Breaking down the Dodgers-Sox deal.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers pulled off an enormous trade that features Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford heading to Los Angeles. The Red Sox got a pair of high-ceiling arms in exchange as well as two useful spare parts, which, considering how much salary they just cleared, is a very strong return.
It's a bold move, considering how much major league talent they're sending to L.A., and the potential for one of Beckett and/or Crawford to bounce back after the deal, but, frankly, it was way too good for the team to pass up. It looks as if Larry Lucchino overreacted to some bad publicity but GM Ben Cherington and his group rode in to restructure this into a very sound baseball deal.
Rubby de la Rosa blew up as a prospect before blowing out entirely back in 2011, but he's back from Tommy John surgery and, by 2013, should be able to pick up where he left off when his elbow snapped. He has touched 100 mph as a starter and sits comfortably in the mid-to-upper 90s, offsetting it with an above-average changeup with good fading action in the mid-80s, and, before the surgery, could throw both pitches for strikes. His slider is hard but really short, 82-86, but it doesn't have a lot of tilt to it because he tends to get on top of the pitch, often coming out higher than he does on his fastball; his curveball, a pitch he seldom throws, is in the mid-70s, breaking down but without tight rotation.
Even an average slider would give him No. 1 or No. 2 starter potential, and I think he can get there if he can release it from a slightly lower spot, closer to where he releases the fastball. It's a huge arm in any role, and, as long as he's healthy, he should be able to start.
Allen Webster was primarily a shortstop in high school, but the Dodgers drafted him as a pitcher and he has shown two plus pitches as a minor league starter, a fastball with great downhill plane at 90-94, touching 98, and an out pitch changeup with great deception. The sink on the fastball has allowed him to generate high ground-ball rates; repeating the Southern League this year, he has allowed just one homer in 121 innings so far.
His lack of an average to above-average breaking ball remains his biggest issue -- he has a power slider and a fringy curveball, but neither is as good as the changeup -- and his fastball command hasn't come along as expected, even though he's a good athlete with a repeatable delivery. He has a wide range of possible outcomes; he could be an above-average starter if he throws more strikes and/or the breaking ball improves, and he could end up a pretty good reliever if none of that happens.
Jerry Sands doesn't profile as an every-day player for me but could have value in a part-time role. He has average-at-best bat speed with a lot of rotation, meaning he has big raw power but struggles to get to it in games because he's not making enough quality contact. He stands well off the plate, so his plate coverage away isn't good, and his recognition of off-speed stuff is poor. He's also a below-average defender in left and couldn't handle third base in a brief trial there, so first base is probably his only option. He could be a bench or platoon bat against left-handed pitching, but I don't see an average regular here.
Ivan De Jesus has potential as a utility infielder who can handle shortstop on an interim basis and had a history of getting on base before he reached Triple-A Albuquerque, but he has some drift at the plate and is short enough to the ball that he's not likely to hit for any power. When seeing him in the Arizona Fall League during his two tours of duty, I noticed a lack of energy that stood out in a league where most of the players play hard.
James Loney has hit .278 AVG/.336 OBP/.402 SLG in nearly 2,900 at-bats since the start of 2008 while playing above-average defense at first. That's not a player worth the $6 million he's earning this year, to say nothing of the raise he'll earn in arbitration if the Red Sox tender him a contract in December.
The Dodgers are taking on an enormous amount of salary here, although only Crawford's deal looks like dead money at this point; two years and $31.5 million for Beckett is an overpayment, but it's not an awful deal and is one he could come somewhat close to justifying.
The real issue for the Dodgers is that they took on Crawford's deal and whatever amount of Beckett's deal you want to call the excess or overpayment just to acquire the age 31-36 seasons of Gonzalez, who already will be paid a shade more than $21 million for each of those seasons -- and they gave up two good pitching prospects and two other minor leaguers in the process. It is beyond unlikely that the Dodgers will see sufficient return from these players to justify the quarter of a billion dollars those players will be paid across the next six seasons. If the team wins the World Series this year, does that justify the cost going forward, and the potential roster jam it'll face once everyone is healthy again?
Gonzalez was his usual self in 2011 but has fallen off in 2012, particularly in his patience and thus his OBP, along with a power outage in the first half of the season. He's been on a good run since the All-Star break, though, hitting .338/.378/.593, albeit in a small sample and with just five unintentional walks in more than 150 PAs; it's possible the Dodgers scouted him more in the last month and saw the return of his power, motivating them to try to make the deal. He's seeing more off-speed stuff early in counts this year and has become more aggressive in response, so he's seeing fewer pitches in total and has watched his walk total drop. (His OBPs in San Diego were always boosted by large intentional walk totals; he has drawn more than 60 unintentional walks in a season only once, in 2009.)
The good news for the Dodgers is that his bat speed is intact and he remains a plus-plus defender at first base, so even a pessimistic outlook would give him several years of high batting averages and home run totals even if his OBP settles in the .340-.360 range. That's a valuable player and a huge upgrade over what they've gotten from Loney, so acquiring him makes a ton of sense in the abstract.
Acquiring Gonzalez doesn't come down just to money or prospects, however; the Dodgers are taking on two bad contracts in the process. Beckett's lost season comes down to three main problems: some lost velocity, poor pitch selection and horrific pitching from the stretch. He has lost a mile and a half off his average fastball this year versus 2011, a year that was already down from his peak fastball a few years earlier, which is likely the effect of age and regular usage over the years but doesn't in and of itself have to be fatal. (It does show he's not a good candidate for a multiyear extension.)
He gives up way too many hits on his cutter, which has proved less effective than the straight changeup that was previously his worst pitch (because it looked like a BP fastball compared with his four-seamer). He's been nearly 300 points of opponents' OPS worse with men on base this year, and, although that's often just bad luck or randomness, in Beckett's case it's more because his fastball is softer from the stretch and because he relies too much on that flat cutter in those situations.
Crawford just had Tommy John surgery, and, even when healthy, probably needs a right-handed platoon partner -- which, unfortunately for the Dodgers, also can be said of Andre Ethier, meaning they will now have two corner outfielders signed for the next five years who can't hit lefties. In the era of seven- and eight-man bullpens, that's an unworkable way to build a roster and probably guarantees Ethier will get 100 or so PAs per year against southpaws that would be better given to a right-handed three-toed sloth. Little Nicky Punto serves no purpose other than providing fodder for those of us who like to extract humor from the fact that he serves no purpose.
This deal could end up looking good for both sides, better for the Dodgers in the very short term but much better for the Red Sox in the long term. Boston enters this winter with a new financial lease on life, freeing the Sox up to spend in a weak free-agent market or perhaps to take on a large contract someone else would like to move (Cliff Lee? Justin Upton?).
They're also looking at a pretty interesting group of position-player prospects racing up the system, led by Xander Bogaerts, who has improved his defense at shortstop this year and might defy earlier expectations and stay at the position. That potential for an inexpensive core should help Boston avoid a similar tangle of large contracts in the near future, just at a point when the Dodgers are facing a financial quagmire and roster crunch of their own.
Winners, losers of Dodgers-Red Sox trade.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
If you want some insight into how at least a couple of major Red Sox star players are feeling about the situation in Boston, think about this: Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett both have the power to blow up the biggest salary dump in baseball history by just saying no and exercising their veto power, yet both are going along with the deal without asking for anything in return.
The MLB Players Association always encourages/nudges/pushes agents to never give away something for nothing, but, in this case, both players went along with the deal faster than a couple of guys exiting a burning building.
Crawford and Beckett are among the winners and losers of this deal, which will was announced as official today.
Winners: The Dodgers of 2012
They are markedly better today than they were before this deal. Adrian Gonzalez is perfect for their lineup, their lineup balance, their defense and their ballpark, and he knows the division from his many years with the Padres. Beckett might be energized, and he gets to shift out of one of the best-hitting divisions to one of the worst.
Winners: Magic Johnson, Stan Kasten and the rest of the Dodgers' ownership group
In less than four months, these owners have managed to completely rebrand the franchise, and, even if the Dodgers don't make the playoffs this year, they've set themselves up for a major bounce forward in attendance and interest and team success in 2013. The city might throw them a parade even if they don't win the World Series because, ding-dong, the Frank McCourt era is over.
Loser: The reputation of the Red Sox
Players and coaches constantly talk with players and coaches on other teams, which is why Boston's dysfunction and the toxic relationship between the Red Sox players and Bobby Valentine is so well known in other clubhouses, and it's how the stories of problems have been passed around the sport like a virulent flu.
Beckett might no longer be a favorite of Boston fans, but he is respected among players. Crawford is eminently likable. Genial Gonzalez knows practically everybody in both leagues because, as a first baseman, he gets a chance to speak to almost everyone. Other players will ask these players and others about what happened, and other players will hear about how it came to be that these three established stars embraced the opportunity to exit Boston less than two years after agreeing to massive contracts with the Red Sox. The stories told about the club's management and about Valentine will be ugly and perhaps one-sided, not necessarily fair. But they will become a factor as the Red Sox look to acquire players from other teams -- as well as retain their own stars, including Jacoby Ellsbury.
A decade ago, when the Orioles' decline became steep and no prominent player would seriously consider signing with Baltimore, then-GM of the Orioles Syd Thrift joked that it seemed as if his team was working with Confederate money. Unless there is a significant and tangible change, the Red Sox may well be facing a similar dynamic.
Winner: The Red Sox baseball operations department
In interviews earlier this summer, former Boston GM Theo Epstein made reference to the fact that, somewhere along the way, the Red Sox had lost their sense of self. They had devolved from a quick and smart and flexible and aggressive organization to a team that constantly fretted more about TV ratings and its sellout streak than about winning games.
This trade, with its massive payroll savings, will give the Red Sox an opportunity to get back to the way they operated early and midway through the last decade, before the signings of John Lackey, Beckett and Crawford all but froze the payroll. As one member of the organization explained Friday, this will give the Red Sox a chance to find themselves again, through player development and smart acquisitions.
But, although this course sounds like a good plan today, it also will require a follow-through from the club's ownership -- and there's nothing certain about that, as we saw in the case of Crawford, when John Henry quickly blamed others for that decision. The Boston ownership is extremely concerned with how it is perceived on a day-to-day day basis, and this factor is not conducive to the execution of a long-range plan.
Losers: The Dodgers of 2017
The team's stunning spending spree feels good today, but Los Angeles has set itself up to have a roster loaded with aging stars in about five years -- Matt Kemp, Gonzalez, Crawford and Andre Ethier all have contracts that run through that season. By then, the Dodgers' farm system should be replenished, and the club's ownership should have the resources to pave over that type of problem in the way the Yankees have -- and, in any event, Dodgers fans won't have to worry about that for a while.
Losers: The rest of the NL West
We keep waiting to see where the bottom of the Dodgers' financial well is, and just when we thought we might've heard the kerplunk -- with the trades for Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton -- Magic Johnson & Co. just keep going. This is what the Dodgers' lineup could look like next season:
LF Carl Crawford
2B Mark Ellis
1B Adrian Gonzalez
CF Matt Kemp
RF Andre Ethier
SS or 3B Hanley Ramirez
SS or 3B TBD
C A.J. Ellis
The Colorado Rockies are rebuilding and have a long way to go to get back to respectability. The Arizona Diamondbacks are working with about 40 percent of the resources the Dodgers have. The San Francisco Giants, a strong franchise, might be outspent by 50 percent by their archrivals. And there are folks in the San Diego Padres organization who are waiting to see the level of commitment put forth by their new ownership.
Winners: Columnists and talk radio hosts in Boston
Fairly or not, Beckett and Gonzalez had become drive-time symbols of a clubhouse culture that had gone badly, so, in the week ahead, it figures that this move will be roundly applauded in Boston, considering that the team is about 20 games under .500 for the past calendar year.
But with this massive salary dump by the Red Sox will come an expectation that the team will immediately use its savings to invest in the product for 2013 and beyond, and, all winter, this will fuel speculation about whether the team should pursue Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke or other big names. And, when it turns out that the Red Sox will (probably) make more modest moves and lower the payroll, this, too, will generate a strong reaction.
Winners: Crawford, Beckett and Gonzalez
Crawford never seemed comfortable playing in the confined left field of Fenway Park, and, after he comes back from Tommy John surgery next year, he'll have acres of ground to roam free, in a much easier environment. Beckett and Gonzalez get do-overs and go from playing for a sub-.500 team to a pennant contender.
Winners: Jon Lester and Ellsbury
Given the Boston strategy of a total overhaul, it would make sense for the Red Sox to follow through and market Lester and Ellsbury.
The first-year manager has expressed concern about the clubhouse culture in radio interviews, and now some of the veterans who shaped that are gone -- leaving Valentine with a little less than six weeks to convince the Red Sox owners that, without Beckett and Gonzalez, he can be a more effective presence. He might have to be flawless in his performance, however, including a strong on-field finish from the team, because thus far it's hard to assess his time as manager as anything less than a total disaster.
And , although Gonzalez might have been one of the most prominent players to participate in the midsummer mutiny, keep in mind that about two-thirds of the players participated.
Winner: The Red Sox manager who follows Valentine
Whoever he is, he will be warmly welcomed by his players (initially, at least).
Winner: David Ortiz
His bargaining power has been strengthened significantly. Ortiz wants a multiyear deal, and not only do the Red Sox now have the challenge of persuading a productive player to come back to a much thinner lineup but an unpopular ownership is charged with keeping a very popular player on its roster. Ortiz had to settle for a one-year deal for 2012, but the guess here is that Ortiz will get a multiyear deal this winter.
Loser: Dustin Pedroia
He wants to win, and, given Boston's glaring holes for 2013 -- two starting pitchers, a No. 3 hitter/1B, SS, LF, maybe a closer -- and the team's current financially conservative mindset, the Red Sox rebuilding effort might take a couple of years. Pedroia is signed through the 2014 season, at $10 million per year, with a club option of $11 million for 2015, and it'll be interesting to see how he reacts to this reconstruction.
Winners and losers: Red Sox fans
I grew up in New England and have heard time and again from Red Sox fans that they found the 2012 team to be more unlikable than any version they had watched before, so, as the changes come, there is celebration among many of them, for sure.
But under the category of Be Careful What You Wish For: It's possible that at least a couple of more years will pass before the Red Sox seriously contend for a World Series again, which might be difficult to swallow for a fan base that has become as demanding as the Yankees' fan base in its expectation for success.
One last note: This would be the first time in MLB history in which two players with $100 million remaining on their contracts were involved in a trade.
At least $100 million remaining on contract when traded, MLB history
Year Player Remaining Traded From Traded To
2004 Alex Rodriguez $179M Rangers Yankees
2012 Adrian Gonzalez $127M* Red Sox Dodgers
2012 Carl Crawford $102.5M* Red Sox Dodgers
*After 2012 season
The four players who would be dealt to the Dodgers have a total of $262.5 million left on their contracts after the 2012 season:
Adrian Gonzalez -- $127 million, six years
Carl Crawford -- $102.5 million, five years
Josh Beckett -- $31.5 million, two years
Nick Punto -- $1.5 million, one year
Goldschmidt: My first 162 games.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
On July 31, 2011, I received the call that I had dreamed about since I was a kid. As I was sitting down for breakfast with my wife, my phone rang and my Double-A manager Turner Ward told me the Arizona Diamondbacks were calling me up to the big leagues.
As I arrived at the airport to catch my flight to San Francisco, I was informed my connecting flight was delayed due to mechanical problems. I had heard horror stories of players missing their flights and never getting another opportunity to play in the big leagues, so naturally I was a little panicked about finding a way to meet the D-backs in San Francisco.
After begging a US Airways employee at the airport, I was able to get moved onto a United Airlines flight to Houston and connect to San Francisco. On my way to Houston, our plane went through a thunderstorm and actually got struck by lightning. At this point I remember thinking, "This is either a really good or a really bad sign."
As it turned out, the lightning strike was a good sign. I eventually made it into San Francisco around 2 a.m., and I was able to get a hit in my first major league at-bat.
During the next two months, we were able to put ourselves in a position to make the playoffs and win the NL West. It was unbelievable to see the joy on everyone's faces as we celebrated when we finally clinched the division in our home stadium in front of a sold-out crowd. We had veteran players who had been in the league for 8-10 years without ever getting the opportunity to play in the playoffs, and to see how happy they were to win the division made this day even more special. Guys like Lyle Overbay, Willie Bloomquist, John McDonald, J.J. Putz and Aaron Hill had taken me in, and it was amazing to be able to experience this moment with them.
I remember one game the second week I was in the big leagues when I went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. I was obviously frustrated after the game, feeling as though I let the team down, but I must have had five or more guys separately come up to me and tell me not to worry about it, and that I would bounce back the next day. The guys did not have to come talk to me, but that shows the character that was involved in helping the team be successful.
Even after clinching the division, we still had no idea who or where we would play until after the last day of the regular season when it was decided we would play the Milwaukee Brewers in the first round of the playoffs. I can describe the playoffs in one word: fun. You are playing in front of sold-out crowds where you can barely hear the pitching coach talk during a mound visit; you know you are facing off against the best players in baseball; and in our case, we got to play a winner-take-all elimination game that went into extra innings. That's the definition of fun, and being in that situation only drives each and every ballplayer to put in the work to have the opportunity to experience this feeling year after year.
In my first year, I have had some unbelievable guys to learn from, such as my fellow first baseman Overbay. For some people, it could be an uncomfortable situation with two players competing for playing time at one position, but with Lyle and myself it couldn't have been further from the truth. He taught me more about the game than I could have ever imagined, as I was able to talk to him about anything, from defense to hitting and even life off the field. The "fun" I mentioned before was my motivation this past offseason, when I had the opportunity to work with and learn from Aaron Hill as we met at Denny's every morning at 6:30 a.m. for some coffee and food to fuel our workouts.
This year, I have had the opportunity to go through a full season with the D-backs and deal with all the ups and downs of a season as well as the expectations of the fans and media. It has been great to see the successes of great people such as Jason Kubel hitting three homers in one game, Aaron Hill hitting two cycles in one month, and Wade Miley making the National League All-Star team as a rookie. I also witnessed the business side of the game when I had to say goodbye to close friends and great teammates, like Geoff Blum and Overbay, when we called up a new player from Triple-A or made a trade.
Now here I am, a little more than a year in the big leagues and in the middle of an exciting pennant race again for the second time in my career. Some players go their whole career without the opportunity to play meaningful games in September. I'm lucky to be part of a great organization committed to winning and am excited to compete with my teammates to the very end. Judging from last year, I know it will be fun.
It is easy to get caught up with statistics and all the successes and failures that come with playing baseball, but everyday I try to remind myself of the bigger picture that I have the opportunity to play the game I love.
Note: The news and notes you see below come from Buster.
• Yes, just about everyone believed Bartolo Colon was probably cheating, from the first moment that his fastball popped in the mid-90s mph range in the winter of 2010-11, to when he was dominating hitters early in 2011 for the New York Yankees, to this year when he had the command few have demonstrated since Greg Maddux.
But believing that a player is cheating and having absolute proof are very different standards, and in any event, the individual teams have no power to discern under the current drug-testing system, which is operated by the players' association and Major League Baseball. It's not as if San Francisco Giants GM Brian Sabean has the authority to order up multiple tests when a player morphs from a marginal third outfielder into the All-Star Game MVP, as Melky Cabrera did during the last 18 months.
As the investigating for the Mitchell report was going on, the lawyers sought club employees for their information on how steroids became prevalent, meeting with general managers, managers, coaches and clubhouse managers, with the implied threat of loss of job for those who didn't cooperate. Those interviews generated relatively little, compared to the strong-arming that the feds did on Brian McNamee and Kirk Radomski, on behalf of George Mitchell.
Some of the club employees who spoke say the questions in their conversations with the Mitchell investigators ultimately led down the path of speculation -- guesses about who may or may not have been using PEDs, without any concrete information.
That is about where the clubs stand today. Team executives and evaluators can guess who is using, along with writers and fans, but unless the player is applying testosterone patches in the middle of the clubhouse, they have no way of knowing.
There is no such thing as a Giants PED problem, or a Yankees or Athletics PED problem, or any of the other teams. This is a players' association issue, the challenge of all the players in the union. If more teeth are going to be put into the testing agreement -- stronger penalties and voided contracts for those who are caught -- that shift must come from the players.
If the players are devoted to the idea of a level playing field, as many say they are, they must make those changes as soon as possible to alter the risk/reward ratio for possible cheaters.
Other players who honored the wishes of their union brethren and played within the rules established by the players' association probably lost work to Cabrera and Colon this year; some probably lost money to them. The union must continue to work to protect the interests of the clean players, rather than creating a set of rules that harbors the players who are essentially committing professional fraud.
The Giants don't have the power or the access to information to do that; neither do the Yankees or any of the other teams. The collective body of the union does have the power to pursue the cheaters, and the instant that it backs away from the pursuit of a level playing field, it may as well allow the sport to become a pharmacist's dream.
From ESPN Stats & Information: Colon was a workhorse for the A's rotation, which entered Wednesday with the second-lowest starters ERA (3.80) in the AL.
How Colon ranked among Oakland starters this season (rank in parentheses)
Wins: 10 (1st)
Innings: 152 1/3 (1st)
ERA: 3.43 (2nd)
Starts: 24 (1st)
WAR: 2.7 (t-1st)
>>min. 10 starts
Steve Kroner writes that the steroid cloud is back by the Bay. Bruce Jenkins writes that the Bay is the steroid center. The Bay area is PED central, writes Tim Kawakami.
Bobby Valentine says managers can't be responsible for what their players take.
• The Tampa Bay Rays continue to stalk the Yankees; they've closed to within three games of first place with their latest victory, and the tension of the race seems to be wearing on the Yankees. Manager Joe Girardi briefly moved aggressively toward a heckler, as he conducted his postgame meeting with reporters, after the Yankees' latest defeat. This happened just hours after the Yankees sent Ivan Nova back to New York for tests on his tight pitching shoulder.
Evan Longoria says he's ready to be a full-time third baseman again.
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats & Info
3: Home runs by Adrian Beltre; second Ranger to do so this season.
18: Of Wade Miley's 19 changeups went for strikes, the highest percentage of his career (minimum 5 changeups).
43: Strikeouts for Mets pitcher Matt Harvey in his first six games, most in Mets history.
100: Career saves for Jose Valverde; he is the fifth pitcher in Tigers history to do so (saves became an official statistic in 1969).
• Chris Sale was The Man for the Chicago White Sox, who have a two-game lead in the AL Central.
From ESPN Stats & Info: Sale struck out 13 Yankees, just two-plus weeks after Justin Verlander struck out 14 Yankees on Aug. 6. This is the first season since 1946 that two pitchers struck out at least 13 Yankees in the same season (Virgil Trucks and Bob Feller). Sale is also one of just a few youngsters do so in the live ball era.
• The Seattle Mariners never seem to lose anymore: That's eight straight wins.
• Stephen Strasburg will likely miss his last two or three starts. The Nationals have a 50-page shutdown presentation that was first seen in January, writes Adam Kilgore.
• Oakland just keeps on winning.
• The Diamondbacks swept a doubleheader.
• The Pittsburgh Pirates are drifting: That's three straight losses and counting.
• Jason Marquis is in a cast.
• Jose Bautista is coming back Friday, writes Bob Elliott.
• The Giants closed out a sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers. And now the Dodgers may be without outfielder Andre Ethier.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Matt Cain won:
A. Cain threw 60 percent fastballs, his highest percentage this season and his highest against the Dodgers in nearly two years. Last month against the Dodgers, he threw 46 percent fastballs, his sixth-lowest percentage this season.
B. Cain had good velocity and movement on his fastballs (two- and four-seam). They averaged 92.0 mph, his third-highest this season. They also averaged 6.9 inches of arm-side run (away from lefties, into righties), his third-most this season.
C. Cain had at least one strikeout on each of his four pitch types (two on his fastball, one with his changeup, curveball and slider). It's the fifth time he's done that this season after doing it six times a season ago; from 2009-2010, Cain only did that three times combined.
Cespedes: Baseball is the easy part.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Many people might find it strange or unusual, but simply reaching the majors and adjusting to the pitching has been the easiest part of adapting to life in the United States. After all, baseball is the same in every country and category, no matter where it is, but when the game ends that's when the hard part begins.
When I signed my contract with the Oakland Athletics over the winter, I knew I had to work hard. You don't sign someone for so much money just to wait for long-term results. Because of the language barrier, I knew things would be a little bit complicated, but thanks to many people, above all my fellow Cuban Ariel Prieto, the process of adapting has been less traumatic, both on the field as well as in life.
Just like me, Prieto escaped from Cuba to pursue the dream of playing in the majors. He did it in 1995 and has worked with Oakland for a long time. That is why the Athletics chose to remove him as coach so he could be my translator, companion and guide. Thanks to him, things have worked out well for me. We share an apartment in Oakland and we stay in the same hotels during road games. He's always near, and I know I can always count on him for anything. It has been a blessing to have him here.
Getting ready for a game and facing a pitcher who throws at 95 mph is one thing, but facing life outside the stadium is something more complicated. I don't know anyone in the United States. My mother and other close relatives are in Dominican Republic, and I don't even speak English.
That is why Prieto and my Dominican friends from the Athletics, Bartolo Colon and Jordan Norberto, are my adoptive family. They are my communication channels and my only sources of information about things as basic as ordering lunch or asking for something at the store. With time, I've learned to do things by myself, but I don't even want to imagine what would have happened with me without these people.
As I get used to the level of baseball, I keep working on other areas. I'm learning English. I have the Rosetta Stone course on my personal computer and I study when I have the time. Something that makes me extremely happy is that now I can drive my car for short distances, from my house to the stadium, from the stadium to the house. Hey, it's something.
In Cuba I drove my friends' cars sometimes, but we don't have the traffic that you find in the streets of the United States. At first I was overwhelmed by just the idea of driving a car, with all that traffic, the highways, the signals, the bridges and the exits.
-- Yoenis Cespedes
In Cuba I drove my friends' cars sometimes, but we don't have the traffic that you find in the streets of the United States. At first I was overwhelmed by just the idea of driving a car, with all that traffic, the highways, the signals, the bridges and the exits. Having lived in the Dominican Republic before signing with Oakland helped me not only in my sport, but also served as training to get used to seeing the streets full of cars.
You would really have to know where I come from to understand me. The people here grow up thinking that having a car is something normal, driving from a young age and all that stuff, but in Cuba it's not the same, even for guys like me who had the opportunity to belong to the national baseball team and travel to other countries. When you travel abroad, you hardly have time to get to know the hotel where you are staying.
In baseball terms, I'm proud of my season so far, but I'm even happier by the way the Athletics are playing. Our pitching has kept us in the fight for a postseason spot, and that brings all of us a lot of inspiration.
Playing briefly in Dominican Republic before coming to the United States is one of the best things that could have happened to me. Trust me, the pitching in the Dominican league is a lot better than you would think, and about as tough as the pitching in the big leagues.
It's a mix of kids who throw hard and crafty veterans. Striking out three times per game was normal in the short time that I played with the Aguilas Cibaenas, first because of the quality of the league in the playoffs, which is when I played, and because I had not played baseball for a year.
In general terms, I don't complain. Many people have been key in my process of adapting. My fellow Cubans, Juan Miranda and Alexei Ramirez, who also have roots in Dominican Republic, helped me get ready for the things to come once I signed. Manny Ramirez provided invaluable support during spring training, and our batting coach Chili Davis, who is Jamaican but speaks some Spanish, has made a great effort to communicate his knowledge and keep me always alert and in constant evolution.
During spring training, Manny told me I would hit in the majors and that I only had to work hard every day. Having the opportunity to work closely with someone who has been as extraordinary as Manny is something I will never forget.
I still have a long road ahead, but things will improve, it's just a matter of time and making adjustments, on and off the field. Work and effort will not be lacking, that I can guarantee.
The news and notes below come from Buster.
• Cincinnati catcher Devin Mesoraco was sent to the minor leagues, which is an extraordinary development this late in the season for a first-place team. The Reds have been concerned about his catching abilities, and what this tells you is that they are looking for a Plan B to complement catcher Ryan Hanigan as they prepare for the last weeks of the regular season and the postseason, and Dioner Navarro is getting a shot, as John Fay writes within his piece.
Dusty Baker spoke about the move:
"This has been dabbled about for a while. You could see his confidence had gone down some. We want him to get his confidence back -- offensively, defensively, throwing, all kind of ways. I had a long chat with him. He's struggled before but he always comes back.
"It's a tough position, like I said in spring training, a rookie catcher, especially who's not playing. (Ryan) Hanigan is playing so well. ... We're hoping (Mesoraco) goes down and works with our catching instructor Rick Sweet and gets some fun back in the game. Take some pressure off himself."
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats & Information
0: Runs for the A's as they were shut out for the 15th time this season, most in MLB.
4: Losses for the Red Sox this season when recording 15-plus hits, most in MLB.
7: Walk-off wins for the Tigers, second in the American League.
15: Hits for the Cardinals for the 12th time this season, most in the National League.
17: Players who had at least one hit in the Angels 14-13 win over the Red Sox.
24: Swings and misses for Justin Verlander against the Blue Jays, tied for the most in his career.
41: Stolen bases for Mike Trout, becoming the youngest player to record 20 HRs and 40 SBs in a season.
L.A.'s vision behind the Red Sox trade.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
SAN FRANCISCO -- Within the sport, the criticism of the Dodgers' trade with the Boston Red Sox is very strong. It's as if this is Major League Baseball's version of the infamous Herschel Walker deal, which transformed the Dallas Cowboys franchise into a powerhouse.
A Los Angeles Dodgers official listened Saturday as that negative appraisal of his team's trade was relayed, a few hours before Adrian Gonzalez made his explosive debut for L.A. with a three-run homer on his first swing.
"Look, it's hard to get really good players like these, and sometimes you have to stretch," the official said. "And one thing that I think is important to remember is that while we are doing this, we are being as aggressive in [rebuilding] the farm system."
From the Dodgers' perspective, this deal buys time. Frank McCourt cut back on player development dramatically, turning the Dodgers into a non-player in the international market, so as they discussed trades and considered options this summer, they really had no internal options.
Instead, the Dodgers used the resource they have right now -- money -- as they move to alter the brand and reinvigorate the fan base. They spent dollars to get Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton, and now they've taken on many more dollars in order to get the player they have coveted all summer -- Gonzalez, an All-Star first baseman and Mexican-American who they believe could be a major draw in their market. In order to get him, they also agreed to take on the contracts of Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett, and all of these moves make them a contender to win the World Series in 2012.
The big picture? Well, they expect that in a few years, their ongoing investment in their farm system will begin to pay off.
And the Dodgers' owners' perspective on this massive deal is very much similar to their perspective when they made their $2 billion acquisition of the team, a business deal that was also strongly criticized.
In order to own a Picasso, you must spend, because there is value to the acquisition beyond the market price. Apparently, the Dodgers' owners place a value on a World Series contender that goes beyond what others are willing to pay for it.
I emailed a number of baseball evaluators for their appraisals of this deal, and these are their responses:
AL executive: "Boston would have done well just to unload the contracts and wipe the slate clean or just trade Adrian for the prospects. Somehow, it managed to move the contracts and get the prospects. Is it possible for the general manager of a team that's below .500 [Ben Cherington] to win executive of the year?"
NL executive: "Great deal for Boston. They would have done the deal with no talent coming back. To get two good young arms is incredible. … Really allows them to restart something that was broken. As good as it is for Boston, it is FAR WORSE for LA. Why on earth would they take back Crawford? How did they give up talent and not get $50 million back? The deal should have been Gonzo and Beckett for that talent. Crawford's inclusion is the part that makes it such a dramatic overpay for LA. They took 90+ million over 5 years for a player who has had two horrific seasons in a row and just had TJ..., Wow!"
AL executive: "I wish we had been lucky enough to have some team take on our mistake contracts [like the Red Sox have]."
AL evaluator: "Short term winner -- the Dodgers. Long-term and overall big winners are the Red Sox, because they have money to replace what they gave up along with two pitching prospects. They might have changed some culture around the team, along with dumping bad money. They will have a lot of pressure from the fans to spend money this winter and they have to be careful not to put themselves back in the same spot by overpaying for something that isn't elite talent. This is a big gamble for the Dodgers but does send a message. Now hopefully the Red Sox bogus sell-out streak will end for good."
AL official: "A no-brainer for the Red Sox. Crawford was nearly a sunk cost who was not the same guy, not even on defense. He is a below-average on-base percentage guy -- you could make a case that Boston was a better team with [Daniel] Nava in left field. Moving Beckett is so much more than saving money. And Adrian's severely declining walk rate was a major concern IMO (17% to 6% in four years, declining every year). With the power arms the Red Sox landed, I think this is a lot more than just payroll flexibility -- it's beyond their wildest dreams in terms of what they can save. Subtract two albatross contracts and stop crossing your fingers hoping that these guys will return to form in their 30's while adding young power arms at the same time.
"I don't see how [James] Loney isn't a non-tender; he is what he is, which is a guy who can play first base and make less next year on a one-year deal. The game is changing, it's becoming a game of young athletes, and the Red Sox just subtracted three guys who aren't necessarily young or very athletic."
High-ranking NL executive: "Wow. It's hard to believe this trade. I'm trying to remember a similar deal over last 20 years. The amount of money the Dodgers have taken on over the last five weeks. The Red Sox unloaded all of their issues in one deal, and we liked the players they got back -- and the dodgers are now a west coast super power!"
NL evaluator: "I love this deal for the Red Sox. Boston gets off of some really bad money and gets a fresh start with a new front office. Boston is going to spend money because they are Boston, but now the contracts will be those of Ben Cherington rather than Theo Epstein, who has more or less escaped blame for a litany of bad contracts. It was a move about changing the culture, but also a big break from the Epstein era.
"It's a mixed bag for the Dodgers. Adrian Gonzalez is a huge upgrade over James Loney in every facet of the game. Beckett and Crawford are both shells of the players they once were and are aging with little grace. Beckett should be usable moving from a hitter's park in the AL East to a pitcher's park in the NL West, but he doesn't have the same stuff or ratios as AJ Burnett did and I wouldn't expect a similar resurgence. Crawford is a wild card -- speed players don't age well and he's had a lot of injuries -- and his contract is among the worst in the game if not the worst, so it shows you how badly [L.A.] wanted Gonzalez (and, to a lesser degree, Beckett)."
AL evaluator: "Wow. Epic baseball trade on many levels. Ben Cherington just had his "Godfather" moment. He stunningly announced that he's unequivocally in charge to Red Sox Nation. This is reminiscent of the Godfather scene where Michael Corleone vanquished all Family Business in one broad stroke. Cherington did a remarkable job in extracting high end arms in Alan Webster and Rubby De La Rosa. Along with powerful Jerry Sands and useful Ivan DeJesus, Loney was necessary in this deal like a National Basketball Association transaction. He'll get a chance to improve his position going forward in lieu of possible free agency.
"This trade was transcendent on so many levels. Adrian Gonzalez is a West Coast-born slugger with a beautiful stroke, vast power, and poetic glove. Plus he's a Mexican-American with matinee looks in the prime of his career, and he is perfect for the Los Angeles market going forward. He brings star power to their colossal TV contract and region. For the Dodgers to acquire such a perfect fit for Los Angeles going forward, they had to acquiesce to the Red Sox' demands. In the process they got a player in Carl Crawford that simply was not built for the Boston pressure cooker. … Crawford should thrive in Los Angeles and remind everyone in baseball what he can be, when healthy and not scrutinized everyday at Dunkin Donuts in Worcester. Josh Beckett doesn't have to face the DH or the power packed lineups of the AL East. Plus for the most part, besides Arizona, the ballparks in the NL West are spacious. That bodes well for his stuff going forward. Plus, he's proven if he gets to the finish line, he can be a stabilizer in October.
"From the Dodgers' perspective, they slid all of their chips in and announced that Chavez Ravine is a prime destination. Coupled with the new ownership in place, they proclaimed anything is possible. To make this happen they had to work in conjunction with the Red Sox request -- otherwise the Red Sox would have just held onto Adrian Gonzalez. Which if you look at what Prince Fielder and Mark Teixeira signed for, Adrian's contract is reasonable."
NL executive: "I think the Dodgers took on a huge risk -- $260 million for one very good player and two question marks. And they gave up good prospects."
From the Elias Sports Bureau: Gonzalez is the fifth Dodger to homer in his first at-bat with the team in the past 25 years. Others: Juan Rivera (2011), Ronnie Belliard (2009), Garey Ingram (1994), Jose Offerman (1990).
Andre Ethier, shifted to No. 6 in the Dodgers' lineup, went 4-for-4 on Saturday.
From Elias: Ethier set a Dodgers record for most consecutive plate appearances with a hit.
Most consecutive PAs with hit (since Dodgers moved to L.A. in 1958)
Ethier: 10 (2012)
Ron Cey: 9 (1977)
Manny Ramirez: 8 (2008)
Rafael Furcal: 8 (2007)
Willie Davis: 8 (1966)
Norm Larker: 8 (1960)
T.J. Simers writes that while the Dodgers may have fattened their roster, the fan experience still leaves something to be desired. Stan Kasten about the Dodgers' spending limit: "I still haven't found it yet."
Gonzalez has already endeared himself to fans, writes Mark Saxon.
The Dodgers' rivalry with the Los Angeles Angels is even more interesting, writes Jeff Miller.
With this trade, the Red Sox may reclaim their soul, writes Christopher Gasper.
John Tomase thinks Cherington should continue with the overhaul of the team and look to deal Jacoby Ellsbury after firing Bobby Valentine.
• The reaction in the Giants' clubhouse to the Dodgers-Red Sox trade was very muted -- almost like a reaction to a thunderstorm on Jupiter. Maybe this is because the San Francisco Giants just finished a sweep of the Dodgers earlier in the week, or maybe because San Francisco still has a stronger rotation. "It still all comes down to who pitches better," said one member of the organization.
Meanwhile: The Giants have interest in Houston Astros outfielder Steve Pearce, as they look for someone who can hit left-handed pitching.
Jason Heyward and Mike Minor beat the Giants on Saturday. That ended San Francisco's winning streak at five, John Shea writes.
Madison Bumgarner went off track, Carl Steward writes.
• Roger Clemens pitched in a minor league game and was pretty good. Let the speculation about his return to the mound for the Astros begin.
A scout liked what he saw in Clemens.
Meanwhile, the Astros lost.
• Ozzie Guillen said something that might draw some scrutiny from the folks he works for.
• Jeff Seidel sees the MVP race between Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout as too close to call.
I'd respectfully disagree. Trout is having one of the greatest seasons of all time, and he has separated himself as the front-runner. WAR is not the perfect statistical measure of overall value -- no such statistic exists -- but look how far Trout is ahead of other MLB players.
• Robin Ventura went off on the umpires, and the Chicago White Sox went off on the Seattle Mariners.
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats and Information
1: hit allowed by Roger Clemens in 3 1/3 innings for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League.
2: inside-the-park home runs by the Diamondbacks this season, matching the Reds for the most in MLB.
4: hits for the Indians in a 3-1 win against the Yankees; it marked the Indians' fewest hits in a win against the Yankees since April 25, 1987.
37: pitches thrown by Clemens in his first pro action since 2007.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Lance Lynn was demoted to the bullpen.
2. The Kansas City Royals are looking to upgrade their rotation, Bob Dutton writes.
3. An agent switch might lead to a deal for Dexter Fowler, writes Troy Renck.
4. The Dodgers-Red Sox trade underscores the Mets' mess, writes Joel Sherman.
5. Bryce Harper might sit against lefties.
Dings and dents
1. Koji Uehara is set to join the Rangers' bullpen today.
2. Chad Billingsley landed on the disabled list.
3. Joey Votto is close to coming back.
NL East notes
• Josh Johnson was hit hard by the Dodgers' new-look lineup.
• R.A. Dickey now has 16 wins and a 2.76 ERA after his victory on Saturday.
• Gio Gonzalez stumbled, Adam Kilgore writes.
• Roy Halladay was The Man for the Philadelphia Phillies.
NL Central notes
• The St. Louis Cardinals were buried by home runs.
• The Cincinnati Reds evened out their series with the Cardinals behind Mike Leake.
• Jeff Karstens gave the Pittsburgh Pirates a big lift.
• The Milwaukee Brewers had a painful inning.
• The Chicago Cubs keep losing because of youthful mistakes, Paul Sullivan writes.
NL West notes
• You can't stop the San Diego Padres, you can only hope to contain them: They've won six straight.
• The Arizona Diamondbacks continue to make no sense, losing to San Diego on Saturday.
• The Colorado Rockies rallied again.
AL West notes
• The Oakland Athletics won a series and a possible wild-card tiebreaker.
• The Texas Rangers have been killing the ball, and they're wrecking the Minnesota Twins this weekend.
• The Mariners squandered an early lead.
• The Angels' bullpen faltered, and they lost even more ground in the standings.
AL Central notes
• Jhonny Peralta rescued the Detroit Tigers.
• The Royals pulled out a crazy win.
• Brian Duensing didn't last long.
• Justin Masterson ended the Indians' losing streak, Sheldon Ocker writes.
AL East notes
• The Tampa Bay Rays lost a series to Oakland, as Marc Topkin writes.
• The Baltimore Orioles have matched their 2011 victory total.
• Hiroki Kuroda pitched well, but the New York Yankees lost to the Indians.
Zobrist, Prado make mates better.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Ben Zobrist doesn't garner a lot of attention. He was a modest sixth-round pick in the 2004 draft and was once part of a trade for the immortal Aubrey Huff. Since arriving in the majors, he's never led the league in any offensive category, save the league-leading 12 sacrifice flies in 2010. His career batting average is .258. He doesn't make highlight-reel defensive plays. He steals 15 to 20 bases per season, knocks roughly the same number of home runs and draws more than his fair share of walks. Despite this seemingly modest profile, Zobrist might be the most important figure in the American League playoff race.
AP Photo/Steve Nesius
Zobrist is good in right field, and pretty much everywhere else.Over the past few years, Zobrist has become the answer to any problem the Rays have had. In 2009, Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura injured his knee and required surgery. The Rays slid Zobrist in as the regular and he rewarded them with MVP-caliber numbers, hitting .297/.405/.543. The following season, the Zobrist stepped in right field while still filling in at second base, and he had a similar role last year. In 2011, the Rays bounced the switch-hitting Zobrist between second base and right field.
Earlier this season, Desmond Jennings hit the disabled list and the Rays needed a new leadoff hitter; manager Joe Maddon turned to Zobrist. Additionally, disappointing performances from Will Rhymes, Elliot Johnson and Sean Rodriguez have left the Rays' infield an offensive sinkhole. With no one claiming the shortstop job, Zobrist has returned to the position he hasn't played in three years. He's done everything except take the mound or don the catcher's gear (though you shouldn't put it past him).
Not only is Zobrist capable of playing as many as seven positions (as he did in 2009), but he's an above-average defender at most of them. At his primary position, second base, his 43 defensive runs saved, according to Baseball Info Solutions, in the equivalent of two full seasons of innings put him on a pace to be among the best defenders at the position. Additionally, he's saved the Rays 32 runs in 1,900 right-field innings, also a very strong pace. He's not the flashiest defender, but his instincts, reactions and pre-pitch positioning enable him to make more plays than most fielders. Shortstop, of course, is a more demanding position, and Zobrist might not be the long-term answer. For a team in the middle of a playoff race, however, Zobrist suits the need just fine.
Zobrist's versatility is a tremendous boost to the Rays' defense, but it might have an even greater impact on the team's offensive output, as his .827 OPS is the highest of any Ray who has qualified for the batting title. With Evan Longoria back from an injury, that all of a sudden looks like an intimidating lineup. Against lefties, Maddon has the option of shifting Zobrist to right field and employing a stronger defense through the use of any number of right-handed infield options. By allowing Maddon to sit players against same-handed pitchers, Rays hitters can avoid plate appearances in tough matchups.
As a switch-hitter and versatile defender, Zobrist also saves the Rays a valuable roster spot and make's Maddon's job much easier. Other teams would have to use multiple spots on their 25-man roster to carry right- and left-handed hitters who can play multiple positions. Instead, the Rays can use the extra roster room to carry an extra reliever or a platoon option for another position. For all of these reasons, Zobrist's versatility adds more value to the Rays than measured by his OPS, Runs Saved or WAR.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Prado could slide back to third base when Chipper Jones retires.Over in the National League, the wild-card leading Atlanta Braves have their own version of Ben Zobrist in Martin Prado. Prado has a similar under-the-radar offensive profile; he draws fewer walks and hits fewer home runs than Zobrist, but he also hits for a higher average and has more doubles power. He also hits at the top of the lineup, usually in the second spot for Fredi Gonzalez's club.
A versatile defender is especially valuable when you have an injury-prone franchise player such as Chipper Jones. Prado first earned regular at-bats while keeping Jones rested during the 2008 season. Jones barely qualified with 534 at-bats that season, but Prado's productive spot starts kept the veteran fresh and helped him claim his first and only batting title. Prado earned 450 at-bats the following season playing all over the infield, claiming the second-base job by season's end when Kelly Johnson fell out of favor.
With Prado's versatility in mind, the Braves acquired slugging second baseman Dan Uggla before the 2011 season and Prado assumed the open spot in left field despite having played only four professional games at the position. All the while, Prado still picks up spot starts at first, second, third and even shortstop when the Braves regulars need a day off.
Prado has played five different positions for the Braves this year, and he's played them all well. Through roughly a full-season's worth of innings at third base spread over his seven-year career, Prado has saved Atlanta an estimated 20 runs. Additionally, his 18 DRS in left field put him among the best left fielders of the past two years. And he has a .298/.355/.435, which is productive at any position.
As with Zobrist, Prado's versatility allows the Braves to utilize their roster spots to address other needs. In the National League, it's always good to have an extra pinch hitter on the bench for those late-game situations when you don't want the pitcher at the plate.
Lastly, the Braves face crucial decisions this offseason when Chipper Jones retires and Michael Bourn hits free agency. The Braves will approach the market for both third baseman and outfielders, but given Prado's flexibility they will have more options and can be more selective, picking the best value free-agent or trade option available to them. In this way, Prado makes it easier for general manager Frank Wren to build a perennial contender.
How Heyward got his power back.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Atlanta Braves once again find themselves in the thick of the playoff hunt. Last year, the team's success was fueled mostly by a dominant pitching staff that ranked seventh in baseball in run prevention. The offense, however, was one of the worst in the game, ranking 22nd in run scoring.
This year, the Braves are again the seventh-best run prevention team in the league, but they have benefited from an offense that is currently ranked eighth in all of baseball.
One of the biggest reasons for this turnaround has been the resurgence of Jason Heyward. So far in 2012, the 23-year-old outfielder has posted a triple slash of .279/.353/.494. Compared to his meager .227/.319/.389 in 2011, the young slugger has improved his offensive performance by roughly 35 percent.
Heyward's 132 wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) is on par with his performance during his breakout rookie season of 2010.
What accounts for the turnaround?
Simply put, a healthy shoulder and a new approach at the plate.
Heyward's rookie season (historically, the fifth best offensively for a 20-year-old) prompted many to assume that the Braves could pencil in superior production from their young outfielder for years to come. But his sophomore season was a disappointment, and many questioned whether 2010 was a reliable representation of Heyward's true abilities.
The main culprit appeared to be an altered swing driven primarily by a nagging shoulder injury. Certainly, hitters can experience a decline in performance after a standout rookie season for non-injury-related reasons. For one thing, teams have an entire year's worth of scouting reports against major league pitching to study, and they adjust their approach to hitters accordingly. Combine that with the natural regression players coming off of outstanding seasons can expect, and it wouldn't have been surprising to see Heyward be less successful at the plate.
But he wasn't just less successful last season. Heyward managed only a 98 wRC+, a 36 percent decline from his rookie season. Essentially, Heyward had become just an average hitter. But this decline wasn't simply due to the adjustments by the league. There were signs that Heyward's shoulder injury was limiting his ability to handle pitches well that he normally drove during his rookie season.
First, the outfielder's infield fly ball rate spiked from a moderate 8.4 percent to 21.8 percent -- the highest in the league in 2011 for any hitter with more than 400 plate appearances. Besides the fact that infield fly balls result in an out almost every time, the spike was an indicator that Heyward's shoulder problems were significantly impacting his ability to square up the ball.
Second, Heyward's power in 2011 was generated mostly on pitches thrown to the outer half of the plate. This represented a big change from 2010, when he made pitchers pay for throwing inside. The pattern was even more pronounced for fastballs.
Combine the spike in infield fly balls with the inability to drive inside pitches, and it becomes clear that Heyward's decline in performance wasn't just a case of the league adjusting to a young hitter.
This year, Heyward's shoulder is healthy, and he is once again one of the more dangerous hitters in the game, posting the eighth-best wRC+ among National League outfielders. And while his overall production is back to his 2010 level, the way Heyward is going about producing runs is substantially different.
As Dave Cameron pointed out in June, Heyward appears to have altered his plate approach. The biggest indication of this change is his batted ball distribution. In 2010, Heyward hit roughly two ground balls for every fly ball. In 2011, his ground ball to fly ball ratio (GB/FB) was 1.63. Through the end of June 2012, Heyward's GB/FB ratio was less than 1.00. That's a big change, and one more consistent with power hitters.
Above-average power hitters average a GB/FB ratio of 1.09. Below-average power hitters average 1.49. Heyward's newfound propensity for driving the ball in the air has subsequently led to a surge in his power, even compared to his rookie season (.216 ISO versus .179).
Heyward has also returned to form when it comes to what pitches he is able to drive. In 2012, Heyward has generated most of his power on balls on the inside half of the plate. Not only is Heyward driving these pitches better, but he's also swinging at them more often than he did in either 2011 or 2010. During his rookie season, Heyward offered at pitches on the inside part of the zone 43 percent of the time. In 2012, that number has jumped to 56 percent.
A healthy, maturing Heyward has proved that his breakout rookie season was no fluke. He's made adjustments that put him on track to develop into a consistent slugger, a rare commodity in the current environment. There's certainly room for improvement, but given that Heyward just turned 23 years old last month, he has time to make additional adjustments.
In the meantime, the Braves should be more than happy with the production they are getting from their young right fielder.
Top 12 for '12: New name at No. 1.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Last week, I warned of a potential slow time for call-ups as teams prepared to wait for September roster expansions. Instead, nearly half of last week's 12 have showed up in the big leagues over the past two weeks.
The Chris Getz injury created a much-needed opening for red-hot second baseman Johnny Giavotella, and we had an entertaining afternoon matchup between two of the top pitchers on the list in the Arizona Diamondbacks' Tyler Skaggs and the Miami Marlins' Jacob Turner. Ethan Martin spent just a couple of days in the big leagues but is back at Triple-A, while on Thursday the San Francisco Giants called up Francisco Peguero to replace the injured Justin Christian.
New names are needed, and new names are found, but the pickings are getting a bit thin.
Brad Barr/US Presswire
Shelby Miller is again looking like a top prospect after a slow start.
1. Shelby Miller, SP, St. Louis Cardinals (Last week's rank: 2)
Last week's stats (at Triple-A Memphis): 7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 BBs, 12 K's
Season totals: 9-10, 5.04 ERA, 1.424 WHIP, 125 IP, 144 K's
Update: It's official: Miller is back. Yes, the ERA is still over 5, but in his past seven starts, the 21-year-old has struck out 50 over 42 2/3 innings while walking just one. After an ugly first half of the season, the velocity is back, the curveball is back, and clearly the command is back -- as is his prospect status.
What he can do: The Cardinals have some roster management issues, even in terms of their 40-man, which could limit their flexibility next week. They also have the ability to not mess with their rotation and break Miller in with a bullpen role. Either way, he has looked big league ready of late.
2. Wil Myers, OF, Kansas City Royals (Last week's rank: 1)
Last week's stats (at Triple-A Omaha): 8-for-24 (.333), 1 HR, 4 RBIs
Season totals: .311-35-101, 6 SB in 124 games
Update: Myers continues to be the offensive beast of Triple-A, but there is troubling news for his 2012 season, as least as far as fantasy goes. With Omaha making the Pacific Coast League playoffs, the club has said that Myers will stay with the team, and suddenly there is no guarantee of a September call-up. That's the only reason he falls from No. 1 to No. 2. He is still a must have for keeper leagues.
What he can do: Myers can hit for average and power, but whether he'll help your team this year or next has become a bit of an unknown.
3. Jedd Gyorko, 2B/3B, San Diego Padres (Last week's rank: 5)
Last week's stats (Triple-A Tucson): 9-for-23 (.391), 4 HRs, 6 RBIs
Season totals: .320-28-91, 5 SB in 116 games
Update: Gyorko still has some of the best offensive numbers in the minors, and he still has no spot in San Diego. Making things all the more complicated is the Padres' 40-man roster, which has nine players on the 60-day disabled list. September call-ups with be complicated for the club, which could leave Gyorko, like Myers, on the outside looking in.
What he can do: With a .612 slugging percentage at Triple-A and home runs in four straight games, Gyorko certainly deserves a call-up, but sometimes it's just not that simple. If he can tighten up his defense at second base, he could make a big push for an Opening Day job next spring.
4. Dylan Bundy, RP, Baltimore Orioles (Last week's rank: 3)
Last week's stats (at Double-A Bowie): 6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 4 K's
Season totals: 8-3, 2.01 ERA, 0.885 WHIP, 98 1/3 IP, 113 K's
Update: Six more innings from Bundy is six more innings he won't be throwing in the big leagues this year. With somewhere between 20-25 innings left in the tank and no more than two Double-A starts left in the season, there's still room for him to spend September in the Baltimore bullpen.
What he can do: Bundy has the stuff to succeed in the big leagues on some level right now, and short stints out of the bullpen might be his perfect introduction. Either way, his long-term future remains in the front of the Orioles rotation, which could become reality before next year's All-Star break.
5. Trevor Bauer, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks (Last week's rank: NR)
Last week's stats (at Triple-A Reno): 16 IP, 10 H, 5 R, 2 BBs, 21 K's
Season totals: 12-2, 2.39 ERA, 1.295 WHIP, 124 1/3 IP, 152 K's
Update: The Diamondbacks have wanted Bauer to pitch more efficiently, and he seems to have gotten the message by trusting his plus stuff in the strike zone instead of trying to constantly fool hitters. Fewer walks mean fewer pitches, and Bauer has become a better pitcher for it.
What he can do: While Skaggs got the latest call to the big leagues, Bauer is next in line. The Diamondbacks keep hanging around the fringes of the postseason race, and Bauer could end up playing a role.
AP Photo/Tony Farlow
Billy Hamilton now has the minor league stolen base record, but will he flash that speed for the Reds in September?6. Billy Hamilton, SS, Cincinnati Reds (Last week's rank: 9)
Last week's stats (at Double-A Pensacola): 10-for-23 (.435), 3 RBIs, 7 SB
Season totals: .319-2-45, 148 SB in 123 games
Update: It's 148 and counting, as Hamilton now holds the minor league stolen base record. With all the speed, what's being lost is that his .307/.434/.421 batting line at Double-A has proved that his offensive breakthrough from the first half of the season is much more than a California League mirage.
What he can do: The Reds continue to discuss bringing Hamilton up this September as a designated runner, which could provide extra stolen bases for a late-season fantasy run.
7. Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (Last week's rank:
Last week's stats (at Double-A Springfield): 6-for-18 (.333), 1 HR, 7 RBIs, 1 SB
Season totals: .321-22-89, 10 SB in 117 games
Update: Taveras was given a couple of days off this week, simply to get a breather. He then had three hits, including a home run, in his first game back to improve his hitting streak to nine games. The only question now: Was that breather needed to keep him fresh for a September look?
What he can do: The best offensive prospect in the minors is a coin flip to see big league time this year, but his long-term fantasy value remains enormous.
8. Adam Eaton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks (Last week's rank: NR)
Last week's stats (at Triple-A Reno): 8-for-25 (.320), 4 RBIs, 2 SB
Season totals: .373-7-48, 43 SB in 127 games
Update: Eaton is playing in one of the best hitting environments around, but he has sold scouts with his speed and hitting ability. He enters the final week of the regular season with an outside shot at 200 hits. He won't get every day at-bats with a September call-up, but some see him as a future everyday center fielder.
What he can do: Eaton's stock has skyrocketed this year, and he projects as a .280-.300 hitter in the big leagues with 30-plus stolen bases. How he fits in Arizona, however, remains an unanswered question.
AP Photo/Matt Strasen
Leonys Martin got a brief look with the Rangers and should be back when rosters expand in September.
9. Leonys Martin, OF, Texas Rangers (Last week's rank: 11)
Last week's stats (at Triple-A Round Rock): 6-for-14 (.429), 1 HR, 2 RBIs
Season totals: .366-11-40, 7 SB in 48 games
Update: Martin spent a couple of days in the big leagues last week, getting a grand total of two plate appearances. It's clear that despite Martin continuing to roll at Triple-A, Ron Washington just doesn't seem to be his biggest fan. He is already on the 40-man roster, so a September look is almost assured.
What he can do: With the Rangers continuing to grow the buffer in American League West standings, Martin could be the recipient of playing time as the regulars get some rest in preparation for the playoffs. His long-term role could end up being depending on how the Josh Hamilton soap opera plays out this offseason.
10. Jerry Sands, OF/1B, Los Angeles Dodgers (Last week's rank: NR)
Last week's stats (at Triple-A Albuquerque): 10-for-28 (.357), 9 RBIs
Season totals: .303-24-101, 1 SB in 109 games
Update: Once again, Sands is putting up big numbers in the Pacific Coast League. He has been a monster since the All-Star break, hitting .386 with 12 home runs in 145 at-bats. Hitting in Albuquerque plays a big role in his success, but even if he's a Quadruple-A hitter, he's better than James Loney, right?
What he can do: Sands is a likely recipient of a September call, but he likely only be just a pinch-hitter and occasional fill-in. He could get a shot at a job in 2013, but the Dodgers will likely try to find something better in the offseason.
11. Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Minnesota Twins (Last week's rank: NR)
Last week's stats (at Double-A New Britain): 9-for-29 (.310), 4 RBIs, 1 SB
Season totals: .322-14-84, 4 SB in 113 games
Update: Arcia was in the midst of a breakout year in 2011 before elbow surgery interrupted his season, but he has more than made up for it in 2012, as the 21-year-old Venezuelan represented the Twins in this year's Futures Game. If anything, he has improved since getting to Double-A, hitting .333-7-53 in 58 games.
What he can do: Arcia is an aggressive hitter who projects to hit for average and 15-20 home runs annually. The Twins need offense, and there have been talks of taking a look at Arica in the big leagues next month.
12. Jake Odorizzi, SP, Kansas City Royals (Last week's rank: NR)
Last week's stats (at Triple-A Omaha): 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 BBs, 2 K's
Season totals: 14-4, 2.95 ERA, 1.258 WHIP, 134.1 IP, 124 K's
Update: After cruising through the Texas League during the first six weeks of the season, Odorizzi has had some ups and downs at Triple-A. He has found a groove of late, with a 1.97 ERA in his past five starts. He could be stuck in Omaha like Myers, but he is the best pitching prospect in the Royals system and is ready for a look.
What he can do: Odorizzi lacks a monster projection, but he has above-average stuff and command. For a team with an immense need for pitching, he is a small part of the answer and should compete for a rotation job next spring.
Rumors.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Floyd hitting the wall?
AM ETGavin Floyd | White Sox Recommend0Comments0EmailGavin Floyd left Sunday's start with elbow discomfort after only two innings of work and will undergo an MRI today in order to determine the extent of the damage. The pitcher has already visited the disabled list once this season with tendinitis in that same elbow, so this news cannot bode well for the remainder of the season.
Although the team will only commit to his missing one start at the moment, we think it's likely we've seen the last of Floyd for 2012. Expect Mr. Perfect, Philip Humber to be back in the rotation in order to try and recapture some of that magic from April as the Chicago White Sox attempt to hold on to that AL central lead.
- AJ Mass
Eric Karabell Blog
"Floyd is having the worst season of his career, yet he's owned in more than 40 percent of ESPN standard leagues, probably because of his track record for posting strong second halves, which Floyd was not doing this season."Tags:Philip Humber, Gavin Floyd, Chicago White Sox
Miller time in St. Louis?
AM ETRecommend0Comments0EmailJoe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tweets that he's hearing Shelby Miller will get the call to the big league team as soon as his Triple-A season comes to a close. Miller is only 10-10 with a 4.89 ERA with Memphis this season, and but has won five of his last six starts.
Miller was No. 5 on Keith Law's list of top 100 prospects at the start of the season and had been in the conversation for making the team's rotation early in the spring, so bringing him to the team once rosters expand would not be a huge surprise, even if the Cardinals have been non-committal to this point about such a move. In fact, it would go a long way towards giving the youngster a leg up for a chance at the 2013 rotation.
- AJ Mass
Tags:St. Louis Cardinals
2014 All-Star Game to Minnesota?
AM ETMinnesota Twins Recommend0Comments0EmailThe Minnesota Twins are rumored to be the favorites to host the 2014 All-Star Game at Target Field, and the official word could some soon. "We believe something is really imminent," owner Jim Pohlad tells Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN.com.
It was only a month ago that Major League Baseball officially awarded the 2013 game to the New York Mets at Citi Field.
The Twins last hosted an All-Star Game in 1985 at the Metrodome.
- Doug Mittler
Could Swisher land in Boston?
AM ETNick Swisher | Yankees Recommend4Comments3EmailWe mentioned last week how Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher may benefit most from the 50-game suspension handed down to Melky Cabrera.
It's simple economics - there is one less player seeking the available free agent dollars. With that in mind, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com hears Swisher may seek a "Jayson Werth contract," which translates to $126 million over seven years.
That may be wishful thinking, but one possible suitor with available resources could be the Red Sox, says Nick Cafardo in Sunday's Boston Globe. Swisher, who can play first base as well, could be an option as long as his demands are reasonable. The Red Sox are not about to hand out a mammoth contract to Swisher after ridding themselves of three burdensome contracts via the weekend trade with the Dodgers.
ESPN.com's Jim Bowden has more on how Cabrera's loss may be Swisher's gain:
- Doug Mittler
The market for Swisher
"Swisher should benefit from Cabrera's situation due to the supply and demand for corner outfielders. This will be the eighth consecutive season Swisher will have hit at least 20 doubles and 20 home runs, and he has a career OBP of .359. He's played in at least 150 games six straight years heading into this season. He plays hard with high energy and enthusiasm and always keeps the clubhouse loose. Swisher is a No. 2 or No. 6 hitter in the right lineup; he's not going to win a Gold Glove in right field or win a Silver Slugger Award, but also provides a bit of versatility with his ability to play first base. He doesn't have a ton of upside but also doesn't come with a lot of risk. After earning $9.1 million last year and $10.25 million this year, his next contract certainly will be north of those numbers."
Tags:Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Nick Swisher
Balfour's option for 2013
AM ETGrant Balfour | Athletics Recommend0Comments0EmailGrant Balfour has gone full circle in the Oakland bullpen this season. He began the year as the closer, then lost the job in May as the Athletics tried Brian Fuentes and then Ryan Cook.
Balfour is back in the ninth inning role, and the chances of the A's picking up his $4.5 million option appear more likely with every save, reports Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Those saves have been piling up of late. Balfour has one in each of his last seven appearances and has 14 this season, most recently Saturday in Tampa Bay.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
September role for Frazier
AM ETTodd Frazier | Reds Recommend0Comments0EmailIf all goes according to plan, the Cincinnati Reds will have star first baseman Joey Votto back in the lineup by next weekend. But what will manager Dusty Baker do with NL Rookie of the Year candidate Todd Frazier?
Frazier has been getting the bulk of the playing time at first base in place of Votto, who has been sidelined for more than a month with a knee injury.
Baker has a reputation for favoring veteran players, and that could mean reduced at-bats for Frazier, who is hitting .293 with 18 homers. Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquier suggests Baker should start Frazier one day a week at first base in place of Votto, twice a week at third in place of Scott Rolen and twice a week in right or left field. On the days Frazier is in right field, Jay Bruce could be moved to center.
The blueprint makes sense to us, especially at third base, where the injury-prone Rolen can use the extra rest.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Todd Frazier, Cincinnati Reds
Red Sox to shut down Papi?
AM ETDavid Ortiz | Red Sox Recommend1Comments0EmailRed Sox general manager Ben Cherington dropped a strong hint Monday morning that the Red Sox will be shutting down designated hitter David Ortiz for the rest of the season. "Sometime an organization has to do the right thing and take a decision out of the player's hands," Cherington told "Dennis & Callahan" on WEEI Radio.
Joe McDonald of ESPNBoston.com reported Sunday that Ortiz was likely headed back to the disabled list just a few days after being activated due to a lingering right Achilles strain.
Before his injury, Ortiz was enjoying a productive season, hitting .318 with 23 home runs, 60 RBI and a 1.026 OPS. Ortiz will be a free agent after the season, and it remains to be seen if the Red Sox will be willing to pay a deal in the $14.6 million range he will receive in 2012. At the very least, Boston has more financial flexibility after unloading the contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox
Who manages in Boston in 2013?
AM ETBoston Red Sox Recommend1Comments0EmailThe Boston Red Sox insist Bobby Valentine is their manager, at least for the rest of the season, setting the stage for what could be another eventful offseason around Fenway Park.
It's no secret the Red Sox front office has high praise for current Blue Jays manager and former Boston pitching John Farrell, and the brain trust could try again to lure him back to Massachusetts. In fact, ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney said on "Mike & Mike" that Farrell is the "name to watch" as the Red Sox ponder their future.
One name floated in the last few days has been former Red Sox captain Jason Varitek, but Olney says such a move would be unlikely due to his connection to the "chicken and beer-gate" episode of a year ago.
It's tough to get a read on how the blockbuster trade with the Dodgers will have any impact on whether Valentine will be back for another season. "I don't think the trade had anything to do with (Bobby's future)," Red Sox GM Ben Cherington told the "Dennis & Callahan Show" on Monday morning.
Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com wrote last week it?s likely the Blue Jays will consider offering an extension to Farrell in order to avoid having a skipper in the final year of his contract in 2013.
If Farrell truly wants out and the Red Sox cut ties with Valentine, the Blue Jays could look to land a player or two for letting their current manager walk. Ten years ago, the Mariners landed outfielder Randy Winn from Tampa Bay for letting Lou Piniella take over as Devil Rays skipper.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Boston Red Sox, John Farrell
Collins' job safe
AM ETTerry Collins | Mets Recommend0Comments0EmailThe New York Mets were one of baseball's biggest surprises through the first three months of the season, leading to some talk that Terry Collins could end up as National League Manager of the Year. Another late-summer swoon has ended that talk, but that doesn't mean that Collins' job is suddenly in jeopardy.
A club source Mike Puma of the New York Post there is "no chance" the Mets will make Collins a scapegoat for the team's second-half collapse.
The 63-year-old Collins is signed through next season. Any contract extension, however, could be tied to how the Mets finish over the final five weeks of the season.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Terry Collins, New York Mets
Nunez a possible call-up
AM ETPittsburgh Pirates Recommend0Comments0EmailSeptember call-ups will have a different role this season for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who find themselves pursuing their first postseason berth in two decades rather than playing out the string.
One possibility could be infielder Gustavo Nunez, the Pirates' Rule 5 pick who has been out all season after having right ankle surgery, reports Karen Price of the Tribune Review.
Nunez, currently on the 60-day disabled list, is on a rehab assignment with Double-A Altoona.
- Doug Mittler
Could LaHair land in Boston?
AM ETBryan LaHair | Cubs Recommend1Comments0EmailFollowing the blockbuster deal that shipped Adrian Gonzalez back to the West Coast, the Boston Red Sox have a hole to fill at first base next season. One reasonably-priced option with local ties could be the Cubs' Bryan LaHair, writes Nick Cafardo in Sunday's Boston Globe.
LaHair, a native of Worcester, Massachusetts, lost his first base job in Chicago to Anthony Rizzo and will likely be trade bait this winter.
The concern with LaHair is whether he is a one-time wonder. The 29-year-old LaHair batted .390 in April, but his numbers have dropped every month since, down to .167 in August.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Bryan LaHair, Chicago Cubs
Votto back next weekend?
AM ETJoey Votto | Reds Recommend0Comments0EmailJoey Votto has been out of the lineup for more than a month with a because of torn meniscus cartilage, and the Cincinnati Reds have done just fine in his absence - theycurrently hold a six-game lead in the NL Central.
Votto is slated to begin a two-game rehab assignment with Class A Dayton on Tuesday and could rejoin the Reds for a Labor Day weekend series at Houston, reports MLB.com's Mark Sheldon.
Votto was close to being ready to return two weeks ago when he re-injured his knee while doing sliding drills. Even when Votto returns, the Reds may be careful to give him some occasional days off, which means more time at first for Rookie of the Year candidate Todd Frazier.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Cincinnati Reds, Joey Votto
Harper headed to part-time role?
AM ETBryce Harper | Nationals Recommend1Comments0EmailDavey Johnson may decide to move Bryce Harper into a platoon situation, resting the rookie against left-handed pitching the rest of the way. Michael Morse has been hurting as of late with a right hand contusion, and will sit out on Sunday, putting a kibosh on Johnson's musings for now. However, the Washington Nationals managertold the Washington Post that Harper could use a break from pressing so hard to combat the "steady diet of offspeed pitches" he's been facing from lefties of late.
Even though Roger Bernadina is a left-handed hitter, he has managed to hit lefties well in his limited encounters with them in 2012, with a.385 average facing starters of the southpaw variety. Certainly if Johnson wanted to proceed with his plan, he could do so without disrupting his lineup too much and we all know that this team is perfectly fine with protecting their players' futures at the expense of the present. (See: Strasburg, Stephen.)
- AJ Mass