Friday, May 19, 2017

Should the Red Sox trade for Josh Donaldson?

The idea of the Blue Jays trading Josh Donaldson has banged around the internet a lot since the Jays went 8-17 in April and find themselves in the basement of the AL east. While the Jays have been decimated by injuries and almost assuredly will play better baseball once their studs get back in the lineup and rotation, at this point their hole is probably too big.

CBS' Jonah Keri wrote this piece today to present The Case for Trading Donaldson. Here are the highlights:

  • Donaldson is 31 years old, well on the other side of the 22-26 year old peak we typically see in position players in today's MLB
  • Donaldson will be a free agent after the 2018 season. If a team trades for him now, they will control him for the rest of this season and all of next, meaning the Jays will get more in return for him now than they would at this year's winter meetings or at the trade deadline in 2018 
  • Donaldson's defensive ratings have slipped every year from 2014 to 2016 - he was the best defensive 3B in the majors in 2014, and has slipped down to 14th in 2016
  • There happens to be a lot of contenders with holes at 3B - the Cardinals, Red Sox, Yankees, and Astros to name four, depending on how you feel about Alex Bregman and his shaky defense in 2017. There would be great demand for Donaldson right now, driving up his price
So those are the reasons why the Blue Jays should explore trading Josh Donaldson, but why would teams be willing to pay a hefty price for him? Consider the following:
  • Donaldson was the AL MVP in 2015, when he hit 41 homers with 123 RBI. He followed that up with 37 homers and 99 RBI in 2016. In short, he's one of the three best position players in the American League
  • Using the ISO stat, which is a stat which attempts to measure pure hitting power (it's basically slugging percentage with the singles taken out, or the number of doubles, triples, and homers hit per AB), Donaldson was the 8th most powerful hitter in the majors in 2015 and the 10th most powerful in 2016 (for the record, David Ortiz, in his final season, led the majors in ISO by 27 points!!!)
  • The guy can mash it, he's still a perfectly adequate 3B, and by all accounts he's a great clubhouse guy
  • For the Red Sox, here's a quick rundown of the bWAR of all the players they've run out there at 3B this year: Pablo Sandoval (-0.5), Marco Hernandez (0.2), Brock Holt (-0.2), Josh Rutledge (-0.1), and Deven Marrero (0.1). That's a total of -0.5. This all a fancy way of confirming what anybody who has watched the Red Sox 3B play this year: they're running out a parade of stiffs even worse than the typical 4A player. We need a third-sacker.
So what would it take to get the 2015 MVP onto the Red Sox? Well, a lot. The Blue Jays are in an interesting position with a bunch of aging veterans heading towards free agency. They might go for a full rebuild, but they're more likely to want major-league-ready prospects in return. The Red Sox have quite a few players in that mold - Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr, Eduardo Rodriguez, Blake Swihart, and Mookie Betts to name five. Of course, any package for Donaldson will include talks on Rafael Devers, Jason Groome, and Sam Travis. I see two options:
  • 1. A package headed by Devers that unloads just about every remaining prospect in the Red Sox system
  • 2. Two out of the following three: Bradley Jr, Swihart, Rodriguez, plus a couple lower-level prospects
Would Jackie Bradley Jr, Blake Swihart, and two lesser prospects be enough to get him? Swihart, Ed Rod, and two lesser prospects?  Maybe not if the Astros dangle Alex Bregman. If the Red Sox could get Donaldson for option 2 above, I would do it. Probably not for option 1, although it would be tempting if Sandoval comes back and plays terribly in June.

So if not Donaldson, then what other options are out there for an upgrade at 3B? 
  • It's no secret that Todd Frazier and his .198 batting average is going to be available to rent for the remainder of 2017 at a much cheaper cost than Donaldson. While Frazier is struggling in 2017, he put up bWAR's of 5.1, 4.0, and 3.2 from 2014-2016. He would be an upgrade.
  • Mike Moustakas is on a sinking ship in Kansas City and has generally underperformed expectations. After an all-star campaign in 2015 that saw him rack up 4.4 bWAR, he plummeted to 0.8 in 2016 while hitting just .240 with 7 homers. He might not even be an upgrade over Sandoval at this point.
  • Yunel Escobar will be a free agent after 2017, and if the Angels fall out of contention, he could certainly be had. He's 34 years old and has very little pop in his bat (.391 slugging% last year), but he did hit .314 and .304 in 2015 and 2016 respectively and he gets on base.  He is currently on the shelf with a hamstring strain.
  • Travis Shaw. Just kidding.
  • Jose Reyes. Reyes started 2017 in a horrible slump, but has come on lately to raise his batting average up to....197. Well, he's a free agent after 2017, so he would be cheap, and the Mets are sinking so he'd be available. Yeah, me either.
  • David Freese. He's not the player he once was, but he's got postseason chops and he can still swing the stick a little bit. He's put up slugging percentages of .420, .412, and now .443 from 2015-2017. He has an .816 OPS in part-time duty for the Pirates this year. He is 34 and he's signed through 2018, so that's not ideal.
  • And last but not least, my personal favorite on the list: Trevor Plouffe. I wanted the Red Sox to trade for Trevor Plouffe last year when the Twins fell apart and Travis Shaw was sputtering. Plouffe is still only 30 years old and he's a free agent at the end of 2017. The A's aren't winning anything this year, so he should be available for a very reasonable asking price. Plouffe has put up a slugging percentage of .420 or higher for four straight seasons. Plus, he's got a great name. He's not an all-star, but he's the best fit I could find - cheap, above replacement level, and not locked into a commitment beyond 2017. 
So what do you guys think? Trade for Donaldson? What would you give up? Would you rather go after any of the other guys on my list? Have anybody else in mind? Think we should hold pat and pray the Panda is above replacement level?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

RSM Top 30 Red Sox Prospects - May 2017

With first month of the baseball season in the books we now have some numbers to digest for this crop of Red Sox farmhands.  And with the month of April in the rearview mirror, Andrew Benintendi has now accumulated  enough big league at bats to graduate from prospect status and gracefully exits from our rankings.

The rankings include, after the player's name, the team they are playing for as of May 1.  The number in {  } is April's ranking.  The slash line for hitters is HR/RBI/BA/OBP/OPS and the line for the pitchers is W-L/ERA/K-BB/WHIP.

In addition to Benintendi's graduation, four other members of April's Top 30 have slid down below number 30.  Therefore we will see five new Top 30 prospects in May.

1. Rafael Devers, 3B- Portland {2}. The new top prospect for the Red Sox began 2016 in Salem with a very slow first half.  Devers' AA debut has been much stronger. Although after a red hot start which had Devers hitting .372 in the first week or so, including an opening day home run, Devers did tail off to a degree.  But Rafael finished April at 2/7/.274/.297/.748 with five doubles to go along with the pair of home runs.  Near the end of April, the Sea Dogs moved Devers into the cleanup spot, and he marked that occasion by homering in that game as well.  With third base in flux in Boston, the fan base clamors to see Devers as soon as possible. And even though in a recent Boston Herald interview, Devers intimated he would like to see Boston before the end of this season, Devers is likely to spend a large part if not all of it in Maine.

2. Jay Groome, LHP- Greenville {3}. The Sox 2016 first round pick had perhaps the worst start to a season imaginable. The much ballyhooed lefty took the mound on April 10 and lasted only 1.1 innings and was charged with nine earned runs on seven hits and three walks. And that is not the bad news.  The last couple of pitches Groome tossed hardly made it up to the plate.  He left the game to have his apparent injury diagnosed.  Here is where the good news (relatively speaking) portion of Groome's debut comes in.  He had not injured his multi-million dollar left arm.  Groome has a lat injury and was placed on the DL.  The Red Sox will be very cautious with Groome, and may be a while before he sees the mound again. Until then the ERA remains at 60.75.

3.Sam Travis, 1B- Pawtucket {4}. After a strong spring training, Travis started slowly for the Paw Sox: 1/1/.233/.313/.647.  Travis' April woes were exacerbated by a collision with catcher Blake Swihart as they tracked a foul pop up. Each missed the next few games.

4. Bobby Dalbec, 3B- Greenville {5}. Like Travis, Dalbec is off to a slower than expected start in the South Atlantic League: 1/7/.244/.340/.670., with four doubles.  The .340 OBP fueled in part by ten base on balls, highlights Dalbec's early season stats.

5. Josh Ockimey, 1B- Salem {7}. Ockimey breaks into the top five of the RSM rankings for the first time sparked by a red hot April: 3/21/.343/.432/1.003 mixing in five doubles and a triple.  The 21 RBI were seven more than any other Red Sox minor league hitter in April. Ockimey was the Carolina League Player of the Week for April 10-16, and through the 21st his batting average was at. 438. Josh also had a strong beginning in 2016 at Greenville, so his challenge this season will be to produce for an entire season.

6. Marco Hernandez, IF- Boston {6}. Hernandez put himself in John Farrell's favor during spring training, and has continued to get regular playing time throughout April.  Injuries to Dustin Pedroia, Brock Holt, and most recently, Pablo Sandoval have provided the opportunity for Marco to play.  His numbers for April were: 0/2/.286/.314/.640 with a pair of doubles.  There is a divide among Red Sox nation about Hernandez' future. Is he a big league regular or is he only a 4A player?  At age 24, it seems Hernandez will have enough at bats to help answer those questions.  He is also likely to compile enough MLB at bats to graduate from this list sooner rather than later.

7. Shaun Anderson, RHP- Greenville {17}.  The big righty from the University of Florida jumps up ten spots to become the second highest ranked pitching prospect behind Jay Groome.  Anderson had an outstanding April : 2-0/0.98/24-7/0.90 while making five starts which spanned 27.2 innings.  With Anderson's SEC experience and at age 22, a few more strong starts could lead to a promotion to Salem.

8. Roniel Raudes, RHP- Salem  {9}. The righty from Nicaragua has reached high A ball at age 19.  Raudes still has some adjustments to make: 1-1/5.82/14/8/1.47. As a pitcher who relies on command rather than overpowering stuff, Raudes will need to make those adjustments at each level.

9. Michael Chavis, 3B- Salem {11}. Just a few days into the new season an old problem cropped for Chavis. He went onto the DL, but this time he was back after the 7 day stay, and came back with a bang. On April 19, Chavis crushed three home runs in cavernous Salem Memorial Ballpark.  In the 23 year history of the park no player had accomplished this. Chavis hit two more bombs over the next three games, and the five home runs lead to Chavis being the second consecutive Salem Sox player to be the Carolina League Player of the Week, following Josh Ockimey.  Michael finished April with a line of: 5/13/.341/.463/1.236.  Chavis was drafted out of a Georgia high school back in the first round of 2014 with expected power.  If Chavis' power can blossom, he will rise in the Sox system.

10. Travis Lakins, RHP- Salem {12}. Lakins is another college arm who had an outstanding April. Travis began his second season at Salem with: 4-0/3.08/32-8/1.25 in five starts. The Ohio State product is pounding on the door to Double AA, and if May is a duplicate of April, that door will open.

11. Brian Johnson, LHP- Pawtucket {8} The highlight of April for Johnson was gaining his first big league win. On April 18, Johnson made his second big league start and beat the Blue Jays going five innings in a 9-5 Boston win. Between the one game recall to Boston and leaving another start early when he was hit off the side of his head by a line drive to the mound, Johnson only hurled 15.2 innings in AAA going: 0-0/2.87/17-8/1.60.

12. Nick Longhi, 1B- Portland {10}. One of the challenges for Longhi as reaches AA is to show some power expected from a big league first baseman. Despite hitting .282 for his minor league career through last year, Longhi has only seven home runs in 1067 at bats. Longhi has two home run for all of 2016.  Longhi has hit two long balls in April for Portland. This may mean Longhi will develop his power or it just may be a result of the friendlier dimensions of Hadlock Field.  On the down side for April, Longhi hit only .194.

13. Robby Scott, LHP- Boston {14}. Until the last ranking or two, Robby Scott wasn't listed because he was not really considered a prospect.  Soon he may not be listed with the prospects because he will a bonafide major leaguer. Boston started the season with three lefties in the bullpen and it was widely assumed Scott was third in the pecking order. But not John Farrell's pecking order, Scott for all of April has been the first option as a lefty specialist from the Boston bullpen. And Scott has continued to produce with 2.08 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP in nine appearances. Quite a story for the former Independent Leaguer.

14. Ben Taylor, RHP- Boston {15}. Along with Scott the other surprise contributor for the Boston bullpen.  The only difference in their seasons is that Taylor has gone back and forth between Boston and Pawtucket. To illustrate how quickly Taylor has made the big leagues, the Sox drafted him the same year as Andrew Benintendi, 2015. Taylor pitched over seven innings in April for the Red Sox and had an ERA of 1.17.

15. CJ Chatham, SS- XST {13}. A hamstring injury suffered in the latter stages of spring training has kept last year's second round pick in extended spring training.  An assignment to Greenville is expected when CJ is healthy.