Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Phillies Fall 2016 Top Ten Prospects: Near Misses

Over the past week, I have been releasing a countdown of the Philadelphia Phillies Top Ten Prospects as of Fall 2016.
That Phillies top prospect list shows that this vastly improved organization has a tremendous mix of talented youngsters coming at a variety of positions.
The current top ten includes three pitchers, a catcher, a second baseman, a shortstop, and four outfielders. At least three of these prospects appear ready to impact the team in the 2017 season.
But there were others who didn’t make the cut, but who were close. Players who are legitimate big league prospects. 
Certainly a few of them would have made the top ten list in the estimations of other talent evaluators. Let’s examine a few of the prospects who just missed my list.

Baseball Hall of Fame: Three Executives Deserve Enshrinement

Voting is now underway for the 2017 candidates to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Under rules amended two years ago, players are now considered for 10 years. 

Those who are not elected pass into the “Era” committees, formerly known as the “Veteran’s Committee”, for future consideration.

The current committees include “Today’s Game”, which evaluates from 1988 – present. “Modern Baseball” looks at 1970 – 1987. “Golden Days” votes on 1950 – 1969. “Early Baseball” examines 1871-1949.

These committees will select individuals on a rotating basis. For the upcoming 2017 Hall of Fame class as well as for 2019, the “Today’s Game” committee will do the evaluating. “Modern Baseball” will go in 2018 and 2020. “Golden Days” and “Early Baseball” will take their turns together for 2021.

The “Today’s Game Era” committee working this year includes 16 members selected by the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors. They will do their voting at the upcoming Winter Meetings. 

Each of the other committees who will do their selecting in future years have the same membership size They are selected in the same manner as well.

2016 Winter Meetings: Houston Astros

When the Winter Meetings open in National Harbor, Maryland next week, look for the Houston Astros to be one of the big players in free agent deals, big trades, or both.
A new Collective Bargaining Agreement could soon be announced between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association. If that happens, the Astros could strike even more quickly.
The two biggest free agent names tied to Houston at the moment are a pair of veteran bats, Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Beltran.

Nationals / Expos All-Time 25-Man Roster

The Washington Nationals emerged for the 2005 season after the relocation of the original Montreal Expos franchise.
Major League Baseball expanded by four teams and split into a divisional format beginning in 1969. 
The Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots (now the Milwaukee Brewers) went to the American League. The Expos and San Diego Padres were  assigned to the National League.
The Montreal team was named after the successful World’s Fair “Expo 67” held there in 1967 during the Canadian Centennial celebration.
After a decade of losing, a young core of players emerged in the late 1970’s to turn the team into a contender for the first time. Then from 1979-94 the Expos were consistent winners.
There were 11 winning Expos campaigns and another two .500 seasons during that 16 year stretch. However, Montreal reached the MLB postseason only one time in its history.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Rookies Were Unsung Heroes of Phillies 1980 Champions

Embed from Getty Images

Rookie Marty Bystrom's perfect September helped win the NL East in 1980

Much of the credit for the Philadelphia Phillies winning the franchise’s first-ever World Series championship back in 1980 has gone to the core of veteran players.
That title would not have been won without those veterans. Stars such as Mike SchmidtLarry BowaGreg LuzinskiBob BooneLarry Christenson and Dick Ruthven came up through the Phillies farm system.
That homegrown core was supplemented during the 1970s by players brought in through astute trades such as Tug McGrawGarry MaddoxManny Trillo, and Bake McBride.
And then, of course, there was the franchise’s first-ever big free agent signing of first baseman Pete Rose prior to the 1979 season.
All of those players, with the exception of Rose, were together and won the NL East Division crown for three consecutive years from 1976-78. However, the team was eliminated in the NLCS each time.

Bradley Zimmer Set to Crack Tribe Lineup

The Cleveland Indians had a magical 2016 season, one that fell just one victory short of baseball’s ultimate prize. Cleveland won the American League Central Division crown by eight games. 
The Indians then bounced a pair of AL East heavyweights, the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, out of the playoffs.
Advancing to the World Series for the first time in nearly two decades, Cleveland bolted out to a lead of 3-1 against the heavily favored Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs rallied, and tied the Fall Classic, sending it to an epic Game Seven. That final game went down to a rare “Golden Pitch” twice. Either club had a chance to win the World Series based on the outcome of that pitch.
In the end, Mike Montgomery induced Michael Martinez to ground weakly to third base, and the Cubs had ended their 108-year World Series drought.
It is now the Indians who are left to carry the weight of the longest such drought. Cleveland has not won the World Series since 1948.

Rockies May Be Ready to Move CarGo

In November of 2008, the Colorado Rockies sent their all-star left fielder Matt Holliday to the Oakland A’s.
In exchange, the Rox received emerging closer Huston Street, young starting pitcher Greg Smith, and a 22-year old outfielder named Carlos Gonzalez.
Smith was a non-factor, making only eight appearances with the Rockies in 2010. Street lasted three strong seasons as the closer in Denver, helping the Rockies reach the postseason in 2009–the last time they have appeared in the playoffs.
But the real prize in that trade turned out to be Gonzalez. Over the last eight seasons, ‘CarGo’ has been a 3x NL All-Star, a 3x Gold Glove Award winner, and has won three Silver Sluggers as well. He finished third in the 2010 NL Most Valuable Player award voting.
One of those All-Star seasons came just this past summer. Gonzalez hit for a .298/.350/.505 slash with 25 home runs, 42 doubles, 100 RBI, and 87 runs scored.

2016 Winter Meetings: Philadelphia Phillies

As he prepares to attend his second MLB Winter Meetings as the Philadelphia Phillies general manager next week, Matt Klentak may have a few dark horse moves up his sleeve.
While the rumor mills surrounding the still rebuilding Fightin’ Phils have been relatively quiet, there have been some whispers of possibility. In the usual game of whisper down the lane, a couple of the Phillies’ starting position players keep popping up. Those two players are catcher Cameron Rupp and second baseman Cesar Hernandez.
Rupp is now 28 years old and coming off a solid season. It was his first as the clear-cut #1 catcher in Philadelphia. Rupp hit .252 over 419 plate appearances in 105 games. He ripped 16 homers and 26 doubles, while knocking in 54 runs. He also drew praise for his defense and handling of the staff.
Hernandez is 26 years old and coming off his first full season as the unquestioned starter at second base. He did see plenty of action in 2015, especially following the trade of Chase Utley
Hernandez led the Phillies with a .294 average and .371 on-base percentage, and his 17 steals were tied for second on the club. The switch-hitter also led all of baseball with 11 triples.

2016 Winter Meetings: Detroit Tigers

There are few teams in as interesting a position as the Detroit Tigers find themselves in during this off-season. 
Al Avila, the EVP of Baseball Operations and the team’s GM has to decide whether to rebuild, or retool for another big 2017 run.
The Tigers were just short this past season, finishing at 86-75. That record left the club eight games in back of the division-winning Cleveland Indians. But Detroit was only 2.5 games off the AL Wildcard pace.
This is a club with most of its key performers already past age 30, a few well into those 30’s. The decision to be made is whether to cash in on those players while they still have real value, or add to that core and make another playoff push.
There are heavy rumors that Detroit is looking to slash payroll. The club has been big spenders and steady contenders for years. While they would like to keep contending while also getting rid of some big salaries, that usually proves a difficult tightrope to walk.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Would Pirates Actually Deal Andrew McCutchen?

It was a rough season for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2016. After three straight playoff seasons, the Bucs fell to 79-83 and third place in the NL Central Division.
A six-game winning streak at the end of April lifted Pittsburgh to 15-9, just three games out of first place. 
They would never be that far over the .500 mark, or that close to the division lead again.
In examining what went wrong this season in the Steel City, you find a number of factors came in to play. The starting pitching rotation suffered through injuries and ineffectiveness. The club got little production out of either the catcher or first base positions.
But another key element in the Pirates’ struggles this past season was a noticeable decline from center fielder Andrew McCutchen.

2016 Winter Meetings: Tampa Bay Rays

When newly named Tampa Bay Rays GM and senior VP of baseball operations Erik Neander arrives at the Winter Meetings, he is likely to be a popular fellow.
The Rays have what is generally considered to be a top ten farm system. They finished the 2016 season at 68-94 in fifth place in the always tough AL East Division.
Now might be the perfect time for Neander and Matthew Silverman, the club’s President for Baseball Operations, to begin looking at building a contender for a few years down the road.
To that end, the Rays would have two of the most attractive assets as the Winter Meetings open. 
Those would be starting pitcher Chris Archer and veteran third baseman Evan Longoria.

2016 Winter Meetings: Milwaukee Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers finished at 73-89 and in fourth place in the NL Central Division this season. That left the club 30.5 games behind the first place Chicago Cubs, a team they finished nine games in front of just two years ago.
As we prepare for the opening of baseball’s Winter Meetings in just one week, the Brewers could well be one of the big players in any horse trading.
One of the main reasons: left fielder Ryan Braun is actively on the trade block. The 33-year old Braun may be the most proven and prolific bat available in a deal.
Reports are that Milwaukee general manager David Stearns was very close to a deal to send Braun to the Los Angeles Dodgers on a couple of occasions last season.
“I get asked about it regularly,” Stearns said recently per ESPN through the AP“…that’s a big story this offseason, but I’m very happy that Ryan is a member of the Milwaukee Brewers…expect him to be a member of the Milwaukee Brewers going forward.”
The Dodgers are one of six teams to whom the 33-year old slugger cannot block a trade. The Miami Marlins, near where Braun played his college ball, are another. Also on the list are a number of teams near his home: the Angels, Padres, Dbacks, and Giants.

White Sox Potential Winter Meetings Deals

The Chicago White Sox are almost certain to be among the most popular and influential players as the 2016 MLB Winter Meetings unfold in National Harbor, Maryland.
The White Sox went an extremely disappointing 78-84 this past season. That resulted in a fourth place finish in the AL Central Division.
It was a fourth consecutive losing season on the South Side of Chicago. This followed a long run of contention that had spanned the better part of two decades.
Now the White Sox also have to contend for the hearts and attention of fans in a two-team city. The other franchise is, or course, the young and exciting new World Series champion Chicago Cubs.
The White Sox were legitimate division crown contenders in the majority of seasons between 1990 and 2012. They won the AL Central five times in that span, and were the 2005 World Series champions.
In the eyes of most industry talent evaluators, the Chisox minor league talent is among the bottom five in the game. So there is not much help coming from within the organization.
Four of the last five AL pennant winners have come from the division. This includes the defending champion Cleveland Indians. But the AL Central could become very competitive in the next few years.
It is the job of general manager Rich Hahn and VP Ken Williams to make sure that Chicago gets back to that regular contending status. To that end, they are going to have to start replenishing the young talent in the organization.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Can the Royals Bounce Back and Contend in 2017?

The Kansas City Royals and their fans suffered through nine straight losing campaigns and 17 of 18 dating back to the 1994 strike season.
Then in the early part of this decade, the club began to build up one of the top farm systems in the game.
It all came together for them at the big league level with back to back AL pennants in 2014 and 2015, and a World Series championship in 2015.
But this year the Royals slid back to the .500 mark, finishing in third place in the American League Central Division. They were 13.5 games behind the division-winning Cleveland Indians, and eight games behind the AL Wildcard pace.
It was a frustrating summer for the defending champs. But that eight game difference between themselves and the playoff teams is not insurmountable.
The Royals plan to return to that postseason contention in 2017, but is that a reasonable goal? With a few tweaks, some breaks, and not unreasonable improve performances, the club can indeed reach the postseason once again.

2016 Baseball Winter Meetings Preview

Major League Baseball will conduct the annual MLB Winter Meetings just outside of Washington, D.C. this year. 
The formal location is National Harbor, Maryland, a waterfront development along the Potomac River.
The headquarters for this year’s meetings, which run from December 4-8, will be the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.
There the folks from MLB Network will set up a broadcasting hub to bring all of the action to fans everywhere. 
Interviews with baseball executives, managers, general managers, player agents and others will highlight much of the activity.
The Winter Meetings have historically been a time and place for many of baseball’s biggest offseason deals to get done. 
In the years before the development of instantaneous communication such as the internet, these face-to-face meetings were the place that GMs would negotiate and consummate numerous trades.

Oakland A's Finally Getting a Ballpark?

Oakland Coliseum home to the A's since 1968
(Photo: Amy K Posner via Wiki Commons)
The Oakland Athletics trace their history to the very beginning of the American League. The team was a charter franchise of the junior circuit back in 1901 when they were the Philadelphia Athletics.
The A’s franchise moved to Kansas City in 1955. The club then moved on to Oakland, where they began play in the City by the Bay in the 1968 season.
Ever since that first season in California, the Oakland Coliseum has been the Athletics home. A multi-purpose stadium, the A’s have shared the facility for much of the last half-century with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders.
While nearly every other MLB team has built a new ballpark within the last couple of decades, Oakland has lagged behind. The Coliseum has the second smallest seating capacity of any facility in Major League Baseball.
Due to its age, a massive amount of foul territory, sewage problems, and “Mount Davis” in center field, the Coliseum is now considered one of the worst in the big leagues.
The inability of previous ownership to put together a new deal for a real baseball-only ballpark has led to talk of the team relocating. Places such as San Jose, Las Vegas, and Portland have been mentioned as possibly homes for the franchise.

Who is the Red Sox Catcher of the Future?

The Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and 2007 with Jason Varitek as the starting catcher. Varitek spent the better part of the entirety of the first decade of this century as the Bosox backstop starter.
With Varitek aging out, Boston brought in Victor Martinez from the Cleveland Indians at the 2009 trade deadline. He would become a 2010 AL All-Star with Boston, but then left via free agency for the Detroit Tigers.
The catcher of the future at that point appeared to be Jarrod Saltalamacchia. ‘Salty’ took over as the starter for the 2011 season. He held that role for two more years through the 2013 World Series victory, after which he signed as a free agent with the Miami Marlins.
Since that time, the Red Sox have not had a regular starting catcher who has been able to hold the role. While trying to give opportunities to their youngsters, they have leaned on veterans such as A.J. PierzynskiRyan Hanigan, and David Ross at various times.
Whether do to injuries or inconsistency, none from among Christian VazquezBlake Swihart, or Sandy Leon can yet lay claim to the title of Red Sox catcher of the future.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Yankees Reportedly Looking at Matt Holliday

The New York Yankees finished in fourth place in the AL East Division standings in 2016. The club missed the postseason for the third time in the last four seasons as well.
For an organization and fan base that is not used to being out of the championship picture, that type of consistent futility is simply unacceptable.
The Yanks really weren’t that far off this year. The club went 84-78, finishing just five games off the AL Wildcard pace.
With a team that may be close to contention, New York general manager Brian Cashman is looking to shore up a few positions in free agency.
One of the names linked to the Yankees is free agent Matt Holliday. He could provide a needed right-handed power bat to the lineup.
According to Jon Heyman at Fanrag Sports, Holliday is among a number of hitters on the Yankees Christmas shopping list.

Indians a Perfect Fit for Boone Logan

The Cleveland Indians won the American League Central Division crown in 2016. The club then mowed through the powerful Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays to reach the World Series.
Though the Tribe fell just short of their first world championship in 68 years, they did capture the franchise’ first AL Pennant since 1997.
One key to the Indians nailing down that division title, and certainly their postseason success, was the trade deadline deal to bring in lefty reliever Andrew Miller.
To that point in the season, manager Terry Francona really didn’t have much in the way of successful southpaw arms to draw upon when needed.

Time for Closers to Get Their Hall of Fame Due

For far too long, the Baseball Hall of Fame voters of the BBWAA have not given the position of closer the appropriate respect that it deserves.
There are 312 individuals: players, managers, executives and umpires currently enshrined as baseball’s immortals.
Only five pitchers who were primarily relievers during their careers are currently inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Those five are Hoyt WilhelmRollie FingersDennis EckersleyBruce Sutter, and Goose Gossage.
This does not include John Smoltz, who registered 154 Saves and was one of the game’s top closers from 2002-04. Smoltz was a starter for 481 of his 723 career games.
Do the math. That means less than 2% of the enshrined players can be legitimately classified as a closer.
Since the 1970’s the closer position has evolved into one of the most important strategic positions in the game.
It is almost a foregone conclusion that immediately upon his eligibility in two more years, the former New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera will be a first ballot Hall of Famer.
This year there are three closers on the 2017 BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot who are all returnees from a year ago. All three are worthy of enshrinement, among the best pitchers in the history of the game.

Houston Astros Sign Josh Reddick

The Houston Astros finished a disappointing 84-78 in the 2016 season. That left the club in third place in the NL West Division. This came a year after they had returned to the postseason for the first time in a decade.
After finishing just two games off the division pace in 2015 and nearly upending the eventual world champion Kansas City Royals in the ALDS, the Astros had entered 2016 as popular World Series picks.
With Carlos Gomez and Colby Rasmus each leaving as free agents, the signing of Reddick helps set the Houston 2017 outfield.
The likelihood now is that George Springer will move to center field, with Reddick taking over in right field. That would leave the left field position open for competition in the spring, barring a further free agent signing or trade.
Following the signing, Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow was quoted by Hunter Atkins with the Houston Chronicle.
“Regardless of how he did it – hitting 30 home runs one year, increasing his on-base percentage another year, his arm on defense – you can nitpick this year he didn’t do this or he didn’t do this, but he’s a good, everyday player that’s going to fit in very well.”

Friday, November 25, 2016

Phillies Fall 2016 Top Ten Prospects: #1 - Jorge Alfaro

For the last week, I’ve been counting down the Philadelphia Phillies current top ten prospects. Now we’ve reached the top spot in this vastly improved organization.
Jorge Alfaro came to the Phillies organization as one of the centerpieces in the big package received from the Texas Rangers for Cole Hamels at the July 2015 trade deadline.
Texas had originally signed Alfaro as a 16-year old amateur free agent out of his native Sincelejo, Colombia back in January of 2010.
He advanced incrementally through the Rangers farm system, first popping up on prospect rankings at #101 by Baseball Prospectus in 2012. 
By the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Alfaro was a top 75 prospect with all of the major evaluation services.

Phillies Fall 2016 Top Ten Prospects: #2 - J.P. Crawford

The Philadelphia Phillies minor league organization has enjoyed a welcome resurgence over the last two seasons. 
A handful of astute trades have built up the quality and depth, particularly at the upper levels.
But a big piece of the organizational improvement has come via the draft process. 
Because the big league club has deteriorated, the Phillies have been selecting at or near the top of the MLB Amateur Draft for the last four seasons, and have largely made those picks count.
In 2014 it was starting pitcher Aaron Nola, who joined the rotation a year later. That draft also produced first baseman Rhys Hoskins in the fifth round. He shared the organizational Paul Owens Award this year.
In 2015, the Phillies selected outfielder Cornelius Randolph at 10th overall, and then chose second baseman Scott Kingery in the second round. Both now rank within this Phillies Fall 2016 Top Ten Prospects countdown.
Two more players on the current countdown were produced in this year’s 2016 MLB Amateur Draft. Outfielder Mickey Moniak is ranked third, and pitcher Kevin Gowdy is now ranked at #9 on my Fall 2016 list of the Phillies top prospects.