Results tagged ‘ Mat Latos ’
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.
Certainly, 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:
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;
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?
Is 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.
The 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.
The 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.
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.
Reds 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:
“If you know Johnny Cueto like I know Johnny Cueto, he thrives in this type of environment.” — Dusty Baker on tonight’s starter
— Reds (@Reds) October 1, 2013
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.
Just presenting this: Dusty Baker has managed for 20 years, almost all in WC era. He’s won two postseason series (2-6).
— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) October 2, 2013
Baker 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:
- Baker’s San Francisco Giants’ teams were loaded with Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds
- Baker’s one successful season in Chicago featured Carlos Zambrano, Kerry Wood, and Mark Prior combining to go 45-28 with a 2.91 ERA over 94 starts
- Baker’s successful seasons in Cincinnati have been assisted by Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips
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.
The 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.
While I write about as much of baseball as I can, I always come back to my hometown Cincinnati Reds, a team that I grew up watching that I continue to root for. I’m fairly certain that the 2013 season will end in some sort of playoff appearance, likely a one-game playoff with the St. Louis Cardinals or Pittsburgh in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, but I am also not too confident in the club reaching the World Series this season, either. You can say that I am a “doubting Thomas” if you want, but with the talent in St. Louis, Atlanta, and Los Angeles this season, I just don’t see the Reds going very far. For that reason, I wanted to take a look ahead to the 2014 season to see what the club could look like.
The club has a lot of money invested in Joey Votto going forward, but the $20-25 million annual salaries won’t start until 2016. Below is the payroll breakdown for 2014, featuring expected arbitration figures (courtesy Baseball Reference):
|Shin-Soo Choo||Shin-Soo Choo traded to/from Cleveland Indians||-$3.5M|
|Ryan Madson||Ryan Madson buyout||$2.5M|
|Signed||Players With Guaranteed Contracts (does not include players with options)||*27||11|
|Dollars Committed||Value of Guaranteed Contracts (no options are exercised and includes buyouts)||*$104.1M||$76.6M|
|Contract Options||Players with any type of option|
|Option Values||Maximum value of options if all are exercised|
|Arb Eligible||Number of arbitration eligible players (1st-2nd-3rd-4th, “Arb” players = 3rds)||2-3-2-0|
|Arb Costs||Rough estimated value of all arbitration cases (uses 3-year averages for 1st yr, 2nd,..)||$19.3M|
|Other Players||Additional Players Needed to Fill 25-man (no options exercised)||7|
|Other Costs||Estimate of Remaining Players Costs (based on 1-year avg of all pre-arb players)||$3.5M|
|Payroll (no options)||Est. Total Payroll w/o Options (Guaranteed + Arb + Other)||$99.4M|
|Payroll (options)||Est. Total Payroll w/ Options (Guaranteed + Options + Arb + Other)||$99.4M|
With the depth that the club has in starting pitching, barring another lost season from supposed ace Johnny Cueto, the Reds can afford to let Bronson Arroyo walk via free agency, unless, of course, he is willing to take a dramatic pay-cut in his age-37 season. How does the club look as far as depth overall?
Based on the current 40-man roster:
Relief Pitchers – (13) – Aroldis Chapman, Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton, Nick Christiani, Justin Freeman, JJ Hoover, Sam LeCure, Kyle Lotzkar, Logan Ondrusek, Curtis Partch, Josh Ravin, Alfredo Simon, and Pedro Villareal (has been pitching in relief recently).
The loss of Shin-Soo Choo is pretty dramatic considering the skills that he has provided as the leadoff hitter for the Reds, as he is 2nd to Votto in on-base percentage in the National League. His production will have to be replaced, but who can provide the same skills. The Reds were likely hoping for another excellent season from Billy Hamilton, one of the team’s top prospects, in Triple-A Louisville this season, but, while he has stolen 73 bases, he is hitting just .259/.311/.347 after stealing 155 bases and hitting .311/.410/.420 in 2012 over two levels. If the Reds aren’t going to be in on Choo in free agency due to costs, it is also unlikely that they would make a play for Jacoby Ellsbury or Curtis Granderson. However, the club could look to a reclamation project in center to pair with Hamilton, such as: Chris Young (who has an $11 million option with a $1.5 million buyout, coming off of an unspectacular season but still possessing plenty of skills), Franklin Gutierrez ($7.5 million option with a $500,000 buyout, coming off of another injury-filled season but still a solid defender with occasional right-handed pop), or, my wife’s favorite, Grady Sizemore (a player well on his way to a Hall of Fame career before knee injuries stole his ability to stay on the field). Certainly, the club has had decent production, at times, out of Paul, Heisey, and Robinson this season, as they platooned in left field and kept the Reds in contention when Ludwick was out for several months, but they would need to upgrade from that group in center to come close to replacing Choo’s production.
Due to the recent elbow surgery that Jonathan Broxton had to undergo and Sean Marshall‘s inability to pitch for most of the 2013 season, the Reds may need a couple of back-end bullpen arms to pave the way to their shutdown closer, Aroldis Chapman. Bullpens are tough to predict and it wouldn’t be a good idea to invest in another large, multi-year deal (as they did with Broxton) this offseason. Some relievers who will become available may include: Javier Lopez, Rich Hill, J.P. Howell, Jamey Wright, LaTroy Hawkins, Jason Frasor, and Joe Smith.
Additional items the Reds may want to address this coming offseason:
- Lock up Mat Latos to an extension. Latos is due $7.25 million in 2014 and will be arbitration-eligible for the final time in 2015 prior to reaching free agency prior to the 2016 season. Would the Reds be willing to commit to Latos at five-years, $65 million and is that enough to keep Latos in Cincinnati?
- Due to Tony Cingrani relying so heavily on his fastball, what can the club do to enhance his secondary pitches so that he can have extended success as a starter? Is he a relief pitcher long-term? With Broxton and Marshall coming off of injury, would it be wise to commit to Cingrani in a set-up role?
- Should the club re-sign Bronson Arroyo to a one-year deal to keep a rotation spot warm for Robert Stephenson or should they gamble on Cingrani, Carlos Contreras, or Daniel Corcino next season as the No.5 starter? If they look elsewhere in free agency, are pitchers like Colby Lewis, Jason Hammel, Phil Hughes, Josh Johnson, or Ubaldo Jimenez (if he voids his $8 million option) better options than Arroyo?
- Who is the catcher? Should the Reds truly commit to the offensive potential within the bat of Devin Mesoraco or continue to share the duties between Mesoraco and Hanigan at nearly 50-50?
Cincinnati has a pretty bright future, having locked up Votto, one of the top 15 players in baseball, to be the cornerstone of the franchise, while having solid pieces within the rotation and plenty more talent on the way. Hamilton, Stephenson, Jesse Winker, Phil Ervin, and Michael Lorenzen are going to rise quickly through the organization, just in time for the Reds current 2015 championship window.
He has taken advantage of the injury to Ryan Hanigan by producing solid numbers as the everyday backstop; however, this hasn’t been the first time that Mesoraco has been given regular at-bats. Earlier this season, when Hanigan missed time due to an oblique strain, Mesoraco started 12 games. While he only hit .222/.294/.311 over 51 plate appearances, he only struck out 8 times and he was hitting more than Hanigan was at the start of the season (.079/.182/.079 in 44 plate appearances).
With Hanigan set to reach free agency after the 2013 season, it is likely time for Cincinnati to see what they have in Mesoraco. After committing to him as the 15th overall pick in the 2007 MLB Draft and allowing him to develop, albeit slowly at times, to become the club’s minor league player of the year in 2010, the Reds have handled him pretty erratically since his promotion to Cincinnati. In 2011, Mesoraco played 120 games at Triple-A Louisville, while playing just 18 in Cincinnati late in the season. Mesoraco played in just 54 games in 2012, starting only 48 of those, while Hanigan and, eventually, Dioner Navarro, earned additional playing time, seemingly as discipline for Mesoraco bumping an umpire, which earned him a demotion to Triple-A on August 23.
Certainly, a six game hitting streak isn’t going to guarantee that Mesoraco is the next Mike Piazza. His .455 BABIP will likely fall back to a realistic level (around .300) and his overall line will fall back in line, as well; however, with the Reds committing so much money to Joey Votto and the need to eventually extend Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Jay Bruce, why shouldn’t they save some cash by letting Mesoraco, who isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2015, prove his worth? Hanigan, who is in the final year of a three-year, $4 million deal, will be 33 next season and could be a useful backup, considering the Reds don’t have any other prospects ready after including Yasmani Grandal in the deal for Latos.
Overall, the Reds are 31-21 (.596) in games started by Mesoraco and 25-18 (.581) in games started by Hanigan, but Hanigan does have more experience, because Dusty Baker actually plays him, with the pitching staff. In 2013, this is how the pitching staff has performed:
Mike Leake (Mesoraco is his “personal catcher”):
Overall, the Reds’ catchers have done an excellent job:
However, it is the running game and Hanigan’s skills there that have really set him apart:
To get a little more offensively, however, is it worth the risk of having a defensively lacking catcher? I say yes, and with experience comes the defensive gains that Mesoraco will need to make to become an elite catcher in MLB. While the success that he has had over the last week has shown that he has the skills to produce, it is a small sample size, and he needs more consistent at-bats over the second half to showcase the type of player that he could be for the Cincinnati Reds.
Because so many people are clamoring over what I think, I figured it was time to make my All-Star ballot public, while filling up the rosters so that each team is represented. Feel free to ridicule and taunt my choices if you wish, but you’ll have to defend yourself.
1. Carlos Gomez, CF, MIL: Continuing his awesome breakout.
2. Brandon Phillips, 2B, CIN: Huge production behind Votto in Cincy lineup.
3. Joey Votto, 1B, CIN: His numbers would look much better if he was pitched to.
4. David Wright, 3B, NYM: Hometown hero and best 3B in the NL.
5. Carlos Gonzalez, LF, COL: Hitting everywhere this year, even away from Coor’s.
6. Carlos Beltran, RF, STL: Defying age with a healthy, productive season.
7. Michael Cuddyer, DH, COL: Helping to make the Rockies a contender in 2013.
8. Buster Posey, C, SF: Tough choice over Molina, but his bat is still bigger.
9. Jean Segura, SS, MIL: Huge breakout by one of the key pieces in the Greinke deal with the Angels.
Jeff Locke, LHP, PIT
Jason Grilli, RHP, PIT
Jordan Zimmerman, RHP, WAS
Clayton Kershaw, LHP, LAD
Patrick Corbin, LHP, ARZ
Cliff Lee, LHP, PHI
Adam Wainwright, RHP, STL
Shelby Miller, RHP, STL
Aroldis Chapman, LHP, CIN
Craig Kimbrel, RHP, ATL
Edward Mujica, RHP, STL
Rafael Soriano, RHP, WAS
Travis Wood, LHP, CHI-C
Jeff Samardzija, RHP, CHI-C
Jonathan Papelbon, RHP, PHI
Yadier Molina, C, STL
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, ARZ
Freddie Freeman, 1B, ATL
Marco Scutaro, 2B, SF
Everth Cabrera, SS, SD
Giancarlo Stanton, RF, MIA
Yasiel Puig, OF, LAD
Domonic Brown, OF, PHI
Matt Carpenter, 2B, STL
Andrew McCutchen, CF, PIT
Biggest Snubs: Sergio Romo, RHP, SF; Kevin Gregg, RHP, CHI-C; Lance Lynn, RHP, STL; Allen Craig, 1B, STL; Mat Latos, RHP, CIN; Madison Bumgarner, LHP, SF; Rex Brothers, LHP, COL; A.J. Burnett, RHP, PIT; Nate Schierholtz, OF, CHI-C; Shin-Soo Choo, OF, CIN; Ryan Braun, LF, MIL; Bryce Harper, OF, WAS; Ian Desmond, SS, WAS; Chris Johnson, 1B/3B, ATL; Pedro Alvarez, 3B, PIT; Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, LAD; Wilin Rosario, C, COL; Evan Gattis, C/OF, ATL;
1. Mike Trout, LF, LAA: Having a “down” year when compared to his 2012 rookie season, which was one of the greatest in baseball history.
2. Robinson Cano, 2B, NYY: Tough choice but his bat is still huge and he gets the start in NYC.
3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, DET: His numbers are even better than his 2012 Triple Crown winning season.
5. Jose Bautista, RF, TOR: Production is slightly down, but Joey Bats is still a huge fan favorite.
6. David Ortiz, DH, BOS: Still producing as a member of AARP.
7. Adam Jones, CF, BAL: Continuing where he left off in 2012 and becoming one of the top players in baseball.
8. Joe Mauer, C, MIN: The power won’t ever be there again from his 2009 MVP season (28 HR), but he can find the gaps and be productive in ways that no other AL catcher can match.
9. Jhonny Peralta, SS, DET: Quietly having an incredible season as one of the worst defensive SS in baseball – loving his production, though.
Starting Pitcher: Yu Darvish, RHP, TEX: He just struck you out and you didn’t even know he threw three pitches. Having a dominant season.
Jesse Crain, RHP, CHI-W
Felix Hernandez, RHP, SEA
Justin Masterson, RHP, CLE
Max Scherzer, RHP, DET
Mariano Rivera, RHP, NYY
Joe Nathan, RHP, TEX
Clay Buchholz, RHP, BOS
Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP, SEA
Ervin Santana, RHP, KC
Greg Holland, RHP, KC
Bartolo Colon, RHP, OAK
Matt Moore, LHP, TB
Bud Norris, RHP, HOU
Glen Perkins, LHP, MIN
Jim Johnson, RHP, BAL
Jason Castro, C, HOU
Adam Lind, 1B, TOR
Prince Fielder, 1B, DET
Dustin Pedroia, 2B, BOS
Jason Kipnis, 2B, CLE
Evan Longoria, 3B, TB
Manny Machado, 3B, BAL
Jed Lowrie, SS, OAK
Nelson Cruz, OF, TEX
Coco Crisp, OF, OAK
Biggest Snubs: Josh Donaldson, 3B, OAK; J.J. Hardy, SS, BAL; Adrian Beltre, 3B, TEX; Kyle Seager, 3B, SEA; Howie Kendrick, 2B, LAA; Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/3B/DH, TOR; Carlos Santana, C, CLE; Hiroki Kuroda, RHP, NYY; Chris Sale, LHP, CHI-W; Addison Reed, RHP, CHI-W; Grant Balfour, RHP, OAK; Casey Janssen, RHP, TOR;
I did this last year and it was interesting, as they were mostly useless guesses as opposed to valuable predictions. However, with days until real games begin, I figured that I would join in the fun of putting this out there so that we can all look back and see just how wrong I was when October rolls around. Let the incorrectness begin!
AL East Champion
I’m buying the upgrades to the Jays roster. A great improvement to the pitching staff, and just in time to pounce on an AL East division where the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox don’t look like major factors. While the Rays and Orioles look to maintain success without a huge payroll increase, the Jays will utilize their awesome blend of speed, power, and rotation depth to take the crown in the East.
AL Central Champion
Like the Jays, the Tigers will impress with their strong rotation, and while the club plays scetchy, at best, defense, the presence of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera is enough to make them strong contenders in a weak, yet improving, AL Central. The signing of Torii Hunter and the return of Victor Martinez will only improve the offense, while the club will hope that Austin Jackson continues his tremendous improvement and that Andy Dirks can hold down left until Nick Castellanos or Avisail Garcia prove themselves ready. The bullpen issues are something to be concerned about, but someone out of Bruce Rondon, Phil Coke, and Joaquin Benoit will step up.
AL West Champion
How do you improve a lineup that had Albert Pujols and Mike Trout in it a season ago? Well, by signing Josh Hamilton, of course! The Angels could be the best offensive team in baseball, but they’ll need to be, after seemingly taking the “we-will-outscore-your-team-because-we-don’t-have-pitching” way of building a roster. After losing out of Zack Greinke, the club traded for Tommy “my shoulder is gonna rip off of my body at any moment” Hanson, signing Joe Blanton, and trading for Jason Vargas, who could benefit from continuing his career in another pitcher-friendly ballpark. The Halos have enough offense to overcome their pitching shortcomings, though, and could easily manage to score about 6-8 runs per game.
AL Wild Cards
Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays
The Rangers may have lost Josh Hamilton, but they still have a dynamic offense, led by Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre. While it is highly unlikely that Lance Berkman can truly fill the shoes of Hamilton, he is just a season removed from revitalizing his career in St. Louis. Can he do it again? Well, if he can’t, the club will need more from their rotation, which is solid, but not nearly a lock to be great as others in the AL. Yu Darvish is the anchor, but with Matt Harrison‘s low strikeout rates, one has to wonder if he can maintain the 32 wins and 3.34 ERA that he has put up the last two seasons. Derek Holland needs to bounce back, as well, if Texas is to be taken seriously. If they don’t get the right breaks, this could easily be the Oakland Athletics, once again.
The Rays gambled on cashing in two seasons of James Shields for more young talent, acquiring a great haul from the Royals. While the rotation will miss the strength and innings that Shields brought, David Price, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, and Alex Cobb will be solid, while Roberto Hernandez and Jeff Niemann fight over the No.5 spot. The Rays have to get some production from Desmond Jennings and Yunel Escobar up the middle, while hoping that Evan Longoria stays healthy until Wil Myers can get called up. They need power in the lineup and on Opening Day, Longoria and Ben Zobrist seem like their only hope. Pitching and defense has worked for the last several years, and it will again in 2013.
Jose Bautista, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
While everyone will focus on the huge trades that brought the club Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, R.A. Dickey, and others, Bautista will be the spark plug to the offense due to his tremendous power and ability to get on base. With his wrist fully recovered and a dynamic lineup around him, opposing clubs will be forced to pitch to the slugger, which will result is a season that should resemble his 2010 and 2011 seasons, with overwhelming power and run producing statistics.
AL Cy Young
Justin Verlander, RHP, Detroit Tigers
To say that Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball would be an understatement. He turned 30 years old in February and since 2008, he has gone 89-48 with a 3.28 ERA over 1,154.2 innings, and while those numbers have been outmatched by only CC Sabathia in the American League (91-39 with a 3.11 ERA), Verlander seems to have a pretty tight grip on the best pitcher in MLB title for the moment. While Yu Darvish and David Price begin to catch up to him, Verlander will hold control it for another season, with another 20-win season and an ERA under 3.00 for the Tigers.
AL Manager of the Year
Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians
While he actually has very little to do with the drastic changes that the Indians have undergone this offseason (that honor belongs to GM Chris Antonetti), Terry Francona will get a lot of credit for the Indians posting their first winning season since their 2007 ALCS appearance. Manny Acta never seemed capable of keeping successful starts going over the 162-game season, but Francona’s resume proves that he is capable of that, regardless of the 2011 Boston Red Sox collapse. While the Tribe won’t make the playoffs, they will be very competitive and, possibly, be a nuisance to the Tigers in the AL Central for most of the season. For that, Francona will deserve the honor for making a Cleveland sports franchise matter again.
AL Rookie of the Year
Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
He won’t start the season with the major league club, but Myers will be up in June, once the Rays can guarantee that he won’t gain Super Two arbitration eligibility, taking over the left field job from Matt Joyce, while manning right field when Ben Zobrist goes to second or short. Myers exploded in the minors last season, hitting an absurd .314/.387/.600 with 37 home runs between the Royals’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. While he could work on his contact rate (he struck out 140 times in 522 at-bats), Myers is a much needed offensive force for the Rays, who need someone besides Evan Longoria and Zobrist to produce consistently. Expect a .260/.320/.460 line with nearly 20 home runs if Myers gets the call in June, which should be good enough to win the AL ROY with Jurickson Profar waiting for a shot in Triple-A for the Rangers and so few players getting an opportunity early in the 2013 season.
NL East Champion
Bryce Harper will be better than he was in 2012 and Stephen Strasburg won’t have an innings limit. Really, this is all that you need to know, but with the addition of a leadoff hitter in Denard Span and another fantastic arm in Rafael Soriano to add to Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, the Nationals are about as good as it gets in MLB for a lock to go to the playoffs. Add in Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Ryan Zimmerman, and Adam LaRoche, and you have a team capable of winning 95-100 games. Yes…they’re that good.
NL Central Champion
What do you get when you take an outstanding team without a leadoff hitter and you add a guy with a lifetime .386 on-base percentage in that spot? You get a team with a very bad defensive outfield that plays in a hitters paradise and the 2013 version of the Cincinnati Reds. Shin-Soo Choo could be a liability in center, but his offensive skills fit perfectly into the Reds lineup. Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto will need some help from Choo and Ryan Ludwick, but with a very good starting rotation and great depth in the bullpen with the move of Aroldis Chapman back to closer, the Reds will battle the Nationals for the best record in MLB in 2013.
NL West Champion
Los Angeles Dodgers
Like the Dodgers, I’m buying. The addition of Zack Greinke was huge, but the trade with the Boston Red Sox that brought Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez, along with their massive contracts, to the Dodgers will begin paying dividends this season. While the Hanley Ramirez thumb injury is a slight issue to start the season, Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw are the right kind of awesome to overcome any issues like that. The Dodgers have great pitching depth, unless they make a trade in the next few days, to overcome any further arm issues for Chad Billingsley, and their bullpen is lights out, with flame-thrower Kenley Jansen sharing end-game duties with Brandon League…until Don Mattingley sees what everyone else does and puts Jansen there full-time. This team is dangerous if they stay healthy. The pitching is deep, but an injury to Crawford, Kemp, or Andre Ethier will cost them the division to the San Francisco Giants.
NL Wild Cards
Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals
The Atlanta Braves have an incredible roster. If Chipper Jones had hung around one more season, they may have had a chance at another World Series title for the old man. Unfortunately, Jones finally retired and third could be the clubs only weak spot, as Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson will share the job in 2013. The addition of B.J. Upton and Justin Upton will make the offense even more dangerous, as Jason Heyward continues to become one of the best players in baseball. Freddie Freeman got his eye issues worked out, so he will also improve in 2013, while the club will rely on a deep rotation, that will only get better when Brandon Beachy returns in June or July. By then, the Braves could have a very difficult choice, especially after seeing Julio Teheran thrive this spring, as someone will have to be removed from the rotation if the club is healthy. As far as the bullpen goes, one name is all you need: Craig Kimbrel.
The Cardinals continue to stick around and be contenders, even after losing Albert Pujols a season ago and, potentially, losing Chris Carpenter for the entire 2013 season. Adam Wainwright should re-establish himself as an ace this season, while Allen Craig will show that he is an MVP-caliber player if he would just stay healthy. Speaking of health, could fantasy baseball nerds be any more excited for the first of Carlos Beltran‘s injuries in 2013? If you don’t know why, you need to look up super-prospect Oscar Taveras. The Cards seem to have an endless supply of young arms, as well, as Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Michael Wacha, and Carlos Martinez arrive and establish themselves in the majors.
Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
Votto will do one of two things: 1) Post an on-base percentage approaching .500 (.474 in 2012) while never seeing a pitch worth hitting, or 2) Post numbers close to his 2010 MVP season (.324/.424/.600, 37 home runs) while earning his 2nd MVP. The Reds are going to have Votto hitting No.3 again, and with Shin-Soo Choo and Brandon Phillips hitting in front of him, Votto will easily exceed his career-high 113 RBI this season. With his knee healthy and a tremendous lineup and hitter’s paradise as a home ballpark, Joey Votto will win the NL MVP in 2013.
NL Cy Young
Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
You can take Stephen Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw, while I go off the board (or rocker) to choose Madison Bumgarner for NL Cy Young. After tiring at the end of the 2012 season, Bumgarner knows that he has a lot to prove. Add on the fact that his WHIP fell from 1.21 in 2011 to 1.11 in 2012, and you can see that the 23-year-old left-hander can not only miss bats (191 K’s in each of the last two seasons), but he isn’t allowing many hits or walks. With a pitcher-friendly ballpark and loads of expectations on him due to his fall-off late last season, Bumgarner will show that he shouldn’t be overlooked due to Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum being on the same roster.
NL Manager of the Year
Bud Black, San Diego Padres
There isn’t a whole lot to like about the Padres roster. They don’t have a superstar on the front of a video game, they don’t have a player that shows up to the MLB Fan Cave with an infamous twitter account, but they have an interesting team and a better manager. Bud Black can get a lot out of the club that he has. While the team will continue to struggle to score runs, at times, Chase Headley could provide enough power to get runs in bunches, and Yonder Alonso could thrive with the fences being moved in at Petco. Solid speed and gap power throughout the lineup will make the Padres a surprise team in 2013, and while the rotation is more patchwork than well thought out, the bullpen is tremendous, as it always seems to be. If the Friars can get anything out of Andrew Cashner, Clayton Richard, and Eric Stults, they’ll be a team capable of 82-85 wins, which isn’t playoff worthy, but worth giving Bud Black an award for.
NL Rookie of the Year
Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
You don’t get called a left-handed version of Vladimir Guerrero and get overlooked, and Taveras is that special of a talent. Like I mentioned above, once Carlos Beltran gets hurt (as in it IS going to happen), Taveras would, more than likely, get the call. Not only a Beltran injury, but an under performing Jon Jay could even be replaced by the super-prospect, as Taveras played 93 games in center for the Cards Double-A affiliate in 2012. Taveras will get enough at-bats to be valuable and he could do that as a fourth outfielder once June rolls around, but once he is in St. Louis, he won’t be leaving town for several years. A pure hitter in every sense of the label.
World Series Prediction
Washington Nationals defeat Los Angeles Angels, 4-2
Random, Bold Predictions
There is no rhyme or reason here, just as the title says:
- Bryce Harper will hit over 30 home runs in 2013, while posting an OPS near .940.
- Mike Trout won’t hit 30 home runs again, but he will steal 50 bases.
- Jose Reyes will stay healthy, even while playing on turf, and terrorize the AL East while stealing over 50 bases.
- Ike Davis will hit over 40 home runs after hitting 32 in 2012 while hitting just .227.
- Mat Latos will become the ace of the Cincinnati Reds, posting better overall numbers than Johnny Cueto and winning 20 games in 2013.
- Mike Minor proves that his second half from 2012 (6-4, 2.16 ERA, 0.87 WHIP over 87.1 IP) wasn’ a fluke, as he becomes the Braves best starting pitcher in 2013.
- Jordan Zimmerman has a more impressive 2013 season than Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez and he will no longer be overlooked in a fantastic Washington rotation.
- Brandon Belt continues hitting like he has all spring, ripping 25 home runs after having a power outage in the earlier stages of his career (16 in 598 at-bats).
- Troy Tulowitzki stays healthy and benefits from Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler having All Star seasons to hit 40 home runs, making all of those fantasy baseball players that took him in the first round feel like the smartest men alive.
- Allen Craig becomes an All Star and hits over .300 with 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI.
- Carlos Santana hits 30+ home runs and will have the kind of hype that Buster Posey has right now during the 2013-2014 offseason.
- Jason Heyward finishes 2nd in NL MVP voting to Joey Votto, posting his first 30 HR/30 SB season for Atlanta.
- Domonic Brown keeps the Phillies left field job all season and posts a .270/.380/.450 line with solid production across the board. Philly fans hit Ruben Amaro, Jr. with batteries for not trusting in him sooner.
- Zack Greinke can’t handle the Los Angeles pressure and spotlight and misses time due to his anxiety disorder.
- Chris Sale pitches 200 innings and proves doubters about his bony frame and drastic innings increase in 2012 wrong.
- Drew Stubbs (remember him?) hits 20 home runs and steals 50 bases, revitalizing his career.
- Rick Porcello wins 17 games with a 3.20 ERA while striking out 180 batters…all because he began using his four-seam fastball for the first time in his career.
These guys are about to go bonkers in 2013. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…(obvious names not listed, i.e. Harper, Brown, Braun, Ike Davis)
Alex Cobb, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Matt Moore, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Brett Anderson, LHP, Oakland Athletics
Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta Braves
Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Oakland Athletics
Greg Holland, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City Royals
Chris Parmelee, OF, Minnesota Twins
Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
Dayan Viciedo, OF, Chicago White Sox
Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
Michael Saunders, OF, Seattle Mariners
Prospects to Watch
This has nothing to do with the Top 100 Prospects that I put out in December, but you will find some familiar names and others that will be players to keep an eye on, especially if they’re on your favorite team or if you’re in a keeper fantasy baseball league.
Jonathan Schoop, INF, Baltimore Orioles
Dorssys Paulino, INF, Cleveland Indians
J.R. Graham, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Chris Archer, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas City Royals
Yasel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros
Xander Bogaerts, INF, Boston Red Sox
Austin Hedges, C, San Diego Padres
Joey Gallo, INF, Texas Rangers
Aroldis Chapman has impressed many this spring with his 2.25 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over 8 innings, as he continues to be stretched out for the purpose of becoming a starting pitcher. Or is he? Who really knows at this point, the Cincinnati Reds certainly don’t have any idea what they are doing. Certainly, prior to giving three-years and $21 million to Jonathan Broxton to become their closer this winter, they should have had an idea of where they were going to put “The Cuban Missile”, the rotation or the bullpen.
Chapman was absolutely dominant in 2012, posting a 15.3 K/9 with a 1.51 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and a 122:23 K:BB over 71.2 innings. A one-time starter for the Cuban National Team, the Reds have flirted with the idea of returning him to the rotation a couple of times, falling in love with his fastball and brilliance out of the bullpen, instead, while basking in the glory of having all of their starters healthy (Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, and Mike Leake) for the entire 2012 season.
With those same five guys back for the 2013 season and Tony Cingrani and Daniel Corcino reaching the upper levels of the Cincinnati Reds minor league system, the Reds are still debating as to how to handle their flame-throwing lefty, with less than two weeks remaining before Opening Day at Great American Ballpark.
For the Cincinnati Reds, the potential that Aroldis Chapman has as a starter seems to be the enticing factor in the thoughts and decision-m aking of the upper management, while the dominance that he has shown as a relief pitcher is overlooked.
That way of thinking isn’t terrible, it has happened many times in recent seasons…
Daniel Bard went from a dominant Boston Red Sox relief arm (2.62 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and a 150:54 K:BB over 147.2 innings in 2010 and 2011, combined) to an afterthought in a devastatingly disappointing 2012 season for the Saux. Bard was moved to the rotation, where his potential was greater, getting 54 innings over 10 starts and posting a 5.33 ERA, 1.62 WHIP and a 32:36 K:BB. After going to Triple-A Pawtucket to work on his release point, he posted an even worse 18.71 ERA, 3.23 WHIP and a 4:6 K:BB over just 4.1 innings. Needless to say, Bard won’t be starting any games for Boston in 2013, and he may not have a spot in a very deep Boston bullpen to start the season.
Neftali Feliz was one of the top relief pitchers in baseball from 2009 through 2011, posting a 2.54 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and a 164:56 K:BB over 162.2 innings, while saving 74 games for the Texas Rangers. With those fantastic numbers, how great would he look pitching every fifth day, providing the Rangers with 200-plus innings instead of the 60 to 75 that he was giving as their closer? In 2012, Feliz went to the rotation and did pretty well. For whatever reason, he was brought out of the bullpen for one outing on April 25 against the New York Yankees, four days after tossing 119 pitches in a complete game loss to Detroit, and then the wheels came off. Not right away, though, as he did manage four starts with a 3.32 ERA and 1.38 WHIP before being shut down due to Tommy John surgery, which he didn’t even undergo until August, which will cost him the entire 2013 season, as well. When he returns in 2014, the Rangers will have other starters coming up through their impressive minor league system, which may allow Feliz to move back to the bullpen, taking over the closer role for the aging Joe Nathan.
Joba Chamberlain…what might have been for the one-time dominant reliever for the New York Yankees. After coming up in 2007 and posting a 0.38 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, and 34:6 K:BB in just 24 innings in 2007, the Yankees moved the powerful right-hander from the bullpen to the rotation on June 3, 2008, before moving him back to the bullpen September 2, when he came back from a stint on the DL due to shoulder tendinitis. He was solid over 12 starts, posting a 2.76 ERA and 1.30 WHIP over 65.1 innings with a 74:25 K:BB. After returning from his shoulder injury, though, Chamberlain posted a 2.38 ERA over 11.1 innings with a 14:3 K:BB. That didn’t stop the club from trying him in the rotation again in 2009, this time making 31 starts and amassing 157.1 innings while posting a pedestrian 4.75 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. Chamberlain was moved back to the bullpen in 2010 and wasn’t nearly as dominant as his first go-round there, posting a 4.40 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and a 77:22 K:BB in 71.2 innings. However, since the start of 2011, it has all been downhill for the big righty. He had Tommy John surgery in June of 2011, he broke his ankle while recovering from that and missed most of the 2012 season, and now, heading into his contract walk year, Joba Chamberlain wants to start, but seems to be on the outside looking in to the Yankees rotation.
The reason that teams will want to move young, successful, dominant relief pitchers to their rotations lies in the results of those like Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox. After dominating out of the bullpen in 2010 and 2011 (a combined 2.58 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and a 111:37 K:BB in 94.1 innings), the White Sox moved Sale to the rotation in 2012. He didn’t disappoint even the harshest observers, posting a 3.05 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and a 192:51 K:BB over 192 innings. The issue now is whether or not Sale’s elbow can handle the rotation, as jumped from 71 innings in 2011 to the whopping 192 in 2012, while missing a couple of starts with “shoulder fatigue” in late-July and early-August, and he was rail thin, standing 6’6″, 168 pounds last season. Chicago seems to have faith in him, though, as Robin Ventura named him the Opening Day starter and the team extended him for five-years, $32.5 million already this spring.
Some other converts from the bullpen to the rotation (or even flip-flopping during their careers) include: C.J. Wilson, Ryan Dempster, John Smoltz, Derek Lowe, Adam Wainwright, Pedro Martinez, Mark Buehrle, and Brett Myers. While some of those names aren’t very…attractive…they did have some success in the rotation during their careers and there are a couple of Hall of Fame pitchers there.
Potential is a scary thing in sports. It is why players get several opportunities before finally being shipped off to become Triple-A depth. It is why roster spots are wasted on Rule 5 draft picks. It is why teams go over slot recommendations to land their draft picks. It is why teams risk injuries to their superstars to see if they can get a little more out of them. You don’t see the Atlanta Braves trying to get more out of Craig Kimbrel, do you? Why should the Cincinnati Reds try to get more potential out of Aroldis Chapman when they know what they have: the second best reliever in baseball (next to Kimbrel), who is nearly a lock to close out the game when you have the lead in the 9th inning.
For every Chris Sale, there is a frayed elbow ligament and a Joba Chamberlain or Neftali Feliz story…and Chris Sale is no sure thing to repeat. Pete Schourek won 18 games for the Cincinnati Reds in 1995 at the age of 26, throwing 109 more innings than he did in the 1994 season, and he followed that up with elbow and shoulder injuries before being out of baseball at the age of 32.
Which do you prefer: Domination or Potential?
Spring training is an exciting time for baseball nerds. We get to hear stories about how so many players are in the greatest shape of their lives, while we count down the days until meaningful games begin. The position battles are the most interesting things to watch over the next several weeks, and while it seems like there aren’t a lot of battles to grasp onto, here are a handful that I know that I am going to monitor.
The Cleveland Indians Rotation:
With the additions of Scott Kazmir and Daisuke Matsuzaka on minor league deals, the healing elbow of Carlos Carrasco, and the acquisition of Trevor Bauer from the Arizona Diamondbacks, the club has gone from having very little pitching depth to a possible abundance. It would be safe to assume that new manager Terry Francona has Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Brett Myers penciled into the first three spots, while youngster Zach McAllister has a leg up on the No.4 spot, though it isn’t guaranteed. The possible battle for one spot between four solid arms is definitely an intriguing battle.
The Detroit Tiger Left Field Job:
When the Tigers signed Torii Hunter to a two-year deal, they created a logjam of corner outfielders. Andy Dirks seems to have the best shot at the every day job, but he still has Brennan Boesch, Quentin Berry, and youngster Avisail Garcia who could steal some at-bats over the course of the season, while prospect outfielder Nick Castellanos could also push for at-bats later in the season. With Victor Martinez returning from an ACL injury, the DH spot is on lockdown. The Tigers could look to make a deal for a veteran relief pitcher, as Bruce Rondon looks like the potential Opening Day closer after 52 appearances over three minor league levels in 2012. We’ll see if a club decides they could use some offensive help, especially if any PED suspensions come down from MLB from the Biogenesis case out of Florida.
The Toronto Blue Jays Second Base Job:
Gone is Kelly Johnson, who signed a minor league deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, and added were Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis. The Jays are absolutely loaded this season and the club will take advantage of a Alex Rodriguez injury and a re-tooling Boston Red Sox club to make a run at the AL East title. Bonifacio is a speedster that can play several positions. He posted a .360 OBP in 2011 and stole 30 bases in just 64 games in 2012 for the Miami Marlins. Izturis can’t really play short or third well anymore and he doesn’t do any one thing incredibly well, but he is 32 years old in 2013 and the Jays could expect about 30 doubles, 6 to 8 home runs, and 10 to 15 stolen bases over 450 to 500 at-bats. The club is in a great position with this “problem”.
The Atlanta Braves Third Base Job:
Well, Chipper Jones is gone and the Braves don’t have a third baseman for the first time since 1995. Atlanta added Chris Johnson as an extra part in their mega-deal with Arizona for Justin Upton and the right-handed hitting, 28-year-old brings a little bit of power with his career .746 OPS. He could be battling Juan Francisco, a powerful, left-handed hitting, soon-to-be 26-year old who has struggled to make consistent contact in his career, posting a 121:22 K:BB in 361 career at-bats. He has a lot of potential, but he is on the weak side of a platoon and doesn’t have a track record to rely on to this point. It will be a sad day in Atlanta without Larry Jones running out there, but the club should be prepared after dealing with all of Jones’ injuries over the years.
The Washington Nationals Catching Job:
Kurt Suzuki was once a very consistent performer, averaging 14 home runs and 67 RBI per season from 2009 to 2011 before totally crashing and burning in 2012, seeing his OPS drop all the way to .605 over 405 at-bats between Oakland and Washington. With Wilson Ramos coming back from an ACL injury, Suzuki could get the every day job for the first month or two of the season, and with solid producers around him in the lineup in Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, and Jayson Werth. Ramos was outstanding in 2011, hitting 15 home runs and posting a .779 OPS at the age of 23. Can he regain his form and confidence after a leg injury? How long until Ramos is a real factor in the position battle?
The Cincinnati Reds No.5 Starter Job:
The sky is the limit for Aroldis Chapman if he is able to transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation. After posting a ridiculous 122:23 K:BB in just 71.2 innings in 2012, Chapman could, potentially, reach 200 strikeouts by averaging 13 K:9, which is still lower than his 14.1 K:9 career average. He could, legitimately, be the clubs best starter, even with Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos in front of him in the rotation. However, Mike Leake is still in the picture and the Reds could leave Chapman in the bullpen for part of the season to limit his innings before stretching him out. If that is the case, could Chapman then pull a Kris Medlen in 2013 and go on to post a 0.97 ERA while going 9-0 in 12 starts for the Braves after joining the rotation on July 31. Leake, who posted a 4.58 ERA over 30 starts in 2012 after posting a 3.86 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 2011, is very athletic and is a very good rotation filler, but with Chapman, Tony Cingrani, and Daniel Corcino coming up behind him, he could be a long-relief pitcher or trade bait as early as this spring.
The St. Louis Cardinals No.5 Starter Job:
With Chris Carpenter‘s continued neck issues, which could force him to miss the entire 2013 season, the Cardinals are suddenly lacking pitching depth, as they lost Kyle Lohse to free agency this winter, although he does remain unsigned. In their place, Lance Lynn, who was fantastic before hitting a wall last August, looks like the No.4 starter, but the Cardinals look to have an interesting battle between Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, and, postseason superstar, Trevor Rosenthal. Miller has top-of-the-rotation stuff and could be the team’s ace in the next couple of seasons, while Rosenthal’s triple-digit fastball could be dominating out of the starting rotation. If the club wants to continue to develop Miller and Rosenthal, though, Kelly was solid in 2012, posting a 3.74 ERA over 16 starts, and he doesn’t turn 25 years old until June, so it isn’t like he is a veteran option, either. With Carlos Martinez, another top-of-the-rotation type of prospect on the way, the Cardinals seem to have the depth to overcome their current “shortage” of pitching.
Certainly there are many other battles that will come about due to injuries, suspensions, or additional free agent signings, but these seven look like the biggest as spring training gets underway.
Are there any battles you’re interested in watching over the next couple of months?
Ian Kennedy has posted some pretty solid numbers over his career, going 46-30 with a 3.76 ERA over 112 games (110 starts). Having been around since 2007, when he came up with the Yankees, it is easy to forget that Kennedy is just 28 years old, with a lot of time left to become a useful pitcher, whether that is in real life or fantasy baseball. The only issue is, which Ian Kennedy is the real Ian Kennedy?
As a New York Yankee farm hand, Kennedy was totally lights-out, going 19-6 with a 1.95 ERA over 46 games (43 starts), posting a 273:77 K:BB in 248.2 innings. In 2007, Kennedy jumped to the majors for three starts in September, going 1-0 with a 1.89 ERA over three starts and 19 innings. Kennedy wasn’t so good in 2008, going 0-4 with an 8.17 ERA over 10 games (9 starts) before being banished to the minors (all the way to the Gulf Coast League), where he worked on some things and earned a start on August 8, which didn’t go very well. Kennedy would make just one more appearance in the majors with the Yankees before a blood clot, which needed surgery, was found in his throwing shoulder. He was dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks, as part of a three-way trade with the Detroit Tigers, on December 8, 2009 in a deal involving Curtis Granderson, Max Scherzer, and Edwin Jackson.
Once with Arizona, Kennedy’s career took off. In 2010, Kennedy stayed healthy, starting 32 games and tossing 194 innings while going 9-10 with a 3.80 ERA and 1.20 WHIP and posting a 168:70 K:BB. Then, 2011 was the breakthrough…
Kennedy went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP over 222 innings, posting a 198:55 K:BB. Kennedy finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting (behind Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee), while earning MVP votes, finishing 14th. At the age of 26, Kennedy was poised to take the step to become one of the top pitchers in Major League Baseball…
Only in 2012, things weren’t as positive for Kennedy, as he went 15-12 with a 4.02 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP, while posting a 187:55 K:BB in 208.1 innings.
While Kennedy’s 2011 season was a great step towards stardom, is he the pitcher that he was then or what he was in 2012…or somewhere in between, such as 2010?
Take a look at some statistics:
Kennedy’s ERA, WHIP, xFIP, HR/9, and LOB% were all at career bests in 2011. In 2012, Kennedy’s BABIP was higher than the league average, which is .300, but is that enough to say that he was unlucky or was he just lucky in earlier years in Arizona?
If 2011 was an aberration, then Ian Kennedy is more likely to post a 3.90 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP over 200 to 220 innings. But…if Kennedy maintains his strikeout rate and his BABIP falls to his career average, .280, could Kennedy return to the 2011 form, or at least post an ERA closer to 3.00 than 4.00 and a WHIP closer to 1.10 rather than 1.20 or 1.30?
At 28, Sabermetrics guru Bill James sees Kennedy as more of the 2011-version, having the right-hander go 13-10 with a 3.49 ERA over 214 innings in his projections. Based on Baseball Reference’s Similarity Scores, Kennedy is most similar to Tommy Hanson, Clay Buchholz, Mark Prior, and Mat Latos. Due to some injury concerns for a few of those players, fans of the Diamondbacks certainly hope that Kennedy can come up with a new group of pitchers to be ranked with, and if he has another season like 2011, he could do that pretty easily.