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Jack Morris falls short on my ballot
 By: Aidan Flynn          

          Yesterday, I unveiled my thoughts and hypothetical vote on this year's Hall of Fame class. Once again, I do not think there is necessarily a wrong way of going about this vote. However, I do think people need to realize that cheating is not some new trend in baseball, and has literally been going on for hundreds of years. I respect the decisions made by the hundreds of people who vote on this, but any explanation of being a moral gatekeeper is one I simply do not understand. Regardless, I have confidence in my selections and people can say what they will about them. Yet, while I think I selected deserving candidates,  there were many strong cases from players who did not make my top nine. Below are some of my snubs, per say, for this year's Hall class. Some decisions were easy, some were difficult, and if there is any player (Dale Murphy, Bernie Williams, etc) not listed below and you would like an explanation, I would be more than happy to justify my thinking. Once more, I will be using Jay Jaffe's excellent JAWS statistic that compares players to their already enshrined Hall of Fame peers. This was an excellent tool, which along with others, helped me formulate decisions on my Hall of Fame ballot. Below is a quick review on the JAWS statistic, followed by my Hall of Fame slights. 

            JAWS: The Jaffe WAR Score System was developed by Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe as a measure of a player's Hall of Fame worthiness. A JAWS score is calculated from taking the players' career WAR averaged out with their seven-year peak (seven best seasons, regardless if they were continuous or not). It serves as a good means to judge how a player stacks up to his Hall of Fame brethren and whether or not they are deserving of a plaque in Cooperstown. For additional JAWS information, click on the link above

So now, here are those that fell short of my HOF vote (from easiest decision to hardest):

        Jack Morris: Despite the mounting tidal wave of support in favor of Morris' candidacy, Jack Morris is not a Hall of Famer in my mind. To be honest, it is not even that tough of a decision. The 3.90 ERA, barely above-average ERA+ (105), the lack of a statistical peak, Morris just does not cut it. The best thing going for Morris is his longevity and innings eating capabilities (3824 innings) but there are plenty of other, more successful pitchers with nearly identical innings pitched. No one is clamoring for Jerry Koosman or Dennis Martinez's induction, despite both having thrown more innings and having better ERA+ (106 and 110, respectively) than  Morris. Also, Morris falls short in the traditional measures of 300 wins (254 career victories) and winning a Cy Young (best finish was 3rd), in which both puzzle me as to why he is getting as much support from the mainstream media as he is. In addition, for someone with the reputation of being a big game pitcher, Morris was very inconsistent during his postseason tenure. While he was lights out in 1984 and 1991 (sub 2.00 ERA in both postseasons), he had a couple of clunkers in 1987 and 1992 (6.75 ERA or greater in both series). All together, he finished his postseason career with a mediocre 3.80 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. Morris falls 20 WAR short of the starting pitcher JAWS average, and after looking at the all of the evidence, he falls well short of my hypothetical HOF vote. 

        Sammy Sosa: First question obviously is, "If you voted for Bonds and Clemens, why not Sosa?" Although Sosa definitely had the peak of a Hall of Famer, Sosa fails to get my vote for several reasons. First, Sosa simply does not meet the Hall of Fame standards set by the JAWS statistic. Sosa falls 7 WAR short of the average Hall of Fame right fielder. Basically, Sosa would lower the standards of the Hall for right fielders if he were to get elected and essentially represents a borderline candidate. While I expressed that I would vote for certain players with steroid ties, Sosa's already borderline case definitely is not helped by being an alleged juicer. Furthermore, Sosa was essentially a one-dimensional slugger during his peak years. He hit a lot of home runs and struck out a ton. For much of his career he was Adam Dunn, just without the walks and with better power numbers. Nobody is confusing Adam Dunn for a Hall of Famer and while Sosa certainly is better than "The Donkey," he is not a Hall of Famer either.

        Mark McGwire/Rafael Palmeiro: I am lumping McGwire and Palmeiro together because there cases are fairly similar. Both offense first players with clear evidence linking them to steroid use; McGwire via personal confession and Palmeiro via a positive test in 2005, just two weeks after recording his 3,000 hit. They are also similar in that both fall short of the JAWS standard for first baseman. The average Hall of Fame first basemen has a JAWS of 51.5 with Palmeiro just below the standard at 51.3 and McGwire at 49.4. Once again, both of these players have borderline cases to being HOFers and with direct evidence linking them to steroids, that clinches them to being off my ballot

        Kenny Lofton: One of the more underrated players of his generation, Lofton stole bases at a high clip (80% success rate), was an excellent tablesetter (.372 OBP), and played strong defense at an up-the-middle position (four gold gloves, 115 runs above average). However, Lofton's lack of a true peak and his lackluster postseason showing (.247/.315/.352) both hurt his borderline case, causing him to fall short of my vote.

        Larry Walker: Unlike the previously mentioned borderline candidates, Walker is actually above the standard for Hall of Famers at his position. Walker certainly had the peak (43.1 WAR, three batting titles, 1997 MVP), but the era and ballpark in which he played (steroid era and pre-humidor Coors Field) absolutely supported some of the insane numbers he put up in the late '90s. I understand there was more to Walker's game than just hitting (7 Gold Gloves, 230 SBs) and he had some very productive seasons in Montreal, but I really question how much of his monster seasons were as a result of playing in Coors. He's close but for now, Walker does not get my vote.


 
 
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Does Barry Bonds deserve HOF justice even with his alleged steroid abuse?
  BY: AIDAN FLYNN

            The mission statement of the National Baseball Hall of Fame reads "Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, and Connecting Generations." Since its inception in 1936, the Hall of Fame has generally received the reputation of upholding these duties while maintaining its integrity as both an honor and museum. This year's class is the first to truly challenge this longstanding reputation with the introduction of all-time greats Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa to the ballot. Under normal circumstances, this ballot would be received with unparalleled interest and significance, not because of any moral wrongdoings, but because of the legitimate greatness of the players involved. The all-time home run king with an unprecedented 7 MVPs. A 354 game winner with a record 7 Cy Youngs. The only player in Major League history to hit sixty home runs an incredible three times. Under normal circumstances, there would be little doubt to greatness that would be honored in a quiet upstate New York town in late July.

            However, as you well know, this ballot does not follow the same rules as ones in years past. The Steroid Era that consumed much of the game in the late '90s is once again rearing its ugly head in the form of the suspicious acts committed by Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa. Although the topic of steroids and the Hall of Fame is not a new topic (see Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro), this year represents a complex dilemma with so many different aspects to it.  One such aspect is the fact that little tangible evidence directly implicates the aforementioned cases of Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa as well as first-time ballot mate Mike Piazza. Even evidence that is present comes from untrustworthy and discredited eye-witness accounts or is just based on visible changes in the physique of these players (see Bonds' transformation above). In addition, these players were allegedly using during a time in which drug and PED abuse was rampant. I would be lying to say or think that everybody was using during this time period but going by numerous reports, it was pretty clear that a decent amount of players were indeed using. Lastly, this ballot simply is different because of the names headlining the list, especially Bonds and Clemens. Between the two of them, reasonable cases could be made that they are the greatest hitter and pitcher of all-time, respectively. To some, not honoring this greatness, regardless of their transgressions, would be a failure for the Hall to "Preserve History, Honor Excellence, and Connect Generations."

            Since its birth shortly after the Civil War, baseball has been ingrained as America's Pastime. As society is seemingly ever changing, ever evolving, baseball remains the constant in the everyman's life. Baseball is what connects generations, families, and us as a country to our storied past and history. The game remains nine innings, with three outs to each half-inning. It remains ninety feet to each base and still is played with a stick and a ball. These enduring qualities and traditions are what has caused baseball to leave such an indelible mark on this country's heart and soul. As football continues its crusade toward the ubiquitous process of player pampering (consequently stripping the game of what made it so popular), baseball's most radical changes have been an extra hitter and a tiny increase in technology. So much of the game remains the same from when Alexander Cartwright wrote up its first rules in 1845. Which should make it no surprise then, that cheating isn't some new fad to the game either. The first documented use of performance-enhancing drugs was in 1889! with Pud Galvin openly admitting and boasting to his monkey testosterone usage. Of course, it was only fitting that Galvin, a 365 game winner, would later be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1965. Hall of Famer Whitey Ford, ace of the perennial Yankee powerhouses of the '50s and '60s was quoted as saying:

"I didn't begin cheating until late in my career, when I needed something to help me survive. I didn't cheat when I won the twenty-five games in 1961. I don't want anybody to get any ideas and take my Cy Young Award away. And I didn't cheat in 1963 when I won twenty-four games. Well, maybe a little"

Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher also was quite open in regards to his law-breaking:

" I believe in rules. Sure I do. If there weren't any rules, how could you break them?"

"Win any way you can as long as you can get away with it."

            Still not enough? How about the fact that Gaylord Perry carved an entire Hall of Fame career off the illegal "spitball" pitch, in which he would doctor the baseball in order to give the ball unnatural movement? Even after being caught red-handed by umpires during an August game in 1982, the writers eventually enshrined him as one of Cooperstown's immortals. Perhaps Willie Mays wasn't a cheater despite being renowned for sign-stealing and using it to his advantage. Perhaps it was okay to cheat for George Brett because of his hilarious tirade following his ejection for too much pine tar. I am not saying that none of these players belong in the Hall, but clearly, cheating has been in baseball as long as the game itself.

            In my opinion, it would just be flat-out hypocritical for us to give a damn now about cheaters in the game, especially now that the writers voting on this were the very ones reporting in the very same locker rooms in which these players were using. These very reporters and writers, the ones who happened to turn a blind eye to steroids when they were selling papers and bestselling books, are now deciding to be the morality police? I am just continually stunned by these media double-standards. Now, that is not to say that I am condoning the actions of these players and it was something I legitimately took into account for my hypothetical ballot. I hate awarding players for something they more than likely do not deserve, especially considering all the work I put into studying, training, etc to better myself as a student, athlete, and individual. However, I also believe in trying to gain an advantage at something so that as an individual, you can best set up yourself and your family for life, even with the risk considered. Considering the fact that these players were not tested or even questioned about drug abuse during the '90s, why would what they were doing be considered wrong at the time?

            One more thing about baseball is that it is often referred as a direct reflection of American society. If we truly look at baseball as a mirror, is it really too far off of where we stand as a society? Instead of wondering what influence these players have on society, maybe we should look in the mirror and realize our own faults before criticizing someone else's. The influence that these PED users have on future generations really is not any different than the ones we as a society. I just don't think arguments like this are legitimate roadblocks to each candidcacy.

            All things considered, I still honestly do not think there is a right or wrong choice in regards to this Hall of Fame vote. Some people will value some things more than others and there is nothing wrong with that. I just think people need to realize that it is not as cut and dry, (clean or dirty) as it may first seem. Anyhow, after reviewing all of the evidence, below is my ballot, with a brief introduction of JAWS, a statistic necessary to understanding some of my HOF arguments. 

JAWS: The Jaffe WAR Score System was developed by Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe as a measure of a player's Hall of Fame worthiness. A JAWS score is calculated from taking the players' career WAR averaged out with their seven-year peak (seven best seasons, regardless if they were continuous or not). It serves as a good means to judge how a player stacks up to his Hall of Fame brethren and whether or not they are deserving of a plaque in Cooperstown. For additional JAWS information, click on the link above. So without further adieu, my HOF ballot would read…

Jeff Bagwell: One of the most productive first baseman in Major League history, there was little Bagwell could not do. Offensively, Bagwell was an absolute monster. He was a career .297/.408/.540 hitter while playing much of his career in the unfriendly Astrodome. He won the MVP in 1994 and has the fifth highest peak among 1st baseman, ahead of HOFers Harmon Killebrew, Willie McCovey, and Eddie Murray. JAWS has him as the sixth greatest first baseman OF ALL-TIME. Additionally, Bagwell was an underrated defender that ended up 59 runs above average according to UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), a number one might not think possible given his physique. Despite his relatively short career (only 15 years), Bagwell's extreme durability (142+ games in 12 of 15 seasons) helped him put up some of the best numbers ever by a first baseman. Despite the whispers regarding his use, the complete lack of evidence gives me no reason not to vote for him. He might not have the shiny 500 home runs (449 career) or .300 average (.297), but Bagwell's overall numbers make him a slam-dunk Hall of Famer in my mind.

Craig Biggio: The other member of Houston's "Killer B's," Biggio was a great player without having any of the "obvious" skills usually attributed to a Hall of Famer. He didn't have light-tower power (291 HR), blazing speed (414 SB or 24 per year), or superb contact skills (.281 career hitter), but Biggio carved out a career as a master of the little things that win ballgames. Biggio hit plenty of doubles (668, 5th most all-time), took his walks (1160), was efficient on the bases (77 % SB success rate), and  played good defense at key up-the-middle positions. The father of sabermetrics, Bill James, even went as far to say that Craig Biggio was the fifth best second baseman of all-time. I might not go as far to say that Biggio was that good, but his overall body of work speaks for itself. Even not considering his 3,060 hits, a landmark number in which Biggio probably stayed too long to obtain, Biggio is without a doubt a Hall of Famer.

Barry Bonds: Strip away Bonds' steroid suspicions and Bonds is clearly one of the two or three greatest players to ever step on the diamond. Bonds' numbers speak for themselves; 762 home runs, 1996 RBI, a .444 on-base percentage, a .607 slugging percentage, 7 MVPs, 8 Gold Gloves, and 158 career Wins Above Replacement (2nd highest career total). The list of Bonds' accolades literally goes on and on and on. I'll admit, it is extremely troubling to see Bonds hit 73 home runs as a 36 year old, while outpacing his previous career high by 24 in the process. It is extremely troubling to see a 39 year old to have a .609 on base percentage and .812 slugging percentage when a player's bat speed and eye should be slowing. It is extremely troubling to see Bonds win two batting titles after the age of 37. I cannot express enough how much I have wrestled with Bonds' and Clemens' Hall of Fame candidacy. It pains me to think that I am rewarding cheating and that Bonds gained such an unfair advantage in his late 30's. However, Bonds' candidacy is just too great for me for me personally. The goal of the Hall is to "Preserve History, Honor Excellence, and Connect Generations." What kind of Hall would it be without having one of the greatest individual talents of all-time? Ultimately, Bonds' legacy and talents outweigh the steroid allegations, and would get my Hall of Fame vote. 

Roger Clemens: As with Bonds, Roger Clemens, minus the PED cloud, is among the greats at his position. Clemens is among the all-time greats in wins (354), Win Probability Added (1st all-time), ERA+ (143), and strikeouts (4,672 K's, 3rd all-time). Clemens' case would normally be clear-cut but will almost certainly not see a first-ballot induction due to his alleged steroid use. Pretty much the same argument for Bonds, Clemens' career record as an all-time great, even with the steroid ties, would be good enough to get my vote.

Edgar Martinez: As the greatest true DH of all-time, Martinez made up for his nonexistent defensive value by flat-out raking for 18 seasons. He was a career .312/.418/.515 hitter with two batting titles and was arguably the best pure hitter for the excellent late 90's, early 2000 Mariner teams (teams that had Griffey, Rodriguez, and Buhner). Although he was not a huge home run hitter (309 career HR), he hit plenty of doubles (514) and his career OPS+ of 147 is the same as Willie McCovey, Mike Schmidt, and Willie Stargell. In regards to the whole "DH not being a position argument, I view it the same way I view closers. It is a specialized position and one that requires an immense talent to be Hall-worthy. Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe, brought up an excellent example to this argument with Mariano Rivera. Pretty much he said it was very possible Rivera would never have the career he has had if he were a starter. I feel the same is true for Martinez, but like Rivera, his excellence is too much for him not to be in Cooperstown.

Mike Piazza: How does a 62nd round player become a Hall of Famer? Mike Piazza did just that on his way to becoming the greatest hitting catcher of all-time. The all-time catching leader in home runs, slugging percentage, and OPS+, Piazza's bat clearly is among the elite for those to wear the tools of ignorance. His peak ranks third all-time among catchers (only behind Gary Carter and Johnny Bench), notwithstanding his defensive shortcomings. Although he always face steroid whispers due to some gnarly back acne, these allegations lack any tangible documentation and really are just whispers. Although some voters will, I think it is extremely unfair to play a guessing game on who used. With that said, Piazza's bat is worthy for me for Cooperstown immortality.

Tim Raines: The second-greatest leadoff hitter of all-time, it baffles me how Raines has failed to get any respect from the voters. With Raines, the conversation has to start with his speed. He stole 808 bases (fifth most all-time) while having the highest success rate of that top five*. He had over 1500 runs scored while playing much of his career with hapless Expos teams and was 100 baserunning runs above average according to Fangraphs' Ultimate Base Running statistic (a total only surpassed by Henderson). His 123 OPS+ and .294/.385/.425 slash is right in line with Hall contemporary Tony Gwynn, even topping Gwynn in times on base, a number which surprises most considering Raines is 536 hits behind "Mr. Padre." According to Jaffe, Raines was the eighth greatest left fielder of all-time while compiling the position's ninth greatest peak; a peak in which Raines' WAR totals were only surpassed by Wade Boggs, Henderson, and Cal Ripken. Although he might not compare well to Henderson, it is not a slight on Raines one bit and his Hall of Fame worthy career is definitely deserving of Cooperstown glory.

Curt Schilling: For starting pitchers, the Hall of Fame has long been exclusive to those lucky enough to have won 300 games in their career. Prior to Bert Blyleven's induction two years ago, it was not since 1991 that a pitcher with fewer than 300 victories claimed enough votes to garner induction (Fergie Jenkins, 284 wins). With the days of specialized bullpens now firmly in place, starting pitchers just are not going to accrue the big time wins numbers as seen from past generations. Although Schilling's 216 win total may be viewed as low, that should not be held against him, especially considering the fact that pitcher wins are a poor judgment of a player's talent level. All else considered, I feel Schilling's case is an easy one to make. He has 3,116 K's (15th all-time), has a higher ERA+ than HOFers Juan Marichal and Bob Feller (Schilling's 127 compared to Marichal's 123 and Feller's 122), and the best strikeout to walk ratio of all-time (4.4 K/BB). Without even mentioning his postseason dominance (11-2, 2.23 ERA, 4.8 K/BB, 2001 WS MVP, and ace on 2004 Red Sox team), Schilling is a fairly obvious Hall of Fame selection in my book.

Alan Trammell: Just last year, Barry Larkin received 86% of the vote and gained induction into the Hall of Fame. However, Alan Trammell, a player with similar numbers, is on the ballot for his twelfth year, never receiving more than 37% of the vote. Trammell, along with double play mate Lou Whitaker, was the backbone of the successful Tigers teams of the 80's and with extremely steady play at arguably the most vital position on the field. Trammell ranks as the eleventh greatest shortstop of all-time going by JAWS, ahead of Hall of Famers Barry Larkin, Joe Cronin, and Pee Wee Reese. Trammell finished his career with a relatively unimpressive .285/.352/.415 slash line and 185 home runs, but played much of his career in unfriendly Tiger Stadium and missed out on the offensive surge seen from the Steroid Era. Factor in Trammell's excellent defense (4 Gold Gloves, 22.0 dWAR, +81 runs above average) and his case looks all the more impressive. To further cement his case, Trammell shined during his postseason experiences (11 games) with a .333/.404/.588 line with 3 home runs and 11 RBI, claiming WS MVP honors for the '84 series. To those that do not think Trammell was enough of a "standout" player to be Hall-worthy, Trammell had four seasons in which he topped 6.0 WAR, including one eight win season that should have won him the 1987 MVP over George Bell. All things considered, Trammell's overall body of work is right in line with his Hall of Fame peers and should have gotten him in Cooperstown 12 years ago.

            Tomorrow, I will post a list of players that just did not make my list for various reasons, with a brief explanation regarding each of their candidacies and why they would fall short in my mind. Expect to see Jack Morris, Sammy Sosa, Larry Walker, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, and Kenny Lofton on that list. 

           Once again, feel free to post any comments in the comment section or contact me at behindtheplatebaseball@gmail.com

 
 
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        This morning brought about the news that former all-star Nick Swisher would be returning to his adopted home state as a member of the Cleveland Indians. Swisher's deal with the Indians is said to be a four year pact at $56 million, with an fifth year option at $14 million. Born right on the West Virginia/Ohio border in Parkersburg, WV, Swisher went on to stardom at The Ohio State University and was a popularized as the first selection in the 2002 Athletics' "Moneyball" draft. Following his tenures with the A's and White Sox, Swisher went on to have some of his best seasons as a member of the Yankees, including a 2010 campaign that made him a first time All-Star. Now, after several productive seasons in the limelight of New York, Swisher will be taking his talents to the much more reserved city of Cleveland.

            Swisher undoubtedly has an infectious passion for the game and a personality seemingly made for New York. Although Cleveland will certainly provide a different atmosphere than the Big Apple, for now, we will just focus on the tangible aspects of Swisher's game. With the exception of his poor 2008 season with the White Sox, Swisher has been a model of consistency. Excluding his rookie season and that aforementioned '08 campaign, Swisher has had at least a 22 home runs (never more than 29), a 120 OPS+ (never higher than 129), and a .359 OBP (never higher than .381) . This remarkable steadiness displayed by Swisher gives a good barometer of what his production should look like in the coming seasons, even though his numbers should expect a decline from leaving Yankee Stadium's short RF porch. Coincidentally or not, Swisher had his best season (career high 3.5 WAR) this past year with a 126 OPS+, 24 home runs, 93 RBI, and a .272/.364/.473 triple slash line. On the other side of the ball, Swisher is presumed to play RF, after incumbent Shin-Soo Choo was traded to the Reds last week. Swisher spent most of last season in the Bronx as the starting RF and put up positive Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) numbers and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). These numbers are not one year flukes either, because Swisher's defensive ratings have hovered around average (0 runs saved/above average) for much of his career. Additionally, Swisher has seen sporadic time at first base and his defensive ratings (career 2 DRS, .994 fielding %) suggest he could play could be solid defensively if he loses some of his outfield range. All told, Swisher's consistency, positional versatility and offensive abilities make this contract a reasonable one for the Indians. 

            One further note in regards to Swisher's on-field performance has been his production, or lack there of, in the postseason. A career .169 hitter with 46 K's, Swisher's playoff ineptitude reached its peak this past postseason. In eight games, Swisher batted .167, struck out 10 times, and had just two runs batted in. This caused Swisher to be booed repeatedly by the Yankee faithful, foreshadowing Swisher's final days in pinstripes. Additionally, although there is not a huge sample size, his 46 games and 181 plate appearances are enough to say that Swisher has just flat out under-produced in October. Is it fair to judge a player by a couple of games after producing for six months? I would argue no, but for some, playoff performances carry extra weight in determining a player's abilities; this despite the fact that that player might have been the reason for the team making the playoffs in the first place. Regardless, Swisher's much publicized postseason struggles clearly did not sway the Indians into committing to him for the next four seasons.

            Now that we know Swisher the player, what does this signing mean for the Indians? In my opinion, as good as Swisher is, it is a move that does not make much sense from a organizational standpoint. First off, Swisher essentially replaces Choo (3.5 WAR for Swisher, 3.1 WAR for Choo) and could even be a downgrade if Swisher's bat slows from age and fails to transition for homer-friendly Yankee Stadium. If the Indians were a 68 win team with Choo, why should the team with Swisher's arrival be any different? As I said with the Myers-Shields swap, it does not pay to be mediocre. I do not comprehend when teams make these irresponsible decisions when resources could be more effectively allocated, such as filling a need rather than adding a want. For instance, the $56 million spent on Swisher could have landed Edwin Jackson, who had just signed a 4 year, $52 million deal with the Cubs. While the Tribe's offense was around league average, the Indian's pitching staff was absolutely abysmal, having the worst ERA, ERA+, and WHIP in the American League. Signing Jackson could have definitely improved a staff as bad as this, providing invaluable innings instead of throwing the likes of Josh Tomlin (6.36 ERA) and Jeanmar Gomez (5.96 ERA) every fifth day. In addition, the Indians farm system lacks much talent other than stud shortstop Francisco Lindor and right-hander Trevor Bauer; barring a huge influx of talent, the Indians should not see much in the ways of winnings for several more seasons.  Thus, by the time Swisher's contract is complete, what will the Tribe have to show for it? Perhaps some added attendance from seeing a home-state kid in the purple and red, but in terms of wins and losses, it more than likely that it will be much of the same. Simply put, this financially ties up a team that just will not be competing in the near future. Once again, Swisher is a very good player and very much worthy of his newly minted  contract. However, this poor allocation of resources is just another reminder of why the Indians are the Indians.  


BY: AIDAN FLYNN

 
 
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R.A. Dickey's storybook career is over in New York, but is just beginning in Toronto
            The Blue Jays added to their already impressive offseason haul by trading for the reigning National League Cy Young winner, R.A. Dickey. This blockbuster sent Dickey, his personal knuckleball catcher, Josh Thole, and minor leaguer Mike Nickeas for Jay's top prospect Travis d'Arnaud, catcher John Buck, minor league starter Noah Syndergaard, and minor league outfielder Wuilmer Becerra. In addition to his 2013 bargain of a salary ($5 million), Dickey signed a two year, $24 million extension that will keep him in Toronto till 2015, his age 40 season.

            Contrary to popular belief, R.A. Dickey has emerged as one of the best pitchers in all of baseball over the past several seasons. Although 2012 was clearly his best season (career bests in W, ERA, IP, BB/9, K/9, and ERA+), Dickey has consistently been a well above average pitcher during his tenure with the Mets. For nonbelievers, let's play a little game with two sets of numbers compiled over the past three seasons; one belongs to Dickey and the other belongs to an "elite" starting pitcher:

Pitcher 1: 2.95 ERA, 616.2 Innings, 129 ERA+, 2.2 BB/9, 6.8 K/9, 12.1 WAR

Pitcher 2: 2.93 ERA, 644 Innings,  130 ERA+, 2.8 BB/9, 8.5 K/9, 13.2 WAR

Clearly, these pitchers are pretty similar except for  the difference in strikeouts; however, their repertoires could not be any different. One survives with the impulsive and unpredictable nature of the knuckleball and the other dominates with a mid-90's heat and sharp, near untouchable, slider. Pitcher 1 is R.A. Dickey. Pitcher 2 is his American League counterpart for the Cy Young, David Price. Price gains more acclaim due to his first overall pick pedigree and talented fastball, but Dickey has been just as successful over the past three seasons. Dickey is not some one-hit wonder or guy that got lucky for one season. He is a legitimate ace and should be in the discussion for among the top ten pitchers in baseball. Despite Dickey's advanced age, knuckleballers have shown the normal laws of pitching aging do not apply to their limited fraternity. Seen from the likes of Tim Wakefield (pitched till 44), Phil Niekro (48), Hoyt Wilhelm (49, albeit as a reliever), pitching well into your 40's as a knuckleballer is far from uncharted territory. In fact, many of these pitchers had remarkable success in the later stages of their career. Dickey adds a legitimate #1 starter to a team that had a hard time just getting innings from their starters, and in my opinion, puts their potential rotation as the best in the AL East.

            Even though the Mets are losing a 20 game winner, that is not to say the Mets did poorly in this trade.  In fact, they added a serious influx of talent that should vastly improve their team in the upcoming years. The centerpiece of this trade is 23 year old catcher, Travis d'Arnaud (pronounced dar-no), who is coming off a superb season in triple-A. This past season he hit .333/.380/.595 with 16 home runs in hitter-paradise Las Vegas. Although highly regarded for his offensive talents, d'Arnaud also possesses a strong arm and is rapidly improving behind the plate with a chance to be a league average defender. One possible cause for concern, however, was his extreme BABIP in AAA (.374) which could have portrayed his numbers being better than advertised. Additionally, his season was cut short after suffering a torn PCL in his left knee and has faced injury concerns in the past. However, it seems as though d'Arnaud is completely healed with a chance to be the Met's Opening Day catcher. Even with his injury and minor league transition concerns, d'Arnaud's special bat from behind the plate gives him the potential to be an annual all-star talent.

            The other big piece heading to Queens is gifted prep right hander, Noah Syndergaard.  Syndergaard dominated in high-A Lansing with a 2.60 ERA, a 2.7 walks per nine rate, and a sterling 10.6 K/9. Syndergaard possesses a sinking fastball that routinely sits in the mid to upper 90's and features a plus curveball as well. Undoubtedly, Syndergaard is a talented arm, but remains years away from reaching his potential and comes with the inherent risk of being a minor league pitching prospect. If everything clicks, Syndergaard could be a strong number two starter, with occasional flashes of brilliance with his dominant arsenal.

First Impressions:

Winners: Blue Jays, Mets

            The Blue Jays added a starter that further legitimizes their chances as an American League contender. In addition to the overall benefit of adding a CY winner, the Jays are capitalizing on a rare window of opportunity in the AL East, with the aging of the Yankees, the incompetence of the Red Sox, and the questions surrounding both the Rays and Orioles. Also, Dickey is as safe a bet for a 38 year old due to his repertoire that should keep him successful to the end of his contract. The collective improvements to the team this offseason makes the Jays a real contender for the American League pennant. 

            The Mets, although not as far away as some may think, added serious talent to a system devoid of quality position prospects. D'Arnaud is deservedly one of the best catching prospects in the minors, and his complete package is just so rare nowadays behind the plate. Furthermore, Syndergaard represents another potential stud in the rotation (to go along with a potentially scary rotation of Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, and Jon Niese). Despite the fact that it will take some time for him to get there, his talent alone is worth the gamble for a team that would not have had much of a purpose for a 38 year old knuckleballer.

Explanation:   

            One week ago, I criticized the Royals for trading prospects in exchange for an above average starter, all in the name of "going for it." Now, I'm praising the Jays for doing the same thing? Call me a hypocrite if you like, but there are several key differences between this trade and the Shields one. For one, the Jays are just much closer to reaching their goal of the postseason than the Royals. Just look at the rotations, even without any numbers, and see which you would have more confidence in:

Royals: James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Bruce Chen, Ervin Santana, Wade Davis

Blue Jays: R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero

Personally, it is not even close, as I am way in favor of the Jays' rotation. Even the offenses do not compare as seen in last year's numbers alone. Toronto's offense rated at about average while KC's was among the league's worst. Last I checked, the Royals did not do anything to improve in this regard while the Blue Jays added Melky Cabrera, Jose Reyes, and Emilio Bonifacio. That is also without mentioning a healthy Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie. Second, although all prospects carry an inherent risk, to me Myers' unblemished injury history and more legitimate minor league numbers give me more confidence in his future success than d'Arnaud. Mortgaging the future for a mediocre present is not how ballclubs should be run. If the Royals were to pull off a trade to further legitimize their playoff chances, that might change my opinion of the Shields-Myers swap. But for now, that trade was poorly executed, and this trade exemplified how to build a club up from rags to riches. 

BY: AIDAN FLYNN
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Obligatory R.A. Dickey knuckleball
 
 
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Does a Triple Crown and MVP guarantee Miguel Cabrera a first place spot in our rankings?
            The hot corner has long been one of the least talented positions in the history of Major League Baseball. For instance, third base is the most underrepresented position in the Hall of Fame, with only 14 inducted members (catcher is has the second least amount with only 17 HoF members). However, today's game showcases some of the game's best at third base. A position long-defined by power (Mike Schmidt) and defense (Brooks Robinson), many of the game's best flash abilities on both sides of the ball. In the minors, this is especially true with players like Anthony Rendon and Kaleb Cowart, whose multi-dimensional skills make the future for third base quite promising. Even if these talented youngsters do not make it in the majors, third base should be in good hands with players like our number five ranked third baseman...

5. Chase Headley, San Diego Padres

            The sweet swinging San Diegan enjoyed the breakout campaign of the summer, capturing a silver slugger, gold glove, and finished 5th in the National League MVP voting. Prior to this year, Headley was a solid player who would showed the ability to hit for average, get on base, and play solid defense at the hot corner. What fueled his 2012 breakthrough was the drastic increase in power. Headley hit 31 home runs, saw his isolated power increase 100 points, and drove in a league leading 115 runs. What makes this emergence even more remarkable was the fact that Headley played in one of the most extreme pitcher’s parks (PETCO Park). On defense, Headley may not have deserved the Gold Glove awarded to him this past season, but still remains a strong fielder. He was six runs above average according to Ultimate Zone Rating and had the second highest fielding percentage among third baseman. Headley possesses a good amount of tools that allow him to be a threat on both sides of the ball. The only real question is what Headley will show up in 2013? Will he be the player that only hit 4 home runs in 2011 or the one that drove in 116 with 31 home runs in 2012? That remains to be seen and although it will be hard for Headley to repeat his successful 2012, Headley’s offensive improvements should be enough to make him a 4-5 win player.

4. Evan Longoria , Tampa Bay Rays

            Despite missing over 80 games this past season, Longoria remains one of the best in the game. If healthy, I view Longoria as the preeminent third baseman and one of the best players in baseball. Offensively, there is little Longoria cannot do. He hits for solid contact (.289 AVG in 2012, .276 for career), gets on base at an above average clip (.369 OBP in 2012, .361 for career), and hits for good power as well (.527 SLG in 2012, .516 for career). Additionally, like Headley, Longoria plays half of his games in a pitcher's park, which make his numbers look even more impressive. However, Longoria's on-field talents do not stop there as he is a justifiable two time Gold Glove winner (as compared to those that win Gold Gloves with their bat) and excellent defender. He has averaged 14.4 defensive runs saved per year and has consistently been among the league leaders in fielding chances at the hot corner. Furthermore, even though Longoria is not a characteristic "burner" on the base paths, he is an above average base runner according to the Ultimate Base Running statistic (career +9 runs above average). There is little doubt that Longoria is an extremely talented ballplayer but the question with him remains his health. He has missed parts of every season with various injuries and ailments and should be a major concern for a player locked up for $136 million through the 2020 season. However, for the time being, Longoria is one of the best at his position and if healthy, could very well be a 5-6+ win player.

3. Adrian Beltre , Texas Rangers

            Beginning here with Beltre, the next three decisions were extremely difficult, as each player has various strengths and weaknesses. With Beltre, he lacks any obvious weaknesses and is deservedly one of the best third baseman in the game. Defensively, Beltre is one of the best in the game with four career Gold Gloves and double-digit defensive runs saved in every season except for 2005 and 2007 (and in both of those seasons, Beltre still produced above average DRS ratings). Undoubtedly, whether from the eye test or defensive metrics, Beltre is lauded for his defensive prowess. Offensively, believe it or not, is where Beltre falls slightly behind his hot corner counterparts. The main reason for this comes down to his worse on-base skills and home-ballpark aid. This is not to say Beltre is a poor hitter by any means; he rates as one of the best in baseball as exemplified by his .321/.359/.561, 36 HR, and 102 RBI 2012 campaign. But when his ballpark is factored in, his numbers come out slightly worse than his competitors. Additionally, it should be noted that Beltre is the oldest player on this top five list (34) and is most likely to experience age-related decline in the coming years. Nevertheless, Beltre should be a good bet to be a 6+ win player, just as he has been over the past three seasons.

2. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

            Before the torches and pitchforks are raised, what separated the reigning AL MVP from being the top third basemen in the game is his defensive deficiencies. Although the fact that Cabrera moved to third base was admirable, frankly, Cabrera just wasn't very good defensively. He was a -4 run defender going by defensive runs saved and was ten runs below average according to Ultimate Zone Rating. As good as Cabrera was with the bat, his defensive deficiencies definitely cut into some of his value at the hot corner and justify his ranking as the game's second best third basemen (still high praise, by the way).  Offensively, there is not much to say except that Cabrera was a beast with the bat in his hands. Obviously, he won the first Triple Crown since 1967, but his offensive success does not stop with those three statistics. He lead the league in OPS, total bases, runs created, and extra base hits. Additionally, he was third overall in OPS+ (165, which I might add was behind Mike Trout's) and lead the AL in slugging percentage (.606). Overall, Cabrera's one sided-game, as good as it is, just is not enough for the honor of being the best third baseman. Regardless, Cabrera is one of the most consistent offensive performers of our generation and in my mind a slam dunk Hall of Famer barring a complete disaster to the rest of his career. It is very reasonable to see Cabrera being a 6-6.5 win player in 2013.

1. David Wright, New York Mets

            Nowadays, Mr. Met has everything going for him. Owner of a brand-new $138 million contract, Wright stands alone on top of our third base rankings. Wright matches both the offensive abilities of Miguel Cabrera and defensive talents of Adrian Beltre. Defensively, Wright had 16 runs saved and a career low 10 errors in 155 games at the hot corner. Additionally, he had the second highest dWAR total (2.1) for a third baseman in 2012 and was 15 runs above average going by Ultimate Zone Rating. Offensively, Wright may not match Cabrera's exploits in the batter's box, but is no slouch himself. He had a 143 OPS+, .302/.391/.492 triple slash line with 21 HRs and 93 RBI. In addition, he accomplished this in a pitchers park that especially suppresses HR numbers and for the lowly 69-93 Mets. Wright will still be in his prime for the 2013 season (30 years old on Opening Day) and should remain one of the most productive players in the game. It would not be unthinkable for Wright and his multi-faceted game to again be around his 2012 WAR of 6.7 and be a 6+ win player next season.  

Honorable Mention:


Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee Brewers
Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays


BY: AIDAN FLYNN

 
 
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        Josh Hamilton was the biggest and most prized name in this 2012 free agent class.  Today, seemingly out of nowhere, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim swooped in and locked up the five-time all-star to a five year deal worth $125 million.  Everybody knows about the injury history and the drug and alcohol issues for Hamilton off the field.  When he is on the field and playing at full health, Hamilton is one of the most TALENTED players in all of baseball.  However, when looking at the complete package, is the former MVP really one of the best overall players in the game?

       Undoubtedly, Josh Hamilton has put up some big time numbers throughout his six year career.  Overall for his career, Hamilton has hit .304/.363/.549, averaging 35 home runs and an OPS+ of 135.  These are impressive numbers to say the least, but among the most intriguing questions regarding Hamilton is his consistency (or lack thereof) for an entire season.  Through the first 35 games of 2012, Hamilton batted .404 with 18 home runs (on pace to break Bonds’ all-time record).  However, he tailed off significantly for the remainder of the season batting .246 with 25 home runs in the final 113 ballgames. 

                In addition to his slugging streakiness, Hamilton struck out a lot, swung and missed at too many pitches, and just simply was not as disciplined as he should be.  Hamilton struck out 25.5% of the time in 2012 (19.7% career), compared to the league average of 18.2%.  He swung and missed at a whopping 32% of pitches in 2012 (25% career), while the league average is 15%.  He had the league's worst contact rate at 64.7%, a 10% dropoff from last season alone. Clearly, this indicates Hamilton’s temptation to swing at pitches out of the zone (he owned the league's highest chase rate), which has only increased over the past year and could foreshadow future struggles.   This is very important because of Hamilton’s talent level.  When he does make contact and puts the ball in play, he bats .335 for his career (.320 BABIP in 2012).  All the strikeouts (96 in 2012) and lack of plate discipline significantly impact his batting average and on-base skills.  Also, in 2010 when Hamilton captured the MVP award, he put up gaudy numbers.  However, that season was drastically different and better than his other campaigns because of a .390 BABIP.  This allowed him to put up numbers like a .359/.411/.633 triple slash with an OPS+ of 170.  Other than that  season, he has never had a BABIP above .333 and an OPS+ above 139. 

                Playing in Texas  has significantly impacted Hamilton’s play as well.  Looking at park factors for runs scored and home runs, Rangers’ Ballpark is significantly a better place to hit than Angels Stadium.  For home runs and runs, Rangers’ ballpark has park factors of 76 and 81, respectively (>100 favors hitters, <100 favors pitchers).  In Texas, these numbers are 117 and 118 respectively, making it among the most hitter friendly parks in all of baseball.  As proof of his home ballpark in Texas aiding him, Hamilton has hit 94 home runs (1,425 AB) at home in his career, compared to just 67 (1,400 AB) on the road.  Additionally, he has a 90 point slugging percentage decrease and 109 point OPS decline on the road compared to his numbers at Arlington. There is no question heading to Los Angeles will impact Hamilton’s hitting at home. 

                One more interesting item on Hamilton is his drastic splits when hitting against top pitchers in the league, and hitting against weaker pitching in the league.  According to Vince Gennaro's research, in which he ranked hitters (using OPS) by their performances against the top pitchers, average pitchers, and lesser pitchers, Hamilton had the most drastic difference against strong pitching compared to weak pitching.  For example, Hamilton’s OPS against top pitchers is .721 and his OPS against lower level pitching is 1.154.  That is a difference of 433 points!  This is a much larger gap compared to the league average difference of 182 OPS points.  For the MLB as a whole, hitters had an OPS of .641 against top pitchers and an OPS of .823 against weak pitching. In other words, Hamilton hit weak pitching only 12% better than average, but feasted on weaker pitching , being 40% better than league average. Include the fact that most pitchers faced in the postseason belong in the upper half quartile (stronger pitching), Hamilton could face further struggles to his already dismal postseason stats (.227/.295/.424). All in all, when Hamilton hits against top pitchers in his new ballpark, it could mean trouble for Hamilton and the Angels.

                Defensively, Hamilton is and has been rated as a below average center fielder. However, with Mike Trout firmly entrenched in center, Hamil
ton will play left field, where he has been rated as a good defender.  In 2012, he saved 2 runs (in LF), and has been 11 runs above average in his career according to the Ultimate Zone Rating statistic. Additionally, Hamilton possesses a strong throwing arm which has led to five outfield assists. Despite having 7 errors in the outfield this past season, Hamilton is a good defender that should only improve defensively as he plays in left field full-time.

                Josh Hamilton has the ability to carry a team on his back for a certain amount of time.  However, staying consistent for an entire season has been a problem for him in the past.  Hamilton should absolutely help the Angels and makes their lineup more dangerous this upcoming season. However, there are definitely many concerns within various aspects of his game and the Angels are taking a serious gamble for $125 million. 

BY: NICK RABASCO


 
 
                There is a reason why Joey Votto collected just 56 runs batted in in 111 games in 2012.  That reason is the guys hitting in front of him and not getting on base.  The Reds had a league worst .254 OBP from their leadoff hitters in 2012.  That problem was quickly solved in a deal that centered around outfielder Shin-Soo Choo.  He was acquired, along with infielder Jason Donald and $3.5 million, from the Cleveland Indians in a trade that involved three teams and nine players overall.  The Indians receive outfielder Drew Stubbs from Cincinnati and pitchers Trevor Bauer, Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw from the Diamondbacks.  Arizona gets minor league shortstop Didi Gregorius, lefthander Tony Sipp and first baseman Lars Anderson from Cleveland

                With few weaknesses remaining on the major league club, the Reds have finally found their guy to bat leadoff.  Shin Soo Choo has consistently shown the ability to get on base at a high level throughout his career with a .381 career OBP.  After being injured in 2011, he came back strong in 2012 with a .283/.373/.441 batting line.  Along with getting on base, Choo has good power and speed numbers as well with 43 doubles, 16 long balls, and 21 stolen bases in 2012.  Additionally, he was a 20-home run, 20-stolen base guy in 2009 and 2010.  The one hole in Choo’s overall offensive game is the strike out.  He did that 150 times in 2012, which is not ideal from a leadoff hitter.  However, Choo’s walk rate (10.6%) and ability to get on base is what the Reds are looking for when they traded for him.  However, one major question Choo's acquisition presents  is who will replace Stubbs in center? He was a below average right fielder in 2012, with -12 defensive runs saved and limited experience in center (83 innings). It has been documented that Choo will be the starting center fielder next season, but should continue to be a below average outfielder as he makes this positional transition.  Also, the Reds got utility infielder Jason Donald from the Indians.  Donald has never played more than 88 games in his 3 year career.  Overall in 170 career games, Donald has hit .257/.309/.362 with 7 home runs.  The Reds can use Donald to play multiple positions as he has played shortstop, second base, third base, and even 8 games in the outfield (5 in LF, 3 in CF) in 2012.  Statistically however, it is shown that he is a below average defender with -12 defensive runs saved for his career. 

                Now, for the players the Indians received.  Outfielder Drew Stubbs is a player who has flashed crazy tools, but has never compiled those numbers in a single season.  Stubbs has shown to be a good speed threat with at least 30 stolen bases in his last 3 seasons.  However, the trouble for him is getting on base.  He has also struggled to hit for a consistent batting average with a career stat line of .241/.312/.386.  Stubbs has not been able to walk much either, with just 44 in 544 plate appearances in 2012.  A league-leading 205 strike outs in 2011, Stubbs' propensity to miss will not help his OBP as well.  Throughout his career, he has just one defensive run saved and just two alone from last year, making him about an average defender in center.  The Indians are hoping he can bounce back from a career worst -0.2 WAR in 2012 and add speed to their outfield and offensive game.  Trevor Bauer may end up being the biggest piece of this trade, but he has yet to prove anything at the big league level.  Bauer was drafted third overall in 2011, and was ranked as Arizona’s number one prospect in 2012. He has an extremely deep repertoire with a plus low-mid 90's fastball, elite 12-6 curveball, solid changeup, and his personally created "reverse slider" (as seen below for your viewing pleasure). Yet, he has shown little ability to throw strikes consistently, as evidenced by his below average 4.2 BB/9 rate in the minors.
               Statistically speaking, Bauer struggled in 4 major league starts (6.06 ERA, 7.2 BB/9), but had very effective minor league numbers with AA and AAA.  In 130.1 innings, he compiled a 2.42 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 157 strikeouts.  Bauer will just be 22 years old in 2013 and the Indians are hoping he can live up to hype and be a productive starter for them in the future.  The Indians will also receive bullpen help from Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw.  Albers has struggled throughout his career with a career ERA of 4.68 and ERA+ of 94.  However, still just 29 years old, Albers posted career-highs with the Red Sox and Diamondbacks in 2012.  In 60.1 innings, he had a 2.39 ERA with a 181 ERA+.  A hard thrower, Albers may have benefited from a lower walk rate in 2012.  He walked walked 3.3 batters per 9 innings in 2012, compared to his career mark of 4.1 BB/9 and previous career high of 4.0 BB/9 in 2008 and 2010.  Shaw, 24, is a young reliever with just 2 years of MLB experience.  However he has shown he can be very productive in his 87.2 career innings pitched.  He has an ERA of 3.18 and ERA+ of 129 for his career.  

                As for Arizona, they acquire shortstop Didi Gregorius, lefthander Tony Sipp and first basemen Lars Anderson in this deal.  Gregorius, just 22 years old, has put up average numbers throughout his minor league career.  He has batted .271/.323/.376 in 5 minor league seasons.  Last year with AA and AAA he batted .265/.324/.393 with just 7 home runs and 3 stolen bases.  He has the reputation of being a glove first, bat second, player capable of being a highlight film in the field. Lars Anderson, former Red Sox top prospect, has only played in 30 games in the big leagues and has hit .167/.268/.188.  In the minor leagues he has hit .272/.369/.432 for his career with solid plate selection and a good glove.  He has shown the ability to hit for power, although his home run total dropped to just 9 in 111 games in AAA.  Lefty Tony Sipp has shown the ability to be productive, although very inconsistent during his four year stint in the majors.  His ERA+’s from 2009-2012 have progressively worsened from 146 to 96 to 130 to 89.  This inconsistency is a problem because of his wildness with a walk rate of 4.5 per nine innings.

First Impressions: 

Winners: Reds, Indians: Reds added the leadoff they desperately needed, even if he might not be the best suited to play in center field. By dumping Choo, who had just one year remaining on his deal and would not have resigned with the Tribe, the Indians acquired an extremely talented arm in Bauer and decent outfield option in Stubbs with a combined 9 years of team control remaining. 

Loser: Diamondbacks: Arizona acquired the young shortstop they so desperately coveted, except that Gregorious profiles most likely as a glove first shortstop. Nothing against defensive first shortstops who are young and have potential, but usually the price does not involve dealing a top pitching prospect, which is the downfall in this deal. If Gregorious can correct his offensive  issues, this trade could work out for the D-Backs, but seems unlikely given his scouting and statistical profile. 

By: Nick Rabasco
 
 
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Wil Myers is part of the haul going to TB
         Late Sunday night, the Rays and Royals agreed on a blockbuster trade that would send RHP James Shields, RHP Wade Davis, and a PTBNL (Player To Be Named Later) to Kansas City in exchange for BTP's 3rd overall prospect, OF Wil Myers, along with RHP Jake Odorizzi, LHP Mike Montgomery, and 3B Patrick Leonard. Every player going to the Royals has a minimum of six years of team control (at or around major league minimum) while Shields is expected to make $21 million for the next two years and Davis is expected to make 32.6 over the next five. For those that saw my continuous discussions with NJIT's own Robbie McClellan , you already know my feelings on this trade. For those that did not observe the aforementioned debate, needless to say I think that the Rays came out as the clear victors.

            In 2012, the Kansas City Royals finished 16 games behind the division leading Tigers with an overall record of 72-90. Collectively, the pitching staff managed to be near the bottom of many statistical categories including walks, hits, and runs allowed. The lowest ERA for a full time member of the rotation belonged to right-hander Luis Mendoza with an unsightly 4.23 ERA. There is no doubt at all that the Royals were in desperate need of pitching. They somewhat alleviated this problem by acquiring Ervin Santana from the Angels and resigning Jeremy Guthrie. I say somewhat because Guthrie and Santana own career ERA+ of 103 and 97, respectively. They basically are league average pitchers and only serve as modest improvements to last year's staff. Now, the Royals are acquiring a very solid pitcher in James Shields. Despite not being a true ace, as some proclaim, Shields still offers a ton of innings (over 200 innings every year since rookie season), strikes batters out (8.4 K/9 last three seasons), and limits free passes (career 2.1 BB/9).
         
           In addition, one would think he is as close to a sure bet to take the mound every fifth day, with his only injury history being a couple of leg contusions from a batted ball. But like prospects, pitchers are no sure thing either. Shields entered 2012 as one of 26 pitchers to have thrown 600 or more innings from 2009-2011. Some pitchers in that group include Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Jon Lester, Dan Haren, Chris Carpenter, and Ricky Romero. One year later, these "innings eaters" have certainly lost some of their luster. Halladay, Haren, and Carpenter all spent time on the DL while Lincecum, Lester, and Romero all suffered the worst seasons of their careers. While Shields is a very good pitcher and should immediately fill the void of a frontline starter, he cannot make up for the ineptitude for the rest of the starting rotation and team. Another quip on Shields is his disconcerting home/road splits. While pitching in pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field, Shields has pitched to the tune of a 4.54 ERA, .91 HR/9, and 1.29 WHIP. Away from the Trop, Shields becomes a much different pitcher. Owning 4.54 ERA, 1.40 HR/9, and 1.29 WHIP on the road, we would be remiss to say that Shields is as a good as his numbers suggest. This is not to discredit Shields as an excellent major league pitcher, but this just further stresses the fact that the Royals overpaid for a guy who really is more good than great.

            The other pitcher heading to America's heartland is Wade Davis. Davis spent all of 2012 as a reliever after spending his whole career as a starter.  As usually expected with starter to reliever transitions, Davis enjoyed his best season to date, with a 157 ERA+, 11.1 K/9 and 2.43 ERA. During his years as a starter, Davis had a 4.22 ERA, 92 ERA+, 5.9 K/9. As a reliever, Davis was more than solid and further cemented in my mind what role he should be fulfilling. Davis going to the rotation for the Royals is just going to stick them with another league average starter to complement their other league average starters.

            As for the Rays haul, I suppose your view on the trade depends on your view of crown jewel prospect, Wil Myers. My opinion of him is pretty favorable, as I had him as the third best prospect in baseball and think his bat has a chance to be pretty special. For those that do not know, Myers was Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year, which has had an extreme amount of success in predicting future big league stardom among position players:

1992: Tim Salmon
1993: Manny Ramirez
1994: Derek Jeter
1995: Andruw Jones
1996: Andruw Jones
1997: Paul Konerko
1998: Eric Chavez
2002: Rocco Baldelli
2003: Joe Mauer
2005: Delmon Young
2006: Alex Gordon
2007: Jay Bruce
2008: Matt Wieters
2009: Jason Heyward
2011: Mike Trout

            Pretty good company, eh? In addition to that, Myers is the first 21 yr old to hit 37 HRs in the high minors (AA and AAA) since 1963. He had a triple slash of .314/.387/.600 while playing against much older competition. Even the odds are on his side, as 61% of top twenty position player prospects succeed in the majors. For now, even just throw out the star potential for Myers and imagine if he was a replacement level player (0.0 WAR). Incumbent right fielder for the Royals is Jeff Francoeur, who had an all-time historically bad season with -2.7 WAR. Just by inserting the major league ready Myers into the Opening day lineup, it would be fairly reasonable to see a 3+ swing in the standings. Some even believe that marching Francoeur on the field instead of Myers could make acquiring Shields a complete wash. This trade really just represents a "rob Peter to pay Paul" scenario where the Royals are filling of position of need by stealing from another positional need. There's a reason the Royals have not made the playoffs in nearly 30 years and it has much more to do with this front office's ineptitude than failing prospects. The money now allotted to Shields ($21 million over 2 years) could have been used to sign a guy like Brandon McCarthy or Edwin Jackson while still being able to put Myers in RF. This could have solved both problems at hand rather than creating a problem to fix a problem. This is just not a smart baseball decision and frankly just is not common sense.

            In addition to Myers, the Rays acquired Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard. Odorizzi spent time most of the minors in double A and triple A and projects as a solid middle of the rotation piece with good control despite his mediocre stuff. He was ranked as #31 in my prospect countdown. Montgomery represents a bit of a lottery ticket as he completely fell of the rails in 2012, posting a hideous 6.07 ERA and 5-12 record. His stuff is quite good for a lefty, with a plus fastball and an elite changeup but has been killed for his complete lack of control and command. In my opinion, the most realistic scenario for Montgomery is as a situational lefty to neutralize the left-handed opposition. Leonard posted solid numbers in rookie ball with a .251/.340/.494 triple slash and flashed polished defense at the hot corner. He remains a long ways away from reaching his potential, but has a ceiling of an above average third basemen.

First Impressions:

Winner: Rays. Rays dealt from a position of strength and while they certainly will feel the loss of Shields, their talented arms should minimize this shortfall. Additionally, the Rays can use the money saved from Shields and reinvest it into improving the club. Lastly, the Rays added four quality minor league talents with one having a legitimate shot a major league stardom. Even if Myers doesn't reach his potential, just becoming a solid major leaguer should push this trade in favor of the Rays

Loser: Royals. Royals traded a major haul of talent for a pitcher that will minimally improve the team as a whole. Shields is a very good pitcher and should help the Royals improve for 2013. However, for a team with a ton of other needs, Shields alone is not going to make up a 20 win swing in the standings and make the Royals a contender. If the Royals were one good starting pitcher away from contending, this trade could be justified. But the current circumstances of the team does not justify mortgaging away the future success for 2013 mediocrity.

 By: Aidan Flynn


 
 
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Michael Young is saying goodbye to Texas and hello to Philly
            After years of requesting for a trade, Michael Young has finally received his wish from the Rangers' front office. Young, 36, is heading to the Philadelphia Phillies for reliever Josh Lindblom and minor league pitcher Lisalverto Bonilla. The Rangers will pick up $10 million on Young's $16 million tab for the 2013 season. The trade was pending Young's agreement to waive his no-trade clause.

            Michael Young was the face of post-Alex Rodrguez baseball in Arlington. During his tenure with the red, white, and blue, Young hit .301/.347/.444 while spending time at every infield position and DH.  Additionally, Young had become the Ranger's all-time leader in games played, hits, doubles, and runs, all the while becoming one of the most popular and well respected players in team history. However, the Phillies are not receiving the player that accomplished all of those feats and accolades. Instead, they will insert Young as their starting third baseman just one year removed from one of the worst all-around seasons by anybody in recent memory. Young hit poor .277/.312/.370 (despite playing in one of the most hitter friendly parks in baseball) and was a well below average defender (-12 defensive runs saved) during his limited time in the field. He compiled a -2.4 win season (second worst WAR in 2012), which more than likely contributed to the Rangers falling one game short of the division title. Now, the Phillies are expecting a sudden rejuvenation from a player that saw his walk rate and line drive percentage decline and ground ball percentage increase by over 6 points. If you're Ben Revere and you increase your ground ball rate, that's a good thing; if you're Michael Young, however, a lot of those ground balls will end up becoming outs.

            In addition, Young has experienced severe home/road splits that question his ability to hit outside of Texas' friendly confines. His home numbers (.320/.368/.479, .351 BABIP, 114 OPS+) present him to be an above average hitter while his numbers on the road (.283/.326/.410, .319 BABIP, 86 OPS+) make him look much more pedestrian. Even with Citizens Bank Park being favorable to hitters, it still does not match Arlington's offensive prowess and Young should expect his numbers to further decline. If there is one positive from Young's season, it is that he had the second lowest BABIP (35 points below career average of .334) of his career and his performance was likely further spoiled by this bad luck. Even if his BABIP returns to norm, I have a hard time believing Young will be anything above replacement level (0.0 WAR), especially so when his already atrocious defense should not take a transition to the hot corner well.

            While Young gives the Phillies a strong clubhouse presence and  someone who will not embarrass himself at third, is he really any better than Freddy Galvis ? Even with Young's "leadership" ability, he has complained frequently about his lack of playing time in the past, twice requesting for a trade. Ironically enough, the Rangers made the World Series the year he asked for a trade following the signing of Adrian Beltre. I am not going to try to insinuate any more about Young as a person, but can a guy's personality alone be worth $6 million? Regardless, I think it is telling alone that the Rangers would be willing to trade a franchise icon and swallow $10 million for a couple of relievers.

            As for the Rangers return in the trade, relievers Josh Lindblom and Lisalverto Bonilla will be headed to the Lone Star state. Lindblom performed admirably in his 2012 rookie season, finishing with a 3.55 ERA, 110 ERA+, and an 8.9 K/9 ratio. Lindblom sits in the low to mid 90's, and flashes a plus slurve. Overall, Lindblom was a middle reliever in 2012 and should continue to be one throughout his career. As for Bonilla, he offers exciting potential after dominating (1.55 ERA, 12.4 K/9) in high A Clearwater and double A Reading. He mixes a 92-96 mph fastball and a strong changeup that features excellent movement. Some scouts believe that both of these pitches qualify as plus-plus, or elite level. He struggles with his control at times, but the Rangers added an exciting arm with the potential of a solid closer.

First Impressions

Winner: Texas Rangers. Despite losing a franchise legend, the Rangers are the victors of this trade. While the pitchers received offer only reliever upside, Young became a black hole of sorts and was overpaid. With this trade, the Rangers free up a bit of cash and should not find it hard to replace Young's on-field production.

Loser: Philadelphia Phillies. Although one would find it hard to believe that acquiring a 7-time All Star for a couple of relievers is a bad decision, this is what this trade embodies. Young really is not much of a player at this point in his career and offers little to no upside over any alternatives. While I do expect Young to rebound, it still should not be enough for the Phillies to get their money's worth.

-Aidan Flynn

 
 
     After speculation that the Phillies were dangling pitcher Cliff Lee for an outfielder like Justin Upton or Jacoby Ellsbury, they did end up trading a starting pitcher for an outfielder. However, that pitcher’s name was not the former Cy Young winner.  Vance  Worley was sent to the Minnesota Twins along with minor league pitcher Trevor May for outfielder Ben Revere.  With Ellsbury and Upton most likely commanding lengthy and expensive contracts in the near future, the Phillies decided to go with a less expensive option. 
     

     Ben Revere has played about two-thirds of a season each of the past two years with 117 games in 2011 and 124 a year ago.  In those two years Revere has shown he can hit for a decent batting average and steal a lot of bases.  However, he has proven to hit for almost no power as he has yet to go yard in a major league game.  In 2012, Revere batted .294/.333/.342 with an OPS+ of 89 and 40 stolen bases.  With his speed and league-leading ground ball percentage (67%), Revere figures to be slotted in the leadoff spot for Charlie Manual’s squad.  The one thing that is worry-some for the Phillies is that he does not walk nearly as much as he should.  He walked just 29 times last year in 553 plate appearances.  Revere is also a great defensive outfielder.  Playing some of all three outfield positions in 2012, Revere made zero errors, saved 8 runs and had 8 assists.  Revere had a WAR of 2.4 last season and being just 24 years old, the Phillies expect him to improve on that number as he will man center field at the bank in 2013.  

      The Twins biggest problem is pitching, as they were second to last in the American league with a team ERA of 4.77.  After trading Denard Span to Washington, the Twins have now given up another outfielder for two young pitchers in Vance Worley and Trevor May.  Worley has two years of major league experience but has not thrown more than 133 innings in a season yet.  He was much better in his rookie year, with an ERA+ of 127, than his sophomore season (95 ERA+).  One noticeable difference for Worley was his BABIP.  In 2011 batters hit .283 off Worley on balls put into play, and in 2012 his BABIP was .340.  This could be a sign of some bad luck for Worley in 2012.  He did however not strikeout as many batters in 2012 as he struck out 7.2 batters per nine innings compared to his 8.1 mark in 2011.  Overall, this is a nice addition to a Twins rotation that certainly needs 
some help heading into 2013.  

Nick Rabasco

      This trade saw another power arm head to Minnesota, this time with Washington state native Trevor May. May entered the season as the Phillies' top prospect. During his breakout 2011 campaign for high A Clearwater, May had a 3.63 ERA and struck out a ridiculous 12 batters per nine innings. However, 2012 was a reality check as May struggled mightily with his control (4.7 BB/9) and home runs (22 HR in 149 innings) in double A Reading. His mid-nineties heat with excellent sink and a plus curveball still allowed him to strike guys out (9 K/9), but not at nearly the rate he was the year prior. Despite his prototypical pitcher's frame (6'5", 220 lbs), he struggled with maintaining his stuff and velocity throughout games, which lead to poor pitch execution (often leading to a home run). This combination of control issues and fatigue could lead him to the bullpen, where his stuff could play up and minimize his shortcomings. If May manages to regain his control, he should be a solid middle of the rotation starter. However, the jury is still out on May's ability to throw strikes, with most feeling a transition to the late innings is inevitable. Regardless, the Twins added a talented pitcher that should help their club in some capacity by 2014. 

First Impressions 

Winner: Twins: If the trade was just Revere for Worley, this would have about as equal a trade as possible. Although May isn't special per say, his talented arm was enough to swing this trade in favor of the Twins, a team in desperate need of pitching.

Loser: Phillies: Again, not a knock on Revere, but the Phillies really did not need to include a top prospect. Either way, the Phillies got a more than serviceable outfielder that should provide excellent defense and hold his own in the NL East.


Aidan Flynn


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Ben Revere is taking his talents to the City of Brotherly Love.
 

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