Tag: Cincinnati Reds


HBT First-Half Awards: National League MVP


With no baseball on Wednesday or Thursday, we’re taking stock of the best performances of the first half of the season by handing out midseason awards. Maybe someday we’ll have the budget for an actual Midseason Award Trophy, but for now they merely get our kind and admiring words. Next up: National League MVP.

Aaron Gleeman‘s ballot:

1. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
2. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
3. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

Bryce Harper leads the league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage–and is one point from the top batting average–while playing good defense in right field for the Nationals. He has some major competition from Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, but Harper’s nearly 100-point edge in slugging percentage and superior defensive value are enough to separate them for now. Goldschmidt is having a spectacular, MVP-caliber season, but Harper has been even better.

Deciding on the third spot was tough, because Giancarlo Stanton and Anthony Rizzo are deserving based on their great hitting and Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, Todd Frazier, Nolan Arenado, and A.J. Pollock are deserving based on their very good hitting combined with defensive value. I went with McCutchen, who won the MVP in 2013, finished third in 2014, and has hit .343 with a 1.033 OPS in his last 60 games after a brutal start to the season.

Craig Calcaterra‘s ballot:

1. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
2. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
3. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

It’s really hard to do any other 1-2 in the NL MVP race than Harper and Goldschmidt. Harper leads the league in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage and is a single point behind Goldschmidt in average, if you care about such things. Which isn’t to slight Goldschmidt in the least — his 2015 season is better than a great many actual MVP seasons over the past couple of decades so far — it’s just that Harper is better than him in just about everything that matters. Goldschmidt has a couple more stolen bases and some RBIs, but that doesn’t amount to much. He also plays in a much better hitter’s park. Sorry, Goldy.

The real race for the MVP, such as it is, seems to be for the third slot. As Aaron said above, you can pick six or seven guys here, depending on your tastes. My tastes, like Aaron’s seem to be, are more about all-around greatness than merely batting numbers. I can’t, however, look past McCucthen’s slow start and give him the nod over someone like Buster Posey, who has hit fantastically and consistently while playing one of the most important defensive positions around. I give a different answer if you ask me which of them I’d want on my team starting tomorrow and going through the end of the year, but an award is, by definition, a retrospective thing and, with all due respect to Mr. McCutchen, you can’t erase the month of April.

Bullpen-starved contenders can target Chapman, Papelbon, Clippard, K-Rod in deadline deals

aroldis chapman getty

Now that the All-Star game is over the next big date to circle on the baseball calendar is the July 31 trade deadline.

Starting pitching tends to generate the juiciest rumors and multiple aces could be available this year–Hamels! Cueto! Price!–but contending teams in search of a shutdown closer or reliable setup men also have some big names to choose from.

Here’s my view of prominent relievers likely to generate considerable trade interest between now and July 31 …

LHP Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds

Everyone seems to assume that the rebuilding Reds will trade impending free agent ace Johnny Cueto, but their plans for All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman aren’t as clear. Chapman is only 27 years old and under team control for next season, so the Reds aren’t in as much of a rush to trade him. However, his 2016 salary will likely be more than $10 million via arbitration and if they’re eventually going to shop Chapman around why wait 12 months and risk an injury in the meantime?

Performance-wise Chapman is dominating as much as ever with a 1.69 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 37 innings while holding opponents to a .178 batting average. His triple-digit fastball and wipeout slider have the ability to transform a contending team’s bullpen and because any team acquiring him would be getting 1.5 seasons of excellence it’s possible the Reds can get more in return for Chapman than for Cueto. The big question is whether they want to part ways right now.

RHP Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies

Jonathan Papelbon has made it abundantly clear that he wants out of Philadelphia, providing strongly worded quotes to anyone who asks him about the rebuilding Phillies. Of course, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. presumably would have gladly traded him by now if there was a deal to be made that actually brought a decent prospect back to Philadelphia.

In the past Papelbon’s big contract scared teams off, but this is his final guaranteed season and even next year’s $13 million vesting option is around the going rate for top-level closers. And don’t let his personality or the Phillies’ lack of save situations mask the fact that he remains a top-level closer with a 1.60 ERA and 35/7 K/BB ratio in 34 innings this season. Papelbon has a 2.33 ERA and 89 percent save rate for the Phillies. He had a 2.33 ERA and 89 percent save rate for the Red Sox. He can still make a huge impact.

RHP Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers

After saving 44 games for the Brewers last season Francisco Rodriguez returned to Milwaukee in the middle of spring training by signing a two-year, $13 million deal. He made the All-Star team for a sixth time by saving 19 games with a 1.41 ERA and 37/9 K/BB ratio in the first half, but the last-place Brewers seemingly don’t have a ton of use for a 33-year-old closer. Rodriguez hasn’t always generated the most trade or free agent interest in recent years, so it’s possible his being under contract for $5.5 million next season may scare some teams off even though it’s a reasonable salary.

RHP Tyler Clippard, Oakland A’s

Oakland got Tyler Clippard from Washington this offseason to take over as the primary setup man, but he shifted to the closer role with Sean Doolittle hurt and has done a fine job with 17 saves and a 2.43 ERA in 37 innings. Clippard hasn’t been quite as dominant as he was for the Nationals and has struggled at times with his control, but opponents are batting below .200 off him for the third straight year. Oakland is 41-50 and he’s an impending free agent.

RHP Joaquin Benoit, San Diego Padres

Joaquin Benoit has been a consistently outstanding reliever since coming back from a bunch of injuries in 2010, posting a 2.36 ERA in 351 total innings during that time while serving as a setup man and closer. Even at age 37 he’s logged 38 innings with a 2.39 ERA this season, although his 33/15 K/BB ratio is underwhelming. San Diego is 41-49 and he’s an impending free agent.

RHP Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins

Steve Cishek saved 88 games in two-and-a-half seasons as Miami’s closer despite few people viewing the side-arming right-hander as ninth-inning material before it happened and then the Marlins demoted him to Double-A on June 1 following 19 rough innings. He returned two weeks later and has allowed just one run in 8.2 innings since, potentially re-emerging as a lower-wattage trade target for a team in need of seventh- or eighth-inning help.

Attention shoppers! Hamels, Cueto, Shields, Samardzija, Price headline rotation trade targets

Cole Hamels

Now that the All-Star game is over the next big date to circle on the baseball calendar is the July 31 trade deadline.

These next three weeks should be very interesting, particularly on the pitching side, because there’s no shortage of contending teams in search of front-line rotation help and no shortage of available high-end starters of all shapes, sizes, and contract lengths.

Here’s my view of big-name starters likely to generate big-time trade interest between now and July 31 …

LHP Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

Cole Hamels is not a typical trade deadline target in that he’s still just 31 years old and under contract through 2019 at what is basically the going rate for a top-of-the-rotation starter, but the Phillies are so bad that rumors have swirled around him for a long time now.

Hamels’ win-loss records have suffered from terrible lineup and bullpen support, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s anything but a No. 1 starter. He has a 3.29 career ERA–including a 2.88 ERA since the beginning of last season–and he’s basically never been hurt while averaging 32 starts and 212 innings per season since 2008. He finished the first half with an awful start versus the Giants, but Hamels had a 3.02 ERA before that outing and is striking out a career-high 9.5 batters per nine innings this year.

The question with Hamels is how much value he has beyond the 3.5 years and $80 million remaining on his contract. As a free agent he’d get more than that on the open market, so what are teams willing to trade for the right to acquire Hamels at market-value annual salaries for a shorter commitment than they’d have to make via free agency? He’s not just a second-half pickup. Hamels would anchor a rotation for three-and-a-half seasons and that’s nearly impossible to acquire via free agency without making a $100 million-plus commitment.

RHP Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

Johnny Cueto is an even better No. 1 starter than Hamels–posting a sub-3.00 ERA in five straight seasons and finishing runner-up in last year’s Cy Young voting–but he’s also a more typical trade deadline target in that he’s an impending free agent. If a team acquires Hamels they’re getting him for 100 or more starts from now until 2018 or 2019, but the Reds are basically just shopping Cueto’s next 15 starts. That has big value, of course, especially to a team with clear playoff aspirations that can get more starts out of him in October.

Cincinnati has the option of simply letting Cueto make those 15 starts for them and then walk as a free agent, at which point they’d receive a first-round draft pick as compensation. No one seems to think that scenario is likely, but it does mean any trade offer for Cueto must be superior to a first-round pick. And a team that trades for him would not be eligible for the same compensation. Cueto is better than Hamels, but is 15 starts of Cueto for $5 million more valuable than 100-plus starts of Hamels for $80 million? My guess is teams are split on the right answer, which should make for an interesting comparison of hauls if they’re both traded.

RHP James Shields, San Diego Padres

Here’s a clear case of buyer’s remorse. San Diego had huge plans for a headline-grabbing offseason and on-the-fly rebuild, with signing James Shields to a four-year, $75 million deal playing a major part in that. But now the Padres are 41-49 and Shields has a 4.01 ERA that’s his worst since 2010 despite calling pitcher-friendly Petco Park home.

There are some potential red flags within Shields’ performance at age 33. His velocity is down a bit, his walk rate is way up, he’s served up 19 homers in 19 starts, and his numbers away from Petco Park are ugly. On the other hand he’s also striking out a career-high 10.1 per nine innings. Shields is under contract for $21 million in each of the next three seasons, which is nearly the same as Hamels’ contract and that tells you why the Padres may have trouble moving him for any real value.

LHP David Price, Detroit Tigers

David Price is a potential trade deadline wild card. Detroit is 41-41 and won’t have Miguel Cabrera is the lineup for a while. Price is an impending free agent likely in line for a $150 million-plus deal on the open market. It would be a similar situation to Cueto in Cincinnati, except the Tigers seemingly have no plans for a rebuild and at the very least still have a reasonable shot to make the playoffs. Price is an elite starter and may even rank higher than Cueto to a lot of teams, but the Tigers value his remaining 15 starts much higher than the Reds value Cueto’s and may even have some hope of keeping him around beyond this season.

RHP Jeff Samardzija, Chicago White Sox

Jeff Samardzija is an impending free agent and the White Sox’s on-the-fly rebuild hasn’t gone much better than the Padres’ overhaul. Samardzija isn’t on the same level as Hamels, Cueto, or Price, but it wouldn’t be surprising if plenty of teams prefer him to Shields (and Shields’ remaining contract). After a poor start Samardzija headed into the All-Star break with a 2.40 ERA and 39/8 K/BB ratio in his last 45 innings and he’s gone at least seven innings in 11 of 13 starts since May 1.

LHP Scott Kazmir, Oakland A’s

Another impending free agent, Scott Kazmir has a 3.18 ERA in 49 starts for the A’s since signing a two-year, $22 million deal last offseason. Leaving his final start of the first half with triceps soreness is a worry, but Kazmir is expected to be fine and with the A’s at 41-50 the 31-year-old left-hander figures to be available.

RHP Mike Leake, Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati’s other free agent-to-be starter, Mike Leake lacks the upside of Cueto and the other names on this list. However, he’s also younger than everyone else at 27 and has a 3.94 ERA in 1,006 career innings with similar numbers this season. Leake isn’t someone contending teams would want to headline their playoff rotation, but he’s a solid, innings-eating mid-rotation option.