Midseason NL Rookie of the Year

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The NL Rookie of the Year race has changed little since we checked in
one-third of the way through the season. Randy Wells and J.A. Happ were
neck-and-neck then, and I gave the nod to Wells, even though I expected
more from Happ the rest of the way.

At least a few hitters have started to play catchup now. As of June
5, the league had just three position players with a VORP of 5.0 or
better: Joe Thurston (7.3), Ryan Roberts (7.3) and Ryan Hanigan (5.1).
Now we have four over 10.0:

1. Casey McGehee – 16.3
2. Colby Rasmus – 14.0
3. Ryan Hanigan – 12.6
4. Andrew McCutchen – 10.3

Seth Smith is at 15.2, but he spent too much time on Colorado’s bench last year to qualify as a rookie.

Factoring in defense, Rasmus rates as the NL’s top rookie to date. He’s
hitting .278/.329/.478 in 270 at-bats and seemingly getting better
every week. McGehee has hit a surprising .329/.387/.541 in 146 at-bats.

The pitching crop remains much stronger, of course. Again going by VORP:

1. J.A. Happ – 25.8
2. Randy Wells – 23.5
3. Ramon Troncoso – 19.7
4. Ronald Belisario – 14.5
5. Mark DiFelice – 14.0
6. Tommy Hanson – 11.8
7. Alberto Arias – 10.6
8. Evan Meek – 10.3
9. Burke Badenhop – 10.1
10. Luke Gregerson – 9.5

Wells has a slight ERA advantage over Happ (2.72 to 2.90), but Happ
has pitched 11 more innings and faced the more difficult schedule. The
left-hander is the choice this time, and while both should see their
ERAs rise over the rest of the year, I expect Happ to retain more of
his value going forward.

Third place is between Troncoso and Rasmus. Troncoso not only has
the 1.75 ERA in 56 2/3 innings, but he’s been especially good in
high-leverage situations. He’s picked up five saves and eight holds,
yet he’s been charged with just one blown save to date. I’ll choose him
over Rasmus for now, though Rasmus will almost certainly rank ahead of
him by season’s end. My guess is that it will materialize into a
three-man race between Happ, Rasmus and Hanson.

Midseason NL ROY
1. Happ
2. Wells
3. Troncoso

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.