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Baseball’s competitive balance is the top takeaway from the 2014 season, opines MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince. Parity can be defined in many ways, Castrovince notes, but what cannot be ignored is no team has won 100 games since 2011, three division winners in 2014 (Angels, Nationals, and Orioles) were not in the playoffs the year before, and the World Series featured a pair of Wild Card clubs. Castrovince lists a greater reliance on young talent, revenue sharing, TV money, and draft and international spending limits as reasons for the competitive balance never being stronger.
Elsewhere around baseball:
- The Mariners‘ payroll isn’t keeping pace with payroll increases throughout the game, Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times argues. The Mariners spent $93MM in 2010 and had the 14th highest payroll in the game, but because of salary inflation since then, their $109MM 2014 payroll only put them at 16th. The Mariners did add Nelson Cruz this offseason, but Baker feels their outfield would have benefited from another bat, like Melky Cabrera, Justin Upton or Matt Kemp, any of whom would have put a dent in their payroll. The Mariners have financial benefits a team like the Royals doesn’t have, Baker says, and their spending shouldn’t be in MLB’s bottom half.
- The Tigers have not discussed an extension with David Price this offseason, FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi notes. That indicates it’s still possible they could sign free agent Max Scherzer and deal Price (Twitter links).
- It sounds like pitcher Hiroki Kuroda is ready to finish his career as a member of the Hiroshima Carp, which would rule out an eventual MLB return. The veteran told Sanspo (Japanese link) his return should be “the last decision of his baseball life,” according to Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker (on Twitter).
- Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune sees Takashi Toritani filling two roles for the Padres: a reliable, experienced defender at shortstop and a legitimate leadoff bat from the left side. The Padres’ interest in the Japanese infielder, who is an unrestricted free agent, was reported yesterday.
- The Padres have become relevant again with their series of moves by new GM A.J. Preller making the collection of MLB California franchises the best in the game, writes Lyle Spencer of MLB.com.
- The Indians prefer to round out their roster through trades rather than free agency and could deal from their surplus of relievers and middle infielders (excluding Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez), reports Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group.
The rumor train has a majority of free agents linked to the Cubs in some way, but the club may take a restrained approach, reports Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago. GM Jed Hoyer hedged against the idea of a “supercharged offseason,” saying “that’s probably overstated.” Hoyer notes that it behooves agents to connect their clients with deep pocketed teams. However, Chicago won’t pass on an opportunity that makes sense, which means a deal with Russell Martin, a front line starting pitcher, or virtually any other free agent could still in the cards. My own perspective: in sales there is a saying – “undersell and over-deliver.” It’s possible Hoyer is preparing fans in case the bidding for Martin or their other top targets exceeds reason.
- Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports (via Twitter) that seven teams are interested in Torii Hunter including the Twins and Royals. Hunter has also been strongly linked to the Tigers in recent weeks. The 39-year-old outfielder has been remarkably consistent throughout his 17 year career. Teams presumably view Hunter as a corner outfielder or designated hitter. One team that isn’t in on Hunter is the Mets, tweets Marc Carig of Newsday.
- In an interview airing Monday for MLB Network, Ichiro Suzuki will announce his intention to play in 2015, writes Chad Jennings of LoHud.com. Ichiro admits he’s unsure where he’ll suit up, since it depends on a team having a need for a 41-year-old outfielder. Given the relatively thin outfield market, there should be plenty of opportunities for a player who hit .284/.324/.340 in 385 plate appearances.
- The Indians shouldn’t trade Francisco Lindor just because he might fail to reach his ceiling, writes Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group in his latest Hey, Hoynsie. The 21-year-old acquitted himself well in Triple-A, even if the performance wasn’t phenomenal. Lindor is generally viewed as a top 10 prospect by scouts, so his trade value is significant. My own take: while the Indians have Jose Ramirez at the major league level, there’s no reason to force a deal based on that modicum of depth. Either player could be moved to another position when the time comes. Moreover, as a budget conscious franchise, the Indians can’t simply deal Lindor for just any established star. They would need to identify another relatively inexpensive target like Josh Donaldson.
The Indians should be poised to contend for the AL Central title next year because the Tigers and Royals are going to take a hit in free agency, opines Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group in the latest edition of his “Hey, Hoynsie” column. Free agency won’t damage the White Sox, Hoynes adds, but they are in need of pitching to complement their power while the Twins are still putting together the pieces after four consecutive seasons of at least 92 losses.
Here’s more on the Indians from Hoynes:
- Manager Terry Francona had clauses inserted into his contract when he was hired by the Indians allowing him to leave if President Mark Shapiro or GM Chris Antonetti are fired. Would Francona ever follow Joe Maddon’s lead? Hoynes notes Andrew Friedman left the Rays voluntarily and isn’t sure whether such a departure by either Shapiro or Antonetti would trigger Francona’s opt-out.
- The Indians will not be bidding on the premier bats available in free agency (e.g. Pablo Sandoval (#5 on MLBTR’s 2014-2015 Top 50 Free Agents list), Victor Martinez (#6), Russell Martin (#8), and Nelson Cruz (#9), according to Hoynes, who sees the club setting their sights on the likes of Michael Morse (#28) and Ryan Ludwick (unranked) once other moves are made.
- Jose Ramirez will be the Indians’ 2015 Opening Day shortstop, Francisco Lindor is probably ticketed for Triple-A, and Zach Walters, acquired in the Asdrubal Cabrera trade, will have to make the team as a bench player.
- The Indians are not in the position of needing to trade their core players, so Hoynes would be surprised if Corey Kluber, Yan Gomes, or Michael Brantley are dealt this winter.
Top prospects must often react to failure for the first time in their career at the major league level, writes the Providence Journal’s Brian MacPherson in a pair of articles (first, second). Red Sox manager John Farrell points to the mental side and getting to know his young players. Their ability to handle adversity can explain the different developmental patterns for players like Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley – all of whom have experienced similar struggles this season. Bogaerts has played through the worst of his slump while Middlebrooks and Bradley Jr. spent time in the minors. Teams can also use veterans like David Ross to help young players like Christian Vazquez transition to the majors.
- Continuing our theme, Eno Sarris of FanGraphs wonders if the Indians ought to trade Francisco Lindor this offseason. The club is pleasantly surprised with Jose Ramirez, who features superb defense and a typical bat for a shortstop. While his .256/.298/.339 slash is unexciting, it’s comparable to the average line produced by all major league shortstops – .250/.306/.362 (and that line includes Troy Tulowitzki). Shortstop prospects are the most common in baseball, and they bust 10 percent more frequently than any other position. Perhaps the Indians ought to consider acquiring a “sure thing” for their top prospect.
Of all the baseball news that broke in 2013, the story of how David Murphy's contract with the Indians became public has to be the most unique. Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer relates how Murphy and the Tribe had agreed to terms but were keeping the deal under wraps until it was finalized…only to have Murphy's five-year-old daughter spill the beans to her kindergarten class during a lesson about Thanksgiving. “She was in preschool and they were learning about Pilgrims and Indians,” Murphy told reporters last month. “She spoke up that her dad was going to the Indians. Obviously, the word spreads quickly because of social media. It’s not the best situation, but it’s a good story to tell her when she gets older.”
Here's some more Tribe-related notes from Hoynes, as part of a reader mailbag…
- The Indians don't have any current interest in Jake Westbrook, who pitched in Cleveland from 2001-10. Westbrook hit free agency after the Cardinals bought out his 2014 option but it's been a pretty quiet winter of rumors about the veteran right-hander. Hoynes reported in October that the Tribe would "keep an eye" on Westbrook but nothing seems to have come of that interest. Westbrook, 36, posted a 4.63 ERA in 116 2/3 IP with the Cardinals last season and had trouble missing bats, as he recorded only 44 strikeouts (against 50 walks).
- A right-handed power bat isn't high on the club's priority list as the Indians are focused on adding pitching.
- Hoynes figures the Indians will post a $20MM bid for Masahiro Tanaka since they "have nothing to lose" in doing so, given that only the team that signs Tanaka has to pay the $20MM posting fee. While the Indians may check on the Japanese righty, however, Hoynes thinks larger-market teams will offer Tanaka a much bigger contract offer.
- Hoynes thinks Ubaldo Jimenez will end up signing with the Blue Jays, Diamondbacks or Yankees. The Tanaka signing could affect this prediction as the latter two teams are known to be heavily interested in Tanaka and Toronto will likely be interested as well.
- Francisco Lindor is only likely to see time as a September callup, and that's only if the Indians' star prospect rebounds from a 2013 back injury and impresses in his first taste of Double-A and Triple-A baseball. Lindor's progress will also naturally impact the Tribe's future decision on Asdrubal Cabrera, who will be a free agent next winter. Cleveland is known to be listening to trade offers for Cabrera, who is coming off a down year in 2013.
Is this the beginning of a new era for shortstops?
Four publications — Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus (subscription required), Keith Law at ESPN (subscription required), and FanGraphs (compiled by yours truly) — recently released their midseason Top 50 prospects lists. The rankings featured as many as eight elite shortstop prospects. That position is widely considered to be the most important (non-pitcher) spot on the baseball field and those potential star athletes are highly-sought-after commodities on the open market, through trades and via the draft.
Of those eight prospects featured on the four lists, five of the players are found in American League organizations, suggesting we may be soon entering another Era of the Shortstop, similar to what we experienced in the early 2000s with the likes of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, and Miguel Tejada in the AL.
Let's have a closer look at those eight shortstop prospects…
1. Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox: Bogaerts was the highest ranked shortstop on all four lists. Boston is clearly planning for the day that the Aruba native is ready to contribute at the big league level as they recently had him playing games at the hot corner — an area of weakness for the playoff hungry club. However, the recent trade of Jose Iglesias, as well as the pending free agency of veteran Stephen Drew, should provide a clear path to the Major League shortstop job for Bogaerts, who has more than held his own at the Triple-A level.
2. Francisco Lindor, Indians: Just 19, Cleveland's top shortstop prospect earned a mid-season promotion from High-A to Double-A after a strong showing both in the field and at the plate. Veteran incumbent Asdrubal Cabrera's uninspired 2013 season could help convince the front office that his time with the organization is coming to an end. Lindor, who is only in his third professional season, could be ready for the Majors by the middle of 2014. He could develop into a perennial Gold Glove winner at shortstop.
3. Carlos Correa, Astros: The first overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft, Correa has produced above-average offensive numbers in Low-A ball despite being just 18 years of age. The Puerto Rico native has shown a natural hitting ability, but he has yet to tap into his raw power. There are concerns that he'll eventually outgrow shortstop, but he should have the offensive chops to be an above-average player at just about any position on the field.
4. Javier Baez, Cubs: Baez has arguably the best raw power out of any player on this list, and he already has 27 home runs in 98 games this year. Like Lindor (a fellow 2011 first-round draft pick), he's already reached Double-A. Unlike the Indians prospect, though, his offensive game is raw. He has a very aggressive approach at the plate, which has resulted in just 29 walks with 111 strikeouts in 391 at-bats. As is the case with Correa, there has been some talk of moving Baez to third base. However, with fellow prospect Mike Olt (recently acquired from the Rangers) – a plus defender at the hot corner — that move doesn't make a ton of sense now. He could also move out to right field, but the Cubs organization features a lot of depth in that area. If and when everything clicks for Baez, though, Chicago will certainly find a spot for him.
5. Addison Russell, Athletics: Russell, a 2012 first-rounder, burst onto the prospect landscape in a big way last season. His strong play earned him an aggressive assignment to High-A ball to open the 2013 season despite being just 19 years old. He struggled in the first two months of the season but has posted an OPS near 1.000 during the past two months. Russell probably won't be ready until 2015, so current big league shortstop Jed Lowrie likely has one more season of job security before he finds himself at another position or on another club.
6. Alen Hanson, Pirates: The emergence of Jordy Mercer has added some middle infield stability at the big league level for the Pirates but he's not likely to be the long-term answer at shortstop. Hanson, 20, is the best in-house option to eventually take over the position — although his name has popped up more than a few times in recent trade rumors. After a strong showing in High-A ball, the Dominican native was recently promoted to Double-A. The switch-hitter has shown the ability to steal 20-30 bases with solid line-drive pop.
7. Raul Mondesi, Royals: Previously known as Adalberto Mondesi, this shortstop prospect is one of the youngest players in full-season ball, having just recently turned 18. His inexperience has shown in 2013, and he walked just four times in May and June. His raw ability is undeniable, though, and he's made adjustments with a strong month of July — including 13 walks and his highest monthly OPS of the year at .817.
8. Corey Seager, Dodgers: Seager — whose brother Kyle Seager plays for the Mariners — is perhaps the most underrated shortstop on this list. The teenager has enjoyed his time in the Midwest League, and he's been on fire over the summer months with an OPS approaching 1.000. He's also slugged eight of his 11 home runs in June and July. Like Correa, Seager is expected to outgrow shortstop but he's shown enough skill at the position to suggest he may be able to stick there for a few more years. He's likely at least two seasons away from reaching Los Angeles.
Full Story | Comments | Categories: Addison Russell | Alen Hanson | Boston Red Sox | Carlos Correa | Chicago Cubs | Cleveland Indians | Corey Seager | Francisco Lindor | Houston Astros | Javier Baez | Kansas City Royals | Los Angeles Dodgers | Oakland Athletics | Pittsburgh Pirates | Prospect Rumor Roundup | Raul Mondesi | Xander Bogaerts
The Indians are looking for lefty relief help, tweets MLB.com's Jordan Bastian. Rich Hill is the only lefty reliever on Cleveland's active roster, and he has struggled this season, posting a 6.51 ERA and 5.5 BB/9, albeit with 11.7 K/9. The Indians haven't had much better luck this season with fellow lefty relievers Nick Hagadone, Scott Barnes and David Huff. Here's more out of Cleveland.
Pat McManamon of FOXSportsOhio.com confirms that the Indians are looking for relief help, particularly of the left-handed variety, but says not to expect much beyond that. McManamon reports that GM Chris Antonetti is pleased with the Indians' starting pitching, offense and defense, which only leaves the bullpen as a possible spot to upgrade. Antonetti remains open to a bigger trade, but he is unlikely to trade a young talent like Francisco Lindor or Danny Salazar, and he says he "feel[s] good about the group of guys that we have."
Antonetti also notes that it's a tough market for buyers, according to McManamon. "[Y]ou could make the argument that there are 24, maybe 25 teams that are buying or at least holding onto players," Antonetti says. That's particularly problematic for the Indians, since one of the few clear sellers (the White Sox) is in the Indians' division, and two other potential ones (the Twins and Royals) are as well. Those teams might not want to trade within the AL Central. Antonetti says it might actually easier to make deals in August, despite the barrier of the waiver process, because more teams will realize that they're out of the race by then.
We're still roughly one month away from the deadline to delay Super Two status for minor leaguers, at which point a flood of young talent is likely to hit the Major Leagues. Here's a look at some news on some of the game's top prospects, as ranked by Baseball America, Keith Law and Jonathan Mayo prior to the season…
- Two separate scouts told Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports that the Indians' Francisco Lindor could be the best prospect in baseball by the end of the season. Lindor, a 19-year-old shortstop, reminds both scouts of Jurickson Profar thanks to excellent plate discipline, defense and ability to hit for average (Twitter links). The main question surrounding Lindor is whether or not his power will develop.
- A Mets source tells ESPN's Adam Rubin that preventing Zack Wheeler from reaching Super Two status is a priority. Rubin pegs the June 17-20 series against the division rival Braves as a likely target for Wheeler's debut. In an appearance on WFAN Radio today, GM Sandy Alderson stressed the developmental side of things, stating that they need to make sure Wheeler is ready (via Newsday's Marc Carig on Twitter).
- Oswaldo Arcia may never play another game in the minor leagues again, writes Phil Mackey of 1500 ESPN. Arcia was initially called up to fill a void when Darin Mastroianni hit the disabled list, but he's hitting .299/.333/.506 with three homers thus far with the Twins. In his article, Mackey recounts a titanic opposite-field blast in a B-game by Arcia last Spring Training that grabbed the front office's attention and served as a launching pad for his career.
While the Indians would like to upgrade their rotation, they aren't interested in rental players, ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick reports (on Twitter). Here’s the latest on the Indians, who have a 50-49 record after defeating the Tigers last night…
- Asdrubal Cabrera would appeal to a team like Oakland, but the Indians would have to be blown away to move their shortstop, Crasnick reports (on Twitter).
- The Indians are very likely to hold onto Shin-Soo Choo now that they’re just 3.5 games out of a playoff berth, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com writes (Twitter link).
- Rangers GM Jon Daniels should trade for an impact hitter and a starting pitcher, Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports writes. The Rangers had a scout watching yesterday’s Tigers-Indians game, so Morosi suggests Choo could be an option for Texas. The Rangers also scouted Justin Upton, but it sounds as though Arizona won’t move the outfielder before the offseason.
- Though no players are off limits, a trade "would need to be exceptional" for the Indians to part with top prospect Francisco Lindor, MLB.com's Jordan Bastian reports (on Twitter).
The Indians have signed first overall pick Francisco Lindor, according to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer (on Twitter). Jim Callis of Baseball America reports that the sides agreed to a $2.9MM deal (Twitter link). Sportsmeter, LLC represents the 17-year-old. The Indians believe Lindor has the potential to develop into an impact shortstop, according to MLB.com's Jordan Bastian.
You can keep track of which top picks have signed with MLBTR's list.