Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Hot Stove Update: Giants Dumpster Diving

The Giants made a couple of "dumpster dive" moves yesterday, which is probably about all we're going to get before the season starts.  They signed RHP Bryan Morris and C Tim Fedorowicz to minor league deals with spring training invitations.  Morris' deal is actually a conditional MLB contract calling for $1.25 M plus another $750 K in incentives if he makes the 25 man roster which seems likely if he is fully recovered from last season's back surgery.

Bryan Morris was a JC pitcher who caught some helium in the 2006 draft and the Dodgers selected him #26 overall.  He missed the entire 2007 season with TJ surgery.  He was traded to the Pirates after the 2008 season and did not make his MLB debut until 2012.  He is a groundball machine, putting up solid numbers in 2013-2015 with the Pirates and Marlins:  18-12, 2.80, 215 IP, 3.77 BB/9, 6.40 K/9, 58.6 GB%.  His pitching repertoire includes a sinking FB 93-95 MPH which he throws about 50% of the time, a Cutter at 88-90 MPH which he throws about 35% of the time and a slider at 82-85 MPH which he uses like a changeup about 15% of the time.  He missed most of 2016 after undergoing back surgery.  He is expected to be fully recovered by spring training.

Fedorowicz is a fringy backup catcher who has shuttled between AAA and the majors for several years.  You may remember him as a backup C with the Dodgers for a couple of seasons.  He gives the Giants some depth at C which they were sorely lacking since the trade of Andrew Susac last season.

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The Rangers Re-signed Carlos Gomez to a 1 year/$11.5 M contract.  Gomez is coming off not 1, but 2 injury plagued seasons and $11.5 M seems to be the floor for any veteran player with a chance to be average.

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The Rays signed C Wilson Ramos to a 2 year contract, obviously knowing he will likely miss the first half of the 2017 season after tearing his UCL late in 2016.  When healthy, Ramos is one of the better catchers in the game.

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Red Sox also signed 1B/DH Mitch Moreland to a 1 year $5.5 M contract which seems like a bargain for the Sox compared to what Gomez got from the Rangers.

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Wade Davis seems to be headed to the Cubs in a straight up trade for OF Jorge Soler.  Davis is a frontline closer if fully healthy while Soler still has huge upside despite a sputtering start to his MLB career.

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This might be decision day for Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen.

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Nationals are believed to be not interested in trading for any other pitchers after losing out on Sale.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Hot Stove Update: Red and White Sox Pull Off Blockbuster

With Winter Meetings talking heads breathlessly reporting that Chris Sale was all but a National, the Red Sox swooped in and made an offer the Nationals could not top and the White Sox could not refuse.  I mean, once Yoan Moncada was in on the deal, the Nats would have had to add Trea Turner, which they were not going to do.   So it was the Bosox dealing from an almost obscene surplus of prospect talent that got this deal done.

We all know what Chris Sale is.  He's one of the true aces on MLB.   He'll combine with David Price to form a lefty 1-2 punch in the 'Sox rotation.  It's a power move by Dave Dombrowski who is well known for using his farm system to trade for star veterans and Sale is about as elite a talent as you can get.  Still, every deal has its risks.  Sale was not lights out all season last year and had 2 months where is ERA was well north of 4.  His unconventional delivery makes my elbow hurt just to watch it and he's been long rumored to have intermittent twinges in it.  Then there is the personality, which come to think of it, should fit right into the Red Sox clubhouse!

In landing Sale, Dombrowski pulled the trigger by including one of the most highly touted and hyped prospects I can remember, Yoan Moncada.  Moncada is a true 5-tool athlete who seems to be able to actually play.  He has shown modest power, but has stolen 95 bases in 193 minor league games.  While he has shined on the field, he has already developed a bit of a reputation for being injury prone, which may have been part of the reason Dombrowski was willing to let him go.  On the other hand, Dombrowski has never let a prospect's reputation stand in the way of a trade for a veteran star.

I absolutely loved Michael Kopech before the 2014 draft.  I thought he had tremendous present physicality and velocity with the most room to fill out of any HS pitcher in that draft.  He has gained a reputation for velocity in the minors, routinely hitting triple digits on radar guns including one pitch reported to be 105 MPH, although that particular pitch is in dispute.  He's had a couple of off-field hiccups with a banned substance bust and a clubhouse fight with a teammate.  Some risk here, but the ceiling is very high.

Luis Alexander Basabe, twin brother of Luis Alejandro Basabe, is a promising OF from low A Ball last year and Victor Diaz is a somewhat promising pitcher from the lower minors.

So, that is the haul the ChiSox got for Chris Sale.  Can't do much better than that, although there are never guarantees that any prospect is going to make it in the majors and the bust rate on multiple prospect trades is very high.

Dombrowski got the guy he wanted dealing from a position of overwhelming surplus talent, which you really can't fault him for.

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Earlier in the day, Dombrowski helped out the BrewCrew's rebuild by sending 3 pretty good prospect out for underrated RHP reliever Tyler Thornburg.

Thoughts on Mark Melancon

Mark Melancon was a well known college closer at Arizona who ran into arm problems during his junior season.  He was taken by the Yankees in round 9 of the 2006 draft and pitched that summer in short season ball, but underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of the 2007 season.  He came back strong in 2008 working his way up to AAA by the end of the season.  He made his MLB debut with the Yankees in 2009.  He bounced between AAA and MLB in 2010 and was traded to the Astros midseason for Lance Berkman.

He recorded an ERA of 2.78 with 20 Saves for the Astros in 2012, but was traded in the offseason to Boston for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.  He got off to a terrible start in Boston and was optioned to AAA.  He as called back later in the season, but finished with an ERA of 6.20 even though his K and BB ratios remained strong.  That offseason, he was shipped to the Pirates in a multi-player trade.  His career really took off in Pittsburgh starting as the setup man for Jason Grilli but quickly working his way into the closer role.  His numbers from 2016 are representative of the past 4 seasons with the Pirates:  2-2, 1.64, 71.1 IP, 1.51 BB/9, 8.20 K/9.  He is a strong groundball pitcher with 54.2 % GB's.  He also keeps the ball in the yard with a 6.3% HR/FB.  Looked at another way, his GO/AO has approached 2.00 over the past 4 seasons and he allowed just 10 HR's in 289 IP.  He gets about twice as many GIDP's as he gives up HR's.

Melancon is not a classic closer in that he does not throw particularly hard.  He averages just under 92 MPH on his 4-seam FB, but he only throws it about 10$ of the time.  His workhorse pitch, which he throws about 70% of the time, is the cutter which he throws almost as hard at an average of 91.0 MPH. It's a great pitch that he can use to jam left-handed batters and work the outside corner on RH batters.  His main secondary offering is a knuckle curve which also serves as a changeup at 81 MPH.  All 3 pitches are at least above average in terms of effectiveness by Fangraphs rating with the Cutter being his most effective pitch and a definite plus offering.

By all measures, Melancon should be the shutdown closer the Giants sorely lacked last year, which should also stabilize the rest of the bullpen and allow Bruce Bochy to return to the more traditional bullpen roles he is comfortable with and bullpens seem to like.  The only dark cloud on the horizon is that he might be nearing the end of the shelf life for his TJ surgery which occurred 8 years ago.  If that were to happen off the bat, the Giants would be stuck with a large 4 year contract.  They seem to be hoping they can get at least 2 good seasons out of him as he has an opt out after 2 years.  The way the Giants front loaded the contract when you add in the bonus money makes you think their ideal scenario would be to get 2 great seasons out of him then let him opt out and take the TJ risk to some other team.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Hot Stove Update: Giants Sign Mark Melancon

Leading up to the Winter Meetings, the Giants had one huge priority.  They had to come away with a frontline closer!  Anything less would have been a major psychological setback.  There were 3 frontline closer available on the FA market:  Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon.  You might count Wade Davis as being a frontline closer available on the trade market, but the Giants could not afford to waste precious time on trade talks and risk coming up empty.  Chapman and Jansen have more dominant stuff and more dominant strikeout numbers than Melancon, but there are a whole host of reasons why getting either of them was a longshot.  Again, rather than waste time chasing Chapman and Jansen while some other team made off with Melancon, the Giants focused on him like a laser beam from the minute the Hot Stove was lit.  They brought him to SF they made no effort to hide that he was their guy.  They came to the Winter Meetings and closed the deal on day 1.

It wasn't fancy.  It wasn't brilliant from a wheel and deal perspective.  There were probably more imaginative ways the Giants could have solve their closer problem.  A GM like Billy Beane would almost certainly have not gone this route.  On the other hand, there is something to be said for understanding what your needs are, setting your priorities and then getting the deal done.  That type of focused efficiency and decisiveness is what has characterized the Bobby Evans era as GM.  He pulled if off again.

So yeah.  Mark Melancon was the guy the Giants had to get.  Yes, he's expensive at 4 yrs/$62 M.  Yes there is risk here.  No, the Giants had no other reasonable option.  There were plenty of "second tier" options out there, but all came with significant question marks.  After last season's bullpen debacle, the Giants could not afford a question mark in the closer role.  They had to fill with a no-doubter.  That was going to cost a lot of money. The Giants probably got the best deal out of the big 3.

The contract is structured similarly to Johnny Cueto with an opt out after two years.  Like Cueto, if you add in the signing bonus money, the contracts are frontloaded for the first 2 seasons making it more likely the player will choose to opt out.   I get the feeling that in both cases, the Giants are actually hoping they opt out after the 2 years so they are not stuck with the more risky back-end of the contracts, but that remains to be seen.

As for the rest of the Winter Meetings and Hot Stove League, the Giants are now in a position where they can be on the lookout for ways to improve the team, but don't have to do anything.  Evans has already said he probably will not be signing any more RP's except maybe a minor league deal or two.  As for LF, if the Giants feel they need a veteran with a track record in LF, I'm OK with that.  They know more about player evaluation than I do.  I'll just say as a fan, if they stand pat and go with Mac Williamson and/or Jarrett Parker, I'm more than OK with it.  They have  backup plans already in place as Eduardo Nunez could play LF with Conor Gillaspie taking over at 3B if they had to.  Austin Slater should be ready by midseason.  Steven Duggar might be.  They can also make a midseason trade if they  have to.

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The Dodgers agreed to terms with LHP Rich Hill for 3 years/$48 M.  If fully healthy for a full season, Hill is worth every penny.  That is a big if as the 110 IP Hill pitched last season is the most since 2007 and just the second time in his career that he's topped 100 IP.  Last year, the Dodgers and Dave Roberts did a good job of splicing together a season out of a stable of injury prone pitchers, who…..were injured a lot!  We'll see if they can keep that magic going in 2017.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Hot Stove Update: Yankees Sign Matt Holliday

The Yankees reportedly agreed to terms with Matt Holliday for $1 Yr/$13 M.  Silly me, but I kind of figured Holliday would get more in the $8-10 M range, and thought he might be an affordable 6 inning LF option for the Giants, so I obviously think this is an overpay.  On the other hand, as I've said many times, I'm not sure overpay is a relevant term in MLB anymore.  Holliday is expected to mostly DH for the Yanks and he seems like a bit of a downgrade on what they've been used to.  2017 will be Holliday's age 37 season and it's an OLD 37!  Maybe DH will help revive his career?

Anyway, a bit of a curious signing by the Yanks but it's just for 1 year.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Hot Stove Update: Astros Sign Carlos Beltran

The Astros young core of hitters is decidedly RH:  Altuve, Springer, Correa, Bregman, Gattis.  That is quite a Murderer's Row of hitters, but they are all RH.  The Astros decided to spend the offseason balancing that core with veterans who bat left-handed.  They acquired Brian McCann and Josh Reddick and now add Carlos Beltran who switch-hits.

Beltran has had a remarkable career starting in 1998, 19 seasons.  His career slash line is .281/.354.492 with 431 HR and 312 SB's.  A true 5 tool player in his prime!  Giants fans may still have some hard feelings over a perception that Beltran may not have given 100% after an ill-fated deadline trade to the Orange and Black in 2011, but the man has been a terrific player for a long time.

Beltran's contract is 1 year/$16 M.  His last team, the Texas Rangers could not make a QO because they acquired him in a midseason trade with the Yankees.  His numbers in Texas were not as good a with the Yanks, possibly due to the absence of that short Yankee Stadium porch, but he is still an upgrade for the Astros lineup with the 1 years deal making it a minimal risk.  Great pickup by the Astros!

Scouting the 2017 Draft: Hans Crouse

Hans Crouse is a lanky RHP from Dana Point, CA.  PG did not have much of a scouting report, but he's hit 95-97 MPH consistently in tournaments.  At 6'4", 185 lbs with a thin frame, he will probably always be on the thin side, but his frame looks like it can handle 20-30 more pounds fairly easily.  There is some effort in his delivery with a late acceleration and a somewhat abrupt deceleration.  There was one pitch on one video where he dropped down and came in sidearm.  He has performed well in competition allowing just 1 hit with 11 K's in 7 IP against Cuba in the championship game of the 18U Pan American Baseball Classic.  He is committed to USC.

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Updated Draft Board:

1.  Jordan Adell, OF, HS
2.  Mark Vientos, SS, HS
3.  Hunter Greene, RHP, HS
4.  Tanner Houck, RHP, College(Missouri)
5.  Alex Scherff, RHP, HS
6.  JB Bakauskas, RHP, College(North Carolina)
7.  Jeren Kendall, OF, College(Vanderbilt)
8.  JJ Schwarz, C, College(Florida)
9.  Alex Faedo, RHP, College(Florida)
10.  Conner Uselton, OF, HS
11.  Hans Crouse, RHP, HS
12.  Royce Lewis, SS/OF, HS
13.  Tristan Beck, RHP, College(Stanford)
14.  Brandon McKay, LHP, College(Louisville)
15.  Hagen Danner, RHP, HS
16.  Alejandro Toral, 1B, HS