Low Expectations, High Reward Players

There are stars in baseball and there are roles players. Very few teams can win a division, let alone a championship without multiple pieces doing their part. The Dodgers last season were a team that was made up of stars like Mookie Betts and Clayton Kershaw. They had tons of talent but they would not have been able to win a championship without super utility player Chris Taylor or journeymen turned stars Max Muncy and Justin Turner. Some players have long careers and take a while to find themselves. Some were highly touted prospects that just took a little longer than most expected. This season there are a few players that have stood out to me as potential game changers to already strong rosters.

Christian Arroyo- Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox were looking for some offensive help in the offseason. They added power bat Hunter Renfroe and super utility men Enrique Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez.  The off the radar addition of Christain Arroyo has paid off as much if not more then any of them. 

Arroyo was moved to the lead off position to fill the gap left by the struggling Enrique Hernandez.  He has done nothing but produce since the move going 9 for 24. The former Giants first round pick has set the table for the big bats in the lineup, forcing opposing pitchers to challenge Rafael Devers and Xander Bogearts.  

Taking a chance on a former top prospect is always something organizations like to do and Arroyo looks like he may become a late bloomer, he was ranked as high as #62 overall as recently as 2016.  His time with the Giants never panned out, he was moved in the blockbuster deal that brought Evan Longoria to San Franciscio. Never really catching on with the Rays, Arroyo became a journeyman that is finally finding a home, still just 26 years old he could still be an impact player in the league.  He currently boasts a .792 OPS and it is climbing as Red Sox manager Alex Cora has shown big time confidence in him.

Patrick Wisdom- Chicago Cubs

Patrick Wisdom was always that prospect in the St. Louis’ system that the fans were waiting to see make an impact.  That time never occurred in St. Louis, in fact it seemed like Wisdom was never going to cash in on the promise he showed when he smacked 31 homers in triple-A in 2017.  The Cardinals moved on from Wisdom, he ended up in Texas where he got a short opportunity before being sent on his way to the Chicago Cubs in the offseason. 

The Cubs likely had very little plan to utilize Wisdom, but injuries and poor play led to the chance for the 29 year old and he has taken full advantage of it in just ten games.  Wisdom has matched the record set by Reds Aristedes Aquino by hitting 8 homers in just ten games. Regression is obviously coming but the impact that Wisdom has made on the Cubs since being inserted into the lineup has led them to the top of the the NL Cental. 

Taijaun Walker- New York Mets

Much like the aforementioned Christain Arroyo, Taijuan Walker was a big deal coming up through the minors for the Seattle Mariners. Things never really worked out in Seattle, but Walker seemed to find himself once he was moved to the Arizona Diamondbacks.  In 2017 Walker was just 9-9 but was able to set career marks in nearly every statistic, ERA, xFIP, K/9 and BA against.  Walker dealt with a few injury riddled seasons in 2018 and 2019 but again showed his improvement once healthy in 2020.  

He entered the offseason is an afterthought, eventually signing with the Mets for a meager 3yr, $23 million dollar contract.  Walker has vaulted into the #2 spot in the Mets rotation and has helped them overcome a lackluster start from their offense.  Despite two different stints on the IL, Walker has still amassed 11 starts, 5 wins, 2.07 ERA, 2.83 FIP and a 1.8 WAR.  

Willy Adames- Milwaukee Brewers

Trading Willy Adames was a surprise to a lot of major league baseball.  Adames is still just 25 years old and is coming off of his best season in the bigs, helping lead the Rays to the AL pennant.  Adames’s time with the Rays was numbered with Wander Franco likely making his debut sooner rather than later but the Brewers may have found themselves a gem at a low cost.  

Adames has always brought a great glove with him but last season he peaked with a 124 WRC+, while knocking in 29 runs in a shortened season.  Adames had been struggling at the plate early in the season but since the move has lit a fire under a Brewers offense that needed all the help they could get.  In 15 games with the Brew Crew, Adames has driven in 11 runs.  He will never consistently hit over .300, but he will be productive against lefties and can provide stability at a position that the Brewers have had very little success getting production.  

Rich Hill- Tampa Bay Rays

Rich Hill is 41 years old.  He made his debut in 2005 for Chicago Cubs, since that day he has played for nine different teams all around the MLB and has been a mix of effective and embarrassing. The latter being as bad as anyone has seen in all of baseball. Since 2016, though Hill has found himself as a pitcher and when healthy he has been a staple in competetive rotations. Hill has pitched for the Athletics, Dodgers and Twins helping them all get to the playoffs.  

The Rays have a history of striking gold when no one expects and it looks like Hill is the latest achievement for the Tampa front office. He is currently 5-2 with a 3.09 ERA and has made 12 starts without finding himself on the disabled list.  What is amazing about Hill is that in an era that has multiple flamethrowers on every team Hill gets out by utilizing his spin rate and precision.  Since spin rate has been measured in 2015, Hill ranks at the top of most categories for two different pitches (fastball and curveball).  The Rays as a staff are elite, but they do lack a true #2 starter behind Tyler Glasnow, Hill may be the answer.

Why the Angels stink.

The Angels have Mike Trout and Shohei Otani.  One is currently the best baseball player alive, the other is a modern day Babe Ruth that is revolutionizing the game.  Those two player alone should make them a legit contender in any division in major league baseball.  At least, that’s what many baseball analysts believed at the start of 2021.  A popular pick to take the next step this season has been nothing but a disappointment.  They currently are 20-27 just dead last in their division.  The Angels have tons of talent but…they stink.  Why?

They signed Jose Quintana.

Blaming Quintana is harsh but honestly what did they think they were getting.  The Angels had to do something to bolster their rotation but adding Quintana wasn’t putting a bandaid on a cut it was like pouring vinegar on it. Quintana is second on the team in starts and features a glorious 8.53 ERA.  The Angels should have seen this coming, the former White Sox All-Star was coming off of his worst season in the bigs with the Chicago Cubs.  The argument could have been made that it was a small sample size and Wrigley field is a nightmare for any pitcher, but if you take a deeper dive you see that he is giving up massive hard hit rates.  Currently Quintana has a HR/Flyball rate of 21%,  that is five point higher than what was the highest of his career when he gave up a 16% HR/Flyball rate.  He is giving up the long ball like he has a contract incentive.  

The Angels have long had issues with their pitching staff and relying on a veteran that was showing regression in every major category is a huge reason why they stink.  But it is not the only reason. 

Quintana isn’t even the worst.

Signing an regressing veteran to fill in a need in your rotation is dumb. What is even dumber is spending all your money on bats when your staff is throwing BP to the opposing offenses. As a staff, the Angels are ranked dead last in ERA, dead last in WHIP, 28th in isolated power and 28th in OPS.  This pitching staff is not only bad, it is historically pathetic. 

Dylan Bundy was a great story in 2020 but he has regressed to the underwhelming pitcher that was in Baltimore. 

Grffin Canning has potential.  At least that is what I keep hearing.  I have never actually seen it but I feel like the Angels keep telling themselves that Canning is good eventually they will be right.  

The bullpen is laughable.  Mike Mayers was closing for them at one point this season.  The same Mayers that had a historically bad MLB debut with the Cardinals back in 2016 (look it up if you haven’t seen it.) 

The Angels loaded their team with top of the order bats but that they could just fill some holes in the pen and rotation.  It hasn’t worked and unless they randomly strike pitching gold, this team is going to live in the poor house.

Where is Jo Adell?

Angels top prospect Jo Adell was not an immediate impact bat when he made his debut in 2020.  While he didn’t dazzle in his first taste of the bigs he has begun the minor league season showing the potential that he possesses.  The former 10th overall pick of the Angels in 2017 has already hit 10 homeruns in just 17 games this season at triple-A.  The Angels offense has found some hidden gems over the last two seasons with Jared Walsh and David Fletcher taking over major roles in the offense but injuries have depleted alot of the offense and as a team they could use some new blood to spark the team. Also David Fletcher is horrible right now.  

Adell isn’t a big need.  The offense has been productive despite losses of key contributors throughout the season. When a team is in a funk they need to find a way to inspire and the power and youth of Adell can help overcome the problems they are having with the pitching staff. 

Why the Twins stink.

The Minnesota Twins currently sit at 13-25 after a loss Sunday to the Oakland Athletics. Currently they are  in last place in the AL Central division, a division that they have won the last two seasons. Minnesota’s rapid decline is one that has shocked the baseball world. The Chicago White Sox entered the season projected as the favorite to dethrone the division champs but we are currently 38 games into the season Minnesota looks more like a team ready to begin a rebuild rather than make a run into the playoffs. In fact no team in the last 100 years has been able to overcome losing 25 of their first 38 games to eventually make the playoffs. This was a team that was looking to not only win their division but contend for a world series.  So, the question is, why do the Twins stink?  I have a few thoughts.

Jose Berrios is not a #1 starter. 

The Twins have been waiting for Jose Berrios to take the reins as the star we seem to perceive him to be at the top of the rotation. His numbers look decent, 3.74 ERA, 26.8% K percentage and a 3.38 xFIP. Numbers don’t always tell the full story for Berrios.  He has shown an inability to dominate an opposing offense when his team needs it. His team has gone 4-4 in his starts.  His 4 wins were against Seattle, Milwaukee, Kansas City and Oakland.  Outside of Oakland the other three offenses rank at the bottom of all of major league baseball. When he pitches he gets hit hard, his barrel % is the highest it has been in his entire MLB career sitting at 12% while he has also given up his highest hard hit percentage in his career.

Berrios has had pressure to be an ace since his original call up.  The Twins have made efforts to put pitchers around Berrios but they have continued to hope he would ascend into the role rather than understand the player he is.  He is a solid, potentially all-star level pitcher that doesn’t have the ability to be the ace of a staff. Guys like Kenta Maeda, JA Happ and Michael Pineda are all similar pitchers to Berrios and that is not enough to bring this team back from a terrible start. 

Struggling stars.  

Miguel Sano, .135/.297/.257

Jorge Polanco, .244/.311/.393

Mitch Garver, .189/.255/.422

Max Kepler, .212/.304/.414

The Twins bats haven’t been the biggest issue duing the season. Luis Arreaz, Nelson Cruz and Byron Buxton have been phenomenal to start the season but after the top four of the lineup the fall off is drastic.  Minnesota was starting to see the future as top prospect Alex Kiriloff seemed to be finding his stride in the bigs until an injury derailed his progress. The Twins have a top ten team batting average but rank 25th overall in runners left on base while in scoring position.  Their top heavy lineup is getting on but the bottom can’ pick them up. For the Twins to dig themselve out of this hole they will need someone to pick up the slack.  Max Kepler has now returned from the Covid list and Jorge Polanco has begun to pick up the pace over the last few weeks.  If they can get things going the Twins offense can take off to match the top dog of the division, the Chicago White Sox.

Bullpen issues were never addressed. 

Minnesota has a bottom five pitching staff.  The starters have struggled but the bullpen has been especially troublesome.  Offseason additions Hansel Robles and Alex Colome were supposed to fill in the gaps along with Taylor Rogers.  Colome, the former White Sox closer, has been a complete bust.   Colome’s struggles are just the beginning of the troubles in the Minnesota bullpen.  The bullpen ERA is over 4 and has given up leads like they aren’t sure what they are really supposed to be doing when they enter the game.  The Twins bullpen has a combined record of 2-12 as a team, so they are not only losing tough games but they are blowing leads.  

The Twins starters are just middle of the road and they are being forced to take up more innings due to the fact that Minnesota doesn’t have a single player they can rely on to eat up innings.  Minnesota doesn’t have a lot of options in the minors, their top pitching prospect is Jordan Balazovic has the power fastball that can be a good fit in the bullpen, but in a season that may already be lost it would be stupid to mess with his progression as a starter.  If Minnesota can make a run over the next month to get themselves into playoff position they will have to use their top ten farm system to get themselves some help in the backend.  The offense still has time to rebound and the starters are veterans.  This bullpen is a problem, the biggest problem for the Twins.  It is the may reason that they stink.

Two Contenders, Two Pretenders

Contender- Boston Red Sox (14-9) 5.65 RPG 

Boston didn’t have high expectations this season.  The AL East was considered the deepest division in the American League. The Blue Jays, Yankees and Rays all had high expectations coming into 2021 but it has been the Red Sox that have been the most impressive team standing on top of the league, led by their stout offense. 

The Red Sox are the #1 in slugging percentage (.468), 6th in ISO (.180), 1st in hits per game (9.75), third in runs per game (5.17).  The offense has excelled despite the fact that offseason additions Hunter Renfroe, Marwin Gonzalez and Kike Hernandez have given them basically nothing to this point of the season.  Last year’s standout Bobby Dalbec just hit his first homer last night against the mets.  With all of these guys not performing, how is the offense so good?? Simple answer is the return to form of one of the best hitters in baseball over the last five years, JD Martinez.  Martinez has erased the memory of 2020 and begun to return to dominance with a slash line that seems almost inconceivable, .370/.446/.753.  Martinez also has a new co-host to his barrel party, the often forgotten piece of the Mookie Betts trade, Alex Verdugo.  The long-time Dodger top prospect has finally found his swing and together, he and Martinez are running through the league.  

The Red Sox offense has prevailed in an AL East that has suddenly become very winnable with the struggles of the Yankees and the injuries to the Blue Jays.  The Sox will be around for awhile because they rebuilt their bullpen and found the offense that was never seen in 2020 

Pretender- Seattle Mariners (13-9)

Seattle is a town known for their rainy weather but the future of their baseball team is very bright.  The sunshine has begun to peak through the clouds at the start of the 2021 season.  The Mariners are still waiting for their star prospects to make their way to the bigs.  Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez are both going to be in the bigs sooner rather than later but for now the Mariners are showing signs of life with their current crop of rising stars.  Ty France has looked like the diamond of the deal made last year with San Diego, Taylor Trammell has gotten some big hits and is showing major power and Marco Gonzalez seems like a steal.  

The Mariners have come out of the gates on fire.  They are pulling out victories that they would not have a year prior.  Their bullpen has been great for Seattle but their lack of depth in the rotation is already starting to show.  Outside of Chris Flexen the rotation has a cumulative ERA of over 4.5.  As a staff they are bottom ten in walks per game, they give up a ton of free bases and it has come back to haunt them.  Seattle has given their fnabse some hope for the future but it would be the best situation for them to move on from veterans like Kyle Seager and Mitch Haniger at the deadline to try and continue to build up the pitching staff.  As the Astors get healthy and the Angels find their consistency on offense, Seattle will be fighting to stay out of the cellar of their own division. 

Contender- Milwaukee Brewers (13-8)

The Brewers stink on offense, like historically. As a team Milwaukee is hitting just .208, good for 27th in baseball and they strike out 28% of their at bats.  This is a team that for half of the season actually had Christian Yelich in their lineup. Despite their abysmal offense the Brewers still find themselves on top of the NL Central.  

The offense is putrid but Manager Craig Counsell finds ways to get just enough from his bats to back up his elite level pitching.  Corbine Burnes leads a staff that has been lights out from the start of the season and shows no signs of slowing down.  Along with Burnes is ace 1A Brandon Woodruff, who has allowed just five runs in 29 innings pitched this year.  On most teams that would make him the “top guy”, in this rotation, he is just another guy.  Milwaukee is more than just a top two, 25-year old Freddy Peralta looks to finally be healthy enough to show off the potential the organization has always seen in him.  Peralta has announced himself to the league and makes for a filthy #3 starte .  

The Brewers will eventually get their star Christian Yelich back.  His time away has allowed other players to get more at-bats and find their way at the plate. Long time prospect Billy McKinney has shown some pop and veteran slugger Travis Shaw has seemed to be reborn in his return to the Brewers after a season away in Toronto.  The Brew Crew will never be a potent offense but they have enough power to put themselves up at any moment and feature some of the nastiest arms out of the bullpen as you will ever see.  The NL Central is currently up for grabs and this team can pitch themselves into the playoffs.  

Pretender- San Francisco Giants (14-8)

The Giants currently sit in second place in the NL West and first place in the very early wild card rankings.  The Giants have leaned on their pitching staff in 2021, currently as a team they have the third lowest ERA (2.94) sitting just behind division powerhouses the Dodger and Padres.  San Francisco has accumulated this pitching staff by taking a lot of risks on veterans in free agency.  Their rotation consists of Aaron Sanchez, Alex Wood, Anthony DeScalfani, Johnny Cueto, Kevin Gausman and Logan Webb.  Only Cueto could conceivable consider himself ever to be a team’s #1 starter, the rest were talented guys that have never panned out on the major league level consistently but they have found a home with the Giants. They are a staff that doesn’t give up free passes, they force teams to put the ball in play and it has worked out so far. 

The Giants know how to take advantage of a matchup. You will likely never see Darin Ruf or Austin Slater both in the lineup against a righty and the same goes for Alex Dickerson against a lefty. The Giants play their advantage and do what they can to get the most out of their hitters.  Their offseason addition of Tommy LaStella added another veteran to a lineup that is loaded with quality hitters.  Evan Longoria has had a resurgence to begin the season, leading the team with a .972 OPS, while future hall of famer Buster Posey has also picked up his old form with a .911 OPS.  The Giants rely on matchups and 

The NL West is very top heavy so the Giants could find themselves with a chance to make a run for a wild card spot by beating up the bottom dwellers Arizona and Colorado but they lack the depth in the rotation to make a long run.  What San Fran has done to start the season has impressed but they are yet to have a single matchup against the elite in the national league.  When they get their matchups with the Dodgers and Padres reality will set in and that reality is that they are rebuilding.  They have some solid major league talent but to compete in the loaded NL West they need more firepower  If their veteran rotation continues to impress they will have solid trade chips to improve their top ten ranked farm system.  Joey Bart and Mario Luciano will be on their way to the bigs leagues soon and this team will be ready to make a run, but not this year.

Cardinal’s Outfield Answer?

The Cardinals shocked the baseball world when they made a huge trade this season.  I am of course talking about trading Dexter Fowler to the Los Angeles Angels.  Fowler’s tenure in St. Louis was not a complete disaster. His first season and his last season were serviceable.  The Cardinals moving on from Fowler leaves a hole in the outfield that will likely be filled with a young bat.  The Cardinals will fill from within.  There is a guy that will have to step up and it’s not the player that most would think. 

With Marcell Ozuna signing with the Braves and Andrew Benintendi being traded to the Royals  there are no impact bats on the market that are going to be able to step in and make a difference behind Goldschmidt and Arenado.  The Cardinals are looking to step into the future with a projected outfield consisting of Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neil and Dylan Carlson.  Each of the aforementioned outfielders are not above the age of 26 and none have proven to be an efficient major league player for a full 162 game schedule.  

The Cardinals outfield youth will be a challenge to a team that is looking to contend immediately.  St. Louis will likely have to look to its organizational depth to protect their team.  While 2020 free agent signee Austin Dean impressed in spring training and when given opportunities in-season he is not the long term answer to the Cardinals question.  Justin Williams was picked up in the trade that sent Tommy Pham to the Rays in July of 2019.  Williams has been a long time prospect in every system he has been a part of.  The former second round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks finished his first season with the Cardinals impressively with a slash line of .340/.427/.553. When healthy Williams has shown serious power, blasting 14 homers with the Rays in double-A (2017) and seven homers in 31 games in triple-A Memphis (2019).

The Cardinals have moved on from left-handed bats Brad Miller, Matt Wieters (switch), Kolten Wong and of course Dexter Fowler.  The acquisition of Nolan Arenado will likely lead to less at bats for Matt Carpenter, the Cardinals will need to have more threats from the left side of the plate and Williams will find his chance to make the difference for the organization in late game situations, pinch hitting for O’Neil and Bader. 

Cardinals need to replace Wong. Free agent options.

The Cardinals decided to let Kolten Wong walk this offseason.  They didnt want to pick up his club option that would have paid him $12.5 million in 2021.  Contracts of other players such as Dexter Fowler and Matt Carpenter are likely a big reason why the club felt paying a rather steep price for a second baseman with just two seasons of WAR over 3 was not worth it.  While his 2020 shortened season numbers were not impressive he still leaves a void in the Cardinals lineup that has to be filled.  Internal options Tommy Edman and Edmund Sosa will likely get the first shot. There are external options that may be affordable and impactful.  

Enrique Hernandez, 29, 1.1 WAR (2020)

The Cardinals are one of the worst teams in baseball against left-handed pitching over the last two seasons.  St. Louis had just an OPS of .713 in 2020 against southpaws.  Enter in Kiki Hernandez.  A long time lefty smasher, Hernandez has been a vital bench player for the World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers since 2014.  He carries a career OPS of .820 versus lefties and tons of versatility on top of that. 

Hernandez will be a cheaper option to Wong as he is projected to sign for just around $6 million a year.  Adding a player that can play multiple positions and provide some pop to a lineup that lacks consistent power options would be an answer to a few of the St. Louis offensive problems.

Johnathan Villar, 30, -0.3 (2020), 4.0 (2019)

Villar had a disastorous 2020, there is no other way around it.  Cashing in on this would be advantageous to anyone willing to take a shot on the veteran.  Villar brings instant offense to any team with his speed and power.  Villar had the best season of his career in 2019 hitting 24 homers and stealing 40 bases.  He had his second highest career OBP at .339.   

Villar is a high-risk, high reward option that will be cheap.  His ability to switch hit is also a great value for late game moves. 

Tommy LaStella, 32, 3.2 WAR (2020)

Tommy LaStella not being signed yet is a great example of the ridiculous nature of MLB free agency at the moment.  A veteran player that has hit at an all-star level over the last two seasons is still sitting on the market without much of an idea on where he will be next season. 

LaStella has had two straight seasons with a WRC+ over 120.  In 2020 LaStella ranked 25th overall in the league in OBP (.370).  He would fit very nicely into the leadoff spot that was vacated by Wong.  While he doesn’t have the speed that Wong brings to the table his ability to get on base could set up very nicely for Paul Goldschmidt.   An inability to consistently hit lefties has hampered LaStella’s overall numbers but the Cardinals could easilit platoon him with Tommy Edman, allowing for a solid bat to be used later on in the game. 

A Positive for Indians Fans

Cleveland Indians fans have had to see arguably the brightest star in baseball leave their organization when they traded Francisco Lindor last week for a package of prospects.  The Indians are just five seasons from being in the World Series and now are looking at a complete rebuild.  The Indians have lost an all-star team worth of talent over the last five years.  Lindor is the top of the list that also includes Carlos Carrasco, Andrew Miller, Michael Brantley, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Santana, Mike Clevinger and Yandy Diaz.  Cleveland finds themselves behind Minnesota and Chicago in the central division and likely will not overtake them for a few years.  While the Indians have given up a lot of stars they have been able to build a young group of players as well as some financial flexibility to lock up their young talent.  

In 2020 the Indians farm system vaulted up to rank #12 overall according to ESPN and Baseball America.  Cleveland has loaded itself with young talent.  Of the Indians top ten prospects seven of them are 20 or younger (8 assuming you remove Tristan Mckenzie).  Cleveland’s top prospect Nolan Jones should see MLB time this year.  #2 ranked prospect Tyler Freeman is still a few years away but the addition of two major league ready shortstops in the trade with the Mets.  The trade with the Mets allows the Indians to allow Freeman time to continue to develop.  The Indians also have their catcher of the future in Bo Naylor.  Naylor will play behind Robeto Perez in 2021, but his time will come very soon depending on the succes of the Indians leading into the trade deadline this summer.  Cleveland unloaded most of their salary in order to reload for the future and build their team from within similarly to the way they did it leading into the 2016 system.

Cleveland has built up a great amount of roster flexibility as they watch their prospects continue to grow.  Jose Ramirez currently is the highest paid Indian at $9 million per year.  Over the next two seasons Ramirez is owed $26 million over the next two years but has a team buyout option of just $2 million.   Ramirez is just 28 years old heading into 2021 and the decision on his future could strictly come down to where the Indians are in the development of Nolan Jones, who grades out as primarily a 3rd baseman.  The financial situation in Cleveland is ideal for Cy Young winner Shane Bieber to get locked down in the near future as he is just now becoming arbitration eligible.  Bieber along with fellow pitchers Adam Plutko, Tristan McKenzie, Zac Plesac, Aaron Civale, Cal Quantril and Logan Allen are the rotation pieces of right now and the future as they are all under the age of 30 and under team control for most of the foreseeable future.  

Cleveland fans will find it tough to see the bright side to trading away their best player.  Ultimately if you just look at the pieces you have to consider it a win for the New York Mets,  While the Mets got the best two players of the trade Cleveland was able to grab two highly rated prospects, most notably pitcher Josh Wolf who will find himself as a top ten prospect in the Indians system at some point in 2021.  They also got Isiah Greene, an outfielder they had been targeting since the draft last year.  Both players are projected to be future standouts in their system.  Along with the prospects the Indians were able to get major league ready talent in Ahmed Rosario and last year’s breakout player Andres Gimenez.  Neither are on the level of Lindor but they will be solid pieces for a rebuilding team.  Gimenez grades out as a future gold glover at the position and ranks in the top 93rd percentile in speed which can at least make hima  stolen base threat.  

The Indians are a small market team that has to work with what their financials allow.  There will be some tough years ahead of the tribe but their pitching staff should be a highlight for a while and their farm system continues to grow.  The prospects they have picked up in the trades of Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger and Francisco Lindor are guys that fit their needs. If could be a lot worse in Cleveland,  just ask the Pittsburgh Pirates.  

Cardinals trades that won’t happen but should.

Clint Frazier, New York Yankees

The Yankees are stacked with outfielders.  They could use some pitching depth.  The Cardinals are stacked with you pitchers and could really use some power in the outfield. Frazier is coming off of his best season in the bigs.  Filling in for Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge for a bulk of his shortened season, Frazier was able to finally show off the skills that had once rated him as one of the top offensive prospects in all of baseball. 

Frazier, 26, is still very young and can immediately be an impact bat in the middle of the Cardinals offense. Playing in 39 games in 2020, Frazier hit 8 homers with an ISO of .244.  Frazier’s power is the real deal, he hit 12 homers in just 69 games in 2019. He has shown an ability to continue to develop as he was able to have a career high .387 OBP this season while getting a nomination for the gold glove.  

The Cardinals could have a chance to grab a talented young hitter that is ready to get full time at bats.  The Yankees may not have the interest they once did in Carlos Martinez but a package of Martinez and another young hurler could be enough to grab Frazier.  This would be a win for both clubs.  

There is no reason not to go after Frazier.  The only argument anyone could make is that he is unproven long term.  Well all players are at some point and he has had a lot more success at the major league level than O’Neil, Bader, Thomas or Justin Williams.  

Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies

Why does everyone always talk about the Cardinals getting Nolan Arenado or Francisco Lindor?  What about Trevor Story. Like Lindor, Story is a free agent to be in after the 2021 season.  The Rockies likely will look to move Story for some assets if they think they will not be able to resign him. His abilities have been overshadowed by his fellow left side of the infield partner Arenado but his numbers match up very well.  Story has added speed to the arsenal over the last three seasons.  He actually led the league in steals in 2020 with 15.  

The power is what will attract potential suitors.  His numbers away from Coors have not been great but his six homers in opposing parks last season show that the power will travel.  It’s time for the Cardinals to move on from the Paul DeJong experiment.  While Lindor seems to be the popular choice Story could come at a cheaper price.  

Whit Merrifield, Kansas City Royals

Whit Merrifield is insanely underpaid. He signed a 4-year extension in 2020 worth just $16.25 million.  Kansas City is still a few years away from being truly competitive in the American League.  They have an asset in Merrifield that they can move for some serious pieces to complete their full rebuild.  Merrifield is a perfect fit for the Cardinals at the top of the order.  Putting him in front of Golschmidt will immediately be a step up from Kolten Wong and Tommy Edman.  

Merrifield has been on the market for most of his career in Kansas City.  They are running out of time to move him for top value and could be pressed to do so soon.  The Cardinals could get a guy that led the league in hits in 2019, two straight years of an OPS of .800 while stealing 111 bases since his debut in 2017.  Merrifield is a hit machine that is the answer for a leadoff spot that has lacked consistency. 

Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks

The Cardinals were able to raid the Arizona selling spree two years ago by adding Paul Goldschmidt.  There is a new star that Arizona may have lost faith in last year, Ketel Marte.  Marte was not the same player in 2020.  Coming off of a career year in 2019 a lot was expected of Marte.  The Diamondbacks dealt with inconsistencies in the lineup and rotation.  Marte and the rest of the team were never able to overcome their slow start.  

Marte fits into a similar mold as the aforementioned Merrifield but his youth and potential make him a potential steal.  Marte has not been given a chance to excel on a winning team where he is protected in the lineup.  Putting him in front of Goldschimdt will force opposing pitchers to throw to challenge him and when he makes contact the results have spoken for themselves.    

Marte is locked in to a serviceable contract that will at its max pay him just $12million in the final year. The contract is affordable and will finish in his age 30 season in 2024.  He is cheap and has a ceiling that is vastly higher than any option the Cardinals currently have.

Braves vs Dodgers; NLCS Preview and Prediction

The matchup of the two best teams in the national league will culminate in an epic showdown in the NLCS.  Both teams have gone undefeated throughout the first two rounds, they both feature great offenses and marquee names.  These teams have a history of winning, but not a recent history of winning the big one.  What will be the difference?  Let’s break it down. 

Can Braves pitching face the challenge?

Atlanta took some blows to their pitching staff throughout the season.  Losing offseason signees Felix Hernandez and Cole Hamels, one to injury and one to Covid worry set the Braves back right away.  The rapid decline of Mike Foltynewicz took another name off the table almost immediately into 2020.  The final straw in the deterioration of the staff was losing ace Mike Soroka to an achilles injury. 

Max Fried stepped up during the regular season. Despite getting knocked around in the NLDS he is still the clear #1 for the Braves.  Fried has limited hard contact all season holding opposing lineups to just a 23% rate.  The Dodgers are not a heavy strikeout team so limiting the contact will be important.  

Rookie Ian Anderson has been overwhelming to start his career.  He has held opposing hitters power in check so far giving up just a .7% homerun rate.  That ranks #1 in the league for any pitcher that has faced at least 156 hitters.  Anderson’s changeup has kept hitters off balance, as long as he continues to hit the strike zone and avoid free passes he matches up well with the Dodgers front line starters.  

The depth of the Braves bullpen has bailed them out from their injuries. Tyler Matzek, Will Smith, Darren O’Day and Mark Melancon all have been great with sub 3.00 ERA’s in at least 18 appearances each.  They have to ride the bullpen arms to overcome their young rotation that will have problems with the Dodgers patience at the plate. 

The Dodgers offense is matchup proof.

Los Angeles has the best offense in the league in every advanced statistic.  They have a wRC+ of 122, along with the Mets as the best in the league.  What makes the Dodgers extremely dangerous is their ability to score without utilizing the homerun.  They showed in the Padres series they have multiple ways of manufacturing runs.  There is not one person on the team that beats you, it could be anyone. 

The Braves feature an extremely young pitching staff that will have to throw strikes. The Braves sit at the bottom five in steals allowed per game.  The Dodgers will have a chance to make things happen when they get on base. 

The Braves are in the bottom five in stolen bases against during the season. The Dodgers have multiple players that can take advantage of the Braves issues with runners on.  Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, and Cody Bellinger are just a few that can swip a bag at any moment.  LA will make it tough for Atlanta as they also feature a low strikeout rate.  The power is real, accompanied by the ability to use their contact ability speed to cause trouble.  

Who will win?

Both teams feature the best offenses in the National League.  The Braves however will feature a rotation that includes Kyle Wright….and nothing else.  The Dodgers feature a perfect matchup with the Braves bats Julio Urias and Dustin May both feature great movement on their pitches that will be a problem for Atlanta bats.  The depth of the Dodgers pitching will ultimately outmatch the Braves.  

Dodgers in 5

Preview and Predictions for AL first round.

Tampa Bay Rays vs. Toronto Blue Jays

The Tampa Bay Rays took the #1 seed in the American League by playing every matchup perfectly throughout the season.  Dealing with injuries up and down the lineup and rotation they seemed to find the right mixes to be successful no matter what.  They will face an opponent that knows them very well in the Toronto Blue Jays.  

The Blue Jays have a powerful lineup, seeing a surge from Lourdes Gourriel Jr. over the last month to go along with Bo Bichette, Vlad Guerrero and Teoscar Hernandez.  Toronto actually has the advantage on the offensive side, averaging 5 runs per game.  The Blue Jays offense will be the lone advantage they have in this series.

Tampa Bay marches out a rotation of Blake Snell in GM1, Tyler Glasnow in GM2 and Charlie Morton in GM3.  Their rotation along with the best bullpen in baseball will be enough to hold down the Toronto offense.  Tampa Bay’s offense plays the matchup game very well and will be too much for the Blue Jays. Toronto’s best chance will be in game two when they have off-season signing Hyun Jin Ryu who brings some experience in a playoff setting, but the Rays have some great right-handed bats that will thrive. Rays are built for this situation. 

Pick: Rays in 2

Cleveland Indians vs. New York Yankees

The Yankees narrowly avoided a matchup with their “daddys” in 2020 the Tampa Bay Rays.  Instead they get the Cleveland Indians and potential MVP and guaranteed Cy Young winner Shane Bieber in game one.  Bieber versus Cole in game one will be a classic matchup of two bulldog pitchers that will go deep in the game and the first one to miss a spot is going to likely give up the game. The big problem for the Indians is that their lineup doesn’t feature nearly the amount of hitters that can provide the big pop when needed. 

Cleveland’s pitching will give them a chance but their team batting average of .228 and a major lack of power ranking 27th in the league in team ISO.  Jose Ramirez has carried the offense of late but he will need help against the powerful Yankee bats.  New York is healthy again and has the horses in the bullpen to clean up any trouble the starters run into.  Indians don’t have enough to pull this one out. 

Pick: Yankees in 3

Minnesota Twins vs. Houston Astros

The Twins have not won a playoff game in a very long time, losing 16 straight playoff games dating back to 2004.  This series should give the Twins their first game win and series win.  The Astros have dealt with a loss of injuries in 2020, yet somehow found themselves in the playoff due the new expansion. Houston has been offensively challenged at times in 2020.  Recently seeing a resurgence of power with George Springer and Alex Bregman.  Still the Astros have a team ISO ranking 18th in the league and team batting average of .240 ranking 20th in the league.  

Minnesota has the advantage with their rotation for the first two games going with Kenta Maeda and Jose Berrios in the first two games.  At this point the Astros have only announced Zack Greinke as their game one starter with the other TBD.  Minnesota loves right handed pitching, as a team they are #1 in the league in overall home run percentage versus righties.  That is a big factor in the Minnesota offense as they are a team that thrives on scoring runs due to the long ball.  

The Astros haven’t announced who will start game 2 or game 3 yet, my money would go on Framber Valdez to offset Minnesota’s dominant numbers against right handed pitching. The Twins have more depth in the bullpen, rotation and lineup.  They have to get over the mental hump of consistent playoff losses.  They have the talent and should make quick work of the injury riddled Houston Astros. 

Pick: Twins in 2

Oakland Athletics vs Chicago White Sox

I’ve reviewed the Oakland Athletics numbers over and over again and still can’t figure out how the Athletics score runs.  Horrible seasons from Matt Olson, Khris Davis, Marcus Semien and Ramon Laureano, coupled with losing Matt Chapman for the season has left the lineup underwhelming. The pitching staff has stepped up to mask the offensive problems.  The Athletics bullpen has been impressive, leading to the Athletics having a record of 27-0 when leading after the 7th inning.  Liam Hendricks, Yusmeiro Petit, and Jake Diekmann have been lights out for the Athletics all season.  

The Athletics are going to go with Sean Manaea in game one despite the immaculate White Sox record against left-handed pitching. Breakout starter Chris Bassit will likely pitch game 2. Oakland is going to have to get a lead early and that will be tough against the White Sox top two starters Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel. 

The White Sox offense is better in nearly every single position bat for bat and if they are able to grab a lead I can’t see the Athletics offense being able to come back.   Chicago has found a niche in the back end with Alex Colome being set up by Matt Foster, Aaron Bummer and their new weapon rookie Garrett Crochet.  The White Sox have more talent and better pitching.  The Athletics have the experience.  The talent will win out in a short series.