MLB trade deadline: What AL contenders must do to stay in first

Baseball is back and the second half push to the playoffs begins. The MLB trade deadline comes in the second half as well and is Christmas in July for baseball fans. Strategy, money and moves galore (hopefully).

This period is a chance for teams to either sell off parts in order to rebuild or make the trades necessary to help their squad make it to the playoffs and an eventual push for the World Series. These are the moves the teams currently in first place for their respective divisions need to make to remain in first by July 31.

Boston Red Sox

If you follow baseball or this team at all, then you know their weakest position currently is at third base. Pablo Sandoval has been anything but useful or even available and has been designated for assignment. Also they traded away Travis Shaw who is having an excellent season for another first place team.

While everyone believes Todd Frazier is the best and only option available for trade, I would like to look at another in Nick Castellanos.

MLB trade deadline

Courtesy of: Bleacherreport.com

The Detroit Tigers are having a very disappointing season and will most likely be sellers during the trade deadline for the first time in a long time. They also have arguably one of the worst farm systems in baseball. Most of their top players are in Double-A ball and below which means they have a long time to wait to see if they develop.

To speed up the process of their inevitable rebuild, they could and should be looking to trade away as many players as possible.

Castellanos is only 25 and is under team control until 2020 which means Detroit could ask a decent return. So why would the Red Sox make this trade?

To start, they would get a solid everyday third baseman that could grow with the young players they are building around now like Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts and more. Rafael Devers is still at least one or two years away and wont be able to help them win now. It is unlikely they would have to part with him to get Castellanos as well.

Castellanos has been in the league for four full years now. You know what you are going to get out of him, whereas you never truly know with a prospect. He has experience, making playoff runs with the Tigers and still has room to grow.

The Red Sox would most likely only have to give up two of their top 25 prospects, most likely ones in the teens and below. They may also throw in a PTBNL or just an extra pitcher to sweeten the deal.

Nick Castellanos would solidify the Red Sox third base problem not only for now but also for the future. Todd Frazier on the other hand may cost only one top 25 prospect but he would also be a free agent at the end of this year and has seemed to have trouble batting for average ever since he was traded to the White Sox.

Cleveland Indians

It took the Indians awhile to catch up to the Twins, but they have taken hold of first and wont let it go for the rest of the season. This team can hit and is being led by its young superstars Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor while getting help from players like Edwin Encarnacion who struggled mightily to start the season but has figured it out.

MLB trade deadline

Photo: Sportsblog.com

Another strength of the World Series runner-ups is their bullpen. Their weakness? Outside of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and surprisingly Mike Clevinger, this team’s starters have struggled. Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, and Josh Tomlin all have ERAs over 5.

There are many attractive options on the market for the Indians. The question will be how much are they willing to give up in order to get the starting pitching help they need?

Last year, they traded away Clint Frazier and a multitude of other prospects in order to get their stalwart setup man, Andrew Miller. That being said the Indians still have some pieces that they could trade. I highly doubt they will trade Bradley Zimmer as he is with the club now and making a solid contribution.

There are a multitude of options for the Indians to help make their second World Series run in as many years. I like Sonny Gray, but I think his asking price will be too high considering how he has pitched in the last two seasons. This leaves two options: Gerrit Cole and Johnny Cueto.

Both the Pirates and Giants respectively have been under-performing and it looks like they will have to be sellers. While Gerrit Cole is better, he and Sonny Gray have a similar problem. They are going to cost more than the Indians are willing to give.

That is why they could trade for Cueto. He has won a World Series and has been in Cy Young contention, but the Indians could get him for a bargain. He has not pitched extremely well this season and the Giants are desperate (or should be) for prospects as they have one of the worst farm systems in baseball.

The Indians could give up one top 25 prospect not named Zimmer or Mejia and two others right outside their top 25 for Cueto. He would be a great pickup and if he could find his form again, he could be a top of the rotation guy to help the Indians try to make it back to the World Series.

Houston Astros

The Astros were my World Series pick back in January and I am glad that they have yet to let me down. Their lineup can hit from 1 to 8 and Keuchel and McCullers make up an amazing top of the rotation.

MLB trade deadline

Photo: SFgiantsrumors.co

Brad Peacock is finally living up to his potential, whether he is in the bullpen or the rotation. While most are looking at the rotation, and they could improve there, Peacock may actually be a legitimate option that will help them keep their first-place standing. Also, Colin McHugh should be coming off the DL soon and can help to solidify the rotation.

The Astros are missing another reliable bullpen arm. We saw how important they were in last year’s playoffs and right now the Astros have a pretty good bullpen. But if they are going to want to make a real run, they need a great bullpen.

They won’t give up what teams gave up to get pitchers like Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman last season. Instead, they will go for options that are a small step down.

In steps another Giants player and someone who has been a crucial piece in their bullpen for a long time, George Kontos.

Kontos has a career ERA under 3 and he has been in many high-pressure situations, including helping the Giants win multiple World Series. While he is not a flashy pickup, he is a reliable one, and should be relatively cheap, as he’s still under team control until 2020.

The Astros would not have to part with any of their major prospects. They could easily throw the Giants one of their lower top 25 prospects and some cash or another lower level prospect with high potential.

Kontos would solidify the bullpen as the Astros head into October. His experience would help the younger Astros team and again he would cost a lot less than someone like Sonny Gray or David Robertson.

Conclusion

The trade deadline is an unpredictable time and has a major affect on the way the rest of the season and future seasons will play out. Look out for what first place NL teams needs to do in order to stay in first place.

 

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Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Top 5 Setup Men for 2017

Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Top 5 Setup Men for 2017

The Game Haus presents our fantasy baseball rankings: top 5 setup men for 2017.

Setup men have become a premier aspect of baseball in the last decade as teams have begun to acquire multiple high-level relief pitchers in order to lock down the final innings of the game.

Standard fantasy baseball leagues generally do not include holds in their scoring formats, although I believe holds are integral to the game of baseball and thus belong as a stat in the fantasy version as well.

For anyone unfamiliar with a hold, it is a statistic that measures the effectiveness of relievers. A pitcher is rewarded with a hold when he enters the game with his team in the lead in a save situation, which is a lead of no more than three runs, and hands over that lead to another reliever without giving up the lead.

 

Below are the top five setup men heading into the 2017 season.

Exceptions include: Addison Reed, who will close games while Juerys Familia serves his looming suspension, and Cam Bedrosian, who could take Huston Street’s closer job.

Honorable mentions include: Will Harris, Luke Gregerson, Tyler Clippard, Darren O’Day, Kyle Barraclough, Hunter Strickland, Will Smith, and Derek Law.

 

5. Nate Jones, Chicago White Sox

Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Top 5 Setup Men for 2017

What do David Robertson trade rumors mean for Nate Jones? (Courtesy of zimbio.com)

Nate Jones commonly goes overlooked as he is on the rebuilding Chicago White Sox, although he offers great value as a setup man in 2017.

He finished 2016 with a 2.29 ERA, 10.19 K/9, and 28 holds. This was his second consecutive season of over 10 K/9 and a sub-one WHIP.

Jones had an excellent 2.93 FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, which measures what a pitcher’s ERA would look like if they were to receive average fielding results on balls in play.

With David Robertson trade rumors lurking, Jones may be moved to the closer role, but for the time being he is the fifth best option for holds in 2017.

 

4. Tyler Thornburg, Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox acquired the Milwaukee Brewers reliever in December of 2016 in exchange for Travis Shaw, two minor league prospects, and cash considerations.

Thornburg flourished as Milwaukee’s top setup man in 2016, finishing the season with a 2.1 ERA, 20 holds and 13 saves. His mid-90’s fastball and devastating curve helped him strikeout over 12 batters per nine innings. He also had an excellent FIP of 2.83, which suggest that he will find continued success no matter who is fielding behind him.

The 28-year-old will act as the bridge to Craig Kimbrel in 2017, giving him plenty of hold opportunities. Also, if Kimbrel were to go down, Thornburg would be the next man up.

 

3. Brad Brach, Baltimore Orioles

Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Top 5 Setup Men for 2017

Brad Brach looks to build on his 2016 All-star campaign heading to 2017. (Courtesy of The Baltimore Sun)

Brach expanded on his 2015 breakout by exploding in 2016. The first-time All-star finished the year with a 2.05 ERA, 10.48 K/9, and 24 holds.

He improved his career averages across the board, most notably cutting his walks per nine innings down by 1.46, to a very manageable 2.85 BB/9.

I do not see any signs of regression for Brach in 2017, as his BABIP (batting average on balls batted in play), ground ball percentage, and homerun to fly ball rates have remained steady over his last three seasons.

Brach is cemented in as the Orioles’ eighth inning guy, with Darren O’Day working the seventh, and closer Zach Britton shutting it down in the ninth.

 

2. Dellin Betances, New York Yankees

The New York Yankees fireman finished 2016 with 28 holds, 12 saves, and an ERA of 3.08. His ERA was his highest in three seasons, although his FIP was an astounding 1.78, suggesting that his fielding contributed largely to his struggles.

The 6 foot 8, 260-pound hurler has increased his K/9 in every consecutive season, and sports a career average of 14.28. He exhibited a career high 15.53 K/9, which lead the league among qualifying relief pitchers in 2016.

He will return to a setup role as the Yankees reacquired closer Aroldis Chapman in free agency.

Betances will continue to dominate batters with his demoralizing cutter, similar to the likes of Kenley Jansen and Mariano Rivera.

The all-world reliever will be an asset for any fantasy team in 2017, whether the league awards points for holds or not.

 

1. Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians

Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Top 5 Setup Men for 2017

Andrew Miller is set to continue his regular season dominance in 2017. (Courtesy of Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Arguably the most dominant pitcher in the game, it is no surprise to see Andrew Miller at the top of this list. His 2016 campaign resulted in an astounding 1.45 ERA, 14.89 K/9, 25 holds and 12 saves.

Miller will remain as a late inning work horse for the Indians, offering availability in the 7th, 8th and 9th innings. The 31-year-old will remain as Cody Allen’s setup man in 2017 and will be a key contributor in the tribe’s hunt for October.

The lethal lefty offers great value to all leagues, as he will contribute elite ratios and inevitably a few rogue saves.

 

 

 

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Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Relief Pitchers

In this 10th and final installment of our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB Season, we will cover the bullpen. Just a year or two ago, the distinction between relief pitcher and closer was an easy one to identify. But now not so much. With the construction of super bullpens and the line between relief pitcher and closer blurring, let’s take a look at the top five overall relief pitchers in the game.

2017 MLB Season

Mark Melancon was brought over to San Francisco to solidify their bullpen (Keith Srakocic, Associated Press).

5. Mark Melancon- San Francisco Giants

Mark Melancon was a late bloomer, being called up by the New York Yankees at 24 years old and not pitching a full amount of innings until he was 26 with Houston. But he has certainly turned it on in the past few years.

Between Pittsburgh and Washington, Melancon posted one of his best years statistically. He put up a 1.64 ERA as well as a 0.897 WHIP in 2016. He also struck out 64 batters over 71.1 innings pitched, and waled only 12 batters all season.

Melancon has also been a solid fielder when given the chance, with only three errors in eight major league seasons. Melancon will solidify the back end of the bullpen in San Francisco, and just entering his prime, is set to continue is string of dominant late inning performances.

4. Kenley Jansen- Los Angeles Dodgers

Kenley Jansen was often overlooked when discussing the top relief pitchers in the game, but not anymore. The Dodgers paid a hefty price to keep the 29 year old in their pen, and for good reason.

Jansen struck out 104 batters while only walking 11 over 68.2 innings. His ability to strike out guys at an impressive rate gives Jansen the ability to lower his WHIP. For the 2016 season, Jansen had a 0.670 WHIP. That is far lower than his career 0.893 WHIP, and helped to ensure Jansen would be paid handsomely in the off-season. With a return to the Dodgers, Jansen is poised to have another great season.

3. Aroldis Chapman- New York Yankees

2017 MLB Sports

After being shipped to the Cubs to get a World Series ring, Chapman will look to bring one to the Bronx (Anthony Gruppuso, USA TODAY Sports).

For Aroldis Chapman, 2016 was a roller coaster season. After being suspended by the Commissioner’s Office for his domestic violence case in last year’s off-season, Chapman was celebrating the Chicago Cubs first World Series Championship in over 100 years.

In between he was able to put up a 1.55 ERA as well as striking out 90 batters over 58 innings pitched. His 0.862 WHIP was one of the best of his career, and he was a shutdown reliever all season long. Chapman returned to the Yankees after being traded at the deadline to the Cubs, and it seems like that trade was a win-win all around. Chapman will be a dominate pitcher in the Bronx for years to come.

2. Andrew Miller- Cleveland Indians

Another Yankee arm that was traded at the deadline to an eventual World Series team, Andrew Miller turned in a remarkable 2016 season. Miller really helped transform the way we see relievers, both closing and pitching like a traditional relief pitcher.

He had a 1.45 ERA between New York and Cleveland. Miller also punched out 123 batters over 74.1 innings. That tied his career high of 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Miller also walked only 9 batters on his way to a 0.686 WHIP. With another World Series appearance in reach for the Cleveland Indians, Miller will be as clutch as ever in 2017.

1. Zach Britton- Baltimore Orioles

2017 MLB Season

Zach Britton had a historic season for the Orioles in 2016 (Greg Fiume, Getty Images North America).

When you are in the discussion for the AL Cy Young award as a reliever, you know you’ve had a special season. Britton started his career as a starter. But after three years of poor outings as a starter, he was shifted to the bullpen and flourished.

In 2016 Britton had a 0.54 ERA, an astounding number for a pitcher, even a reliever. He also struck out 74 batters over 67 innings pitched and walked 18 men. With a 0.836 WHIP Britton was able to limit the number of men on base, thus lowering his ERA to a minuscule amount.

After a fourth place finish in the AL Cy Young voting, Britton will be hard pressed to repeat his historic 2016. But if anyone can do it, Britton is the man.

Relief pitchers are usually the last ones to enter the game. And it’s fitting they will wrap up our Position Rankings for the 2017 MLB Season. With a new movement coming over baseball, relief pitchers are starting to be viewed differently. As contracts grow and ERA’s shrink, relief pitchers are becoming some of the most valued players in the game.

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5 NL Pitchers to Watch this Offseason

Here I’ll continue to analyze some of the biggest names to watch in the free agency this offseason. I previously focused on positional players heading into the free agency from National League teams, but this piece will focus on pitchers, both starters and relievers. Again, these players are not ranked in any particular order, as I feel all of them will be highly sought after this offseason.

1. Aroldis Chapman – Closer

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Where will the ex-Cub bring the heat in 2017? Image courtesy of FOX Sports.

While closers tend to find themselves traveling to new cities every few years in the offseason, teams know just how important they are to a successful season. A weak bullpen has been the death of numerous teams, especially come postseason, over the years. Chapman was one of the biggest names to hit the market around the trade deadline, and I don’t expect that to change this offseason. A World Series victory on his resume will definitely help his case. He’s got the fastest stuff in the MLB, averaging 100.88 mph per fastball in 2016. He made 13 appearances in the 2016 playoffs, posting a 2-0 record, recording four saves, and striking out 21 in 15.2 innings of work. It may not have been his most dominant showing, but he still proved that he has what it takes to close on a World Series roster. The experience from doing so certainly boosts his value heading into 2017.

 

2. Kenley Jansen – Closer

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Where will 2016’s NL Reliever of the Year end up in 2017? Image courtesy of CBS Sports.

Jansen is the second of three big closers hitting the free agent market this offseason. He was tied for second in the MLB with 47 saves during the regular season, and was the final piece of the Dodgers’ dominant bullpen in 2016. While he doesn’t offer the same overpowering stuff that Chapman does (and to be fair, I don’t think anybody does), he was still awarded the NL Reliever of the Year honors. The Dodgers were a team plagued with injuries in the starting pitching role, putting even more stress on the bullpen, and yet Jansen and his teammates delivered over and over in 2016. He also furthered his postseason experience, pitching in seven games and nabbing three saves over 11.2 innings. Like Chapman, Jansen will be another highly sought after closer for 2017.

 

 

 

3. Mark Melancon – Closer

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Where will one of the MLB’s most successful journeyman closers end up next? Image courtesy of USA Today.

Rounding out the trio of big-name closers to become free agents is ex-Nationals/Pirates closer Mark Melancon. Melancon stabilized a Washington bullpen that was shaky at best with Jonathan Papelbon in the closing role. He recorded 30 saves in 33 opportunities with the Pirates, before recording another 17 in 18 chances with the Nats. In the postseason he displayed his versatility, even coming into games where the Nationals were trailing, and delivering. Melancon is no stranger to moving, having played on five teams during his eight years in the MLB. He’s a strong closer who has experience acclimating himself to new teams and performing well without drawing unnecessary attention to himself. He’ll certainly warrant some looks from a number of teams looking to build or retain a strong bullpen in 2017.

 

 

 

 

4. Rich Hill – Starter

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Rich Hill has proven that he’s a force on the mound when healthy. Image courtesy of USA Today.

Rich Hill showed us two things in 2016. The first is, he spends a lot of time on the Disabled List. He made two stints on the DL in 2016, both taking place in Oakland, although one of them carried over to when he was traded to LA. He’s now made seven trips to the DL in his 12 years with the MLB (nine if you count two more that occurred while he was rehabbing in the Minors). He’s also 36 years old, which begs the question of how much teams will be willing to give him, and for how long. But all of these things can be offset by the second thing we learned in 2016. He’s really freaking good when he’s healthy. He posted a 2.12 ERA in 20 starts during the regular season, 14 with the A’s and six with the Dodgers. He did have a couple of short, rough postseason outings against the Nationals, but he showed up big time when his team needed him most. Even though the Dodgers lost the NLCS to the Cubs, Hill posted a stellar six shutout innings against one of the best offenses in the MLB to tie the series at two. Hill should get plenty of looks this offseason, it just comes down to which teams are willing to chance his injury-prone past.

 

 

5. Ivan Nova – Starter

When the Pirates acquired pitcher Ivan Nova from the Yankees at the trade deadline, a lot of people were left scratching their heads as to why. They had already given up closer Mark Melancon to the Nationals, so the team had realistically lost a lot of its talent on the mound to make a serious postseason push. But Nova quickly silenced a lot of doubters, delivering a red hot August, going 4-0 in five starts. While his win-loss cooled off some in September, going just 1-2, his numbers still looked great. In two months with the Pirates, Nova posted a 3.06 ERA over 64.2 innings, with 52 strikeouts. While these numbers certainly aren’t going to blow anybody away, Nova proved himself to be a solid starter, even on a team with a middle-of-the-pack offense like Pittsburgh. I could see him garnering a fair bit of interest on a strong team needing a middle-rotation starter, or a weak staff looking for a potential dark horse ace. Nova is a guy who probably won’t receive as much media attention as the big three closers or Hill this offseason, but is certainly worth keeping tabs on.

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Ivan Nova quietly stood out on the Pirates in August and September. Image courtesy of Rum Bunter.

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Tracking the Transactions: Rating NL Deadline Trades for Contenders

Earlier this week, I evaluated how all of the trade deadline moves made by contending American League teams panned out. Now, I’ll give my take on how National League trades fared.

Chicago Cubs – Aroldis Chapman/Mike Montgomery: 5/3

The Cubs came in to the deadline with plenty of offensive firepower, so they made some deals to acquire some lefty relievers to diversify a right-hander flooded bullpen. Chapman has looked fantastic in Chicago, to nobody’s surprise, he’s 13 for 14 in save conversion in 18 appearances. He’s surrendered just three runs in 17 innings, and hasn’t allowed a run in three appearances this September. With the Cubs having clinched the NL Central on Thursday, I doubt Chapman will see as much play as he did in August, in an attempt to preserve him for the playoffs. They’re still looking to solidify home-field advantage, however, so he certainly won’t be shut down entirely.

Montgomery was originally brought in as another southpaw in the pen. He now sits apart of the Cubs rotation, and frankly, he’s looked better there than he did starting off in the pen for the Cubs. He allowed runs in three consecutive outings, two of them lasting just one-third of an inning, while in the pen. Since his relocation to the rotation, he’s looked better on the mound, even if his starts don’t last particularly long. He averages just under five innings per start, and has only thrown over 90 pitches on one occasion. Recently his starts have improved, and he even notched his first quality start in their division-clinching victory vs. the Brewers. Since becoming a starter, Montgomery has posted a 3.33 ERA. We’ll see what Joe Maddon has planned for him over these next two weeks heading into playoffs.

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LA hopes Rich Hill can stay healthy for the playoffs. Photo courtesy of todaysknuckleball.com

LA Dodgers – Josh Reddick/Rich Hill: 2/4

The Reddick plus Hill deal was seen as the Dodgers’ power play to take control of the NL West. Reddick has certainly struggled since the deal, however, batting just .225 since heading to LA. He’s only hit one homer, driven in three RBIs, and stolen one base. His August numbers (.161 BA, .172 slugging) are certainly not what a team wants to see from their deadline acquisition. Things are beginning to look up for Reddick at the plate this month, he’s hitting .394 and slugging .576. He’s still not producing runs, though, with just a lone homer and two RBIs to show. We’ll see if he can get back on the up-and-up in time for playoffs, however, let’s not forget he had a spectacular May following a sub-par August. Maybe the Dodgers just need him to have a good month at the right time.

The only reason Rich Hill doesn’t get a five here is because he’s only made four starts since the Dodgers acquired him at the beginning of August. With that said, three of those four starts have been spectacular, including a flirt with perfection against the Marlins. The Dodgers are playing it smart, not allowing him to hit triple-digit pitch counts while still working off his injury. Thursday’s start against the D-Backs was a return to Earth for Hill, who was riding a 24 inning scoreless streak, spanning back to July, coming into the game. With a four game lead over the Giants in the heart of the home stretch, we’ll see if Hill and Kenta Maeda can continue to make life miserable for batters and secure the division for the Dodgers.

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Photo courtesy of miamiherald.com

Miami Marlins – Andrew Cashner: 1 

Oh Miami, when are you going to catch a break? I guess losing the other half of the deal, Colin Rea, to injury after his first start should have been a sign of things to come. Cashner only recently picked up his first win with the Marlins against the Phillies, making him 1-4 in eight starts with the team. His stat line as a starter since the move isn’t much prettier, a 6.18 ERA through 39.1 innings of work, a 32/22 K/BB ratio and opponents batting .303 off of him. Cashner was supposed to provide a solid arm, replacing injured Wei-Yin Chen, in a rotation that has been cluttered with inconsistency for Miami from the get-go. Needless to say he hasn’t lived up to the expectations set for him. Combine that with Marcell Ozuna’s massive second-half slump and the loss of Giancarlo Stanton and you can see why Miami currently sits four games out of the Wildcard.

 

 

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Photo courtesy of nypost.com

New York Mets – Jay Bruce: 2

If it’s true that, prior to the deadline, Bruce explicitly said that he didn’t want to go to the Mets, then maybe we can attribute his stats since coming to New York to spite instead of an actual drop in his caliber of play.  Regardless of why the numbers have dropped, they certainly aren’t what the Mets wanted from their deadline acquisition. He was supposed to provide a shot in the arm for a Mets offense that had sputtered all year, and only really saw (limited) success via the long ball at various points throughout the season. Bruce, who had 25 homers on the year with Cincinnati, seemed like the perfect candidate for the offense’s playstyle. He’s hitting just .192 since coming to New York, with four homers and 11 RBIs in 36 games. He looked like he might be heating up at the end of August, piecing together a five-game hit streak from August 30 to September 4, but he’s now hit just .120 and notched a lone RBI in his past seven games. The Mets have, against my predictions, remained in the hunt for the Wildcard and even hold the last spot in, currently, but Bruce’s contributions have been below average at best.

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Ivan Nova has been hot since coming to Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy of rumbunter.com

Pittsburgh Pirates – Ivan Nova/Antonio Bastardo: 5/4

Why the Pirates made acquisitions at the deadline after selling closer Mark Melancon to the Nationals boggled my mind at the time. But the Pirates have at least remained in contention for a Wildcard spot, currently 5.5 games behind the Mets, in no small part due to the efforts of Ivan Nova. He’s looked spectacular since coming to Pittsburgh, posting a 5-0 record alongside a 2.41 ERA in eight starts for the Pirates with a stellar 43/3 K/BB ratio. Nova came in from New York with a 7-6 record, a 4.90 ERA, and a 75/25 K/BB ratio in his seventh season with the Yankees. I don’t know what pitching coach Ray Searage does to these guys in Pittsburgh, but you can’t argue with his results. At this rate, Nova will be one of the more interesting pitchers to hit the free-agency after the season.

Antonio Bastardo is also showing marked improvement from his performance in New York. Bastardo was acquired in a deal that brought him back to Pittsburgh, after half a season with the Mets, and returned Jonathon Niese to New York. Bastardo posted a 4.74 ERA in 43.2 innings with the Mets; since returning to Pittsburgh, his ERA sits at 2.41 and he’s got a 2-0 record to show for it. Stats-wise, I’d definitely say Pittsburgh came out ahead of their awkward pitcher exchange program with the Mets.

San Francisco Giants – Matt Moore/Eduardo Nunez: 3/4

The Giants stayed true to their pitcher-first, small ball mentality with the acquisition of Matt Moore. It should be noted that Moore wasn’t brought in to provide the same level of performance as guys like Johnny Cueto or Madison Bumgarner at the front of the rotation. Moore’s job is to be a guy who holds things down and keeps things close at the back of the rotation. I would say been hit-or-miss in that department. His production with the Giants sits almost exactly where it did in Tampa, a record around .500 (3-4), and an ERA in the low 4s (4.08). He’s had a mix of really good starts with really bad starts almost at random; I think if he’s able to begin to build momentum with a string of good starts heading into the postseason, then he could be in good shape.

Eduardo Nunez fits the typical depiction of a Giants position player. He’ll help the team manufacture runs via small ball, work his way on base, and make productive at-bats. Nunez is sitting with a .329 OBP, 18 RBIs, 18 runs scored, and nine stolen bases. None of these numbers are going to blow people away, but then again I think that can be said for anybody on this Giants offense. He seems to be getting more and more consistent at the plate, as well. He’s currently on a nine-game hitting streak, spanning back to September 3.

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Photo courtesy of zimbio.com

St. Louis Cardinals – Zach Duke: 4

Duke has been quietly performing since the Cardinals nabbed him to help out their bullpen. While his record is 0-1, he’s allowed just three runs in 18.1 innings over 20 appearances with St. Louis. His biggest concern comes in the control department. Since coming to St. Louis, he’s walked 11 men and fanned 20. 11 walks in 18.1 innings isn’t the most optimal way to operate as a reliever, but he’s been able to play damage control thus far.

 

Washington Nationals – Mark Melancon: 4

The Nationals bullpen has been the bane of their existence in September/October for seemingly years now. As of right now, Melancon appears to have aided those bullpen woes in Washington. He hasn’t blown a save opportunity yet, although September has looked rockier than August. Last month he allowed just one run over 13.2 innings, posting a 0.66 ERA. This month, his ERA sits at 4.50 with four runs surrendered in eight innings. Luckily for Washington, the Nats sit ten games ahead of the Mets with 16 games to play, so if there was a time for Melancon to get the bad mojo out, it would be now.

MLB Trade Deadline Grades: National League

Another season, another high-octane trade deadline for the MLB, with players moving from coast to coast to help teams address what they most need heading into the postseason. Every year, we see teams make moves that take a team from a decent team to a World Series contender, as well as trades that leave us scratching our heads. Here, I’ll give out grades to the teams that participated in the deadline based on my personal opinions of the moves made. As for my thought process going into the grades, I’m not solely looking at the teams who were buyers looking to make a postseason push, I will also give my MLB trade deadline grades on if selling teams got a fair return for the players dealt. The teams will be listed in alphabetical order.

Arizona Diamondbacks (B)

The D-Backs didn’t do a whole lot this deadline. Their only move sent Tyler Clippard to the Yankees in return for prospect Vicente Campos. Campos was the number 14 prospect in the Yankees organization, returning from Tommy John surgery and posting a 3.27 ERA throughout double and triple-A ball. There’s not really a lot more to say about Arizona’s move. They’re not set up to make a postseason run this year, but they didn’t bring much to the table in terms of trade interest.

Atlanta Braves (B-)

The Braves and the Padres swapped contract dumps on the July 30th move that brought Matt Kemp to Atlanta and sent Hector Olivera to the Padres. I think the Braves definitely win out on that move, as Olivera’s off-the-field issues continue to plague him, only playing in 30 games this year for Atlanta. Aside from that move, Atlanta only made one other offer, however, acquiring shortstop prospect Travis Demeritte for pitchers Lucas Harrell and Dario Alvarez. With the current mentality of the Braves organization, I was thinking we’d see a few more moves from them to deepen their prospect pool, especially with the projected value held by guys like Nick Markakis or Julio Teheran, but it was fairly quiet deadline in Atlanta this year.

Chicago Cubs (A)

The Cubs recognized that the only real area of concern was their bullpen coming into the deadline, so they went out and grabbed three relievers to help shore it up. Obviously the big move was getting Aroldis Chapman from the Yankees, and while they did give up a decent amount of prospects, this Cubs team is already so young that it doesn’t need to worry about that so much right now. They also grabbed Mike Montgomery from Seattle, another lefty for a bullpen that only had two left-handed throwers before the deadline. Then, for good measure, they got Joe Smith from the Angels in the final hours of the deadline. They didn’t have to give up too much for Smith and Montgomery, so overall a good deadline that helped Chicago where they needed it most.

Cincinnati Reds (B)

I thought that Zach Cozart would be on the move along with Jay Bruce, but in the end Bruce was the only guy who ended up leaving Cincy. He’s had a strong season this year, which certainly helped increase his value in the eyes of teams with ailing offenses, like the Mets. The Reds get a couple of prospects for him, which is never something to scoff at when you’re rebuilding a team. I think if they got a few more prospects for Cozart they would have done better, but that’s just the way the deadline cookie crumbles.

Los Angeles Dodgers (B)

They couldn’t find a way to get Yasiel Puig out of the organization, but other than that it was a solid deadline season for the Dodgers. While Rich Hill is on the DL right now, if he’s able to return in workable condition he could provide a real boost to LA’s rotation. Hill was 9-3 in 14 starts with the A’s before heading to the DL on July 20th. Picking up Josh Reddick for the outfield also gives their offense a boost with Yasiel Puig now headed to the Minors.

Getting Jesse Chavez and Josh Fields could help out their bullpen, although neither of their stat lines are too inspiring. Fields has a 6.89 ERA in 15.2 innings with the Astros, although he does have a 20/3 K/BB ratio. Chavez has a 4.57 ERA in 41.1 innings with Toronto this year. Still, an offensive upgrade and a starter who could get wins with a weak A’s team bode well for a Dodgers team hot on the heels of the sputtering Giants.

Miami Marlins (C)

The only thing the Marlins actually got out of this deadline was Andrew Cashner, and I don’t think he’s nearly enough to help this team out on the mound. Originally, Cashner came to Miami with teammate Colin Rea from San Diego. Rea, however, found himself on the DL after lasting just 45 pitches in his first start with the Marlins, and was returned to the Padres. Cashner did turn in a quality start against the Cardinals in his first start with Miami, but the Marlins also gave up Josh Naylor (among others) who was one of the better prospects in the organization. With the Marlins really just hoping for a wildcard berth at this point, the Cashner move will not be enough for Miami.

Milwaukee Brewers (A-)

They did it, the Brewers were finally able to sell big-name catcher Jonathan Lucroy and reliever Jeremy Jeffress as a buzzer-beater deal to the Texas Rangers. In return, the Brewers got two of the top three prospects in the Rangers organization, OF Lewis Brinson (#2 and #21 in the MLB according to MLB Pipeline) and reliever Luis Ortiz (#3 and #63 in the MLB). They also get one more player from the deal, who will be announced at the end of the season according to GM David Stearns. The Brew Crew also got some good prospects from the Giants for reliever Will Smith. Milwaukee received the Giants top prospect, Phil Bickford, along with pitching prospect Andrew Susac in return for one of their better relievers this year.

New York Mets (B-)

The Mets acquired Jay Bruce in a move that GM Sandy Alderson hopes will kickstart a Mets offense who is the worst in the MLB since the All-Star break. New York has averaged just 2.9 runs per game since the break, and are in a precarious position in the divisional and wildcard races. Bruce is currently the best run producer in the NL, with 80 RBIs in 2016. He also provides some insurance in the outfield if Yoenis Cespedes doesn’t return next year.

But the Mets also went out and got (back) Jonathon Niese from the Pirates and sent (back) Antonio Bastardo along with some cash to offset his $6.5 million salary next year. The Niese move doesn’t bring a lot to the table, in my mind. Assuming he fills in for Logan Verrett, who replaced Matt Harvey in the rotation after he went to the DL, it won’t be much of an upgrade. Niese has a 4.91 ERA in 21 starts for Pittsburgh this year, while Verrett has a 4.86 ERA in 10 starts for the Mets (4.20 if you include 18 relief appearances).

Pittsburgh Pirates (C+)

My problem with the Pirates is that they tried to play both sides of the buyer/seller spectrum this deadline. With the way the NL playoff picture is shaping up, they either had to fully commit to building towards the future or try and make some additions for a comeback playoff run. I think them selling Mark Melancon should have been their sign to commit to next year. They got Felipe Rivero, who is a strong arm out of the pen, but they still lacked in starting pitching. Somehow they got Ivan Nova from the Yankees for two guys to be named later (apparently the Yankees, despite some good early moves, are still new to this whole “selling” thing).

But then making two more moves for bullpen guys, Antonio Bastardo and Drew Hutchinson, doesn’t make sense to me. Hutchinson has been optioned to the Minors while Bastardo, who hadn’t looked great in the pen for the Mets, gets them another reliever as opposed to a starter. I don’t think Hutchinson was worth what they gave up (Francisco Liriano and prospects Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire) and they just replenished a bullpen with different names that will probably yield the same results.

San Diego Padres (A-)

Aside from the Kemp/Olivera trade, I think the Padres actually did well in the prospect game. Anderson Espinosa (who was acquired in the Red Sox Pomeranz deal) is seen as the top prospect in the Padres organization by many, and hopefully he lives up to the expectation. As of now, he’s 0-1 with a 4.26 ERA in 12.2 innings with single-A Fort Wayne. The kid is only 18, so give him time to mature before recoiling at the numbers tied to a “number one prospect.”

Although they got Hector Olivera and all of the off-field issues he brings, they did dump off rather hefty Matt Kemp and Melvin Upton contracts. In addition to that they ended up with one of the Marlins top prospects for Andrew Cashner (it would have been even sweeter had Rea not been injured and returned for Luis Castillo). The Padres were able to right some of the wrongs that came about in 2015, so I score it as a win for A.J. Preller.

San Francisco Giants (B-)

The Giants do what they always do at the deadline, make a few small moves that they feel will make a huge difference as the postseason nears. I don’t think that they focused on the area that most needed work, though: the offense. The Giants got Matt Moore from Tampa on the last day; he’s a cheap back of the rotation starter with potential upside: I can’t fault the Giants for the move. They also acquired reliever Will Smith from the Angels and infielder Eduardo Nunez from the Twins. Nunez isn’t the impact bat that I feel the Giants needed to grab to help their faltering offense. Still, none of these moves are going to break the bank for the Giants, and if Moore is able to play up to his expectation he could provide an anchor the Giants didn’t have at the back of the rotation.

St. Louis Cardinals (B+)

The Cardinals are in a solid spot to make a wildcard currently, as the Cubs have all but won the division at this point, so they’re playing the hand they’ve been dealt this year. They could have tried to make some big moves to try and bolster the order or the rotation, but that really isn’t the Cards style. I like the move for Zach Duke, he’s been solid with the White Sox this year, and Charlie Tilson isn’t a prospect who will make a massive splash in the Majors. The Pirates and Marlins didn’t get any stronger, so they remain a comfortable pick for the postseason this year.

Washington Nationals (B)

The Natioanls didn’t get the big-name bullpen help they wanted, like Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller, but Mark Melancon is a good improvement for a struggling Jonathan Papelbon. They also didn’t do anything hasty and give up Lucas Giolito, who probably pulled some decent offers.

Chapman, Cubs: First Potential Big Deadline Deal

With the MLB Trade Deadline less than a week away, the MLB rumor market is packed with potential deals that could have huge impacts on the 2016 playoff race. Already, some teams have begun to make moves, shoring up weaknesses in their current roster, or acquiring new young talent that will hopefully mature into superstar talent down the road.

The Chicago Cubs, who are reportedly in talks with the New York Yankees about acquiring closer Aroldis Chapman, acquired Seattle Mariners’ reliever Mike Montgomery last Wednesday in an attempt to bolster their bullpen. Montgomery provided some much needed diversity in the bullpen: prior to his arrival, Travis Wood and Clayton Richard were the only left-handed hurlers in Chicago’s bullpen.

Chapman, a lefty, would only go to further this diversity, and would provide a more seasoned and experienced arm than Montgomery, who is in his third Major League season. Chapman is currently in his seventh year in the MLB, his first with the Yankees after six years with the Reds, and has posted a career 2.16 ERA in 350.1 innings in the bullpen. In 2016, Chapman has made 31 appearances, posting a 2.01 ERA and notching 20 saves in 21 attempts through 31.1 innings of work.

He may have a smaller sample size this year after missing the first 30 games of the season for violating the MLB’s domestic abuse policy, but I don’t think any team would argue that Chapman can bring the heat on the mound. According to MLB.com, his average pitch speed this year is just a tick above 100 mph, and currently holds the record for the fastest recorded pitch in the MLB, at 105 mph.

The Cubs also acquired Joe Nathan on Sunday, showing just how much they prioritize getting their bullpen to a higher level as we near August. Nathan made just his second appearance in as many years yesterday, going a full inning against the Brewers and picking up his first win since 2014.

The Cubs’ bullpen hasn’t been horrible this year, but it certainly hasn’t performed the way a top five team in the MLB would want it to in 2016. The current bullpen as a whole (discarding Nathan and Montgomery, who both have just one appearance with the team) combines for a 3.28 ERA, and is 18-for-26 in save situations. Regardless of what Chapman’s role in the bullpen is, if the deal goes through, he’s sure to provide a much-needed left-handed option from the bullpen.

Gleyber Torres is the centerpiece in the Cubs potential trade with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman. Photo courtesy of minorleagueball.com

On the other side of the proposed deal, the Yankees would acquire single-A prospect Gleyber Torres. Torres, a shortstop, is the highest ranked prospect in the Cubs organization, and is the number 15 prospect nationally according to ESPN’s Keith Law.

This deal will depend a lot on how the Yankees feel heading into August. They’re in a strange state of limbo right now where they aren’t realistically out of the playoff hunt in the American League, but they are 7.5 games behind the Orioles in the division, and 4.5 back of Toronto in the second Wild Card spot.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see this deal wait a while longer just to see if the Yankees begin streaking one way or the other as the deadline nears. Regardless, if the Cubs are able to acquire Chapman, then the rest of the National League will need to beware The Cuban Missile’s return to the NL Central, this time with a World Series favorite.

 

UPDATE

The Cubs and Yankees have agreed on a deal. The exact players have not yet been released. Keep it here at The Game Haus to find out who!

Gleyber Torres, the #1 Cubs prospect according to MLB.com is in the deal.

The Yankees are also receiving Adam Warren. He was traded to the Cubs just last season.

Minor League outfielder Billy McKinney will also be in the trade. He is the Cubs #5 prospect according to MLB.com.

The fourth player is CF Rashad Crawford from the Cubs. He was playing at Advanced A Myrtle Beach.

 

Information from ESPN.com was used in this report.

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Deadline Approaching: NL East Trade Thoughts

As the trade deadline approaches, the picture of who could be making a playoff push and who should be preparing for next season is beginning to take form. Lower teams on the totem pole should begin looking to see what they can do to make the most of the remaining season, while the higher teams begin thinking about what areas they can shore up in to further their playoff hopes and dreams. The NL East trade situation is beginning to take shape.

In the East, I’d argue that it’s beginning to look like the two teams everyone expected to be at the bottom fall into the first category, while the two everyone thought would be at the top fall into the latter. The Marlins remain in limbo, because while they’re just a game back of the second place Mets, they’re still a full six behind the Nats at the moment and, in my opinion, are unlikely to solve all of their needs (mainly in the pitching category) within the next few weeks and make a serious run.

With that in mind, we’ll take a look who the potential buyers and sellers, as well as what may be on the table, as we near the 2016 trade deadline (August 1).

Buyers: Washington Nationals, New York Mets, Miami Marlins

Papelbon’s DL visit and his rather lackluster stuff on the mound could make the Nats willing to shop for another closer as the deadline approaches. Photo courtesy of foxsports.com

Nationals: The Nationals are in a pretty good spot compared to the rest of these teams right now. While the other four teams in the division all have offenses in the bottom ten of the MLB in runs, Washington sits in the top ten. But with recent performances bringing questions, Washington may be looking for some new arms to toss in the bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon hasn’t been as crisp at the closing role, surrendering runs in two of his three in June. On the season, he’s allowed baserunners in 17 of 25 appearances, and multiple runners in ten of those games. Papelbon has been having one of the most underwhelming seasons of his career, so even when he returns, the Nats might be looking for, at the very least, a plan B at closer. Former setup man Shawn Kelly struck out four of the five Cubs he faced, grabbing his first save of 2016 on Tuesday against the Cubs.

So who will the Nats look for out of the bullpen? It’s difficult to tell, if they go for anyone at all, since Papelbon is quite a pricey guy to not have at closer, and limits the money available to give to new guys. Aroldis Chapman, currently with the Yankees, is a closer who is up on the market, and would definitely provide the heat and power that Papelbon has been lacking this year. Another guy from New York who sits deep in the bullpen, Andrew Miller, could also garner some attention from the Nationals. With closers always being a hot commodity with playoff contending teams, Chapman’s destination could come down to who makes the offer that most tempts the Yankees organization.

Mets: The Mets are a team that might find themselves forced to make some moves at the deadline in order to stay in the fight in the East. They’ve currently dropped three straight games, and while a lot of things can change in the next month and a half, injuries are currently a noticeable problem for New York. Captain David Wright, first baseman Lucas Duda, and catcher Travis D’Arnaud are all currently on the DL; Neil Walker and Michael Conforto are still active, but also battling injuries. The offense has been the major weakness of this Mets team anyways. Sure some of their starters have struggled this year, but I don’t think New York sees itself in a selling position at this point in the season, and definitely has faith that its young rotation will fix itself in time. Currently, the Mets don’t have any big name guys to fill the voids left at the various positions littered with injuries. James Loney is currently filling in for first base, and while he’s not a bad player, I don’t think he’s going to carry this Mets team to another shot at the World Series. The same goes for Rene Rivera at catcher.

Jonathan Lucroy is a player who is projected to find himself in another jersey by the trade deadline. It might just be a Mets jersey. Photo courtesy of foxsports.com

So who will the Mets look for? As a team that seems to love power, the Mets might find themselves reuniting with long-time Met, Carlos Beltran, who is currently playing with the Yankees. Beltran, despite his age, has hit 16 homers so far this year, which ties with the Mets’ homer leader Yoenis Cespedes. Beltran certainly wouldn’t be a long-term fix, but if the Mets moves from last year are any indication (when they acquired Juan Uribe, Tyler Clippard, Addison Reed, Kelly Johnson and Yoenis Cespedes) the organization is willing to take on players for only a brief time, so long as they feel it will help them make a playoff run. Of the five players they acquired last year, only Cespedes and Reed still wear a Mets jersey. Another guy who the Mets may look for is Jonathan Lucroy. While Travis D’Arnaud is slated to return from the DL next week, it never hurts to have multiple catchers on standby, especially when Lucroy is one of them. Lucroy currently has ten homers are 31 RBIs this year.

Marlins: I currently have the Marlins as a buyer, although by the time August rolls around they could very well end up being a seller. So I’ll try my best to run through both scenarios as best as I can. If the Marlins are able to begin making headway in the division or wildcard picture, then they will want some more starting pitching. Jose Fernandez cannot single-handedly carry this team to the postseason, and the rest of the arms in the rotation are struggling to provide much support. I personally don’t believe that the Marlins will have enough of a shot in the playoff race to deem making a big trade, but I don’t think they will be in the market to sell anything either (unless a team is willing to break the bank for Jose Fernandez, I give it a 1% chance of happening).

Rich Hill is one of the bigger starting pitchers currently on the trade market, will the Marlins buy? Photo courtesy of sfgate.com

But let’s say the Marlins do hang around, and they’re in the thick of the playoff race: who would they look for on the mound? I think the biggest name circling around the MLB currently is the A’s Rich Hill.  This does depend a lot on how Hill recovers from his current visit to the DL, but he’s 8-3 with 74 strikeouts and a 2.25 ERA so far in 2016. Another guy who could be on the market, depending on how the Braves are feeling, is starter Julio Teheran. Teheran doesn’t have the same flashy record as Hill, but he has been impressive with Atlanta despite the pitiful amount of offense around him. Teheran is just 2-7, but has a 2.93 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 14 starts this year.

As a final bit regarding the Marlins and Mets: Cuban defector Yulieski Gourriel has been granted free agency by the MLB. Gourriel is considered a potentially valuable infielder for any team that is willing to take a risk on him. Mets GM Sandy Alderson told ESPN’s Adam Rubin in a report that the Mets are hesitant to take a chance on Gourriel because he did not regularly see quality pitching in the Cuban League, and it’s a lot harder to scout guys in Cuba, especially give the United States’ relationship with the country over the years. With that said, both the Mets and the Marlins might find themselves needing to take a chance on an infielder with a bat like Gourriel.

Seller: Atlanta Braves

Braves: The Braves have claimed that they’ll be willing to discuss trading anybody on their roster not named Freddie Freeman. With Jason Grilli gone to Toronto, Julio Teheran is now their most lucrative piece on the table. Teheran will pull a fair price, though, and if the Braves’ recent moves have been any indication, the teams willing to talk Teheran better have a lot of young pitching prospects to offer.

Teheran is probably the guy who is most likely to be a headline trade offer come late July, but some young bats like Mallex Smith or Chase D’Arnaud might find their ways to other teams as pieces of a deal if they continue to perform at the plate.

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2016 American League East Preview

Jose Bautista hit a clutch three-run home run in Game 5.

Toronto earned the AL East crown last season thanks in part to Jose Bautista. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

The AL East could be the most talented divisions from top to bottom in the entire MLB. Every single team in this division can not only compete, but compete for a playoff berth at the end of the season. Sure, the NL Central is the most loaded at the front end, but the Brewers and Reds bring them down. I find it hard to believe that any team will win less than 80 games in the AL East.

Toronto is the clear favorite to win the division, as their offense can mash home runs, their pitching is serviceable, and their defense can make ends meet. From there, the division is piled with questions.

Boston and New York need to use their youth as a springboard to a new generation of winning, while the Rays and Orioles both have potential to be good, but have holes in different areas of their respective teams.

This division may end up being the tightest division in the MLB, just like it was last season. The AL East’s first and last place teams finished just 15 games apart, five games better than the next closest division.

My guesses for how this season will shape up are simply just a shot in the dark, as there are so many ways this division could end up unfolding.

1st Place: Toronto Blue Jays (96-66)

The Blue Jays are in great shape to take the AL East crown for the second season in a row. Toronto has managed to retain every starter in the field from a season ago, but they have lost David Price to Boston.

The team will hit plenty of home runs and score plenty of runs, but they’ll need to make sure they can pitch their way deeper into the playoffs than last season. When it comes down to a team with great pitching versus a team with great hitting, history sides with the pitching team. Losing David Price is a big time loss, and Toronto can’t showcase their starting pitching rotation like other teams in the MLB can.

Marcus Stroman is by no means an elite ace, but he’s on the rise in his career and should put up 15 wins. The back end of the rotation will prove to be their weakness, but Toronto should breeze through the regular season provided they lean on the bats.

Player to Watch: Troy Tulowitzki

Can Troy Tulowitzki stay healthy in consecutive seasons? (Photo: thestar.com)

Injuries have put a hamper on what could be a potential Hall of Fame career for Troy Tulowitzki. The shortstop came to Toronto via a trade which sent him away from Colorado. Tulo hasn’t hasn’t had back-to-back seasons with at least 100 games played since the 2010 and 2011 seasons. The shortstop played in 128 games last season, which could mean he’s trending towards less games this season.

Tulowitzki also hit just .239 with Toronto, a huge dip in production from his .300 average with Colorado in 2015. If Tulo can return to play anything like his plus .300 years with Colorado, it’d be a huge boost to the Blue Jays’ chances of winning it all this season.

2nd Place: Boston Red Sox (89-73)

Boston will earn their keep this season through starting pitching. David Price, Clay Buchholz, and Rick Porcello lead a staff with potential to be the best rotation in the division. Boston also acquired Craig Kimbrel to be their new closer this season, paving way to a solid pitching staff as a whole.

Boston’s offense is nothing to scoff at, as they’ll enjoy watching Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts bloom, while looking to get steady production from veterans David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia as well.

Player to Watch: Rick Porcello

After going a combined 28-21 in 2013 and 2014, Porcello went 9-15 in his first season away from the Detroit Tigers. Porcello had his best season statistically in those two seasons, and the steep drop in production is worrisome. Whether or not Porcello can find out how to be successful this season won’t be known for a while, but the Red Sox need him to turn it around and be a reliable third man in the rotation.

3rd Place: Baltimore Orioles (85-77)

Here’s where things get fuzzy in the AL East. On paper, the Orioles look like a contender for a wild card spot this fall. Baltimore’s first four hitters are loaded, and the back end of the bullpen should be good.

Baltimore’s starting pitching leaves more to be desired. Led by Chris Tillman who went 11-11 last season, the Orioles have no established ace. The last two pitchers in the rotation figure to be rookies, so their could be some growing pains this season in Baltimore.

I still like Baltimore to win a lot of games thanks to their solid lineup. They are filled with players who could hit 25 home runs, but are also susceptible to striking out.

Player to Watch: Pedro Alvarez

Pittsburgh Pirates fans are probably rejoicing at the departure of Pedro Alvarez. A strikeout machine and error fanatic, Pedro Alvarez should feel lucky to even be on an Opening Day starting lineup. He’ll no longer have to figure out how to close his glove when a ball enters it, so he’ll have plenty of time to swing a wooden stick at a ball. Sometimes dumbing it down works for people, and I feel like it’d help for Alvarez. If he can hit 20 home runs and hit for .250, it be a great season for Alvarez.

4th Place: Tampa Bay Rays (82-82)

The Rays will welcome four new starters to Tropicana Field, none of whom are big time acquisitions. Chris Archer is an up-and-coming starting pitcher who will lead the Rays, and there are a few names behind him who could make some noise in the AL East.

The team is filled with middling starters, which is why it’s pretty easy to see them finishing as average as average gets. Evan Longoria seems to be out of his prime, and there are a lot of holes throughout this team. Even still, I like Tampa’s serviceable lineup, and potentially good pitching staff with Drew Smyly and Co.

Chris Archer simply needs run support to be considered one of the best pitchers in the AL East. (Photo: Sporting News)

Player to Watch: Chris Archer

The most helpless job in the world is being a starting pitcher in the AL. Even if you throw a seven inning, three hit, one run outing, you could still end up with a loss if your offense sucks. That’s what happened plenty of times to Archer. Archer suffered a loss or no-decision in ten games last season in which he gave up two runs or less, including four games in which he gave up zero earned runs. Provided Archer can get more run support this season, look for Archer to improve upon his 3.23 ERA and win 15 games.

5th Place: New York Yankees (79-83)

I’m all for teams with starting pitching, and the Yankees could have that. If every starter can pitch to around 80% of their potential, it should be a good season on the mound for them. New York has no shortage of overpaid, old, former superstars, so they must squeeze everything they can out of the veterans in order to have a solid season.

The Yankees bullpen is their calling card, as they’ll boast one of the best one-two punches in baseball with Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. The only players in the New York batting order that are under age 32 are Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro. The two middle infielders have been unsuccessful in living up to their hype in the MLB.

With a career ERA of 2.17, Aroldis Chapman looks to continue his dominance with a new team. (Photo: Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Player to Watch: Aroldis Chapman
After an offseason trade that sent Chapman from Cincinnati to the Big Apple, the Cuban Missile must prove he can succeed even with a change of scenery. No one likes to face Chapman’s combination of 105 MPH fastballs and 92 MPH sliders and changeups. Chapman has proven to be wild at times, but has also made countless hitters look like your grandma. Chapman is suspended for the first 30 games of the season, but after that, I look forward to seeing how Chapman does in New York.

Will Betances, Chapman, Miller be better than Davis, Herrera, Holland?

Betances

Photo courtesy of the NY Daily News

The New York Yankees have put together the most impressive trio of bullpen pitchers in all of baseball for the 2016 season.

To take it a step further Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman, and Andrew Miller might be the most talented bunch of relievers the game of baseball has ever seen.

For the sake of discussion let’s compare them to the group that the Yankees got the 3-headed bullpen monster blue print from. The 2014 triad that led the Kansas City Royals all the way to game 7 of the World Series: Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrea, and Greg Holland.

In the 2014 regular season every member of the HDH lockdown formula logged over 60 innings and posted an ERA of less than 1.50. It was the first time in baseball history two relief pitchers from a single team posted sub 1.50 ERA’s with a minimum of 60 innings pitched, and the Royals had three.

So the simple questions is: Will Betances, Miller, and Chapman match what the 2014 trend setting Royals did?

The short answer is no. The long answer is, they certainly have the talent to outperform the 2014 Royals, but, a lot of things will have to go right for them to do so.

In fact the only member of the Yankees super ‘pen that has ever posted a sub 1.50 ERA is Betances, who did so in 2014. It is also worth mentioning that Betances posted a 1.50 ERA on the nose in 2015, so, another sub 1.50 ERA from Betances in 2016 is well within the realm of possibility.

Meanwhile Chapman posted a 1.51 ERA in 2012 and a 1.63 ERA in 2015. These values are obviously close to the sub 1.50 ERA standard. Still, Chapman would have to have a career season from a run prevention standpoint to help the Yankees match what the 2014 Royals accomplished.

Chapman, the hardest throwing pitcher in the league with a wicked slider no doubt has the stuff to post a sub 1.50 ERA. Moving from the NL Central to arguably the best hitting division in the AL East could also prove to be a barrier for Chapman in this hypothetical quest to 3 super-elite ERA’s.

Moving forward we have Miller, who had a career season in his first year with the Yankees, posting a 1.90 ERA and saving 36 games. Set to lose the closer job to Chapman through no fault of his own, can Miller post a career best ERA in 2016 and come in below the 1.50 threshold?

He certainly has the stuff too, but much like Chapman, this would be counting on a career best season from him in terms of run prevention.

The Yankees lockdown late innings will no doubt include more strike outs than the 2014 Royals posted. In 2015 every one of the Yankees trio posted a K/9 rate of greater than 14. The highest the 2014 Royals posted was Davis at 13.63, meanwhile Herrera did not even strike out a batter per inning.

Strike outs are important, especially late in games, and the 2016 Yankees will most likely punch out batters at a historic rate.

At the end of the day though, I think the most important thing for a pitcher is straight run prevention, and the best measure of that in my book is ERA.

I’m not going to sit here and argue that the Yankees ‘Pen in 2016 is not as talented as the 2014 Royals. In reality Betances, Chapman, and Miller are just as talented, if not more talented than HDH from 2014.

Based on talent alone the Yankees have a solid chance to have three relievers post sub 1.50 ERA’s. However, too many things would have to fall into place over the course of the 2016 season for the Yankees threesome to match what HDH accomplished in 2014.

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