Monday, February 29, 2016

Manning Should Retire

Manning has a rare opportunity to go out on top (
Amid reports that the Denver Broncos are preparing to move on without its Super Bowl winning quarterback (welcome back, Brock Osweiler), who plans to retire by week's end, I'd like to urge Peyton Manning to please do so. After what he just did, winning his second Super Bowl at age 39, he has nothing left to prove*.

*Except, maybe, that he didn't use HGH or sexually assault one of his female college trainers, but those are things that can't be proven on the gridiron. 

Seriously, what else is there left to achieve? He's thrown more yards and touchdowns than anybody. He's won five MVPs, all of them deserved. Then, he capped it all off by beating a heavily favored Panthers team in Super Bowl 50. It was the storybook ending that most athletes only dream of. Tacking on another chapter would only spoil it.

So please, Mr. Manning, go home, spend time with your family, figure out what your next move is (something tells me you'd be great on TV), and drink all the Budweiser you want. You've earned it.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Baseball's Best Team Just Got Better

Fowler set career-highs in several categories last year (Fox Sports)
Okay, Cubs, we get it. You're clearly the best team in baseball, and you have been for a while now. You don't need to get any better. So just, you know, chill out already.

The Cubs didn't have to do anything this winter, not after spending wads of cash and winning 97 games last year. They already had the NL's reigning Manager of the Year (Joe Maddon), Rookie of the Year (Kris Bryant), Cy Young winner (Jake Arrieta), and a legitimate MVP candidate (Anthony Rizzo). They'd acquired Jon Lester, built a young, power-laden lineup, and assembled a formidable bullpen. They had no weaknesses.

But that didn't stop them from going out and splurging on Jason Heyward, giving him the biggest deal handed to a position player this winter. That didn't stop them from signing Ben Zobrist, one of baseball's best and most versatile assets. That didn't stop them from bringing in Lester's old rotationmate (and fellow World Series champion) John Lackey to bolster their rotation.

After all that, the Cubs had assembled what most pundits agreed was baseball's best team; not by a little, but by a lot. Chicago hadn't replaced players who'd left, as some teams do during free agency; they'd added on to what was already a championship-caliber core.

The only key contributor from last year who wouldn't be returning, it seemed, was Dexter Fowler, the team's center fielder and leadoff man. Fowler had quietly been one of the Cubs' better players, leading the club with 102 runs, 20 stolen bases, and 84 walks while supplying a career-high 17 homers. Chicago had opted to replace him with a younger, better, and wildly more expensive player in Jason Heyward, even though Heyward had spent just 32 of his career 835 games (less than 4 percent) in center. And with youngsters Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber flanking him, his job wasn't going to be any easier.

So, rather than move forward with a potentially disastrous outfield alignment, the Cubs traded Chris Coghlan and brought Fowler back on a one-year, $8 million deal with a $9 million option for 2017.

It's a crummy deal for Fowler, who turned down Chicago's $15.8 million qualifying offer and had reportedly secured a three-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles, but a steal for the Cubs. No one was getting a better bargain than what Chicago's other team got on Mat Latos, but this contract still qualifies as highway robbery. Fowler, who turns 30 next month, was worth $25.6 million last year based on FanGraphs's WAR/$ conversion and hasn't been worth less than $10 million since 2010. The Cubs are going to get their money's worth, and then some.

More importantly, signing Fowler allows everyone to return to their natural positions. Heyward goes back to right (where he's a three-time Gold Glove winner) while the kids split time in left. Yes, it's crowded, but I guarantee that every GM would tell you he'd rather have four good outfielders than three. It opens up trade possibilities, plus you never know when injuries are going to crop up. It's also likely that Schwarber and/or Soler will suffer growing pains this year, as they've played fewer than 200 major league games between them.

With Fowler back on board, the Cubs have everything. They have an excellent outfield, a stellar infield (Bryant and Rizzo at the corners, Zobrist and Addison Russell up the middle, and Miguel Montero behind the plate), a deep rotation headed by Arrieta and Lester, a terrific bullpen, and the best manager in baseball, not to mention a huge payroll and a saavy front office. Chicago's cup runneth over, so my only question is; how does this team not win 100 games and the World Series this year?

Orioles Get Good Deal on Gallardo

Gallardo gives the Orioles a frontline starter (
Just when you thought the offseason was winding down and rosters were pretty much set, the Baltimore Orioles made a last-minute splash by inking Yovani Gallardo to a two-year, $22 million deal with a $13 million option and coming oh-so-close to signing Dexter Fowler (more on that to come).

It seemed like the Orioles were content to roll out last year's team minus Wei-Yin Chen, which didn't look promising given that a) Chen was their best pitcher and b) they finished .500. But after shelling out $161 million to keep Chris Davis--more money than they'd ever paid anybody before--there wasn't much wiggle room left in their budget to upgrade elsewhere or re-sign Chen, who landed a five-year, $80 million payday from the Marlins.

In Gallardo, however, they essentially replaced Chen at a fraction of the cost. Both are 30 and have produced almost identical results since Chen made his major league debut in 2012:

Chen 2012-15: 706.2 IP 3.72 ERA 110 ERA+ 4.14 FIP 1.25 WHIP 7.0 K/9
Gall. 2012-15: 761.1 IP 3.69 ERA 108 ERA+ 3.94 FIP 1.34 WHIP 7.3 K/9

Chen's the better option because he has more strikeouts, fewer walks, and pitches from the left side, but not so much better that he deserves a substantially better contract. The Orioles shouldn't feel bad about letting him walk, as they got a great consolation prize in Gallardo.

They also have to be encouraged that Gallardo made a smooth transition to the American League last year, compiling the best raw and adjusted ERA of his career despite making half his starts in the brutal Texas heat. Camden Yards is also tough on pitchers, but that shouldn't be a problem now that Gallardo's thrived in two difficult parks to pitch in (the other being Milwaukee).

What the Orioles should be worried about, however, are Gallardo's poor peripherals. He had the worst WHIP of his career in 2015 and his xFIP was 4.31, nearly a full run higher than his ERA and also a career-worst. In addition to getting lucky on his strand and home run rates, he posted a career-low 5.9 K/9 rate--the third straight year in which his strikeout rate declined. That, combined with his pedestrian walk rate, resulted in a career-low 1.78 K/ BB ratio. Those are the numbers of a bad pitcher, not a good one earning eight figures a year.

That said, Gallardo's track record suggests he'll be a good bargain for the O's as long as he stays healthy, which has never been a problem for him in the past (he's started at least 30 games in each of the past seven years). His durability and consistently above average results (only once has he had a below-average league and park-adjusted ERA) have helped him exceed two fWAR every year dating back to 2009. That may not seem very impressive, but dollars-wise it's worth a lot. Gallardo has provided well over $11 million (his current salary) of value every year of his career but one; 2008, when he made just four starts. As long as he keeps converting half of balls put in play against him on the ground, he'll be fine (Baseball-Reference has him pegged for a 3.68 ERA in 171 innings next year).

Gallardo doesn't have the ceiling of a David Price or even a Chen, but he does have a very high floor, and that's what the Orioles are paying him for.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Bautista Primed for Disappointment

Bautista is looking for a nine-figure contract extension from Toronto (Twin Cities)
Jose Bautista is one of the Toronto Blue Jays' best players, as well as one of the best players in baseball. He's also going to be a free agent next year, so obviously Toronto would like to keep him. But at what cost?

Apparently, that cost is going to be at least $150 million over five years, which is a lot of money. Only two position players--Jason Heyward and Chris Davis--signed for that much last offseason, and both of them were at least half a decade younger than Bautista. But as tempting as it might be for the Jays to let him walk and save themselves a bundle of money, they're built to win now. After snapping the longest postseason drought in American professional sports last year, they're looking to go on a different kind of run, or at least stay competitive in what is always a tough division. Losing Bautista would make that considerably harder.

So over the next several months, the Blue Jays have to ask themselves: is he worth it?

By the numbers, absolutely. Nobody's homered more often over the past six years than Joey Bats, who's averaged 38 long ones and 97 RBI per season. With a .390 OBP during that time, the six-time All-Star is also among the best in the sport at getting on base, which is why only three players--Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, and Joey Votto--have eclipsed his wRC+, wOBA, and total offensive value over the past half-dozen seasons.

Bautista's bat has made him one of the most valuable players in the game, despite minimal contributions on the basepaths and middling defense. FanGraphs estimates he's been the sixth-best position player this decade, dead-even with Robinson Cano and just a win behind Votto. Considering Bautista's been worth roughly 5.5 wins a season over the last six and that wins are running teams around $8 million these days, $30 million a year is more than fair. In fact, it's downright charitable. Based on the cost of wins, he's been worth more than that in five of the last six years, when his average salary was only $11 million per season. Bautista should be earning three times that.

So why won't he? Age. Bautista turned 35 in October, and there's no precedent for a player that old signing a contract that big. Teams simply don't give guys in their mid-30s nine-figure contracts, mainly because players are too far removed from their primes by then (in the last 40 years, only two players have averaged four wins per season from ages 36-40, the years Bautista's contract would be covering. One of them was Barry Bonds. The other was Edgar Martinez).
The game is only getting younger as aging curves have shifted. With speed and defense becoming more emphasized in these pitching-rich times, teams are placing more value on players in their 20s. They want guys who can run and field, so they'd rather invest in younger, less talented players than older players who could fall off a cliff at a moment's notice, no matter how good they've been in the past.

Bautista's the perfect example why. He's been injured recently and is a bat-only player at this stage in his career, so if he suddenly stops hitting he'll have no way to contribute. Any team that signs him is banking on him to hold up into his late-30s, which is usually a terrible bet.

In Bautista's case, however, it might not be. Like Raul Ibanez, David Ortiz, and Edgar Martinez, he was a late bloomer who's been much better in his 30s than he ever was in his 20s. He's shown no signs of slowing down, as he just whacked 40 homers and led the league in walks last year. That might be because he didn't become a full-time player until his late-20s, and thus has a lot less mileage than most players his age.
It also helps that he's begun DH'ing more frequently in recent years, and would likely do so full-time if Edwin Encarnacion weren't such a butcher in the field. Seeing more time at DH would help prolong his career, but the Blue Jays are in a tricky situation where they have two excellent hitters who really shouldn't be playing the field. If they decide to keep Bautista and let Encarnacion (also a free agent next winter) leave, they could slot the former in as their everyday DH and hope he continues to rake until his 40th birthday, a la Ortiz and Martinez.

This is a big year for Bautista. If he has another monster campaign (which the projections say he will) and Toronto doesn't extend him, he'll be the best player in next winter's free agent class. That alone could drive up his asking price, especially if a bidding war ensues over his services.

Still, it's hard to see Bautista breaking the bank, no matter how good he is this year. Look no further than last year when Victor Martinez, coming off a dominant season at the same age, got only four years and $68 million on the open market (which already looks like a huge mistake). Bautista could probably fetch $20 million a year, but $30 million appears out of the question. Which is too bad for him, because he's been worth that much before and might still be in the future, but at this point he's just too old to trust.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Boston Back on Top?

Can Price (center) get Boston back on track in 2016? (
The Red Sox start spring training today, which means it's time to assess their busy offseason and chances at contending in 2016.
The Good:
Boston addressed its greatest need; pitching. After stumbling through last year without an ace, Dave Dombrowski ponied up for one by handing David Price a six-year, $217 million contract. One of the best pitchers in the game, Price makes Boston's rotation drastically better and is capable of adding five to six wins by himself. 

While Price was their biggest splash this winter, the Red Sox made upgraded other problem areas as well. Their bullpen was horrendous last year, but now looks like one of the league's best with the additions of Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith. They also took a flier on Carlos Marmol, who has the potential to be a valuable contributor if he could just get his wildness under control.

Lastly, Boston added outfield depth and a power bat off the depth in Chris Young, a lefty-masher who should fill the role that Jonny Gomes and Cody Ross have played in the past. 

While the Red Sox finished last again in 2015, it's important to remember that they were only outscored by five runs over the course of the season, so they weren't actually that bad. It's also encouraging that they were one of the best teams in the second half without a) any of the names mentioned above, and b) several star players, including Hanley Ramirez, Clay Buchholz, and Dustin Pedroia. Supplement their new additions with continued growth from Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Henry Owens, and Eduardo Rodriguez (all 23) as well as Blake Swihart (24), plus a healthy Christian Vazquez behind the plate, and Boston should be substantially better in 2016.

The Bad:
Boston's rotation remains incredibly shaky beyond Price. Rick Porcello was a major disappointment last year, and no one still has any idea what to expect from Buchholz, Owens and Rodriguez have just 32 combined major league starts under their belts, which means their futures likely include more growing pains. Third-year starter Roenis Elias offers depth but doesn't appear to be anything more than a league average starter (Wade Miley wasn't anything special, but at least he was reliable). Furthermore, Boston's rotation is now excessively left-handed, which could spell trouble in Fenway Park.

The Red Sox look great up the middle, but their corner infielders appear to be a problem. Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez were two of the worst players in baseball last year, as both supplied sub-.300 OBPs and horrific defense at offense-first positions last year. Sandoval has been steadily declining for some time now (his OPS has dropped every year since 2011) and Ramirez is 32, so it's hardly a given that either will return to form. To make matters worse, both are drastically overpaid and thus untradeable. Ramirez is also learning a new position (first base), which didn't go well last time. 

The largely unproven outfield could potentially be a mess as well. Betts is a superstar in the making, but may regress in his second full season as pitchers adjust. Rusney Castillo and Jackie Bradley, Jr. are several years older but just as inexperienced. Castillo has underwhelmed since signing a seven-year, $72.5 million contract while Bradley, as great as he is in center field, is still searching for consistency at the plate. Young's a solid fourth outfielder, but he's also 32 and will be exposed if he's forced into an everyday role.

Lastly, while the Red Sox are a mostly young team, they are still counting on several older players to be productive. Pedroia is 32 and has spent time on the disabled list in four of the past six seasons, meaning he's a good bet to get hurt again. Koji Uehara will be 41 in April and was hurt last year. David Ortiz is 40, and the list of productive hitters at his age is woefully short. Boston's offense looks a lot less scary if Papi and Pedroia are absent or otherwise not themselves, plus their bullpen won't be nearly as formidable if Uehara can't sustain his dominance.

Prediction: Boston's improved, but Toronto's still the team to beat in the AL East. Luckily for the Sox, none of their division rivals made much of an effort to improve this winter, so look for them to threaten 90 wins and a wild card berth. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

White Sox Get Absurd Deal on Latos

Latos will try to re-establish his value in the Windy City (Bucs Dugout)
Baseball, like life, is all about timing. This is especially true in free agency, where hitting the market after a career year, as Zack Greinke and David Price did, can result in a windfall. Becoming a free agent immediately after an off-year, however, can mean playing for pennies on the dollar, if at all.

Mat Latos falls into the latter camp. From 2010-2014 he was a great pitcher, first with the Padres and then with the Reds. He had a 3.27 ERA (116 ERA+), 1.16 WHIP, and 3.15 K/BB ratio during those five years, averaging 180 innings per year. That brought him to the cusp of free agency; all he needed was one more productive season before hitting the market at 28, presumably as one of baseball's most attractive free agents.

Obviously that didn't happen, hence why Latos just settled for a one-year, incentive-free $3 million deal from the Chicago White Sox. After being traded to Miami last winter, he promptly ripped his previous team (Cincinnati), which left a bad taste's in everyone's mouths. He then proceeded to have the worst season of his career, going 4-10 with a 4.95 ERA for three different teams. Latos also spent time on the Disabled List and suffered several fluke injuries. As far as walk years go, his was the worst-case scenario.

So, rather than leading one of the deepest free agent classes in years, Latos quickly became an afterthought. Teams were quick to scoop up inferior pitchers such as Ian Kennedy and Mike Leake, paying them gobs of money while Latos sat on the shelf, collecting dust. Finally, the White Sox came calling yesterday, just in time for Spring Training.

What a steal for Chicago, who get a great pitcher still in his prime at a bargain rate. As bad as Latos seemed last year, his peripherals suggest otherwise. He still struck out more than three batters for every walk, and his FIP was 3.72--over a full run better than his ERA and just a tick worse than the previous year's 3.65. He was undone, it seems, by some bad luck on balls in play, an elevated HR/FB rate, and the second-worst strand rate of any pitcher with at least 100 innings. Natural regression to the mean says Latos will be better in 2016.

How much better is a different story. Chicago is a tough place to pitch, especially during the summer when the ball really flies. Just ask Jeff Samardzija, who endured an equally miserable contract year with the White Sox last season. Like Latos, Samardzija was also transitioning to the American League after spending most of his career in the Senior Circuit. It wasn't pretty.

Samardzija is just one of many cautionary tales for what can happen when an NL hurler plies his trade in the American League. It helps that Latos is three years younger and has a more established track record of success. It also helps that he's truly pitching for his next contract. Samardzija knew he was going to make bank no matter what, and sure enough San Francisco gave him $90 million even though he bombed last year. But if Latos tanks, he might not get a second chance.

So even though his contract doesn't have any incentives, it doesn't need any. The incentive is already built in. Latos has "only" made $22 million in his playing career (not including his current contract), which he could make in one season on his next deal should he return to form.

The White Sox are certainly hoping he does, as a healthy and effective Latos gives them a formidable trio at the top of their rotation alongside Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. Coming off a disappointing season and with the Cubs looking like the best team in baseball these days, they could definitely use a bounce back.

Almost as much as Latos.

Baseball's This is 40

Can Ortiz (left) and Rodriguez still hack it at 40? (Sporting News)
David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez are about to embark on their age-40 seasons. Based on how good both were at 39, many are expecting them to remain productive this year. However, it's important to remember that, even in today's world of modern medicine and training, it's still incredibly rare to be a good baseball player at age 40. The list of productive seasons by 40 year-olds is a short one, but as you can see below it's happened enough so that another strong season by Rodriguez and/or Ortiz isn't out of the question. Here are some of the best performances by 40 year-old position players in baseball history, listed in chronological order (notice that there have been much more lately).

1927 Ty Cobb
With the home run boom in full swing, Cobb's slashing brand of baseball was already becoming obsolete. But while he may have felt like a dinosaur as the game changed around him, he was still good at doing the things he knew best, namely singles and steals. In the Georgia Peach's first season with the A's but last season as an everyday player, he batted .357/.440/.482 with 93 RBI and 22 steals--good for 4.4 bWAR.

1930 Sam Rice
This was a great year for hitters regardless of age, so you can't fault Rice for joining the party. His counting stats were off-the-charts (121 runs, 207 hits, 13 triples), and his rate stats (.349/.407/.457) were pretty good, too. Altogether, Rice was worth 4.7 bWAR--the highest total of his career.

Appling was a name that came up a lot the last few years when people were comparing Derek Jeter to past shortstops at the same age. Appling was pretty much the only one still able to hit a damn as he approached middle-age. He remained as robust as ever at 40, compiling 4.6 bWAR and making his final All-Star team. The future Hall of Famer also slugged a career-high eight home runs and batted .306/.386/.412 (126 OPS+)--exceptional numbers for a shortstop back then.

By wRC+, Mays at 40 was better than any baseball player who ever lived. That shouldn't come as a surprise, seeing as how he was at almost every other age, too. Compared to the rest of his body of work, 1971 was actually a very strange season for the Say Hey Kid. He walked a league-leading and career-high 112 times, which gave him a league-leading and career-high .425 OBP, but he also struck out 123 times--his lone year in triple digits. He still had enough of his trademark power and speed to muscle 18 home runs and 24 doubles while stealing 23 bases in 26 tries--his most thefts since 1960. Mays was still playing center field on a regular basis, too, which helped him rack up 6.3 bWAR in what turned out to be his last great season.

After getting Babe Ruth's record out of the way early on, the newly minted home run king went on to enjoy the last fruitful season of his illustrious career (as well as his last with the Braves). He had a record-20th consecutive season with at least 20 homers, walked more than he struck out, and batted a rock-solid .268/.341/.491 (128 OPS+). He promptly fell apart after moving back to Milwaukee and becoming a full-time DH, but in the year he broke Ruth's record he was still a pretty good ballplayer.

Few players have been better at 40 than Aaron (left) and Mays (Bronx Banter)
1981 Pete Rose
Charlie Hustle was still a hit machine at 40, leading the majors in hits for the seventh and final time while batting .325 with a .391 OBP. It probably helped that '81 was cut short by a strike, otherwise Rose might have worn down. It turned out to be his last great season, though he hung on for another six years to become baseball's hit king.

The DH definitely prolonged Mr. October's career, helping him play six seasons out west after leaving New York. While his bat was all out of postseason heroics by that point, it still had a fair amount of juice left, which he used to bat .241/.379/.408 (116 OPS+) with 18 home runs for the division-winning Angels (a team eventually undone by the late Dave Henderson's homer).

Evans was another player who never seemed to get old, remaining productive through age 41 (ditching third base for first and DH helped). His age-40 campaign was actually one of his best, resulting in the third-highest bWAR (4.9) of his 21-year career. Aided by the offensive explosion that occurred across baseball that year, Evans bashed 34 home runs, totaled 99 RBI and worked 100 walks, giving him a strong .257/.379/.501 batting line and 135 OPS+. Those numbers would likely represent a best-case scenario for A-Rod and Ortiz next year.

Fisk only played 76 games--his fewest since 1974--but that didn't stop him from winning his third and final Silver Slugger behind the plate. His half-season numbers--a .277/.377/.542 line (155 OPS+) with 19 homers and 50 RBI--would be phenomenal for anyone in a full season, let alone a 40 year-old backstop. This year is one of many reasons why Fisk was the best "old" catcher in baseball history.

Winfield was still plugging along at age 40, joining the Blue Jays for their first-ever World Series championship. The future Hall of Famer played a big part in helping them get over the hump, finishing fifth in the AL MVP vote after batting .290/.377/.491 with 26 home runs and 108 RBI, giving Toronto another slugger to pair with Joe Carter. Winfield would go on to play with Minnesota for two years and Cleveland for one before calling it a career.

Molitor remained a productive batsman for the Twins at age 40, batting .305/.351/.435 with 32 doubles, 10 home runs and 89 RBI. You could certainly get a lot worse from your DH.

Henderson had been playing for 20 years by this point, but his skills remained largely intact. Suiting up for the Mets that year, Henderson had the last great season of his career, hitting .315/.423/.466 (128 OPS+) with 12 home runs and 37 steals.

Martinez bounced back from a down and injury-plagued 2002 to enjoy his last great season at 40. Seattle's Hall of Fame-worthy DH helped the Mariners to a 93-win season by batting .294/.406/.489 (141 OPS+) with 24 homers and 98 RBI, bringing him just shy of 500 doubles and 300 homers for his career (he would reach both milestones in his next, and final, season).

Most people don't remember just how good Alou was, or how he literally didn't age. Over the last five years of his career, which cover his age 37-41 seasons, he hit .312/.376/.539. He was terrific in limited action for the Mets in 2007, slashing .341/.392/.524 (137 OPS+) with 13 homers and 49 RBI in 87 games. Unfortunately, that was one of the years New York collapsed down the stretch, denying Alou one last shot at postseason glory (the same thing happened again in 2008, and Alou wisely retired).

Like Henderson, Lofton was another speedster who aged well. In what was his final season, he batted .296/.367/.414 with 86 runs and 23 steals while splitting time between Texas and Cleveland, joining the latter just in time for their ill-fated playoff run (somewhere, J.D. Drew is trying to smile).

Edmonds came back from sitting out all of 2009 after not getting a worthwhile offer, signed a minor league contract with the Brewers and finished up his career with a solid season, going out on his own terms. While he only played 86 games, the former star center fielder was still productive at the plate, hitting .276/.342/.504 (125 OPS+) between his stint with Milwaukee and a late-season trade to Cincinnati.

Making Sense of Colorado's Crazy Trade

Dickerson has far more value to a team than McGee (Fox Sports)
It's been two weeks, and I'm still trying to make sense of the Corey Dickerson for Jake McGee exchange. Given how smart front offices have become, it still blows my mind when they make obviously one-sided trades like this one, or last winter's Doug Fister and Jason Heyward trades.

Only on the most basic level does this trade make any sense for Colorado. The Rockies have an abundance of hitting and need pitching. They had a crowded outfield and a terrible bullpen (terrible doesn't even begin to describe how bad it was). So they traded an outfielder for a pretty good reliever. Okay, makes sense.

Except that it doesn't at all. At least for the Rockies.

For the Rays, a team perpetually short on offense, this trade makes all the sense in the world. Tampa Bay ranked second-to-last in the AL in runs scored last year, largely because its outfielders combined for just 56 home runs, 175 RBI, and a .258/.327/.420 batting line. With a collective OPS+ of 100, Rays outfielders provided league average production at best.

Dickerson, however, has been well above average the last two years, posting a 141 OPS+ in 2014 followed by a 118 OPS+ last year. After leaving Coors Field (the best hitter's park in baseball) for Tropicana Field (one of the worst), he's not going to come close to matching his .309/.354/.556 line from 2014-2015, but he's still a solidly above average corner outfielder who's not even 27 yet. Tampa Bay would have been better off going after someone from a less extreme environment, but Dickerson still represents a clear upgrade in an outfield that saw way too much of David DeJesus and Steven Souza last year.

And it's not like the Rays gave up much to get him, either. Relievers are cheap and plentiful, which makes them expendable. Any failed starter can find second life as a reliever. Hard-hitting, in-their-prime outfielders are a rarity, however, especially these days. McGee is good, but he's going to be 30 in August and was hurt last year. His value may never be higher than it is right now.

Which is why the Rays were smart to move him. The timing made sense. For the Rockies, however, this was probably the worst time for them to trade Dickerson. He's not even arbitration-eligible yet and is still under team control for four more years, plus he's coming off an injury-riddled season in which he missed almost 100 games and was worth only 0.5 bWAR. Had they waited for him to rebuild his value a bit, they could have gotten more for him, like a starting pitcher (Colorado could really use one of those).

While dumb, this trade at least would have been more defensible had the Rockies been good, as sometimes it's necessary to sacrifice something valuable to address one of your weaknesses. But Colorado's entire pitching staff is a weakness, and 60 innings from Mr. McGee won't change that. Bad teams don't need ace relievers, because by the time they get in the game the score's already been decided. They need good, young starting pitchers and position players they can build around. The bullpen is often the last piece of the puzzle, and one that can be cobbled together on the cheap (never pay for saves).

McGee's going to be a free agent in two years, and nobody seriously expects Colorado to contend by then. They've endured five straight losing seasons and there's no light at the end of the tunnel, not until they're able to build what passes for a major league-caliber starting rotation. Dickerson could have helped them do that, but now he's gone.

Who's Number One in Fantasy?

Let the debates begin (ESPN)
With the Super Bowl over and Spring Training just days away, it's time to start making preparations (if you haven't already) for fantasy baseball.

One scenario that every player must prepare for is what he'll do if the fantasy gods bless him with the top pick in his draft. That hasn't required much thought the last few years, as Mike Trout was clearly the top choice in fantasy due to his age and all-around skill set, but with the emergence of Bryce Harper it's not so clear-cut. And could Paul Goldschmidt really be a better fantasy option than both of them? Let's find out.

The case for Trout:
Trout isn't quite as valuable in fantasy as he once was due to his shrinking stolen base totals and back-to-back seasons below .300, but he's still arguably the top choice. Trout's sacrificed some average for power the last two years, which has helped him produce career-highs in home runs both seasons. He's now a threat to go yard 40 times which, combined with his huge runs/RBI figures and double-digit stolen base totals, guarantees elite production across the board. His averages, while not what they once were, are still pretty good, making him a true five-category contributor. Trout's also been phenomenal at making adjustments since arriving in the majors, which makes him a good bet to maintain, if not improve on, his stellar numbers (it'd be nice if the Angels put some decent hitters around him, though). Draft Trout with confidence, make sure he's in your lineup Opening Day, and forget about him the rest of the season.

My Projections: 110 R 37 HR 96 RBI 13 SB .295 BA

The case for Harper
When healthy, Harper has the potential to be the best player in baseball, as he proved last year when he batted .330/.460/.649 (205 OPS+) with 42 home runs and 9.9 bWAR. "When healthy" is the key phrase there, as 2015 marked the first time in four seasons that Harper eclipsed 140 games. He also doesn't run much anymore, with only eight steals in his past two seasons, so he's more of a four-category stud. But man, he'll carry you in those four categories. He might be the only player in baseball capable of winning a batting title and a home run crown (which he nearly did last year), and he should be good for around 100 runs and RBI again. The RBI total might drop to "disappointing" Joey Votto levels because of his weak supporting cast and how often he gets walked with guys on base, but he'll still be a boon in that department. Plus he's only 23, which means he might, you know, get better (only kidding).

My Projections: 111 R 38 HR 105 RBI 7 SB .311 BA

The case for Goldschmidt
Arizona's first baseman is a true five-category monster--Miguel Cabrera if Cabrera could run. He's batted over .300 each of the past three years and exceeded 30 home runs, 100 runs/RBI, and double digits steals in the two seasons where he was healthy. Nobody else has done that multiple times during that span, making Goldy the best bet to provide help in all five departments. He's 28, plays everyday, and calls one of the friendliest hitter's parks in the majors home. All signs point to another big season from Goldschmidt, especially if A.J. Pollock repeats his breakout batting in front of him.

My Projections: 103 R 34 HR 112 RBI 19 SB .316 BA

My gut says to go with Trout, but based on the numbers I actually think I like Goldschmidt a bit more. I'd expect him to hit for a higher average, steal more bases, and knock in a few more runs. However, you usually need at least three (often five) outfielders as opposed to only one first baseman, so positional scarcity might sway me back to Team Trout.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

January Hot Stove Roundup: Position Players

Davis struck the richest deal for a position player last month (Baltimore Sun)
After being mostly neglected during the first half of the offseason, position players dominated Hot Stove headlines in January. Here are my thoughts on some of last month's biggest (and not so big) signings.

Like everyone else, I did not expect Cespedes to re-up with the Mets, who seemed unlikely to fork over the nine-figure contract that Cespedes seemed assured of. It's still unlikely Cespedes will be a Met beyond next year--his deal includes an opt-out after 2016--especially if his numbers are anything close to last year's. So if we treat this contract as a one-year deal that will pay Cespedes $27.5 million next year, he only needs to be worth between three and four wins in his age-30 season to earn his hefty salary. Given that he's exceeded 3.5 wins (per B-R) in all but one season so far, that's not asking a whole lot.

As predicted, San Diego's infield was a disaster last year. The shortstop situation was especially ugly, with Padres combining to bat a paltry .228/.279/.365 at the position. It's almost impossible to be any worse, but then Mr. Ramirez may not be significantly better. The 34 year-old hit .249/.285/.357 last year, and it's hard to imagine his numbers improving much after switching from one of the best hitter's parks in baseball (U.S. Cellular Field, where he hit 60 percent of his homers and his OPS was nearly 60 points higher than it was everywhere else) to the worst.

After boldly rejecting Baltimore's original seven-year, $154 million offer, Davis ended up signing with the Orioles after all--for seven years and $161 million. Good thing he waited a month to squeeze that extra $1 million per season out of the O's...

Rockies sign Gerardo Parra: 3 yrs/$27.5 M

It will be interesting to see how Coors Field affects Parra's numbers. I can't imagine they'll improve by leaps and bounds, given that he's spent his whole career in hitter's parks and is coming off a career-year, but he should be a threat to bat .300 for the first time. Of course, that might be a mostly-empty .300 since he hardly walks and has league average power at best. If I were the Rockies, I'd be more concerned about how he's going to handle Colorado's spacious outfield, since Parra's posted subpar defensive metrics in each of the past two seasons. Since this  acquisition was the impetus for Colorado's instantly regrettable Corey Dickerson trade, I give this move a big thumbs-down.

Tiger sign Justin Upton: 6 yrs/$132.75 M

Like many recent deals, this one includes an opt-out, allowing Upton to hit the market again after his age-29 season. But while Upton may only be a Tiger for two years, those are the years you want to have a ballplayer. Plus, Detroit's championship window is rapidly closing, and it's very likely that they'll need to blow their team up by the time Upton is a free agent again. Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander will be 35. Ian Kinsler will be 36. Anibal Sanchez will be 34, Jordan Zimmermann 32, and Victor Martinez almost 40. The Tigers have all their important players signed through the next two years, so it's now or never.

Giants sign Denard Span: 3 yrs/$31 M
The Giants got a great deal on Span, signing him at a reduced rate after he missed much of last year with injuries. Just how much of a steal is he? Consider that, over the past four years and at the same ages, Span's been as valuable as Jacoby Ellsbury, who's making twice as much on an annual basis:

Ellsbury 2012-2015: 468 G  .276/.331/.396 (101 OPS+)  11.9 bWAR
Span 2012-2015: 498 G  .290/.344/.402 (105 OPS+)  11.8 bWAR

Well played, Brian Sabean.

The Brewers needed a first baseman after trading Adam Lind in December; enter Mr. Carter. While Lind is older and more injury-prone, he's also a much better hitter. Carter is more of a Carlos Pena/Mark Reynolds type, with huge power numbers offset by equally high strikeout rates and terrible batting averages. Before cratering to .199/.307/.420 last year, though, Carter compiled an OPS just shy of .800 from 2012-2014. Since he just turned 29 and is one of the few players capable of popping 30 homers, he should be a good bet to give Milwaukee a cheap offensive boost.

The Royals aren't known for making big splashes during free agency, but they made an exception here for the face of their franchise. While Gordon may not be the best player on the Royals anymore (that would be Lorenzo Cain), he's still incredibly valuable and one of their most important assets. And though he's going to be 32 in a week, Gordon has the kind of all-around skill set that typically ages well, meaning he shouldn't be a burden to Kansas City's payroll.

Washington has desperately needed an upgrade at second base for some time now, as Danny Espinosa just wasn't cutting it. Well, the Nats got one in Murphy, a solidly above average hitter who can run a little and may only now be tapping into his power potential. It's a well-known fact that second basemen don't age well, but this contract should work out for Washington since it doesn't extend into Murphy's mid-30s.

Monday, February 1, 2016

January Hot Stove Roundup: Pitchers

Miami continued to improve this offseason by adding Chen (Yahoo Sports)
When 2016 began, most of this winter's top-shelf free agent pitchers had already been gobbled up, leaving GMs to focus on position players and second-tier hurlers. With the likes of David Price, Zack Greinke, and Johnny Cueto long gone, teams looking for arms were forced to settle for guys who can still upgrade a rotation, but not lead one. As such, we didn't see any more $200 million contracts last month, but several pitchers still made a pretty penny. Since I didn't have a ton to say about any of these signings at the time they were consummated, I figured I'd wait and do a wrap-up on all of them at the end of the month, plus throw in a few reliever signings to boot. Stay tuned for what figures to be a much lengthier post on recently signed position players tomorrow!

Royals sign Ian Kennedy: 5 yrs/$70 M

Since enjoying a Cy Young-caliber campaign five years ago, Kennedy has settled into a mediocre pitcher, going 44-50 with a 89 ERA+ and just two bWAR over the past four years. He's also 31 and transitioning back to the American League after spending the last six years with Arizona and San Diego where, as mentioned, his numbers were unimpressive. Taking a middling hurler on the wrong side of 30 out of the best pitcher's park in baseball and throwing him into the American League just sounds like a recipe for disaster, especially when you're paying him $70 million over the next five years. It's hard to see what the Royals were thinking here, especially since they could have kept James Shields--a much better pitcher--for virtually the same price last year. They're clearly banking on their big ballpark and excellent outfield to contain Kennedy's fly balls, but what happens when they go on the road?

Few players have seen their stock fall more in the past year than Fister, who followed up a career year in 2014 with the worst season of his career last year. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong as he started slow, got hurt, pitched poorly after returning from the DL, and lost his spot in Washington's rotation after his ERA ballooned to 4.60. He initially struggled out of the 'pen but pitched much better in September, offering hope that he may have regained his confidence or at least found second life as a reliever (though maybe not, given his declining velocity). The Astros are hoping he can provide a veteran presence on their young pitching staff, or at least offer them some bullpen depth/rotation insurance. In a similar move, Houston also signed Wandy Rodriguez, another 30-something pitcher who made only 15 starts last year and struggled mightily. Fister's more likely to pan out, given that he's five years younger and has logged two-thirds as many innings, but it's possible Rodriguez recaptures his glory days with his former team.

Chen is the ideal midrotation starter: durable, effective, not terribly old, and left-handed. After a great four-year run with the Orioles in which he helped them reach the postseason twice, Chen appears poised for success in the NL East. One of baseball's best control artists, he's kept his BB/9 rate under two the last two years, which helped him post solid ERAs in the mid-threes. Chen should feel even more confident attacking the zone now that he pitches half his games in Marlins Park, where the fences are near-impossible to clear unless you're Giancarlo Stanton (who Chen will never have to face). This deal should work out well for Miami, who need Chen to provide about 10 WAR over the next half-decade to break even, which is definitely doable considering Chen totaled 10 WAR over his first four seasons.

I'm cheating a bit, since this deal happened at the end of December, but I never wrote about it so I figured I'd include it here. Like John Lackey, Kazmir has enjoyed a nice second act to his career after looking totally done about five years ago. Now 32, Kazmir is coming off his best season since his hard-throwing days with the Devil Rays, albeit a poor second half in which he seemed to wear down. That said, he'll get a nice boost from moving to the National League and Dodger Stadium in particular, which should help him outperform his FIP again (it was nearly a run higher than his ERA last year). Los Angeles is hoping he can help fill the void left by Greinke in their rotation, not to mention give them another southpaw to pair with Clayton Kershaw. The lefty's unconventional career path makes him a bit riskier than most, though he's certainly capable of giving the Dodgers six wins (the value of his contract) over the next three years.

Yes, Feliz was awful last year (6.38 ERA, 1.56 WHIP), but it's important to remember the former Rookie of the Year and All-Star was really good not too long ago. In 2014, for instance, he had an ERA under two and a WHIP below one. He doesn't have the elite strikeout stuff you want in a reliever, but moving to the National League and PNC Park should help him overcome that. Plus he's not even 28 yet, so he should still have something left in the tank.

Mariners sign Ryan Cook: 1 yr/$1.1 M
Why am I writing about a reliever who pitched just 8 and 2/3 innings last year and signed a contract that pays him less than a million dollars after taxes? Because he used to be an All-Star, he's only 28, and he joins an intriguing bullpen situation in Seattle. The M's now have three proved closers in Cook, Joaquin Benoit, and Steve Cishek, though obviously Cook has the most to prove and figures to be a setup man in some capacity. Benoit's old, however, and Cishek's never pitched in the American League, so if Cook can stay healthy he may end up grabbing a share of the closer's role after all.