Minnesota Twins: Trade Deadline Preview

Where do the Twins go from here? They’ve got several bad players with bloated salaries weighing down payroll, but also a farm system that’s supplying the MLB team with currently cheap talent. With payroll seemingly maxed out at around 105 million, the Twins (who will certainly be sellers at the trade deadline, although how much they’ll sell is unclear) will have to shed payroll in order to contend in the future. For instance, their top 4 financial commitments going forward are all players making more than they should:

Name 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Joe Mauer 23 million 23 million 23 million Free Agent  
Ervin Santana 13.5 million 13.5 million 13.5 million 14 million (Club Option) Free Agent
Ricky Nolasco 12 million 12 million 13 million (Club Option) Free Agent  
Phil Hughes 9.2 million 13.2 million 13.2 million 13.2 million Free Agent

Hughes contract is looking more and more like a dramatic overpay, and given his performance (he’s basically been replacement level) and that he’s just been moved to the bullpen it doesn’t seem likely that the Twins will be able to move him even if they were to eat a significant portion of his remaining salary. No team is going to want to commit to three and a half years of Phil Hughes as he enters his 30s. Ervin Santana is a back of the rotation starter who’s already 33. I can’t imagine a team willingly trading anything for two and a half years of a player who can barely stay in a rotation right now, again, even if the Twins pay his contract down. His PED suspension last year would also possibly give a team pause in acquiring him versus another available starter. Ricky Nolasco is trickier. FIP, xFIP, cFIP, and DRA all rate him as an above average pitcher. And yet, he constantly puts up ERA’s that are higher than the league average. In his career, he’s only had one season where his ERA was below league average, but in 7 of his 10 seasons he’s had a FIP below league average. At this point, and going forward, it’s probably easier to bank on Nolasco having an ERA that’s higher than his advanced metrics than to expect him to all of a sudden start figuring out how to stop runners from scoring. In his career, only once has he had a LOB% higher than league average, and in the past two seasons he’s left 15% less runners on base. We’re past the point where that’s a trend. If somehow Nolasco figures out how to pitch better with runners on base, his ERA should come down and he might be an attractive trade candidate. Just don’t bet on it. Joe Mauer might be in the middle of a career resurgence, but he isn’t going anywhere.

So with all these players unlikely to be moved, who could the Twins trade? They certainly wish Brian Dozier was playing better, because his 77 wRC+ isn’t going to bring much in return, even if there are reasons to think he’ll rebound. His .228 BABIP is a simple one, but he’s also making more soft contact this year (career: 18.4%/2016: 22.4%) and hitting the ball in the air more (career: 42.6%/2016: 48%) without a commensurate increase in his home run to fly ball rate (career: 10.6%/2016: 8.2%). Dozier is signed for two more years after 2016 for a total of roughly 16.5 million (counting half his salary this year), which isn’t a ton, so perhaps the Blue Jays or the Royals would be willing to trade for Dozier, or perhaps they wouldn’t, who really knows? Eduardo Nunez could make a decent utility infielder for a contending team, even if most of his success this year is a mirage. He has one more year before he’s a free agent, and he’s making a modest 1.5 million this year. Oswaldo Arcia could make an interesting trade candidate. He’ll likely be eligible for arbitration after this year, and while he was a top 100 prospect (baseballprospectus had him at 60 in 2013), he hasn’t performed well in most of his MLB career. A lot of that is because advanced metrics don’t like his defense, and Arcia hasn’t hit well in the last two years, putting up an 84 wRC+ in 168 PA. Getting out of Minnesota and getting regular playing time could help Arcia become more valuable. As it is, he’s not going to be very valuable at this trade deadline, but as an alternative to more expensive and more proven players, he could be a buy low option.

The Twins best trade candidate is Trevor Plouffe, who, unfortunately for the Twins, is having his worst season since his breakout 2014. He’s never been an on base kind of player (career: .307), but in 2016 his walk rate has been more than halved (career: 7.5/2016: 3.4), leading to a putrid .283 OBP. There’s no real difference in his batted ball profile (except that he’s hitting more balls to the opposite field and he hits most of his homers to the pull side, partially explaining his power drop) and his BABIP and batting average are actually higher than his career norm, so it’s pretty clear that the drop in his walk rate and the drop in his power (career ISO: .171, 2016: .116) are the reason for his struggles. There aren’t many teams looking for third baseman at this trade deadline, but if the Twins are able to deal Plouffe, they can then slide Miguel Sano back to third base. Plouffe is still their best trade chip, which is more a comment on the Twins trade chips than it is on Plouffe, but assuming projection systems are right about him, he’ll be a league average bat going forward.

There aren’t a lot of attractive Twins candidates, but they really need to move anyone they can. The organization needs to clear both roster space and payroll as they attempt to rebuild and try to be competitive as players like Buxton and Sano start to rack up more service time. But it appears that what the Twins really need, though, are significant changes in the front office, but that’s another topic.

 

Baltimore Orioles: Trade Deadline Preview

A surprising 28-22 to start the season, the Orioles are playing themselves into contention despite a roster with several holes that they’ll likely look to address at the trade deadline. Dan Duquette has never shied away from making trade deadline deals, and this year will likely be no different. With numerous positions in need of improvement, though, the Orioles will have to prioritize certain positions above others.

Left Field

Currently: Hyun-Soo Kim, Joey Rickard, Nolan Reimold

It’s strange that the Orioles are giving rule five draft pick Joey Rickard as much playing time as they are, but clearly they must like him more than projection systems do. In truth, it’s hard to understand the Orioles aversion to giving more playing time to Korean Hyun-Soo Kim, except that he struggled during spring training (they tried to send him down, he wouldn’t go, it was a whole thing). After signing Kim this past offseason, it seemed as though he had the inside track on the starting job – until he didn’t, but still, their hesitancy to seeing what they have in Kim seemed odd. He almost certainly can’t be as bad as Rickard has been. They seem to have recognized this, though, and have recently started playing Kim more. They’ve also started giving more outfield playing time to Nolan Reimold, who is an adequate if not exciting outfielder, best if used somewhat sparingly. Kim is seeing more playing time partially because he’s forcing himself into the lineup, and also partially because of the Orioles troubles at third base and DH. Pedro Alvarez was originally slated to get the majority of the playing time at DH, but his struggles (a 73 wRC+ in 119 PA) and the injury to shortstop J.J. Hardy have forced Alvarez to play more at third base (something no team wants) and Mark Trumbo, originally pencilled in at right field, to play more DH. Reimold and Rickard are sharing most of the time in right, but if the Orioles continue to distrust Kim, it wouldn’t be shocking to see them look to add another corner outfielder. They should look to upgrade on Rickard, at least, and find a fourth outfielder if they don’t want to pay the price for a quality starter.

Designated Hitter

Currently: Pedro Alvarez, Mark Trumbo

If Alvarez starts hitting, a lot of the Orioles problems go away. They can play Trumbo in right again, and once Hardy is back their lineup looks a lot better. Now, Trumbo still can’t field, so having him play some first or DH isn’t a bad thing, but Alvarez can’t really play anywhere. Having a 73 wRC+ and being limited to DH (even if he’s currently faking it at third every now and then) isn’t a good way to accumulate value, and even though there are reasons to think Alvarez will bounce back (his .230 BABIP for one, Steamer pegs him for a 121 wRC+ over the rest of the season, ZIPs has him at 108, for another). Even so, Alvarez isn’t an offensive force, and with his modest cost this season (5.8 million), upgrading on him with someone who can field a position and allow the Orioles more flexibility could be useful.

Starting Pitcher

The Orioles rotation is, honestly, a mess. Yovanni Gallardo started four games before landing on the DL with a shoulder injury, leaving the Orioles rotation looking like this:

  1. Chris Tillman: 64 2/3 IP, 23.7 k%, 10.5 bb%, 2.92 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 3.54 DRA, 1.2 fWAR
  2. Ubaldo Jimenez: 52 1/3 IP, 18 k%, 12 bb%, 6.36 ERA, 4.48 FIP, 6.23 DRA, 0.5 fWAR
  3. Kevin Gausman: 47 2/3 IP, 22.8 k%, 5.6 bb%, 3.78 ERA, 4.5 FIP, 3.88 DRA, 0.5 fWAR
  4. Mike Wright: 46 1/3 IP, 17.1 k%, 8 bb%, 5.05 ERA, 4.35 FIP, 4.53 DRA, 0.5 fWAR
  5. Tyler Wilson: 49 1/3 IP, 12.6 k%, 5.8 bb%, 3.83 ERA, 4.70 FIP, 5.31 DRA, 0.3 fWAR

The usual small sample size caveats obviously apply, but here’s how ZIPS views these pitchers over the rest of the season:

  1. Chris Tillman: 123 IP, 4.35 ERA, 4.25 FIP, 1.4 fWAR
  2. Ubaldo Jimenez: 112 IP, 4.42 ERA, 4.27 FIP, 1.2 fWAR
  3. Kevin Gausman: 104 IP, 4.33 ERA, 4.06 FIP, 1.5 fWAR
  4. Mike Wright: 92 IP, 4.83 ERA, 4.62 FIP, 0.7 fWAR
  5. Tyler Wilson: 94 IP, 5.41 ERA, 5.04 FIP, 0.3 fWAR

These are uninspiring numbers, and I actually think ZIPS is fairly high on Jimenez. By WARP (at baseballprospectus), he’s been worth -0.7 wins already this year. They have him pegged at 1 WARP over the rest of the season though, so everyone expects some bounce back. All the same, the Orioles rotation is not particularly good, and it’s fair to expect them to look to upgrade on at least Wilson and perhaps also Wright. They’re a team probably in need of multiple starters, and I’m fairly confident they’ll add them before the deadline passes.

Trade Deadline Post: The Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox are in first place and have a strong chance of making the playoffs with the team as currently constructed. That said, with Dave Dombrowski in place as the President of Baseball Operations, they’re certain to explore trade deadline additions. While with the Tigers, Dombrowski was willing to deal prospects for established major leaguers, and there’s no real reason to suspect he won’t continue to do so. In 2014, his Tigers acquired David Price from the Rays, in 2013 they added Jose Iglesias, in 2012 the Tigers acquired Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante. In 2015 the Tigers were sellers, and they were active at the deadline then too, dealing Price to Toronto (although Dombrowski was released from the organization on August 4th, so it’s certainly unclear how much he was involved at that point). It’s fair to expect the Red Sox to be in the thick of trade deadline rumors and their farm system, which ranks in the top 10 according to most publications, will give them the freedom to acquire talent.

Left Field:

Currently: Brock Holt, Chris Young, Blake Swihart, Rusney Castillo

The platoon of Holt and Young is the clear weak point in the Red Sox lineup, and even with Swihart replacing Holt while he’s out with a concussion, this is a spot that the Red Sox can upgrade on fairly easily. Their current expected WAR over the rest of the season from left field is somewhere around 0.5 wins above replacement, with almost all of that coming from Young, who also sees time in center and right. Basically, they aren’t getting value out of left field, and it’s a spot in dire need of an upgrade.

Possibly Available: Oswaldo Arcia, Khris Davis, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis, Ryan Braun, Jay Bruce, Melvin Upton jr., Matt Kemp, Jon Jay, Desmond Jennings, Jose Bautista, Michael Saunders, Carlos Beltran, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Colby Rasmus, Daniel Nava, Mike Trout, Cole Kalhoun, Marcell Ozuna, Peter Bourjos, Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon

If it seems like this is a lot of corner outfielders, it’s because it is. Most of them can be ruled out immediately for various reasons. Either poor performance, contract issues, or the team that has the player being unlikely to trade him helps narrow down the list to a much more manageable number: 5. Those five are ex-Red Sox and current Athletic Josh Reddick, Brave Ender Inciarte, Brewer Ryan Braun, Red Jay Bruce, and Rocky Carlos Gonzalez. These players will be more thoroughly examined in the trade deadline pieces about their current teams, but a quick summation leads to a clear best fit for the Red Sox.

Reddick is currently injured, and is in his final year before reaching free agency, each of which could help keep his trade value down compared to the other players here. His 6.575 million dollar salary also makes it easier to acquire him. Inciarte isn’t even arb-eligible yet, and projects to be worth about a win and a half over the rest of the season (ZIPS: 1.3) and even if most of that is based on his defense, value is value. Jay Bruce over the last two seasons and his first 185 plate appearances this year has been worth -1.2 WAR. A lot of that negative value is coming from his defense though, and the green monster could… help? I won’t pretend to have examined how the green monster might affect a players defense, but if the Red Sox think they could help minimize the damage caused by Bruce’s glove, it could be worth it consider him. His bat projects to be a tick above league average (Zips: 104 wRC+). Even better than Bruce, though, is Carlos Gonzalez, who projects to have a 115 wRC+, again according to zips. The most interesting trade candidate, though, is clearly Ryan Braun. With all his baggage and his five year/105 million dollar contract kicking in this year, I don’t want to speculate on what kind of value Braun might have. Only that while he’s not the player he was when he won the NL MVP, he remains a quality corner outfielder. More on Braun in the Brewers write-up.

Starting Pitcher

Currently: Joe Kelly/Clay Buchholz

The Red Sox could also look into acquiring a starting pitcher to replace Joe Kelly in the rotation. Kelly hasn’t been good so far this season, but neither has the nearly impossible to predict Clay Buchholz. Each pitcher is projected to see those results improve, but there are reasons to doubt both of them. In Buchholz case it’s simply that his performance fluctuates dramatically, seemingly randomly. The owner of a career 3.98 ERA, he’s only topped 150 innings three times in his career due to injuries, and projection systems are wisely conservative on his health. Still, Steamer and Zips each think he’ll be worth 1.2 wins over the rest of the season, which would be fine from a back of the rotation starter if he managed to return to form over the rest of the season. In 57 2/3 innings his ground ball rate has taken a sharp dive, though, and his home run issues have returned. He’s also striking out fewer batters and walking more, all of which is why he got bounced from the rotation. Kelly, on the other hand, hasn’t really thrown enough innings to get any kind of a sense on his 2016. In the twenty innings he’s pitched, though, he’s started 5 games, meaning he’s averaging 4 innings a start. His 6.3 ERA succinctly explains why he hasn’t pitched deeper, but Steamer and Zips each don’t hate him, thinking he’ll be worth 0.8 and 0.7 WAR over the rest of the season. Not great, or even really good, but serviceable at the back end of the rotation if the Red Sox think he’ll end up playing that out. Astonishingly, he’s struck out 25.5% of batters faced, while walking 15.7%. An upgrade in the rotation, even if it was just a back end starter, would go a long way toward helping the Red Sox.

Possible starters (a much too expansive and yet still incomplete list): Sonny Gray, Rich Hill, Julio Teheran, Jimmy Nelson, James Shields, Andrew Cashner, Drew Pomeranz, Jake Odorizzi, Chris Archer, Drew Smiley, Matt Moore, Michael Pineda, Dallas Keuchel, Jose Fernandez, Wei-Yin Chen, Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco, Jesse Hahn, Wily Peralta, Jesse Chavez, Hector Santiago, Jhoulys Chacin, Jared Weaver, Jeremy Hellickson, Patrick Corbin, Archie Bradley

As above, most of these pitchers won’t be traded, and they’ll all be broken down on the post for their current team, but this is a selection of who’ll be asked about. Several, particularly the Rays pitchers, probably won’t be available, but you can never be sure with Tampa Bay, so they’re on the list.

Bullpen:

Everyone needs relievers. It’s not worth it to predict who might be available because every reliever is available. In a transaction that got little attention, Jason Grilli was traded to Toronto today. No one cares because it doesn’t really move the needle on Toronto’s playoff chances. So yeah, I’d guess the Red Sox will pursue relief help, especially with Carson Smith needing Tommy John. Who they’ll target, though. That is a mystery to me.

The Trade Deadline Primer

The Trade Deadline is July 31st, so it might seem silly to be starting a trade deadline preview with two months to go before that date, but even this far out, it’s fairly clear which teams will be buyers, which teams will be sellers, and which teams will hold. In these posts, I’ll attempt to discuss the likelihood of each team trading or acquiring several particular players, while at the same time completely accepting that it’s probable I’ll get none of these trade ideas correct. I’m also not going to suggest actual trades, because I’m not familiar enough with every team’s minor league system to have any idea what would be fair value. With that in mind, my goal is essentially to do a midseason “state of the franchise” for each team, slanted toward the trade deadline.

Finding a home for Pedro Alvarez

The Pirates non-tendered Pedro Alvarez because he was projected to make 8.1 million in arbitration, and had performed at replacement level for the past two seasons. A 29 year old free agent, Alvarez has a career 106 wRC+. His power is clearly impressive, and he’s hit the home runs to prove it (131 in his career), but at his peak he’s getting on base at an average rate. His Steamer projected 110 wRC+ ranks 19th among MLB first baseman next season, and Alvarez is certainly a first baseman at this point, if he can even hold a position in the field. His defense in the past few years has been unbelievably terrible. There’s still a chance he can learn to play first, and while the recent reports that Scott Boras wants him to sign with a team that will guarantee him 50% of his playing time in the field complicate his market if they’re true (and since it’s more fun to assume that they are, I’m going to), it does make sense in a way. At this point in the offseason, it’s likely that Alvarez will be signing a one year deal. If he can demonstrate an ability to play in the field, Alvarez could be in line for a much bigger payday if he improves on his hitting. But the number of teams interested in Alvarez getting 50% of his playing time in the field narrows the list considerably.

AL East

Baltimore Orioles: It’s hard to find a spot on the Orioles for Alvarez, even though they’ve been linked to him. With Chris Davis locking down first base for many years now, the only open spot for Alvarez would be at designated hitter, a spot the Orioles acquired Mark Trumbo to fill earlier this offseason. Now, an Alvarez/Trumbo platoon would be a marginal improvement on just Trumbo, but it’s not enough of an improvement to justify the cost of acquiring Trumbo and paying him 9.2 million to be the weak half of a platoon.The 50% playing time in the field also doesn’t seem achievable here, unless the Orioles do some lineup shuffling (i.e. Trumbo to left field, Davis to DH, Alvarez to first). He certainly couldn’t play third here (or, really, anywhere), with Manny Machado one of the best in the league at that position. If they play Trumbo in an outfield corner (a bad idea) perhaps Alvarez could DH then. But that’s a bad idea.

Boston Red Sox: David Ortiz is the designated hitter, and assuming they follow the Jeter model no amount of underperformance will displace him from that spot. Hanley Ramirez is transitioning to first base, and looks to have the inside track on that job. Travis Shaw showed enough last season (119 wRC+ in 248 PA) to make it seem like he’ll get a chance to play the position when Hanley’s out. If Ortiz or Ramirez or even Pablo Sandoval is injured in spring training though, Alvarez could be a decent stopgap until that player returns, at which point they could re-evaluate Alvarez and send him to the bench, but Alvarez’s lack of positional flexibility makes this an unlikely, but possible, fit.

New York Yankees: Alex Rodriguez at DH, Mark Teixeira at first, and Chase Headley at third. Rodriguez and Teixeira are older and injury prone, and there’s a chance that the Yankees could view Alvarez as a backup for each of these players, but their bench is relatively set, and, in a recurring theme, Alvarez contributes virtually nothing defensively.

Tampa Bay Rays: If they hadn’t traded for Logan Morrison and committed 4.2 million to him, this fit would make sense. Morrison isn’t very good, but he’s penciled in at the left handed half of a DH platoon, and that’s where Alvarez would go. He also doesn’t fit a first base, where the Rays are paying James Loney 7 million to play everyday. Loney is left handed anyway, and he wasn’t good last year. But there’s no reason to think the Rays won’t give him a chance to rebound, essentially ruling out Alvarez.

Toronto Blue Jays: How much do you trust Chris Colabello and his 142 wRC+ last year? Before you answer, keep in mind he had a .411 BABIP. Steamer has him projected for a 107 wRC+ this year, 3 points shy of Alvarez’s 110. That’s a modest improvement, and if Alvarez’s defense stays terrible he’s not providing more value than Colabello. If the Blue Jays think his defense can improve at first base, then perhaps they’d be willing to give him a shot as the left handed half of a platoon with Justin Smoak there. Maybe.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox: Seemingly running out of money, the White Sox also have different needs than a bad glove, slightly above average bat first baseman/DH type. With one year left of Adam LaRoche making 13 million, they’ll probably just try to ride that out until he’s gone. They also have Jose Abreu. It would be a strange match if Alvarez were to end up in Chicago, but stranger things have happened.

Cleveland Indians: Nah. After signing Mike Napoli the Indians have their solutions at first base and designated hitter. There’s just no space for Alvarez. Would an Alvarez/Napoli platoon be better than just Napoli? Probably. Would it be worth it, financially? Probably not.

Detroit Tigers: With the money committed to Victor Martinez at designated hitter and Miguel Cabrera at first base, it’s hard to see where Alvarez would fit here.

Kansas City Royals: With Eric Hosmer at first and Kendrys Morales at DH, there doesn’t seem to be a fit here either.

Minnesota Twins: The Twins signed Byung-Ho Park and he’ll probably DH. They have Joe Mauer at first base still. There’s not a clear fit here, and the Twins are unlikely to spend the money on someone who isn’t a clear fit at any position.

AL West

Houston Astros: A.J. Reed is the heir apparent here, but he’s not in the majors yet. He topped out in AA last season, and while he could debut this season, the Astros current first baseman is Jon Singleton. Singleton has 420 plate appearances and a career 79 wRC+, which is bad for almost any position, let alone first base. He’s hit better than that in the minors, and it’s easy to think the Astros will just run him out there until Reed is ready, especially since they’re committed to Singleton for several years. That deal hasn’t panned out well, but the Astros could try to salvage what value they can get from Singleton now. Alvarez is a fit here though, if the Astros decide that Singleton isn’t the answer out of camp, especially with DH Evan Gattis expected to start the season on the disabled list. The biggest point against Alvarez in Houston is that they’ve had all offseason to figure out a plan, and that plan hasn’t involved Alvarez (yet). So it seems most likely to me that they don’t view him as an upgrade over Singleton, and maybe he isn’t. Steamer has him projected for a 106 wRC+, a not that significant drop off from Alvarez at 110.

Los Angeles Angels: The Angels have avoided any big signings so far this offseason, a rarity for them. Alvarez would certainly fit that strategy. Unfortunately for Alvarez, he doesn’t really fit with the Angels. They have Albert Pujols signed seemingly forever to play some combination of first base and DH, and C.J. Cron might not be the answer at either of those positions, but he’s had a reverse platoon split in his brief MLB career so sharing time with Alvarez is unlikely. Even if you regress his platoon split closer to normal, he’s not likely to be platooned. It’s hard to predict what Arte Moreno and the Angels will ever do, but this looks unlikely.

Oakland A’s: With the Billy Butler contract weighing them down and Yonder Alonso acquired to play first base, there’s no space for Alvarez in Oakland right now. Even if both of those players aren’t good. And they aren’t.

Seattle Mariners: Nelson Cruz Dh-ing and Adam Lind playing first against righties doesn’t leave room for Alvarez.

Texas Rangers: Prince Fielder at DH and Mitch Moreland at first doesn’t leave room for Alvarez here either. They also have Ike Davis, who’s a hitter probably of a similar caliber as Alvarez. Signing Ian Desmond to play left field probably makes any other signings unnecessary and superfluous.

NL East

Atlanta Braves: Once you get into NL teams, the only positional fit is first base. On the Braves, first base is occupied by Freddie Freeman, and he’s not going anywhere for the moment.

Miami Marlins: Alvarez is marginally better than Justin Bour, but the Marlins aren’t the type of team that seems likely to pay a few million dollars for a marginal upgrade.

New York Mets: They’re paying Lucas Duda 6.7 million dollars to play first base, effectively ruling them out on Alvarez for now.

Philadelphia Phillies: The Ryan Howard era is winding down, but his one remaining year and the Phillies attempting to lose as many games as possible means Alvarez isn’t a good fit.

Washington Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman will be a free agent in 2019, and although his decline has been precipitous, he’s still likely to be the first baseman for this year, and after that we’ll see.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs: There’s just no way.

Cincinatti Reds: With Joey Votto at first, the Reds are set. They’re also trying to lose though, so maybe Alvarez at third isn’t the worst idea in the world. No, I just checked. It’s almost the worst idea in the world.

Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers are also trying to lose, so this isn’t a perfect fit. They also have Chris Carter at first base and they’ll likely look to flip him at the trade deadline. Maybe they could try to platoon them both and see who performs better, then try to move that player? It’s not impossible to see this, but it’s certainly unlikely.

Pittsburgh Pirates: This isn’t going to happen.

St. Louis Cardinals: Matt Adams is playing first base and Brandon Moss will play some combination of first base and outfield.

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks: They have Paul Goldschmidt at first, so this doesn’t really make sense as a landing spot for Alvarez.

Colorado Rockies: Ben Paulsen and Matt Reynolds are probably going to share time here, and Alvarez is better than Paulsen, but the real question is what the Rockies are doing? Are they trying to lose this year? They’re going to lose this year, for sure, but if they want to lose more games and acquire more money for their draft pool then it doesn’t make sense for them to sign a player like Alvarez. But if they’re trying to win enough games that they could potentially sneak into the playoffs if everything goes right for them, then a player like Alvarez makes sense. Pecota projects the Rockies to go 74-88, and a player like Alvarez probably adds about a win. The best case scenario for the Rockies this year might not even get them in the playoffs, so it’s probably a bad decision to sign a player like Alvarez, but then again the Rockies seem to operate in unconventional ways and Alvarez would be fun in Coors field. So I hope it happens.

Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers have made a concerted effort to acquire depth, but there’s no reason they’d acquire Alvarez.

San Diego Padres: Alvarez would be a modest improvement on Brett Wallace, and there’s no real reason to acquire him when they improvement is so modest. Most of what is gained offensively would be lost defensively.

San Francisco Giants: Barring any kind of injury to Brandon Belt, there’s no reason to think Pedro Alvarez makes sense for the Giants.

 

After looking at every team in MLB, the best fits for Alvarez (barring any injuries or trades), appear to be the Rockies, Astros, Blue Jays, and maybe the Orioles. Alvarez isn’t a perfect fit anywhere, and at this point Scott Boras’ strategy of waiting out the market might be the right one.

 

A lot of these roster projections come from rosterresource.com, so check that out.

The Mark Melancon Trade Situation

Since Kansas City bulldozed their way through the playoffs last year, in part because of their terrific bullpen, it’s been speculated that the best way to win in the playoffs is to have a terrific bullpen. This is probably true in part, because in the playoffs the bullpen is typically more quickly activated and better relievers are used in more situations with closers getting longer save opportunities and set-up men pitching an inning or two earlier, all in the hope of preserving a lead or mounting a comeback if the game is still winnable. Some of that though, is probably an overreaction to one team finding success. A lot of speculation in Pittsburgh is that the Pirates are looking to move closer Mark Melancon, who has one year of arbitration left before he becomes a free agent. Mark Melancon endured a tumultuous start to the 2015 season, with numerous calls for him to lose his job in the opening weeks. In March and April he pitched 10.1 innings and had a 5.23 ERA/4.20 FIP/3.65 xFIP. His strikeout rate had plummeted to 6.10 k/9 and his walk rate had jumped to 3.49 BB/9. Those drop-offs came after a season in which he struck out 9 per nine innings and walked just 1.39 per nine. A lot of this was due to a sharp decline in velocity. In 2014 Melancon’s cutter averaged 92.82 mph. In the first two months of 2015 he struggled to crack 90, averaging 89.33 in April and then 90.43 in May. That velocity eventually clawed closer to his career norm, and Melancon’s final average for the season was 91.25, about 1.5 mph slower than usual. His strikeout rate bore the brunt of that decrease, dropping from 9 k/9 to 7.28 k/9. His final numbers for the season though, indicate that he adjusted well enough to the decrease in velocity and was able to generate enough weak contact to keep the ball in the park and mostly on the ground. His groundball rate stayed virtually the same, at 57.5%. He finished the year with a 2.23 ERA/2.82 FIP/3.07 xFIP. By baseballprospectus’ newer Deserved Run Average, he had 2.90, which is almost in line with his FIP. All of this is a long winded attempt at suggesting that although Melancon struggled early last season, he’s converted himself into a different type of pitcher. One who strikes out less batters, but still pitches effectively enough at the back end of a bullpen to be considered one of the league’s better closers. Expecting a return to the Melancon of 2015 would depend on a probably unlikely resurgence in velocity though.

 

Looking forward to 2016, two publicly available projection systems have given their prognostications for Melancon, and each see a valuable relief pitcher, if one that is less valuable than in years past. Steamer has Melancon projected for the following line:

65 IP, 7.96 k/9, 2.09 BB/9, .297 BABIP, 2.82 ERA, 3.02 FIP, 0.8 WAR

ZIPS, another projection system at fangraphs, has Melancon doing slightly better:

68 IP, 8.47 k/9, 1.59 BB/9, .277 BABIP, 2.51 ERA, 2.82 FIP, 1.3 WAR.

The projected resurgence in his strikeout rate makes ZIPS the more optimistic of the two, but each project a less effective Melancon than in years past. Some of that is likely due to his BABIP regressing; some of it is certainly due to the high attrition rates of relievers. Barring injury, both projection systems forecast Melancon to be a reliever that fits in nicely in any bullpen in the league. If the Pirates enter next season with Melancon as the closer, they should be in fine shape, barring any more velocity decrease, injury, or general sudden reliever ineffectiveness.

 

If the Pirates choose not to trade Melancon, who is a free agent after the season, they could always offer him a qualifying offer as he leaves, in which case he could accept a one year, roughly 16 million dollar contract or turn it down and become a free agent who would cost a team signing him a draft pick. But the Pirates almost certainly won’t offer Melancon a one-year deal worth that much money, because precedent suggests that they won’t. After 2013 they didn’t offer A.J. Burnett, then a more valuable player than Melancon is now, a qualifying offer that would have cost about 14.1 million. The qualifying offer system has been in place since 2012, and in that time only one team has offered a reliever a qualifying offer – the Yankees, who did it twice. So it seems unlikely that if the Pirates choose not to deal Melancon they’ll be getting anything back in the form of a draft pick after this season. If they were to trade him before the season started though, part of his value is that the team acquiring him could offer him a qualifying offer if he performed well enough. If they trade him at midseason, that’s no longer a factor.

 

After ruling out a qualifying offer, the debate turns to this: is approximately one projected win of present value from Melancon at the cost of around 10 million dollars (per mlbtraderumors arbitration tracker) worth more than trading Melancon, sending that value to another team in return for future value, and saving the money to spend elsewhere (assuming it is spent elsewhere. The Pirates rotation is looking mighty thin right now). If you were to take Melancon’s projected arbitration salary from the Pirates projected payroll, you end up with somewhere between 77 million and 85 million, depending on how much the Dodgers are paying the Pirates for Mike Morse (and possibly how much the Marlins paid the Dodgers for Mike Morse. Mike Morse is indirectly having his salary paid by three separate teams right now). It seems safe to assume the Pirates aren’t paying Morse very much, so that number is probably closer to 77 million, again, having already removed Melancon. That’s more than enough for the Pirates to sign virtually any player remaining on the free agent market and still have a payroll under 100 million dollars. They likely won’t spend that much, either. They do have some spots they have to fill, adding another left handed reliever in the bullpen is probably a priority, especially if Tony Watson replaces Melancon as the closer. Based on the return the Reds got for Aroldis Chapman, who had one year (maybe) to go before he becomes a free agent, the Pirates wouldn’t get much back for Melancon. But then again, the Chapman deal is probably a terrible baseline for a Melancon deal, because Chapman has the specter of domestic violence over him, which could, and if the situation is as clear as it has been made out to be – should, lead to a suspension before he ever pitches for the Yankees. So if the Reds were still able to get value, however limited, from Chapman and his 12.9 million dollar projected salary while he has a domestic violence investigation hanging over his head, it seems a given that the Pirates would be able to get value for Melancon and his 10 million dollar projected salary, even if he isn’t a reliever in quite the same class as Chapman. Of course, that value likely won’t be what fans expect or want, but it doesn’t matter what fans want. They didn’t want the Pirates to trade Joel Hanrahan (and to be fair, Brock Holt) for Mark Melancon and a few others. As soon as Melancon started pitching well, people forgot about Joel Hanrahan.* It’s probably unlikely that the Pirates will be able to convince a team to hand over three years of a down on his luck reliever who has clear indications that he can bounce back for one year of Melancon, but the Pirates will explore all the options, and if they make a move, it seems likely they’ll get some value in return.

 

*Ok so I twitter searched “Hanrahan Pirates” and it turns out a small but dedicated group of fans still think that was a mistake and don’t want the Pirates to repeat a similar trade. So good on them I guess, for sticking by their convictions three years later.

 

The final piece of the puzzle is to find a potential match for a Melancon trade. It’s a pointless exercise to speculate on a trade itself. There are too many variables in play and it would just be blind guessing. Instead, simply listing the teams that could use bullpen help and might have the payroll space to acquire Melancon seems like a more useful exercise. So here is that, with every team that might be interested listed, so there are certainly more teams listed an actually are interested:

Miami Marlins – They made a run at Chapman before he was traded to New York, so they have an established interest in relief.

Chicago Cubs – This fit is a stretch, but not impossible.

Arizona Diamondbacks – They’re gearing up for a run, and their bullpen is probably not a strength. Payroll could be an issue.

Los Angeles Dodgers – The Dodgers also came close to acquiring Chapman. This might be the best fit of them all.

Toronto Blue Jays – It seems unlikely that they would have the payroll room, but they’ve been linked to late inning relievers a few times in the last year. They dodged a bullet on Papelbon.

Any other team – Reliever markets are tricky to predict, because any team can decide they want to improve the back half of their bullpen. Is Houston done acquiring relievers after the Ken Giles trade? I don’t know. Are the Angels out of money for the bullpen? No idea. Are the Rockies following any sort of a plan? I doubt it. There are about 10 other teams that could be looking for a back of the bullpen pitcher, but are probably waiting to see how the offseason develops. As it is, it appears that’s what the Pirates are content to do. Wait and see how the Melancon market develops over the course of the offseason before making a move. And perhaps that’s the right move, but it likely won’t be clear until the offseason is over, so as usual, withholding judgment is probably the right decision for now.

The Boston Red Sox Offseason Plan

Ben Cherington is out, Dave Dombrowski is in. It’s hard to say Cherington did a poor job, even if he made a few costly mistakes. Either way, the Red Sox that Dombrowski is inheriting have a decent major league roster, a good farm system, and some financial flexibility. They’re also not losing many free agents. The Red Sox are still in a good place to contend, if not next year, in the near future.

Starting Rotation

The Red Sox have a number of viable starting pitchers, but they’re mostly mid-rotation arms. Eduardo Rodriguez is the closest thing they have to a potential ace, and his debut season was good but not great. He should still have a spot in the Red Sox rotation next season unless they trade him for an established pitcher. Clay Buchholz is usually hurt and enigmatic, but it still seems likely that the Red Sox will pick up his $13 million option for 2016, as long as the medical reports indicate he’ll be ready to pitch at some point soon. Wade Miley was a good back of the rotation starter last year, and he’ll continue to eat innings at an around league average run prevention rate. The Rick Porcello deal is bad, but it’ll keep him in the rotation for another few years unless Dombrowski gets creative and finds a way to offload that contract. In his seven year Major League career, Porcello has two seasons with an ERA- below 100. Joe Kelly had a disappointing season, but unless the Sox add another pitcher to the rotation (which is probable) Kelly will likely find himself in the last spot. He’s certain to be tendered a contract this offseason. That makes the Red Sox rotation, before any additions or subtractions, look like this:

  1. Eduardo Rodriguez
  2. Clay Buchholz
  3. Rick Porcello
  4. Wade Miley
  5. Joe Kelly

Bullpen

The Red Sox Bullpen is not a strength. Koji Uehara was effective again, but he’ll be 41 next year. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where he suffers from injury or underperformance. Junichi Tazawa is also a good reliever. That’s about it. They’ll need to get more good relievers. Or get bad relievers and have them perform well enough that they look like good relievers. That’s an alternate plan that sometimes works.

Position Players

There are bright spots on the Red Sox. This isn’t a team that’s devoid of young talent that needs to completely rebuild. Most of the pieces of the next good Red Sox team are already in place. They have a lot of exciting players to watch, and not a lot of holes.

Catcher:

It’s pretty clear that this is going to be Blake Swihart. He’s going to be 24 by the end of next year, and his first full season in the majors is a good chance to demonstrate why he’s so well liked by prospect evaluators. He’s been impressive in his limited time in the majors so far. He’ll be backed up by Ryan Hanigan, who’s fine.

Infield:

The infield is a little less secure. Obviously Dustin Pedroia will be at second base for as long as he can stay healthy. He’s still above average at the position. Xander Bogaerts is a very good young shortstop and any organization would want him. First base is less secure. Travis Shaw played well enough that it would seem like he had earned a full season at the position, but with the Hanley Ramirez to left experiment officially being declared a failure, he’s been taking grounders at first. That could leave Shaw as an interesting trade chip this offseason. Further complicating matters is Pablo Sandoval at third base. If last season was bad for Ramirez, it was an unmitigated disaster for Sandoval. A 75 wRC+ won’t get the job done, but when it’s paired with the defense that Sandoval provided, you get a player who put up -2 WAR last season. Still, I’d guess Sandoval ends up playing third again next year, if only because it’s hard to imagine how he could be worse.  David Ortiz will have his option picked up as he continues to do his best to hit enough to be a no glove/no run DH. After early season struggles that had some worried he was done, he got back on track and as long he holds off the aging that is slowly grinding us all towards our eventual dooms.

Outfield:

Mookie Betts headlines the outfield again next year, and he’s young and terrific and everything you could ask for in a baseball player. Jackie Bradley in right field is an interesting player to watch next year. After a few years of bouncing between AAA and the majors, he broke out in 2015 and looks to carry that over into 2016. Even if the bat moves backwards his defense should still be top notch. Left field is a bit more open. I’m going to guess that the Red Sox want to keep Brock Holt in a super-utility role, which opens up left field to a number of options. The favorite probably has to be Rusney Castillo, who did a pretty poor job offensively in 289 PA (72 wRC+). In truth, this seems like the second likeliest spot for the Red Sox to make an upgrade (after the rotation). The free agent market has a number of interesting corner outfielders available (Heyward, Upton, Cespedes, etc.) and even if some of those players are going to be more expensive than the Red Sox are willing to pay (although who knows how much money they’ll have available. It seems possible Dombrowski will attempt to move some of the dead money on the roster), they’re still players to keep an eye on this offseason.

The Red Sox aren’t a bad team. They underperformed until it was impossible for them to make the playoffs and then they performed alright. They have a few areas to upgrade, but it doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility that they could find themselves contending in no time at all. Like a few teams, they’re a good starting pitcher away from having a pretty good chance at the playoffs.

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