Tuesday, December 26, 2017

All-Acquired 2018 Pitchers - Christmas Update

Well, the gifts have been exchanged, the traditional Christmas hams / lasagnas / Chinese takeouts have been consumed, and the Scrooge-like world of business is preparing to start up again.  So what better time to continue my dive into baseball's All-Acquired landscape and examine the top pitchers who have landed with new teams so far this offseason.

* STARTING PITCHER #1


- AL: Shohei Ohtani (Angels, posted from Japan, minor league deal)
The market for starting pitchers has been notably slow this year, due in no small part to the time it took for the Shohei Ohtani situation to develop.  The particularities of the rules governing both how players from Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball can transition to the Major Leagues and the signing of international amateurs ensured that pretty much all 30 MLB clubs were on fairly equal financial footing when it came to signing this two way superstar.  After narrowing the field down to seven (mostly west coast) teams, Ohtani ultimately decided to sign with the Angels, because of Anaheim's relative proximity to his home country and for the chance to play on the same team as (arguably) the best player in the world, Mike Trout.

All the hype surrounding Ohtani doesn't mean that he's without question marks.  An ankle injury limited him to just five starts on the mound and just over 200 at bats in NPB last year, although he played well in limited duty, posting a 3.20 ERA and a .942 OPS (which translates to 55.4 fantasy points per game as a pitcher and 10.6 PPG as a batter).  It was also revealed (i.e. leaked) that the 23-year-old (24 in July) has a sprained UCL in his pitching elbow, but apparently this information was known to teams during the negotiating process and hasn't impacted his value.  It'll be interesting to see if Ohtani gets the opening day start for the Angels over a more established option such as Garret Richards, or if they instead choose to utilize him as the DH in his first MLB appearance.

- NL: Jhoulys Chacin (Brewers, 2-year deal)
Earlier in the offseason, MLB Trade Rumors published a piece suggesting that the Brewers were in a good position to make a play for some of the top pitching talent on the free agent market, but to this point, the biggest action they've been involved in was this relatively modest mid-rotation pickup.  After bouncing around the league over the last three seasons, Chacin rebuilt his value in the pitcher's haven of San Diego last year, earning himself a deal worth twice the length and nearly nine times the dollar amount than the one he signed with the Padres last year.  Even though Chacin pitched notably worse outside pitcher friendly PetCo Park in 2017, let's not forget that he had good success in the first half of his career pitching for the Rockies.


* STARTING PITCHER #2


- AL: Mike Minor (Rangers, 3-year deal)
Mike Minor broke into the big leagues as a starting pitcher with the Braves, and had a couple of really solid years, culminating in a Divisional All-Star appearance in 2013.  But then shoulder problems derailed his career, until he resurfaced in 2017 with the Royals as a shutdown reliever, even taking over as the team's closer late in the year.  Given the fact that the market for relief pitching has been robust this offseason, Minor might have been able to maximize his earnings had he chosen to sign in that role, but he apparently preferred the opportunity to compete for a rotation spot.

- NL: Tyler Chatwood (Cubs, 3-year deal)
With the addition of Chatwood, it appears that the Cubs now have a full rotation (if you count swingman Mike Montgomery, who also reportedly prefers to start), but I wouldn't say that has necessarily taken them out of the running for the winter's top free agent starters.  Quite the contrary, in fact, since Chatwood also spent some time pitching out of the bullpen in 2017 and could return to that role next year in a worst case scenario situation.


* STARTING PITCHER #3

- AL: Mike Fiers (Tigers, 1-year deal)
Fiers struggled through the worst full season of his career in 2017 pitching for the World Champion Houston Astros, and then was not tendered an arbitration contract after being left off the playoff roster.  The rebuilding Tigers took a shot at the hard thrower, undoubtedly with the hope that he'll improve his performance enough that he'll draw the attention of a contender and fetch back some useful prospects at the trade deadline.

- NL: Brandon McCarthy (Braves, trade with Dodgers)
McCarthy represented the main return for the Braves when they shipped Matt Kemp to the Dodgers in a piece of luxury tax payroll manipulation.  The lanky mid-rotation arm with a silver tongue on Twitter is also controllable through the 2019 season via on option on the deal he signed with Los Angeles back in 2015.




* STARTING PITCHER #4

- AL: Matt Moore (Rangers, trade with Giants)
In acquiring Moore, Texas was able to buy low on a promising rotation option while also helping San Francisco clear some payroll from their books for more acquisitions of their own.  The lefty's disappointing 2017 season was still enough for the Giants to exercise their $9mm club option over Moore, and if he performs well, he will be controllable through 2019 through yet another club option left over from the 2012 extension he signed with his original team the Rays.

- NL: Yovani Gallardo (Brewers, 1-year deal)
Based on the incentives built into Gallardo's contract, it's not clear whether Milwaukee will use him as a starter or as a reliever next year.  (For what it's worth, Roster Resource has the homegrown Brewer in the fourth spot of their projected 2018 rotation as of this writing.)  It's all but certain that Gallardo won't approach the heights he reached during his first stint with the Brewers, but the club is in need of rotation depth, as they'll be without staff ace Jimmy Nelson for the early part of next season due to injury.


* STARTING PITCHER #5

- AL: Doug Fister (Rangers, 1-year deal w/club option)
In yet another move by the Texas Rangers, Fister was the first notable free agent to be signed during the 2017-18 offseason, inking his deal two days before the close of November.  Fister hasn't put up good numbers since a brilliant 2014 campaign with the Nationals and his velocity has been steadily declining for years, but you could definitely do worse as a flier on a low-risk, back of the rotation option.
Honorable Mention: Asher Wojciechowski (Orioles, minor league deal)

- NL: Albert Suarez (Diamondbacks, Rule 5 Draft from Giants)
Suarez served as an unremarkable rookie swingman for San Francisco in 2016, starting 12 of 22 games and racking up 84 innings.  But after posting an ERA over 5.00 in 18 relief appearances last year, the Giants non-tendered him and re-signed him to a minor league deal, only to see him get plucked by Arizona in the Rule 5 Draft.  It's far more likely that the Diamondbacks will use Suarez out of the bullpen than as a starter, but like I said, the market for starting pitching has been extremely thin this year.
Honorable Mention: Jacob Turner (Marlins, unspecified deal, unconfirmed)


* CLOSER

- AL: Fernando Rodney (Twins, 1-year deal w/club option)
The arrow-shooting veteran reliever surprised many when he emerged as a solid ninth inning option for the playoff bound Diamondbacks last year, but even at the age of 40, Rodney shows no signs of slowing down.  The three-time representative for the Dominic Rebublic in the World Baseball Classic will now head to another 2017 Wild Card team in hopes of anchoring the bullpen of a Minnesota team that has aspirations on becoming a perennial contender.

- NL: Yoshihisa Hirano (Diamondbacks, 2-year deal)
I don't know if Hirano will begin his MLB career by closing games for Arizona, but the 33-year-old has occupied that role for the NPB's Orix Buffaloes for the last six years.  While he's a distant second in the hype department as far as players coming over from Japan this offseason, Hirano actually had a superior season to Shohei Ohtani in 2017, posting a 2.67 ERA over 57.1 relief innings and racking up 29 saves in the process.


* RELIEF PITCHER #1

- AL: Yusmeiro Petit (Athletics, 2-year deal w/ club option)
Even as multi-inning bullpen weapons are becoming more popular than ever, Petit garnered precious little attention while leading all relief pitchers with 90.1 innings over just 60 appearances in 2017 (which includes one start).  The Venezuelan long man was one of the first relievers to come off the board, signing just one day after Fister, and one can't help but wonder if he could have earned a larger payday by waiting until the veritable run on relief pitchers that took place during the Winter Meetings in December.

- NL: Anthony Swarzak (Mets, 2-year deal)
After signing what could only be described as one of last offseason's most successful minor league deals (for team AND player), former Twins swingman Anthony Swarzak not only netted the White Sox a decent prospect from Milwaukee at the 2017 trade deadline, but he also earned himself a pretty good free agent contract in the process.  Mets ownership has taken some flak recently for not communicating a clear offseason plan to their front office, but bringing Swarzy into the fold seems like a pretty strong way to start this offseason.


* RELIEF PITCHER #2

- AL: Jim Johnson (Angels, trade with Braves)
Given his history as a closer, the sinkerballing Johnson won't come close to filling the multi-inning hole left in Anaheim by Yusmeiro Petit's departure, but he should definitely... throw some innings for the Angels in 2018.  Interestingly enough, it was also Johnson's part time role as Atlanta's ninth inning man last year that placed him so high on this list, since I've arranged it by 2017 fantasy points, and we all know how much saves tend to pad point totals.

- NL: Pat Neshek (Phillies, 2-year deal w/ club option)
This offseason marks the second consecutive year that Neshek has been acquired by Philadelphia, only last year it was via a trade with the Astros.  He qualifies for the All-Acquired team once again because the sidearmer was traded to Colorado at the 2017 deadline, where he pitched excellently and appeared in the NL Wild Card game before hitting the open market.  With a couple of other win-now acquisitions to Philly's name so far this offseason, it's distinctly possible that Neshek could be a part of Philadelphia's next contending roster.

* RELIEF PITCHER #3

- AL: Juan Nicasio (Mariners, 2-year deal)
Juan Nicasio has the rare distinction of signing a contract worth fewer years than the number of teams he played for in his platform year.  In his first successful season as a full time reliever, Nicasio was curiously shipped from the Pirates to the Phillies, since Pittsburgh ownership reportedly didn't want to see him help a fellow NL Central playoff contender, but he nevertheless was flipped to the Cardinals, despite the fact that it was too late for him to be eligible for the playoffs.  Nicasio likely won't challenge the electric Edwin Diaz for Seattle's closer position, but his live arm definitely makes for a plus bullpen piece.

- NL: Brandon Morrow (Cubs, 2-year deal w/ vesting option)
After the way Morrow was abused in the 2017 playoffs by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, I'm surprised any team was willing to offer him anything longer than a one-year, make-good, let's-see-if-your-arm-doesn't-fall-off contract.  But the former reliever turned swingman turned starter turned back to reliever will have another chance to pitch near the top of a playoff contender's bullen in 2018 on the north side of Chicago.


* RELIEF PITCHER #4

- AL: Joe Smith (Astros, 2-year deal)
After performing very well for both the Blue Jays and the Indians in 2017 - completing a two-year stretch where he pitched for four different teams - the sidearming Smith has latched on with the defending champs to help bolster a bullpen that lost such supporting pieces as Luke Gregerson, Tyler Clippard, and Francisco Liriano.


- NL: Bryan Shaw (Rockies, 3-year deal w/ vesting option)
Shaw is one of those pitchers whose great stuff for some reason doesn't translate well to fantasy points.  From 2014 thru '16, he averaged 1.4 rWAR per season (Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball Reference), yet he averaged just 8.8 fantasy points per year during that span.  Either way, his real world talents were recognized by the Rockies, and rewarded by the longest contract bestowed upon a relief pitcher so far during this offseason.


* RELIEF PITCHER HONORABLE MENTIONS

- AL
Hector Rondon (Astros, 2-year deal)
Emilio Pagan (Athletics, trade with Mariners)
Zack Duke (Twins, 1-year deal)
Jhan Marinez (Orioles, minor league deal)
Josh Edgin (Orioles, minor league deal)


- NL
Tommy Hunter (Phillies, 2-year deal, unconfirmed)
Steve Cishek (Cubs, 2-year deal)
Chase Whitley (Braves, waiver claim from Rays)
Luke Gregerson (Cardinals, 2-year deal w/ vesting option)
Jared Hughes (Reds, 2-year deal w/ option)
Brad Boxberger (Diamondbacks, trade with Rays)


Sunday, December 24, 2017

All-Acquired 2018 Batters - Christmas Update

For many people, the holiday season is an opportunity to enjoy some time off from work, reconnect with rarely-seen relatives, and indulge in a little shameless capitalism.  But for the baseball fan in the midst of a tedious offseason, it's the perfect time to fire up the Hot Stove and take stock of which players have changed teams so far.  So as Santa Claus hitches up his reindeer to deliver gifts to Baby Jesus, or something, here's the first preliminary version of the All-Acquired Rosters for 2018.

* CATCHER

- AL: Welington Castillo (White Sox, 2-year deal w/ club option)
The man known as "Beef" played well enough with the Orioles in 2017 to opt against exercising his player option to stick around with the club for a second year.  Castillo's next trip to the open market netted him a two year deal with an option from the rebuilding White Sox, which could possibly provide a glimpse into their projected window of contention.
Honorable Mention: Derek Norris (Tigers, minors deal, suspended)



- NL: Chris Iannetta (Rockies, 2-year deal w/ vesting/club option)
When the Rockies brought back a catcher who played the first half of his career in Colorado, they quite possibly took themselves out of the running for a reunion with the offseason's top free agent backstop Jonathan Lucroy.  Iannetta should welcome his insertion into a rather unsettled situation behind the plate at Coors Field after being a member of a three-part timeshare in Arizona.
Honorable Mention: Jose Lobaton (Mets, minors deal)


* FIRST BASE

- AL: Yonder Alonso (Indians, 2-year deal w/ vesting/club option)
After watching their longtime first baseman sign with the Phillies (see below), the Indians struck a deal with the breakout former top prospect who embraced the fly ball revolution and more than tripled his career high home run total in 2017, even while playing at a pair of spacious home parks.  Alonso's production did tail off significantly during the second half (right after he made his first All-Star team), and he does have a significant platoon split, but Cleveland is in the unique position of having an All-World DH who can play first against left handed starters.
Honorable Mention: Ryon Healy (Mariners, trade with Athletics, see below)

Image from NBC Sports

- NL: Carlos Santana
(Phillies, 3-year deal w/ club option)
The Phillies, like the White Sox, are another club in the midst of a rebuild who nevertheless embarked on a fairly sizeable free agent outlay.  Santana got one more year on his contract than Castillo got in Chicago, but he's also a much more significant force in the lineup, given his power bat, excellent plate discipline, and prized defense, and should serve as a clear sign that Philadelphia has plans to be relevant again in the near future.  "Slamtana's" acquisition is also a clear sign that 2017 rookie phenom Rhys Hoskins's future is as an outfielder rather than a first baseman.
Honorable Mention: Matt Adams (Nationals, 1-year deal)


* SECOND BASE

- AL: Ian Kinsler (Angels, trade with Tigers)
Here we have the first All-Acquried player to change teams via trade rather than free agent signing.  The acquisition of Kinsler fills a gaping hole in Anaheim's keystone position, and was one of four big ticket moves the Angels made to try and put themselves in a position to chase down the Astros in the AL West, three of which we'll cover here. (The first move, chronologically speaking, was to re-sign oufielder Justin Upton, who was acquired during the 2017 season.)
Honorable Mention: Andrew Romine (Mariners, waiver claim, also from Tigers)


- NL: Starlin Castro (Marlins, trade with Yankees)
While Castro went to Miami largely as a way to offset some of the salary changing hands in the massive Giancarlo Stanton blockbuster (see below), he also fills a need for the Marlins after they shipped out their incumbent second baseman Dee Gordon in a separate trade (see a different section below).  It's unclear whether the powerful Castro will ever suit up for Miami or if he'll be flipped to try and shed more payroll, but unless he goes to an AL club, it's likely that he'll maintain his position on this list.
Honorable Mention: Alen Hanson (Giants, minors deal, unconfirmed, see a third section below)


* THIRD BASE

- AL: Ryon Healy (Mariners, trade from Athletics)
When Seattle acquired the power hitting Healy from the A's in what proved to be the offseason's first major transaction, they brought him in to play first base, despite the fact that he spent almost as much time at the hot corner (34 games) as he did at first (39 games) in 2017.  Of course, he's not a great defender in either spot, as evidenced by his 78 games at DH in 2017, but for this All-Acquired thought experiment, it simply makes the most sense to put him here, iron glove be damned.

Honorable Mention 1: Ryan Schimpf (Rays, trade with Padres)
Honorable Mention 2: Christian Arroyo (Rays, trade with Giants, the main return for...)

Image from MLB Trade Rumors

- NL: Evan Longoria (Giants, trade with Rays)
One of the big storylines heading into the 2017-18 offseason was whether the Rays would try to add to their roster and push for contention or sell off some of their highly desirable controllable players and embark on a rebuild.  I'd say that trading the longtime face of their franchise Evan Longoria (who remains under contract until at least 2022) is a pretty clear sign of their intentions.  Whether this leads to trades of coveted starters Chris Archer and/or Jake Odorizzi, we can only guess, but for now, it's safe to say that San Francisco has a better option at the hot corner than hoping for a career resurgence from Pablo Sandoval...

Rather than bury him in an "Honorable Mention" tag, I'd like to point out that Chase Headley would be first in line to serve as the NL All-Acquired team's DH, in the event that the Senior Circuit ever decides to adopt the 20th century way of playing baseball.  I was a little surprised when the Yankees shipped Headley back to the Padres, his original team, since it created yet another hole in New York's infield, but it also saves Brian Cashman's team roughly $13mm in their all important quest to stay under the luxury tax threshold.


* SHORTSTOP

- AL: Zack Cozart (Angels, 3-year deal)
It was often speculated that Cozart, the brilliant defensive shortstop who also broke out with the bat last year, would have to consider a position change in order to maximize his earnings in free agency.  And that's exactly what happened, since there's no way that the Angels will even consider moving Andrelton Simmons, who is arguably the game's best defender.  Instead, Cozart will slot in at third base, where, even if his offense regresses, he should still provide surplus value with his glove.  However, given the players acquired by the AL so far, it makes sense to keep him at his natural position for our purposes.
Honorable Mention: Aledmys Diaz (Blue Jays, trade with Cardinals)

- NL: Freddy Galvis (Padres, trade with Phillies)
It's no secret that Galvis is meant solely as a placeholder to keep the shortstop position warm in San Diego until highly touted 18-year-old prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. is ready to step in full time.  And considering Philadelphia has its own MLB-ready shortstop prospect (J.P. Crawford) waiting in the wings, this trade made tremendous sense for everyone involved.  It's unlikely that Galvis will approach the power numbers he put up over the last two years now that he's moving to spacious PetCo Park, but he should at least provide passable defense at a fairly reasonable salary.
Honorable Mention: Charlie Culberson (Braves, trade with Dodgers)


* OUTFIELD (CORNER)

Image from CBS New York

- AL1: Giancarlo Stanton (Yankees, trade with Marlins)
- AL2: Denard Span (Rays, trade with Giants)

Without a doubt, the biggest move of this offseason so far has been the trade of NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, and his record-setting contract, in a blatant cost-cutting move by the new Marlins ownership, continuing a tried and true tradition of fan-enraging fire sales in South Florida.  Seriously, if you have any doubts about how fans in Miami feel about how their team has been run, you need to listen to this interview (hat tip Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors).  But back to the baseball side of things, this trade puts two of the top three fantasy point scorers in the same lineup for 2018: #1 overall batter Charlie Blackmon (2,859) barely beat out Stanton (2,833), who finished just above his new teammate (and AL Rookie of the Year) Aaron Judge (2,765).  It's no question the Yankees are going to be a force to be reckoned with next year.

In a similar situation to Starlin Castro in Miami, Denard Span went to Tampa Bay mainly as a means of offsetting some of Evan Longoria's salary.  But if the Rays continue to sell, Span could be a useful roster piece, despite the fact that he really shouldn't play center field anymore, or Tampa could try to flip him to try to get some of his salary off the books.  Looking ahead to my Honorable Mentions, Stephen Piscotty had a pretty disappointing season with St. Louis last year, but if you're looking for more of a long term building block than a declining veteran, he could be a good corner option.
Honorable Mention 1: Stephen Piscotty (Athletics, trade with Cardinals)
Honorable Mention 2: Jabari Blash (Yankees, trade with Padres)


- NL1: Marcell Ozuna (Cardinals, trade with Marlins)
- NL2: Matt Kemp (Dodgers, trade with Braves)

Given their "everything must go" attitude, it's no surprise that the Marlins have provided each league with their top-scoring All-Acquired player so far.  Marcell Ozuna fulfills the Cardinal's search for an impact bat, while also allowing them to deal away some of their outfield surplus for prospects (see above).  It's unclear whether "The Big Bear" will be able to maintain his 150-point increase in OPS from last year, but he's got two more years of control through arbitration, which should help put St. Louis right back into the fight for the NL Central.

Matt Kemp is yet another player whose acquisition was strictly financially based, as the extremely complicated five-player swap between Los Angeles and Atlanta was engineered purely to help get the Dodgers under the luxury tax threshold.  But until LA is able to flip Kemp elsewhere (which should include a pretty big "if"), he places here in a weak all-acquired outfield market.
Honorable Mention: Shane Peterson (Padres, minors deal, unconfirmed)


* CENTER FIELD

- AL: Dee Gordon (Mariners, trade with Marlins)
While Gordon has spent his entire career to date as a middle infielder, he wasn't about to bump superstar Robinson Cano off the keystone position upon his acquisition by Seattle, so a position change was going to be in the cards.  I'm not personally a fan of the inconsistency in terms of established/projected new positions in this All-Acquired list (given that I've placed Zack Cozart at shortstop rather than third base), but sometimes you need to do some clever maneuvering in order to maximize potential production.

Honorable Mention 1: Leonys Martin (Tigers, 1-year deal)
Honorable Mention 2: Jaycob Brugman (Orioles, trade with Athletics)

- NL: Magneuris Sierra (Marlins, trade with Cardinals)
The center field market in the NL has been virtually nonexistent - Sierra patrolled center for just seven games of his 22-game cup of coffee in 2017 (which was also his MLB debut), but has spent the majority of his minor league career there.  The next best option is former Yankees farmhand Mason Williams, who reportedly joined the Reds on a minor league deal, but he has just 25 MLB games on his resume, spread out over the last three years.  Another interesting option is to move slugger Marcell Ozuna back to center, where he has spent the majority of his MLB games, and was a regular as recently as 2016, which would open up the second corner outfield spot to utility option Alen Hanson, who played a just-enough-to-qualify 20 games in right field, split between the PIrates and the White Sox.  Hanson's deal with the Giants has not technically been confirmed (I'm not counting the post on his instagram), but I find that MLB TR is rarely wrong about these things.


* DESIGNATED HITTER

- AL: Shohei Ohtani (Angels, posted from Japan, minors deal)
Outside of the Giancarlo Stanton trade saga (or maybe even said trade saga included), the pursuit of Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani was the biggest story of this offseason.  The implications of whether he'll be allowed to develop as both a hitter and a pitcher are fascinating, but what's perhaps even more so is Ohtani's willingness to sacrifice a possibly historic payday by choosing to make the jump to MLB now, rather than waiting a few short years to qualify for international free agency.  While he has the chance to log some significant playing time at DH for the Angels in addition to serving as their ace pitcher (which would throw my baseball database into complete disarray), I'll cover his story more completely in my next post, dealing with All-Acquired pitchers.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

World Series Rosters 2017

It's finally time... Time for me to come out of my nearly three-month exile from the blogosphere to bring you some roster analysis for the teams in the 2017 World Series!  The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros are the first 100-win teams to face each other in the Fall Classic since 1970 (when the Orioles defeated the Reds), and both of these rosters are absolutely stacked. Here's how they measure up against each other, starting with the home team:



First, a few words about the columns and color-coding, since there have been some subtle changes since the time I posted an excerpt from one of my patented Baseball Databases.  The "Pos 1" (or Primary Position) column is shaded green for rookies, as it has been in the past, but now players making their major league debuts have their positions in italics. For the Dodgers, this includes Rookie of the Year frontrunner (and #12 overall prospect heading into 2017) Cody Bellinger and technically-a-catcher Kyle Farmer, although he's been limited to five pinch-hit appearances so far in the playoffs.  For player names, a Yellow highlight denotes a player acquired during the preceding offseason -- just second platoon baseman Logan Forsythe (via a trade with Tampa Bay) and setup man extraordinaire Brandon Morrow (on a minor league deal). Players with Blue (technically Cyan) highlights were acquired during the season... which was actually the subject of my most recent post on this blog.  Neither outfielder Curtis Granderson nor situational lefty Tony Cingrani show up in that post, because the former was acquired after the non-waiver trade deadline, and the latter hadn't racked up enough points to merit inclusion.

Speaking of points, I use fantasy points to measure player value because it's a nice, easy, one-number system that everyone can understand (the more the better).  If you're thinking that the same can be used to describe WAR, you're right... but EVERYONE talks about WAR and I've always had that urge to stand out from the crowd and be unique, you know?  Speaking of standing out from the crowd and being unique, the next column after PPG (Points Per Game) shows what Astrological sign each player belongs to, with the bold-italic cells representing players on their sign's active Fantasy-Astrology roster.  The concept behind Dev (Developed) Team is not quite as unique, but it's definitely more grounded in reality, as it tracks which organizations shepherded each player through their minor league development phases.  But more on that later, when we look at the Astros.



Speaking of the Astros, the only member of their roster to make their debut in 2017 is technically-an-outfielder Derek Fisher, who clocked in at #83 on MLB.com's preseason prospect list, but has only appeared as a pinch hitter/runner so far in the playoffs.  He joins Yuli(eski) Gurriel as the only rookies on the team, although the 33-year-old infielder is a rookie in name only, as he has 15 years of experience in his native Cuban Serie Nacional.  Veterans of foreign leagues like Gurriel (and Kenta Maeda on the opposing side) present a problem for not only the rookie eligibility system, but also for the developed player system, since they weren't technically "developed" by any team, but rather "imported," so to speak.   But since it wouldn't be right to exclude them from the developed teams project, they get awarded to their first major league organizations.

As far as acquired players, Houston had more than twice as much offseason turnover as Los Angeles.  They traded for catcher Brian McCann from the Yankees, then signed right fielder Josh Reddick, DH Carlos Beltran, and starting pitcher Charlie Morton to free agent deals, plus added backup catcher Juan Centeno (who has one playoff appearance so far) on a minor league pact.  As far as their midseason acquisitions, two out of three of them were brought on board after July 31st: outfielder Cameron Maybin was claimed off waivers from the division rival Angels, and longtime Tigers ace Justin Verlander was acquired with mere seconds left before Trade Deadline 2.0, as it were, and might go down in history as one of the most monumental August acquisitions of all time.

Now for the Developed Teams column.  You may notice that some players have more than one team in this column.  These players spent time with multiple organizations before making their major league debuts, with the team in CAPS representing their true developed team (i.e. the one they spent the most time with), regardless of the team with which they saw their first major league action (the team listed without an asterisk).  In previous versions of this database, I listed each player's developed teams chronologically, with a forward slash (/) between any multiple teams.  This time, I put each player's true developed team in front, just to make the database easier to sort, and differentiated the timeline with a backward slash (\).  So for example, utility man Marwin Gonzalez was originally signed by the Cubs, where he spent his entire minor league career, before being acquired by the Astros as part of some Rule 5 Draft maneuvering and sent straight to the majors (CHC*/hou).  Conversely, relief ace Chris Devenski was drafted by the White Sox, but was traded to the Astros early enough in his career that he spent the majority of his development in Houston's system (HOU\chw*).

===

So there you have both World Series contending rosters.  Now, how do they compare side by side?  When you add up the aggregate fantasy points of each 25-Man Roster (including players who spent time with multiple teams in 2017), the Astros have a rather slim 789 point advantage over the Dodgers (31,947 to 31,158).  Houston also has the top scoring player (AL MVP candidate Jose Altuve), but the Dodgers follow with numbers two and three (All-World ace Clayton Kershaw and All-World closer Kenley Jansen).  As far as homegrown players (developed players still with their original organizations) the Astros have the edge 11 to 9, although only Houston has players who were acquired before they completed their development (swingman Joe Musgrove joins Devenski in that category).  Looking to the stars, the best-represented Astrological sign combined among both teams is Pisces with 7 players, followed by Virgo and Leo each with 6.  No individual team has more than 4 players of any given sign on the roster -- LAD has 4 each of Leo and Sagittarius, while HOU has 4 of Pisces, Virgo, and Scorpio.  For what it's worth, Aries defeated Libra in this year's Fantasy Astrology championship match, making it just the second time in six years that the "Scales" have failed to walk away with the crown -- and each team has two "Rams": Kenta Maeda and Andre Ethier for the Dodgers, Alex Bregman and Cameron Maybin for the Astros.

Who knows if any of these trivialities have any bearings on who has a better chance of taking the series, but if you do manage to find any correlations, remember that you heard it here first!

The World Series will be broadcast on your local Fox station, starting tonight at 8:00pm ET from Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

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UPDATE: I've just learned that the Dodgers have made two changes to their World Series roster from the NLCS, which are outlined below:


First the technicalities: infielder Charlie Culberson was actually already on the NLCS roster, taking the spot of the injured Corey Seager, so technically the NEW additions are Seager and Brandon McCarthy.  But since the 2016 Rookie of the Year shortstop was already slated to return, I went ahead and made that assumption.  In adding McCarthy, who pitched mainly as a starter in 2017, to the bullpen, Los Angeles is taking a page out of Houston's book, as the Astros have four pitchers who made at least 10 starts who have been used mostly in relief during the playoffs (the lone exception being Brad Peacock's Game 3 start in the ALDS, where he actually pitched fewer innings than long reliever Lance McCullers Jr.).

Now for who's out: Kyle Farmer was an obvious choice, as Culberson could fill the role of right handed pinch hitter while also providing some depth around the infield.  Curtis Granderson, on the other hand, is a curious choice, since he's LA's third highest-scoring outfielder, and thus seemingly in line for a starting spot.  However, the decision makes more sense when you look at his postseason performance so far (1-for-15 with 8 K's in 6 games), combined with the presence of two other lefty hitting outfielders on the roster: Joc Pederson and Andre Ethier, who haven't hit much better (a combined 3-for-13, but with 2 extra base hits), but who come with the morale bonus of both being homegrown players.  Plus it's not as though Enrique "Kíke" Hernandez is going to ride the bench too much after slugging not one but three (3!) home runs in the NLCS-clenching Game 5 at Chicago...

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

MLB All-Acquired 2017 Trade Deadline Edition

UPDATE: It's been a week since the trade deadline, and in my typically late-to-the-party fashion, I'm just now ready to update my All-Acquired list. Since this is technically the Trade Deadline Edition, I'm ignoring the August revocable waiver trades that have already altered the 2017 All-Acquired landscape and sticking with the players who were moved on or before the 7/31 non-waiver deadline. Updated names are highlighted in yellow, older parts of the post are underneath a === break, and fantasy points are as of the All-Star Break.

===
With less than a week to go before MLB's always exciting trade deadline, it's time to start constructing a roster out of the players who have changed teams during the season. Obviously, this list will look a little threadbare until next Monday, but starting this process now will give some insight into which teams had the foresight to get their midseason shopping done early. So here's a position-by-position look at all the players who were either traded, claimed off waivers, or released/signed by new teams as of the start of the 2017 season, with fantasy point totals listed as of the All-Star Break.

STARTING PITCHER
Yu Darvish - 1,085 (57.1) TEX --> LAD
Jose Quintana - 682 (37.9) CHW --> CHC
Sonny Gray - 637 (49.0) OAK --> NYY
Trevor Cahill - 494 (54.9) SDP --> KCR
Jeremy Hellickson - 624 (34.7) PHI --> BAL


Jaime Garcia - 492 (30.8) ATL --> MIN --> NYY
Erasmo Ramirez - 448 (19.5) TBR --> SEA
Francisco Liriano - 326 (23.3) TOR --> HOU
Parker Bridwell - 277 (46.2) bal --> LAA
Mike Pelfrey - 283 (17.7) DET // CHW


UPDATE: While I stand by my earlier evaluation of Jose Quintana as the most valuable pitcher to change teams during the deadline season (due to his future team control), Yu Darvish takes the cake when you consider pure stuff and talent in the present. Traded at the 11th hour by a Texas team that hadn't committed to selling until moments before the deadline, Darvish didn't even cost the Dodgers one of their "untouchable" top two prospects (Alex Verdugo and Walker Buehler) although a package of three prospects headlined by near-MLB ready infielder Willie Calhoun is a steep price to pay for a pure rental. But regardless of the cost, he gives Los Angeles a bona fide second ace to slot in behind Clayton Kershaw, and in front of arguably their THIRD ace Alex Wood. I don't like to use terms like "World Series Favorites" in August, because the playoffs are such a crapshoot, but the boys in blue look pretty stacked this year.

Quintana wasn't the only upper echelon controllable starter traded at the deadline, as the long-speculated Sonny Gray-to-the-Yankees deal finally came to fruition. While Athletics GM Billy Beane wasn't able to pry loose any of New York's top prospects (Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, or even Estevan Florial), he still ended up with some tremendous upside in the tremendously injured James Kaprielian and Dustin Fowler, plus a speed-first up the middle guy in Jorge Mateo. But I guess when everybody knows that you're addicted to making trades for the sake of making trades, sometimes you have to be content with your second or third tier asks. The Jeremy Hellickson trade was a bit of a head-scratcher, given that the Orioles are not really sniffing contention at this point in the season, but sometimes you just need dependable innings in your rotation. Francisco Liriano will likely be used as a reliever by his new team, the Astros, whereas the opposite is true for former swingman Erasmo Ramirez.


===
Regardless of what happens with Yu Darvish and Sonny Gray, Jose Quintana could very well end up being the most valuable pitcher moved before this year's deadline. While his numbers haven't been overpowering this year, he not only has a long track record of excellence, but he also comes with affordable club options through 2020. With the Cubs stumbling out of the gates following their dramatic World Series win, a move of this caliber could have been the boost they needed to make up ground against the first place Brewers in a very unsettled NL Central race. Kansas City made a move for a resurgent Trevor Cahill for much the same reasons - they are within spitting distance of first place in the AL Central and are hoping to make one last playoff push before their core hitters all become free agents after the season. I will always root for Jaime Garcia, as he's the only major leaguer who shares my birth day and date, and while he's been more solid than great lately, he should provide the Twins with some rotation stability as they try to catch both the Royals and the Indians in the their division.

Now for the players who will undoubtedly fall off this list in a week's time, if not sooner. Mike Pelfrey signed an ill-fated two-year deal with Detroit prior to last season, was released earlier this year, and was given a chance to eat some innings for the out-of-contention White Sox by way of a minor league deal. While underperforming veterans like Bartolo Colon (-119 fantasy points on the year) and Doug Fister (7 total points) have more name recognition, if I were filling out an all-acquired rotation at this time, the fifth spot would have to go to rookie Parker Bridwell. The Orioles traded the unheralded 25-year-old to the Angels out of DFA limbo, after which he has turned in 7 starts (and a relief appearance) while maintaining an ERA just above 3.


CLOSER --> CLOSER
AJ Ramos - 811 (23.9) MIA --> NYM

UPDATE: I've expanded the categories for relief pitchers based on the roles they occupied with their former teams compared to the roles they are slated to play with their new teams. The distinction is important because most contending teams already have established closers, and any relievers acquired by those teams, even if they finished games for their previous teams, are more likely than not to slide into setup roles. In fact, the only traded closer who should remain in that role is new Mets reliever AJ Ramos (if the Mets are ever on the right end of a save situation again), and that's only the case because New York sent its old closer to Boston to set up Craig Kimbrel.


SETUP --> CLOSER
Sean Doolittle - 362 (16.5) OAK --> WAS

UPDATE: The Washington Nationals are the exception to the above mentioned rule, as their bullpen troubles have been a major focus leading up to the trade deadline season, prompting them to make not one, but three significant additions to their pen. While former Twins groundball machine Brandon Kintzler was putting up the best fantasy numbers of any traded reliever, it's been former A's closer-turned-setup-man Sean Doolittle who has been getting the bulk of the save opportunities since his acquisition, even after Kintzler's arrival. I'm hoping Doolittle's arm holds up for a deep playoff run with Washington, since he has a reputation as a class act and deserves some time in the spotlight.


CLOSER --> SETUP
Brandon Kintzler - 1,117 (28.6) MIN --> WAS
David Robertson - 828 (28.6) CHW --> NYY
Addison Reed - 839 (20.5) NYM --> BOS
Justin Wilson - 757 (21.0) DET --> CHC
Brandon Maurer - 720 (18.9) SDP --> KCR

UPDATE: I had David Robertson as the closer in my earlier version of this post, but not only has he dropped down a layer thanks to my new category system, but he's now not even the top dog in his category. I actually left Brandon Maurer off my list of relievers in the old version of this post, because despite his inflated fantasy points due to his 20 saves with the Padres, I didn't think he would play a big role on this All-Acquired bullpen. But now that I'm dividing the list by role, this is a perfect place to stash him.

===
It seems to be a trend that impact relievers are usually the most well represented class of player moved during the trade deadline, possibly because a good one can easily fit on any roster. David Robertson may not continue to rack up the saves in his new (and also former) home, setting up for last year's all-acquired closer Aroldis Chapman in New York, the same role he had when he used to set up for the great Mariano Rivera. But the Team USA Veteran is the only one on this list so far who has "qualified" as a closer with the White Sox, so he gets the nod in the prestige position.



RELIEF PITCHER
Tony Watson - 597 (14.9) PIT --> LAD
Anthony Swarzak - 519 (14.8) CHW --> MIL
Pat Neshek - 488 (12.8) PHI --> COL
Ryan Madson - 425 (11.2) OAK --> WAS
Joe Smith - 406 (11.9) TOR --> CLE
Tommy Kahnle - 401 (11.5) CHW --> NYY
Ryan Buchter - 386 (10.4) SDP --> KCR
Kirby Yates - 369 (11.9) LAA --> SDP
+David Phelps - 344 (8.4) MIA --> SEA

UPDATE: Speaking of inflated stats due to saves, Tony Watson has that in spades, as he was the Pirates' closer before losing his job to the younger and harder-throwing Felipe Rivero. Considering that, it's all the more impressive that Anthony Swarzak could put up a nearly identical points-per-game total, even without pitching in a ninth-inning role, but I already have the Watson screenshot, so there you go.

===
Speaking of White Sox relievers, they've been on the bargain bin lately, with a duo of well-performing, low profile setup men also leaving with their team's former closer (Tommy Kahnle literally went to the Yankees in the same deal his team's former closer, while Swarzak is still technically en route to the Brewers, as of this writing). But the more dynamic of the two relief pitcher duos to get traded could be the duo of former closers who have been traded by the Athletics. Both are controllable - Ryan Madson via a free agent deal, Sean Doolittle from a contract extension - and they went to fulfill the most satisfying need of any club in the majors so far: strengthening Washington's relief corps. Pat Neshek's name was so hot off the presses that it just showed up on MLB.com's transaction page. David Phelps was well-discussed, and went for a big prospect package, but in terms of fantasy points, he hasn't been dominant at all.


CATCHER
Alex Avila - 694 (10.8) DET --> CHC
Jonathan Lucroy - 520 (8.0) TEX --> COL
+Stephen Vogt - 468 (7.4) OAK --> MIL
Miguel Montero - 260 (5.5) CHC // TOR

Raise your hand if at the beginning of this season you thought that Alex Avila, signed to a one-year deal to be a backup catcher, would have statistically outperformed Jonathan Lucroy, two-time member of Team USA in the WBC. Anyone with their hand up should immediately buy a ticket to Vegas and make some bets, all while keeping your hand in the air. Avila's history of making hard contact earned him a one way ticket to play for the defending world champions, where he'll back up hot hitting Willson Contreras. But for platoon purposes on this All-Acquired team, Avila makes for an ideal starter, while Lucroy would fill in against lefties.

===
I... I believe... I believe that Stephen Vogt... Is the Best Acquired Catcher... Of the current baseball season... Picked up by Milwaukee via a waiver claim, the longtime clubhouse favorite of the A's won't be able to suit up behind the plate for the foreseeable future, due to a basepath collision with a pitcher. Now the sad part about this injury is that it likely could have been avoided if there were a trained runner (i.e., a non-pitcher) trying to abide by the new-ish slide rule. #DesignatedHitter #UniversalDH #FreeTheDH


FIRST BASE
Matt Adams - 823 (11.0) STL --> ATL
Lucas Duda - 693 (11.2) NYM --> TBR

UPDATE: I can see a world where Lucas Duda would supplant Matt Adams as the starter here, especially given their respective performances over the last month or so. But since it's likely that whoever lost out on the first base job would slot in as the DH, it's really a moo point.

===
When you're hitting so well for your new team that you've got one of the league's top hitters considering a position change to accommodate you, you know you're doing something right. Of course a lot of the reasoning behind that move is that Freddie Freeman could conceivably handle third base, whereas Matt Adams is exclusively a first baseman, and a platoon first baseman at that. But lefty power is always a fun part of the game, so it's nice that the Braves can conceivably get a double dose.


SECOND BASE
Howie Kendrick - 433 (13.1) PHI --> WAS
Danny Espinosa - 375 (4.9) LAA --> SEA

UPDATE: Howie Kendrick has spent the majority of his career playing second base for the Angels, before he took on more of a utility role with the REAL Los Angeles team in 2016. While he has mostly manned left field since then, and while the presence of Daniel Murphy on his new team will likely keep him from playing the keystone much in the foreseeable future, he still definitely has the capability, if not the eligibility, to contribute in the infield.

===
(formerly Eduardo Nunez) This pick is a stretch: it's a huge lean on a player's Capability to play a position as opposed to his Qualifications at that position. In terms of fantasy eligibility, Eduardo Nunez is on his way to an impressive three positions - SS, 3B, and OF. And while he's almost certain to spend most of his time in his new home at the hot corner, given Boston's well documented third base woes, if Nunez can handle the keystone (where he has just 29 career games), this current hypothetical team goes from discouraging to passable.


THIRD BASE
Todd Frazier - 908 (11.6) CHW --> NYY
Trevor Plouffe - 402 (5.7) OAK --> TBR

Need a right handed power hitter to complement Adams (and, Gods willing, Vogt) from the left side? Look no further than Todd Frazier, who has the added benefit that he can be a solution to both the third base AND first base woes for HIS new team, the Yankees. Maybe this trade will be the domino that makes a Yonder Alonso trade less likely, which will in turn push the A's towards an extension, which are is a good way of KEEPING THE GOOD PLAYERS YOU HAVE, BILLY! Wasn't that exactly a part of your missive to yourself last week? Speaking of Billy Beane, Trevor Plouffe was lost for nothing via waivers to the Rays, and isn't hitting great, but at this point he's probably on course to be this team's DH in a slow market for position players.


SHORTSTOP
Eduardo Nunez - 799 (12.5) SFG --> BOS
Tim Beckham - 709 (9.5) TBR --> BAL
Adam Rosales - 361 (5.5) OAK --> ARI
Adeiny Hechavarria - 180 (5.8) MIA --> TBR

UPDATE: I assumed that Eduardo Nunez would move to the All-Acquired shortstop when the A's shipped Jed Lowrie to a playoff contender. But even though that deal never materialized, circumstances still allowed Nunez to move back to where he's spent the plurality of his career (although it's close: 2,067 innings at short vs. 1,809 at third). In fact, shortstop is now a fairly deep All-Acquired position, thanks to another head-scratching move of Tim Beckham to the Orioles and the eminently sensible acquisition of Adam Rosales by the Diamondbacks.

===
Say what you like about his lack of offensive production, he's got a pretty mean glove, and there's a lot of different ways you can contribute to a team. Just not in terms of fantasy... Eduardo Nunez moves here in the event of a Jed Lowrie trade. We need to get Tom Sawyer played as a walk up song in more stadiums.


OUTFIELD
J.D. Martinez - 818 (15.4) DET --> ARI
Melky Cabrera - 983 (11.7) CHW --> KCR
Nori Aoki - 386 (6.2) HOU --> TOR
Hyun Soo Kim - 179 (3.5) BAL --> PHI

UPDATE: The presence of Melky Cabrera in the All-Acquired corner outfield mix is what allowed Kendrick to move to his former position of second base. We'll see if his presence on the Royals' corner outfield mix improves their odds of making the 2017 playoffs for the last time before the core of their lineup is scheduled to hit free agency. If there's one glaring weakness on this team, it has to be outfield depth, as the two prospective backups, Aoki and Kim, were included in their trades mostly as ways to offset salary rather than as trade targets themselves.

===
If I were to name a player who is most likely to be the crown jewel of this year's entire all-acquired class, it would be J.D. Martinez. He's bounced back nicely from a preseason injury, so he has the added bonus of essentially just hitting midseason form down the stretch. He complements what is already a good offensive lineup, which is what is SUPPOSED to happen to a good offensive lineup; it's not supposed to be GUTTED like when Yoenis Cespedes was shipped out of Oakland for a slight pitching upgrade to a staff that had already been upgraded. But no... you just CAN'T RESIST THE DEAL, can you, Billy? Just like you CAN'T STOP WATERING YOUR LAWN!


CENTER FIELD
Danny Santana - 335 (6.1) MIN --> ATL
Matt Sczcur - 211 (3.5) CHC --> SDP

UPDATE: In another case of capability vs. eligibility (see Howie Kendrick above), Danny Santana hasn't played much center in 2017, but that's where he's spent the plurality of his career (905 innings there vs. 864 at shortstop). While he hasn't turned in a very memorable 2017 season so far, he's perfectly capable of playing up the middle and batting ninth for this... mostly impressive team.

===
I don't know how this post turned into a hatefest against the A's president of baseball operations, but I'd just like to take this opportunity to say that I can't abide fantasy leagues that don't distinguish between CF and OF (i.e. corner outfield) eligibility. HOWEVER, I would also be extremely annoyed if a league distinguished between LF and RF. It's a fine line, one that my fantasy astrology league walks quite nicely. But that's a story for a different feature.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Thoughts about Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 2

After a week spent setting the scenes and reminding the viewers where everyone stands for the new season, we're back to the typical GoT format of laying out some well-thought-out and promising plans for all our favorite characters, only to make us watch them explode spectacularly in a giant fireball. But there were also four other storylines this week that weren't quite so catastrophic, so let's unpack everything that went down (organized by storyline this time, not chronologically).

The latest massive disappointment involves this week's A Story, which picks up right where last week's episode left off, with the supergroup of Daenerys, Tyrion, the younger generation of Greyjoys, the Sand Snakes, and the one surviving Tyrell who matters. (For ease of color-coding, I'm going to group all these characters under Dany's red banner, unless they break off into their own specific missions.) After a header where Daenerys basically demands "honest loyalty" from Varys, Melisandre shows up looking for new bandmates. Everyone's favorite Red Priestess writes a glowing letter of recommendation for the current King in the North Jon Snow, and recommends that they let him into the group, despite the fact that he had her exiled from the North on account of her stance on human sacrifice.

In the next scene in this storyline (Scene 6 overall), once the entire band has shown up to practice, Tyrion breaks out the setlist for their next show: Theon and Yara will use their ships to bring Ellaria's army from Dorne to Westeros, which will help Olenna besiege King's Landing, while the Unsullied mount an attack on the Lannister home base of Casterly Rock. It all seems to make a lot of strategic sense, and there's even some sparks that fly between the women from Sunspear and Pyke... until Scene 11, when crazy uncle Euron bursts in and takes the first step in fulfilling the promise he made to Cersei in the last episode. The mad pirate makes quick work of Yara's fleet, killing two of the sand snakes, capturing the other two, along with his niece Yara, and reducing Theon to the blubbering whimpering shell of a man, who abandons ship and blows yet another chance to take action and save one of the important women in his life.

So not but five scenes after we hear about it, Tyrion's plan for a two-pronged assault falls apart, as it's hard to besiege a port city with just half the ground troops you were expecting to have and no naval superiority. Come to think of it, why did nobody mention Euron's Iron Fleet in any of their previous strategy meetings? Did they just not entertain the possibility of him teaming up with Cersei? If all the heroes can band together, why not the villains as well? Although if Euron continues on with his ships to Dragonstone, Daenerys might have to pivot to a defensive stance before mounting any kind of offensive in any direction. Unless the Unsullied already marched off towards Casterly Rock - it's hard to tell because some of the timing was a little confusing in this episode. For example, the raven that Dany sends to Jon in Scene 1 arrives in Winterfell in the very next scene, whereas the one Sam sent in Scene 8 of the previous episode doesn't arrive until Scene 9 of Episode 2. Maybe the Oldtown email servers are not as fast as the ones they have at Dragonstone...

Speaking of Winterfell, Jon and Sansa's stories look likely to split after the new King in the North agrees to take Davos to meet with Daenerys in order to try and get his hands on some of her sweet, sweet dragonglass, a.k.a. obsidian, i.e. the anti-White Walker element. But I wouldn't be surprised if the vibe between Jon and Dany gets a little steamy, just based on how many people are trying to set them up, and based on the fact that no one knows that Jon is actually Daenerys's nephew. Remember that only Bran knows the truth of Jon's real parentage - Rhaegar Targaryen (Daenerys's brother) and Lyanna Stark (Ned's sister) - although even if something does happen, I feel like we've heard that "the Targaryens have wed brother and sister for a hundred years" enough times that maybe no one will care... which will not make it any less weird. Speaking of Bran, why no one at Castle Black thought to send a raven telling Jon that his brother arrived at The Wall is completely beyond me. The Night's Watch must really need a better broadband connection...

Sticking with the theme of the Stark children, we pick Arya's storyline back up without any indication whether or not she killed Ed Sheeran and his band of wholesome Lannister soldiers on her way to kill Cersei at King's Landing. The youngest Stark girl reunites with her old traveling companion Hot Pie, who recaps Season 6, Episode 9: Battle of the Bastards, causing her to change course and head back up north to meet Jon at Winterfell. While he'll probably be on his way to Dragonstone at that time, I imagine Arya would still be happy to see her sister, provided Littlefinger hasn't made some creepy power play regarding Sansa. Who knows, maybe Arya will arrive just in time to save her from said power play? Whatever she does, she'll have to do it without her wolf Nymeria, who has become Queen of the Wolves since her last appearance in Season 1, Episode 2: The Kingsroad, and has no time for her former owner.

Arya's change of plans can only be good news for Cersei and Jaime, (both colored magenta, until their interests stop being aligned). In their first scene, Jaime makes a play to lure Randyll Tarly away from Team Tyrell (more on the Tarly clan later). Then Qyburn, the new Hand of the Queen, tells Cersei it's no worries about Daenerys's mythical flying beasts, since he's developed the ultimate in anti-dragon weaponry: a big fuck-off crossbow. Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!!!! Seriously? We've seen you use your mad science to reanimate a corpse, and the best you can come up with is a CROSSBOW? But based on the "this just might be stupid enough to work" principle, I'm almost certain that thing is gonna be responsible for taking out at least one dragon. Probably Drogon.

This week's E story features the continuation of Sam's rebellious behavior in maester school. Last week he stole some books from the secret members-only section of the library, and this week he's performing experimental invasive surgery without permission... or anesthetic. At least carving off Jorah's infected greyscale skin wasn't nearly as gross as emptying about a million chamber pots full of maester shit. Based on how this story was presented ("You have ONE DAY before we exile you!" "That surgery is FORBIDDEN!"), I'm pretty confident that Sam will be successful and Jorah will have the same results as Shireen Baratheon (before she got burned alive). Otherwise that would've been an awful lot of setup just to eke out some more screen time for a couple of minor characters.

Missing from this episode were Bran Stark and Sandor Clegane. The latter I can understand, as I still consider "The Hound" a rookie in terms of carrying his own storyline (he's only really had five scenes as the protagonist), so you don't necessarily want to feature him in every episode. But as I've already mentioned, the fact that Bran and his head full of magical flashback-knowledge has now been at Castle Black for almost two full episodes and no one else knows about it is kind of mind-boggling. The only explanation I can see is that these stories are presented non-linearly, and maybe Bran and Meera's arrival at The Wall actually happens much later in the show-timeline than it does in the episode-timeline. I just wish we didn't have to wait a whole week in real time to see how much time will have passed when the show picks up again.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Thoughts About Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 1

For a long time, I resisted Game of Thrones, for much the same reason that I resisted Harry Potter: people kept telling me it was "better than Lord of the Rings." Now, I'm a die-hard Frodo Fanatic, so a comment like this was usually enough for me to turn my nose up in indignation and refuse to acknowledge the matter further. My wife even bought me the first book in the series (not because she's a reader, but because she thought I might like it, bless her heart), and I started to read it, but quit part way through. Lord of the Rings isn't filled with nonstop action or salacious political intrigue, but when I read those books, I feel like I'm reading the basis of something that could become an Oscar-winning blockbuster film series. By contrast, when I read Game of Thrones, I feel like I'm reading something that could be the basis of a cheesy TV program. But then, something utterly expected happened: they made Game of Thrones into a cheesy TV program... and it turned out to be damn compelling.

I'm not saying Game of Thrones is perfect show, nor am I saying that there weren't some moments that were so disturbing and distasteful that I considered not continuing to watch. But when taken as a whole, over more than six seasons (just barely, as of last night), I'd say there were more fun moments than cringe-worthy ones. And over those 6+ seasons, I started to get a little obsessed with the show, as is my nature - I read all the books between seasons 4 and 5, and then prior to this season, I re-watched (most of) the show and tracked all the storylines in a color-coded document, for my own amusement and edification. If only there were a career path where I could put some of these skills to use. Oh, right, there is: TV producer. Anybody want to see my Emmy (certificate)?

Anyway, let's look back at the Season 7 premiere and see how each scene falls into place when considering the larger arc for each story:

WARNING: SPOILERS AND ADULT CONTENT AHEAD!!!


Scene 0. (Cold Open) Arya finishes off the Freys

My color-coding system technically tracks characters, not storylines per se, although Arya Stark has had her own storyline since Season 1, when her father Ned allowed her to pursue her own interests (i.e. water dancing) rather than forcing her to conform to established gender roles. Side note: Ned had his own storyline in Season 1 (for which I used Dark Green), which was then continued by his eldest son Robb in the next two seasons (since his main reason for becoming King in the North was to avenge his father), all the way up through the Red Wedding - which was prominently featured in this week's Prev On segment. In this direct reversal of the Red Wedding to start this season, Arya makes use of the class levels of Assassin she gained while working for the Faceless Men to impersonate the (literally) late Lord Walder Frey and lure all his kinsmen to their poison-induced doom. Then, after she unmasks, Mission: Impossible style, Arya delivers an updated version of House Stark's words: "Winter came for House Frey," or as it will surely be parodied in the Game of Bones porn parody: "Winter came... ALL OVER House Frey!"


Scene 1. Bran and Meera arrive at Castle Black

This scene exists pretty much just to showcase the special effects on the army of the dead (now with giants!) and to reassure viewers that Brandon Stark will in fact appear in this season (he sat out all of Season 5 while he was gaining class levels in Druid with the Three-Eyed Raven). Oh, also to remind us that "Dolorous" Edd Tollett is now in charge of the Night's Watch. Side note: did anyone else think they were gonna do a gag where Edd bumped his head on the gate as he turned to go back into the tunnel under the Wall?


Scene 2: Sansa disagrees with (but respects) Jon's style of leadership

If only there were a song about being reunited and it feeling so good, it could be the theme song for the combination of Jon Snow and Sansa Stark's storyline into one. I counted this one as a Jon scene because the main content revolved around Jon making decisions in his capacity as King in the North; or at least "all the LIVING North." Most of the subtext occurred during the second part of the scene, a sidebar between Jon and Sansa, which also provides some good "Uncle/Father" fodder for the Arrested Westeros Twitter account.


Scene 3: Cersei refuses Euron's marriage proposal

This scene is also split into two parts. In the first part, Cersei Lannister-Baratheon (is she still technically Baratheon after Robert died?) recaps all her enemies and Jaime Lannister posits that they desperately need some allies. (Jaime gets his own color for all those episodes he was off with Brienne and then later Bronn... all the B characters.) Then in part two, Cersei rejects one of those potential allies, Euron Greyjoy (uncle of Theon), who offers a marriage proposal, "a thousand ships, and two good hands." He's off to find a suitable present for the Queen, which will probably involve bad news for the Starks in one way or another.


Scene 4: Sam gains access to Oldtown's restricted area

In the first episode where Oldtown is featured on the Main Title Map, everyone's favorite future maester Samwell Tarly stars in his very own training montage! After emptying more buckets of shit than should be allowed to be shown on cable television, Sam sweet talks his maester-mentor into letting him into the adult section of the Oldtown library so he can do his part to fight the incoming zombie apocalypse... with KNOWLEDGE! Side note: I enjoyed seeing Jim Broadbent make his first GoT appearance if only because it gives me the excuse to make the case that he should play Tom Bombadil in the long-awaited spinoff of the Lord of the Rings films...


Scene 5. Brienne distrusts Littlefinger

Even though Brienne of Tarth has her own storyline in my color-coding system (she took over Catelyn Stark's storyline since Brienne is oath-bound to carry on Cat's main mission in life: to protect the Stark children), I gave this scene to Sansa because she's the one making the decision to let Littlefinger stay in Winterfell. Sansa rightly points out that "Littlefinger saved us," but she neglects to mention that the saving came after he sold her out to the Boltons and all but promised to deliver her head on a spike to Cersei Lannister. (That was in Episode 506, Scene 5, although it wasn't featured in the Prev On.)


Scene 6. Arya camps with some Lannister soldiers

We've already seen Arya at her most badass, so this scene really only exists as a vehicle for an Ed Sheeran cameo (who I wouldn't have recognized had my wife not been sitting next to me, mostly ignoring the show as I watched). I did, however, recognize the song he was singing, as it was one of my favorite lines of verse in the book series.


Scene 7. The Hound sees a vision in the flames

Sandor Clegane is the protagonist of the newest storyline in the series, as he only started getting his own scenes to carry 7 episodes into Season 6. He was an important character prior to that, but his scenes were always subsumed by more important characters: specifically Sansa when she was at King's Landing, and then Arya when he took her captive and tried to sell her for ransom. But now it looks like the Hound is not only getting over his fear of fire, but he's also joining the fight against evil in earnest.


Scene 8. Sam learns there is dragonglass on Dragonstone

OK, that's what HAPPENS in the scene - it's a callback to Scene 2 when Jon starts his meeting by telling everyone to keep their eyes open for any dragonglass (i.e. obsidian) they can find because of its use against White Walkers. But the main revelation in this scene (as predicted by Ozzy Man in his review of the Season 7 trailer) is that Jorah Mormont (who never really had his own storyline) has not yet found a cure for his greyscale and is slowly but surely turning into a stone man. Tough break for Jorah the Explorer...


Scene 9. Daenerys arrives at Dragonstone

This scene consists of only one line of dialogue (not counting the SEAGULLS SCREECHING and DRAGONS SCREECHING descriptives that appear in the closed captions), but it's tremendously significant in the Game of Thrones timeline, as it represents the end of Daenerys Targaryen's journey from across the Narrow Sea to her ancestral home on Dragonstone... the very same dragonglass-rich Dragonstone that is the title of this week's episode! Also of note, her entourage includes prime mover/shaker Tyrion Lannister, and they arrived using ships provided by Theon and Yara Greyjoy. And Khaleesi also unveils another gem in her collection of Going Out Tops, the original backronym for GoT.