Astros should have done better for Michael Bourn

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I was impressed with Houston’s return for Hunter Pence.  By all indications, Astros GM Ed Wade did a nice job of playing the suitors off each other and he ended up with a pair of top-50 prospects from the Phillies for his troubles.

The Michael Bourn trade with Atlanta was also a four-for-one deal, but in this case, the four wasn’t nearly so impressive.  And one can argue that Bourn is just as valuable of a property as Pence.  Factoring in his exceptional defense and his value on the basepaths, he’s been the superior player this year while hitting .303/.363/.403 in 429 at-bats.  And while Pence is under control for the additional year, Bourn at about $7 million for 2012 alone sounds better than Pence at approximately $23 million for 2012-13.

In return for Bourn, the Braves gave up outfielder Jordan Schafer and three pitchers: Brett Oberholtzer, Paul Clemens and Juan Abreu.

Schafer, 24, was a top prospect two years ago, but he ended up on the shelf for much of 2009 and all of 2010 and he’s hit just .223/.310/.303 in 363 major league at-bats.  He’s a legitimate center fielder, and he could yet establish himself as a quality regular if he can get healthy and stay that way.  He’s currently on the DL with a chip fracture in his left middle finger.

Oberholtzer, a 22-year-old lefty, is the top pitching prospect in the deal, but he’s only in the second tier of Braves arms.  The 2008 eighth-round pick is 9-9 with a 3.74 ERA and a 93/42 K/BB ratio in 127 2/3 innings for Double-A Mississippi.  His fastball is pretty average, but both his changeup and curveball should be quality major league pitches.  He projects as a No. 4 starter.

Clemens, a 23-year-old righty, was drafted one round ahead of Oberholtzer in the 2008 draft and was his teammate at Mississippi this year, going 6-5 with a 3.73 ERA and a 93/44 K/BB ratio in 108 2/3 innings.  He’d been in the pen more often than not leading up to this year, and his secondary pitches will have to get better for him to remain a starter.  His fastball, though, reaches the mid-90s.

Abreu, a 26-year-old right-handed reliever, has good stuff out and a spotty track record.  Pitching in Triple-A for the first time, he’s had something of a breakthrough year, amassing a 2.25 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 48 innings.  He has walked 27, though, and the Braves never thought he was worthy of a callup.

So, Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart these guys are not.  If this was the best Wade could do now, he should have kept Bourn until the winter.  The deal from the Astros’ perspective will probably come down to Schafer and whether he fulfills his promise an an everyday player.  He’s still young enough to turn the corner, but three straight injury-plagued seasons don’t bode well.

UPDATE: Donald Trump declines Nats offer to throw out the first pitch

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UPDATE: Welp, we wont’ get to see that:

Sad!

8:53 AM: It’s just gossip now, but Politico is hearing that Donald Trump is in talks to throw out the first pitch at Nationals Park on Opening Day. The Nats are not commenting. Neither are the Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League, who no doubt feel slighted given that the president effectively is a local.

With the caveat that, on Opening Day, tickets are likely to be more expensive and thus you’re likely to have a lot more rich people and friends-of-the-owners in attendance, thereby ensuring a more conservative crowd, I’m struggling to imagine a situation in which Trump strolls on to a baseball field in a large American city and isn’t booed like crazy. He’s polling as low as 36% in some places. He’s not exactly Mr. Popular.

Oh well. I look forward to him three-bouncing one to Matt Wieters and then grabbing his phone and tweeting about how it was the best, most tremendous first pitch in baseball history. Or blaming Hillary Clinton for it in the event he admits that it was a bad pitch.

2017 Preview: Texas Rangers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Texas Rangers.

The Rangers somehow won the AL West last year despite not being super great at any one aspect of the game. There are stars here — Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Rougned Odor are all spiffy players — but the Rangers won the division by being greater than the sum of their parts. They scored a decent number of runs despite some bad collective peripheral numbers and they allowed more runs than anyone in the AL except the Twins and Athletics. Yet they had a great record in one-run games and outperformed their pythagorean record by a WHOLE lot. Luck shined brightly on the 2016 Rangers.

It’s hard to expect luck to hold in any instance, but that’s especially the case when there have been some pretty significant changes. Changes like the loss of Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland. In their place: A full season, the Rangers hope, from Shin-Soo Choo, a converted-to-outfield Jurickson Profar and Mike Napoli. That may wash out OK, especially if Choo is healthy, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see some regression in two of those offensive slots.

Starting pitching is also a big question mark. Cole Hamels at the top is not a problem, obviously, and if Yu Darvish is healthy and durable the Rangers have an outstanding 1-2 punch. Martin Perez in the third spot presents promise, but he’s been exactly average so far in five major league seasons. The back end of the rotation has some real problems. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are hurt at the moment and even if healthy, Cashner seems to be a shell of his once-promising self. A.J. Griffin is looking to pitch in his first full season since 2013. If the Rangers are strong contenders all year it’s gonna be on the “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain” model, but I have no idea what rhymes with “Darvish” and that’s sort of a problem.

The bullpen is going to look a lot like it did last year. Sam Dyson will close, but manager Jeff Banister has shown in the past that he’s not a slave to keeping guys in any one role down there. Jeremy Jeffress will likely set up but he’s closed before. Some think Matt Bush or Keone Kela could close. We’ll see Tanner Scheppers and lefty Alex Claudio. Banister has a Manager of the Year Award on his mantle and while that often doesn’t mean anything, it usually suggests that a guy knows how to deal with his pen. Banister will do OK with what he has.

Really, though, the rotation is a concern, as is hoping that a 35-year-old Mike Napoli and a soon-to-be 38-year-old Adrian Beltre can continue to be the types of players who can form the offensive core of a playoff team. There’s talent and a track record here, but there’s a lot of uncertainty. For that reason, I suspect the Rangers will fall back a smidge this year, even if they’re a playoff contender.

Prediction: Second Place, American League West.