January 2015

Is This A Great Offseason, Or What?

So the greatest baseball offseason in my memory continues with deals, free agent signings and player transactions almost on a daily basis. Is this great for baseball junkies like you and me, or what?

Even though we are enjoying a tremendous baseball winter, we still can’t wait for pitchers and catchers to report to Arizona and Florida, right? Spring Training. A new life for every team in baseball. We’ve been “waiting for next year” for several months and next year will finally be here. That’s when we begin to see what all the moving and shaking was all about. That’s when we get to see Yasmany Tomas in a Dbacks uniform. That’s when we begin to sort out which of the Cubs prospects have a chance to break with the club. With their lack of third base depth, does Kris Bryant assume the position right off the bat? Pablo Sandoval plays for the Red Sox. Wrap that around in your mind a bit. It’s only been words up to now. Soon it will be reality. Justin Upton and Matt Kemp will be in the same San Diego Padres outfield. Way cool.

OK-some deals went down this week and I have to weigh in with a couple of my thoughts.

I really like the way John Hart has targeted young pitching for the future of the Atlanta Braves. The pitcher that most intrigues me is Mike Foltynewicz. I remember seeing him pitch in the Astros Spring Training camp and being totally impressed. He’s a very cool customer on the mound with a very good arm. He has good command of a complete repertoire and I think he’ll be a fixture in the Braves rotation at some point-maybe even late this season. Add in Manny Banuelos, Shelby Miller, Max Fried, Tyrell Jenkins, etc. and the Braves are establishing a solid pitching foundation for their ultimate move to a new stadium. That said, I think they will struggle mightily to score runs this year. The lineup has been weakened tremendously, but all eyes are on their future.

I’m not one that thinks the Brewers forfeited too much in their trade of Yovani Gallardo to the Rangers. I think eventually Jimmy Nelson will become a solid big league starter to take the place of Gallardo. It make take Nelson some time, but the upside remains. I do, however, like middle-infielder Luis Sardinas a great deal. It provides the Brew Crew with an outstanding defensive middle infielder and depth at two positions. Keep your eye on the health of Corey Knebel. If his elbow barks, it may be problematic. And the third player in the deal may be the “wild card.” Right-handed pitcher Marcos Diplan is very, very young. He has huge upside and could be the real winner of the deal. Time will tell.

Very quietly Carlos Corporan was designated for assignment and then traded from the Astros to the Rangers. While he may not be a starter is most team’s eyes, he has some pop in his bat. But he’s a guy that needs to hit regularly to stay sharp. If he were ever to get playing time, I think he could really emerge. We’ll see.

The Cubs have a new leadoff hitter after acquiring Dexter Fowler from Houston. I had disagreements on twitter when I said I felt he was a solid outfielder. Maybe not “outstanding” which was my original word, but I have seen him make some super plays roaming the huge outfield in Colorado. His defensive metrics aren’t good. But the Cubs get a guy that can get on base from the top of the order and one that will make the plays for them in center field. The Astros pick up Luis Valbuena to probably platoon at third base and Dan Straily for the rotation. Fowler will be replaced in center by free agent Colby Rasmus. Overall, I don’t see much improvement for the Astros during the off-season. Lots of moves, but are they better? I’m just askin’. I really think they could have used both Foltynewicz and Jarred Cosart who they traded to Miami last year.

IMO Jake Marisnick plays solid defense and should end up in left field most of the time in Houston with Rasmus in center. Marisnick came in the Cosart deal.

Max Scherzer to the Nationals? Who knew? Not me. I should have figured it out. The Nationals and the Boras Group have a very good relationship. Mike Rizzo drafted Scherzer when Rizzo was with the Dbacks. But man-in essence, isn’t Scherzer now equal to an “owner” of the club? I don’t write about money. But that’s some kind of money. And it’ll help James Shields. And next year’s crop of available pitchers like David Price and Johnny Cueto. If I’m the Nationals I keep all their starters. I wouldn’t think of breaking up a fantastic rotation that includes Strasburg, Scherzer, Zimmerman, Fister, Gonzalez and Tanner Roark if needed. On paper, they have a guy that can win every day. How many teams can really say that? Every day a starter touches the mound for Washington, they are a good bet to win that game. No #4 or #5 starter blues and woes. But. But games aren’t won on paper. They’re won between the lines. Injuries could hit. One or more of their pitchers could get a flat tire. But I sure like the makeup of that club.

Where does James Shields land? I still like the Orioles or the Blue Jays, but I have no idea. None whatsoever. I do know that he can lengthen a rotation, eat innings and help any big league club of his choosing. Maybe he’s waiting for that special team to call. Or he wants another year on the deal. Or more money. But it should be over soon. We should soon find out who wins the Shields Sweepstakes.

Remember when Hunter Morris was in the first base picture for the Brewers? It wasn’t too long ago. The job was his in Spring Training, but it didn’t work out. Now, he’s been designated for assignment. The light only shines for so long.

Tyler Clippard offers the Athletics a really fine late inning relief option. If needed, he can close. If not, he can set up. He’s a good fit for a club that may be better than many think. The deal they made with Washington for Yunel Escobar makes sense for both clubs. The Nationals can use more middle infield help. They got it.

And so now we wait. We wait for the words “the equipment truck departed today for Spring Training.” Those are among the sweetest words in the English language. Another great sentence is “Pitchers and catchers reported today to….to begin Spring Training.” Oh, how I love those words. So do you.

But keep your eyes posted here at BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD going forward. And follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff so we can talk some ball. I hope you’re enjoying my “On The Cusp” series on MLBPipeline.com. I write about each team’s prospects that may make the 2015 club at some point in the season. Finally, I hope you’ll listen to Short Hops on iTunes where my baseball partner Derek Van Riper and I talk baseball for at least an hour a week. And I’m still doing a weekly segment at noon eastern on Wednesday at Sirius/XM Fantasy Sports.

As always, thanks for your great support.


More Wood On The Stove

Happy New Year to each and every one of you. I hope this year brings you great health, great joy and a championship for your favorite baseball team. Well, we can all dream, can’t we?

I think there are a couple of sleepers that were moved in the recent flurry of trades. One of those is R J Alvarez who went to the Athletics from the Padres. He had previously gone to the Padres from the Angels, the team that first drafted him. Alvarez has a back of the bullpen power arm. He could eventually close. He has one true pitch-a “lights out” fastball. He was a starter at Florida Atlantic University, but has since converted to the pen. Keep your eye on him. I like his stuff.

More widely known is starting pitcher Andrew Heaney. Heaney was traded to the Dodgers and then flipped to the Angels. I think he has a chance to be a very solid starting pitcher. The Angels have to be patient with him, as it is quite possible he could scuffle a bit against better quality hitting. In time, he can be an innings eater and a winner. He scuffled a bit in his 2014 debut-and that’s what I’m talking about. However, he throws a quality fastball, slider and changeup that should play on the big stage. I’m a huge Howie Kendrick fan (traded for Heaney) but he may have departed when free agency was available to him. This deal was good for the Angels.

Max Fried went from the Padres to the Braves in the Justin Upton trade. There was some risk involved for the Braves, as Fried is recovering from Tommy John surgery. But I think he’ll become a star once he’s recovered. He had great stuff before the elbow issues. He knows how to pitch. I think the big lefty will return to his 95 mph fastball and wipe out curveball once his rehab is complete and his arm is stretched out. We won’t see him this year, but down the road—he’s a keeper.

Manny Banuelos, who went to the Braves for David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve was once spoken of in the same prospect sentences with star reliever Dellin Betances. I vividly remember when Betances had trouble throwing strikes. Like Banuelos, he has had Tommy John surgery. Betances came back from the surgery, regained his power arm and started throwing more strikes. Now-he (Betances) could be closing games for the Yankees. Worse case, he serves as a set-up man for Andrew Miller. But back to Banuelos. He doesn’t have the huge 6-foot-8 height of Betances. In fact, he’s only
5-foot-10. But I really like his upside. I think he’ll bounce back fine from surgery and be able to pitch either out of the Braves rotation or out of their pen. Clearly-the Braves have faith that both Fried and Banuelos will return to their original prospect form. I wouldn’t bet against either.

Franklin Barreto was part of the Josh Donaldson trade with the Blue Jays. He may one day become a star on a team that always seems to need middle infield help. He’s still only 18 (he’ll be 19 in February) but he has the poise and moxie of a guy much older. He barrels pitches and has a terrific feel for hitting. He hit .311/6/61 at Class A Short Season Vancouver last year in 328 plate appearances. For me, he was a top 5 prospect with the Blue Jays. Keep your eye on this young man-he may eventually take some of the sting away from losing Donaldson.

By the way-I also like Shreve, the lefty the Yankees got for their bullpen for Banuelos. I think you’ll see him pitching in New York this coming season. Not in a prominent role, but as an early call southpaw out of the pen.
Remember the name Christian Walker. I think the young prospect could make the Orioles out of Spring Training. They aren’t deep in first basemen, and Walker has a nice bat with a level, doubles/gap bat. The home runs will come.

Marlon Byrd may be the right guy for Reds as they prepare to pass the left field baton to Jesse Winker. But Winker to Cincinnati may not happen until later this year. Frankly, I would have liked to see Winker start the season, but the Reds probably want him to get more development time. So Byrd it is.

I’m still wondering how the Phillies get younger with the likes of Grady Sizemore and Jeff Francoeur as well as the newly acquired Aaron Harang? I’m just wondering. Yikes!

And the Orioles? Yikes again. The AL East is flying past them.

Not to mention the Giants. But I just did. Some way they will shore up their club. It never fails. We look at the lack of moves they make and then suddenly…bam. Here comes a Hunter Pence or a Jake Peavy or a couple years ago a Cody Ross to save the bacon. I will never count them out. Or the Cardinals either.

Do the Marlins want James Shields? I say yes. But at what price? And I still think Tigers owner Mike Ilitch and the Boras Group will sit around the campfire, eat some pizza and come to terms on a return to Detroit for Max Scherzer. I just think it makes sense. The window on that club could slam shut–and the team has to make that expensive move. And they still need bullpen help. Scherzer would really make that starting staff even more amazing. Scherzer/Price/Verlander/Sanchez/Greene or Simon with the other to the pen. Probably Simon to the pen.

Can Alexi Ogando help someone or is he toast? I’m just wondering. I guess his shoulder is as bad as I thought it was. If not-wouldn’t he still be with the Rangers. Plug in the toaster.

The Red Sox will not start the season with their current starting pitching. I see another move or two coming in the future. Right?

Who can use the excess Padres outfielders (the accounting firm of Quentin, Maybin, and Venable)? Or the Red Sox excess of Bryce Brentz, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, and possibly Shane Victorino? Mookie Betts is too good. He has to stay and play. Well, the Mets, the Orioles, the Giants, the Phillies, the Athletics, the Twins and on and on all come to mind. There is an outstanding market for most of those outfielders. The fly in the ointment? Nobody has what the Padres and Red Sox covet-Major League ready starting pitching. And if they have it, they’re keeping it.

And do you remember…Jackie Bradley, Jr.? That love affair didn’t last too long. I hope he gets a shot somewhere. Add him to the Red Sox outfield inventory.

Carlos Quentin. I wonder what a healthy Carlos Quentin could do? Will we ever find out? When he was with the Dbacks I loved to watch him hit. Then he got hurt. Then he got hurt again. And again. And again. And….you get the point.

Do you think the Yankees have enough starting pitching or do they need a Shields or Scherzer? Will Pineda and Sabathia both return healthy? And the big question-will Tanaka hold up? Don’t they need another arm or two? I love Eovaldi, but what if those other three guys I just mentioned can’t pitch? That leaves Capuano, Warren and Nova (if he’s healthy). I give that a Yikes! I’d be looking for that arm or two, but that’s just me.

Have I mentioned that I think Garrett Jones is going to really help the Yankees? Perfect home park for his swing. He may take DH at-bats from A-Rod. You remember A-Rod, right? And he’ll take some outfield time as well.

OK- that’s all for today. I’m done.

All my best to the kids. And remember your New Year’s Resolution—you forgot already. Well let me remind you. You’re going to tell your family and friends that they are always welcome to follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff and to read my work at MLBPipeline.com.