If there has been one overarching theme to the 2014 MLB season so far, it’s been players missing time. Whether it’s been because of (asinine) draft pick compensation rules, attending the birth of one’s child (goodness me was that David Murphy-related ‘controversy’ farcical), or as in the vast majority of cases, due to injury, far too many players have been off the field, their absences spoiling the game we all love.
The month of June is off to a promising start however. After the spate of Tommy John surgeries necessitated in April and May, as far as I’m aware, we’ve now gone three days without one being announced (It’s my understanding that Chris Withrow of the Dodgers was the last player to have been announced as going under the knife). Even better, a host of players are making their returns this week – all carrying some relevance. Let’s break them down quickly;
– Stephen Drew, who was only absent by his own/Scott Boras’ doing after turning down a qualifying offer over the winter, finally made his season debut for Boston last night, going 0-2 with a walk in a defeat to the Cleveland Indians. Having played in the minors since May 21st having finally signed a pro-rated contract for around $10 million this year, the left-handed Drew batted eighth in the Red Sox lineup and instantly slotted in at shortstop, pushing Xander Bogaerts to third base, and with both Mike Napoli and Mike Carp out, the surprisingly effective Brock Holt across the diamond to first. While there were certainly more ideal landing spots out there (Detroit have a more glaring need, and less infield competition), landing back in Boston can only be considered a good thing for Drew. Sure, he probably could have gone to the Mets, but their stinky offense and the Wilpon Quagmire of Financial Despair (H/T to Jonah Keri) would likely have ensured a less than happy tenure in Queens. He won’t be anything special for the Sox, but in need of some stable production, he’ll fill a role nicely – the same attitude with which he should be approached in terms of fantasy pick-ups. He’ll be a stable middle infielder, a low-upside, high-basement type, perfect for a team ravaged by injury or simply short of middle infield depth. Just don’t expect Drew to be a savior, both in reality or fantasy.
– Jose Abreu on the other hand, woah boy. This fellow’s return might be make-or-break for your fantasy squad. After two weeks on the disabled list and a couple of simulated games at U.S. Cellular Field, the Cuban slugger, who even after being out since May 18th still led the White Sox in home runs (15) and RBIs (42), was activated in time for the start of a three-game set against L.A. at Dodger Stadium. With no DH hole to be stashed in, Abreu jumped right back into the thick of things playing first base, and picked up where he left off at the plate, muscling out a two-run shot off of Clayton Kershaw in his second at-bat, Chicago’s only runs of the game. And this was after being struck in the chest by an overthrown ball while stretching during pre game warm-ups! The Sox have been treading water without him, but with the AL player of the month for April back in the mix, they could yet put a run together in the disastrous AL Central for second-place behind Detroit. He should immediately be back in fantasy starting lineups too, though it will be worth paying attention to whether he perhaps gets a day of rest from playing the field at some point in this interleague series.
– Elsewhere, Josh Hamilton is slated to make his return to the Angels lineup today in a game against the Astros, in which first base prospect and recent contract signee Jon Singleton will also be making his debut for Houston. Hamilton has been out since April 9 with a torn ligament in his left thumb having (rather rashly) slid into first base headfirst, but was hitting .444 with two home runs in the tiny sample size prior. His return will likely spell trouble for the 42-year-old Raul Ibanez, who has been god-awful in 2014, though I’d be concerned if you were starting him in your league anyway. Hamilton should probably reside on your bench for at least a couple of days while you evaluate his return; thumb injuries can be tricky, and Hamilton is prone to streaks even when fully healthy. Resting him is probably the safe play, unless you don’t have any other viable outfield options. Of course, slotting Mike Trout straight back in after he missed Sunday’s game with back stiffness is a no-brainer.
– Stay away from Yordano Ventura though! After a disastrous May 26th outing in which his velocity noticeably dropped and he was forced to exit in the third inning, the 23-year-old flamethrower dodged the Tommy John bullet and was instead diagnosed with “lateral elbow discomfort.” After successfully completing a bullpen session, Ventura will be thrown back in on Thursday to face the Cardinals in the Battle For Missouri. In addition to his prior inconsistency, not only do I dislike the match-up, but I’m worried about Ventura’s long-term outlook; elbow injuries don’t normally solve themselves this quickly, especially ones which cause such an appreciable velo decline. Though he’s officially returning, don’t be surprised if Ventura heads straight back to the trainer’s room in a month or so.
– Aramis Ramirez is back in the Milwaukee lineup tomorrow after sustaining a strained left hamstring on May 13. He’ll be able to DH too, given how the Brewers are visiting Target Field for an interleague series. A notorious slow starter, Ramirez should be a more than viable third base option the rest of the way should he avoid re-aggravating that hammy… Andrew Cashner, after an elbow scare, is scheduled to rejoin the Padres’ rotation on Saturday against the Nationals. Unless you’re in absolute need of gaining ground over the weekend however, it’s probably best to let this one play out with the hard-throwing righty on your bench however… Ryan Zimmerman should be appropriately settled back in to the Washington lineup by then – the 29-year-old has been cleared to return on Tuesday after breaking his thumb on April 12th. Where he’ll play however, remains intriguing; the right-hander has been playing left field during his rehab stint at Potomac, so Ryan Zimmerman: ML Outfielder might be a thing now… In obligatory Reds news, Joey Votto (quadriceps) is nearing a rehab assignment, and Mat Latos threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings in his latest Triple-A start. He should be back next week.
In theory, you’d think a team boasting the back-to-back AL MVP (not that Miguel Cabrera will win again this year, as I wrote yesterday) as well as the last two AL Cy Young winners wouldn’t especially feel the loss of a light-hitting shortstop. But even considering the trade of slugging first baseman Prince Fielder, and the still-confusing deal that sent away Doug Fister, the Detroit Tigers are very much in win-now mode, meaning the loss of Jose Iglesias for potentially the entire season is a big dent in their hopes of finally capturing that elusive World Series pennant. So while Iglesias – who only profiled as the Tigers’ no. 9 hitter, but would have been a Gold Glove caliber defender – is maintaining that he’ll return before the season is out, the Tigers would do well to find an similar, if slightly more able-bodied, replacement in the meantime.
No matter what Dave Dombrowski is currently saying, it’s becoming more and more apparent via Detroit’s enquiries elsewhere that the prospective replacement is not currently in the Tigers organization. Acquired in the Fister trade, 25-year-old Steve Lombardozzi, despite having the reputation of a utilityman, neither figures to fit defensively nor have the bat to make up for his glove (I’m still struggling comprehending that trade obviously). Having appeared in 115 major league games, including starting 24 games at shortstop as a rookie in 2010 before the team traded for Jhonny Peralta, the 28-year-old Danny Worth has some experience at least. Unfortunately, his time has not borne fruit, his ML line of .242/.307/.315 in 246 PAs, like Lombardozzi, not enough to atone for his mediocre glove. Hernan Perez, who was on the Tigers’ postseason roster last year as a pinch-runner, has played only at the keystone since 2010, and is a career .256 hitter in the minors – nor has done anything to justify a call this Spring. 22-year-old Eugenio Suarez fits most comfortably into the defense-first profile of Iglesias in his wielding of a solid glove at short, but hit only .253/.332/.387 in 2013 – which would be fine were it not for the fact that it was in Double-A; Suarez evidently still has some way to go yet before Dombrowski can justifiably use him as an everyday starter on a team with World Series aspirations.
With slim pickings available in house then, one readily-available free agent looms large over Detroit – Stephen Drew. Almost instantly connected to the Tigers as soon as word came down on Iglesias’ injury, signing Drew would almost certainly prove to be a mistake on the Tigers’ part, hence why it was refreshing to quickly hear Dombrowski quash such rumors, even if he iterated he would keep the search in house. Drew is not looking for a short-term deal, as evidenced by his turning down of Boston’s $14.1M qualifying offer this winter, meaning Detroit would most likely have to ink the Scott Boras client to an expensive multiyear contract. Such a move would not only impede Iglesias’ development upon his return, but additionally cost the Tigers a compensatory first round pick in one of the deeper amateur drafts of recent years. Though their selection will be in the latter part of the round, that pick will still be immensely valuable, and could even be used as a trade chip should Detroit need additional help in season. In short, it’s not an asset worth losing for the privilege of shelling out a large contract to an average 31 year old whose offensive numbers were decking before a season in cozy Fenway Park, especially when he might only fill in for a season at best.
With Drew (hopefully) out of the equation, the Tigers still have options via trade. Rumor has it that the Tigers made a quick call to Arizona regarding the availability of Chris Owings. Young, cost-controlled, and potentially a future star though, talks understandably didn’t progress very far – the Diamondbacks probably lukewarm on jettisoning the leading candidate for their Opening Day shortstop job, or Detroit lacking the pieces available for such a move. In shooting for the stars however, Dombrowski may have in the process hit upon on a cloud; Arizona certainly have a surplus at short, a bevy including not only Owings, but Nick Ahmed, Didi Gregorious and Cliff Pennington. Ahmed is still too far away to be a viable option, but his future presence certainly makes the latter pair expendable. Gregorious would fit almost perfectly the void left by Iglesias, but Detroit would then have two very similarly aged players upon their incumbent’s return. Pennington, somewhat of a forgotten man behind the youngsters in Arizona, would thus present the best option; with just one year at a very reasonable $2.75 million left on his contract, the soon to be 30-year-old could fill in capably for the year before moving on when Iglesias comes back. Though he wouldn’t hit much in the interim, his glove would be above average at short, a factor which would not only keep groundball-happy Rick Porcello happy (though I’m sure moving Cabrera off third has already done that), but put a solid fielder next to rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos, who will need help covering the left side of the infield by most accounts. If that weren’t enough, the ZiPS projection of Pennington’s eventual WAR value is almost the same as Drew’s.
If Arizona’s riches don’t suit Dombrowski’s tastes, there are other potential avenues to be explored; Nick Franklin of the Mariners seems to be eminently available, though he has little experience at short. The same goes for Darwin Barney of the Cubs, though he is an excellent defender at second base if that counts for anything in a potential transition. The big name out there, if nowhere near the force he once was, is Jimmy Rollins. Clashing horribly with new Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg already, Rollins is certainly available, but his 10/5 veto rights and remaining salary ($11 million this season and a guaranteed $11 million in 2015 if he reaches 434 PAs this season) would be a serious obstacle to any move.
Losing Iglesias is a certainly a pain in the proverbial for Detroit, but they aren’t completely backed into a corner and needing to lash out into the market. The small move might yet be the right one. After a questionable offseason so far, Dave Dombrowski can easily get this one right, just as long as he stays away from Stephen Drew.
As previously detailed in my case for Noah Syndergaard, I’ll occasionally be interspersing my usual content with my (probably misguided) award predictions for the upcoming season. Today marks the next installment pertaining to my poor judgement – it’s time for an AL ROY pick. Let’s just say it isn’t quite the dark horse equivalent to my NL selection…
Brian Cashman only projects his Japanese import to be a third starter, despite Masahiro Tanaka’s Spring Training so far. Jose Abreu might hit 30 home runs, but he may also struggle to just make contact. Houston’s stud outfielder George Springer will similarly come up with nothing but air far too many times. Taijuan Walker already has shoulder soreness. Kyle Zimmer may not get an opportunity to crack the Royals’ rotation, especially if Ervin Santana returns. I briefly flirted with the idea of Nick Castellanos, but let’s face it – there can only really be one AL ROY. It’s obviously Xander Bogaerts.
It’s not often that a player can boast about being a key cog on a World Series champion one year while still retaining his rookie eligibility for the next, but the no. 2 prospect in all of baseball can. The fact that Bogaerts only flashed his potential in his major-league cameo too, yet still drew rave reviews for his performance, should have the rest of the AL East on notice. As assessed by Marc Hulet of Fangraphs, the Aruba native “could be a perennial all-star at either shortstop or third base for years to come in Boston.”
The then-20 year old earned his one-way ticket to Fenway Park on the back of his combining to accrue an .865 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A in 2013. He played sparingly during the regular season however, appearing in only 18 games and hitting .250/.320/.364 over 50 plate appearances. Then came October. Despite his youth, Bogaerts was asked to take over as Boston’s starting third baseman in the middle of the ALCS, and took full advantage of the opportunity; as put by Baseball Prospectus “he looked like a veteran of huge, high-leverage, bright-spotlight moments when it counted, drawing key walks and scoring runs when the Red Sox needed them most.” And if their testimony to his precocious ability to belie his years weren’t enough, just ask Max Scherzer about his already incredible approach at the plate.
At 6’3 and 185 lbs, Bogaerts is bigger than the traditional shortstop, but with Boston’s apparent lack of interest in re-signing Stephen Drew, that will be the position he plays everyday in 2014, with Will Middlebrooks back manning third. By all accounts, his defense will be at least average for the position, with his offense primed to set him apart from his shortstop peers. Dubbed by Keith Law to be “Troy Tulowitzki with a little less arm”, Fangraphs judged his approach to be advanced for age. Similarly, in their Top 100 Prospects write-up, MLB.com assessed of Bogaerts’ offensive skills “He uses his smooth, balanced swing to make hard contact and drive the ball to all fields. He has big raw power and already knows how to use it.” So while it may be hard for him to replicate the .893 OPS he put up during the postseason, it’s neither an unattainable target for the young star to strive for in his first full season. To put it plainly, such a mark will likely be the regulation mark for Bogaerts in the future should he continue adeptly handling the heightened competition – an adaptation he has made successfully at every stop of his professional career so far.
Projected to begin the season hitting seventh in a potent Red Sox lineup, and with no competition (yet) for his position, Bogaerts has a great opportunity to accrue the sort of counting stats (RBIzzzzzz!) ROY voters traditionally love. His being on a nationally recognized, winning team too will only further bolster his case, setting him apart from most of his fellow junior circuit rookies. The award is his to lose at this point, at least in my opinion. Now, if we had to choose where Bogaerts will rank among Boston’s best hitters by seasons end – that’s a question worth debating. For the record, give me somewhere among David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia on the Red Sox podium.
Did I mention this guy is 21?