Friday, October 31, 2008

Free Agent Watch - Starting Pitcher Junichi Tazawa

There is a brand new entrant to this year's free agent starting pitcher crop, his name is Junichi Tazawa. Likely to be a first round selection in Tazawa requested that Nippon Professional Baseball teams skip over him in this years entry draft in order for Tazawa to become a Major League Baseball free agent.

At just 22 years old, Tazawa is far and away the youngest free agent on the market and instantly becomes one of the most interesting names available. Despite only having low level professional baseball under his belt, teams are bullish on the right handed pitcher-although it is uncertain whether they think of him as a work in progress, or Major League ready.

Tazawa is armed with a fastball that touches 97mph but typically sticks around 91-93. The pitch, from what I have seen and read, has some solid movement which darts inside on right handed hitters. Tazawa also owns a strong curveball which he isn't afraid to use and a slider which is defined as being 'biting'-which is good.

After watching some video, something that worries me about Tazawa is his delivery, specifically with his tempo and release point. I'm not sure if this is an injury waiting to happen, or simply a unique delivery and would prefer to wait for individuals with a better understanding of deliveries to break it down.

His height (5'11") makes him a smallish pitcher, but he isn't so short that one would be worried. Clearly his release and build are not major concerns, as Tazawa has been heavily scouted by MLB teams, several of whom have stated they are "interested" in the pitcher.

Statistically, it is difficult to grasp where Tazawa is at. His line, as of September 2nd, is an impressive 54 IP, 46 hits, 56 K, 4 BB, 6 ER, 1.00 ERA, however it is unknown what the level of competition is like in Japan's Industrial League. What does stand out, however, is the incredibly low amount of walks-although this could be a product of the league Tazawa plays in.

With the top heavy list of available free agent pitchers, Tazawa would jump to the top of my list. While teams cannot be entirely certain what they will get out of him, it can be assumed that he won't land a contract with an annual salary over $12M. The same cannot be said about the top three of CC Sabathia, Ben Sheets, and AJ Burnett, whom all figure to be close to $15M+ a year.

Additionally, each pitcher has their own concerns. Sabathia has had very heavy workloads in recent years. While the big man has a smooth delivery, there is simply too much mileage on his arm to ignore. Sabathia also should demand a contract of 6-7 years, similar to that of Barry Zito's.

Ben Sheets may be the most talented free agent pitcher available, however he is also one of the most fragile. Sheets has suffered from some severe pain in his pitching arm, and while his agent has cleared the worry that Sheets may need surgery, this certainly does not bode well for the oft-injured starter. Despite logging his highest innings total since 2004, Sheets does not appear as though he will age favorably. However, he still figures to earn well over $13M this year, but may be obtainable on a one or two year contract.

AJ Burnett is fresh off what is arguably the best season of his career. Burnett posted a career high in innings and was simply dominant in the second half of the 2008 season. The problem is, AJ has never pitched in back-to-back 200 inning seasons, and at 31 years old (32 on Opening Day), the career underachiever is looking for a long term, high priced deal.

Other interesting free agent pitchers include:
  • Oliver Perez, the guy who can miss bats and the broadside of a barn with equal efficiency;
  • Jon Garland, a pitcher who can annually toss 200+ innings without surprising anyone;
  • Randy Wolf, the park enhanced wonder;
  • Ryan Dempster, my glove fanning favorite, and most desirable; and
  • Derek Lowe, a sinker-baller who simply has to run out of gas before the terms of his next contract does.
Not one of these pitchers are substantially worse options then the trio I previously mentioned in terms of relative value. There are also a handful or so of other interesting free agent names, but these guys are clearly the head of a deep 2009 class.

With that in mind, and coming back to Tazawa, we can see that the 22 year old has as much value as any pitcher available. With his age and 'stuff' rating at the top of this years free agent crop.

All that being said, if I am a Major League General Manager, I go at Tazawa with a 5 or 6 year offer, averaging around $10M a year-similar in value to the deal Carlos Silva received in the 2008 offseason. However, this is after extensive research, ensuring that there aren't any major issues with Tazawa's delivery.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dayton Moore's Big Plan

I'm not sure what it is either, but it has to be something!

Today, the first day of the 2009 Hot Stove League, Dayton Moore of the Kansas City Royals completed a trade with Larry Beinfest of the Florida Marlins that would send Leo Nunez in exchange for Mike Jacobs. A confusing trade, when one considers the logjam of first base/designated hitters that the Royals currently have on their 40-man roster. Because of this logjam-as well as depth within the minor league ranks of the organization-it appears obvious that Moore is setting up pieces for what could be a major move.

Consider that the Royals 40-man roster currently has the likes of Kila Ka'aihue, Billy Butler, Ross Gload, Mark Teahen, and Ryan Shealy at the 1B/DH position. While Ka'aihue and Butler can easily be optioned to the minors, one has to think that is more of a parallel move. Thus, it wouldn't make sense to take a piece from your bullpen to add a player whom isn't going to truly come as an upgrade. It would be like the Yankees adding David Wright or Jose Reyes and not making any subsequent roster moves.

So what is next?

This is purely speculation, but I have to believe Moore made this move with the idea of trading Ka'aihue and/or Butler. Both would certainly bring in more then it cost to acquire Jacobs and wouldn't really come as a detriment to the organization long term. With young, pre-arbitration Major Leaguers, becoming premium trade chips in baseball, Ka'aihue and Butler could actually bring in a fair amount.

The major issue I have with this trade is that it takes an arm, albeit a mediocre one, from the Royals bullpen, thus bogart-ing my WWOD plan to move Joakim Soria to the rotation. Obviously that plan cannot be entirely ruled out, but it definitely puts a dent in the idea.

Another issue is the added payroll that comes with Jacobs-his arbitration figure is rumored to hit $3.5M. That is, the (speculated) plan to move Ka'aihue or Butler could have stilled occurred, while saving some money, keeping Nunez around, and giving the first base job to Shealy.

However, Moore is cited as desiring power for his corner infielders-on base abilities be damned! With a suitor on the roster unlikely to post an isolated power figure (ISO) of over .200, Jacobs is exactly the player Moore desires.

Aside from strong power numbers, what type of player is that?

Jacobs turned 28 today and entering his age 28 season, he has just begun to enter the prime years of his career. With a slightly below average walk rate, and a poor strikeout rate, Jacobs comes close to being a prototypical 'three true outcomes' (3TO) hitter. In addition to this, Jacobs is a terrible fielding first basemen, ranking dead last in fielding plus/minus. He also finished last on The Hardball Times' Revised Zone Rating (RZR). Clearly Moore intends to start Jacobs at designated hitter, lest he admits to not learning anything from this years Rays.

With 150+ games as a designated in Kansas City, I would anticipate Jacobs to post a line of .260/.315/.465. This would put Jacobs into Paul Konerko/Garrett Atkins/Lyle Overbay circa 2008 territory, not a terribly acquisition for a mediocre bullpen arm.

Who is this mediocre bullpen arm?

Leo Nunez is a power arm. He has been labeled as such since being signed as a non-drafted Free Agent by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2000. For Nunez's Major League career, his fastball has average 93.3mph, while boosting it a tick to 94.4mph just this past season.

Nunez was not fully developed when he made his Major League debut, but has improved with his time in the majors. Either through luck, or possibly the improved velocity on his fastball, Nunez has greatly improved his gopher-ball tendencies. The move to the weaker league and a better pitchers environment can only help Nunez's development.

It will be interesting to see what the Marlins front office does with all of these power arms in their bullpen. I do, however, imagine that Nunez's acquisition signals the beginning of the end for closer Kevin Gregg.

It is the trickle down affect which has the Marlins currently on top for this trade. Between Jacobs and Gregg, the Marlins cut an already paltry payroll by at least $8M. It is assumed that Gregg will bring in around Jacobs' production, while Nunez can easily replace what Gregg would have given the Marlins.

However, if the Royals manage to scam say, Ubaldo Jimenez from the Rockies for Butler or Ka'aihue. The Royals may have to toss in a couple lower level prospects, even then the trade is unlikely, but I imagine this is the type of trade that Dayton Moore is looking for with his fist base/designated hitter surplus.

BallHype: hype it up!

Monday, October 27, 2008

World Series Rain Delay

If you are watching, or were watching, you know by now that Game 5 of the World Series, the possible decisive game of the World Series, is being delayed due to rain. The commentators on FOX have been fairly rough on Major League Baseball's decision to keep playing this game, something I disagree with, although not entirely.

MLB knew what the weather was supposed to be like this evening. They knew they had a small window until about 10 PM. The rain ended up coming a little bit earlier, but even if it did begin at 10 PM, chances are they would have run into some substantial weather issues anyways. With the forecast calling for even worse weather tomorrow, tonight was clearly the best option, unless there is the option of shuffling games around in Tampa Bay-that is something I cannot even speculate on.

All that being said, it is interesting that MLB decided not to push the start time of the game up an hour or so. At least consider when the window of good weather is going to be and how to best utilize it. While the risk would have been that there was clear weather all evening, and many West Coast viewers would have been lost, I imagine anyone on the West Coast that is truly concerned about watching this game from first pitch to final out would have made arrangements for such an important game.

I was reading on a LiveBlog the comparison of this game to the NFLs Super Bowl in that they would never allow the weather to get the better of the Championship game-being that the league has a rule where Super Bowls will not be played in outdoor stadiums North of a certain point. Not only is this comparison simply laughable, but it isn't 100% accurate. Has everyone already forgotten the Super Bowl ALL the way back in 2007, where it poured for much of the game in South Beach?

But here we are, having played five and a half innings. The Rays tied the game up on a BJ Upton stolen base coupled with a nice piece of hitting by Carlos Pena to plate the run. This was definitely a timely hit for the Rays, as the recent news that the game is to be suspended and resumed sometime Tuesday or Wednesday.

Without Pena's single, the Rays would have lost as the game was considered as official due to having played more then four and a half innings. That easily would have been the worst, and most depressing situation, possibly in recent Major League history.

The weather clearly played a negative role in this game, as it is almost a certainty that Jimmy Rollins makes the play at first getting Upton out at first, eliminating the eventual tying run.

An interesting note, the Rays had planned on flying out of Philadelphia after tonight's game. Subsequently the club does not have a hotel room and it is being reported that the hotel the Rays were staying in has been filled. Furthering this dilema is the report that there are very few available hotel rooms in Philly-maybe they can walk a mile in Charlie's shoes?

The game is scheduled to resume at 8 PM EST tomorrow. Comically, the 'starters' for that game could include Chad Durbin-Tigers fans wish he was still in town.

2008 Cy Young Award (AL & NL)

The next installment of the Baseball Digest Daily Writers Awards is up, this time taking a look at the Cy Young award.

In the American League I took Roy Halladay over Cliff Lee backing it up with the following rationale,
For me, this wasn’t as difficult as it looked. Entering September, I was fairly convinced that Lee would be the winner. However, an article at Baseball Prospectus (free content) led me to thinking Halladay deserves more credit then he is receiving. The theory was that Halladay had faced substantially superior offensive clubs. The evidence is substantial and enough for me to take Halladay as the American League’s best pitcher.
I am disappointed that my colleagues were intending on taking Lee as the unanimous choice for AL CY before I stepped in. While the ballot is clearly close and an argument can be made for both pitchers, backing up one's argument with wins and wins on a poor team are simply not substantial in my eyes.

However, I am glad that Francisco Rodriguez didn't get much support-although any is probably too much. The reason being, there is a legitimate argument which supports that Rodriguez wasn't even a top 2 or 3 reliever in the American League in 2008.

The National League became more of a tight race then I had initially anticipated. In fact, my research was more or less done in search of my third place pitcher. After which, Johan Santana closed the gap on Tim Lincecum and allowed justification for either pitcher at the top of one's ballot.

My rationale behind picking Lincecum over Santana was the following,
When I first sat down to make my picks, I wasn’t even going to look into the numbers. I figured I knew the story and didn’t need any convincing. While my opinion didn’t change after I eventually looked at the numbers, it became surprisingly close after looking at VORP, WPA, WS, PRC, and SNLVAR. Lincecum came away on top, with Santana finishing second, and fellow Canadian Ryan Dempster completing his full circle surprise season.

I’m not shocked that Dempster isn’t getting more play in the upcoming days of Free Agency, but I am shocked that he isn’t getting much love from writers on the Cy Young ballot.
What blows my mind is that Brandon Webb keeps getting the support he does. There is no denying he is a solid pitcher. He is a work horse and extraordinarily durable. If I'm building a team, he's probably one of about 10 pitchers that I consider building around. However, the guy simply does not put up the statistics to merit being a Cy Young candidate.

As I promised with my Rookie of the Year picks, I fully intend on putting together a more substantial post for my post-season awards. Hopefully I can wait until the Rays come back from being down 3 games to 1.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Under The Radar - JP's Busy Friday

Who said Hot Stove action during the World Series is pointless?

Canadian ex-left handed pitcher Adam Loewen has been signed to a two year contract by the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays also made a roster move to allow the claiming of ex-first round pick, Bryan Bullington from the Cleveland Indians. Both of these moves are very solid moves by the Jays front office as there was a reason both players were selected within the first four picks of the 2002 MLB draft. While much of the air has been sucked from the balloon that is these players respective ceilings, one can still see them amounting to Major League contributors.

Great analysis, riiiight?

Let's first begin with Bryan Bullington.

In early July, Bullington was claimed off waivers by the Cleveland Indians. This move went largely unnoticed and to most, signaled the end of a very disappointing career. It also signaled a reminder to Pirate fans of the terrible job that the old regime did in running this franchise into the ground.

Bullington was the first overall pick of what was a historic draft, known to this day as the Moneyball draft. If we look through the first round selections of this draft, we see some extraordinarily impressive picks, coupled with some major misses. The first round saw current stars such as BJ Upton, Prince Fielder, Zach Greinke, Scott Kazmir, Cole Hamels, and Matt Cain being selected. Other players of note include Jeff Francis, Jeremy Hermida, Joe Saunders, Khalil Greene, Russ Adams, Nick Swisher, Denard Span, Jeff Francoeur, and Joe Blanton.

In other words, Bullington and Loewen arearguably the worst two picks of this draft, considering where they were taken and what they have accomplished thus far.

However, the cement is yet to dry for Bullington who really showed signs of improvement in 2008, specifically once he moved to the Indians system and was under the tutulage of ex-Ten Foot Pole front man, Scott Radinsky. I'm not sure what exactly change with Bullington, but as a 28 year old groundball pitcher with just over 3.5 seasons of professional baseball innings under his belt, there's a chance he could be at least servicable as either a long reliever or 6th/7th starter. Keep in mind, having a 6th/7th starter available is highly important for a team looking to compete, as the Jays are.

To this point, Bullington's career has been a tale of two halves. The first, from draft day in 2002 to his 2005 Major League debut. During Bullington's first three professional seasons, he put up a stastical line of: 3.33 ERA, 6.69 K/9, 2.52 BB/9 in 397 innings pitched.

After a brief cup of coffee with the Pirates in 2005, Bullington was shut down with shoulder soreness. A justified move by the club trying to protect their first rounder who had his season delayed due to shoulder tendinitis. However, this precautionary measure led to labrum surgery just a month after being shut down.

The shoulder surgery marked the beginning of the second half of Bullington's professional baseball career. Bullington would go on to miss the entire 2006 season and clearly would need some time to not only rehab, but to rebuild the prospect status he had built up from a largely succesful 2005 season.

The 2007 season saw Bullington begin the year at triple A, a surprisingly aggressive move for a player coming back from such major surgery. Bullington went from being an average strikeout pitcher to below average. Couple that with a below average walk rate, and you have a pitcher that is clearly struggling.

The Pirates gave him a couple starts at the big league level in 2007, but he was terrible. Albeit, this is a small sample size, however Bullington's triple A struggles continued as he was not only very hittable, but further dropped his strikeout rate. Despite Bullington's walk rate returning to his pre-surgery rate, striking out fewer then four batter's per nine innings pitched simply is not going to get it done at the big league level.

2008 saw Bullington begin the season again at triple A only to see him being dumped the day before Independence Day despite displaying much of the numbers he had shown prior to surgery. However, the Pirates are relatively deep with what is known as quadruple A arms, and the front office may have been looking to distance themselve from the decisions of the previous regime.

The Cleveland Indians then swooped in, figuring that the reward would certainly outweigh the cost. Bullington continued his 2008 triple A success enroute to a 3.88 FIP. This was certainly deserving of a spot start, to which Bullington received two, as well as a five inning outing in long relief.

Despite posting a 5.65 FIP in 14.2 major league innings, Bullington displayed enough positives to believe that he was returning to the form of 2005, rather then being the pitcher he was in 2007. While Bullington does not project to be much more then a #5 pitcher in a team's rotation, he does project as a fine one at that position.

Consider the data collected by The Hardball Times' Jeff Sackman in December of 2006. Sackman came up with the following numbers:
Lg      #1      #2      #3      #4      #5
MLB 3.60 4.14 4.58 5.10 6.24
AL 3.70 4.24 4.58 5.09 6.22
NL 3.51 4.04 4.57 5.11 6.26
Even if Bullington settles in as a pitcher with a 5.45 ERA, he will be substantially better then the league average fifth starter. In fact, Bullington would arguably be as good as a fair amount of forth starters league wide.

However, with Brad Arnsberg, there is reason to believe Bullington could improve on his 2008 production and come very close to being the equivalent to an average number four starter.

Why is it teams are willing to fork over $10-13M for an average #3/4 starting pitcher, like Carlos Silva and are unwilling to spend pennies (relatively speaking) on a guy like Bryan Bullington? Because of this market inefficiency, JP Riccardi made a very impressive move in bringing aboard Bullington.

The second move Riccardi made was not as immediately impressive. While the media loves the move of bringing aboard a Canadian, and this is certainly a dream come true for Adam Loewen, if the Jays are truly looking to give Loewen 1000 Minor League at bats prior to hitting in the bigs, it is unrealistic to think Loewen will be with the Jays once he is ready.

However, the marketing opportunities that will coincide with Loewen's signing is enough to make this deal worth while. Consider that Loewen will be marketed as the next Rick Ankiel, an electric, yet wildly erratic pitcher turned outfielder.

There is, however, hope that Loewen could have Ankiel-like success and fast track his way to the bigs in under 1000 at bats (or 2 seasons). Unlike Ankiel, Loewen will still be relatively young when he begins his position change. Being just 24 years old (25 shortly after Opening Day), Loewen is at an age where he can be compared to college draftees. Ankiel, on the other hand, was set to be 28 in the middle of his first transformation season.

Loewen's college comparison has a scout who saw Adam in college stating that he probably would be picked in the first five rounds of a draft today. Even when Loewen was drafted, most were 50-50 on whether he should pitch or hit, figuring there wasn't wrong direction to go. The Orioles at the time decided to go the route of pitcher, as 6'6" left handed pitchers with mid 90's heat do not come around very often.

In hindsight, due to some injury issues, this was probably the wrong decision. But who knows how Loewen would have developed as a hitter.

One American League scout even went as far as to state that he "wouldn't bet against Loewen becoming an impact position player."

Jays fans have to be happy with these moves. The cost for both were minimal, with the rewards having an extremely high amount of potential. These sort of low risk, high reward moves are what makes for an ideal 'Under the Radar'.

2008 Rookie of the Year (AL & NL)

Over at Baseball Digest Daily each of the writers was asked to provide a ballot for the 2008 awards. The first installment saw the writers discussing MLB's 2008 Rookie of the Year. I won't spoil how the votes shook out, but I will tell you that my first place votes went to Evan Longoria and Geovanny Soto.

No major surprise there, as I do imagine that's who the BBWAA voters will pick as well. However, while Soto wasn't a difficult pick, as I began to further examine the numbers, Mike Aviles of the Kansas City Royals made a legitimate run at Longoria. Between five win and value related statistics, Aviles beat Longoria in two, with Longoria taking three.

These statistical categories helped me make my decision, but furthered the evidence of how close these two were in performance.

I will go into further detail about these picks at a later date, for now, enjoy the work of the writers at BDD.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Come Join Us"

From Baseball Digest Daily,
Join Joe Hamrahi, Eric SanInoncencio, Bill Baer, Rob McQouwn, Michael Street, Brandon Heikoop and Brian Joseph in a live blog/chat tonight for Game 2 of the '08 World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies.

The Live Blog kicks off roughly 45 minutes before first pitch at 7:45 PM. Be there for all the insights from the team and expect commentary and additional facts and stats to enhance your viewing experience (although it's doubtful anyone can hold a candle to Tim McCarver's wittiness).

Click here or on the link below to join the Live Blog. (Blog will appear in a pop-up window and start at 7:45 PM.)
BDD WS Game 2 Live Blog and Chat

I am still only tentatively scheduled to be a part of this although will be making my best effort to be there for the action. Brian has assured me that there will be ample of topics to discuss and debate. This is a trial thing for us at BDD and I certainly hope it works out, as this could be a fun and interactive way for myself, my colleagues, and baseball fans from all over to discuss the game we are all so fascinated with.

Hope to see each and everyone of you there.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ray Pride Part XIV - World Series

PhilaWS Logotbay

Over at Baseball Digest Daily, myself and fellow BDD writers were asked to pick a World Series winner and give a brief explanation of our pick. Here's what I said,
I’ve got the Rays winning this series in four games. The American League is simply that much more superior and the best team from the AL’s best division will simply be too much for the Phillies to handle. According to Baseball Prospectus’ EQA and EQR the Rays had a superior run differential of +137 compared to the Phillies +68, a very substantial margin.

While many are expecting Hamels to get the Phillies off to a good start, I keep thinking back to how hard both Upton and Longoria hit Jon Lester in the ALCS. Additionally, the Phillies bullpen is simply bound to give up a lead-something they haven’t done to this point in the season.
Another issue, that I didn't point out in my brief blurb here, the Phillies layoff. Fellow BDD writer Brian Joseph takes an in depth look at the World Series although I believe he inaccurately compares the two clubs.

The first error is when Joseph claims that the Phillies benefited from taking care of the Dodgers in a rather quick fashion. While the club did take care of the Dodgers quickly, the length of that series wouldn't have really affected how the rotation shook out for the World Series.

That is, Hamels pitched the fifth and decisive game of the series on Wednesday. There is a chance that Hamels might have come out of the bullpen had the series went to seven games, however it would have been finished on Saturday, giving Hamels another 3 full days to recover. In other words, he was pitching game one of this series whether or not the series went the distance.

Thus, the rotation for the Phil's is presumably identical. However, the Rays have had an additional 3 days of rest then they would have had the series went the distance. This rest is nice, although not absolutely ideal. Hitters like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley were just beginning to hit the ball again. If it is a timing thing, the additional layoff is going to be a negative for the clubs two most important hitters.

As for the Rays, a very raw and untested playoff team, nothing is more of a test then a game seven. Especially a game seven against the defending champs after a major let down in game five, coupled with a disappointing outing in game six. The Rays came out in game seven like veterans and played a very sound game. We also got to see David Price, whom had somewhat of a coming out party.

Another area I disagree with Brian is his comparison between two of the respective clubs starters. The first of which, he is not on his own, even (image above) feels that Ryan Howard has the leg up on Carlos Pena. But why? Pena has far and away had the superior post season, he is the superior fielder. So why Howard over Pena?

I responded to Brian's column already, and I'll simply copy what I wrote earlier,
Howard over Pena.

While you did not entirely disregard the regular season, even that should not be evidence to giving Howard the leg up on Pena. Check out Howard and Pena’s neutralized statistics. Over the last two season’s, Pena has posted a .345 and .306 EQA. Over that same period, Ryan Howard’s is .311 and .289. Even Howard’s unsustainable career year is a shade below what Pena did in 2007.

Both are lefty bats and both will have the same park effects entering this series. Pena is also an incredibly slick fielder and that should certainly be considered.

What I was trying to say here is that if Pena had been in Howard's position the last two seasons, he would have posted substantially superior statistical seasons. In fact, even in Howard's career year, his translated power numbers are significantly higher. Pena's nuetralized Isolated Power in 2007 was .437 compared to Howard's career high in 2006 of .348. Some hitters are fortunate to have an ISO of .100, meanwhile Pena has nearly a 100 point advantage over the hitter whom most would consider a superior power hitter.

The next issue I had was with Victorino over Upton. While Victorino has certainly been a catalyst for the Phillies playoff run, and he had a very nice season, Upton has had both a superior post season and regular season. Here's what I wrote in response to Brian,
I’d say, without a shadow of a doubt, Upton is a fairly superior hitter then Victorino is. I would also like to further investigate the defensive +/- but that can be saved for another time. Similar to Pena v. Howard, Upton is a substantially superior hitter. His EQA this season was 13 points higher then Victorino’s. Consider if we hacked 13 points off of Victorino’s EQA and we’d be sitting at .265 and hardly a feared bat in the lineup. That same 13 point advantage which makes Victorino a nice hitter compared to a weak one can be noted when comparing Victorino as a ‘nice’ hitter to Upton a ’solid’-'great’ one.
Brian makes a decent argument for Victorino's fielding as he has been one of the best center fielders in the Majors this season. I simply don't see it of enough of an advantage over a 4-7 game series to make up for the hitting.

Lastly, I entirely disagree with Brian's claim that Blanton has a leg up over Sonnanstine. I don't get into as much detail here, stating,
While split stats are not often the most reliable measure, due to their poor sample sizes, it must be accounted for that the Rays (and Devil Rays) have absolutely smoked Blanton over his career. 57 hits in 41.2 innings. A home run per 9. Not even a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio.
Admittedly, this isn't the absolutely best argument. The first issue, as Brian points out, we are dealing with a team from as early as 2005-of which is fairly different from the Rays current roster. Another issue is the sample size. A lot can happen over a 40 inning stretch. A pitcher can simply go on a stretch where nothing goes their way.

That aside, Sonnanstine had a significantly superior season in 2008 having an FIP .61 lower then Blanton's.

I also feel as though Blanton's spot in the rotation is a mistake. Being that he is a relative soft-tosser, Blanton won't be able to take advantage of the projected cool temperatures in the same way that Brett Myers would be able to. Speaking of Myers, isn't he rather hot-headed? Why would the Phillies want him pitching a road game in one of the loudest (and annoying) ballparks in baseball? How do you think Myers reacts to a bad call and the cowbells (see below):

So there we have it, my World Series preview and prediction. Rays in 4.


Ray Pride Part XIII - Home Field?

Just a quick thing for everyone to watch out for during the World Series. The Phillies have not played a single game on FieldTurf this season. It will be interesting to not only see how long it takes the infielders to adjust to this surface, but what kind of affect it has on the outfielders. Given that the warning track is not the usual dirt/clay combination seen with traditional grassy ballparks.

Having regularly watched Blue Jays games, I have been able to witness how a groundball has often times zoomed through the infield in what would have ordinarily been a routine out. This, predominantly against American League teams that have to play at least 9 games on FieldTurf annually.

In 2008, there were only two teams that didn't play their home games on FieldTurf that had a record of .500 or better. The Rays already were one of the best teams at home (possibly due to FieldTurf) and this could further their advantage over the Phillies.

Let's try and keep track of how the surface comes into play, specifically during game one.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"What Would the Outsider Do" - Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves are in uncharted territory. This is a club that, as you all know, did not miss the playoffs for 14 consecutive seasons. In 2007, the club emptied its prospect bank and brought aboard highly coveted first basemen Mark Teixeira.

Despite finishing with an 84 and 78 record, the Braves failed to make the playoffs that year, and took a substantial step backwards in 2008, falling to 72 and 90 in a very winnable National League East.

Teixeira's career with the Braves came to an end at this year's trade deadline, while things couldn't have turned out worse for the Braves and this acquisition, that is all now in hindsight.

However, looking back, we see that the Braves traded an outstanding core of prospects to the Texas Rangers, and have now come out with Casey Kotchman, Stephen Marek, and indirectly, Brett DeVall. In hindsight, we're looking at what could possibly be one of the worst trades in recent memory. A trade that parralel's the likes of Scott Kazmir to the Rays, and Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, and Cliff Lee to the Indians.

It was the desperation to make the playoffs that led Atlanta to trading away five of its best prospects, including, the top 3 as listed by Baseball America that previous winter. Unfortunately for the Braves, each of the prospects traded have continued to develop and are major reasons behind the Rangers having such a stocked farm system.

This trade also marked what is bound to be a lengthy down time for the Braves. While the farm system is replenishing itself with two excellent drafts, many of the players are still at least 2 years away. When one looks at what the Braves have at the Major League level, it becomes clear that they are in for a very long road at rebuilding.

In addition to the Teixeira 'blunder', the Braves have been rather misfortunate staying healthy. Pitchers Mike Gonzalez, Rafael Soriano, Tim Hudson, and John Smoltz all missed substantial time in 2008 due to injuries. Of which, Hudson and Smoltz's injuries will carry over to the 2009 season, further handcuffing this franchise.

There is, however, a silver lining for the 2009 Braves. The club has an estimated $45M in available cash resources, that money could make Atlanta into a big player this offseason. It wouldn't hurt to take $10-15M of that money, and look at signing Kelly Johnson, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Gonzalez, and Yunel Escobar to contract extensions. It may be a little early on Jurrjens and Escobar, but the time is certainly now for Johnson and Gonzalez.

Thus, with a developing system, and a surplus of cash, I will begin looking at what the Braves should, and should not do this offseason.

What the Braves don't need:

Infield help. The Braves have one of the best hitting infields in all of baseball. In addition to this, they have some substantial Major League ready depth and a good amount of high upside Minor Leaguers. Clearly if there is a way to cheaply upgrade any of their infield positions, the Braves should jump at that, but that would certainly be near the bottom of their wish list.

Relief pitching. This isn't a bad situation to have despite what is a fairly nice free agent relief core. Much of this is dependent on John Smoltz resigning and being ready, as well as Soriano's availability. Between those two, and Gonzalez, the Braves should have no problem finishing games. In addition to some nice depth at the Major League level, there are a couple arms in the system that could make their debut in 2009-Tyler Wilson and Luis Valdez.

Prospects. Everyone can always use prospects, but the Braves aren't in a position where they need to sell, simply to acquire youth. In fact, there is an argument to be made where the Braves may look to sell, simply to open up spots for their youth.

What the Braves need:

Pitching! Although, the club has a handful of very attractive and two of which could certainly be ready for Major League action by June of this season. Righty Tommy Hanson is a name everyone will all soon become familiar with, as he will be in the center of any trade discussions the Braves enter this offseason. Kristopher Medlen is another prospect that is fairly close to beign Major League ready. Although at this point, I'm not certain if he projects out as a starter or reliever.

So what do the Braves do here? For starters, I don't advocate signing CC Sabathia. He will simply cost too much for too long. I'm even in the minority that aren't worried about Sabathia's long term health and I would stay away from him.

Ben Sheets isn't a bad idea, but my worry is that he comes at a high cost despite his current unknown injury status, so I'll steer clear of him for now. Oliver Perez? The walks frighten me. Randy Wolf? He's a beneficiary of home ballparks.

How about Ryan Dempster? While he is 32 years old, he has as many Major League innings on his arm as the average 30 year old. Four years out of the bullpen helped harness that innings total. Dempster would also be a nice replacement for Tim Hudson, who is all but done as a Brave. Would 4 years at $12M work for Dempster?

In addition to Dempster, I would look at signing a pitcher that would accept a minor league assignment, maybe Matt Clement fits the bill? Someone who is looking to jump-start their career. There are plenty of these types of pitchers that are more organizational depth then an arm that is heavily relied on.

Outfield help! There are a few options on the big league roster, however, those players are beginning to look like quad A type players and 4th/5th outfielders then everyday players. With three highly touted prospects, and Jeff Francouer at the Major League level, its hardly a position that requires a long term solution, thus, a player such as Adam Dunn, and his presumed 5+ year contract demand is a guy the Braves should avoid.

Any trade posibilities? Coco Crisp wouldn't be a bad idea, but I doubt the Sox do that trade for anything less then Mike Gonzalez. What about Eric Byrnes of the Diamondbacks? Health permitting of course, however, without an obvious spot in the lineup for Byrnes, the DBacks may be happy to simply be free of Byrnes' contract.

The Braves could package Martin Prado (who could start for Arizona) and Jeff Locke. That's a little on the cheap side, but I'm banking that the Diamondbacks would be happy with the salary relief as well as adding two youngsters to what is looking like a dreadful system. If they demanded Lillibridge, that would just mean a lesser pitching prospect-which might be preferrable.

Chris Shelton, recently became a free agent. If the right handed hitter has any ability to play a position other then first base, I'd bring him aboard giving him hacks against left handed pitchers once or twice a week.

A lot of writing with very few additions. I do, however, feel as though these minor changes would mean big things for the Braves. Not 'playoff' big, but at least some direction, which is something they ended the 2008 season without. Here's how the Opening Day hitters would look:

SS - Y. Escobar
2B - K. Johnson
3B - C. Jones
C - B. McCann
1B - C. Kotchman
CF - E. Byrnes
RF - J. Francouer
LF - J. Anderson/M. Diaz

Not a lot of changes here and potentially the only lineup with it's infield as the first five, and subsequently strongest hitters on the team. The big issues with this lineup, development and a return to form. Escobar, Johnson, and McCann all need to continue their development, Kotchman needs to take some major steps forward, and Byrnes and Francouer have to prove they can return to the form that made them solid Major Leagues during the 2006 and 2007 seasons.

This lineup isn't incredibly different then the one that right around league average in 2008. The improvements I expect do not seem incredibly unrealistic, so the loss of Teixeira, while it will be felt, won't completely ruin this team.

The bench does not offer much promise, with Clint Sammons, Chris Shelton, Omar Infante, Brent Lillibridge, and the remaining half of the Anderson/Diaz platoon. However, it also leaves the door open for some almost ready prospects to step in in the case of an injury or underperformances.

The rotation could very well be a Drekyl and Hyde situation. The top two will form a very solid duo, while the next three will be obvious question marks. Here's how I would put together the 2009 Braves rotation:

R. Dempster
J. Jurrjens
J. Campillo
JJ Reyes
J. Parr

Even with Ryan Dempster, CC Sabathia, or Jake Peavy, this Braves rotation is not pretty. It is relying on Jurrjens and Campillo to show little to no regression. It is relying on Reyes and Parr to live up to at least some of their potential. If anything goes wrong, the Braves are not only in for a long season, but a very ugly one!

Even with Hanson and Medlen nearly ready, the Braves must keep their fingers crossed that their misfortune from the 2008 season does not carry over into 2009.

Looking at the bullpen and rotation, as well as a couple of the arms that are nearly ready in the Minors, it might be a good idea for the Braves to shop Gonzalez if they can't come to terms on a deal with him. Possibly the Braves could move Lillibridge and Locke to the Pirate for Paul Maholm and give the Gonzalez to the Sox for Crisp trade a try. Their bullpen would take a hit, but not one they couldn't withstand.

However, I would prefer to try to extend Gonzalez and work on his back up plan if that doesn't work. So here's how the bullpen shakes out with Gonzalez:

CL - M. Gonzalez
SU - J. Smoltz
RP - R. Soriano
RP - M. Acosta
RP - B. Carlyle
LR - J. Bennett

The major issue here is health. If Soriano and Smoltz are not healthy and cannot pitch, or are ineffective, the Braves bullpen will look drastically worse. However, if that is the case, Gonzalez is on his way out, and the bullpen's youth movement will begin with the infiltration of the aforementioned Wilson, Valdez, and Marek.

Playing GM is typically an enjoyable task. Doing so has one looking deep into a clubs farm system attempting to build the best team for the near and short term. I am typically a big picture guy and would be fine losing 4 out of 5 years if it meant that the 5th year was going to be a wild success. The problem with baseball, however, is that everything needs to work out perfectly in order for that 5th season to be successful. The Braves went into the 2008 season with what looked like a very solid team, a possible playoff team. 6 months later, a handful of major injuries, and a major trade has the team way on the outside looking in.

For Braves fans, another year or two of looking from the outside is going to have to be tolerable. Hopefully 2011 can be a season in which the Braves give Chipper another championship to add to his Hall of Fame resume.

In the meantime, who is the next Chipper? Who am I looking out for in 2009 and beyond? Frederick Freeman and Jason Heyward are the Braves two cornerstone offensive prospects, essentially everyone knows about them. Tyler Flowers posted another quality season in the minors to add reason to believe in his future.

The hitters I will be keeping a close eye on are soon-to-be 23 year old second basemen Travis Jones. While playing at a relatively low level compared to his age, Jones has posted a strikeout to walk ratio that simply cannot be ignored. The power Jones has displayed is also a positive from a future middle infielder.

Third basemen Eric Campbell also makes my watch list after posting an equally as impressive strikeout to walk ratio coupled with a solid power stroke. His isolated power (ISO) is similar to that of Edwin Encarnacion a of the Cincinatti Reds and Mark Reynolds of the Arizona Diamondbacks. If the power continues as well as Campbell's sound eye, developing into one of those two hitters is not a stretch.

Lastly, Erik Cordier. The 22 year old has what is described as a plus fastball, and a plus plus change. Erik also has a solid curveball that he has struggled to control this season. Keep in mind, however, that the kid is coming back from Tommy John surgery. 2009 should be the season where we see Cordier put it all together and vault up the pitching prospects list.

Another guy to watch, 17 year old Julio Teheran. While still about 3 or 4 years from the Majors, Teheran is a guy to keep your eyes open for.

FYI, I didn't 'forget' Schafer, Ka'aihue, or Hernandez, they are just a little below the players I mentioned.

Up Next - Oakland Athletics (what was Mark Ellis thinking?!?)

BallHype: hype it up!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ray Pride Part XII - The World Series is Set

Absolutely unbelievable! A little mouse from the Tampa Bay area took out what some had come to tab as a dynasty. The Rays took care of the Red Sox in the seventh game of the American League Championship Series, one in which no one will be soon to forget. This was a total team effort, with impressive performances from unheralded players as well as 'Here I am' performances from soon-to-be stars.

The World Series is set, with Game One in Tampa Bay at 8 PM EST, on everyone's favorite baseball broadcasting network, FOX. It is, however, fortunate that we won't have to deal with TBS any longer.

The rest of the schedule looks as follows:

Series begins Wednesday
Game Matchup Day Date Time ET TV
Gm 1PHI @ TBWedOct. 228:00 PMFOX
Gm 2PHI @ TBThuOct. 238:00 PMFOX
Gm 3TB @ PHISatOct. 258:00 PMFOX
Gm 4TB @ PHISunOct. 268:00 PMFOX
Gm 5*TB @ PHIMonOct. 278:00 PMFOX
Gm 6*PHI @ TBWedOct. 298:00 PMFOX
Gm 7*PHI @ TBThuOct. 308:00 PMFOX

I will break down my prediction later, for now, I will leave you with a clip from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. In this 'debate', the Rays are represented by 'a little mouse' and the Phillies are represented by a 'scorpion'. Personally, I prefer Frank's perspective that a mouse could kill a scorpion...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"What Would the Outsider Do" - Detroit Tigers

The Detroit Tigers have a very interesting situation and are the definition of why I feel there should be a cap on draft spending before a cap is placed on Major League contracts. For the last two season's Tigers owner Michael Illich has handed head of scouting, David Chadd, a blank cheque.

This is, an excellent way to build a franchise, as a team can let it be known that they are willing to spend well over slot and thus draftees can scare away teams with crazy salary demands. Case and point, 2005 6th round pick Cale Iorg signed for first round money-$1.5M.

Even with the free spending ways in recent years, the Tigers are not as stocked as one might expect them to be. However, this could be attributed to trading away 4 of the clubs top 6 or 7 prospects last winter.

The Tigers system is not in terrible shape as the club is not desperate for contributors at the Major League level just yet. However, the Major League club is also at a crossroads. With an aging core, the Central's worst team needs to decide if they are going to continue to be buyers, or go into a mini sell mode. The problem then, is that all of the pieces the Tigers have to trade, while solid contributors, have hefty price tags and are at a stage in their respective careers where they cannot be considered as valuable trade chips.

To this point in the series, the Tigers have made two moves. The first, had Detroit acquire Ramon Hernandez from Balitmore for minor league middle infielder Scott Sizemore. This trade will fill the Tigers temporary need of a catcher while they give 22 year old, dimunitive catcher James Skelton another year to prove scouts wrong.

The second move saw the Tigers move rising toolsy outfielder Wilkin Ramirez to the Texas Rangers for 21 year old left handed pitcher Kasey Kiker. This move may be out of context, as apparently Detroit only like big pitchers who throw hard. However, Ramirez is still a ways away and without a direct path to the bigs. Kiker is an extremely talented young pitcher who has more then held his own at each level in the minors.

There has also been speculation of further moves occuring on the Tigers roster. The first, has Brandon Inge moving back to third base. The 'super-utility' player will need to further develop his patience at the plate after posting the best strikeout to walk ratio of his career. The second move takes Carlos Guillen being permantently removed from the infield. Offensively, Guillen has been an excellent Major League short stop, however, as a left fielder, Guillen will need to play exceptional defense to make up for his bat at a position which has higher offensive expectations.

With these moves in mind, what more should the Tiger do, and what should they avoid?

What the Tigers don't need:

Offensive help. The Tigers had Baseball's forth highest OPS which is arguably only going to get better given how Miguel Cabrera played after getting comfortable with the American League. Also expect improvements from Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco, as well as positional improvements in left field and behind the dish.

Starting pitching. Despite having baseball's 25th ranked ERA among starting pitcher's, there's nowhere to go but down for this club. Between a disappointing season by Justin Verlander, and devastatingly bad performances from Dontrelle Willis, Kenny Rogers, and Nate Robertson, the Tigers can anticipate a rotation wide improvement withou adding a single arm. One issue of note, the Tigers need to be healthy in 2009 to allow top pitching prospect Rick Porcello another year of professional baseball to develop.

What worries me about this rotation is that they currently stand 5 deep. However, I would like to see them bring Freddy Garcia back. I don't consider this as an acquisition and thus not a 'need'.

Going into sell mode. There have been rumors swirling about both Willis and Jeremy Bonderman. With both coming off injury plagued seasons, having big contracts, and underacheiving, it seems unlikely that a team would desire either of these pitchers enough to send anything of substance. I would classify getting rid of one of these two as a 'need', but not desperation.

The same can be said about Magglio Ordonez and Polanco, both of whom have been subject of trade speculation.

Major League ready prospects. This is another area the Tigers can do without. Given that their roster is essentially filled with high calliber Major League veterans, bringing aboard a prospect to sit on the bench is useless.

What the Tigers need:

Relief pitching, obviously. This may very well be one of the best relief pitcher free agent classes in recent memory. The issue, then, is that there will presumably be more buyers then there are quality arms. The Tigers cannot make the same mistake they did in last years offseason where they only seemed to target gambles. With 2008's worst bullpen, the Tigers need to make a move to help this bullpen-however, spending money isn't always the trick.

While there are some nice arms currently in this bullpen, and another arm I intend to push from double A to the majors, the club is still lacking enough depth to be counted on for a team hoping to make the playoffs. Thus, I suggest the club hands out a few minor league/Spring Training contracts to the likes of Joe Borowski, Al Reyes, and Keith Foulke. Each of these pitchers has experience closing and may be a lightning-in-a-bottle type. Let them grind it out in Spring Training and make a decision how/if they can make it with the big league club in April.

Short stop. The team doesn't have one. Rumor has it Edgar Renteria is done with the Tigers, and rightfully so. The major issue here, however, is that the free agent pool for short stops is shallow, and subsequently going to be extremely over-priced. One option I would seriously consider would be Adam Everett. Everett is among the best defensive short stops in baseball, and while the last two seasons represent small sample sizes, he has improved his walk rate to the point where he approaches the league average.

Everett combined with Inge would create one of the best defensive left sides in the majors. However, with that, would also be one of the worst offensive left sides in the majors. If anyone can afford Everett's bat, it is the Tigers. Having one of the worst team defensive efficiencies in the league, only furthers the need for Everett's glove.

The question then, is Everett's glove that much better then Michael Hollimon's? Both players are going to struggle at the plate, and Hollimon's 2008 DZR (Defensive Zone Rating) sat at .909, albeit in limited action. A report from Baseball Prospectus' Nate Silver suggests that Hollimon is "a little stretched defensively at shortstop". The nod then goes to Adam Everett.

Offensively, as I mentioned, the Tigers are in great shape. Here's how they look on Opening Day:

CF - C. Granderson
2B - P. Polanco
1B - M. Cabrera
RF - M. Ordonez
LF - C. Guillen
DH - G. Sheffield
C - R. Hernandez
3B - B. Inge
SS - A. Everett

With the anticipation that better performances are had from Granderson, Polanco, and Sheffield, as well as behind the plate and in left field, the hits the club will take at third and short will hardly be noticed. If the club does lose a marginal amount offensively, it will more then be made up for in run prevention.

The bench will be made up of players who could be potential starters on almost any team in the majors. They would be weak starters, but starters nonetheless. DM Ryan, R. Santiago, M. Thames, and M. Joyce provide cabable bats to help relieve an aging core.

Similar to the bats, although from a different angle, the pitching rotation can truly only get better. There was hardly any positives to take from the 2008 season and subsequently, things can hardly get worse. While this is a fairly simplistic explanation of what to expect from the Tigers in 2009, it can logically work.

Here's how I see the pitching rotation looking coming out of Spring Training:

J. Verlander
A. Galarraga
J. Bonderman
N. Robertson
F. Garcia

I initially had Dontrelle Willis as the 4th starter, however, his 8+ FIP shows that he simply was too far off in 2008 to be counted on in 2009. Give him some time out of the bullpen, and maybe he can right the ship.

Additionally, Verlander, Galarrage, and Bonderman give the Tigers a formiddable trio and could easily be one of the top 2 or 3 in the American League. However, they could just as easily be one of the worst 2 or 3 in the American League.

I mentioned that I would look into bringing in some close to expired veterans to fight for a spot in the bullpen. The only one of the trio whom I would truly give a look to would be Keith Foulke. Let's see how the bullpen works out:

CL - J. Zumaya
SU - F. Rodney
RP - F. Dolsi
RP - K. Foulke
RP - B. Seay
RP - Z. Miner
LR - D. Willis

There are a few things to keep in mind here. First, Willis is with the team, undeservedly, but because time in the minors clearly will not help him get things figured out. Second, Foulke makes the team if the club shows to need his experience in the bullpen out of Spring Training. If not, then my favorite Tigers prospect Guillermo Moscoso is on the club and given a major role out of the bullpen.

In addition to this, I keep an eye on Freddy Dolsi and see if he shows enough to move up the pecking order in the bullpen. Personally, I prefer him over Rodney and wouldn't hesitate to start him as the setup man.

This bullpen is still predominantly raw, however they are talented. Unlike the bullpen that the Tigers started 2008 with, that was both raw and untalented.

The Tigers have a few prospects with very high potential, the problem is, they are a few years away yet. Another issue of note is the lack of offensive prospects. If some of the clubs prospects (I'm looking at you Mike Hessman) were with other teams, they certainly have been given a shot, and who knows how they would perform.

That aside, it is the perfect time to be a low level, young prospect in this organization as the club will be able to nurture their prospects until they are definitely ready. Some of those prospects to watch are the obvious candidates such as Rick Porcello, James Skelton, and 2008 draftees Ryan Perry and, Alex Avila.

However, I'm also keeping an eye on second basemen Maxwell Leon, first base/designated hitter Ryan Strieby, and left handed starter Duane Below. In Leon, the Tigers have a player with Placido Palonco-type skills, he is a low strikeout hitter, with little power, but decent walks. In Strieby, a power hitter with swing and miss tendencies. And Below, whom needs to harness his control in order to take the next step, which will be a big one if he does so.

Next up - The Atlanta Braves

BallHype: hype it up!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"What Would the Outsider Do" - Pittsburgh Pirates

This may very well be the most difficult WWOD I am going to write. The problem, there truly is nothing in the cupboards. There are some pieces which can be utilized as organizational depth, however, there are so few solid pieces, that the Pirates will need these middle to bottom of the road prospects to be contributors.

At this point I am struggling to come up with an idea of whether the Pirates should sell the few Major League prospects they have, or wait another season before selling off their 'valuable' pieces. These pieces being far and few between.

Between Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, and Jose Tabata, the Pirates do have the makings of a nice core. McCutchen and Alvarez specifically are a duo that many teams would love to build around. In addition to this trio, the Bucs have a handful of wildcard prospects and prospects which the franchise 'bought' in 2008's first year player draft. It will be another 2 or 3 years before the rewards of this draft are fully understood.

At the Major League level, the Pirates have 'youngsters' Ryan Doumit, Nate McLouth, and Andy LaRoche to build around offensively, with Matt Capps, Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf, and bounce back candidate Ian Snell as good, but not great, arms.

The question then, what should the Pirates do with pieces that do not have much, if any future with the club? Pieces such as Adam LaRoche, Freddy Sanchez, Zach Duke, and John Grabow would all have value in the trade market, but without replacements, can the Pirates afford to make these moves?

What the Pirates don't need:

Major League contracts. The object for the Pirates for the next season or two should be to absolutely tank. Grab a top five pick and take the absolutely best player available. In addition to this, all the money that would have been used on free agents can be pumped into player development, namely international signings.

Major League ready prospects. The Pirates are not one piece away. They are not two pieces away. In fact, the Pirates aren't an Albert Pujols away from being a contender. Thus, while a Brandon Wood may be an attractive piece to a team starved for talent, the club is better off acquiring higher risk, higher reward players. Jose Tabata was the perfect example of what type of player the Pirates should be looking to acquire.

Old prospects. Either the Pirates had no clue how to draft for the previous decade plus, or they simply drafted low ceiling old players. It seems as though every player in the system is already too old to be tabbed as a prospect. The few that are young, have been around forever and haven't done anything to warrant being called a prospect. Combine that with what appears to be baseball's worst international scouting department, and there is a sure fire formula for a brutal farm system-but you already knew that.

What the Pirates need:

Prospects! While there is the makings of something, there still isn't much. As I mentioned, two more years of losing, coupled with a front office willing to strip down to the bare bones and spend all of their money on player development, and the Pirates should be on their way. This is obviously easier said then done-or is it? With the pathetic cast the Pirates currently have, losing shouldn't be an issue.

Middle infield help. Currently, the Pirates have what equals to a slightly below average middle infield-this is assuming Freddy Sanchez remembers how to hit. With both he, and Jack Wilson set to come off the books after this season, the Pirates can give their top middle infield prospects a shot at the show. The issue, both Shelby Ford and Brian Friday do not project out as solid Major League infielders. In fact, one could argue this is a fairly parallel move.

Trades. While this is not of dire consequence for the Pirates, I feel the club would be better served moving LaRoche, Sanchez, and Grabow at some point this off season. Salary relief is not required, so if the Pirates need to eat part of the contracts, that is certainly an option. The major objective should be to obtain some high ceiling, low level prospects. Because the Pirates are not in a financial situation to need to make these moves, they can simply wait for the market to offer them the best trades.

Here are possible destinations for the aforementioned trio:
  • LaRoche - New York (AL), Toronto, LA of Anaheim, Seattle, New York, Colardo, and San Francisco. Toronto, Seattle, and San Francisco are three teams that currently need LaRoche and have an open spot for him. The other clubs have a pending free agent to take care of and could subsequently close the first base/designated hitter spot.
  • Sanchez - Cleveland, Houston, St. Louis, San Diego, and Arizona. Each of these teams could either use an upgrade, or simply have a blackhole at second base.
  • Grabow - What team couldn't use the left handed Grabow?
WWOD would decide to wait the market out here. There isn't any use in making a hypothetical trade with the Yankees, who will spend the first weeks of their offseason pursuing Mark Teixeira.

Here's how the Pirates hitters should shake out:

RF - N. Morgan
CF - N. McLouth
C - R. Doumit
1B - Ad. LaRoche
2B - F. Sanchez
LF - B. Moss
3B - An. LaRoche
SS - J. Wilson

There are a couple things I want to point out with this starting lineup. The first, is Nyjer Morgan's spot atop the batting order. Morgan certainly is not a Major League leadoff hitter, afterall, he is 28 years old with 86 MLB games under his belt. However, in those 86 games, he has posted an efficient .351 OBP, nothing spectacular, but worthy of a shot.

The second issue, where's Andrew McCutchen? A very legitimate question given that McCutchen would likely be the Bucs best player and is clearly Major League ready. The reason I have chosen to not have McCutchen on the Opening Day roster is to delay his service time clock. That said, a mid-May, early June call-up is the direction I would take with McCutchen.

Next issue, where is the 2006 and 2007 organizational best prospect? There is a two-fold answer to this question, the first, if LaRoche is traded, Steven Pearce will be handed the first base job. The second, Pearce is a right handed bat and will 'platoon' with Morgan and Moss predominantly, spelling LaRoche once a week, and occassionally giving McLouth a day off. In other words, any time the Bucs are facing a lefty, he will be in the lineup.

This lineup isn't pretty. There isn't much to like about. However, we can see two potential break-out candidates in Moss and An. LaRoche. In addition to this, we can see a few strong trade possibilities to begin opening up roster spots. Putting together the Bucs 2010 Opening Day roster will be much more enjoyable.

The bench would be made up of R. Paulino, S. Pearce, L. Cruz, B. Bixler, and the re-newed option of J. Michaels. At the very least there are some platoon options on this bench. It is also quite inexpensive.

Another option for the bench would be Canadian Jamie Romak. The 23 year old right handed hitter is still fairly raw, as are most Canadian's. However, he possesses solid power and a strong eye at the plate. He could very well be an excellent platoon mate with Brandon Moss by season's end.

The rotation is a strength of the Pirates, although that is relatively speaking. The club does have a few young arms, which are a nice commodity for a terrible team, but nobody is going to be challenging for the Cy Young any time soon. Here's how it looks:

P. Maholm
I. Snell
R. Ohlendorf
Z. Duke
J. Barthmaier

With Ian Snell as the oldest pitcher in this rotation, at least the Pirates can expect some development. While that wasn't the case with Snell in 2008, Maholm and Duke both officially became 'reliable' starters. Expect a bounce back season from Snell and for Maholm and Duke to simply keep on, keepin' on.

Ross Ohlendorf was probably the best Major League ready piece the Pirates received from the Yankees in the Nady-Marte trade. He is a pitcher whom I am very high on. His stuff is excellent. The major issue may be consistently getting long outings from the 26 year old. But keep an eye on Ohlendorf, as he will surprise a lot of National League hitters in 2009.

Barthmaier isn't going to dominate, but I feel as though he can be an effective Major League pitcher. Keep in mind, when I suggest that, I am talking about an 'effective Major League 5th starter', so the bar is relatively low.

There isn't really anything else on it's way up in this system. Brad Lincoln is still recovering from 2007 Tommy John and may make a push to be on the Pirates September roster. Tom Boleska is in a similar situation although arguably further away.

Compared to the hitters, the Pirates pitching looks like a squad of all stars. This holds true for the Pirates bullpen, which features a cast of arms that would be one or two rungs down on any playoff team. However, their roles may be enough to boost their current value on the trade market.

Here's how the bullpen shakes out:

CL - M. Capps
SU - J. Grabow
RP - J. Chavez
RP - C. Hansen
RP - T. Yates
LR - P. Dumatrait

Maybe it was a stretch to call this group 'comparative All Stars'. However, with a core of hard throwers, if these pitchers can keep the walks down, they could be a scary group to face. Adding promise to this group, 23 year old Eric Krebs, and 22 year old soon-to-be-converted Daniel Moskos.

After approaching the clubs best record in a decade, the Pirates made some good choices for what feels like the first time in two decades. The club added pieces for the future and took care of what they had. Fortunate for the Pirates, the Pedro Alvarez situation worked itself out and the front office can begin to look to the future. With a fairly bleak outlook immediately, acquiring high-ceiling youngsters should be the #1 goal of this team.

While having a currently weak farm system does not give the fans a lot to cheer about, it could also represent some pleasent surprises. A couple players on my watch list are Eddie Prasch, Jamie Romak, and Tom Boleska.

Next up - The Detroit Tigers

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