The Closing Bell, 2018: American League

Despite the Winter Meetings having ended a couple weeks ago, the baseball world was treated to a considerable amount of movement in recent days. Here is a round-up of everything that went down by league.

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox were relatively quiet but brought in four veteran right-handed pitchers in Carson SmithErasmo RamirezZach Putnam, and Ryan Weber. The Red Sox are exceptionally deep in pitching, with Hector Velazquez being the only guy on the projected Opening Day pitching staff who has minor league options and isn’t necessarily guaranteed anything. Seeing as how all three new additions are not currently on the 40-man roster, I would consider them unlikely to break camp with the major league team. That being said, all three guys have major league experience and could very well help the team as the season draws on.

Smith was among my top 25 minor league free agents. My projections are exceptionally favorable on him, as his results in 2018 following his return from injury were exceptional, and appeared to be sustainable. The fact that nobody was willing to pony up and give this man a major league contract is absurd to me, especially when looking at the guys who have received them. While I expect him to begin the season in Triple-A, I would be very surprised if he is there for long. My projections have him posting a 2.78 ERA over 32 innings pitched with a 64.65% ground ball rate, a 3.42 BB/9 and an 11.42 K/9. What makes these numbers even more amazing is that I calculated the ERA projection at an inflated rate based on his injury history. I, personally, see no reason that he can’t be an effective late inning reliever on any team in the league. The Red Sox really lucked out bringing him back on a non-roster deal.

Weber, 28, has always posted rather exceptional numbers as a starter in Triple-A, and continued that trend with the Rays Triple-A affiliate in 2018.  He has always boasted excellent control and well above average ground ball rates. While my projections have his 2019 ERA coming to a relatively modest 4.04, the peripheral projections including a 1.53 BB/9 and a 59.14% ground ball rate are all encouraging. Personally, I don’t think this is a great landing spot for him, as he is considerably less likely to get a chance in Boston as he would on most other teams, as Boston is pretty deep in pitching, especially multi-inning relief types. That being said, if, for some reason, he is given an opportunity, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him excel.

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Ramirez, also 28, spent the 2018 season with the Mariners where he posted a very poor 6.50 ERA with a 6.69 FIP. Ramirez is actually rather similar to Weber, in that he’s a control and grounder oriented pitcher, as opposed to strikeout stuff.  That being said, while he’s more established than Weber, which will help his case, as he has accrued over five years of major league service time, thus earning veterans consent, his control and ability to induce ground balls hasn’t been as sharp in recent years, and he also lost a shocking amount of velocity last season with his average fastball velocity dropping from 92.2 to 90.9.  This loss in velocity amounted to his ground ball rate falling and his home run rate soaring. My projections aren’t very high on him, as I have him at a 4.80 ERA with a 1.63 HR/9, 2.47 BB/9 and a 6.91 K/9 with a rather average 44.5% ground ball rate. I wouldn’t be shocked if he elected to remain with the Sox in the minor leagues to figure out why he lost velocity and what can be done to help him to return to his 2016 form.

As for Putnam, the former White Sox set-up man missed the entire 2018 season due to Tommy John surgery. While he was non-tendered by the Sox after 2017 and never signed elsewhere, it should be remembered that he has posted a rather exceptional career 3.20 ERA over 152 innings pitched. That also comes with 162 strikeouts. While I certainly would expect the 31-year-old to begin the season in Pawtucket, with any success in the minors, he could be right back up in the majors. Before he went down, he had posted a 1.04 ERA over seven appearances in 2017, and it was certainly something of a surprise that the White Sox opted against re-signing him. It could prove to be a pretty notable mistake.

New York Yankees

The Yanks brought in a pair of lefties in Rex Brothers and Danny Coulombe. Both pitchers have a very realistic shot to make the Opening Day roster, as the only other lefty reliever who will be in camp, aside from Aroldis Chapman, is Stephen Tarpley, who only pitched in ten games last season.

I’m much higher on Coulombe than I am on Brothers. Rex Brothers was an exceptional set-up man for the Rockies years ago, but has since struggled mightily with his control. After sitting out the 2016 season due to injury,the 31-year-old posted a 7.23 ERA with the Braves in 2017 and a 6.20 ERA between the Braves’ Double and Triple-A affiliates while posting an infinite ERA in the majors.  While control had always been something of an issue for the veteran, over 40.2 innings pitched for the Braves’ minor league affiliates in 2018, he posted an absolutely abysmal 9.7 BB/9.

As for the 29-year-old Coulombe, he has always been a rather serviceable lefty taxi guy throughout his career. While his major league results were rather pedestrian last season, as he posted a 4.56 ERA with a 4.18 BB/9 and a 9.89 K/9, his minor league numbers were a bit better, as he stood at a 2.54 ERA with a 1.91 BB/9 and an 8.89 K/9. This is an excellent landing spot for him, as he’s always been more of a ground ball guy, as my projections have him at 53.48% for next season, and he has a minor league option remaining, which gives the Yankees, who are exceptionally deep, some additional flexibility if they select his contract. Overall, I have him at a 4.12 ERA for next season, and would consider him a very strong contender for the Yankees coming out of camp.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays continued with a busy offseason, taking part in a rather significant trade that also involved the Texas Rangers and Oakland A’s. The Rays picked up reliever Emilio Pagan and a competitive balance draft pick from Oakland and pitching prospect Rollie Lacy from the Rangers. In return, they traded a trio of pitching prospects to the Texas Rangers in lefties Brock Burke and Kyle Bird and righty Yoel Espinal.

The 27-year-old Pagan joined the A’s last offseason alongside Alexander Campos in a deal that sent first baseman Ryon Healy to Seattle. While Pagan had been rather excellent in 2017, posting a 3.22 ERA with a 3.28 FIP, his numbers suffered a bit in 2018 based on an increase in home runs allowed (1.25/9 to 1.89/9) and a higher walk rate (1.43/9 to 2.76/9). Overall, he finished the season with a 4.35 ERA with a 4.92 FIP.

I, personally, don’t love the fit. The AL-East is no place for a fly ball pitcher like Pagan, and coming off of a poor season, he lacks momentum going into the 2019 season. If he can keep the walks down while returning to more reasonable home run figures, he will be fine, but they are some big “if’s”.

Lacy was acquired by the Rangers in the Cole Hamels deal over the summer. This is what I had to say about him over the summer:

The 23-year-old righty starter had been very good in Class A this season posting a 2.02 ERA with a 2.87 FIP over 71.1 innings. While he struggled over his first nine innings in Class A Advanced, it’s not enough of a sample size to put any stock into. He’s a ground ball wizard with excellent control and looks to me like a very nice fourth starter. Over his time in Class A, he posted a 62.1% ground ball percentage and a 2.52 BB/9 next to a 10.6 HR/9. While many prospect indicators see him as an up-and-down arm, I don’t see any reason he can’t make it to the majors with the ability to induce ground balls and control it like he is able to. He’s a very nice low-key addition who could turn into more.

At this point, I would imagine Lacy will begin the 2019 season in Class A Advanced for the Rays.

The Rays also brought in a rather intriguing minor league free agent, in Jairo Labourt. The nearly 25-year-old lefty has always flashed a promising pair of pitches in his fastball and slider, but he lacks command entirely. He bounced around throughout the 2018 season going from Detroit to Cincinnati to Oakland, back to Detroit and finally to the White Sox. He didn’t pitch very much in 2018, throwing 5.2 innings of 4.76 ERA ball, albeit in rookie ball. I would imagine he serves as Double-A depth for the Rays, and could serve as a high-octane taxi guy with any success.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Jays made a trio of quiet, but potentially solid additions over this period. Eric Sogard will join the Jays’ organization on a minor league deal with an invitation to major league spring training, while Matt Shoemaker will make $3.5 million on a one-year contract with Toronto. Furthermore, Clayton Richard was acquired from the Padres for Connor Panas.

The 32-year-old lefty infielder, Sogard, had an exceptional 2017 season, as he slashed .273/.393/.378 over 299 plate appearances, and was rewarded with a guaranteed extension for 2018. Unfortunately, his batting average suffered mightily, as he hit just .134/.241/.165. While I don’t expect him to return to 2017, if given the opportunity, I can see him meeting somewhere in the middle. At the very least, he brings with him a strong and versatile glove as well as excellent plate discipline.

Sogard has a very legitimate shot to break camp with the Jays, as Troy Tulowitzki and Aledmys Diaz were sent packing, while Devon Travis struggled mightily in 2018. He’s a nice, low-risk pick-up for the retooling Jays.

As for Shoemaker, the 32-year-old right-handed starter was non-tendered by the Los Angeles Angels in what was part of a surprising class of Angels’ non-tenders that also included Blake Parker. As it currently stands, Shoemaker looks like he’s the number three starter behind Stroman and Sanchez and could rise with the trade rumors. Based on the exceptionally inexpensive contract and team control through 2020, he could be a very valuable trade chip for the Jays come summer time, or even next offseason, with any success. The former undrafted free agent has defied all odds and turned in a very respectable career to this point, as he carries a 3.93 ERA and FIP over 545 career innings. My projections on the veteran were rather favorable, as I have him posting a 3.99 ERA with an 8.34 K/9 and a 2.46 BB/9. Despite the injuries, his velocity has remained steady and he looks like he could be one of the better buy-low pick-ups of the offseason.

While Richard may not be on the same level as Shoemaker, the 35-year-old was acquired by the Jays for next to nothing to provide some left-handed rotation depth on a salary of $1.5 million (Padres will pay half of $3 million). I really like this move, as Richard could be a rather valuable commodity at the deadline as long as he pitches acceptably. The fact that he’s a lefty who can pitch multiple innings at a low salary is always in high demand. This is a very smart investment for the Jays that carries very low risk and could result in a nice prospect or so.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers made a pair of minor league signings in right-handed pitcher Chris Smith and left-handed pitcher Nick Ramirez.

Smith, 30, spent the 2018 season with the Nationals’ Triple-A affiliate where he posted a solid 3.93 ERA and a 3.88 FIP over 55 innings pitched. I would consider him to be a depth arm right out of the gate. He’s a fly ball pitcher who sits in the low to mid 90’s with his fastball, while posting average marks in control, and slightly above average strikeout numbers.

Meanwhile, the 29-year-old lefty Nick Ramirez recently converted to a pitcher after spending the majority of his career as a first baseman, and has been up and down. While he has found legitimate success in Double-A, he struggled in his first taste of Triple-A posting a 5.73 ERA with a 5.50 FIP. While it should be taken into account that he posted those numbers in the Pacific Coast League, his control was also way off over that 37.1 inning stint. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him find more success in the more pitcher friendly International League, and has the chance to serve as a taxi LOOGY for Detroit.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals brought back a quartet of familiar faces on low risk deals. Outfielder Bubba Starling, first baseman Samir Duenez and right-handed pitcher Jason Adam will re-join the Royals after being non-tendered earlier this month, while Terrance Gore was signed to a major league contract.

Duenez, 22, is just a year removed from earning an All-Star nod in Double-A. After having his contract purchased prior to the 2018 season, he went back to Double-A and performed even better than he did his first time around, slashing .282/.357/.463 while improving his walk rate from 6.5% to 10.7%. While he doesn’t bring much in terms of defense to the table, he has sneaky speed and decent power. His release came as something of a surprise, but it was simply a logistical move to clear a roster spot without having to risk losing him to the waiver wire. Keep in mind, Duenez is still only 22 years old and is on pace to make his major league debut in 2019. While I’m not ready to call him a slam dunk, he has a chance to become a decent regular in the majors assuming he can maintain his walk rates and average numbers.

Once upon a time, Bubba Starling was an absolutely elite prospect for the Royals after being selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft. Needless to say, he hasn’t panned out as the Royals would have liked, and he is now off of the 40-man roster. Starling has been absolutely horrible at nearly every level that he has played, only topping a .250 batting average in a season with over 200 plate appearances one time (2012 Rookie Ball). While he brings with him decent plate discipline, the power and speed have fallen off of the wayside and strikeout rates have climbed around 30%. He would have been out of options this season, therefore it makes sense that they made this move. He will probably serve as Triple-A depth for the Royals in 2019.

Jason Adam, 27, is a right-handed reliever who spent the season between the majors and Triple-A. He’s a fly ball pitcher who has decent stuff and sits in the mid 90’s. His first stint in the major leagues certainly wasn’t one to remember, as he posted a 6.12 ERA to go along with a 6.16 FIP. While I wouldn’t necessarily expect his numbers to look quite as poor in the future based on an 18.4% HR/FB ratio, the 25.3% ground ball rate is a bit concerning. It wasn’t all bad for Adam, however, as he posted proportional per nine rates (10.3 K/9 to 4.18 BB/9). I would expect him to serve as relief depth to begin the season, and could earn a call-up with any success.

Terrance Gore will re-join the Royals on a major league contract for the 2019 season. Gore is known as the “pinch runner”, based on the fact that he has a grand total of one hit throughout his major league career of 63 games. That being said, however, he has stolen 27 bases while scoring 19 runs in the process. He’s essentially this decade’s version of Quintin Berry, who has just retired. While I don’t think it was particularly wise to give him a guaranteed deal, when Billy Hamilton is already in the fold, and the opportunity cost was the exceptionally versatile utility infielder Rosell Herrera (who has a better bat and minor league options). This type of move would make sense on a contender adding to their roster in August, but for a team who finished second to last in the league last season, it seems a bit unnecessary.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins made an excellent move bringing in the ageless wonder Nelson Cruz in on a one-year deal while bringing in a pair of minor league signings in infielder Dean Anna and right-handed pitcher Mike Morin. Both will be invited to major league spring training.

Cruz, 38, will join the Twins for the 2019 season on a $14 million guarantee in 2019 and a club option worth $12 million for 2020 that includes a buyout of $300k. Four years ago, the Mariners signed Cruz to a four-year contract that was considered to be exceptionally questionable at the time it was signed. All skeptics were proven wrong as the veteran slashed .284/.362/.546 over the life of the contract, while playing in the pitcher friendly Safeco Park. Even though his 2018 numbers were the lowest of the contract’s life, as he slashed .256/.342/.509, the culprit was a .264 BABIP, which is well below his career average of .305. Any concern from the BABIP drop, however, can be assuaged as his hard-hit rate actually improved in 2018. My projections have him slashing .276/.352/.533 (.886 OPS) with a 162 game projection of 42 home runs in the 2019 season. It seems as though he will play primarily designated hitter, while C.J. Cron sees the lion’s share of plate appearances at first. Tyler Austin seems likely to fall into a bench role.

Morin, 27, spent the 2018 season with the Seattle Mariners’ organization. He spent the vast majority of the time in Triple-A Tacoma where he posted a strong 3.86 ERA with a 3.32 FIP to go along with an 8.72 K/9, 2.18 BB/9 and a 0.50 HR/9. He pitched four innings in the major leagues, and while the sample size and bottom line numbers aren’t necessarily noticeable, his peripherals suggested that he was unlucky. Over four innings, he posted a 6.75 ERA, but batters posted an absurd .545 BABIP, amounting to a 0.91 FIP. Other supporting peripherals include a 13.5 K/9 and a 2.25 BB/9. I ran a projection on Morin, which came out to a 4.49 ERA with a 2.33 BB/9 and an 8.46 K/9. He seems like a middle reliever who will be called up at some point throughout the season.

Dean Anna, 32, is a lefty swinging infielder. He spent the 2018 season with the Phillies Triple-A affiliate slashing a solid .271/.367/.341 over 531 plate appearances. He has always been known for his ability to limit strikeouts, and last season was no different, as he only went down on strikes 10.5% of the time, compared to a 9.6% walk rate. Anna has a nice glove and has been rather versatile throughout his career. I would imagine he spends the majority of the season in Rochester.

While I have my qualms about the current state of the Twins, namely a relative lack of direction, I believe that they have made some of the most intelligent decisions in terms of free agency over the past few seasons. While the moves may not have worked out as well as hoped, the signings of Logan Morrison and Lance Lynn on pillow contracts were certainly worthwhile risks to take, and I have loved their offseason maneuvering once again in 2018. I believe that both this signing and the Jonathan Schoop deal from earlier this month are candidates for best free agent signings of the offseason. My hats off to Thad Levine and Derek Falvey.

 

Houston Astros

The Astros made a rather large signing last week, as Michael Brantley will join them on a two-year deal worth $32 million. The contract will pay Brantley $15 million annually both this season and next, while also paying him a $2 million signing bonus.

In terms of talent, you aren’t going to find many at the level of Brantley, but the big question with him is health. While 2018 was a successful season for the veteran outfielder, he missed the vast majority of the 2017 season due to injury. My projections for Brantley have him at a reasonably solid .282/.339/.431 line with 18 stolen bases and 16 home runs per 162 games.

This move is an excellent fit for the Astros, as their lineup was essentially all right-handed with Josh Reddick serving as the only other guaranteed starter who hits from the left side. I would imagine Brantley will hit somewhere in the middle of the order and should be able to hold his own in the field. What makes the fit so perfect is that it doesn’t tie the Astros up financially beyond the 2020 season, which is exceptionally important as they will need to begin making decisions regarding their pitchers. The Astros already lost Charlie Morton and seem likely to lose Dallas Keuchel via free agency, and are set to have Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole hit the market following this season. Without putting a considerable amount of money on the books in the long run, it gives the Astros’ brass the opportunity to allocate some additional payroll space for 2021-2023 to make a run at retaining one of their guys, or going out and getting someone else. Furthermore, in the event that Brantley’s health doesn’t necessarily work out the way that all parties involve would have hoped, the fact that it’s only two years makes it much easier to stomach.

The Astros are said to be shopping Reddick rather aggressively. While it remains to be seen just what they could get back for him, based on his poor performance and salary through the 2020 season, it’s possible that they could try to go for a poor contract swap of some kind. On paper, a deal with the Giants also involving Jeff Samardzija could make sense, as the contract lengths are similar. Furthermore, the Astros need help in the rotation and would like to give top prospect Kyle Tucker a shot in the bigs, while the Giants are said to be on the look out for some outfield assistance.  In such a deal, however, the Giants would certainly need to send about $13.6 million to offset the cost.

Los Angeles Angels

The Angels did some tinkering with their rotation over the past few weeks, as they signed a pair of big league arms in Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey while re-claiming Parker Bridwell off of waivers from the Yankees and re-signing Alex Meyer to a minor league deal.

The Angels’ lack of rotation depth hurt them last season, as they lost a considerable amount of players to the dreaded Tommy John surgery. To make matters even worse, Shohei Ohtani will not pitch in the 2019 season, Garrett Richards departed via free agency and Matt Shoemaker looks likely to do the same. This left the Halos with three seemingly guaranteed starters in Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs and Jaime Barria with Felix Pena, Nick Tropeano and Miguel Almonte representing other in-house options.

Harvey, 30, is coming off of a nice bounce back season, in which he posted a 4.94 ERA with a 4.57 FIP over 155 innings pitched between the Reds and Mets organization. While those bottom line numbers aren’t particularly impressive, his performance improved after he was traded by the Mets to the Reds for catcher Devin Mesoraco. One particular area in which Harvey improved was his walk rate, which dropped from 4.56/9 in the 2017 season to 2.15/9 in 2018. Harvey will earn a guaranteed $11 million with the ability to earn up to $3 million in additional incentives. My projections have him posting a 4.31 ERA over 134.2 innings pitched while walking 2.64 batters per nine innings.

Cahill, 31, also enjoyed a nice bounce back season in 2018 with the Oakland A’s, as he posted a 3.76 ERA with an even better 3.54 FIP over 110 innings pitched. While I wouldn’t expect the veteran to return to the level of production that he played at in 2018, if he can maintain his improved walk rate, it could certainly help him in Anaheim. The 2018 season saw Cahill walk just 3.35 batters per nine innings, down from 4.82 per nine in 2017. Cahill will earn $9 million in the 2019 season with the ability to earn $250k for reaching each of 100, 110, 120 and 130 innings pitched, $500k for reaching 170 innings and $250k if traded. My projections have him at a rather solid 4.10 ERA over 105.2 innings pitched while posting a 3.95 BB/9, an 8.07 K/9 and a more normalized 0.94 HR/9.

Bridwell, 27, had been something of a revelation for the Angels in 2017, as he posted a very strong 3.64 ERA over 121 innings pitched. Unfortunately, there were some obvious red flags that warned regression was coming, as he posted a 4.84 FIP, a 5.07 xFIP and a BABIP of .262. He fell off of a cliff big time in 2018, posting an 8.68 ERA with a 5.32 FIP over 28 innings in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League, and an absolutely atrocious 17.55 ERA with a 12.91 FIP over 6.2 innings pitched. The out of options righty is a fly ball pitcher with decent control and a low 90’s fastball and a solid slider and change. He will compete for a job in camp, but as an out of options player who has shown potential in the past, he’s a strong candidate to change hands at least once between now and Opening Day.

As for Meyer, it remains to be seen just how he will be used by the Angels. Based on his injury history, it would make more sense to use him in a relief capacity, as his stuff could very well play up. My only concern is that the Angels’ lack of reliable depth could lead to them trying to push Meyer as a starter, which could be detrimental to his long term health. Meyer’s ceiling as a reliever is as high as anyone’s, but it all depends on how he’s utilized.

Both major upgrades were essential for the Angels to make this offseason, and while I, personally, wouldn’t have signed both to market value deals, it’s much more palatable for a big market team. One thing that Angels’ fans should keep in mind is that Griffin Canning is knocking on the door and should be a piece in the middle of the rotation by the All-Star break.

Oakland A’s

The A’s have been exceptionally active over the past few weeks, as Billy Beane and co. brought in Joakim Soria, and brought back Mike Fiers, both on two-year contracts, while trading for Jurickson Profar.

Soria, 34, put together another excellent season over 60.2 innings pitched between Chicago and Milwaukee, as he posted a 3.12 ERA with a 2.44 FIP. All of his peripherals suggest that Soria can maintain this level of performance.  Last season, he posted an 11.13 K/9, a 2.37 BB/9 and a 0.59 HR/9, while opponents posted a .310 BABIP against him. While his HR/FB rate was about 2% less than his average, the difference wasn’t significant enough to warrant much cause for concern. The veteran reliever will make $15 million over the two-year contract, with $6.5 million coming in 2019 and $8.5 million in 2020. Furthermore, he will earn $250k for finishing 35 and 40 games while earning $750k in the event that he’s traded.

Michael Fiers agreed to a true win-win contract with the A’s just a few weeks after being non-tendered. The 33-year-old righty will earn $14.1 million over the life of a two-year deal with $6 million coming in 2019 and $8.1 million in 2020. While Fiers was expected to make between $9 million and $10 million via arbitration, but that annual figure wouldn’t have made a ton of sense for the A’s, who have other needs. That being said, Fiers is now in his mid-30’s and had peripheral statistics that don’t necessarily support his 3.56 ERA from last season, namely a 4.75 FIP. At this point in his career, it seems unlikely that he will have another opportunity to secure a multi-year deal again. Fiers walks away with more guaranteed money, while the A’s are able to save some money for the coming season, while having a reliable innings eater to take the place of the injured Sean Manaea. While the second year seems like a lot for a small market team like the A’s to pay, Billy Beane and David Forst could very well find a way to flip him over the next two seasons. My projections on Fiers have him at a 4.38 ERA next season over 152 innings. They also express confidence in his decrease in walks from last season.

Finally, the A’s made a rather large acquisition in former top overall prospect, Jurickson Profar. The nearly 26-year-old infielder is coming off of something of a breakout season with the Rangers in which he slashed a solid .254/.335/.458 with 20 home runs and ten stolen bases. Furthermore, he did so on a .269 BABIP, so don’t be shocked if the average rises to around  .270. While he primarily played shortstop with the Rangers, it seems as though he’s likely to play second, as Marcus Semien currently mans short.

The Rangers took a calculated risk by selling on Profar, as his value was as high as it ever has been as a major leaguer. The A’s will control Profar through the 2020 season and will have to pay him through arbitration over the next two seasons.

After a shocking 97 win season, the A’s had a bit of pressure to add to the roster and make a play at the AL-West. While I’m not a huge fan of the second years on Fiers and Soria, as I have questions as to whether or not they will be able to sustain a high level of production, neither deal is very expensive, and therefore doesn’t carry enough risk where it outweighs the reward. Furthermore, I have faith i the A’s front office, and if anybody can work out a trade to clear salary (not named Jerry Dipoto), it’s the A’s.

As for the Profar deal, I like it for what they gave up. At this point, the most logical move for a young team who just forced their window open is to fill it with other young and controllable players. While Profar isn’t quite as controllable as many would have hoped, he’s young enough where he could still show growth in his game, and has a high enough ceiling to become a qualifying offer recipient, which could recoup the draft pick to some extent. While Semien doesn’t carry very much control either, I would imagine that the A’s would be that Jorge Mateo and Jeremy Eierman will be ready to go by the time both guys depart in free agency.

Seattle Mariners

Dealin’ DiPoto continued his remodeling of the Mariners’ roster over the past few week, as he traded Ben Gamel and Noah Zavolas to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Domingo Santana. I absolutely love this deal for the Mariners. While Gamel is a very solid major league outfielder, his ceiling is somewhat limited compared to that of Santana’s. The 26-year-old right fielder had himself a career year in 2017 for the Brewers slashing .278/.371/.505 with 30 home runs and 15 stolen bases over 607 plate appearances. Regardless, the Brewers made a pair of additions to the outfield prior to the 2018 season in Christian Yellich and Lorenzo Cain, which pushed Santana out of a starting job. While he was still solid in 2018, slashing .265/.328/.412 over 235 plate appearances, the diminished level of production was to be expected. Now that he’s back in the starting line-up, I expect Santana to absolutely mash in 2019. The power-speed combination is exciting and the plate discipline is borderline elite. What also works in his favor is that he’s one of three right-handed hitters in the projected line-up along with Mitch Haniger and Edwin Encarnacion, who could very well be traded in the near future. Splits wise, Santana should have a lot more favorable opportunities in the 2019 season. The Mariners control the outfielder through 2021.

Also joining the Mariners’ 40-man roster is left-handed pitcher Zac Rosscup. The Mariners have been exceptionally active on the trade front, which has resulted in an absolutely depleted bullpen. For some reference, rosterresource.com has Dan Altavilla and Shawn Armstrong projected as their set-up men and Roenis Elias as their only other projected lefty out of the pen. This is where Rosscup comes into play. The 30-year-old lefty was non-tendered by the Dodgers last month, despite relatively solid results. Over 11.1 innings pitched, Rosscup posted a 4.76 ERA with a 4.13 FIP and an absolutely insane 15.88 K/9 next to a solid 3.18 BB/9. While those numbers may not look great on the surface, it should be taken into account that he was hurt for the majority of the year, and when he was active, hie HR/FB rate was 25%, which is 8.1% higher than his career average of 16.9%. Assuming he stays healthy, he should be a very solid middle relief option for the Mariners, and should see a rather significant amount of innings barring the addition of another left-handed reliever. He is out of minor league options.

Finally, former White Sox top prospect Tyler Danish inked a minor league contract with an invitation to major league spring training. The 24-year-old righty was sent outright by the White Sox last offseason and was converted to a relief role in 2018m where he showed some improvement. While his peripherals don’t necessarily support these numbers as well as the White Sox would have hoped, he posted a 3.01 ERA with a 4.16 FIP. His strikeout rate has never been great, which brings about the question whether or not his stuff would play up in a relief role. I would consider Danish to be a lottery ticket guy for now, and would imagine that he begins the season in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. My projections have him posting a 4.98 ERA with a 5.49 BB/9 and a 6.68 K/9 and a 51.39% ground ball rate.

Texas Rangers

The Rangers front office has been busy to close 2018 out, as they have announced ten minor league signings, while bringing in four prospects and bonus money in the Profar deal.

Joining the Rangers in spring training will be relievers Matt Bush, Tim Dillard, Zac Curtis, Miguel Del Pozo, Phillips Valdez, Ariel Hernandez, Jack Leathersich and Jeanmar Gomez and infielders Nolan Fontana and Chase d’Arnaud.

The most notable name of the group was without a doubt Matt Bush, who has spent the last three seasons in Arlington. The nearly 33-year-old righty has steadily declined since reemerging in the 2016 season. Bush saw his annual ERA and FIP rise to 4.70 and 5.29 in 2018 from 3.78 and 4.00 in 2017, which was a notable increase from his 2.48 ERA and 2.74 in 2016. Furthermore, the walk rate has nearly doubled. While his control was rather strong in 2016, as he logged a 2.04 BB/9, it jumped to 3.27 in 2017 and then to 5.48 in 2018. Perhaps the most concerning statistical decline, however, was the fact that his average fastball velocity fell from 98.2 mph in 2016 to 96.8 in 2018. Now that he’s in his mid-30’s, this is a major cause for concern. While I would imagine that he will have every chance to re-claim his spot in the Rangers’ bullpen, my expectations aren’t very high.

Another major league veteran joining him in the competition is Jeanmar Gomez.The 30-year-old reliever has been in the majors since 2010 and has been a relatively steady major league presence throughout, in terms of innings. While 2017 was rather terrible, as he posted a 7.25 ERA with a 6.56 FIP, it should be taken into account that his HR/FB was a cartoonish 41.2%, which is 3.58 times higher than his career average of 11.5%. It dropped back to a 10.3% last season, which showed in his results. While the 4.68 ERA wasn’t anything to write home about, it was fueled by a 356 BABIP, which is shown in his solid 3.88 FIP. His velocity remains in the low to mid 90’s, which is an encouraging sign, and I would expect him to open the season in the Rangers’ bullpen with how their roster currently looks.

The other guys are essentially depth. While Ariel Hernandez has some very high upside, he lacks any semblance of control. Over 24.1 innings in the major leagues, he has posted a 5.18 ERA with a 6.69 FIP. While those numbers are obviously rather terrible, it remains to be seen just how accurately they paint the picture of his performance, based on some absurd peripherals. On one hand, the numbers are supported by a very low .157 BABIP and a poor 8.14 BB/9, but meanwhile, his HR/FB ratio was an insane 25% while he struck out 10.73 guys per nine innings. He’s an obvious fire baller, averaging 98 on his fastball, though, and has above average ground ball numbers. While the PCL will be no walk in the park for the 26-year-old, if he excels, I can’t imagine that it would take the Rangers very long to give him a call-up.

While d’Arnaud could certainly see some innings with injury or trades, I would expect him to be an all-glove super utility guy. My projections have him slashing .228/.283/.354 with a 162 game rate of nine home runs and 23 stolen bases (although, I don’t expect him to play anywhere close to 162 games). Defensively, however, he is well above average in the middle infield and can play the corners of the infield and the outfield in a pinch. This will certainly come in handy come August after the trade deadline.

Otherwise, I would expect Curtis, Leathersich, Valdez, Fontana, Del Pozo and Dillard to serve as minor league depth or emergency depth. I would like to note, however, that I always pull for Dillard to succeed. Be sure to check out his occasional monologues featured on MLBTradeRumors. They are very comical pieces that give interesting insight on the life of a Triple-A lifer.

The big move for the Rangers, however, was the Profar deal in which they acquired infielder Eli White and a trio of pitchers in Yoel Espinal, Kyle Bird and Brock Burke, as well as $750k in international pool space while also trading Lacy.

Lefty Brock Burke is the biggest name of the prospect quartet. The 22-year-old was a third round pick by the Rays in 2014 and reached Double-A for the first time last season, where he thrives to a 1.95 ERA over 55.1 innings including an excellent 71:14 K:BB ratio. He brings with him a plus fastball, topping out at 96, an above average slider and an average, but improving change. The big thing with Burke is his delivery, which brings with it a lot of deception. If he continues to improve his change while maintaining control, we could be looking at a mid-rotation guy. Even as he is now, I expect him to reach the majors in some capacity with the floor of an above average left middle reliever.

White is a contact first infielder with great speed and a nice arm. He doesn’t have much in terms of power, and his plate discipline is average to slightly above average, I really like the versatility and speed here. If he continues to refine his already above average hit tool, he could be starting for the Rangers by the end of the year. He’s 24-years-old and seems likely to begin the season in Triple-A. Based on his defensive versatility, contact ability and speed, we’re looking at a very strong utility guy at the very least. He’s a good, safe bet for the Rangers.

Bird and Espinal are both relief prospects.  Bird. 25, should begin the season in Triple-A. Bird is a rare four pitch reliever who is known for his spin rates. While the four pitch mix helps him keep his strikeouts up despite a lacking fastball that sits in the low-90’s, his command will limit him to a middle relief to LOOGY role. I don’t think that he needs much more in terms of development, and should be a taxi option in Arlington right out of the gate. As for Espinal, 26, we’re looking at a huge fastball averaging around 94-95 and an excellent hybrid offspeed pitch that’s a cross between a slider and a change, which sits in the low 90’s. He, like Bird, is expected to function in a middle relief role, although most like Bird a bit better based on the fact that he’s left-handed and is more likely to throw strikes consistently.

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