Digesting the Cole Hamels deal.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
With the trade deadline less than a week away, there was a flurry of activity overnight.
Decision: The Philadelphia Phillies agreed to a six-year deal for more than $140 million with Cole Hamels, the second-largest deal in MLB history for any pitcher.
Digestion: This is an extraordinary course alteration for the Phillies, who increased their valuation of Hamels by about 70-75 percent in less than a calendar year. They might've been able to sign him for $100 million last fall or $115 million in the spring.
But as they waited, and as Hamels got closer and closer to free agency, the price tag rocketed upward.
The good news for the Phillies is that they were able to retain one of the premier pitchers in baseball.
"I don't think we've seen the best of him yet," said a rival NL pitching coach. "Every time we see him, he's figured out something else."
The concern for the Phillies is that their credit-card bills are mounting. Depending on the structure of Hamels' contract, Philadelphia could owe about $95 million to four players for the 2013 season -- Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Hamels.
Dodgers deal for Hanley
Decision: The Los Angeles Dodgers traded for third baseman Hanley Ramirez and pitcher Randy Choate from the Miami Marlins, assuming all of the $38.5 million still owed to Ramirez while sending pitcher Nathan Eovaldi and minor leaguer Scott McGough to Miami.
Digestion: The Marlins' rebranding was baseball's biggest story of the offseason. A new ballpark, new colors, new uniforms, new players, new hope, a new direction.
But now they have dumped four veteran players in two days, with Ramirez and Choate following Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante, and rival executives say others are available, as well. Josh Johnson could be next to go, at a time when the Texas Rangers are fishing for starting pitching, and there is good, sound baseball reasoning for all of this. The Marlins have a struggling team, and they can turn over their roster and get talented, cheap players in return.
However, you would have thought that as part of the Miami rebranding, the Marlins would have endeavored to avoid a massive sell-off of players in the first year in their new ballpark. Now, for some would-be ticket buyers, the offseason roster restructuring will just look like a bottle of snake oil given the franchise's history of fire sales.
Some rival executives thought the Marlins would need to eat a whole bunch of the $38.5 million owed to Ramirez to move him, but the Dodgers agreed to absorb his salary, which is what L.A.'s new ownership can do best these days given the team's thin farm system.
It's not clear yet whether the Dodgers will ask Ramirez to play third or shortstop, but some teams strongly believe that Ramirez is unworkable as a third baseman; rather, they think he is much more at ease -- albeit limited -- at shortstop. Ramirez gives the Dodgers another power hitter, but it will be interesting to see how he adapts to the close-knit L.A. clubhouse.
The Marlins' franchise player is now a Dodger.
From ESPN Stats & Information, more on Hanley:
Even with his production down in 2011 and '12, Ramirez still represents a significant offensive upgrade regardless of the position he plays.
Dodgers' third basemen this season (MLB rank)
BA: .249 (20th)
OPS: .679 (23rd)
HR: 4 (28th)
Dodgers' shortstops this season (MLB rank)
BA: .232 (23rd)
OPS: .604 (25th)
HR: 4 (T-18th)
Another reason Ramirez was likely brought in is to provide power to a team that ranks last in MLB with 60 home runs. Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are the only Dodgers with more than seven home runs this season. Ramirez has hit 14.
Pirates get a pitcher
Decision: The Pittsburgh Pirates trade for Wandy Rodriguez, with the Houston Astros assuming a whole bunch of dollars in the deal.
Digestion: For Pittsburgh, there is a moderate gamble that Rodriguez will bounce back from recent performances. His fastball velocity is down, and he's allowed 12 earned runs in 16 innings in his last three starts. The Pirates are banking on the possibility that Rodriguez's decline is a case of a veteran pitcher affected by discouraging surroundings (and not-so-good teammates). Maybe a pennant race will energize and improve Wandy.
For Houston, the Astros' purge of players continues, a shift almost unprecedented in the last 80 years. The highest-paid Astro who was with Houston at the outset of this season is now Jed Lowrie, who makes $1.25 million.
Rival evaluators believe that in each of these deals -- for Carlos Lee, Rodriguez, Brett Myers and Brandon Lyon -- the Astros are eating a lot of dollars and acquiring players who will help organizational depth and, at the same time, won't make a significant impact in the big leagues. In other words, Grade C+/B- prospects.
The Astros had the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, they're positioned to have the No. 1 pick in next year's draft, and they may be picking at or near the front of the draft for years to come.
From ESPN Stats & Info, highest Astros salaries on Opening Day 2012 (all traded)
Carlos Lee: $19M
Brett Myers: $12M
Wandy Rodriguez: $10.5M
Brandon Lyon: $5.5M
J.A. Happ: $2.35M
A bad break for A-Rod
Development: Alex Rodriguez suffered a broken hand and will be out six to eight weeks.
Digestion: Look, if this happened three or four years ago, this would be an enormous loss. The 37-year-old Rodriguez is now more of a complementary player for the New York Yankees, but he still ranks among the top half of third basemen in the majors. Eric Chavez can absorb some of the at-bats at third base, but presumably, this will put the Yankees in the market for someone who can play third base.
An interesting name to keep an eye on: Chase Headley, a player the Yankees could use in their 1B-3B-DH mix if they're willing to pay the Padres' asking price.
• Zack Greinke, one of the best available starters, took the mound on Tuesday with a lot of scouts watching and pitched well. With the signing of Hamels, Greinke now is poised to be the belle of the ball in the free-agent pitching market in the fall, as the preeminent hurler available. However, there will be some big-market teams that will not engage the right-hander, given their concerns about how he would fit into their particular market.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Greinke pitched:
A. Greinke threw his slider only 10 times, but he got three strikeouts with it and didn't allow the Phillies to put one in play.
B. Phillies hitters were 0-for-13 in at-bats ending with a low pitch from Greinke, including all five of his strikeouts. Sixty percent of his pitches were down in the zone or below it, a little more than his league-leading season average of 59 percent.
C. Greinke threw nearly 80 percent of his pitches to lefties in the outer third of the zone, or further outside, his highest percentage in the last four seasons in a start in which he faced more than one lefty. Phillies lefties were 3-for-14 overall against Greinke but 1-for-11 in at-bats ending with an outside pitch.
• The Cubs' efforts to trade Ryan Dempster are being stifled, and Matt Garza's injury may wreck Chicago's efforts to trade the AL East veteran. So it may turn out to be that Paul Maholm is the most marketable Cubs pitcher. He doesn't have any no-trade protection, he has a team-friendly $6.5 million option for next season, and he's throwing really well; Maholm has allowed four earned runs in his last 38.1 innings.
• The Arizona Diamondbacks are on a roll and got a nice game from Joe Saunders on Tuesday night.
• Wrote here Tuesday about the possible downside to the Ichiro deal, but in talking with rival evaluators Tuesday, many loved the deal for the Yankees. They believe that all the things Ichiro does well -- his defense, his baserunning -- still place him among the better right fielders in the majors. Now, for little cost, the Yankees will have him in left field.
Ichiro made concessions to play with the Yankees, writes David Waldstein. The Yankees made the Ichiro deal with an eye on the luxury tax threshold.
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats & Info
3: First-pitch home runs allowed by Cliff Lee on Tuesday, the most by any pitcher in a game this season.
5: Pinch-hit home runs for Jordanny Valdespin, a Mets single-season record and most in MLB this season.
8: Home runs on pitches out of the strike zone this season for Miguel Cabrera, most in the majors.
43: Percent of pitches chased out of the strike zone by Josh Hamilton this season, the highest percentage in the majors.
2,000: Career strikeouts for Alex Rodriguez, the fifth player ever to reach that mark.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Oakland Athletics just never lose, and they continue to scope out the landscape for shortstop/third base help.
2. The Tampa Bay Rays acquired Ryan Roberts on Tuesday.
3. Carl Crawford was dropped in the Boston Red Sox lineup and then removed for defense. You have to wonder if, at some point, he decides to just have the needed Tommy John surgery and focus on 2013.
4. Pay less attention to what the Seattle Mariners say and more to what they do, writes Geoff Baker.
5. The Toronto Blue Jays may or may not be in the Josh Johnson conversation.
6. Some rival evaluators believe that the Twins' best hope for getting decent return on Francisco Liriano has passed after he struggled in his most recent outing.
7. The Milwaukee Brewers need to start over, writes Michael Hunt.
8. The Los Angeles Angels continue to have starting pitching woes. You have to believe they'll add somebody before the deadline.
9. Ryan Dempster wants to be a Dodger; he's not sure if he wants to be a Brave.
10. The Braves are considering other options.
Dings and dents
1. Jason Giambi is ailing.
2. Pablo Sandoval will be down a few days.
3. A couple of Angels are feeling better.
4. Lance Berkman has a knee bruise.
5. In the end, Jason Kendall retired.
6. Roy Oswalt expects to be able to pitch.
NL West notes
• Brandon Crawford walked it off.
• Clayton Kershaw was knocked around, and the Dodgers are 2 1/2 games out of first place.
NL Central notes
• Remember how the Cincinnati Reds came into the second half poised to face the easiest schedule in the majors? Well, they are feasting, even without Joey Votto.
• James McDonald found a few positives in his loss.
• The St. Louis Cardinals battled back.
• The Astros' decline is precipitious.
NL East notes
• The Phillies put together a huge comeback.
• Gio Gonzalez went back to being Gio.
• The New York Mets have fallen and they can't get up.
• Tim Hudson was really good.
AL East notes
• Clay Buchholz stepped up in a big way.
• A homestand started badly for the Baltimore Orioles.
• Brett Cecil was solid, but the Jays lost.
The Rays and Jeremy Hellickson came up with a badly needed victory.
AL Central notes
• It's been a massive comeback year for Adam Dunn, who hit his 30th homer.
From ESPN Stats and Info: His eight 30-home runs seasons since 2004 are tied with Mark Teixeira and Albert Pujols for the most in that span.
Dunn had rave reviews of his leadoff hitter after Chicago's latest victory.
• The Royals' Will Smith was dominant.
• Detroit's new lineup fell flat. Omar Infante feels like he's at home, he says.
• The Cleveland Indians are at a tipping point, and they squeezed out a big win, as Paul Hoynes writes. This series may determine the direction of the team, says GM Chris Antonetti.
• Josh Willingham flexed his muscles, but the Twins lost.
AL West notes
• Felix Hernandez was really good against a good team.
• Joe Nathan let a victory get away.
Rumors.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
SP search for Texas
AM ETTexas Rangers Recommend3Comments4EmailPerhaps lost in the shuffle of Mondays trades around baseball is the pitching issues bereft the Texas Rangers. Not only are there questions surrounding the reliability of Derek Holland and the role of Neftali Feliz when he returns from the disabled list, but Roy Oswalt is struggling and has an ailing back that required treatment, and now the club has learned that Colby Lewis is out of the rest of the season.
The Rangers have been linked, mostly by common sense, to every potentially-available arm in baseball, including Matt Garza, James Shields and Wandy Rodriguez. The club's top pitching prospect, Martin Perez, may be among the best options for the time being and Feliz's timetable could impact the team's pursuit of pitching.
Ryan Dempster is mulling over a trade to the Atlanta Braves, but if he turns it down could be an option for the Rangers. Dempster had full no-trade rights and is slated for free agency following the season. The Rangers may be most keen on impact starters such as Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels, but may have to part with third base prospect Mike Olt in a package to get either one. ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney writes in Tuesday's blog that the Rangers are looking for "elite talent" such as Hamels or Greinke.
There was speculation last week that the Rangers also could be looking to bring back lefthander Cliff Lee.
As for possible trade bait, Rangers manager Ron Washington tells ESPN Insider's Jim Bowden that any deal will not include top shortstop prospect Jurickson Profar.
- Doug Mittler and Jason A. Churchill
"It?s hard to believe that the rotation the Rangers used in the 2010 World Series is all gone now. That wasn?t that long ago! But Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and Tommy Hunter are no longer pitching for Texas. Fantasy owners lost a reliable asset in Lewis; now it?s basically Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish, and neither is particularly strong in WHIP. When the Rangers get help ? Greinke, Hamels, etc. -- don?t assume the new pitcher will up his game in Texas. They might win more, but at what overall cost?"
Tags:Colby Lewis, Texas Rangers, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Houston Astros, Tampa Bay Rays, Matt Garza, James Shields
Last MIL start for Greinke?
AM ETZack Greinke | Brewers Recommend3Comments5EmailAny concerns that Zack Greinke may be damaged goods were erased Tuesday night when the former Cy Young winner, making his first start in 10 days, allowed one run and three hits over seven innings in Philadelphia.
The decision to temporarily shut down Greinke raised some eyebrows, but he pitched so well Tuesday that it may very well be his last game in a Brewers uniform. With Cole Hamels deciding to remain in Philadelphia, the Brewers have the ultimate bargaining chip less than a week before the deadline.
Greinke dodged discussion of trade rumors after Tuesday's game, but told Tom Haudricourt he wouldn't take it personally if he was dealt.
Greinke could be atop the list of candidates from the Texas Rangers, Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox. With a trade for Ryan Dempster stalled, the Braves could now focus their attention on Greinke, tweets Jon Heyman.
The Washington Nationals are among the teams interested in Greinke, but they might not have the resources to pull off a deal, reports Ken Rosenthal.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Milwaukee Brewers, Zack Greinke, Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves
Filling in for A-Rod
AM ETAlex Rodriguez | Yankees Recommend0Comments0EmailYankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez is headed for the disabled list with a broken bone in his wrist after being struck by a pitch from Felix Hernandez Tuesday night in Seattle.
The injury will sideline Rodriguez for six to eight weeks, forcing manager Joe Girardi turn to Eric Chavez and Jayson Nix to fill in at third.
Girardi will also have to juggle his lineup. David Waldstein of the New York Times notes that Ichiro Suzuki may move up in the order after so much was made of the future Hall of Famer agreeing to bat eighth.
It appears unlikely the Yankees would make a major deal for a third baseman since Rodriguez is expected to be back in plenty of time for the postseason. But no one saw the Ichiro deal coming, so anything is possible.
- Doug Mittler
Impact of A-Rod injury
"Look, if this happened three or four years ago, this would be an enormous loss. The 37-year-old Rodriguez is now more of a complementary player for the New York Yankees, but he still ranks among the top half of third basemen in the majors. Eric Chavez can absorb some of the at-bats at third base, but presumably, this will put the Yankees in the market for someone who can play third base. An interesting name to keep an eye on: Chase Headley, a player the Yankees could use in their 1B-3B-DH mix if they're willing to pay the Padres' asking price."
Tags:New York Yankees, Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro Suzuki
Who goes next on South Beach?
AM ETMiami Marlins Recommend0Comments2EmailThe Miami Marlins are in full sell-off mode following the blockbuster deal that sends Hanley Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Fish have dumped four veterans in two days with Ramirez and Randy Choate heading to Hollywood and Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante already in Detroit. ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney says pitcher Josh Johnson could be the next to go, especially since the Texas Rangers are eager to add a starter.
Any team looking for a hitter also could land Carlos Lee at a deep discount. Lee is hitting just .220 with one homer and 15 games since coming over from Houston. The Pirates were previously mentioned as a suitor for Lee and could inquire again.
Olney has more on what has become a lost summer on South Beach:
Tough times for Marlins fans
?You would have thought that as part of the Miami rebranding, the Marlins would have endeavored to avoid the massive sell-off of players in the first year in their new ballpark. Now, for some would-be ticket buyers, the offseason roster restructuring will just look like a bottle of snake oil given the franchise's history of fire sales."
Tags:Josh Johnson, Carlos Lee, Miami Marlins
Contingency plans in Atlanta
AM ETAtlanta Braves Recommend1Comments0EmailWhile Ryan Dempster decides whether to take his talents to Atlanta, the Braves are considering other options if the deal fails to materialize.
David O'Brien of the Atlanta JC says Boston's Jon Lester and possibly Tampa Bay's James Shields could be options for the Braves, adding that the club, despite some reports, has not pursued the Cubs' Matt Garza and Minnesota's Francisco Liriano.
Milwaukee's Zack Greinke is believed to be available, but his asking price would be considerably more than what they are willing to pay for Dempster, which at this stage is pitcher Randal Delgado.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Ryan Dempster, Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves
Reds standing pat?
AM ETCincinnati Reds Recommend1Comments0EmailThe trade frenzy has heated up over the past few days, but the Cincinnati Reds have been spectators, at least on the surface. It may stay that way since the Reds don't have a glaring need, writes Jon Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
The Reds may be less likely to deal for a left fielder since Ryan Ludwick was hitting .306 with seven home runs and 16 RBI in his last 28 games entering Tuesday.
Cincinnati reportedly has had interest in Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino, but passed on a deal for reliever Logan Ondrusek.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Shane Victorino, Cincinnati Reds
Escobar a fit in Oakland?
AM ETYunel Escobar | Blue Jays Recommend1Comments0EmailThe Oakland Athletics had strong interest in Hanley Ramirez before the Miami Marlins decided late Tuesday night to ship the infielder to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a blockbuster deal. Could Yunel Escobar now be on Oakland's radar?
Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle says the A's, who are in need of a shortstop, had two scouts watching Ramirez on Tuesday. Slusser lists Escobar as an option if Ramirez landed elsewhere.
Robert MacLeod of the Globe and Mail recently wrote that Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos can send out feelers about Escobar since he has highly-touted Cuban prospect Adeiny Hechavarria waiting in the wings.
Escobar is under contract through 2013 with club options for both 2014 and 2015 at affordable rates.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Yunel Escobar, Oakland Athletics, Toronto Blue Jays
Best suitors for Marlins ace
AM ETJosh Johnson | Marlins Recommend1Comments1EmailThe Miami Marlins are reportedly ready to field calls on right-hander Josh Johnson, but rather than discuss which teams would most likely be interested, let's focus on the most likely matches in trade, because, sure, the New York Yankees would love to have Johnson, but do they have the bait to land such a premium starting pitcher? Probably not.
The Toronto Blue Jays, who reportedly have interest in Johnson, tweets Jon Morosi of FOXSports.com, have a strong, deep farm system full of young arms and may have an outfielder or two, such as Eric Thames, Travis Snider or Rajai Davis, that could have some value for the Marlins.
The Marlins may not want to deal Johnson for players that are two or three years away -- in fact, it's highly unlikely a move like that takes place after the spending spree they went on over the winter and the opening of their new stadium -- so even the Jays may come up short.
Clubs that could have a young arm to swap -- similar to the Jacob Turner scenario with the Detroit Tigers in the deal for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante -- include the Los Angeles Angels with Garrett Richards. The Angels are reportedly after starting pitching and with Johnson not a two-month rental, their entire farm system could be up for grabs.
Another club to watch is the Texas Rangers, who desperately need starting pitching after the injury to Colby Lewis and the back issues -- and struggles -- of Roy Oswalt.
Bob Nightengale of USA Today hears the Rangers would be willing to deal top prospect Mike Olt in a deal for Johnson.
- Jason A. Churchill
Tags:Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Miami Marlins, Josh Johnson
Rangers' pitching search
AM ETTexas Rangers Recommend0Comments0EmailThe Texas Rangers' seem intent on adding a starting pitcher before Tuesday's deadline, and the word Tuesday was that they were looking for "elite" talent. After all, people from the Lone Star State think big.
One blockbuster option is off the board now that Cole Hamels reportedly will sign an extension to remain in Philadelphia. The Rangers' search for a top shelf starter is down to pursuing Josh Johnson of the Marlins and asking about Cliff Lee of the Phillies and Zack Greinke of the Brewers, tweets ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney.
A deal for Lee was considered a longshot last week, but looks more plausible now that Hamels is staying in Philadelphia. Lee enjoyed his brief time in Arlington in 2010 and would fit in nicely, assuming the Rangers are willing to take on his contract.
Adding a pitcher is far from a luxury. Not only are there questions surrounding the reliability of Derek Holland and the role of Neftali Feliz when he returns from the disabled list, but Roy Oswalt is struggling and has an ailing back that required treatment, and now the club has learned that Colby Lewis is out of the rest of the season.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Cole Hamels, Josh Johnson, Zack Greinke, Texas Rangers
Growing interest in Murphy?
AM ETDaniel Murphy | Mets Recommend0Comments0EmailThe best trade chip for the freefalling New York Mets could be hot-hitting second baseman Daniel Murphy.
John Harper of the New York Daily News reports the Mets, desperate to add relief help, recently rejected an offer from the Padres for reliever Luke Gregerson. The trade talks with the Padres could indicate there is legitimate interest in Murphy, who still needs work defensively at second base but was hitting .443 in his last 21 games before Tuesday.
With 11 losses in their last 12 games, the Mets are justifiably looking ahead to 2013. By dealing Murphy now, the Mets could evaluate Jordany Valdespin at second base for the rest of the season.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Daniel Murphy, New York Yankees
Hitter next for Pitt?
AM ETPittsburgh Pirates Recommend2Comments2EmailThe Pittsburgh Pirates have acquired left-hander Wandy Rodriguez from the Houston Astros, according to several reports, but may not be done dealing. The Bucs have been linked to bats over the past few weeks, and Jon Morosi of FOXSports.com reiterates the idea.
The Pirates were said be in on Justin Upton, and were linked to Carlos Quentin before the San Diego Padres signed him to a three-year extension.
Upton also appears to be off the board for now after D-backs president Derrick Hall says he wwill not be tradeds.
The Philadelphia Phillies are fielding calls on Hunter Pence, who could be of interest to Pittsburgh.
- Jason A. Churchill
What's next in Philadelphia?
AM ETCole Hamels | Phillies Recommend0Comments0EmailWe mentioned Tuesday there was a feeling of optimism around the Philadelphia Phillies camp that Cole Hamels would eventually agree to a contract extension.
At the cost of a little more than $140 million for six years, it appears Hamels has agreed to stay in Philadelphia, pending a physical, says our Buster Olney.
Depending on how the Hamels contract is structured, Olney says the Phillies now have about $95 million committed to four players -- Hamels, Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay.
In order to save costs, the Phillies could be mor inclined to move Lee, who is in the second year of five-year, $120 million deal with the Phillies. Lee was mentioned as a long shot candidate for the Texas Rangers last week, but the odds of a deal for the lefthander may have significantly improved.
The Phillies may now be more inclined to deal center fielder Shane Victorino, who will be a free agent after the season and may soon be out of the club%u2019s price range.
- Doug Mittler
Pirates Push For Postseason, Acquire Wandy.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Prior to the trade deadline, many expected the Pittsburgh Pirates to leverage their talented farm system to acquire an impact bat. After all, their offense has a combined .302 wOBA, and they penciled in a batting order on Tuesday evening that featured five players (not including the pitcher) with an on-base percentage below .300.
That big bat may still be in the cards this week, but the Pirates temporarily shifted their focus to the starting rotation and acquired southpaw Wandy Rodriguez from the Houston Astros in return for three minor league players — outfielder Robbie Grossman and lefties Colton Cain and Rudy Owens.
The starting rotation for the Pirates was not necessarily a pain-point for the organization, as the group had compiled a 3.95 ERA and 3.92 FIP on the season thus far. Room for improvement existed, however, as right-hander Kevin Correia still took the mound every fifth day with a 4.31 ERA and 4.95 FIP. His ZiPS projection throughout the remainder of the season only forecasts pain, too, as it predicts him to post a 5.40 ERA and 4.83 FIP from here on out.
Trading for Wandy Rodriguez allows the Pirates to remove Correia from the starting rotation and replace him with a more consistent, more effective pitcher.
Rodriguez has seen his swinging-strike rate drop in each of the past three seasons and his strikeout rate is the lowest since his rookie year in 2005, but the 33-year-old continues to find success on the mound by throwing strikes and keeping the baseball on the ground. His 2.20 BB/9 walk rate and 50.7% ground ball rate are both the best marks of his career. Those two factors have helped Rodriguez post a better-than-average 3.79 ERA (97 ERA-) and 3.77 FIP (98 FIP-) this year.
Look for him to continue his success in Pittsburgh. He now moves to PNC Park, which has suppressed home runs in 2012 at the fourth-highest rate across the league. This will benefit Wandy Rodriguez because he can continue to flip up his nasty curveball, yet not get beaten by his pedestrian fastball as often as he did in Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Of the home runs surrendered this season, ten of the eleven he has surrendered came off his fastball. Opposing hitters have a .226 ISO against his fastball and only swing-and-miss against it 4.1% of the time. All of that speaks to his fastball being a fringe-average pitch, especially when considering it only averages 89 MPH at this point in his career. PNC Park will help mitigate the damage against his fastball.
Rodriguez will be owed $13M next season and now has a player option worth $13M in 2014. The Pirates will only pay $8.5M of his contract next season, and if the left-hander exercises his option for 2014, the Pirates only pay $7.5M of the contract. That leaves Pittsburgh with a maximum $16M commitment in 2013 and 2014 for an unspectacular, but effective mid-rotation pitcher, who has not compiled an ERA over 4.00 since the 2007 season. He is a two-to-three win pitcher annually and will certainly improve the Pirates’ starting rotation down the stretch in the battle for the NL Central pennant.
To acquire Wandy Rodriguez, the Pirates surrendered a trio of prospects that will provide even more depth to the Astros’ burgeoning farm system. Our own Marc Hulet has in-depth scouting reports available on the Grossman, Cain, and Owens. The consensus seems to be, though, that Houston acquired more depth than high-end talent in terms of prospects in this deal.
New Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow understood the mess he inherited in Houston and has engaged in a full-scale rebuilding project. Take a look at the prospects acquired this month, including their Baseball America team ranking prior to the season:
Player ’12 BA Ranking
3B Matt Dominguez 4-Miami
LHP Rob Rasmussen 7-Miami
RHP Joe Musgrove 20-Toronto
RHP Asher Wojciechowski 10-Toronto
LHP David Rollins UR-Toronto
C Carlos Perez 14-Toronto
RHP Matthew Heidenreich UR-Chicago (AL)
LHP Blair Walters 26-Chicago (AL)
OF Robbie Grossman 8-Pittsburgh
LHP Colton Cain 13-Pittsburgh
LHP Rudy Owens 16-Pittsburgh
One could argue that Houston has failed to acquire a true top-tier prospect this season, which is valid, but the Astros have not traded away any elite talent, either. Luhnow has moved his assets to accumulate talent and depth in a system that ranked amongst the worst in all of baseball just a couple of seasons ago. The rebuilding project in Houston will not become successful with an elite prospect or two. Instead, it will take a completely new wave of talent. The organization has begun working toward that gameplan this summer with a flurry of trades, which effectively transform their minor league system for the upcoming seasons.
For the Pirates, they acquired a mid-rotation pitcher in Wandy Rodriguez, which will allow them to jettison Kevin Correia from the starting staff. It will be interesting to see if this deal is just a precursor to a move for an impact bat, or if the organization believes themselves to be in a good position for a postseason berth, given the inclusion of the second Wild Card.
The Pirates are not going “all-in” for the 2012 season with a rental. Instead, they acquired an upgrade in the starting rotation for through at least 2013 without sacrificing their future core in the farm system. This is not a one-time grab at baseball relevancy. The Pittsburgh Pirates want to build a perennial contender. Unlike many mid-season trades, Wandy Rodriguez helps them accomplish that goal.
Cole Hamels Is an Ace and Got Paid Like One.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Phillies had a decision to make — give Cole Hamels a really big contract or trade him for prospects and watch him sign with someone else over the winter. They chose Door #1, giving Hamels a six year, $144 million contract that is the second largest deal for a pitcher in Major League history, coming in only behind the seven year, $161 million deal for CC Sabathia. As with any big contract (especially for a pitcher), this is a pretty big risk, but answering the question of whether it was worth it requires a look at the specifics of both Hamels and the Phillies situation.
There’s no question this is close to the going rate for premium pitchers. At $24 million a year for six years, this puts him in the same AAV tier as Sabathia and Cliff Lee and just a notch above the deal that SF gave Matt Cain a few months ago. Hamels wouldn’t have gotten less than this in free agency, so it’s not an overpay in terms of what the market would have yielded. The price for premium pitching has been firmly established at $22 to $24 million per year for five to seven years.
So, for this to be an overpay, you have to believe that Hamels is not actually a premium pitcher. And, really, the only way to come to that conclusion is if you still judge pitchers by wins and losses.
Since 2006, 76 Major League pitchers have thrown 800 or more innings. Hamels has thrown 1,295, but I set the bar a lot lower so that we could include some of the better young arms who have come up in the last few years. Among those 76 guys, here’s where Hamels ranks relative to league average:
Innings: 1,295 (12th)
ERA-: 80 (11th)
FIP-: 86 (18th)
xFIP-: 81 (6th)
This isn’t one of those cases where the results and the underlying skills don’t match up. Hamels has prevented runs at 20 percent better than the league average, and he’s pitched in a way that we would have expected him to prevent runs at 19 percent better than average. The other pitchers in baseball with an ERA- between 78 and 82 over that span: Justin Verlander (78), Felix Hernandez (78), Matt Cain (80), Tim Lincecum (80), Cliff Lee (81), Roy Oswalt (81), and Zack Greinke (81).
These are the best pitchers in baseball. Hamels has established himself as a guy who can give you 200 elite innings every year, and there aren’t more than a half dozen or so pitchers in the sport that you can say that about. If you’re making a list of the very best pitchers in the sport, Hamels is on it. The only way to argue that this is an overpayment is to argue that every market value contract for premium pitchers is an overpayment. Maybe that argument has merit, but that’a a totally different thing than saying that this specific contract is for too much money. Cole Hamels got paid commensurate with the level of performance he’s had and with what the market has been paying for players at this level.
Now, the other question is whether this was a good deal for the Phillies to sign. Not every market value contract makes sense for every franchise, and different organizations have different prices at which a player no longer makes sense for their situation. As my colleague Bill Petti has pointed out, the Phillies are entering some scary territory in terms of percentage of payroll allocated to a small number of players. With Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, and Cliff Lee, the Phillies already had $65 million committed to three players in 2013, and even assuming that Hamels’ deal is somewhat backloaded, he’ll probably make something close to $20 million next year, pushing the total for those four players to around $85 million. As Bill notes, teams with that kind of roster construction usually don’t win, as the rest of the roster has to be sacrificed in order to afford to pay the “Core Four” half the payroll.
However, the Phillies are already all-in on the stars-and-scrubs philosophy. While the Ryan Howard contract was a colossal mistake, it’s in the books and can’t be undone. For the last several years, the Phillies have made consistent choices to prioritize the present, and the result has been a team that has the makings of a perennial contender. It didn’t work this year, as there were just too many injuries to overcome, but the Phillies still have the roster of a contending team in the short term, while their longer term future already looks pretty rough.
In that situation, backtracking on the commitment to win with this group isn’t really an option. You can’t make that many win-now moves at the expense of your future, and then decide that you went too far and it’s time to pinch pennies. In the Phillies situation, only two decisions make sense – keep trying to win as many championships as possible until these guys can’t play anymore, or tear the whole thing down and start over. Letting Hamels go in the interest of fiscal prudence is trying to cross a bridge you already burned to the ground.
The Phillies have given regular playing time to exactly four guys under the age of 30 this year – Freddy Galvis (injured and suspended), Hunter Pence (29 and on the trade block), Vance Worley, and Hamels. Beyond their two under-30 starters, the whole roster is headed towards the downside of their careers. Letting Hamels walk because now they can’t stretch the budget is just cutting the legs out from everything they’ve done the last few years. I might not think that their original plan was the best way to go about building out a roster, but now that they’ve built this roster, they have to stick to it. They have to keep guys like Hamels in the fold until the whole thing falls apart and they just have to start from scratch.
The Phillies aren’t there yet. Their 2012 struggles show that this kind of plan is fraught with risk, but the last five years shows it can pay off too. If they keep the band together, everyone stays reasonably healthy, and they can fill a few holes on the cheap this winter, the Phillies can be contenders again in 2013 and maybe even 2014.
The Phillies probably will have to trade Cole Hamels eventually. They just didn’t have to trade him this week. For now, keeping him and trying to hang another banner was the right choice.
Houston Adds More Prospect Depth in Wandy Deal.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Houston Astros continue to shed veteran players and General Manager Jeff Luhnow made one of his better trades in terms of prospect value, although none of the three players are A-level young stars. The additions of pitchers Rudy Owens and Colton Cain, as well as outfielder Robbie Grossman adds more depth to the rebuilding Astros and is more than a fair return for left-handed starter Wandy Rodriguez.
Owens has a modest ceiling and fits as more of a No. 4 starter; I ranked him as the 13th best prospect in the Pirates system entering 2012. The 24-year-old southpaw has spent the last two seasons at the triple-A level and made big strides this year, lowering his ERA from 5.05 to 3.14. He’s also cut his hits-allowed rate from 10.34 to 8.59 H/9. Owens could easily slide into the Astros’ starting rotation right now and pitch as well of better than Dallas Keuchel and/or Lucas Harrell.
Cain snuck onto the pre-season Top 15 prospects list at No. 15. The young left-hander shows decent stuff but he’s battled inconsistency as well as back problems. Selected out of a Texas high school in the eighth round of the 2009 amateur draft, he was given more than $1 million to forego his college commitment. Cain, 21, hasn’t been overly impressive in high-A ball in 2012. His ERA is 4.20 but his FIP currently sits at 4.85. He’s also struggled with the home run ball (1.20 HR/9) and his strikeout rate is just 6.12 K/9. Cain, though, is young and was a very desirable amateur just four years ago. He’s also a Texas native, which no doubt made him attractive to the Astros.
Grossman was one of my favorite Pirates prospects. I ranked him as the fifth best overall prospect in the system during the pre-season Top 15 prospects list, one spot ahead of Starling Marte. Grossman isn’t as flashy as his fellow outfield prospect but he has a better shot at having a decent big league career. He had a solid 2011 season and then a very impressive preformance in the Arizona Fall League but got off to a very slow start in 2012 and then hit the disabled list. He’s back now, though, and looking good with an OPS of more than .900 in both June and July while playing at the double-A level. He shows a little power and a little speed (although his base running needs a lot of polish) and gets on base at a very good clip thanks to a strong eye. The switch-hitter could be a decent platoon outfielder. Grossman turned down the University of Texas when he originally signed with Pittsburgh as a sixth round draft pick in 2008.
As mentioned, the three prospects are not necessary high-ceiling, A-level prospects but they each possess the potential to be solid big league contributors with Cain flashing the highest ceiling but he’s also the least likely to appear in a big league ball game. Both Owens and Grossman could play key roles with the organization in the next few years while holding down the fort for the next wave of (larger-impact) talent.
Breakout infield prospect Alen Hanson was originally rumored to be part of the deal but his inclusion would have definitely swung this trade into Houston’s favor. Entering 2012, I ranked him as the sleeper prospect in the Pirates system and he’s easily become one of the best 100 prospects in the minor leagues – something I can’t say about Owens, Cain or Grossman.
Can Josh Johnson Fix The Stretch?Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
There have been plenty of good signs in Josh Johnson‘s return from a season-ending shoulder injury this year. His 2.98 FIP is excellent; he’s striking out nearly eight batters per nine innings and walking well under three. His 9.35 strikeout rate is an improvement over last year’s mark of 8.5%. His 46.9% ground ball rate is healthy, just under his career average. And yet, despite all this, runs keep crossing the plate against Johnson. His 4.14 ERA would easily be a career high.
As is so often the case, the issue is an elevated BABIP. Johnson checks in at .338 so far this season, a career high and 36 points over his career mark. To make matters worse, the most damage has come with runners already on — Johnson has allowed a .305 BABIP with the bases empty but a whopping .383 mark with runners on. The league typically allows more hits with runners on, but the league split is seven points higher with runners on, not well over 70.
Specifically, Johnson has had a big issue with runners on first — in 81 plate appearances, hitters have a .373/.405/.485 line off Johnson in the split with a .450 BABIP. This, at least to me, raises the question: are Johnson’s pitches losing their effectiveness out of the stretch?
Consider: Johnson is allowing a .245/.296/.354 batting line with nobody on base, a slight improvement on his .249/.307/.355 career mark. But typically, Johnson has gotten better with men on base, posting a .238/.310/.335 line (.295 BABIP) in the split. Nor has he exhibited a specific weakness with runners on first (.670 OPS, .303 BABIP).
The problem doesn’t appear to be with the fastball. Looking just at clear stretch situations — runner on first, first and second, or first and third — Johnson’s fastball has a velocity of 92.9 against 93.0 for all fastballs. No change there. Nor is there a significant deviation on any of his other pitches.
Instead, the difference comes in his two most frequently used off-speed pitches, the slider and the changeup. At 16.7%, the slider is still generating whiffs but significantly fewer than its 22.4% norm. And instead of swinging strikes, the result is hits in play — 7.2% of Johnson’s sliders from these stretch situations have resulted in hits or run-scoring outs.
The changeup has been even worse. Of 49 thrown, nine have resulted in hits or run-scoring outs, the second most common result after “ball.” Only one of the 49 changeups has generated a swinging strike, and just four have generated in-play outs.
These pitches appear to lose whatever makes them so dangerous as soon as Johnson hits the stretch. In the stretch, whiffs are becoming hits, and that’s been the difference between us talking about Josh Johnson, Cy Young candidate and the Josh Johnson who could be dealt as the Marlins sell at the deadline.
Jean Segura Gets ‘The Call’ from Angels.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Los Angeles caught lightning in a bottle with the addition of rookie Mike Trout earlier this season. Now the team will look to do the same with the addition of Jean Segura. Back in November, I ranked the rookie as the club’s fourth-best prospect entering the this season.
The middle infield prospect was promoted to the majors for the first time in his pro career after starting shortstop Erick Aybar fouled a pitch off his foot on Saturday. X-rays were inconclusive, but the swelling has yet to subside. It remains to be seen how long he’ll be out of action. Segura, 22, has battled injury woes of his own and missed a good chunk of the 2011 season when he hurt a hamstring. I wrote less than a month ago that the infielder was about a year away from helping the big league club, so I’m not expecting a huge impact from the Dominican Republic native in 2012.
Aybar’s loss is huge for this team. Los Angeles is currently five games behind the Texas Rangers for first place in the American League West and also has a tenuous hold on the first AL wild card slot. His replacement got off to a bit of a slow start to begin this year in Double-A, but he’s hit above .300 in both June and July. His walk rate also has gone up while his strikeout rate has fallen significantly. At the plate, Segura profiles as a No. 2 hitter because he makes good contact but doesn’t get on base consistently enough for me to envision him as a true leadoff hitter. He has good speed and stole 33 bases this season. But he’s also been caught 13 times.
Segura exclusively played second base until 2011 when the organization moved him to shortstop. He’s currently fringe-average at the position but he has the potential to develop into an average defensive shortstop. His fielding is above-average at second base, though. The Angels currently have the inconsistent Howie Kendrick tied to the keystone but Segura could eventually be a cheap upgrade.
With Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and Albert Pujols leading the offensive charge for the Angels, all Segura really needs to do is play league-average ball for his position and his team won’t see a drop from the offensive side. Remember that Aybar is having a down year with the bat and has a dismal 82 wRC+. Defensive metrics also suggest Aybar’s defense has less-than-stellar.
Segura could become an above-average contributor at the major-league level, but it’s not likely to begin this year.
Wade Miley’s Consistent Control.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Wade Miley‘s surprise season has many wondering how exactly the 25-year-old starter has transitioned into one of the top starting pitchers in the National League. While his SIERA of 3.71 and xFIP of 3.68 point to his 3.02 ERA being at least somewhat inflated, Miley has still shown that he can be a very effective pitcher who can control his pitches with striking regularity.
Below are two charts detailing Miley’s two-seam fastball against both right-handers and left-handers this season.
As you can see, Miley basically has one spot he attacks with his two-seamer. He features his two-seamer to right-handers more prominently than he does to left-handers, but he attacks the low and away portion of the zone (from a right handed hitter’s perspective) with a rather high level of consistency. Despite attacking one particular part of the zone against hitters of both handedness, hitters have just a .304 wOBA against him. His command of the pitch has allowed him to throw the pitch for a strike over 67% of the time, his highest of any pitch. While this pitch has been effective, it has not been his most effective. The above chart simply shows the consistency with which he can throw the pitch.
The next offering is where Miley is getting the great results, his slider. PITCHf/x labels it as a curveball, but in watching Miley’s outings, it is pretty obviously a slider. The charts below point this out as well, as the consistency with which he its the low and in portion of the zone (again from a right handed hitter’s perspective) correlates with what a pitcher would want to do with a slider more so than a curveball.
Here we can see that Miley is pounding that portion of the zone against lefties and righties alike, much like with the two-seamer. The results have been tremendous, as he has allowed just a .187 wOBA against his slider all season, with 33 of his 85 strikeouts (39%) coming from this pitch. Given that the pitch is thrown just 15% of the time, that’s a rather high percentage.
Miley told the The Republic that Paul Goldschmidt is a big reason for Miley’s improved slider.
“Miley attributes his success to pitching aggressively and trusting his array of pitches, which lately has featured a much-improved hard slider. He credits teammate Paul Goldschmidt for the latter. They faced each other back in college when Miley pitched for Southeastern Louisiana and Goldschmidt played for Texas State.
“We carpool a lot and were driving to the park a little while back and he said, ‘Man, you used to throw your slider a lot harder back in college,’ ” Miley said. “That got me thinking and so I started experimenting with throwing it as hard as I can. I was able to feel it and throw it for strikes and I’ve just kind of ran with it.”
The velocity has certainly improved with the pitch, as he has upped it roughly four miles per hour from last year, while most of his other pitches have increased only about one mile per hour. Miley’s ability to generate swinging strikes with the slider has been vital. The pitch has landed in the zone just under 38% of the time, but has been thrown for a strike 66% of the time. Additionally, his out of zone swing percentage with his slider is 34%, while none of his other pitches are above 26%, and his outside of zone contact rate is only 62.5%. Hitters of both handedness know where Miley will throw the slider but have difficulties laying off of it and do not do much with it even when they do make contact.
Even though he has seen a high rate of success with his slider, he is utilizing the pitch in the appropriate situations, so upping the frequency is not necessarily be recommended. In 1-2 and 2-2 counts he throws it over 32% of the time, and over 20% of the time on 0-2 and 3-2 counts. Contrast those rates with the aforementioned overall slider frequency of roughly 15%, and you can see that the pitch is obviously his out pitch.
Though his slider has proven to be a solid strikeout pitch, Miley’s top asset has been his command. His 5% walk rate has been the big driver of his success, but his ability to generate enough strikeouts to post a 3.70 strikeout-to-walk rate points to a high likelihood of him remaining a quality starting pitcher. While an expected regression is likely to occur, especially given his low .271 BABIP and 8.0% HR/FB rate, he should still be a very effective starter due to the consistent control of his slider and two-seam fastball.