored to have signed with Milwaukee for four-years, $52 million pending a physical, but it isn’t official…yet)

GarzaWhy This Signing Makes Sense: The Jays need another solid option in their rotation to compliment R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Brandon Morrow, so that their offense isn’t wasted on sloppy rotation options like Esmil Rogers, Ramon Ortiz, Aaron Laffey, and Rickey Romero, who combined to make 27 starts last season. While Garza has some injury concerns, the Blue Jays have already given him a dynamic weapon – Dioner Navarro. With Navarro as his catcher, Garza has logged 338.1 innings and managed a 3.25 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP, while Garza has posted a 4.07 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP with anyone else behind the dish. While there is risk involved due to Garza spending 170 team games on the disabled list the last three seasons with right shoulder and elbow injuries, the Jays need a pitcher who is capable of pitching in the AL East (Garza has done it before), can toss 180 or more innings (Garza has done it four times), and would be a significant upgrade over Rogers, Todd Redmond, and J.A. Happ, while the club waits for Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Alberto Tirado, Daniel Norris, and Sean Nolin to reach the majors. Garza may not be a number one starter, but he is a strong number two or three option on a club that should compete with an absolutely loaded offensive group.

Philadelphia Phillies Sign Ubaldo Jimenez to a five-year, $85 million deal

Why This Signing Makes Sense: The Phillies first round pick, seventh overall, is protected, so while Jimenez would require draft-pick compensation, it would only be a second round pick going to Cleveland for Jimenez. After a tremendous second half in 2013 (1.82 ERA, 1.14 WHIP over 84 innings), Jimenez rebuilt his value, and, at the age of 30, would be a solid right-handed option for the Phillies to place between Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. Jimenez has had some success during his career in the NL East:

I Split W L ERA GS GF CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
Atlanta Braves 3 5 3.79 9 0 1 1 54.2 47 25 23 6 28 66 1.372 10.9 2.36
Miami Marlins 1 2 4.07 5 0 0 0 24.1 23 19 11 1 16 31 1.603 11.5 1.94
New York Mets 2 3 3.40 6 0 0 0 39.2 27 15 15 4 21 29 1.210 6.6 1.38
Washington Nationals 5 1 2.61 7 0 0 0 48.1 39 14 14 1 16 36 1.138 6.7 2.25
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2014.

For those who don’t want to do the math, Jimenez is 11-11 with a 3.39 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and a 162:81 K:BB over 167 innings and 27 starts, and while that isn’t perfect, especially in a ballpark that is more favorable to hitters, Jimenez should, at least, be worth the money as an innings eater if he isn’t elite like he was in the second half of 2013. The Phillies may not be contenders, but they’ll always be spenders. They don’t have any arms ready in their system and Jimenez would be a huge upgrade over Roberto Hernandez and Ethan Martin, who appear to be options for the rotation currently.

Oakland Athletics Sign Nelson Cruz to a three-year, $27 million deal

Why This Signing Makes Sense: The Cruz market appears nearly dead after there was draft-pick compensation added to a PED suspension, but Cruz is still just 33 and he is coming off of an All-Star season with solid production (27 home runs and 76 RBI in just 109 games). With very little interest and risk involved, it’s the perfect opportunity for Oakland to swoop in and make an interesting signing. While the club has some solid right-handed pop in Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson, the remainder of the lineup is filled with left-handed hitters, including Josh Reddick, Eric Sogard, Brandon Moss, as well as switch-hitters Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie. Another right-handed, middle-of-the-order bat would be a tremendous addition, as Reddick or Moss could sandwich between Cruz and Cespedes, providing quite a bit of value and production for a team that struggles to find offense in a cavernous home ballpark. However, Cruz has struggled in Oakland, posting a .192/.248/.352 triple-slash in 202 career plate appearances there. The late first round pick and discounted contract, though, could be enough to overlook his struggles, while providing a little more punch to the Oakland lineup.

Texas Rangers Sign Bronson Arroyo to a two-year, $24 million deal

ArroyoWhy This Signing Makes Sense: Arroyo has been homer prone in the past and doesn’t have the stuff to avoid bats, but he has averaged 211 innings pitched over the last nine seasons and is someone whom the Rangers could count on with Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison coming back from injuries and Derek Holland on the shelf until mid-2014. Arroyo survived in a bandbox in Cincinnati over the last eight seasons, so he would be just as likely to post 200-plus innings and an ERA around 4.00 in Texas, especially with spacious ballparks like those in Seattle, Oakland, and Anaheim within the division. There isn’t draft-pick compensation tied to Arroyo, and with Masahiro Tanaka gone and no real hope of acquiring David Price in a trade, the Rangers just need five starting pitchers, and Arroyo is a nice, reliable addition for the middle or back-end of the Texas rotation.

Atlanta Braves Trade Alex Wood to the New York Yankees for Gary Sanchez

Why This Trade Makes Sense: C.C. Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, and Hiroki Kuroda make a great top three and Ivan Nova showed drastic improvements last season, but the Yankees are relying on David Phelps, Michael Pineda, Adam Warren, and Manny Banuelos at the back of the rotation in 2014. While Alex Wood has one of the more violent deliveries you’ll ever see, he has solid stuff and is ready to be productive immediately in a major league rotation. With Brandon Beachy healthy and David Hale and Gavin Floyd capable of filling the back of the Braves rotation, Wood could be expendable for Atlanta to seek a long-term option at catcher with the departure of Brian McCann to the Yankees via free agency. Evan Gattis has a lot of power and Christian Bethancourt has tremendous defensive skills, but neither seem like strong options as an everyday catcher for Atlanta. While Sanchez still needs some seasoning and he could use a change of scenery due to his makeup and maturity concerns, the Braves have several upcoming arms, as usual, and they have a long-term need at catcher. Sanchez could be the answer and the eventual elbow surgery that Wood will need is worth this type of deal for Atlanta, and the production that the Yankees get out of Wood could be useful, as well.

The Hot Stove Has Caught On Fire

It certainly hasn’t taken long for teams to begin dishing out large contracts that they’ll probably regret in a couple of years with free agency well under way. However, the last 24 to 48 hours have supplied the greatest number of gifts, with a lot of examples of “huh”, “why”, “seriously”, and “come again” worthy reactions.

The Trades

The Doug Fister Trade

Detroit Tigers get: 2B Steve Lombardozzi, LHP Ian Krol, and LHP Robbie Ray

Washington Nationals get: RHP Doug Fister

FisterIt has to be called the Doug Fister trade because no one really cares about any of the players that the Tigers got back, right? If this wasn’t a total salary dump, I don’t know what it was, as the “prize” return for the Tigers is Ray, who was a 10th round pick in 2010 and had a 6.56 ERA in 2012 in his first attempt at High-A Potomac before bouncing back and having a solid season between High-A and Double-A in 2013, really doesn’t seem like a tremendous prospect; though, we have been proven wrong by Dave Dombrowski before. After the Tampa Bay Rays received one of the top young prospects in baseball, Wil Myers, in return for two controllable seasons of James Shields, you would think that the Tigers could have received more for Fister, who had managed to post an impressive 32-20 record to go along with a 3.29 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 440.2 innings with Detroit. Fister now joins Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, and Gio Gonzalez within the Washington rotation, making the Nationals strong contenders for first-year manager Matt Williams in 2014.

Winner: Washington Nationals.

Smelling Fowler

Houston Astros get: CF Dexter Fowler

Colorado Rockies get: RHP Jordan Lyles and OF Brandon Barnes

Fowler1Fowler seemed to be on the trading block for some time, but he was finally dealt on Tuesday. The Astros get two affordable seasons (two-years, $11.6 million) of Fowler while they wait for George Springer to prove himself ready, or…they just acquired a nicer trade chip than what they gave up. Jordan Lyles may still be just 23 years old, but he hasn’t put it together in 377 major league innings, posting a 5.35 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and a 6.2 K/9, and it seems very unlikely that shifting to Coor’s Field is going to assist his progression to sudden success. Brandon Barnes has some ability, but it isn’t as an everyday player, as his atrocious 127:21 K:BB and .635 OPS over 445 plate appearances goes to show. Barnes could be a fourth outfielder for the Rockies, with Carlos Gonzalez sliding over to center and Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson battling it out for the left field job, or Colorado could look to free agency to upgrade in center. This deal didn’t make a whole lot of sense for the Rockies unless they saw something in Lyles and didn’t feel that Fowler would ever live up to his hot start from 2013, when he posted a 1.032 OPS and then fell off of the face of the earth. Even if Fowler doesn’t live up to those numbers, he is the most valuable piece in the deal.

Winner: Houston Astros.

The Unimpressive Three-Way

Cincinnati Reds get: LHP David Holmberg.

Tampa Bay Rays get: RHP Heath Bell and cash from Arizona, and C Ryan Hanigan from Cincinnati.

Arizona Diamondbacks get: RHP Justin Choate and a PTBNL

The Rays are always viewed as a smart club and they were able to land another potential closer after losing Fernando Rodney to free agency, leaving the club with Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo to battle it out for the gig. On top of that, they received an excellent framing catcher in Hanigan, who has proved to be quite valuable to Cincinnati over the last several years in game-calling, while inking the backstop to a three-year extension upon the completion of the deal. The bad part, though, is that both Bell and Hanigan weren’t very good last season, with Hanigan, in particular, looking like a nightmare offensively, posting a .198/.306/.261 line over 260 plate appearances, leading to the Reds leaning on Brayan Pena, who was signed to a two-year deal earlier this winter, and Devin Mesoraco, the young, power-hitting catcher who will finally get a full-time look in Cincinnati. The Diamondbacks dumped some salary while dealing Bell for a young, breathing body. Choate pitched in the New York-Penn League in 2013 at the age of 22 and he isn’t much of a prospect. The Reds dumped Hanigan, who was arbitration-eligible, while getting a 22-year-old left-handed starter, who posted a 2.75 ERA in 26 Double-A starts in 2013 with a 116:50 K:BB in 157.1 innings. While Holmberg wasn’t as sexy as Tyler Skaggs or Archie Bradley within the Diamondbacks system, he could become a solid back of the rotation arm or a Sean Marshall-like relief pitcher for the Reds. The good news for Cincinnati is that Mesoraco gets his shot and Holmberg adds some near-ready pitching depth after the likely departure of Bronson Arroyo via free agency.

Winner: Everyone looks like a winner here, as the deal worked well for all three teams, but the Rays received the most help in assisting the team win in 2013.

Why Did Beane Make That (Michael) Choice?

Texas Rangers get: OF Michael Choice and 2B Chris Bostick

Oakland A’s get: OF Craig Gentry and RHP Josh Lindblom

ChoiceThis seemed like an odd deal for Oakland and GM Billy Beane, as Gentry is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter and Lindblom has been pretty terrible since being traded from the Dodgers to the Phillies in the 2012 Shane Victorino deal, as he has posted a 5.10 ERA and 1.50 WHIP over 54.2 innings since leaving Los Angeles (2.91 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 77.1 innings prior to the trade). Maybe a return to the west coast is what Lindblom needs to be a useful reliever, but by getting the elite defensive skills and increasing salary of the light-hitting (.280/.355/.366 in 763 plate appearances), 29-year-old Gentry, and giving up the potential that still exists in the bat of Michael Choice, who is 24 and isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2017, Beane showed that he may be looking beyond three years from now and that he could be putting the A’s in win-now mode. Bostick is a nice second base prospect, having posted a .282/.354/.452 line over 555 plate appearances as a 20-year-old in Low-A in 2013, but the Rangers have quite a few young, up-the-middle prospects (Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar, and Luis Sardinas) and they don’t seem to have a need there, while the A’s have run Jemile Weeks out of town in a trade with Baltimore and Eric Sogard was very…meh…in 2013 at the major league level. Winning now is important, but it doesn’t seem like the A’s really acquired anyone who can really help them in 2014 to get over the hump.

Winner: Texas Rangers.

The Free Agent Splashes

The Yankees Spend Like Crazy…Again.

Who They Signed: C Brian McCann (five-years, $85 million); OF Jacoby Ellsbury (seven-years, $153 million);

McCannWhy It Matters: Notice that the Yankees have committed nearly $240 million after having been rumored to be on a mission to avoid the $189 million threshold of the payroll luxury tax, while not having signed their All-Star second baseman, Robinson Cano, just yet. And, don’t forget, the team is rumored to be interested in signing Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who could be had at a lesser amount after the posting fee was limited to a maximum $20 million bid on Wednesday. McCann is a huge upgrade over the combined .213/.289/.298 triple slash that Yankees’ catchers posted in 2013, while Ellsbury provides great defense and speed as the Yankees try to move on from all of the injuries that suffocated their success this past season. Even if the Yankees are done with the big name signings, including Cano, they should be a better team in 2014.

Twinkies Filled Their Rotation

Who Minnesota Signed: RHP Phil Hughes (three-year, $24 million); RHP Ricky Nolasco (four-year, $49 million);

Why It Matters: The Twins starting pitchers posted a 5.26 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP in 2013, worst in the majors, and the ERA was a whopping 0.45 points higher than the Toronto Blue Jays’ starters (4.81), who finished 29th. Hughes still has youth and potential, but he needs to start tapping into that potential after posting a horrific 5.19 ERA over 29 starts and 145.2 innings. Shockingly, Hughes’ numbers would have made him a solid number three starter for the Twins in 2013…they were that bad. Adding Nolasco was special, but he isn’t an ace. He will likely be the Twins’ Opening Day starter in 2014 by default and he should make the rotation slightly better; although, it couldn’t get much worse.

Kazmir Rejuvenates and Cashes In Athletically

Who Oakland Signed: LHP Scott Kazmir (two-year, $22 million)

Why It Matters: Signing Kazmir to a lucrative contract could lead to another movie about the Oakland A’s after the success of Moneyball. While Kazmir’s resurgence was quite surprising, an eight-figure deal, after making all of one total appearance in the majors in 2011 and 2012 due to severe shoulder woes, was even more surprising. Possessing a mid-90′s fastball and a left arm appears to be all that it took to find a big deal. Kazmir’s story is worthy of attention and praise, but it is a story that needs to be monitored to see if he can maintain the same success in Oakland over the next two seasons. His presence will allow the A’s and Beane to shop LHP Brett Anderson at the winter meetings next week, which could net the club some additional win-now resources.

The Tigers No Longer on the Prowl for a Closer

Who Detroit Signed: RHP Joe Nathan (two-year, $20 million)

Why It Matters: Detroit needed a lockdown closer after shuffling through Jose Valverde, Phil Coke, Jose Veras, and Bruce Rondon at closer before Joaquin Benoit took over and did a nice job over the rest of the season. They got their man after signing Joe Nathan away from the Texas Rangers. Nathan closed 80 games out the last two seasons, while posting a 2.09 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, and at 38 years of age, he doesn’t look to be slowing down after missing the 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery. After dealing Prince Fielder to improve at second base with Ian Kinsler, moving Miguel Cabrera back to first, and plugging Drew Smyly into the rotation (after dealing Fister), the Tigers will have a completely new look in 2014. With their strong rotation, Nathan’s shutdown ability makes them quite dangerous.

Fish Hook Their Catcher and the Red Sox Snag Another

Who Miami Signed: C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (three-year, $21 million)

Who Boston Signed: C A.J. Pierzynski (one-year, $8.25 million)

Why It Matters: With a lot of focus heading towards catcher defense and framing, highlighted by the Rays commitments to Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan this winter, other clubs continue to look towards offensive-minded catchers, and the Miami Marlins and Boston Red Sox locked down their backstops this week. The Marlins seem to have very little hope for a quick turnaround and Saltalamacchia isn’t going to be the other piece to help Giancarlo Stanton and Miami to an NL East title, but it is a start…as long as they don’t trade him before the 2014 season starts. Pierzynski will be on his fifth organization and, despite being hated by some of his competition, he could be a tremendous asset to the character and chemistry that existed within the Boston World Series clubhouse. I guess he is better to have on your team than to play against him.

 

 

Time for a Change

It is time for the Cincinnati Reds to a make a change. Dusty Baker needs to go.

On the heels of another postseason defeat, one in which Baker’s decision-making was quite questionable, this is the time to make a change.

Baker2Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty said that “He’s signed for another year,” but he also said, “we’ll sit down in the next couple of weeks and evaluate and try to see what we can do to improve things.” What seems like a vote of confidence is sort of a broad, vague, we’ll have to see type of statement.

Certainly, the Dusty Baker-era in Cincinnati hasn’t been terrible. The team has made the postseason three of the last four seasons, winning 90 or more games in those three seasons; however, in three of Baker’s six seasons, the Reds have had losing seasons. Does Baker have what it takes to get this club over the hump?

The issue with Baker is that he can’t separate himself from his players. He seems to enjoy being the cool dad figure in the clubhouse, focusing so much on the relationships that he overlooks the obvious. Like this:

The problem with this statement is that Baker can’t get into Johnny Cueto’s head. Does Cueto really thrive in playoff environments? I guess this is Baker’s proof: Cueto had started two games in the playoffs in his career prior to last night and he had a 1.69 ERA. The only problem is that he lasted all of 1/3 of an inning before he was removed from last season’s NLDS start against the San Francisco Giants with an injury, and his only other start was a five inning loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010. Was Cueto the answer as the starter in the one-game playoff?  Nevermind the 130 days that Cueto spent on the DL this season. Nevermind that Mike Leake was available and he didn’t pitch on Tuesday, despite being 3-0 with a 3.28 ERA over four starts against the Pirates in 2013. Baker went with his horse, Cueto, who had pitched all of 12 inning since June 28.  It isn’t as if Dusty Baker is very aware of the use of statistics, instead flying by the seat of his pants to make decisions. “All I know is that my eyes see plays and see things that save games,” this was a quote from Baker when discussing Darwin Barney and Brandon Phillips as Gold Glove worthy second basemen from the Chicago Sun Times; however, his eyes didn’t seem to save him on Tuesday night.

 More importantly:

Bonds1Baker may be respected across the game for his leadership, but he has only led one team to a World Series, and that was in 2002, in his 20 years as a Major League manager. One could even question whether Baker actually makes any decisions that have led to success. After all:

Great players don’t always make great teams, but it certainly helps. Does anyone out there think that the Oakland A’s would have won the AL West this season with Baker at the helm?

Regardless of where Baker could or should have been, he doesn’t belong in Cincinnati going forward.

The Reds have a window with their current club, the 2015 season (after which Mat Latos, Cueto, Ryan Ludwick, Sean Marshall, Mike Leake, and Alfredo Simon are free agents) likely it, and after the club lost the final six games of the season, including the Wild Card game against Pittsburgh, while showing very little effort in losing twice to the New York Mets before being swept in a three-game series at home against the Pirates to end the regular season, it is fair to wonder if Baker has the leadership skills necessary to motivate the Reds to play hard and get over the hump.

When Ryan Ludwick questioned the fans and their effort last week as a way to spin the Reds’ apparent lack of motivation, saying:

“I might be be calling (fans) out. But I’m calling them out in a positive way. We want loud and energetic. It’s like a natural Red Bull. We need every positive aspect we can to keep this thing going.’’

You’re telling me that in the middle of a playoff race, men playing a game and making millions of dollars can’t motivate themselves? There was no one stepping up and saying anything to fire the group of men up within the clubhouse?

This isn’t just a one-time call as a Cincinnati native, overreacting to the failure of another lost season. This is a continuation of failures that continue to go unnoticed by so many. All of the times that Ryan Hanigan started over Devin Mesoraco. All of the times that the No.2 spot and No.4 spots were juggled. All of the times that Jay Bruce and Joey Votto were split up in the lineup because they’re both left-handed, instead of utilizing their skills back-to-back in the middle of the order. All of the times that Aroldis Chapman would pitch three or four days in a row and then not pitch for a week. It has been apparent for some time that this wasn’t working.

BakerThe Cincinnati Reds lack leadership and it all starts with the manager. Look how far the Cleveland Indians have gone this season with Terry Francona taking the reigns. Ignoring numbers and flying by the seat of your pants in decision-making leads to tremendous failure, and that is the way that 95-percent of teams have finished their seasons when Dusty Baker has managed them. While intelligent managers like Joe Maddon adapt to the changing game, Dusty Baker allows his teams to fade, he loses leads, and he has no true way of defining how he can make a difference as a leader. If you throw enough crap at a wall, eventually some of it will stick.

It’s time for the crap to leave Cincinnati. It’s time for an intelligent leader. Fire Dusty Baker.

Billy Hamilton: The Answer…To All of the Questions

Hamilton1On Saturday, Dusty Baker was without his normal center fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, due to a recent thumb injury. His response:

Start the 25-year-old, speedster rookie…Derrick Robinson, of course.

Baker, long regarded as a player’s manager and lover of all things veteran, was just needing to “keep his bench bats fresh” as managers love to say. Unfortunately, starting Derrick Robinson on Saturday, an eventual loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, was not the answer, as keeping Robinson “fresh” hasn’t really been a priority – not when he has started all of four games for the Cincinnati Reds since August 1, getting all of 25 at-bats in 19 games.

ESPN’s Keith Law couldn’t have said it better, when he had this to say on Saturday night:

While Billy Hamilton hasn’t been playing regularly, just like Robinson, his ability to make a difference has shown up on the field plenty of times in just ten games and 16 plate appearances.

On Sunday, Baker made the right choice, starting Hamilton over the still ailing Choo against Pittsburgh…the Reds won 11-3 and Hamilton was 3 for 6 with two runs and two more stolen bases.

Hamilton has reached base eight times in two starts. He has stolen six bases, he has scored four times. The Reds have won both games.

Overall, Hamilton has been on base 12 times (including pinch-running) and he has stolen 12 bases and scored nine runs.

Not only should Hamilton have been starting over Derrick Robinson, it is worth questioning whether Choo should start in left field with Hamilton serving as the Reds’ everyday center fielder until he proves that he CAN’T keep doing what he has been doing since arriving in Cincinnati. Just for argument’s sake, Ryan Ludwick has scored seven runs in 32 games since returning from the disabled list (I understand that runs are a stat that require other hitters to assist in accumulating the statistic, but Hamilton’s ability to advance himself with his speed is a skill that can’t be matched in Major League Baseball at the moment).

Once the Reds clinch a playoff berth, you’ll likely see Baker resting all of his starters, which seems silly considering how “fresh” you’ll want his bat to be when games are so meaningful in the tight National League Central. If and when that happens, the smart decision would be to still put the best available player onto the field. Billy Hamilton was that player on Saturday and he very well could be that player over the rest of the 2013 season…if the club or manager were intelligent enough to make the right call.

Designated Runners: Why They Make Sense

Washington's only baseball card, and the only one with PR as a position

Washington’s only baseball card, and the only one with Pinch Run as a position

Billy Hamilton had his first official at-bats on Tuesday night in the Chicago Cubs’ victory over the Cincinnati Reds. He went 0-for-2, lining out and grounding out to short in his two plate appearances. So ends the saga of the relationship between the Reds’ speedy, future centerfielder and former Oakland Athletics pinch-runner Herb Washington.

Designated Runner

Herb Washington played for Oakland in 1974 and 1975. He appeared in 105 games over his two seasons with Oakland and never, I repeat NEVER received an at-bat OR played the field in a Major League game. Washington was nothing more than a pinch-runner. He stole 31 bases, he was caught stealing 17 times, and he scored 33 runs. In five postseason games, Washington was caught stealing twice and didn’t steal a single base or score a run. So much for running being the only part of his game. Washington was done with baseball at the age of 23, playing his last game on May 4, 1975.

Washington didn’t have any baseball experience before winning a World Series as a member of the 1974 A’s club. He was a world class sprinter, having won seven Big Ten track titles and breaking the 50 and 60-yard dash records several times, according to the ever useful Wikipedia. His last major highlight was really a low point, getting picked off in Game Two of the 1974 World Series by Mike Marshall of the Los Angeles Dodgers:

While Washington’s career didn’t really go far, what would happen if teams decided to use a roster spot on a speedy reserve for a playoff push, the month of September, or an entire season?

The 25-man Roster

Hamilton4From Opening Day through August 31, Major League Baseball clubs can only have 25 men on their roster, unless they’re playing a double-header when the club is allowed to have a 26th man. With a five-man starting rotation and eight position players, clubs tend to fill the remaining roster spots with a second catcher, versatile position players who can handle multiple infield and/or outfield positions, as well as six to eight pitchers in the bullpen. During these seven long months, it would seem nearly impossible for a team in 2013 to carry a player that would be a designated runner. Given the state of the modern-day bullpen, the need for left-handed specialists (LOOGY), long relievers, setup men, and a closer make roster management a very challenging science.

However, once the postseason rolls around and teams are desperate for runs, it seems more likely that a runner could be kept on a playoff roster. A lot of that has to do with the fact that three or four-man rotations are used without the short series that are played, allowing the teams to have a little more roster flexibility.

Billy Hamilton will be a lock on the playoff roster for the Cincinnati Reds (if they make the playoffs, which appears likely). His speed is absolutely game-changing.

The 40-man Roster

From September 1 through the end of the season, clubs are able to carry up to 40 players on their active roster. The players who are called up must be on the club’s 40-man roster, which occasionally requires tinkering to accommodate. During this time, teams are able to rest veterans and get extended looks at young players, while managers have extremely deep bullpens and benches. The ability to pinch-hit, pinch-run, or have a left-handed pitcher come in to face a single left-handed batter, are all increased during these times. Reds manager Dusty Baker has twice benefited from pinch-running with Hamilton, as the Reds were able to win two games just last week when Hamilton stole second base immediately after entering the game and scoring on a single by third baseman Todd Frazier in both cases.

What If…

Usain Bolt was signed by a Major League club…today.

The team wouldn’t be able to use him on the playoff roster since he was added to the roster after September 1, but how much could he help a team? He would need to be successful at a greater rate than Herb Washington was, but the Reds have won two games in September because of Billy Hamilton’s speed, but when every game counts, especially with five teams within three games of the second Wild Card in the American League, why not take a risk?

I have made the argument before about the need for relievers to be capable of pitching additional innings, like Mike Marshall did during his career, and with wins being important all season long, would it be worth a team carrying a speedy-only talent over an entire 162-game schedule? If the win is worth something in September, isn’t that same win worth equal amounts in April, May, or June?

Considering how dominant pitching has become, a designated runner seems like a useful, late-inning tool for managers. When extremely young starting pitchers like Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez dominate the opposition in the manner that they did in 2013, it seems logical to counter that dominance with speed. By utilizing players like Billy Hamilton, Jonathan Villar, or minor-leaguer Micah Johnson (who stole 84 bases over three levels this season) to steal bases and victories throughout the season, it could allow for fewer desperate situations in September as teams fight for single spots in the playoffs.

BoltWhy not Usain Bolt? He may be all that is needed for one win, and that one win could be all that is needed to play for a World Series title.


//

 

It’s Vladimir…With a “W”

Wladimir Balentien. If you’re a baseball fan, you may have remembered the all-or-nothing prospect for the Seattle Mariners who racked up 122 home runs and 596 strikeouts over 2,131 at-bats in their minor league system from 2003 to 2008 (28-percent K-rate), before flaming out and being traded to Cincinnati for Robert Manuel (who never made an appearance for Seattle) in July of 2009. Balentien would post the best numbers of his career in Cincinnati, at the age of 24, with a .779 OPS and a solid 27:15 K:BB in 125 plate appearances.

Balentien would then spend the entire 2010 season at Triple-A Louisville within the Cincinnati organization before reaching free agency in November of 2010. Then, Balentien disappeared to Japan and…THIS:

MrBaseballBalentien’s No.55 has tied him for the Nippon Professional League single-season home run record with Sadaharu Oh, Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes, and Alex Cabrera. With 21 games remaining this season, it appears a lock that Balentien will break the legendary Oh’s record (unless, of course, he is walked like Tom Selleck’s character, Jack Elliot, in the movie Mr. Baseball, a true American classic). According to MLBTradeRumors, Balentien signed an extension for the 2014 through 2016 seasons worth $7.5 million, but is it possible that he would be willing to take less guaranteed money to for an opportunity to play in MLB once again? After all, Balentien doesn’t have anything left to prove in Japan, unless he hopes to expand on his already absurd numbers. Just look at his 2013 numbers (which aren’t up-to-date since Japanese statistics are hard to find):

Year Age Tm Lg Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 28 Yakult JPCL Fgn 107 461 370 83 126 16 0 53 114 0 0 87 84 .341 .464 .814 1.278 301
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/11/2013.

Balentien is 29 years old and, obviously, possesses tremendous right-handed power. He was a member of the 2013 Netherlands World Baseball Classic squad (.304/.360/.435 in 23 at-bats), he has improved his plate discipline (albeit in the Japanese league where strong breaking balls outnumber the dominant fastballs), and he could be a monster for a Major League Baseball team that is searching for power, likely capable of putting up numbers similar to another late bloomer, Rangers outfielder, and soon-to-be free agent, Nelson Cruz…without the performance-enhancing drugs. Balentien

Wladimir Balentien deserves another shot in MLB and, although he is under contract, would be worth a one-year contract to see what he has. While teams look to lock up Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, and Jose Abreu this offseason, Balentien could be an absolute bargain. That is, of course, if the Yakult Swallows afford him the opportunity to leave Japan. Considering that Japanese baseball is slightly better than Triple-A, even hitting at 75-percent of what he has done in 2013, Balentien could post a .284/.348/.610 triple slash. It isn’t likely that teams would balk at a player with a .958 OPS when the only players with an OPS that high in MLB are Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, and Mike Trout.

Would you want your team to sign Balentien?

September Promotions to Geek Over

hamilton3With September come the expansion of rosters in Major League Baseball. Over the next several weeks, in between completing fantasy football drafts and mocking Notre Dame fans after their loss to Michigan, fans will be able to get a sneak peak at some of the top young players in baseball. While many of them won’t play a huge role in their team’s playoff hopes, several players will excite fans and their favorite organization for the 2014 season. Here are some players to monitor over the next month.

Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds, OF/Pinch-runner extraordinaire

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 22 Louisville AAA 123 547 504 75 129 18 4 6 41 75 38 102 .256 .308 .343 .651 173
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

When Billy Hamilton steps onto the baseball field, people have to take notice. On Tuesday night, he pinch-ran for Ryan Ludwick and stole his first base – with five-time Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina behind the plate for St. Louis. Considering the value of a run and a win right now in a very close NL Central and NL Wild Card chase, the ability to utilize Hamilton’s speed will be a tremendous asset for Dusty Baker in Cincinnati. However, after posting a pretty down season in 2013 in Triple-A, there, likely, aren’t  enough bases that Hamilton can steal to make the Reds not look for help in center this offseason, as Shin-Soo Choo reaches free agency and the Reds were looking for more.

Erk Johnson, Chicago White Sox, RHP

Year Age Tm Lev W L ERA G GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 23 2 Teams AA-AAA 12 3 1.96 24 24 3 1 142.0 100 35 31 7 40 0 131 0.986 6.3 2.5 8.3 3.28
2013 23 Birmingham AA 8 2 2.23 14 14 3 1 84.2 57 22 21 6 21 0 74 0.921 6.1 2.2 7.9 3.52
2013 23 Charlotte AAA 4 1 1.57 10 10 0 0 57.1 43 13 10 1 19 0 57 1.081 6.8 3.0 8.9 3.00
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

After an impressive season over two levels, Johnson could have forced the White Sox hand in their apparent rebuilding mode in providing the youngster with a rotation spot in 2013. His ability to keep the ball in the yard will be useful in the bandbox that is US Cellular Field, and while the club has Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Hector Santiago, and John Danks in the rotation right now, they are one of the only teams in baseball that could actually use some solid right-handed pitching. The Pale Hose appear to have a couple of solid options from the right side in Johnson and Andre Rienzo.

CastellanosNick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers, OF

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 21 Toledo AAA 134 595 533 81 147 37 1 18 76 4 54 100 .276 .343 .450 .793 240
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Nick Castellanos was once a lanky, beanpole-like prospect with a long swing and a lot of holes in his swing. While he could still eat a few steaks, Castellanos has done a lot to make himself useful to the Tigers, moving off of third base to become a solid outfielder, and improving his strike zone management tremendously. He has very good, still raw, power that could make him a fantastic addition to the already formidable Detroit lineup. He may not get a huge opportunity this month but the Tigers gave a lot of at-bats to Avisail Garcia late last season and Castellanos could prove to be more valuable in the lineup than Pat Kelly and Andy Dirks in left field. With the talent around him in Motown, Castellanos could become an above-average regular with clubs being more cautious with Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.

Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians, INF

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 20 Akron AA 113 533 482 78 131 16 6 3 38 38 39 41 .272 .325 .349 .674 168
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

A strong middle infield prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization that isn’t named Francisco Lindor, Ramirez has established himself as a unique talent, with an excellent hit tool and solid speed. It’s possible that Ramirez steals quite a few at-bats from the struggling Lonnie Chisenhall in September, and, if he shows himself capable, he could steal his job next spring. Ramirez was moved quickly to accommodate the quick rise of Lindor, and, while he doesn’t have a lot of power, he will make enough contact to be a very good utility infielder in any worst case scenario.

JR Murphy, New York Yankees, C

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 22 2 Teams AAA-AA 108 468 413 60 111 29 0 12 46 1 47 73 .269 .347 .426 .773 176
2013 22 Trenton AA 49 211 183 34 49 10 0 6 25 1 24 32 .268 .352 .421 .773 77
2013 22 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre AAA 59 257 230 26 62 19 0 6 21 0 23 41 .270 .342 .430 .773 99
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Murphy, like Ramirez, has been pushed along by another top prospect, as the Yankees have moved the young catcher quickly due to the potential monster who is Gary Sanchez; however, Murphy isn’t a terrible player and probably shouldn’t be overlooked as an option at a weak Yankees catching position in 2014. With only Chris Stewart, Austin Romine and Francisco Cervelli ahead of him, Murphy could prove to be more than a holdover before Sanchez gets his already questionable makeup together in New York.

Michael Choice, Oakland Athletics, OF

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 23 Sacramento AAA 132 600 510 90 154 29 1 14 89 1 69 115 .302 .390 .445 .835 227
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Choice was once an all-or-nothing type of hitter who hit home runs in bunches while attending the University of Texas-Arlington. After hitting 30 home runs in 2011, with a little help from the fences of the California League, Choice has a total of 24 home runs over the last two seasons. While he may never reach the power expectations that he once had, Choice has enough plate discipline and gap power to be an asset for the always cost-conscious Oakland A’s. He could take the at-bats that Chris Young was getting in 2014, which would make him a fantasy baseball asset.

Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore Orioles, INF

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 21 3 Teams AAA-Rk-A- 81 336 309 42 86 14 0 14 52 1 20 62 .278 .330 .460 .790 142
2013 21 Orioles Rk 8 32 25 9 9 2 0 3 9 0 6 6 .360 .469 .800 1.269 20
2013 21 Aberdeen A- 3 15 14 3 8 1 0 2 9 0 1 1 .571 .600 1.071 1.671 15
2013 21 Norfolk AAA 70 289 270 30 69 11 0 9 34 1 13 55 .256 .301 .396 .697 107
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Schoop missed significant time in 2013 due to a stress fracture in his back, but upon his return, he quickly showed the Orioles the tools that have made him a solid, under-the-radar prospect. Schoop may not have a very keen eye at the dish, but he is very effective hitter, especially for a 21-year-old in the upper ranks of the minors. Schoop will, likely, have an opportunity to win the second base or third base job down the line, but not until the Orioles give Manny Machado a look at shortstop once J.J. Hardy leaves via free agency (or is moved off of short).

MartinezCarlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals, RHP

Year Age Tm Lev W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 21 2 Teams AAA-AA 6 3 2.49 16 16 79.2 65 25 22 4 28 72 1.167 7.3 3.2 8.1 2.57
2013 21 Springfield AA 1 0 2.31 3 3 11.2 11 3 3 1 1 9 1.029 8.5 0.8 6.9 9.00
2013 21 Memphis AAA 5 3 2.51 13 13 68.0 54 22 19 3 27 63 1.191 7.1 3.6 8.3 2.33
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Dubbed “Little Pedro” due to his size and stuff, Carlos Martinez has been up and down for the Cardinals this season, mostly pitching in relief, a role that many seem he is destined to take over due to his small (6′, 185) frame. Martinez has enough stuff to be a front-end starter, but the Cardinals pitching depth allows the club to take things slow with their young arms. By utilizing Martinez and his electric stuff out of the bullpen, much like they did with Trevor Rosenthal in 2012, the Cardinals may be able to have even more shutdown options out of the bullpen.
Michael Wacha, St. Louis Cardinals, RHP

Year Age Tm Lg Lev Aff W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 21 Memphis PCL AAA STL 5 3 2.65 15 15 85.0 65 26 25 9 19 73 0.988 6.9 2.0 7.7 3.84
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Michael Wacha, like Martinez, has been up and down this season. A first-round pick out of Texas A&M in 2012, Wacha flew through the minors with precise control and powerful stuff, which has carried over to the big leagues in his 39.1 innings. With injuries to Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook, the club has relied heavily on young arms, including Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, and Joe Kelly, and as those arms reach innings limits, it could be Wacha and Martinez who come to the rescue as the Cards head to another playoff round.
WalkerTaijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners, RHP

Year Age Tm Lev W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 20 2 Teams AA-AAA 9 10 2.93 25 25 141.1 112 56 46 11 57 160 1.196 7.1 3.6 10.2 2.81
2013 20 Jackson AA 4 7 2.46 14 14 84.0 58 31 23 6 30 96 1.048 6.2 3.2 10.3 3.20
2013 20 Tacoma AAA 5 3 3.61 11 11 57.1 54 25 23 5 27 64 1.413 8.5 4.2 10.0 2.37
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Walker is an extremely big and athletic body who is still relatively raw as far as his command and stuff goes, which speaks volumes as to why you should be excited to see him. He could be the top arm in the majors, taking on a phenomenon in Seattle that could equal that of Felix Hernandez. At 6’4″, 220 pounds and having just turned 21 in August, Walker has an immeasurable ceiling and will likely become a number one starter within the next few years. His first start (five innings, two hits, zero earned runs) was a nice introduction. He may not make more than one or two more starts before being shut down due to innings, but those are starts that are must-see TV.
James Paxton, Seattle Mariners, LHP

Year Age Tm Lev W L ERA G GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 24 Tacoma AAA 8 11 4.45 28 26 2 1 145.2 158 84 72 10 58 131 1.483 9.8 3.6 8.1 2.26
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Paxton is an interesting prospect. He is left-handed and has very good stuff, striking out 9.6 per 9/IP over his minor league career; however, Paxton also walks a lot of batters and can’t seem to miss enough bats when he isn’t completely missing them, posting a 1.45 WHIP over his last two seasons and 252 innings. At 6’4″, 220, Paxton has a strong frame, just like Walker, but he appears headed to a mid-rotation future, and he could become a very good innings-eating pitcher once he gets a grasp of his stuff and the strike zone.
Marcus Semien, Chicago White Sox, INF

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 22 2 Teams AA-AAA 137 625 518 110 147 32 6 19 66 24 98 90 .284 .401 .479 .880 248
2013 22 Birmingham AA 105 483 393 90 114 21 5 15 49 20 84 66 .290 .420 .483 .903 190
2013 22 Charlotte AAA 32 142 125 20 33 11 1 4 17 4 14 24 .264 .338 .464 .802 58
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Marcus Semien has moved quickly through the White Sox system after being taken in the 6th round of the 2011 MLB Draft. He has an intriguing skill-set for a middle infielder, possessing very good gap power, solid speed, and the ability to handle both short and second defensively. His plate discipline will be valuable to the rebuilding White Sox and if the club is ready to move on from the Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez, and Conor Gillaspie trio in the infield, Semien could fill any of those positions in 2014.
Matt Davidson, Arizona Diamondbacks, 3B

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 22 Reno AAA 115 500 443 55 124 32 3 17 74 1 46 134 .280 .350 .481 .831 213
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Davidson is a powerful third base prospect who has been passed over for Eric Chavez this season. He has the ability to hit around 30 home runs playing half of his games at Chase Field, but he will need to make more consistent contact to reach those levels. Having watched Paul Goldschmidt similar strikeout numbers in the minors before reaching MVP levels in performance this season, Davidson’s stock shouldn’t be taken lightly. With that being said, the fact that they didn’t seem to want to commit to him when Chavez was hurt, instead relying on Martin Prado moving in from the outfield, the club may have questions about his long-term role. Considering how quickly they gave up on Trevor Bauer, you have to wonder what is going on in their front office at times.
Chris Owings, Arizona Diamondbacks, SS

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 21 Reno AAA 125 575 546 104 180 31 8 12 81 20 22 99 .330 .359 .482 .841 263
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Owings looks to be blocked by Didi Gregorius at short but he looks like a player that could fetch a nice return if the Diamondbacks were to deal him this offseason. Solid pop, solid speed, and an atrocious approach at the plate, Owings could become a valuable Ben Zobrist-like player, capable of handling several positions to get his playing time, as he is just 22 years old Arizona could have him blocked at short (Gregorius), third (Davidson), and second (Aaron Hill is signed through 2016).

Ellsbury to Cincinnati?

Dan Szymborski of FanGraphs.com held a chat on Monday. In it was this gem:

12:07
Comment From Guest

Jacoby Ellsbury has had wild fluctuations in performance throughout his career. What’s he actually worth this offseason and what will he get paid? Where do you think he ends up?

12:08
Dan Szymborski:

I think the Mets actually make a play for him

12:09
Dan Szymborski:

Predicting where palyers will end up before the season is even over is a fool’s errand! There will be plenty of interest – maybe Rangers or Mariners or even a team like the Reds

Choo2With Shin-Soo Choo eligible for free agency after the season, the Reds could be looking at other options in center field, just in case Choo were to get an offer from, say, the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, or another deep-pocketed club; however, whatever team doesn’t sign Choo will likely be all over the slightly younger Ellsbury as another option.
As I wrote in another recent article, there are plenty of options out there as options in center(Curtis Granderson, Chris Young, or cost-effective, homegrown talent in Billy Hamilton), but would the smartest investment for Cincinnati be the current Red Sox center fielder or attempting to re-sign their current leadoff star?

When looking at the careers of Choo and Ellsbury, they are both solid leadoff hitters:

Choo:

I Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip
Batting 1st 218 217 1009 849 154 252 60 3 29 81 27 129 209 .297 .406 .477 .883 405 .364
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/28/2013.

Ellsbury:

I Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip
Batting 1st 579 575 2726 2481 398 724 140 28 47 246 197 185 358 .292 .345 .428 .772 1061 .324
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/28/2013.

Ellsbury2There is some give and take for both players, but considering that both are represented by Scott Boras, is this worth taking time and effort for Cincinnati given their eventual need to extend Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, and Aroldis Chapman over the next three seasons?

Ellsbury is 29 years old, turning 30 in September, while Choo turned 31 in July. Outside of their relatively close age, they are drastically different players.

Choo, who would be wise to market himself as a leadoff hitter (even though he has had very productive seasons hitting in the middle of the order for the Cleveland Indians), is an on-base machine, currently sporting a .412 OBP (2nd to teammate Joey Votto in the NL), while possessing enough speed (16 stolen bases) and power (46 extra-base hits) to be considered an extremely valuable, all-around player. While his defense in center is borderline inappropriate (last among qualified CF with a UZR/150 of -17.9), he still possesses an above average arm and his experience in right allows for a bit of roster and positional flexibility, though the Reds wouldn’t need much help in right, barring a Jay Bruce injury. After making $7.38 million in his final year of arbitration, he will likely command between $13 and $15 million per season on the open market, especially after Boras refers to Nick Swisher‘s four-year, $56 million deal as a starting point.

EllsburyEllsbury is a peculiar player, having busted out in 2011 with 83 extra-base hits (including 32 home runs) while leading MLB in total bases (364), while following that season up with all of 11 home runs over his last 909 plate appearances. It seems as though Ellsbury will be able to present himself as a speedster with gap power and above average defensive skills at a premium position, as he is currently 4th among qualified CF in UZR/150 (12.4) while leading MLB in stolen bases (47) and racking up 44 extra-base hits (he leads the AL in triples with eight and has seven home runs). Similar to Michael Bourn in his skillset since the 2011 outburst, Ellsbury will likely get a slightly better contract than the Indians’ center fielder, who signed a four-year, $48 million deal this past offseason, if only because Scott Boras can play into the fact that Ellsbury had such a dramatic 2011 season as a selling point.

While Ellsbury is slightly younger and could, potentially, be a little cheaper than Choo in the free agent market, who is the best option for the Reds?

With a need for top of the order speed, on-base skills, and defensive skills, Ellsbury, in my opinion, would be the best option for Cincinnati; however, the question remains – should the club consider locking up a big-money, free agent center fielder when the club needs to be concerned with the costs of Homer Bailey and Mat Latos in arbitration?


//

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