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Jonny Gomes Traded to the Nationals and Yonder Alonso Called Up by Reds

Tuesday July 26, 2011

MLB reports:  The trades are trickling in very slowly thus far as the MLB trade deadline approaches.  First Wilson Betemit was traded last week to the Tigers by the Royals.  Now, Jonny Gomes is off to Washington with cash in exchange for two minor leaguers.  Of most significance is the Gomes move allowing the Reds to call up super prospect Yonder Alonso.  The question is whether the Reds are showcasing their rookie outfielder in a potential blockbuster trade or have called him for good to man left field for the next decade in Cincinnati.

Gomes was the darling of the Reds faithful the past two seasons.  He slugged 20 home runs in 2009, playing in only 98 games.  He followed up with an equally strong campaign last year, blasting 18 home runs with 86 RBIs and 77 runs scored.  The Red had signed Gomes after the 2009 season to a 2-year, $2.55 million contract which looked like a bargain going into it this season.  The 2011 season however, has not been kind to Gomes.  Entering play today, Gomes was batting a paltry .211, with a .336 OBP and .399 SLG.  After receiving every day playing time to start the year, Gomes was relegated to part-time duty as the season progressed.  A change in scenery was in order and with prospect outfielder Yonder Alonso on the horizon, roster space needed to be opened up.

Gomes is now off to Washington to play out the string.  The Nationals, in dire need of an offensive boost, took a chance on the 30-year old Gomes in the hope that he will be able to reclaim some of his past magic with Washington.  The Nationals did not hurt themselves, as Gomes comes at a very reasonable salary which will be subsidized by the Reds and cost the team only two fringe prospects.  Plus as a potential type “B” free agent at the end of the year, the Nationals would receive a compensation draft pick for Gomes if he is offered arbitration by the team and does not accept.  Given Gomes’ offensive potential, it was a low-risk and high-reward move for a team that needed to send a message to its fans that it was serious about contending.  Even though the team is out of the penant race this season, the Nationals needed to remain competitive through September to send the right message to its fanbase.  Jonny Gomes is a step in the right direction in that respect.

The prospects headed to the Reds are pitcher Christopher Manno and outfielder Bill Rhinehart.  Manno, a 38th round pick of the Nationals back in 2009 and then again in the 26th round in 2010 has shined since joining the organization.  The 22-year old Manno, a 6’3″ left-handed pitcher, has a 1.47 ERA over 2 seasons in the lower minors, with 13 saves, only 32 hits given up in 61.1 IP and 25/98 BB/K.  Rhinehart, 26-years of age, was drafted in the 11th round in 2007.  Having made it all the way to AAA in 2010, Rhinehart was playing this season in AA.  Up to the time of this trade yesterday, Rhinehart was enjoying his finest professional season to-date.   Hitting .283 with 21 home runs, 59 RBIs and .963 OPS, Rhinehart was exhibiting great pop in his bat.  But given that neither Manno nor Rhinehart are established major league players and are fringe prospects at best at this point in their careers, the Nationals have to be considered the winner of this trade.  They acquired an established major leaguer without giving up any of their top prospects.

From the Reds’ perspective, the bigger corresponding move is the recall of Yonder Alonso.  With his .296 AVG in AAA with 12 homer runs and .860 OPS, Alonso had little left to prove in the minors.  Scouts have never questioned his bat, as he has displayed the rare combination of power and patience from a very young age, far advanced for his years.  The only knock is his defense, as Alonso is a converted outfielder after having been blocked at first base by perennial MVP candidate Joey Votto.  But all the reports that we have seen is that Alonso has progressed well in learning the outfield to the point that he is considered adequate.  Although he is no danger of ever winning a gold glove, Alonso’s bat more than compensates for any defensive shortcomings.  The debate for the next five days will be whether Alonso is remaining with the Reds or being shipped in a blockbuster.  My gut is that he is staying put.

The two biggest names being linked to the Reds in trade talks is Ubaldo Jimenez of the Rockies and James Shields of the Rays.  Either player would cost a substantial package in return, including possibly Homer Bailey, Aroldis Chapman, Devin Mesoraco, Yasmani Grandal and Yonder Alonso.  The package that I have read for both players would be centered around Alonso and 1-2 more top prospects in the Reds’ organization.  From all indications, the Reds are in on the two superstar hurlers but are attempting to hold onto their top prospects if possible.  In a perfect world for the Reds, they would be able to land Jimenez while only giving up Bailey and Grandal.  But the Rockies, like the Rays, will demand a package that includes Alonso and/or Mesoraco.  A deep price to pay talent but reasonable, considering the upside and the high level of talent that would be coming back to the Reds.

At the end of the day, I believe that the Reds will regret it if they move Alonso.  He is rare hitter that will be an All-Star for many years to come.  While top flight pitching is hard to find and develop, it usually comes at a high price and risk.  Pitchers, given the strain and wear and tear they put on their arms, are the most likely position to be injured and thus come with the highest risks and question marks.  The hope is that the Reds appreciate the talent that they have in Yonder Alonso and continue to cultivate and develop him.  With such a deep pool of talent, they should still be able to make the headliner trade they are shooting for without giving up their top rated young hitter.  They were able to move Gomes to Washington to make room for Alonso, now hopefully we can sit back and watch Alonso combine with Mesoraco, Votto, Phillips and Stubbs to form the newest version of the Big Red Machine.  The Reds are on the verge of putting together something very special.  Hopefully they stick to the plan.

 

 

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James Shields to the Reds for Alonso and Grandal: July 31st MLB Trade Deadline Rumor

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:

Year W L ERA IP H BB SO WHIP
2006 6 8 4.84 124.2 141 38 104 1.436
2007 12 8 3.85 215.0 202 36 184 1.107
2008 14 8 3.56 215.0 208 40 160 1.153
2009 11 12 4.14 219.2 239 52 167 1.325
2010 13 15 5.18 203.1 246 51 187 1.461
2011 9 8 2.53 156.1 118 40 151 1.011
6 Seasons 65 59 4.02 1134.0 1154 257 953 1.244
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.

 

 

Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

Devin Mesoraco: Catcher Cincinnati Reds, On the Verge of Getting the Call

Saturday June 11, 2011

MLB reports:   With catching at an all-time premium in baseball, few teams are lucky to have one, let alone two solid catchers in its system.  The Cincinnati Reds have an abundance of riches at the position, with two serviceable catchers on its major league roster and two of the brightest catching prospects in its lower levels.  For all the talk of the New York Yankees and Montero, Sanchez and all of its up-and-coming catching prospects, a look to the future catching superstars of Major League Baseball points to Cincinnati.

Top catching prospect Devin Mesoraco stands 6’1″ and weighs a very solid 220 lbs.  Only 22-years of age, Mesoraco was drafted in the 1st round of the 2007 MLB draft (15th overall).  Catchers typically take longer to develop and Mesoraco has been slowed in his development by the injury bug.  But despite missing many games over his short career, his bat has never slowed in the process.  Last year at the tender age of 21, Mesoraco played through three levels and rose all the way to AAA.  This year, in his first full turn at AAA, Mesoraco has been simply outstanding.  With a .323 AVG, .407 OBP, .542 SLG, 8 home runs and 25/39 BB/K, Mesoraco has shown the MLB reports favorite hitting combination:  power and patience.  A lifetime .270 hitter in the minors with an .802 OPS, Mesoraco has only gotten stronger and better as he has risen through the Reds system.  But not far behind him, there is another strong Reds catching prospect waiting in the wings by the name of Yasmani Grandal, as well as  two existing roadblocks in Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan.

Grandal is also 22-years of age.  Born in Havana Cuba, he was originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 27th round of the 2007 draft.  After failing to sign, Grandal became the next catching 1st round pick of the Reds, being drafted 12th overall in the 2010 draft.  Missing out on three years compared to Mesoraco, Grandal played eight games last year in rookie ball and currently plays high A ball in Bakersfield.  With 9 home runs this year in 50 games played, combined with a .279 AVG, .878 OPS and 37/50 BB/K ratio, Grandal is proving himself to be every bit the hitter that Mesoraco is.  A promotion is due shortly to AA and very soon the Reds will face a dilemma in choosing their catcher of the future.  A great problem to have if you are the Cincinnati Reds, who are the envy of Major League Baseball in their ability to draft and develop talent.  Grandal is also a switch-hitter to boot, which will make the Reds catching choice even that much more difficult.

Given that Mesoraco has the most experience and has played at the higher levels, he will be given the first crack at the Reds catching job.  His first roadblock is veteran Ramon Hernandez, the Reds incumbent starting catcher.  Hernandez at 35 should be starting to near the end of his career, having played 13 seasons for 4 different major league teams.  Hernandez suffered through injuries in both the ’09 and ’10 seasons, but still received a 1-year, $3 million contract for 2011 from the Reds.  Hernandez has rewarded the Reds thus far with a strong season.  Hernandez on the year has hit .310, with 7 home runs and an .898 OPS.  But despite his strong play, Hernandez is injury prone and has otherwise started to show a declining bat over the last couple of seasons, despite playing in a hitter’s park in Cinci.  Expect an injury or slump by Hernandez to open the door for Mesoraco to get his chance sometime this year.

Ryan Hanigan, the Reds backup catcher, was signed in the offseason to a 3-year, $4 million contract.  Some observers questioned the move, given the up-and-coming catchers in the Reds system.  But the Reds were smart to lock-in a highly considered backup catcher to mentor their young prospects and help groom them to be possibly the next Johnny Bench.  Hanigan at the age of 30, has played parts of 5 seasons for the Reds.  Last year was by far his strongest campaign, with a .300 AVG and .834 OPS.  For his major league career, Hanigan has a 98/77 BB/K- thus exhibiting one of the best batting eyes I have ever seen for a catcher.  Despite his slow start this season, with a .248 AVG and .673 OPS, Hanigan plays strong defense and does enough offensively to ensure that he will remain as the Reds backup catcher for the foreseeable future.

With Hanigan as the backup and Hernandez playing out the string this season, we can expect to see Mesoraco make his major league debut this year.  Given that he is only 22, the world should not be expected of him yet.  As mentioned earlier, catchers take a lot longer to develop into complete major league players compared to other positional player.  One only has to look to Baltimore, where Matt Wieters came slowly out of the gate until he started to find his way in the big leagues.  While watching Buster Posey‘s run last year with the Giants was exciting, he is definitely the exception to the rule.  Scouts and analysts that I have spoken to are divided on Mesoraco and Grandal.  From the people that I have spoken to, there was nearly a 50/50 split on which prospect would become the future #1 catcher in Cincinnati.

A similar situation has already developed for the Reds with the blocked path for Yonder Alonso, one of the top Reds prospects still in the minors.  Alonso, a first baseman by trade, has been attempting to shift to the outfield in the hopes of eventually joining the Reds.  The reports that I have received are that his defense has been graded at far below average and the Reds are not comfortable calling him up as a result.  With Joey Votto entrenched at first, Alonso will only make the big leagues at this point by injury or trade.  With 8 home runs already on the season in AAA, to compliment his .327 AVG and .911 OPS, the 24-year old Cuban born Alonso has a major league bat.  His fellow countryman Grandal may face a similar conflict in a couple of seasons.  With such a strong farm system, the Reds are building themselves for a dynasty run for several years to come.  The likely quarterback of the pitching staff in the near future will be Devin Mesoraco, who will also hit in the heart of a deep lineup in a great ballpark.  The sky is the limit for this great prospect who is on the verge of joining the big leagues.  We look forward to watching his debut very soon and hope that Mesoraco will have a long and productive career at the most demanding position in the game.

Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

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