2018 MLB preview: Milwaukee Brewers

 

2017: 86-76 (second place in NL Central)

Last Postseason Appearance: 2011

Last World Series Title: NEVER WON A WORLD SERIES TITLE

2017 Recap

After winning just 68 games in 2015, and 73 the following season, the Brewers finished 10 games above .500 in 2017. Unfortunately, Milwaukee’s 86 wins was not good enough for a postseason berth, as they finished one game shy of clinching a spot in the NL Wild Card Game.

Milwaukee led the NL in steals, and finished eighth in the MLB in home runs. Sadly, all this pop and speed did not translate to too many runs. The Brewers ranked 20th in runs, and also struck out more than any team in the NL.

Domingo Santana joined Mike Trout and Paul Goldschmidt as the only three players to hit 30 home runs, steal 15 bags, and post an OBP better than .370. (Reviewing The Brew)

In his first season with Milwaukee, Travis Shaw led the team in hits, doubles, and RBIs (101). He also hit a career-high 31 home runs. Eric Thames, who hadn’t played in the MLB since 2012, also hit 31 home runs, including 11 in April. Thames, who spent time in the KBO League, led the Brewers in SLG at .518.

Obviously Thames’ production was a bit of a surprise, but no one expected Domingo Santana to join Mike Trout and Paul Goldschmidt as the only three players to hit 30 home runs, steal 15 bags, and post an OBP better than .370.

Milwaukee’s pitching is really what carried them to their solid regular season. They finished ninth in the MLB in ERA and pitching WAR. Their bullpen led the NL in saves, and finished 7th overall for reliever WAR. Leading the charger was Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson.

Nelson, who underwent shoulder surgery in September, went 12-6 with a 3.49 ERA over 175.1 innings of work. He also struck out 199 batters, and finished with the 10th best K/9 ratio. In 2016, Nelson led the league with 86 walks issued. A year later, he walked just 48 batters. This change was the main reason he finished ninth in Cy Young Voting.

Chase Anderson missed nearly two months last season because of oblique injury, but, when healthy, he was lights out. He finished the season with a 12-4 record, a 2.74 ERA, and 1.09 WHIP over 141.1 innings.

2018: Around the Diamond

Although they didn’t score too many runs, and ultimately finished 22nd in hits, help is on the way. This offseason, the Brewers traded for Christian Yelich, and signed Lorenzo Cain to a five-year, $80M deal. In 2017, Yelich ranked 10th in times on base,  hit 18 home runs, 36 doubles, and drove in 81 runs.

As a member of the Royals, Cain hit .300 with 15 home runs, 26 steals, and a career-high .363 OBP in 2017. He also walked 54 times, which was 17 more than his previous high. Cain is a huge upgrade in centerfield for Milwaukee, a team that finished 26th in WAR for CF in 2017. Yelich, Cain, and Santana have a chance to be baseball’s best outfield core in 2018. That is, if Santana is not traded by Opening Day.

Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, two monster moves for Milwaukee. (Getty Images)

The additions to the outfield means a position change for Ryan Braun, who has been getting reps at first base. Braun, who ranks third all-time in the Brewers franchise for WAR, hit .268 with 17 home runs and 12 steals in 2017. He battled calf and wrist injuries all season, which limited his games to 104, but Braun is still a very solid hitter. His BABIP was under .300 for the first time in his career, so he is bound to get that average up, and he clearly still has plenty of power. Braun’s transition to first means less playing time for Thames, who will serve as the DH in inter-league play, but most likely come off the bench for the majority of the season.

Calling the game behind the plate will again be Manny Pina, who led the team with a .279 batting average, and finished 10th in defensive WAR. Stephen Vogt, who was selected off waivers by Milwaukee last June, will be splitting time with Pina.

In 2016, second basemen Jonathan Villar slashed .285/.369/.457 and hit 19 home runs with 62 steals. A year later, he was a totally different player, hitting just .241 with 11 home runs and 23 steals. His walk rate went from 11.6 percent to 6.9 percent. If Villar can be just 70 percent of what he was in 2016, this offense could be dangerous.

The left side of the infield will remain the same. Orlando Arcia will hold down short, while Shaw will man the hot corner. Arcia, in his age-22 season, hit 15 home runs with 14 steals in 2017. He is still incredibly young, and could blossom into something special.

On the Bump

With Nelson possibly out until June, the Brewers have at least two spots up for grabs in the starting rotation. The three locks are Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, who won 17 games last year, and Jhoulys Chacin, who pitched for the Padres last season. Over 100.1 innings, Chacin posted a 1.79 ERA at Petco Park, which is fantastic, but keep in mind, San Diego’s ballpark ranked 29th in runs allowed. It is a pitcher friendly park, and when Chacin went on the road, he had a 6.53 ERA.

Competing for the final two spots will be Brandon Woodruff, Brent Suter, Yovani Gallardo, Junior Guerra, Aaron Wilkerson, and Wade Miley, who was flat out abysmal last year, Suter, being the only lefty in the group, has a good shot to make this rotation.

Corey Knebel, who had 39 saves last season, will remain in the closer role. Milwaukee also has Jacob Barnes, Matt Albers, and Josh Hader who will all play pivotal roles in making sure this bullpen continues to produce.

The Future

Even though they traded away Lewis Brinson in the Christian Yelich trade, Milwaukee still has a solid farm system. They have three players on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospect’s list: Keston Hiura (No.56), RHP Corbin Burnes (No. 69), and Woodruff (No. 96), who, like mentioned earlier, has a shot to make the MLB club this season.

Hiura, a second basemen, was tremendous in 42 games between R/A. He slashed .371/.422/.611 with four home runs and seven triples. He will be a high-average hitter, who shows occasional pop. The 2017 first round pick, Hiura will put up Omar Infante type numbers once he reaches the MLB.

Burnes, Milwaukee’s top pitching prospect, posted a 1.67 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 26 starts between A+/AA. Burnes is expected to reach the MLB in 2019. Keep in mind, Milwaukee also has Brett Phillips, the 23-year-old outfielder who had a .351 OBP in his 37 games with the Brewers last year. While he may not see too much playing time, Phillips could be special down the road.

2018 Prediction: 88-74

The additions of Yelich and Cain make this a playoff team. They finished 11th in run differential last year, and that was with some weak spots in the lineup. This offense is deep, and, even though Nelson will miss the start of the season, this team will be playing in the NL Wild Card Game.

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Milwaukee Brewers contender

Keys for Milwaukee to claim the Central

The Milwaukee Brewers became a surprise contender in 2017 by pushing the defending champion Chicago Cubs to the brink. At the beginning of the season, Chicago was a clear favorite to win the Central Division. However, it was not until mid-September that they finally pulled away from those pesky Brewers.

The Brewers now know that they have an opportunity to compete with the Cubs. They have already proven they have what it takes to get past the Cardinals. Now their new acquisitions have to prove what they are worth.

Revamped outfield

It seemed this offseason would be one the Brewers would make their presence known. Milwaukee went out and signed Lorenzo Cain, one of the top free agent outfielders. In almost no time at all, they then traded away their best prospect to acquire Christian Yelich from the Miami Marlins.

Milwaukee Brewers contender

The Brewers made an aggressive move for Christian Yelich. (Photo from CBS Sports)

Domingo Santana will most likely be the third outfielder in the mix, as the Brewers are more likely to trade Keon Broxton out of their crowded outfield.

Santana had a breakout year in 2017, compiling 30 home runs and a .278 batting average. In order for the Brewers to keep this excitement rolling into the regular season, it is vital that Santana continues his success from last year as he enters his age 25 season.

There has been an experiment in Brewers camp by testing out Ryan Braun at first base with the crowded outfield. If he gets comfortable there, the Brewers will have a tough decision after the breakout of Eric Thames last year.

There is no clear-cut answer between the two. However, Braun’s history with the team may have an impact on a potential starting spot at first base. Either way, it will be a decision that will greatly affect their chances at catching the Cubs.

Bullpen stability

The Brewers only finished behind three other teams for the most blown saves in baseball last year. Closer Corey Knebel was somewhat reliable in closing out games as he grabbed 39 saves out of 45 opportunities. The key for the Brewers is the rest of the bullpen around him.

Josh Hader is another up and comer in baseball, as the 23-year-old came onto the scene as a reliable reliever for the future. Whether or not he is able to eventually take up a closer roll is still undetermined, but he could serve as a fine setup man for the Brewers for the near future.

One of the more under the radar moves the Brewers made was getting Matt Albers, who was previously on the Washington Nationals. The 35-year-old proved that he still has some juice left in the tank, and it is key for him to provide more reliability in the Brewers’ bullpen. Milwaukee has no chance of catching Chicago if they have as tough of a time closing out games in 2018 as they did in 2017.

Living without Jimmy Nelson

Jimmy Nelson turned out to be one of the strongest pitchers in the National League last year. Unfortunately for Nelson and the Brewers, it is likely for him to miss a significant portion of the 2018 regular season.

What is most frustrating about the whole situation for the Brewers is that he got the shoulder injury by just diving back into first base. Shoulder injuries are always a concern for pitchers. It has to be difficult knowing that it did not come on the mound.

Milwaukee Brewers contender

Nelson may not be back until around the All-Star Break. (Photo from MLB.com)

With Nelson out for a good amount of time in 2018, it is time for others in the rotation to show what they can do. Zach Davies and Chase Anderson will be heading up the rotation, and the Brewers’ success will largely depend on their performance.

Anderson looked to be not much more than a fourth or fifth starter in the rotation, but his performance in 2017 should not go overlooked. Nelson may have been the highlighted member from that rotation, but Anderson certainly carried some weight on his shoulders. If he is able to keep doing what he was doing from a year ago, it would be huge for the success of the team.

Zach Davies is entering just his age-25 season. Last year, he was able to rack up 17 wins. His ERA was floating around four, but if he is able to build upon his success from last year, it will be as if Nelson never left the rotation.

Can they catch Chicago?

The Brewers were a favorite to land Yu Darvish much of the offseason. What is tough for them is that he fell into the laps of the last team they would have liked him to. Now that Darvish is a Cub, the Brewers have some serious work to do to make this work.

In order for them to prove that last year was not a fluke, it will be vital for the rotation to survive with Nelson’s absence. With all of the new additions, the Brewers should be pretty set on the offensive side of the plate.

The goal for the Brewers should be to stay within striking distance of the Cubs in Nelson’s absence. There is no reason to set unrealistic goals, so if they are able to stay within four games of them until about midseason, they will have enough firepower to stop the Cubs from obtaining the Central crown for the third year in a row.

 

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Yu Darvish free agency

Why Darvish to the Brewers makes sense

As we all know, the hot stove has been rather cold this offseason. Scott Boras, agent extraordinaire, stated that this free agent market is about six weeks behind schedule. Almost all the big name free agents are still on the market as we have now entered February. We once thought that Giancarlo Stanton was holding teams up as they waited for him to move, but that does not seem to be the case as he was traded over six weeks ago.

Yu Darvish is one of the top three free agents still on the market, and he is expecting a big payday despite his World Series collapse. He has been connected to several teams, Milwaukee included. Here is a look as to why the Brewers may make sense for Darvish more than any other team.

The Brewers are hunting

Yu Darvish free agency

The Brewers made an aggressive move for Christian Yelich. (Photo from CBS Sports)

Milwaukee had a very exciting season last year despite not making the postseason. The Cubs were coming off a historic World Series and were primed to continue their dominance. Nobody saw what was coming from the team just north of the north-siders from Chicago.

The Brewers had the lowest payroll in baseball in 2017, yet competed with the Cubs until the very end. Now that they know they have what it takes to compete, it is time to build up and go for it.

The Brewers showed last week just how serious they are about competing. The signing of Lorenzo Cain was one of the biggest free agent moves of the offseason thus far. Not but on the same night, they also traded for the last Marlins outfielder left, Christian Yelich.

The move for Yelich was a good one. Yelich had the most team-friendly contract in that Marlins outfield from 2017, and he shows signs of getting even better. The only thing is that the Brewers gave up their top prospect, and the No. 13 overall prospect in baseball, Lewis Brinson. On top of that, they gave up three other young talents from their system. This move shows just how serious they are about competing now.

The need for pitching

Yu Darvish free agency

Jimmy Nelson had a breakout year in 2017. (Photo from The News and Observer)

One of Milwaukee’s biggest surprises of last season was the performance of Jimmy Nelson. Nelson has solidified himself at the top of the rotation in along with Chase Anderson.

The only thing is that he damaged his shoulder last September. Nelson is apparently ahead of schedule, but it is unknown when he will be ready to rejoin the rotation.

The Brewers offense looks like a strong one at the moment. With the emergence of Eric Thames and Travis Shaw, coupled with the new improvements to the outfield, Milwaukee has an offense to be feared. An addition to the rotation could compliment these improvements very well.

This is where Darvish comes in. The 31-year-old would fit perfectly into the team and could slide them right into a neck-and-neck competition with the Cubs. The addition of Jhoulys Chacin certainly helps, but Darvish would really solidify their position and make their rotation a strength as well.

Will Darvish go for it?

Darvish has not been afraid to address rumors on Twitter. There have been several instances of him responding to reports of him talking to teams and alluding to who he may be interested in. Many reports suggest that he is still very interested in returning to the Rangers or the Dodgers. The Yankees have also been mentioned, along with the Chicago Cubs.

Yu Darvish free agency

The baseball world has its eyes on Darvish to make a decision (Photo from the Star-Telegram)

None of these teams come as a surprise as they are going to be contending in 2017. This race is a big deal in the National League especially though. With how tight the NL Central race will be, along with the desire to catch the Dodgers, teams are desperately trying to do whatever they can to not allow the Dodgers to run away with anything once again.

Milwaukee does not provide the same sort of big market draw that Chicago and Los Angeles offer. However, the Brewers may have the leg up in terms of payroll. At the moment, Milwaukee is under the $100 million threshold for payroll in 2018. They have not been afraid to go over that number in the past, so they ought to have the budget to do so.

Chicago and Los Angeles do not have the same sort of flexibility. The Dodgers already had the highest payroll in baseball in 2017. The Cubs, while having a large payroll already, still need to save some money for when their players need to be paid. Chicago has also been heavily tied to Bryce Harper for free agency next year. If they are seriously interested in signing him, it is unlikely they will give a six-year contract to Darvish.

Only time will tell if the Brewers will be able to bring in the Japanese ace. These dominos ought to be falling soon though, as we are just a couple of weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training. Darvish has to have that in mind, as he just so happens to be a pitcher himself.

 

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NL Central face of the franchise

The current face of every NL Central team

One conversation that will never get old is talking about who the cornerstone player of every franchise is. Some teams have an obvious representative, others not so much. Here is a look into the face of the franchise for every team in the NL Central.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Josh Bell

If we were to have this conversation two weeks ago, then there would be a much more obvious answer for the Bucs. However, the Pirates’ front office thought it was time to do some shuffling. Even though Pittsburgh fans are upset about giving up Andrew McCutchen, who has been an icon in the Steel City for some time, it was a good move to show concern for the future. It just looks especially bad because of what the Marlins have been doing this offseason as well.

NL Central face of the franchise

Josh Bell represents a changing of the guard in Pittsburgh. (Photo from Rumbunter.com)

Some may be wondering why Starling Marte is not in this spot. His 80-game suspension does not help his cause here. He also is an All-Star and two-time gold glove winner who can steal bases with the best of them. However, he does not represent the future for the Pirates. He is 29 years old, and the Pirates are not going to be contending anytime soon.

Josh Bell just finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. If it were any other year, Bell would have had a much better chance of bringing home the award. With Cody Bellinger breaking out in LA though, the race was much more clear cut. Bell has the chance to be a prototypical slugger in Pittsburgh for a while, as he is only 25 years old.

In the future, Bell could be a force in the middle of the lineup with 30 home run potential. He provides more pop than Marte does, and is already a threat in the middle of the lineup. His young age coupled with his power is the reason why he has the opportunity to take the place of Cutch in Pittsburgh.

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto

No argument here. If you were to argue faces of the franchise around baseball, this may be one of the easiest.

Joey Votto has been a fixture at first base for the Reds for over a decade. He has won the NL MVP and made it to the All-Star game five times. Not to mention, there may not be anybody better at getting on base than Votto.

Votto also has a set of intangibles that would make any manager salivate. He is the kind of guy that can lead a young group of guys into the big leagues, and that is what he is doing now as the Reds have a wave of young players coming up. His baseball smarts along with his excellent talent make him one of the best hitters in the league.

Another thing about Votto is that he is not showing signs of slowing down anytime soon. He is heading into his age-34 season and coming off a year where he could have easily won the MVP. Yes, Giancarlo Stanton had the power numbers that make anybody go nuts. However, if you are looking at the full package, Votto is much more valuable.

If Votto keeps up the pace he is at for another couple of years, there is a solid chance he will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he is eligible.

Chicago Cubs: Theo Epstein

NL Central face of the franchise

Theo led the charge to break the curse in Chicago. (Photo by John Arguello)

Chicago is still fresh off a World Series title in 2016. It is still crazy to say considering many Chicagoans went a lifetime without seeing their lovable losers make it all the way.

Epstein made his way to the Windy City in 2011, and from the start there were many who were certain that it was their time because of it. After he masterminded the destruction of the Boston curse, this seemed like a doable task for the 44-year-old president of the Cubs.

With apologies to Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, Epstein is a favorable choice for this title. He is the one who orchestrated the revival of success in Wrigley, and many knew that as they chanted, “In Theo we trust.”

While Rizzo has become a poster boy for the Cubs, and Bryant has won an MVP at third base, it is impossible to not credit Epstein with the Cubs’ success.

As a baseball executive, there is no doubt that Epstein has already earned himself a spot in Cooperstown.

St. Louis Cardinals: Yadier Molina

NL Central face of the franchise

Yadier Molina has been the most important face in St. Louis since the departure of Albert Pujols (Photo by Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

Ever since the departure of Albert Pujols, Molina has done an excellent job of stepping into the role of leading this storied franchise. While Molina may not be the best player in the league by a long shot, there are things that he does that put him above most.

He has those intangibles that his NL Central counterpart Joey Votto has. Molina’s ability to call a game is second to none, while he also knows exactly how to make a young ballplayer feel comfortable on the mound.

Yadi doesn’t have those offensive stats that pop out on the box score, but Tony La Russa made it clear when he was manager of the Cardinals that it didn’t matter. La Russa once stated that even if Molina hit .000, he would still have a spot in the lineup. Now that says something about a player.

While it is not clear if Molina will make it to Cooperstown, he will certainly be remembered as one of the greats to wear the Cardinals uniform. He stated earlier this offseason that he will not play after his contract with the Cardinals expires in 2020. These three years we have left with him will be pivotal in determining his place among the greats.

Milwaukee Brewers: Bob Uecker

The Brewers have made big moves this offseason for Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. They also have their eyes set on locking up Yu Darvish in a long-term contract. As a result, the name on this list may be different in a few years. Despite a great year from Travis Shaw and Jimmy Nelson, it doesn’t come close to the reputation that Bob Uecker has set for himself.

Uecker is getting close to Vin Scully territory with his broadcasting. He is being held back from that status though as he is not in a place like Los Angeles, and also spent a decade playing professional ball in the 50s and 60s. Shortly after his playing days, he joined the Brewers broadcasting booth in 1971.

After many successful years in the booth, Uecker earned an iconic role as the broadcaster in the Major League movie franchise. Many don’t realize that you can still tune into his legendary broadcasts to this day. He also won the Ford C. Frick award in 2003 in recognition for his broadcasting, cementing himself among the legends in the game.

While the Brewers are making moves to compete on the field, Uecker always makes it entertaining to tune into the game. It will be a sad day when the 84 year old will have to hang up the mic and retire from the booth.

 

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NL Central division

New Year’s Resolutions for NL Central teams

2018 is upon us, and that means it is time to look forward to the year ahead. The NL Central division proved to be one of the most lackluster divisions in 2017, with the Cubs not quite hitting their stride until September, and the Cardinals floating around .500.

With that being said, here are New Year’s resolutions for the five teams in the NL Central to make it a more exciting year.

Cincinnati Reds: Get extended work from young starters

The Reds finished in last place with a 68-94 record. That would make you think they are an all around bad team right? Well, not exactly.

The Reds had a pretty good offense. Joey Votto may have won the MVP if the Reds had more wins, and Scooter Gennett had a breakout year at the plate. They ranked 14th in runs and still have the potential to be one of baseball’s better teams.

What the Reds struggled with was pitching. They were second to last in ERA and could not get much of anything from anybody. However, 2018 is the year where many of their young pitchers should be getting a full season worth of work. Their young core is highlighted by Brandon Finnegan, Luis Castillo and Robert Stephenson.

If these three guys can start to put together a full season worth of solid work, the Reds may be closer to competing than most think.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Plan for the future

NL Central division

Andrew McCutchen may be in his final year in Pittsburgh (Photo from Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports).

Andrew McCutchen is entering the final year of his six-year, $51.5 million contract. He finished 2017 with a respectable .279/.363/.486 slash line, along with 28 home runs and 88 RBIs. Those are stats that can help any team in the majors. The reason I say that is because the Pirates ought to seriously consider moving him before he hits free agency next winter.

The Pirates have a couple good players coming up through their system, such as Austin Meadows, who is the the ninth best prospect in baseball according to MLB.com. Josh Bell also had a great rookie year, and Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte add to a solid outfield.

The only problem is that this team does not seem to be getting anywhere. Pittsburgh finished at 75-87 and fourth in the Central. Marte being suspended for half the year may have had something to do with that, but his presence for a full season alone won’t help them compete for the NL Central crown.

There have already been intense discussions about Gerrit Cole moving to New York. The move does not seem as serious as it once did, but just the fact that there are credible talks out there speaks as to what the Pirates think they can accomplish in 2018. With some of the young talent they have, this is a good opportunity for them to build up for 2019-21.

This coming year looks to be more of a year in limbo for Pittsburgh, so it would be best to get what they can for McCutchen and Cole.

St. Louis Cardinals: Add another bat and a reliever before the regular season

NL Central division

The Ozuna trade shows how serious the Cardinals are about winning now (Photo from Walsh Sports Analytics)

The Cardinals have been the center of multiple rumors this offseason. They were able to land Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins for a fairly reasonable price, so they have that to be happy about. They also signed a pitcher from from the NPB not named Shohei Ohtani in Miles Mikolas. Both acquisitions should make an immediate impact on the ball club.

With Trevor Rosenthal released from the team, the Cardinals are in search for a closer. There are still plenty of names available. Alex Colome has been brought up in multiple trade rumors with the Cardinals, and Greg Holland and Wade Davis are still on the market as well. Any of these three guys would bolster the back of a bullpen that does not have a closer at the moment.

St. Louis should also be in search for one more impact bat. Adding Ozuna was nice, but the front office knows that there is more work to be done.

With the outfield in a comfortable position at the moment, the Cardinals ought to be looking for corner infielders. Ideally, they would like to have Matt Carpenter move around the infield and have Jedd Gyorko as a utility man. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are two free agents that come to mind that fit the mold. The only problem is that these two do not provide any extra pop that the Cardinals don’t already have. It would just clutter the infield more.

The Cardinals are still looking for a team to trade with. Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson are both on their radar, but it seems they won’t be traded at least until the All-Star break.

The Cardinals may have to wait until 2018 free agency to add one of these guys, but that should not stop them for looking for a bat this offseason. They are not that far off from competing with the Cubs for the NL Central title in 2018.

Milwaukee Brewers: Build off 2017 success

NL Central division

Travis Shaw was a first time All-Star in 2017 (Photo from Pintrest)

Even though they did not make the playoffs, the Brewers were a pleasant surprise in 2017. Travis Shaw and Eric Thames emerged as above average hitters and made the Brewers a threatening lineup. Jimmy Nelson also broke out as a potential ace in the rotation. They were able to give the Cubs fits and were neck and neck with them until the end.

The organization knows that this is not the time to take any steps back. The Brewers have real potential to make the playoffs, so they are doing what they can to ensure they play at the same type of level they did last year. They have not landed any big name free agents, but the signings of Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo show they are serious about improving their rotation and doing what it takes to stay in the thick of things.

Although it is unlikely, signing an arm like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvsih would be tremendously helpful. The Brewers had the lowest payroll in 2017, so that says a lot about what they were able to accomplish in the NL Central. If they were able to spend a little more money, who knows what they might be able to do.

Chicago Cubs: Stay separated from the rest of the pack

After the Cubs broke their legendary drought in 2016, it looked as if it would be impossible to dethrone the Cubs for the years to come. After 2017, it is evident that is not the case. Kyle Schwarber struggled at the plate greatly and Jason Heyward is not playing up to his contract. Now that Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis have hit free agency, the Cubs look vulnerable.

It is still important to remember the Cubs have the best pieces out of anyone in the Central. There is no reason they can’t make 2018 the fourth consecutive year they make the NLCS. However, the Cardinals look like they have a decent shot at making things more difficult for the Cubs. The Brewers also may be even better next year.

The Cubs have had some solid signings thus far. They signed Tyler Chatwood and Brandon Morrow, who are two excellent pickups for their rotation.

What the Cubs are hoping for is continued growth from the 2016 MVP, Kris Bryant. He still had a great 2017, but he has the potential to be a perennial MVP contender. Along with Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs have a lot of pieces in place for success. They just need to make sure it is enough to fend off the Brewers and Cardinals.

Either way, this should be an exciting year in the Central and could lay ground for what happens in the future as well.

 

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Brewers prospect Keston Hiura's bright future

Brewers prospect Keston Hiura’s bright future

The Milwaukee Brewers might have struck gold with Keston Hiura, their first-round selection, in 2017’s first year player draft. Let’s talk about Brewers prospect Keston Hiura’s bright future before he’s a star everyone knows.

David Stearns, Milwaukee’s general manager, has done many good things in his first two years at the helm. Perhaps one of Stearns’ best moves though is his selection of sweet-swinging second baseman Keston Hiura with the ninth pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. For Hiura, the best is most certainly yet to come.

Hiura’s Bat

Brewers prospect Keston Hiura's bright future

Keston Hiura was the Division I college batting champion last season at UC Irvine. (Photo courtesy of: Baseball America)

Hiura was billed by many pundits leading up to the draft as the best pure hitter available. It’s not hard to figure out why either. As a junior at the University of California–Irvine, Hiura batted (.442/.567/.693) leading to an astounding OPS of (1.260). As far as college bats go, a scout for any MLB team would be hard pressed to find one better.

Hiura did, after all, lead Division I college hitters in both batting (.442) and OBP (.567).

Hiura’s hitting prowess saw him named as a semi-finalist for the Golden Spikes Award in 2017. Though the UC-Irvine standout didn’t win the honor, it is most certainly high praise to be named to the semi-finalists list.

The hits just kept on coming for Hiura after making the jump to pro-ball as well. In his first 42 games of professional baseball, the first-round pick belted an impressive (.371/.422/.611), split between two levels.

Putting those number into perspective, Hiura spent the majority of his first pro season at Low-A Wisconsin. It was there that Hiura put up an impressive batting line, hitting (.333/.374./.476). As the old turn of phrase goes, “That’s just par for the course.” Well, for Keston Hiura it is anyway.

Hiura, at 21 years of age, still has a long road to travel to get to the big leagues. His bat might be hard to slow, however. He showcases the plate discipline of a player more advanced in years, and that bodes well for Hiura. He could potentially be one of the first hitters from this year’s draft class to step to the plate in the majors.

Hiura’s Injury

As good as Hiura is at the dish, he doesn’t come without a certain amount of risk attached. This is not a unique circumstance though. There is a certain amount of risk with every prospect that makes the jump to pro-ball.

In 2016, as a sophomore at UC-Irvine, Hiura suffered an injury to the elbow of his throwing arm. While playing center field, Hiura unleashed a throw to home resulting in a sprained ulnar collateral ligament. The injury led to many MLB teams wondering if the dreaded Tommy John surgery would be in Hiura’s future.

Hiura has said in an interview with Baseball America that the injury never affected his swing. It did, however, affect his fielding. As a result of the injury, Hiura spent the entirety of his junior season as UC-Irvine’s DH. Hiura’s lack of game film in the field and the threat of a possible surgery on that elbow without doubt caused some of the teams picking ahead of the Brewers to go another direction with their pick.

Brewers prospect Keston Hiura's bright future

Hiura has also played for the U.S. Collegiate National Team. (Photo courtesy of: Orlando Sentinel)

An outfielder by trade, Hiura’s task now is learning how to become a professional second baseman. Not a small task, but if anyone is capable of the transition it would be Hiura. This youngster has drawn rave reviews from his former coach at UC-Irvine, Mike Gillespie, about his work ethic.

Much to the delight of David Stearns and the Brewers organization, Hiura was back in the field by the middle of August while with Low-A Wisconsin. Even better still, Tommy John surgery has been ruled out for Hiura’s elbow.

Hiura did suffer an injury that saw him on the DL toward season’s end, but breathe easy Brewers fans, it was a strained hamstring that kept him out of action. Hiura’s arm is seemingly good to go for 2018 and his first full season of professional baseball.

Playing a full season at second base, the Brewers and Hiura should know very early on in the year if his arm is going to be an issue. At least for the moment though, all signs point to his UCL sprain as being behind him.

Hiura in 2018

Based on the numbers Hiura pounded out in his first taste of professional baseball, Brewers fans might want to see him start 2018 at High-A Carolina. It is very doubtful that he will start there with the work he needs in the field.

It is far more likely that he will be the opening day second baseman for Low-A Wisconsin.

While his bat is ready right now to face tougher competition, his glove invariably needs work. Brewers fans need to remember that Hiura is essentially learning a new position. There will be a learning curve to this process and it will take time.

Hiura won’t be toiling away at Low-A Wisconsin all season though. I fully expect Hiura the climb the prospect ladder at least one level by the end of 2018, if not two levels. It isn’t unreasonable to assume Hiura could hit his way to Double-A by season’s end. Of course, this depends on how Hiura adapts to second base and how that arm holds up.

The good news though, is if a player can play center field he more than likely can handle second base as well. As he logs more innings, he should come to terms with how to play second base fairly quickly.

Another factor that bodes well for Hiura is time. At the tender age of 21 and with a glut of rising prospects at the keystone positions in the Brewers organization, there is no need to fast-track this young man to the big leagues. Time is on Hiura’s side as far as learning how to properly defend second base is concerned.

Hiura’s ETA in Milwaukee

Brewers prospect Keston Hiura's bright future

Keston Hiura signs his autograph for some of the Milwaukee faithful. (Photo courtesy of: The Post-Crescent)

While the fans in Milwaukee will want to see Hiura sporting the ball and glove logo on his hat sooner rather than later, it would be asking too much to see him up with the big club at any point in 2018. He simply has too much glove work to do before making that jump.

Also, there is no question that as the standard of pitching gets better, his bat will have to adjust as well. In this category though, Hiura will most likely do just fine. There is absolutely nothing in his past to suggest that he will suddenly forget how to hit. It is, after all, his best tool.

The future is indeed a bright one for Keston Hiura. He’ll be knocking on the door of the big leagues by mid-2019, and his bat will be the major reason why. But of course, this is all assuming he experiences no further problems with that balky elbow on his throwing arm.

Hiura seems intent on battering minor league pitching. This should leave Brewers fans with those warm and fuzzy feelings inside. With the emergence of Travis Shaw at third base and Orlando Arica at short stop, adding in Keston Hiura could be a watershed moment for the Brewers organization overall.

How quickly Hiura makes the transition to second base will be the difference maker in how quickly he ascends to the big club in Milwaukee. One thing is for certain though, if his glove adapts anywhere near as quickly as his bat has, you will see him in Milwaukee sooner than later.

Hiura has the bat to play beyond the level he is currently at. If he can become just an average defender in short order, he will be forcing the Brewers’ hand very soon.

For Brewers GM David Stearns this is an excellent problem to have. And it’s a far cry from the pile of smoldering, twisted, wreckage that the Brewers’ farm system had become under Stearns’ predecessor, Bob Melvin.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: azcentral.com)

 

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Rockies

Can the Rockies hold on to the Wild Card?

The NL West has been wild this year. It seemed as though the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Rockies were all the teams to beat in the National League at one point (apologies to the Nationals).

At the moment, the Dodgers are sliding and the Diamondbacks are rolling. Both of those teams are locks for the playoffs though.

The same thing can’t be said for the Rockies though. On Aug. 5, Colorado found themselves a comfortable 17 games over the .500 mark. Just one month later, the Rockies are nine games over that mark and are only two games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals.

As stated earlier, the Diamondbacks are rolling and have all but mathematically locked up a playoff spot. The Dodgers, although struggling, are also a lock to reach the postseason. The real race is going to be for that second wild card spot that is currently held by Colorado. Here is a look at the two teams that are threatening the Rockies’ playoff hopes.

St. Louis Cardinals

Colorado Rockies wild card

Paul DeJong has been one of the big names in the Redbird renaissance (Photo by KSDK)

Not many people have been talking about what is going on in St. Louis this season. Yes, the Cardinals have been very inconsistent in many facets of their game. However, there has been a Redbird renaissance going on in St. Louis. That is the Memphis Redbirds to be precise.

The Triple-A affiliate Redbirds finished the season with an impressive 91-50 record, and their success is starting to spill into the big leagues. The list of players that have made an impact on the team this season that would typically be considered Triple-A players is long. Those names include Paul DeJong, Jose Martinez, Luke Weaver, Luke Voit, Harrison Bader and many more.

Tommy Pham has played a vast majority of the year in St. Louis and has been their best player, so he doesn’t figure into that crowd. One thing that is worth noticing though is the Cardinals lineup on Tuesday. Seven of the Cardinals starting nine have played significant time down in the minors.

DeJong may even be a favorite for Rookie of the Year if it wasn’t for Cody Bellinger’s breakout campaign. DeJong has been hitting homers at a very similar rate (given that he has a lot less at bats), and has a much better batting average.

This team has been up and down all season long, but may be hitting a stride with these young players. It is going to be a tough test for them coming up though. All of their remaining games are against NL Central opponents. Their record in their own division is pretty strong in most years.

However, this year they have been getting by with a weak 23-31 record inside of an already weak division. It will be interesting to see though if Mike Matheny will continue to play these young surging talents in the stretch. He is not usually one to pick the young guys over the more experienced veterans. It may be in his best interest though to play the hot-hand this time of year, before other teams start to figure out these new faces.

Milwaukee Brewers

Colorado Rockies wild card

Travis Shaw has led the Brewers to contention in September (Photo by ESPN)

The Brewers controlled the NL Central for much of the the season. The Chicago Cubs were at their heels for a long time, and they finally took over as many expected. Catching the Cubs is still not out of the realm of possibility for the Brewers or the Cardinals, but for the purposes of this, we will talk within the context of the wild card.

Milwaukee is now 2.5 games back of the Rockies for second place in the wild card. They just let the Cardinals surpass them, which of course is not something they wanted to let happen.

Their offense has not been playing as well as of late. Eric Thames has slowed down his production, and the supporting cast has not been keeping up. At the moment, the leader in batting average for the team is Travis Shaw at .276. That is very low for the best on the team and does not bode well if they wish to contend.

The Brewers have still been resilient this season and fight back as long as people keep counting them out. They are playing below .500 baseball since the All-Star break, so it is going to be difficult for them to keep up at this juncture.

One of the key moments that kept them from losing a series to the rival Cardinals was a stellar, literal game saving catch by Keon Broxton. That was a shot in the arm that the Brewers needed. They have since fallen behind the Cardinals in the chase for the playoffs, so they are hoping that some of their key players will show up in the stretch.

Can the Rockies fend off the competition?

Colorado has a tough schedule coming up for them. They are about to play a four-game set against the Dodgers in LA, and then fly to Arizona for a four-game set against the red-hot Diamondbacks.

The Rockies are hoping to prolong the Dodgers’ struggles, because this is an eight-game road trip that the team has probably been keeping an eye on for a long time. They have been 7-13 on the road since the All-Star game, so the time is now for them to pick it up outside of their home in Colorado.

The Rockies have a relatively easy schedule after they finish in Arizona on the 14th, so this eight-game stretch could make or break their season. The Cardinals have a fairly easy schedule during that time span, so the standings could look much different if they capitalize on this.

What the Rockies need to hope for is for the Cardinals to continue their struggles against teams in their own division, and go back to their inconsistent ways.

It is hard to imagine a team with the kind of offensive fire power the Rockies have may not make the playoffs. Their division is just that stacked this year. It has been very difficult for them to pull away from other teams in the National League.

If the Rockies are able to take four of the eight games they have coming up, it will be hard to see them not playing the Diamondbacks in the NL Wild Card. However, if they get bullied by their division rivals, the Cardinals may make another push for October, much like they did in 2011.

 

Featured image by Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

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2017 MLB breakout performers

The following MLB hitters have officially broken out in 2017. This piece intends to inform fantasy baseball owners about whether these breakout performers will continue to achieve, or if their level of success is unsustainable.

Honorable mentions include: Whit Merrifield (KAN), Domingo Santana (MIL), Yonder Alonso (OAK), Alex Bregman (HOU), Paul DeJong (STL) and Andrelton Simmons (LAA).

Aaron Judge, Outfielder, New York Yankees

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .300/.426/.627 .389 34 75 83 30.7 %
July .230/.364/.483 .310 7 13 13 36.4 %
2017 MLB breakout performers

Judge has become the best power hitter in baseball in 2017. (Photo by The New York Daily News)

The Yankee slugger has officially broken out in 2017. Judge is the heavy front runner to win American League Rookie of the Year, as he has mashed 34 home runs and 75 RBIs while batting .300 so far this season.

According to the New York Daily News, Major League Baseball’s commissioner Rob Manfred described Judge’s performance as “phenomenal”, and added that Judge is “the kind of player that can become the face of the game.”

While this comment may be justified, Judge’s performance has significantly cooled off since it was made in mid-June.

In July, Judge batted merely .230 while striking out at an atrocious 36.4 percent clip. Also, his 39 strikeouts were the most by any player in July.

On June 17, his BABIP was .433, although inevitably it has dropped .44 points to .389 in less than two months. I documented my opinion in mid-June, exclaiming that it was time to sell Judge, as his value was clearly at its peak.

Selling Judge now may not be the best decision, as his value has declined in the last month. His fantasy value should be similar to that of fellow sluggers Giancarlo Stanton and Marcel Ozuna. His value would be closer to that of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout if it wasn’t for his lack of experience and elevated BABIP and strikeout rates, which all raise questions about his consistency.

Cody Bellinger, Outfielder/ First Baseman, Los Angeles Dodgers

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .264/.344/.599 .284 30 71 58 26.9 %
July .263/.372/.463 .298 4 13 9 20.2 %

Bellinger has been quite the producer since being called up in late April. In only 89 games, he has recorded 30 home runs and 71 RBIs, which puts him on pace to hit over 50 home runs and 129 RBIs over the course of a 162-game season.

The 22-year-old has noticeably changed his approach at the plate since the All-Star break, as his strikeout rate has dropped from 29.1 percent in the first half to 18.8 percent in the second. Bellinger slots into to the clean-up spot in the lineup behind the National League leader in batting average, Justin Turner, and 2016 NL Rookie of the Year, Corey Seager.

Bellinger has joined the ranks of elite young sluggers and should be valued similarly to Aaron Judge moving forward.

Justin Smoak, First Baseman, Toronto Blue Jays

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .301/.380/.597 .313 31 74 64 19.7 %
July .310/.410/.610 .354 8 19 17 23.1 %

Despite the Blue Jays’ struggles this season, Justin Smoak has emerged as a silver lining. He was voted an All-Star for the first time and is currently batting .301 with 31 home runs and 74 RBIs.

The 30-year-old has set career highs in all major hitting categories, while also dropping his strikeout rate from 32.8 last season to 19.7 percent in 2017.

In July, Smoak’s success continued, although it seems majorly due to his BABIP as he sported a .354 BABIP. Also, his strikeout rate has risen up to 23.1 percent which is a bit concerning.

Smoak should finish the year batting under .300, although chances that he hits 40 bombs and drives in 100 are very likely. He is firmly entrenched within the top 10 first baseman right now, although his value in keeper and dynasty formats is weaker than in standard re-draft due to lack of sample size and consistency.

Travis Shaw, First Baseman/ Third Baseman, Milwaukee Brewers

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .288/.361/.555 .329 24 74 61 23.1 %
July .305/.400/.622 .367 7 17 19 27.4 %
2017 MLB breakout performers

Travis Shaw was a first time All-Star in 2017. (Photo by Pintrest)

Shaw came over to the Brewers this offseason in a deal that sent reliever Tyler Thornburg to the Boston Red Sox. Thornburg has yet to pitch an inning for the Red Sox, whereas Shaw has become an All-Star.

The 27-year-old has found a home batting clean-up for Milwaukee, as he has hit a career-high 24 home runs while driving in a career-high 74 RBIs.

Shaw’s BABIP of .329 is significantly higher than last season’s .299 mark, although this may be due to an increase in hard contact, as he has raised his hard contact rate from 29 percent in 2015, to 33 percent in 2016 and now 37 percent this season.

His improved approach has allowed him to become an elite fantasy producer in 2017. His value moving forward is similar to the likes of Jake Lamb and Mike Moustakas, as his batting average is still extremely BABIP driven and his strikeout rates are high and continuously rising.

Chris Taylor, Outfielder/ Second Baseman, Los Angeles Dodgers

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .316/.383/.545 .419 14 52 60 27.7 %
July .394/.412/.660 .523 3 15 15 26.8 %

Taylor was a fifth-round pick by the Seattle Mariners in 2012. He was acquired by the Dodgers in a trade that sent prospect pitcher Zach Lee to Seattle in 2016.

Since arriving in Los Angeles, Taylor has stumbled upon some newfound success, as he has hit more home runs in 91 games this season than he did in 249 games at the AAA-level.

The 26-year-old has become the everyday lead-off hitter for the Dodgers, which bodes well for his fantasy value, although his rising strikeout rate and inflated BABIP are cause for concern.

Taylor, whose BABIP in July measured .523, has an unsustainable BABIP of .419 on the year. Also, his home run to fly ball rate of 18.7 percent is unsustainable, as that would put him the same conversation as Paul Goldschmidt and Logan Morrison in terms of HR/FB rates.

Taylor’s fantasy value seems to be at its peak, which makes this a prime time to sell high. He will continue to be a valuable asset as he bats lead-off for arguably the best team in baseball, although his BABIP and home run to fly ball rate are sure to plummet.

Michael Conforto, Outfielder, New York Mets

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .296/.399/.566 .355 21 56 62 25.0 %
July .301/.363/.658 .313 7 14 12 22.5 %

Conforto has been the lone bright spot for the Mets during thier abysmal 2017 season. He has batted primarily in the lead-off spot for New York, although due to a lack of talent around him, he has only scored 62 runs in his 91 games. His BABIP of .355 is very high, although his BABIP in July of .313 and batting average of .301 suggest that his .300 batting average may be sustainable over the course of a full season.

The 24-year-old is not in the upper echelon of outfielders just yet. It is fair to value him similarly to Corey Dickerson or Domingo Santana moving forward due to his lineup potential, production, upside and age.

Jonathan Schoop, Second Baseman, Baltimore Orioles

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .302/.352/.550 .337 24 79 68 21.5 %
July .343/.377/.638 .355 9 28 21 19.3 %
2017 MLB breakout performers

Jonathan Schoop has emerged as a center piece of the Orioles future. (Photo by Alchetron)

Schoop had a successful 2016 campaign, although he has taken his talents to the next level this season. He is a lock to set career bests in all major hitting categories, as he is on pace to hit 36 home runs and drive in 119 RBIs.

He has found a fantasy friendly spot in the three-hole of a dangerous Baltimore lineup and promises to be a big part of their future moving forward.

His BABIP of .337 suggests that his batting average is in line for a small amount of regression, although his improved strikeout rate and incredible July totals insinuate that he is trending upward.

He ranks just below Jose Ramirez in terms of value due to a lack of steals and batting average, although his production puts him firmly in the top tier of second basemen, well behind Jose Altuve of course.

 

Marwin Gonzalez, First Baseman/ Third Baseman/ Shortstop/ Outfielder, Houston Astros

BA/OBP/SLG BABIP HR RBI R K%
2017 Season .311/.388/.578 .346 20 65 50 20.5 %
July .307/.378/.591 .344 7 18 17 21.4 %

Marwin Gonzalez, once known as a backup utility player, has officially broken out. Many didn’t expect Gonzalez to receive everyday at-bats due to the Astros having such a deep roster, although due to injuries and his hot bat he has found himself in an everyday role.

The 28-year-old has set career highs in home runs and RBIs, while being on pace to set a career-high in batting average. Gonzalez is a great fantasy asset, as he has a multitude of position eligibilities and bats in the heart of the Astros’ dangerous lineup.

His BABIP is high, which does cause concern regarding his .300-plus average, although his production and power seem to be sustainable. His playing time shouldn’t falter even when stars Carlos Correa and George Springer return from the disabled list, as his production has been arguably the team’s best of late.

 

Featured image by SBNation

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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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Must Add Players in Fantasy Baseball 2017

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Must Add Players

If you’ve ever played fantasy baseball, you know that your league championship isn’t won on draft day. One key to success is staying active on the waiver wire. As draft day has come and gone, the easiest way to acquire talent is by adding free agents. Below are five players that are under 25 percent owned on ESPN.com, but should be rostered in all formats.

 

Travis Shaw, First Base/Third Base, Milwaukee Brewers, (24 Percent)

Must Add Players in Fantasy Baseball 2017

Travis Shaw will be an everyday player for the first time in his career. (Courtesy of The Tribune)

My Predicted Stat Line: .275 BA/ 80 R/ 25 HR/ 90 RBI/ 5 SB

The newly acquired corner infielder has gotten off to a hot start in 2017. He has batted in the four and five spot in the four games the Brewers have played, tallying one home run and five RBIs while batting .357.

These stats obviously don’t hold much weight, but Shaw’s opportunity does. The 26-year-old will be an everyday player for the young Brewers and bat in the heart of lineup. It will give him plenty of chances to produce RBIs and runs.

The son of former MLB player, Jeff Shaw, has been a streaky hitter his entire career, batting .270 in the first half of 2016 and .194 in the second. However, I believe Shaw’s growing confidence will make him an everyday player. He also has a lack of pressure since he is out of Boston and is no longer on a contending team. He can join the ranks as a top fantasy producer in 2017.

Lance Lynn, Starting Pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals, (22 percent)

My Predicted Stat Line: 15 W/ 170 K/ 3.4 ERA/ 1.3 WHIP

Lynn has officially re-entered the St. Louis Cardinals rotation after missing the entire 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery. He fits in behind Carlos Martinez and Adam Wainwright as their third starter.

The 29-year-old has been a great fantasy pitcher in the past. His 162-game career average of 15 wins, a 3.37 ERA and 8.71 K/9. If he can return anywhere close to this, he will have great fantasy value. He is currently owned in 22 percent of ESPN leagues, which is a travesty for someone who has won 15 games or more three times since 2012.

The Cardinals, who finished fourth in runs scored in 2016, have added lead off specialist Dexter Fowler to improve their already elite offensive. This increases Lynn’s value, who is off to a great spring. He’s pitched a total of 15 innings to result in a 1.20 ERA and a .93 WHIP.

Lynn’s first outing of the year went well. He pitched 5.1 innings with four K’s and two earned runs. The Cardinals missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2010. If they want to make it back in 2017, Lynn will have to be a major factor.

Corey Dickerson, Left Field/Designated Hitter, Tampa Bay Rays, (22 percent)

Must Add Players in Fantasy Baseball 2017

Corey Dickerson sheds 25 pounds in the offseason, signs of good things to come? (Courtesy of Wikipedia.com)

My Predicted Stat Line: .285 BA/ 90 R/ 25 HR/ 75 RBI/ 5 SB

Dickerson had a rough transition from Colorado to Tampa Bay in 2016, as he batted a mere .245 after batting .304 and .312 in the two previous seasons. He still managed to hit 24 home runs to go along with 70 RBIs, which was productive enough to warrant him top 80 outfielder status.

The 27-year-old dropped 25 pounds this offseason, which will make him more athletic than ever before. Dickerson will be an everyday player for the Rays in 2017, batting primarily lead off. He has begun the year batting .300 through the first four games, hitting his first home run at the Trop this Wednesday.

The career .279 hitter is a lock to improve his batting average from last season, which along with his power potential and opportunity as an everyday player, warrant him a spot on your roster.

Kendall Graveman, Starting Pitcher, Oakland Athletics, (17 percent)

My Predicted Stat Line: 11 W/ 140 K/ 3.6 ERA/ 1.3 WHIP

Graveman was the Athletics opening day starter this year and started off hot. He pitched six innings with seven strikeouts while only surrendering two runs. The elite ground ball pitcher has a career groundball rate of 51.5 percent and a fly ball rate of 27.6 percent. That shows he can keep the ball on the ground opposed to in the stands.

Unfortunately, the Athletics have the worst fielding percentage in the MLB, which may hold the groundball pitcher back. A positive is his increased confidence in his fastball. He has increased his use of the pitch consistently every season and increased its velocity from 93 to 95. That may help increase his strikeout rate.

Overall, Graveman will be the most consistent pitcher and a silver lining for the underdog Athletics this season.

Mitch Haniger, Right Field, Seattle Mariners, (17 percent)

Must Add Players in Fantasy Baseball 2017

Mitch Haniger may be sleeper of the year. (Courtesy of Minor League Ball)

My Projected Stat Line: .270 BA/ 95 R/ 20 HR/ 80 RBI/ 15 SB

Haniger was sent to Seattle along with Jean Segura in exchange for Taijuan Walker in the offseason. After slashing .406/.472/.719 in 32 at bats this spring, he has earned the everyday right fielder position against American League foes. He also will be the starting left fielder during interleague play, which will give him dual eligibility in leagues with individual outfield positions.

The 26-year-old will bat second behind Segura and ahead of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager, which makes him a likely candidate to score 100 runs. His combination of power and speed makes him a threat to be a serious producer atop one of the most talented lineups in the league, as the Mariners finished sixth in runs scored in 2016.

The rookie is currently owned in only 17 percent of leagues, which is sure to jump as he begins to produce.

 

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