Yoenis Cespedes’ Name Value Exceeds His Trade Value

The Boston Red Sox have made two of the biggest splashes of the offseason so far by signing Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, and the only thing we know for sure is that they aren’t done. With potentially nine major league outfielders on the roster and a rotation that might currently feature Wally the Green Monster as the second best starting pitcher after the inconsistent Clay Buchholz, it’s clear that a talented-yet-lopsided roster still needs some work.

More than likely, that’s going to mean trading an outfielder. Maybe that will be Allen Craig or Daniel Nava or Jackie Bradley Jr., but the name that keeps popping up in rumors most often is Yoenis Cespedes, with the idea being that he’s be an attractive name and an established big leaguer who can help Boston land a badly needed pitcher. With Ramirez likely landing in left field and the trio of Rusney CastilloMookie Betts and Shane Victorino probably manning center and right, in some combination, Cespedes is now expendable.

Cespedes has name value, and there’s a whole lot of #narrative that says his departure from Oakland is what single-handedly sunk the Athletics’ season, even though we know that’s not actually true. His powerful throwing arm and Home Run Derby exploits could fill up the highlight films. As such, there’s a good chance Cespedes will be traded in the next several weeks. But when you look behind the headlines, what sort of player can another team really expect? And how much talent is that worth in a trade? Read the rest of this entry »

Yasmani Grandal, Catcher You Want To Have

When the Toronto Blue Jays made their somewhat surprising move to add Russell Martin, they didn’t just weaken the free-agent catching market. They decimated it. Sure, you could probably piece together a decent backup from guys like Geovany SotoNick Hundley or David Ross, but there’s no one close to being a full-time starter. Of the remaining free agents, there’s not a single one who’s even projected to manage even a lowly .300 OBP in 2015, according to Steamer projections.

That’s a considerable problem for some of the other teams that were expected to be heavily interested in Martin, like the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers, because their paths forward are less clear now. In Los Angeles, A.J. Ellis is better than his .191 batting average would indicate, but he’s also nearly 34 and coming off several serious leg injuries. The Cubs might need to stick with Welington Castillo, who’s coming off a poor season. The Pirates will replace Martin with a trio of catchers more suited to be backups; the current Rangers starter is 30-year-old Robinson Chirinos, who has less than a full season of major league play under his belt.

It’s not a good time to be looking for a catcher, is the point, and the main trade options being talked about come with questions of their own. (Arizona’s Miguel Montero has had two consecutive bad years and is still owed $40 million; Houston’s Jason Castro followed up a breakout 2013 with an atrocious 2014; Atlanta’s Evan Gattis has excellent raw power but can’t really catch.)

The flip side, of course, is that if you have catching depth, you’re in a favorable position. If you need a catcher, you want to call the San Diego Padres, and you want to ask for Yasmani Grandal. Read the rest of this entry »

Now Is The Time To Trade Johnny Cueto

Back in February in this space, I wrote that the Cincinnati Reds needed to trade Homer Bailey for offensive help sooner rather than later. The reasoning behind that was simple — in 2013, the Reds had finished a middle-of-the-pack 15th in team wRC+, and their disappointing offseason had consisted of watching the very productive Shin-Soo Choo depart while importing only mediocre backups Skip Schumaker and Brayan Pena.

Instead, the Reds signed Bailey to a long-term contract and attempted to get by with what they had, ultimately winning fewer games than they had since 2008. Though it didn’t happen in exactly the way we might have expected — stars Jay Bruce and Joey Votto each had poor years, whileTodd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco carried the load — the offense was indeed a huge anchor, sinking to an 83 wRC+ that wasn’t just the second-worst in Major League Baseball, it was very nearly the worst in the last 50 seasons of Cincinnati baseball.

Nine months later, the Reds are again in a similar position. This team, as constructed, doesn’t look like a playoff contender. There are plenty of holes in the lineup and limited dollars to fix that. Once again, the most appealing Cincinnati trade chip is a top pitcher entering the final year of his contract. This time, the Reds can’t make the same mistake and stand pat. It’s time to trade Johnny Cueto. Read the rest of this entry »

Chase Headley, Potential Free Agent Bargain

Let’s start with a pretty obvious statement: Pablo Sandoval will get paid handsomely this winter.

There’s not much controversy about that remark, of course. Sandoval just put up three consecutive above-average offensive seasons that were nearly identical to one another — his wRC+ numbers were 118, 116 and 111 — and he’s valuable with the glove as well, along with carrying the “playoff-tested” label of having been a part of three World Series-champion San Francisco teams. Considering he just turned 28, it’s realistic to expect similar production from him for at least the next few seasons.
ESPN’s Keith Law suggested recently that Sandoval could get four to five years at $15 million per season, and FanGraphs’ crowdsourcing effort suggested something close to that, at five years for $80 million. Even those seem a little low, really. Either way, someone will pay for Sandoval’s youth and value on both sides of the ball at an important position.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But with Sandoval taking up much of the air in the third-base room, have we forgotten about Chase Headley, this offseason’s other main free-agent third baseman? Headley isn’t the offensive force that Sandoval is, and offense is what gets players paid. But is it really so unreasonable to think he might actually be a better value? Read the rest of this entry »

Who Could Be The Next Wade Davis?

When we talk about the still-controversial 2012 deal that eventually helped the Royals make it to the World Series, it’s generally referred to as “the James Shields trade.” Shields has been a huge contributor to the Royals (Game 1 of the World Series notwithstanding), but it’s easy to forget that he wasn’t the only piece the team got from the Tampa Bay Rays for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and others. The Royals also acquired Wade Davis along with Shields, and Davis has been an enormous piece of the three-headed bullpen monster that has made late-inning comebacks against Kansas City all but impossible.

Davis didn’t start out as a relief star, however. In fact, he didn’t even start out as a reliever. After two mediocre years in the Rays’ rotation, Tampa Bay shifted him to the bullpen, and he responded with a successful 2012 campaign. The Royals put him back into the rotation in 2013, where he was again disappointing, but sent him back to the bullpen this year. It’s a trick the team had pulled last year as well, getting an outstanding relief season from Luke Hochevar after five uninspiring years as a starter. Kansas City’s American League Championship Series opponent, Baltimore, also had three quality relievers in Andrew Miller, Zach Britton and Brian Matusz who had been shifted to the pen after many failed attempts to master a starting gig.

When pitchers are no longer asked to pace themselves for a six- or seven-inning outing, and can instead go all-out in shorter stints, the benefits are obvious. Velocity often increases, as it did for Davis and Britton. An ineffective secondary pitch, such as Miller’s changeup, can be discarded. This isn’t a new idea — even the great Mariano Rivera was once a middling starter — but it’s one that has yielded incredible success in the right situations.

So with that in mind, who might be the next Davis? Let’s identify a few starters, not older than 30, who have struggled in the rotation but remain good candidates to be successful relievers. Obviously, a Clayton Kershaw or David Price would be great in the bullpen as well, but they’re more valuable as starters. We’re looking for someone like Davis, who might not be equipped to help a team in the rotation but could be a lights-out reliever. Read the rest of this entry »

Can The Cardinals Count On Adam Wainwright?

Adam Wainwright is slated to start Game 5 of the National League Championship Series for the Cardinals on Thursday, which would normally be music to the ears of St. Louis fans. Wainwright has been one of the best pitchers in the game for a decade. He is probably on his way to another top-five Cy Young Award finish, and in terms of WAR, he already is one of the five best starters in the storied history of the Cardinals franchise. In fact, if he were to post another typical Wainwright season in 2015, he will jump to No. 2, behind only the legendary Bob Gibson.

But the 2014 postseason hasn’t gone so well for Wainwright. In Game 1 of the NLDS, the Dodgers pounded him for 13 baserunners and six runs in 4 1/3 innings, a performance that was overshadowed by Clayton Kershaw‘s late collapse. In Game 1 of the NLCS, Wainwright allowed nine baserunners over 4 2/3 innings in a game the Cardinals would lose 3-0, the first time in his career he has had back-to-back starts of fewer than five innings.

Two lousy starts against teams good enough to make it to the postseason would generally be considered merely a blip when compared to Wainwright’s long, successful history. But this might be different. Wainwright, who missed all of 2011 after Tommy John surgery and skipped a start in June due to what the Cardinals called tendinitis in his elbow, is on record as saying that his elbow is “not 100 percent,” even telling reporters “my arm doesn’t feel great” after the NLCS loss.

Wainwright is going to start a pivotal game Thursday, and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny is saying all the right things about trusting his ace. But really, how worried should the Cardinals be? Read the rest of this entry »

The Real Problem With The Detroit Bullpen

For the fourth consecutive season, the Detroit Tigers are AL Central champions, but this time around, it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing toward another title. Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera have had down years, at least compared to their previous greatness. Injuries suffered by Jose IglesiasAnibal Sanchez and Alex Avila, along with the trade of Austin Jackson, have tested the team’s depth. The defense hasn’t been a strength, particularly at third base (Nick Castellanos) and right field (Torii Hunter). And shortstop has been a trouble spot all season.

Despite all that, they managed to hold off the Royals by a single game, thanks in large part to the continued excellence from Max Scherzer, surprisingly great years from Rick PorcelloJ.D. Martinez and Victor Martinez, and the acquisition of David Price. But as the Tigers prepare to travel to Baltimore to meet the Orioles in the ALDS on Thursday, one big question hangs over them: When will first-year manager Brad Ausmus‘ seemingly questionable bullpen decisions cost Detroit a playoff game?

That’s an issue that has taken on a life of its own over the past few weeks, as Ausmus has stuck with his season-long plan of Joba Chamberlain in the eighth inning and Joe Nathan in the ninth, despite the consistent struggles of the 39-year-old Nathan and the presence of July trade acquisition Joakim Soria, who was a star closer in Kansas City before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Soria was in the midst of a rebound season with the Rangers when he was traded, and he has appeared in 13 games for the Tigers. Only one of those appearances was a save situation, and even that was just because Nathan was unavailable, having thrown 42 pitches in the previous two days.

Ausmus’ strategies are easy to question. But what never seems to come up is this: The Tigers’ bullpen has generally been awful no matter what Ausmus has done. Maybe the issue is less with the managers’ deployment of the relievers and more with the simple performance of the players in uniform? Read the rest of this entry »

Does Home Field Matter In The Playoffs?

For the teams that have already clinched playoff spots, what’s the most important thing they can do in the last few days of the regular season? Get rested and healthy, sure. Try to line up their pitching rotations if they can, definitely. If they’ve already punched their tickets to the playoffs, then they’ve earned the right to manage their teams with more than the final meaningless regular-season games in mind.

But what about getting home-field advantage? Shouldn’t a team that knows it’s headed to October do everything it can to play as many games at home as possible, in front of its screaming fans, without having to fly, potentially across the country? Getting the best record in the league not only ensures you face the wild-card team, but it gets you home-field advantage throughout the league playoffs. Getting the second-best record at least gets you the advantage over the third-best division winner in the Division Series, plus a chance to play at home in the Championship Series if the wild card pulls a first-round upset.

Objectively, that makes sense, and every team wants it. But is it really worth keeping the pedal to the metal after a playoff spot has been clinched? The numbers say, maybe not that much. Read the rest of this entry »

The Underrated Chris Sale

Chris Sale has absolutely no chance of winning the American League Cy Young Award, and that’s no knock on him. It’s simply an acknowledgement that Felix HernandezJon Lester andCorey Kluber have also been outstanding this year, and they’ll throw about 50 more innings than Sale, considering he missed more than a month early in the season because of a sore left elbow.

Toss in pitchers such as Max ScherzerDavid PriceJames Shields – clearly, there’s no shortage of excellent AL starters these days, even with Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka injured — and Sale might not even finish in the top five. But that is no excuse to allow his sensational season to go under the radar.

Sale isn’t just having a season that easily ranks him among the best pitchers in the league. Even including Wednesday’s rough outing, which finally pushed his ERA over 2.00, he’s having a season that’s nearly as dominant as the unquestioned best pitcher in baseball, the man who very well might win the NL’s MVP award as well as its Cy Young. Chris Sale isn’t doing everything that Clayton Kershaw is doing, but Sale has at least been in the ballpark.

Sale and Kershaw, both lefties, were born almost exactly one year apart — Sale is a year younger — and if you were to compare some of their more important stats, the similarities are a lot closer than you might realize. Read the rest of this entry »

Oakland’s Team Effort Collapse

The Oakland Athletics, universally lauded back in July after making a pair of trades that netted them Jon LesterJeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, are in the midst of one of the biggest late-season collapses in recent history. At one point up by six games in the AL West, the A’s are now down by 10 games to the surging Los Angeles Angels, and after having lost 21 of their past 30 games, they’re suddenly in danger of not even earning a wild-card spot.

What happened here, and why? Well, there are plenty of reasons for the collapse, and we’ll detail them in a second. But were you to ask the general population or certain members of the local media, you’d likely hear that the loss of Yoenis Cespedes, who was traded to Boston for Lester and Jonny Gomes, from the lineup (and outfield) is the main reason, and it’s easy to see why. In the 39 games since the trade, they’ve scored four or more runs just 14 times, 35.9 percent of the time. In the previous 107 games, they did so 67 times, 62.6 percent of the time. That’s an enormous downturn, and since the removal of Cespedes was the major change, it has understandably been the focal point when trying to understand Oakland’s disintegration.

That’s overly simplistic, though, because it’s about so much more than Cespedes. Here’s how the A’s have managed to go from a World Series favorite to a playoff uncertainty. Read the rest of this entry »

Instant Replay Is Worth Having

Braves president John Schuerholz, a member of the instant-replay approval committee, indicated in January that the first year of expanded replay would be a “work in progress,” that this year would be merely “a start” in a three-phase process. His words ring true today, nearly one full season into the experiment. Make no mistake: Replay hasn’t been perfect. The review process often takes too long. Some of the rules haven’t always been clear. And the logistics of actually initiating a replay are clunky and badly in need of a change.

Between those valid issues, a few high-profile mistakes and some pushback from a vocal minority, you might think replay has been more failure than success. But as you slowly walk out to the umpire, wait for your bench coach to give you a thumbs-up to challenge and then have the MLBAM operations center in New York review that opinion, the indisputable result comes back: Replay has been a massive success, and was long overdue. Sure, there are kinks to be worked out, it’s not going away anytime soon, nor should it. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Young Prospect Bats Struggle Early

Early in the 2014 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates were getting criticized from all angles over their treatment of prospect Gregory Polanco. The 22-year-old outfielder carried a .400 average into May for Triple-A Indianapolis, while Travis Snider (82 wRC+ over the first two months) and Jose Tabata (84) struggled in right field for a Pirates club that at one point sank to 9.5 games out in the NL Central.

While Pirates general manager Neal Huntington indicated that he felt Polanco needed more time in Triple-A, the team was accused of being cheap — for reasonably wanting to ensure that they delayed Polanco’s free agency by a year — or overly conservative, watching the division slip away a year after making the playoffs for the first time in two decades. When Polanco finally came up in June and promptly set a Pirates rookie record by collecting at least one hit in each of his first 11 games, it seemed as though perhaps the dissenters had a point.

On Monday, Polanco was optioned back to Triple-A. He’d struggled so badly after his hot start that his wRC+ now sits at 88, 12 percent below league average and barely better than what Snider and Tabata had done. It’s a valuable lesson: No matter what the minor league stat line says, hotshot-prospect hitters often struggle in their first extended look in the majors. So why is that? Read the rest of this entry »

Washington’s Path To The World Series

Even before the Washington Nationals ripped off 10 wins in a row and counting, they were extremely well-positioned to win the NL East, if only due to the lack of competition. The Mets, Phillies and Marlins aren’t serious contenders this season, and the Braves have played losing baseball (50-54) for months since getting off to a 17-7 start. Before their winning streak started, FanGraphs had the Nationals’ odds of winning the division at 92.4 percent. Now it’s 98.2 percent. Barring a calamitous collapse, this race is over.

Of course, the Nationals don’t have their goals set simply on a division title. After bowing out in the first round of the 2012 playoffs and missing October entirely in 2013, their mandate is to win the World Series — and it might be the best-positioned National League team to get there. Here’s why. Read the rest of this entry »

Hanley Ramirez Should Play Third

Hanley Ramirez will be activated from the disabled list in a week, which means the Los Angeles Dodgers have a big decision to make. While the Dodgers are likely to cruise into the postseason, they haven’t exactly locked down the division just yet. To do so, and then get to the Fall Classic, the team will need to keep Ramirez healthy. And that leads to the question: Which position should he be playing? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons for putting Ramirez at shortstop or third base.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Wild, Messy NL MVP Race

By just about any measure you care to use, Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has been the best player in the National League this year. Before he dropped off the leaderboards earlier this week, he was leading the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. You can say “yeah, but Coors Field …” because those stats are not park-adjusted, but wRC+ is, and his 173 mark was still the best. Add in some very good defense at an important position, and Tulowitzki was worth every bit of the league-leading 5.1 WAR that FanGraphs has him down for.

You’d think that such credentials would make him an easy MVP leader, but it isn’t going to happen. Even if a disappointingly high percentage of voters didn’t still cling to the outdated notion that MVPs can come only from winning teams — the Rockies are, of course, awful again this year — the recent news of Tulowitzki’s season-ending hip surgery essentially ends his candidacy.

Now our attention turns to the other MVP options in the NL, and you realize … wow, what a mess. Five of last year’s top eight NL vote-getters are either on the disabled list right now or have spent considerable time there this year. Between the fact that there are 11 non-Tulo players who already are worth more than 4.0 WAR, and the fact that almost all of them have some sort of perceived issue that can easily be pointed to, the 2014 NL MVP race may end up being the most debated — and fractured — we’ve seen in years, especially when compared to the AL, which has a pretty clear-cut favorite in Mike Trout.

With about six weeks left before votes are due, who will pull away? Can anyone? Let’s have a look: Read the rest of this entry »

The Curse Of The Unnecessary Contract Extension

When the Phillies gave first baseman Ryan Howard a five-year extension worth $125 million in April 2010, the deal was roundly ridiculed throughout baseball. Howard was a one-tool player, and older than most people realized — thanks to the presence of Jim Thome in Philly, his first stint as a full-time major leaguer came at 26. By the time GM Ruben Amaro Jr. gave him that suspect extension, Howard was already 30 years old.

Making matters worse, the deal didn’t even start immediately; instead, it was tacked on to the end of his contract. Starting in 2012, or almost two full seasons after it was signed, Howard’s new contract would run through the 2016 season, just shy of his 37th birthday.

If two seasons doesn’t seem like that long, think about what Major League Baseball looked like exactly two years ago. At this time in 2012, David Wright was coming off a monster first half, and Chase Headley was in the midst of a monster stretch run; both third basemen were arguably among the top five players in the game. Over in the American League, Derek Jeter was on his way to leading the majors in hits. Justin Verlander was a year removed from being the league MVP and Cy Young winner. Nobody had ever heard of Yasiel Puig. The Houston Astros were still in the National League.

In baseball, a lot can change in a short period of time.

Read the rest of this entry »

Four Young Pitchers Showing They Belong

Not all great pitchers are picked at the top of the draft, like Clayton Kershaw or David Price, or imported expensively from overseas, like Masahiro Tanaka or Yu Darvish. As we all know, young, quality arms often sneak up on us, emerging from under the radar to provide an unexpected boost.

For these four young pitchers, there’s hope that what they’ve shown in 2014 is just the start of things to come — that soon, despite fairly modest pedigrees, they could prove to be an irreplaceable part of a big league roster for years to come. Read the rest of this entry »

Royals Most Likely To Make A Mistake

As we enter the final week before the July 31 trade deadline, it’s a fun diversion to try to figure out who ought to be “sellers” and who ought to be “buyers.” But in the world of two wild cards per league, that’s not as easy a distinction as it used to be. These days, some teams wind up not really belonging in either category.

Still, we can look at the current FanGraphs playoff odds and split baseball pretty evenly in half to get a good idea of who should be doing what.

Fifteen teams have at least a 25 percent chance of making it to the playoffs, or in the case of theNew York Yankees, are within one game of a playoff spot. Everyone else is looking at odds that are less than 15 percent, and while mathematically generated odds don’t automatically rule out a late run, a low probability isn’t exactly a reason to dive into the trade market looking for help.

Most of those bottom-feeding clubs have no uncertainty about where they are, of course. Teams like the San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers have known for a while now that 2014 won’t be their year. Others, such as the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets and Minnesota Twins have begrudgingly accepted that they won’t be playing in October. These teams might not outright be sellers, but they aren’t going to give up the future for this year, either. That is, except for one team, a team that looks increasingly unlikely to make a run but seems hell-bent on making the wrong decision anyway: the Kansas City Royals. Read the rest of this entry »

How Garrett Richards Became A Star

It’s pretty easy to argue the Oakland Athletics are the best team in baseball, and maybe they are. After all, they do have the most wins, the best run differential and a rotation recently reinforced by Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. They could be headed for their third consecutive AL West title.

But don’t count out those Los Angeles Angels, who quietly won 10 of 11 games heading into the break. They find themselves just a game and a half behind the A’s and are no doubt thinking about earning more than just a wild-card spot.

So how did the Angels get to this position after finishing 18 games out the past season? Well,Mike Trout has solidified his position as the no-doubt best player in the game, but he was this great in 2012 and 2013 too, and it didn’t get the Angels to October. Rebounds by Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton from disappointing 2013 seasons have helped of course, as has cutting out dozens of lousy starts from the 2013 group of Tommy HansonJoe Blanton and Jerome Williams.

But those improvements were countered somewhat by steps back and injury concerns from the veteran duo at the front of the rotation, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. Rather, the biggest reason the Angels are 20 games over .500 at this point because of the emergence of a 26-year-old who can rightfully be thought of as the staff’s ace: Garrett Richards. Read the rest of this entry »

What Happened to Cards’ Offense?

The St. Louis Cardinals stormed their way to the NL Central title (and then the World Series) last season, and the popular thinking was that it was largely on the strength of their talented young pitching, with Shelby MillerMichael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal joining the consistently excellent veteran leader Adam Wainwright. To a certain extent, that was true, because only four teams allowed fewer runs than the Cardinals did, and despite injuries to Wacha, Joe Kelly and Jaime Garcia, the pitching has again been good in 2014. In fact, no starting rotation in baseball has allowed fewer runs.

Yet something isn’t quite the same. After winning the most games in the National League last year, the Cardinals have been stuck in second place in the NL Central behind the Milwaukee Brewers all season and sit on the precipice of the second wild-card spot. It’s not that being eight games over .500 is a problem, of course, but this year’s Cardinals team is not in the driver’s seat as it was last year.

And why aren’t they? Well, last year’s team scored the most runs in the National League, and the third-most in baseball. The 2014 version has outscored only the whiff-happy Atlanta Braves and the historically awful San Diego Padres, and they’ve hit fewer home runs than any team in the league. What caused this scoring outage, and more importantly, can it be fixed? Read the rest of this entry »