Position-by-position trade deadline preview: Second base

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This is the third in a series of articles looking at players who might be available in the days leading up to the July 31 trade deadline.
Dan Uggla (Marlins) – The current suspicion is that Uggla isn’t available, even though he’s due to make around $10 million next season and the Marlins don’t look like contenders at this point. The teams that wanted him last winter appeared to prefer him as a third baseman, but he wasn’t interested in switching positions and he’d definitely remain a second baseman if traded now. His bat would provide a significant boost to the lineups of any number of contenders. The Rockies, in particular, have often been mentioned in connection with him, though it doesn’t appear as though anything is going on at the moment. He’s probably staying.
Rickie Weeks (Brewers) – Completely healthy for once, Weeks has turned in an exceptional season, hitting .277/.376/.482 with 19 homers in 394 at-bats. It puts the Brewers in a tough spot. It doesn’t look like they’ll play any part in the NL Central race, and Weeks is going to be a lot more expensive to retain going forward if this keeps up. Plus, there are still questions about whether their top prospect, Brett Lawrie, will be able to make it as a second baseman or if he’ll need to be moved elsewhere. If the Brewers could get a couple of quality young arms back, it’d make sense for them to move Weeks now. He’ll be a free agent after next year, and he’d be a big risk on a long-term deal. Still, indications are that he isn’t currently available.
Kelly Johnson (Diamondbacks) – Johnson is back tearing it up of late, though it’s worth noting that the vast majority of his production has come at Chase Field. He’s hitting .310/.430/.598 at home and .238/.317/.375 on the road. Still, he has to be fairly attractive in trade talks. He’s making just $2.35 million this year, he’s under control as an arbitration-eligible player for another season and he probably wouldn’t cost as much in terms of prospects as Uggla. He’d have been a great get for the Mets a month ago, and he’d still make a lot of sense for them now. AL teams figure to shy away. Not only has Johnson never played in the league, but he’s really struggled during the interleague schedule the last couple of years.
Mark Ellis (Athletics) – Ellis remains an awfully solid player when he’s in the lineup, but he’s 33 and injury prone. He’s played in 130 games just twice in his career, and that’s not going to change this season, since he’s already missed 37 games, primarily due to a hamstring strain. The Athletics’ first choice is to bring him back for 2011, but probably not at the $6 million he’s due to earn under the terms of the option on his current deal. If they don’t think he’ll be amenable to a cheaper deal, they could send him elsewhere. The White Sox and Tigers are among the teams that could use him as a stopgap.
Adam Kennedy (Nationals) – The Nationals signed Kennedy because he was cheap and they thought he might come in handy. However, he struggled as the team’s primary second baseman initially and he hasn’t fared a whole lot better as a bench player. He’s currently hitting .250/.329/.328 with 17 RBI in 192 at-bats. His play on defense has been disappointing as well. The Nats are plenty open to moving him, but even though several contenders have dealt with injury problems at second base, no one has made a play for him yet.
Mike Fontenot (Cubs) – Fontentot has been a non-factor for the Cubs the last two months, but before Starlin Castro was called up, he hit .324/.373/.481 in 108 at-bats through the end of May. Paired with someone capable of hitting lefties, he’d make for a very solid platoon second baseman, and he’s helped his stock by gaining experience at shortstop and third base this season. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Cubs were getting more inquiries about him than they are regarding Ryan Theriot (he’ll be listed with the shortstops).
Jeff Keppinger (Astros) – Keppinger has found a little pop this month, hitting three homers in July after coming up with jus one over the first three months. His game is hitting for average, though, and he’s typically been a liability against right-handers over the course of his career. The Astros would want more than he’s worth in order to part with him.
Akinori Iwamura (Pirates) – Iwamura was one of the worst players in the majors during April and May, but since getting dropped by the Pirates and assigned to Triple-A, he’s hit .300/.456/.457 in 70 at-bats. The Pirates have little reason to give him another opportunity, and they’d probably pick up most of the rest of his $4.25 million salary in order to get a prospect in return for him. Iwamura has experience at third as well as second, so if he’s truly regained his swing, he’d make a lot of sense for the Tigers, Twins, White Sox and others.
Craig Counsell (Brewers) – Counsell’s offensive revival hasn’t carried over. After turning in one of his best seasons in 2009 and starting off 2010 by hitting .333/.385/.583 in April, he’s come in at .208/.286/.217 in 106 at-bats since the beginning of May. On the plus side, even at age 39, Counsell can still handle shortstop on a part-time basis and he’s a plus defender at both second and third. He’d be an upgrade off the bench for the Reds and Phillies, and he might be a starter in San Diego.
Willie Bloomquist (Royals) – Bloomquist is on pace to finish with a sub-700 OPS for the eighth straight season, but he has pummeled lefties to the tune of a .304/.360/.522 line in 46 at-bats. That and his ability to play anywhere give him value as a 25th man. He’s been mentioned in connection with the Red Sox several times, and he could also be a fit on the Yankees.
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First base

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: