Friday November 16th, 2012
Bernie Olshansky: The final awards have been announced. Both races could have gone either way, with deserving candidates in each league. In the end, each winner won by a large margin (Cabrera 362-281 and Posey 422-285). There really were not any surprises in this year of MVP voting. Here’s my analysis for each league.
Thursday November 15th, 2012
Bernie Olshansky: Both Cy Young awards were announced yesterday. R.A. Dickey won in the National League and David Price won in the American League. Dickey won by a large margin; he had 209 points by 27 first place votes and five second place votes. This race was not even close. Price on the other hand, won by four points. He received just one more first place vote than Justin Verlander, who finished second. Here’s my take on how the voting went down.
Wednesday September 21, 2011
MLB reports: We are proud today to feature on MLB reports: Drew Taylor, former Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays prospect pitcher, currently playing in the Intercounty Baseball League. Based in Ontario, Canada, the Intercounty League has produced several major league players including Rob Butler, Rich Butler and current Brewers closer, John Axford. Drew’s baseball blood lines run deep, as his father Ron Taylor is former MLB pitcher himself. Part of the 1969 Miracle Mets during his playing career, Dr. Taylor is a long time team doctor for the Toronto Blue Jays. Did I mention that Drew is also dating Miss Universe Canada 2010? From getting signed by the Jays, having a World Series champion pitcher as a father, recovering from injuries and life in the Intercounty League and working towards becoming a doctor, we covered many topics with Drew. For a great baseball tale from a different part of the game, we present our recent interview with Drew Taylor:
MLB reports: Welcome to the Reports Drew. Thank you for taking time out of your schedule for this interview. First question we always like to ask: who was your favorite baseball player growing up, that you most idolized and patterned your game after?
Drew Taylor: I always loved to watch David Wells pitch when I was younger. As a lefty I learned a lot about setting up hitters and how to use a curveball effectively against left- and right-handed batters. I also loved his approach. He went right after hitters no matter who they were and rarely fell behind in the count. A true lefty – he was a character on and off the mound. I had the chance to get to know him a little when he was playing in Toronto. When I was in high school, I threw a bullpen in Spring Training for the Jays. I didn’t know I would be throwing that day so I only had my first baseman mitt with me. He gave me a glove to use and watched me throw giving me some pointers after the pen, very generous; he is the kind of guy that would give you the shirt off his back. I also learned a great deal from watching him that day in the way he treated people and engaged with fans asking for his autograph. Down to earth.
MLB reports: Which current MLB star do you most admire and why?
Drew Taylor: I would have to say Travis Snider. I played with Travis our first year in the Blue Jays minor leagues and actually lived with him for the first part of the season. He came into the Jays straight out of high school and was thrust into a system that was known for drafting mostly college athletes. Here he was living with Jeff Gilmore, who graduated early from Stanford and had already begun a Masters in History and myself, already with Undergraduate and Masters degrees from the University of Michigan. But in truth, Travis was probably the most mature of the group of us. As I got to know Snider I found out why. He had faced a great deal for a kid of his age. There have been a number of articles written him since he broke into a big leagues focusing on what he and his family went through while he was in high school. If you haven’t read them, I suggest you look them up. I won’t go into all the details here, but in short when his mother was dealing with serious health issues, he was placed in a difficult situation at a very young age. As the only son, he stepped up to be a rock for his family. There are a lot of talented athletes that get drafted and Snider is definitely one of them. Sometimes though it is experiences like these that separate the men from the boys and dictate who will have the resolve and discipline to make the jump to the big leagues.
MLB reports: Reflecting on your career to-date, what are your proudest accomplishments on the baseball field?
Drew Taylor: I transferred for my sophomore year to the University of Michigan from Georgia Tech in 2003. I came into a program that had a great history but had struggled in the past few seasons, finishing only 21-32 the previous year. Rich Maloney had moved from Ball State to the Michigan to take the helm as head coach. He called each player in one by one before the season, sat us down and laid out what he expected of us. It was the first time a coach had talked to me that way. He demanded excellence and explained how each one of us as individuals could contribute to the team’s success. I owe a great deal to Rich and would not have had the success I had that year without his ability to inspire his athletes and instil confidence in them. He turned that program around and we ended up 30-27 that year, climbing to 43-21 and winning the Big Ten by the time I graduated. “Those who stay will be champions.” I personally ended up 9-1 in 2003, making the All-Big Ten and All-Region Teams and was given the Geoff Zahn award for Michigan’s top pitcher. After pitching only 9.1 innings the previous year, this was a big turnaround for me. Rich knows how to get the most out of his players and I hope he remains a college coach so I can send my kids his way one day.
MLB reports: You were signed in 2006 by the Toronto Blue Jays after the draft. Were you scouted by certain teams before the draft and were you expecting to be drafted?
Drew Taylor: The most amount of attention I received was probably in 2001. My velocity shot up during my final year of high school and while pitching for the Ontario Blue Jays the summer before starting university. I had a number of clubs call and make offers, including the Rockies, Blue Jays, and Braves, to see if I would forgo school to sign professionally. But I was dead set on getting my education. While at Michigan, I had a great sophomore year going 9-1 and followed it up with a good showing in the Cape League which drew some attention again. Then during my draft eligible Junior year I ended up injuring my shoulder in my first start of the year. I tried to come back and pitch a couple of times, but ended up having to shut it down for the season. That effectively ended any chance I had of getting picked up in the draft, so I focused on my rehab, knowing that I would be back at Michigan the next year and would have to prove I could compete all over again. In 2006, the Blue Jays called right after my final game and signed me to a free-agent contract. I reported to camp two days later.
MLB reports: Being signed by your hometown Jays must have been very special. What were your feelings after the draft and what was the process like up until the time you were signed?
Drew Taylor: Being signed by your hometown team is always special, but there were so many things on the go I didn’t get much of a chance to sit down and enjoy the feeling. When I got the call I was in Michigan right after we got back from the NCAA Regionals in Atlanta. It was a little bit of a whirlwind because I had just got back to my apartment when I was told I was leaving again in two days. In those two days, I quickly packed up my apartment and hit the road for Toronto. Kevin Briand and Sean McCann were the scouts that signed me and I went down to the then named SkyDome to meet them and sign my contract. With the papers in, Kevin walked me down onto the field and it finally sunk in.
MLB reports; As a 6′ 5″ left-handed pitcher and being the son of an ex-major league hurler, what were the expectations you set for yourself once you joined the Jays system? Did you envision yourself in the major leagues one day and what was your plan to get there?
Drew Taylor: Everyone who signs a contract, or for that matter who has played baseball at any level has thought about what it would be like to play in the majors. For me, I had a father who had done it for 11 years, and because of that I had the opportunity to be exposed to the game at a high level from an early age. I fully expected to make the majors and as soon as I signed professionally, I set out to realize that goal. Competition increases as you move up in the system and ultimately I never reached my goal of reaching the majors. There are a lot of talented players in professional baseball, many of the guys in the minors have the talent and ability to play in the majors, but lack consistency. At the major league level you have to be able to make adjustments within the same game or within the same at-bat. Realizing how to make these adjustments takes time and experience, which is one of the reasons athletes in baseball require time to mature and develop above other sports. The mental side of baseball is much more important than the physical… as Yogi Berra said “Ninety percent of baseball is mental, the other half is physical.”
MLB reports: For all the fans that have never experienced minor league baseball before, give us an idea as to what life is like in the minor leagues as compared to what people see in major league stadiums. The level of competition, amenities and support from the major league team for its minor league system- what is it like?
Drew Taylor: Night and day. Have you ever watched Bull Durham? Its bang on. The minors consist of a lot of long bus trips, fast food, and tiny locker rooms. The other big difference that people do not realize is how little money players are paid in the minors. Bonus Babies get a big cheque at the beginning, but the weekly salary is barely enough to live on. I would love to see the Major League Baseball Players Union fight for better pay in the minors, but once you make it to the majors I assume those guys try not to even think about the minors again. I don’t see it happening. Another problem is that players in the US and Canada are entered into the draft, while international players are all free agent signs. This means that home-grown talent can only negotiate with the team that drafted them, while international players have the ability to shop around different teams and drive up their signing bonuses. We need to move to a world-wide draft. One thing I will say is that players who make it to the big leagues know what it is like in the minors because they came up through it. Many guys are very good to the guys at lower levels. Especially if they are back down in the minors for rehab starts. One guy that sticks out in my mind that always looked after the guys at the lower levels was Brandon League. He was down for rehab for a while in Dunedin one year and went out of his way for us.
MLB reports: Injuries unfortunately played a huge part in your career, as it affects many young hurlers. Please tell us what happened to you health wise and your path through injuries, surgeries and how health affected your career.
Drew Taylor: I only threw twice in my junior year at Michigan before it was painfully evident that something was not right. I ended up having a small tear in my rotator cuff and a strained bicep. I rehabbed and came back strong enough to get picked up by the Jays. My velocity had never returned fully after my arm injury in University, so I had to find other ways of getting hitters out than just blowing it by them. Additionally, I moved primarily to the bullpen after being a starter my whole life. My mental approach to baseball improved greatly, learning how to set up hitters and get them out not just by beating them with a pitch, but beating them with a pitch they didn’t expect. Instead of facing the same hitters many times in one game as a starter, I was now coming in relief and mostly only had to face batters once. I had to develop the ability to strike out a batter when I came on with runners on base and I focused on improving out pitches. My first year was in Pulaski Virginia in the Appalachian league facing a lot of young free-swingers. I used this to my advantage and ended up striking out 37 in 27 innings. As you move up through the system, hitters have a much better approach and wait for you to throw a pitch they are looking for or for you to make a mistake. You have to improve with them, or you will get left behind.
MLB reports: For those fans that aren’t aware, your father is Dr. Ron Taylor. A team doctor for the Jays, your dad was a star pitcher in the big leagues and played on World Championship teams. What influence did your dad have on your career? What was your relationship like growing up?
Drew Taylor: My dad was a huge influence on me. He never pushed me into baseball, or medicine for that matter, they were both my choices. Once I made the decisions to pursue being a professional pitcher and then a doctor, his support and guidance was bar none. He had a great career in the majors for 11 seasons, winning two World Series with the Cardinals in 1964 and the Amazin’ Mets in 1969. I had a big leaguer at my disposal and he taught me things about playing at a level that very few have made it to. Even when we would sit down and watch a game on TV, we would be talking about setting up hitters and he would always ask me what pitch I would throw next. The biggest thing he taught me is how to deal with pressure and maintain focus and confidence – something I can take with me in all aspects of life. In 6 appearances in Major League post season games he threw over 10 innings without giving up a run. In 1964 he threw 4 innings in the World Series without giving up a hit, allowing only one base runner on a walk to none other than Mickey Mantle. There definitely were some expectations, and it was very tough to deal with when I had my arm injury and my future in baseball was in question. When I was released by the Phillies in 2008, I came home and he said something that will always stick with me. He told me if he “could only choose one career between baseball and medicine, it would have been medicine.” He has been able to help countless more people as a physician than as a pitcher. If I had kept playing baseball, my window to return to school might have closed. My brother Matthew, has also been a great guy to have around. What he lacked in talent he made up for in knowledge. I still talk shop with him when we watch games and he often comes out to watch me throw, giving me some pointers after the game, whether I want to hear them or not. He works in film, but I always thought he would be great in the front office or as a GM. He knows baseball, better than me.
MLB reports: To go along with the Jays connection, you mentioned to me that you know Pat Gillick well. Please tell us your relationship with Pat and the Phillies organization.
Drew Taylor: After my second season with the Blue Jays, they let me go and I immediately got a call from the Phillies asking me to attend spring training in Clearwater next year. Pat is one of the greatest minds in baseball and has been a mastermind behind winning teams and franchises since he started as a General Manager. He is always at ground level watching his players from rookie ball up to the majors and has a huge presence at camp. When he was with the Blue Jays, he became great friends with our family and recently invited us down to watch the induction ceremony at Cooperstown. It was my first time there and a tremendous experience to see the rich history the sport has and its influence and presence in North America and around the world. Bobby Cox, who was also formerly with the Blue Jays was down at the induction as well and they told me the story of how I ended up being named Drew. My parents were deciding between Forrest or Andrew and Bobby suggested they just call me Drew. I am glad he did. Forrest Gump came out when I was 11… that would have been a rough year…
MLB reports: You currently play for the Toronto Maple Leafs of the Intercounty Baseball League in Ontario, Canada. Many famous players came through the IBL, most notably John Axford of the Brewers. For fans that are not familiar with the league, please tell us more about playing baseball in the IBL and the Leafs’ organization.
Drew Taylor: The Intercounty Baseball League started in 1919 and was founded as a minor baseball league feeding the majors. Now it remains as an independent league. It has a great deal of variety in players and level of experience. Many of the players have had professional experience in affiliated ball and are at the end stages of their career. The rest of the players are comprised of current or former university and college athletes trying to get signed to professional contracts or who want to maintain playing baseball at a high level of competition. Ferguson Jenkins, Paul Spoljaric, Jesse Orosco, John Axford, Pete Orr, Rob Ducey, Rich Butler and Rob Butler are some of the major leaguers that have played in the league either before their major league career or afterwards. I have actually had the chance to pitch head-to-head against Spoljaric on a few occasions and it is always exciting to face off against a former big leaguer. The league has a shorter schedule and we don’t play every day, so it allows guys to maintain full-time jobs while playing, which is rather unique. I have been playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs for the past three years while being a full-time student at the University of Toronto and Mount Sinai Hospital.
MLB reports: I have read that you have been involved with a number of charity groups surrounding baseball and sports, with your girlfriend Elena Semikina, Miss Universe Canada 2010. Tell us more about it and what type of effect Elena has had on you.
Drew Taylor: Yes, she is defiantly a good influence. Elena and I have been getting involved in some charities that are doing great work in Toronto and across Canada. We recently participated in Strike Out Cancer in support of Mount Sinai Hospital with an all-star list of actors and hall of famers including Kurt Russell, Roberto Alomar, David Justice, Gary Carter, Gary Sheffield, Bret Saberhagen, Devon White, and others. This past year the event raised over 1.4 million for research and treatment of women’s cancers. We also participated alongside local athletes, actors, musicians, and personalities in the Bulletproof campaign which sells apparel in support of the Special Olympics. Another fun group of people, Jays Days, get together when the Jays are on the road to watch the game together at Opera Bobs. Proceeds from sales of ball-park hotdogs, popcorn, and refreshments go to Horizons for Youth, a 35 bed youth-shelter dedicated to helping homeless and at-risk youth in Toronto.
MLB reports: Having attended Michigan and with your father a doctor, a little birdy told me that you were looking at a career in medicine yourself. True or False?
Drew Taylor: True. I ended up passing on professional baseball out of high school to attend university as I wanted to become a doctor. After finishing my undergraduate and Masters degrees at the University of Michigan, I was signed by the Blue Jays. At the same time I signed I had sent in my application to medical school. I was accepted and had to make a tough decision. I decided that I would have the chance to go to medical school after playing, but only had one opportunity to play professional baseball. Thus I continued to play ball. I didn’t want to lose any momentum in medicine, so I applied to the University of Toronto and continued graduate school in the off-seasons. While with the Phillies and now playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Intercounty League, I have been completing my PhD. I will finish this year and will be applying to medical school again.
MLB reports: How many more years to you see yourself playing baseball? When your playing career is done, do you see yourself staying in the game and in what capacity?
Drew Taylor: I will continue to play as long as I enjoy the game and my arm holds up. I broke my elbow this past year and it was a long season of rehab before I was back pitching again. I finished the year strong so it rejuvenated my desire to keep pitching. Once it is over for good I would like to stay involved with baseball and sports in general. My PhD is in Biomedical Engineering and ultimately I want to pursue a career in Orthopedic Surgery, possibly even specialize in upper extremity to compliment my experience dealing my own injuries. My dad is the team Physician for the Toronto Blue Jays. I would love to follow in his footsteps and serve a professional team.
Thank you again to Drew Taylor for taking the time to join us today on MLB reports. We highly encourage our readers to post at the bottom of the article any questions and/or comments that you may have for Drew. As well, please follow Drew on Twitter (@DrewWTaylor).
**Some of the photographs in today’s feature are from the private collection of our guest, Drew Taylor. **
Saturday July 23, 2011
MLB reports: We are now only eight days away from the MLB non-waiver trade deadline and the rumors continue to fly fast and furious. Along with the Carlos Beltran and Heath Bell sweepstakes, the names Ubaldo Jimenez, Josh Willingham, Brandon League, Hunter Pence and Hiroki Kuroda have been tossed around as possible candidates to be moved next week. Another big time name has recently been thrown into the mix that we will be looking at today. James Shields, “big game James”, one of the top starting pitchers on the Tampa Bay Rays may very well be playing for a new team very soon. The Cincinnati Reds are apparently calling and with big prospect bats sitting on the farm, the Reds may very well have the necessary bait to haul in one of the biggest fishes on the trade market.
The 29-year old James Shields was drafted by the Rays in the 16th round of the 2000 MLB draft. Shields made his major league debut in 2006. Here is a quick rundown of his lifetime statistics:
|162 Game Avg.||13||12||4.02||224||227||51||188||1.244|
A definite innings-eater, James pitched almost 1000 innings over his first five seasons, making him one of the most consistent and reliable pitchers in the game. A lack of run support has definitely hurt Shields over the years, as he had the numbers to obtain more wins had the Rays offense been able to support him better. I have watched too many instances of Shields pitching complete or near complete game losses, despite only giving up 2-3 runs per game. 2009 and 2010 were not kind to James in some ways, as some analysts viewed Shields as having hit his peak and starting to decline. Going into 2011, nobody knew what James Shields the Rays would be getting. The steady ace that the team enjoyed for the majority of his career or the 2010 inconsistent version. Looking at Shields at the halfway mark of the season, he is enjoying by far his greatest season in the majors. A sparkling 2.53 ERA and 1.011 WHIP, Shields has been everything that the Rays could have expected more. But with success comes many questions, with the most pertinent being what the Rays should do with James.
The whispers and talk has been growing by the day that the Rays may be looking to move Shields by July 31st. The Reds have been the team most linked to the Rays, given their desire to bolster their rotation and the deep farm of prospects they can offer the Rays. The Reds are sitting on some of the top prospects in the game that are currently blocked at the major league level. Yonder Alonso, 1B/OF is considered one of the best hitters not at the major league level. Alonso would represent the centerpiece of a potential Shields deal. Born in Cuba and having attended the University of Miami, Alonso is often compared to his friend Alex Rodriguez, based on his combination of power and patience at the plate. Not bad company at all. The 24-year old Alonso was drafted 7th overall in the 2008 draft by the Reds and has quickly advanced in their system. Currently in AAA, Alonso sits at a .297 AVG, .871 OPS, with 12 home runs and 46/59 BB/K. The Rays, desperately in need of bats, currently have Casey Kotchman manning first. Alonso would be a perfect fit in taking over the first base job for the next decade. He is a special hitter that does not come along very often. While a pitcher of Shields stature is not easy to replace, the Rays would be filling a huge void in their lineup by adding Alonso. Dealing from strength to fill a need is smart baseball management and the reason why we are discussing the trade of Shields today.
In addition to acquiring Yonder Alonso, the Rays would be adding a number one catcher to their system in either Yasmani Grandal or Devin Mesoraco. I have seen both names thrown around, but my gut is that the Rays will end up receiving Grandal. Mesoraco was featured by us back in June. The likely Reds catcher of the future, Mesoraco is expected to get the call either this year or next at the latest to replace incumbent Ramon Hernandez. With a solid backup in Ryan Hanigan, the Reds have an abundance of catchers, a strength considering that few major league teams have potential superstar backstops playing in their lower levels. The 22-year old Grandal was born in Cuba and played in Miami, similar to Alonso. Drafted 12th overall in the 2010 MLB draft, Grandal recently got the call to AA. Mesoraco on the other hand, is 23-years of age and was drafted 15th overall by the Reds in the 2007 MLB draft. Mesoraco is back for his second tour of duty in AAA, hitting a solid .309 and .895 OPS, with 10 home runs and 54 RBIs. After battling injuries in his career, Mesoraco hit a combined 26 home runs over 3 levels last season and has not slowed down since. The Rays would be thrilled to receive Mesoraco in a Shields trade, but Grandal is considered by many to actually be the more talented backstop. A win-win either way for Tampa Bay.
But why trade Shields and especially, why now? Many Rays fans are asking themselves those questions right now. On the surface, Shields and the Rays look like a perfect fit. He is young and still in the prime of his career. Shields has proven to be healthy and durable since joining the Rays. He is signed through this year, with team friendly options through 2014 at $7, $9 and $12 million per year respectively from 2012-14. In baseball they say you can never have too much pitching. If that is the case, then some feel the Rays should consider stockpiling their pitchers and building their team from strength. But that is a narrow view of major league teams and how they operate. Let’s take a look at our five top reasons for the Rays to trade James Shields right now:
1) Sell at the Peak
You never know what the future will bring, so sometimes it is important to live in the moment. Shields, while a steady and consistent pitcher, is currently pitching at the highest level of his career. The Rays will need to determine if he has truly broken out or merely playing above his head. The value for Shields may never get higher than it is today. As well, teams contending for the playoffs may be willing to pay more at the deadline than the offseason for Shields. The Rays, if feeling especially lucky, could request the addition of either Mike Leake or Travis Wood to the trade mix from the Reds.
2) Numbers Game: Rotation Log Jam
The Rays have been known for acquiring, developing and stockpiling pitchers in their system. This past offseason was no different, as the Rays traded away top starter Matt Garza to the Cubs for a package of prospects, including Christopher Archer and Sam Fuld. With Jeremy Hellickson ready, willing and able to join the big club, the Rays needed to clear room for their next future star pitcher. Hellickson, combined with David Price, Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann form a formidable one through four punch in the rotation. Based on their age and salaries, none of these starters will likely be going anywhere soon. While Alex Cobb has been brought in for temporary measure to the majors, Matt Moore just got the call to join AAA Durham in anticipation of joining the Rays rotation soon. Moore, one of the top-five pitching prospects in baseball, will not likely be kept on the farm too long given his dominance over minor league hitters to-date. That is how the baseball system works. Prospects are developed and either traded for veterans or take over for departed veterans from major league teams. As the Rays have no intention of trading Moore, a spot will have to open up for him. Unfortunately for James Shields, he is the veteran most likely to go. From there, it will only be a matter of time before Archer is ready to join the big club and the cycle will continue.
3) Dollars and Cents
It is no secret that the Rays are on a very tight budget. Low attendance figures, despite continued recent major league success including a World Series appearance in 2008, has meant that the Rays cannot afford to hang onto high priced veterans. Shown the door in recent years were Carlos Pena, Matt Garza and Rafael Soriano, among others for financial considerations. While James may have what is considered a team friendly contract, paying him close to $10 million or so per year for each of the next three seasons does not work for the Rays budget. Moore, combined with Alonso and Grandal, would fill three positions for the Rays at a combined salary that will be a fraction of what Shields makes. In other words, Shields is a luxury that the Rays cannot afford and can fill quite adequately within at a cheaper cost. While we do not like to think about the economics of the game, it can drive roster decisions on the same level as talent and ability.
4) Innings- Wear and Tear
James Shields is starting to enter a zone that many MLB teams dread. The 200-innings per season for over five seasons club. While an informal group, there has been much talk in baseball circles that most pitchers after their first 1000 innings pitched have a high risk of injuries and decline. Pitchers like Brandon Webb and to a lesser extent Ben Sheets, are shown as examples of modern pitchers that have arm/shoulder problems after pitching many major league innings over a span of 5+ years. While Shields has not shown any risks yet of developing injuries, his numbers going into this season were of concern for the Rays. So while Shields is having a Cy Young caliber season, the Rays may be fearful that he will be susceptible to injuries or declining performance very soon.
5) Pitchers Need Run Support
In the same way a fast car needs a powerful engine and reliable tires, a major league team needs both offense and strong pitching. The current build of the Rays is starting to mirror the San Francisco Giants. Great young pitching but not enough hitting. The Rays can stockpile as much pitching as they like, but if they cannot score runs they will have a difficult time making the playoffs, let alone win a World Series title. Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal are two superstar bats in the making that the Rays desperately need and do not have in their own system. The expression goes that teams “develop pitching and buy bats.” In this case, the Rays will be taking to buying the bats that they themselves cannot produce. With a starting lineup of nine hitters, that Rays will be instantly filling over 20% of their lineup by way of this trade. The hit the rotation by losing Shields would be absorbed by the addition of Matt Moore to the major league club. But the boost to the team’s offense as a result of the addition of Alonso and Grandal is invaluable.
Verdict: The bottom line is that the Tampa Bay Rays are in a quandary. James Shields is the heart and soul of their pitching staff, the go-to guy who has earned his nickname of “big game.” But as the most expensive starter on the staff, with the team’s top prospect almost ready to receive the call to the show and the team desperately needing good young hitting, the Rays have no choice but to consider moving Shields at the trade deadline. As the team is still in contention, management will have to be careful of not sending a message that they are throwing in the towel on the season. But to get the biggest reward, the team will have to pay a big price. It will be difficult in the short-term to accept the trade of James Shields from Tampa Bay. But considering the hitting that the Reds would be sending to the Rays, this is a deal that the Rays cannot afford to miss out on. Keep an eye on Tampa Bay as the team will continue to improve, get younger at a competitive payroll come deadline day and still remain in contention. If this is truly James Shield’s last week in a Rays uniform, please be sure to catch his last start live or on television from Oakland this coming Wednesday July 27th. With Desmond Jennings and Dane De La Rosa just recalled by the Rays from AAA, the cycle of player and prospect replenishment has already begun again in Tampa Bay.
Friday July 22, 2011
MLB reports: The MLB Non-Waiver Trade Deadline is rapidly approaching. With only nine days to go, MLB teams need to decide if they are buyers or sellers. Right up until July 31st deadline, the baseball world will be buzzing on potential deals. While transactions can occur after July 31st, the respective players will need to first pass through waivers, which makes trades more difficult to happen. Especially in the category of closers, who are sought after by almost every team. Whether to obtain a 9th inning stopper or upgrade their middle relief, the majority of MLB teams are currently on the prowl.
There are some contending teams would love to add a closer, including the Rangers and Cardinals. The host of other teams battling for a playoff spot are ready to take a current closer to pitch the 7th or 8th inning. To win today in baseball, you usually need 2-3 closer-type pitchers in your pen. The Brewers recently added Francisco Rodriguez to compliment John Axford. The New York Yankees signed Rafael Soriano to pitch in front of Mariano Rivera, although David Robertson has since grabbed the role. True closers will always be in demand and teams with playoff aspirations will always find room for these guys on their rosters.
As the line between buyers and sellers becomes less blurry, we take a look today at the top five closer candidates to be traded by the July 31st MLB Trade Deadline:
1) Heath Bell: San Diego Padres
The Rolls Royce of available closers, the Padres are talking to teams on a daily, if not hourly basis on the availability of Heath Bell. Nearly every team has been linked to Bell in the past few days, from the Rangers, Cardinals, Phillies, Red Sox, Jays and Tigers. The prize of the closing market, expect the Padres to demand a king’s ransom for his services. At least two top prospects, with one being major league ready should get this deal done. With 28 saves and a 2.45 ERA, the 33-year old Bell is having another fantastic campaign before his impending free agency. The Rangers and Cardinals are most in need of a closer, with the Rangers the most likely destination based on availability of prospects. The Rangers have the superior farm system and could match up best with the Padres. The Phillies and Jays are the dark horses according to reports and need to decide if they are willing to pay the price.
2) Brandon League: Seattle Mariners
A first time All-Star in 2011, Brandon League has raised his stock this year and given the Mariners an interesting trade chip to work with at the deadline. League has chipped in 23 saves already this year, with a 3.35 ERA and 1.088 WHIP. With a team friendly contract and under team control for another season, League should draw much interest on the market. St. Louis seems like a logical choice, as the Cardinals will be looking for a long-term solution to their closing woes. I cannot see the Mariners dealing in their division and having to face League next year with the Rangers. A top prospect or two middle prospects should make this one happen. With the Mariners far out of contention and in complete rebuild mode, a top closer seems like a luxury that the Mariners cannot afford at the moment. The Mariners need offensive help and need it quickly, with League being one of many candidates likely to leave Seattle by July 31st to replenish the farm system.
If Heath Bells is a Rolls Royce, the Blue Jays are running a used Ford dealership in their bullpen. Frank Francisco is like a used mustang with transmission problems, while Jon Rauch is a pickup truck without the V8 engine. The Jays have assembled a collection of the middle-of-the-road closers and setup men this year in their bullpen. Francisco will likely draw the most attention, despite his mostly awful numbers this year. At 31-years of age and throwing big time heat, Francisco still has potential. Rauch has served as the Jays closer for much of the year and could be in demand as well. Octavio Dotel, the eldest member of the pack, has bounced around during his major league career and could be a useful trade deadline pickup. The most effective reliever though for the Jays has been Jason Frasor and a smart team should consider him. While the Jays are unlikely to offer any true closers to contending teams, there are middle relief candidates to be had. Expect the Phillies to come calling and pickup one of the above.
4) Kevin Gregg: Baltimore Orioles
For those teams that like to play with fire, closers don’t get more dangerous than Kevin Gregg. A 4.00 ERA and unsightly 1.583 WHIP are not numbers that scream out lock-down closer. Gregg has shown though the ability to get hot at times during his career and will be considered by many teams over the next week. Signed through next year, the Orioles will look mainly for salary relief in shedding Gregg’s contract. Personally, I wouldn’t consider Gregg if I was running a team. But somehow he will likely move by July 31st.
5) Leo Nunez: Florida Marlins
Another up-and-down closer in the Gregg mold, Leo Nunez is quietly having a very solid season for the Florida Marlins. Up to 27 saves, with a 3.22 ERA and 1.187 WHIP, Nunez might actually be the best affordable option on the closers market. The Rangers and Cardinals will sniffing around here, as will the Red Sox, Indians and Tigers. As the Marlins and Tigers have matched up well before in trades, I can see this swap happening. The Tigers have the ability to surrender a decent pitching prospect and can use Nunez down the stretch as Valverde insurance. With the Tigers in contention and the majority of their bullpen being fairly unstable for most of the year, Nunez might be a late inning option that the the Tigers can ill-afford to miss out on.
Send us your comments and opinions on available closers for the trade deadline. Other names thrown around have been Joakim Soria, Matt Capps, Joe Nathan, Andrew Bailey and Brian Fuentes. The trading of players, especially closers, is especially reliant on the competitiveness and status of a team in the standings. With so many teams still in their respective races, there are not as many top bullpen arms available at this point in the season. But come August, as more teams continue to drop out, expect to see even more trade activity. Exciting times, as the MLB pennant races continue to heat up, and baseball trade talk is on everyone’s lips.