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.

The Pittsburgh Pirates Offseason Plans

The Pirates had a disappointing wild card game, but that doesn’t change the fact that this team won 98 games. In any other division they’re still playing. Moving forward to the offseason though, this team has a large number of players, mostly relatively unimportant, who seem unlikely to return. A few players are retiring, a few are free agents, and a few are non-tender candidates. The team isn’t in bad shape though. They’re still retaining most of their core, barring any unforeseen trades, and it seems as though they’ll be in a good position to contend for the National League Central division title yet again in 2016.

The Starting Rotation

The Pirates are losing 2/5th’s of their starting rotation. A.J. Burnett is retiring and JA Happ is a free agent. That JA Happ could be considered an actual loss is a strange thing to write, given his history of poor performance. Maybe Ray Searage pulled out another miracle with Happ, because in 11 starts over 65 innings he had a 1.85 ERA and a 2.19 FIP. His BABIP wasn’t low (.299), his strikeout rate in Pittsburgh was 10% higher than in Seattle. It’s easy to chalk it up to 65 innings, but there are some signs that Happ can keep performing at an above average rate, although it’s unfair to expect his performance to be asgood as it was in Pittsburgh. He’s 32, so his contract will be an interesting study in how much the league values dramatic small sample size improvement.

The remaining pitchers in the Pirates rotation are:

  1. Gerrit Cole
  2. Francisco Liriano
  3. Jeff Locke
  4. Charlie Morton

Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano make up a very strong one/two punch at the top of a rotation. Jeff Locke is arbitration eligible for the first time (MLB Trade Rumors has him projected at $3.3 million), and despite seemingly every fan in Pittsburgh hating him, he’s almost a lock to be tendered a contract and find himself in the opening day rotation. He’s not very fun to watch pitch, but there are worse, more expensive pitchers to plug into the back of a rotation. Charlie Morton is nearly always injured, and he was generally ineffective when healthy last season, but he’ll absolutely find himself in the Pirates rotation to start next season, barring any trades or offseason injuries. When he’s healthy, he’ll continue to get ground balls. Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow should be ready for MLB at some point (probably coincidently right after the Super 2 deadline), but the Pirates will probably need to find someone to fill the last spot in their rotation before opening day 2016. If they don’t gamble on Happ continuing his success, they’ll likely look for someone who fits the typical Pirates build of a reclamation project they hope to fix.

The Bullpen

The Pirates bullpen is losing a number of players to free agency. Joakim Soria, Joe Blanton, and Antonio Bastardo are all going to be free agents. It’s almost certain that Vance Worley will be non-tendered, unless the Pirates view him as a cheap option for the final spot in the starting rotation. It’s a bullpen for the moment still has Mark Melancon, who saw a 4% drop in his strikeout rate, and was a slightly less effective reliever but still very good. There’s a chance Melancon will be traded this offseason, with one year left before he’s a free agent. I’ll take the under on his $10 million projected salary though. Tony Watson was effective again. Arquimedes Caminero and Jared Hughes each served a role. Rob Scahill will probably find his way back onto the MLB squad. The Pirates bullpen will need an overhaul of some sort, whether internally from the minors, through trades, or free agency. At least one more lefty and probably someone to pitch the seventh inning. Clint Hurdle loves giving his players roles, and with both of the Pirates seventh inning guys gone and Hughes entrenched in his position as a ground ball specialist, the best internal option is Caminero. But still, there will need to be some transition in the bullpen.

The Position Players

The Pirates are losing several position players. Aramis Ramirez is retiring, Sean Rodriguez is a free agent. Corey Hart is also a free agent, but I don’t think anyone thinks of Hart as a valuable free agent at this point. Rodriguez’s value is primarily due to his positional flexibility and ability to conduct realistic boxing matches with water coolers. The most interesting arbitration case has to be that of Pedro Alvarez. If the Pirates tender him a contract they’ll be offering to pay him somewhere in the range of $8.1 million (again, via MLB Trade Rumors). He’s been essentially replacement level for the past two seasons, although his 114 wRC+ was his best over a full season. It’s no secret that Alvarez is a defensive… liability, even at first base. If the Pirates move on from Alvarez, it almost certainly won’t be because they have a better offensive option available, it will be because they’re trading offense for defense. With Josh Bell expected to be ready at some point soon, Alvarez’s days as a starting first baseman with the Pirates might be numbered soon. Still, it’s hard to ignore the power. It’s probably not the best comparison because he had a better track record, but given that Billy Butler got 3 years and 30 million from Oakland last season, it seems unlikely to me that a team, probably in the American League, wouldn’t be willing to give Alvarez a major league contract if he were a free agent right now. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Pirates could trade him, but I would expect them to shop him around pretty heavily, at least to gage interest before they tender him an eight million dollar contract. If Bell forces his way into the major league lineup, the Pirates could relegate Alvarez to the role of expensive pinch hitter.

Other than Alvarez, the Pirates arbitration cases are fairly straightforward. If they don’t deal Neil Walker to clear salary ($10.1 million projected) and turn to Josh Harrison at second base, they’ll go into 2016 with an infield of Harrison at third until Jung-Ho Kang comes back from injury, Jordy Mercer at shortstop, Walker at second base, and Alvarez (or another player) at first. The problem with this lineup is, especially as long as Kang is out, the Pirates won’t be able to follow their plan of resting players frequently throughout the season. The ability to keep players healthy was a big boost for the Pirates this season, and although it’s unclear how much of that was due to giving a lot of off days. Francisco Cervelli will be back at catcher for one more year, with Chris Stewart likely backing him up. Those players will likely cost $4 million dollars total. After next season though, the Pirates will be forced to raid whatever catcher the Yankees are unloading again, because both Cervelli and Stewart are free agents, and it doesn’t seem like Reese McGuire will be ready for the majors in time for 2017. Elias Diaz could be an option as a stopgap. If the Pirates do deal Walker, they’ll likely have to find an infielder from outside the organization unless they’re willing to turn to Alen Hanson, which seems unlikely.

The outfield is Marte, McCutchen, and Polanco. It seems unlikely that any of those players will be traded this offseason barring a surprise blockbuster. Marte and McCutchen are both excellent players, Polanco hasn’t quite unlocked his potential yet, but he was still a valuable player last season. I’d expect the Pirates are more than happy to roll with these three outfielders again. As for the fourth outfielder, I’m not convinced the Pirates will tender Travis Snider a contract, saving themselves about $2.4 million. Instead, they could turn to Jaff Decker at league minimum and give him a few hundred plate appearances while resting starters to find out what value he could have on a big league club, at least until another player supplants him as a more valuable fourth outfielder.

The Pirates have some work to do if they want to find themselves in contention again next season, but the majority of the pieces are already in place. They’ll just need to supplement the existing talent with some external pieces, and with a little luck they should find themselves in a good spot to contend again in 2015.

A Premature 2016 Cleveland Indians Preview

Well where do the Indians go from here? Much was expected of them, but it looks like they’ll fall a few games short of the second wild card in the American League. The Indians as currently composed aren’t a bad team. They’ve been an unlucky team. Currently they’re 77 and 78, but by base runs (on fangraphs) they should be something closer to 85-70. That would be good enough to get them into the playoffs as the American League Central winner, but even if you don’t buy that projection and think they’re a worse team than the Royals, they’re probably better from a talent standpoint than the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels in the run for the second American League wildcard. No matter what, though, they’re not going to win that second wild card. They’re also losing their president, Mark Shapiro, to Toronto, but that doesn’t seem likely to signal a shift in the organizational direction with Chris Antonetti staying on either as GM or being promoted to the role vacated by Shapiro. In either occurance, the Indians will almost certainly maintain front office stability even though the team hasn’t performed well.

As far as the team on the field, the Indians have most of their core signed to below market multi-year deals. Jason Kipnis, Yan Gomes, Michael Brantley, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Carlos Santana all signed to multiple year contracts. They also have newly acquired Chris Johnson signed until 2017, but it doesn’t seem fair to put him in the same category as those other players, but that trade allowed them to free up a roster spot and get Swisher and Bourn off the books. Of course, the Indians had to kick in around 15 million dollars to make the deal happen (MLB Trade Rumors) but they’ll still save a few million dollars over the next couple years. Many of the players who aren’t signed to long term deals are either pre-arb eligible or in their first year of arbitration, giving the Indians multiple years of club control over most of their roster. In fact, the unofficial list of free agents from Cleveland this offseason and the next is as follows:

After 2015:

  • Mike Aviles
  • Gavin Floyd
  • Shaun Marcum
  • Ryan Webb

After 2016:

  • Josh Tomlin
  • Ryan Raburn

That’s it right now. Over two seasons they’re losing six players. None of those six are key contributors. That allows the Indians some flexibility going forward. Their roster for next season looks mostly set, and there isn’t even a ton of room for external additions, but some interesting possibilities exist. There were rumors around the trade deadline of the Indians shopping Carlos Carrasco. That didn’t make much sense at the time, and still doesn’t, really. Carrasco is signed relatively cheaply until 2019, and there doesn’t seem to be an obvious reason the Indians would be looking to deal him. The return for Carrasco would probably have to be overwhelming, and we have no real way of knowing how far their talks about him progressed. If I had to guess, I would think he’d be playing in Cleveland next year. The rest of the Indians rotation is virtually set, and solid.

  1. Corey Kluber
  2. Carlos Carrasco
  3. Danny Salazar
  4. And some combination of Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, and Cody Anderson

That’s a pretty good rotation, particularly a good top 3. If Bauer isn’t a starter he’ll have to find a home in the bullpen, because he’s out of options.  Anderson and Tomlin are each decent back of the rotation options. The Indians will have at least 6 decent starting pitching options, and I would expect them to pursue the same type of fringy minor league deal players that they’ve signed for the last few years. Similar players to Shaun Marcum.

The Indians position players should be better next season. A number of them underperformed, and they’ll have full seasons from players who started last season in the minors. The biggest example of a player who’ll help the team with a full season in the majors is obviously Francisco Lindor, who’s done nothing but play exceptionally since his debut. Even if his production is curbed over a full season he’ll still be an above average and potentially elite shortstop. Yan Gomes should be healthy next season, and will hopefully prove his bad numbers this season a fluke. Jason Kipnis has rebounded back to form. Michael Brantley should continue to be an above average corner outfielder. Carlos Santana’s drop in power should be concerning, but given his ability to get on base he should still be a valuable player even if the power doesn’t come back, so long as he is put in the field as little as possible. After that the Indians lineup gets a little more hazy. A platoon of Lonnie Chisenhall and Ryan Raburn in right field should provide value. Chris Johnson should be able to play a combination of third and first, with Jose Ramirez seeing time at third among a number of positions. He’ll be able to play any of the infield positions, and even saw some time in the outfield last season. If his future is as a super utility player, he’ll still be able to provide value. Center field is a bigger question mark. The Indians acquired Abraham Almonte from the Padres for a lefty reliever with an impossible to spell name, and the jury is still out on him as a major league center fielder. It’s possible that if the Indians sign a free agent, they’ll target center field.

Available center fielders:

  • Rajai Davis
  • Colby Rasmus
  • Dexter Fowler
  • Austin Jackson
  • Denard Span
  • Drew Stubbs

Of those players, Stubbs isn’t really an option, given his performance the last few years. Denard Span and Dexter Fowler are probably out of the Indians price range. Rajai Davis is probably best signed as a last ditch option. That leaves Colby Rasmus and Austin Jackson and potential free agent candidates. Of course, I could be wrong about this and any of these players could cost more or less than I expect. The Indians could also choose to just allow Almonte to have center field full time in 2016, and see what they have in him.  He probably won’t be a first division starter, but if he’s a cheap second division player there’s value there, and he has been basically a league average hitter since his call up.

Finally, for the Indians bullpen. Cody Allen is awesome. Jeff Manship and Zach McAllister are reliable enough relievers. As for the rest of the bullpen, who knows? Sometimes relievers are awesome one year and terrible the next. The Indians are probably going to have a pretty good one next year.

Before the offseason even starts, it’s easy to see how the Indians should compete next season. The same way they were supposed to compete last season, but with a more finely tuned roster and another season of experience for some of their players. They’ll likely try to make smart, low cost additions in free agency if they don’t grab one of the available center fielders.

Francisco Lindor is really awesome

In his age 21 season Francisco Lindor has done nothing but demonstrate just how good of a baseball player he not only is, but can be. A 114 wRC+ over 283 plate appearances is good at any position, but fantastic at shortstop. It ranks fifth at the position across all players with at least 250 plate appearances. His BABIP is a little on the high side compared to his minor league numbers, but not absurdly so. Even if you knock off a little of the power, Lindor is still having a hell of a season for a 21 year old shortstop. That’s probably the most impressive thing about him, his ability to play shortstop. It’s always been clear that Lindor can play the position. I saw him in Akron last year, and even to my non-scout eyes it seemed clear that Lindor could handle the position, and handle it well. His brief time in the majors has backed that up, and not only the eye test but also advanced defensive metrics support the notion that he’ll be an above average defensive shortstop. Lindor was a top prospect when he debuted, and he’s done nothing since that debut but back up the scouting reports and impress. A fun thing to do is search “Lindor Vizquel” on twitter to see Indians fans comparing Lindor to former shortstop Omar Vizquel. It’s fun because that’s a bad comp for Lindor, who has more offensive value now than Vizquel had at any point in his career. Anyway, the Indians should be excited about locking down a hard position to fill with a player who’ll be cost controlled for the foreseeable future. If they have any money available this offseason, extending Lindor might be a risk worth taking.

A Shirsey Buyers Guide

When purchasing your next shirsey, as so many baseball fans do, you might find yourself saying “What name should I get on the back of this?” or “What team should I represent?” The way in which shirseys can be customized allows for a myriad of possibilities when it comes to the name on the back of the shirt, but you don’t want to screw up a 34.99+shipping purchase. Well I’m taking a stab at coming up with a completely subjective list that can help you up your shirsey game the next time you look to purchase one. These rules are arbitrary and unfair and could contradict either other at a few points, but I don’t really care, because shirsey purchasing is an inexact science.

Rule #1: Long-term contracts are a point in favor

You don’t want to buy anything from a team and have the player on the back of the shirt be traded the next day. If you’re buying a jersey from a team this is especially the case, because MLB jersey’s are really expensive. But even if you’re buying a shirsey for relatively cheap, you want some ability to be able to go to a game and have the player whose name you’re wearing be on the roster. There are no guarantees in baseball about who will or won’t be traded, but you have to examine where the organization is, where the player is, and hope that you can get three or four years out of a shirsey before it turns into a “hey remember when this guy played for us?” shirsey. The best example in recent memory of a player people probably bought shirseys for is a Boston Red Sox Yoenis Cespedes shirsey.

Rule #2: Don’t join in the mass of people buying shirseys for one player

This rule is more of a recommendation. If you love Mike Trout (who doesn’t love Mike Trout), buy a Mike Trout shirsey. There are a ton of them around already, but who cares, he’s awesome and he’s going to be an Angel for a long time. But it’s always way more interesting to see a shirsey for a player like Marcus Semien than Josh Reddick. Is the person with that shirsey really buying into Semien enough that they’re willing to spend the money on a shirsey? Clearly, because they bought one, but that’s way more interesting, at least to me. Plus when it doesn’t work out, like if you know someone who owns a Felix Pie Orioles shirsey, you can make fun of them.*

*I saw a guy wearing a Pie shirsey at Camden Yards the other day, and it was awesome.

Rule #3: Historical shirseys are completely acceptable, and in some cases a better investment

The ability to customize shirseys on MLB.com means you’re often not limited in who you can put on the back of the shirt, and since any time you purchase a shirt with someone else’s name on the back it’s possible you’ll be perceived as tacitly agreeing with that players views, it’s best if you don’t buy a shirsey of a player who has done anything you don’t agree with. It’s probably for the best, for instance, if you avoid buying a Curt Schilling shirsey. But you know who won’t be doing or saying anything that makes me unable to wear my shirsey with his name on the back? Honus Wagner. Shirseys with deceased or retired players can be used to honor particularly important players in franchise history, or just a favorite player whose retired. I never saw Honus Wagner play, but from everything I’ve read he was awesome, so I got a shirsey with his name on the back. I never saw Roy Campanella either, but the Brooklyn Dodgers are really interesting and I like his story, so I bought it. Every franchise has retired or dead players whose shirsey would be cool to own. In many cases they’re cooler than any active player, in part because we’ve already seen that whole career play out. There are of course, historical players who should not be on a shirsey. Ty Cobb, for instance. Not a good shirsey candidate. Great baseball player. Not a good human being. Also the subject of a bad Tommy Lee Jones movie.

As an aside, it’s completely fine to get manager shirseys (although ill-advised, probably). I really want an Earl Weaver shirsey. Because Earl Weaver is the greatest.

Rule #4: Minor League shirseys are risky investments, but can pay off big

When the Indians moved Francisco Lindor to AAA last year, I got a Lindor shirsey. There’s a lot of risk when it comes to buying a shirsey for a player who hasn’t even made his Major League debut yet. Injuries and poor performance are obvious possibilities, but since basically all top prospects make the majors (especially once they’ve reached AAA and are still top prospects), the biggest risk with Minor Leaguers is a number change. The number of times you see people in Pedro Alvarez #17 shirseys or jerseys around PNC Park should be warning enough. You’ve got to do your research on a player in the minors and even then there are no guarantees. The benefit of purchasing a shirsey while a player is still in the minors is the ability to get a lot of confused looks from fans who aren’t sure who that player even is, or some wondering if he’s debuted and they missed it. Mostly, it let’s you claim (very hipster-ly) that you were On the bandwagon” before anyone else.

Rule #5: Nickname/Twitter handle shirseys are a terrible idea

Don’t do it. Don’t get an @Cutch22 shirsey. You might love the tweets. You might love the player. There’s no reason to combine the two. He could change his twitter handle tomorrow. Along the same lines “El Toro” is a bad shirsey. The best thing about that shirsey is that on most of them, not only is the nickname stupid, but the number is wrong too. Lots of people jumped on the Alvarez bandwagon after his rookie year and made a shirsey purchase. Anyway, this is probably the most subjective rule here. If you really want one of these, go ahead. It’s your shirsey.

Rule #6: Shirsey rights travel with the franchise, not the city

This is, again, unfair. If you really want a Walter Johnson Washington Nationals shirsey you can get it. It just makes more sense to me that Johnson would count as a Twin, given that he played his whole career for that franchise. This rule should probably only apply if you can’t find a shirsey for the original team.

Rule #7: Backstory is good

The better the backstory, the better the shirsey. This rule exists because I really want a Rickey Henderson shirsey. Rickey Henderson is awesome and has an awesome story. I’ve tried to get his shirsey for a while now, but MLB.com won’t let me. This should be rectified. Rickey’s the best.

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