Alex Rodriguez should let his play do the talking, his mouth has done enough damage

There’s nothing left for Alex Rodriguez except to just go out and play baseball. There’s no need to apologize again for his involvement with performance-enhancing drugs.Whatever credibility Rodriguez had remaining left a long time ago. When the New York Yankees take the field in 2015 with Rodriguez penciled into the lineup, he should just be quiet and play the game.

Alex Rodriguez needs to ask himself this one question — was it worth it?

Rodriguez was recently reinstated to the Yankees’ active roster after serving a 162-game suspension. It didn’t take long for reports to surface again linking Rodriguez to PEDS. The Miami Herald reported that Rodriguez admitted to the use of performance-enhancing drugs during a meeting with the Drug Enforcement Agency in January.

Rodriguez was stopping for microphones, cameras, and anyone with a platform for him to stand on. He strongly denied any wrongdoing he was accused of. However, he was apparently hiding details of how he injected HGH into his stomach while also learning how to beat Major League Baseball’s urine test.

This all comes on the heels of a court-filing disclosure that Rodriguez paid his cousin Yuri Sucart nearly $1 million in exchange for Sucart’s silence regarding Rodriguez’s illegal PED use.

Rodriguez put himself in this position. Nothing he’s ever said about his professional baseball career can be taken as truth. For all we know, he’s been cheating the game ever since his early playing days in Seattle.

The reality of it all is that he’ll still get to play baseball in 2015, and at the moment there isn’t anything the Yankees or Major League Baseball can do about it.

All the reports out now only confirm what the world already thought of Alex Rodriguez. He’s a liar and cheater, however, he’s also served his punishment already.

It’s not his fault the Yankees owe him $61 million over the next three years. Like many of us, the Yankees drank the kool aid every time Rodriguez hit a baseball over the wall, bringing him closer to the all-time home run record. Now there stuck with a declining 40-year old third baseman who’s become a story for all the wrong reasons.

Nothing Rodriguez can say will make any of this better for him, the damage is done. Apologizing again will do nothing but further insult his peers and supporters. Rodriguez isn’t sorry for using PEDS or lying to the world about it, he’s sorry he was caught.

However, if Rodriguez truly wants to hear cheers again, if he truly wants to win the crowd — he’ll go out there in 2015 and hit home runs. The case can be made the Yankees will take whatever they can get out of him until a better alternative comes around.

The very same game that’s contributed to the downfall of Rodriguez will also serve as his only method of redemption. His actions on the field are now all that matters, because his words off the field to many will never matter again.

Anthony Rushing is a contributing writer for OutsidePitchMLB, you can follow Anthony on Twitter at @AnthonyRushing_

Pablo Sandoval’s October Will Make Him Rich

Every baseball player set to hit free agency tries as hard as possible to show just how valuable they are to potential employers. Pablo Sandoval knew that he was taking a little bit of a risk going into a contract year, but it paid off in a big way after having a monster postseason. Now, he might be one of the most sought after free agents this winter in the prime of his career.

San Francisco would obviously like to bring back Sandoval to help them make another World Series push, but they did not get to where they are by making terrible decisions with their finances. They offered him a three-year deal worth $40 million back in April, but the 28-year-old felt like he could get more on the open market.

The biggest concern for any team going after the 3rd baseman is of course his weight issue. He has always been overweight by MLB standards, but it does not really seem to affect his play. In fact, he got off to a slow start at the beginning of this year after spending so much time trying to get in shape over the winter. Once he got back to focusing on the game of baseball instead of money, he became one of the most consistent hitters in the National League for power and average.

Right now, the favorite inside baseball circles seems to be the Boston Red Sox. This is a franchise that is trying to get back into World Series contention right away, and what better way to do that than by landing a guy with several years still left in his prime to play a premium position. They know that they need to offer him a pretty nice contract to make it enticing enough for him to leave the reigning World Series champions. He would be able to have quite a bit of success in fantasy baseball playing at Fenway Park, especially since it is much more hitter friendly.

Sandoval has become a fan favorite in San Francisco, but this is a business at the end of the day. Even though the Giants are very thankful that he was able to help them win their 3rd World Series in 5 years, they also know that they might not be able to afford him if the bidding gets a little too high. Since some people can see him get around $100 million for 5 years, it is easy to see why we might never see him hit again for the San Francisco Giants.

Joe Maddon brings beautiful mindset to Chicago Cubs as new manager

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

A week after the World Series there is a buzz going around Wrigley Field not normally found during this time of year. No, I do not mean the construction crews currently working on the renovations of the cathedral park. But, the hiring of the 54th manager in team history has the town and fan base itching to have baseball back on the North side of Chicago sooner rather than later. The Cubs officially introduced new skipper Joe Maddon on Monday, and if first impressions are anything, the Cubs have their man for the long run.

Unlike the Cubs last two managerial hires in Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria, respectively Maddon won his press conference going away. First off, it was held at a bar across the street from the stadium – Win! Secondly, he presented himself with a calm, beautiful confidence that will easily get the team and fan base on board starting now.

Yes, there is reason for fans to still be cautious about ordering champagne from their local bartender. The Cubs have attempted the big-time managerial splash before in Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella only to see them ultimately fail in bringing a championship to Clark and Addison. But this time around, Maddon just may have the magic formula in place. He has Theo Epstein in his corner, the team has money to spend, and his philosophy of keeping things simple is exactly what the Cubs need right now.

Skeptics can criticize Epstein’s moves and deals, but there is no arguing his baseball mind. Did former manager Renteria get a bad draw? Perhaps. But that is the business. After a shaky first impression, credit should be given to Renteria who had some positive moments during his one year at the helm. But Renteria was never going to be the guy to take the Cubs to the ultimate mountain top. He just appeared to lack that fiery spirit that Chicago fans gravitate toward. Parallels can be drawn to just last year when Sveum was removed and all signs pointed to Ryne Sandberg or Joe Girardi becoming the next man in.

Maddon, Epstein, and Jed Hoyer just may be the most intellectual trio in baseball. In Maddon’s words, their philosophies are all aligned into one common plan and goal. The three of them now appear to be ready to take on the 100-plus curse head on in a welcoming fashion.

Maddon was given a five year deal through the 2019 season. In nine years in Tampa Bay, he went 754-705 while reaching the 2006 World Series. He produced a winning record in Tampa Bay which was once the laughing stock of the league. He managed a small market team, and produced big market results. Now with an organization ready to spend money on players, a farm system ready to burst at the seams, Maddon’s unique mindset and approach to the game and situation should just click from day one.

In Tampa Bay, Maddon had a young talent become an All-Star in Evan Longoria. Kris Bryant is Longoria reincarnated. He also coined the phrase 9=8 which represents nine players working together, each phase of the game scratching out nine extra wins all leading to becoming one of the final eight teams.

Today it would be 9=10 with the added Wild Card spot, but the Cubs have already set their 2015 goals toward a division championship. The 2006 Rays improved by 30 wins and ultimately reached the World Series. With the potential that the Cubs have peaking, that task is not out of the realm of possibility in 2015.

After his three year plan of stocking young talent, Epstein’s next phase is to now see the team compete. Maddon is the guy that will have the Cubs doing that from the start. On his first day on the job, Maddon was not shy about World Series expectations. That will put a charge into fans. While every manager addresses that question in their own unique way, Maddon will embrace it with welcomed optimism – Win!

Simplicity is what the Cubs need, and Maddon’s approach will provide that. He is a good fit for the 2015 Cubs and beyond. He is the right fit, and the proper fit. Maddon will accept the challenge with a beautiful embrace which should put a charge into the young talent, and attract free agents in the process.

The Cubs will become buyers this winter. Epstein is ready to make a statement that the Cubs are to be reckoned with going forward. The Cubs are buzzing into uncharted territory. Chicago will fall in love with Maddon’s soliloquies, but to borrow one from John Madden, “Boom!” The Cubs have arrived. If only Maddon once had the nickname “Doc” as in Back to the Future II where it was revealed that the Cubs would be champions in 2015. Everything is coming together on the North side, and once the construction crews renovate the stadium, Maddon will be the guy to renovate winning baseball on the field.

 

For more MLB News and Updates follow OPSN’s Nick Schaeflein @ptchr2424

Red Sox Decline Team Option for Craig Breslow

Craig Breslow

Today the Boston Red Sox declined the $4 million team option for LHP Craig Breslow. Breslow had a very below average season in 2014 and it doesn’t really seem like a surprise the team decided to try and save money while they choose to resign him or not. The team does seem interested in resigning Breslow but considering his 2014 numbers are well below average the $4 million option just isn’t worth it. In a quote from Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington had this to say about Breslow:

“He’s a unique individual off the field, he means a lot and does a lot for baseball off the field, and [he] was a critical performer for us, particularly in 2013. He has a lot of good qualities and we have a great relationship with him, so we’ll see what happens. No matter what happens, we value the relationship and we would bet on him having a bounce-back year next year. He’s certainly motivated to do that and capable of doing that.”

 

As stated previously Breslow had a real down year compared to his 2013 campaign. His FIP rose quite a bit in 2014 ending at 5.13, which puts him well below the average FIP. Luckily for Breslow its also well above his average FIP of 3.89, which begs the question. Where range does Breslow’s FIP fall? Looking at his career numbers it does seem to fall right where it is at 3.89. 2014 had a career high in HR/FB, a trend that was broken last year but seems to have come back with a vengeance. Breslow struggled to even get left-handed batters out last season having a .299 BAA versus left-handed batters. Bottom line Breslow’s 2013 was a mirage when you look at the numbers but the real Breslow isn’t as bad as he was in 2014. Declining the option will allow the Red Sox to resign him to a cheaper deal and considering the teams option its probably in their best interest to do so.

K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BAA WHIP BABIP ERA ERA- FIP FIP- WAR
2014 6.13 4.64 1.33 .317 1.86 .351 5.96 150 5.34 135 -0.6
2013 4.98 2.72 0.45 .226 1.12 .254 1.81 44 3.60 87 0.7
Career 7.22 3.65 0.77 .234 1.29 .277 3.20 78 3.89 95 3.3

Oscar Taveras Passes in Accident

Oscar Taveras

On October 26th 2014 a tragic accident has taken the life of 22-year-old Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras and his 18-year-old girlfriend Edilia Arvelo. Police reports state that Taveras ran off the road in his home country of the Dominican Republic. No indication as of yet if alcohol was involved at this time and it seems Taveras lost control of his new 2014 Chevrolet Camaro. Mike Matheny had this to say about the incident:

“To say this is a horrible loss of a life ended too soon would be an understatement. To talk about the potential of his abilities seemed to be untimely. All I wanted to do was get the guys together and be with our baseball family. I know the hurt that comes along with buying into the brotherhood of a baseball team. That hurt is just as powerful as the joys that come with this life.”

 

“Not to say it is even close to the depth of pain his true family is going through, but the pain itself is just as real,” Matheny’s statement read. “The ache is deep because the relationships were deep, and forged through time and trials.”

 

“To the many fans who have already reached out with condolences, and to the many more who are in mourning, thank you for taking these players in, like they are one of your own. This level of care is what sets our fans apart.”

 

At some point the team will need to address the hole in RF that this tragedy causes but that can bee done another day, by the team and myself when I feel the time is right. For myself my heart and thoughts go out to all three families: the Taveras’, the Arvelo’s and the Cardinals.

RIP Oscar Taveras

6/19/1992-10/26/2014

Free Agent Outlook: Jed Lowrie

Jed Lowrie

One of the most important factors when determining a player’s value is going to be the position he plays. After all if a team doesn’t need an outfielder then they’re not going to sign an outfielder just to sign the best player in the market. There are some positions however that always seems to have a large market value: for example catchers and pitchers are in high demand by most teams. Today’s subject is in one of those prime positions and happens to be the one of the top shortstops on the market, for better or worse.

BB% K% AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BABIP wOBA wRC+ WAR
2014 9.0% 14.0% .249 .321 .355 .676 .106 .281 .300 93 1.9
2013 7.6% 13.7% .290 .344 .446 .791 .156 .319 .345 120 3.5
Career 9.2% 16.1% .261 .330 .411 .741 .150 .292 .325 103 11.2

 

Jed Lowrie is by no means an elite shortstop but at the same time he brings a plethora of skills that teams will appreciate. Solid defense, solid hitting, solid base running ability, and solid knowledge of the game make Lowrie quite the commodity for a team desperate for a shortstop. Looking at the last few seasons Lowrie its hard to gauge him as a hitter since he was coming off a career year in 2013 and having a passable season in 2014 hurt his stock very little, but it didn’t help him either. The main reason for this off year seems to be a decrease hard hits and maybe even the stadium itself. While his home field may not have shown much effect on him in 2013 we can see a drastic decrease in HR/FB ratio from 6.8 in 2013 to 3.2 in 2014, that’s also 3% below his career average HR/FB rate. We also see an increase in infield base hits from 5% to 7.4% in a span of a season. Not a giant increase but it does support the idea of him hitting with less authority. Another clue to his struggles could be the lowered BABIP; while not a direct correlation between the hard hit theory and his struggles it would be safe to say that a player that is getting less lucky could just be hitting softer. Overall Lowrie did fine last year if not just average and still did far better than many other shortstops in 2014

Pros: Lowrie is a jack-of-all-trades type of player and happens to be at a position where that skill is most appreciated. Lowrie has a little power that could give you 10-12 homeruns a year, which doesn’t sound like much but consider shortstops aren’t exactly known for their power it’s a bonus, and even at the top of the order can score a fair bit of RBI’s. While not a speedster Lowrie isn’t a base cloggier either meaning that usually high OBP won’t be dead weight once he reaches base. Speaking of his OBP skill Lowrie has a good eye only swinging outside the strike zone 28.5% of the time last year and that’s 2% more than his career 25%. He does take a fair amount of walks and that makes him a strong top of the order guy which is something teams can always use. Defensively Lowrie is above average as well actually having a far better defensive WAR (21.7) in his career versus his offensive WAR (0.8) and that alone is a reason teams will want him up the middle. Its always nice to have that defense up the middle that you can put them in and not have to worry about them.

Cons: There’s a second half to that saying of “jack-of-all-trades” and its “master of none.” Lowrie fits that to a tee basically being able to do a little of everything but not going to rock the world in any. He’ll hit for average but not a monster one and the same goes for power, his speed will limit the number of doubles he’ll get as he gets older. Speaking of age Lowrie is 30 and while this is younger than most of the other players I’ve talked about it still is right at the edge of the “prime years” scale of 26-31 and it is something to consider. Lowrie seems to have his up and down years and no real discernable trends to point at and say, “Oh see this is where he struggles” and that could be frustrating. He’s actually only had 3 seasons out of his 7 total years be positive in offensive WAR, two of which have been monster seasons for him. Injuries have also been an issue for him; in 2013 it was the first time in his career he played over 100 games and last year he played 136 and that’s 18 less from 2013’s total of 152.

Contract: Looking at his current contract the money is actually what I’d give him but he’s probably worth more. Given the lack of solid shortstops in the market he will be a prime target for many teams and at the relatively young age of 30 he still has some good years ahead of him. If looking at what someone like Asdrubal Cabrera made last year, a fellow free agent by the way, I would say a fair deal for Lowrie would be about $7 million a year. Given his age and value a 3-4 year deal wouldn’t be out of the question. Lowrie is probably about to make a good chunk of change very soon.

Teams:

New York Yankees: They are in desperate need of a shortstop and they may very well go all out for this guy. With Derek Jeter retiring and J.J. Hardy, the team’s first choice, already signed Lowrie makes perfect sense. He strengthens an already terrible infield defense and adds a much-needed bat to the lineup. Best choice for the Yanks and best choice for Lowrie as well.

Cleveland Indians: While I don’t think the team wants to sign anyone for shortstop at the same time they have no backup plan if their star rookie Francisco Lindor fails to meet expectations. Lowrie is a good choice if the team has any reservations about Lindor’s bat.

Detroit Tigers: I’m pretty sure the Tigers have made every list so far for every player I’ve looked at. The Tigers have a poor infield defense and Lowrie could help put some life into it again. Now much like the Indians the Tigers do have an option that they’ll likely look at before considering this deal since Jose Inglasis comes off the DL this year and should be fine. While Inglasis has the far better glove the bat is still very suspect and Lowrie is the better overall option.

Houston Astros: So this is an odd choice but at the same time it makes sense. The team is rebuilding and they are far closer to being a good team than most give credit. They don’t want to rely on Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Villar isn’t proving to be what they’d hoped so a short/long term option is a good idea.

Oakland Athletics: Losing him will be a blow to the team. The A’s are going to have a hard time really prying him away from the Yankees since the team has far less funds.

Cincinnati Reds: Zack Cozart isn’t a good shortstop and Lowrie would be a major upgrade. Really that’s about it, the team can afford him and he helps a lot.

Pittsburgh Pirates: With no solid major options and the only shortstop in the minors rated as an average player ceiling at best it wouldn’t hurt the team to consider Lowrie. While the teams main concern seems to be resigning Russell Martian to a contract they could keep an eye on the Lowrie bidding to see if he stays at a lower price.

Colorado Rockies: The Rockies have had issues with shortstop for a few years now and a solid hitting option is something the team really could use. While no the most desired spot to go for Lowrie since the Rockies aren’t a playoff team just yet but he would be a major piece for a team that needs to stack the offense to make a difference.

Los Angeles Dodgers: This is only an option for the Dodgers if Hanley Ramirez chooses to go somewhere else and they need a new shortstop. If that were to happen look for them to have a bidding war with the Yankees since in that scenario neither team can afford to loss.

 

For more up to date baseball info you can follow me on Twitter at @jbiesiada

Free Agent Outlook: Alex Rios

Alex Rios

In the past Alex Rios was one of the more frustrating players in baseball. When he was a prospect he was considered a 5-tool player and he did prove this to be true, just never in the same season. While he did always flash the glory that he could be he never really lived up to that .300 hitter while being a 30/30 player that we thought he could be. As his career has gone on he has gotten far more consistent with what he can do and has become a very solid player in the game even if he still doesn’t steal bases.

BB% K% AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BABIP wOBA wRC+ WAR
2014 5.0% 17.1% .280 .311 .398 .709 .118 .335 .309 92 0.2
2013 6.2% 16.3% .278 .324 .432 .756 .154 .311 .330 104 3.1
Career 5.9% 16.1% .278 .323 .439 .762 .161 .311 .330 100 26.7

 

Looking at his numbers the last few years he has regressed a bit since 2012 where Rios has his best season of his career. This is expected since at age 33 he has already passed his prime and is already out of the “golden years” for hitters. Even with this down year he did at least but up passable numbers and was able to hit the ball about the same he has normally done throughout his career. The one thing that is noticeable is the rise in his swing rate, which took a 2% increase from last year, but this could just be an anomaly for him since it still fits into his career percentages. The worrying thing about Rios is the numbers look very sad considering he was batting in hitter friendly Arlington Park most of the season and he still regressed quite a bit. The jury is still out if this is a sign of major regression or just a bad year.

Pros:

Rios has proven to be a very consistent hitter the last few years. In the last 5 seasons Rios has failed to bat over .275 once and that was a terrible season for him back in 2011. After that season though he has been the very model of consistent being able to hit for a moderate amount of power and get on base regularly. Rios isn’t immune to the strikeout but at the same time he doesn’t get struck out as often as most players now and days so it balances out that low walk rate. As a fielder Rios is just average but still very usable.

Cons:

As we discussed at the top of this article Rios was a little up and down in the beginning and seeing the numbers from last year we have to assume he may be in the trend again. It’s easy to throw his 2014 season struggles out since it was just one season but at 33 (34 at the beginning of the 2015 season) those downward trends could start becoming an issue quickly. Rios isn’t a walker, never has been and likely never will be, which could lead to some to an inconsistent OBP later in his career. In fact we can see that trend already starting having his OBP drop 10 points each of the last 2 seasons and if that’s not a trend to worry you then here’s another to worry you. His ISO is in the same trend as his OBP but worse dropping 50 points each of the last 2 seasons, remember that ISO isn’t the homerun stat it’s his overall power numbers so that means doubles are down as well. Overall Rios seems to be losing the all-important battle of age and we’re seeing the outcome.

Contract:

Toronto had a very odd period of time where they gave huge contracts to players they thought would be their future. In today’s climate that’s actually the trend, lock up the young guns and seal them up, but back then it wasn’t the norm and even by today’s standards Rios’ contract would never happen. Rios had a 7-year $69.8 million contract with a 1-year team option for the 2015 season, which the Rangers have just declined, and we can assume no one is crazy enough (or at least likes his job enough to keep it) to sign him to a similar contract so we have to take a guess.

Coming off the 2014 season Rios’ stock is low and won’t get a super amount of suitors. He will get a few, as we’ll discuss later, but at his advanced age there isn’t really a market for him. Using his WAR as a starting point we can look and see what players around him could be a good comparison and to be fair he’s in a group of underachievers like Baltimore’s Chris Davis, Shin-Soo Choo, Eric Hosmer, and Jean Segura. But there is one name that does make a good comparison for Rios and that is Miami Marlins outfielder Garrett Jones who signed a 2 year $7.8 million deal last offseason. Looking at Rios’ numbers a 2-year deal, with maybe a team option for a 3rd, would be appropriate and making it say $10-13 million a year would be more than fair. In fact if the team was trying to save a buck or 2 they can make it a incentive lased deal where Rios can earn his money after his struggles.

Teams:

Detroit Tigers: With Torii Hunter on the market and likely retiring the team will be looking to not only add a bat but a consistent one. Rios could easily fit that requirement and this could be his best option for a bigger payday. Detroit is desperate to get an offense that can consistently hit all year round and Rios has been pretty consistent in the last few years. The downside is of course the power numbers will continue to decline in that spacious field.

Texas Rangers: Yes they just declined his $14 million option but that’s probably cause they think they can sign him for less. Rios would be in the drivers seat on this one since the Rangers don’t have a lot of options to really fall back on. While Rios didn’t fair so well in his first full season there he did just fine in the half season he had in 2013.

Atlanta Braves: This one comes with an asterisk right on the bat since this could happen only if the rumor that the Braves are potentially trading Jason Heyward to the Boston Red Sox is true. If that’s then the team will need a new outfielder but at the same time if they do this the teams in rebuild mode so they’re not likely spending money on aging outfielders.

Milwaukee Brewers: While the team does have a pretty strong outfield at the moment it all hinges on how much they believe in Khris Davis. Davis was on pace at one point last season to shatter the strike out record just after the All-Star break but he finally found his swing and ended up being a strong rookie campaign. Rios would be more consistent but Davis has the upside.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The team doesn’t really have a set RF for next season at this moment so it could work for Rios. It’s a hitter friendly field and less pressure than both Texas and Detroit would be so it has its advantages. On the down side the D-Backs aren’t likely to fork up the cash that Detroit and Texas can so it would be a price cut. Secondly the team isn’t ready to be in the playoff hunt next year but its time is coming, a 34-year-old RF may not fit into their plans.

 

For more up to date baseball info and reports you can follow me on Twitter at @jbiesiada

Hiroshima Carp/Kenta Maeda Undecided

 

Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda has shown interest in heading to America to play in the MLB but his team, the Hiroshima Carp, aren’t sure if they want to post him. In a quote from Carp owner Hajime Matsuda he said, “We have the right. We would like to let him go, but based on his production this year it will be difficult.” At this moment it is unclear if the Carp will post Maeda but considering he’d be posted in accordance with the new rules set after the Tanka signing. If the team decides to post Maeda they can post for the maximum amount of money, $20 million, and if no deal is struck pull him back and try again next year.

Maeda has been scouted by many MLB and other independent scouts and so far it seems Maeda looks like a mid rotation pitcher. He has a good amount of pitches and they all rate as above average but he doesn’t have Tanka or Darvish type of pitches or velocity. Maeda had a productive 2014 and a strong WHIP of 1.08 and a good 3.85 K/BB ratio. More importantly is the durability of Maeda who has 6 straight seasons of 175+ innings, a feat that teams are always impressed with. Maeda’s numbers look average when compared to many MLB pitchers but many teams are looking for a good mid-tier pitcher.

Kenta Maeda

BB/9 K/9 HR/9 WHIP ERA
2014 2.0 7.7 0.6 1.08 2.56
2013 2.0 8.1 0.7 .096 2.10
Career 1.9 7.3 0.6 1.05 2.43

 

Three different ways to construct Tigers’ bullpen for 2015

espn.go.com

espn.go.com

The Tigers’ 2014 season ended prematurely largely due to the lack of reliable late-inning options in the bullpen for rookie skipper Brad Ausmus.

One of the late-inning pen arms in closer Joe Nathan, who didn’t help out the cause, will likely be back after a dismal first year as Detroit’s full-time closer due to the $10 million he’s owed in 2015.

The same applies for Joakim Soria who was acquired at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline from the Texas Rangers. Ausmus came under fire for his mishandling of him in the second half of the season, after Nathan stumbled at the end of the season while ’14 eighth-inning man Joba Chamberlain literally fell on his face and was miserable down the stretch, posting an earned run average just below five. Through it all, Ausmus proved to be stubborn, refusing to change his ways as he underutilized Soria in high-leverage situations, going to Chamberlain almost automatically to set up Nathan (although his numbers did not warrant such usage).

In the process, Soria never became accustomed to a role, and along with the hinderance of his oblique injury, the Tigers never got to see the best form of him. However, he’s also likely to be back, after Detroit head honcho Dave Dombrowski dealt two top farmhands in return for the man formerly known as “The Mexicutioner” by the Kansas City Royals fanbase.

Additionally, due to Ausmus getting the chance to return as skipper for a second season, expect the role of Nathan to remain the same. Also, expect Soria – if his $7 million option is picked up by Dombrowski and company – to see his role increased with the likely departure of the most reliable righthanded reliever for Detroit in the first half of this past season in Joba.

After Nathan and Soria, the Tigers relief arm who has the best chance of claiming a spot at the back end of the club’s pen is hard-throwing Venezuelan right-hander Bruce Rondon, who sat out this past season due to Tommy John surgery. The 23-year-old is expected to get the first crack at the eighth inning, if Soria’s option is declined or if the former Royals closer suffers an injury which keeps him out for an extended period of time.

At this point, Rondon – health and command-permitting – is expected to take over the closer role from Nathan in 2016, after the former Twins closer’s atrocity of a contract expires.

Until the active MLB saves leader leaves Motown, expect Rondon to be counted upon to bridge the gap from the Tigers starting pitching staff to the club’s incumbent eighth and ninth inning men.

When Rondon doesn’t get the call in the seventh, Al Alburquerque seems like the most likely in-house option to get the nod to bridge the gap between the organization’s major league starting arms and late-inning arms.

A healthy Rondon and a more often-utilized Al Al should be part of the solution implemented by Dave D and the front office for Detroit’s pen in ’15. However, the duo of Alburquerque and the young flamethrower from Venezuela aren’t enough to heal the club’s long-standing Achilles’ heel at the back end of games.

It means Dombrowski has to get busy this offseason – most likely via the free agent market – in order to prevent the pen from cutting short yet another campaign for Detroit.

Targets of Dombrowski -  the franchise’s top decision maker and a World Series winner with the 1997 Marlins – should include big names, such as Baltimore Orioles trade deadline acquisition and left-handed specialist Andrew Miller – a former Detroit first-round draft pick – plus Sergio Romo, who recorded the final out against Motown’s MLB club in the 2012 World Series for the San Francisco Giants.

The 29-year-old Miller might have already priced himself out of the Tigers’ price range for a non-closing type of reliever due to his stellar ’14 campaign in which he struck out 103 batters in a little over 60 innings pitched in time spent with both the O’s and Boston Red Sox, whom he pitched for during the first half of the season.

As for the 31-year-old Romo, he pitched poorly enough to have the closing job stripped from him by Giants manager and two-time World Series champion Bruce Bochy in late June in favor of Santiago Casilla, who hasn’t looked back since taking over the role.

In doing so, Romo likely pitched himself into Dombrowski’s price range for a late-inning reliever who will not see time in the ninth inning on a consistent basis.

If Miller and Romo don’t intrigue you, there’s also Pat Neshek and his unorthodox style available for likely a cheaper price after signing with his current organization in the St. Louis Cardinals on a minor league deal this past offseason. All he’s done is reward the Cards with an earned run average below two, a career-best fielding independent pitching mark below two and a half as well as his first career All-Star Game appearance.

If the Tigers seep deeper into the free agent pool for pen arms, Dave D and his staff could decide to give veteran southpaw Jesse Crain a shot to re-gain some value on a cheap deal after he missed all of this past regular season due to right shoulder trouble, which also caused him to miss the second half of 2013 when he was a member of the Chicago White Sox and later the Tampa Bay Rays after being dealt near the end of July.

With all these various options, a move or two is bound to be made in an effort to upgrade the relief corps for 2015.

The only question that exists now is what new and shiny toys will Ausmus be tasked with handling out of the pen in his second year as a big league skipper. Without further ado, here are three different relief pitching alignments I can envision the club going with to fix its Achilles’ heel in the coming cold and snowy winter months:

“Dream world” bullpen:
Closer – Joakim Soria
Setup – Bruce Rondon (vs. righties) and Andrew Miller (vs. lefties)
7th inning – Joe Nathan (1st option) and Pat Neshek
Middle – Pat Neshek (1st option) and Al Al
Lefty specialist/long – Kyle Lobstein

Most likely pen alignment:
Closer – Joe Nathan
Setup – Joakim Soria
7th inning – Bruce Rondon (1st option) and Pat Neshek
Middle – Pat Neshek (1st option) & Al Al
Long/lefty specialist: Kyle Lobstein

Second most likely pen alignment:
Closer – Joe Nathan
Setup – Joakim Soria
7th inning – Sergio Romo
Middle – Bruce Rondon (1st option) & Al Al
Lefty – Ian Kroll
Long – Kyle Lobstein

Which of these three pen alignments do you think is most likely the one that the Tigers bring into Lakeland, Fla., at the start of spring training? Voice your opinion in the comments section, or by casting your vote in the poll below.

Free Agent Outlook: Melky Cabrera

Melky Cabrera

Now that the season is over its time to start looking at the potential free agents and see what teams could use these players. Today we look at 2014 break out Melky Cabrera, well ok he’s not technically a “break out” player since he had his true break out season back in 2012 but after a disappointing end to that season and a 2013 that was injury plagued 2014 was a good bounce back break out. First lets look at what Cabrera did in 2014, the good and the bad.

 

BB% K% AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO HR BABIP wOBA wRC+ WAR
Cabrera 6.9% 10.8% .301 .351 .458 .808 .157 16 .313 .354 125 2.6
League AVG 7.6% 20.4% .251 .314 .386 .700 .135 139.5 .299 .310 96 19

 

2014 was a return to form for Cabrera and he did exactly what many predicted he’d be like when he was coming up through the minors. The Cabrera we saw in 2011-2012 was an illusion that many people fooled themselves into thinking was real. He’s not a 20-homer guy like he was averaging those 2 seasons but the 13-16 homer range seems to fit him perfectly. As for his other numbers this year they really do play to his strengths as a player. Low strikeout rate balances out the low walk rate but his contact skills really allow him to swing a little more freely and not have to take a walk.

Strengths:

Cabrera is a great contact hitter and if his .301 batting average doesn’t sell you on that his 88.3% contact rate should. That’s almost 10% better than the rest of baseball, not just the AL or NL all of baseball. More impressive is only swinging 45.5% percent of the time means even though he doesn’t walk often he doesn’t exactly swing freely at anything that he’s thrown. He’s also a great hitter since he can spray the ball to all fields and shifts aren’t as effective on Cabrera. Looking at spray charts you can see that Cabrera has an ability to hit liners into the gaps very easily. 21.2% of pitches he made contact with were line drives this last season which puts him just above average in that category but it’s the placement that is important. Most are right in the gaps and this accounts for the high ISO but not having a really high amount of homers. It is nice to see that his power isn’t limited to home or away since he’s actually hit just as many in Toronto as he did on the road.

Cabrera isn’t that bad in the field either being one of the better defensive LF in baseball last year. His .992 fielding percentage ranks in the top percent of LF in baseball. Cabrera had 13 OF assists in 2014 and even ended the season with a 3.4 runs saved with his arm which is a decent amount for a LF, a position that isn’t really known for their strong arms. A nice bonus for Cabrera’s future team is that he’s actually a decent speed guy even if it doesn’t show in the stolen base stat.

Cons:

Cabrera’s value really does lie in his ability to make contact and the rest of his numbers purely rely on that. If you were to figure out his wOBP he would have a .051 and that’s a very pedestrian number for a guy who had a very good OBP. Not only that I do worry about the power numbers regressing a little down the line. Players like Cabrera do have a tendency to be a little streaky and while he has been able to avoid that last year but its always a worry. As I stated above he hit just as many homers on the road as home but I do wonder how that his numbers could change if he goes to teams that have a little more extreme pitchers park. This isn’t saying his gap power would change but since Toronto does have a spacious outfield.

While his defense is good but his range isn’t terrific having a UZR/150 of -7.1 and that puts him below average range for all outfielders. Knowing that his range isn’t the best it also plays into him not being super speedy. He’s an average speed at the best of times and that will only diminish with age and at 30 his golden years are past him.

Conclusion:

Melky Cabrera is a great hitter with a good hitters eye and an ability to make solid contact. Even if he does regress a little the numbers are consistent enough to make the risk worthwhile. In fact consistent is the best word to use when describing Cabrera; a .340 OBP guy with an ability to hit the gaps but can hit homers when the pitcher makes a mistake. Cabrera’s shortcomings with speed aren’t getting any better moving forward so any team that decides to take a chance on him will have to insure then can deal with it as he gets older. Luckily for that team unless Cabrera suffers a lead pipe to the knee he should be fine for the next few years (if you got that 1994 reference give yourself a high five.)

As for the teams that could really use Cabrera the list isn’t a small one. Looking at the list of 2015 free agents Cabrera is easily one of the top 3 best free agent outfielders of the bunch, sadly that list has more bench and platoon guys than starters. Of the 30 players currently scheduled to hit the market there’s only about 8 players that could be considered starters and while that sounds like a good thing for Cabrera it could be an issue finding a team. If there isn’t a lot of teams looking for outfielders, most retaining their outfield from this pervious season, then his options are limited to teams looking for an upgrade and could afford the contract market value will demand. Cabrera was making $8 million for 2 years with Toronto but he could easily ask for a $15 million a year contract at least and my assumption is he’d want a 4-year deal.

Taking a look at teams that have a legit shot of obtaining Cabrera you have to consider not only the team but also the money the team can off.

 

Toronto Blue Jays: Obviously the team that Cabrera has played with the last 2 years is the first team that would try to retain his services. They’d have the space to put him and the money to sign him. While the team’s offense is solid the team may need to bypass on Cabrera to spend extra on pitching.

 

Baltimore Orioles: Another team that has the money and could have the outfield opening spot. The team is currently talking to outfield Nick Markakis to see if he will sign back but nothing happened yet. If they can’t resign Markakis they could look to Cabrera to fill that void in LF that Markakis would leave. With Cabrera’s skill set and a rather large outfield to play with Cabrera is a good fit and a bad at the same time. Good for his contact skills but his defensive issues will only be magnified from that same large outfield.

 

Detroit Tigers: With the utter embarrassment suffered in the playoffs the team is going to look to improve themselves in anyway possible. With Torii Hunter potentially retiring at the end of this season the team is going to need to find a replacement and they don’t have the pieces in the minors. The big question is if the team will focus on trying to create a more consistent offense or fix the team’s terrible bullpen. The team can afford Cabrera if he asks for what I predict but we’ll see which direction the team takes.

 

Texas Rangers: Much like the Tigers the Rangers are a team looking to make a comeback and are losing a regular outfielder in Alex Rios. The smaller outfield will make Cabrera’s defensive shortcomings less of an impact and his hitting skills get a bonus. Unlike the Tigers the team does have options and trying to figure out if they want to spend money or try and fix internally.

 

Atlanta Braves: This feels like a long shot but the team could try him out one more time. They might have the money lying around and the team could use a consistent bat in a lineup that had major issues with consistency for the last 3 seasons. While they need the upgrade I question if they DO have the money to make such a deal. With the new GM trying to get the team back in shape he could try and make a splash but we shall see.

 

Cincinnati Reds: Very similar situation to the Braves since the need is there and they really do need Cabrera’s skills in a very big way but the money may not be there. The team has a lot of its budget tied up in players like Jay Bruce, Joey Votto and Johnny Cueto so they don’t have a lot of free cap space.

 

San Francisco Giants: We’ve seen him play there once but I question if that bridge was burnt to bad and the team would want him back. He’s a great fit for the team even if the defense would be an issue. Luckily for the Giants Angel Pagan would be able to close the gaps that Cabrera couldn’t reach. The team may not have that much cash lying around since they do have a few key players coming up on free agency soon and they may try to conserve money for them. If they do decide to go after him the second issue would be the scorn he would face from the fans.

 

For more up to date baseball info you can follow me on Twitter at @Jbiesiada

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