A Busy Day

The Trade Deadline is always a busy and eventful day for Major League Baseball but today may have been the busiest one of all. A total of 12 trades were made, and 3 of them are big time deals.

  1. Price to the Tigers:

Tigers: David Price

Mariners: Austin Jackson

Rays: Drew Smyly, Nick Franklin, Willy Adames

  1. A’s Continue to add

A’s: Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes

Red Sox: Yoenis Cespedes, Completive Balance Pick

  1. Cardinals Add to Rotation

Cardinals: John Lackey

Red Sox: Joe Kelly, Allen Craig

These are big time deals that could have a huge impact on the postseason and future postseason races. Over the next few days we will dig deeper into each of these 3 deals and decide who were the winners and losers. What a day for baseball!

Potentially a Big Pickup

The St. Louis Cardinals acquired Justin Masterson from the Cleveland Indians Wednesday afternoon for AA outfielder James Ramsey. This deal will attempt to stabilize a somewhat struggling Cardinals rotation. Besides Adam Wainwright (13-5, 1.92 ERA) and Lance Lynn (11-8, 2.98 ERA), the rest of the rotation has been less than stellar. Shelby Miller (7-8, 4.20 ERA and Joe Kelly (2-2, 4.37 ERA) have not been the most consistent starters this season and Michael Wacha is out until at least September with a shoulder issue. And we know how important Wacha was in last year’s postseason. The Cardinals also lost Jaime Garcia for the season due to rib surgery so the Cardinals saw an opportunity to go out and improve their starting rotation by adding Masterson.

Masterson (4-6) comes to St. Louis with a tough 2014 season on his shoulders. His 5.51 ERA and 1.65 WHIP shows how much of a struggle he has had but Masterson had a knee issue and it is believed that his velocity dropped a few ticks because of that. The Cardinals are hoping they are getting a healthy Masterson, which you have to believe they are or they would not have made a deal if he wasn’t healthy. They also have to hope he can return to his 2013 form, where he had a 3.45 ERA in 29 starts. The problem with Masterson has always been his control. When he is on, he is almost impossible to hit with that side arm fastball and sweeping slider but when he struggles with his control, walks have a tendency to pile up quickly. Maybe a change of scenery is what is needed for Masterson to turn his season around.

The best part about this move by the Cardinals is it allows flame thrower Carlos Martinez to go back to the pen. Martinez was moved to the rotation due to the Cardinals injury problems but struggled to go deep into ballgames as he never went more than 6 innings and went fewer than 5 innings in 4 out of his 7 starts. Martinez was huge in the postseason last year as he was able to provide multiple innings (12.2) to take the pressure off the rest of the bullpen. Martinez will move back to the pen and could be an important piece to get the ball into Rosenthal’s hands.

Masterson is most likely a rental for the Cardinals as he will be a free agent at the end of the season but who knows; if Masterson can discover his 2013 form and help the Cardinals get deep into the postseason, maybe the Cardinals will decide to keep Masterson around past 2014.

Can Soria be the Savior for Detroit?

There is no question that over the last couple of years the bullpen for the Detroit Tigers has been the Achilles Heel for them. Just two years ago, Jose Valverde just completed a regular season where he went 49/49 in save opportunities, but saw him struggle in the postseason has he gave up 9 runs in 2.2 innings pitched. In 2013, Detroit had the opportunity to take a commanding 2 games to none lead against the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS as their starting rotation completely dominated the Red Sox hitters. Jim Leyland without a doubt misused his bullpen as he saw his pen blow a 5-1 lead in the 8th inning. Tigers’ closer Joaquin Benoit gave up a game-tying Grand Slam to David Ortiz as Torii Hunter went flying into the Boston bullpen. The Tigers would give up a run in the 9th to allow Boston back into the series and eventually would lose the series 4-2.

It was clear that the Tigers were going to address their bullpen problem in the off-season and that is exactly what they did. Everyone knows that Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski is one of the more aggressive General Managers in baseball and he decided to go out and solve the bullpen problem by going out and acquiring the active saves leader in baseball in Joe Nathan. They signed him to a 2 yr / 20 million dollar deal with a team option for 2016. Everyone thought that this move would put Detroit over the hump but to say that the 39 year-old has struggled this season would be an understatement. This season Nathan is 20/25 in save opportunities. 5 blown saves doesn’t sound all that bad but when you look at the statistics it has been ugly. His 5.89 ERA is the highest in his 14 year big league career and his 1.527 WHIP shows how difficult each inning has been this season.

Late Wednesday night the Tigers went out and got a huge insurance piece in Joakim Soria for 2 minor league pitchers. Soria was in his 2nd season with Texas and converted 17 of his 19 save opportunities for the struggling Texas Rangers. His 2.70 ERA and .870 WHIP is an encouraging sign for Detroit fans. Soria was one of the best closers in baseball for a 3 year stretch before he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012. He has recovered nicely from TJ surgery as his average fastball velocity is 90 mph, which is only down 1.5 mph since he broke into the big leagues and still has that sharp breaking ball. Soria still has great stuff as his strikeouts per 9 innings is 11.3. Soria goes from baseball’s worst team to one of the best teams in the American league.

The concern with Soria, if there is a concern, is that he has zero postseason experience. He spent 5 years with the Royals, who we know haven’t been to the postseason in forever (1985) and with Texas the last 2 seasons, in which they have slowly been on the decline. So the question is how will Soria perform when the lights are at their brightest? That’s a question that only time will answer. It is impossible to predict how a player will perform in the postseason, especially closers who have a high pressure job in trying to secure the end of the ballgame. Detroit knows all too well how closers can struggle come postseason time as Benoit was 24/26 in save opportunities during the regular season but the postseason was no walk in the park for him. Tiger fans should be happy with this move as it provides much needed insurance to a team that has seen their dreams crushed at the end of games. If Soria can continue to be the pitcher he has been in the past, he will be closing out games soon and should be a big part of the Tigers trying to get back to the ALCS.

Some are Late Bloomers

 

 

It seems like when starting pitching prospects get called up to the big leagues, they are expected to be successful almost immediately upon their arrival no matter how young they are. If they don’t figure it out within two or three years, organizations often lock them in their farm system until they figure it out or look to trade them. Not every pitching prospect has the make up to be a starter in the big leagues, whether it is repeating mechanics for 7 innings, or the ability to navigate through the opponent’s lineup more than twice without becoming predictable. Relievers Andrew Miller and Wade Davis are prime examples of being top starting pitching prospects but taking more than a couple of years to figure things out at the big league level.

Andrew Miller has figured it out as a reliever for the Boston red sox but it has not been an easy road for the former 6th overall pick in the 2006 draft. The Tigers drafted the former North Carolina Tar Heel with the hope of finding a dominant starter for years in the big leagues and it didn’t work out and was traded to Florida in the Miguel Cabrera deal. Unfortunately for Miller, he did not see any success in Florida as his lowest era in his 3 years in Florida was 4.84. The Red Sox acquired Miller in 2010 for pitcher Dustin Richardson, turning out to be a great deal. In 2011, Miller was starting with the Sox and went 6-3 with 5.54 ERA and a 5.68 walk rate.  I remember Miller would have innings where he could dominate and then innings where he couldn’t find the strike zone. For Miller, it all came down to the ability to repeat a herky jerky motion, something that if you watch miller pitch is difficult for him to do. 2012 was Miller’s first time relieving and made 53 appearances with a 3.35 ERA and a walk rate of 4.46. The results were starting to show and now Miller is one of the best left handed relievers in baseball. Not only do lefties struggle against him (.161 avg.) but righties struggle just as much (.181 avg.). In 45 appearances this season, Miller has a 2.13 ERA and has a 14.45 strikeout percentage but only a 2.84 walk percentage. Miller isn’t that front end starter that many believed he could have been but the Red Sox took a gamble on him and the gamble has paid off.

Wade Davis is another pitcher who took a few extra years and a change of scenery to figure it out at the big league level. Davis was selected to his first all-star team this season and has become one of baseball’s best setup men. Davis broke into the big leagues with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2004 as a 3rd round draft pick. He made his debut 5 years later and made 6 starts in 2009. In those 6 starts, he had a 3.72 ERA to put him in 4th place in the ROY voting. Davis saw his ERA jump each of the next 3 years as a starter and in 2013, he had a 5.32 Earned Run Average. Davis was a part of the Will Myers and James Shields trade and the Royals tried him as a starter in 2013 but saw him really struggle over the course of the season. This season the Royals moved him to the pen and the move helped his velocity jump up to 97-99 and his strikeout percentage went from 7.58 in 2013 to 13.72 this season to go along with his 1.11 ERA. Davis is 7th in the big leagues in holds with 17, which sometimes those setup men have tougher tasks than the closers depending on who they face in the order. The move to Kansas City played an important role in the transformation of Wade Davis but moving to the bullpen has made him a valuable pitcher.

There will always be those top pitching prospects that don’t turn out to be the pitchers that everyone predicted they would be but there are also a handful of young pitchers that may take more time to learn how to be successful in the big leagues. Not every pitcher has the makeup to be successful as a starter but sometime it takes a few rough years to figure out where they are most valuable. Andrew Miller and Wade Davis are two recent examples of pitchers who took a few extra years to discover themselves and have turned out to be outstanding relievers. Teams may want to look at these 2 pitchers as examples of what young prospects can become even if they do not succeed as starter.

Tigers Acquire Soria as Insurance

The Detroit Tigers are in the final stages of a deal that will bring Joakim Soria to Detroit in exchange for 2 pitching prospects. This deal will provide Detroit insurance in case the struggling Joe Nathan cannot turn his season around. More on this move in the next couple of days.

Yankees Acquire Headley

The New York Yankees have been struggling to produce on the offensive end as they have a team batting average of .252 and they rank just 21st in baseball in runs with 391. The Yanks decided to make a change in the infield and acquired Chase Headley from the San Diego Padres in exchange for Yangervis Solarte and minor league pitcher Rafael De Paula. The Yankees are hoping that he can find his 2012 form where he hit 31 Home Runs and drove in 115 Runs and not his 2013 form where he hit .250 with only 13 Home Runs ad 50 RBI. If Headley can take advantage of the short porch in Yankee Stadium, he could be a big lift to the struggling Yankees offense.

A Big Mistake

The Boston Red Sox have made one of their biggest mistakes probably since letting Ruth go to the Yankees in 1920. I think all Sox fans are shocked that the Red Sox have not resigned Jon Lester to keep him in Boston for the foreseeable future. Early in Spring Training a report came out that Jon Lester wanted to stay in Boston and was willing to take somewhat of a hometown discount without hurting the market for future free agents. Many thought that a deal would absolutely be done but for whatever reason Red Sox ownership only offered Lester 4 yr / 70 Million and he said no without hesitation. Lester just came off an unbelievable Postseason where he went 4-1 with a 1.56 Earned Run Average in 34.2 innings while only allowing 25 hits. Lester also performed when the lights were at their brightest in the World Series going 2-0 in 2 starts with a .59 ERA. Why the Red Sox thought they could get Lester to sign by offering him well below his actual value is baffling. The Red Sox decision to be frugal with their money, an organization that ranks 4th in payroll (162, 817,411), will either cost them millions of dollars or cost them their ace.

Lester was drafted in the 2nd round in the 2002 draft by the Red Sox and made his major league debut 4 years later. Since making his debut, he ranks 9th all-time in Sox history in wins (110) and 4th all-time in strikeouts (1379). The definition of an ace in the big leagues is every time that pitcher makes a start, his team knows he will go deep into the game and give his team a chance to win and Lester has done just that. He ranks 9th among active pitchers with a winning percentage of .6337 and has made at least 31 starts in each of his first 6 full seasons in the big leagues. Aces do not grow off trees and it would be difficult to imagine what the Sox rotation would look like if Lester were not a part of it next season.

Not counting Lester, next year’s rotation has Lackey, who only makes league minimum due to his Tommy John Surgery in 2012, Buchholz, who has been injured over each of the past 2 seasons, Ruby De La Rosa, who threw 110 innings in 2010 for his career high, and Brandon Workman, who has never thrown over 140 innings. Pitchers who can consistently throw 200 + innings every year are invaluable and John Lackey is the only Sox pitcher besides Lester who has thrown 200 + innings (once with Red Sox). If the Red Sox were to lose Lester, it would be a tremendous hit to the Sox rotation not just in 2015 but for future years. The Red Sox cannot rely on any of their starters to be a lock for 200 + innings because none of them have proven they can except for Lackey but even he hasn’t done it since his TJ surgery. The Red Sox have no choice but to sign Lester for whatever the amount will end up being and they have absolutely no leverage when it comes to discussing his contract

Right now 63 starting pitchers make more money than Lester’s 6 million dollars. Lester has been a steal for the last couple of seasons but he has performed at a level with the top starters in the game and it is time his contract agrees with that statement. Two pitchers that have deals that could be similar to Lester’s are Homer Bailey and Cole Hamels. Bailey signed a 6 yr / 105 Million dollar deal and is only 7 games above .500 for his career. Hamels signed a 7 yr / 153 Million dollar deal and has similar numbers to Lester’s. I would expect Lester’s deal to be between Bailey’s and Hamel’s deals but the more he throws this season, the more the Sox will end up paying. Through 20 starts in 2014, Lester is 10-7 with a 2.50 ERA. Sox fans need Lester to continue his domination in order to get back into playoff contention but the more he continues to dominate, the tougher it will be to resign him.

Lester will be 31 years old entering the 2015 season so he still is relatively young and he understands how to pitch. Not only does he have a good fastball, he locates his pitches well and can cut and sink the ball. Lester has also show a plus curveball this season as his pitching style should be successful as his stuff slowly begins to decline as he gets older. Lester is a fan favorite in Boston and it would be a devastating loss for the organization if he decides to go to a new club. If the Sox are unable to resign him, it will send an interesting message to the rest of the club and a message that could upset the veterans on the team. I know I am not alone in saying that this deal must get done no matter what the cost is because Lester is too valuable to the future of the Boston organization. My advice: Sign Lester now because each start will end up costing the Sox in the offseason.