Author Archive

Yankees Hope They Acquired “Road” Ichiro

The Yankees have acquired Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners in exchange for pitching prospects D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar. The Mariners are also paying approximately $4.5 million of the $6.7 million remaining on Ichiro’s contract, leaving the Yankees responsible for a fairly modest $2.25 million.

According to Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln, Ichiro had approached the club requesting a trade, reasoning that the Mariners are building for the future and it was best for the team if younger players were given more playing time.

Ichiro has also become a shell of his former self, posting a .289 wOBA last season and a .281 wOBA this year, both of which rank near the league’s bottom. Since the start of last season, only Cliff Pennington, Casey McGehee and Gordon Beckham have produced lower wOBAs. Trading him must have been very difficult, but it was much easier to justify, and downright responsible, from a production standpoint.

While Safeco Field clearly has a hand in his decline, he is simply nowhere near the same player fans are accustomed to seeing. He isn’t an everyday player anymore, but it would have been tough for the Mariners to play him sporadically given his importance to the team and the community. The Yankees don’t need him to be anything more than a part-time platoon player to make this deal work out, and for Ichiro, the realization that his days as a full-time starter are done is likely easier to stomach on a playoff contender.

While it’s somewhat shocking that the Mariners dealt their franchise player — especially since most signs pointed towards his retention next season — what he could potentially provide his new club is rather intriguing. In the appropriate role and under the right circumstances, he could really benefit the Yankees down the stretch.

Simply by not playing the majority of his games at Safeco Field, which has absolutely crushed BABIP and offense in general this season, Ichiro figures to improve his seasonal line. If his numbers at the plate with the Yankees resemble his current road numbers, and his terrific fielding persists, the Yankees won’t think twice about the money they’ll spend or the prospects they dealt. If they just acquired “Road” Ichiro, this is a darned good deal that bolsters depth in an important area.

Read the rest of this entry »


Quentin Stays in San Diego

The Padres aren’t going anywhere this season but that doesn’t automatically qualify the 41-56 club as deadline sellers. While Carlos Quentin, Chase Headley and Huston Street have attracted plenty of attention on the trade market, general manager Josh Byrnes has approached the deadline in a rather conservative manner. With a new ownership group set to take over, it remained unclear if the team would look to trade most of its valuable assets to help expedite the rebuilding process.

Their plan started to take shape this weekend, when the Padres signed Quentin to a three-year, $27 million contract extension that keeps him in his hometown until at least 2015. The team has also reportedly shifted its focus towards retaining Street, and rumors surrounding Headley have quieted. It may seem strange for a team like the Padres to keep these types of players around instead of acquiring prospects, but especially in Quentin’s case, this new deal has the potential to help the Padres get more competitive without really breaking the bank.

The Padres undoubtedly could have brought something back for Quentin, his .392 wOBA and 1.7 WAR, but signing him now could have more significant implications for the team’s future. This signing could signal that the Padres will increase payroll next year and look to bring in more talented players via trade or free agency. In isolation, the deal looks like it should basically break-even, without truly benefiting one party more than the other. But under the context of what it could mean for the team moving forward, it’s far more important of a move.

Read the rest of this entry »


Managing Strasburg’s Second Half

The Washington Nationals entered the 2012 season with a plan to limit Stephen Strasburg‘s activity. Since the flamethrowing ace recently underwent Tommy John Surgery, this was a medical decision designed to work him back into shape without overexertion. The team never announced a specific activity threshold, but it was generally believed to be around 160 innings, or the normal equivalency in total pitches thrown.

The Nationals followed a similar plan with Jordan Zimmermann last year, shutting him down after 161.1 innings. The obvious difference between this year and last year is that the Nationals are now legitimate playoff contenders.

Last season, the Nationals were fighting to reach .500, so losing Zimmermann after an August 28 start wasn’t as huge of a deal. This year, the Nationals have a great chance to make the playoffs, but their odds of succeeding in the postseason are clearly reduced if the starting rotation lacks its best pitcher.

Seeing as Strasburg has already thrown 100 innings this season — 99 in the regular season and his one inning all-star game appearance — it’s making for quite the interesting dilemma. General Manager Mike Rizzo was adamant that the team would stick to the plan no matter how well it was playing. Given Rizzo’s word, what’s important for the Nationals now isn’t figuring out how to manipulate Strasburg’s starts to keep him pitching into September and October. Instead, with the trade deadline fast approaching, they need to figure out who is going to replace him to increase their odds of making, and succeeding in, the playoffs.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Marlins Have No All-Stars

The Miami Marlins spent a pretty penny this offseason, signing free agents Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell to help generate interest in the team and its new stadium. With several strong pieces in place before these lucrative deals were doled out, the Marlins figured to vie for playoff contention. Best laid plans haven’t come to fruition, as at 41-44, the Marlins have been very disappointing. It’s a perfect metaphor of their season that they won’t be represented at this week’s all-star game.

Giancarlo Stanton was initially tabbed as the only Marlins all-star, and his selection was deserving. Stanton has a .392 wOBA on top of solid fielding marks and is currently on pace to finish with 37 home runs and 5.7 WAR, both clear career bests. Though he was the only player chosen from his team, this was not a token selection by Tony La Russa. Stanton ranks 14th in the National League in WAR, and would certainly stands out as someone wanted for a team in a game that determines home field advantage in the World Series.

But, once again, the uncertainty surrounding the true purpose of the all-star game is rearing its ugly head. Stanton got hurt, was removed from both the home run derby and the game itself, and La Russa and MLB opted against adding another Marlins player. From the standpoint of putting the best product on the field in order to win an important game, the decision makes some sense. However, the game itself hasn’t changed all that much after the home field stipulation was added and under the current rules it seems strange not to add a replacement.

Read the rest of this entry »


Kimbrel’s Historic Pace

Craig Kimbrel is really freakin’ good. While his blown save in the final game of the 2011 season gave him a bit more fame for the wrong reasons, Kimbrel has been downright tremendous in his young career. He has only gotten better this season, and at just 24 years old, still stands to improve a bit. Improvements beyond his current performance would make for one scary closer against whom almost nobody would reach base.

Kimbrel has now logged 126.2 innings in his career, and has the following marks: 1.71 ERA, 1.46 FIP, 15.3 K/9, 42.7% K/PA, 45.4% groundball rate. He has an 83.5% strand rate, a .157 opponents average and a 1.01 WHIP, even with a relatively high walk rate. But he’s getting better in that area as well, as his walk rate has decreased each year: from 18.2% to 10.5% down to his current 9.1% mark.

Whether we’re looking at the career numbers of all relievers in the history of baseball, or pitchers through their first three or four seasons, Kimbrel ranks ahead of everyone in most important categories. This is only his third season — and second full year — in the majors, but he is off to a historic start. It wouldn’t be out of line to suggest that, through three years and 120+ innings, Kimbrel has the best numbers of anyone ever.

Read the rest of this entry »


Jose Bautista’s Strange Season

Jose Bautista is once again performing at a very high level after a slow start to the season. He has produced 2.4 WAR in 72 games, and ranks 11th in the American League with a .381 wOBA. He is tied for the league lead with 23 home runs and is currently on pace to pass the 40 HR plateau for the third straight year. Despite his homer-happy ways, however, Bautista only ranks ninth in the league in slugging percentage at .533.

The major culprit is his batting average on balls in play. At a ridiculously low .201, Bautista has not had much success turning balls in play into hits. A greater percentage of his hits are home runs, which are excluded from the BABIP calculation, and his rate of singles and doubles is below the norm. In other words, while a .381 wOBA is fine for anyone to hang his head on, Bautista has actually been held back this season.

It seems strange for someone to produce so effectively with such a low BABIP, which got me thinking: has anyone ever finished a season with a wOBA as strong as Bautista’s current .381 mark with as extremely suppressed a batting average on balls in play?

Read the rest of this entry »


The Pirates and Contextual Improvements

The Pittsburgh Pirates are 36-32, two games back in their division and one game behind the Mets or Giants for the second wild card spot. The last time the Pirates were playing this well was July 25, 2011, after James McDonald pitched very well in a road game against the Braves. The next night, the Pirates lost the infamous 19-inning contest and were never the same again. They won 19 of their final 61 games and finished 72-90.

Losing that particular game wasn’t the real reason the team floundered down the stretch. Their pitching was solid but the offense was relatively inept. Some pitchers regressed after performing above their heads, but the offense never improved. It wasn’t a talented enough core, and their prized deadline acquisition — Derrek Lee — got hurt after five games and essentially missed a month. His gaudy .337/.398/.584 slash line with the Pirates was misleading, as he returned to action after the team was clearly out of the race.

Ryan Ludwick didn’t help matters either, as he sputtered after joining the team. However, despite my inclinations at the time, the Pirates were smart to look for players like Lee and Ludwick. While those players are perceived as marginal upgrades if used in specific roles for most offenses, the Pirates didn’t have most offenses. These players weren’t costly and potentially represented significant improvements to the Pirates situation.

Seeing as they are approaching similar territory this year, the team has another important decision to make: go for broke and trade valuable prospects for impact major league talent, or look for this year’s version of Lee and Ludwick.

Read the rest of this entry »


Jeremy Guthrie Bucks the Trend

The Colorado Rockies starting rotation has been awful at preventing runs this season. Their collective 6.31 ERA and 5.15 FIP are easily National League worsts, and their walk and home run rates rank at or near the bottom as well. Pitching in Coors Field plays a big part in their performance — as their much improved 4.32 SIERA and 4.44 xFIP indicate — but overall, starting pitching has been a major weakness for the disappointing 25-41 Rockies.

That doesn’t say very much for Jeremy Guthrie, who has pitched so poorly in a poor rotation that he is being moved to the bullpen. The season has been nightmarish for the usually steady 33-year old starter. His strikeout rate has dropped from around 14% to 10%. His walk rate has risen from 6.5% to 8%. His home run rate has ballooned by an entire home run per nine innings. He has managed just 59 innings over 11 starts, with an ugly 7.02 ERA, 6.72 FIP and 5.09 SIERA.

The season isn’t yet halfway over so this could all just be an extended slump bound to regress. It could also be a combination of general aging and pitching in a tougher park. However, as it currently stands, Guthrie moved to the easier league, and out of baseball’s toughest division, and has declined in literally every area. Believe it or not, this is fairly rare throughout major league history.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Nationals’ Second Ace

Zack Greinke has been the most valuable National League pitcher this season, tallying 3 WAR over 13 starts. Not too far behind him is a pair of Washington Nationals starters who have each made one fewer start: Gio Gonzalez ranks second with 2.7 WAR and Stephen Strasburg comes in third with 2.6 WAR. At this point in the season the 0.3 wins separating Greinke and Gonzalez isn’t significant, nor is the more minute differential between Strasburg and his southpaw teammate.

But the fact that Gonzalez is even in the same discussion as a former Cy Young Award winner and a phenom living up to the hype bears notice. Entering the season, the 26-year old Gonzalez was considered a good pitcher, one who could easily miss bats but who struggled with control and was prone to racking up walks. He wasn’t projected to pitch at an all-star or award-worthy level, but the Nationals saw something they loved and offered, at signing, the largest-ever contract for a first-time arbitration-eligible pitcher.

His five-year, $42 million deal, which includes a $12 million club option in 2017 and a $12 million player option in 2018, stood to buy out the most effective years of what we typically consider a #2 or #3 starter. The deal offered some savings at the end if Gonzalez turned into an ace, but would still prove worthwhile if he sustained the 3-3.5 WAR performance he established over 2010-11.

If Gonzalez can sustain his current level of performance, or some semblance of it, the Nationals are going to have a legitimate second ace in the rotation and a potential #1 starter signed to a fairly modest deal throughout his prime.

Can Gonzalez keep rolling through the National League at this pace? While there are a couple of reasons to think some of his numbers will regress to the mean, there is also ample evidence to suggest he has made long-lasting improvements and isn’t simply a posterchild for switching to the easier league.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Phillies As Sellers

The Philadelphia Phillies aren’t accustomed to hovering around the .500 mark, let alone falling on the wrong side of it. Winners of five straight division titles, the team and its core members are used to playing solid baseball and firming up grasps on playoff berths. Throughout this recent run of success, the front office has used the trade deadline to bolster the roster, fix a glaring weakness, or just strengthen an area not previously considered an outright strength. All the while there was never substantial doubt that they would contend.

The situation may play out differently this season, as the Phillies are now 29-33, four games under .500, and eight games behind the first-place Washington Nationals.

While their struggles were somewhat predictable given the extended absences of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard — which were known before the season — and the in-season injuries to Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Vance Worley, Carlos Ruiz, Jim Thome and Laynce Nix, the fact remains that the team isn’t playing good baseball and doesn’t really seem primed to right the ship.

With a number of roster decisions on the horizon, their play of late has raised questions about when the team should legitimately consider selling off assets in an attempt to replenish a depleted farm system and regroup for next year. Seeing that they are eight games behind the Nationals and 6.5 games behind the second wild card team, that time may be fast approaching.

Read the rest of this entry »


Rebuilding the Astros

The Houston Astros are far from the worst team in baseball this season, but their ability to seriously contend in the near future is largely based upon the rebuilding effort that was fully implemented the moment Jeff Luhnow took over. Luhnow inherited a team with a poor farm system — ranked #27 by Marc Hulet — that was high on right-handed pitching and nearly devoid of high-ceiling bats.

He also walked into a sub-par major league situation, with a strange mix of pricey veterans and underwhelming youngsters. There were bright spots in both the major and minor leagues, but Luhnow took the job knowing very well that the organization was more than a mere move or two away from turning things around.

Luckily, he brought with him a strong reputation for building from within. The Astros finally started the rebuilding process last season under Ed Wade by trading Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence, and entered this past offseason with long-term goals that took precedent over short-term — and short-lived — success.

The organization was interested in a solution, not a band-aid, and ownership seemed more than willing to experience losing seasons if management did everything in its power to essentially hit the reset button. With one-third of the season in the books, the Astros are getting closer to the point where decisions need to be made and actions taken with respect to several rostered players whose departures could aid and potentially expedite the rebuilding process.

Read the rest of this entry »


Moyer’s Career Crossroads

The Rockies designated Jamie Moyer for assignment this week, likely spelling the end of his short run in Colorado. A year removed from undergoing Tommy John surgery, Moyer showed some positive signs over his 10 starts with the Rockies, but the team was discouraged with the overall results and opted to head in a different direction.

While the designation for assignment doesn’t preclude the team from hanging onto the player, it seems unlikely that the end result here involves the 49-year old Moyer pitching for a Rockies’ minor league affiliate.

Whether he is viewed as more of a novelty than an asset — and at this point in his career it’s hard to view him as a significant contributor — Moyer will probably receive some interest throughout the league. He might not get to start many more games, but some team will take a low-risk flier on him in some capacity if he decides to keep pitching.

While getting cut by a 21-29 team currently 10.5 games out of first place might signal it’s time to hang up the cleats, Moyer may still have something left to offer whichever team brings him aboard.

Read the rest of this entry »


Diamondbacks Extend Miguel Montero

The Diamondbacks signed Miguel Montero to a five-year, $60 million extension over the weekend. The richest deal in Diamondbacks franchise history effectively keeps Montero in Arizona for the rest of his prime. It also ensures that the team has a very good player at an important position locked up at a fairly reasonable price.

Set to hit free agency after the season, the 28-year old Montero would have been the best full-time catcher on the market. Considering that Mike Napoli isn’t really an everyday backstop, that Yadier Molina signed a contract extension in March, and that the likes of David Ross, Yorvit Torrealba and Ronny Paulino are backups, Montero really wasn’t going to have much trouble signing a lucrative deal. The Diamondbacks were clearly interested in keeping Montero around, and both sides had engaged in negotiations since the offseason began. The contract extension was more a matter of when, than if, and no timeline was set by which a deal had to get done.

The deal will pay Montero $10 million in both 2013 and 2014, $12 million in 2015, and $14 million in both 2016 and 2017. The contract doesn’t seem to include any player or club options and lacks no-trade protection. Overall, this is a great deal for Montero, who gets long-term security at his approximate market value.

The deal makes plenty of sense for the Diamondbacks as well, but how much so depends on Montero’s ability to remain a catcher through his age-33 season and if he can sustain some semblance of last year’s production.

Read the rest of this entry »


Orioles Should Aggressively Pursue Oswalt

Roy Oswalt is getting closer to signing a contract, and while his reported preference is to pitch for one of the Rangers, Cardinals or Braves, the surprising first-place Orioles are quickly emerging as a dark horse candidate for his services. The Orioles may have lost a recent waiver claim to the Rangers based on their better record — which is still strange to type — but an aggressive pursuit of Oswalt, with a relatively lofty salary for three months, may pry him away from the Rangers, the current favorites in his sweepstakes.

The Orioles have been diligent in their pursuit to date, with Dan Duquette avoiding the topic or speaking in generalities when Oswalt is mentioned. Though he may not want to reveal his hand, the club has to have interest in Oswalt on some level.

Pitching is one of their biggest needs — despite relatively strong performance early on — and he is the perfect type of pitcher for the Orioles to pursue: he won’t cost a ton for half of a season, won’t require a commitment beyond this season, and is frankly better than some currently staffed rotation members.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Secrecy Surrounding Howard’s Progress

The Phillies knew their slugging first baseman would miss some time when he fell to the ground on the last play of their 2011 Division Series with the Cardinals. Without any setbacks, his ruptured Achilles tendon would keep him sidelined through April. While recovering from surgery, he suffered an infection near the tendon that was serious enough itself to require surgery. The setback made his May return unlikely and gave him another roadblock to clear before being allowed to rehab.

His rehab got underway two weeks ago, and that’s all anyone knows right now.

There haven’t been any updates about his progress or lack thereof. We know that Howard is physically in Clearwater, Florida, working out at the Phillies training facility, but that’s it. Nobody knows what type of work he is putting in, when he might start playing in rehab games, or any sense of when he might return to the major leagues. Apparently, that is by design, since the organization is going to great lengths to prevent reporters from watching or talking to Howard.

Read the rest of this entry »


Werth’s Injury Will Keep Harper Around

The 18-10 Nationals remain in first place after taking two of three from the Phillies over the weekend, but their seasonal outlook significantly worsened when Jayson Werth left Sunday night’s game with a wrist injury.

Werth slid to make a catch on Placido Polanco‘s blooper in the sixth inning. While it appeared that he made the catch, the ball fell out of his glove as his wrist awkwardly bent backward. A few minutes later, Werth was replaced by Xavier Nady, and after the game it was reported that he broke his left wrist.

At a minimum, Werth will miss six weeks. He joins Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche as valuable Nationals out of action. The injury also ensures that Bryce Harper won’t get sent back down to the minors once some of the injured players return. Regardless, losing Werth clearly hurts the Nationals outfield, and opens up another hole in the lineup they may not be able to fill internally.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Dodgers Are Leaving Runs on the Table

The Dodgers have been the talk of the baseball world this season, with the $2 billion sale of the organization and their league-best 17-8 record. However, as well as the team has played, they actually stand to improve their offense with a simple lineup tweak: Move Dee Gordon in front of the pitcher and bat A.J. Ellis near the top of the lineup.

By batting him eighth, the Dodgers are not optimally utilizing Ellis’s on-base proficiency.

Sure, some of his ability to draw walks so far is tied to his lineup spot. He’s a patient hitter regardless of where he bats — but batters in that position tend to get intentionally walked or unintentionally-intentionally walked more often than those in other spots. Even so, the difference in on base percentage between Ellis and Gordon is still substantial after accounting for those lineup effects.

The Dodgers are leaving runs on the table by batting an OBP-sinkhole in front of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that their eighth hitter has a .449 OBP and projects to finish at around .390.

While the overall effects of lineup optimization are negligible over the course of the season, effectively swapping Ellis and Gordon will help increase their scoring output and stave off some offensive dropoff when Kemp and Ethier regress.

Read the rest of this entry »


Red Sox Should Recall Cook For Some Relief

The Red Sox have to decide toda whether or not to call up Aaron Cook from Pawtucket. The former Rockies starter signed a non-guaranteed, minor league deal with the Red Sox this offseason, but negotiated in an opt-out clause. The clause offered the 33-year old Cook some form of a guarantee on a non-guaranteed deal: if he wasn’t on the major league roster by May 1, he could elect free agency and latch on with another team willing to give him a better opportunity.

With the deadline fast approaching, the decision is really a no-brainer that the Red Sox should call him up. He hasn’t exactly been tearing up the International League, but he has done what he always does: limit walks and keep the ball on the ground. If healthy after two straight injury-plagued campaigns, he could be a big boon to the Red Sox pitching staff.

However, his real benefit to the Red Sox right now is as a reliever. Nowhere in his contract does it stipulate that the May 1 call-up must automatically push him into the rotation, and the Red Sox could best utilize his elite groundballing status as a means of helping to stabilize a messy relief corps.

Read the rest of this entry »


Poor Big Pelf Heads For Surgery

Mike Pelfrey‘s season is over after just three starts. The 28-year old righty is set to undergo Tommy John Surgery and will miss the rest of the 2012 season.

While all injuries are untimely, this one seemed especially so, as Pelfrey was finally starting to show signs of improving and turning the corner. Through three starts — an admittedly minuscule sample — the results were encouraging. However, more importantly, the inputs leading to those outputs were different, leading many to believe he had altered his approach to better fit his skills.

Unfortunately, for both he and the team, Pelfrey might never get to show the Mets if he finally has turned the corner. Next year is his final year of arbitration eligibility and it’s unlikely that the Mets will tender him a contract. Pelfrey will earn $5.7 million this season and his salary would only increase next season.

Given the uncertainties surrounding his eventual recovery, immediate post-surgery abilities, as well as his past track record of success (or lack thereof), it doesn’t seem very prudent for the Mets to pay him upwards of $6.5-$7 million.

Read the rest of this entry »


Free Dontrelle Willis… Literally

Matt Sosnick feels very strongly about the situation his client, Dontrelle Willis, currently finds himself in. Per Jerry Crasnick’s post on the Willis-Orioles drama at ESPN.com:

“I can’t imagine making this kind of deal over something so trivial. We’re talking about a minor league player that Baltimore has relatively no financial investment in whatsoever. It’s the dumbest thing ever and a waste of everybody’s time. Dan has had a thousand chances to ratchet this down a notch, and all he’s done is ratchet it up.” – Matt Sosnick

Sosnick is referring to the Orioles recent transaction placing Willis on the restricted list. The move prevents Willis from signing with another team, even though he supposedly left the organization with the blessing of team officials. Instead, what appears to have happened is that those same officials relayed their recommendations to GM Dan Duquette, who instead placed Willis on the list generally reserved for players who have left the organization, but in whom the team still has interest.

Which means that Willis left the team under the impression that everything was fine, only to find out on the news — according to Sosnick — that he was placed on the restricted list.

While both sides technically have a case here, Sosnick is correct in that this is all much ado about nothing. Dontrelle Willis, quite simply, isn’t worth any of this hullabaloo, and it’s hard to see why the Orioles haven’t just released him. Now that Willis has filed a grievance on the matter, this unnecessary situation is set to get even more out of hand.

Read the rest of this entry »