Angels Continue to Neglect Starting Pitching

Entering the 2012-2013 offseason, the Angels’ primary target was quality starting pitching. They seemed likely to fulfill this goal, as the Free Agent market was pretty strong. The Angels were in an especially strong position to sign Zack Greinke, as he finished the 2012 season with the Angels after compiling a 1.4 bWAR through 13 starts with the Halos. The Angels instead chose to acquire less expensive starting pitchers and spend their big bucks to sign Josh Hamilton to a 5-year, $125 Million deal. Following their splurge for Hamilton, the Angels completed the 2013 season with a 78-84 record, and entered the 2013-2014 offseason with the same need for a reliable starting pitcher.
The 2012-2013 Free Agent Market for starting pitchers included Zack Greinke, Kyle Lohse, Ryan Dempster, Francisco Liriano, Brandon McCarthy, Anibal Sanchez, Joe Saunders, Jeremy Guthrie and Bartolo Colon. These solid options were seeking different tiers of contracts. Nevertheless, the Angels had the finances to sign any of these starters, even Zack Greinke, who signed with the Dodgers for $159 Million over 6 years. The Angels instead chose to allocate the majority of their funds to their offense, which was not in need of an upgrade, as it led all of the MLB in offensive fWAR in 2012. The Angels were then forced to find inexpensive starters to fill out their rotation. Those acquisitions included Joe Blanton (2-year, $15 Million), Tommy Hanson (trade with Braves), and Jason Vargas (trade with Mariners). Those three starters combined for a 14-24 record with a 4.91 ERA over the course of 333 2/3 innings. Despite their incredible need for starting pitching, the Angels actually traded away a starting pitcher, in Ervin Santana, who compiled a 3.24 ERA across 211 innings in 2013. After the 2012-2013 offseason, the Angels’ rotation finished in the bottom third of all MLB rotations in K/9, HR/9, ERA, FIP and WAR. It is also important to consider that the Angels’ home ballpark is relatively pitcher-friendly.
After choosing not to address their need for starting pitching, the Angels entered the 2013-2014 offseason with the same need. Again, the Free Agent Market is flush with quality options that span across all levels of tiers. However, the Angels have once again chosen to neglect this need. While many Free Agent options remain, the most significant moves the Angels have made include two Minor League deals with starting pitchers, a signing of RP Joe Smith, and an acquisition of David Freese via trade. While the Freese trade does address a need the Angels had on offense, their offense was actually a positive area for them. The trade also cost the Angels an estimated $4.5 Million, and more importantly a very valuable trade chip in Peter Bourjos. Bourjos may not have brought back an above average starter, but as part of a package, he could have yielded a better arm than they acquired last offseason.
There is still plenty of offseason left, but the Angels are running out of options and resources, as they continue to allocate them elsewhere. While they say that starting pitching is their primary need, the Angels refuse to make influential additions to their rotation. Until the Angels realize they must work to improve their rotation, they will not be able to move to the top of the AL West.

Anthony Cacchione

A Quick Note on the Jhonny Peralta Signing

The Cardinals have officially announced the signing of Jhonny Peralta to a 4-year, $53 Million contract. The 32 year-old Peralta is certainly an upgrade over Pete Kozma, and may be a better fit for the Cardinals than Stephen Drew. However, he does come with concerns, as he has been inconsistent throughout his career, and more importantly, he missed 50 games in 2013 due to a PED suspension.
Shortstop was the biggest area of need for the Cardinals entering this offseason, but as I wrote earlier, the Cardinals had plenty of options. The Cardinals found that the trade market was too expensive, with every team seeking Shelby Miller and other power arms in the Cardinals’ system. Other Free Agent options included Stephen Drew and Rafael Furcal, but Peralta seemed to be the best fit because he is not tied to draft pick compensation, and he is a Right-handed hitter. This is significant because Peralta has a career slash line of 262/.339/.449 against Left-handed pitchers, which is an area where the St. Louis Cardinals struggled in 2013.
As I mentioned above, there are some concerns with Jhonny Peralta. First, his link to the Biogenesis clinic is concerning because we do not know how long he has used PEDs. However, I feel his production should remain in line with his career norms, but that is the question. What are Peralta’s career norms? His career slash line is .268/.330/.425 with 156 HRs and 22.9 WAR over more than 9 full seasons. However, in 2006 his WAR was just 0.2, as he slashed .257/.323/.385 with just 13 HRs. Again, across 2009 and 2010, Peralta accumulated just a 2.0 WAR. Just as recently as 2012, Peralta slashed just .239/.305/.384. For every down season, it seems that Peralta has another very strong season, as he has 5 full seasons with a wRC+ above 100, which is considered to be average. Just this past season, Peralta put up career numbers; however, he also had a career high Batting Average on Balls In Play at .374, which suggests he was a bit lucky.
A 4-year contract seems too long for a 32 year-old shortstop, but with a week Free Agent market for shortstops it is certainly understandable. Among the positives in the deal, is that the contract does not include a no-trade clause. This means the Cardinals could include him in a package if the later years become too expensive. The real concern is which Jhonny Peralta will the Cardinals see over the course of his contract. No matter which Peralta they get, he will be an upgrade over Kozma in the short-term, but will he be worth the $53 Million over the course of his 4-year deal?

Anthony Cacchione

Boston’s Approach to Jacoby Ellsbury

The Red Sox are coming off the Franchise’s 3rd World Series Championship victory since 2004, but they still have many things to address this offseason. In 2013, The Red Sox offense led all of baseball in Runs Scored, OBP, SLG, and WAR. However, one of their top position players, Jacoby Ellsbury, has hit the Free Agent market. The club made Ellsbury a Qualifying Offer (1 year, $14 Million), ensuring that they will receive draft pick compensation if he signs elsewhere. Their Starting Lineup has three other players in the Free Agent market right now, but this post will focus on Red Sox’ approach to Jacoby Ellsbury.

The Red Sox would love to re-sign Ellsbury, but are currently unwilling to meet his asking price. Ellsbury’s agent, Scott Boras, has said that he is aiming for Carl Crawford’s 7-year, $142 Million contract as a benchmark. According to many sources, the Red Sox are comfortable in the neighborhood of a 5-year, $100 Million contract. The Average Annual Value (AAV) between the two deals is similar, but the Red Sox seem unlikely to go beyond 5 years, which seems a little short for an elite Centerfielder. He is coming off a season in which he accumulated a 5.8 fWAR at the age of 29. Ellsbury is an outstanding defensive Centerfielder with a Gold Glove in 2011. Offensively, Ellsbury has a career slash line of .297/.350/.439 and 241 career stolen bases in just over 6 Major League seasons. In his standout 2011 campaign, Ellsbury hit 32 home runs; however, he has never reached double-digit home run totals in any other MLB season.

The main reason the Red Sox will not go beyond 5 years is concern about Ellsbury’s lack of durability, as he has averaged just 114 games per season in his 6 full seasons at the Big League level. The other concern is that Ellsbury’s entire game is predicated around his elite speed. This is an issue because speedy players with little power do not tend to age well, so the Sox do not want to be locked into Ellsbury’s age 36 and 37 seasons.

If Ellsbury does sign elsewhere, the Sox will have plenty of options to fill the void. Free agent options include: Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson. Signing either Beltran or Choo would force the Red Sox to shift Victorino to Centerfield, which is something they do not want to do. Beyond that, Beltran is not a great fit because he would need considerable time at DH, which would take time away from David Ortiz. Choo would be a much better fit because he can take over for Ellsbury as the leadoff hitter, while also providing outstanding defense in Right field. The best fit may be Curtis Granderson, as he can play Centerfield and provide some more pop to this already explosive lineup. While Granderson is not the same caliber of player as Ellsbury, he will be more willing to accept a shorter deal. Signing him to a short-term deal would make much more sense as a large financial commitment to anyone other than Ellsbury seems unlikely. This will also give them an opportunity to develop Jackie Bradley Jr. before asking him to be their everyday Centerfielder.

While Bradley Jr. is not ready to assume the role of everyday Centerfielder in 2014, he has the range to handle centerfield. Once he makes the necessary adjustments to MLB pitching, he will be a solid everyday option. Bradley Jr. will likely play a major factor in Boston’s plans this winter and it is hard to imagine them giving out more than 2 years to anyone except Ellsbury. In three seasons in the Minors, Bradley Jr. has shown he can make adjustments, as indicated by his Minor League slash line of .297/.404/.471. If they are unable to retain Ellsbury, then a veteran, such as Granderson would be an outstanding addition, in order to groom Bradley Jr. into a solid everyday Centerfielder.

Ellsbury is willing to wait for the right deal and he will have plenty of suitors beyond the Red Sox, including the Rangers, Mariners, Mets, Cubs and Yankees. All these teams have the need and money to lure Ellsbury. It is clear the Red Sox will make a serious attempt to retain Ellsbury, but it still seems likely that he will sign elsewhere, as another team is more likely to give him the extra years.

Anthony Cacchione

Cardinals’ Trade Chips for 2013-2014 Offseason

Our last posting took a look at shortstops that the Cardinals could potentially acquire. In that post I alluded to the fact that the Cardinals have the money and Farm System to acquire any name on that list. This post will take a look at the Cardinals long list of trade chips, which includes young Major Leaguers and Minor Leaguers.

Starting Pitching:

Shelby Miller, RHP- The 23-year-old Miller dominated during his rookie season in route to finishing 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting. His fastball averaged 93.5 mph, which was 10th among all qualified Starting Pitchers. He would likely be the most coveted Starting Pitcher available from the Cardinals and only involved in a deal for a top-tier talent.

Carlos Martinez, RHP- Martinez is very well-developed for a 22-year-old, as I mentioned in his scouting report before he was called up. He likely would have started a few games for many other organizations, but for the Cardinals he was only able to contribute from the Bullpen. The hard-throwing Martinez finished the 2013 season with a 3.08 FIP out of the Cardinals’ bullpen.

Trevor Rosenthal, RHP- If Rosenthal stays with the Cardinals he will likely serve as their closer in 2014, but if he is traded to a team in need of starting pitching, then he will likely be given an opportunity to start. For such a hard-thrower, Rosenthal has an outstanding change-up, which would help him as a starter. As a reliever in 2013, he had a 12.90 K/9, which ranked 6th among qualified relievers.

Lance Lynn, RHP- Lynn is the oldest pitcher on this list at 26 years old. However, that does not mean he will not be sought after, as he is 33-16 as a starter in the MLB with a 3.87 ERA and an 8.9 K/9. His FIP has always been better than his ERA, which suggests he should be able to bring his ERA down in the future.

Joe Kelly, RHP- Similar to Lynn, Kelly is a little old compared with others on this list, as he is 25 years old. However, unlike Lynn, Kelly’s ERA is much better than his FIP, which means his ERA will likely increase in the future. Kelly is a ground ball pitcher with a power sinker, which could play anywhere. He would likely be involved in a deal for a more mid-tier talent or would need to be paired with one of the above pitchers to return a top-tier talent.

Tyrell Jenkins, RHP- Jenkins is one of the Cardinals’ top Minor League pitching prospects. He is just 21 years old, but there are concerns about his shoulder, as he was shutdown in July of this season due to shoulder pain.

Relief Pitching:

Kevin Siegrist, LHP- Siegrest came out of nowhere this past season, but delivered outstanding results, as he pitched to a .45 ERA across 39 2/3 Major League innings. He is a hard-throwing lefty, but his ceiling is as a reliever.

Seth Maness, RHP- I do not foresee Maness getting traded other than as a throw-in piece because his stuff is below average. He does not throw hard for a reliever, but he is a groundball machine, with a 68.4% ground ball rate out of the Cardinals bullpen.

Jordan Swagerty, RHP- He missed most of 2013 due to Tommy John surgery. He is 24 years old, which means this injury will likely remove him from any considerations as a Starting Pitcher. Before the injury, Swagerty dominated the Minors, so there it is still likely he could be effective at the MLB level once he is healthy.

Tyler Lyons, LHP- Lyons was successful as a Starter in Triple-A, but struggled when he was promoted to the Majors. He could serve as a throw-in player, but is likely viewed as a reliever for most clubs, as he is a lefty with plus command and an above-average breaking ball.

Infielders:

Matt Adams, 1B- Matt Adams continues to dispel doubters, as he finished his 2013 campaign with a .284/.335/.503 slash line and 17 HRs. He may not be a mobile first basemen, but his power will play anywhere. Since he is blocked by Allen Craig and there is a shortage of good power-hitting free agents, Adams will likely be a major target for any club talking to the Cardinals.

Kolten Wong, 2B- Wong is a former 1st round pick out of The University of Hawaii. He will likely be the Cardinals’ starting second basemen in 2014. However, if they decide to keep David Freese, then Wong could be dealt for the right piece.

-David Freese, 3B- Freese is likely on his way out, as his salary will increase again this offseason, likely to a point that is not commensurate with his 2013 production. Many clubs will be interested in buying low on the former World Series MVP, but he would not be the centerpiece of any significant trade.

Ryan Jackson, SS-  Likewise, Jackson would not be the centerpiece of any trade. However, he could be a nice throw-in piece to serve as a backup or stopgap at shortstop for a team, as he is a strong defender, who hits lefties well.

Carson Kelly, 3B- Kelly was just drafted in 2012 and is only 19 years old, but the 3rd basemen has a very high ceiling. He could serve as a sort of lottery ticket player in a trade, similar to Mike Montgomery in the Wil MyersJames Shields trade.

Outfielders:

Oscar Taveras, OF- Easily the top prospect in the Cardinals system, and likely untouchable unless the Cardinals are dealing for an elite talent, such as Troy Tulowitzki or David Price. Nevertheless, he is on the list, because all potential trade talks will begin with his availability, as every club will want him. He has drawn comparisons to Vladimir Guerrero for his power and aggressiveness. He is arguably the #1 or #2 prospect in all of baseball.

James Ramsey, OF- A former 1st round pick of the Cardinals in 2012, Ramsey was taken as a low-ceiling but high-floor kind of prospect. This means he was already well-developed and would move through the Minors quickly, but would never be a star. Ramsey will likely be blocked or forced to serve as a 4th outfielder for the Cardinals, but on a team in need of an outfielder, he could likely start in one of the outfield spots by 2015.

These are most of the names that will come up in trade discussions involving the Cardinals. Like we mentioned in the previous post, a trade is very likely and it will likely involve more than one of the names on this list.

Anthony Cacchione

Cardinals’ Options at Shortstop

The St. Louis Cardinals have just completed a very successful season, in which they won the National League Pennant. However, even after such a successful season this club has plenty of issues to address this offseason. The Cardinals must look for an improvement at shortstop and also need to find a way to fit Kolten Wong into the everyday lineup, likely at 2nd base. While the Cardinals will likely address needs in Centerfield and their bullpen, this post will focus on the Cardinals’ options to fill their hole at Shortstop.

During the 2013 season, the Cardinals used a combination of Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso at shortstop. Both of these players are light-hitting infielders, who fit best as utility infielders, but were used more as starters at one of the most important positions on the field. Kozma was initially used as the starting shortstop with the belief that his defensive ability would make up for any weaknesses in his offensive game; however, as the season continued, it was clear that his offense was worse than expected. This led the Cardinals to add Descalso to the mix at short, as he is a better hitter that Kozma, although still below league average. The duo combined for a 63 wRC+ and -0.3 WAR, each of which ranked the Cardinals’ shortstops 27th in the MLB at the position.

It is clear that the Cardinals need a new option at this position, as they can no longer afford to get such little production from such a premier position. The Cardinals do not have an elite prospect in their system that inspires hope that the answer can come from within the organization, so it is likely that they will have to address this issue from outside the organization. Now let’s analyze some of the options the Cardinals can turn to.

Internal Options:

  1. 1. Re-sign Rafael Furcal: There has not been much talk of this option and there is good reason for that.  He is not a long-term solution and may choose to retire after missing the entire season due to Tommy John surgery.
  2. 2. Transition Kolten Wong to Shortstop: Many Cardinals fans hope for this solution. It would provide a long-term solution at short and give the Cardinals the opportunity to hang onto fan favorite, David Freese. However, this is not a very realistic possibility due to his lack of range and fringy defense at second base.

Trade Possibilities:

  1. 3. Trade for Troy Tulowitzki: The Cardinals have the Farm System to pull off such a big trade, but the Rockies insist that they will not trade Tulowitzki. The Cardinals may not want to pay the price, but if the Rockies become willing to trade Tulowitzki, he would immediately become the best option available.
  2. 4. Trade for JJ Hardy: This has been discussed since last offseason, but it is more likely that the Orioles will extend him, especially after the injury to Manny Machado.
  3. 5. Trade for Erick Aybar: The Angels are looking for pitching and the Cardinals have surplus pitching, essentially making this a very likely possibility is the Angels are willing to deal a quality shortstop they just extended through 2016. Aybar is a plus defender, who put together two strong offensive seasons between 2011 and 2012.
  4. 6. Trade for Asdrubal Cabrera: Definitely the most talked about trade possibility since last offseason. Cabrera had a down season in 2013, but is still a quality defender and should return to being a premier offensive shortstop. The Indians would likely be willing to trade Cabrera for pitching, especially since they have top prospect, Francisco Lindor in the Minor Leagues, potentially ready to ascend to the Major Leagues.
  5. 7. Trade for Elvis Andrus/Jurickson Profar: The Rangers have surplus middle infielders and are likely to trade one of Andrus, Profar or Ian Kinsler. Andrus was just signed to an 8-year extension, but they were reportedly willing to trade him this past Trade Deadline. Profar is a 20-year-old elite shortstop prospect, who may require just as big a return as Andrus. The Rangers would seek Major League level talent, making this a difficult trade to pull off.
  6. 8. Trade for Alexei Ramirez: The White Sox would likely jump at the opportunity to trade Ramirez for prospects as they begin to rebuild. However, there are concerns about his declining power and his always-poor on-base numbers. His defense is still strong and he would not require as much talent in return, but he likely would provide as much value as the other options.
  7. 9. Trade for Yunel Escobar: Escobar enjoyed a strong first season with the Rays, as his defense greatly improved and his on-base numbers went back up to .332 from .300. However, there are concerns about his mental makeup and his clubhouse attitude.

Free Agent Possibilities:

  1. Sign Stephen Drew: Arguably the best Free Agent shortstop available, but he has plenty of holes in his swing. He is an outstanding defensive shortstop and hit 13 home runs in 2013. His agent is Scott Boras, which could complicate things, but if the Cardinals choose not to trade from their Farm System, then Drew is the most likely solution to their shortstop woes.
  2. Sign Jhonny Peralta: He was suspended for 50 games last season for his connection to the Biogenesis clinic. That could drive his price down, even though he is coming off a strong season, in which he slashed .303/.358/.457.  He is a consistent defender, but his offensive numbers have been sporadic through the years.

Looking at all 11 of these possibilities may seem ridiculous considering some are unlikely, but the Cardinals have the Farm System and the financial resources to pull off any of these moves. I feel the three most likely moves are the Cardinals acquiring either Aybar or Cabrera via trade, or Drew via Free Agency if  they are unable to swing a trade. No matter what move they make, it is clear that the Cardinals will do something this offseason to address their hole at shortstop.

Check out pieces that the Cardinals have to trade: https://baseballstooges.com/2013/11/13/cardinals-trade-chips-for-2013-2014-offseason/

Anthony Cacchione