Tag Archive | "Setup Man"

The Royals Send Luke Hochevar To The Bullpen

It’s been a bumpy and inconsistent ride for Luke Hochevar, the former 2006 No. 1 overall draft pick. Except for a few bullpen outings early in his career, Hochevar was a starter for the Royals since 2008. With the team’s upgrades to the starting rotation, Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Luis Mendoza were in competition for the fifth starting spot. But after two spring starts, the Royals made the decision to move Hochevar to the bullpen.

Luke  Hochevar

It wasn’t like Hochevar made a case for being the fifth starter. In two spring starts, Hochevar pitched eight innings and gave up six earned runs, six walks, two home runs and eight strikeouts with a 6.75 ERA. It’s only two starts, but it’s clear Hochevar’s spring struggles influenced the Royals to move him to the bullpen.

Royals Manager Ned Yost put a positive spin on the move, saying it gives Hochevar a chance to help the Royals win every day instead of every five days. But the last few years, Hochevar hasn’t given the Royals many chances to win every five days as a starter.

The Royals see Hochevar as a late-inning setup man, joining Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins and Aaron Crow for closer Greg Holland. The team believes having Hochevar pitch one or two innings and getting acclimated to the bullpen during Spring Training will improve his consistency on the mound.

But will moving Hochevar to the bullpen make a difference? The frustrating thing about Hochevar’s meltdowns was they didn’t always happen after pitching a few innings. One start, he might melt down in the first inning. Another start, he might fall apart after three or four innings. Or in another start, he might pitch seven or eight masterful innings, getting the win. When Hochevar took the mound, you didn’t know which Hochevar would show up.

Hochevar has some advantages. He’s durable, and when he’s on, he’s almost unhittable. And having Hochevar face fewer batters and being “on call” to pitch every day might sharpen his mental focus and improve his consistency.

The team made the logical decision and moved Hochevar to the bullpen. The Royals weren’t going to release Hochevar and it’s unlikely he would go to AAA Omaha. And he doesn’t have much trade value, at least for now. The team has nothing to lose by doing this and it could be a move that resurrects his career. Or it could be Hochevar’s last gasp in a so far inconsistent, disappointing Major League career. For the good of the team and Hochevar, I hope this works out.

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Should Soria stay, or should he go?

Last week, the Royals declined closer Joakim Soria‘s $8MM 2013 option and invoked a $750,000 buyout, making him a free agent. This wasn’t a surprise move, seeing Soria spent 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery and he’s not expected to pitch until May or June of 2013.

The Royals would like to sign Soria to a lower cost deal with performance bonuses. But his agent, Oscar Suarez, claims eight MLB clubs have an interest in the closer. Soria would also be open as a setup man for the New York Yankees, if they were interested. So far, the Yankees haven’t haven’t contacted Suarez or Soria.

It’s still early in the offseason and Soria doesn’t have any serious offers yet. Whatever the offer, it’s likely to be a low cost deal with performance bonuses. Soria is recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, but he still would generate a lot of interest.

Over his five year Major League career, Soria has 160 saves, a 2.40 ERA and a 3.92 strikeout to walk ratio, making him one of the better closers in the Majors. He did struggle in 2011 with a 4.03 ERA, 28 saves and 3.53 SO/BB ratio, prompting the Royals to briefly move Soria to a set-up role early in the season. His 2012 spring wasn’t much better before the Royals shut him down due to his elbow injury.

There’s some uncertainty how Soria will pitch when he does come back. Will he be the Soria of 2007-2010, or the Soria of 2011? There’s enough uncertainty where a team is unlikely to sign him to an expensive, long-term contract.

Is Soria worth the Royals trying to re-sign him? After he when down, the Royals used Jonathan Broxton as their closer before they traded him to the Cincinnati Reds in late July. Then Greg Holland took over, who had 16 of 20 save opportunities, finishing with a 2.96 ERA and a 2.68 SO/BB ratio.

The Royals say they’re comfortable with Holland being the closer, despite the small sample size of August and September. Holland will be 27 this month, just a year and a half younger than Soria, so age isn’t an issue. However, the team has Holland until 2017, so he could be a long-term solution as the Royals closer if Soria doesn’t come back or only stays a season or two.

It’s safe to say if other teams take a chance signing Soria to a two plus year contract, the Royals will let him walk. A healthy 2012 Soria could have made an already good bullpen that much better, but with Holland’s performance as closer and club-friendly salary, the team figures they could get close to Soria-like results with Holland. Even if Soria signs a one-year, club friendly deal, there’s a good chance they will let Soria walk after 2013, especially if Holland has a great season.

If Soria was a starting pitcher, there’s a good chance the club would pay the $8MM option and hope he would contribute to the starting rotation. But the Royals believe they have a capable, low-cost closer in Holland and while having Soria in 2013 would be nice, he’s not essential. The team will make an effort to sign him, but they’re not going to be too disappointed if Soria goes elsewhere.

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Royals get two minor league pitchers for Jonathan Broxton

Just before Tuesday afternoon’s trade deadline, the Royals traded closer Jonathan Broxton to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for two minor league pitchers, righty J.C. Sulbaran and lefty Donnie Joesph. The Royals were also willing to trade Yuni Betancourt, Jeff Francoeur and Jose Mijares, but Broxton was the only player traded by the deadline.

The Reds lead the National League Central and were looking for a leadoff hitter to bolster their lineup. They weren’t able to get a leadoff hitter, so they made a trade for Broxton, who will join an already strong Reds bullpen as a setup man for lefty closer Aroldis Chapman. Broxton will be at least a two month rental for the Reds before becoming a free agent in the offseason. In return, the Royals get two young, controllable pitchers for the next few years.

The 22 year old Sulbaran is a starting pitcher with a 4.04 ERA, a 9.5 K/9 and 4.6 BB/9 ratio and a 2.06 strikeout to walk ratio. Sulbaran pitched 104.2 innings over 19 starts and a 7-7 record for the AA Pensacola Blue Wahoos. Baseball America ranked Sulbaran 12th among Reds prospects, while MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo ranked him fifth among Reds prospects.

Sulbaran’s best pitch is his curveball. Scouts say he’s a highly competitive power pitcher with good stuff, but there are some concerns about his maturity and secondary pitches. Sulbaran was a teammate of Eric Hosmer at American Heritage High School, winning a state championship during Hosmer’s senior year. The Royals assigned Sulbaran to AA Northwest Arkansas. He projects to be a No. 3 starter, and is likely a year or two away from the Majors.

The 24 year old Joseph is a relief pitcher with a 1.72 ERA, a 11.7 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 ratio and a 2.44 strikeout to walk ratio. Joseph pitched 22 innings over 18 games with a 4-1 record and five saves for the AAA Louisville Bats. Baseball America ranked Joseph 27th among Reds prospects and MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo ranked Joseph seventh among Reds prospects. He was also the Reds Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2010.

Joseph is a power lefty with a mid 90s fastball, a hard slider and curveball. If Joseph can improve his mechanics, scouts say he could be a power reliever in the Majors. The Royals assigned him to AAA Omaha and it’s possible Joesph could be with the big club this year.

The Royals wanted a Major League ready starting pitcher, but to be honest, giving up Broxton to get Sulbaran and Joesph was a better deal. If the Royals got a Major League starter, they probably would get another pitcher like Sean O’ Sullivan, Vin Mazzaro, Jeremy Guthrie or Jonathan Sanchez. The Royals have enough of these type of pitchers. At least with this trade, the Royals have a potential No. 3 starter and a power lefty reliever for the future.

It’s unlikely Sulbaran and Joseph will be star players and the Royals still need to sign or trade for a front line starter this offseason. But fans should be glad the Royals traded for the pitchers they got for Broxton, who was going to be a one year player for a losing team if he stayed. And it gives Greg Holland a chance to be the closer for the Royals, which is another plus.

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Holland Expects To Lead Improved Pen

Minus the venerable veteran Joakim Soria, the Kansas City Royals bullpen had to have felt about like a college pitching staff last season. The primary contributors ranged in age from 21 to 25.

Whether by choice or by default, the Royals stocked their bullpen with rookies and rolled the dice last season. The results were mixed, but the experience gained gives KC much to be excited about going into 2012.

Greg Holland was the most effective setup man of the bunch.

“It was just a lot of fun,” Holland said of being part of such a young bullpen. “I think with being a young team we have a lot of camaraderie that I don’t know if a lot of other teams have.”

Holland leads a group of relievers, including Crow, Louis Coleman, Tim Collins, Blake Wood and Nate Adcock, who were barely old enough to buy a beer to celebrate victories last season. He said the group’s experience winning together at the minor league level could help them be successful in KC.

“We’ve been through highs and lows, all the way from the time we were drafted to being on the same (minor league) teams all the way up to the major league season.

“We’re young, but we expect to win,” Holland said at a recent Royals caravan stop. “I think being young, we’re ready to go out there and raise the bar.”

And no young reliever is generating more enthusiasm than Holland. While Aaron Crow got the most publicity and the all-star invitation, Holland quietly impressed those who know pitching best.

None other than Jeff Montgomery, media analyst and former Royals all-star, is singing Holland’s praises.

“He certainly has proven to himself, and to his teammates and to the organization, that he has the stuff to do whatever they want him to do as a major league pitcher,” Montgomery said recently, stating that Holland has all the makings of a big league closer.

A rocky big league baptism in 2010 forced Holland to begin last season in Omaha, but a promotion wasn’t long in coming.

While the other rookies ran hot and cold, Holland was consistent and effective from the moment he was promoted in May. In 60 innings, Holland surrendered just a .933 WHIP and struck out 74. His 1.80 ERA was by far the best of any Royal with more than 15 innings pitched.

Strikeouts have always been a part of Holland’s game. Unfortunately, so have control issues. Holland credits his ability to get ahead of hitters for the improvement.

“I got my first call-up in 2010, and my problem was not getting ahead in counts,” Holland said. “I was falling behind and then having to be too predictable. You know, 2-0 fastballs are a lot easier to hit than 0-2 fastballs.

“I knew, and the coaches knew, and the front office knew, that I had the stuff to be good. It was just how long is it going to take me to figure out how to get ahead. I really worked on it and got better at it and was able to do it for pretty much the whole year.”

Holland said he might have had more success than his bullpen mates because he learned to control his thoughts on the mound.

“I don’t have it all figured out, but I know I was able to control myself,” Holland said. “When things start going bad, it’s always better to give up one run than two runs. And you’re going to give up runs. So you’ve got to stay calm so that you don’t compound those mistakes.

“You see guys get amped up in those situations and then you walk a guy and that leads to an extra run. Being able to control your emotions helps a lot.”

Montgomery points to mechanics when describing Holland’s closer-type stuff.

“Everything he throws is going downhill,” Montgomery said. “Whether it’s from the arm angle or if its from the velocity, or the lack of, and the movement of the baseball, if things are going down, you have a chance to get hitters out. And that’s what I saw from Greg Holland from day one last year.

“He reminds me a lot of myself, because he’s a guy who wasn’t a high draft choice, wasn’t a guy who was expected to be closer someday. But he’s got the stuff to do it.”

Taken in the 10th round as a 21-year-old out of Western Carolina University, Holland needed four-plus years of development in the minors to get him ready to succeed in the big leagues at age 26.

Montgomery, also a former collegian, was drafted in the 9th round and didn’t become a full-time big leaguer until he was 26.

Montgomery spent a couple of years in the set up role before amassing 304 saves as a closer. Holland may well be on a similar career path. He saved four games last year, while also notching five wins in relief.

Holland so impressed the league that his name has come up in trade rumors this winter. But to this point, the Royals seem determined to hold onto him.

With Soria and newcomer Jonathan Broxton the likely candidates to close games this season, Holland’s role remains to be seen. But he says he doesn’t mind that KC added Broxton to the mix.

“He’s an all-star, and he’s proven he can close, so that was a really big move,” Holland said. “I feel like we’ve got four or five guys down there who are legitimate closers.”

Holland believes his bullpen mates will be more than just a year older this season. He foresees dramatic progress as a whole.

“We expect to do better than last year. If everyone stays healthy, you’ve got Broxton and Soria who are all-star caliber closers. And then Crow who was an all-star last year. Timmy (Collins) had some walk issues, but has electric stuff. We’ve all seen that. I think we have a really good chance of being a top-notch bullpen.”

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He Plays For Who?

That seems to be a common reaction a few days after the non-waiver trade deadline passes. Players are dealt, flipped, and reassigned quicker than even the most trained eye can keep up with.

Allow me to step out of our normal Cardinals and Royals coverage and take a look at the big picture for a minute. There was a lot of activity at this year’s deadline, from a lot of teams that others did not expect. There are familiar faces in new places and all of this started back around July 13…

Deadline Deals

It was then, 18 days prior to the deadline, that the Blue Jays emerged in the “seller” category and shipped Juan Rivera to the Los Angeles Dodgers for the infamous Player To Be Named Later (PTBNL) or Cash Considerations. Rivera, who returns to Los Angeles after a six-year stint with the Angeles, is a hitter that just does not seem to find a consistent stroke. Listed as an outfielder/first baseman, he has shown flashes of solid play, posting seasons with over 20 home runs and more than 80 runs batted in. However, he has followed them up with seasons of injuries and reduced playing time. The Dodgers see him as an upgrade over Marcus Thames, who was released following this move.

The Juan Rivera deal might have been the first deal this trade season, but the league and baseball fans everywhere barely noticed as the Brewers announced a deal on the same day. The Milwaukee club, who many have said will take the National League Central, struck a deal at the middle of the month to bring Francisco Rodriguez to the club from the New York Mets providing the Gotham team with two PTBNL in return. Rodriguez joins John Axford as dominant arms in the Brewers bullpen and drastically shortens the game for Brewers opponents. Most teams shied away from K-Rod due to a clause in his contract that causes a $17.5 million option to vest should he finish 55 games in 2011. He has currently closed out 34, but the Brewers seem set to use him as a setup man to Axford, making K-Rod a two and half month, eighth inning rental.

The Blue Jays were back in the news as the deadline approached. As America turned their calendars to July 27, the Blue Jays announced they were sending Jason Frasor and Zach Stewart to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Mark Teahen and Edwin Jackson. A move that made little sense for the Canadian franchise that was deemed as sellers quickly turned into the season first flip trade. Jackson would be dealt to the Cardinals ensuring that he would in fact wear a bird, but would not be leaving the country to wear a bird of the blue variety. The deal with the Cardinals would send Jackson, Corey Patterson, Marc Rzepcynski, Octavio Dotel and three PTBNL to St. Louis in exchange for Trever Miller, Colby Rasmus, PJ Walters, and Brian Tallet. I-70 Baseball broke down the underlying details of this deal here.

Just a day later, the surprise team of the American League Central showed that it was going to do what it needed to in order to continue to win. The Cleveland Indians, in need of outfield help due to injuries, would send outfielder Abner Abreu and pitcher Carlton Smith to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for outfielder Kosuke Fukudome. Abreu has never seen time above High-A ball in his four professional years, but signed as a 17 year old so that can be deceiving. He has shown flashes of power this season though his batting average seems to have suffered for it. Smith has spent six seasons in the Indians farm system, reaching Triple-A last season for the first time. Being groomed as a reliever and possibly a closer, the youngster will need to find his footing soon if he anticipates a major league career. Fukudome has spent his entire American career, albeit a short one, in Chicago until now. He plays a strong outfield and is typically a consistent, if not flashy, hitter until this season. His power has all but disappeared and the Indians may be banking on a change of scenery to help with that.

It what seemed to be a trend, a deal that was made to strengthen a team would be overshadowed before the day was over by a deal that would be regarded as major. Major might be an understatement this time as July 28th would see the prize player of this year’s trade deadline change teams, and coasts, as Carlos Beltran traded in his New York Mets cap to join the team that left New York, the San Francisco Giants. In return, the Mets snagged one of baseball’s top prospect pitchers in Zach Wheeler. The 21 year old Wheeler has spent just two years in the minor leagues, but has thrown well. Good command, a high strikeout ratio and low walk ratio have people talking about Wheeler, and he is still playing High-A ball at this point. The Mets would look to accelerate the young man and have him in New York sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, the Giants grab an outfielder that is coming off of two injury laden seasons and appears to be back to his All-Star form. Beltran leads the league in doubles, is hitting for power and average, and is showing up on highlight reels across the country in the outfield. Many think the Giants made the move they needed to in order to find their way to October.

The following day, on the 29th of July, the Phillies would make a move to grab an outfielder and middle of the order hitter, acquiring Hunter Pence from the Houston Astros for Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, Josh Zeid, and a PTBNL. Pence has hit 25 home run in each of the last three seasons and has seen his stock rise with teams around the league as Houston continues to rebuild. Pence did not come cheap for the Phillies, however, as they shipped their two top prospects to Houston in Singleton and Cosart. Singleton has spent most of his young career playing first base and showing occasional power to go along with a consistently high average. Cosart joins Singleton as 21-year old prospects on the move, as the pitcher will leave his High-A ball team in the Phillies organization where he has shown the ability to keep hitters under control while pitching to contact. Zeid is a young pitcher at the Double-A level that has struggled until finding his footing as a reliever this season. The Astros see him as an important part of the bullpen in the near future but make no mistake, it was Cosart and Singleton that made this deal happen.

With two days left before the non-waiver trade deadline, the flood gates would open and players would be moving in rapid succession on July 30th. It was the Brewers who would make a move to shore up their infield after losing Rickie Weeks to injury. The Brewers would send a struggling pitcher from their Double-A club, Erik Komatsu, to the Washington Nationals in exchange for utility man Jerry Hairston. Hairston provides immediate assistance at second and long term infield help when Weeks returns.

Utility men filling holes around the leagues was on a few general manager’s minds on July 30 and the next trade would land squarely in the middle of I-70′s team from the west. Longtime utility man Mike Aviles finds himself heading to the East Coast and the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Kendal Volz and Yamaico Navarro. Navarro for Aviles makes little sense other than a “change of scenery” type of deal. Both players are similar types – utility infielders that have yet to perform at the level their teams thought they would. Volz on the other hand spent his first professional year starting games at Low-A ball and is currently closing games at High-A, and doing both fairly well. The Royals appear to have cut at least one deal that put something back into their farm system.

It was Detroit that wanted to gear their pitching staff up for the playoff run and they were able to land an arm for the rotation and one for the bullpen in their July 30 trade with the Seattle Mariners. Detroit might have picked up one of the games most interesting relief pitchers in David Pauley. The young right hander is holding left handed hitters well below .160 on a regular basis. Fister is one of those pitchers that has remained hidden in Seattle, posting a solid earned run average, good strikeout/walk ratio and overall pitching very well, but being left with a 3-12 record. Detroit sends rightfielder Casper Wells, reliever Charlie Furbush, minor league third baseman Francisco Martinez and a PTBNL. Wells is just starting to get his feet wet in the major leagues, but is showing a solid batting average and a patient eye. Furbush is a swing man reliever capable of picking up a start or two if needed and Martinez projects as a major league caliber hitter who is performing well at the Double-A level currently.

Continuing the flurry of activity on the 30th the Washington Nationals would ship Jason Marquis to the Arizona Diamondbacks to help shore up their rotation as they fight for a spot in October in the National League West. The Diamondbacks would send Zach Walters, a Class-A Shortstop, to the nation’s capital to complete the deal. Walters is showing the ability to hit well and play multiple positions in the minors.

The Texas Rangers needed to shore up their bullpen and they made a few moves approaching the deadline to achieve that. Another July 30th deal would see the Orioles float setup man Koji Uehara to the Rangers in exchange for Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter. Davis is a corner infielder who has arrived in the major leagues on the heels of a powerful showing in the minors. He posted 24 home runs and 66 runs batted in at Triple-A this season prior to his call up. Hunter is on the same path, just from the mound. A young man that has been performing well at the minor league level and is now shoring up a bullpen in Baltimore.

The Giants would continue to shore up their shortcomings and replace injured veteran Miguel Tejada by acquiring Orlando Cabrera from the Indians for Thomas Neal. Cabrera, who has spent most of his career playing short has spent all of this season playing second for the tribe. Neal, a right handed outfielder, has shown promises of power and hitting ability a few years back but has struggled to produce lately.

The Orioles were not done on July 30th, however, and would send first baseman Derek Lee to the surprisingly competitive Pittsburgh Pirates in a deal that would bring Aaron Baker back to Baltimore. Baker may be one of the best pure hitters on the move, even though he has not played above High-A Ball. Meanwhile, the Pirates are able to replace the struggling Lyle Overbay with a strong bat that is familiar with baseball well into September.

July 30th would end with a bang and would feature one of the clubs that surprised everyone by being buyers at the deadline. The Cleveland Indians, thick in a hunt for the American League Central would land Colorado Rockies’ ace pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez. Ace pitchers do not come cheap, however, and the Indians would trade their top two pitching prospects in the package to Colorado. Alex White and Joe Gardner would be joined by former catcher and current outfielder Matt McBride and a PTBNL. McBride is a hitter that is looking to find a home defensively but with a bat like that, the Rockies will find him a home.

The Dodgers would send injured and struggling speedster Rafael Furcal to the Cardinals in exchange for Alex Castellanos on July 31. The Dodgers get a Double-A outfielder with some upside and a chance to see how well prospect Dee Gordon handles the position the rest of the year. The Cardinals get a pure leadoff man and a huge upgrade in defense at short.

The trade deadline was not going to settle into the sunset with a simple shortstop move, and the Diamondbacks were still looking to fill in their roster. They would send reliever Jordan Norberto along with first baseman Brandon Allen to the Oakland A’s for the impressive sidearm reliever Brad Ziegler. Ziegler has been unbelievable this season, including his debut run of 39 scoreless innings, and surely will give the Diamondbacks some more firepower in the bullpen.

Rumors flew on the day of the deadline with Erik Bedard of the Seattle Mariners being connected to multiple teams all throughout the day. Ultimately it would take three teams and a slew of prospects changing hands to get Bedard into Boston and a Red Sox uniform. Bedard helps fill in a vacancy left by the injury to Clay Buckholz and the Red Sox will rely on him to help guide them deeper into the postseason.

The trade deadline would see Ryan Ludwick change teams for the second straight year. This time, the former Cardinal who has been in a bit of a slump since leaving the Redbirds will find himself back in the National League Central and playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates promised cash or a PTBNL in exchange.

In a highly anticipated and rumored move, the San Diego Padres moved a relief pitcher, but it was not Heath Bell. It would be Mike Adams who would find himself in a new uniform when the calendar flipped to August and that uniform would have the Texas Rangers logo on it. The Rangers pulled off a deal for another strong bullpen arm, this time giving up prospects Robert Erlin and Joesph Wieland, two young impressive pitchers that many expect in the majors soon.

It was the Atlanta Braves who would steal the spotlight as the curtain came down on the trade deadline. The Braves would acquire Houston Astros outfielder Michael Bourn in exchange for Juan Abreu, Brett Oberholtzer, Paul Clemens and prized prospect Jordan Schafer. Abreu, Oberholtzer, and Clemens are more of the same from Atlanta, strong pitching prospects that can make a difference very quickly for their new ball club. Schafer has finally got his chance to shine in the big leagues this season and has struggled to get a handle on big league pitching. The future still seems bright for the young man if he can turn it around.

This year’s non-waiver trade deadline brought a lot of moves, a lot of new faces, and a lot of prospects changing hands. Now you’re up to speed on who is wearing what hat as the teams begin the run to the playoffs.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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Why Is A Trade Necessary?

[Adapted from an article on El Maquino]

Right after the All-Star Game on Tuesday, Sports Illustrated reporter Jon Heyman was rushed onto the MLB Network on-field studio to announce the news: the holder of the all-time saves in a season record Francisco Rodriguez had just been sent to the Brewers for some mid-level prospects.

You must be this tall to be a Cardinal, sorry Aaron Miles.

The natural first reaction (I had it too) was that Cards GM John Mozeliak had to counter with a move of his own. In fact, Mo was even discussing with the media what kind of deal he will be making with the trade deadline now only a bit more than two weeks away. But now my question is Why? Why is a trade taken for granted?

K-Rod is good, but he will operate as a setup man in Milwaukee since a big paycheck hike is in store for the team if he ends 21 more games. So his role is diminished in an already awful bullpen (20 losses, most in the Majors). So how good did this move really make them? Better than the Cardinals? I don’t think so. The only reason the NL Central is even close at this point is because the Cardinals were banged up ever since Adam Wainwright went down in spring training. But now, they’re healthy. Matt Holliday, Albert Pujols, David Freese, Skip Schumaker, Gerald Laird and Kyle McClellan are all healthy with the only key players still on the DL being Allen Craig and Eduardo Sanchez. They were equal with the Brewers when they were injured. Now, everyone’s back.

So, to me, the Cardinals are better than the Brewers by not making any deals. In a way, getting Pujols and others off the disabled list are trades in their own right.

Plus, what do the Cards really need? The primary answers to that would be defense, relief and starting pitching. Defense is an obvious hole, but you can’t point to a single player who is on the field solely because of his defense. For instance, why does Lance Berkman play right instead of Jon Jay, who is a much better rightfielder? Because Berkman puts up MVP numbers at the plate. So while defense is important to most teams, it’s obvious that it will not be an integral part of this one.

If you had said the Cards needed to make a deal to help the bullpen a month ago, I would have totally agreed with you. But now, the entire thing has been re-worked since Opening Day:

Bryan Augenstein (Still injured)
Miguel Batista (Fired)
Mitchell Boggs (Demoted for some reason, re-promoted)
Ryan Franklin (Fired)
Trever Miller
Jason Motte
Brian Tallet (Injured)

Fernando Salas (Promoted, now closer)
Lance Lynn (Promoted, now long reliever)
Raul Valdes (Promoted, now lefty specialist)
P.J. Walters (Promoted)

Eddy Sanchez (Promoted, injured)
Maikel Cleto (Promoted, demoted)
Brandon Dickson (Promoted, demoted)

Raul Valdes’ job is kind of confusing right now. As one of only two lefties in the ‘pen, you would think his job would be to face other lefties. But actually, he has faced 11 right-handed batters (.273) and nine left-handers (.222). (He’s also never pitched in a winning game in six outings, but only one of those was his fault.) So we don’t know if he will be good or bad yet. We do know that Trever Miller is having an awful year. One unknown and one bad equals the need for lefty relief help: the only thing I think the Cards need to trade for. Fernando Salas has done a great job closing games, so the highly-proposed move for Heath Bell, who offered to come over from San Diego, is unnecessary.

And offense is obviously not a problem.

One more thing to consider: Who gets traded in these trades? The only chip that carries enough value for a big name player is Colby Rasmus. I’ve said it before and will keep saying that a trade of Rasmus is not a good idea right now. He is too young, has not hit his ceiling yet, and is playing virtually for free right now. If it ever looks like he won’t top out like he should, get something for him either this offseason or next year. But it’s better to wait and see than give away an All-Star in a tight payroll setup just to one-up the Brewers’ new setup man.

Postscript: Hit me up at my site or on Twitter @El_Maquino.

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Getting Back On Track

The Royals fell flat on their faces right before the All-Star break and continued the slide with an 8-4 loss against the Twins in the first game after the break. The trading deadline is just over two weeks away and this has been the time of year where the Royals’ organization decides to focus on their bottom line and trade as much high-salary earners off to playoff contenders.

The team clawed out a 2-1 one victory on Friday night with solid pitching and a two-run, ninth inning blast by Eric Hosmer with Melky Cabrera on second base. Compared to the last several years, this team has shown sparks of life against the Twins. After four games in Minnesota, the Royals will be home all next week to play host to the White Sox and the Devil Rays (both teams are close to or above .500).

Jeff Francoeur’s name has come up in trading block rumors but has made it clear to the Royals’ organization that he wants to stay in Kansas City and it is not hard to see why. He fits into the Royals’ commitment to develop younger talent (he is only 27). He plays well, has become a clubhouse leader and has become a fan favorite to watch.

Joakim Soria and Aaron Crow could also be mentioned in trade talks, as relief pitching for a deep playoff run is also essential. Soria may have had his ups and downs this year but is still one of the best closers in the American League the past few seasons. Aaron Crow has developed into a consistent setup man that can give a team more than one inning if required.

If recent years are any indication of how these quality players are going to be handled, then Francoeur might as well start packing his bags now. However, if the Royals are committed to setting the tone and contend in 2012 after taking their lumps as a bunch of rookies this year, then they need to keep him along with the rest of the team.

Right now, the Royals are one of the healthiest teams in baseball with only one current player on the DL, Jason Kendall. With no starters on the DL, the Royals should be able to get back on track and develop some momentum early in the second half. Injuries played a large role in their first half slide, with three starting pitchers coming down with injuries.

Part of any successful season in baseball is team chemistry. These young players have taken the first half of this season to get to know each other as well as themselves in terms of how they are supposed to play the game. They may not be a team that looks like they’re supposed to win a championship every year (like the Yankees or the Phillies) but after playing an entire season together, they will be well on their way to building a brighter future for Kansas City baseball.

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2010 Year In Review: Cards Bullpen

As a whole, most fans would agree that the Cardinals’ bullpen was one of the bright spots of the 2010 season. Were they a dominant force to be reckoned with? No. But when it comes down to it, a bullpen is judged by its ability to hold the other team at bay and close out games. The Cardinals’ unit was 11th in the majors in bullpen ERA (3.73), had the 11th fewest losses (20), and had the least blown saves in the big leagues (10). That, as a whole, is impressive considering the low expectations most had in April.

Here’s a pitcher by pitcher breakdown of St. Louis’ 2010 relief pitchers:

Ryan Franklin

When it comes to closers, only one thing really matters: did he save that game, or blow it? And although Ryan Franklin’s ERA nearly doubled from a year ago (1.92 to 3.46), he blew three fewer saves (5 to 2) and lost one less game (3 to 2). That truly is all that counts. Of course, fans would prefer Franklin not save games by way of the Jason Isringhausen method: saving game after game, shall we say… “adventurously,” but in the end we’ll take what we can get. Franklin turns 38 this spring and likely only has 2 more seasons in him at most. Fortunately, the Cardinals have several viable options the step into the closer role in the near future.

Kyle McClellan-

If Kyle McClellan keeps progressing the way he has over his first three seasons in the big leagues, don’t be surprised if he’s the Cardinals’ closer of the future. At the very least, he’ll get an audition. McClellan had career bests in a number of statistical categories, including strikeouts, walks, WHIP, and ERA. His ERA is especially impressive. In 200, his rookie season, McClellan had a 4.04 ERA. In 2009, that dropped to 3.38. In 2010, Kyle had an incredible 2.27 ERA. As the team’s primary setup man, he had 19 holds, and ate up 75 innings in 68 appearances. McClellan is just one of many of the Cardinals’ homegrown prospects, and his future appears to be bright.

Jason Motte-

Speaking of career years, Jason Motte turned in the best all-around performance of his young career in 2010. After being thrown into the closer’s role a bit prematurely back in 2009, a move that ultimately crushed his confidence, Motte rebounded for a wildly successful season in 2010. He put up the same number of strikeouts as he did in 2009, but cut down on walks (23-18) and sliced his homeruns against and ERA in half (10 homeruns to 5, and 4.76 ERA to 2.24). Motte recorded 12 holds, and only suffered 2 losses in 2010. He may very well give McClellan and others a run for their money when the closer role opens up.

Dennys Reyes-

Reyes, a long time veteran, had another good season for the Cardinals. Though he did struggle at time when he was thrown into situations he wasn’t accustomed to, blowing three saves and getting hit hard vs right handed batters, Reyes did put up good numbers. He only allowed 2 homeruns in 59 appearances, had just one loss all year, and his 3.55 ERA was well below his 4.18 career average.

Trevor Miller-

Miller was one of the more disappointing members of the core of the 2010 bullpen. As a lefty who generally comes in to face just one or two other lefties, you’d hope to have a lower ERA than 4.00, and you’d want to cut down on walks as well. Miller issued 16 free passes in 36 innings in 2010, and that’s just too many for a guy who’s coming in to shut down a rally by retiring a key left-handed batter. 2010 was the 3rd time in the last 4 seasons that Miller’s ERA was 4.00 or higher.

Blake Hawksworth-

Blake Hawksworth really struggled in 2010 after an outstanding rookie campaign in 2009. The additional workload and high expectations may have gotten the best of him of the course of the year. His total innings more than doubled (40 – 90.1), and so did his ERA (2.03 – 4.98). He accounted for nearly a third of the bullpen’s total losses (8), and allowed an alarming 15 homeruns after giving up just 2 the year before. Luckily for Blake, he has one of the best pitching coaches in the big leagues to work with. Hopefully he can work out the kinks and regain some confidence heading into 2011.

Fernando Salas-

It’s hard to read too much into Salas’ first year in the big leagues. He kept getting bounced around between Triple A and the majors, and it’s hard to put together a consistent level of play that way. However, at 3.52 ERA for a rookie reliever is nothing to scoff at…and his 29 strikeouts in 30.2 innings could make him a potential candidate for the closer role someday if he can work on other areas of his game.

Mike MacDougal-

Mike MacDougal’s brief role with the Cardinals wasn’t pretty. He walked 12 batters in just 18.2 innings, and his 7.23 ERA speaks for itself. He did put together a pretty nice year for the Washington Nationals in 2009, saving 20 games with an ERA of 4.31, so he might be worth another look next spring.

The Cardinals had a few other pitchers throw a few innings of relief in 2010, including position players Aaron Miles, Felipe Lopez, and Joe Mather. Going into 2011, the Cardinals may still want to add a couple of quality to arms to the mix, but the late inning situations appear to be in good hands with Franklin, McClellan, and Motte. Look for those three core relievers to carry the team to another solid season in next year.

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Royals Farm Report

PLAYER PROFILE

Tim Collins

Relief Pitcher

AAA Omaha Royals

22 years old

Bats: left

Throws: left

Height: 5’7”

Weight: 155 lbs.

Signed by the Blue Jays as a non-drafted free agent in 2007

For the last Royals Farm Report of the 2010 season, we feature a player who received a surprising post-season honor alongside four of the Royals’ most highly-touted prospects.

Relief pitcher Tim Collins was named to the Baseball America 2010 Minor League First-Team All Stars, one of five Royals prospects so named.

The others?

First-round picks Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer; high-expectations catcher Wil Myers, and young lefty starter John Lamb.

Not bad company for a player who was undrafted and who came to the Royals via trade earlier this season.

(SIDE NOTE: Of the 15 players on the Baseball America First Team, five of them are Royals prospects. The Tampa Bay Rays are the only other team to have multiple prospects on the list – and they have two.)

Collins was actually traded twice during 2010, first from the Blue Jays to the Braves. Then the Braves traded him, along with center fielder Gregor Blanco and relief pitcher Jesse Chavez for veteran reliever Kyle Farnsworth and outfielder Rick Ankiel. Blanco and Chavez have already made an impact on the big-league Royals, but Collins promises to be the best of the bunch – by far.

On the season, Collins was a 2.02 pitcher over 56 games, striking out 108 batters in only 71.1 innings. For the O-Royals, he was at his best: a 1.33 ERA over 15 games with 21 strikeouts. Batters hit a diminuitive .127 against him in Omaha.

The upside is huge for Collins. Look for him to compete for a bullpen spot as soon as next season. At the high end, he could be a dominant setup man for Joakim Soria – or even a closer to replace Soria. On the low end, he is a strong lefty specialist.

ROYALS 2010 MINOR LEAGUE ROUNDUP

AAA – Omaha Royals

2010 Record: 81-63, third place

Although the O-Royals finished in third place, they were only one game back from the division winner in 2010.

The big news for the O-Royals in 2011 will be a move away from Rosenblatt Stadium to Sarpy Ballpark in downtown Omaha. They will also experience a name change based on a fan vote.

AA – Northwest Arkansas Naturals

2010 record: 86-54 overall (first place); 42-28 in the first half (first); 44-26 in the second half (first)

The Naturals were arguably the best team in the entirety of Minor League Baseball in 2010, securing a Texas League championship earlier this month.

A+ – Wilmington Blue Rocks

2010 record: 68-70 overall (third place); 32-38 in the first half (second); 36-32 in the second half (second)

The Blue Rocks had a losing record in 2010, but several players showed promise and poise, including pitcher John Lamb and catcher Wil Myers, both of whom promise to be a big part of the organization in the future.

ROYALS MINOR LEAGUE POSITION PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Mike Moustakas

Mike Moustakas, third baseman

.322 average, 36 home runs, 124 RBI, .630 slugging over AA Northwest Arkansas and AAA Omaha

Moustakas lived up to his potential this season, dominating at two levels of the minor leagues. The young third baseman was the Royals’ first round pick (No. 2 overall) in the 2007 draft, and prior to this season he had struggled at the lower levels of the minors. Now Moustakas looks like the bona fide star everyone hopes he can be. Look for Moose to compete for the starting third base job in Kansas City next season.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Eric Hosmer, first baseman; Clint Robinson, first baseman

Perhaps more than any other position on the diamond, the Royals are absolutely set at first base. How exciting is this: the two first basemen in Kansas City right now, Billy Butler and Kila Ka’aihue, may be the third- and fourth-best first basemen in the organization. Arguably, the best are Robinson and Hosmer. Robinson, the starting first baseman in Northwest Arkansas all season, hit an impressive .335 with 29 home runs and 98 RBIs. Hosmer, a first-round pick by the Royals, bashed 20 homers and hit at a .338 clip over A+ and AA this season.

ROYALS MINOR LEAGUE PITCHER OF THE YEAR

Everett Teaford

Everett Teaford

14-4, 3.82 ERA, 117 K

The Royals may have more highly-touted pitching prospects, but nobody in the organization this year – from the top down – pitched better than Teaford. He was demoted from Omaha to Northwest Arkansas after only one rocky start, but for the Naturals he picked up 14 wins and a 3.36 ERA (that number goes up by nearly half a run when you include the one start in Omaha). Teaford was a huge part of the Naturals’ championship run.

HONORABLE MENTION: John Lamb

The aforementioned Lamb pitched at three levels of the minors this season, starting all the way down in low-A and moving up to AA by the end of the year. Over 28 starts, he compiled a stellar 2.38 ERA and struck out 159 batters.

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A Call To The Bullpen

The Royals know, as well as every other baseball franchise, that in order to win you must have solid pitching. A team needs starters that can go six or more innings on a regular basis. Even so, if a team has good starting pitching consistently throughout the season they are not necessarily going to be a team that is playoff bound. Cliff Lee, C.C. Sabathia, Zack Greinke, Andy Pettitte, Chris Carpenter, etc., are all capable of going eight innings in a single start, but to expect them to do it every time is unreasonable. They are, after all, human.

When baseball was first organized, pitchers were expected to throw the whole game, and maybe even pitch the second game of a double header as well. I like a strong work ethic in a pitcher, but even the best pitchers in the league have their limits. There are also times when a pitcher gets injured in the middle of the game or is being shelled and the coaches have to stop the bleeding.

There are a number of theories on the origin of the bullpen in the world of baseball. Some date back to the 1880s. Whenever the word first joined the colorful world of baseball slang doesn’t matter, but the importance of a solid bullpen doesn’t diminish.

If you were to take a look at the World Series champions in recent memory, you will find many great things a team needs to have to win a championship, including a solid bullpen. A bullpen in today’s league is a lot more planned out then it was only thirty years ago. In today’s game a team will typically have a guy labeled the closer, a setup man, a long reliever, and a mixture of righties and lefties are available upon request from the manger. These pitchers will pitch anywhere from one batter to four innings.

The Royals were a team going into the 2009-2010 offseason looking to upgrade their bullpen. They knew and still know that they have one of the best closers in the game in Joakim Soria, but getting to a situation that allows him to perform his role was not as consistent as the Royals liked. What did they do? They went shopping. They picked up some solid pitchers who have had success as relievers. The most successful one this year being the now departed Kyle Farnsworth. There were others, but this guy stood out in his 37 appearances for the Royals. He showed grit ,working between one and three innings per outing. He had an ERA of 2.42 and a record of 3-0. This is why Atlanta wanted him. He either continues the success of the quality start or stops the bleeding. He was expensive to bring in, but was he worth it? Some would argue that he wasn’t but a quality veteran leader in a very young bullpen that produces is hard to come by.

As a whole the Royals’ bullpen has been streaky throughout the entire season. At times they would blow the lead for the starter in three or four straight games and in the next three pitch scoreless bliss. The following pitchers have been used out of the Royals bullpen in either limited capacity or otherwise:

Bryan Bullington (now in the starting rotation)
Bruce Chen (now in the starting rotation)
Jesse Chavez (Acquired from Atlanta and has posted an ERA similar to Farnsworth so far)
Roman Colon (Released in May)
Juan Cruz (Released in April)
Kyle Farnsworth (Traded to Atlanta right before the deadline)
Dusty Hughes (Given a chance after 2009 late-season call-up)
Philip Humber (Acquired from Minnesota’s AAA team and was just called up)
Victor Marte (Released in April)
John Parrish (Released in June)
Josh Rupe (Blake Wood replaced him on the roster)
Joakim Soria (All-Star closer and is among league leaders in saves)
Robinson Tejeda (Solid reliever the past two seasons for the Royals but is now on the DL)
Kanekoa Texeira (Rookie pitcher has performed well since coming from Seattle)
Brad Thompson (Rejected demotion after poor performance and is now a free agent)
Blake Wood (Started the year at AAA but has not given up a run in his last six appearances)

Based on the performances so far this season Bullington and Chen will not return to the bullpen unless asked. Chavez has performed better since he was traded to Kansas City. He was previous in Atlanta and had struggled. This bullpen is a mixed range of talent going from inexperienced young hurlers who are just getting their feet wet in the majors to an all-star closer. The Royals wanted to get young and they get an “A” in that department.

However, youth can be either good for a pitcher or bad. It can be good in that he might not realize or care if he’s facing Joe Mauer or Derek Jeter with the game tied, and just pitches the way he knows how. This causes less stress on the reliever. It can be bad because they get wide-eyed that they’re facing someone they grew up watching him play. In addition, inexperience can lead to mental errors or misreads. The Royals did a great job of countering this from happening by bringing in veteran catcher Jason Kendall. He has been around the league long enough to give the pitchers insights that he knows about the batters.

With the majority of the ERAs of the bullpen under five this season, the Royals should be content. Still, they have many young players adjusting to big league hitters and on occasion get stage fright, which leads to mistakes. (Poor defense does not help, either.)

The team could choose to keep their current talent and work hard to improve in the offseason or look to see what free agency or the farm system has come up with during spring training. If the Royals choose the former, they can use their leftover funds to possibly beef up their starting rotation or bring in a player who can help the defense as well as the offense. If they chose the latter, they could attempt to bring in a reliever with some experience who has the reputation for shutting people down consistently. (Post-season experience is always a plus).

The Royals know they have a solid closer and have mixed and matched setup men all season. Some of them have done well and some of them got the boot. The Royals trimmed the fat early in the season and were willing to work with the current talent level. The Royals are only a couple of weeks away from the roster-expansion part of the season. Two of the pitchers at the AAA level are on the forty-man roster (Gabriel Hernandez and Victor Marte). Both pitchers have pitched well in their last ten games, so look for at least two to get a shot in September and next year’s spring training.

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