Throughout the season (minus last week, when I was vacationing at Safeco Field), I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 9, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 9! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Oakland Athletics (7-6 over the last fortnight, 33-22 overall) ↑ With a run differential of +112, the A’s are lapping the rest of the American League; the four other teams who can boast a positive differential – Detroit, Toronto, LA, and Seattle (Seattle?!) – when combined, have a +98 mark. I would highlight a single player, Josh Donaldson for example, and point to their individual success as fuel to the team’s fire, but everyone – Brandon Moss, Derek Norris, Yoenis Cespedes, even Kyle Blanks since being acquired from the Padres – has been getting it done of late. As usual, the A’s are winning without runaway star contributors, and as usual, no one is batting an eyelid.
- Detroit Tigers (5-9, 31-21) ↓
- Toronto Blue Jays (10-3, 33-24) ↑ Speaking of turning heads, I present the Toronto Blue Jays, and most particularly, Edwin Encarnacion, in the month of May. Perhaps inspired by the Raptors’ #WeTheNorth campaign, The Jays turned up in a big way over the past 31 days, going 21-9 in that span, including a 9-game stretch in which they consecutively swept Boston, Oakland, and Tampa Bay. Plenty has been made of Encarnacion, who in tying Mickey Mantle for the most home runs in the month of May by an AL player launched balls over a mile and a quarter, and the rest of the powerful Toronto offense (they’ve failed to hit a long ball in just two games over the past fortnight), but it will be pitching that will keep the Jays at the AL East summit. Even with Mark Buehrle continuing to defy the advanced metrics, and top prospect Marcus Stroman living up to the hype in his first start (the diminutive righty held the Royals to one run on five hits with no walks and five strikeouts over six innings yesterday), the club remain linked to Jeff Samardzija. One of just two teams not to make the postseason this millennium, and considering the current state of the AL East, pushing all their chips into middle by trading for Samardzija, might not be a bad idea for team GM Alex Anthopolous.
- Los Angeles Angels (7-6, 30-25) ↓ Mike Trout is out of the lineup today with back stiffness. Along with his OPS dropping to ‘just’ .929 this year, I’m beginning to think that maybe he isn’t a cyborg solely designed to break baseball records anymore, and might even have some human flaws.
- New York Yankees (7-6, 29-25) →
- Baltimore Orioles (5-8, 27-27) ↓ Nelson Cruz is being paid $8 million this year. Nelson Cruz has 20 home runs, a 186 OPS+, and a 2.2 WAR value. It’s the first day of June.
- Seattle Mariners (7-6, 27-28) ↑ After my Memorial Day visit, I officially love Safeco Field, which was made even better by the Mariners soundly beating the Angels. Seeing Chris Young throw five innings of no-hit ball was definitely unexpected, as was my mother taking a liking to Justin Smoak simply because of his name. The Mariners, even slow-footed Robinson Cano, victimizing poor Hank Conger on the basepaths for three stolen bases in one inning was pretty darn entertaining too.
- Boston Red Sox (6-7, 26-29) ↓ After enduring a brutal 10-game losing streak, the Red Sox have now amassed a six-game winning streak. In between a pair of walk-off wins, the continued war of words between David Ortiz and David Price, and Clay Buchholz‘s struggles though, perhaps most notably, some of the kids that Boston placed so much emphasis on prior to the season have finally started coming through; since the start of that dreadful losing streak, Xander Bogaerts has stormed his way to a .397/.465/.603 line, and Rubby De La Rosa, acquired in the Dodgers dump, impressively fired seven scoreless innings of four-hit ball yesterday, striking out 8 Rays along the way. Now, if only the Sox could get Jackie Bradley Jr. to improve his ghastly 66 OPS+ too…
- Texas Rangers (8-5, 28-28) ↑
- Chicago White Sox (7-6, 28-29) ↑
- Kansas City Royals (5-8, 26-29) ↓ Reading Rany Jazayerli’s Twitter rants, whether they be concerning Ned Yost‘s latest gaffe, Dayton Moore’s continued incompetence, Kansas City’s punchless offense, another hitting coach being fired, potential James Shields trades, or Mike Moustakas‘ quick demotion/promotion swing, never gets old. Being a fan of the Royals must get stale pretty quickly I’m guessing.
- Cleveland Indians (7-6, 26-30) ↑
- Minnesota Twins (4-8, 25-28) ↓ Struggling center fielder Aaron Hicks has abandoned switch-hitting, and will now bat exclusively from the right side. Sounds like a good idea in theory considering his awful offensive production, minus the fact that Hicks has actually been substantially better from the left side so far this year; the 24-year-old has a .250/.400/.325 line as a southpaw in 2014, compared to a brutal .154/.280/.205 line as a righty. The Byron Buxton Era can’t come soon enough up at Target Field.
- Tampa Bay Rays (4-8, 23-33) ↓ Does much more need to be said? I suppose it could be mentioned that Tampa are in the midst of a 5-game tailspin, and Wil Myers is now on the disabled list too.
- Houston Astros (9-5, 24-33) → Naturally, in the time I was on vacation, and thus not paying attention to my fantasy baseball teams, George Springer went off while slotted in one of my bench spots. In that May 24th to 29th span, in 34 plate appearances Springer had 6 home runs, walked more often than he struck out (5BBs to 4Ks), possessed a .417 average, and accrued a ridiculous 1.767 OPS mark. Even more ludicrously, the Astros went 6-0 and are now no longer the worst team (by record anyway) in the American League. Now excuse me while I go light myself on fire…
Throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 7, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 7! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Detroit Tigers (5-1 last week, 26-12 overall) → Over their last 17 games, the Tigers have just 3 losses, and have swept away both their closest AL Central challenger (Kansas City), and the AL East leader (Baltimore). If they extend their winning streak to six tonight at Fenway Park, you can add the defending World Series champions Boston to that list too. Cleveland and Texas better look out this week, because Detroit are rolling…
- Oakland Athletics (5-1, 27-16) → … as are the Athletics, who have now won 8 of their last 9, outscoring their opponents 58-15 during that time. 58-15! Given how they’re an unglamorous team that plays in a sewer bowl though, no one is watching the Athletics no matter how good they’ve been of late – only 10,120 fans went to their Monday game at O.co Coliseum against the White Sox. At least they’ll be used to a lack of crowd noise for when they travel to play in front of empty seats at Tampa Bay this week.
- Los Angeles Angels (5-2, 23-19) ↑ Mike Trout is ‘struggling’ in May, not that it stopped him from hitting a three-run, walk-off home run against the Rays, or 41,959 fans (including over 4000 from his hometown of Millville, NJ) coming out to see him in his first trip back to Philadelphia. He’s still second in the AL WAR standings too, with 2.8, trailing only Josh Donaldson (3.3), and remains on pace for a career high value. Must be real hard being Mike Trout right now eh?
- Baltimore Orioles (2-5, 22-19) ↓
- New York Yankees (3-3, 22-19) → Masahiro Tanaka notched his first shutout in the US on Wednesday against the Mets, and in the process moved to 30-0 since the beginning of 2013. That $155 million contract that Brian Cashman handed out to the 25-year-old Tanaka is looking like more and more of a steal with every start he makes.
- Toronto Blue Jays (5-2, 23-21) ↑ Hands up if you had Drew Hutchison throwing a three-hit shutout and out dueling Yu Darvish on Friday night? Liars… In other news, after injury marred 2012 and 2013 seasons, Jose Bautista appears to be back in vintage form. His .998 OPS thus far is actually marginally better than his 2010 mark, a season in which he famously hit 54 home runs, though he still has a little way to go to match his 2011 total (1.055). Either way, along with Edwin Encarnacion, a healthy Bautista gives Toronto one of the most fearsome middle-order duos in all of baseball – which should help whenever Hutchison’s deal with the baseball Gods expires.
- Boston Red Sox (2-4, 20-22) ↓
- Kansas City Royals (4-2, 21-21) ↑ Mike Moustakas apparently didn’t appreciate all the speculation regarding whether he should be demoted – if you haven’t yet heard the audio from his post game ‘interview’ after Wednesday’s game, I’d recommend giving Buster Olney’s Baseball Tonight podcast from Friday a listen (skip to the end for Moustakas’ incredibly childish non-response to questions). I’d have sent him down just for that.
- Seattle Mariners (1-5, 20-22) ↓ Is it selfish for me to be praying that Seattle somehow have their schedule messed up a bit this week so that either King Felix Hernandez or Hisashi Iwakuma gets pushed into starting against the Angels on Memorial Day? Otherwise it looks like I’ll be watching Chris Young pitch when I venture north to visit Safeco Field.
- Minnesota Twins (5-1, 21-20) ↑ After surprisingly jacking seven home runs and stealing seven bases during April, I can’t say I was expected Brian Dozier to get better. But improve even further he has, pasting a further 4 long balls and pilfering another 6 bags so far in May, and batting .318/.420/.545 after an April in which he hit just .226. Factor in his tremendous defense at second base, and fellow keystoner Jason Kipnis‘ 2014 campaign being limited by injury thus far, and Dozier may well find himself playing an additional game at Target Field later this summer.
- Tampa Bay Rays (3-4, 19-25) →
- Chicago White Sox (2-4, 21-23) ↑ Jose Abreu hits the disabled list with tendinitis in his left ankle, as some evil genius out there strives to take away every exciting young player in baseball during half a season.
- Texas Rangers (1-5, 20-23) ↓ After starting the season 4-0 with a 1.42 ERA, including a pair of 3-hit shutouts, it did seem odd that Martin Perez would suddenly allow 19 runs in the 13 1/3 innings that constituted his next three starts – almost as weird as how the San Diego Padres could abruptly pepper Jose Fernandez. Well, like Fernandez, an MRI showed that Texas’ 23-year-old sophomore also has a torn UCL, and will require Tommy John surgery. The season-ending procedure will be administered this Monday by team physician Dr. Keith Meister. In another devastating blow to the Ranger’s rotation, Matt Harrison may require career-threatening spinal-fusion surgery. After being limited by injury to just six starts over the 2013 and 2014 seasons combined, it unfortunately seems that we’ve likely seen the last of Harrison on the mound. Throw in Prince Fielder needing a nerve-root injection yesterday due to a herniated disk in his neck (ending his consecutive games streak at 547), and the deluge of injuries that first began in Spring Training has officially drowned Texas’ chances in 2014. A lost season if there ever was one, and it’s only May 18th – sorry Rangers fans.
- Cleveland Indians (2-4, 19-24) ↓ From jumping three levels of the Indians organization in 2013 and pitching in the Wild-Card game, to surrendering a a 5.53 ERA and barely lasting five innings a start to begin 2014, the Danny Salazar rollercoaster ride continued on this week with the 24-year-old being sent back to Triple-A Columbus. On the plus side of things, his demotion will mean we should get to see Trevor Bauer again this week, who has gone 4-1 with a 2.15 ERA in his seven starts so far down at Columbus. He’s slated to square off against Justin Verlander and Detroit on Tuesday though, so it won’t exactly be a cushy re-introduction back into major league competition.
- Houston Astros (4-2, 15-28) → Are my eyes deceiving me? Did the Astros just have a winning week? You betcha!
Throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 4, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 4! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Oakland Athletics (3-4 last week, 15-9 overall) →
- Detroit Tigers (4-3, 12-9) → For a presumed powerhouse, Detroit have somewhat underwhelmed thus far. With their upcoming schedule consisting of trips to Minnesota, Kansas City, and Chicago (White Sox), and games at home against Houston and Minnesota (again) however, the Tigers have themselves a creampuff of a fortnight on the way. Against such an easy slate, you would think Brad Ausmus‘ squad should roll. If they don’t, well, perhaps then it will be time to worry.
- Texas Rangers (4-2, 15-9) ↑ The Rangers rode into the O.co Coliseum this past week to face the rolling A’s, and emerged unsullied (there’s a sewage joke to be made in there somewhere). Capping off the 3-game sweep*, Martin Perez threw his second straight compete-game shutout, extending his scoreless innings streak to 26 in the process. Throwing more strikes, generating ground balls, and letting his defense do the work, the 23-year-old lefty has thus far been sensational backing up Yu Darvish in the Texas rotation – a group which is about to get a further boost; Matt Harrison starts today for the first time after back problems sidelined him during Spring Training. The injury bug continued to riddle the Texas lineup, with Shin-Soo Choo (ankle sprain) and surprise contributor Kevin Kouzmanoff (back) both dinged up during the past seven days, but things are getting slight better in regards to health – star third baseman Adrian Beltre returned to have a key go-ahead hit in the ninth inning of Friday’s 6-5 loss in his first game back. Just imagine what they’ll be capable of when they all finally get healthy.
- New York Yankees (4-2, 14-10) ↑ Quite the news week in the Bronx, and it pretty much all centered around Michael Pineda‘s pine tar use. After being ejected on Wednesday for his stupidity (and inspiring humorous analogies for his error on Twitter), Pineda was suspended for 10 games by MLB the day after, but the debate over Sticky Fingers II and the use of gripping aids will likely continue on into the offseason. In the meantime, the Yanks will be somewhat short of starters until his return on May 5th – fellow rotation member Ivan Nova formally confirmed what we all feared last week; he’ll need Tommy John surgery and miss the rest of the season.
- Boston Red Sox (4-3, 12-13) ↑
- Baltimore Orioles (4-3, 12-11) ↑ Getting Manny Machado back should offset the loss of Chris Davis to the DL with a strained oblique. Do the Birds sneakily have the AL’s best lineup?
- Los Angeles Angels (3-3, 11-12) ↑ Despite their losing record, the Angels have the second best run differential of the Junior Circuit (+30, trailing only Oakland), suggesting they’ve perhaps been a tad unlucky so far**. With Mike Trout still warming up (which sounds stupid considering his .977 OPS, but hey, it’s Mike ‘Freakin Trout we’re talking about), Albert Pujols has shouldered the offensive load over the last week; “The Machine” not only posted a 1.101 OPS, but slugged his way into the 500 Home Run Club with a two-homer night in Washington, becoming the 26th player to the mammoth landmark. After being plagued by injuries during his first two years in L.A., perhaps the Angels are finally getting the Old Albert Pujols rather than just the old Albert Pujols.
- Tampa Bay Rays (2-4, 11-13) ↓
- Kansas City Royals (2-5, 11-12) ↓ As if losing 5 of 7 wasn’t bad enough, Kansas City fans were dealt yet another gut punch by team manger Ned Yost on Saturday; after KC closer Greg Holland never left the bullpen in the Royals’ 3-2 loss in 10 innings to the Orioles, Yost told Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star that he would never use Holland in tied road game again. Asked why he did so against the Detroit Tigers back on March 31/Opening Day, Yost responded, “Because I really wanted to win that game Opening Day.” I’m so dreadfully sorry for all Royals fans out there that this man is in charge of your team. Really, I am.
- Toronto Blue Jays (1-5, 11-13) ↓ After a promising start, the Jays have dropped four straight to AL East rivals. Maybe they’re too busy watching the Raptors in the NBA playoffs #WeTheNorth!
- Cleveland Indians (4-3, 11-13) → With Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar struggling, down at Class AAA Columbus Trevor Bauer must be rubbing his hands with glee in anticipation of an extended shot at cracking the big league rotation. If they’re to make it back to the postseason, the Indians can’t afford to wallow in mediocrity much longer.
- Minnesota Twins (4-2, 12-11)↑ Go vote for your All-Stars everybody!
- Chicago White Sox (4-3, 12-13) →
- Seattle Mariners (2-4, 9-14) ↓ The Mariners offense remains putrid overall, but Robinson Cano rebounded from his slow start to hit .409 over the past seven days. Cano is heating up at an especially convenient time, for on Tuesday he’ll return to the short right field porch of Yankee Stadium for the first time since leaving the Evil Empire over the winter. If the over/under for his HR total in the 3-game series is 2.5, give me the over, as Jay Z’s client looks to stick it to his former mates.
- Houston Astros (3-4, 8-17) → After exhibiting a worrying dip in his pitching velocity during Spring Training and then putting up a 6.23 ERA in 13 innings of work at Class A Advanced Lancaster, Houston’s top pitching prospect Mark Appel was demoted on Friday to participate in extended spring training sessions in Florida. Jeff Luhnow is for now insistent upon last years 1:1 pick not being injured, but the big righty’s setback raises questions over the viability of the Astro’s four-man tandem Minor League rotations.
** In fact, they’re second by a huge margin of 25, with Minnesota (!) next highest at +5.
Having signed Max Scherzer to a one-year, $15.525 million contract to avoid arbitration this past winter, long-term extension talks between the Detroit Tigers and reigning AL Cy Young winner – and Scott Boras client – have recently been scrapped. In reportedly turning down what Dave Dombrowski called “a very substantial offer that would place him among the highest-paid pitchers in the game,” (Fox Sports‘ Jon Morosi putting the deal at six years, $144 million, placing Scherzer on the same pay trajectory as Cole Hamels), the 29-year-old may well have done the Detroit Tigers a favor.
History tells us long-term extensions for aging top flight pitchers aren’t often fiscally prudent. In 2013 alone we witnessed the end for numerous such signees; Johan Santana’s 6 year, $137.5M deal finally ended with him recovering from shoulder surgery (again), the lefty having provided only 109 starts and 717 innings to the Mets during their pact. Barry Zito remained largely healthy over his 7/126 contract with the Giants, but he provided less than 2 cumulative WARP in the time, all while rocking a 4.47 ERA. Roy Halladay retired with a whimper and a 6.82 ERA in 2013, having battled injuries throughout his two final years in Philadelphia – both costing $20M apiece. Even C.C. Sabathia showed worrying signs of ineffectiveness last year, and he still has another $96 million owed to him by the Yankees over the next four years. With Justin Verlander (7 yr/$180M, plus a 22M option in 2020) and Anibal Sanchez (5 yr/$80M, plus a 2018 option) already locked up through their thirties, and considering the outlined inherent risk in doing so much, did the Tigers especially need to add another long-term extension to the already-dangerous mix?
Thankfully for the Tigers, the quandary has at least for now, resolved itself; Scherzer will let his 2014 performance dictate his market value next winter, risking potential injury or decline in his search for a better deal. If he comes close to his performance over the last two years (during which time he’s been worth 11 WAR, per Fangraphs, and at 2.99, had the seventh best FIP in the majors), he’ll be a very expensive 30-year-old, a commodity that some team – unlikely to be the Tigers it seems – will happily overpay. Detroit will by then have another extension to worry about anyway.
With Scherzer – and presumably the money they cleared for him in trading away Prince Fielder and Doug Fister – off the table, Detroit management must now focus on what to do about Miguel Cabrera (and apparently already has). Set to make $22 million in each of the next two seasons, the twice-defending AL MVP will be a free agent after his age-32 season in 2015 should the Tigers not re-sign him before then – a decision which, mostly because of Albert Pujols, isn’t quite the slam-dunk you’d think.
It can’t be denied, the 30-year-old has been the best hitter in baseball over the last couple of seasons (though he’s been a huge negative both in the field and on the basepaths, hence why Mike Trout is technically more valuable). He’s beloved by the fans in Detroit, his presence in the lineup instantly elevating their team’s offense into elite territory. But he’s also bound to command a massive payday, potentially a problem – as ESPN writer Dan Szymborski pointed out back in November:
The next team to sign Cabrera, whether it’s the Tigers or another team, doesn’t get to purchase his previous six seasons, they get the right to his next six seasons. All good things come to an end… and Cabrera’s star is no exception. From stars to scrubs, the after-age-30 stories tend to be one of decline… The lessons of previous superstars should not go unlearned.
The “previous superstars” reference could hardly be less veiled – the respective career trajectories of Cabrera and Albert Pujols are eerily similar, something Jason Catania noted:
Pujols is right-handed; so is Cabrera. Pujols was a highly rated prospect who broke into the major leagues playing third base and outfield before settling in at first base; ditto, Cabrera. And Pujols enjoyed immediate, overwhelming success in his first full season—at the tender age of 21—triggering a decade of incredible, consistent production in which he hit for both league-leading average and power… Same goes for Cabrera.
With the similarly hefty sort of frame that Cabrera currently boasts (he might actually have been in better shape), the decline began for Pujols in his age-31 season, his last with the Cardinals. He hit just (!) 299/.366/.541, a great season in a vacuum, but all career lows for Pujols – who averaged .328/.420/.617 with 40 homers, 41 doubles and an OPS+ of 170 in his time with the Cardinals. Of course, it was then, entering his age-32 season, that the Los Angeles Angels signed him to a 10 year, $240 million contract; since then Pujols’ production has been marred by injury, his two year triple slash line falling to .275/.338/.485 in addition to his underlying skills continuing to trend in the wrong directions (he’s had an increasing strikeout rate, a decreasing walk rate and worsening plate discipline for the past five seasons now).
Cabrera – if allowed to get there – will be hitting the free-agent market one year older than when Pujols did back in 2011/12. Though there’s been no offensive drop-off so far, injuries began to worryingly take their toll last year; by the end of the season, problems with his hip, abdomen, and groin had slowed his previously torrid output at the plate to such an extent that Cabrera managed only four extra-base hits over 32 games in September and October. With ten years of experience under his belt too, 2014 will mark the exact same point in his career as when Pujols began to decline in 2011 – the season prior to his mammoth new contract.
The Tigers are all in. But for all their big moves and expenditure over the past few years, they’ve only two ALCS losses and one World Series trip to show for it – a sweep at the hands of a Pablo Sandoval-powered Giants in 2012. With Scherzer unsigned, Dave Dombrowski may have dodged a bullet, but in the wake of such perceived failure, the pressure to lock up Cabrera will only increase. With two years left on his deal though, the Tigers would do well to observe history – like perhaps they did in not ponying up for Scherzer – and ride out the public outcry for a new contract. After all, as Szymborski wrote, “He’s not likely to get more expensive, given that he’s at the absolute peak of his game.” If the Pujols-like slide begins, tough as it might be to quit while they’re ahead and cut ties with their franchise player, Detroit would thus avoid the albatross contract currently weighing down the Angels and be able to earnestly rebuild.
The clock is ticking; Detroit’s championship window is still open, but it could soon be fast closing. Whether the Tigers will accept as much remains to be seen.
Since arriving in the Majors in May 2012, the Millville Meteor has been the most valuable player in baseball, posting consecutive 10+ WAR seasons in his age 20 and 21 campaigns. He has robbed home runs in spectacular fashion, playing center field with all the grace of a gazelle – a gazelle with a crazy vertical leap. On the basepaths, he’s a terror, using the speed that routinely turns grounders into infield hits to pose a constant threat when on base – which by the way, he generally is. At the dish, he’s been one of the five best hitters in the game, combining a patient approach (he was third in the majors with 110 walks last year), with both a plus hit tool (hitting .326 and .323 in the past two years respectively) and surprising power (he already has 62 home runs). Furthermore, he owns Yu Darvish and Felix Hernandez, the two pitchers he has faced most often so far in his young career, with Darvish recently admitting he has no idea how to pitch to him – high praise indeed, given his position as reigning AL strikeout king. By all measures, Trout is the most valuable player in the sport (hence why his upcoming contract terms are being widely, and wildly, debated). That Miguel Cabrera has beaten him to the official hardware in both the past two years is merely indicative of a voting class that still favors RBI(zzzzzz) over metrics that also take into account fielding and base running – y’know, crucial elements of the sport.
I’m not here to argue about Cabrera stealing Trout’s shine though; as Jonah Keri put it so wonderfully, “Criticizing Cabrera or Trout is like whining about the mole on Kate Upton’s upper lip.” Despite his lack of formal acknowledgment, when it comes to who’s most valuable, we know. The Angels are lucky to have him, and should hold on to their young superstar for as long as humanly possible. Things could have been very different after all…
In making Mark Teixeira a very rich man – signing the prize position player of the 2008 free agency class to a eight year, $180M contract – the Yankees sacrificed their first round pick in 2009’s MLB amateur draft to his former employer, the Angels, as compensation (Los Angeles would also receive a supplemental pick in the deal). Of course, in a rare turn of bad luck for the Yanks, that sacrificed pick later turned out to be a certain high school kid from from South Jersey (the supplemental pick too, if you were interested, was Tyler Skaggs). In an alternate world, Mike Trout would now be in pinstripes – and a whole heck of other things would probably be different too. Let the butterfly flap it’s wings.
Having extended an eight year offer of their own during the Winter Meetings, lets say Teixeira, having enjoyed his three month spell in SoCal so much, turns down the overtures of not only New York, Boston, Baltimore, and the Nationals, and instead re-ups with the Angels.
Having missed out on Teixeira, but already spent a cool $243.5M in bringing aboard CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the Yankees opt to sign the still-available Manny Ramirez to a two year pact. Though Teixeira amasses 3.0 additional WAR than Ramirez during the season, hitting .292/.383/.565 and finishing second in AL MVP voting, he performs miserably in the postseason, hitting just .180/.282/.311 in what begins a trend of disappointing playoff performances. The Angels fall to the Yankees in the ALCS, who (like in reality) go on to win the World Series over Philadelphia, Ramirez batting a serviceable .281/.324/.469 along the way. With the World Series title in their back pockets, the Yanks also head into 2009 armed with two first round picks, and one very specific target.
At an introductory press conference, New York’s scouting director Damon Oppenheimer speaks first: “He was the second guy on our overall board. It was (Stephen) Strasburg and then Trout.” With the 25th pick in the 2009 draft, the Yankees have of course, snagged Mike Trout, who had fallen into their laps after scouts didn’t pay enough attention to his Northeast high school. Additionally, with Trout already in the bag, the Evil Empire pass on picking up another high school outfielder, Slade Heathcott, and instead select Tyler Skaggs just four picks later. Not even Alex Rodriguez’s and Manny Ramirez’s joint PED admission later in the season can bring down the Yankees, though they eventually fall in the playoffs.
Fast forward to the winter of 2011. With Teixeira in Anaheim, free agent first baseman Albrt Pujols turns instead to his biggest offer, signing for ten years and $275M to be the face of the new Miami Marlins franchise, swallowing his request for a no-trade clause to be included in the deal. With no money left to spend, Miami can’t afford their other free agent target Jose Reyes, who agrees to fill the void at shortstop for the Cardinals. Prince Fielder remains available until January, when Texas finally step up and sign him in an pseudo arms race with the Angels for the most bloated 1B contract in the AL West (and yes, the use of “bloated” was very intentional).
The 2012 season begins, and Trout is called up by the Yankees in May. He does Mike-Trout things, posting a rookie season for the ages in which he hits 326/.399/.564 with an 168 OPS+, his play both inspiring comparison to ‘True Yankee’ Mickey Mantle, and John Sterling to come up with two incredibly annoying home run calls by June (I’m thinking “No Doubt! Mike Trout!” or “That one’s Troutta here!”). Quickly realizing the next franchise cornerstone is in the fold, Derek Jeter steps away from the game graciously after the season, having suffered a gruesome broken ankle in the postseason; in his retirement press conference, he speaks of recognizing how his body can’t do it everyday anymore, and jokes about how he’s been overmatched at shortstop for years anyhow. Rebuffing questions about whether he’d have preferred a retirement tour, Jeter says he wouldn’t want to detract from Trout – who will be the next Yankee captain.
After an amazing sophomore campaign, Trout is unanimously regarded as the best player in baseball. His cheap contract too, means that the Yankees have money to burn elsewhere, and instead of signing Jacoby Ellsbury, re-sign Robinson Cano – GM Brian Cashman dismissively amused that the Yankees would ever not lock in the game’s best player at the keystone for the rest of his career. Having signed Yu Darvish in 2011 with the money they saved not signing Teixeira (and the Rangers’ hands tied by the enormous Fielder contract), they augment their staff further with the addition of Masahiro Tanaka, and swing Tyler Skaggs along with a host of other top prospects to Tampa for a one year rental of David Price. With such formidable pitching depth, and Trout and Cano leading the offense, no one even cares about Rodriguez’s season-long suspension for his part in the Biogenesis scandal; the Yankees romp to the 2014 title regardless.
Mike Trout is named the 2014 AL MVP, just as he will be back in reality.
It’s an annual tradition at this point. With two weeks of Spring Training in the books, the exciting young prospects are mostly cut, the superstars are going through the motions, and most everyone just wants the regular season to get underway. With little else to focus on then, the number of stories focusing on potential breakout performers increases exponentially, most of which are based off a ridiculously impressive, but ridiculously small sample size of Spring Training statistics. Yesterday, I added to that already large number, looking at the hot starts of Mike Moustakas and Tommy Medica in addition to the battle for Colorado’s final outfield slot. Today, I continue on with some more of Spring Training’s offensive leaders, and whether anything meaningful can be gathered from their performances so far.
The No. 2 overall pick from the 2009 MLB draft, Dustin Ackley has thoroughly disappointed in his brief tenure with the Seattle Mariners. After posting a combined .669 OPS at the dish while also failing to stick defensively at either second base or center field during his first three years with the team, Ackley will be starting in left for the Mariners in 2014, pretty much by default (S/O to Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik on his outfield construction). Much like Mike Moustakas, the lefty’s status as a regular figures to be in serious jeopardy should he again fail to hit, especially so given Seattle’s soon-to-be deep pockets could presumably quickly source an alternative. His strong .441/.472/.735 Spring Training line though, rather than a fluky aberration from a busted prospect, might actually have some real significance in regard to Ackley’s long-term future with the club.
After batting just .205, Ackley was demoted to Triple-A Tacoma in May last year in order to re-work his swing and learn how to play the outfield again. With the Rainiers, the former top prospect not only raked .365 in 25 games, but apparently got his mindset right again – an epiphany he credited to Raul Ibanez’s book recommendation. Upon his return to the Majors after the All-Star Break, the 26-year old hit .304/.374/.435 in 53 games, looking just as comfortable as in his 2011 rookie season, after which stardom was expected. His numbers so far this spring then, though admittedly a small sample size, might be seen to indicate that the oft-maligned North Carolina product has legitimately turned a corner in his development, and is ready to contribute in a meaningful way this season.
The organization’s first round pick in 2009, A.J. Pollock began 2013 behind Adam Eaton on the Diamondback’s depth chart, but quickly assumed the starting role when Eaton’s troublesome elbow held him out of action. In 131 games, Pollock proved himself to be a roughly league average hitter, but a tremendous defender – ranking fourth in the NL in Fangraphs UZR and UZR/150 fielding ratings. He was so impressive in fact, that Eaton was traded away (at his lowest value – S/O to Kevin Towers) this past offseason, leaving the 26-year old Pollock Arizona’s center field job all to himself.
Rather than being content in his new role, Pollock so far seems out to prove that Towers made the right decision in keeping him over Eaton. His Spring Training stat line – .417/.475/.778 – though a small sample size, certainly would suggest that the former No. 6 prospect of the D’Back’s system is ready to bust out from his under the radar status. After all, it’s hardly unexpected for 26-year olds to suddenly make the leap – so his spring showing can’t be taken with the usual pinch of salt. If his bat ever comes close to matching his glove, Arizona might have a future star on their hands in Pollock. He’s making a valiant case for such a designation anyway.
As a brief aside, fellow Spring Training batting champion contenders Marwin Gonzalez (.462/.442/.654, 26 ABs), Matt Long (.455/.486/.667, 33 ABs), and Rajai Davis (.393/.469/.500, 28 ABs), are all undoubtedly doing it with smoke and mirror shows at the moment. Davis though, with Andy Dirks sidelined to begin the year, will be Detroit’s Opening Day left fielder, and a fantasy sleeper if there ever was one. If he can keep up some level of average production at the plate to go with his blazing speed on the basepaths and increased opportunity for counting stats in the potent Tigers lineup, he’ll be worth much more than a late-round selection by seasons end.
Acquired from Oakland last August in exchange for Alberto Callaspo, Grant Green hit .280 with a .720 OPS over 40 games down the stretch for the Los Angeles Angels, filling in more than capably for an injured Howie Kendrick at the keystone. That he had a BABIP of .391 in doing so however, made the winter speculation about Kendrick’s future with the club seem ridiculous. Green has so far posted another seemingly impressive .387/.364/.548 slash line this spring, but once again, the superficial numbers are undermined by poor peripherals; Green has yet to draw a walk against pitching judged 7.9 on the OppQual scale (for reference, a rating of 10 is ML level opposition, 8 is Triple-A), but has struck out 6 times. Green’s performance thus far is giving off all the signs of an impending regression should he face better pitching, and with better infield incumbents, it would be foolish for Los Angeles to talk themselves into Green as a more valuable asset than a utility infielder at the present moment.
After putting up a -7 DRS season at second base last year though, even that might be a stretch; his weak glove is an additional reason for Green not to receive time over Kendrick, Erick Aybar at short, or newly acquired David Freese at third base. A man without a position, and relying on inflated offensive stats then, Green’s status with the Angels is a troubling one. Still just 26, there’s still time for the USC product, but his immediate future will consist of bouncing between Triple-A and the Angels’ bench – especially if they’re intent on carrying an additional relief pitcher to back up their shaky rotation.
And so wraps up my weekend of looking at Spring Training’s early offensive leaders. I think we can all safely judge that early statistics are far from truly reliable in terms of indicating future performance, but sometimes, just occasionally, something meaningful can be taken from them. Either way, I’ll be glad when this time next week we’ll have a real regular season game to overreact to, and I can stop writing about mostly insignificant Grapefruit/Cactus League matchups. Bring on the season already!
You have no idea how close todays installment of 2014 MLB Season Preview was from becoming a celebration of all things Mike Trout. It would have put yesterdays appreciation of new Kansas City Royal Norichika Aoki to shame. Common sense prevailed for now at least – though I’ll no doubt be wearing my no. 27 jersey into enemy territory (read: Safeco Field) when I make the trip up to Seattle in May. As it is, my Los Angeles Angels preview today looks at one of Trout’s 2014 outfield mates, and a prime breakout candidate; after an impressive end to 2013, Kole Calhoun is touted to begin 2014 as Anaheim’s leadoff hitter and everyday right fielder.
Listed at a generous 5’10, the left-handed Kole Calhoun certainly didn’t look like a future big league regular when he was selected out of Arizona State by the Angels in the 8th round of the 2010 Draft – scouts dubbing him a “hard-nosed non-athletic grinder” (per Baseball Prospect Report). Even heading into 2013, John Sickel could only envision Calhoun as “a good fourth outfielder and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him become a coach or manager someday” – not exactly a glowing report, but testament to big league potential at least. Fast forward a year to 2014 however, and the now 26 year old Calhoun profiles to not just defy expectations as Anaheim’s starter in right field – joining Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton in a star-studded Angels outfield – but is also on track to become their everyday leadoff hitter.
Calhoun’s rapid ascension has occurred on the basis of his superb hitting at every level so far, including during his impressive 2013 rookie season. In his first full season of professional ball at Class A Empire in 2011, the diminutive Calhoun hit .324, blasted 22 HRs, stole 20 bases, and was subsequently named the organization’s minor league player of the year. Immediately promoted to Triple A Salt Lake City for 2012, Calhoun succeeded again in slashing .298/.369/.507, though both his HR and SB totals dropped off slightly. When the winter acquisition of Josh Hamilton blocked his surge to the majors in 2013, Calhoun quickly forced the Angels’ hand by crushing Triple A pitching at a .354/.430/.620 clip, pasting 12 HRs in 240 at-bats for good measure; with the big team under-performing once again, and beset by injuries, he was called up for good in late July.
In a 58 game stretch in which played most everyday (he amassed 49 starts), the supposed fourth outfielder cracked 8 HRs on his way to posting a .282/.347/.462 line (including an .889 OPS against lefties) – and quickly became one of the bright spots in what otherwise became another waste of a Mike Trout pre-arbitration year for the Angels franchise. Calhoun’s performance too, made quite the impression on the team’s GM Jerry Dipoto, who demonstrated his faith in the right fielder’s emergence by trading away fellow outfield competition Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos, upgrading the roster in other areas while clearing the way for Kole to breakout in 2014. As if his actions weren’t a vote of confidence enough, Dipoto took added his voice to the matter this Spring, saying of Calhoun “He does a lot of things well. He defends, he throws, he throws accurately, is a good baserunner, he swings, he’s got patience, he gets on base, he’s got power.” Not bad praise for a “grinder” 8th round pick who was expected to contribute little, if at all, at the big league level.
Having dropped Trout into the 2-hole midway through last season, the leadoff position in manager Mike Scioscia’s batting order is open for Calhoun to win this spring. Of his chance, Scioscia recently was quoted in saying “I think Cole is definitely a candidate… Whoever is hitting in front of Mike has to be a player who, first, is able to take advantage of being challenged and, second, bring some on-base to the table with decent speed to where they aren’t clogging up the bases.” Barring a spring disaster, Kalhoun should win the role; last year he possessed both an above-average BB% (9.5) walk rate and a below-average SO% (18.5%) whilst also defying the platoon splits often associated with lefties (.356 wOBA vs LHP, .329 wOBA vs RHP). He’s no slouch when it comes to power either, his ISO of .210+ at every stop (discounting his .179 in 222 PA with LAA) deterring pitchers from simply attacking him over the plate. With adequate speed on the basepaths too, Calhoun seems ideally suited to be driven in by his outfield mates – filling a need which haunted the Angels after Trout’s move last year.
Given the opportunity, it’s hard not to envision the scrappy Calhoun succeeding as he has done at every level so far. At 26 already, he’s unlikely to be a future star, but a prominent role as an above-average regular is more than attainable this season – should he continue the play which surprised so many in 2013. Whether it’s because of the Mike Trout Magic Dust, or his “hard-nosed non-athletic grinder” attitude, Calhoun seems ready to once and for all cast off the scouts’ dispersions. Watch for his breakout to poke out from under Trout’s mighty outfield shadow; unheralded as ever, Calhoun is coming.