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

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

30 Comments

  1. Happy Holidays to you and yours, Travis.

    -Reds: Tough to judge how their lineup will shape out given new Manager Brian Price, but “traditional” Reds thinking could turn out ugly. Neither Billy Hamilton or Zack Cozart are likely to crack .300 OBP, making it difficult for a lineup lacking power in the middle to produce runs. Phillips and Ludwick will continue to be wastes of money leaving Votto and Bruce as the only well above average hitters in the lineup.

    Billy Hamilton, even in his new full time role, could end up being LESS of an impact than last year, IMO. Why? Because last year Dusty Baker was able to optimize his impact on the base paths by inserting him as a pinch runner during the highest leverage part of the game. As an everyday player, Hamilton will have to get himself on base, and that is far from a sure thing.

    -Cards: Really don’t know how anything negative could be said about their off season thus far. Sure, their moves may not be earth shattering, but they clearly upgraded AT LEAST three positions, possibly as many as five. Pick nits all you want, but thats a damn good winter.

    -Pirates: All indications after the fact point to your favorite team outbidding the Nats for Doug Fister being a pipe dream. Dave Dombkowski clearly had his mind set on very specific parameters, so much so that you have to believe he would’ve approached the Pirates if he felt they matched up better.

    Otherwise, minus adequate financial support, I’m not sure what else the Pirates could’ve done this winter to make clear improvements. As Travis mentioned, Josh Johnson was their primary target and one they SHOULD have landed. Can’t fault the team for not moving to the West coast, though, so tough luck there.

    I would’ve personally liked to see a lefty outfielder along the lines of David Murphy or Nori Aoki brought in to support Tabby in RF, but those guys came with stipulations (money, intra-division) as well.

    The Pirates have missed out on as many good 1B targets as they started with this off season: zero. Let’s not forget where the market started. It was well known to be void of impact players in the Pirates income bracket, and the only viable option (James Loney) went for more years and money than anyone was predicting.

    Anyone that thinks Ike Davis at this point in his career is clearly a better option than Andrew Lambo is scouting the stat lines, not the players. Ike Davis stinks. Davis’ upside – a low average, high strikeout, home run hitter – is exactly the type of hitter Lambo profiles as. I would like for one of these trade candidates to be acquired, but their only redeeming attribute that is known for certain is depth. Otherwise, all this guys are more likely to stink than be useful.

  2. ####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.####

    Lambo has been playing an awful lot of right field. He did play 1st yesterday. They did replace him late in the game. I’d imagine for defensive purposes. He is hitting .211. I would imagine that NH was quite genuine when he said they would have no trouble playing Sanchez every day at 1st.

    • Question, Steelkings: If Gaby Sanchez were to replicate last years stat line (.254/.361/.402), would that be such a bad plan?

      This is surprising considering Gaby is known as a lefty-only platoon player, but last year he faced righties in 61% of his at bats. Major League average is around 70%, meaning he wasn’t far from an everyday player, percentage-wise.

      • Your question was not addressed to me, NMR, but if I may … I thought the splits for RHP vs LHP for Gaby last year were so dramatically in favor of him hitting vs LHP that it would be like giving away a lot of ABs to allow him to start vs RHP very often. I believe CH tried that for awhile during the time GIJ was struggling, and Morneau had not yet been acquired. I did not think it went well, and I believe it would be a mistake to turn a .300/.400/.500 guy in 25% of the ABs into a .255/.320/.380 (I’m just guessing at what he would do here) over 100% of the ABs. I really believe we need a lefty hitter to platoon with him.

        • I always, ALWAYS, welcome your responses, Jim.

          I completely agree with you, Jim. In a perfect scenario, a competant lefty would be brought in to pair with Gaby.

          My comment was more focussed on worst case scenario, which at this time is just Gaby Sanchez. I understand this line of thinking may not be accepted by traditional baseball people, but it doesn’t matter how the line is put up. Gaby created just as many runs last season as a guy who hit lefties and righties equally and ended up with his season totals.

          Point being, Gaby Sanchez is a perfectly fine low cost 1st basemen, and I don’t think people realize that. He’s a hell of a lot closer to James Loney than he’s been given credit for, and he’ll cost about $20m less.

      • I never said it was a bad thing. Im just pointing out that the Adam Lambo at 1st base was something invented by the fan base and never eluded to by the F.O.

        Unless I missed it of course

        • Not accusing you of anything, buddy. Just wanted to hear your thoughts.

          And Huntington has in fact said that Andrew Lambo would be in the 1B mix. Quote from Pirate Fest:

          “Andrew (Lambo)… getting some work at first base, just as an option there if need be. We’d like to give Andrew a shot and see what he can do – a 24-year-old who hit 30+ home runs in the minor leagues last year – not getting a lot of love and we think some people have turned the page on him too quickly… the young man has grown up, he’s made some adjustments, and he’s in a really good spot.” If the Bucs choose an internal option to platoon with Gaby Sanchez at first base, Lambo would be the guy.

  3. I am typically a contrarian. When the so-called experts all zig one way, I tend to zag in the other direction. So, when absolutely everyone in the lazy national media tells me the Cardinals are infallible, I tend to try to find fault. I will admit that I believe they are strong favorites to repeat in the NL Central. But, I am not so sure every pitcher on their entire staff is the next coming of Tom Seaver or Nolan Ryan, which seems to be the MLB writer consensus. I am also not certain every move they make should be greeted with a ticker tape parade on MLB Network. I will go out on a limb and say I don’t think they will hit .331 w RISP again as a team. I love Colton Wong. Peralta is clearly an upgrade, but let’s see if his best days are still ahead. He was cheating for a reason, and I also question his glove. Bourgos has all the tools, but let’s see him actually hit before we declare him a definite upgrade to Jay. Defensively, yes, there is no doubt he will perform better. But, Jay has actually hit pretty well for several years, and Bourgos did it for one season. I still say they will platoon in CF. Carpenter may have just had the best year he will ever have, and I am still not a complete believer in the greatness of Allen Craig. But, there is still a lot to like about the Cardinals this year. I still don’t know that they’ll field all that well, although they have improved in several spots as NMR said. The bullpen is nasty. Three years from now the Pirates organization will be the better one.

    I will pick the Bucs for 2nd. I won’t disagree with anything said already in this space. I see the Bucs as a mid 80′s win team as they currently sit. AJ would certainly help, but who is counting on that at this point? Polanco continues to play to rave reviews through the winter and will help immediately upon arrival. I have said I would like to see a Smoak/Gaby platoon. If Taillon can make a similar splash to that of Cole, which I’m doubtful of, we could make a run to the end again. Lambo scares the bejeesus out of me. I am hopeful Tabby has turned a corner. Starling’s offense is key this year. Can he continue at last year’s levels? I’m not so sure.

    I see the Reds battling the Bucs pretty evenly. Choo’s OBP will be missed, but his awful CF defense will not. Hamilton will be hard-pressed to put up a .260/.290/.340 line, I think. His defense should be good, and he may steal 75 bases. They are desperately trying to trade the declining Brandon Phillips, but have found no takers – which ought to tell us all something about the current worth of DatDude. Ryan Ludwick starts for the Reds. That has to be a sobering thought for them. I like Todd Frazier to come back strong, and there is still a lot to like about this pitching staff. Cingrani should be very good, if healthy.

    Brewers still can’t pitch or catch the ball. 75 wins, tops.

    Cubs have some hitters coming, but they are short on arms. 70-75 wins.

    Thanks, again for this format, Travis. Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays to everyone!

    • That “declining Brandon Phillips” had 104 RBIs last season, batting out of position, and deservedly won the Gold Glove.

      He may have a 10 cent head, but don’t dismiss him so readily. He’s darn good!

      • He did hit well with RISP last season, Groat. I won’t argue that. But, that’s a stat that tends to fluctuate pretty wildly from year to year. He is not near the hitter he was a few years ago, IMO. We’ll see if he bounces back this year. I question his effectiveness going forward, and I don’t think I’m the only one judging from the fact that it’s no secret the Reds are trying to peddle him and have not found any takers yet.

        • There are only two reasons the “declining Brandon Phillips”——you know the one with 104 RBIs and an earned, not awarded, Gold Glove——has not been traded:

          1/ the length and cost of his contract
          2/ his jerk of a personality

          However, jerks who produce get picked up all the time (see Manny Ramariz, AJ Pierzynski, Prince Fielder, ARod).

          The length and cost of his contract limits Phillips to a minority of teams. However, I expect the Yankees to trade for Brandon Phillips as soon as the ARod thing is finally declared. If his suspension is not for a full season, the Yankees will automatically go over their supposed $189 million limit, and then the Yankees will begin spending frivolously as before. 2nd base will be the first place they fill . . . with Phillips.

          The Yankees can afford to allow the Reds and that contract to “spin in the wind” because there are so few teams who can absorb Brandon Phillip’s $$$ into their budgets.

          I don’t like Brandon Phillips, and never will after he pulled that race fiasco with Hughes, but the guy can pick ‘em and he can deliver big at the plate. He had more ribbies than anyone on the Pirates and runs win games. Brandon Phillips is the best 2nd baseman in the National League and, considering his defense, maybe in the Major Leagues.

          • Are we really having this conversation in 2013?

            Take Joey Votto Shin Soo Choo out of the lineup and tell many runs Brandon Phillips will produce.

          • Take the sun out of the sky.
            Make Pluto a planet again.
            Put Brandon Phillips in Petco instead of Riverfront.

            In season 2013, Brandon Phillips, not a clean-up hitter, was given the task to drive in runs instead of setting up runs. He produced 104 RBIs. At the same time he fielded at Gold Glove-status.

            He did the job asked. Maybe as the best 2nd Baseman in the Major Leagues.

            His lack of trading partners is not because of declining production, as Sweet Jimmie implied.

          • 104 RBI still tells us next to nothing about his ability to drive in runs.

  4. I will also say once again, thanks to Travis for providing a forum where we can discuss Bucs baseball, in depth, 12 months out of the year. I enjoy the contributions of everyone that comes on here, whether I agree with them or not on a particular subject. I often come away from a visit re-thinking what I thought I knew, and that is a good thing IMO.

  5. Ok …Ive tried…How do you get an avatar?

  6. Merry Christmas, everyone.

    Let’s hope 2014 brings us a World Series championship.

  7. I think the Cards improved their outfield defense – but not their infield defense. Also the Cards will experience some problems with their young pitchers duplicating their success of last year. And their is no way they will hit at such a high average with runners on base. For the Bucs I would sign Moreland & trade some pitching for him and then get busy down on the farm developing some corner infielders with some pop.

  8. ” they should have been more serious about Doug Fister ”

    Are there any reports that they were ever IN on Fister? I haven’t seen any.

    As a matter of fact I read where there were a lot of GMs that didn’t realize he was even on the market.

  9. Merry Christmas, Travis. I hope there is a lot in your stocking this year, because you and your efforts put you at the top of the ‘nice’ list this year.

    Very much appreciate the effort and the wonderful atmosphere of Pirates discussion here.

    And Merry Christmas and Happy any other holiday you celebrate. Enjoy all the perspectives and input. Makes for some great reading.

    And here’s to the wonderful 2013 Pirates. I am sure because of them, there will be more Pirates items than Pens or Steelers items under my tree. And I like it that way.

  10. Thanks for the blog Travis, and
    Merry Christmas.

    Stuart

  11. National Mart of Records,

    My favorite line you have written in past week:
    . . . “Oh well, at least it is nice knowing Nutting puts every dime he makes back into the team.”

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