Fantasy Baseball 2017: Weekly Update (April 2nd – April 8th)

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Weekly Update (April 2nd – April 8th)

In this weekly segment, I intend to inform fantasy owners about who’s hot and who’s cold during a specific week, and whether or not I believe they will continue to trend in that direction.

Who’s Hot?

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Veteran Mark Reynolds is taking advantage of every opportunity he gets in 2017. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

Mark Reynolds, First Basemen, Colorado Rockies

 

  • 9 for 22 with 4 runs scored, 3 HR, and 8 RBI

 

Reynolds has taken over for an injured Ian Desmond as the Rockies first basemen to start 2017. The 33-year-old veteran has been incredibly productive over the first week, as he is tied with Brandon Belt as the National League home run leader. Reynolds has been a prototypical home run or bust player over the years, as he has hit over 250 career home runs, while also leading the league in strikeouts four consecutive times. On the contrary to Reynolds perennial struggles at the plate, he batted .282 with 14 home runs in 393 at bats during the 2016 season. His playing time is sure to become sparse once Desmond returns, but until then, Reynolds will remain a comfortable source of production as he will continue to be an everyday player in the middle of the Rockies lineup.

 

Yasiel Puig, Right Fielder, Los Angeles Dodgers

 

  • 7 for 19 with 5 runs scored, 3 HR, 5 RBI, and 1 SB

 

Puig has been one of the biggest teases in recent fantasy baseball history, as he batted .319 with 66 runs scored, 42 RBI, 19 HR, and 11 SB over a 104-game span in 2013. After dealing with nagging injuries and on and off the field issues in 2015 and 2016, he is finally showing his potential once again. The 26-year-old has begun the year batting in multiple positions in the order including fourth, fifth, seventh, and eighth. It is a bit concerning that he is batting .000 in the four and five spots, although on the bright side, he may have found a home at the bottom of the lineup as he is batting over .500 as the seven or eight hitter.

Puig will continue to be a tantalizing fantasy option, but be aware of possible struggles. His plate discipline is league average, as he swings at about 30 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone, which could be a cause for concern as he will begin to see more off-speed pitches when batting in the heart of the order.

 

J.T. Realmuto, Catcher, Miami Marlins

Fantasy Baseball 2017

J.T. Realmuto is off to red hot start. (Courtesy of the Sun Sentinel)

  • 10 for 18 with 6 runs scored, 2 HR, and 6 RBI

 

The Marlins catcher is flat out on fire. Realmuto has begun the year batting primarily in the two-hole, which has worked great so far as he is currently batting over .500.  I wasn’t expecting this to type of success to happen to Realmuto, nor am I expecting it to continue.

The 26-year-old has a career ISO of .141, which suggests that his home run totals will not spike any time soon. This paired with his atrocious career walk rate of 4.7 percent makes me uneasy when thinking about Realmuto going forward.

 

Nomar Mazara, Right Fielder, Texas Rangers

 

  • 10 for 21 with 5 runs scored, 2 HR, and 9 RBI

 

The Rangers outfielder is off to a hot start in his second major league season. He has already mustered up nine RBI along with two home runs, all while batting just under .500. The 22-year-old has been a highly touted prospect since he was signed in 2012, and for good reason. He has hit 20 home runs twice, once at the minor-league level, and the other time being last season in 145 at bats in the majors. He is also a career .271 hitter at all levels, which is very respectable. In a full season, Mazara should have no problem hitting 20 bombs and batting .270 plus.

 

Dallas Keuchel, Starting Pitcher, Houston Astros

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Dallas Keuchel is looking to return to Cy Young form in 2017 now that he is healthy. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images).

  • 1-0 allowing 1 ER, 4 H, and 3 BB over 14 IP with 8 Ks

 

The 2015 Cy Young struggled last season as he dealt with nagging shoulder and back injuries throughout the year. He has come into 2017 at 100 percent, and is ready for the season, which has shown in his first two appearances. Keuchel’s two starts have resulted in one win, and only one earned run over 14 innings pitched. The Astro’s are beginning to look like one of the American League’s most dangerous teams, which along with Keuchel’s improved health, gives him good chances of becoming the Cy Young once again.

Who’s cold?

 

Sam Dyson, Relief Pitcher, Texas Rangers

 

  • 0-2 allowing 8 ER, 7 H, and 2 BB over 1 IP with 0 Ks

 

Dyson has gotten shelled in his first two appearances this season, pitching a total of one inning, allowing eight runs, walking two, and striking out none. Of course, his first two outings are disconcerting, but manager Jeff Banister has said he is not ready to move Dyson out of the closer role yet.

Dyson had a very successful 2016, pitching a total of 70 1/3 innings, resulting in a 2.43 ERA and 55 strike outs. I have confidence in Dyson retaining the closer job for the long-term future, as he has had enough success in the past to warrant a longer leash than most closers.

 

Masahiro Tanaka, Starting Pitcher, New York Yankees

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Masahiro Tanaka is off to a shaky start in 2017. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

  • 0-1 allowing 10 ER, 14 H, and 6 BB over 7 2/3 IP

 

After allowing 10 earned runs in 7 2/3 innings over his first two starts, Yankees’ ace Tanaka will take the mound Thursday, April 13th, at home against the Tampa Bay Rays. His first two appearances came away against American League East foes, which are commonly the toughest starts this pitcher will make all season. Yes, he has struggled mightily this year, although I’m confident he will turn it around.

The 28-year-old has a career 3.26 ERA over 497 2/3 innings pitched. He has no chance of losing his job, although his injury history is a bit unnerving. A partially torn UCL brought up talks of tommy john surgery last season, although he opted to forgo the surgery in order to avoid a long and tedious recovery process. Tanaka will remain an injury risk all year, but his numbers should return to form.

 

Byron Buxton, Center Fielder, Minnesota Twins

 

  • 1 for 22 with 0 runs scored, 0 HR, 0 RBI, and 0 SB

 

Unfortunately for baseball fans, Buxton is off to a brutal start. With only one hit in his first 22 at bats, once touted as the next Mike Trout, Buxton has consistently disappointed. He has batted an underwhelming .214 over 449 at bats at the major-league level.

The 23-year-old still has untapped potential, as he batted .322 with 15 home runs, 119 runs scored, 85 RBI, and 57 steals in 2013 at multiple minor league levels. In keeper leagues, he is definitely worth holding on to. Although, in redraft leagues, it may be time to go in another direction.

 

D.J. Lemahieu, Second Basemen, Colorado Rockies

Fantasy Baseball 2017

D.J. Lemahieu has only one hit in his first 22 at bats, although it is too early to give up on the 2016 NL Batting Champ. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

  • 1 for 23 with 2 runs scored, 0 HR, 0 RBI, and 0 SB

 

The 2016 National League Batting Champion is off to an ice-cold start this season. He has only one hit in his first 23 at bats, which has resulted in him receiving a day off this Sunday. Lemahieu will remain atop the Rockies lineup for the time being, but a move to the bottom half of the order could help rejuvenate the All-Star. The 28-year-old is a career .298 hitter who should have no problem getting back on track.

 

Jonathan Lucroy, Catcher, Texas Rangers

 

  • 1 for 15 with 1 run scored, 0 HR, 0 RBI, and 0 SB

 

The Rangers backstop also has only one hit to start this season, although once again, I’m not worried about the future production of All-Star. Lucroy is a career .283 hitter, who hit 24 homers just a year ago. He is also in a contract year, so he has more to prove then most players. There is no reason to worry about arguably the best two-way catcher in baseball.

 

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2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

The catcher position is arguably the toughest and most important position on the diamond. Not only is catcher the most demanding position physically, but mentally as well. Catchers must know everything about everyone at all times.

The most important responsibilities of a catcher are on the defensive side of the ball. They need to block, pick, receive, call pitches and throw out runners, among other things. The importance of defense commonly results in catchers being worse offensively than other positions.

In fantasy terms, the catcher can be compared to the tight end in football. The tight end position is focused on blocking as much as it is receiving, resulting in them having a lower average fantasy value than other skill positions.

The top 25 catchers have been grouped into five tiers. The top and bottom catcher in each tier have been profiled below.

Exceptions include Matt Wieters, who is still an unsigned free agent and Wilson Ramos, who is recovering from a torn ACL, and should return to the Tampa Bay Rays as a designated hitter at some point in May.

Honorable mentions include: Jorge Alfaro (PHI), Nick Hundley (SF), Miguel Montero (CHC), Roberto Perez (CLE), Jeff Bandy (MIL), Tucker Barnhart (CIN), Carlos Ruiz (SEA), Tom Murphy (COL), and Tyler Flowers (ATL).

Tier 1

2017 fantasy baseball catcher rankings

Buster Posey could retire right now and be inducted into the Hall of Fame. (Courtesy of MLBtraderumors.com)

Catchers in this tier are elite fantasy options. They will play every day, whether it is behind the plate or at first base, and have offered consistently great offensive value in the past.

1. Buster Posey SF

2. Jonathan Lucroy TEX

Buster Posey has been the standard of excellence at catcher for the past five seasons. The former MVP is coming off of his worst career season (disregarding his 2011 campaign). An off year for Posey included batting .288 with 14 home runs and 80 RBIs. He managed to be top-15 MVP finalist, win his first Gold Glove and was named an All-Star for the fourth time.

The 29-year-old will remain the three-hole hitter for the always competitive San Francisco Giants, and should be selected as the first catcher off the board in 2017.

A two time All-Star, Jonathan Lucroy, will play his first full season for the Texas Rangers in 2017. He projects to bat sixth in a deep Rangers lineup that features young stud stars Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara, as well as veterans Carlos Gomez, Adrain Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo and recently acquired Mike Napoli.

Lucroy led the league in doubles while finishing fourth in MVP voting in 2014. His 2015 season was cut short to a broken toe and concussion. In 2016, Lucroy rebounded, reaching career high in home runs, walks and slugging percentage. After being traded by the Milwaukee Brewers to the Rangers in 2016, He managed to mash 11 home runs in 47 games. Lucroy is guaranteed to be a top catcher in 2017.

Tier 2

2017 fantasy baseball catcher rankings.

Gary Sanchez is no longer the future of the New York Yankees, but rather the present. (Courtesy of NJ.com)

This tier consists of catchers who will play nearly every day, hit in the heart of the order, and offer great offensive value.

3. Gary Sanchez NYY

4. Willson Contreras CHC

5. Yasmani Grandal LAD

Everybody remembers Gary Sanchez for hitting 20 home runs in 53 games in 2016, but they forget that he batted .225 in September and October. Sanchez has huge upside as he will bat third for a sneaky talented Yankees lineup featuring veteran speedsters Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner.

With the 24-year-old batting third, Sanchez is in a prime spot to rack up RBIs if he can continue to put the bat on the ball. The Sanchise should not be overlooked because of his great opportunity in 2017.

Yasmani Grandal had his best career year in 2016, finishing 22nd in MVP voting. He hit 27 bombs while slashing .228/.339/.477 in 126 games. The Dodger’s everyday catcher will bat fifth behind Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner and Corey Seager, which will give him ample RBI opportunities.

Grandal will be a great fantasy asset in 2017.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Rankings

Russell Martin’s continued success is remarkable at 34-years-old. (Courtesy of www.whatproswear.com)

Catchers in this tier offer above average fantasy value as they will play nearly every day, hit in productive spots in the order, and have proven their worth in the past.

6. Russell Martin

7. Brian McCann

8. Salvador Perez

9. Yadier Molina

10. Wellington Castillo

11. Stephen Vogt

Russell Martin, the MLB’s journey man, has found success everywhere he goes. He has reached the 20 home run, 60 run, 70 RBI plateau in his last two consecutive seasons. The 34-year-old will be entering his 12th season as the everyday catcher and six hitter of the Toronto Blue Jays.

He will have the same opportunity he has had in the past two seasons to be a key contributor in the Blue Jays offense.

Stephen Vogt has finished his second consecutive season of 500 plate appearances and over a .250 average. He has hit a total of 32 home runs in his last two seasons, suggesting that he has above average power for a catcher. The 32-year-old will be the Oakland Athletics primary catcher and two-hitter in 2017, which will give him plenty of opportunities to produce runs.

The two-time All-Star will continue to have the chance to shine as a key part of the Athletics roster.

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Where does Evan Gattis fit into the Houston Astros puzzle? (Courtesy of The Houston Chronicle)

Players in this tier will come at a cheap price, but will provide above average value.

12. Evan Gattis

13. J.T. Realmuto

14. Mike Zunino

15. Austin Hedges

16. Francisco Cervelli

17. Derek Norris

Evan Gattis, the former janitor, has managed to amass 20 or more home runs in all four of his MLB seasons while averaging only 122 games per season. Gattis will play a utility role for the Houston Astros in 2017, who have signed Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann this offseason.

Gattis will find time behind home plate when veteran McCann’s legs need a rest, at designated hitter when Beltran starts in the outfield or is out of the lineup, and at first base when Yulieski Gurriel sits or struggles.

The 30-year-old has too much talent to not be in the lineup, and will be a cheap source of power in the middle or late rounds of your draft.

Derek Norris, who batted .186 in 2016, was traded to the Washington Nationals in December of 2016 for a minor-league pitcher. He will hold the primary catchers position relinquishing the occasional at bat to Jose Lobaton. The 28-year-old will bat at the bottom of a loaded Nationals lineup, giving him more RBI opportunities than the average eight hitter. A lot of people forget that Derek Norris batted .250 in 2015, and .270 in 2014, showing that he has the potential to be a valuable fantasy asset for a cheap price.

Tier 5

2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Travis d’Arnaud looks forward to a healthy 2017. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

These catchers all offer average levels of production but will be playing in platoon roles, so playing time may be staggered until injuries or performance dictate otherwise.

18. Travis d’Arnaud

19. Sandy Leon

20. Devin Mesoraco

21. Yan Gomes

22. Cameron Rupp

23. Tony Wolters

24. James McCann

25. Jason Castro

Travis d’Arnaud will be the primary catcher for the New York Mets, occasionally relinquishing at-bats to backups Rene Rivera and Kevin Plawecki. Although he has only totaled 100 games played once in his career (108 games played in 2014), he is healthy and confident heading into 2017.

The Mets have also hired Glenn Sherlock as their new third base coach and catching instructor which will help d’Arnaud maintain his confidence behind the plate and at the dish. He offers average value for low cost, as he is commonly going undrafted.

Jason Castro, also going undrafted, will be the starting catcher for the Minnesota Twins after signing a three year, $24.5 million contract. He will bat at the bottom of a young Twins lineup that is sure to produce its fair share of runs in 2017. Castro batted .210 with 11 home runs in 2016, although it was only four seasons ago when the 29-year-old was an All-Star who batted .270 with 18 home runs. Castro is a good sleeper for deep or two catcher leagues.

 

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Catchers

This is the second installment of the 2017 MLB Season Position Rankings. In this installment, we will be focusing on catchers. Catchers will be weighed by their offensive as well as defensive stats.

Lets start our list of backstops at number five.

5. Yasmani Grandal- Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 MLB Season

Yasmani Grandal will be a steady presence behind the plate for the Dodgers in 2017. (Kevin Sullivan, Dodgers Staff Photographer)

Yasmani Grandal has proven to be a steadying presence behind the plate for the Los Angeles Dodgers. After being acquired from the Padres in the 2014 Matt Kemp trade, he has come into his own. He has provided a solid bat with some good power, knocking 27 long balls to go along with 72 RBI’s in 2016.

Grandal also has good control over the opposing team’s running game. In 2016, Grandal threw out would-be base stealers at an above average 29 percent. Grandal also had 13 defensive runs saved in 2016, providing elite defense behind the plate.

While Grandal does hit for a relatively low average (career .238 hitter), he makes up for it with good power and exceptional defensive skills. Look for Grandal to contend for his second career NL All-Star appearance in 2017.

4. Wilson Ramos- Tampa Bay Rays

Wilson Ramos turned into an offensive force for the Washington Nationals in 2016. With the decline of Bryce Harper from his 2015 MVP form, Ramos was able to pick up some of the slack and help Washington to their third NL Division Series in the last five years. However, the Nationals were unable to get over the hump.

Ramos posted career highs in all major offensive categories. He batted .307 and launched 22 bombs to go with 80 RBI’s. While putting up career highs in offensive numbers, Ramos also exhibited a strong control over the base paths. Ramos was well above league average (27 percent) in throwing out baserunners, limiting opposing teams to 37 percent.

While Ramos did provide ample control of the run game, his overall defense left something to be desired. He posted -1 defensive runs saved in 2016. The Tampa Bay Rays snagged the slugging catcher this off season, and will value him more for his bat than his glove in 2016.

3. Salvador Perez- Kansas City Royals

2017 MLB Season

The base paths are on lock down with Salvador Perez behind the dish. (John Rieger, USA Today Sports)

Salvador Perez has been one of the top catchers in all of baseball since becoming a full-time starter in 2013. In that time, Perez has garnered four AL All-Star appearances to go along with four Gold Gloves. He has provided a steady presence for the Royals and helped fuel their back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014-2015.

While his bat did slip some from his career averages (career .272, .247 in 2016), his power was ever present. Perez slammed 22 home runs, the most of his career to go along with 64 RBI’s.

He also continued to show why he is considered one of the best defensive catchers of the game. Perez threw out opposing baserunners at an astounding 48 percent, easily tops for the catchers in contention for this list. He also provided solid overall defense with 3 defensive runs saved. Perez is set to continue his run as top defensive catcher in all of baseball for years to come.

2. Jonathan Lucroy- Texas Rangers

Jonathan Lucroy saw his season be split between the NL and the AL as the top catcher available was traded from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Texas Rangers at the 2016 trade deadline. Lucroy posted solid numbers in both leagues in 2016, batting .292 while providing exceptional power evident from his .500 slugging percentage. He used his 24 home runs to pad his slugging percentage while pairing them with 81 RBI’s.

Lucroy was a force for the Texas Rangers down the stretch, both behind the plate as well as in the batters box. He threw out runners at a 39 percent clip, more than 10 percent better than the league average. Lucroy also had 4 defensive runs saved in 2016, proving he is one of the top overall catchers in baseball. A change of scenery seemed to fuel Lucroy in 2016. Look for him to continue his ascent while helping lead the World Series contending Texas Rangers in 2017.

1. Buster Posey- San Francisco Giants

Buster Posey has proven to be the total package for the San Francisco Giants. He has four career NL All-Star appearances, three Silver Sluggers, one Gold Glove, and an NL MVP Trophy to go along with his NL ROY award. Posey easily gained the top spot in these rankings, but not just by his trophy case. He posted a batting average of .288 to go along with 14 home runs and 80 RBI’s.

Posey was able to couple his solid offense with his stellar defense to garner his fourth NL All-Star appearance and earn his first Gold Glove. Posey posted stellar defensive numbers, providing 23 defensive runs saved in 2016, easily tops on this list. Combine that with his ability to limit the running game by throwing out 37 percent of baserunners, and you have the best defensive catcher of the 2016 season. Posey will give the Giants a strong glove and bat in 2017.

Catchers play a vital role in the offense and defense of a team. While catchers are more heavily weighed on their defensive stats, in the next installment of this series we will be looking at some of the biggest bats in the game. Stay tuned!

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Tracking the Transactions: Rating AL Deadline Trades for Contenders

With the season coming down to its final two weeks, and a little over a month on their respective new teams, I think now is as good a time as any to rate who has produced with their new teams. We’ve seen some guys bring a huge boost to the teams they ended up with, while others have proven to be more of a liability. Here, I’ll give my opinion on who falls where. I’ll give players a rating between one and five based on how they’ve done since the deadline. Teams will be sorted alphabetically.

Baltimore Orioles – Wade Miley: 2

Miley hasn’t been great since coming from Seattle. A respectable July appeared to show that Miley was on the upswing; this has clearly not been the case, however, as he is just 1-5 with a 7.14 ERA in seven starts with Baltimore. I’m not really surprised by Miley’s lack of success, his numbers were certainly better while he was in Seattle either, posting a 4.98 ERA in 19 starts with them. With what Ariel Miranda (who the Mariners got in the deal for Miley) has done on the mound, the Orioles look like they may have ended up on the wrong end of this deal.

Image result for drew pomeranz red sox

Photo courtesy of bostonherald.com

Boston Red Sox – Drew Pomeranz/Fernando Abad: 4/3

Both of these guys really follow the same storyline on their journeys to Boston. It looked pretty scary at first, with Pomeranz going 0-2 in his first three starts (and going only three innings in his debut with the Sox) and Abad shouldering a loss in two of his first four appearances.  Since then, Pomeranz has gone 2-2 with just a 2.76 ERA. He hasn’t surrendered over three runs in a start since the end of July, which is a normally a good thing considering Boston has the top offense in the MLB. His record since coming to Boston isn’t the greatest, but if he keeps having these outings, he should start racking up wins when they really matter. Abad is a part of that Sox bullpen, which is still the biggest question mark on the team. He hasn’t surrendered a run in his last eight appearances, spanning back to August 19, though.

 

 

Cleveland Indians – Andrew Miller: 4

Miller has looked great with Cleveland, only allowing two runs throughout the entirety of August. September hasn’t been as kind to him, he’s allowed three runs over four innings; luckily, the Indians have a pretty massive cushion nearing the end of the year, so it’s better for him to get the kinks out now before the postseason (the guy’s sitting at a 1.69 ERA on the year, he was due for a hiccup eventually). He hasn’t seen as many save opportunities as people thought he would but he’s still been a very strong setup man with Cody Allen seeing the bulk of the closing opportunities. It’s hard to evaluate just how much Cleveland gave up for him, since none of the four prospects dealt by Cleveland have seen Big League play. Miller has proven to be a valuable asset, for Cleveland, though, and I’m looking forward to see him in postseason play.

Image result for tyler clippard yankees

Photo courtesy of mlb.com

New York Yankees – Tyler Clippard: 5

A lot of people, myself included, were confused as to why the Yankees went and made an acquisition after selling two of the biggest names in the organization in Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. Clippard’s performance has shut me up, however, as he’s been stellar since putting on the pinstripes. He’s allowed just one run in 17.1 innings pitched since joining the Yankees, that’s a 0.53 ERA for those keeping track. He’s the go-to guy in the pen on a Yankee team that has improbably stayed in this AL playoff race. He’s looking reminiscent of his All-Star days in Washington, which is great to see given his recent dip in performance over the past couple of seasons.

 

Seattle Mariners – Drew Storen/Ariel Miranda: 3/5

Drew Storen has received a lot of flak over the years for his performance as a closer. I think August shows that he’s still a strong arm in the bullpen, going 2-0 and only allowing one run over eight innings of work. He’s still prone to the occasional meltdown, however, surrendering four runs in his initial outing with the team. Since then, he hasn’t allowed more than one run in an outing.

Ariel Miranda looked like a young guy that was just a piece from Baltimore for Wade Miley. He’s turned into a real asset at the back of the rotation for a Mariners team that’s hanging around in the Wildcard Race. His numbers won’t blow you away, but let’s not forget that August was his first month of MLB play, and the fifth man slot isn’t known for posting overpowering stats. He was 0-1 as a starter in August, with a 4.90 ERA (he picked up one win in a relief appearance). In two starts this month, however, he’s picked up two wins and recorded his first career quality start in the Bigs.

Image result for jonathan lucroy rangers

Photo courtesy of zimbio.com

Texas Rangers – Jonathan Lucroy/Carlos Beltran: 5/4

Lucroy was one of the biggest names heading in to the deadline, and he’s proven why with his performance since coming to Texas. The Rangers have ballooned their divisional lead since their deadline acquisitions that have further bolstered their offense. Lucroy has hit ten homers in his month and a half in Texas (he had 13 in four months with Milwaukee this year) and has driven in 25 runs as well.

Beltran came to Texas as one of the big surprises of 2016. The 39 year old showed he could still rake, clobbering 22 homers and 64 RBIs while hitting .304 in New York. He’s tapered off a bit since the deadline, but he hasn’t been bad by any stretch of the mind. He’s hitting a respectable .284 with the Rangers, hit five homers, and driven in 23 RBIs. He’s certainly looked like an upgrade from Prince Fielder, who manned the DH spot before ending up on the DL and later retiring from baseball altogether. Texas is a very hot team at the moment, and I’m interested to see how far into the postseason Beltran, Lucroy, and the rest of this offense can carry the team.

 

Toronto Blue Jays – Melvin Upton Jr./Scott Feldman/Francisco Liriano: 2/1/3

Upton was meant to bring a speed aspect to an otherwise one-dimensional Blue Jays outfield. Since joining the Jays, however, he has only stolen six bases since joining Toronto. primarily because he hasn’t been providing much at the plate either, batting just .226 in August and .200 so far in September. His power numbers have also slowed down considerably, as he has just four homers since joining Toronto. There’s always time for Upton to turn it around and make a difference in these AL East and Wildcard races, but his performance so far makes me wonder whether he was a wise acquisition.

Feldman and Liriano currently both find themselves in the bullpen, after being part of the Opening Day rotations for their former teams (Liriano also started for a month with Toronto). Feldman has struggled, allowing 23 hits and 14 runs (13 earned) in 13.1 innings since joining Toronto. He just hasn’t found his comfort zone since leaving Houston, where he was already beginning to display struggles. Liriano has been what we’ve come to expect from him this year, mediocre. He had two quality starts and two not-so-great starts as a part of the Jays’ rotation in August. The same can be said for his two September bullpen performances. In one he didn’t record a single out and surrendered three runs (two earned) and in the other he went two scoreless innings and struck out three batters.

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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.

Three Potential MLB Trade Deadline Deals

Jon Lucroy

Could Jonathan Lucroy be on the move? Credit to Jim McIsaac of Getty Images

The trade deadline is looming, and it gives MLB teams both the chance to reload for the playoff race or unload for the future. The MLB deadline is notorious for being a whirlwind of activity all day, with trades being announced all over social media and television. This article will outline some of the more obvious candidates to be moved as August 1st looms, along with some of the potential returns that could be gained by each team on both sides of the trade.

 
Jonathan Lucroy is an obvious candidate because he has bounced back from his injury plagued 2015 season to be a 2016 National League All Star for the Brewers. This season his average has been hovering around .300 all season coupled with 13 home runs and being near the top in a number of defensive categories, which displays him as one of the top all-around catchers in the game.
The Brewers are sitting 16.5 games back in the division and are looking to quickly rebuild their team, so Lucroy could be moved to a contender in exchange for prospects. Lucroy’s contract does not hinder a team, with him earning $4 million in 2016 and him having a team option for $5.25 million on his contract for 2017.
The cost would be heavy because he is not in a contract year and he is an elite catcher, so that limits the interested parties to teams that have a deep enough farm system for him. Ultimately, I think the Indians close the deal on him, especially with the troubles facing Yan Gomes all season. It would be a hefty price to pay, but I think the Indians get it done by starting a package around both Bradley Zimmer (Outfielder) and Justus Sheffield (Left-Handed Pitcher), both of whom are top 100 prospects according to mlb.com.
Despite the Brewers having a number of Outfielder prospects already, Zimmer would jump in front of all of them in terms of both getting to the MLB first and in the farm system rankings. Sheffield is a young pitcher who has the potential for three above average pitches by the time he reaches the majors. He has the floor of a mid-rotation guy but could develop into a front-line starter if his development remains strong. The Indians have, arguably, the best young rotation in baseball, so losing Sheffield will not hurt. Zimmer would hurt a little, but the Indians have enough outfield depth in their system that it only stings, especially since Zimmer has not been performing as well as the Indians’ other stud outfield prospect Clint Frazier.

 

Update: The latest news has the Rangers eyeing Lucroy as an alternative to paying for pitching. Lucroy is an excellent defensive backstop and would help strengthen the rotation from a different perspective. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reported the Rangers interest first.
Source: http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/texas-rangers/rangers/2016/07/29/rangers-take-indirect-path-improve-pitching-rotation

 

Jay Bruce

Jay Bruce smiling at the idea of moving to a contender. Credit to Sam Greene for the photo.

Jay Bruce is another strong candidate to be moved before the deadline comes on the first of August. The right fielder has produced an all-star season for the Cincinnati Reds, hitting .271 and knocking in 79 RBI’s (runs batted in), leading the league at the time of writing. Bruce has always been known as a power left-handed bat, yet many Reds fans were worried about his power outage in the 2nd half of 2015 that maybe he was not the player that was a staple in their playoff lineups through the early 2010’s. All worries have been erased though, and with the Reds sitting comfortably in last place in the National League Central, the time appears ripe to make a deal.

 

Bruce, just like Lucroy, also has a team option for 2017, so Bruce would not be a rental for a team, but also a contributor for all of next season. His biggest knock is his defensive value this season, with him leading the league in errors in right field.

 

According to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, Bruce still has at least 4 teams interested, including the Mariners, despite the defensive deficiencies. The Reds want at least one top prospect, it is just a matter of how valuable that one top prospect is when all is said and done.
The arms race may drive up the price for Bruce, but I think a deal will be struck between the Reds and the Rangers for a package headlined by Jurickson Profar. Profar was once a top prospect in baseball, before injuries and lack of playing time has diminished his reputation a tad. The Reds would use him in the infield, especially if Zack Cozart and/or Brandon Phillips are traded either at the deadline or in the offseason. Even without a middle infield trade for the Reds, Profar can slot into third base for a slumping Eugenio Suarez and will be expected to handle the middle of the diamond in the future.
The Rangers infield is set for the foreseeable future, especially with Adrian Beltre signing his extension through the 2018 season, so Profar’s loss would not hurt too badly. Bruce would fill the third slot in the outfield for the Rangers and bring some power to a team that is hurting in the outfield. Rookie Nomar Mazara started hot, but has been slumping as late, and the Rangers currently have Shin-Soo Choo on the disabled list.

Update: Latest rumors have the Dodgers circling Bruce still. Bruce was rumored to be involved in a 3 way trade with the Dodgers, Rays and Reds, but those talks have stalled according to Jayson Stark of ESPN. Other potential teams, as of now, include the Nationals, Mets, and Mariners.
Source: https://twitter.com/jaysonst/status/759390902813093888

Jeremy Hellickson

Jeremy Hellickson has been dealing all season, could he be moved as well? Photo from Gary Landers of the Associated Press.

Jeremy Hellickson is the final player that will be analyzed in this article. Hellickson broke through with the Rays before being traded to the Dbacks in 2015, and then the Phillies in his final year before he hits free agency. Since joining the Phillies, he has displayed ample skill that has led to a 3.65 ERA (Earned Run Average) and a WHIP (Walks+Hits per Innings Pitched) sitting at 1.12. His bounce-back this season has led to the Phillies shopping him around.
The Phillies are out of the playoff race and Hellickson remains their strongest chip to trade. The starting market is rather thin, as evidenced by the return the Padres got for a struggling Andrew Cashner this season. The only other strong rental starting pitcher, Rich Hill, has been hit with nagging injuries over the past couple weeks which has hurt his trade value. The Phillies also have three young starting pitchers that the team will focus on building around and as such, will not have a need for Hellickson in the future.
As previously mentioned, Hellickson will be on the last year of his contract before hitting free agency. A perk of trading for Hellickson is that the receiving team will be able to potentially get a draft pick for him if he signs the other team. Hellickson will be able to receive a qualifying offer from the team, which if turned down, will grant the team a draft pick at the end of the first round in the following amateur draft.
There are a number of teams that could be interested in adding to their rotation including the Rangers, Orioles, Blue Jays and Dodgers. After seeing the return for Andrew Cashner on 7/29, the Phillies will be in a prime position to get at least one stud prospect. I am going to go with the Blue Jays that make the trade for Hellickson, who would slot in to the back-end of the rotation and push Marcus Stroman into the bullpen for the playoff push. The Blue Jays have gotten solid seasons from castaway veterans Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ, along with an arguably Cy-Young season from their young stud Aaron Sanchez. Combined with the potent Blue Jays offense, Hellickson could be one of the final pieces to their playoff puzzle.
In exchange, the Phillies would receive a package centered around the pitcher Sean Reid-Foley, who has been dominant at both Low and High A minor league ball this season. The Phillies have a plethora of stud position player prospects in their farm system, but have graduated their handful of stud pitching prospects to the majors already this season. Reid-Foley has a four pitch arsenal, with his fastball, slider, and changeup all grading out to be above-average offerings. He could easily slot in to the middle of the rotation for the Phillies down the road.

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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NL Central Preview

Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

The Chicago Cubs won 97 games last year, good for only 3rd place in the National League Central. The Cubbies’ 97 wins was not only the 3rd highest total in the NL Central, it was also the 3rd highest win total in all of MLB.

The NL Central was without a doubt the best division in all of baseball last year. With the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the aforementioned Cubs all making the playoffs.

With a big offseason for the Cubs, the Pirates relatively standing pat, and the Cardinals being the Cardinals, the NL Central is once again set to be one of the better divisions in all of baseball.

Here’s how this interesting division will shake up, with a player to watch for each club included.

1st Place: Chicago Cubs 100-62

The Cubs are looking for their first World Series title in over a century and are coming over an impact offseason. With sabermetric superstar Jason Heyward and the dependable and versatile Ben Zobrist infused into a lineup already dripping with young talent, the north siders look poised to have one of the better lineups in the NL. Manager Joe Madden will be able to keep the clubhouse together and help the team live up to expectations, something winners of the offseason have had trouble doing in recent years.

Player to Watch: John Lackey

With all the young talent oozing from the Cubs roster it seems odd to pick a 37 year old right handed starting pitcher who isn’t even the ace of the staff. However, if Lackey can fight off father time in 2016 and repeat his 2015 season that saw him post a 2.77 ERA in 218 innings, it could result in the Cubs having the best starting rotation in the NL Central.

2nd Place: St. Louis Cardinals 95-67, 1st NL Wild Card Spot

On paper the Cardinals got worse over the offseason, losing Heyward and Lackey to their division foes. Still, the Cardinals will find a way in 2016 as they always do. Mike Leake was brought in to solidify a strong and deep rotation. Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist anchor a bullpen that is the best in the division. An injury to everyday shortstop Jhonny Peralta in spring training definitely hurts, but, the Cardinals still have a good mix of dependable veteran performers and high upside youngsters rounding out their lineup.

Player to Watch: Randal Grichuk

Grichuk is slotted to be the Cardinals every day center fielder in 2016. In 2015 he posted one of the highest average exit velocities in all of baseball in 2015 at 92.2 mph, a testament to how often he makes hard contact. If Grichuk can continue this trend and be a respected top or middle of the lineup bat, it would go a long way toward the Cardinals having one of the better lineup in the National League to go along with their always solid pitching.

3rd Place: Pittsburgh Pirates 88-74, miss the playoffs

The Pirates will fight for a playoff spot all season long, but, come up just short in the end due to stiffened competition across the National League. Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco make up the most athletically talented outfield in all of baseball. Meanwhile, Fransisco Liriano and Gerit Cole anchor a rotation that is good enough to keep the Pirates contending. At the end of the day the talent of the Cardinals and the Cubs along with an improvement from the NL East and West will result in the Pirates coming up just short of another trip to the NL Wild Card game.

Player to Watch: Tyler Glasnow

Glasnow could be the piece that puts the Pirates over the top and into the playoffs. His 6’8’’, 225 lb frame is hard to miss and his upper 90’s fastball jumps off the page at you. Best case scenario: Glasnow harnesses his potential in the Major Leagues early and joins Cole among the elite young starters in the game. If that’s the case it would give the Pirates an impressive trio atop the rotation. Glasnow could also possibly join Mark Melancon and Tony Watson in the bullpen to form a terrific back end of the ‘Pen.

4th Place: Milwaukee Brewers 70-92

While the top of the NL Central is talented, the bottom two teams in the division are more likely to be contenders for the no. 1 overall pick next June than a playoff spot. The Brewers get a slight edge over the Reds in this prediction because of a better bullpen and a more experienced starting rotation. Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith form a nice duo at the back of a bullpen that will be better than your typical 90 loss team. Meanwhile Ryan Braun will be his regular self and Jonathan Lucroy will return to form after an inconsistent showing in 2015.

Player to Watch: Orlando Arcia

As anyone who has ever followed a rebuilding team knows, sometimes tracking the minor league box scores can provide more excitement than actually watching the Major League club. Jonathan Villar is around to keep SS warm until the organization deems Arcia ready (or until after the club delays his service clock another year). Arcia is the brightest prospect in the Brewers system and the 21 year old should be the Brewers’ everyday shortstop sooner rather than later.

5th place: Cincinnati Reds 65-97

The Reds should be fun for their fans to watch this year, but, it won’t result in much on field success. They will have plenty of young talent in the rotation, but, the young arms will most likely come with supreme inconsistency. Devin Mesoraco will look to rebound from a hip injury that kept him out the majority of the 2015 season and fan favorite Joey Votto will remain the anchor of what has become a feeble looking lineup.

Player to Watch: Rasiel Iglesias

The Reds will have plenty of young guns in the rotation that will be fun to watch grow as a group. Of the bunch, Rasiel Iglesias appears to be the most likely to be successful in the 2016 campaign. The 26 year old Cuban native posted 9.8 K/9 over the course of 18 appearances (16 starts) last year to go along with a 3.55 FIP. The Reds will entrust Iglesias with the Opening Day start and hope he hits the ground running as the staff ace in 2016.