Friday, July 17, 2009

Mid-Season AL Team Previews (w/trade rumors)

posted by Jon Williams
I hope you had a pleasant All-Star Break and the All-Star game. I did not mean for mine to be so long but as we know very well by now, stuff happens. I thought this year's Home Run Derby was on the boring side but maybe I'm just jaded after seeing Josh Hamilton's performance last year.

A Brief All-Star Game Comment: Barrack Obama
is the coolest looking President of the United States ever. I think having a few beers and watching the game with him would feel like the most natural thing in the world...

This is not one of those articles that tell you that such and such a player is usually a better performer after the All-Star Break. I know there are players that fit that description but I do not believe that is a sound way to choose the players who populate your roster. I just don't feel confident that trading for Adam LaRoche will give my fantasy team much of a boost. I prefer to look for players with untapped skills, astounding luck (good or bad), and potentially changing roles when making my second half projections. You wouldn't engage in NFL betting without doing some research like checking the NFL game spreads. So why would you go after second half players without doing the same level of work? Or at least letting someone you trust do it for you. I have split the article into two halves just because it was becoming very very long. Much longer than my usual posts.

Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles were a very competitive team in the first half even if their 40-48 record doesn't show it. The lineup has been surprisingly good even with Nick Markakis having a rather pedestrian start to the season. You can expect Markakis to play a little better in the second half just because we all know that he can. His strikeouts and walks are at their typical levels. It is interesting that his fly ball rate has increased as his HR/FB has decreased. If his HR/FB normalizes for Markakis in the second half he could still approach 25 homeruns. Oddly, after the club expressed a desire to see Markakis run more often he has almost completely given up any effort in that department. Aubrey Huff and Brian Roberts should also be better as they recover from nagging injuries. Adam Jones had a great start but has been mediocre lately. You can expect him to pick it back up, just not at the level he showed in April.

The problem has been with the starting rotation. Right-hander Rich Hill offers the same mix of amazing potential and frequent disappointments that he offered in Chicago. But manager Dave Trembley doesn't expect him to come out of the rotation anytime soon. You can expect to see top prospect Chris Tillman join the rotation in a matter of weeks. Brian Matusz is also a possibility for an August call-up. Rookies David Hernandez and Brad Bergesen have become useful in AL-only leagues and may be keepers in a lot of those leagues.

Trade Rumors: I do not expect the Orioles to make any significant moves. They have players they could move like Huff and Melvin Mora (no-trade clause) but I think the club is happy to ride those players out unless they get a very good offer. Dany Baez is almost certain to be moved but how much could he possibly bring back? Unless the deal is with the Royals... I have heard the rumor too often to ignore it completely but I doubt the Orioles will move George Sherrill, he's just too cheap and good. Of course those are the same reasons the return would be outstanding.

Boston Red Sox
As predicted the Red Sox pitching depth has worked itself out with Clay Buchholz spending most of the season in the minors. Buchholz is expected to get the call to start in the majors on Friday. The present plan is to send him down after the game but Buchholz could make the decision very difficult by dominating the Blue Jays. John Smoltz has finally entered the rotation which had a ready made opening thanks to Daisuke Matsuzaka's ineffectiveness. Dice-K has been sent to extended spring training and will probably spend more of the next three months there than on the Red Sox 25-man roster. John Smoltz should be a nice pitcher to have in the second half. I would not look for vintage Smoltz but he should be good for five to six quality innings every five days. The Red Sox have a bullpen strong enough and deep enough to pitch a few extra innings on Smoltz's turn. Mike Lowell has had soreness in his surgically repaired hip but this is to be expected. The Red Sox will be giving Lowell regular rest in the second half to keep him fresh for the playoffs. David Ortiz had a horrible first half until the last few weeks, when he finally rediscovered his swing. Since then he has been the slugger the Red Sox were expecting. I would not be surprised if Ortiz still totaled close to 30 homers.

Trade Rumors: The Red Sox have the players and prospects to acquire any player they want to have. They seem to have few needs on the pitching staff but could use a big bat or two. Theo Epstein has historically been reluctant to part with much talent for short-term rentals. I see them chasing players with contracts such as Alex Rios, Victor Martinez and Todd Helton or a short term option that would come extremely cheap such as Jack Wilson. If they fail to find a trade that suits their needs the Red Sox might call on slugging first base prospect Lars Anderson and hope that he is ready to help. Less likely call-ups Casey Kelly and Josh Reddick may also be ready to help. Boston would have loved to trade Julio Lugo but have decided to designate him for assignment. Lugo can still hit for a decent average and steal some bases. Unfortunately his defense has gone in the tank which will make it difficult for him to get regular playing time. Jed Lowrie will take over as shortstop. I see Lowrie as very similar to Dustin Pedroia (2009 version) and should have a pretty good second half.

Chicago White Sox
The White Sox are in contention but I bet general manager Kenny Williams was expecting his team to be a little better. The offense got off to a rough start but has improved with the return of Scott Podsednik to center field and the call-up of Gordon Beckham to take over third base (mostly) from Josh Fields. Podsednik is not a great player but he scores runs and steals bases, two endearing traits to fantasy owners. Beckham is going to be a huge star and should be rostered in leagues of all types. Carlos Quentin has been dealing with Plantar Fasciitis in his foot and although he is doing well in rehab he should be considered a giant question mark for the rest of the season. The rotation has been a mixed bag after John Danks and Mark Buehrle. For now, the White Sox insist they will keep lefty Aaron Poreda in the bullpen but if they are unable to pull off a trade for a top arm they just might change their minds.

Trade Rumors: The White Sox had what it took to acquire Jake Peavy from the San Diego Padres earlier this season, so they should be in on any starting pitching that becomes available. I am absolutely certain that they will make multiple offers for ace Toronto Starter Roy Halladay. There have been rumors that the White Sox would trade Jermaine Dye for a couple of years now. I don't buy them for even a second. First, who would replace him on this team that intends to make the playoffs? Second, Why would they trade the most consistent offensive performer they have on their roster?

Cleveland Indians
The Indians are annually chosen as a favorite to make the playoffs but they also annually seem to underachieve despite making what seem to be excellent decisions. Cleveland will keep playing second baseman Luis Valbuena as much as possible through his ups and downs but he isn't a good fantasy bat this season. He should become a quality fantasy baseball infielder eventually but I wouldn't bet much on that happening this season. Do not act shocked to see first baseman Nick Weglars, outfielder Matt LaPorta, and catcher Carlos Santana make an appearance in the majors slightly ahead of most schedules. Reliever Chris Perez has been getting Cortisone shots all season for a left foot injury that will be surgically repaired after the season. Why the Cardinals or Indians decided to wait will probably remain a mystery.

Dave Cameron of FanGraphs.com recently profiled third base prospect Andy Marte. He covered everything from his rise to top prospect status to his being Designated For Assignment and remaining unclaimed. At the time of this writing Marte is batting .319/.361/.536 with 11 homers and two stolen bases in just 248 triple-a at-bats. He isn't likely to become the star we once thought he could be but a long major league career is not yet out of the question. The Indians have nothing to lose by giving him another chance.

Trade Rumors: Another disappointing season spurred rumors around almost every Indians veteran. Lefty ace Cliff Lee, catcher Victor Martinez and even closer Kerry Wood being the biggest targets. The Indians will demand top dollar for both players who have one year remaining on their contracts. I think it is much more likely that Lee is traded than Roy Halladay. Lee by the way has pitched much better than his record would indicate. Although Victor Martinez recently pledged his undying devotion to the Indians I still think he'll be moved. With Kelly Shoppach as a stopgap until top catching prospect, Carlos Santana is ready Martinez will be a prime target of teams that want to add a hitter.

Detroit Tigers
It has not gone exactly as planned for the Tigers but I think they'll take it as is. Magglio Ordonez has been completely void of any power and has been reduced to part-time status. I think he's done as a top fantasy option. Curtis Granderson is displaying the power and speed we've all expected, even if his batting average leaves us unimpressed. Fortunately the .254 average is mostly the result of a low BABIP caused by his extreme fly ball rate this year. Granderson is well on his way to being one of, if not the very best fantasy option in the American League. Brandon Inge already has 21 homers. If you saw this coming you are smarter than me. Look for Dusty Ryan to gradually take over as the starting catcher as he proves to be equal defensively and a superior bat to Gerald Laird.

Trade Rumors: I am certain that the Tigers would love to trade for an outfield slugger, bullpen help and a #2-3 starter but they don't have many advanced prospects to deal at this point. It will take some major wheeling and dealing for the Tigers to get what they need to advance very far in the playoffs against the AL-East juggernauts.

Kansas City Royals
To call the Royals unpredictable would be an understatement, unless you refer to their chances of making a trade or signing that nobody will like. Acquiring shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt for two potentially useful pitching prospects has been almost universally panned as a horrible move for the Royals. Even worse is the confession of GM Dayton Moore that he doesn't completely understand advanced statistical measures like UZR. You might think that someone in that role would be motivated to be as up to date with industry tools as possible, but you would be wrong. This trade also forces us to question the future of Mike Aviles who presumably would have been a much better option after recovering from elbow surgery. In much better news, Alex Gordon is finally ready to return from the disabled list and if he can continue with the gains he showed in the second half of last season he could be one of the better hitters in the AL as the summer turns to fall.

Trade Rumors: There are a few Gil Meche rumors circulating but the Royals aren't really interested in trading the players that other teams will be interested in acquiring. The Royals are more likely to acquire players they see as good values or underrated.

Los Angeles Angels
The Angels are very good at finding quality talent but they often have no idea what to do with it. Bobby Abreu has had a very good season while Vladimir Guerrero seems to be on the last legs of his career, at least as a worthwhile fantasy option. But the Angels have the offense they need to win (assuming Torii Hunter and Guerrero are not out longer than expected) but their pitching has fallen apart other than Jered Weaver. the Angels have a team FIP of 4.53 which is in the bottom third of American League pitching staffs. Weaver's BABIP of .265 looks lucky at first glace but he allows so few groundballs that it is more maintainable than it might seem. As long as he keeps his strikeout rate high and his walk rate low Weaver should be a very effective pitcher. If an owner in your league is looking to sell high on him, I suggest you pounce. John Lackey and Ervin Santana have been disappointing. Lackey at least is healthy and I think he'll come around. I would avoid Santana who is obviously still dealing with his injury problems.

Trade Rumors: The Angels would like nothing better than to add Roy Halladay to their rotation. They have the prospects the Blue Jays would require, like second baseman Sean Rodriguez, shortstop Brandon Wood, pitchers Trevor Reckling and Jordan Walden. They also have the money to take on the contract after failing to re-sign first baseman Mark Teixeira.

Minnesota Twins
The Twins have one of the easier schedules going forward. I expect Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey (hopefully) to bounce back with big second halves. Baker has been much better than his results. His strikeout and walk rates are both excellent. He has suffered damage because of an elevated HR/FB percentage. If he gets that together he looks like a solid fantasy starter. Joe Crede has been injury prone, big shock. Delmon Young has come around after being a disaster for the first two months of the season. He will probably never be the star that some of us were expecting but he can still be a solid major league outfielder. He has incredible tools and is still just

Trade Rumors: The Twins are interested in second baseman Freddy Sanchez of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Twins are usually reluctant to part with their top prospects so the Pirates will have to be selling him on the cheap for the Twins to acquire Sanchez.

New York Yankees
The Yankee rotation has not worked out as planned. CC Sabathia has been okay but not the number one, ace, and All-Star the Yankees were expecting. Sabathia has been dealing with tightness in his left bicep which could be an indication of a more serious problem. His strikeout rate is down, his control is a bit off from recent years, and he is allowing more fly balls than usual (though it hasn't really hurt his HR9). I would be cautious about adding Sabathia at exorbitant prices. A.J. Burnett started slowly but has been better the last month or so. Burnett's control has also suffered and like Sabathia his fly ball rate has increased. Maybe the new Yankee Stadium wind tunnel to right field has something to do with it. I think he'll be fine if you don't expect too much. The rotation problems continue with Joba Chamberlain who has been very inconsistent. He has had problem controlling his pitch count and working past even the forth and fifth inning. He has been especially bad at home. Chein-Ming Wang's control is also off and his fly ball rate elevated. There is an unmistakable pattern here and it appears to be a stadium affect. Lefty reliever Damaso Marte will return soon after the break. If you forgot he was even on the Yankees you're forgiven. Phil Hughes has become the eight inning reliever the Yankees needed and looks like a lock to join the rotation next season as I predicted.

Trade Rumors: General manager Brian Cashman is good at keeping things quiet. He'll say all the right things about building from within and holding on to the Yankees' best prospects. But if you think he isn't interested in the big names available on the trade market, than you just don't understand how the New York Yankees operate. Alex Rios, Roy Halladay, and all of the best late inning relievers are potential targets. The Yankees have a way of getting what they want. They have the money and they have the resources.

Oakland Athletics
Justin Duchscherer is throwing and should begin a rehab stint later this month. If healthy, Duchscherer could give the Athletics and your fantasy team a big boost to end the season. Matt Holliday has been disappointing even to those who expected the Coors Field Effect to bring his numbers way down. In fact all of Beane's big ticket acquisitions were busts this season. Orlando Cabrera got old a little faster than expected but has bounced back a little lately. Jason Giambi has lost too much bat speed to hit for a worthwhile batting average.

Trade Rumors: You never know what Billy Beane will do. But you can rest assured that he will do something. It may seem contrary to the teams direction but I guarantee it will not be boring. The Braves are going hard after outfielder Matt Holliday. There is some question about whether Beane actually intends to trade Holliday but the price according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports is two highly regarded prospects. If Holliday goes you can expect Cabrera and Giambi to be right behind him.

Seattle Mariners
Everything the Mariners do seems to work out this under the new management of GM Jack Zduriencik. They scout better and the results are already showing. The improved defense has combined with the pitcher friendly dimensions of Safeco Field to make average pitchers fantasy worthy. David Aardsma is closing and has looked better than he ever has in any other season of his career. I would not bet on him as a long term saves solution in your fantasy league but he should be a nice option for the rest of the season. First baseman Russell Branyan is hitting homeruns on a 40-homer pace. His batting average is likely to keep falling but the power is very real. Branyan is a better hitter than he was but he's closer to a .250 hitter than a .290 hitter. Yuneisky Betancourt is gone and Ronny Cedeno will get a chance to prove himself in at least semi-regular at-bats in the second half. Fantasy owners would be wise to remember he was once a highly regarded prospect and has the tools if not the skills to succeed. He is just 26-years old and should be watched closely. Franklyn Guitierrez has not only improved the Mariner defense in center field but is batting .295 and is on pace to hit around 20 homeruns with 8-12 stolen bases.

Trade Rumors: The Mariners are in contention but the trade rumors continue to fly around left-handed starters Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn. The Mariners will attempt to trade off their peripheral players like Miguel Batista, Sean White, and Mark Lowe. According to Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times even former top prospects such as Brandon Morrow, Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement could be moved.

Tampa Bay Rays
I was going to go on about how much I think B.J. Upton will be THE player to have in the second half of the season. About how you can expect him to almost make up for his injury-marred start. But Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus has already done it better than I would have. So check out his article "The Next Best Ballplayer" and enjoy.

Any lingering doubts about third baseman Evan Longoria as a first round pick should be completely dissipated by now. He is a stud that compares well to any other player in the first round. Outfielder Carl Crawford has also re-established himself as a first round pick. he is on pace to steal close to 80 bases. Shortstop Jason Bartlett played over his head in the first half but he should still hit for a decent average and steal lots of bases in the second half. Second baseman Ben Zobrist has not only ably replaced Akinori Iwamura but has put himself in an entirely new category with the bat. He is hitting like Ian Kinsler or Chase Utley. It is difficult to explain the sudden transformation because essentially nothing has changed but his power indicators. It would not be the first time a player had a one season surge in power only to return to normal in following seasons. I would hold on to him but be ready to sell to anyone willing to overpay.

David Price has experienced his ups and downs since his call up from the minors. He was not having a very good year at Triple-A either. But price is loaded with talent and has been an average major league starter so far with flashes of the brilliance to come. I think the flashes of brilliance will be more frequent after the break.

Trade Rumors: The Rays do not like to use valuable prospects as bait for short term rentals. They are not likely to cut any payroll as long as they remain in contention but they also are not likely to add any. The facts are they have few needs outside of the bullpen. They will look to add undervalued relievers that become available such as Clay Meredith. The Rays have talked about Roy Halladay but such an acquisition would be out of character and a huge addition to the budget.

Texas Rangers
Ian Kinsler is having a great season but it could be even better in the second half if his fluky low BABIP normalizes and brings his batting average up to it's typical levels. The pre-season sleeper to end all sleepers was outfielder Nelson Cruz and he has delivered. He has had a few mini-slumps along the way but is still on pace to hit 30-plus homers and steal more than 20 bases. He may be even better in the second half with Josh Hamilton back in the lineup. Hamilton missed big chunks of the first half due to a ribcage injury that morphed into an abdominal tear that had to be surgically compared. Though he has yet to hit his stride I feel he will deliver a monster second half to his fantasy owners.

Kevin Millwood
is pitching like the ace the Rangers needed. Vicente Padilla has been a solid starter for the Rangers, but he is not of much value to fantasy owners with a 4.94 K9. Derek Holland will return to the Texas Rotation to begin the second half and is likely to stay there if all goes well. I think he's ready to impress people. Neftali Feliz will soon get the call to join the Ranger's bullpen. His ultimate destination is still in the rotation. The idea is to slowly prepare Feliz to pitch in the majors while simultaneously deepening the bullpen. He should be rostered in any league in which he can be kept.

Trade Rumors: Despite some money problems the Rangers are one of the favorites in the race to trade for Roy Halladay. They have the prospects and the management staff really wants to see it happen. They won't trade either of Holland or Feliz but just about any other prospect is a possibility.

Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have suffered more than their fair share of set-backs the last few years. But their biggest handicap is probably the injuries to every pitcher that makes it through the system. If they could stabilize their rotation they would be much closer to competing in the AL-East. This is one of the reasons it is unlikely the Jays are really going to trade ace Roy Halladay. the Blue Jays have an impressive collection of young pitchers who have unfortunately been plagued by injury. But impressive young starters like Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, Marc Rzepczynski, and Brad Mills will look a lot better following Halladay than attempting to fill his shoes.

It seems far more likely that the Jays would trade one of their veteran outfielder like Alex Rios. They would love to move Vernon Wells but his ridiculous contract makes that close to impossible. Outfielder Adam Lind has established himself in the first half as a dangerous power hitter. Travis Snider looked okay in his stint in the majors but has been given more time to put everything together in the minors. Snider should be back at some point very soon and I expect him to be very good. Second baseman Aaron Hill and shortstop Marco Scutaro have both upped their offensive games while providing the Jays with solid defense. Hill was forgotten by some because he missed last season with injuries but his present production has always been in his potential. Scutarro has always been an underrated hitter that has never received consistent at-bats. I think both players are for real and will continue to be very productive hitters in the second half.

Trade Rumors: There has no bigger news in baseball than the Jays willingness to listen to offers for ace Roy Halladay. Halladay would love to play in St. Louis where he could join friend and former teammate Chris Carpenter in the Cardinals rotation. The Blue Jays love the Cardinals third base prospect Brett Wallace but the Cardinals may be reluctant to pay the huge price that the Jays are requesting. The Phillies are another top contender for the Toronto ace. They have the prospects and want Halladay in their rotation badly, they feel he would guarantee another run to the World Series. The Red Sox are another media favorite but they already have the best pitching in the American League and a ton of highly regarded prospects behind them. If the Red Sox are actually in need of anything it is a bat. The Los Angeles Dodgers also have the prospects and young players it would take to acquire Halladay but they have been reluctant to add payroll in recent years. However, general manager ned Colletti has talked often about adding a starter only if they find someone who would improve the present group dramatically. Halladay fits.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Dr. Horrible said...

Brief comment about the All-Star Game: It felt like an Obama rally where an all star baseball game happened to break out.

I'd rather see the game with Bush than Obama any day. First, he knows something about the game (former owner vs. a guy who thinks the Sox play in what used to be "Cominskey Field"). Second, we all know that he knows how to party.

Saturday, July 18, 2009 at 10:12:00 AM EDT  

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