Should Exit Velocity Factor Into Official Scoring?

In the second inning of today’s game at Fenway Park, Minnesota’s Max Kepler hit a one-hop rocket that Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts couldn’t handle. After deliberation — he looked at multiple replays —- official scorer Chaz Scoggins ruled the play an E-6.

A few minutes later, Twins beat writer Rhett Bollinger noted that StatCast had Kepler’s smash at 109 mph. That begs a question: Should exit velocity factor into official scoring decisions?

According to Scoggins, the subject has been discussed informally by scorers throughout the two leagues. Based on those conversations, the majority feel “the numbers” shouldn’t matter — an experienced official scorer is able to make an informed decision on a hard-hit ball.

While a good argument can be made for exit velocity mattering, Scoggins brought up a valid point in defending its non-use. A ball may have been hit X mph, but was the infielder playing back, or was he in on the grass with less reaction time? More goes into a scoring decision than a number can measure.

Does this mean exit velocity will never become a tool for official scorers? In my opinion, the answer is no. Eyeball judgement will remain the primary determiner, but data will influence decisions.

NERD Game Scores for Sunday, July 24, 2016

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.


Most Highly Rated Game
Cleveland at Baltimore | 13:35 ET
Kluber (129.0 IP, 78 xFIP-) vs. Worley (51.1 IP, 104 xFIP-)
Vance Worley isn’t the precise name one expects to find headlining what is allegedly the day’s most compelling game. The score produced by the author’s haphazardly calculated algorithm for this particular contest, however, has less to do with the identity of Baltimore’s starter and more with its current place in the standings. No team is perched more precariously on the knife edge of postseason qualification than the Baltimore Orioles, which club features both divisional and wild-card odds in the vicinity of 50%. For more on that, read the author’s tortuous explanation of NERD’s ongoing playoff adjustment below. For less on that, do anything else that you want.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Cleveland Radio.

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Sunday Notes: Giants’ Law, Twins’ May, Miller’s Pop, January, more

Earlier this week, I interviewed Giants rookie right-hander Derek Law in the visiting dugout at Fenway Park. Approximately 10 feet to our right, another conversation was taking place. Johnny Cueto was shooting the breeze with Luis Tiant.

Tiant was a favorite of mine during his glory years. Law was born in 1990, eight years after the Cuban legend threw his last pitch, but he was every bit as captivated with the nearby confab.

“I’m a huge Luis Tiant fan,” Law told me. “I’d love to go over and get his autograph after this. My dad pitched for a bit and I’m big into baseball history. Tiant is one of the guys I’ve really taken a liking to.”

The windup is a big reason. Cueto essentially copied the one El Tiante artistically employed on his way to 229 wins. Not surprisingly, the youngster has asked his Giants teammate about the wiggle and turn. Read the rest of this entry »

NERD Game Scores for Saturday, July 23, 2016

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.


Most Highly Rated Game
New York NL at Miami | 19:10 ET
deGrom (102.0 IP, 81 xFIP-) vs. Fernandez (113.2 IP, 53 xFIP-)
Given where each club currently resides within this site’s playoff-odds projections, it’s probable that either the Mets or Marlins will qualify for some manner of postseason appearance. It’s improbable, on the other hand, that both will qualify. In this way, tonight’s game resembles that scene from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome where two men enter and then only one man leaves. How it differs from that 1985 film is that, instead of taking place in a lawless, post-apocalyptic Australian hellscape, it’ll actually just be in Miami.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: New York NL Television.

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The Best of FanGraphs: July 18-22, 2016

Each week, we publish north of 100 posts on our various blogs. With this post, we hope to highlight 10 to 15 of them. You can read more on it here. The links below are color coded — green for FanGraphs, brown for RotoGraphs, dark red for The Hardball Times and blue for Community Research.
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NERD Game Scores for Friday, July 22, 2016

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.


Most Highly Rated Game
Los Angeles NL at St. Louis | 20:15 ET
McCarthy (16.0 IP, 59 xFIP-) vs. Wacha (109.1 IP, 96 xFIP-)
Left-hander Clayton Kershaw last pitched on June 26th. Brandon McCarthy first pitched on July 3rd. Kershaw has produced the lowest adjusted xFIP (52 xFIP-) among all qualified starters this year. McCarthy, over his three starts, has produced a nearly identical figure (59 xFIP-). Coincidence? Yes. Of course. Kershaw and McCarthy are two distinct people, often photographed in each other’s company — or near proximity, if nothing else. The have difference faces and bodies. And dreams. They likely have different dreams, too.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: St. Louis Radio.

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FanGraphs Boston Meetup – Saber Seminar Eve (8/12/16)

Dear reader, please allow this internet article to serve as the official announcement of the fourth annual FanGraphs Boston Meetup on Saber Seminar Eve. As the title makes clear, this year that day is Friday, August 12th. We’ll kick off around 7 pm, and the televisions will display the baseball match between the Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks. We’ll talk about it, and baseball, and beer, and maybe how ridiculous it is that the other TVs in the bar are showing preseason football because who watches those?
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Seattle Mariners Might Be Stuck, Even in Seller’s Market

The Seattle Mariners are in a tough spot. They’re not a bad team, sitting a game over .500. By both Pythagorean wins and BaseRuns, they profile a few games better than that. Over the course of the rest of the season, they’re expected to continue to be a bit above average and our projections have them finishing at 83-79 for the year. That’s not a bad season — and if the team made a few big moves and caught a few breaks, they might even sneak their way into the playoffs where anything can happen. Unfortunately for the Mariners, that scenario isn’t very likely.

The division-leading Texas Rangers hardly seem invincible, but they’ve accrued a decent lead on the Mariners, while other divisional-rival Houston possesses the advantage both of more wins than the Mariners and more talent. This makes the M’s current chances of winning the division rather low. (For an interactive version of the chart, click here.)

chart (7)

They’re not out of it, as you can see, but they do face difficult odds. And keep in mind: these odds are reflective of the talent each club currently possesses on hand. Both the Rangers and Astros are expected to be buyers, and further moves by those teams figure to push their odds higher and the Mariners’ lower unless they counter with a move of their own.

As for the wild card, the task is equally as daunting. The chart below shows the wild-card probabilities only and do not include a team’s chances at the division. (Interactive version here.)

chart (8)

If you’re willing to hand the American League Central to Cleveland, that leaves four additional available playoff spots. Seattle is seventh on that list, with less than a 10% shot. That the top three teams all play in the AL East — and also expected to be buyers before the deadlines — makes Seattle’s predicament all the more obvious. The team isn’t likely to win, so the team should sell. How they should sell, though, is a bit more difficult to decipher.

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The Royals Should Be Buyers, Sort Of

Winning a championship is great — for about 48 hours or however long it takes for the parade to end. Then the page turns to the next season and it’s time to figure out how to win all over again. The Kansas City Royals just won their first championship in 30 seasons less than a year ago, but right now, it’s not enough. If the 2015 championship is the only one they win with this current core of players, they’ll eventually be able to look back with fondness on the achievement. Now isn’t the time for reflection, however: it’s the time to make every effort to add even more glory to this era of Royals baseball.

Unfortunately, the Royals haven’t put themselves in a strong position to contend in 2016. They’re at an even .500 record despite a negative-33 run differential and currently sit nine games behind first-place Cleveland. Our playoff odds currently give them just a 1-in-50 chance of making it to the divisional series. If they “buy” over the next week and a half, it stands to reason they can increase their odds slightly, but they face an unavoidably great uphill climb. In order to claim a wild-card spot, they’ll have to leapfrog five other teams.

It’s certainly possible that they can pull off a surprise run in the second half – the Royals have made an impressive habit of foiling projections in recent years, after all — but if I were the one calling the shots in Kansas City, I’d find it irresponsible to make moves focused solely on 2016 success.

Note how I phrased that, though: I didn’t say that I wouldn’t be a “buyer” this month, only that I wouldn’t focus on 2016.

There’s a maddening and inaccurate oversimplification which inevitably occurs each July that there are two groups of teams: those trying to win now and those who should sell off all players without long-term value. The Royals shouldn’t be buying for 2016, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be “buyers” in the current trade market.

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Predicting the Trade Deadline Moves

The trade deadline is a week from Monday, and between now and then, we’re probably going to see a lot of moves. Not a lot of big moves, necessarily, but with a lot of buyers in the market for bullpen upgrades, we’re probably looking at a large number of depth acquisitions. Just for the fun of it, let’s wildly speculate on where the biggest name guys might go before August 1st. Keep in mind that no one really knows what is going to happen, so this is more of an exercise in frivolity than a serious attempt at forecasting the deadline moves. Let’s see how many wild guesses I can get right.

Big Buyers
Cleveland Indians

The Indians have put themselves in a strong position to make the playoffs, and with the fickleness of starting pitching — see Mets, New York — they will try to take advantage of this opportunity. Generally reluctant to trade their best young prospects, I think they’ll back off that stance this year, and move either Clint Frazier or Bradley Zimmer, plus some lower level pieces, to make the big league team as strong as possible.

Predicted Additions
Jonathan Lucroy, Will Smith, Daniel Hudson, Coco Crisp

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The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a few years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion in the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above who (a) received a future value grade of 45 or less from Dan Farnsworth during the course of his organizational lists and who (b) was omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus,’s Jonathan Mayo, and John Sickels, and also who (c) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing on a midseason list or, otherwise, selected in the first round of the current season’s amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.

In the final analysis, the basic idea is this: to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.

Rookie Davis, RHP, Cincinnati (Profile)
Davis was a fixture among the Five last year, tying for 11th on the arbitrarily calculated Scoreboard by way both of an excellent strikeout- and walk-rate profile at High-A and a fastball that sits at 93-95 mph. Traded to Cincinnati this offseason as part of the deal that sent Aroldis Chapman to the Yankees, Davis has stalled a bit — so far as his statistical indicators are concerned, at least. His most recent starts have been encouraging, however: the right-hander has produced a 13:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 39 batters over his last 11.0 innings.

Why he appears here now, though, is because of a different leaderboard on which he’s recently appeared — namely, the secret and proprietary one the author utilizes to track each minor league’s top fringe batters. Through his first 20 plate appearances this year — which also represent the first 20 plate appearances of his career in affiliated baseball — Davis has recorded a walk, two strikeouts, and four extra bases (essentially, extra bases minus hits). That’s a 20% extra-base rate versus only a 10% strikeout rate. For context, between 2011 and -15, only 43 batters produced even a positive differential between extra-base rate and strikeout rate — out of 335 qualified batters total during that interval.

Here are the top-10 batters by that measure between 2011 and 2015:

Top Differentials, Extra Bases Minus Strikeouts, 2011-15
Name Team PA XBs K XB% K% Diff wRC+
1 Albert Pujols – – – 3120 615 332 19.7% 10.6% 9.1% 127
2 Edwin Encarnacion Blue Jays 2961 657 413 22.2% 13.9% 8.2% 143
3 David Ortiz Red Sox 2804 636 412 22.7% 14.7% 8.0% 148
4 Adrian Beltre Rangers 3102 582 352 18.8% 11.3% 7.4% 132
5 Jose Bautista Blue Jays 2921 647 460 22.1% 15.7% 6.4% 154
6 Miguel Cabrera Tigers 3233 683 480 21.1% 14.8% 6.3% 170
7 Nolan Arenado Rockies 1646 336 240 20.4% 14.6% 5.8% 104
8 Victor Martinez Tigers 2389 336 207 14.1% 8.7% 5.4% 125
9 Robinson Cano – – – 3398 597 452 17.6% 13.3% 4.3% 136
10 Aramis Ramirez – – – 2654 460 349 17.3% 13.1% 4.2% 122
Average – – – – – – – – – – – – 19.6% 13.1% 6.5% 136
Only qualified batters considered.

That’s a collection of basically the league’s top batters. The bottom of the list, meanwhile, includes most of the league’s worst ones. A combination of extra bases and strikeouts serves as a good proxy for success — and each has the benefit of stabilizing long before the typical slash stats.

It’s improbable, of course, that Davis will continue hitting like one of the top batters, literally, of the last half-decade. He needn’t do anything of the sort, of course, to offer some value. Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke, for example, have both produced more than three extra wins over the last five years on the basis of their offensive contributions alone — each while batting roughly 50% worse than a league-average hitter.

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How to Raise Your Stock in 10 Days, Starring Andrew Cashner

Any team looking to acquire starting pitching at this year’s trade deadline is going to have to be prepared to take on some risk in the form of uncertainty. Rich Hill, long viewed as the prize of potentially available arms, is a 36-year-old former journeyman who only started pitching like the kind of arm you’d pay to acquire less than a year ago. Now, he’s recently been scratched from a start due to a blister, left the following the start after five pitches, and is doubtful for his next one. The next-most intriguing option was Drew Pomeranz, who’s been good for an even shorter period than Hill, and comes with potential workload limitations. Even the big names of the market, like Chris Archer and Sonny Gray, come with significant recent performance concerns, and both seem unlikely to be moved regardless.

The entire market being littered with question marks, in a way, makes the individual question marks less concerning. It’s just about choosing your question mark. Someone’s going to choose Andrew Cashner‘s question mark. Take his word for it:

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Projecting the Prospects in the Mike Montgomery Trade

We all knew Dan Vogelbach‘s days in the Cubs’ organization were numbered. His lackluster range limit to first base, and if we’re being serious, even that’s a stretch. He didn’t have a future with the Cubs. Not only do they lack a DH, but they also have more quality hitters than they have lineup spots. A trade was imminent, and the Cubs finally pulled the trigger on Wednesday night, dealing the 23-year-old slugger for unheralded — yet effective — reliever Mike Montgomery and Double-A hurler Paul Blackburn. Triple-A pitcher Jordan Pries also heads to Chicago in the deal.

Dan Vogelbach, 1B, Seattle (Profile)

KATOH Forecast for first six seasons: 2.8 WAR

Vogelbach offers zero defensive value, which means he’ll need to hit a lot to get by in the big leagues. To his credit, however, his exploits in the minors this year suggest he might hit enough to make for a productive DH. He’s slashed a gaudy .318/.425/.548 in Triple-A, and has little left to prove in the minor leagues. KATOH isn’t crazy about Vogelbach on account of his defensive limitations, lack of speed and iffy contact numbers. Vogelbach’s power is excellent, but the other facets of his game threaten to chip away at his value.

Dan Vogelbach’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Mah Dist Name Proj.WAR Actual.WAR
1 4.7 Todd Helton 2.6 33.4
2 6.1 Kevin Witt 1.4 0.0
3 7.7 Mario Valdez 1.5 0.1
4 8.1 Joey Votto 3.6 33.3
5 9.3 Kevin Barker 1.7 0.0
6 10.2 J.T. Snow 2.6 5.0
7 11.8 Eric Karros 2.1 10.2
8 12.2 Nick Johnson 3.6 12.5
9 13.3 Nate Rolison 2.7 0.0
10 14.6 Ron Witmeyer 1.4 0.0

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Confidence, Command, Health, and Lance McCullers

“You’re asking a lot of tough questions,” right-hander Lance McCullers laughed, before adding, “No, you’re good, you’re good.” We were talking about the role of health and confidence in his efforts to improve his command. To his credit, the young Astros flamethrower had stand-up answers, and wasn’t bothered. All of these things are related, and it’s easy to see for him. It’s just a question of getting right.

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MLB Scores Big Win in Minor-League Wage Lawsuit

Last October, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging Major League Baseball’s minor-league pay practices scored an important, albeit preliminary, victory when the court tentatively certified the case as a collective-action lawsuit. As I noted at the time, this meant that rather than have to file individual lawsuits for every player allegedly denied the minimum wage or overtime, current and former minor-league players could instead opt-in to the existing litigation and have their claims against MLB tried together in the existing case (a much more efficient and less costly proposition).

As I also noted at the time, however, this initial victory was potentially short-lived. Under the applicable legal rules, even though the court had preliminarily certified the minor leaguers’ case as a collective action, the court withheld a final judgment on the matter until after the parties had gathered more evidence regarding the extent to which the players’ legal claims were “similarly situated” to one another’s (i.e., whether the work experiences and legal claims of the plaintiffs already named in the lawsuit were roughly equivalent to those of the rest of the players who might join the case).

That additional evidence has now been collected and, on Thursday evening, the judge in the minor-league wage lawsuit ruled that the plaintiffs had failed to show that their cases were similarly situated. Thus, the judge “decertified” the case as a collective action.

This means that the roughly 2,200 current and former minor-league players who had joined the case since October have now been tossed back out of the lawsuit. These players must now instead file their own individual lawsuits against MLB should they wish to seek compensation for their alleged underpayment.

Perhaps more importantly, Thursday’s ruling also dramatically lowers the odds that the existing lawsuit will force MLB to make significant, league-wide changes to its minor-league pay practices. Thus, the decision represents a major victory for the league in the minor-league wage litigation.

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Chris Archer’s Obvious Fit With the Dodgers

For months, people have been anticipating a terrible midseason market for starting pitchers. With the deadline right around the corner, some are offering that this is one of the worst markets in memory, in terms of how little is available. As the theory goes, when markets are this bad, teams selling get to over-charge, taking advantage of the limited supply and excess demand. What happens in reality is that an equilibrium is reached. Teams that might not have been inclined to sell find themselves intrigued by the market, so additional players become available. One such player at present could be Chris Archer.

The Rays have been thinking about selling for a while — they’ve lost way too many games, so rumors have surrounded arms like Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi, and Matt Moore. Archer is better than those guys, and he’s affordable for the next five years. Because of his contract, the Rays should feel no urgency to move him. But then, every pitcher is kind of a short-term acquisition, in a sense, and the market is what it is. Archer would make for a high-profile splash, and I don’t think he’d fit anywhere better than he’d fit with the Dodgers.

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Jed Lowrie Is Completely Different and Exactly the Same

If you’ve been following baseball over the last several seasons, you likely know at least two things about Jed Lowrie. The first is that he’s had some trouble staying on the field for a full season during his career; the second, that he wears a two-flap helmet in a league of men who insist they only need one. A slightly more dedicated fan could probably tell you that Lowrie has played for the Red Sox, Astros, and A’s during his tenure and would probably describe his performance as “fine.”

In his earlier days, Lowrie showed promise as a hitter. More recently, though, he’s settled in as something slightly below league average at the plate. His defense is something of a controversy, with Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) considering him to be a rather poor middle infielder and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) viewing his defense as something much closer to average. The collective eye test probably places him closer to his DRS than his UZR numbers, but there’s plenty of human disagreement as well.

This introduction, perhaps on purpose, paints Lowrie as exactly the kind of player who doesn’t get a lot of attention. Relative to his peers, Lowrie almost seems boring. Yet there’s a case to be made that he’s having one of the most interesting seasons of anyone in baseball.

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Pitcher Contact-Management Update: New Qualifiers

A few weeks back, we took a look at the 2016 contact-management performance of qualifying pitchers in both leagues. Since then, a number of new qualifiers have emerged. Today, we’ll utilize tools such as plate-appearance-outcome frequencies, exit-speed and launch-angle allowed to see how these hurlers have performed in this vital area.

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Now Might Be the Best Time to Trade Evan Longoria

Evan Longoria is the Tampa Bay Rays’ best player in franchise history. That’s not a particularly controversial suggestion: the franchise has only been around for 19 seasons and Longoria has been a mainstay on the team for nearly a decade. His 47 WAR bests Carl Crawford‘s sum with club by 10 wins and, with 25 more games, he will secure the record for games played in a Rays uniform. Longoria is still going strong this season, and he has a reasonable contract. There are a lot of reasons not to trade Evan Longoria, but if the Rays were to consider trading him, now might be the best time.

Deciding to trade a franchise player isn’t an easy decision, and for a team that has a solid fan base — by television ratings, if not by attendance — moving a player like Longoria isn’t an easy choice. If Longoria were a pending free agent, the decision might be simpler. The Rays are 37-57 with no shot at the playoffs, and they’re likely to trade a starting pitcher before the deadline — and could sell more if they the deal were right. The team hasn’t played as bad as their record indicates — and, talent-wise, this is a roughly .500 team in need of a few tweaks for contention. In that light, it makes sense to keep Longoria and make a run next season. After all, he’s still producing.

Longoria has averaged over four wins above replacement over the previous three seasons. This season, at age 30, he’s putting together an excellent season, having recorded a 135 wRC+ and 3.8 WAR. That latter figure, plus his rest-of-season projection, places him in range of a six-win season. Given the year he’s having, he seems like a decent candidate to be projected for at least a four-win season next year. On top of that, Longoria has a team-friendly contract that will pay him just $99 million over the next six years, with $11 million deferred, reducing the cost further.

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The Value of Kyle Schwarber

Ten days from the trade deadline, we usually spend most of our time talking about whatever star player is eligible for free agency at years end, and is on a non-contending team looking to upgrade for the future. David Price, Johnny Cueto, and Yoenis Cespedes last year, for instance. This year, though, that guy doesn’t exist; the big pending free agents on rebuilding teams are guys like Rich Hill and Jay Bruce. And because of the dearth of quality players likely to change teams over the next week and a half, the guy who is generating the most conversation leading up to the deadline is… Kyle Schwarber?

Yes, at this point, the hot name that everyone wants to talk about is an injured 23-year-old catcher/outfielder who won’t be healthy enough to play again until next year. Despite the Cubs best efforts to tamp down rumors, leaks out of New York keep suggesting that Schwarber is the guy the Yankees covet, and given the Cubs well-known interest in Andrew Miller, there appears to be mutual interest in players from both sides, with a stand-off emerging over whether the Cubs should surrender Schwarber in a deal for the game’s best left-handed reliever.

The Cubs continue to insist they aren’t going to do it, seeing the move as shortsighted, giving up too much long-term value for a short-term boost. Their Wednesday night acquisition of Mike Montgomery gives them a quality lefty to stick in their bullpen, and relieves some of the pressure to pay the going price for Miller, though, of course, I’m sure they’d still love to have him. But it seems they’d like to acquire him while retaining Schwarber, preferring to have both on next year’s roster as they make perhaps their final run with Jake Arrieta at the front of their rotation.

But if the Yankees hold fast, and say it’s Schwarber-or-nothing, are the Cubs wisely protecting their future, or passing up an opportunity to increase the odds of bringing Cubs fans their first World Series title since 1908? Well, it all depends on what you think Kyle Schwarber is going to turn into.

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