Already having picked up Rod Barajas to catcher, the Pirates are reportedly in the process of adding a second OBP-challenged regular to their lineup in shortstop Clint Barmes. That gives them a lineup that could look something like this:
RF Jose Tabata
LF Alex Presley
CF Andrew McCutchen
2B Neil Walker
1B Garrett Jones
3B Pedro Alvarez
SS Clint Barmes
C Rod Barajas
Obviously, that’s not a very potent group. The Pirates still want to re-sign Derrek Lee to play first, and if they can do that, Jones would battle Presley for a starting job in the outfield.
Third base is another problem, as Alvarez scarcely resembled a major leaguer last year. In-house alternatives Pedro Ciriaco, Josh Harrison and Chase d’Arnaud aren’t very attractive, so a stopgap third baseman would be nice. Unfortunately, there’s very little available at the position. If Wilson Betemit is out of their price range, they’ll probably have to gamble on someone like Kevin Kouzmanoff or Jose Lopez.
On-base percentage seems likely to be a major issue regardless of what the Pirates do the rest of the winter. Just one player in their current lineup had a .350 OBP last year (McCutchen at .364) and only one more cleared .340 (Tabata). The team is certainly better now at catcher and shortstop than it was last season, but that’s simply not saying much.
The Nationals will be many people’s favorites in the NL East this season. Not everything is looking great, however. For example, their ace — defending NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer — can’t even throw fastballs right now.
The reason: the stress fracture he suffered last August is still causing him problems and Scherzer is unable to use his fastball grip without feeling pain in his right ring finger. He will throw a bullpen session tomorrow, but will only use his secondary stuff.
Scherzer has not been ruled out for Opening Day — the fact that he is throwing some means that his timetable isn’t totally on hold — but you have to figure, at some point, not being able to air things out and use his heater will lead to some problems in his spring training routine.
File this under “man, that would’ve been cool.” Or, if you’re a Tigers fan, file it under “man, that would’ve signaled several years of misery.” However you fall on the matter, however, know that, according to Jon Heyman, the Dodgers inquired about trading for Justin Verlander over the winter.
It never went anywhere, but it’s not like it was silliness for the Dodgers to ask. As you may recall, the Tigers were reported to be willing to listen to offers on any and all players back in November, as GM Al Avila contemplated a tear-down. That never came to pass — the Tigers had a quiet offseason and are keeping the team together to make another run at the playoffs with the Verlander/Miguel Cabrera core — but it couldn’t hurt to ask.
Verlander, who is coming off a resurgent season which saw him return to form as one of baseball’s best pitchers, has 10-5 rights, allowing him to veto any trade. He’s married to an actress/model, however, owns a home in L.A., and the Dodgers are a clear contender, so there’s a good chance he would’ve allowed such a trade to happen. Heck, dude even loves pitchers batting, so a chance to do it all the time would be right up his alley.
The bigger issue likely would’ve been Verlander’s $28 million salary. The Dodgers already pay the luxury tax so taking on that commitment would cost them more than the sticker price. And, of course, if the Tigers are going to ever give up one of the best players in franchise history, it would take the motherlode of prospects to do it.
So, no, a Verlander-to-L.A. trade wasn’t ever a strong possibility. But even the slight possibility seems exciting in hindsight. It was a boring as hell offseason.