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Mike Trout plans to be more aggressive at the plate
“Locked and loaded on the first pitch”—that’s what the defending American League Most Valuable Player told reporters about the mentality he’ll take to the batter’s box whenever he heads there this spring.

Trout batted .287/.377/.561 last year. He hit 39 doubles and 36 home runs. He walked 83 times in 705 plate appearances. There’s not much to dislike about his offensive game, except this: 184 strikeouts accompanied all that production.

The plan to swing early in the count likely stems from the 23-year-old’s desire to cut down on his punchouts. It might come at the expense of some of his free passes, but the Angels might live with that if it leads to more hits, particularly if Trout is selective with his newfound aggression.

To see what Trout is getting at, here is his swing-rate chart for all counts:

And here is the same chart restricted to first pitches:

If a pitcher’s opening salvo wasn’t belt-high and over the plate, there was a better-than-75 percent chance of Trout leaving the bat on his shoulder. Which makes sense: When you’re as talented a hitter as the Angels outfielder is, you can feel comfortable letting a strike pass by in hopes of seeing a better one. Trout hit .269/.336/.541 after 0-1 counts last year, certainly worse than his overall numbers but still good for an .877 OPS, which would have ranked seventh among all hitters’ total outputs, right between Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz.

But Trout is so good, that he doesn’t necessarily need a pitch to be belt-high to clobber it:

In fact, the bulk of Trout’s hits and slugging efforts last year came on pitches in the lower third of the strike zone, below his preferred area when the count is 0-0. As long as he expands his first-pitch-swing radar downward and not upward, history suggests that more knocks and long balls await.

Cuban infielder Hector Olivera may need Tommy John surgery

Now that Yoan Moncada is off the market, the biggest-name Cuban seeking a major-league home is Hector Olivera, a major-league free agent who is not subject to the amateur-pool-overage tax. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan heard from sources that Olivera was headed for a $50-plus million payday. But the 29-year-old Cuban might have suffered an extremely untimely injury.

Passan wrote yesterday that teams believe Olivera has a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Surgery is on the table, and going under the knife could put Olivera on the shelf for the entire 2015 season.

The price tag on Olivera grew and grew, as teams saw a toolsy infielder whose bat could play at the keystone or hot corner, and whose arm would be adequate at the latter spot. If Passan’s medical info is accurate, though, that price could soon plummet. Except, Olivera’s reps aren’t prepared to acknowledge any injury to their client:

Stay tuned.

Get your Andre Ethier at half-price!
Andre Ethier wants to be an everyday outfielder. The Dodgers can’t accommodate that desire, and might be able to make do without the veteran altogether. A parting of ways could be the best outcome for both sides. But Ethier’s playing-time hopes and salary stand in the way.

Set to turn 33 on April 10th, just after Opening Day, Ethier has seen his plate appearances and offensive numbers decline precipitously over the past three years. His True Average tumbled from .307 in 2012 to .284 in 2013 to .262 last season. That’s part of the reason why he only garnered 380 trips to the box from manager Don Mattingly, who saw Scott Van Slyke emerge as a strong fourth outfielder filling in for Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, and Yasiel Puig. Kemp is gone now, but top prospect Joc Pederson stands ready to assume his place, and the offseason additions of Chris Heisey and Enrique Hernandez further crowded the depth chart.

With three years and a club option left on the $85 million deal he signed in June 2012, Ethier would be an awfully expensive extra outfielder, a luxury the Dodgers could afford but would rather not. That’s why, according to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, they’re willing to cover half of the $56 million Ethier is still owed, with the cash flowing out likely hinging on the caliber of the players heading to Chavez Ravine in exchange.

At $28 million over three years, Ethier would only need to be about a 1.5-win player to justify his salary, with a bit more anticipated production necessary to warrant shipping prospects Andrew Friedman’s way. In other words, for clubs to phone the Dodgers, they’d probably have to expect the Arizona State product to bounce back to his 2013 performance and maintain that through 2017. The short time left between now and Opening Day both hurts and helps the Dodgers’ cause: On the one hand, teams have already filled their rosters, but on the other, players with Ethier’s offensive upside are hard to come by in early March.

Trade rumors swirled around Ethier at the time of the Winter Meetings, when it was unclear if he or Kemp would be the first outfielder sent packing. Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi then jumped at the chance to upgrade at catcher by importing Yasmani Grandal from the Padres, moving Kemp south to San Diego and leaving Ethier to brood about his diminishing role.

Unfortunately for Ethier, teams see eroding skills on both sides of the ball, rendering him unappealing, even if the Dodgers were to pay down his contract to around $9-10 million annually. It’s noteworthy that Heyman did not mention a single club as having active interest in Ethier. In fact, the outfielder has scarcely appeared on the rumor mill since the December holidays.

At this late stage, it might take a spring training injury to create the sort of opportunity Ethier seeks and that the Dodgers would need to strike a worthwhile trade.

Thank you for reading

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Tracyy
3/06
Well, Hunter Pence's injury...and Angel Pagan's propensity for injury...might create just such an opportunity up North
statsrath
3/06
It's possible, I guess, but I really can't see the fit here. The Giants aren't going to pick up $28-plus million on Ethier's contract to give them a Pence replacement for a month and a half.
rweiler
3/06
Also at this point in their respective careers, it isn't obvious that Either is a better hitter than Travis Ishikawa and may not even be a better fielder. Most defensive metrics were not kind to Ethier last year.
statsrath
3/06
That too. A defensive-oriented platoon probably replaces Pence with comparable value.
oldbopper
3/08
I cannot imagine any scenario in which the Dodgers will do anything to improve the Giants ball club.
twoseamer216
3/08
Ethier could buy his freedom, perhaps renegotiate his bloated and stupid contract down to 30 million over the next 3 years for his freedom. Yeah right....instead he'll just whine while sucking.