Offering at least one reason to tune in to each potentially talent-challenged team when you're flipping through your MLB.tv options this season.
Bad teams have been much on my mind lately. Blame it on being an A's fan, blame it on marrying into a Mets family, blame it on my generally sour personality. Irrespective of the cause, I find myself less intrigued by the powerhouses or the teams in tight races for the playoffs than by the squads that will come out of the gate slow, dawdle through the dog days, and finish in a muddle of obscure Triple-A players crowding the expanded September rosters as they fight for 2013 jobs on what will likely be yet another mediocre team.
If you're a fan of one of these franchises, you'll probably watch them whatever happens. But what will the rest of you watch on the nights when your team is off, or long, lazy weekend afternoons? You can always tune in to see the Yankees and Rays face off in a game with playoff implications for the umpteenth time, but if you're like me, you get a little bored seeing the same (really good) players over and over. Let me present, then, a team-by-team list of reasons to tune into a game at which more casual fans might turn up their noses. Call it the Every Team is Special list.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
Will Colby Rasmus continue to be dogged by off-field issues?
In two-plus years as the general manager of the Blue Jays, Alex Anthopoulos has shown a penchant for buying low on other teams’ undervalued players. He did it with Yunel Escobar, who delivered a 3.7 WARP season last year. He did it with Brett Lawrie, who emerged as one of baseball’s top prospects, and then batted a remarkable .293/.373/.580 in 171 plate appearances in 2011. Most recently, he did it with Colby Rasmus and Kelly Johnson last summer, though the returns on those two investments are thus far unclear.
Once viewed as a potential star center fielder, the 25-year-old Rasmus has a much greater role to play in the Jays’ future than Johnson. Rasmus was a 2.3 WARP player—mostly thanks to a .276/.361/.498 triple-slash, because his fielding was 18.8 runs below average—in 2010, and he was expected to blossom into one of the National League’s best players.
The Keeper Reaper returns for the month of December!
Per the Wikipedia entry, author Ray Bradbury “has stated that the novel [Fahrenheit 451] is not about censorship, but a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature, which leads to a perception of knowledge as being composed of factoids, partial information devoid of context.” In a world where the very notion of a “book” may soon go the way of the rotary phone and the “LP”, can people really relate to “Hot Stove” anymore? When a well-known national media personality makes the mistake of tweeting that a team re-signed its own superstar shortstop, it's patently obvious that most analysis these days is of the microwave variety. But Keeper Reaper is back to provide more information, complete with context, and is the best protection against getting burned this winter in fantasy league preparation.
Rasmus was a 22-year-old center fielder and the team’s top prospect in 2009 when he won a spot in the starting lineup for the second game of the season. In 143 games, Rasmus batted .251/.307/.407 with 16 home runs and 72 runs scored. That was only good enough for a .248 True Average, but his strong defense in center (4.3 FRAA) earned Rasmus 1.7 WARP for the season. There might have been some growing pains along the way—there was one game against the Royals where Rasmus moved slowly in the outfield, allowing the runner to stretch a single into a double, that drew some comments from management—but Rasmus looked like a future building block for St. Louis following his rookie campaign.
The Cardinals, who simultaneously put a bad situation out of its misery and increased their postseason chances, lead the parade of trade deadline winners.
In over a decade of writing professionally about baseball, I have never stooped so low as to write a “trade deadline winners and losers” piece. Normally, I run from a cliché like the Wehrmacht withdrew from a battle, attacking even as I back away. This is probably why I have never been invited to many parties. Normally, the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline is such a violent anticlimax that there isn’t much to say, making it acceptable to dismiss it as if it were a guest-star on Downton Abbey, issuing no more than a single word, a hostile glance, and a pregnant pause. The 2011 trading deadline was so active it demands a more thorough going-over. Today winners, tomorrow losers, and Wednesday I will be invited to the King’s Charity Ball (but no one will tell me it isn't a costume party).
Winners Atlanta Braves Between injuries and disappointing performances, the Braves were being strangled by their outfield. The unit as a whole has done less hitting than that of any team in the league except the Padres. Center field was a particularly sore point, as it has been for a number of years—in 2008, Braves center fielders ranked eighth in the NL in True Average, then dropped to 13th in 2009, 15th last year and again this year. Bourn isn’t Ty Cobb, but should represent a serious upgrade for the Braves in the center-field line, as he ranks fourth among all NL center fielders in TAv (250 PA and up department). Braves leadoff hitters have also been among the worst in the league, having hit .254/.306/.365 overall. Weird stat alert: In 57 plate appearances at Turner Field, Bourn has never drawn a walk. Having hit only .218/.289/.348 against southpaws to date, the Braves needed a right-handed bat and didn’t get one, but Bourn’s value should hardly be dismissed in light of that. They gave up two solid pitching prospects, a third that should be rated a throw-in, as well as an outfielder that has proved he can’t play in the majors, at least for them. That’s not a bad deal for a part they needed so badly and who also remains under contract. Baltimore Orioles
Unlike some rebuilders who pretended they had no need to sell (hellooooo, Cubs!), the Orioles got something, moving the underrated Koji Uehera and the superannuated Derrek Lee in separate deals. The returns aren’t particularly special. Chris Davis will give the lineup the left-handed power it has been missing all year, but potentially nothing else—he’s arbitration-eligible after the season and has a strike zone wider than a rhino’s buttocks. Tommy Hunter pitches to contact and thus will be undermined by the league’s worst defense. Aaron Baker is a 23-year-old first baseman in High-A ball, which likely means we will never hear his name again. Nevertheless, a roll of the dice is better than standing pat with decayed assets.
Boston Red Sox
Theo Epstein got off to a shaky start, giving up future Generic Second Baseman Yamico Navarro and a Standard Model Reliever for Mike Aviles, which seems like a high price to pay for a 30-year-old defense-second infielder who has hit .222/.261/.395 this year. Given Jed Lowrie’s shoulder injury, Kevin Youkilis’ frequent day-to-dayness, and Marco Scutaro being, well, Marco Scutaro, it’s understandable that they felt they needed more depth, having already been forced to resort to Drew Sutton and an ahead-of-schedule Jose Iglesias. Still, Aviles is a sneeze away from being out of the league altogether, whereas Navarro has some long-term value.
Colby Rasmus' arrival in the AL East marks another important step on Toronto's path to division domination.
Anyone who doesn’t think that competition raises performance levels would do well to take a look at the American League East. For the last decade, the division has housed the two best teams in baseball. More recently, with the ascent of the Tampa Bay Rays, it’s seen three highly successful organizations in close competition, not just for the division crown, but also the American League Wild Card. In fact, the consolation prize for the best team not to have won a division has been collected by a team other than the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees only once in the last eight years.
And now, the Toronto Blue Jays, with the acquisition of Colby Rasmus from the St. Louis Cardinals at the cost of some young pitching and spare parts, have signaled to the rest of the division their intention of joining the elite of the league.
B.J. Upton and Colby Rasmus had sky-high ceilings as prospects, but their up-and-down performances in the majors has led them to the trading block.
The July 31 trading deadline traditionally turns the spotlight on pending free agents that can shore up a contender's roster for the stretch run. Carlos Beltran and Hiroki Kuroda are the belles of the quick-fix ball this year, and if they don't sound tremendously enticing, it helps explain why so much talk is focused elsewhere, on younger and more affordable players still under club control. Ubaldo Jimenez and Hunter Pence fit that bill, even if their respective teams' willingness to trade them is something of a head-scratcher. More puzzling is how B.J. Upton and Colby Rasmus have arrived at this juncture, particularly given the big things projected for them just a few years ago. On the other hand, maybe that explains exactly why they're here.
David Freese, Colby Rasmus, and Mark McGwire discuss their approaches to hitting.
David Freese and Colby Rasmus will play key roles for the Cardinals this year, as will their hitting coach, Mark McGwire. Both players will be counted on to provide offensive punch, while Big Mac will be entrusted to help the young sluggers surpass their 2010 production. Rasmus is coming off a season where he hit .276/.361/.498 with 23 home runs. Freese hit .296/.361/.404 with four home runs before having his rookie campaign derailed by an ankle injury after just 80 games.