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Andrew McCutchen Blockbuster Trade Is Calculated Risk Nationals Must Take

In a baseball year that was about ending droughts, the Washington Nationals had to sit back and wonder why they were left out.

They have a good team. They won 95 games, the third time in the last five years they’ve won at least that many (no one else has done it more than twice).

All it got them was another chance at October frustration. The Nationals didn’t win a postseason series. The Nationals have never won a postseason series.

You want to talk about droughts? That’s a drought.

They can ask why, or they can do something about it. They can ask why, or they can ask the question Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein famously posed after his July trade for Aroldis Chapman, per

“If not now, when?”

Now is when for the Nationals, and it’s clear they understand it. A National League executive who knows the Nationals well said early in the offseason they would make Chris Sale a priority, and sure enough, reporting by FanRag‘s Jon Heyman and Fox Sports‘ Ken Rosenthal suggests they are among the front-runners for the Chicago White Sox ace. Rosenthal also reported on Twitter the Nationals are among at least two teams with a four-year, $60 million offer for Mark Melancon, the closer they acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in July.

Then there’s Andrew McCutchen.

This is the time for the Pittsburgh Pirates to trade their star center fielder, and this is the time for the Nationals to go get him.

Trea Turner did a fine job in center field the second half of the season, but the best way for the Nationals to make the most of his talent is to put Turner back at shortstop. Bryce Harper could move to center field if the Nationals acquired another corner guy, but Harper is best if he’s playing one of the corner spots.

McCutchen isn’t the all-around threat he was in 2013, when he was the National League’s Most Valuable Player and helped end Dusty Baker’s tenure with the Cincinnati Reds (after McCutchen‘s Pirates beat Baker’s Reds in the NL Wild Card Game). But his subpar 2016 ended with enough improvement in August and September to convince scouts he can still be a star.

He’d be a fit in the Nationals clubhouse, and he’d be a great fit in the Nationals lineup, a right-handed force for Baker to mix with the left-handed hitting Harper and Daniel Murphy in the middle of the order.

As‘s Jayson Stark reported, the Pirates and Nationals “ramped up” talks about a McCutchen deal last week. Stark suggested pitchers Joe Ross and Reynaldo Lopez as possible Pittsburgh targets in a deal. Other speculation has centered on 19-year-old outfield prospect Victor Robles, who Rosenthal identified as a Pirates target in a possible Pirates-Nationals McCutchen deal that fell through last summer.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo is notoriously hesitant to part with his best prospects. Rizzo has shown a willingness to make trades—he got Melancon from the Pirates and has made other deals for Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span in recent years—but he has also been conscious of the future.

The future is fine, and the Nationals’ future remains bright, but they also understand they have a window to win big that might not remain open that long. Harper and Murphy have two years to go to free agency, and while ace Max Scherzer is signed through 2021, he turns 33 next July.

In other words, if not now, when?

Like Sale, McCutchen has the added attraction of carrying a reasonable contract. That’s significant for a Nationals team that has more than $100 million committed to six players for 2017. Sale would add just $12 million to the 2017 payroll, a true bargain for a left-handed ace.

McCutchen will make $14 million in 2017, with a club option for $14.5 million the following year.

As I wrote last month, he’s a bargain if he comes anywhere near the form that put him in the top five in MVP voting four straight years from 2012-15. The risk would come if last year’s decline was a sign McCutchen‘s age (30) has already robbed him of the speed that made him such a dynamic force with the Pirates.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington told me he expects “he’s going to come to camp and be Andrew McCutchen again,” but Huntington also admitted the Pirates have had discussions about whether to move McCutchen out of center field. They don’t totally agree with the defensive metrics that painted McCutchen as the worst defensive center fielder in the game (as detailed in the column I did on McCutchen last month), but scouts said the eye test also showed a decline in his defensive skills.

The Nationals would be betting on a bounce-back, but it would be a smart and worthy bet. And a timely bet, too.

After all, if not now, when?


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Korean League MVP Eric Thames Could Be Surprise MLB Offseason Steal

There’s a video you can find on the internet showing Eric Thames wearing a crown made of flowers, just after he was named Most Valuable Player last year in South Korea.

Good luck finding anything like that from Kris Bryant or Mike Trout.

It’s a nice ceremony and a nice award, but it’s also a pleasant reminder of how different professional baseball is in South Korea, where the NC Dinos play in a ballpark with a center field fence just 381 feet from home plate and where the pitchers rarely throw upper-90s fastballs.

Baseball in South Korea is different, which is why it’s so tough to know what to make of Thames’ new three-year, $16 million contract to be the Milwaukee Brewers‘ first baseman. It’s either the biggest bargain deal for an MVP or the worst shot in the dark on a guy who hit .220 with six home runs in his last major league season.

But maybe, just maybe, Eric Thames can be Cecil Fielder.

Not Prince Fielder, the one-time Brewers first baseman whose career progressed the usual way, from first-round draft pick to major league All-Star. Cecil, Prince’s dad, went from a part-time player with the Toronto Blue Jays to a starring role with the Detroit Tigers, with a great season in Japan in the middle.

That sounds just a little like Thames, a part-time player with the Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners who went to South Korea and became a star. His numbers were almost hard to believe, with a .348 batting average and 124 home runs in 388 games over three seasons, including the first 40-homer/40-steal season in KBO League history.

“Cecil Fielder went to Japan and learned an approach that worked for him,” one longtime American League scout said. “What you’re betting on with Thames is he’s learned how to be a hitter.”

The AL scout saw Thames play in Korea and thinks it’s possible he has. He said the player he saw with the Dinos did a much better job recognizing breaking balls than the guy he watched with the Blue Jays.

“No one can deny that,” he said. “He’s got a plan now. Do I think he can play in the big leagues? No doubt. He can definitely play in the big leagues.”

But can the 30-year-old Thames be anything like the star he was in Korea? That question is so much harder to answer, and it’s why a low-budget team like the Brewers could sign him for what amounts to a $16 million lottery ticket.

It’s worth remembering many of the same questions were asked about Fielder when the Tigers signed him to a two-year, $3 million contract in January 1990. Fielder hit 38 home runs in just 106 games in his one year in Japan, but what did that mean when you translated it to Major League Baseball?


In his case, it meant 51 home runs in his first year back, the most homers any major league player had hit in 13 years. It meant back-to-back second-place finishes in American League MVP voting.

Fielder went to Japan at a time when there were no Japanese-born players in the major leagues. Thames comes back from South Korea at a time when nine South Korean-born players were active in the majors this past year alone. Players such as Jung Ho Kang and Hyun Soo Kim have been good enough to earn the KBO League some respect.

Kang and Kim were stars in South Korea, but neither put up numbers to match Thames’ 2015 season, when he had a 1.288 OPS and 140 RBI in 142 games.

The comparisons are useful because they played in the same league in South Korea, facing similar pitchers under similar conditions. But Thames is different because he grew up in the U.S. and has played in the major leagues before. The real question is whether the time overseas turned him into a better player.

C.J. Nitkowski thinks that’s possible.

Nitkowski works for Fox Sports and MLB Network Radio now, but in his previous life, he was a pitcher who left the major leagues to go to Japan and South Korea. He pitched four seasons in Asia toward the end of his career, and while it didn’t help him get back to the big leagues, he saw benefits.

“Sometimes there, you can relax,” Nitkowski said. “You’ve got guaranteed money, and you’re not worried about the ups and downs as much. Talent has a chance to shine.”

Nitkowski mentioned Colby Lewis, who was an up-and-down pitcher before going to Japan. After two good years there, he returned as a solid rotation piece for the Texas Rangers.

Lewis was 30 when he came back to the major leagues, the same age Thames is now.

There aren’t that many other examples because there just aren’t that many players who leave North America, become stars in Asia and then return to the majors. And there aren’t that many position players who try it.

Dan Kurtz of, an outstanding website that follows Korean baseball, compiled a list of 30 players who left the major leagues to go to Korea, then returned and played at least one more game in the majors. All but four of the 30 were pitchers, and none of the four position players had a career track that resembles Thames’.

Maybe that fits because Thames has always been a little eccentric. His Twitter bio lists him as the “Enforcer for the NC Dinos and Sosnick Cobbe Sports (his agents). Meathead, gamer, weirdo and proud representative of the Thames clan.”

And he could add potential trailblazer. If his MLB-KBO-MLB path works as well as Fielder’s Japan detour did two decades ago, maybe others will be emboldened to try it too.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander Facing Uncertain Tigers Futures for 1st Time

They were two of the biggest stars in baseball, and the Detroit Tigers ensured they didn’t get away.

“I want to finish my career here,” Miguel Cabrera told reporters when he signed an eight-year, $248 million deal in the spring of 2014.

“Once we started contract talks, I wanted to stay in Detroit, and I wasn’t shy about saying that,” Justin Verlander told reporters after signing a seven-year, $180 million deal a year earlier. “I think it all worked out.”

Or did it?

The Tigers spent a decade winning around Cabrera and Verlander, teaming one of the game’s most feared hitters with one of the most dominant pitchers. But in the three years since Cabrera re-signed, they haven’t won a single postseason game. They’re now determined to reduce a payroll that approached $200 million in 2016 and to renew a talent base that had aged to the point they’ve been considered a franchise in decline.

During general manager Al Avila’s end-of-season press conference in October, he acknowledged changes were coming, telling reporters, “I can’t call it a rebuild because we haven’t broken anything down. So, no, I’m not comfortable with the word rebuild. I’ve read retool, I don’t know if that’s the right term. I don’t know if there’s a term for what I want to do here.”

And now the question of the winter, in Detroit and elsewhere, is whether the Tigers would trade one or both of their biggest stars.

“I think they would,” said one American League executive who has talked with the Tigers. “There’s a big difference between them and the White Sox. The White Sox would have to get a ton to trade [Chris] Sale, and even then, their owner might not really want to do it. The Tigers are looking for value, but I think they would like to make a trade.”

Before you start panicking (Tigers fans) or plotting ways to put Verlander in your rotation and Cabrera in your lineup (everyone else), understand that a willingness to make a deal won’t necessarily lead to one. Even a desire to make a deal wouldn’t mean Cabrera and Verlander are done in Detroit.‘s Jim Bowden recently put the chances of a Verlander deal at 20 percent and the chances of a Cabrera trade at 10 percent.

“I’d say 20 percent might be about right for Verlander,” said an American League executive who has spoken with Tigers decision-makers. “But it’s probably 5 percent at best for Miguel.”

Verlander would be easier to trade, partly because everyone needs pitching and partly because just three years and $84 million remain guaranteed on his contract. Cabrera likely could only go to an American League team that can eventually use him as a designated hitter, and only to a team that can absorb the guaranteed seven years and $220 million he has left.

Even at those long odds, it’s a bit of a shock to see the Tigers reach this point.

They’ve been pushing for a World Series title since 2006, Jim Leyland’s first season with the club and the year Verlander was the American League Rookie of the Year. Cabrera arrived after 2007 in a blockbuster trade with the Florida Marlins, and the Tigers won four straight American League Central titles from 2011 to 2014, advancing to the ALCS three straight years and to the World Series in 2012.

Verlander was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2011. Cabrera won the same award the next two years.

The Tigers were big spenders and big winners, and if they had to go over budget to get or keep a star, there was always a decent chance owner Mike Ilitch would OK it (or even push to make the deal himself). Ilitch was super competitive—everyone knew—and he was also aging and running out of time to win the World Series he craved.

He’s 87 now, and he still hasn’t added a World Series title to the four Stanley Cups he won with the Detroit Red Wings. But rather than chase this winter’s free-agent stars, as Ilitch did when the Tigers signed Justin Upton in an ill-advised deal last January, he and the Tigers have chosen a different path.

The payroll, they say, is going down. They say it doesn’t need to drop too much, at least not right away. They definitely want to drop below the threshold for paying luxury tax, whatever that turns out to be once Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association agree on a new collective bargaining agreement.

They don’t want to tear it all down and start over, as the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs did successfully and as other teams have copied. They want to keep competing as they build for the future, as the New York Yankees are trying to do.

The Tigers have already traded outfielder Cameron Maybin, who had a $9 million option for 2017. They’ve discussed deals for second baseman Ian Kinsler ($11 million in 2017), outfielder J.D. Martinez ($11.75 million) and designated hitter Victor Martinez ($18 million), officials say.

But none of those would be the franchise-altering trade that a Cabrera or Verlander deal would be.

None of them would change the Tigers’ future, short term and long term, the way moving one or both superstars could.

No other players could bring as much back in return. No other players could open up future budgets as much.

Cabrera’s contract pays him $28 million in 2017, $30 million a year for the four years after that, and $32 million in 2022 and 2023, when he’ll turn 40 (with two options and an $8 million buyout). Verlander also makes $28 million next year, with two more years at $28 million and a vesting-option year at $22 million after that.

The big money limits the potential suitors, but baseball officials surveyed by Bleacher Report agreed both players remain tradable this winter. That might not be true if the Tigers wait another year, with Cabrera (34 in April) and Verlander (34 in February) getting older at a time baseball as a whole is trending younger.

For teams looking for immediate help, age is less of an issue than performance. Verlander finished a close second to ex-teammate Rick Porcello in the AL Cy Young vote, his fifth top-five finish. Cabrera finished ninth in Most Valuable Player voting, the seventh time in the last eight years he has been in the top 10.

Still, only a few teams can afford to add a player making $28 million. The officials agreed a Cabrera trade would be tougher than one for Verlander, because it’s hard to see a National League team trading for someone who will likely need to become a designated hitter before his contract runs out.

Beyond that, both Verlander and Cabrera have full no-trade protection, so either would need to sign off on any possible move. That may not be the biggest obstacle, though, given that any team which could afford one of them would likely have a real chance of winning a World Series.

The other question rival officials ask is whether the Tigers would be better off keeping both of their stars. The long-term financial impact could be bad, but the Tigers might have a better chance of winning in 2017 with both of them than they would anytime in the next five to six years if they trade them.

“That [American League Central] division is winnable,” said one National League scout who follows it closely.

A Central Division team has played in the World Series each of the last three years and four of the last five, but none of the teams have the financial firepower present in baseball’s other five divisions. The Tigers have had the division’s highest payroll eight of the last nine years (2011 is the exception, with both the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins spending more).

Without all of that money to spend, the Tigers would have had to trade Cabrera and Verlander long before this or watch them leave as free agents. As it was, they kept both stars, giving them deals that seemed to make them Tigers for life.

It still could turn out that way. Cabrera and/or Verlander could enforce their no-trade rights and decide to stay. The Tigers could decide the offers they get aren’t strong enough to justify making a trade.

But keeping both stars now could well mean living with both of those big contracts all the way to the end. As it stands now, the Tigers have five players signed for $122.125 million in 2018 (Cabrera, Verlander, Martinez, Upton and Jordan Zimmermann) and four players signed for $105.125 million in 2019 (all but Martinez).

Even if those players all perform at high levels, it will be increasingly tough to build a winner around them if the overall payroll is going to drop.

“It’s going to collapse on itself,” the National League scout said.

The Tigers’ hope is they can keep that from happening by acting now. The hope is they haven’t waited too long already.

Most teams want to keep their stars right to the end, but few actually do. Of the 34 players on the Hall of Fame ballot announced last week, just two (Jorge Posada and Edgar Martinez) played their entire careers for the teams that originally signed them.

Verlander twice gave up a chance at free agency with the idea he would someday be able to say the same thing. Cabrera, traded from the Marlins to the Tigers when he was 24, twice gave up a chance at free agency with the idea he wouldn’t go anywhere else.

They committed to the Tigers, and the Tigers committed to them.

Whether they end up moving or not, this is the winter when commitment gets tested.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Andrew McCutchen Is the Forgotten Superstar on the MLB Trade Market

There’s a club of major league superstars so exclusive it has just two members.

To get in requires a number of recent top-five finishes in Most Valuable Player voting. One year won’t do—sorry, Bryce Harper—and neither will two. You might get there soon, Manny Machado, but not just yet.

No, to get into this most exclusive club will take at least four years of top-five finishes, all in the last five seasons.

Mike Trout is in, obviously. And less obviously, so is Andrew McCutchen.

The Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder had a bad year in 2016. There’s no question about that. His offense dropped off, his baserunning wasn’t great and his defense in center field was the worst in the game by some measures.

He wasn’t an MVP this year. He wasn’t an MVP candidate.

He certainly isn’t Mike Trout.

But McCutchen shouldn’t be forgotten, not in a winter when the Pirates are willing to listen to trade offers for a guy an acquiring team would control for the next two years. There just aren’t many guys out there who can do what he has already done. 

If McCutchen is anything close to the perennial MVP candidate he was from 2012 to 2015 (including his MVP-winning season in 2013), then he’s a bargain at $14 million next year. If he’s the player he was for much of 2016, he’s a drag on your payroll at any price.

“He’s going to come to camp and be Andrew McCutchen again,” Neal Huntington predicted to Bleacher Report last week.

Huntington is hardly a neutral observer. He’s the Pirates general manager, which means he needs McCutchen‘s value to be high for a trade or his performance level to be high if the Pirates keep him.

“We don’t think it’s a coincidence we were really good when he was really good,” Huntington said.

He was the very symbol of the Pirates’ return to relevance, a first-round draft pick who emerged as a star just as the team was becoming a contender. The six-year, $51.5 million contract McCutchen signed during spring training in 2012 was a strong signal from both the team and the player.

He’s available now because limited-budget teams like the Pirates can’t afford to offer big contracts that take players deep into their 30s. McCutchen turned 30 last month, and if that doesn’t make him old now, it means he will be old before his next contract runs out.

It’s the perfect time for a team like the Pirates to think about a trade—or it would be if McCutchen were coming off anything but the worst season of his career. But that might make it the perfect time to acquire him if he’s about to bounce back.

He was bad enough in 2016 to make you wonder if age is already catching up with him. He was bad enough to make you wonder if the injuries that contributed to his drop-off were even worse than he and the Pirates admitted, or if he had issues with manager Clint Hurdle.

“He didn’t play with that Andrew McCutchen edge,” said one American League scout who has followed his career. “Maybe he just needs to get out of there and get some new scenery—unless there’s some long-term medical issue. He has been banged up.”

“His body language wasn’t the same,” said another scout, who works for a National League team. “Was it him getting older or being hurt? This guy played like his hair was on fire before.”

Huntington agreed a hand injury was a factor in McCutchen starting so slow in 2016, but he shot down rumors there could be a lingering knee issue.

“No player is the same at 30 as he was at 25, but he has no long-term health issues at all,” Huntington said.

Huntington pointed to McCutchen‘s stronger performance at the end of the season. His walk-to-strikeout ratio got much better in the final two months, and Huntington said better bat speed led to McCutchen handling high-velocity pitching better as the year went on.

The National League scout said the body language also improved.

“I saw more energy later in the year,” he said.

Another American League scout saw similar improvement and called it a possible sign McCutchen could return to star status.

“He can be a star again,” the scout said. “But I doubt he can be a superstar, because the speed element is somewhat gone.”

Observers generally agree McCutchen has lost a step, cutting down on his ability to steal bases and turning an above-average center fielder into one who is average or worse.

The Pirates believe the defensive metrics are somewhat unfair. Huntington said the Pirates asked McCutchen to play shallower to cut off base hits in front of him, and when pitchers failed to execute, it resulted in him allowing balls to get past him.

But Huntington also admitted the Pirates will consider changing their outfield alignment if McCutchen is back in 2017, with Starling Marte possibly taking over in center field and McCutchen taking a corner spot.

The same metric that gave McCutchen a minus-28 in defensive runs saved, per FanGraphs (the worst by a full-time center fielder since Matt Kemp in 2010), had Marte as plus-19 in left field.

Kemp is one example of a star rebounding from a bad season. He wasn’t good offensively (by his standards) or defensively in 2010, but he bounced back so well he finished second in MVP voting in 2011. Then again, he was only 26.

McCutchen is 30, old enough to make you wonder how many more good years he has left. Remember, though, a team trading for him this winter should mainly be concerned that he has a good 2017-18 remaining.

“I personally think he’s got a couple years,” the National League scout said.

Not surprisingly, McCutchen agrees. Before the season ended, he told Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review he knows he needs to do better.

“I’ve got to prove—not to [fans] but to the team and to ownership—that I’m able to play out my career at a high level,” McCutchen said. “I didn’t do that this year. I didn’t play at my best level.”

We’ve seen McCutchen at his best level. Few players in the game ever reach that level.

That shouldn’t be forgotten.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Rick Porcello Is Worthy of Cy Young, but How Did Justin Verlander Lose?

Justin Verlander won the popular vote, which is worth about as much this week as it was last week.

There’s a system for these elections, and we all have to come together and accept Rick Porcello as our 2016 American League Cy Young winner. Hey, it’s not that bad.

Porcello had a Cy-worthy season, especially if you’re one of those who still believe a starting pitcher’s goal every time out is to try to win the game. Porcello had 22 of those much-derided but oh-so-valuable wins, and in his 20 starts from June 18 to the end of the season, his Boston Red Sox went 17-3.

If you’re looking for reasons the Red Sox won the AL East after two years finishing in last place, their ability to win nearly every game Porcello started for three-plus months figures prominently on the list.

And if you’re looking for reasons Porcello came out on top when the Cy Young Award was handed out Wednesday night, well, it’s hard not to look at the voting process. It’s hard to explain that while nearly half the voters put Verlander atop their ballot (14 of 30, as opposed to just eight for Porcello), most of the other half had him well down the list or out of the top five altogether.

If you’re going to take this year’s voting as a sign more voters believe in wins—Porcello and National League winner Max Scherzer led the two leagues in that much-maligned category—you have to acknowledge Porcello won mostly because a large majority of voters had him as their second choice.

Porcello won because he received 18 second-place votes, to only two for Verlander. With seven points for every first-place vote and four points for each second-place vote, Porcello had a commanding lead even before we get to the fact two writers both left Verlander off their five-pitcher ballot.

It’s a little curious the two who didn’t vote for Verlander (Fred Goodall of the Associated Press and Bill Chastain of both cover the Tampa Bay Rays, especially since in his only 2016 start against the Rays, Verlander allowed one earned run in seven innings. Maybe they were expecting a no-hitter, or maybe they were just impressed by Porcello going 5-0 in six starts against the Rays this year.

For the record, if Goodall and Chastain had put Verlander fourth or fifth, he still would have lost.

But hey, what’s a contested election without a bit of controversy in Florida?

And what’s a contested election in 2016 without celebrity involvement, with a little salty language mixed in? Kate Upton, Verlander’s fiancee, reacted to the vote with this tweet (Warning: NSFW language):

Verlander’s younger brother Ben, a minor league outfielder with the Detroit Tigers, tweeted the same chart Justin used before the results came out:

Justin himself is vacationing in Italy, which may be the reason he didn’t tweet a reaction himself. Besides that, he and Porcello were teammates for six seasons with the Tigers; don’t expect angry words between these two top candidates.

“Justin had a great year,” Porcello said on a conference call. “I learned a lot from him.”

They’re not alike as pitchers, with Verlander’s power showing in his big edge in strikeouts (254-189). Porcello relies more on his sinker and getting ground balls.

There are differences off the field, too, and not just because Verlander has become more of a celebrity himself. While Verlander can discuss his numbers and the relative merits of all the Cy Young candidates, Porcello said he barely thought about the award until the finalists were announced last week.

“I just figured whatever’s going to happen is going to happen,” Porcello said.

What happened was all those wins helped Porcello get a few first-place votes and a ton of second-place votes, and it ultimately helped him win an award Verlander took going away in 2011.

“I do believe there are a lot of things [about wins and losses] you can’t control, but I also believe there are a lot of things you can control,” Porcello said. “There’s a way to go out and pitch to win a game, and there’s a way to go out and pitch not to lose a game.”

He went on to talk about pitching aggressively, and how that can help a team play better defense and perhaps even get off the field and get back to scoring runs. Whether you agree with him or not, it’s clear Porcello (only 32 walks in 223 innings) pitched aggressively this season.

He pitched confidently, and he pitched like a winner. He pitched like a Cy Young winner, and regardless of whether you like the election process or agree with the result, he is a worthy winner.

As for anyone who wants to say Verlander was even more worthy, fine. But in this race, finishing second isn’t all that bad.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Final B/R Predictions for All Major 2016 MLB Award Winners

From now on, I’m calling these the Mike Trout predictions, because for five years running, that’s basically what they have been.

Oh, there’s an argument every now and then about the Rookie of the Year or the Manager of the Year. The Cy Young Award winners aren’t easy to figure in either league this year.

But let’s face it. Nothing gets an awards discussion going like the Trout question. For five straight years, he has arguably been the best player in the game. For five straight years, he has led the American League in WAR, whether you prefer the version or the FanGraphs version.

For three of those years, someone else was the AL Most Valuable Player, as voted by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Thursday, we’ll find out if it becomes four out of five.

This isn’t a repeat of Trout vs. Cabrera, because no one won the Triple Crown, as Miguel Cabrera did in 2012. There wasn’t an obvious anti-Trout this year. But because Trout’s Los Angeles Angels were 10 games out of first place by June 7 and only fell further behind, there were legitimate reasons for many not to vote for him.

Do I think he’ll win? I’ll get to that, but first let’s go through the other awards to be handed out this week.

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Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey Aim to Accelerate Braves’ Promising Rebuild

Bartolo Colon was a 20-year-old kid in 1994, already a promising prospect but too young and raw to help a Cleveland Indians team that was ready to win.

A general manager named John Hart signed a soon-to-be 40-year-old pitcher named Dennis Martinez. A year later, with Martinez and 36-year-old Orel Hershiser in the rotation, the Indians were playing the Atlanta Braves in the World Series.

Maybe you’ve forgotten, but it seems John Hart hasn’t.

He’s the president of baseball operations for the Braves now, with a bunch of promising young pitching prospects not yet ready to support a rapidly improving lineup. And just as he signed Martinez, Jack Morris and Hershiser two decades ago in Cleveland, his Braves have signed 42-year-old R.A. Dickey and the now-43-year-old Colon the last two days.

Colon agreed to terms on a one-year, $12.5 million contract Friday, as first reported by Mark Bowman of While he and Dickey may not be joining a Braves team ready to return to the World Series, they should push the Braves another step towards respectability—and maybe even towards contention.

“It’s a pretty good lineup we’re running out there,” manager Brian Snitker said during a three-game sweep in New York in September. “When we pitch, we win. We’re a pretty good team when we pitch.”

The Braves aren’t the Indians of the mid-’90s, but they led the major leagues in runs scored for the final month of the season. They have an established star in Freddie Freeman and a star on the rise in shortstop Dansby Swanson.

The rebuilding program begun by Hart and general manager John Coppolella looks promising, much more than it did a year ago at this time. The Braves move into their new ballpark in April, and even if it turns out they’re not ready to compete with the Mets and Washington Nationals at the top of the National League East, they should at least be fun to watch.

Colon, of course, became one of the game’s best characters during his three seasons with the Mets. He pitched, fielded and even hit, with a memorable home run last May in San Diego.

The Braves would settle for seeing him make the 33 starts and pitch the 191.2 innings he did for the Mets in 2016. They’d hope for close to the same from Dickey, who won a Cy Young Award with the Mets in 2012 and spent the last four seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays.

As Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweeted, Dickey’s 195 starts over the last six years are tied for the sixth-most in the major leagues, while Colon’s 175 starts over that span rank 19th.

Another Sherman tweet:

He’s right. The Braves aren’t done. They could still improve a rotation that for now includes ace Julio Teheran, Colon, Dickey and Mike Foltynewicz, with one spot open. They could still improve their lineup, possibly with a trade to bring back catcher Brian McCann from the New York Yankees.

And they still figure to be significantly better in 2018 and beyond, with Swanson set to be joined by Ozzie Albies in the middle of the infield and with young pitching on the way.

Five of the six Braves who made 10 or more starts in 2016 are 25 or younger. Eight of the top 12 Braves minor league prospects, as ranked by, are pitchers.

The issue Hart and Coppolella faced was too many of those guys who started games this past year weren’t ready, and too many of those top prospects aren’t yet ready to advance.

“We’re looking for guys to suck up innings so that we don’t have to kill our bullpen,” Coppolella told reporters, including‘s Bowman, when he announced the Dickey signing. “We’ve been real transparent about what it is we want to do: add guys that can eat innings on short-term deals.”

Short-term deals were important, because the Braves believe some of those prospects will be ready to contribute soon. Eating innings was important, because the Braves had 42 games in 2016 where their starter didn’t finish the fifth.

Realistically, Colon and Dickey are place-holders, two aging pitchers who make the Braves more presentable while a young team gets better around them.

But who knows? Maybe what the Braves hitters did in September was a sign of what they can do next summer. Maybe the two old former Cy Young winners can do something like those former Cy Young winners Hart signed all those years ago in Cleveland.

In 1995, the year he turned 41, Martinez won 12 games with a 3.08 ERA. He went on to pitch until he was 44, retiring after a final season with the Braves. He finished with 245 wins, the most by a pitcher born in Latin America.

Colon, born in the Dominican Republic, has 233 wins. He ranks third for now, behind Martinez (born in Nicaragua) and Juan Marichal (born in the Dominican), who has 243.

If he stays healthy, the Braves can give him enough starts and probably enough runs to chase the record. He and Dickey can give their rebuilding program a boost.

John Hart has seen it happen before.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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What Is Mets’ Backup Plan to Save Offense If Yoenis Cespedes Leaves NY?

To get Yoenis Cespedes in 2015, the New York Mets had to give up the guy who will probably be the American League‘s Rookie of the Year (Michael Fulmer). To keep Cespedes in 2016, the Mets had to offer him a three-year contract that also allowed him to make $27.5 million in one year and become a free agent.

The first price was high. The second price might have been higher.

The price for 2017 and beyond will almost certainly be higher still.

And what about the price if they allow him to walk away? That could be the highest price of all.

“They’re going to keep him,” an American League scout who closely follows the Mets said Wednesday.

Yes, I told him, I understand. The idea here is to come up with a plan for what to do if they don’t.

“They’re going to sign him,” he repeated, not with the confidence of owning inside information but simply with the belief in what makes sense.

I get it, and I get why general manager Sandy Alderson told reporters (including Adam Rubin of he wants an answer to the Cespedes question before the Dec. 5-8 winter meetings. As well as waiting worked out for the Mets last winter—they re-signed Cespedes January 26 after he found the market softer than expected—waiting would be a bad strategy this time around.

Cespedes felt like more of luxury a year ago, when the Mets were coming off a World Series. He feels like more of a necessity this time, although that mainly means if he does leave, there’s a real necessity to find someone to fill his spot.

Quite simply, if the Mets’ pitching gets healthy and Cespedes returns to the lineup, this team would have a chance to return to the World Series. With no Cespedes and no ready replacement, the Mets might not have enough offense to even return to the postseason.

They were barely a .500 team when he showed up in 2015 before going on a 38-22 run that began the day of the trade. They were 72-52 with Cespedes in the lineup in 2016 and just 15-21 in games he didn’t start.

He drove in 24 more runs than anyone else on the roster and was 24 times the offensive presence of anyone else they could put in the middle of the lineup.

There’s more.

“Say what you want about Cespedes, he has charisma,” the scout said. “Nobody else on that team has it.”

No position players, anyway.

Still, that hardly means the Mets will sign him at any price. That hardly means they should sign him at any price.

So we’re back at the original question of how to replace him if he leaves, with the caveat that this time, the answer can’t be there’s no way they can let him leave.

The easiest way would be to sign another free agent instead, and James Wagner of the New York Times tweeted from the general managers’ meetings about one possibility:

Jose Bautista makes some sense, especially since Mets executive J.P. Ricciardi traded for him as general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. He has power, and he’s right-handed—an important consideration for a Mets team that leans lefty.

He’s also 36, trending down and still hoping for a big contract.

Edwin Encarnacion, Bautista’s Blue Jays teammate, is also a free agent. But he fits best at first base, which would require the Mets giving up on Lucas Duda, or at designated hitter, which would require them moving to the American League.

The trade market might be a better answer, even though it would require Alderson to do something he has so far resisted: trading one of his big starting pitchers. Trading a pitcher this winter would be complicated, because the Mets wouldn’t deal Noah Syndergaard, and every other top starter they have will be recovering from some kind of surgery.

Trading Matt Harvey would make the most sense. He has two years left before free agency, and the Mets fully expect him to leave. His health is a factor, though. Harvey’s surgery was to correct thoracic outlet syndrome, and while he’s said to be making a full recovery, it’s unclear how confident other teams will be that he comes all the way back.

The Mets would prefer to keep Jacob deGrom, who underwent surgery in September to address an ulnar nerve issue. But teams would likely view him as a safer bet to come back strong, so he could be a more likely choice to net them the type of hitter they need.

Who would that be? It’s always hard to read the trade market this early in the offseason, with only suggestions about who is available and how much the teams would want in return.

To truly replace Cespedes, the Mets must think big, which means asking about players like Andrew McCutchen and Miguel Cabrera. And that means being open to trading not just Harvey or deGrom, but also top prospect Amed Rosario.

McCutchen is coming off his worst season, and he’s eligible for free agency after next season. Position-wise, though, he’s the best fit, because he can play center field. Cabrera plays first base, turns 34 in April and has a huge contract that runs until he’s 40, with a full no-trade clause. But he might be the biggest lineup-changer in baseball.

McCutchen’s Pittsburgh Pirates and Cabrera’s Detroit Tigers both seem open to listening to trade offers this winter. It’s still hard to know how willing the Tigers would be to moving Cabrera; they could also deal outfielder J.D. Martinez, who could be of interest but is not in Cabrera’s class as a lineup force.

Ryan Braun could be a more realistic option, but the rebuilding Milwaukee Brewers would likely want mostly young players in return. Rival scouts who follow the Mets’ farm system say there’s not much of great value beyond Rosario, although 23-year-old Robert Gsellman’s 2016 big league debut could make him attractive.

If they’re willing to offer Harvey and/or deGrom, the Mets may have plenty of options on a winter market devoid of top free-agent starting pitchers. Either one could be a fit for teams like the Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs or Boston Red Sox, all of which have deep lineups.

Alderson’s reticence to trade a starter is understandable, because the Mets rely so heavily on their pitching. They’ll go to spring training with some concerns about Harvey and deGrom, but also about Steven Matz (who had shoulder issues and surgery to remove a bone chip from his elbow) and Zack Wheeler (still recovering from a 2014 Tommy John surgery).

“If they keep the pitching healthy, they might be able to win a lot of games 2-1,” a National League scout said.

If they don’t re-sign Cespedes or find an adequate replacement, they might need to win all their games 2-1. But how do they replace him?

“They’re going to keep him,” the first scout predicted again.

When you look at the alternatives, it’s easy to understand why they should.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Gleyber Torres’ Fall Breakout Shows Yankees Their Superstar of the Future

Nolan Arenado caught scouts’ eyes in the Arizona Fall League when he was 20 years old. So did Derek Jeter, Corey Seager and Francisco Lindor.

Gleyber Torres is 19.

“He’s playing against older guys,” Carl Moesche of the Major League Scouting Bureau said in an interview on Saturday on MLB Network. “And he’s not intimidated.”

Torres is the youngest player in baseball’s well-respected fall development league. As of Monday, his 1.026 OPS ranked third-highest in the league. In 12 games, he had more than twice as many walks (11) as strikeouts (five), with three home runs.

“The bat’s going to play,” a National League scout said.

As dangerous as it is to declare prospects to be future superstars, the current trend has young players starring earlier than ever. Five of the nine players in the Chicago Cubs‘ World Series Game 7 lineup were 24 or younger, and the Cleveland Indians‘ best hitter through the postseason was the 22-year-old Lindor.

It’s enough to persuade every other team searching for young stars of its own, just as the New York Yankees did when they demanded Torres as the key part of the July 25 deal that sent Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs.

As Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told George A. King III of the New York Post, Torres is “someone you can dream on.”

And as the Cubs were realizing a dream by winning a World Series with Chapman’s help, Torres was in Arizona, continuing to justify Cashman‘s faith. The Cubs have no reason to regret giving him up, not with a trophy to show for it, but the Yankees have even more reason to believe their side of the deal will play out well, too.

“I saw [Torres] in [Class-A] Tampa and in Arizona,” another National League scout said. “He’s going to hit in the 2-hole or 5-hole, and he’s good defensively, too. Very instinctive. I like him a lot.”

The Arizona Fall League is about dreams, and it’s never a perfect indicator of future success. Kris Bryant was an Arizona Fall League MVP (2013 at age 21), but so was Chris McGuiness, now out of baseball after 10 major league games.

And while Torres has been impressive at the plate, he also has three errors and has at least one scout concerned that he won’t be able to stick at shortstop.

“Defensively, he’s just OK,” the scout said. “He has good arm strength, but he’s erratic. He could end up moving to second base or maybe even third. He’s not terrible defensively, but he’s not [Yankees shortstop] Didi Gregorius.”

The same scout said Torres doesn’t run as well as you might expect, but even after the critiques, he went back to how good of a hitter he expects Torres to be.

“The one thing he can really do is hit,” the scout said. “He centers the ball, and he drives it.”

Gregorius is just 26 years old, and the Yankees have another young and touted middle infield prospect in 21-year-old Jorge Mateo. It’s too early to know if Torres will remain at shortstop and become the Yankees’ answer to Lindor or Seager or Carlos Correa, but his skills with the bat should enable him to be a key part of their future lineup.

Torres’ offensive numbers so far in Arizona are impressive because of his age and relative lack of experience. His third home run was against Chris Ellis, a 24-year-old Atlanta Braves right-hander who spent most of the 2016 season in Double-A.

One scout who goes to Arizona every fall said the pitching was significantly better in the league this year.

Torres, who signed with the Cubs for $1.7 million at age 16, according to Jesse Sanchez of (via colleague Adam Berry), is accustomed to facing older players. The Cubs moved him to High-A Myrtle Beach at the end of the 2015 season and started him there again in 2016. He was one of the youngest players in the Florida State League when the Yankees sent him to Tampa after the trade.

“Mature bat for a young kid,” a scout said.

“Just keep him challenged,” another said.

The challenge for the Yankees will be sticking to their plan of developing a strong, young core, even if it takes longer than they would like. Scouts in Arizona have also been impressed by Miguel Andujar, a 21-year-old third baseman who is one of Torres’ teammates at Scottsdale.

“He has great wrist action and big power,” one scout said. “I think he can be their everyday third baseman by 2018.”

If Torres and Andujar move quickly from the fall league to the Bronx, they’ll only be following a path Jeter laid two decades ago and one Gary Sanchez followed much more recently. Sanchez played in last year’s Fall Stars Game and led the league in home runs before quickly becoming a hit himself when the Yankees called him up in August.

Sanchez turns 24 on December 2, which makes him young by major league standards but almost exactly four years older than Torres, who will turn 20 on December 13.

By season’s end, Sanchez was the Yankees’ best player. Perhaps he will be for years to come.

Or maybe it will be the young shortstop, the kid already starring in the fall league before he even turns 20.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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New Diamondbacks Skipper Torey Lovullo Fits Prototype of Modern MLB Manager

Managers matter, and anyone who doesn’t think so must have missed the World Series.

No, this isn’t about whether Joe Maddon misused his bullpen or about whether Terry Francona could have done anything more to help the Cleveland Indians close out a series they led three games to one.

This isn’t about any decision Maddon or Francona made this week or last. It’s about the decision the Chicago Cubs made two years ago to hire Maddon and the one the Indians made two years earlier to bring in Franconadecisions that paid off and brought both teams to the World Series this year.

It’s about the decision the Arizona Diamondbacks made Friday to hire Torey Lovullo, who has many of the same abilities that make Maddon and Francona two of the best managers in baseball. Like them, he not only understands the game, but also understands the culture, and more than that, he understands dealing with people.

Who knows, maybe it even helps to have a connection with the Boston Red Sox, the team Lovullo served for the last four seasons as John Farrell’s bench coach. Francona managed the Red Sox, and Maddon interviewed there and was runner-up when Francona got the job. Even Dave Roberts, a first-year hit as the Los Angeles Dodgers manager, was previously best known for his part in the Sox’s curse-breaking run to the 2004 World Series title.

Roberts and Lovullo have other similarities, sharing an alma mater. (Although, the 51-year-old Lovullo played at UCLA nearly a decade before the 44-year-old Roberts.) Both have an appreciation of the numbers that play such an important part in the modern game, and both have the ability to connect with anyone they meet.

“Dave makes everyone he talks to feel like they’re his best friend, and it’s genuine,” Dodgers first base coach George Lombard said in September.

Lovullo is like that, too.

It’s why he was able to fit in so seamlessly as the acting Red Sox manager late last season, when Farrell left the team for cancer treatment. Lovullo handled a touchy situation with such ease that he instantly went to the top of the list of managerial candidates.

Because Farrell’s health status remained somewhat uncertain when the season ended, Red Sox general manager Dave Dombrowski worked out a deal where Lovullo would agree to stay on in Boston for another year, working as the bench coach as long as Farrell was able to return.

Farrell returned, the Red Sox won the American League East and Lovullo’s star didn’t dim. In fact, when the Diamondbacks hired Mike Hazen to run their front office, Lovullo immediately became the leading candidate to join him as manager.

Hazen and Lovullo were close in Boston, where Hazen worked under Ben Cherington and then under Dombrowski. They go back further than that, back to when Hazen worked in the Indians front office and Lovullo was just getting started as a minor league manager.

Lovullo spent 10 seasons managing in the minors, experience that doesn’t guarantee big league success (Ryne Sandberg spent plenty of time in the minors, too) but can’t hurt. (Both Maddon and Francona did it, too.)

What matters most, of course, is whether Lovullo will be given players capable of doing what Maddon’s Cubs or Francona’s Indians did. He starts with a team that was one of baseball’s biggest underachievers in 2016, a team that had championship aspirations but instead lost 93 games.

Still, the Diamondbacks have a perennial MVP candidate in Paul Goldschmidt and a Cy Young winner in Zack Greinke. They have A.J. Pollock, whose injury on the eve of Opening Day helped sink the 2016 season.

It would be nice if they had Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson, too, but the Shelby Miller trade with the Atlanta Braves turned out to be the worst move of last winter.

It’s not the best of situations, especially with a history of ownership intervention and limitations on payroll. But ownership seems committed—for now, anyway—to the new front office. There’s no doubt Hazen will be committed to Lovullo.

He’ll walk in facing a challenge, but every new manager does. Maddon came to Chicago with a big budget and plenty of young talent on the way, but he took over a team that had five straight losing seasons and a century of failure. Francona came to Cleveland with some nice talent beginning to develop, but he took over a team with a limited budget coming off a 94-loss season.

In his first year with the Cubs, Maddon won the NL Wild Card and Manager of the Year award. In his first year with the Indians, Francona did the same in the AL.

Neither one has had a losing season since.

Both came in and changed the culture completely. Talk to anyone in Chicago or anyone in Cleveland, and you’ll hear volumes about the difference the manager made.

Can Lovullo do the same in Arizona? We’ll see, but I think he can.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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