Look out sports fans! Maybe, just maybe, baseball is making a big comeback. Now I know we are in the middle of football season. Down my way in the Bayou State, both the Saints and the LSU Tigers are on a roll. And a hyped-up basketball season is just beginning. But baseball is drawing record crowds with the World Series ringing up the largest TV audiences in years.
The luster is off pro football. The “take-a-knee” controversy has turned off thousands of viewers. Just check out all the empty seats at any Sunday NFL game. Quite frankly, many of the pro games are, well, just boring. Then there is the “thug factor” and the statistic that some 50 NFL players have been arrested for domestic violence. To many former sports fans, politics has become their favorite entertaining diversion.
Just what is America’s favorite pastime? Is it politics or baseball? Politics has always been a major spectator sport, particularly here in my home state of Louisiana. But don’t sell baseball short. Not only has baseball been around longer than any of America’s professional team sports, the game’s highs and lows have been injected in national politics almost from the sport’s inception.
Now I’m a diehard baseball fan. I grew up in St. Louis and was in the stadium the Sunday afternoon back on May 2, 1954, when Stan the Man Musial hit five home runs on the same day in a doubleheader. I’m a regular at spring training down in Tampa, where I follow my perennial favorite, the New York Yankees.
Baseball has been well ahead of the NFL in confronting issues of race. The problems of major league baseball have often served as a mirror image of the problems facing America. Its history is both a reflection of this country’s fears and ignorance, and its hopes and promises. Like almost any other cultural phenomenon of such prominence, baseball has served as solace and as a poke to our conscience.
In 1948, the major leagues faced the problem of segregation earlier than the politicians in Washington, DC, did. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and won the rookie of the year award in his first season. It took court cases and sit-ins to get the attention of our political representatives to follow suit.
A few years back, the Tampa Bay Rays were the Cinderella team that went from “worst to first,” winning the American League pennant. Maybe it has something to do with their name. They used to be called the “Devil Rays” and their record was terrible. As soon as they dropped the word “Devil,” they became victorious overnight. Is it baseball pure and simple, or is the Religious Right involved?
Maybe it’s impossible to get away from campaigns and politics by focusing on the current World Series, but I’m going to give it a shot. The Fox network carried many major league games this season. In the National League, everyone, even the pitchers, get an equal chance to bat. Will Fox News say that the National Leaguers are socialists? Will their commentators argue they should call some home runs out if they are too far to the left? And I guess you can’t blame the Democrats from bemoaning that every time someone steals a base, they get reminded of the 2000 presidential election.
There is also a lesson to be learned from Babe Ruth as Congress is considering limiting executive pay and bonuses of corporations who received bailout money. When the Babe was asked how he could justify making more money than the President, he shrugged off the question by answering, “I had a better year.”
I suppose one of the biggest differences between these two spectator sports is the sense of optimism that baseball brings every spring. The crack of the bat, a pop fly against a blue sky, and the green grass seem to offer a sense of renewal. It harkens back to the essence of youth and heroes of the past, and you feel that almost anything is possible in the coming season. But in today’s political climate, there is little thought of great statesmen and principled political figures. Political courage today is too often defined by poll watching and sticking a wet finger to the wind.
So when the TV remote offers a choice of the NFL, politics or baseball in the coming week, I’ll choose the great American pastime. It’s baseball hands down. Like a fellow once said: “The difference between politics and baseball is that in baseball, when you are caught stealing, you’re out.”
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, are his own. His column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show, Common Sense, each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Communication Network.
Target Field staff played a delayed feed of the national anthem on the Jumbotron while Brian Dozier homered to open the game and Eddie Rosario followed it with a two-run dinger, but despite missing nearly all the action, and the game becoming predictably uncompetitive, I still think the world needs more one-game playoffs.
The Minnesota Twins were the David to the Goliaths of the Major League Baseball Playoffs. ESPN’s Sports Nation staff ranked Minnesota’s roster last amongst the MLB playoff teams in all three areas -- lineup, starting pitching and relief pitching.
The Twins were huge underdogs not just to win the American League pennant, but the Wild Card Game. A $100 bet on the Twins to beat the Yankees would have paid $225. Those are the worst odds in the short history of MLB one-game playoffs. In the first American League Wild Card Game, a $100 bet on the Baltimore Orioles to beat the Texas Rangers paid $195.
Better yet, a $100 bet on that guy who had never boxed before against that guy who had never lost before would have paid just $40 more than a bet on the Twins to beat the Yankees. Apparently 50 million Americans watched that fight, which would be 15 percent of the U.S. population. The overnight rating for the American League Wild Card Game was 5.2, meaning Nielsen estimates 5.2 percent of households watched the game -- up 58 percent from last year.
So people watched because anything can happen in one game -- and did it ever. We saw baseball like never before because of the one-game playoff format. For better or worse, we saw how managers can affect a game -- something that isn’t the case over the course of a 162-game season -- or even a seven-game series.
Paul Molitor might win the American League Manager of the Year Award, but Joe Girardi was the better manager Tuesday. He made all the right moves. Girardi lifted starter Luis Severino after a third of an inning before his postseason ERA ballooned over 100 (it’s 81.00). When the Yankees badly needed to strand two runners in scoring position with just one out down three runs in the first inning, Girardi called on Chad Green, who struck out Byron Buxton and Jason Castro -- who didn’t touch a ball and probably should have been lifted for a pinch hitter at some point with three catchers on the Twins’ roster.
Molitor could have lifted Ervin Santana after a third of an inning, too. Santana was visibly struggling with his command, but instead of going to Trevor Hildenberger with two runners on, Molitor left Santana to allow the home run that tied it and sucked whatever mojo the Twins had stolen in the first half of the inning.
Girardi used his best bullpen pitcher (by the numbers at least) in the most dire situation while Molitor used his best bullpen pitcher, Trevor Hildenberger, to start the sixth inning down three runs -- with nobody on base! And instead of lifting Santana for Hildenberger, Molitor went to Jose Berrios, who like Santana, struggles to find his command early in games. Berrios predictably allowed a home run that put the Twins in a seemingly insurmountable three-run hole with the best of the Yankee bullpen yet to come.
Whatever mojo Molitor might have had in negotiating an extension with the Twins, he’s lost it in my opinion. When one game is your season, that game must be managed flawlessly. But that’s part of the beauty of one-game playoffs. Managers are faced with situations that don’t exist outside of a one-game playoff -- like removing your starting pitcher with one out in the first inning.
Anything could have happened on Tuesday in New York, but the better team won, as is mostly the case in MLB one-game playoffs. The favorite is 7-3 in MLB Wild Card Games, with those previously mentioned 2012 Orioles being the biggest underdog to advance. The 2014 Kansas City Royals were barely underdogs against the Oakland Athletics at +101, and the 2015 Houston Astros and Yankees were basically drawing even, but the Astros were playing in New York.
So if the better team wins the one-game playoff 70 percent of the time, the world needs more one-game playoffs. I’m not advocating the expansion of the MLB Wild Card format, but in a world where so much is wrong, one-game playoffs like that of the MLB and NFL Playoffs and NCAA March Madness provide wildly entertaining relief. I hope there’s a tie for a division championship or a three-way tie for a Wild Card spot next season.
If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: View From The Couch
Prior to the Minnesota Twins taking on the New York Yankees to close out their regular season series in New York, I wrote that I thought the Twins were a better team than the Yankees in a five-game series. The Twins proceeded to be swept by the Yankees in a three-game series at New Yankee Stadium, proving me wrong and leaving an all-too-familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach.
That all-too-familiar feeling is the result of 12 consecutive playoff losses by the Twins, nine of which came at the hands of the Yankees. And with 12/1 odds to win the American League pennant and 20/1 odds to win the World Series, the Twins are the short stack at the Major League Baseball final table.
On paper, the Yankees are overwhelming favorites in the American League Wild Card Game. They’re playing at home, where they will have played their final seven regular season games and where they have hit 134 of their 235 home runs this season. So the Yankees will be comfortable, especially coming off a three-game sweep of the Twins at home.
New York will run Cy Young candidate Luis Severino to the mound against Ervin Santana -- a right-handed, fly-ball pitcher in an unforgiving ballpark for right-handed, fly-ball pitchers. And Santana has been susceptible to the long ball, especially in New York. He allows one every five innings at New Yankee Stadium.
Santana did show improvement over his career numbers at New Yankee Stadium (0-5, 6.43 ERA, 1.714 WHIP) in his last start, however. He went five and two-thirds innings allowing seven hits and two earned runs, but he did allow a first-inning home run to Aaron Judge that might not have carried out of Target Field. The Twins will need the Santana who showed up that day to have a chance at ending the Yankee playoff curse.
Despite the Twins having so few at-bats against Severino coming into the game, they showed an ability to at least make contact in an 11-3 loss two days after Santana’s start. All three runs were charged to Severino, as he struggled to put Twins hitters away over the course of three innings and 71 pitches. The Twins connected on 21 foul balls to extend at-bats against Severino. That patience will be a key to success again for the Twins, as the earlier Minnesota can get into the Yankee bullpen the better their chances will be to win.
While the Twins are young, so are the Yankees. In fact, the Twins’ active roster has an average age of 28.1 to the Yankees’ 27.8, so the Twins are actually more experienced than the Yankees on average.
When it comes to playoff experience, though, the edge goes to New York -- big time. The Yankees have 14 players on their active roster with playoff experience to the Twins’ six. The Yankee players with playoff experience are more likely to get into the Wild Card Game, too.
Of the 14 Yankees with playoff experience, seven of them are position players. Of the Twins’ six players with playoff experience, just Joe Mauer and Jason Castro are position players. Mauer is 10-for-35 in the playoffs. Castro has just one hit in 14 playoff at-bats.
Yankee players have 466 playoff at-bats and are hitting .253 as a team in the postseason. Their starter in this game, however, has not pitched in the postseason, but Dellin Betances, David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman have.
The Twins can call on closer Matt Belisle and, perhaps, Glen Perkins, for bullpen arms with playoff experience. Perkins might not make the Wild Card Game roster, though, so no lead is big enough for the Twins on Tuesday in New York.
So if the Twins can score early and often and get into the Yankee bullpen, keep the ball in the ballpark and play clean defense, and score runs like they have since the All-Star Break (5.67 runs per game is second only to the Cubs), they can end the Yankee playoff curse. At least an incorrect call on a double down the third base line won’t be their undoing this time.
If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: View From The Couch
With the Minnesota Twins collecting just their fourth walkoff win of the season at Target Field, Wednesday night, they are two games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels for the second Wild Card spot in the American League. They could now become the first team ever to make the playoffs having lost more than 100 games the previous year.
The Twins have a 60 percent chance to make the playoffs given that seven of their last 17 games are against the hapless Detroit Tigers. I wrote about how these Twins could be the biggest underdog overachievers of all time, but now the team doesn’t look like overachievers. What once was a -68 run differential is now +8. Everything’s coming together like it did for the Twins in 1987 and 1991.
The Twins traded their All-Star closer and got better! The Twins lost All-Star slugger and third baseman Miguel Sano to injury and got better! The Twins lost the designated hitter with the highest on-base percentage in baseball, Robbie Grossman, and got better! So not only does Paul Molitor deserve an extension with the Twins, he should probably win the AL Manager of the Year award.
I was not a supporter of Paul Molitor’s when Ron Gardenhire was let go by the Minnesota Twins. In fact, I had Ozzie Guillen and Rusty Kuntz ahead of him on my dream list of managers.
I didn’t like Molitor’s first lineup, and there are few I’ve agreed with since, because batting your best home run hitter in the leadoff spot has never made much sense to me, especially with two players with on-base percentages in the top-10 in baseball (Joe Mauer and Robbie Grossman). Dozier gets himself out on the first pitch a lot, and that’s not helpful to his teammates when leading off a game.
I do appreciate Molitor’s willingness to move everyone else around the lineup, though. The rigidity I expected has never been the case, and Molitor has even platooned players effectively, namely Max Kepler. He’s also managed to get Grossman plenty of at-bats without using him in the outfield.
Most impressive is what Molitor’s done with a baby-faced bullpen and over-the-hill starting rotation. When he badly needed someone to step into the rotation and eat some innings, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine gave him 44-year-old Bartolo Colon. That was enough to satisfy me, and it has been enough to satisfy Molitor so far.
Right now, I think these Twins are better than the New York Yankees in a five-game series. They’ve been better in a three-game series thus far this season, and will have a chance to close the three-game gap between them and the Yankees starting Monday in New York. Here’s how the potential playoff preview lines up:
Game 2: Monday, Sept. 18 at 6:05 p.m. CST
A battle of the aces -- Ervin Santana versus Sonny Gray. This should be a good one. Santana tossed six innings of shutout ball to give Eddie Rosario the chance to win it with a walkoff homer deep into the Minneapolis night.
Sonny Gray has been great for the Yankees, but the Yankees haven’t been great for him. In five of his eight starts, the Yankees have managed just one run or less of support despite Gray’s sterling 2.66 ERA since the trade from Oakland.
Game 2: Tuesday, Sept. 19 at 6:05 p.m. CST
Jose Berrios takes on Twin-for-a-game Jaime Garcia. Garcia has struggled mightily since the trade from Minnesota. In fact, he hasn’t pitched six innings since his first and last start in a Twins uniform.
Berrios, on the other hand, is coming off his best start of his career. He might have not gotten a win in Kansas City, but he pitched his best in yet another high-pressure situation early in the game. With the bases loaded and one out in the second inning, Berrios got a double-play grounder off the hot bat of Whit Merrifield. He went on to complete seven innings, allowing just two runs.
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 20 at 1 p.m. CST (ESPN)
Two players who’ve seen their seasons turnaround in the second half -- Bartolo Colon and Masahiro Tanaka -- close out the season series. Both pitchers are coming off ugly starts, though.
Tanaka allowed seven earned runs over four innings against a tough Texas lineup, but he had won four consecutive starts prior visiting Arlington.
Colon was even worse in Kansas City, failing to complete two innings and allowing six earned runs. He too had been great in his four previous starts, though.
If the Twins are to overcome the history of failures against the Yankees in the playoffs (1-9 in their last 10 postseason games), playing at Target Field might help, despite a better record on the road this season (39-32). The Yankees will enter the postseason on a seven-game homestand ending Oct. 1.
The Twins finish the regular season with a three-game series against Detroit ending Oct. 1. The American League Wild Card Game is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 3 with a time to be determined.
If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: View From The Couch
Boston Red Sox starting pitcher David Price, backed by some members of his team, humiliated NESN broadcaster Dennis Eckersley on the team’s chartered plane because Eckersley uttered the word “yuck” in response to Boston pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez’s poor stats that were displayed onscreen during the broadcast of a Red Sox game.
This was originally published at FoulPlaybyPlay.com, a community of foul-mouthed sports broadcasters and bloggers.
Price’s ire with Eckersley has been apparently building because Eckersley rarely visits the clubhouse. But Eckersley’s job isn’t to buddy-up with the Boston Red Sox. His job is to provide entertaining, insightful commentary during games, and sometimes that insight must be critical of the home team. It’s a lot harder to remain objectively critical of your friends, which is likely why Eckersley stays out of the clubhouse.
We all deal with criticism at work, but most of that criticism is kept inside the office and not broadcasted on live television. As a journalist for more than six years, I can somewhat relate to the criticism baseball players and other athletes deal with on a regular basis. Publishing an opinion in the newspaper is not unlike stating an opinion on television or radio, except the response isn’t immediate. I’ve had multiple responses to opinions I’ve published in the editorial sections of newspapers throughout Montana, and as an atheist socialist in a red state, none of them were in support of my opinion. That’s the risk you take in being critical.
I’ve also been threatened with violence for reporting a story, so I feel Eckersley’s pain. Like Eckersley, I didn’t get attached to the players I covered for fear of losing the relative objectivity required to be critical of them when it was necessary (and it becomes necessary more often than not). But NESN won’t defend Eckersley like a newspaper editor defends a reporter because the Red Sox pay the bills, and if a broadcaster isn’t on speaking terms with a star player, it makes it hard for the broadcaster to do his or her job. David Price sells NESN -- not Dennis Eckersley.
We run into similar issues at GCN. We have about 80 shows broadcasted from a satellite on the roof, and while just the hosts of our sports show, View From The Couch, are GCN employees, the network still has to keep the show hosts happy because the show hosts pay the bills.
Eckersley could be loved by NESN viewers and lose his job because David Price doesn’t like him. Judging by his interview with WEEI’s Rob Bradford, he might just resign or retire at year’s end given how tough this season’s been on him. He said he won’t change the way he broadcasts games, but Price thinks he’s been more positive since the incident.
This is a common struggle for local newspapers. Fans want to be reassured. They want to know things will improve and that the team is learning from its mistakes. As a sportswriter for many a bad team, I can tell you I’ve dug deep for positives in games that had very few. Sometimes it’s focusing on the important minutes young players got to play during garbage time. But you never ignore the mistakes. You can treat them as learning experiences for so long, but at some point after the same mistakes are repeated multiple times, it’s hard not to be critical of the team or player who doesn’t seem to be learning from the mistakes.
I can understand taking offense to public defamation, but delivering a derogatory comment on a player’s statistics is not public defamation. Commenting on performance is Eckersley’s job description as a commentator, as is painting the Red Sox in a favorable light that helps sell NESN. With 23 years of Major League pitching experience, he’s certainly qualified to comment on the performance of a pitcher. And while we’d all hope more insightful commentary could be provided than “yuck,” the comment is hardly insensitive. “The Red Sox are hoping those numbers are an aberration and not the new norm,” would have been better, but Eckersley was probably reacting to the statistics in real time. He didn’t have time to think of a way to present his reaction in a positive light.
It makes you wonder what Price would have done to Eckersley had he commented on how Price hasn’t lived up to the seven-year, $217 million contract he signed with Boston as a free agent prior to the 2016 season. Immediately upon signing the deal, Price’s ERA+ dropped from a career high of 164 in 2015 to 111 in 2016. A comment on Price’s lack of playoff success might have ended in violence (2-8, 5.54 ERA). Injuries have limited Price to just 66 innings on the mound this season, just the second of the seven-year deal paying him more than $30 million annually.
The moment local sports broadcasts stop being critical of local sports teams is the moment local sports broadcasters become the team’s public relations personnel instead of sports journalists. If Price’s idea of a purely positive, local broadcast is the future of sports broadcasting, I’ll take my baseball on mute.
If you like this you might like these GCN Live talk radio shows: View From The Couch
The reeling Boston Red Sox are doing everything they can to hold off the New York Yankees in the American League East playoff race, including cheating. The Yankees have long suspected the Red Sox of stealing signs, and according to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the Red Sox have finally been caught “red-handed,” or in this case, red-wristed.
This was originally published on FoulPlaybyPlay.com, a community for foul-mouthed, sports broadcasters and bloggers.
The Yankees suspect the Red Sox have been using an Apple watch to relay signs from the video room to the dugout. A member of the Red Sox organization reportedly watched video of opposing catchers flashing signals to pitchers. That person quickly decoded the sequence that signifies which pitch would be thrown. Then the information would be texted to Red Sox assistant trainer Jon Jochim’s Apple watch, who relayed the information to Red Sox batters. So with a runner on second, the Red Sox runner would look in at the catcher and relay to the batter what pitch was coming. The most common response on Twitter was the surprise that the Red Sox had found a use for the Apple watch, but the results are no laughing matter.
Keep in mind that the only thing making the Red Sox guilty is the use of technology to steal signs. Had the Red Sox successfully stolen signs without the Apple watch, they’d be revered in baseball circles. Instead, they could be facing a fine, the loss of a draft pick and possible suspension of their assistant trainer. That’s a paltry penance for a team who could win the pennant thanks to its cheating.
A game in Boston on Aug. 18 could have been decided because of the transgressions of the Red Sox. During a pitching change, Red Sox catcher Christian Vasquez, who was at second base, reportedly received signs through Jochim that he relayed to the Red Sox batters. The Red Sox would go on to score four runs in a 9-6 comeback win over the Yankees at Fenway Park. The Yankees are just 3.5 games back in the AL East, and could be 2.5 games back or less had it not been for the Red Sox cheating.
Did the sign stealing work for the Red Sox in any other games? It’s difficult to determine, but judging from the numbers, it seems the Red Sox didn’t bother changing their ways while the investigation was ongoing.
Olney reported that the Yankees filed their complaint against the Red Sox all the way back on July 18. The Red Sox couldn’t hit anything with a runner on second base over the first nine games against the Yankees, going 2-for-43 through July 16. Overall through July 18, the Red Sox were actually worse (.381 OPS) at the plate with a runner on second base than without (.417 OPS). But after July 18, the Red Sox team OPS with a runner on second base was .463 compared to .389 when there wasn’t a runner on second. So the Red Sox could have very well won multiple games thanks to cheating.
The AL East could come down to that one game the Red Sox stole on Aug. 18, and if the Yankees and Red Sox finish the season separated by just one game or less, the Yankees should be allowed the option to replay the Aug. 18 game at Fenway Park. It will be a nice addition to the schedule since Major League Baseball didn’t think anyone would want to watch the Yankees and Red Sox play in September. The Yankees could end up winning the division and forcing Boston to play the Wild Card game. New York holds a 11-8 record against Boston this season, so an AL East tie would break the Yankees’ way.
Demanding the game be replayed could end up hurting the Yankees if they are indeed out of the AL East race and have to play a Wild Card game immediately after the replay game. So offering the option to replay the game is the best way to reward the slighted Yankees and punish the cheating Red Sox. If the Yankees decide against replaying the game, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred can still fine or suspend the Red Sox or take a draft pick or two. But an instance of cheating that could have decided multiple games deserves a more immediate punishment than the St. Louis Cardinals got for hacking the Houston Astros’ player database. That didn’t decide any ballgames or a pennant race.
A few months ago I wrote about how sports fans can save more than 50 percent on their cable and internet bills without missing their favorite teams’ games. Much of the savings came in the form of cutting cable and switching to online streaming services like MLB.TV and NHL.TV -- both operated by BAMTech.
Well, Disney is now the majority owner of BAMTech. So instead of enticing cable-cutting sports fans to re-enter the cable fray, ESPN will rely upon a stand-alone streaming service it intends to launch early in 2018.
The move to streaming is a big one for the “worldwide leader in sports,” as ESPN has long depended on cable subscribers paying $9 per month for its four channels -- ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and the SEC Network. But the network has lost 10 million subscribers to cable-cutting since 2010. That’s over $1 billion in lost revenue, which resulted in the termination of around 100 online journalists and television personalities.
ESPN executives hope to maximize revenue by meeting the needs of both cable-subscribing and cable-cutting sports fans, and apparently they know who’s who.
ESPN’s acquisition of majority ownership in BAMTech gives them access to the cable-cutting sports fans it’s lost, who are generally fans of sports not often televised nationally. ESPN will now get 75 percent of revenues from MLB.TV, NHL.TV and MLS Live, the Major League Soccer streaming service.
Also available via the ESPN streaming service will be the typical collegiate games available on the WatchESPN app, but not those televised on cable channels. Grand Slam tennis matches will also be streaming live.
Monday Night Football will still require a cable subscription, though. But if you live in the market of your favorite NFL team, a $25 digital antenna will get you most of their games in HD. Watching the NBA will also require either a cable subscription or NBA League Pass.
So what does this all mean for cable-cutting sports fans? Nothing really. It just means the majority of their money is going to ESPN rather than BAMTech. And while ESPN could roll MLB.TV, NHL.TV and MLS Live into its one streaming service and require customers to pay for all three streaming services, that’s likely a recipe to lose even more subscribers.
The real potential of the streaming services to ESPN is the advertising potential. If you’ve ever watched a game on MLB.TV, NHL.TV or MLS Live, you’re likely familiar with the “Commercial break is in progress” screen. This screen will likely appear less and less given Disney’s fat Rolodex of advertisers.
So not only will ESPN take back some of the 10 million cable-cutting sports fans it’s lost since 2010 via streaming services, it will also profit from filling the plethora of commercial breaks that have gone unfilled since the advent of sports streaming services. It should be a big win for Disney, and shouldn’t cost cable-cutting sports fans a penny more -- unless they see something advertised they just have to have.
If you like this, you might like these GCN talk radio shows: Erskine Overnight, Home Talk, The Josh Tolley Show, The Tom Chenault Show, The Tech Night Owl, The Dr. Katherine Albrecht Show, Free Talk Live, View From The Couch
Minnesota Twins General Manager Thad Levine joined Baseball Prospectus prior to Saturday’s game at Target Field against the Texas Rangers for a special press conference exclusively for fans. While Levine said he discovered he’d be the keynote speaker rather unexpectedly, he had a good answer for every question asked -- except mine.
This was originally published at FoulPlaybyPlay.com, a community for foul-mouthed, sports broadcasters and writers.
Levine won over the crowd in a heartbeat at the Sid Hartman Press Room, opening with a joke about deadline deals being negotiated via Tinder and how too much emphasis is placed on a profile pic. He even alerted the hundred or so fans that he would answer a different question than Baseball Prospectus editor-in-chief Aaron Gleeman asked, so it didn’t seem like he was dodging a question even when he was.
Gleeman also seemed enamored with Levine, calling the GM “a tad too good looking” after he left the conference room. But decades of Terry Ryan and the Bill Smith years from which the Twins are still recovering are reason enough to understand love at first sight.
I too was susceptible to Levine’s charm. While this was hardly a high-leverage situation, Levine’s charisma and confidence didn’t take long to fill the room. He’s comfortable in front of a crowd and could sell mudflaps to someone with no car. He would make a fine politician someday. At present, he’s a fine general manager.
Levine didn’t have to search for answers or words. Everything he needed was ingrained in his brain. Even as Gleeman grilled Levine about the lack of relief pitching pursued in the offseason, Levine reminded everyone of the arms the Twins lost to injury whom he and new president of baseball operations Derek Falvey expected to contribute this season. He wasn’t just talking about Glen Perkins, Trevor May and Ryan O’Rourke. Nick Burdi, J.T. Chargois and Tyler Jay were also mentioned. That’s a very good reason why Matt Belisle’s was the only Major League contract offered to a reliever in the offseason. You don’t want to clog up roster spots when up-and-comers are banging down the door to the big leagues.
But I wanted to know why action wasn’t taken in response to those injuries earlier in the season. I opened by saying there are fans who might think trades could have been made earlier to improve the team and asked how the market forces differ from June to July and how that affected the moves they ended up making.
I imagined Levine would go on at length about how they tried to make moves while the team was still in first place, but the cost in prospects to fill the team’s needs was prohibitively expensive. Instead I got the only answer I didn’t want to hear about how the second Wild Card keeps teams in the hunt longer and makes them unwilling to sell in June. It was the longest answer he gave to a question asked by a fan. Even Gleeman chimed in to defend him by saying just eight to 10 teams would have been selling at the time.
I would have loved to follow-up with, “Well, you acquired Jaime Garcia and the $4 million or so he was owed on July 24th, and you were able to flip that rental to the Yankees within a week because you were willing to pay most of his contract. What stopped you from doing the same with Pat Neshek while the Twins were still in first place on June 25th? Or any other rental reliever on one of the eight to 10 teams clearly selling at the time?”
I urged the Twins to acquire bullpen arms back on June 7, with Neshek right at the top of the list. At the time, Neshek was owed $4 million or so, and while Levine and Falvey were understandably focused on acquiring young, controllable pitching, they were also hoping to “vanquish the foes,” as Levine put it. He even acknowledged the Twins’ negative run differential and how it didn’t affect their decision to buy because, well, they were in first place for 50 days.
“As much as you want to dismiss the fact that there were some underlying metrics which would suggest that maybe we were overachieving, the facts were we overachieved for three months, and we weren’t going to take that lightly,” he said.
So where were the reinforcements for baseball’s worst bullpen at the time? If money’s not an issue, was Philadelphia asking too much in return for Neshek? Well, we know Colorado gave up 20-year old, A-ball shortstop Jose Gomez (think Jermaine Palacios), 22-year-old, high-A, right-handed reliever and strikeout machine J.D. Hammer (think Lewis Thorpe but right-handed and better at missing bats; the newly acquired Gabriel Moya is probably more comparable but wasn’t a Twin on June 25th) and 20-year-old, A-ball, right-handed starter Alejandro Requena (newly acquired lefty Tyler Watson is the only 20-year-old pitcher on the Twins’ A-ball roster, but if you go up a level, lefty Lachian Wells would be comparable, and he’s also the only 20-year-old pitcher on the Twins’ high-A roster).
You can see how Falvey and Levine have already improved the pitching depth throughout the Twins’ minor league affiliates. But what about the big league club that was contending despite a glaring weakness? Even if the price for Neshek is higher on June 25th than July 25th, there are still no top prospects in the conversation. Besides Palacios there’s no one you’d likely miss dearly, and the Twins have enough shortstop depth to help get over the sting if trading Palacios burns them. And if the Twins still fell out of contention, they could have flipped Neshek as they did Garcia before the deadline.
Instead, from June 26 through the July 31st trade deadline, the Twins went 11-19, with relievers taking the loss in six of those games. The glaring weakness of the Twins bullpen was exploited by the league’s best, and it didn’t have to be. Here are four more trades the Twins could have made in June that might have saved July.
Levine said his job is to work with all 29 teams in order to improve his team, so dealing within the division wouldn’t have stopped this one from happening. The White Sox were sellers before the season started, and they managed to turn a surprising season from Swarzak on a one-year deal into Ryan Cordell, a 25-year-old utility bat tearing up AAA (.855 OPS). The Twins’ AAA utility man Niko Goodrum would be the closest comparison, but the Sox would likely demand another piece or a different piece altogether given his .720 OPS in AAA this year. None of those pieces would be Zack Granite or Mitch Garver, however.
While it’s probably more than Falvey and Levine would like to offer to get a guy they could have signed in the offseason, Swarzak’s .525 win-loss percentage with an average team this season would be best in the Twins’ bullpen, even if Brandon Kintzler was still with the team.
The Cincinnati Reds were 31-43 on June 25th. They didn’t trade Storen despite his cheap, expiring contract ($3 million), and it might have to do with his FIP being almost one and a half runs worse than his ERA. Still, Storen’s win-loss percentage with an average team of .508 is better than the Twins’ Taylor Rogers (.503) and Tyler Duffey (.494). He would have at least pushed each of them into lower-leverage situations. Of the six losses by the bullpen over the 30 games entering the deadline, Rogers and Duffey were responsible for two each.
Since the Reds couldn’t find a taker on Storen, he likely could have been acquired for a low-level prospect with a relatively low ceiling.
The Mets were seven games under .500 and 11 games back in the National League East on June 25th. They were even further out of the NL Wild Card standings. Boston scored Reed by sending the Mets three, 22-year-old relievers.
High-A, right-handed reliever Gerson Bautista might not have the ceiling of Twins’ A-ball lefty Andrew Vasquez. High-A righty Stephen Nogosek could be comparable to the Twins’ 24-year-old, high-A lefty Michael Theofanopoulos. And righty Jamie Callahan was promoted to AAA this season, much like the Twins’ Ryan Eades.
As far as rental relievers go, Reed probably would have demanded the best return of those available at the end of June, but he would have had the most trade value amongst rental relievers come the end of July, too. The 15 runs above a replacement player he amassed with the Mets is just two runs less than Twins’ starter Jose Berrios and four runs better than Kintzler.
I still would have liked the new Twins front office to make a splash and land Hand. I wrote en masse about Hand and was willing to part with one of the Twins’ shortstop prospects -- but not Nick Gordon. I can understand why this deal didn’t happen, but it would have been most helpful. Again, Hand could demand a ton at the end of July, but probably not as much as he would in June. He’s a keeper anyways given his arbitration eligibility until 2020.
It might be more difficult and more expensive to trade in June rather than July, but Falvey and Levine could have done something crazy like trade a top prospect and two others for Brad Hand on June 25th because: 1) they’re rookies and have more leeway than they ever will with ownership and fans, 2) Twins fans are fed up with the status quo, and 3) those newly acquired assets could still be traded a month later. But Levine didn’t know taking on Garcia’s salary would be valuable to other teams.
“The deal we did there was a testament to Jim Pohlad and his support of our decision-making because he allowed for us to take Jaime Garcia’s salary, which, come to find out, we didn’t know this in the onset of the negotiation, the other teams who were competing for his services weren’t prepared to do that,” Levine explained. “So this is an area we weren’t aware of, once again, but we learned as we went through the trade negotiation that this was going to be a competitive advantage for us.”
That was the most disturbing thing I heard from Levine. It makes the collective genius thought necessary to turn A-ball pitching prospect Huascar Ynoa into AAA pitching prospect Dietrich Enns and AA pitching prospect Zack Littell sound like dumb luck. Both the Dodgers and Yankees made it a priority to cut into their luxury tax bill this season, so you can assume at least they have an interest in cutting salary. I think you have to assume the Nationals (seventh highest MLB payroll) and Cubs (ninth highest MLB payroll) would have an interest in saving money.
So if Pohlad was willing to pay Garcia $4 million to play elsewhere, why wouldn’t he be willing to pay Neshek $4 million to play for the Twins, assuming they can’t move him at the Trade Deadline? What about the roughly $4 million it would have cost to pay both Swarzak and Storen? Was there a $5 million cap on the amount he was willing to spend?
As you can see, Levine left us with more questions than answers thanks to his ability to woo a crowd of Twins fans, most of whom have never experienced anything but the curmudgeons Ryan and Smith. As a journalist, it was refreshing to witness an interviewee who was not only honest but entertaining. Not much was left to be desired except a trade in June that might have saved July.
I suspect Falvey and Levine entered this season hoping to be sellers at the deadline, and I would have asked that if I thought I’d get an honest answer. That’s not something a rookie GM will admit willingly.
Levine is a dealmaker who understands what it takes to build a contender. I have no doubts that he’s the right man for the job, but had Gleeman himself been hired as the Twins’ GM, I still would have left that conference room optimistic and a little weak in the knees.
Everyone knows who won the Major League Baseball Non-waiver Trade Deadline. The Dodgers, Yankees and Cubs are obviously better. But what about the teams dealing those big pieces to the playoff puzzle. Who are the winners amongst the sellers at the MLB Trade Deadline?
This was originally published at FoulPlaybyPlay.com, a community for foul-mouthed, sports bloggers.
It seems like forever ago that the Chicago Cubs acquired Jose Quintana from their crosstown rivals. The White Sox got two dynamite prospects back in high-A outfielder Eloy Jimenez (.903 OPS this season, Baseball Prospectus’s 9th overall prospect) and A-ball, right-handed starter Dylan Cease (12.5 K/9 this season, top-100 prospect). Both have the potential to be regular contributors to a MLB club, if not headliners.
The Cubs also parted with two more prospects from their high-A roster: first baseman Matt Rose and utility man Bryant Flete. That’s a nice haul for the White Sox. Even though Quintana is potentially controllable through 2020, getting one everyday player and a potential replacement in the starting rotation of the future is well worth sacrificing an ace when you’re years from contending.
After Quintana was shipped to the Cubs, Chicago GM Rick Hahn moved expiring contracts Todd Frazier and David Robertson (2) along with arbitration-eligible Tommy Kahnle to the Yankees for Tyler Clippard and three prospects. Clippard’s contract expires at the end of the season, but he’s earning roughly $5.5 million less than Robertson, so the White Sox saved a few million dollars. They also got a nice return for the rentals they shed.
A-ball outfielder Blake Rutherford, 20, might be the headliner of this deal given he’s the highest rated prospect (36th overall two weeks prior to the trade according to Baseball America), but fellow outfielder Tito Polo is closer to the bigs (AA) and could debut before he’s 24 (he’s 22 now). Then there’s middle-of-the-rotation talent Ian Clarkin, 22, who should see AA next year if he can lower his walk rate (3 BB/9 this season). All three could be in the bigs before turning 25.
The White Sox were hardly done there. They turned a surprising season from Anthony Swarzak on an expiring contract (3) into Ryan Cordell, a 25-year-old utility bat who seems to have AAA pitching figured out (.855 OPS). If Cordell is nothing more than a career utility man in the bigs, that’s a big win for the White Sox.
That’s not all. The White Sox flipped arbitration eligible, lefty reliever Dan Jennings to Tampa Bay for 24-year-old first base prospect Casey Gillaspie, who’s having a tough time finding his way to the show after breezing through just about everything but Fall League (.653 OPS this season, .554 in Fall League).
Finally, the Royals worked with the White Sox to make a trade within the division for Melky Cabrera -- another expiring contract (4). In return, the White Sox scored 22-year-old, high-A righty A.J. Puckett (8.1 K/9 and 49 percent groundball rate) and A-ball lefty Andre Davis (9.1 K/9 and 44 percent groundball rate).
The White Sox lost Quintana, but also shed four expiring contracts and gained a top-10, top-50 and top-100 prospect, along with five others, making them the biggest winners amongst the sellers at the 2017 MLB Trade Deadline.
While the A’s couldn’t pry away any of the Yankees’ top three prospects despite Sonny Gray being under control until 2020, Oakland made out pretty well.The long-awaited Gray trade culminated in a return of MLB-ready right fielder Dustin Fowler, utility man Jorge Mateo (43rd overall prospect according to Baseball Prospectus) and righty James Kaprielian (58th overall prospect according to MLB and Baseball Prospectus).
Fowler forced his way onto the big league club at the age of 22. He had an .871 OPS at AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre in 313 plate appearances before blowing out his knee in his MLB debut with the Yankees. He’s a five-tool player if he comes back healthy and is a legitimate MLB hitter regardless of his knee. Again, an everyday player who’s a year away for a controllable starter is a good return. And Oakland got two everyday players.
Mateo was the key to the deal for Oakland, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. He’s 22 and would have speed maxed out on MLB 2K17. He was also tearing up AA pitching with a .906 OPS in 140 plate appearances. He’s playing mostly shortstop but is seeing time in center field, too, giving Oakland some options. He has the potential to be the difference-maker Gray already is, but again, would have an impact every day rather than once every five days.
Kaprielian, 23, is recovering from Tommy John surgery, but before the injury he was touted by Baseball America as having “front-of-the-rotation makeup and stuff,” so the A’s might have their new Sonny Gray if all goes well for Kaprielian. He starts a throwing program soon.
In all, it wasn’t a bad Trade Deadline for the A’s. While Beane didn’t move Yonder Alonso’s expiring contract in his All-Star season, the A’s hit a modest jackpot with the Gray trade to break even.
The Twins’ poker hand entering the All-Star Break looked a lot worse after a bad start to a West Coast road trip, but the Twins discarded and drew new cards until their hand was a winner. Rookie president Derek Falvey and new general manager Thad Levine turned 20-year-old rookie ball pitching prospect Huascar Ynoa into Jaime Garcia, and flipped Jaime Garcia for two prospects two years closer to the big leagues than Ynoa, both of whom could end up better than Ynoa. Lefty Dietrich Enns will likely get a cup of coffee this season, and righty Zack Littell has a big-league curveball that’s making AA hitters look silly.
How did Falvey and Levine manage to do this? They were willing to pay Garcia’s roughly $4 million in remaining contract, making for a better return from both the Braves and the Yankees.
The Twins also moved their second best trade chip in All-star closer Brandon Kintzler -- an expiring contract -- for Washington Nationals’ 20-year-old, A-ball pitching prospect Tyler Watson. While Watson doesn’t throw very hard (around 90 mph), he locates very well and has potential to add velocity. The lefty has 98 strikeouts in 93 innings and has only walked 24 this season.
The Twins also received $500,000 for international bonus spending from the Nationals, which could be used to sign an international pitcher like, say, Shohei Ohtani, who is also Japan’s best hitter. It would certainly make Paul Molitor’s days against the National League easier. Instead of worrying about double switches, he can just use Ohtani as a pinch hitter for his pitcher. Molitor might not be back to make those decisions, though.
Regardless of how things turn out, the Twins hit the jackpot at the MLB Trade Deadline in 2017 because not only did they win, but they hardly risked anything. They still have their ace and innings eater Ervin Santana and second baseman Brian Dozier through next season, and they retained all their shortstops throughout the minors (Nick Gordon, Royce Lewis and Engelb Vielma). They can resign Kintzler in the offseason, and they won’t have to worry about Ynoa starting an MLB career for three years or so. The Twins improved their hand for next season.
Another deal that seems forever ago was the Tigers’ trade of free-agent-to-be J.D. Martinez to the Diamondbacks for Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara and Jose King. Lugo was Arizona’s fourth-best prospect and is putting together a nice year at AA playing mostly third base (.741 OPS). The 22-year-old can play shortstop, too, and will likely get a taste within the next two years.
Alcantara is a 20-year-old shortstop in high-A who will stick at short regardless of his bat, which has been good enough (.696 OPS). King is another shortstop in rookie ball who is just 18 years old and impressed in his first professional season (.815 OPS in 2016).
The Tigers also traded their coveted closer Justin Wilson, and they packaged him with the expiring contract (albeit less than $1 million remaining) of catcher Alex Avila to the Cubs. While Wilson could be controlled through next season, the Tigers netted corner infielder Jeimer Candelario, who has already seen time in the bigs, 18-year-old shortstop prospect Isaac Paredes, cash and a player to be named later.
While Candelario is big-league ready with the bat and serviceable at third base, Paredes has the range to stick at shortstop and displays great plate discipline (54 Ks in 395 A-ball PAs). The trades give the Tigers a pretty good chance of fielding a competent shortstop for years to come if they trade Jose Iglesias before he becomes a free agent after next season. Lugo could also make Nicholas Castellanos expendable in either of the next two seasons. He’s a free agent in 2020. If the Tigers are going to rebuild, Iglesias, 27, and Castellanos, 25, would demand outstanding returns, and by the looks of it, the Tigers are preparing for that potential payday.
The Phillies turned 36-year-old reliever Pat Neshek into 20-year-old, A-ball righty Alejandro Requena (K:BB ratio of 4.0), 22-year-old, high-A righty J.D. Hammer (13.5 K/9) and 20-year-old, A-ball shortstop Jose Gomez (.811 OPS). They also flipped a 33-year-old Howie Kendrick for 21-year-old, A-ball lefty McKenzie Mills (5.36 K:BB ratio). Oh, and there was that Jeremy Hellickson trade that netted 23-year-old strikeout machine Garrett Cleavinger (10 K/9 at AA this season) and MLB outfielder Hyun Soo Kim, who has experienced a sophomore slump in his second season at 29 (OPS+ down to 64 from 117). Those are some pretty nice pieces given the chips Philly had.
The Jays were able to shed two expiring contracts. The struggling Francisco Liriano netted everyday outfielder Nori Aoki, who’s arbitration eligible this offseason despite being 35, and budding outfield prospect Teoscar Hernandez from Houston. Hernandez, 24, already has 112 MLB plate appearances from 2016 and boasts a .724 MLB OPS. He’ll likely roam the Rogers Centre outfield when roster expand.
The Blue Jays also moved veteran reliever Joe Smith to Cleveland for AA lefty Thomas Pannone and 18-year-old second baseman Samad Taylor. Pannone, 23, earned a promotion this season after striking out 12.7 high-A batters per nine innings. That strikeout rate has hung around one per inning in AA, so Pannone could see the bigs as early as next season.
Taylor has good range at second base and has proven he can hit low-A pitching (.300 BA, .795 OPS) despite being three years younger than most of his competition. A promotion to high-A this season is unlikely given how little of the year is left, but Taylor has looked like a quick study thus far.
The Padres decided against putting their best chip on the table in Brad Hand. Instead, they dumped an expiring contract in Trevor Cahill and two arbitration eligible relievers in Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter on the Royals. The Royals sent struggling, lefty relievers Matt Strahm and Travis Wood, and rookie-ball second baseman Esteury Ruiz, who has an OPS of 1.063 in 122 plate appearances despite being almost two years younger than his competition. So San Diego replaced the MLB relievers sent to Kansas City and gained an 18-year-old middle infielder who can apparently hit. Not too shabby.
The Rangers got their room comped because they were willing to lose a lot. The Rangers did what they should have and moved their biggest expiring contract in a season they weren’t contenders.Yu Darvish had to go, and the Rangers got a pretty nice return despite Darvish being a rental.
Willie Calhoun (MLB’s 82nd ranked prospect) will likely see time in the Rangers’ outfield this year and projects to be a regular contributor thanks to his bat (.922 OPS in AAA this season). A.J. Alexy is a 19-year-old, A-ball righty missing bats like crazy (10.5 K/9), and Brendon Davis, also 19, projects as a potential utility infielder or regular second baseman in the bigs.
While two of the pieces are probably further from the show than the Rangers would like, turning an expiring contract in a non-contending year into a potential everyday player who’s cheap and controllable is a deal you do every time.
Texas also moved expiring contract and catcher Jonathan Lucroy to Colorado for a player to be named later. Again, a return is better than nothing at all, especially given the season Lucroy’s had. His OPS+ (67) is almost half of what it was last season (129), and he’s been uncharacteristically bad behind the plate, too (-4 runs fielding).
Finally, arbitration eligible, righty reliever Jeremy Jeffress was moved to Milwaukee for 25-year-old righty Tayler Scott, who went from AA to AAA as a result of the swap. Scott was averaging a strikeout per inning in AA Biloxi, but his 5.1 walks per nine innings will have to decrease if he’s going to earn a call.
So the Rangers scored one potential everyday player who will play this year, a reliever who’s proven he can miss bats in the minors but also misses the strike zone a lot, a couple of guys with high ceilings at least three years away, and a player to be named. All they had to give up was their season, their best pitcher, their catcher and a reliever, for whom they paid dearly. Milwaukee’s Lewis Brinson is the 12th-ranked prospect according to Baseball Prospectus, and Luis Ortiz is 68th, so it looks like the Brewers won that trade. But Texas got something instead of nothing. That’s like getting your room comped, right? It’s still disappointing, but at least you’re disappointed in a comfortable place.
Almost all the Reds’ expiring contracts and potential trade chips were hurt with the exception of Drew Storen, and the Reds didn’t move him despite his team-friendly, $3 million contract. Zack Cozart -- 10-day disabled list. Scott Feldman -- 10-day disabled list. Bronson Arroyo -- 60-day disabled list. Just bad luck.
The only trade the Reds could muster was Tony Cingrani for the 31-year-old Scott Van Slyke and catching prospect Hendrik Clementina, who seems to have figured out how to hit (.994 OPS this season, never higher than .694 in three prior years).
The Giants have trade assets, but Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija haven’t been any good, Denard Span didn’t draw any interest, and the Giants wouldn’t trade their biggest asset, Buster Posey. They did move Eduardo Nunez’s expiring contract, but it will be a long time before the Giants know if the return is worth the Adalberto Mejia they gave up to get Nunez in the first place. Mejia has become one of Minnesota’s most consistent starters.
A-ball righty Shaun Anderson and rookie-ball righty Gregory Santos were all the Giants could pry from the Red Sox. Anderson was well on his way to a promotion and got it via the trade. But his first start with San Jose didn’t go well (3.1 IP, 5 RA, 3 ER). While he was the same age (22) as his competition with Greenville’s A-ball squad, he’s a year younger than most his California League competition with high-A San Jose.
Santos is just 17 years old, but has a 1.06 ERA over 34 innings in the Dominican Summer League thanks to an 82-percent groundball rate. That’s 22 percent higher than his groundball rate in his first season.
The Braves might not have had much leverage in the Jaime Garcia deal, but had they waited a few more days, the Yankees might have offered more than what they got from the Twins. Regardless, the Braves are losers for failing to move other expiring contracts.
Catcher Kurt Suzuki has arguably been the best he’s ever been with a bat and behind the plate, but the Braves couldn’t find a taker despite his cheap $1.5 million salary. Brandon Phillips is also a free agent at the end of the year and wasn’t moved. That might be the market’s fault rather than Atlanta’s, but Suzuki taking at-bats from Tyler Flowers while the Braves sit 11 games back of the Wild Card is just idiotic. I wouldn’t be surprised if Suzuki is moved in August, though.
For some reason the Orioles think they’re contenders. Baltimore might be just 2.5 games back of a Wild Card spot, but the Orioles don’t have a pitcher who can win that Wild Card game let alone a regular playoff game. Dylan Bundy’s ERA+ of 102 is highest on the team, which is lower than four of the Yankees’ starters and three of the Rays’ starters. To truly put that in perspective, the Twins have three starters better Bundy. Baltimore has the second-worst, starting pitching ERA in baseball. But they’re contenders because they have Jeremy Hellickson now.
Orioles executive Dan Duquette said the team traded for Hellickson and his expiring contract because they sought reliable starting pitching. His definition of reliable must simply be someone who shows up for work on time, because there’s nothing reliable about Hellickson’s performance on the job.
After experiencing a bit of a revival last season (113 ERA+), Hellickson has regressed back to his old self (96 ERA+). He’s averaging two fewer strikeouts per nine innings than last season. So Baltimore still doesn’t have a pitcher who can win a playoff game.
Baltimore also acquired infielder Tim Beckham from the Rays, but at least he has a positive OPS+, barely (101), and is controllable until 2021. He’ll replace the injured J.J. Hardy at shortstop, and it only cost the O’s 19-year-old righty Tobias Myers, who was holding his own at low-A despite being three and a half years younger than his competition. I don’t think the O’s knew what game they were playing. As of this writing they have a run differential of -66, are two games under .500 and have a 6.4-percent chance to make the playoffs, which is a little better than your chances of winning at keno.
Former Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan always had money to work with but rarely used that money as effectively as new president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine did prior to Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline.
While it has been said by me that Falvey and Levine waited too long to make a move to improve their team, they appear to have fleeced the Atlanta Braves when trading for Jaime Garcia. The Twins flipped rookie-ball pitching prospect Huascar Ynoa to Atlanta in exchange for Garcia and the entirety of his remaining contract -- a little more than $4 million.
Garcia made one start as a Twin and was traded to the Yankees on Sunday. Falvey and Levine were again willing to take on most of Garcia’s remaining contract with the hopes of landing better prospects. That willingness to spend paid off, as the Twins landed AA right-hander Zack Littell and AAA lefty Dietrich Enns.
Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press pointed out that Littell’s xFIP is first amongst Eastern League pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched. Parker Hageman says Littell’s curveball is a plus pitch, and the move toward devastating curveballs rather than overwhelming velocity has become commonplace for analytical baseball minds. Littell would have been a huge score for the Twins without Enns. He’s is averaging 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings, and 6.5 strikeouts per walk with AA Trenton. ESPN analyst Dan Szymborski thought the Braves should be annoyed with the Twins for scoring such a nice prospect with their former player.
Enns is just a big bonus for a team that’s closer to competing than expected. Enns boasts a four-pitch mix and has been fantastic at every minor league level. His WHIP has never been higher than 1.214, and his K/9 has never been lower than 6.9. He was striking out almost one batter per inning with AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and could get a cup of coffee with the Twins when rosters expand. Hell, he could take Kyle Gibson’s spot this year.
The 2018 Twins rotation returns just Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios -- so far. Santana could very well be traded by the time I finish writing this. It’s safe to say Hector Santiago and Kyle Gibson are done, and we don’t know if Phil Hughes will ever pitch again. This pair of moves by the Twins pair of rookies in the front office gives the Twins some pieces to create competition for rotation spots in Spring Training next year.
So a team in desperate need of young, controllable starting pitching traded for a rental, and then traded that rental for exactly what it needs. Both Littell and Enns could be big parts of the Twins rotation in a couple years, along with Jose Berrios and Adalberto Mejia, and perhaps, AA Chattanooga's Fernando Romero and Stephen Gonsalves.
With the addition of Littell, the Southern League’s best Lookouts have a pitching staff worth seeing. That includes recent relief addition Gabriel Moya via the trade of AAA catcher John Ryan Murphy, who was once Aaron Hicks until Terry Ryan…
I digress. If Falvey and Levine keep this up, they will have turned around the Twins in short order. If Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton improve upon their already impressive performances this season, Minnesota will be in the playoff conversation for a long time given the pitching Falvey and Levine have and will continue to acquire.
Closer Brandon Kintzler is going to be traded before the deadline, probably for another pitching prospect. But the Twins could sign Kintzler and a whole lot more in free agency this offseason. Minnesota is a pitcher’s paradise as long as Buxton roams center field (18 runs above average fielding), Max Kepler gallops through right (5 RAA fielding), and, now, wherever Zack Granite is (20 BIS runs saved above average per year in center). Granite has forced his way into the lineup by playing a premiere position really well in the absence of the best player at that position. He’ll keep getting plenty of at-bats.
Who can the Twins target in 2018 free agency, and who would actually consider it? Jake Arrieta might consider putting his increased flyball percentage in front of a go-get-it outfield. It’s up five percent from last season, and his groundball rate is down seven percent. Hell, Jaime Garcia could return in free agency if he enjoyed his first and last day at work with the Twins. I don’t see any reason why Yu Darvish wouldn’t want to pitch in Minnesota, either. Given Levine’s Rangers roots and the aggressive approach Falvey and Levine have taken in their first year with the Twins, I expect it to continue. These aren’t your father’s Twins.