Jack Morris: The Definition of an Ace

Jack Morris has had a busy summer. The former Detroit Tigers starting pitcher was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 29, and this afternoon he had his number 47 retired by the Tigers, ensuring that no Tiger player will ever wear the 254 game winner’s number ever again.

I began watching baseball regularly in 1983, about the same time Morris’ name began to be associated with other top starting pitchers of the day. I watched every game pitched, as long as the game was televised. He became more of a strikeout pitcher under the tutelage of then-Tigers pitching coach Roger Craig, who taught his pitchers how to throw a split-finger fastball. This pitch, which became known as a “splitter”, has the same action as a fastball coming out of the hand, but drops suddenly just before reaching the plate. A properly thrown splitter will cause the hitter to swing over top of the ball, and Morris perfected this pitch to his advantage.

Morris won 20 games for the first time in his career in ’83, and started 1984 off with a bang. In his second start of the season, he pitched a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox. At the time, the White Sox were no slouches, having come off a 99 win season in ’83, losing to the Baltimore Orioles in that year’s ALCS.

 

Morris’ no-hitter was the first one I ever saw on TV, and it was so exciting to watch. I was barely a teenager watching NBC’s “Saturday Game of the Week” , with legendary broadcasters Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola making the call. Not many games were shown on TV in those days the way they are today. NBC chose to cover this game in advance, as future Hall of Famer and new White Sox starter Tom Seaver was originally slated to make his debut with the team. However, a rain-out changed things, bumping all Chicago starters back a day.

The Tigers went on to win 35 of their first 40 games, and they ran away with the AL East Division in 1984. They went on to win the World Series, beating the San Diego Padres four games to one. Morris went on to win 198 games in a Tigers uniform, starting 34 or more games in six of his last seven seasons in Detroit. However, 1984 was the only year he won a ring with the Tigers.

Jack became a free agent after the 1990 season. On February 5, 1991, he signed a one year deal with the Minnesota Twins, getting an opportunity to play for his hometown team, having been born and raised in St. Paul. 1991 would prove to be memorable for the Twins and Morris. They won 95 games that year, and Jack did his part, winning 18 games, logging almost 250 innings en route to the playoffs. He made five starts in the postseason, winning four of them. Morris started Game 7 of the ’91 World Series against the Atlanta Braves, matching zeroes with future fellow Hall of Famer John Smoltz. The Twins’ workhorse threw 126 pitches over 10 innings, when Minnesota pinch hitter Gene Larkin drove in Dan Gladden, ending the game and the World Series. Morris’ 10 inning shutout became his defining moment and cemented his legacy forever.

 

 

But his career in Minnesota would prove to be “one and done”, as Morris again became a free agent and signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. Benefiting in large part to Toronto’s generous offense, Morris would win 21 games in 1992, marking the first time any Blue Jays starter would win 20 games or more. Despite a relatively high ERA of 4.04, he would come in fifth in voting for the AL Cy Young Award. Morris did pitch 240.2 innings, the 11th season he would reach that threshold in his career.

The Blue Jays would reach the postseason in ’92 and eventually went on to win the World Series four games to two over Atlanta. To help get them there, Toronto rode Morris hard in the second half of the season. He threw 127 innings over his last 18 starts of 1992, an average of just over seven innings/start, which would be unheard of today. But the 37 year old workhorse seemed to wear down, as he allowed 19 runs in 23 postseason innings. Still, Morris had another World Series Championship.

 

Jack Morris Boomer Wells.jpeg

In 1993, he would earn yet another ring as the Blue Jays won 95 games and the AL East, going on to beat the Philadelphia Phillies in seven games. Joe Carter became Toronto’s Game 7 hero as he hit a walk-off home run to give the Blue Jays back to back championships. Personally, Morris had the worst season of his career, going 7-12 with an ERA of 6.19. Age and injury seemed to catch up to him.

The Blue Jays released Morris from his contract on November 5, 1993, making him a free agent. He would pitch one more season, going 10-6 for the Cleveland Indians with a ERA of 5.60 in 1994 before being released on August 9, a mere three days before a player’s strike wiped out the rest of that season. Morris went to spring training in 1995 with the Cincinnati Reds in a final attempt to catch on with a MLB team, but retired shortly afterward.

This writer believes the Baseball Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee made the right call by inducting Jack Morris into the Hall (along with former Tigers teammate Alan Trammell). He didn’t have the gaudiest of numbers, but he won ballgames and gave his teams a lot of innings. He just seemed to WIN. Morris pitched 3,824 innings over his career, over 549 appearances. That’s an average of 6.97 innings every time he took the mound. He’s the guy I would want standing on the mound in a “must win game”.

 

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Finesse Pitchers: A Lost Art

A couple weeks ago, I bought tickets to watch my local minor league team, the Rochester Red Wings play the Norfolk Tides in a doubleheader. Norfolk won both games, each by a score of 1-0. Obviously both games were well-pitched affairs, with runs at a premium.

In the first game, Norfolk had a tall lefty on the mound by the name of John Means. As I watched him in the 1st inning, I noticed he didn’t throw all that hard, sitting about 87-88 mph with his fastball. He mixed in a curve and a change, and seemed to command all three pitches. Means went on to breeze through the Red Wings lineup and never got into trouble, effectively shutting them down. He pitched a three-hit shutout, struck out six and walked no one. His fastest pitch of the day reached 89 mph. He painted like Picasso against a Rochester lineup that had six players who played in the major leagues at one time or another. It really was enjoyable to watch.

 

Before that day, July 19, I never heard of John Means. He’s 25 years old, 6’3″, 230 lbs. and was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 11th round of the 2014 draft from West Virginia. As of this writing, Means has started 15 games in Triple-A, with a record of 5-3, an ERA of 3.25 and a WHIP of 1.2. Decent numbers, but not eye-popping. After watching him pitch in person and reading his overall career stats, he can throw strikes and he can strike people out. These minor league stats show that he’s always been able to do both regularly. So why are the pitching starved Orioles not taking a look at this guy in the big leagues? He’s not in their Top 30 minor league prospects, probably more suspect than prospect. Means is not even on their 40 man roster.

With everyone from fans to front office executives to MLB league executives in love with the velocity craze, I worry guys like Means may never get a fair shot to prove their worth in the major leagues. Guys who throw (not necessarily pitch) at 95 or better seem to get fast-tracked to the big leagues, while the finesse pitchers seem to get left out in the cold, ending up minor league filler. Greg Maddux and Jamie Moyer, both drafted by the Cubs in 1984, recorded 624 big league wins between them, logging over 9,000 combined innings. Neither one of these men would probably get a second look in today’s MLB. Each of them made incredibly good livings for many years with fastballs that rarely, if ever touched 90 miles per hour. They learned to pitch because they had no choice, and they won a lot of games as a result. Same with Trevor Hoffman, who survived and thrived on an 86 mph fastball and a deadly change-up. He went into the Hall of Fame mere days ago, having saved more than 600 games over his long career. With relievers throwing near 100 mph, it would to envision him even getting a shot if he were a young pitcher in today’s game.

Maddux, Moyer and Hoffman are just a few examples, but there are many more who pitched with lower velocities and won many games. Tom Glavine comes to mind. Flame throwing pitchers and strikeouts seem to draw fans in, and more fans equals more attention, which can bring more revenue. Everyone loves the oohs and ahhs. But there should be room for pitchers like John Means. Finesse pitching doesn’t have to be a lost art.

 

National League Trade Deadline Winners/Losers

This past Tuesday, the MLB non-waiver trade deadline passed at 4:00 PM Eastern Standard Time. Some teams added and some teams subtracted, and some teams didn’t do a thing! In our last entry, we took a look at the trade deadline winners and losers in the AL. This time around, we will assess the teams in the National League that loaded up and those who missed the boat. Let’s get started!

 

Winners

 

Los Angeles Dodgers – The Dodgers front office team of Pres. Andrew Friedman and GM Farhan Zaidi landed Manny Machado from the Orioles, pried Brian Dozier from the Twins, and still managed to keep three of MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects in their system, including #29 prospect Alex Verdugo. LA had a slew of young talent in their system, using them in trades to stack their team for a deep playoff run. In a lesser deal, reliever John Axford was brought in from Toronto for pitcher Corey Copping. The Dodger lineup is loaded, their pitching is more than solid and they dropped 21 runs on the Brewers last night. I think they will be okay.

 

Atlanta Braves – The Braves weren’t expected to be this good, this quick, but here they are a half-game behind the 1st place Philadelphia Phillies. General Manager Alex Anthopoulos was a busy man, bring in starter Kevin Gausman and relievers Darren O’Day and Brad Brach from the Baltimore Orioles for a handful of prospects and future considerations. On deadline day, the Braves landed LF Adam Duvall from Cincinnati in exchange for LF Preston Tucker, RHP Matt Wisler and RHP prospect Lucas Sims. And on July 27, Anthopoulous brought back lefty reliever Jonny Venters back to the Braves organization where he began his career eight years ago. Venters has very much been a feel good story in 2018, having returned to the major leagues for the first time since 2012, after many years of elbow problems. The Braves made these trades and still have a deep farm system. They addressed most of their needs, and should be a tough team to beat this season and for many seasons to come.

 

Losers

 

Washington Nationals – The Nationals did absolutely nothing to add to their team as the trade deadline came and went. The only deals made prior to the 4:00 EST deadline on July 31, was shipping righty reliever Brandon Kintzler to the Chicago Cubs for RHP Jhon Romero. Kintzler was reported to be a clubhouse snitch in an article published by Yahoo’s Jeff Passan, saying the Nationals’ clubhouse was “a mess”. On July 22, OF Brian Goodwin was shipped to Kansas City for a lower level RHP prospect. Back on June 18, Rizzo made a deal with the Royals, adding future free agent Kelvin Herrera in return for three low-level minor league prospects, but he’s been unreliable, pitching to the tune of a 4.30 ERA and a FIP of 6.58. There were rumblings on Twitter about GM Mike Rizzo making RF and soon-to-be free agent Bryce Harper available via trade, but Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post sent out a tweet that the Nats were holding on to Harper, saying “I believe in this team”.

 

Colorado Rockies – Owners Dick and Charlie Monfort invested heavily this past offseason, adding closer Wade Davis, reliever Bryan Shaw and signing OF Charlie Blackmon to a long-term contract extension. As of this writing, the Rockies are 58-51, two games out of first place in the NL West. They are winning games, but it’s only because the Rockies are hitting the dog-snot out of the ball. Davis and Shaw have ERA’s that better resemble long distance area codes, as does lefty reliever Jake McGee. GM Jeff Bridich would have done well to add another reliable reliever for the pen and another starter to help out the rotation, but all he came up with was 35 year old Seunghwan Oh from the Toronto Blue Jays. Even that move came at a cost, with the Jays getting 1B Chad Spanberger and 2B/OF Forrest Wall (2014 1st round pick) in return. With the aforementioned Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks making moves to improve their teams, it’s easy to see them distancing themselves from the Rockies in the next two months.

Trade Deadline Winners & Losers – American League

The non-waiver trade deadline passed two days ago, and dust is beginning to settle. Contending teams added some depth to their teams and the sellers added young prospects in hopes of building for the future. Today we’ll take a look at the winners and losers in the American League, and in a future entry we will assess the senior circuit.

 

Winners

 

Seattle Mariners – Seattle GM Jerry DiPoto, who may well win MLB Executive of the Year, was busy working the phones in July. He added depth to the Mariners bullpen, adding righty relievers Adam Warren and Sam Tuivailala from the Yankees and Cardinals, respectfully. DiPoto worked a deal with the Minnesota Twins for lefty Zach Duke, and brought in outfielder Cameron Maybin from Miami to add depth to Seattle’s bench. Earlier this season, the Mariners swung a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays for reliever Álex Colomé and outfielder Denard Span. The M’s are poised for a run for the pennant and gave up so little in return for these players.

 

New York Yankees – The Yankees needed to add a starter and got one when Brian Cashman swung a trade with Toronto for veteran lefthander JA Happ, in return for surplus infielder Brandon Drury and minor league outfielder Billy McKinney. Cashman made a deal with the Baltimore Orioles for lefty power reliever Zach Britton for three minor league prospects, and landed veteran Lance Lynn from the Twins for 1B/OF Tyler Austin and minor leaguer Luis Rijo. Austin was deemed expendable after the Yankees acquired Luke Voit from the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for lefty reliever Chasen Shreve. Lynn was originally slotted for the bullpen, but he has since replaced Sonny Gray in the Yankees rotation going forward.

 

Losers

 

Baltimore Orioles – Will the last person to leave the clubhouse turn out the lights? This franchise needed a reboot and they are definitely doing that after they traded away everyone but the beer vendors. Zach Britton was shipped to the Bronx for three young pitchers who project to soon be major league ready. Darren O’Day, Kevin Gausman and Brad Brach were all sent to the Atlanta Braves for prospects and future considerations. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop was sent to the Milwaukee Brewers for fellow 2nd baseman Jonathan Villar and two minor leaguers. The granddaddy deal came almost two weeks before the deadline when Manny Machado was sent to the west coast with the Dodgers for five prospects. The Orioles also had a deal in place to move long-time fan favorite Adam Jones to the Philadelphia Phillies, but it was shot down by Jones himself, who has a full no-trade clause as a “10/5 player” (10 years MLB service time with past five seasons with the same team). While the O’s will continue to be abysmal in the short term, they overhauled their minor league system, which will hopefully be worth it in the long run for Orioles fans.

 

Cleveland Indians – Wait a minute. How can a team handily leading it’s division possibly be considered losers at anything? Follow along. The only additions the Tribe made before the deadline was adding OF Leonys Martin from Detroit and lefty reliever Brad Hand from the San Diego Padres. Hand is a good addition for the team, but it came at a significant cost with 22 year old blue chip prospect C/OF Francisco Mejía going to the Padres. I think GM Mike Chernoff overpaid for him, and I feel Mejía will be a star eventually. Hand will help the bullpen, but the rest of their relief corps have been anything but reliable. Andrew Miller’s return will help make the pen better. The addition of Martin adds to the mix in Cleveland’s outfield, but he’s not a difference maker. Barring a disaster, the Tribe will win their division, but they may not have enough horses to make a deep playoff run, especially with a leaky bullpen. If any of their stars like Lindor, Ramirez, or Corey Kluber go down, it will leave them much more vulnerable.

 

Check back soon as we will assess the trade deadline winners and losers in the National League.

 

Gary Sanchez for Chris Archer? Do it.

**This story was written this morning, and updated late this afternoon. See below for update.**

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The non-waiver trade deadline is a week away, and teams across Major League Baseball are trying to make deals, whether they are buyers or sellers. The New York Yankees are still seeking a starting pitcher to help shore up the rotation, as it’s their biggest need.

Chris Archer of the Tampa Bay Rays could be a very viable candidate to fill this need. The perpetually selling Rays are always looking for ways to shed payroll and pinch pennies, and dealing him would remove over six million dollars from their books.

The Yankees would do well to trade catcher Gary Sanchez to the Rays for Archer. There’s no question Sanchez has the tools and ability to be a star in this league year after year, but his laziness and lack of hustle is wearing thin with the media in New York and across the country, as well as Yankees fans everywhere.

Last night, there were two plays that stood out regarding Sanchez. The first one came in the bottom of the second inning when a Severino pitch bounced in the dirt and kicked into foul territory near third base. At first Gary didn’t see it, and when he did, he half-heartedly ran to the ball, allowing Jake Bauers to score from second base on the play.

 

That play got Yankees Twitter riled up because it was obvious Sanchez wasn’t hustling, but the final play of the game took the cake. With the Rays ahead 7-6, the Yankees had the bases loaded with two outs and Gary at the plate. He grounded out sharply to second baseman Daniel Robertson, who quickly got the ball to shortstop Willy Adames covering 2nd base — Aaron Hicks beat the throw and was safe, BECAUSE HE RAN ALL OUT — Adames, realizing he had time, pegged it to first baseman Jake Bauers for the final out. The problem here for the Yankees is Sanchez half-assed it out of the batter’s box and halfway down the line before he decided he better run full speed.

 

It took about 0.3 seconds for folks on Twitter to recognize that was the second time Gary Sanchez loafed it, and people were SCREAMING, your writer included. I won’t include any tweets here because (1.) I want to keep intense profanity out of my stories, and (2.) there were too many to include that were highly accurate. Moments after the game ended, John Flaherty of the YES Network noted that the lack of hustle was inexcusable and can’t happen. Flaherty made a career of sticking in the big leagues purely from hustling and a strong work ethic, therefore he knows of what he speaks. Also, the Yankees Twitter account sent this tweet as I was compiling info for this piece.

Timing is everything, isn’t it?

But let’s go back to the basis of this article, why I would trade Sanchez for Archer. Both players are currently struggling and could possibly do well with a change of scenery. Sanchez is under team control for several years, still making a low salary ($620,400), and Tampa is always looking to shed payroll. The Yankees need a starter and could afford Archer’s salary (6.4 million in ’18), and he could potentially be under team control until 2022 (his contract has two team options for 2020 and 2021). If necessary, Brian Cashman could toss in a couple mid-level prospects, as the Yankees have an abundance of talent in the farm system.

Wait! But now the Yankees would need a catcher to replace Gary, right? Not an issue. Tampa has an All Star catcher of their own — soon to be free agent Wilson Ramos could be easily thrown in. His salary is 8.5 million dollars, and getting that off their payroll might help entice Rays GM Erik Neander. Seeing that he would be a rental, adding him into the trade might not cost Cashman and the Yankees much more, if anything.

I would be surprised if this trade came to fruition, but it also isn’t something off the wall, either. It remains to be be seen what transpires with the Sanchez situation, but it’s something that might keep Yankees fans and all baseball fans buzzing.

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**UPDATE**

Gary Sanchez was placed on the disabled list, after he re-injured his groin on the wild pitch that got away in the the 2nd inning of last night’s game. An MRI revealed the injury was in the same spot as before. I’m sure more will be revealed before tonight’s game in St. Petersburg. It definitely sheds light as to why he was moving at less than full speed.

 

However, Yankees manager Aaron Boone sheds some light on his own thoughts on the situation and the conversation he had with Sanchez after the game last night.

 

 

All-Star Snubs – American League

The 2018 baseball season is more than half over. Major League Baseball’s All Star Game is next Tuesday in Washington, D.C. (on FOX) and the rosters for the All Star Game were announced Sunday evening. Yesterday, we took a look at some National League players who were snubbed for the mid-summer contest. Today we’ll get a glimpse at a handful of guys who should have initially made the squad in the American League, but were overlooked.

Blake Snell – (Rays) Since Snell is our featured image above, we’ll start with him. He’s sporting a 12-4 record with a miserly 2.09 ERA and somehow he didn’t make the cut. I am sure Snell will end up an alternate since Justin Verlander is scheduled to start for Houston on Sunday, thereby eliminating him from pitching the the all star game. But how he didn’t make it on his own is just ridiculous.

**UPDATE** 7/13 – Added to AL All Star team, replacing Corey Kluber.

Andrelton Simmons – (LA Angels) The Angels shortstop is having an excellent season (.213/.372/.442), hitting 40 points higher in batting average and OBP than his numbers in 2017, but Manny Machado and Francisco Lindor got the All Star nods. Simba is also providing his typically excellent defense with only five errors this season as of this writing.

Nick Castellanos – (Tigers) With young 3rd baseman Jeimer Candelario joining the team out of spring training, the Tigers switched Castellanos to right-field this season. So far it’s worked out well for Nick. His slash-line (.306/.359/.523) are at all time highs for him, and he is roughly on pace to match his career highs of 26 home runs and 101 RBI, set last season.

Whit Merrifield – (Royals) Not much has gone right in Kansas City this season, but young Merrifield has been a diamond in the rough. He can play most positions in the field except catcher. he’s hitting .306 and boasts an OPS of .810. He has only five home-runs, which says he’s adept at driving balls into the gap. I’ve heard his name mentioned in trade-talks, so it remains to be seen if he will be dealt. Any team who deals for him will be getting a spark-plug kind of guy who hustles and is fun to watch. Also, Whit just has a cool baseball name — don’t ask me why, but he does.

 

Eddie Rosario – (Twins) – He doesn’t get all the press that guys like Aaron Judge, Bryce Harper and many others get, but Rosario is quietly putting together a good season up in Minnesota. Currently he has 18 HR’s to go along with a slash-line of .300/.341/.530. His defense has slipped a bit from 2017, as he currently has six errors in left field, compared to four all of last year. Nonetheless, the 26 year old Rosario is an exciting young player who’s been flying under the radar up north.

Charlie Morton – (Astros) How Morton was left off the All Star Team is beyond my comprehension. After his career high 14 wins last season for the World Champion Astros, “Ground Chuck” is on pace to obliterate his numbers from last season. Morton is boasting a record of 11-2, with an ERA of 2.83. He is striking out just a shade under 12 per nine innings. Morton has indicated that he may retire after this season to spend more time with his wife and kids. Hopefully he will make the squad as an alternate in what could be his last chance to play in an All Star Game.

UPDATE: 7/13 – Charlie Morton added to All Star team, replacing Aroldis Chapman.

**Late Addition**

Andrew Benintendi – (Red Sox) Somehow I overlooked one of the more obvious guys who should have been on the AL team to begin with. The young Benintendi has been somewhat streaky in 2018, hitting .242 in April. However, he ramped things up in May batting 100 points higher (.349), and has hovered around .300 since. Benintendi has 14 HR’s on the season and 17 steals to go along with 57 RBI. In the field, he runs down everything hit at him and also has six assists on the season. The 24 year old outfielder lost out on the “Final Vote” to Seattle’s Jean Segura, and has since been put on the Bereavement List due to a death in his family.

All-Star Snubs – National League

As I sat in my recliner gathering information for this article, the song “All Star” by Smashmouth has been going through my head. Particularly the line in the first verse, “she was looking kind of dumb with her finger and her thumb in the shape of an “L” on her forehead.

It’s kind of apropos because today we’re going to take a look at some MLB players who are having good seasons, but didn’t make the cut for the All Star Game on July 17 in Washington, D.C. The 2018 All Star Rosters were announced Sunday evening, and we’ll name a handful of players in each league who lost-out and were snubbed.

National League

Max Muncy (Dodgers) – Where in God’s name did this come from? Muncy had been toiling in obscurity (Okay, Oakland…..) and Triple-A for most of the past three seasons. Muncy has been invaluable for the Dodgers, playing multiple positions and hitting dingers galore. He has 20 HR’s and an OPS of 1.008 in only 68 games. Muncy may turn back into a pumpkin soon, but it’s been a Cinderella story to this point.

Brandon Nimmo (Mets) – Nimmo finds himself left off the NL All-Star Roster, but I think he deserves a spot. He has a dozen home-runs and is 9th in OPS at .886. He also has a knack for getting on base and making good things happen at the right time, but the Mets have collectively been awful most of the year, so it’s easy to overlook this exciting young outfielder.

Corey Dickerson (Pirates) – Dickerson hit 51 home-runs during the two seasons he spent in Tampa, but for some reason the Rays decided to trade him in February to Pittsburgh for a minor leaguer and pitcher Daniel Hudson (who was released a month later). Dickerson is 8th in batting average in the NL, carries an OPS of .805 and plays flawless defense in the outfield. In his 81 games, he’s had two or more hits in 24 of them.

Ben Zobrist (Cubs) – The veteran Zobrist, a three-time All Star, has enjoyed a nice rebound season from 2017, when he struggled to a .232 average. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has spelled the 37 year old Zobrist a little more this year and he seems fresher. His average is .295 on the season and his OBP and OPS are at .389 and .821 respectively.

Junior Guerra (Brewers) – The 33 year old Guerra is enjoying a good season as a member of the Brewers’ rotation, pitching to a 2.79 ERA, striking out almost a hitter per inning and cutting his home-run rate per nine innings by more than half. His record is only 6-5, which indicates lack of run support. Also, Guerra is averaging just over five innings per start, inability to pitch deeper into games can impede a pitcher’s chances of earning wins.

There’s an excellent chance some of these players may end up making the trip to Washington D.C. as an alternate or injury replacement, but as of this writing, these players are on the outside looking in.

In my next entry, we will look at some American League players who were snubbed.

Moose Call?

Each morning, after I wake up with my morning coffee, I open Twitter and lurk at sports news, world news and what have you. One of the first things I saw this morning was a tweet by MLB Network’s Jon Morosi that stated the New York Yankees are interested in acquiring Kansas City Royals 3rd baseman Mike Moustakas to — get this– play 1st base.

 

I would presume manager Aaron Boone and GM Brian Cashman would want Moustakas, a career 3rd baseman, to play first base full-time, replacing Greg Bird, who has been struggling. Bird has been laboring at the plate since being activated from the disabled list at the end of May, his slash-line being .200/.306/.419.

Even though Bird is struggling, I think bringing Moustakas in to play 1st base is foolish. First of all, Moose has played exactly TWO GAMES at the position in his major league career, 17 innings worth. Bird plays very good defense, and replacing him with a guy who’s essentially never played the position could cost as many runs as he drives in.

Second of all, Moustakas’ numbers at the plate aren’t significantly better than Bird’s (.258/.312/.472). His average and slugging percentage is a bit higher, but the on base percentage is almost identical. I can’t see this being a big upgrade, given the numbers.

Lastly, if you bring in Moose to replace Bird, it says Cashman and the Yankees are giving up on him. Moustakas’ contract expires at season’s end, so it shouldn’t cost the Yankees a high level prospect in trade, but still it would cost younger future talent. I also would imagine Bird would feel alienated, possibly to the point of irreconcilable differences.

I question whether these rumors are simply a smoke-screen by the Yankees front-office to jump start Bird a little bit, perhaps a motivational ploy?

 

While it’s true Bird needs to get things going, I think it would be a bad idea bringing in Moustakas to play a position he has no experience in.

Hired Guns – National League

In our last entry, we took a look at some American League teams possibly looking for trade partners to fill holes for the pennant drive ahead of the July 31 deadline for non-waiver trades. Today we’ll assess teams in the National League who could look to make moves within the next five weeks. We will start with the NL East division and work west. Let’s go!

NL EAST

Atlanta Braves – Yes, you read that right……the FIRST PLACE Atlanta Braves. Coming into 2018, I wouldn’t have expected this young team to be this good this quickly, but here we are. Ronald Acuna, Jr., Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson are studs. If these guys play as well as their ceiling projects, they could easily rival the early 90’s Atlanta teams. Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb could front their rotation the next several years.

GM Alex Anthopoulos would likely want to add another arm for their rotation (I mean, how long can Anibal Sanchez pitch to a 2.55 ERA?) and one for their bullpen (Adam Ottovino or Zach Britton could be good fits). Third base is a bit of a weak spot with Johan Camargo hitting .238. If Anthopoulos looks to upgrade by the deadline, he could look at Adrian Beltre of the Texas Rangers or Josh Donaldson of Toronto. Donaldson would come far cheaper despite being quite a bit younger than Beltre, but he’s had trouble staying healthy and struggled at the plate.

Philadelphia Phillies – These “Fightin’ Phils” are right in the middle of this race with a current record of 41-33, riding a three-game winning streak. Like the Braves, the Phillies are primarily a young team mixed with a few seasoned vets.

This team really doesn’t need much. First baseman Carlos Santana started slowly in his 1st season in Philly, but he’s heating up with three HR’s in his last four games. Right-fielder Aaron Altherr struggled mightily at .179, but manager Gabe Kapler plugged in Nick Williams in his place and is getting good production. The back end of Philadelphia’s bullpen needs help. 23 year old Seranthony Dominguez has been brilliant in his limited big-league experience, but GM Matt Klentak will need to give him some help. The aforementioned Zach Britton and/or Adam Ottovino could slide in nicely. One time Phillie and soon to be free-agent Jake Diekman could be a nice rental for the pen from the Rangers.

Washington Nationals – Predicted by many (including this writer) to handily win the NL East, the Nats are currently in third place at 40-35, and have lost seven of their last 10 games. Injuries are beginning to affect this team, with starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson and reliever Brandon Kintzler on the shelf. The rotation could use more depth behind Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez and the inconsistent Tanner Roark. Cole Hamels would be a nice addition who is comfortable pitching in the heat of a NL East pennant race. GM Mike Rizzo has enough prospects in the system to pry Hamels away from Texas. Rizzo added a proven bullpen arm on July 18 when he acquired Kelvin Herrera in a trade with Kansas City.

NL CENTRAL

Milwaukee Brewers – The Brew Crew is for real. Milwaukee has a deep team with few holes. General Manager David Stearns added Lorenzo Cain as a free agent and traded for Christian Yelich over the winter to bolster an already talented lineup. A couple weak-spots: Catcher Manny Pina (.224/.285/.376) struggled in the early going, but is finally warming up after spending most of the 1st half hovering around the “Mendoza-Line”. Shortstop Orlando Arcia has been cold all season, possessing an anemic .201/.234/.259 slash-line. With prospect Mauricio Dubon out until 2019 with a torn ACL, perhaps Stearns will continue making bold moves and trade some of the team’s depth/prospects to the Baltimore Orioles for a few months of Manny Machado? The package could include recently demoted right-fielder Domingo Santana, Eric Thames or top-five prospect Brett Phillips, who is blocked in AAA Colorado Springs. The Brewers have an abundance of good young pitchers who could be added in, but I wouldn’t part with rookie bullpen sensation Josh Hader or recently promoted starter Freddy Peralta, who has dominated.

Chicago Cubs – The Cubbies are two games back of Milwaukee as we inch closer to the All Star Break. In my opinion, starting pitching will be what makes or breaks this team in 2018. Veteran Jon Lester, now 34 years of age, has been the ace his team expects. Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana will give you a chance to win more often than not, but neither are better than number-three starters. I love Theo Epstein, but I’m not sure what he and GM Jed Hoyer were smoking when they handed 38 million dollars for three years of Tyler Chatwood. No one can convince me he’s better than Jake Arietta. Chatwood is a bullpen-killer, not even averaging five innings per start, and walking a batter almost every inning. Oft-injured starter Yu Darvish, currently out with biceps-tendonitis, is due to return in July. They are going to need him to stay healthy if the Cubs are going to keep pace with Milwaukee. They don’t have any other glaring needs, they just need their rotation to pull their weight.

The St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates are very much in the mix for the Central Division, but it’s doubtful they have the horses to get there in 2018. Injuries have hurt St. Louis, with Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, Michael Wacha, Paul DeJong and Luke Gregerson all missing large chunks of time. The Cards have lost nine of their last 13 games, and have a lot of work to do to right the ship. The Pirates are a young team with a lot of talent and a bright future. Youthful teams can be inconsistent, and right now they are, losing 13 of their 20 games in the month of June. Pittsburgh’s front-office needs to stay the course; there’s no question Bucs fans will see the Jolly Roger raised often in the near-future.

NL WEST

Arizona Dbacks – The Diamondbacks lead the NL West by 2.5 games over the Dodgers, who seem to have found their footing. If Arizona expects to retain their hold on the division, they are going to need a little help. With shortstop Nick Ahmed still putting along with a .219 average and closer Brad Boxberger continuing to exceed in mediocrity, GM Mike Hazen would do well to upgrade in both areas. Earlier this month, I wrote a piece about how Manny Machado could be a good fit in Arizona.  Baltimore could be an excellent partner not only for Machado, but also for closer Zach Britton. Arizona has a deep farm system loaded with prospects they can send for Machado and Britton. Young starters Zack Godley, Matt Koch could also be added-in, as could Shelby Miller, set to be activated tomorrow after completing a rehab assignment in his return from 2017 Tommy John surgery.

Los Angeles Dodgers – The Dodgers have recovered from a horrific 16-26 start to win 24 of their last 33 games, and are now 2.5 games in back of the Dbacks. The team hasn’t hit collectively well in 2018, although playing the Mets seems to cure everything. The offense took a hard hit when shortstop Corey Seager injured his elbow in early May, requiring season-ending Tommy John surgery. There was immediate talk of tying to orchestrate a trade for Machado after Seager went down, but seems nothing has materialized. I think LA will be fine as they are, as long as their pitching stays healthy — particularly starters Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill. Rookie starter Walker Buehler was also pitching very well until he was sidelined with a micro-fracture in one of his ribs. That could be problematic if he’s pushed back too quickly. Hyun-Jim Ryu and Julio Urias could also return later this summer and be good additions for the club.

Last night’s return of the leader of their rotation, Kershaw, can also be a psychological lift for the ball club. The Dodgers, and baseball as a whole is better when Clayton Kershaw is healthy and pitching.

The next five weeks will be interesting to watch as clubs decide whether to stand pat or go after hired guns to load-up for what should be a fun pennant race in Major League Baseball.

 

 

Hired Guns – Who Will Load Up in the AL?

As we approach the halfway point of the 2018 season, this is when contenders start to separate themselves from pretenders. These contenders then look to the pretenders to see where they can shore up weak-spots via trade before the July 31 deadline for non-waiver trades. Most deals will involve players who are set to become free-agents after the season or from teams looking to shed payroll.

Today we will take a look at contending teams in the American League to see where they could use some help via trade. We will start with teams in the American League East and work our way through the Central and the AL West. We will look at the National League in an upcoming entry.

AL EAST

New York Yankees – The Yankees, sitting atop the AL East, don’t have many holes to fill. GM Brian Cashman is actively seeking a starting pitcher, (Cole Hamels‘ name has frequently been mentioned) and that’s their only real need. That said, rookies Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga are more than filling the need, especially German. The bullpen has been in lock-down mode all year, but they could use another situational LOOGY, because Chasen Shreve is shaky at best.

Boston Red Sox – The Red Sox are sitting two games back of New York, and could use help behind the plate, where the platoon of Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon get on base barely more than a quarter of the time. If somehow GM Dave Dombroski could pry Salvador Perez from the downward spiraling Kansas City Royals, he would be a great fit in Boston. Otherwise, Jonathan Lucroy of the Oakland A’s would be an upgrade, and has a reputation for working well with his pitchers. Jackie Bradley, Jr. has a slash-line of .181/.278/.292 in center-field, but is still only 28 years old and plays stellar defense. He may not win a game with his bat, but he usually won’t cost you the game with his glove-work.

AL CENTRAL

Cleveland Indians – The 1st place Indians are currently five games ahead of the Tigers and six above Minnesota. They could really use another starting pitcher with Danny Salazar out until at least September and Carlos Carrasco a concern with an elbow contusion. Beyond the solid trio of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger, the Tribe has been relying on the likes of Josh Tomlin, Adam Plutko and currently Shane Bieber in the rotation. The 23 year old Bieber worked seven scoreless innings tonight in his third MLB start against the Detroit Tigers. A lefty addition such as the aforementioned Hamels, J.A. Happ or Derek Holland would help balance Cleveland’s all righty rotation.

Minnesota Twins – The Twins sit in 3rd place in the Central, six games behind the Indians and are currently five games under .500.

There is a lot of good talent on this Minnesota Twins team. Steve Pearce or Lucas Duda would serve well as an upgrade from first baseman/DH Logan Morrison (.191/.297/.340). Jorge Polanco is expected to be reinstated from his 80-game suspension for PED use on July 2, and Byron Buxton is currently on rehab assignment with Triple-A Rochester and will soon be ready to rejoin the parent club. The addition of Polanco and Buxton will add instant offense for the 2nd half. The team could also use an inexpensive lefty starter (Derek Holland again comes to mind) to balance the rotation. Say a few Hail Mary’s for closer Fernando Rodney..

AL WEST

Houston Astros – The Astros are poised for another run to the players, hoping to repeat as World Series champions.

Their starting rotation appears to be bulletproof with Justin Verlander leading the way. Houston also has a deep bullpen, although closer Ken Giles can be shaky when off-kilter. Their lineup is solid from top to bottom, their weak-link currently is CF Jake Marisnick (.176/.200/.321) but minor league prospects Derek Fisher and Kyle Tucker will soon be on the horizon. The Astros could stand to get younger behind the plate, and trading for Kansas City Royals backstop Salvador Perez would set them up for the next several years. A package involving prospects including Tucker, Forrest Whitley, Yordan Alvarez and J.B. Bukauskas could help entice Royals GM Dayton Moore into pulling the trigger.

Seattle Mariners – The Mariners haven’t made the playoffs since God was a baby (Okay, since Lou Piniella was at the helm, seven managers previous), but GM Jerry DiPoto and current manager Scott Servais are pushing to get back in the postseason.

This team is talented! DiPoto fleeced the Dbacks when he acquired OF Mitch Haniger and SS Jean Segura for Tijuan Malker and Ketel Marte. The weak-spot in the offense has been catcher Mike Zunino, who is struggling at .202/.266/.424 but he’s too good to not rebound. Dee Gordon slid into his much more familiar spot at 2nd base when Robinson Cano was suspended 80 games for performance enhancing drugs. To the credit of this team, the Mariners have won 23 of their 35 games since Cano’s suspension was announced. DiPoto traded for Denard Span and Alex Colome from the Tampa Bay Rays to shore things up. The M’s have a lefty-heavy rotation and could use another righty starter for additional depth. Someone like San Diego’s Tyson Ross would be a nice fit, if DiPoto opts to add another right-hander.

Next time, we will take a look and see who could be “hired-guns” in the National League.