A couple of things have been on my mind recently as we get set to open the second half of the season. No preamble. Here they are:
Free Agent Target?
As expected, the crop of free agents after the 2014 season is miserable, but there is one guy who intrigues me. Should platoon options over the second half not work out for the long haul in left field, I’d kick the tires on Colby Rasmus. He’s is in the throes of an injury-riddled season and his numbers are terrible. But he put up solid numbers as recently as 2013, hitting .276/.338/.501 with 22 home runs. And he’s always a plus defender. He’ll only be 28 next season, and the Jays aren’t likely to ask him back with former highly touted prospect Anthony Gose needing to sink or swim. He would come cheap and on a short-term deal and offer a solid fourth outfielder/defensive replacement/lefty part of a platoon.
I’d still look to bolster the position via trade, because Rasmus is not the impact player needed in left field, but he has the highest upside of any of the available outfielders, and could have value in a limited role.
Why Would the Cubs Trade?
The boards have been rife with trade proposals to the Cubs because they have an abundance of shortstop prospects. But my favorite part of amateur trade
proposals is the disregard of the needs of the other team. Why would the Cubs trade away any of their shortstop prospects when there are so many holes on the Chicago Cubs? Aside from their current shortstop Starlin Castro, Arismendy Alcantara is on the horizon, Javier Baez is making a joke out of AAA and they just acquired Addison Russell. But believe you me; if you think current second baseman Darwin Barney and left fielder Chris Coghlan are blocking some top prospects, you’re out of your gourd. Ditto Justin Ruggiano currently in right field. Let’s assume both Alcantara and Russell are up the middle, because they are the two best defenders of the group. Kris Bryant is currently toying with AAA pitchers at third base, but Baez and Castro (can’t forget about him) profile better defensively there. Let’s give it to Castro because he’s the “veteran” of the group, so we’ll defer to his status and keep him in the infield. That means Bryant could play left field and Baez can slot in as the right fielder.
Just because Castro is making the most money doesn’t mean he’s making a lot of money. He’s on a very team-friendly contract and doesn’t need to be traded. The Cubs have room on the major league roster to play all their prospects and their need for pitching may be abated by two top prospects, CJ Edwards and Pierce Johnson, pitching well in AA this far. They may trade someone, but since they don’t need to, the price will be huge.
Who’s Been Pitching Better?
Pitcher A: 3.42 FIP, 3.50 xFIP, 3.64 SIERA, 2.28 K/BB, and a .253/.333/.358 opponent slash and a 19.6%/54.1%/26.4% LD/GB/FB contact rate
Pitcher B: 3.64 FIP, 3.83 xFIP, 3.96 SIERA, 2.64 K/BB, and a .250/.304/.369 opponent slash and a 21.3%/47.9%/30.8% LD/GB/FB contact rate
Looks pretty darn similar. Maybe a slight edge to pitcher A, though it appears he walks more hitters. That might be a clue. I can give it away and tell you that pitcher A has a 3.90 ERA on the season and pitcher B has a 2.96 ERA. So why is there nearly a full run difference in Zack Wheeler’s and Jon Niese’s ERA? Well, Zack’s a little bit unlucky and has been a victim of a poor timing. The significant difference is, despite Wheeler’s slightly better peripherals and contact rate, is that in 14 plate appearances with the bases loaded or runners on 2nd and 3rd, Wheeler’s opponents are hitting .583/.571/.750 against. Niese has kept those runners on base, sporting a .182/.267/.182 line in 15 plate appearances. Hitters raking against Wheeler with at least two runners in scoring position are bringing in a lot more runs.
Wheeler is pitching very well this season, a lot better than people give him credit for. Those numbers with at least two in scoring position will obviously normalize as the sample size becomes larger and his ERA will represent it.