Archive for November, 2011
The Kansas City Royals certainly have one of the brightest futures in Major League Baseball but the club is still not expected to compete in the AL Central come 2012. However, there have now been two offseason acquisitions that at first do not make much sense for a team in the midst of a rebuilding mode. GM Dayton Moore has done an outstanding job over the past few years in turning a wasteland of a farm system into one of the best in the league, even after promoting multiple top prospects in 2011. He has put the Royals into a great position in acquiring even more young players to add to an already packed minor league system come July of 2012, assuming his trade chips hold and increase their value.
Earlier this month, the Royals agreed to trade outfielder Melky Cabrera to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for left handed starting pitcher Jonathon Sanchez. At first, this is a puzzling trade for Kansas City. Why would they agree to send a controllable, young player coming off a career year for a pitcher who struggled with injury last year and has issues with command? Well, the Royals took advantage of Cabrera’s all time high value and moved him before his value decreased again. It is not set in stone, but it is hard to imagine Cabrera either improve or at least match his 2011 performance after a history of lower production. Even if Cabrera decreases production substantially in 2012, he is still an upgrade over current outfield alternatives in San Francisco who are in dire need of offense. Also, with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito all fixtures for the 2012 rotation, Jonathon Sanchez has become expendable, especially during a contract year. So it makes sense why this trade makes sense for both sides. The Royals starting rotation is in shambles and they receive a high upside stating pitcher who can possibly be flipped in July for prospects, assuming Sanchez pitches well and stays healthy. With a quality half of a season, the Royals can command a considerable amount for Sanchez as teams always look for rotation depth during the trade deadline. Also, the Royals are able to open up the center field position for young prospect Lorenzo Cain, who played extremely well in AAA Omaha in 2011, after coming over in the Zack Greinke trade. Adding a player with the value of Sanchez coming into a walk-year and opening up a spot in the outfield for a top young prospect, all for the cost of Melky Cabrera has to be viewed as a win for the Royals. Well done Dayton Moore.
Now today, it has been announced by Jerry Crasnick that the Royals and Jonathon Broxton have agreed to a one-year deal. Broxton was outstanding for the Dodgers from 2006-2009 in the set-up and closer role but struggled in 2010 and 2011. If healthy, Broxton has the potential to be a dominant late inning reliever. And with closer Joakim Soria already in place in the 9th inning, it is assumed that Broxton will become the 8th inning man. But why would the Royals pay Broxton 4 MM dollars on a one-year deal on a team that is not expected to compete? This is a very similar situation the the Jonathon Sanchez acquisition. If Broxton rebuilds his value this season, he will be a very interesting trade candidate come July. A top reliever can command a nice haul in a trade for a rental as contending teams look to bolster their bullpen for October. Also, establishing a solid late inning bullpen combination allows the Royals to move bright, young pitcher Aaron Crow from the bullpen to the rotation. A potential high reward acquisition that gives the opportunity for a young pitcher to start and can also fetch you even more prospects all for the cost of 4 MM dollars has to be viewed as another win the for the Royals. Again, well done Dayton Moore.
The Royals are in a great position heading into next year. They have a young, exciting team with a fantastic core that includes Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon. With even more top prospects on the way such as Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery and John Lamb, the Royals have a chance to be very good for a very long time. They will be a team that you should keep tabs on in 2012 as their young players continue to develop. With a good season, 75-80 wins is pretty realistic.
The NL Rookie Class seems to be a good one for 2012, so lets take a closer look at the AL rookie class by examining the closest prospect to the majors ready to make an impact for each team.
Jesus Montero (NYY)- One of the top bats in the minor leagues for a few years now had an outstanding second half in AAA in 2011 and earned a big league promotion where he hit extremely well, .328/.406/.590 in 61 AB’s at the age 21. With Jorge Posada out of the picture, Montero is in a position to easily eclipse 500 AB’s in 2012 switching from the DH and catcher position. Early favorite for AL Rookie of the Year.
Felix Doubront (BOS)- Doubront moved up the ranks of the minor leagues from A to AAA two years in a row. Not many impact players right now on the verge of the big leagues other than him and Jose Iglesias. Iglesias is blocked by Scutaro next year. With Boston needing pitching help, Doubront adds depth. Whether or not it will be effective depth we will have to wait and see.
Travis d’Arnaud (TOR)- One of the main pieces in the Roy Halladay trade had an outstanding season in AA and is very close to breaking into the big league club. THeres no doubt d’Arnaud can hit but the only thing blocking him is J.P. Arencibia. Arencibia struggled in 2011 but is still only 25 and was one of the top Jays prospects a few years ago, so it seems like he will be given more opportunities. However, it will be hard to ignore d’Arnaud if he is knocking on the door at AAA. Expect to see him sometime in 2012.
Matt Moore (TB)- The top pitching prospect in all of baseball showed why he is getting all of the attention by absolutely dominating the juggernaut Texas Rangers offense in his lone start in the postseason. Moore is more than big league ready and projects to be ace 1C, next to David Price and James Shields. He deserves to be in the rotation at the beginning of the season and is my personal pick (and I’m sure many others) to win Rookie of the Year. Moore is just straight up nasty.
Dylan Bundy (BAL)- Not sure who’s going to come up from the minors and have an immediate impact for the O’s this year as their top talent has already graduated to the big leagues. Bundy was the top high school player taken out of the draft and has projected ace stuff. Some scouts feel that Bundy will be in the big leagues before Cole, Hultzen, Bauer or Rendon, all the player who went before him in the draft. I doubt we will see Bundy next season in Baltimore as there is no reason to rush him. Just did not really have another player to put here. Manny Machado and other top talent is still in the lower levels of the minors. Looks like a long 2012 for the O’s.
Dayan Viciedo (CWS)- Viciedo saw just over 100 AB’s in the big leagues last season but still qualifies as a rookie. He has serious power but some scouts are skeptical if he can stay in the outfield instead of becoming a DH. He hit very well in AAA in 2011 for the White Sox and you can expect 20 HR’s from Viciedo if he gets 400+ AB’s in the majors next season. With the struggles of Adam Dunn and Alex Rios, there is room for Viciedo in the field and in the lineup.
Joe Benson (MIN)- Benson got a taste of the big leagues last year (70 AB’s) after playing well in AA. The outfielder will have his opportunity to win a job, especially if Michael Cuddyer is not back in 2012.Not a certainty to start the year in the big league club but he will have a chance. Regardless, expect to see Benson in Minnesota some time in 2012, especially if they struggle.
Lorenzo Cain (KC)- One of the main players in the Zack Greinke deal. The outfielder is not technically a rookie because of his time in Milwaukee but this will be his first season on Kansas City. The Melky Cabrera trade opened the center field position for Cain who played outstanding all year in AAA Omaha. With Alex Gordon finally having a breakout season and top outfield prospect Wil Myers also on the way, Kansas City’s outfield can transform into one of the best in the American League in no time.
Jason Kipnis (CLE)- Kipnis barely exceeded the rookie threshold in 2011 by compiling 136 AB’s in his short stint with the Tribe. Kipnis is expected to be given the second base job come 2012 and will make an adequate double play combo with Asdrubal Cabrera. However, defense is not Kipnis’ strong point as his bat is what could potentially make him an above average regular in the future. He has hit well throughout his minor league career and is expected to continue that trend come 2012.
Jacob Turner (DET)- The Detroit rotation that already features MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander in it could get even stronger next season as their top pitching prospect Jacob Turner is on the verge of solidifying a spot in the big league rotation. In a full season of AA and a breif stint in AAA and the major leagues, Turner pitched very well and will probably be given the chance to make the club out of Spring Training. Verlander, Fister, Porcello and Turner makes a very nice combination of young pitchers still under team control for a while.
Leonys Martin (TEX)- The Cuban defector comes with a big price tag as the Rangers signed him for approximately 15 MM dollars this season. The center fielder has a great glove and has every chance to win the starting job next season. The only question about Martin is whether he will be able to hit enough. But regardless, Martin should be well hidden in the best lineup in the majors. His above average defense will also make up for ay offensive shortcomings.
Michael Taylor (OAK)- The once Philadelphia Phillies prospect has moved his way up through the minor league rankings and was briefly called up by the A’s last season. He still qualifies as a rookie and the A’s can use all the help they can get in that lineup. Don’t expect too much out of Taylor in his first season on a bad team while playing 81 games in a hitters nightmare.
Mike Trout (LAA)- Last years number 1A prospect along with Bryce Harper reached the big leagues at the ripe, young age of 19 after absolutely destroying A and AA in his first two seasons of pro ball. Trout struggled when being called up by the Angels but he still showed signs that he is a super star in the making. The only tricky thing about Trout and the Angels in 2012 is the crowded outfield that contains Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and Peter Bourjos. With Bobby Abreu still around and the ghost of Kendrys Morales present, its hard to see Trout getting a full season in the big leagues that he may deserve. He can thank his ex GM Tony Reagins for that.
James Paxton (SEA)- Paxton didn’t sign on with the Mariners until 2011 after being drafted by them in 2010. But the southpaw breezed through A and AA levels of the minors and is expected to arrive in the big league rotation some time in 2012. With King Felix and Michael Pineda already forming a 2 headed monster in the front of the pitching staff, one can only imagine what it will look like in a few years when Paxton, Danny Hultzen and Taijuan Walker are members of it also.
Every year there seems to be a handful of prospects who are able to come up, either after Spring Training or during the season, and make a positive impact on the club at such a young age without much big league experience. We saw this two seasons ago with Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants and this year with Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves. These are not necessarily the best prospects in the organization, but the ones who are closest to the major leagues ready to make a significant difference. Lets take a look at the possible top members of the 2012 rookie class for each National League team.
Julio Teheran (ATL)- Teheran was widely regarded as the top pitching prospect in all of baseball last year. He had a taste of the majors making a few spot starts for the Braves in 2011 but struggled. It is a very small sample size so take that with a grain of salt. The trade of Derek Lowe to Cleveland opens the door for a spot in the rotation for Teheran. He has legitimate ace stuff and is projected as a top of the rotation starter. He dominated AAA last year posting a 2.55 ERA with a 15-3 record in 144 innings pitched. The 20 year old is ready to make the next step. Look out NL East
Dominic Brown (PHI)- Brown has been the Phillies top prospect for a few years now and he got a substantial taste of the big leagues last year, hitting .245/.333/.391 in 184 AB’s in 2011. He destroyed AAA in 2010 but took a bit of a step back in 2011 overall. The left field job is his to lose now that Raul Ibanez is gone. Still one of the top outfield prospects in the game and this could be his first full season in the majors if everything goes well.
Matt Harvey (NYM)- The Mets top draft pick in 2010 breezed through high-A ball and held his own in AA in his first season of pro ball. Harvey is a durable workhorse with top of the rotation stuff. The Mets are desperate for rotation help and if Harvey starts the year in AA and pitches well, we could see him in Queens by the middle of the season. Sandy Alderson and his new regime will make sure Harvey is not rushed, but if he is ready, he will be up in a heartbeat.
Brad Peacock (WSH)- Everybody salivates over Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, but Brad Peacock is on the verge of breaking the big league rotation in Washington. He may not come with a future ace tag on him, but he has the makeup to be a productive middle of the rotation guy. Peacock has a great curveball and pitched well in AA and AAA in 2011. He has a shot at making the 25 man roster out of Spring Training.
Matt Dominguez (MIA)- Dominguez had his first taste of the big leagues last year and was unfortunate enough to suffer a broken wrist after being hit by a pitch. The defense of Dominguez is very good but the only question is will he be able to handle big league pitching. He did not exactly tear the cover off the ball in the minors and that is a concern for the Marlins. If he can hit, he has the chance to be a solid big league regular. Spring Training will be extremely important for him.
Brett Jackson (CHC)- The main name being thrown around for Theo Epstein compensation it very well in AAA in 2011. The Cubs will look to give Jackson a shot at an outfield position in 2012. He doesn’t have the upside to be a star outfielder and perennial All-Star, but a ceiling of a solid regular is still very valuable.
Devin Mesoraco (CIN)- The top catching prospect in 2011 is ready to break camp with the big league club in 2012. In 50 AB’s in the majors in 2011 Mesoraco struggled, but he hit well in AAA all season. Being a catcher, as long as Mesoraco is able to hold his own with the bat and play well behind the plate in 2012, he will provide serious value for GM Walt Jocketty and let him address other areas of the team. The Reds have the talent to be back in the playoffs in 2012 and Mesoraco could seriously help them. He projects to be an above average regular in the future.
Paul Clemens (HOU)- Oh boy, the Astros are a mess. Their top talent in their mediocre farm system is all in the lower levels. Clemens was acquired from the Braves in 2011 and has a chance to touch the big league rotation in 2011. But don’t expect much of an immediate impact from him just yet.
Starling Marte (PIT)- Marte is arguably the best hitting prospect in the entire Pirates suddenly prosperous organization. He hit extremely well in a full season of AA but the Pirates are not in a position to call him up immediately and start his big league clock. Expect him to start 2012 in AAA but he could easily be a mid-season call up.
Shelby Miller (STL)- The World Series champions are in good shape heading into 2012. They are getting their ace Adam Wainwright back, and are expecting their top pitching prospect Shelby Miller to reach the big leagues. Miller probably isn’t in a position to make the club out of Spring Training but pitched very well in AA in 2011. If he continues his success in AAA, he will easily get his chance to start in the majors in 2012. He is a top 5 pitching prospect in all of baseball.
Mat Gamel (MIL)- With Prince Fielder likely on his way out of Milwaukee, the defending NL Central champs will turn to their late blooming 1B prospect Mat Gamel to take over. Gamel used to be a top prospect in the organization but has lost value over the past few seasons. However, the 25 year old had an outstanding season in AAA in 2011. Expect Gamel to be given every opportunity to win the 1B job out of Spring Training.
Drew Pomeranz (COL)- Is arguably the most big league ready pitcher in all of the minor leagues. The jewel in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade has a lot of expectations on his shoulders for the Rockies in 2012. He is already being penciled in as a rotation fixture and is expected to help carry Colorado to the playoffs next season. The workhorse is one of the top pitching prospects in the entire league along with Matt Moore, Julio Teheran and Shelby Miller. Expect a significant impact from Pomeranz in 2012.
Brandon Belt (SF)- Although Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford do not qualify as rookies and are not eligible for the Rookie Of The Year Award, this will be their first full season in the majors. Belt was a popular pick to win the award last year and is touted to eclipse 500 AB’s in 2012. He struggled in 2011 but there are still high expectations on the young player. A full season of Belt and Posey will give the anemic offense an injection of youth and excitement. Expect a significant impact from Belt in 2012.
Jarrod Parker (ARI)- The D’backs top pitching prospect enjoyed a pretty successful season in AA last year throwing 130 innings with an 11-8 record. While there are still things to work on before Parker is a completely polished young pitcher, he can easily reach the big leagues in 2012. Breaking camp on the big league roster may be a bit of a stretch for Parker, barring a fantastic Spring Training, but he will almost certainly be in Arizona’s rotation some time in 2012
Dee Gordon (LAD)- Gordon is in a similar situation to Brandon Belt as he will not qualify as a rookie in 2012 as he has surpassed the 130 AB threshold. But Gordon hit well in his half season with the Dodgers and is touted to take over the full time SS position. He was one of the top infield prospects in all of baseball in 2011 and is expected to contribute significantly to the offense in 2012. Expect 500+ AB’s for Gordon barring injury.
Anthony Rizzo (SD)- Rizzo is 2 AB’s short of exceeding rookie eligibility for 2012 as he had 128 plate appearances in 2011 and struggled mightily after tearing the cover off the ball in AAA. He is the future first baseman of the franchise and will be given the opportunity to win the job in Spring Training. One of the main pieces in the Adrian Gonzalez trade will either begin the year in the big leagues or at worst, be called up mid way through the season.
Gerrit Cole out of UCLA was the number 1 overall pick in the 2011 MLB amateur draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. But Cole’s college teammate was also taken two picks after him by the Arizona Diamondbacks. His name is Trevor Bauer and he was arguably the most dominant college pitcher last year. Some even believed that Bauer should be taken ahead of Cole, but the Diamondbacks will surely be happy that both the Pirates and Mariners passed on him. Bauer is a right handed pitcher who completely overmatched the majority of college hitters last year after striking out 203 batters in only 136 innings pitched. That is good enough for an outstanding 13.43 K/9 ratio. He also pitched 10 complete games in 2011 and has shown in back to back years that he is a very durable starter. With Jarrod Parker and Tyler Skaggs already making progress towards the major leagues and with Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson locks for the rotation for years to come, the Diamondbacks are in pretty good shape with their pitching. Some scouts even think that Bauer will be a better long term player than his teammate Cole.
What makes Bauer unique to other pitchers is his unorthodox mechanics. He is a student of pitching and has an outstanding, professional work ethic. With a major in Computer Mathematics, Bauer has scientifically perfected his wind-up and delivery. Although there are many moving parts, his mechanics are pretty smooth without any red flags for injury. We have seen another pitcher with unusual mechanics, in Tim Lincecum win two Cy Young Awards at a very young while remaining completely durable. While Lincecum and Bauer are not perfectly comparable, it goes to show that a pitcher can have a unique style and still remain healthy and productive. Bauer’s delivery is deceptive as he hides the ball well when coming over the top before releasing it. Another nice thing to see is Bauer’s long stride to the plate, maximizing velocity and taking stress his shoulder. He also lands in a solid fielding position, standing tall after his release.
The main thing that separated Gerrit Cole and Bauer in the 2011 draft was pure stuff. Cole possesses a plus-plus fastball that reaches the high 90′s consistently, while Bauer’s fastball sits in the low 90′s. But Bauer’s breaking ball is his plus-plus, strikeout pitch. It is not just a curveball but not just a slider. Bauer adds and takes away spin on the pitch to manipulate the break on it. The slider-like pitch is an elite strikeout pitch while the curveball is more of a pitch to keep hitters off balance. Combine a good fastball, a fantastic breaking ball, with a good change-up to keep left handed hitters off balance, and you have the repertoire of a potential above average starting pitcher. While Bauer only technically throws 3 different pitches, in reality, he has 4, all oh which are good to plus in ratings.
Overall, Trevor Bauer will rival Jarrod Parker for the top prospect in the Diamondbacks farm system and could reach the big league rotation in 2012. He is in a good spot with Arizona becoming a team on the rise and already a good core of pitchers in the rotation. It is hard to project any pitcher to be a shoe-in as a future ace, as aces certainly do not grow on trees. But there seems to be a pretty high ceiling with Trevor Bauer and he can easily become an elite pitcher in the future. It also helps too that he gets to pitch in the NL West. Expect to see Bauer in the big leagues in September, and possibly earlier, depending on how Arizona’s 2012 campaign goes.
The Texas Rangers came so close to winning the first World Series in franchise history in the past two years but failed to step up when it mattered most. The instant classic game 6 of this year’s World Series had the Rangers only one strike away, two different times, from killing off the St. Louis Cardinals. But in both cases, they let the lead slip and eventually lost in 7 games in a fall classic for the ages. So now what do the Rangers do to help get them over the final hurdle? Texas is definitely a team that is going to stick around for a long time as it has one of the most potent offenses in the entire league. A combination of young, talented players, a strong farm system, and an expanding payroll indicate that the Rangers can be even better next season.
The major issue heading into this offseason for Texas is the possibility of losing their #1 pitcher in their rotation, C.J. Wilson to free agency. Losing Wilson will certainly create a hole in the rotation but with the money Wilson is asking for, it may not be the wisest investment for the future of the team. The Rangers will go into 2012 with Colby Lewis, Alexi Ogando, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison as 4 locks for their rotation spots barring any unforeseen events. There is still a need for a 5th starter with Scott Feldman viewed as more of a fringe starter better suited for long-relief work in the bullpen. With a very weak starting pitching free agent class tis year, there isn’t a top of the rotation pitcher other than Wilson available at this moment. There will always be back of the rotation starters available for 1 or 2 year deals on the market, but adding a lesser quality arm to an already uncertain rotation would be a concern for Texas. The Rangers have been mulling over moving current closer Neftali Feliz into the rotation since last offseason and this looks like the perfect time to do it. Feliz has star potential but he also has potential to be a volatile starter this season, given his lack of major league experience starting games. If Feliz is indeed moved to the rotation, the Rangers will probably be best suited to sing another starter anyway just for depth and in case something does not work out.
The American League’s most potent offense really does not need much work as the lineup is arguably the deepest and most dangerous group in the majors. Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli are all guaranteed to be in the starting lineup next season but there are still two possible question marks at first base and center field. Mitch Moreland got the majority of time at first base this season and put up below average numbers for the position. However, Moreland’s struggles were masked by a fantastic lineup ahead of him. Even though Moreland is only 25 and just completed his first season in the league, Texas could look to upgrade at first base with Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder available. Either of these players would cost a fortune but with a new TV deal on the horizon, a major acquisition may be able to be financed. Center field is also another question mark heading into 2012. Top international signing and Cuban defector Leonys Martin hit the cover off the ball in AA but then subsequently struggled in AAA after a promotion. He is a great defensive outfielder with speed but there is still concern that Martin will struggle offensively in the big leagues. Julio Borbon and Craig Gentry are current options within the organization as well. Although neither of them come with an upside to really get excited about. With the center fielder free agent market barren, it looks like one of these three young players is most likely to win the position come spring training.
The bullpen may be another area where the Rangers want to upgrade in. Assuming that Neftali Feliz is moved to the rotation, that leaves a huge gap in the closer role. Mike Adams was the setup man from July through October and is still under team control for next year. He is a top 10 reliever in all of baseball and can most likely step into the closer role if there is a vacancy. It looks like only Kojo Uejara and Yoshinori Tatayama will have guaranteed spots in the bullpen along with Adams so there are some spots that need to be filled. One of the Rangers strengths besides their offense last year was the quality of arms in their bullpen. But with Feliz likely leaving to the rotation and Mike Gonzalez and Darren Oliver leaving via free agency, the bullpen can quickly become a weakness. Mike Adams has flourished in the setup role for a few years now so there is always the possibility that Texas could keep him there and sign a closer in the free agent market. Some big names available looking for closer work are Ryan Madson, Joe Nathan, Heath Bell, Francisco Cordero, Jonathon Broxton and Matt Capps. One of these guys makes sense for the Rangers as a solid bullpen is even more important with a rotation that could contain a few question marks.
Overall the Texas Rangers are in a good position to make the playoffs again next season by riding their offense out again. Assuming there is growth in production by a few members of the rotation such as Alexi Ogando and Derek Holland, the starting pitching may not be as much of a weakness that it appears to be right now. A healthy Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton for 150+ games will help too. But there is still work to be done for GM Jon Daniels if this team wants to three-peat as AL Champs with the Angels right on their heels in the divison.
The 2013 free agent class just got a whole lot weaker as arguably the most sought after player has now agreed to a mega-extension. Matt Kemp and the Dodgers came to terms on an 8-year 160 MM dollar deal today which will lock up the MVP candidate well throughout his prime years. The 27 year old center fielder has agreed to stay in Los Angeles by signing the biggest contract ever given out to a National League player. Talks and rumors of an extension have been surfacing for a few months now as Kemp has shown that 2010 was more of an aberration rather than a trend as he as had tremendous seasons both in 2009 and 2011. He has now put himself in the conversation of being the best all-around player in the National League. Gold glove caliber center fielders who can hit for both power and average with elite speed don’t exactly grow on trees. So as long as Kemp lives up to his end of the deal, the longterm, expensive commitment by the Dodgers will be well worth it. The only other player who really compares to Kemp’s abilities from this decade looks to be Carlos Beltran. Los Angeles developed a super star and did the right thing for the future of the franchise by making sure that he sticks around for a long time. With nightmare of an owner Frank McCourt almost completely out of the picture, the Dodgers can finally take steps forward in turning the franchise into a contender again. Where else would you start in creating a contender besides building around Kemp? He is a luxury that a big market team like the Dodgers should be able to afford.
Its a shame that Kemp’s MVP-like season in 2011 had to go to waste, as the Dodgers were mediocre at best in a division that did not really have a dominant team. He posted an outstanding .324/.399/.586 triple slash line with 171 wRC+, .419 wOBA, 6.43 WPA and an 8.7 WAR. For people who aren’t sabermetric geeks like myself, that is outstanding production, especially out of a center fielder. Basic statistics also show that Kemp had a remarkable breakout season. 39 HR’s, 115 runs, 126 RBI, 74 BB’s and 40 steals is about as much as you can ask for out of a player. He was only one home run shy of joining the 40/40 club and was .013 batting average points away from winning the NL Triple Crown.
Although the Los Angeles Dodgers are a “big market” franchise, this extension may restrict them from keeping their other outfielder Andre Ethier who is destined for free agency after the 2012. Even though Andre Ethier was not nearly as productive as Kemp this season, he still has a decent track record of being a solid outfielder. He had a 30 game hit streak this year and won the Gold Glove award for left field. Assuming that Ethier has another typical season with a little bit of growth, he will be in line to receive a possible 5 year deal worth well over 50 MM dollars. This is all speculation of course but with Clayton Kershaw also eventually needing an extension, the Dodgers may cut ties with Ethier. If the Dodgers are not contenders in 2012 he could possibly be traded in July as well. This is probably a decision that the Dodgers will be willing to make as Ethier has not yet had one outstanding season as Kemp has. It would probably be more of a sound baseball move to save the potential money used to extend Ethier and put it towards a Clayton Kershaw extension. Projecting just how much a Kershaw extension wold cost is a whole other issue but basically the Dodgers need to build their team around their two young stars. They have already locked up their center fielder but only because they could not wait for him to hit the open market. There is still plenty of time to work out a deal with Kershaw as he is under team control just becoming arbitration eligible now.
Now that C.C. Sabathia is off the free agent market, the best available starting pitcher this winter just may be Yu Darvish of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan. It has been widely speculated that the Ham Fighters will indeed post Darvish and make him available. Once posted, there will be an open auction by any teams interested and the highest bid will win exclusive rights to negotiate with Darvish to sign him to a major league deal. We saw a similar case to this with Daisuke Matsuzaka a few years ago when the Boston Red Sox won his auction with a 51 MM dollar bid and then immediately signed him to a 6-year 52 MM dollar contract. Overall, the Matsuzaka commitment by the Red Sox cost over 100 MM dollars and turned out to be a bust as he has only had one good season and is currently on the shelf recovering from Tommy John surgery. However, Darvish has been touted as an even better pitcher that Matsuzaka and will still draw serious interest from multiple teams despite a history of Japanese disappointments in MLB.
At only the age of 25, Yu Darvish has dominated Japanese baseball for years and has been labeled as the best pitcher on the planet who is not currently playing in America. Since 2005, Darvish owns an impressive 93-38 record with a career ERA of 1.99 and 1259 strikeouts. 2011 has definitely been the most successful season in his career thus far as he posted an astronomical 1.44 ERA with 276 K’s and only 36 BB’s in 232 innings pitched. He also threw 10 complete games in 28 games started. All of these statistics would be off the charts in the majors but you have to take into consideration that the Japanese league is a more pitcher friendly league with less skilled batters. He certainly would not be able to maintain this success in America but it is pretty clear that Darvish is an extremely talented pitcher. The right hander stands at a thin 6’5” with a skinny frame and is very athletic. His fastball is a bit above average as it sits at 93-95 MPH with late movement. It is not an overpowering fastball but it is more than plenty to strike batters out. He also throws a few different forms of a slider, one that has more of a sideways break and another than has a sharp, downward break. A change-up and a slow, Livan Hernandez-like, curveball is also a pitch that he will go to once in a while to keep hitters off balance. His command of his pitches is fantastic and he is able to change speeds frequently and with ease. These are the traits that will turn Darvish into a successful big league pitcher even though he does not have one single outstanding pitch. The ability to mix in many different pitches at different speeds with pin point accuracy will allow him to excel.
There is little doubt that Darvish will be at least an average pitcher in the majors, and it is likely that he could become an above average pitcher. There is no guarantee he will be an ace as they are very hard to come by to begin with but the talent and potential is certainly there. Adding Darvish to a major league team will be beneficial to the fan base as it will excite current fans and also expand and reach out to the Japanese fan base. We saw this happen with Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui came over from Japan as well. The only thing that will really hold teams back from pursuing Darvish is the price tag that comes along with him. Although it is not really clear what exactly the auction price will be to obtain exclusive negotiating rights, history indicates that it could easily exceed 40 MM dollars. Combine this negotiation fee with a potential contract that could be 5 years or more, you are now looking at a 100+ MM dollar investment. Nowadays, a true ace pitcher on the open market at a relatively young age could easily eclipse a 9 figure deal as great pitching does not grow on trees. The track record and skill set that Darvish has could certainly make a team commit a massive amount of money towards him, but it really depends on what type of pitcher that certain team views him as. If they view him as a current and future top of the rotation pitcher, a 9 figure commitment is a reasonable but risky investment. However, if a team views him as an average pitcher in the majors with a limited upside, they should and most likely will shy away from Darvish.
It is difficult to predict how Darvish will do over the long term in MLB as there are not many cases in recent history to look at and compare him to. Obviously his current dominance in Japan will not be sustained in the United States. But his career success at such a young age and his repertoire of pitches combined with pitching ability indicates that Darvish may just be a once in a generation arm coming out of Japan. With the limited options on the free agent pitching market in 2011, the real question will be whether or not teams will spend on Darvish this year, or save their money next year when potential free agents include Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke and Matt Cain. All three of these pitchers could command a 9 figure deal, a similar cost that it will take to acquire Darvish.
Wade Davis was one of the many young arms that the Rays have developed over the past few years with high expectations. The former top prospect has just finished his second full season in Tampa Bay where he has been mediocre to average at best. Davis finished 2011 with a 4.45 ERA (4.82 xFIP) with 105 K’s and 63 BB’s. Not every top prospect will pan out over the long term but you have to take a few factors into consideration when evaluating Davis. First off, he is only two years into his big league career. Not every young pitcher with moderate to high expectations can burst onto the scene with immediate success. There is always a learning curve for every young pitcher as he adjusts to hitters and he figures out his repertoire of pitches. Also take into consideration that Davis pitches in the AL East, undoubtedly the best division in baseball. There definitely is still an upside to Davis as he has shown flashes of brilliance during his stretches of mediocrity. But, with a Rays rotation that figures to feature top prospect Matt Moore next year, Davis could be the odd man out. David Price, James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson are all penciled in to the 2012 Rays rotation barring trades or injuries. It also seems that Jeff Niemann and Moore will round out the last two spots sometime during the season. Moore could start the season in AAA so that the Rays can manipulate his service time. But eventually, he will join the big league club as he is ready to face major league batters.
Jeff Niemann was a more than capable #4 starter last year and could arguably be a good #3 on other major league rosters. With high expectations on Matt Moore, Niemann will presumably become the 5th starter in arguably the best rotation in the American League. This leaves Davis without a spot in the rotation and either the minors or the bullpen as his only options if he remains in Tampa Bay. You can never have enough pitching in baseball but there is an obvious surplus here that could be moved for other more pressing needs. The Rays could use more help in the bullpen, at shortstop, catcher, first base and possibly the DH position. With the starting pitcher market being extremely thin this year, there could be a decent market for Wade Davis. He is under team control at a very cheap salary until 2014 with club options from 2015-2017 with the total value on those options at 25 MM. Davis is guaranteed 11.6 MM for the next three seasons which is a very reasonable cost, assuming he continues to get better as a pitcher.
Because of all of these factors, the Rays should explore dealing Davis to benefit the club for 2012. He still has a reasonable upside so he could fetch useful pieces for Tampa Bay, who are obviously ready to compete next season. The Rays still have fringe starter Andy Sonnanstine under team control for 2012 and other pitching prospects who could be ready to make the big league club next season, including Chris Archer. There is not a clear market for Davis yet, for he has not been made available. But rest assured there will be plenty of teams that will be interested in acquiring him. A move away from the AL East could be beneficial for Davis and he could also bring back pieces to bolster the defending AL Wild Card champions. He is only going to be an excess part of the Rays 2012 team so why keep him around when they can turn him into something useful?
The Rawlings Gold Glove Awards are given out every season to the top defensive player at each position for both leagues. These awards are widely regarded as insignificant and arbitrary due to the fact that managers and coaches vote on who wins and who doesn’t. Reputation, offensive production and winning the award in the past has typically played a role in who really wins and who actually deserves to win. Lets take a closer look at the winners from each league and their qualifications.
C- Yadier Molina- No argument here. This is Molina’s 4th Gold Glove in a row and he is now head and shoulders above every other catcher in the majors in terms of defense. His ability to throw behind runners with such quickness and accuracy can completely stop a running game. Although he let up 46 steals this season (the highest of his career), he is still outstanding behind the plate. This should have been unanimous.
1B- Joey Votto- The 2010 NL MVP can now add a Gold Glove to his already impressive resume. A .996 fielding percentage and 7.4 UZR were both highs for the position in the National League. Solid choice.
2B- Brandon Phillips- Phillips is arguably the best second baseman in either league which is why this comes as no surprise. Phillips deserved his 3rd award by only committing 6 errors all season with a 11.4 UZR. Outstanding, should be no debate here.
SS- Troy Tulowitzki- Although the NL has strong candidates for the position including Jimmy Rollins, Alex Gonzalez and Jose Reyes, Tulo stands alone in this class. He has a cannon of an arm and fantastic range. A 7.3 UZR with only 6 errors all season long. Oh yeah, and all those web gems too. Unanimous.
3B- Placido Polanco- 8 errors and a 14.0 UZR. Very impressive for someone playing the hot corner. The only complaint about Polanco is the fact that he only played 118 games at the position. But nobody else really stood out this year. Correct decision.
LF- Gerardo Parra- Parra may not bring the flashy, household name but he had an outstanding season, arguably the best defensive season for an outfielder in the National League. Parra posted a 9.8 UZR this season and definitely has more Gold Gloves in his future.
CF- Matt Kemp- Here we have the first controversial award in the NL. Kemp’s MVP season may have helped him to his second award. He is a very athletic outfielder but the general consensus is that he is not elite at the position as he may come off in games. Michael Bourn, Andrew McCutchen and maybe Rick Ankiel have a legitimate case.
RF- Andre Ethier- Ethier is not as athletic as other outfielders, but a perfect fielding percentage and a 5.3 UZR is very good. Solid at the position. Justin Upton may be the best all-around defensive right fielder in the NL but selecting Ethier is not a bad choice.
P- Clayton Kershaw- Not one pitcher really stands out in the NL for their defense as there are many good fielding pitchers. But Kershaw did not make one error all season and is very athletic off the mound when fielding bunts and slow ground balls. Perfect throwing the ball around the diamond also. Solid selection.
C- Matt Wieters- Wieters may have been touted as the next elite hitting catcher in the league, but his defense has made fantastic progress since his rookie season. He has a great arm behind the plate, throwing out 34 base runners this year. He also only let one pass ball get by all season, a great feat considering how horrendous the Baltimore pitching staff was this year. He has the skills to become a perennial winner for the Gold Glove.
1B- Adrian Gonzalez- The AL East had some great defensive first baseman in Gonzalez, Mark Teixeira and Casey Kotchman, but A-Gon took home his 3rd award in 4 seasons. He is outstanding in the field and is arguably the best defensive first baseman in the league. Peter Gammons described Gonzalez as “the perfect thrower of the ball” also. Easy pick here, but give credit to Teixeira and Kotchman as well who are also terrific.
2B- Dustin Pedroia- Pedroia collected his second award in his career by only making 7 errors and posting a tremendous 17.9 UZR at the position. It seems like every night Pedroia was on the highlight reel for a diving play or crazy throw. Well earned and well deserved.
3B- Adrian Beltre- Beltre displayed during the playoffs to the entire nation that he is the best defensive third baseman in the majors. His cannon of an arm is also pinpoint accurate and nobody has a better backhand in baseball. This is his 3rd Gold Glove and it wouldn’t surprise me if he won 3 more in Texas. Unanimous.
SS- Erick Aybar- A very interesting and debatable pick. With Derek Jeter aging and losing a bit of range it was only a matter of time before somebody else succeeded him. Aybar is a very good fielder but has not separated himself . Alcides Escobar and Elvis Andrus might be a bit disappointed here.
LF- Alex Gordon- Although Alex Gordon had a breakout year both at the plate and in the field, general consensus is that Brett Gardner should have won this. Gordon did lead the league with 20 assists and posted a great 10.5 UZR. But Gardner is an above average center fielder playing left field. The award should have gone to him. Anti-Yankee voting seems to be present this year.
CF- Jacoby Ellsbury- His MVP season may have pushed him over the top but you cannot deny his perfect fielding percentage and 15.6 UZR. A truly remarkable season all together. Fenway is a tough center field to play but Ellsbury pulled it off. Can’t argue about this choice, however, Franklin Gutierrez deserves some recognition as well.
RF- Nick Markakis- Its about time Markakis won this award, as he was blocked by 10 straight seasons of Ichiro. But Markakis is as solid as it gets in right field in the AL and has a great arm. He had 14 assists this season and has established a reputation for not being run on. Well deserved.
P- Mark Buehrle- After that ridiculous flip through the legs on opening day last year, Buehrle might just win this award every year until he retires. This year marks his 3rd straight Gold Glove and well deserved in fact. He has the glove of a shortstop and is widely regarded as the best fielding pitcher since Greg Maddux. Unanimous.