Takeaways from the 2016 MLB Winter Meetings

Aside from the mid-season trade deadline that sees numerous players changing squads with the hopes that they might be the final piece needed to push any given team into the postseason, the Winter Meetings are the busiest time of year for trades and signings to take place around Major League Baseball. mlb

In the past, some of baseball’s biggest deals have taken place during the Winter Meetings (it was the 2007 meetings when the Tigers picked up Miguel Cabrera). But while the 2016 Winter Meetings that took place in National Harbor, Maryland, didn’t have nearly as much action as some of the previous ones, there were still some huge transactions that will vastly affect teams when the 2017 season begins.

Following the signings of big-time free agents Yoenis Cespedes and Carlos Beltran over the past couple of weeks, the Winter Meetings began on Sunday evening, with many rumors swirling around as to what would take place over the course of the five day event. But over time, as always, fact was quickly distinguished from rumor.

Things kicked off with the signing of Matt Holliday by the New York Yankees on a one-year, 13 million dollar deal. While the acquisition doesn’t immediately jump off the page as all that great, it’s still an impactful one. The seven-time All-Star can play a variety of positions, and can still hit with the best of them, knocking 20 homers in 2016.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia PhilliesOn the opposite side of the spectrum is Mark Melancon, who is one of the best at limiting homers, giving up just three total over the course of 71.1 innings last season. For his efforts, Melancon was grabbed by the Giants for the next four years at a price tag of 62 million. After saving 88 games over the last two years, Melancon certainly earned it, and San Francisco appears to have found their closer.

It also appears that Melancon will come in handy for the Giants, as their long-time rivals, the Dodgers, were successful in resigning Rich Hill on a three-year, 48 million dollar deal. After being virtually on his way out of the sport at one point, Hill posted a 2.12 ERA last season, and would likely be the Dodgers’ ace if not for Clayton Kershaw. Still, he sits as one of the best pitchers in the game.

Offensively, it became apparent that the Blue Jays were looking into other options other than Edwin Encarnacion following their signing of Kendrys Morales a few weeks ago, but it became even more so with the addition of Steve Pearce for 12.5 over the next two years. Pearce doesn’t have nearly the power of some players, but his bat is still one that can impact any given game, despite not being a huge move.

However, just as it seemed that the Winter Meeting were going to be a bit slow, with just a few above average deals, the Red Sox decided to take things up a notch. Following a trade for reliever Tyler Thornburg from the Brewers in exchange for Travis Shaw, Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington, Boston made the biggest splash of the offseason to this point.

Reaching deep into their farm system, the Red Sox sent away highly coveted prospects saleYoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, along with Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz, in return for Chris Sale. If Sale can keep up his dominance that’s made him one of the best pitchers in baseball, the Red Sox could win the division with ease in 2017. But as has been seen in the past, baseball is extremely unpredictable.

Nearly as uncertain is a player’s health from any given season to the next, and Wilson Ramos is a prime example of that. After beginning 2016 on a tear, Ramos suffered a season-ending injury this past season, but hopes to be ready to go sometime around the middle of 2017. Whenever he arrives with the Rays, who signed him to a two-year, 12.5 million (18.5 with incentives) dollar deal, he’s sure to make his presence known.

Wade Davis is also sure to make a big difference for the Cubs, as if they needed any more help. After winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years this season, Chicago picked up lockdown reliever Wade Davis from the Royals in a trade that sent Jorge Soler to the Royals. With Aroldis Chapman winding up with a team away from Chicago as the Winter Meetings progressed, Davis could come up big in 2017.

But while teams such as the Red Sox and Cubs were focused on rebuilding their major league lineup, there were those like the White Sox who made huge improvements to their farm system. After receiving quite the hall from the Red Sox in the Chris Sale deal, the Sox proceeded to pick up Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning from the Nationals, losing just Adam Eaton in the swap.

Many see this as a vastly one-sided deal, with the Nationals getting the short end of the stick. But after losing out on Chris Sale and Mark Melancon, the Nationals were undoubtedly looking to add an impact piece and were all in to get Adam Eaton. They may regret it in the short term, but in the long term things may work out in their favor.

desmondOne player who didn’t have things work out quite the way he had been hoping was Ian Desmond, who agreed to a five-year, 70 million dollar contract to play in Denver. After struggling mightily in 2015, following a turndown of a 7-year, 102 million dollar offer from the Nationals in 2014, Demsond really broke out again in 2016 with the Rangers.

The Rockies could use some offense (among other things), and Desmond adds a big piece to their improving lineup, despite not getting the contract he could have received just a few seasons ago.

The final big transaction made on the final day of the Winter Meetings saw Aroldis Chapman going back to the Yankees for five years and 86 million dollars. Coming off his help with the Cubs in their World Series title quest in this season, Chapman has long been known as a devastating pitcher, with his 102+ mile per hour fastball. It will be interesting to see how the Yankees fare in 2017 in what has become a competitive division, but with Chapman locking down the ninth, anything is truly possible.

But while some teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox and White Sox left the Winter Meetings with their teams very different from when things began, with others doing hardly anything at all to improve their club, it’s important to keep in mind that there are still over 16 weeks left until the 2017 season begins.

The shaking up of teams this offseason could possibly be far from over.

Shelby Miller: A Tale of Two Seasons

Nothing is guaranteed in baseball. From one season to the next, you never know which teams will go from last to first or first to last, or which players will have a bounce back year or a season far disastrous from the one they posted just a year prior. Shelby Miller

Shelby Miller is a prime example of that.

Last season with the Braves, Miller made himself known as a true star pitcher in baseball, giving Atlanta 205.1 strong innings, totaling up to a 3.02 ERA on the season. For his efforts, Miller received a ton of recognition — so much so that he was the key piece of a huge trade this past offseason.

Sending their top prospect (and first overall draft pick in 2015) Dansby Swanson, along with two other pieces, to the Braves, the Diamondbacks received back Shelby Miller to join Zack Greinke in what looked to be a strong pitching staff; one predicted to be more than capable of competing for the National League West title.

However, things have gone far from perfect in Arizona.

With Greinke being injured at times this season, Paul Goldschmidt not getting off to a hot start, and with 2015 breakout star, A.J. Pollock, being lost for the year in Spring Training, not a lot has gone right to help the D-backs perform the way they had been expected to.

But while it’s not completely Miller’s fault (it’s never fair to point the finger at any one player as the sole reason for a team’s losing season), he certainly has played a big part in their demise.

Going 2-9 with a 7.14 ERA over 14 starts this season, Miller was sent down to Triple-A on Thursday, with the hopes of getting him back on track in the minors. But even if he gets it going again down in Reno, things are too far gone for the Diamondbacks to regain momentum and make something special out of this season.

Sitting in last place in their division, 19 games back of the first-place Giants, the Diamondbacks haven’t had much to be excited about this season. While Miller was supposed to give the D-backs a great shot at a memorable year, he hasn’t been anywhere close to the pitcher he was last season with the Braves. But you truly never can tell how any given trade will pan out.

Even so, with the trade deadline slowly approaching in two weeks, it will be interesting to see which teams will take a gamble and make a trade for a star player. It may pay off, giving them what they need to make it to the postseason. Or it could turn out to make little to no difference, as the Shelby Miller trade has for Arizona.

Diamondbacks Land Another Impact Pitcher

The Arizona Diamondbacks rattled the baseball world over the weekend when it was announced that they had signed free agent pitcher Zack Greinke to a 6-year, 206 million dollar contract, coming out to over 34 million a season — the most for any player in baseball history. Greinke

With Greinke coming off an incredibly historic year with a mere 1.66 ERA, he was one of the best players available this offseason, so it was no true shock that he was so highly coveted and thus highly paid.

But while that move was a big one for the Diamondbacks, and is sure to help them out in 2016 and beyond, it was another move they made on Tuesday evening that got people truly looking at the D-backs as potential contenders in 2016.

It was announced that the Diamondbacks have acquired Shelby Miller from the Braves in exchange for Ender Inciarte, Aaron Blair and Dansby Swanson. Although they finished third in the division in 2015, the D-backs are ultimately saying they want to break out as frontrunners in 2016.

Miller’s 6-17 win loss record from last season is one of the most deceptive you’ll ever see. Due to a major lack in run support, Miller wasn’t able to pick up a lot of victories, but he was impressive. Posting a 3.02 ERA over 205.1 innings pitched in which he struck out 171 batters, Miller will undoubtedly give the D-backs a nice one-two punch with Greinke.

While picking up Miller means losing Ender Inciarte — a good outfielder –and Aaron Blair — a highly coveted pitching prospect — those players aren’t all that much to lose in the long term. But including Dansby Swanson in the trade is a MLB: Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Philliesmove that many people feel they may regret when all is said and done.

Swanson was the number one overall draft pick in the 2015 draft, and is seen by many people as a future All-Star caliber shortstop. While the D-backs are obviously in a win-now mindset — picking up Miller certainly pushes them towards that — it will be interesting to see whether they come to regret the loss of Swanson down the road.

However, the Diamondbacks are set up nicely. But with them having added some key pieces, they need to make sure they capitalize on them all.

With a rotation that includes Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller and Patrick Corbin as the top three, as well as a lineup with a lot of thump lead by All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, the D-backs could be in business in 2016.

But they wouldn’t be the first team in history to have all the pieces only to see things not work out. Only time will tell how 2016 will pan out.

Several Teams On the Outside Looking In

Inevitably each and every Major League Baseball season a handful of teams fail to live up to expectations placed on them at the start of the year. Whether a team simply doesn’t play to the best of their ability, or if it’s injuries that keeps them from performing well, a few teams always end up short of where they were projected to finish the year.

The Diamondback’s, Rangers, Red Sox and Rays are all examples of that from the 2014 season. People from all over the baseball world selected theRangers majority of those teams to make solid pushes at the postseason, but all of them but the Rays are going to finish dead last in their division (the Rays will finish fourth in the American League east). Truly disappointing endings for what were supposed to be promising teams.

On the flip side, a few teams that no one saw coming always go on a major run in any given year, passing big time teams, and leaving many people scratching their heads as to how they’re doing it.

But while the winning streaks of underdog teams are always exciting, a lot of those type of teams can’t keep up their torrid runs for an extended period of time, subsequently falling back down to their normal levels, and missing the playoffs.

For the Marlins, Brewers and Yankees, they were those type of teams this season. No one saw them doing much of anything with the rosters they had going into the season, but they each went on runs at one point or another this season, proving a bunch of people wrong. None more so than the Brewers, who ended up being one of the biggest rise and fall team in years.

After leading the National League central division for 150 days of the season, the Brewers went into a major, major slump. A slump that caused them to plummet through the standings, currently sitting five games back of the second Wild Card spot. With under a one percent chance of making the postseason according to MLB.com, the Brewers’ year is all but over, despite their great efforts.

The Indians and Mariners are a couple of teams that are still in the race for the second Wild Card but are likely going to miss out, even after great runs this year gave their fans something to get excited about. Given under an eight percent chance of the postseason, it’s going to take an unprecedented string of events for either of them to make it in. But as has been proven time and time again with baseball, anything can happen.

Ballot Released for the 2014 MLB All-Star Game

On Friday, the ballot for the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star game, set to take place up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at Target Field on July, 15th, was released, giving baseball fans all across the country the ability to pick which players they’d like to see in the starting lineups of Untitledthe midsummer classic.

With more and more attention being given to the All-Star game as years pass (a record 40.2 million ballots were cast in 2012), and with there being so many top quality candidates to choose from, the voting has become extremely intriguing.

To cast your vote, you can head down to your local ballpark and pick up a ballot, or, the easiest of ways, just head to MLB.com and fill out an online ballot with the player you feel most deserves the honor for each position. You have up to 25 votes (35 if you’re a registered member with MLB.com) that you can use.

Voting doesn’t end until July 3rd, but I’m not waiting (at least not completely).

I went ahead and cast half of my eligible 35 votes today for the players who I feel would deserve to make the All-Star team if it were being played tomorrow, with a plan for my remaining picks to be cast much closer to time. A lot of things can change, and therefore, my picks will subsequently change as well. However, for the sole purpose of this blog post, I figured I’d reveal the players I voted for, with the reasoning behind my picks:

FIRST BASE: Albert Pujols (AL), Paul Goldschmidt (NL)

With the great start he’s had so far this season, picking Albert Pujols was an easy choice. Though there are several other great candidates, including Miguel Cabrera, who just recently moved back over to first, and rookie phenom, Jose Abreu, who’s off to a fast start to his major league career, it was Pujols who had the overall package, posting a solid campaign for comeback player of the year.

For the National League side of the vote, it was a bit more difficult, with even more great candidates. From Brandon Belt’s fantastic, breakout start, to the always consistent Freddie Freeman, it was hard to settle with the decision I came to of picking Paul Goldschmidt. However, after the breakout season he had in 2013, and the fact that he isn’t letting up, he’s done enough to earn him my vote.

SECOND BASE: Robinson Cano (AL), Neil Walker (NL)

Though his power numbers have yet to show up so far this season, as many predicted with his move to the Mariners, I voted for Robinson Cano to start at second for the All-Star game. He’s still been fairly consistent at the plate this season, and his defensive skills are always fun to watch. While both Jason Kipnis and Dustin Pedroia were considered, Cano, in my mind, is the best choice at the moment.

I never thought I’d cast a vote for Neil Walker over the walking web gem that is Brandon Phillips, but that’s exactly what I did. Walker is off to a fantastic start to the year, and while Phillips hasn’t slowed down with his glove handiwork, he’s been a bit slow at the plate thus far. If he can pick it up offensively, he’ll likely earn the fan’s vote, but for now, I’m sticking with the Pirates’ Walker.

SHORTSTOP: Derek Jeter (AL), Troy Tulowitzki (NL)

Statistically, Alexei Ramirez probably deserves the starting shortstop role more than Derek Jeter, having one of the fastest starts of anyone in baseball, and the best kickoff to his career. However, with this being his final season (and Jeter being my favorite player), I had to vote for Jeter. The model of consistency, Jeter in all likelihood will be making his final All-Star start come July.

Troy Tulowitzki has always had the potential to be one of the top players in all of baseball, however, health has played a big role in hindering that caliber player from showing up. But with Tulo fully healthy, he’s begun to show signs of his full potential, and has been doing fantastic so far for the Rockies. While Andrelton Simmons and Hanley Ramirez would be great picks, mine goes to Tulowitzki.

THIRD BASE: Evan Longoria (AL), David Wright (NL)

In voting for the American League third baseman, though Josh Donaldson has, arguably, gotten off to the best start of any third baseman in baseball, I went with Evan Longoria. While Donaldson could definitely earn the All-Star spot should he continue his great play, Longoria has always been able to be consistent for the Rays. He should be able to do enough to earn the honor yet again.

Pedro Alvarez and Nolan Arenado have both begun the 2014 season on a high note, however, with David Wright having a good year as well so far, and factoring in his track record, my ballot saw Wright as the pick for third base. Wright always seems to have the numbers to warrant an All-Star selection, and I feel he’ll likely make the cut this time around as well.

CATCHER: Matt Wieters (AL), Yadier Molina (NL)

With Brian McCann heading from the NL to the AL this offseason, many felt he would be an immense impact as he has been over the years. But while he certainly has been great, he hasn’t had the fastest start to the season among catchers. Matt Wieters has had a career season so far, really producing well for the Orioles, and if he can keep it up, he very well could overtake McCann in the voting.

When it comes to picking the National League catcher, it truly is a tough choice. There are several great ones to pick from, many of which have been All-Stars before, and the great seasons so far by those players makes it nearly impossible to say which one player stands above the rest. With that said, however, I went with Yadier Molina, who does nearly everything well on the field, and deserves another selection.

DESIGNATED HITTER: Nelson Cruz

Being just an American League category, there weren’t too many players to pick from, so it came down to David Ortiz and Nelson Cruz for me. While David Ortiz is usually the obvious choice, Cruz is having a career season so far, and he might receive the All-Star votes needed if he can keep up his hot start. However, don’t count out Ortiz, as he could heat up as July continues to approach.

OUTFIELD

It’s never easy to narrow down 90 players to just six (three for each league), especially when you could make a strong case for a dozen of the outfield choices for each league, but it’s a requirement when casting a ballot. So, while I voted for the players who I felt were All-Star caliber players at the moment, there are a few more I would’ve liked to vote for, but couldn’t. Keep that in mind when reading the outfielders I selected for the American League and National League:

Mike Trout, Carlos Beltran, Jose Bautista (AL)

All three of these players are off to tremendous starts to the season, with all three standing a good shot at making the All-Star team this year. Mike Trout is, arguably, the best player in the game today, constantly making great plays and showing off his power at the plate, with Carlos Beltran and Jose Bautista possessing some of the best power baseball has to offer. Everything together, they all deserve consideration.

Ryan Braun, Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen (NL)

As with most categories, the National League has more players overall that have an argument each season to be an All-Star. For this season, I voted for Ryan Braun (unfortunately), Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen, as while I’m against Braun for his PED use, he’s still a good player. But with that said, I felt a lot better about choosing Stanton and McCutchen than I did Braun.

Do you agree or disagree with my picks? Leave a comment below.

Top Prospects Ready to Make MLB Impact

There are numerous top prospects set to make an impact in the major leagues this season, as I wrote about a few months ago, but for this particular post, I’m only focusing on the players who are ready right now to get a callup to the big leagues, but are yet to for one reason or another. Keep in mind as you’re reading, the players (in no particular order) I’ve included are yet to play a single game in the majors:13067210

Archie Bradley is the first player on my list, as he nearly made the Diamondback’s rotation out of Spring Training. Going 14-5, with a 1.84 ERA last season, Bradley is one of those players who is sure to make an immediate impact upon his first callup to the majors. Though it could be awhile longer before Bradley gets his first big league start, he’s ready now, nonetheless, to show off his stuff on the highest level.

Another player who nearly made the majors out of Spring Training, and likely should have, is George Springer. Blasting the second-most home runs of any player in the minors last season, with a total of 37, Springer is sure to be one of the key pieces for the Astros moving forward, whenever his callup takes place. With the Astros’ outfield struggling, besides Dexter Fowler, bringing up Springer would be a smart thing to do.

Gregory Polanco could end up being as big of a difference maker for the Pirates as Andrew McCutchen. Though he’s yet to prove his ability on the major league level, there are a lot of people who feel Polanco is experienced enough to make the jump. Currently in Triple-A, it will likely be a bit of time before Polanco is called up, however, his combination of speed, power, and ability to hit for average should help him stick.

Joc Pederson is more than ready to make his major league debut, but there’s a big problem he faces: he’s an outfielder in the Dodgers’ organization. With a current outfield of Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford, Pederson simply has nowhere to go. While it could be a good bit of time before the Dodgers’ figure out a solution to the situation they have with Pederson, he should be up before too long.

Currently battling an injury, Addison Russell can’t technically be called up to the major leagues until he fully recovers, which likely means more minor league time, however, he is nearly ready. Russell is coined to be the next great all around shortstop, and many people feel he has the potential to win multiple Gold Glove awards. With the Athletics’ contract to their current shortstop, Jed Lowrie, almost up, Russell will be up fairly soon.

Some honorable mentions, of player who are getting close to being major league ready but aren’t quite, include Oscar Taveras, Javier Baez, Noah Syndergaard, Alex Meyer, Eddie Butler, Jonathan Singleton, Garin Cecchini and Stephen Piscotty.

All are showing tons of major league potential, and the majority of those players should see time in the major leagues at some point in the second half of this season. The remaining few will get their first glimpse of the majors in the early part of 2015.

Surprising Starts for Teams A Week Into the Season

It’s been just over a week since Opening Day launched the 2014 Major League Baseball season back on March 31st, and there have already been a lot of ups and downs for teams all around baseball, some of which were anticipated, but some that have come as a shock to many. Though we’re less than ten games into the long 162-game season, and many things can and will happen over the next several months, it’s interesting to take a look at how teams are beginning their season.

The most surprising good starts to the year, in my opinion, have to be the Mariners, Brewers, Marlins, and Rockies, as each have gotten off to an unpredicted great start.

While the Mariners picked up Robinson Cano this offseason, and made a couple of other great additions to their team as well, I’m not sure anyone predicted them to pitch and produce runs the way they’ve been able to do thus far. Everyone up and down their lineup is clickingYovani Gallardo for the most part, and their pitching has been really good. It should be interesting to see if they can keep up their 4-2 start.

The Brewers don’t really have all that much above average talent past Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo, who can be hit and miss, but they’ve been able to put together a great start to the season. Going 4-2 so far this year, the Brewers, while still not predicted to do much, have shown that they have the potential to cause some problems with the rest of the teams in the National League Central division.

Down in Miami, it takes a lot to get fans excited about the Marlins, ranking year after year towards the bottom in overall attendance, however, the start to the season the Marlins have produced is more than anyone could’ve asked for. Jose Fernandez has been fantastic in his two starts, and Giancarlo Stanton seems to have found his groove earlier than usual. Looking to build on their 5-2 start, the Marlins are worth watching.

One of the great things about baseball is that you never know what may happen, and that holds true with the Rockies, who have gotten off to a .500 start of 4-4 to begin the season. Though they’re still expected to finish near the bottom of the division, with Carlos Gonzalez clicking as usual and Troy Tulowitzki finally healthy, in addition to a good start for their pitchers, they could surprise a lot of people.

But those are just the surprising good starts to the year.

On the other side of the spectrum, the most surprising bad starts to the year, in my opinion, are the Rangers, Diamondbacks, Reds and Orioles, who haven’t been able to put much together yet.

The worst start to the 2014 season in all of baseball goes to Diamondbacks, who currently stand at 2-7. That comes as a big surprise, as they made several good moves this offseason, including acquiring power bat Mark Trumbo, who is currently one of the only bright spots on the team, MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Redsbesides Paul Goldschmidt, who is always consistent. The D-backs certainly need to turn things around, but they have plenty of time to do so.

Cincinnati is one of those teams that can be good or bad, however, I thought they’d begin the year better than they have. With a 2-5 record, they sit at the bottom of their division, and with several players struggling (mainly Billy Hamilton) or injured, it could be awhile before they begin to rebound. Though, they’re still too good of an overall team to keep doing this poorly as the season goes on, in my mind.

Like the Reds, the Orioles can be good or bad depending on several factors, but what it really comes down to is their pitching. Their offense is one of the best in baseball, with strong points up and down the lineup, but they need their newly added starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to return to form for the Orioles to make a run in the division. Sitting at 2-5, it will be fun to watch the O’s in the difficult American League East.

Picking up Prince Fielder this offseason, many people (myself included) predicted the Rangers to have a great year, possibly winning the division. However, due to a ton of pitching injuries, among other things, they haven’t been able to perform to their potential, currently sitting at the bottom of the division with a 3-4 record. But despite the poor start, the Rangers should be just fine.

As stated, there is still a ton of season remaining where anything could happen. The teams that are off to a fantastic start could end up taking a tumble as the year goes on, while other teams that are struggling at the moment could very well take off on a major run. You never know what will happen throughout a given MLB season, and that’s what makes baseball so much fun.