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Poll: Should Josh Johnson Receive A Qualifying Offer?

It's been another disappointing season for the Blue Jays' Josh Johnson, who was expected to be a big part of the Jays' playoff push after being acquired in last offseason's blockbuster deal with the Marlins. As Toronto mulls a qualifying offer for the big right-hander, they'll have to weigh his troubling injury history with his ability to dominate when on the mound.

Johnson seemingly righted the ship in 2012, when he posted a 3.81 ERA and managed 30 starts for the first time since 2009. However, he was sidelined for much of 2013 by a series of arm ailments and knee tendinitis, and was finally shut down in late August with a strained forearm. His final line, a 6.20 ERA in 81 1/3 innings, makes 2013 arguably the worst campaign of his career.

That's not the whole story, however, as peripheral numbers suggest that Johnson may have been the victim of some bad luck in 2013. His 9.2 K/9 this year is well above his career mark of 7.8, though it's offset by an uptick in walks, and his xFIP is just 3.60. Looking closer, we see that Johnson's 18.5 percent HR/FB rate may have been the source of his 2013 woes. That figure is more than double his career 8.2 percent mark and ranks as the third-highest in baseball among pitchers who have thrown at least 80 innings.

There's also the fact that Johnson has consistently performed at a high level when healthy. His career ERA stands at 3.40, and he's still just 29. GM Alex Anthopoulos could make a splash in free agency or offer up more high-level prospects in a trade, but at just one year and $14MM or so, Johnson seems attractive in terms of upside.

Though the Blue Jays' offseason makeover hasn't worked as planned, the other major pieces the club acquired - Jose ReyesMark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey - all return for another playoff push in 2014. Given this and Johnson's encouraging peripherals, the righty may be worth the qualifying offer gamble. What do you think?

Poll: The Angels' Best Trade Chip

Much has been made of the Angels' need for young pitching this offseason, and there's been plenty of speculation that they'll have to acquire it via trade. Howie Kendrick, Mark Trumbo, Erick Aybar and Peter Bourjos are the names that come up most frequently when discussing the Halos' quest to acquire arms. While the team is reportedly more open to trading Kendrick than the others, they did discuss Aybar with the Cardinals this summer, and the Pirates attempted to land Trumbo, suggesting those names could surface in negotiations this winter.

Kendrick, 30, has batted .301/.341/.437 with 11 homers this season while delivering yet another season of solid defense at second base. He's under contract through 2015 and will earn $9.35MM in each of the next two seasons as he finishes out the four-year extension he signed prior to the 2012 campaign. Given the thin market for free agent second basemen, teams in need of an upgrade at the keystone may find Kendrick to be a highly appealing alternative.

Trumbo, who turns 28 in January, is having a down season at .244/.299/.471. He does have 32 homers and the best walk rate of his career (7.4 percent), and he's once again graded out as a plus defender at first base according to UZR and The Fielding Bible. Trumbo's on-base skills have long been questioned, but his walk rate has increased steadily since his rookie campaign. He'll be arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason and is controlled through 2016.

Aybar will turn 30 in January and is controlled through 2016 at $8.5MM per season. His stock is down thanks to a .267/.301/.380 batting line, but historically speaking he's been a plus offensive player at shortstop. He rarely walks but he also rarely strikes out (9.5 percent). It's not a surprise to see a decline in his stolen base total and advanced defensive metrics in a season where he's been slowed by heel and hamstring injuries, but he's a nice rebound candidate due to his age and track record.

The 26-year-old Bourjos is out for the season thanks to a fractured wrist but hit .274/.333/.377 in 55 games this year. Over the course of his career, he's graded out as one of baseball's best defenders in center and done so with an adjusted OPS that pegs him as a roughly league-average hitter. Like Trumbo, he's arbitration eligible for the first time this winter and can be controlled through 2016.

Realistically, Mike Trout is the best trade chip in all of baseball, but if we want to stick to realism, there's no chance the Angels would trade him, so he's been left off this poll. With all of this said, let's open up the vote.

Poll: How To Handle The Braves' Young Players

Last night, I discussed the Braves overflowing cupboard of players that seem to fit the mold of early extension candidates, looking at whether GM Frank Wren would join the league-wide trend of locking up young talent. In a nutshell, the team seems to have at least eleven players that arguably could warrant extension consideration in the immediate future: Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Jason Heyward, Chris Johnson, Craig Kimbrel, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Jonny Venters, Julio Teheran, and Justin Upton. (I mention Upton last because, though he is just 26, he has already signed one extension and thus is not looking for his first big payday. All of the other players still have at least two years of arbitration eligibility remaining.) Inspired by the MLBTR commenters that endeavored to sort through this group, I thought it would be interesting to ask our readers to weigh in on the situation in its full context.

As noted in my earlier piece, Atlanta does have room in its future payroll to fit some extensions. Then again, it also has over $40MM committed to just three players over the next two years, and boasts an annual payroll that has tended to land right around $90MM at opening day. The list of players we've compiled is good enough that you could probably just add average players around it and still have a winner. Without demeaning the immense contributions this year of part-timers like Jordan Schafer and Evan Gattis, to say nothing of Brian McCann and a solid all-around pitching staff, that is very nearly what the Braves have done. But if the full core cannot be maintained for the long-term, with big arbitration raises ramping up beginning next year, then how should the team prioritize amongst its youngsters?

To keep things simple, we'll allow for three options on each of the youngsters noted above: First, go year to year for the time being, potentially risking losing the player through free agency and paying full boat (arbitration-wise, anyway) for their services. Second, explore a long-term extension that delivers cost-certainty and perhaps cost savings, while adding risk and reducing payroll flexibility. (Of course, the length and value will vary widely by player, but we will have to save that discussion for another day.) Third, shop the player on the open market, looking to return even younger, cheaper, close-to-the-bigs talent.

It is important, of course, to consider the internal options that the team's always-productive minor league system has in the pipeline. The Braves' top prospects include a bevy of young pitchers, some of whom -- in particular, J.R. GrahamSean Gilmartin, and Cody Martin -- could soon be ready to contribute at the MLB level along with rookie Alex Wood. There are a few top position players in the upper minors as well, led by catcher Christian Bethancourt, outfielder Todd Cunningham, third baseman Edward Salcedo, and second baseman Tommy La Stella.

Here is a breakdown of the contract situations of the eleven players we will consider:

Second-Year Arb-Eligible (2013 salary; notes)

  • Outfielder Jason Heyward ($3.65MM)
  • Starter Kris Medlen ($2.6MM)
  • Reliever Jonny Venters ($1.62MM; missed all of 2013 due to Tommy John surgery)
  • Third baseman Chris Johnson ($2.88MM; qualified for arbitration as Super Two)

First-Year Arb-Eligible (notes)

  • Closer Craig Kimbrel
  • First baseman Freddie Freeman
  • Starter Brandon Beachy 
  • Starter Mike Minor (will have 2.138 years of service and likely be arb-eligible as Super Two)

Pre-Arb-Eligible (notes)

  • Shortstop Andrelton Simmons (will have 1.125 years of service)
  • Starter Julio Teheran (will have 1.062 years of service)

Under Contract Through 2015 (salary)

  • Outfielder Justin Upton (owed $14.25MM in 2014 and $14.5MM in 2015)

Click here to view the results as they come in.

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Poll: Will Adam Dunn And Paul Konerko Retire?

For most teams that aren't playoff-bound in September, the talk surrounding the club is centered on the team's future and young talent.  However, the focus for White Sox fans in the last couple of days have been on a pair of veterans who may call it quits following this season.

Paul Konerko has hinted all season that 2013 could be his final season as he battles through a multitude of injuries.  The 37-year-old's age has undeniably been showing this season as he has a .244/.314/.358 slash line, his worst in any season as a full time major leaguer.  However, he's been telling friends as of late that he wants to continue playing and return to the White Sox in 2014.

Meanwhile, teammate Adam Dunn told Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports that he could conceivably walk away from the game, which is surprising for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost, Dunn is owed $15MM next season and it's rare to see anyone walk away from that kind of cash.  Secondly, Dunn has been hitting quite well over the last couple of months and is even hitting for average.  The veteran may be frustrated with the White Sox's season overall, but he can't beat himself up for his individual performance.  For what it's worth, he seemed to walk his comments back a bit earlier today.

Apparently everybody is retiring,” Ventura said of talk that Konerko and Dunn could call it quits, according to Dan Hayes of “When you’re frustrated that probably comes up a lot, but I don’t see it happening. I don’t see Dunner going anywhere. I think those are just things you talk about. He’s probably at a point in his career where you can bring the subject up about when is the right time, when isn’t, but I fully expect him to be in spring training with us.

Ultimately, how do you see things playing out for the White Sox vets?

Poll: Which Contender Made The Best August Trade(s)?

With the calendar now turned to September, and teams no longer able to add outside talent to their post-season roster, it is worth taking a moment to look back. After a quiet non-revocable trade deadline on July 31, several contenders were left to work the waiver wire over the month of August to shore up their squads. While we did not see a blockbuster like last year's Red Sox-Dodgers stunner, there were several notable deals that could have a big impact on the final month of the season and the tournament that follows.

Which team do you think made the wisest late-summer acquisition(s) for the stretch?

  • Rangers acquire Alex Rios -- After losing slugger Nelson Cruz to suspension, the Rangers acted to add the up-and-down Rios from the White Sox. While only giving up the team's 20th-rated prospect (per Baseball America, before the season), the Rangers did take on the most substantial salary obligations of any August deal.
  • Royals acquire Jamey Carroll and Emilio Bonifacio -- Having struggled to find a regular second baseman all year, but facing long odds to make a playoff run, Kansas City made two low-cost middle infield acquisitions in three days by adding veterans Carroll and Bonifacio. Since the move, neither has manned the keystone regularly, but their versatility has allowed them to step in at multiple positions.
  • Rays acquire David DeJesus -- The acquisition of DeJesus gave Tampa a solid veteran who can man all three outfield positions. His left-handed bat increases the Rays' flexibility. DeJesus has been swinging the stick well since reporting from his very temporary stay with the Nationals.
  • Athletics acquire Kurt Suzuki -- With the team's catching depth tested by injuries to John Jaso and Derek Norris, the A's brought back the one-time stalwart Suzuki. Still an athletic backstop and solid veteran presence, the 29-year-old was strong for the Nationals down the stretch last year and will look to do the same for Oakland.
  • Pirates acquire Marlon Byrd, John Buck, and Justin Morneau -- After standing pat in July, the Pirates' front office launched into action, first adding the suddenly excellent Byrd and steady Buck. The Bucs did send youngsters Dilson Herrera and Vic Black to the Mets, which was probably the biggest prospect haul of any of the August deals. Next, the Pirates added Morneau to the club's first baes mix from the Twins for little more than the remainder of his salary
  • Orioles acquire Michael Morse -- Having already sent out future value to bolster the squad during the non-waiver trade period, the O's doubled down by bringing the slugging Morse back to the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan region. Hoping that Morse's right-center-field power will yield better results at Camden Yards than it did in Seattle, Baltimore was willing to part with its tenth-ranked pre-season prospect, Xavier Avery
  • Indians acquire Jason Kubel -- The defensively-challenged Kubel has been one of baseball's worst players this year, but has a much better history at the plate than he's shown in 2013. This deal seems to be a low-cost roll of the dice: the Tribe paid very little for a player who has struggled mightily and does not have an obvious role.
  • Cardinals acquire John Axford -- St. Louis picked up the pricey former closer for a player to be named later that could be 24-year-old reliever Michael Blazek. Looking to shore up its injury-ravaged pitching staff, the Cards will hope that Axford can restore his strikeout rate to its previously excellent level while holding down the free passes.
  • Dodgers acquire Michael Young -- Ast the ever-active Dodgers look ahead to a hopeful run at the World Series, the veteran Young represents the last piece of the puzzle. Though he offers a similar bat and less defensive value than current third baseman Juan Uribe, Los Angeles figures to utilize Young in a super-utility role that will allow the team to benefit from his steady hitting and leadership.

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Poll: Best Midseason Relief Signing

Bullpen help is typically the most volatile commodity in baseball. While many teams think they're set when Opening Day rolls around, that's often not the case. As such, free agents are often turned to for depth. While they often don't work out (there's a reason they're unsigned midseason, after all), sometimes teams reap the benefits of their low-risk investments. Here's a look at some of the more notable midseason bullpen signings...

  • Kevin Gregg -- The Cubs inked Gregg back on April 14, and he's served as their closer for most of the season. Gregg has a 2.85 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9, but he's stumbled tremendously since a lights-out start to the year. Even though he's pitched poorly since July 1, he's still managed to pick up 25 saves overall for Chicago.
  • Francisco Rodriguez -- The Brewers brought K-Rod back on April 17 and celebrated his 300th career save later in the season. He pitched to a 1.09 ERA with 9.5 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 24 2/3 innings for the Crew before being flipped to the Orioles for Nick Delmonico -- an infielder who entered the season as one of the Birds' Top 5 prospects.
  • David Aardsma -- Aardsma's numbers would've looked a lot better if this poll had been conducted 72 hours ago -- just before he had a four-run meltdown against the Padres. Still, he's delivered a 4.50 ERA with 7.7 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9 in 18 innings since signing with the Mets on May 20.
  • Brian Wilson -- Wilson signed a Major League contract with the Dodgers but has yet to appear in a game. He should debut shortly after firing 4 1/3 scoreless innings of minor league relief with the team as he finalized his rehab.
  • Jose Valverde -- Valverde was lights out for the Tigers for a few weeks, posting a 0.75 ERA over his first 12 innings of work.  Unfortunately for Detroit, he crashed and burned with 11 earned runs (and six homers) over his final 7 1/3 innings of relief.

With that said, let's open it up to a poll...

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Poll: Boldest Mid-Season Rebuilding Moves Of 2013

While it is often difficult to distinguish a rebuilding club from one that is not, each of the teams listed below could be -- or, arguably, should be -- considered to be in rebuilding mode on some level. While some entered the year hoping to contend, opportunities arose throughout the season to change course as post-season prospects dimmed. Among the available mechanisms of trades, draft picks, extensions, and signings (both free agent and international), there were many ways to act decisively with the future in mind.

I attempted to identify the boldest moves made by actual or potential rebuilders during the course of the 2013 season. (Feel free to disagree with my choices -- including the omission of the Giants and Blue Jays -- in the comments.) To participate in the poll, simply rank the following moves from best (1) to worst (10):

  • Astros extend Jose Altuve -- In the midst of yet another terrible season, and shedding payroll at such a pace that the team's highest-paid current player (Erik Bedard) makes just $1.1MM this year, the Astros finally made a significant, forward-looking commitment at the big league level when they extended Altuve. While the deal comes with relatively limited financial risk to the team, it is a relative mega-deal to the budget-conscious 'Stros, and constitutes an undeniable step towards building up (rather than tearing down) for GM Jeff Luhnow. While he is by all accounts a high-character player, Altuve has had his struggles and shown some limitations in 2013.
  • Marlins retain Giancarlo Stanton -- The decision not to deal the young, cost-controlled, slugging Stanton probably does not qualify as a major surprise, especially given his early-season struggles and status as the club's lone star (excepting the emerging Jose Fernandez). What was more eye-opening, however, was the team's apparent unwillingness even to listen to offers. Whether the team will take part in trade talks during the coming off-season remains to be seen, but it was at least arguable that Stanton would have brought the greatest return on a deadline deal.
  • White Sox trade for Avisail Garcia -- Dealing a solid veteran starting pitcher like Jake Peavy was not really terribly bold, in and of itself, for the cellar-dwelling Sox. But the nature of the deal -- a creative, three-team affair that sent youth to Chicago from two contenders -- certainly was. Most fascinating of all was the marquee return: Garcia, a polarizing, toolsy prospect that has his share of doubters. And the Sox didn't just acquire Garcia, they promptly plugged him into the everyday big league lineup. While GM Rick Hahn presumably could have added a safer, higher-floor player like Jose Iglesias, who the Red Sox gave up to the Tigers in the deal, they elected to aim for upside.
  • Brewers sign and trade Francisco Rodriguez -- While the Brewers entered the year with hopes of contending, and only promised to pay Rodriguez anything of significance if he made it to the majors, the club was already fading when it guaranteed him $2MM with a mid-May call-up. When K-Rod's excellent performance for Milwaukee failed to correspond with a like result from the rest of the club, GM Doug Melvin was able to parlay the one-time star reliever into Nick Delmonico, the Orioles' fourth-ranked prospect coming into the year.
  • Cubs spend aggressively in international market -- In the course of turning veterans into prospects and shedding salary, president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer also took an exceptionally aggressive approach to this year's international signing period. Dishing out nearly $8MM in bonuses for players including the top-ranked Eloy Jimenez, the Cubbies appear to have triggered the maximum penalties under the international signing system for spending past their bonus slot allocations, leaving the team on the hook for a hefty tax and unable to sign any qualifying international player for more than $250k next year. 
  • Phillies extend Chase Utley -- Are the Phils rebuilding? GM Ruben Amaro Jr. certainly doesn't seem to think so. Rather than pursuing a trade of the veteran second baseman Utley, who surely would have brought back a sizeable return, the club instead gave him a two-year, $27MM extension with a series of playing-time-triggered vesting options thereafter. While few have questioned that the price was fair, Amaro has come under fire for pressing ahead with an aging, injury-prone veteran core. Certainly, the move was a bold one, but was it wise?
  • Padres trade for Ian Kennedy -- With his club fading from contention, GM Josh Byrnes did not simply dump veterans for young, unproven prospects. Instead, he executed a fascinating intra-division deal to bring in the once-excellent Kennedy from the Diamondbacks. If Kennedy can revive his career in San Diego, this could be the steal of the trade season.
  • Angels trade for Grant Green -- Another intra-division stunner went down in the AL West, as the disappointing Angels dealt the struggling, but historically solid Alberto Callaspo for young infielder Grant Green. With a host of big contracts on the books, GM Jerry Dipoto was not really in a position to blow up the roster completely. Instead, he acquired a cheap, cost-controlled, high-upside, big-league ready bat in Green, but also gave up the affordable and steady Callaspo for a player with major defensive questions.
  • Twins draft and sign Kohl Stewart -- After three college players went off the board, GM Terry Ryan nabbed high-school hurler Stewart with the fourth overall pick. Continuing the team's acccumulation of high-upside ballplayers, many of whom have responded in a big way to aggressive promotions in the Minnesota farm system, the Twins declined to play it safe by taking Stewart. 
  • Mariners, Mets, Rockies do not sell -- Approaching the trade deadline without much prospect of post-season berths, and with productive (and, in some cases, highly-paid) veterans on the books, these teams could have acted to move salary and acquire minor-league talent. Instead, none made a significant move at the deadline. While each team certainly faced a multitude of considerations regarding multiple potential trade chips, it seems that they adopted a general resolve not to simply get what they could for their most desirable veterans. Contributing to a generally uneventful deadline period, the decisions of the Mariners, Mets, and Rockies to hold pat might be characterized as bold inaction.
(Click here to view the results.)
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Poll: Most Surprising Player To Clear Waivers

We're about halfway through August, and there have been a fair share of waiver trades already made. Alex Rios, Jamey Carroll, Wesley Wright, Travis Blackley and Emilio Bonifacio have all changed teams after being claimed.

To this point, ten players have reportedly cleared waivers: Erik Bedard, Adam Dunn, Dan Haren, Josh Johnson, Matt Lindstrom, Justin Morneau, Jimmy Rollins, Brendan Ryan, Michael Young and Barry Zito. Obviously, any of them could still end up being moved, as they're now eligible to be dealt to any team after clearing.

It's not surprising that some of these players would clear waivers (Zito, in particular, comes to mind), but at least a few of them seem to have enough value that they'd be an asset to a contender looking to bolster its roster for a playoff push and therefore worth claiming. And, as we saw with the Rios trade, the price to acquire players right now isn't exactly sky-high.

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Poll: How Will The D'Backs Finish?

You may remember the Diamondbacks' last trip to the postseason in 2011 when they finished with a 94-68 mark and took the division before getting bounced in five games by the Brewers.  Their last playoff cameo before that?  It was in 2007 when they captured the NL West crown and made quick work of the Cubs in the opening round before they got the favor returned to them by the Rockies in the NLCS.  As it stands in 2013, the Diamondbacks are a 6.5 games back of the red-hot Dodgers and are 4.5 games back of the Reds for the final Wild Card spot.

Arizona was in need of a bullpen boost heading into the trade deadline this year and while they got themselves a left-hander in Joe Thatcher, it didn't come cheap.  Landing the LOOGY from San Diego meant parting ways with 28-year-old Ian Kennedy, a starter who is under club control through 2015 as an arbitration eligible player.  Whether you like that deal for the D'Backs in the long-term (many don't), it should only help improve things for them this year as their rotational depth made Kennedy fairly expendable.  So far, Thatcher has surrendered just one hit across four relief appearances for Arizona. 

If the playoffs started today, the Diamondbacks would be the best National League club to be left on the outside looking in.  Of course, there's still plenty of time left for the Diamondbacks to make up ground as well.  How do you see the rest of this season playing out for Arizona? 

Which Players Will Be Extended Before Free Agency?

Five days after the World Series ends, free agents will be free to sign with any team.  Our current list is here, but often a few key names are plucked off the market early by signing an extension or new contract with their team.  For example, in October 2011, the Yankees were able to negotiate an extension with C.C. Sabathia prior to him opting out and reaching the open market.  Such deals could even happen now, like when the Astros added two years for Brett Myers in August 2010.  Below we've identified six players teams may want to retain before they hit the open market.  Let us know which will get a deal done!  You can choose multiple players.  You can view the poll results here.

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