Thursday, December 31, 2015

All-Acquired 2016 - NL Pitchers

As my last blog post of 2015, allow me to present to you a pitching staff made up of the top players acquired by National League teams during the offseason so far.


Zack Greinke

Greinke was one of only three players to crack the elusive 3,000 point fantasy threshold in 2015 - the other two being Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta and Greinke's former Dodgers teammate Clayton Kershaw - and he did it by leading the league in ERA (1.66), WHIP (0.844), and winning percentage (19-3, .864). Naturally this bravura performance set him up for an enormous payoff in Free Agency, but few could have predicted a quite literally sport-altering six year, $206.5 million contract from the Diamondbacks. Greinke has been excellent in the recent past, averaging 15 wins per year, a 2.99 ERA, and a 4.01 strikeout-to-walk ratio since 2008, when he became a full-time starter for good. Even if he can keep up that level of production over his age 32-38 seasons, I still don't know if those numbers are worth $30mm per year, or if they'll be enough to catapult a sub-.500 team into contention.


John Lackey

Lost in the shuffle of an excellent rotation without one dominant ace, John Lackey was actually the Cardinals' highest-scoring starter in 2015, quietly putting up a 2,000 point season, the second of his career. He'll now act as the Cubs' number 3 starter for the next two years, behind the aforementioned Arrieta and lefty Jon Lester. Lackey only got two years because of his age (he turned 37 just before the 2015 World Series) and because he overperformed his Fielding Independent Pitching score by 0.80 points (2.77 ERA, 3.57 FIP), but for those two years he'll provide solid rotation production and an inspiring veteran presence for a competitive team.


Johnny Cueto

Speaking of the 2015 World Series, the Royals' path to victory in those proceedings was aided by this next starter on the list. It's been well documented how Cueto struggled following his midseason acquisition from the Reds (2.62 ERA, 0.934 WHIP before vs. 4.76, 1.451 after), but given that his combined 3.44 ERA in 2015 was more in line with his 3.30 career mark (all but 13 starts of which came in the National League), it's clear that the Giants felt they knew what they were getting when they signed him for six years and $130 million. Either way, a Madison Bumgarner/Johnny Cueto duo atop San Francisco's rotation will strike fear in the hearts of NL West teams for many years to come.


Shelby Miller

Speaking of pitchers with inconsistent 2015 seasons, here's Shelby Miller, who went 5-5 with a 2.38 ERA in the first half, followed by a dismal 1-12 mark, but with a still respectable 3.83 ERA. He's still young (he'll start 2016 at 25 years old) and has tremendous promise, which is one of the reasons why the Diamondbacks overpaid to pry him loose from the Braves (they sent fellow All-Acquired teammate Ender Inciarte, top 100 prospect Aaron Blair, and 2015 first round draft pick Dansby Swanson to Atlanta in the swap). But hopefully slotting into the rotation behind the $200 million dollar man Zack Greinke will help keep some of the pressure off Miller as he enters his arbitration years.


Mike Leake

As I was writing a draft of this post, news broke that the Dodgers had signed Scott Kazmir to a bizarrely structured three-year deal, but given that I already put together this infographic featuring Leake, he's going to get the nod. Anyway, Leake is younger by nearly four years, has a significantly better durability record, and even a better career ERA than Kazmir (3.88 to 3.96), although he fields a worse FIP (4.21 to 3.97). Leake also comes with a more stable contract situation (five years at $80 million, plus a mutual option for a sixth season), not that that matters for our purposes. He'll enjoy pitching against the Cubs almost as much as the Cardinals will enjoy having his career .212 batting average in their lineup every fifth day.


Scott Kazmir
Jeff Samardzija
Jon Niese


Jason Motte

As extraordinary as the American League's bullpen additions have been so far this offseason, the NL's have been inversely underwhelming. Motte was a very capable closer for exactly one season (2012), in which he saved 42 games at age 30 for the Cardinals, but he followed that up with missing all of the next season and most of the following one due to injury. He increased his stock significantly with a one year deal with the Cubs in 2015, despite finishing the season on the disabled list, but the Rockies liked what they saw enough to give him a two year deal. Then again, they also gave two years to Chad Qualls, so take that as you will.


Shawn Kelley

It might surprise you to learn that Shawn Kelley's strikeout totals have eclipsed his innings pitched totals in every season dating back to 2012. But it wasn't until 2015 with the Padres that he was able to combine the K's with superior run prevention - he fielded a 2.45 ERA (2.57 FIP) after averaging a 4.10 mark (but with a 3.39 FIP) in the three previous years with the Mariners and the Yankees. The Nationals took notice and signed him to a three year deal, where he'll hope not to get into any shoving matches with Jonathan Papelbon in Washington's bullpen.


Adam Warren

The presence of Warren on this list clearly shows the difference between the two leagues as far as acquiring bullpen help is concerned. While Warren is a competent swingman, which is an important component of any successful roster, the American League is able to trot out superb closer after superb closer, and that was even before the Yankees' shocking trade for Aroldis Chapman. Let's just say that if I do another All-Acquired World Series simulation project, the NL starters will have to pitch very deep into their games.


Yusmeiro Petit
Drew Pomeranz
Jim Johnson
Chad Qualls
Oliver Perez

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

All-Acquired 2016 - NL Batters

Given that it's soon after Christmas, what better time to pay attention to which teams have made steps to acquire pieces from their holiday wish lists. Today let's look at position players going to NL teams.


Tyler Flowers
Brayan Pena
Christian Bethancourt

Flowers didn't exactly impress during his time with the White Sox, but he's the only acquired catcher who's spent significant time as a starter. Bethancourt probably has the most upside of this group, as he was once considered Atlanta's catcher of the future, but now that he has to contend with Derek Norris and Austin Hedges as San Diego's catcher of the future, his own future is slightly murky.


John Jaso
Mark Reynolds

One of the most recent acquisitions on this list, the former catcher Jaso is currently slated to form the strong (left-handed) side of a first base platoon for Pittsburgh, despite having logged exactly five innings at the position in his career. Whether he sticks at first in 2016 or beyond, he's the best option for this All-Acquired group, if only because they need Mark Reynolds over at third base.


Neil Walker
Ben Zobrist
Jedd Gyorko

Positional concerns again lead to Neil Walker getting the nod at the keystone despite the presence of the much more publicized Ben Zobrist, because Zorilla needs to bolster a rather shallow outfield. The switch-hitting Walker is no slouch himself and could be in line for a big free agent contract (and another appearance on this list) next year.


Mark Reynolds
Gordon Beckham

Reynolds has never been known as a stellar defender, having logged close to -10 dWAR (defensive wins BELOW replacement) according to Baseball Reference. But he did play enough games to qualify at the hot corner in 2015 for St. Louis, and when the only alternative is Gordon Beckham's .607 OPS, he'll have to do for now.


Asdrubal Cabrera
Erick Aybar
Jonathan Villar

If this were the AL, or the inevitable future where every team gets a DH, Cabrera would shift over to DH to allow the superior defender Aybar to man shortstop. But since Asdrubal will be counted on to captain the Mets infield in 2016, he's good enough for this group. And if he hits another 15 home runs like he did last year, that will make up for any number of glove related sins.


Ben Zobrist
Ender Inciarte
Alejandro De Aza

The versatility of Ben Zobrist is one of the big reasons he received a 4 year, $56 million contract from the Cubs, since they already have a capable infield of the future in place in Addison Russell and Javier Baez. Zorilla is a professional switch hitter who draws plenty of walks (more than he struck out last year), so this contract shouldn't look too bad even as it takes him into his age 38 season.


Ender Inciarte
Jon Jay
Peter Bourjos

Inciarte is young enough and promising enough that teams were knocking on Atlanta's door asking about him even just moments after he was acquired by the Braves from Arizona. Bourjos has a superior defensive pedigree and Jay has been in the league longer, but Inciarte is the pure overall choice.


Jason Heyward
Ender Inciarte
Alejandro De Aza

Not only was Heyward signed to the longest contract of any player acquired by an NL team, he was awarded that payday due just as much to his defensive prowess as to his talents with the bat. The acquisition of yet another superstar franchise player by the Cubs (to go with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo) makes them a force to be reckoned with in the NL Central and could put them in contention for the strongest overall roster in the league.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

All-Acquired 2016 - AL Pitchers

No major headline-busting transactions have gone down since my first post, but I won't start updating until I've finished a preliminary version of each list. With that in mind, here's an ongoing rotation and bullpen depth chart for pitchers acquired by the American League.


David Price

One of the most-moved starters of the last three years, lefty David Price has been involved in one offseason trade, two midseason deals, and now one blockbuster free agent signing in that span. He's also made the playoffs with his last three teams, so he's proven that he can help good teams go far. The Red Sox were not a good team last year, despite making plenty of pitching moves last offseason, but what they didn't acquire was a bona fide staff ace. That has changed for at least the next two years, when Price can trigger an opt-out clause and hit the open market again at age 32. Until then, he'll be surrounded by some question marks in the rotation, but a top-flight bullpen presence (see below).


Jordan Zimmermann

The Tigers, on the other hand, are hoping that newcomer Jordan Zimmermann will play second fiddle to incumbent ace Justin Verlander, because that would mean that Verlander has regained the elite status he had three to four years ago. Whether or not that happens, Zimmermann will provide a top of the rotation presence to a team that already has many of the pieces necessary for contention. One thing is certain: with all the activity going on in the AL Central this offseason, the Royals will not be able to rest on their laurels if they want a chance to defend their title next year.


J.A. Happ

When the Blue Jays signed J.A. Happ to a three-year deal this offseason, they must have been paying more attention to his production after being traded to the Pirates at last year's trade deadline, where he turned in a 1.85 ERA in 11 starts. However, given that Happ pitched for the Blue Jays from 2012-14, the club should know that the 4.39 ERA he averaged with the club is closer to his career average. Either way, given that he's currently slated behind Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey, and Marco Estrada in Toronto's rotation, he won't have to pitch like an ace for this deal to be effective.


Nathan Karns

The trade for Karns will be remembered as the first domino to fall in Jerry Dipoto's complete remake of the Seattle Mariners. Seattle didn't give up too many irreplaceable pieces to get him, but after just one full season under his belt, it's really not all that clear what they're getting.


Wade Miley

As if to hedge their bets against the uncertainty of acquiring a rookie starter, Seattle turned around and picked up the veteran lefty Miley, one of the many above-mentioned rotation additions made by the Red Sox last offseason. He doesn't have lights-out stuff, but he's durable and reliable, and I'm sure he'll enjoy playing his home games in the pitcher's haven that is Safeco Field.


Jesse Chavez
Roenis Elias
Rich Hill


Craig Kimbrel

Those of you who watched my 2015 All-Acquired simulation videos I made using MLB 14: The Show will remember not seeing Kimbrel as a member of the NL team because he was acquired by the Padres with just seconds left in the offseason, far too late for him to be a part of my calculations. But the fact that he'll soon play for his third team in three years shouldn't take away from his status as perhaps the most elite closer in the game right now, as evidenced by the boatload of prospects Boston gave up to acquire him.


Ken Giles

Speaking of a boatload of prospects, the Astros sent a big one to Philadelphia to acquire Giles, which is why I put him in front of some more established relievers on this list. This guy has the stuff to put up a monster season spending his first full year as a closer and playing for a winning team to boot. Plus he's only 25 years old, so he even has some room for improvement, which is scary given his 1.56 career ERA in 115 innings.


Francisco Rodriguez

This is the more established reliever I was talking about above. It seems like his name has been connected with Detroit for years, and now he's finally going to give them the 9th inning force they've so long desired. At age 33 and with 14 seasons under his belt, it's not certain how much longer he'll choose to continue playing, but he hasn't shown much signs of slowing down over the years, so he could have plenty of suitors next year if the Tigers choose not to exercise his option for 2017.


Joakim Soria
Darren O'Day
Carson Smith
John Axford
Joaquin Benoit
Ryan Madson
Tom Wilhelmsen
Liam Hendriks
Justin Wilson
Mark Lowe
Tony Sipp

No position has had more attention paid to it than relief pitching in the American League, with enough quality arms in this group to fill the bullpens of several teams. None of these pitchers are projected to close in 2016, but about half of them have closed before, giving you an idea of just how strong this group is.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

All-Acquired 2016 - AL Batters

I haven't been very active on the Blogosphere lately because I've been spending most of my time either in the edit bay working on my Batman: Arkham Knight project, or in the virtual field (the baseball field that is) capturing video for my MLB 15: The Show Developed Teams Postseason project. Both have a lot of potential, but they are both rather time (and energy) consuming. I've also been steering clear of Internet activity in general for the last few weeks, it being so close to the premiere of the new Star Wars, for which I have so far remained relatively spoiler free, save for random images from billboards and toy advertisements across the city.

But when I see that the baseball hot stove headlines are filled with blockbuster trades and sport-defining free agent contracts, it puts me in the mood to revise an old project of mine, the All-Acquired teams, one for each league. But rather than present a set of fully developed lineups, I decided to take a more interactive approach and keep somewhat of a running depth chart, where player-specific blurbs can be regularly updated and readers can imagine their own rosters/lineups.

Let's start with AL position players, as they made the most shocking recent acquisition as of this writing. I hope this project helps make sense of an eventful offseason!


Hank Conger
Chris Iannetta
Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Hank Conger finds himself eligible for this list for the second year in a row, following being unceremoniously purchased (i.e. traded for cash) from the Astros by (i.e. to) the Rays. The 2014-15 offseason trade that sent the pitch framing specialist from the Angels (his developed team, btw, that might come up later) to the Astros was rather ceremonious, netting a major league ready starting pitcher (Nick Tropeano) as well as his replacement behind the plate (Carlos Perez).

In real life, Conger is right now slated to form the strong half of a platoon with Curt Casali. Likewise on this All-Acquired team it makes sense to pair him with one of the many platoon-type catchers who changed teams this offseason, anyone from his former teammate Chris Iannetta, to switch-hitting Jarrod Saltalamacchia, to even Geovany Soto, or Dioner Navarro, all of whom hit lefties better than righties. Indeed, ever since the A's found such success platooning players in general (but especially catchers), many teams have built their backstop depth OUT as opposed to UP, to borrow a term from Magic: The Gathering.


Adam Lind

Seattle was involved in the trades of starter Adam Lind and his runner-up Logan Morrison, bringing in the former, and shipping out the latter. The lefty put up good numbers in Milwaukee but only has one year left on his contract (which he signed in Toronto) before free agency, highlighting the "win-now" mentality of Seattle's new GM, Jerry Dipoto. Actually, he's exhibiting more of an "if it moves, trade it" mentality, but some of those moves have to pan out, right? Honorable mentions go not only to Morrison, but fellow lefty Yonder Alonso, picked up by the A's, and Koren import Byung-ho Park, who will suit up for the Twins.


Brett Lawrie
Starlin Castro

Lawrie spent most of his 2015 season playing third base for Oakland, but he also qualified at second base, which is likely where he'll play in 2016 for the White Sox given their latest marquee addition. The versatile Canadian is the top point-scorer among players that qualified at the keystone, edging out new Yankees projected second sacker Starlin Castro and finishing well ahead of utility infielder Cliff Pennington. Someone else who bears mentioning in this group is Jed Lowrie, who might play either second base OR shortstop for the A's, depending on how Marcus Semien's defense progresses.


Todd Frazier
Yunel Escobar
Brett Lawrie

The three-team trade between the White Sox, Reds, and Dodgers that sent Todd Frazier to the south side of Chicago is what prompted me to post this list in the first place, as it's always a big deal when the reigning Home Run Derby champion changes teams. Frazier is a middle of the order presence that can solidify any lineup, and his acquisition is a clear signal that the Sox are going to make a push to catch the World Champion Royals in their division.

The Frazier trade edges out Yunel Escobar, who had a very successful season playing exclusively third base for the Nationals. I've heard some talk about about the Angels possibly giving him some time at second base this year, despite his having spent the last 7 years at shortstop, which is another position he could play on this team.


Andrelton Simmons
Yunel Escobar*
Starlin Castro
Brad Miller

Going by raw point totals (and ignoring last year's positional eligibility), Escobar would get the nod here. But something tells me that if he moved back to the more defensively challenging position, his production at the plate might revert back to that of his more pedestrian last few years. So it seemed more prudent to give the spot to the elite defender and keep Escobar as a utility player, or perhaps even DH consideration, since Brad Miller's multi-positional talents makes him better suited for that role.


Nori Aoki
Joey Butler

Aoki is another beneficiary of Seattle's whirlwind offseason, where he'll hope to follow in the tradition started by Ichiro of left handed Japanese slap hitters performing extremely well playing in the Pacific Northwest... at least against right handers. He'll move up north after spending just one year with the Giants; and it being an odd numbered year, he has no World Series ring to show for it.


Cameron Maybin
Aaron Hicks

Maybin revitalized his career last year playing with the Braves, and now he'll hope to continue the upward trend with the team that initially drafted him and shepherded him through the minor leagues. Maybin also finds himself eligible for this list for the second year in a row, just like the player he was traded for last offseason (Craig Kimbrel).


Mark Trumbo
Chris Young

The big bat of Trumbo is better suited for first base or DH than the outfield, but with a noticeably weak (for now) acquired outfield market, here he must play. In fact, Trumbo has a shockingly similar defensive profile as slugger Chris Davis, whose former team just acquired the slugger from (who else?) the Mariners. Maybe these circumstances foretell a similar breakout, or maybe it's just a coincidence.


Yunel Escobar
Mark Trumbo
Logan Morrison

See above for thoughts on these folks. Also stay tuned for updates, as the transaction column continues to be chock full every day!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Developed Teams 2015 Series

I've revived my Developed Teams project, starting with each team that participated in the 2015 postseason. Modeling myself after the incomparable MLB Trade Rumors, I'm compiling links to all the articles in this handy post, which will be updated to include all the teams (hopefully, eventually).

As it looks less and less likely that I'll continue posting developed teams recaps outside the context of a larger simulation project, I'm amending my divisional list to include fantasy point totals for each of the teams. This could help narrow things down into a playoff situation so I don't have to slog through a whole season's worth of simulations. But maybe I'll do things the long way, depending on how well the progress goes with my Arkhkam Knight Let's Play project. For now, let's see if the numbers tell us anything interesting:

AL East

AL Central
  • Minnesota Twins - 30,939
  • Kansas City Royals - 27,483
  • Cleveland Indians - 24,993
  • Chicago White Sox - 22,402
  • Detroit Tigers - 20,343

AL West

NL East
  • Atlanta Braves - 32,273
  • New York Mets - 30,148
  • Miami Marlins - 25,937
  • Washington Nationals - 25,663
  • Philadelphia Phillies - 24,677

NL Central

NL West
  • Arizona Diamondbacks - 35,806
  • Los Angeles Dodgers - 30,888
  • Colorado Rockies - 23,990
  • San Diego Padres - 23,410
  • San Francisco Giants - 21,641

As of today, these teams all have corresponding rosters in my copy of MLB 15: The Show, ready for some simulations! Based on these numbers, we could project a group of playoff teams based on the 30,000 point threshold, which would allow us to see some of the top teams play each other without having to simulate an entire lengthy season. Even though these results can be skewed by either a) a few extraordinary players or b) a glut of depth that wouldn't contribute to a playoff roster, I'm assuming this is what's happening, because I don't think I have the wherewithal to withstand the rigors of a full 162-game season, even though all the teams have a representative.

This method would give us two league leaders from the west coast: the Angels and Diamondbacks. This is somewhat surprising, not just since neither of these two teams made the playoffs, but also because the D-Backs are one of the two newest teams in baseball, which means they've had the least time to develop players. But adding a perennial Cy Young contender like Max Scherzer to a roster that already includes perennial MVP contender Paul Goldschmidt (plus adding in the breakout performance of A.J. Pollock and the typical solid production from Carlos Gonzalez, a player who I was THIS close to rewarding to the A's, along with pitcher Brett Anderson) gives this team the punch it needs to contend. The only standout performers on the Angels are Mike Trout and John Lackey, who helped the team win a world championship in 2002, but solid numbers all the way through give the Halos a surprising advantage.

That means the ALDS would feature the East champion Yankees, who, as a 2015 playoff team, were profiled earlier in this series of posts, and the Minnesota Twins, who actually came relatively close to a wild card berth last year behind the last season of hometown hero Torii Hunter, who nonetheless figures to play a significant role on this team. The two NL teams to meet in the first round are the St. Louis Cardinals (another 2015 playoff team) and the Atlanta Braves, a team (like the Twins) without a single 2,000 point scorer on the roster (Craig Kimbrel and Jason Heyward help though).

That leaves the Wild Card games, which in the NL takes the form of a rematch of last year's NLDS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets. How sweet does a Kershaw/deGrom one-night-only event sound? Meanwhile, the AL Wild Card game mirrors the situation we saw in the NL last year, where both teams come from the same division. I already gave a sneak peek of how Seattle's fortunes might look, and I'm not necessarily tempering my high expectation for this club, especially given that King Felix can start the one-game playoff. But the power potential of the Rangers lineup means they've got a legitimate chance to go far, even if their pitching strength is more wide than tall.

Look for some combination of recaps with screenshots and videos in the near future, as I'll need a fix of baseball to get through this long and arduous offseason.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Developed Teams 2015: Kansas City Royals

Ladies and Gentlemen, without further ado, I give you the developed version of your 2015 World Champion Kansas City Royals! Would this team have been better off holding onto all of their developed prospects, or was the front office able to make the team better through trades and free agent signings? You decide!

Although I usually start with the batting order in these profiles, there's one player whose historic 2015 season jumps to the top of the list, and that's the NL leader in ERA, WHIP, and winning percentage, Zack Greinke. A first round pick back in 2002, the Orlando FL native won a Cy Young award seven years later for his original team, before being part of two high profile trades, first going to the Brewers, then to the Angels. In fact, the first Greinke trade points out an inherent flaw in the either/or statement from my intro paragraph, because it was that deal that netted Kansas City Jake Odorizzi, the number 2 pitcher on this staff (also World Series heroes Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain). Sometimes shrewd roster moves lead to acquiring prospects at an early enough stage in their careers that the acquiring team can also be the developing team. Either way, Greinke and Odorizzi join two homegrown/current Royals, Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy, to form a very formidable "playoff rotation" - even though Duffy was used out of the pen in the actual 2015 postseason.

The last spot in their "regular season rotation" comes down to a battle between three rookie left handers, all of whom have since left the franchise that drafted them. Mike Montgomery went to the Rays (along with the well-traveled Odorizzi and Wil Myers) in the megadeal for James Shields and Wade Davis, but didn't make his debut until heading to the Mariners in another trade prior to 2015. Meanwhile both Brandon Finnegan and John Lamb were dealt to Cincinnati this season in the Johnny Cueto deal, the results of which contributed in large part to the Royals' 2015 championship. In the bullpen, if Greg Holland can recover from his Tommy John surgery, he could return to elite status sometime in 2017. In the meantime, this club will have to rely on the hotheaded Kelvin Herrera, former Rays closer J.P. Howell, and former prospect Luke Hochevar for save opportunities. And let's also not forget injured reliever Aaron Crow and prospect Sean Manaea when evaluating this staff.

The starting lineup features a "core four" of sorts in super-clutch Eric Hosmer, dugout-yelling Mike Moustakas, World Series MVP Salvador Perez, and free agent to be Alex Gordon, all of whom were well-heralded prospects, and all of whom delivered on their promise. The highest upside position player to have left the team is the above mentioned Wil Myers, whose transition to center field will help create room in the outfield for another former Rookie of the Year Carlos Beltran. And if neither of their defensive skillsets impress you, don't forget about Jarrod Dyson on the bench. Speaking of the bench, one person who's not on it is Christian Colon - I opted for the more experienced Andres Blanco, who played in a career-high 106 games this year - but if Colon's World Series heroics lead to more regular playing time, I could see him eventually eclipsing super utility player Mike Aviles as the starting shortstop. Billy Butler and Johnny Giavotella both went to the AL West prior to 2015 and had disappointing and breakout seasons, respectively, despite the fact that their fantasy production wasn't all that different. It's funny how expectations, contract size, and positional scarcity work, isn't it?

So there are the developed team profiles for all 2015 postseason participants. I'll be continuing this series with no discernible order throughout the offseason, hopefully culminating in a simulated season using MLB 15: The Show. So until then, enjoy the hot stove season and keep obsessively checking MLB Trade Rumors for the latest news. I know I will!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Developed Teams 2015: New York Mets

While the New York Mets did not win the World Series for the first time in 29 years, they were one of the two teams who played in the last game of the season, and that's much better than most pundits predicted for this team, so 2015 can definitely be counted as several steps in the right direction for this franchise. Let's see how the Mets would look if they had somehow kept all the players that were developed in their minor league system:

If they chose to do so, this team could field the same infield that they used for the World Series, with old iron gloves Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy on the right side, and shortstop of the future Wilmer Flores and "Captain America" David Wright continuing around the horn. But that's not accounting for the return of former face of the franchise Jose Reyes, who immediately slots in at the top of the order and the middle of the infield. Not only that, but he pushes Flores over to second base, allowing either Duda or Murphy to DH (while the other one plays first base), significantly improving the team's overall defense. Speaking of defense, it is also a strength of this outfield, two thirds of which has the defensive chops to play center field - while Carlos Gomez also has the offensive chops to anchor a batting order. I'm assuming Michael Conforto's performance in game 4 of the World Series alone earns him a spot in this lineup, but if you prefer experience and glovework, there's also defensive wiz Juan Lagares on the bench.

But the strength of this team, as with the real life National League Champion version, is its dominating young pitching. The entire playoff rotation of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz is present here, except I have Matz in long relief due to his small career sample size of only six starts. Syndergaard is a tough case because he was initially drafted by the Blue Jays and spent three years in their system before being traded to New York in the deal for R.A. Dickey, but he never advanced above Class A ball in Toronto and pitched more games in the Mets system. These four phenoms are joined by two 2015 Houston Astros teammates who helped their team make the playoffs, righty Collin McHugh and lefty Scott Kazmir, the former of which made his debut with the Mets while the latter was traded while still a prospect. In fact, this team could field a six-man rotation while still having plenty of long relief depth with both Jonathon Niese and Mike Pelfrey available out of the pen.

For the save opportunities, the developed Mets can trot out their real life closer in Jeurys Familia, who stepped up in a big way when projected closer Jenrry Mejia was hit with a pair of season-ending suspensions, and who should be able to bounce back after a couple of tough breaks in the playoffs. Joe Smith has been a good setup man for the Angels and Yusmeiro Petit has flourished as both a swingman and a dedicated reliever (despite never pitching for the big league version of the Mets). Overall this team features a solid if unspectacular and injury prone lineup supporting a historically dominant pitching staff. Tune in next time for the World Champion Kansas City Royals and then we can speculate on whether a developed World Series rematch might have gone differently than the actual version.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Developed Teams 2015: Toronto Blue Jays

Through some smart roster construction, Toronto's front office created an offensive powerhouse, but their ragtag pitching staff couldn't tame the savage beast that is the Royals offense. The developed version of this squad has a very different look, but one that could still find less traditional or exciting ways to win:

The first thing to notice on this team is the predominance of excellent defenders. Ryan Goins routinely turned in gold glove quality plays in the playoffs and his middle infield partner Adeiny Hechavarria similarly turned heads in less meaningful games in Miami. Two of the three starting outfielders have the chops to play center field (Anthony Gose for the Tigers and Kevin Pillar for these Blue Jays) and they've also got one of the game's premier outfield gloves on the bench in Jake Marisnick. Yan Gomes has a sterling defensive reputation behind the plate to go with a solid emerging bat, and since this team has the luxury of two starting caliber backstops, Gomes and Travis d'Arnaud can switch off between catcher and DH. And they've also got enough quality backups (in addition to J.P. Arencibia, they've got non-roster options like Carlos Perez and Erik Kratz) to keep everyone fresh. In fact, the only gaping defensive hole is first baseman Adam Lind, but he's the team's best hitter, which covers all manner of sins.

More than anything, this pitching staff will rely on successful returns from all types of injuries and ailments to key players. Projected ace Marcus Stroman pitched like gangbusters after missing all but a month of the 2015 season with a knee injury. Henderson Alvarez only managed four subpar starts for the Marlins, but the year before he put up 30 starts of sub-3.00 ERA ball pitching behind an electric young ace (sound familiar?). Kendall Graveman ended the year on Oakland's disabled list and Daniel Norris was recently (and tragically) diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The only starter who is injury free is also the most mediocre, as Drew Hutchison severely underperformed his top 200 ranking prior to 2015.

There are depth options, such as veterans Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan, youngsters such as Sean Nolin and Matt Boyd, and replacement level types like Brad Mills. But the most intriguing option is Aaron Sanchez, who was used in the rotation early in the season, but then became the postseason long reliever of choice. If he stays in that role, Sanchez would join fellow rookie Roberto Osuna in the bullpen, the 20-year-old closer who I've nicknamed Roberto Poise-una for his staunch unflappable demeanor on the mound, even during intense high pressure situations. Brett Cecil and Sam Dyson had quiet but solid seasons as setup men, but the other two bullpen spots are pure upside plays. Miguel Castro began 2015 on Toronto's active roster with Osuna despite neither of them having any major league experience, but Castro didn't stick, and was later traded to Colorado in the Jose Reyes trade. Marc Rzepczynski is mostly on this roster because of his awesome name, but he does have a long history of being a quality LOOGY - however these last two spots could just as easily have gone to Ryan Tepera (296 / 9.3) and Aaron Loup (278 / 4.6).

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Developed Teams 2015: Chicago Cubs

After dispatching their division (series) rival Cardinals in four games, the Chicago Cubs were beaten handily by the Mets - they never even once had a lead in the four game sweep. But with a savvy front office ready to supplement a crop of some of the game's best prospects, the real-life Cubs could find themselves at the top of the NL Central for years to come. Let's see how they stack up with their developed counterparts:

The presence of four rookies at key positions in this starting lineup is evidence of how weak this developed Cubs team was until recently. Kris Bryant should run away with the NL Rookie of the Year award and should also get serious consideration in the MVP conversation. Kyle Schwarber has shown a seriously potent bat in his first callup to the majors this year, but although he was a catcher throughout most of his minor league career, the Cubs used him primarily as an outfielder (and exclusively so during the playoffs). Maybe management wanted to let the pitching staff throw to familiar receivers behind the plate in such high stakes situations. Either way, with catching options such as the well-traveled Welington Castillo, Rangers projected starter Robinson Chirinos, and non-rostered options Geovany Soto and Steve Clevenger, leaving Schwarber in the developed outfield seems to make sense. Jorge Soler showed a knack for postseason performance in his rookie campaign, and could develop into the next Cuban slugging sensation. And fellow powerfully-built rookie Justin Bour (both have 6'4" frames) has hit for the same power he showed as a minor leaguer in Chicago since being giving a chance to start in Miami.

The former All-Star Starlin Castro was forced from shortstop to second base in the real-life Cubs' infield by prospect Addison Russell, but he's only the developed Cubs' second-best second sacker behind breakout first time All-Star DJ LeMahieu. This means Castro could be shifted back to short, unless he is pushed to the DH spot by prospect Javier Baez. And that's not even factoring in fellow stalled but potent prospect Arismendy Alcantara. Either way, this infield outside of Bryant is filled with enigmatic characters with high upsides but short and/or questionable track records. But fortunately they've also got two of the most versatile and competent backups (Marwin Gonzalez and Ryan Flaherty) should things go amiss.

Things have an even greater chance of going amiss in the rotation, and with a significantly weaker backup plan. The rotation set forth above assumes the top two arms will revert back to the mean between their excellent 2014's and disappointing 2015's. Prior to this season, Jeff Samardzija was ranked inside the top 100 players in baseball, and the previous summer he was valued highly enough by Oakland to give up 6 seasons of above-average projected production at SS (the above-mentioned Russell) for just 1.5 seasons of the Shark's work. And Andrew Cashner showed top of the rotation stuff for San Diego in 2014, averaging an amount of points per game that would have placed him in the top 40 in 2015. But both struggled mightily this year, resulting in mid-rotation stalwart Kyle Hendricks to emerge as this team's top pitching scorer. This is not an inspiring staff ace, as I would compare Hendricks's production to that of a healthy Ricky Nolasco type, who's on this team, but who hasn't been effective in a couple of years. But the most unexpected 2015 bright spot in this rotation was Rich Hill's magnificent four-start stretch, which could possibly have earned him a major league deal this offseason after being inked to two different minor league pacts in 2015.

Rotation depth is not pretty, as rookie Zack Godley had some encouraging results in his debut stint with the Diamondbacks, but Chris Rusin looked just as bad with the Rockies. Maybe these Chicago guys should stay away from the West Coast. Although that's not the case for rookie reliever Tony Zych who had another great debut for the Mariners. He doesn't, however, profile as a closer, which gives him something in common with all the other relievers on this staff. The one with the most MLB experience is longtime Tigers setup man Al Alburquerque, but he's hardly ever gotten a chance to prove himself in late and close situations with only 1 Save (in 2 opportunities) in his 5-year career. But despite its inconsistencies, this squad has a lot of personality and a lot of talent, and I predict big things for some of these ex-Cubs as we move past the failed prediction of Back to the Future.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Developed Teams 2015: Los Angeles Dodgers

In what could end up being Don Mattingly's final game managing the Dodgers, the only franchise that plays in Los Angeles lost one of the closest and tensest games in recent memory to Jacob deGrom, Daniel Murphy, and the surging New York Mets. Many of the players who contributed to that losing effort were developed by the very same team for which they now play, but many more weren't, so let's take a look at how the developed Dodgers stack up:

Let's start at the top of the order and examine the offseason trade that very well might have cost Los Angeles the chance to advance to the next round of the playoffs. The Dodgers top brass apparently thought Dee Gordon's strategy of slapping singles and using his speed to make a difference on the base paths was unsustainable, so they embarked on a flurry of moves that essentially boiled down to trading Gordon straight up for Howie Kendrick. That move didn't work out quite as planned, as Kendrick's late season injury prompted the acquisition of Chase Utley, who broke Ruben Tejada's leg on a needlessly reckless slide into second base during the division series, effectively poisoning whatever good karma Los Angeles might have stored up. Meanwhile, Dee Gordon won the batting title and led the league in steals for Miami. Another recently departed Dodger is Matt Kemp: he was traded to the Padres this offseason despite two balky knees, but ended up eclipsing the production of all six Dodgers right fielders combined in 2015 (they averaged 1,743 points and 10.8 ppg).

Among the other high profile members of this offense to have left Los Angeles, Adrian Beltre and Russell Martin made solid contributions in a Dodger uniform, making a combined four playoff appearances with the club and a combined $75.5 million on the contracts they signed directly after leaving the club via free agency. Neither Carlos Santana nor Franklin Gutierrez made their debuts with the Dodgers, but received plenty of minor league seasoning in the organization before both being traded to Cleveland for Casey Blake and Milton Bradley, respectively. Gutierrez had a very successful 59 games with Seattle this year after missing all of 2014, which (along with his sterling defensive reputation) earned him a starting outfield spot on this squad, while Santana is slated to play first base. If Gutierrez can't maintain this level of production for a full season, Matt Kemp can shift to the outfield, Santana could DH, and James Loney could slot in at first. And last but not least are the current Dodgers rookies - if you could combine Joc Pederson's first half with Corey Seager's second half, you would have a Rookie of the Year candidate to rival Kris Bryant on the Cubs.

At the top of the rotation, you could not ask for a better pitcher than Clayton Kershaw, but after the lefty from Texas, things get a little dicey. Hyun-Jin Ryu, another special foreign import case, missed all of 2015 due to injury, but he has the talent to slot behind Kershaw in that rotation when healthy. Nathan Eovaldi and Rubby De La Rosa both ranked near the bottom of Baseball America's top 100 prospect list exactly once, and they've filled out into decent mid-rotation talents. I put Carlos Frias in the fifth starter slot because he saw some decent playing time in his rookie campaign, but he would definitely have some competition from former rotation mainstay Chad Billingsley or current Dodgers minor leaguer Eric Stults. Edwin Jackson, a starter for most of his career, found a new lease on life in the bullpen for the Cubs and Braves, so he's probably not an option. Let's just say I'm sure these developed Dodgers wish that Hiroki Kuroda didn't move back to Japan to retire.

Kenley Jansen is currently the Dodgers closer, and one of the best in the game at that. He's set up by Shawn Tolleson who blossomed into the closer for the Rangers this year, supplanting Neftali Feliz about a month before he was traded to the Tigers. Pedro Baez is perhaps better known for unsuccessfully entering playoff games in relief of Clayton Kershaw than for being the 9th-hardest throwing pitcher in 2015, but he could very well blossom into a good setup man as well. One pitcher who's not on this roster but has a good chance to bounce back given the right circumstances is Jonathan Broxton, a former setup man and closer who made his way back to the playoffs with St. Louis this year. Overall, the developed Dodgers look very top heavy in all areas (lineup, rotation, and bullpen), but given the best or near-best case scenarios for some of their prospects, and this team could be a force to be reckoned with.