Opening Day is just around the corner. Most of the big fish free agents have signed, new managers have been hired, and most teams even know what home park they will be playing in (sorry, Blue Jays). The anticipation is building.
Perhaps no one is feeling the heat of the immensely hot sun that is the approaching MLB season more than the front offices of every team. The choices they make between now and the start of the season could hold tremendous weight on the success, or failures, of their squads this year. Imagining myself in each of their positions, I came up with one thing I think each team should do between now and Opening Day.
For the sake of practicality, consistency, and enjoyment, every choice below will be unique. There will not be six different teams who I recommend sign Trevor Rosenthal. Instead, there will only be one. With that in mind, here is one thing I think every AL team should do between now and Opening Day:
The reigning World Series champions just won… without David Price. That isn’t meant to be a knock on the 35-year-old former Cy Young winner. All it really is, is praise for the best team in baseball. Clearly, they don’t need him.
After the Trevor Bauer and Justin Turner signings, the Dodgers are well over the CBT threshold. If you ask me, they shouldn’t care! And, to be fair, it doesn’t appear they care at all. The Dodgers seem like one of the only teams that want to win, no matter the cost. As a baseball fan, I can appreciate that.
With that said, they have a few high-profile players set to become free agents (Corey Seager, Clayton Kershaw) that they will have to pay or let walk. Getting under the CBT threshold or close enough to it could go a long way in bringing back one, or both, of their stars. Additionally, Price is blocking young phenoms Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May from a rotation spot. Moving Price could solve a lot of issues.
So why should the Orioles help out the Dodgers? For one, if they took the full-weight of Price’s contract (which they could do), they would undoubtedly get a prospect in return and not have to give up too much else. For a young rebuilding team, that should sound good. It gets better, though, when you consider that for as much criticism Price may take from fans and the media, he is typically lauded by his teammates for how good of a leader he is. Perhaps he could help get those young arms in the Orioles rotation to the next level while returning to a division where he has had so much success throughout his career. It wouldn’t just be taking on a salary dump. It could be bringing in a veteran, high-quality arm, too.
Pitcher List’s own Jordan White (@BuntSingles) wrote a terrific piece about the arsenal of Tanner Houck and how he has the foundation to be a solid MLB pitcher. I would highly suggest anyone, especially Red Sox fans, take a look at that piece. Houck only made three starts last year, but he was nasty (17 IP, 21 K, 0.53 ERA, 0.88 WHIP). He won all three contests, and they were all against 2020 playoff teams – Yankees, Marlins, and Braves.
Boston needs to find out what they have here. With Eduardo Rodriguez back in the fold, Chris Sale due back mid-summer, Nathan Eovaldi coming off a strong season, and the signings of Martin Perez (re-signed) and Garrett Richards, I am a little nervous about Houck getting an opportunity. At the moment, Roster Resource does not have Houck in the rotation (they have Nick Pivetta as the #5, another player I’d like to see the Red Sox give an opportunity to after a similar small-sample of success in 2020).
The Red Sox could surprise folks in 2021. FanGraphs currently projects them for 86 wins and an almost-50% chance at making the playoffs. For them to meet these lofty expectations after a tumultuously brutal 2020, they’re going to need Houck to pitch and be effective. Let’s hope he gets the chance!
The White Sox are loaded. On paper, they have great fielding (when Eloy Jiménez is not on the field), excellent hitting, the reigning MVP, an awesome bullpen, and a top 3 in their rotation that would rival the best top 3’s in the American League. The glaring hole, to me, is the last two spots of their rotation. Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech certainly have the talent to potentially be awesome, and to a lesser extent, maybe Carlos Rodón does as well. Still, if I were them, I would feel much more comfortable about hoping one of those three is useable rather than two of them.
Insert Jake Odorizzi.
The market for Odorizzi seems to be shrinking recently, with names such as James Paxton, Rich Hill, and Jake Arrieta even finding homes before him. The Mets and Twins figure to be in on Odorizzi, but I think the White Sox should swoop in and sign him to solidify their 1-4 in the rotation. Cease has a career 1.50 WHIP, Rodón is still fresh off of Tommy John Surgery, and Kopech hasn’t pitched in a game since 2018. Let them fight it out for the fifth spot. With about $44 million left to go until hitting the CBT threshold (courtesy of Spotrac), the White Sox should steal him from their division rivals and make the move.
Sign Jeremy Jeffress
It isn’t too much of a surprise to see Jeremy Jeffress still available in free agency at the moment. He has taken several noticeable steps back since his dominant 2018 All-Star season with the Brewers. His four-seamer was down to 93.3 MPH in 2020, and although it generated a .182 BAA, the xBA on his four-seamer was .406. This was no outlier, either. Jeffress pretty consistently across the board over-performed his xStats.
So… why should they sign him? He sounds like kind of a downer.
Jeffress seems to be trying to reinvent himself. Last year was a tiny sample, obviously, but his split-finger went from his least-used pitch in 2019 (~9% usage) to his most-used pitch in 2020 (~32% usage). It lost velocity and spin but made immense strides in Whiff% (from 17.8% to 30.0%). Based on the numbers, it looks as though Jeffress realizes the velocity is going, and he is trying to re-examine his approach. This isn’t a full-blown overhaul, either. He has never really been a four-seam-first kind of pitcher, and that dominant curveball has never left his arsenal, even in his awful 2019 (.246 xwOBA). So, I don’t think it is too farfetched to think that Jeffress can find success going forward, even if the xStats have not been favorable the last two years.
Cleveland, meanwhile, bolsters a bullpen that could use some help. You will have a hard time finding a bigger James Karinchak fan than myself. After that, Emmanuel Clase, a flamethrower who came over in the Corey Kluber deal but is serving an 80 game PED suspension, will probably contribute in late-game situations when he returns. Blake Parker was a nice acquisition but comes with his own fair share of question marks (16 solid innings in 2020, despite the 1.31 WHIP, but a 5.62 xERA in 60+ IP in 2019).
There isn’t much else to be excited about after that, though, and for a team that could sneakily contend with the reigning Cy Young winner and MVP runner-up, you would think they would want to improve the bullpen a bit more. Jeffress is a player with past success that could be had for cheap (like Parker!) and provide the Indians with solid late-game, high-pressure production. If he performs well, but the Indians are out of the race, he could be moved quite easily for a prospect. If he doesn’t pan out and struggles like his xStats suggest he should, it was a minimal investment anyway.
This article can be tough to write because at any moment, I could need to change one of my choices. Originally, I wanted to say the Tigers should sign Yasiel Puig, but they went and signed Nomar Mazara. I also wanted them to use a six-man rotation approach, but they’ve already planned on doing so. Running out of options, I looked at Roster Resource and was surprised to see Reyes on the bench in a weak-side platoon with Mazara.
Robbie Grossman should, and will, play every day and most-likely leadoff for the Tigers. He is much better at getting on base than Reyes is at this point in his career (.344 OBP in 2020 compared to Reyes’ .315 mark), so he figures to steal that leadoff spot. Nevertheless, the Grossman and Mazara signings should not send Reyes to the bench or in a platoon role. That should happen to JaCoby Jones. Heck, Jones and Mazara shouldn’t platoon since they both struggle with the same side. Jones should just hit the bench.
Reyes showed too much promise last year to relegate to a platoon role, despite some issues. In several ways, his 2020 was actually worse than his 2019. He hit fewer line drives, whiffed more, and made less contact in the zone. His 2020 max exit velocity does not jump off the page (108.6), and he struggled at barreling the ball (his 2.8% Brls/PA% was 17th worst in baseball, but anecdotally better than DJ LeMahieu’s, so read into that what you will). Yet, he had one noticeable difference: his HH% jumped from 31.6% in 2019 to 41.4% in 2020. No doubt the sample size plays a factor here, but that is a massive leap. Reyes is quick, plays the field reasonably well, and has shown enough promise at the plate that I’d like to see him get those CF opportunities over JaCoby Jones, who is significantly less exciting.
Yes, this is the team that I think should sign one of the biggest fish left in the ocean. The Astros still have about $12 million worth of wiggle-room between where they are and the CBT threshold, and Rosenthal should be their target for that space.
Ryan Pressly is still really, really good. Even still, he was hit the hardest he has ever been hit last year (HH% jumped from 32.5% in 2019 to 42.6% in 2020), and he is, by far, the best piece in that bullpen at the moment. Pressly is a reliever who built his career on set-up roles. That isn’t to say he is a bad closer. But, after him, every reliever in that bullpen projects to have an ERA over 4.00, according to FanGraphs. With a lineup that is still as good as any, despite the departure of George Springer and a rotation that has an ace who is 37 years old, the Astros should be looking to continue to compete in the present. Acquiring a strong piece to add to their bullpen should be of the utmost importance.
Bat a dude who hit .199 last year third, you ask? Yes! Even with that .199 average, Santana still managed a .349 OBP. His on-base ability is elite, and when behind Benintendi and Whit Merrifield atop the Royals order, boppers Salvador Perez and Jorge Soler should see plenty of RBI opportunities.
There is a chance that Santana’s power has been zapped. Last year’s 60 game season did not look good. His OPS dropped from .911 in 2019 to .698 in 2020. Keep in mind, though, that 2019 was a career season for Santana. He may not be 2019 good, but I don’t think he is 2020 bad, either.
As for Benintendi, there is no way around it: he has been awful the last two seasons. And yet, since the start of 2019, he has still managed a .341 OBP himself. For a team that finished 27th in OBP with a .309 team mark in 2020, Benintendi and Santana will be welcomed additions.
I realize Adalberto Mondesi ended 2020 scorching at the plate, and Perez is coming off one of his best seasons. But, the idea of having the on-base ability of Merrifield, Benintendi, and Santana to lead games off with is too good to pass up. Pitchers will have their hands full, and there will be many 20+ pitch first innings for starters facing the Royals.
The Angels decided to go with the quantity-over-quality approach when it comes to starting pitching. That is a bold move. What would help that strategy would be elite defense. José Iglesias was a nice start to that at shortstop (not an upgrade over who they had, but keeps the defense at the position elite), but how about adding Jackie Bradley Jr. to the outfield mix? Newly acquired Dexter Fowler hits lefties much better than he does righties for his career, making him a natural platoon with Bradley Jr. if the Angels were really worried about JBJ’s offense.
The Angels also lack LHB in their lineup, something JBJ could, of course, help with. Jared Walsh, who just burst onto the scene at 27 years old, Shohei Ohtani, who has battled his fair share of injuries and figures to be out of the lineup somewhat frequently since he will be pitching, and the switch-hitting Fowler make up all of the LHB offerings the Angels have. JBJ seems like a natural and potentially cheap fit.
The Angels have the best centerfielder in baseball. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to add Bradley Jr. Wherever JBJ plays in an outfield, he will be a dynamic defender and make pitchers’ lives a little (sometimes a lot) easier.
Nick Gordon has fallen from prospect grace over the last few years. The former 5th overall pick was once Baseball America’s 53rd prospect on their Top 100 list but hasn’t been back on it since 2018 when he was 93rd. I think there is a chance that Gordon has begun to tap into the potential that scouts saw in him and made him go 5th overall in 2014’s draft. In 2019, through 319 PA at Triple A (he spent some of the season injured with a stomach issue), Gordon smacked 29 doubles with an .801 OPS. He also chipped in 14 steals through 18 attempts. It looked like he would get some MLB experience last season but was positive for COVID-19 in July and never ended up getting a look.
What makes things a little difficult for Gordon is that the Twins already have Jorge Polanco, Andrelton Simmons, and Luis Arraez for two middle infield spots. All three are solid players for one reason or another, but it isn’t too farfetched to think that Gordon could one day be better than each of them. I’d like to see the Twins give him a chance to make the Opening Day roster. He turns 26 years old before the 2022 season—it is time to give Gordon a chance.
New York Yankees
Start the Season With a Six-Man Rotation
Obviously, the Yankees don’t want to pay Gerrit Cole all of that money just to have him pitch every sixth day instead of every fifth. I understand that. With that said, if you count Luis Severino, there are six starting pitchers projected to start the season with the big league club, courtesy of Roster Resource. Four of those – Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon, Domingo Germán, and Severino – pitched a combined 1.0 IP in 2020. After that, there is Jordan Montgomery, who hasn’t pitched more than 44 IP in a season since 2017 and then Cole.
That does not mean this will be a disaster. Each of those pitchers could have solid 2021s. Still, they will need to be worked back into action lightly. With Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt, the Yankees don’t need to send those guys out every 5th day right off the bat. Instead, they can work them in nicely and be sure they’re fresh come playoff time.
Remember Dustin Fowler? He was a power/speed combo prospect in the Yankees organization. At one point, he was a Top 100 prospect according to MLB Pipeline rankings. In his first game, he suffered a devastating knee injury. He then ended up being part of the package that was sent for Sonny Gray from the Yankees to Oakland.
Fast-forward to 2018, and Fowler destroyed Triple A pitching (.884 OPS through 239 PA) but failed to impress at the Major League level. Fowler followed 2018 with a strong season in the PCL in 2019. Despite a 24% strikeout rate, he hit 25 homers with 89 RBI and an .810 OPS.
Fowler is now 26 years old. After a full-season of Triple A in 2019, it is time for him to get another opportunity in the big leagues. Oakland’s outfield is solid with Ramón Laureano, Mark Canha, and Stephen Piscotty, but their current DH situation is a mess following the Khris Davis swap. I hope Fowler gets a look there.
I briefly chatted with one of our resident Mariner fans here at Pitcher List, Michael Ajeto, to get his thoughts on what he thinks his team should do. Mike suggested the Mariners trade for an outfielder because José Marmolejos isn’t cutting it, and the Mariners could use another lefty outfielder. My mind went right to Bryan Reynolds of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Not only are the Pirates selling off seemingly all of their players, but Reynolds might hardly be missed after the 2020 he put forward. He hit a paltry .189 with a .632 OPS. I think a lot of this can be explained by sample size and an over 150-point drop in BABIP. The Pirates stunk, and Reynolds was no exception. That isn’t an excuse, but perhaps a move to Seattle could bring back out that high-average hitting we saw from the switch-hitting outfielder back in 2019.
In terms of what the Mariners would have to send, I truly have no idea, and I’m hesitant to even suggest a name. A PTBNL might be enough for the Pirates these days anyway.
Tampa Bay Rays
Sign Edwin Encarnacion
Encarnacion seems like the perfect buy-low candidate for the Rays. There is no doubt that he had a brutal 2020, but that was in just 159 at-bats. Are we really going to put any stock into that for a player who, before last season, had hit at least 32 HR in eight straight seasons? He may be getting old, but I’m banking on those eight seasons more than those 159 ABs, and I think the Rays should too.
He seems desperate for a contract after the brutal 2020 campaign and the fact that there will be no DH in the NL this season. The Rays have a crowded situation at DH with four quality outfielders and a Yandy Díaz/Ji-Man Choi platoon at 1B, so “EE” would have to earn his at-bats. Regardless, for a team that was within arms reach of a World Series, they shouldn’t ignore the potential boost Encarnacion could give their lineup.
I like a lot of what the Rangers did this off-season. I think, quietly, they’ve done quite well. Dane Dunning was a solid return for Lance Lynn, I really like the low-risk, high-reward fliers on David Dahl and Mike Foltynewicz, and I’m a fan of Nate Lowe, who I feel they freed from Tampa Bay.
Even with all that said, this is a team that will be pretty darn horrible in 2021. They will not get on base much, have shoddy starting pitching, and are desperate for resurgence/bounce-back seasons from too many players. It is a period of rebuilding for the Rangers, and I think, to this point, they’ve done all they can this off-season to help expedite that process.
Taveras is a bright part of that future, and they should let him run wild this season. In just 138 PA during his MLB debut last season, Taveras stole eight bags and was never caught stealing. He even chipped in four homers and posted a respectable 10.4% walk rate. Those last two numbers might be due in large part to the sample size, but the small sample makes the stolen bases that much more impressive. His sprint speed ranked in the 96th percentile according to Baseball Savant, and considering how much trouble the Rangers will have scoring runs this season, they should give Taveras and his immense speed the permanent green light in 2021.
If you’re a fantasy baseball player, by now, you’ve probably read somewhere that Rowdy Tellez is a sleeper. He’s probably on so many sleeper lists that he doesn’t even qualify as one anymore. It’s easy to glance at his Statcast page from 2020 and fall in love. He was in the upper echelon of the league in pretty much all of his Statcast sliders except for BB% and, to no one’s surprise, sprint speed. It wasn’t just the sliders (that can sometimes be misleading after such a small sample of a “season”) that suggest Tellez took some steps forward last year, though. He used the opposite field more, swung in the zone more, and made more contact in the process (both his z-Swing% and z-Contact% jumped about seven percentage points from 2019, up to 70.1 and 85.5, respectively). Despite swinging more, Tellez whiffed much less (down from 31.3% Whiff% in 2019 to 23.5% in 2020). The most significant change was in his strikeout percentage, a direct result of his swing-more-in-the-zone approach. It dropped from a pitiful 28.4% in 2019 to an outstanding 15.7 in 2020.
The point is, Tellez made a ton of strides last year. If those were not some short-season flukes, then benching him in favor of Randal Grichuk could be a mistake. Tellez has improved every year against lefties and is a career .259 hitter against them (if you only go by BA, which is not advised, he is actually worse against righties!), hardly a number so bad that he would need to avoid them in a platoon. Play Tellez!
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)