Archive for March, 2014

Five Teams Benefiting From Injuries

Congratulations! If you’re a major leaguer and you survived spring training, you’re already doing a whole lot better than a number of your peers. From the near-endless run of pitching injuries — sorry, Brandon BeachyPatrick CorbinDerek HollandKris MedlenJarrod ParkerBruce Rondon and others — to Jurickson Profar’s torn shoulder muscle to Jose Iglesias’ stress fractures and on and on, this year’s spring has been a meat grinder, and the domestic season hasn’t even started yet.

With injuries to valuable players comes an inevitable impact on pennant races, particularly when some of those teams have realized that their backup alternatives are far from adequate.

Today, we count down five teams who are in better shape now than they were even a few weeks ago, if for no other reason than that their rivals for October have been slowed. Read the rest of this entry »

Suggesting Some March Trades

With a week to go before Opening Day, several contenders still have glaring weaknesses that can and should be addressed via trade. Today, let’s look at a few deals that should get done before the season gets underway.

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Longoria Still A Great Bargain

Value in baseball is relative. Robinson Cano, for example, is expected to contribute plenty of on-field value to the Seattle Mariners, but they’re paying for every bit of it (and then some) thanks to his $240 million contract. True value comes when teams can get contributions from players that exceed the salaries the player is earning, such as Mike Trout’s making approximately $1 million total in his first two years total despite being the game’s best player in each of those seasons.

But Trout is an outlier, and the Angels’ insanely beneficial cost/benefit position is about to change as he moves out of his cost-controlled years and into either wildly expensive arbitration years or a massive long-term contract. The Angels will still get his production, they’ll just very soon be paying him considerably more to do so. If we’re searching for the true king of excess value, we need an elite player who not only has been already been underpaid relative to his production, but one who is signed to a deal that will likely continue to underpay him for years to come. Read the rest of this entry »

The Phillies Upcoming Firesale

A year ago, the Philadelphia Phillies won 73 games. A year ago, the Phillies had the oldest team in the National League. This is generally not a great combination, as old and bad rarely reverts to old and good, and based solely on those two pieces of information, rebuilding might have been in order for the franchise. Instead, Ruben Amaro doubled down on veterans this winter, signing a 37 year old hurler (A.J. Burnett), a couple of 36 year old catchers (Carlos Ruiz and Wil Nieves), a 36 year old outfielder (Marlon Byrd), and a 33 year old starting pitcher (Roberto Hernandez). The Phillies doubled down on experience and are hoping that last year’s struggles were simply an aberration and not Father Time’s influence taking over.

It’s probably not going to work. The FanGraphs Playoff Odds page currently forecasts the Phillies for 77 wins, 11 games behind the Nationals in the NL East and six games behind the Giants for the second wild card spot. And it isn’t just the forecast distance, but also the quantity of teams that they would have to leap over to get back to the postseason; the Pirates, Reds, Diamondbacks, Padres, and Rockies are all in line behind the Giants and ahead of the Phillies. Their calculated 5.3% chance of winning their division is 10th highest in the National League, and their 6.7% chance of making the Wild Card game ranks only 11th highest in the NL. Added together, only the Brewers, Mets, Marlins, and Cubs come out as less likely playoff contenders according to our forecasts.

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The Most Exciting Young Rotation In Baseball

Imagine this: You’re a 2013 playoff team coming off a huge turnaround from a poor 2012 season. You accomplished this largely due to a pitching staff that allowed 183 fewer runs to score than the year before. When the offseason comes, 40 percent of the rotation departs via free agency. To replace them and support a good offense that hopes to contend in 2014, you do … nothing.

If that sounds crazy, well, maybe it is. But that’s the path the Cleveland Indians have chosen to take this year. Instead, they are going to entrust their playoff hopes to a starting rotation made up entirely of internal options in their 20s, several of whom many fans would have difficulty naming were they spotted half the letters in their names.

Maybe that works out, and maybe it doesn’t. Either way, Cleveland is counting on its own young talent, which is generally preferable to gambling on the low-upside Jason Vargases and Edinson Volquezes of the world. The end result is a rotation that might have one of the highest variances in possible outcomes between “great” and “terrible” of any playoff contender, and though they might not be the best in the game or even their own division, that makes them among the most intriguing.

That makes them, if we can use a word too rarely used in the game today, fun.

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10 best ‘changes of scenery’

As we look to a new year, we also look to those players getting fresh starts. Some have a new team to thank for their fresh starts, others a change in position or role. But no matter the circumstances, there are plenty of players who are approaching this season with a renewed sense of optimism. Prince Fielder and Mark Trumbo are obvious choices, but let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?
Here are 10 players who will benefit the most from some sort of change of scenery.

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The Tigers are the Team to Beat

The 2014 Detroit Tigers aren’t going to look much like the the last few Tigers teams. Despite making it to the ALCS in each of the last two years, the Tigers spent the off-season overhauling their roster, and they lost some pretty good players in their makeover. Gone are Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta, Omar Infante, Doug Fister, and Joaquin Benoit, a group that combined for +16.1 WAR a year ago. No team in baseball saw a larger exodus of talent over the off-season than Detroit, and it might be easy to think that the Tigers took a step back this winter.

Don’t believe it, though. According to our calculations, they very well may head into Opening Day as the favorites to Win the World Series.

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Indians should go with Lindor

The Cleveland Indians enter spring training with a classic situation of an incumbent player being pushed by a top prospect. Asdrubal Cabrera is a former All-Star who has been the team’s starting shortstop for the past five seasons. Francisco Lindor is a top prospect — the No. 6 prospect in baseball, according to ESPN’s Keith Law — but is just 20 years old and has played only 21 games above Class A. The plan for Lindor will probably be to give him a half-season of playing time in the minors before even thinking about promoting him to the major league level. But there are more than a few reasons why pushing him to the big leagues for Opening Day and trading Cabrera is the right move for Cleveland.

Most prospects need plenty of seasoning to mature, but Lindor profiles as a player who is capable of making a rapid ascension.

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Don’t Do It, Mike.

Last week, the Angels agreed to give Mike Trout a $1 million salary for 2014, a record amount for a player with absolutely no leverage. This agreement was quite likely part of ongoing negotiations for a long term deal that will keep Trout in Anaheim beyond the final four years that the Angels control his rights. According to various reports, it is quite likely that Trout will sign a new contract within the next month that will not only guarantee him his arbitration salaries in advance, but will also keep him in southern California for three or four years where would have otherwise been eligible for free agency.

The rumored price tag to keep Trout in Anaheim has ranged between $140 and $170 million, which is certainly a life changing amount of money. That kind of contract not only ensures his own financial security, but likely the financial future of several generations of Trout’s still to come. It’s the kind of guaranteed money that seems nearly impossible to turn down, because after all, after the first $100 million, who is really counting anyway?

But Mike Trout has already proven he can do things that no other human being on earth can do. For his next spectacular accomplishment, he should walk away from the $150 million or so that few of us can imagine turning down. Even with life changing money on the table, Mike Trout should tell the Angels that he’d rather go year to year instead.

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Jason Heyward, The Next Great Free Agent

We’ve been spoiled by Bryce HarperManny Machado and Mike Trout. To have a single top prospect reach the big leagues and prove himself to be a star before he’s of legal drinking age is rare, and the few who have been able to do it in the past 25 years have often proved to be among the all-time greats — names such as Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez among them.

To have three of them doing it simultaneously, well, that’s nearly unheard of. We are almost unquestionably living in something of a golden age of elite young offensive talent.

The flip side of that is that they take up so much of the air in the room that it’s easy to forget those who came before them, players who have been very good but not quite on that historic level. It means the hot young names of just a few years ago now seem like old news, even if “old” is absolutely not the correct way to refer to them.

It means we’ve forgotten about Jason Heyward to some extent, because he was the Trout of just a few years ago, when he made it to the big leagues at age 20 in 2010. But, although Heyward might be somewhat under the radar right now, the confluence of forces at play involving the economics of baseball, his own age and the actions taken by his team mean he’s set up to be in high demand very soon. Read the rest of this entry »