Big things are coming

Hi all.

Just wanted to mention briefly that Know Hitter may be down in the next few days. We’re working on making changes to the site in order to up the ante in 2018, provide an improved product and make it an even better experience for you, the reader.

Big things are coming.

Thanks for your patience.

Stay tuned.

Ben

Cleveland’s window may be beginning to (slightly) shut

Disclaimer: The Cleveland professional baseball team is probably the odds-on favorite to win the American League Central in 2018, what with Detroit, Chicago and potentially Kansas City rebuilding and Minnesota largely standing pat so far this winter.

It may be that Cleveland is again in the running as a contender for the division crown in 2019.

However, the franchise—which is a year removed from coming a game within a World Series crown—may find it difficult getting back to the top of the mountain top in the not-too-distant future.

Purely from a division-standpoint, the White Sox’ burgeoning young core might be ready to make some noise in 2019.

If the Tigers can make some savvy moves and jumpstart their youth movement, they might not be far behind with a crop of young talent currently operating at the Double-A level.

To Cleveland’s credit, the team does have a number of young players under long-term control. These include the 27-year-old starting pitcher Mike Clevinger, 25-year-old Jose Ramirez, 25-year-old outfielder Bradley Zimmer, 24-year-old shortstop Francisco Lindor and 22-year-old catcher Francisco Meija.

That core should keep Cleveland competitive in the future, but it will be up to the franchise to surround them with quality pieces as time goes by.

As it stands, just who those quality pieces will be in the future remains to be seen.

The American League Central franchise is a veteran-heavy group, and has already incurred some losses on the free-agent market this winter.

Departures

First baseman Carlos Santana and relievers Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith have signed elsewhere. Other free agents who played for Cleveland last season include Austin Jackson (1.8 fWAR) and Jay Bruce (0.7 fWAR in 169 plate appearances).

Finding suitable replacements will be key.

The team has already signed Yonder Alonso to replace Santana.

While Alonso could very well continue the form he showed as an All-Star with Oakland (.375 wOBA, 137 wRC+ and a .260 ISO) he could also revert back to the player who as recently as 2016 posted a .299 wOBA, an 87 wRC+ and a .114 ISO.

For his career, the first baseman owns a .324 wOBA, a 107 wRC+ and a .139 ISO.

If Alonso fails to pan out, it would create another need for Cleveland.

Over the next two years, those needs could multiply.

Free agents

Ace relievers Andrew Miller and Cody Allen will be free agents following the 2018 season, as well fellow relief pitcher Zach McCallister (2.99 ERA, 3.60 FIP in 183.1 innings since 2015).

Starter Josh Tomlin will also become a free agent following the 2018 World Series, as will outfielders Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall.

Miller and Allen have been key parts of Cleveland’s run of success over the past few seasons, forming arguably the best back end-of-the-bullpen pairing in the league.

Since the start of the 2016 season, in which Miller was dealt to Cleveland mid-season, the duo rank second and 24th among relievers in fWAR, as well as first and 22nd in strand rate.

Both pitchers also rank in the top 25 in swinging strike percentage, SIERA and WHIP.

Brantley and Chisenhall

While both players have been limited by injuries in the past, they remain two of the team’s best outfield options when healthy.

From 2014 to 2017, Brantley and Chisenhall have combined for a 17.4 fWAR, with the former notching an 11.1 stat and the latter checking in with a 6.3 metric.

By comparison, the next closest Cleveland outfielder during that span in terms of fWAR is Tyler Naquin with a 2.3 fWAR.

It’s also worth nothing that outside of Brantley and Chisenhall, nine different outfielders have logged 300 or more at-bats in a Cleveland uniform since the start of 2014 in an outfield mix that has at times resembled a revolving door.

Aging veterans

Lately we’ve seen plenty of players effective into their mid-30s and onwards, from Justin Verlander, Rich Hill and Joey Votto, to Ervin Santana, CC Sabathia, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz.

While there’s certainly a precedent for sustained success, you can’t stave off father time forever. Regression will eventually happen.

While it’s entirely possible that some of Cleveland’s veterans may very well remain effective, it isn’t a guarantee that all of them well.

Edwin Encarnacion is 34, Tomlin is 33 and Dan Otero is 32.

Elsewhere, Corey Kluber (31), Brandon Guyer (31), Jason Kipnis (30), Brantley (30), Carlos Carrasco (30), Alonso (30) and McAllister (30) have all put their 20s behind them.

Kluber and Carrasco in particular don’t show any signs of slowing down anytime soon, and players like Kipnis and Brantley are still in their respective primes, but the fact remains that Cleveland’s veteran core isn’t getting any younger.

The farm system

This would be all and well if Cleveland can continue to churn out young talent from the minors to replenish the Major League roster.

Players like Lindor, Ramirez, Zimmer and now potentially Meija have been integrated into the team in recent years.

However, as of now, the franchise is extremely thin in the farm system.

Outside of Meija and 20-year-old, Advanced-A pitcher Triston McKenzie, there is little in impact talent.

Bleacher Report recently ranked Cleveland’s farm system, including Meija and McKenzie, as the 23rd-best in the league.

One has to wonder where they check in without the highly-regarded duo.

Pitching, pitching and more pitching

For as good as Cleveland’s position players have been in years past, the franchise has mainly found success with a dynamic rotation spearheaded by Kluber, Carrasco, Clevinger and others.

Since Kluber broke out in 2013, Cleveland starters sit second in the league in fWAR, finishing just behind the Nationals’ 85.5 metric with an 84.6 metric.

Over the same span, the same group is first in strikeout percentage, second in SIERA, fourth in WHIP and seventh in innings pitched.

Long-term, it will be difficult to sustain that kind of value and production rotation.

As of now, MLB.com’s MLB Pipeline only has nine of the top 25 Cleveland prospects being pitchers, with Aaron Civale the only pitcher joining McKenzie in the top 10.

Meanwhile, in their rankings of the top 18 Cleveland prospects prior to the start of last season, FanGraphs’ list featured just five hurlers.

Of those five, only Rob Kaminsky and Shawn Armstrong have thrown above the Double-A level.

While Cleveland has a number of position-player prospects like first baseman Bobby Bradley, shortstops Yu-Cheng Chang and Willi Castro and outfielders Greg Allen, Quentin Holmes and Will Benson, who could all be solid big league players, the league is becoming more and more pitching-reliant.

The franchise may well churn out some decent hitters in the future, but their potential inability to replenish the rotation—and to a lesser extent the bullpen—could spell trouble down the line.

Next Column:

Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros would once again make ideal trade partners regarding Michael Fulmer

Also:

The Angels could have conceivably headed for a rebuild. Now with Shohei Ohtaniand reportedly Kevin Maitanthe future is bright in Anaheim.

Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros would once again make ideal trade partners regarding Michael Fulmer

This is all purely speculative, but the Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros would make ideal trade partners if starting pitcher Michael Fulmer is dealt.

The Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros made headlines last August, agreeing to a trade that sent Tigers face of the franchise Justin Verlander, along with minor leaguer Juan Ramirez, to the American League West franchise in a deal for three prospects.

It was a mutually-beneficial deal for all parties.

Verlander allowed just four earned runs in his 34 regular-season innings for the Astros—all four came on solo home runs—before pitching to a 2.21 ERA in 36.2 postseason innings.

He also held opposing batters to a .534 OPS and a .177 batting average against in the playoffs, helping Houston to a World Series crown.

On the flipside, Detroit acquired three key prospects to help hasten the franchise’s rebuild.

Just 20 years old, starting pitcher Franklin Perez looks likely to factor into the rotation sooner rather than later after registering a 3.09 ERA, a 3.69 FIP and 25 strikeouts in 32 innings to end the year at Double-A Corpus Christi.

Meanwhile, outfielder Daz Cameron and catcher Jake Rogers, who finished the year at Single-A and Advanced-A respectively, both look like players capable of making an impact on both sides of the ball.

Moving forward, all three should be in the Majors within the next few seasons.

While it was a prominent haul for Verlander, the trade left the World Champion Astros with plenty of minor league system with plenty of talent to potentially flip for more talent as they search for another title.

There’s high-ceiling outfielders in Kyle Tucker as well as Derek Fisher, not to mention potential frontline arms in Forrest Whitley and J.B. Bukauskas.

First baseman and outfielder Yordan Alvarez is another potential impact-player who could emerge from the minors in the future.

Add in the likes of corner infielder Colin Moran, right-handers Francis Martes and David Paulino as well as left-hander Cionel Perez and there isn’t a shortage of trade chips.

Dealing from the aforementioned group wouldn’t hurt Houston’s short-term prospects, while also setting the team up for another deep October run if they can snag additional elite talent.

Keeping up with the Joneses

As it stands, the Astros are still one of baseball’s elite teams despite only adding relievers Joe Smith, Hector Rondon and Anthony Gose in the offseason.

Still, Houston has certainly seen their competition up the ante so far in the Hot Stove League.

The New York Yankees, who came within a game of beating Houston in the most recent iteration of the American League Championship Series, just added Giancarlo Stanton and will benefit from a full season of Sonny Gray in 2018.

Meanwhile, there’s significant competition in the American League West for the Astros, a division Houston won by 21 games last season.

Anaheim’s offseason moves—signing Shohei Ohtani and Zack Cozart and trading for Ian Kinsler—may not be enough to bridge the gap to the ‘Stros.

However, the trio, along with recently re-signed August trade acquisition Justin Upton, should make things significantly closer out West.

What’s more, with a free agent market that still includes J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas an American league team looking to make an impact of their own could shake things up in a hurry.

Pitching, pitching and more pitching

Speaking of potential additions, the Astros have recently been linked with one in the form of Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole.

Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan tweeted the following in a pair of tweets on Monday morning.

Additionally, MLB.com’s Alyson Footer tweeted the following with a video of Houston owner Jim Crane answering questions.

Michael Fulmer

While the Astros have yet to be linked with Fulmer, the fit is definitely there in terms of a long-term fit in Houston’s rotation.

Per Spotrac, The 24-year-old has five years of controllability left before he reaches free agency. What’s more, those five years include one year of pre-arbitration control.

This is all purely speculative, but the fit is not only there for the Astros, but also for the Tigers.

Outside of the Yankees and perhaps Atlanta, Houston is the best positioned team in terms of young talent and prospects that can make a substantial offer for Fulmer.

The same prospects Passan mentioned in his tweets, Fisher, Tucker and Whitley, would certainly make sense for the Tigers.

That’s also purely speculative, but a player like Tucker or Whitely would represent the elite prospect Detroit would be an excellent starting point for executive vice president of baseball operations Al Avila and company.

At this point, Detroit should only trade Fulmer if a team is willing to pay top dollar, or more.

Building a package around Tucker would certainly make sense.

Position Player Prospects Needed

While the Tigers dealing Michael Fulmer would certainly be a blow to the long-term outlook in the rotation, starting pitching is the one area where the orginization deep in quality prospects.

With Perez, Matt Manning, Alex Faedo and Beau Burrows all at varying stages of the development process, Detroit has four starters with the potential to pitch near the top of a Major League rotation.

There’s also plenty of other starters with potential in Grayson Long, Kyle Funkhouser, Gregory Soto, Sandy Baez and Tyler Alexander.

While the starting pitching looks promising, as does the future bullpen picture, there isn’t as much depth in terms of position players.

There is plenty of upside with Cameron, Rogers, all-around middle infielder Isaac Paredes, promising outfield slugger Christin Stewart, outfielder Mike Gerber and infielder Dawel Lugo.

All could become anywhere from quality to impact players in the Majors, but as it stands, the Tigers don’t have a position player prospect to spearhead the rebuild like the White Sox have with Yoan Moncada or the Cubs had with Anthony Rizzo.

Adding Tucker could accomplish that.

Close to the Majors

It also wouldn’t hurt that the outfielder is already at Double-A after turning in a 129 wRC+, a .368 wOBA, a .247 ISO and an .837 OPS in 317 plate appearances against competition that was on average four years older than him.

Outside of Stewart, Gerber and Lugo, Detroit’s best position player are scattered across the lower minors.

Of the three, only Gerber has graduated to Triple-A, and he logged just 18 plate appearances with Triple-A Toledo at the tail-end of last season.

Outside of Tucker in this hypothetical swap, the Tigers should also target first baseman and outfielder Yordan Alvarez.

Alvarez just finished the 2017 season at Advanced-A Buies Creek, but he’d give the Tigers a definite long-term successor for Miguel Cabrera at first base.

Throw in a starting prospect like Hector Perez, or perhaps a player like Bukauskas, and you’ve got the making of a win-win trade.

Market/Value

If anything, if a Cole/Astros trade does occur, it would set some sort of bar for Fulmer in terms of a trade return, considering both are frontline-type starters.

In fact, you could probably make the case that Fulmer has more value.

He’s not as established as the Pirates’ ace, but he’s younger, comes with more years of team control and has been more valuable since the 2016 season (when Fulmer entered the league).

Gerrit Cole vs Michael Fulmer

Gerrit Cole

Age: 27
Years of team control remaining, per Spotrac: Two
Career fWAR: 15.9
Lifetime Swinging Strike Percentage: 9.5
Lifetime WHIP: 1.22
Innings pitched since 2016: 319
fWAR since 2016: 5.6

Michael Fulmer

Age: 24
Years of team control remaining, per Spotrac: Five
Career fWAR: 6.6
Lifetime Swinging Strike Percentage: 9.9
Lifetime WHIP: 1.14
Innings pitched since 2016: 323.2
fWAR since 2016: 6.6

If the Pirates end up dealing Cole for a premium return, it would set up the Tigers to potentially receive much more in swap should the team move their resident ace.

Next Column:

The Angels could have conceivably headed for a rebuild. Now with Shohei Ohtaniand reportedly Kevin Maitanthe future is bright in Anaheim.

Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees make for ideal trade partners regarding Michael Fulmer, Ian Kinsler

The Detroit Tigers should demand full value, if not more, for Michael Fulmer. If he’s dealt this winter, the New York Yankees are an ideal fit.

Detroit Tigers ace Michael Fulmer would make for one of the most interesting trade cases of the offseason.

Whether the hurler is actually dealt remains to be seen.

The Detroit Free Press’ Anthony Fenech tweeted the following on Monday regarding Fulmer:

Detroit obviously doesn’t have to move the All-Star and former Rookie of the Year.

The 24-year-old has five years of team control left, per Spotrac, and has accumulated a 6.6 fWAR in his first two seasons.

Those are compelling reasons to keep hold of the former first-round pick, given that he could be a part of the next great Tigers team.

However, the team control and standout performances are equally compelling reasons to move the right-hander.

Either way, Fulmer’s name will be a fascinating one to watch this winter.

One team with reported, per a tweet from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, interest in the pitcher is the New York Yankees.

Nightengale tweeted the following on Tuesday morning:

Yes, the same Yankees who were a win away from the World Series. Yes, the same Yankees who just acquired Giancarlo Stanton.

Adding Fulmer to New York’s stacked roster would undoubtedly make the Bronx Bombers World Series front runners—sorry Astros and Dodgers.

The Yankees are also one of the few teams who have the prospect and young player capital to make at least a reasonable offer for Fulmer.

WFAN’s Sweeny Murti tweeted about Fulmer and some of the Yankees’ prospects on Tuesday, commenting on an earlier tweet from MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand.

While Murti notes that Torres and Florial are “close to untouchable”, one of them should be the starting point in working out a deal between the Tigers and Yankees.

Of course, this is all speculative and it remains to be seen if the Tigers will in fact move Fulmer, but a player like Torres would provide an excellent starting point.

Torres, an infielder, had Tommy John surgery last season.

However, he could very well play a role in the Majors in 2018. He’s widely regarded as one of the best prospects in baseball, often mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Victor Robles and Eloy Jimenez.

With the Tigers, he’d give the team a long-term solution at shortstop next to Jeimer Candelario at third base.

This would move Dixon Machado off shortstop, but Torres’ high upside would give Detroit a potential impact position player to build around.

In addition to Torres, the Tigers should demand more high-prospects.

Perhaps not Florial, but the Yankees do have a deep system from which to deal from.

Outfielder Clint Frazier, a former high-end prospect his own right, is only 23 and recently turned in a .825 OPS in 320 plate appearances for New York’s Triple-A squad.

The former Cleveland farmhand also appeared in 39 games (142 plate appearances) for the big league team in 2017, notching a .216 ISO and a .715 OPS.

With Stanton now joining Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury in the outfield mix in the mix in the Bronx, Frazier could conceivably be expendable.

In the event of a trade, Frazier would immediately slot in as a starter in Detroit.

A Torres/Frazier pairing could help the Tigers immediately reap the benefits of a Fulmer trade to the Yankees, but the team shouldn’t stop there.

Michael Fulmer vs Chris Sale

Detroit should be demanding full value for Fulmer, just as the White Sox did in last summer’s Chris Sale deal.

Sale and Fulmer are obviously significantly different pitchers, but they should hold similar trade value.

Yes, Sale misses more bats, but he was three years older than Fulmer at the time of the trade last year.

The former White Sox ace also came with two seasons less of team control, and was considerably more expensive. 

According to Spotrac, the southpaw made $12 million in 2017. Per the same publication, he’s slated to make $12.5 million next year with a $15 million club option for 2019.

Meanwhile, per Spotrac, Fulmer will spend another season under team control before he’s eligible for arbitration. He’ll then have four years of controllability left via arbitration.

In return for Sale, the White Sox netted second baseman Yoan Moncada, right-handed starter Michael Kopech, right-handed reliever Victor Diaz and outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe.

In 2016, MLB.com’s MLB Pipeline ranked Moncada as the best overall prospect, with Kopech checking in at 30th.

Both Diaz and Basabe have upside as well, with the latter checking at 17th on MLB.com’s MLB Pipeline list of the top White Sox prospects in 2017.

The Yankees’ Other Prospects

Another New York farmhand who could a fit is right-hander Chance Adams.

A 23-year-old pitcher, the right-hander has a promising four-pitch mix and recently turned in a 2.89 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP and 103 strikeouts in 115.1 innings for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

If included in any hypothetical deal, he could slot in as Fulmer’s direct replacement in the rotation.

Hard-throwing right-handers Domingo German and Dillon Tate would also be intriguing fits for down the road, as would outfielder Billy McKinney and Everson Pereira.

Ian Kinsler

Once again, this is all purely speculative, but one of the reasons the Yankees are ideal trade partners for the Tigers is not just because of the prospects available in a Fulmer, but because of the potential of adding Ian Kinsler to the hypothetical trade.

The Giancarlo Stanton trade cost the Yankees starting second baseman Starlin Castro, immediately making second base a position of need for Brian Cashman and company.

Castro posted a 110 wRC+ and a .338 wOBA last season, finishing with a 1.9 fWAR.

Kinsler, even in a down year at the plate, registered a 2.4 fWAR last season thanks to some strong defense.

His offensive production should rebound in the future after logging a .244 BABIP in 2017 that was .044 below his career norm.

In that regard, the veteran would be a significant upgrade over Castro for the Yankees, after logging fWARs of 5.2, 4.1 and 5.7 in a Tigers uniform from 2014 to 2016.

Adding Kinsler to the deal would hypothetically help the Tigers slightly up the overall value received from New York in the form of a better prospect, or an extra prospect all together.

It may also be prudent to package Kinsler with Fulmer in a deal if the ace is dealt considering the lack of teams with second base needs.

The Yankees may be the best fit for Kinsler in that regard.

Moving the second baseman would also help Detroit save money, which will be key for the organization moving forward.

Money Potentially Saved

According to Spotrac, Kinsler will make $11 million in 2018 before hitting the free agent market.

Moving his contract will immediately help the Tigers shed payroll, as will trading Fulmer in this hypothetical scenario.

The right-hander still has one year left before arbitration, and likely won’t be cheap given his career to date.

Of course, if Detroit is intent on keeping Fulmer, paying for his arbitration years won’t be a problem given his talent.

Still, trading him now would save cash down the line.

In Conclusion

It obviously remains to be seen what will happen this offseason.

However, the fact remains that the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers are ideal trade partners where both Michael Fulmer and Ian Kinsler are concerned.

That being said, Detroit should obviously demand full value—if not more—for a pitcher like Fulmer, but the fit is there nonetheless.

Next Column:

The Angels could have conceivably headed for a rebuild. Now with Shohei Ohtani and reportedly Kevin Maitan, the future is bright in Anaheim.

With Shohei Ohtani and reportedly Kevin Maitan, Angels have set up potentially prosperous future

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim could have conceivably taken steps backwards this offseason. Now, the club is set up to contend for the foreseeable future.

Heading into this offseason, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s future was far from certain.

Sure, the Halos had Mike Trout and hung around in the Wild Card Race until late, ultimately finishing five games out of the Minnesota Twins.

However, with Albert Pujols just turned in a -2.0 fWAR and still has four years left on his contract—per Spotrac.

Additionally, outside of Trout, Andrelton Simmons, Kole Calhoun, Cameron Maybin and Martin Maldonado, no Angels position player registered an fWAR north of 1.0.

What’s more, much of Anaheim’s success was attributed to a patch-work bullpen that was surprisingly successful. Blake Martin and Yusimero Petit led the way for Mike Socia’s relief corps after joining in under-the-radar deals.

Still, both Martin and Petit are 32, and the latter recently signed with the division-rival Oakland Athletics. 

While Petit departed, the Angels could have also lost another key piece in outfielder Justin Upton.

However, Upton re-signed with the club, starting a trend of results that have set the Angels up for an extremely bright future.

The Halos acquired Upton from the Detroit Tigers in an August 31st trade that cost the Angels pitching prospects Grayson Long and Elvin Rodriguez.

The trade was the latest in a series of moves that have left the Angels’ farm system more than depleted.

Past trades for complimentary players like Maybin, Danny Espinosa, Yunel Escobar, Jefry Marte and Jhoulys Chacin sapped Anaheim’s farm system of even more talent,

Anaheim also arguably overpaid for Simmons, flipping Erick Aybar—who was one season removed from an 4.2 fWAR campaign—and a pair of prospects that included Sean Newcomb.

The left-handed Newcomb, 23, was widely regarded as one of the game’s best pitching prospects, and recently made his debut in the majors, striking out 9.7 batters per nine innings to go along with a 4.19 FIP in 100 innings.

Simmons brings plenty of value defensively, but 2017 was the first time he registered a wRC+ north of 100, finishing with a 103 stat.

FanGraphs lists an average wOBA to be .320. Simmons’s career wOBA sits at .300, while he’s eclipsed the .320 mark just once in a full season.

Catch 22

Anaheim’s thin farm system has been one of the reasons the club has been forced to rely so heavily on trades and high-priced free agents like Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson.

As of late, the Angels’ most notable home-grown products include Cam Bedrosian, Kenyan Middleton and Kaleb Cowart.

While the trio are plenty useful to Anaheim, none have the ceiling to be able to step in next to Trout as a franchise cornerstone.

Now, things have changed for the Halos.

The future

Upton’s re-signing with the franchise certainly improves the short-term outlook considerably.

The lineup is obviously top-heavy with Calhoun, Trout and Pujols, but teams’ best players should be drawing the most at-bats, and hitting that quartet at the top of the order does just that.

Long-term, there’s also reason to believe that the Halos can contend.

According to Spotrac, Upton’s deal runs through 2022. The 30-year-old showed no signs of slowing down last season,

Hitting .273 with a .361 on-base percentage, a 137 wRC_ and a .378 wOBA.

Upton also tied his career best with an 11.7% walk rate while notching a 5.0 fWAR. He set new career highs in both slugging percentage (.540), ISO (.268) and home runs (35).

The Angels now have another star to pair with Trout and Upton in Shohei Ohtani. Anaheim tweeted the following from the team’s official Twitter account on Friday:

Not only will Ohtani help shore up a rotation that has been ravaged by injuries and lacks a clear ace, but he’ll provide more depth to a lineup that falls off after the top of the batting order.

Following the aforementioned Calhoun/Trout/Upton/Pujols quartet, the rest of the lineup is comprised of the likes of Simmons, Phillips (72 wRC+ in an Anaheim uniform), Martin Maldonado (73 wRC+), Luis Valbuena (.308 wOBA) and C.J. Cron (.316 wOBA).

World beaters they are not.

How often Ohtani hits and pitches obviously remains to be seen, but he provides the Angels with another key core piece to build around.

That should help the organization find success in the future, as they’ll have to worry more about finding complimentary pieces than star players.

Moving forward, another name that could join Trout and Ohtani in the lineup is Kevin Maitan.

The young infielder, and former Atlanta prospect, reportedly signed with the Halos—according to a tweet from ESPN’s Buster Olney.

Olney tweeted the following on Tuesday, December 5th:

Baseball Prospectus wrote the following about the infielder when ranking Atlanta’ top prospects in an article last November:

“He has above-average bat speed with some natural whip and could be a plus hit/plus power bat that plays on the left side of the infield, somewhere.”

Anaheim’s current farm system offers little in the way of potential impact prospects, so Maitan won’t be blocked.

At just 17 years old, the infielder could eventually replace the 28-yea-rold Simmons at shortstop, or move to third base or second base where the Halos don’t have anything in the way of long-term solutions.

In Conclusion

It’s been a significant turnaround for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The franchise could have conceivably lost Upton in free agency while missing out on both Ohtani and Maitan in free agency.

Now, with all three in tow joining Trout and company, the Angels set up a potentially prosperous future without dipping further into the team’s razor-thin farm system.

Why Leonys Martin is the perfect signing for the Detroit Tigers

Newly-signed outfielder Leonys Martin could provide plenty of value for the Detroit Tigers.

In an offseason that has been stagnant to say the least, the Detroit Tigers have actually been active.

Well, “active” doesn’t necessarily paint the whole picture.

“Relatively active” is probably more apt.

In the early stages of a rebuild that was kick-started by a number of high profile, mid-season trades, the Tigers front office has largely stuck to signing free agents on minor league deals this winter.

There have been some potentially useful finds among the haul of players who have recently joined Detroit on minor league contracts from former first-round pick Kevin Comer to ex-Twin Niko Goodrum and longtime Yankee prospect Mark Montgomery.

Comer and Goodrum are both just 25, while Montgomery is 27.

The Tigers are unlikely to find another J.D. Martinez-type player—in terms of impact— in free agency, but they could very easily stumble upon a bench piece or two, a platoon starter, a back-end rotation arm or a relief pitcher.

Comer, Goodrum, Montgomery and Ryan Carpenter, who signed a Major League deal, all look like quality additions that will provide new Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire with improved depth.

Up until Tuesday, Carpenter was the only player the Tigers signed to a big-league deal.

That changed, as the club announced in a tweet that outfielder Leonys Martin has joined the organization on a Major League deal.

The tweet also included the signings of four other players to minor league deals, including outfielder Jim Adduci and former All-Star Derek Norris, but Martin is the most intriguing of the group by far.

In a rebuild, franchises need to throw as many low risk, high-upside players at the proverbial wall as possible to see if anything sticks.

Whether said players develop into long-term pieces, trade chips or are simply designated for assignment or cut at a later date, teams like the Tigers need to be taking fliers on players with high ceilings.

That’s certainly what Martin has.

High Ceiling

A 29-year-old outfielder, the veteran previously spent parts of five seasons with the Texas Rangers from 2011 to 2015. He was a regular starter in both 2013 and 2014, while seeing significant playing time in 2015.

Martin was also an everyday player for the Seattle Mariners in 2016, before splitting last season with the M’s and Chicago Cubs.

His 2017 stats (-0.4 fWAR, 35 wRC+ and a .224 wOBA) won’t show it, but the outfielder has plenty to offer at the Major League level.

As recently as 2016 he notched a 2.2 fWAR. It was the veteran’s third season in the last five campaigns with an fWAR north of 2.0.

Part of what has made Martin so valuable in the past has been his ability to make an impact on the base paths and in the field.

Since the beginning of the 2013 season—when he started seeing consistent at-bats—only 12 players have stole more bases than Martin.

The former Ranger is tied with a certain Mike Trout with 112 swipes over that span.

If raw stolen bases totals don’t tickle your fancy, perhaps some more advanced metrics will. Martin ranks 13th in Major League Baseball over the same span with a collective BsR of 21.9.

That 21.9 BsR includes respective outputs of 7.7, 6.6, 2.7 and 4.6 from 2013 to 2016.

In the last three seasons, Detroit’s leaders in BsR include the following:

2015: Yoenis Cespedes, 2.3.

2016: Ian Kinsler, 3.6.

2017: Mikie Mahtook, 3.2.

The three, along with Cameron Maybin in’s 2.5 BsR in 2016, are the only players to even come in above the 2.0 mark.

In that regard alone, Martin’s addition could provide instant dividends.

Another area where the 29-year-old could make an impact is in spacious Comerica Park.

Detroit’s defensive struggles have been well-documented, and the team’s outfielders struggled mightily at times in 2017.

Overall, Detroit outfield players ranked 18th in UZR/150 (-1.8), 20th in collective DRS (-10) and 29th in ARM (-14.2).

The outfield stats were largely weighed down players like J.D. Martinez (-16.4 UZR/150, a -6 DRS and a -4.9 ARM), Nicholas Castellanos (-80.5 UZR/150, -7 DRS and a -3.2 ARM) and Alex Presley (-8.0 UZR/150, -11 DRS and a -0.5 ARM).

These statistical outputs overshadowed players who were actually quite dependable in the outfield grass, including Justin Upton and his +13 DRS, Andrew Romine and his team-leading 7.9 UZR/150 and JaCoby Jones.

Despite seeing considerably less playing time, the rookie logged a 4.3 UZR/150 and a +5 DRS in Comerica Park’s spacious center field.

Still, whichever way you slice it, the Tigers needed defensive help in the outfield.

Upton was traded to Anaheim on the eve of September, while Romine also now calls the American League West his home division after being claimed on waivers by the Mariners.

Jones is still a Detroit Tigers player, but his offensive struggles—which we’ll get to in a bit—make it somewhat difficult to play him every day.

Gardenhire and the Tigers should have no problem playing Martin every day, especially considering he can make a serious impact in the outfield grass.

Among center fielders with at least 4,000 since the start of the 2013 season, Martin ranks fourth behind only Billy Hamilton, Lorenzo Cain and Carlos Gomez in Def, or defensive runs above average.

The ex-Ranger checks in with a 41.3 stat in the category.

He also ranks behind Cain, and only Cain, in DRS, with a positive output of +48.

In terms of ARM, Martin finally comes in ahead of the longtime Kansas City outfielder, along with all other outfielders, with a 34.7 metric.

Offensive Boost

Now we’ve circled back to the JaCoby Jones offensive production portion of the column. The former Pirates farmhand shows considerable potential, but struggles mightily at the plate.

In 154 plate appearances, the 25-year-old managed just a 34 wRC+ and a .229 wOBA. He also put up a .240 on-base percentage and a .270 slugging percentage.

While struggles at the plate are nothing new for players breaking into the Major Leagues, Jones continues to swing and miss far too often.

The center fielder posted a 42.2% strikeout rate in 2017, which was only a slight improvement over the 42.9% rate he logged in 28 plate appearances in 2016.

Jones’ defense and base running ability will continue to play at the Major League level, but until he can develop at the dish, he may be better suited as serving as a defensive replacement and pinch runner late in games.

With Mike Gerber and Christin Stewart far from locks to play early for the Tigers in 2018, Mikie Mahtook looks slated for the starting gig in left field.

That left Jones the sole starting option in center field.

Now, with Martin in the mix, Detroit’s offensive outlook in center field is much improved.

Offensive upside

The former Mariner is by no means an offensive force in the Majors, but he brings some power to the game as a center fielder, a trait that gives him intriguing potential.

Martin clocked 15 home runs in 2016, and has registered ISO stats over .120 in two of his three seasons as a starting player.

What’s more, he’s coming off an excellent 88 game, 388 plate appearance stint with Triple-A Tacoma, in which he swatted 11 home runs to go along with 63 runs scored, 39 RBI, 25 stolen bases, a .361 wOBA and a 114 wRC+.

Those numbers may not be sustainable in the Majors, but Martin is a prime candidate to bounce back.

His 2017 production was severely hampered by an exceedingly-low .207 BABUP that was well below his career .306 number.

Low BABIP-induced down years are nothing new for Martin.

His BABIP dropped to .270 in 2015.

Following a strong 2014 campaign, his offensive production dropped off considerably.

Leonys Martin 2014 production: .274 batting average, .325 on-base percentage, .364 slugging percentage, .306 wOBA and a 91 wRC+.

Leonys Martin 2015 production: .219 batting average, .264 on-base percentage, .313 slugging percentage, a .254 wOBA and a 52 wRC+.

After an offseason trade to Seattle, Martin bounced back in the Pacific Northwest as his BABIP returned to a more-normal looking .313 number.

In 576 plate appearances for the M’s, the outfielder hit .247 with a .306 on-base percentage, a .378 slugging percentage, a .298 wOBA and an 88 wRC+.

If the BABIP can come up again, Martin has a chance to make a significant impact for the Detroit Tigers in 2018 in multiple facets of the game.

USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale tweeted about Martin’s reported salary in 2018 in a tweet on Tuesday.

Nightengale tweeted the following:

Even if the Tigers end up paying all of Martin’s reported incentives, a reported $2.85 million could turn into a significant bargain if Leonys Martin can regain his past form.

More MLB Columns: With Shohei Ohtani and reportedly Kevin Maitan, the future is bright in Anaheim.

True to form, Chicago White Sox receive maximum value for Jose Quintana

The Chicago White Sox front office is putting on a masterclass on how to rebuild a franchise.

Saddled with a 78-84 record, a -29 run differential and a lineup that featured just regular under 25 (23-year-old Tim Anderson), Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn embarked on a long-term reboot.

They started by flipping veterans Chris Sale and Adam Eaton in the offseason.

Both players brought in significant hauls, netting the Sox a potential middle-of-the-order cornerstone in Yoan Moncada, a pitcher with frontline upside in Michael Kopech as well as two intriguing prospects in Luis Alexander Basabe, an outfielder, and Victor Diaz, a right-handed pitcher.

Those players were all acquired in the Sale in a haul that frankly wasn’t that surprising.

Sale is the definition of elite, having registered a WAR of at least 4.7 in each of his six full seasons in the rotation.

He also owns a 10.34 punch outs-per-nine rate to go along with a sparkling 2.96 lifetime FIP.

Getting a package of prospects including Moncada and Kopech for Sale wasn’t surprising.

What was surprising is how Williams and Hahn flipped outfielder Adam Eaton for a pair of potential aces in Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez—not to mention Dane Dunning, the 29th-overall pick in 2016.

Eaton is undoubtedly a quality player. He notched a 6.0 WAR in 2016, and has posted a wRC+ north of 117 from 2014 to 2016. However, the veteran hasn’t ever posted an OPS north of .800 in his career, and has had some sky-high BABIP numbers dating back to his first season in Chicago.

From 2014 to 2016, Eaton checked in with BABIPs of .359, .345 and .329.

Williams and Hahn undoubtedly got full value for Sale and perhaps more than full value for Eaton. The White Sox have seemingly done so again with Jose Quintana.

With Sale logging his home games in Massachusetts, Quintana took over as the team’s resident ace.

Quintana was ace-like before Sale left, but he began the year as Chicago’s top starter. He was also the most likely of a host of veterans who were conceivable trade targets.

The list also includes Todd Frazier, David Robertson, Jose Abreu, Melky Cabrera, Dan Jennings, Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle, James Shields and Derek Holland.

However, Quintana stood out thanks to his excellent track record.

Since entering the Majors in 2012, the 28-year-old has notched a cumulative 21.7 WAR to go with a 3.51 ERA and a 3.52 FIP. His xFIP sits at just 3.82.

The Chicago Cubs announced on Twitter in a tweet that the team acquired Quintana from the cross-town White Sox for four prospects.

The Cubs tweeted the following:

In return for Quintana, Williams and Hahn brought in outfielder Eloy Jimenez, right-hander Dylan Cease and infielders Matt Rose and Bryant Flete.

The team have added another potentially dangerous middle-of-the-order thumper to pair with Moncada.

Add Cease to a future rotation that could consist of some combination of Kopech, Giolito, Lopez, Carlos Rodan and 2015 eighth-overall pick Carson Fulmer and the Sox have the makings of a dangerous team down the road.

This is all without mentioning outfielder Luis Robert and catcher Zack Collins, who MLB.com rank as the team’s fourth and ninth best prospects respectively.

The same publication has Robert at #23 and Collins at #68 in their ranking of baseball’s top 100 prospects.

For reference, Cease is 63rd, Fulmer is 59th, Lopez is 36th, Giolito is 28th, Kopech is 11th, Jimenez is eighth and Moncada is first.

Baseball America’s recent prospect rankings also featured Moncada sitting atop the list, with the likes of Jimenez (fifth), Kopech (20th), Robert (45th) and Lopez (59th) in the top 60.

It is all without mentioning whatever prospects Williams and Hahn are able to snag for vets like Frazier, Robertson, Abreu, Melky Cabrera and Jennings.

If the team’s past deals are any indication, the White Sox will probably be getting quality value in return.

Prospects aren’t always guaranteed to pan out—just ask the Marlins about the haul of players they received for Miguel Cabrera—however, Chicago looks to be building a team with the ability to be a juggernaut in the future.

Yeah, that’s right, forget rebuilding for a bright future, these White Sox could be a force to be reckoned with if everything clicks.

NBA Seattle: Prospect of the NBA Returning to Seattle Looks Extremely Promising

It has been eight long year since the Seattle SuperSonics left the Pacific Northwest.

Now, it seems Seattle is closer to getting the Sonics and the NBA back in Seattle.

Back in mid-October, the fine people at SB Nation’s Sonics Rising reported that expansion was “on the table” for the NBA with a new CBA widely reported to be in the works. After seeing the Kings rescued and new arenas being built in other cities, this has been Seattle’s best shot to reenter the league.

Within the week, news came out about Chris Hansen (the driving force behind bringing back the Sonics) buying even more land in SoDo.

So things were obviously looking positive for Seattle’s efforts to restore professional men’s basketball to the Emerald City.

There was also this nugget from a David Aldridge article about the subject of basketball in the Pacific Northwest’s largest city. The writer quoted “a very high ranking executive of one of the league’s 29 teams.” Said executive was quoted as saying “Seattle is a far better market than at least 10 NBA cities.”

So hey, we’ve got that going for us.

While there was obvious caution seeing as we’ve swung and miss with the league before, things were looking up.

Then this wonderful (at least for those who want to see the National Basketball Association back in the Pacific Northwest) news broke. King 5’s Chris Daniels reported that Hansen and company are offering to privately fund the new SoDo arena, as well as helping to fund the Lander Street overpass.

Additionally, Daniels’ reports also states that the offer is “conditioned on the city agreeing to vacate a one-block stretch of Occidental Avenue and the addition of several tax credits.”

The website behind Hansen’s efforts to build a new arena also announced the news.

What’s more, according to a tweet from Daniels, Seattle Council president Bruce Harrell calls the offer to privately fund the arena a “game changer.” You can see the entire tweet below.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

It is extremely positive news for hoop fans in Seattle. While it by no means ensures that a team will come, it is a massive step forward in the grand scheme of things if Hansen is able to privately fund the arena and the overpass.

For more on Seattle and the NBA, click here.

Seattle Mariners: 2016 Winners and Losers

Seattle Mariners baseball ended in somewhat disappointing fashion as Seattle finished just three games out of a playoff berth.

The Mariners were in it right up until the second to last day of the season.

Despite the season ending without a long-awaited return to the playoffs, there were plenty of positives to be had.

Here are the winners and losers of the 2016 Seattle Mariners season.

Winner: Edwin Diaz

Edwin Diaz certainly made quite the impression in his rookie season. The flame throwing reliever pitched to a 2.79 ERA while racking up 18 saves in 51.2 innings pitched. He also struck out 88 batters. If you do the math, that comes out at 15.3 punch outs per nine innings. So yeah, this Diaz guy is pretty good.

Diaz will likely continue to close games in Seattle for the better part of the next decade.

Loser: Adam Lind

Acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers for a trio of minor-league prospects, Lind had an opportunity to establish himself as the team’s first baseman for at least the next few seasons.

However, the former Brewer and Blue Jay hit just .239 with a sub-par .286 on-base percentage. It didn’t help that the veteran’s RBI total dipped from 87 in 2015 to just 58 this past season.

Winner: Mike Zunino

It seems that Mike Zunino is once again in Seattle’s plans. The slugging catcher collected 31 RBI, 16 runs scored, 12 home runs and seven doubles in just 55 games. While his .207 batting average isn’t much to write home about, the backstop did produce a career-best .318 on-base percentage and a 1.8 WAR.

Loser: Chris Iannetta

Like Lind, Iannetta was brought in to start. The backstop started his fair share of games (94), but ultimately lost significant playing time to Zunino.

Winner: Ariel Miranda

Acquired for Wade Miley, Miranda turned in a string of quality performances for the M’s down the stretch. The 27-year-old could be a long-term piece in the Pacific Northwest if he continues to put up numbers similar to the 5-2 record and 3.54 ERA he posted in 2016.

Miranda’s performance looks even better when you consider that the pitcher he replaced in the rotation and was traded for, Miley, owned a 4.98 ERA and a 4.76 FIP. Miley also did all that after being traded for both Carson Smith and Roenis Elias.

Losers: Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma

Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma didn’t have the best seasons compared to their high standards. The duo, who have All-Star Game appearances and numerous Cy Young votes to their name, struggled in 2016. Hernandez’ FIP sat at 4.63, while Iwakuma’s wasn’t much better at 4.27.

Seattle will need the two back at their best next season in order to make a push for the playoffs.

Fantasy Football Trade and Waiver Wire Targets for Later in Season

Fantasy Football season is upon us. With Week 1 nearly done and dusted, the attention of fantasy players will shift to the waiver wire and to the trade market. Here’s a look at some trade targets (or waiver wire additions if they’re available in your league) that you should look into.

Some of these players may be candidates to buy low now on and reap the benefits later, but they’re all worth a look.

Michael Thomas

Thomas caught six passes against the Raiders for 58 yards in Week 1. Also, the Saints like to throw the ball—a lot. Thomas may not out-produce Willie Snead, but he could put up big numbers as a rookie in New Orleans. He’s a worthy flex play moving forward and could grow into a WR2.

Jimmy Graham

Yes, he isn’t 100% healthy yet, and yes he didn’t do too much in Week 1, but the Seahawks are going to throw the ball more, and that should generate in more looks for Graham. He won’t struggle like he did last season, and someone may be willing to sell low on the tight end.

Derrick Henry

If Henry takes over for Demarco Murray, the rookie could put up top-10 running back numbers as a starter. He’s that good.

Travis Benjamin

If you need a Keenan Allen replacement, this is your guy. The former Brown made seven catches in Week 1, and should get a healthy number of targets moving forward. He put up some big numbers for Cleveland last season, and could thrive with Phillip Rivers throwing him the ball.

Chris Hogan

Like Thomas, Hogan won’t overtake some of the other receiving options on his own team (Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski) in the pecking order for targets. However, he could easily settle into the New England offense as the number three option. As a flex play, he’s worth a look.

Tyrod Taylor

Taylor has the chance to be a top fantasy quarterback thanks to his ability to rack up points through the air and on the ground. You could get him for cheap following his struggles against the Ravens in Week 1.

Coby Fleener

Like Taylor, Fleener is a buy-low candidate after a quiet Week 1 (one catch for six yards). In a high-octane offense in New Orleans, Fleener could post elite numbers at the tight end position.

Thomas Rawls

Another buy-low candidate, Rawls could be back up to full speed in the not-too-distant future. Christine Michael and C.J. Prosise will be a part of the offense moving forward, but it will be hard to keep the talented Rawls off the field for the Seahawks. Buy low if you can.

For more Fantasy Football, visit here.