In our second installment, we are staying out west but flipping over to the AL. It’s like an earthquake hit the western divisions in MLB with the moves and uncertainty in the aftermath. For the AL West though, only one of the moves appeared to fall in line with the problems we think the teams need to address.
Ken Giles could push the Astros over the edge towards a World Series. (www.todaysknuckleball.com)
The Astros took some huge strides in the second half of the 2015 season to become playoff contenders. The ALDS series against the Royals would have been a much different affair if Houston could have shortened the game with a lights out bullpen. The addition of Ken Giles gives them, with Luke Gregerson, the setup man and closer combination to do just that in crucial moments.
Andrelton Simmons is the best defensive SS in MLB and grabbing Yunel Escobar and Ji-Man Choi to round out the infield might seem like a big deal for the Angels. However, the Halos struggled in generating offense last season and none of these guys seem to address that problem. Mike Trout needs a lineup that can keep opposing pitchers honest with him. Maybe the Angels lost out to some other teams for getting the hitting and outfielding talent they need.
Andrelton Simmons and his glove could be the solution to the Angels problems. (www.rantsports.com)
The 2015 AL playoff picture was a bit of a mess with the Yankees stumbling backwards and just managing to hold onto a Wild Card spot. Otherwise, we could have seen both Wild Cards come out of the AL West; the only division that couldn’t produce a team with 90+ wins. Really though, the AL West was a promising division that collectively opened an umbrella indoors then walked outside under a ladder to find a black cat crossing their path only to step and trip on a crack in the sidewalk then break a mirror while trying to catch their balance.
BL – So what do the Rangers need to do? Recover. Make a sacrifice to the baseball gods that Yu Darvish comes back and has a 2016 season like Matt Harvey did in 2015. Will Josh Hamilton’s knee be okay? Will Cole Hamels make it through the entire 2016 season? The Rangers won the division despite being pummeled with injuries. If they can stay healthy, they’ll be in the playoff discussion in 2016.
The Rangers need to see plenty of this and not Yu Darvish sitting on the bench. (www.bleacherreport.com)
DJ – The Rangers need someone to help Prince Fielder. He led the Rangers in hits, Batting Average, HR, RBI, OBP, was second in games played, and fourth in doubles. Texas cannot be a one man show. Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland had solid years, but without solid pitching it is doubtful the Rangers can repeat what they did in 2015. Success in 2016 comes down to having a healthy pitching staff. The health and success on the mound of Yu Darvish (Tommy John), Cole Hamels, Derek Holland (shoulder), and Martin Perez (Tommy John) will decide the Rangers fate.
BL – The Mariners played a little Jekyll and Hyde last season. When they signed Robinson Cano before the 2014 season, it seemed like Seattle was moving towards becoming a big hit sort of team. More characteristically AL than NL. But the acquisitions of big hitting talent seemed to stall after getting Mark Trumbo, and then the focus shifted to pitching but that didn’t pan out well. It’s more apparent than ever that successful playoff teams can’t be made overnight. If GM Jerry Dipoto is really committed to creating a contender, then the Mariners need to establish an identity to build from. I suggest putting an intimidating rotation around Felix Hernandez and shoring up the defense. Mariners fans, if they’re like Seahawks fans, will learn quickly that stifling defense can be a joy to watch.
Taijuan Walker’s development should be on full display in 2016. (www.bleacherreport.com)
DJ – The King needs a Prince or two. Felix Hernandez is the undisputed ace in Seattle. While it is difficult to have two aces on a pitching staff, the Mariners would be smart to seek out pitchers who can be true #2 and #3 starters. Saving the bullpen early in the season can pay huge dividends beginning in August and carrying over deep into the playoffs. Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma could be those starters. The continued development of Walker along with Iwakuma having something to prove after a failed physical with the Dodgers could mean low scoring, NL style games in the Pacific Northwest. The Mariners have the pitching staff built for the playoffs, they just need Hernandez, Walker, and Iwakuma to all stay healthy and make at least 30 starts each in 2016.
BL – I’m a big fan of Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball. I’ve read pretty much everything he’s written and subscribe to Vanity Fair mostly because he’s a regular contributor. Billy Beane did something revolutionary with Sabermetrics in that he and Paul DePodesta reexamined the statistical analysis of the game and saw what the larger baseball community was missing. This was the only way to win on a budget, which was a necessity demanded from ownership. But now everyone is savvy to the Moneyball method of Sabermetrics. Moneyball worked because there was information asymmetry, like being able to count cards in a casino. Beane and Co. need find that new information asymmetry to get back on top or start spending the money necessary to become contenders.
Billy Burns is the model for how the Athletics can return to their winning ways. (www.athleticsnation.com)
“Singles hitters drive Fords, home run hitters drive Cadillacs.” ~ Ralph Kiner
The players’ parking lot in Oakland needs to look like a Ford dealership. Oakland’s big ballpark and low budget forces it to play NL style baseball. The Athletics need players who get on base early and often. A team on a budget needs a few players to hit above .300. Billy Burns led the A’s with a .294 batting average, and stole plenty of bases. However, only three players stole 10 or more bases (Burns was the only player to have more than 11 steals). Oakland has to get inventive to create sustainable offense. The rest of baseball has caught up to Moneyball, but Oakland must show that the original is still the best. Putting the ball in play, taking the extra base, and forcing the opposing pitchers to pitch in high stress situations is key for Oakland to manufacture a successful 2016 season.
BL & DJ
In the past week numerous players in Major League Baseball and in the minor leagues have not been offered a contract for the 2013 season. While not being tendered a contract can seem like riding through a desert for some players, for others it can create new opportunities. These players are usually not the Josh Hamilton’s or the Prince Fielder’s of the world, but they can be the key pieces of a team which help lead them to the playoffs. The blockbuster trades and the big free agent signings grab the headlines, but it is the lesser publicized signings that often play a major role in the success or failure of a Major league team.
The list of non-tendered players has plenty of solid Major League veterans on it, all of who are capable of helping teams win in 2013. Every player takes a different path once they reach the end of their contract. Let’s look at three: Wil Nieves, Peter Moylan, and Mark Reynolds.
Wil Nieves, C- Age: 35; 2012 with Rockies and Diamondbacks: BA .301, OBP .330, SLG .410; Career Average BA .229, OBP .274, SLG .301
Wil Nieves played for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondback in 2012. In 32 games he hit .301 and had a .987 Fielding Percentage; both respectable numbers in limited action. Nieves has been a backup catcher for the Padres, Yankees, Nationals, Brewers, Rockies, and Diamondbacks during his nine year career. His playing time has decreased as he has gotten into his thirties, but this does not mean his value to a team has decreased with it. His knowledge of the game and his ability to work with pitchers should enable him to remain on a Major League roster for a few more years. The number of catchers who have gone on to become Major League managers, 11 current managers were catchers, gives Nieves a blueprint to follow if he wants to manage.
Peter Moylan, RHP- Age: 33; 2012 with Braves: Innings 5.0, ERA 1.80; Career Average: Innings 260 2/3, ERA 2.59
Australian Peter Moylan established himself as an excellent relief pitcher for the Atlanta Braves since he signed with them after the 2006 World Baseball Classic. In his three full seasons Moylan averaged 84 games, 75 1/3 innings pitched, 61 hits allowed, 59 strikeouts, 34 walks, and a 2.46 ERA. The numbers and his effectiveness for the Braves have never been questioned. The battles for Moylan have been with his own body. In 2008, he appeared in only seven games before having to have season ending Tommy John Surgery. In early 2011 Moylan underwent back surgery. After recovering, he pitched well in 13 games before needing to have rotator cuff and labrum surgery. So long as Moylan can remain healthy he will continue to provide tremendous relief for a Major League team. Most likely Moylan will sign a minor league contract with the Braves and report to the AAA Gwinnett Braves to begin the season. This would enable Atlanta to keep a deep bullpen if injuries arise during the season and to bolster it once rosters expand in September. Every team wants a Mariano Riveria, however closers would not get as many opportunities to save games if it was not for the middle relievers like Moylan bridging the gap between the starting pitcher and the closer. These pitchers as critical to every teams’ ability to win games.
Mark Reynolds, 1B- Age: 29; 2012 with Orioles: BA .221, OBP .335, SLG.429; Career Average: BA .235, OBP .332, SLG .475
Mark Reynolds was non-tendered by the Baltimore Orioles after he hit .221 with 23 home runs and 69 RBI in 2012. The problem which the Orioles, and many other teams, have with Reynolds is his strikeout total. In 2012, he struck out 159 times which is his lowest total since his rookie season in 2007. Reynolds led the National League in strikeouts in 2008, 2009, and 2010, and the American League in 2011. In the four year time span between 2008 and 2011, Mark Reynolds had more strikeouts (834) than Barry Larkin (817), Lou Gehrig (790), Ralph Kiner (749), and Wade Boggs (745) did in each of their entire careers. Power hitters sell seats, but few people want to pay their money to see a hitter strike out during nearly a third of his at bats. As he ages, Reynolds needs to work on making more contact with the ball instead of swinging for the fences every time. Power hitters rarely grow old gracefully in the post steroid era, thus the one year contract Reynolds has signed with the Cleveland Indians should serve as a wake up call to work on building himself into an all-around hitter, not just a power hitter.
The plight of the non-tendered player is different for every player. Wil Nieves, Peter Moylan, and Mark Reynolds should all be on a Major League roster in 2013. Mark Reynolds is the only one of the three to have been signed by a team this off season. He has found his way out of the desert, although his one year contract may only serve as a brief oasis. Nieves and Moylan will each be an important part of the team they play for in 2013. Their signings will likely not elicit the media coverage that Josh Hamilton and BJ Upton did, but Nieves and Moylan will help their team win in 2013.