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Monday Morning Mop-Up Duty: an ebbing tide lowers all (NL Central) ships

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MENTOR, Ohio – Merry Christmas and happy holidays, folks. First, I want to thank you for your readership and contributions to the blog, the vast majority of which have been civil and thoughtful.Second, travel safe and be good to each other this holiday season. I’ll likely be taking a few days off from the blog, so don’t worry if you don’t see a post here for a few days as it will only be a brief respite.

 

Now I know many of you were hoping for a more exciting offseason to date from the Pirates. I could remind you that the Cleveland Indians, ensconced in a similarly-sized market, had not signed Nick Swisher until Dec. 23 last offseason and they then followed by signing Michael Bourn and Scott Kazmir.

 

While I’m not suggesting the Pirates will have a similarly busy second half of the offseason (they won’t), it’s just a reminder that the offseason is still young. Yes, we’ve been through the Winter Meetings, but winter is officially two days old.

 

So don’t push the panic button yet. And  even if the Pirates were headed to  Brandenton, Fla. tomorrow with their current cast there might not be much reason to panic. Why?  I’m not sure the NL Central, collectively, has improved this offseason.

 

STARTING NINE THOUGHTS

9. Let’s start with the Shin-Soo Choo signing. While few expected him back in Cincinnati, Choo’s signing with Texas officially removes him from not only the Reds but the National League. This is a huge loss of production for the Reds. Replacing a .420 OBP from the lead-off spot is about impossible. If Brandon Phillips is still around, he won’t be having another 100 RBI season.

 

8. Now, I think Billy Hamilton can be an impact player in the major leagues. We all saw the value of his legs last September. But Hamilton struggled to reach first  base in Triple-A  last season. His swing and approach need work and I think  he could represent a 100 point OBP drop from Choo in his rookie season if he is indeed the Reds’ opening day center fielder and lead off man,

 

7. The Cardinals are still in an enviable long-term position. They’re stocked with young arms and Oscar Tavares and Kolten Wong. But I’m not sure they are taking a step forward in 2014.

I don’t like Jhonny Peralta, the player, and the Cardinals are now paying for his post-peak.  While the Cardinals improved several positions, defensively, with the Freese-Bourjos trade they downgraded defensively at shortstop.

Offensively, Carlos Beltran and David Freese will represent an offensive setback in the short term.

 

6. Moreover, while I’m a  Matt Carpenter fan I have to t hink he will regress some in 2014. He simply can’t maintain that line drive rate and zone contract rate, imo. Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina are not immune to the immutable laws of the aging curve. So while a full season from Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez presents upside, there is also some downside risk. Don’t get me wrong, the Cardinals are still division favorites and one of the safer bets in the game to win 90+ games. I just don’t like their offseason as much as some other voices.

 

5. The Cubs’ system is producing some elite offensive prospects but they’re clearly not playing for 2014. If anything the Brewers  have taken a step back this offseason. I didn’t like the Aoki deal.

 

4. Now, you could point out  that the Pirates’ are primed for some regression in 2014. It’s going to be awfully tough to repeat that bullpen performance, I’m not sure how much offensive upside the club has, and Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton have hardly been consistent performers throughout their careers, Burnett is unsigned and Gerrit Cole is unproven.

 

3. I think the Pirates were wise to avoid many of the bigger ticket items on the free-agent market. And remember, they were in on Josh Johnson – perhaps offering him more  money – and James Loney. What I do question is whether they should have been more serious about Doug Fister and whether they will and have been too protective of prospects.

 

2. Fister, with his groundball rate, control, and neutral splits against left-handed hitters, would have been an ideal fit in Pittsburgh and I have to think the Pirates could have defeated the Nationals’ package by headlining a deal with, say, Nick Kingham and Justin Wilson.

 

While I wouldn’t include Kingham for an Ike Davis-type of player, it’s important to remember that most prospects still fail.

 

In fact, from Baseball America’s top 100 list from 2003-2006, Camden Depot found  68 percent of the top 100 prospects were busts, and that was only  a slight improvement from earlier years. The study found three out of every four pitching prospects bust.

YEARS        TOTAL       BUST          SUCCESS    SUPERIOR

1990-1993
Total
73.75%
26.25%
13.75%
1994-1997
Total
70.25%
29.75%
15.25%
1998-2002
Total
71.60%
28.40%
16.20%
2003-2006
Total
68.50%
31.50%
20.25%

 

From quantity comes quality. It’s important for the Pirates to develop and protect assets but there also comes a point in which teams can over value prospects, too

 

1 I’m no scout but  that hitch in Ike Davis’ swing is troubling. I prefer the swing paths of Justin Smoak and Mitch Moreland. But at this point I think Andrew Lambo has to be considered the favorite to begin as Gaby Sanchez’s platoon partner and that might not be a terrible thing. Because the 1B market is so thin I have to think the cost of Moreland or Smoak is probably too high (Kingham) at the moment.

 

STAT OF THE WEEK

The weaker league – the NL – keeps getting weaker. (That’s good news for the Pirates)

 

HE SAID IT

The Scrooge Division

 

NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK 

The new Kings’ album. Stocking-stuffer worthy:

 

Peace.

– TS

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