Wrigley Weekly Wrap-up

Cactus home-opening win

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The defending World Series champion Cubs displayed their trophy on the field before the game, and the sellout crowd of 14,929 at Sloan Park gave them a standing ovation as they took the field for the Cactus League opener against the Athletics. Matt Joyce and No. 4 A’s prospect Matt Chapman almost spoiled the day as both hit home runs for the A’s but Minor Leaguer Charcer Burks smacked a tie-breaking leadoff shot in the seventh to lift the Cubs to a 4-3 victory on Saturday. “It was different,” Cubs starter Mike Montgomery said of the crowd. “I’ve been in a few Spring Trainings now, and it was definitely a different experience. It was hard to control the adrenaline today a little bit. Usually in spring, it’s more laid back. Today, there was a lot of energy out there.” Montgomery, who could share the Cubs’ fifth-starter spot with Brett Anderson, walked two and struck out two in one inning, throwing 24 pitches. “It felt good to get it out of the way, first time facing hitters this spring,” Montgomery said. “I’ve definitely got some stuff to work on. I was a little erratic, and that’s just a timing thing.” Addison Russell walked to open the Cubs’ second, and one out later, he reached third on Jon Jay’s double. Both scored on Matt Szczur’s single. Ian Happ, ranked No. 2 on MLBPipeline.com’s list of Cubs prospects, followed with a double and Szczur tallied on Jason Heyward’s groundout for a 3-0 lead, chasing A’s starter Jesse Hahn.

Hahn was charged with three runs on four hits and one walk in 1 2/3 innings. Raul Alcantara pitched the third and retired the side in order. Oakland tied the game in the fourth against Jose Rosario as Joyce led off with a home run and Chapman added a two-run shot.

In Scottsdale, Jae-gyun Hwang lined a three-run homer in the sixth inning Saturday to seal the Giants’ 8-6 Cactus League win Saturday over a split squad of Cubs. The Giants broke a 3-3 tie in the sixth inning as Orlando Calixte singled, advanced to second base on Tim Federowicz’s walk and scored on Austin Slater’s opposite-field single to right. Up came Hwang, a non-roster invitee who hit 27 homers last year in Korea. Hwang, who struck out in both of his plate appearances in Friday’s spring opener against Cincinnati, also found the opposite field, clearing the wall in right with his drive off Jim Henderson. Javier Baez paced the Cubs’ offense early in the game, singling and scoring on Jeimer Candelario’s first-inning triple before doubling home a fifth-inning run. Kyle Schwarber, making his first appearance in left field since tearing two ligaments in his left knee during the third game of the 2016 regular season, played four innings and twice grounded out to second base. Trailing, 3-0, the Giants began their comeback with three fifth-inning runs. Justin Ruggiano started the comeback by launching a RBI double and scoring.

Making Progress 

Both Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward had pleasing returns to action in their Cactus League debuts. Schwarber played outfield for the first time since April 7th while Heyward said Saturday’s game against the Oakland Athletics was a good starting point after spending the offseason working on his swing. Schwarber and Heyward were the leadoff batters in the Cubs’ respective split-squad games. In Scottsdale, Schwarber started in left field against the San Francisco Giants, the first time in the outfield since he tore two ligaments in his left knee in a freak collision with Dexter Fowler last season. Schwarber was the designated hitter in the World Series but wasn’t cleared to play outfield at that time. Against the Giants on Saturday, he faced Matt Cain and Mark Melancon and went 0-for-2, and didn’t have a single ball hit to him in the outfield. “It felt good being out there, just getting around on the grass and seeing some pitches and everything,” Schwarber said.

“I have so much confidence in him,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “The leg is good, he runs better than you think, even with the brace on. He runs routes, he throws well. He’s going to surprise people. I think he’s going to be a really good outfielder.” Schwarber is expected to be the Cubs’ leadoff man, although he’s not exactly a speedy guy. “What does a leadoff hitter look like anymore?” Maddon said. “There aren’t many of those high-on-base-percentage basestealing types. Guys don’t want to run as much because it beats their bodies up. It’s not easy to be a 50-bag guy or more because of what it does to your legs, your wrist, your hands. You’ll see, on occasion, guys who will go, but not like [Lou] Brock or [Maury] Wills or [Tim] Raines or guys who went all the time.”

Heyward obviously has the baserunning skills to be a good leadoff man, but we all know he struggled at the plate last season, batting .230 in his first year with the Cubs. On Saturday, he went 0-for-3, driving in a run with a groundout in the second. He was encouraged. “The only thing to do now is go play and react to that,” Heyward said of his long offseason. “It’s a good thing to have a clear mind doing that. Today was a good starting point. I swung at strikes, swung at good pitches, got a runner home. It’s good at-bats to take into the next day.” Heyward flied out to center in the first and fifth, and felt those were good misses instead of rolling over on the ball and grounding out. He knows he can make adjustments from there. As far as he’s concerned, his struggles are over. “It’s good to have a clear mind going into this [season],” Heyward said. “I feel I’m playing baseball again.”

ICYMI

baez1280a_zs2qy7lg_g4yidic2Javier Baez has a new tattoo on his left shoulder to celebrate his first World Series championship. The tattoo was completed Thursday night, and features the trophy, the year, the Major League Baseball logo, and “World Series Champions” plus part of the Cubs’ logo. It’s just the start of what Baez has planned for his left arm. “When my whole arm is finished, it’s going to make more sense,” he said. “It looks really nice but it’s there, alone. I’ve got another thing [planned] for my arm.” Baez said the tattoos to come will feature his family. He has the image of his late sister, Noely, on his right shoulder, and that arm is completely covered. But what if the Cubs win another championship? “I still have my legs and my back,” he said.

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Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have revived their “Bryzzo” campaign. Last year, the two Cubs were filmed in an office for the souvenir company, and this year, they got some help. Baez and Addison Russell were included, answering phones as part of the company’s expansion. Retired catcher David Ross is an intern for the pair, and Ben Zobrist joins the fun with a sales pitch. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder even wrote a jingle. Stay tuned for that.

Pedro+Strop+Chicago+Cubs+Victory+Celebration+66PlhYpfAjIl.jpgThe Cubs gave reliever Pedro Strop a contract extension Friday through 2018 with a club option for ’19. Earlier this month, the sides agreed to a $5.5 million contract for 2017. The extension will pay Strop $5.85 million in ’18 and there is a club option for $6.25 million for ’19. The sides had talked about a one-year number during the arbitration process. “During that process, it was clear there was some interest on both sides in extending this relationship,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. Strop tore the left meniscus in his knee in early August and returned September 23rd. He compiled a 2.85 ERA over 47 1/3 innings in 54 games. The right-hander would have been a free agent after this season. “Pedro has been fantastic for us,” Hoyer said. “He’s had three excellent seasons for us, he’s a great teammate, everyone likes being around him. It’s exciting that he wants to be a Cub after this year. He wanted to stay here, he loves it here and we feel the same.” “The big thing with ‘Stroppy’ for me is to continue to work on improved fastball command,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “There’s still another level of him being better than he is. It’s such a perfect fit for us. He’s a perfect fit for any team. We’re fortunate to have him. Everytime you see the guy, he’s in a good mood. He’s just a good baseball player.” Strop didn’t want to pitch anywhere else. “They understand I love this team and I feel a part of this and I love the fans and I love the city of Chicago,” Strop said. “I’m real glad they made it happen.” Strop is one of the Cubs’ key setup pitchers, but wouldn’t mind closing someday. Actually, he’ll do whatever they ask. “We’ll do whatever it takes to take this team to another championship season and win,” Strop said. “I don’t care about roles; I like to win better than roles.”

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Gabriella Garcia @gabybabyyy

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A Brave New World in Atlanta

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Dansby Swanson (left) and Brandon Phillips (right) are expected to be the middle infield duo for the Braves in 2017.

With a group of new faces and a new stadium to call home, the Atlanta Braves look to take the next step in their long and arduous rebuild. 

Rebuilding is hard. There’s really no other way to describe the process.

Well, there are many ways to describe the emotions, feelings, anger, fleeting of optimism, and general ornery sentiment that fans of the rebuilding team experience over the course of the slow and debilitating process.

The rebuild is a tough pill to swallow for fans of every team in every sport. No one wants to do it. It takes time and patience, something that does not describe the typical sports fan. From baseball to hockey, football to basketball, lacrosse to racquetball, there isn’t a single sport where rebuilding isn’t a giant pain in the collective necks of the impacted fanbase.

I learned this the hard way while playing Madden ’17.

A video game that has spanned decades, Madden is the de facto sports game. It’s one of the highest-selling franchises in video game history, and it continues to grow every year. Since the early ’10s, Madden has included among many other game modes the option to run your favorite team as its head coach or owner.

As the team’s owner, you determine who will be the coach, what offensive and defensive schemes the team will run,  how much money you will sign and re-sign players for, even determine concession and ticket prices to maximize your team’s revenue stream. If you really dislike your team, you can relocate them to such exotic locations as London, Ireland, or Mexico City among other destinations.

The most frustrating thing about rebuilding a franchise is dealing with the salary cap, making sure you pay just enough money to veteran players while having enough room to sign newer, younger talents to your squad.

After six Super Bowls and four separate undefeated seasons for my fantasy version of the Chicago Bears, I realized that there is no such thing as a quick and easy rebuild for a team that wants to be competitive for more than just a fluke season here or there. You simply can’t buy yourself a title and expect to win for more than a handful of years. Eventually, you must purge your roster of key high-salary players in order to find the next best stars of your team’s future.

The same rule applies to baseball.

Luckily, teams don’t have to worry about a salary cap. But they do have to worry about budgets. We Cubs fans know a thing or two about this sort of deal.

Back in 2009 when Tom Ricketts purchased the team, he warned Cubs fans that the path to a World Series would take some unexpected twists and turns. There wouldn’t be a ticker-tape parade until the team acquired the right group of players. And before they could find those right players, they needed the right man leading the charge from the front office.

Enter Theo Epstein.

When Epstein and Jed Hoyer took the reigns in 2012, the former Red Sox front office team inherited a club that finished 25 games behind the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers in 2011. The roster was saturated with huge contracts tied to mostly aging veterans and washed out younger players. The average age of the 2011 Chicago Cubs roster was 29.5. They went 71-91.

The plunge to the bottom only continued in 2012, seeing the Cubs finish with their first 100-plus loss season since 1966. It was the low-point of the franchise, a season that made even the most battle-hardened Cubs fans question their loyalty.

Eventually, the losing began to pay off.

Right before the 2012 season, the Cubs acquired young first baseman Anthony Rizzo, a former Red Sox draft pick who battled cancer, from the San Diego Padres for starting pitcher Andrew Cashner. Thanks to the futile 2012 season, the Cubs were able to draft Kris Bryant in 2013. They later traded starting pitcher Scott Feldman to the Baltimore Orioles at the trade deadline for two struggling pitching prospects named Pedro Strop and Jake Arrieta.

A year later, the team sent then-ace Jeff Samardzija and free agent signee Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics for young shortstop prospect Addison Russell. In the draft, they selected Kyle Schwarber. When the Cubs bottomed out once more at 73-89 under first-year manager Rick Renteria, the team registered its fifth consecutive losing season under the Ricketts family. The minor leagues were teeming with young prospects like Jorge Soler and Javier Baez. There was room for improvement and, most importantly, room in the budget for more impact pieces.

Enter Joe Maddon and Jon Lester.

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All of that losing made more of this possible in the long run.

It was sheer luck that the Cubs were able to get Maddon to jump ship from the Tampa Bay Rays to Chicago. Thanks to an obscure contract clause set in motion by the departure of the Rays’ former general manager Andrew Friedman, Maddon could opt out of his deal with the Rays and become a free agent. He did so, and after a rendezvous with “Thed” (Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer), Maddon took the helm of the Cubs. In the following Winter Meetings, the Cubs signed free-agent pitcher Jon Lester, the Red Sox hero of the 2013 World Series who was scouted and drafted by Theo and Co. in Boston. From there, the chips began to fall into place.

The Cubs took a complete 180 in 2015, going 97-65 thanks in part to a Cy Young season from Jake Arrieta and a Rookie of the Year campaign for Kris Bryant. The Cubs won their first playoff game since 2003, defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Wild Card game 4-0. 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber drove in three of those four runs with a double and a towering home run into the Alleghany River. The other run was scored on a solo home run by leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler, acquired in the previous 0ffseason when the Cubs traded away third baseman Luis Valbuena.

The Cubs would later rout the hated St. Louis Cardinals four games to one in the NL Division Series before getting swept in the NLCS by the New York Mets.

And well, you know the rest of the story. The Cubs would sign Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and John Lackey in the offseason, acquire Aroldis Chapman before the trade deadline, win 103 games during the regular season, beat Jeff Samardzija and the San Francisco Giants in four games, defeat Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers to clinch their first pennant since 1945 in six games, and of course…The unthinkable over the Cleveland Indians in seven. The average age of the 2016 Chicago Cubs roster was 27.4. They went 103-58-1 en route to their first World Series championship in 108 years.

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It hurt like hell, but it was worth it.

So what does any of this have to do with the Atlanta Braves? Well, if they play their cards right, quite a lot.

Just five years ago, the Braves clinched a Wild Card spot in the 2012 playoffs. The next season, they won their first NL East Division title since the 2005 season. Respectively, Atlanta went 94-68 and 96-66, featuring a powerhouse of a lineup with Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Brian McCann, Andrelton Simmons, and Evan Gattis. In 2013, third baseman Chris Johnson was tasked with filling the shoes of the recently retired Chipper Jones, a Braves legend with a career batting average of .303 over 19 seasons. Johnson hit .321 and added 12 homers, the second most of his career to that point. Freeman led the team with 109 RBIs, a .396 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage of .501. Starting pitchers Julio Teheran, Kris Medlen, and Mike Minor won a combined 42 starts that season, while closer Craig Kimbrel notched a career-best 50 saves. The average age of that 2013 Braves roster was 26.8. Unfortunately, the Braves could only muster one playoff victory, a 4-3 win against the Dodgers in Game 2 of an NLDS they would eventually lose three games to one. They lost four out of the five games they appeared in over two consecutive seasons.

Despite their playoff futility, the Braves had the look of a perennial contender with solid young talent. Even with the departure of Brian McCann in the offseason, the Braves were strong favorites to win the division in 2014.

Then things went south.

Injuries and regression hit Atlanta with hurricane-force winds, sending the team spiraling to a 79-83 finish and the firing of general manager Frank Wren. John Hart would be named the interim GM until the team could find a suitable replacement. In the middle of this fracas of a season, the Braves announced quite suddenly that the team would be relocating to the suburbs of nearby Cobb County in 2017.

Since the announcement on November 11th of 2013, the Braves have taken a sledgehammer to its roster up and down their entire system. First, they traded young outfielder and hometown hero Jason Heyward along with reliever Jordan Walden to the St. Louis Cardinals for Shelby Miller and pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins. The team later unloaded Justin Upton to the San Diego Padres for four prospects, including young infielder Jace Peterson. They next dealt Evan Gattis to the Houston Astros for young pitching prospect Mike Foltynewicz and two others. Finally, one day before the start of the 2015 season, the Braves traded Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton Jr. to the Padres for center fielder Cameron Maybin, outfielder Carlos Quentin, a competitive balance draft pick, and pitching prospect Matt Wisler.

In about one year and five months, the Braves offloaded over $41 million in yearly salary. That doesn’t include the team buying out Dan Uggla and his $13 million in the middle of the season.

2015 will hopefully be known as the low-point for Atlanta. They inexplicably signed Atlanta native Nick Markakis to a four-year deal that will guarantee him $44 million, roughly $11 million per year. After that deal, the Braves went for cheaper options in free agency such as A.J. Pierzynski, Kelly Johnson, Jim Johnson, Jason Grilli, Todd Cunningham, and Adonis Garcia to fill out the roster. They went 67-95, finishing 23 games out of first place behind the New York Mets in 4th place ahead of only the 63-99 Philadelphia Phillies.

On the same day that they re-signed Pierzynski for the 2016 season, Atlanta dealt Andrelton Simmons to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for Erick Aybar and two prospects, Chris Ellis and Sean Newcomb. They soon dealt Cameron Maybin to the Detroit Tigers for young pitchers Ian Krol and Gabe Speier. These trades continued to bring in younger players for the minor league system.

Then, the Braves made a splash. No more than a couple of weeks after the Maybin deal, the Braves packaged Gabe Speier with Shelby Miller to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a package that included center fielder Ender Inciarte and shortstop Dansby Swanson, the recently-drafted number one overall pick of 2015. A Cobb County native, Swanson would fly through the minor leagues and eventually join the big club in mid-August of last year. He went 2-for-4 in his first Major League game. Unfortunately, the Braves fell that night 10-3 to the Minnesota Twins. The score was indicative of the 2016 season, as the Braves floundered to a 68-93 last place finish. Longtime manager Fredi Gonzalez was fired early in the season, leading to the eventual full-time promotion of current skipper Brian Snitker.  Along the way, Atlanta managed to acquire more veteran players such as Matt Kemp in a deal with the Padres around the deadline.

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An all too common crowd at a Braves game for the past few years. Atlanta looks to make crowds like this a thing of the past.

This past offseason saw Atlanta sign veteran starting pitchers R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon. They later added Jaime Garcia through a trade with the Cardinals in exchange for Chris Ellis and another prospect to round out the rotation. The team also reunited with Kris Medlen and Jordan Walden with a pair of minor league deals and invitations to spring training. The Braves once again acquired an Atlanta-area native, trading for All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips along with $13 million from the Cincinnati Reds.

It remains unclear what the Braves will do with last year’s starting second baseman in Jace Peterson, but with Swanson at shortstop and another middle infield prospect Ozzie Albies waiting in the wings, Peterson’s days in Atlanta may be numbered.

Either way, the Braves are in unfamiliar territory. A franchise that, in terms of recent history, hasn’t suffered nearly as much as other teams in baseball, the Braves aren’t in a position to seriously compete. Though no one from the team will bluntly admit it, they’re hoping to maybe scratch .500, or at least 10-15 games below. Those aren’t unrealistic expectations for a team with many over-the-hill veterans and budding prospects. The trick will be integrating all of their prospects gradually over the season while not rushing players along just to get some cheap thrills from the fanbase.

There’s no sure-fire way to execute a successful rebuild. Yes, the strategy employed by Thed in Chicago helped the Cubs reach the mountain top, but not without an unbelievable amount of luck. In fact, luck is perhaps the most important ingredient to such rebuilds.
If it weren’t for Joe Maddon, the Cubs likely don’t make the playoffs in 2015 let alone win it all in 2016.

The same goes for the Dansby Swanson trade.

If Dave Stewart and Tony LaRussa had the presence of mind not to let go of a number-one overall drafted player, the Braves could have been behind a significant 8-ball entering 2017. Now, there is no guarantee that the Braves aren’t on a collision course with another 90 or more loss season, but there wouldn’t be nearly as much optimism surrounding them without Swanson.

Time will tell what becomes of the Braves. But if they stick to their plan, and have some lucky bounces go their way, Atlanta could be looking at the dawn of a new age for Braves baseball. They’ve already pulled off a worst-to-first metamorphosis. Before the beginning of those division-winning dynasties of old, the Braves finished 1990 with a 65-97 record. Then 1991 came, along with young star pitchers John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. It took a few years (and a strike), but the Braves reached baseball’s pinnacle in 1995, winning their only title in Atlanta and the franchise’s first in 38 years since they were the Milwaukee Braves in 1957. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the ’95 Braves ended a championship drought against the Cleveland Indians.

 

BRAVES

It’s been awhile but, at the very least, it hasn’t been over a century.

I guess to wrap this up, you won’t know when the time will come. To paraphrase a well-known axiom, the darkest hour always comes before the dawn. So fear not, Braves fans. This world may be new and somewhat terrifying, but it will soon feel like home in more ways than one.

Once that lucky moment comes, it can turn a team’s entire trajectory around in ways you will never expect.

Just ask the Cubs.

Five Pitchers who could find their way into Cubs Bullpen Rotation this season

As the Cubs prepare for their first Spring Training game this Saturday, we will see a plethora of different pitchers and position players – some you may have never heard of. While it seems that guys like Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr. and Justin Grimm are guarantees for spots in the bullpen rotation, here are five guys who I think could see a little time in the Cubs bullpen at some point this season.

  1. Jake Buchanan

            The right-hander from Charlotte appeared in two games for the Cubs last season including a start against the Reds in which he threw five scoreless innings. Buchanan has spent most of his time as a starting pitcher but could be used as a long or mid-reliever if needed.

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Buchanan pitching with Cubs last season

  1. Félix Peña

            Peña appeared in eleven games for the Cubs last season and finished with an ERA of 4.00 and a WHIP of 0.889. During his span in the Cubs rotation, he struck out 13 batters and only walked three. Peña, a right-hander, could act as an emergency option in case of an injury or a solid replacement for a struggling reliever.

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Félix Peña

  1. Duane Underwood

            Underwood is the lone player on this list who has yet to make his major league debut. A right-hander from North Carolina, Underwood started 18 games in in four different minor leagues last season. Despite going 0-6, Underwood had a SO/W ratio of 1.77 and had a WHIP of 1.51. It’s not too likely that the Cubs would call the 22-year-old up this early, especially since he’s been primarily used as a starting pitcher, but it could be an intriguing option.

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Underwood with Class A Myrtle Beach Pelicans

  1. Gerardo Concepción

            Concepción appeared in three games for the Cubs last season as a reliever finishing with an ERA of 3.86 and had a SO/W ratio of 2.00. He appeared in 42 games in both AAA and AA for Chicago where his ERA was a little high at 5.42 in 59.2 IP. Concepción would add a left-hander to the Cubs bullpen alongside Mike Montgomery, Brett Anderson and Brian Duensing.

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Lefty Concepción pitched in 3 games for the Cubs

  1. Zac Rosscup

            If the Cubs want to go with another left-hander in the bullpen, Rosscup could be their guy. After missing the entire 2016 season due to a shoulder injury, he could help provide the Cubs bullpen with added veteran experience. He’s appeared in 61 total games for the Cubs from 2013-2015 with an ERA of 5.40, a WHIP of 1.61 and a SO/W ratio of 1.78.

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Rosscup last pitched with the Cubs in 2015

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Hendrix Magley @TweetsOfHendrix

NL West Offseason Grades

Now, it’s time to take a look at what the Dodgers, Padres, Giants, Rockies and Diamondbacks did this past winter. Below you will see my take on what “grade” I believe each team achieved this offseason, as well as where I think they will finish in the division and my thoughts on the moves that were made (or weren’t made). I hope you enjoy, and please feel free to give me feedback and also your take of the 2017 NL West offseason.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

ADDITIONS-Logan Forsythe, Sergio Romo, Franklin Gutierrez

DEPARTURES-Howie Kendrick, Josh Reddick

OFFSEASON GRADE – B

PREDICTED FINISH – 1st in NL WEST

After resigning Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen, Rich Hill and Chase Utley, the Dodgers made two significant moves this offseason. The first was the trade of Jose De Leon to Tampa for Logan Forsythe, which could possibly end up being the difference maker in the Dodgers chase for their first World Series appearance in almost thirty years. Although a veteran and voice in the clubhouse, Chase Utley is no longer the player he once was and did more bad than good for the Dodgers lineup last season. Utley was brutal in the playoffs where he only had 3 hits total, none of which were during the NLCS. Forsythe is a solid defensive player and an instant upgrade offensively and will likely man second base for two seasons until Willie Calhoun is ready to make the MLB roster. Sergio Romo was also a nice addition for the Dodgers Bullpen as a RP, so long as he does not have to be a closer. He is only on a one-year deal and it is worth the risk for LA to sign the former San Francisco Giant. Franklin Gutierrez is a low-risk signing, but that makes for a crowed outfield in LA, so I suspect someone else will be on the move out of LA very soon. Josh Reddick was disappointing during his time in LA last season making his loss very insignificant since he really won’t be missed because his time as a Dodger was forgettable. I gave the Dodgers a B because I think they needed more RP in the bullpen, but the Forsythe acquisition should prove to be huge this season.

SAN DIEGO PADRES

ADDITIONS- Jhoulys Chacin, Tyrell Jenkins

DEPARTURES-Tyson Ross, Derek Norris

OFFSEAONS GRADE – C

PREDICTED FINISH – 5th in NL WEST

The San Diego Padres are a complete mess right now and their free agent signings this offseason show that. Jhoulys Chacin is certainly not a #1 pitcher in a rotation, but that’s what he will be in San Diego by default since he is a far better pitcher than the rest of the Padres rotation and that isn’t saying much. It looks like this team is built to tank in 2017 and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the San Diego. They are young team that still has talent in the farm system and the next 2-3 seasons should be used to develop those players and focus on the draft. The Chacin signing reminds me of the Cubs signing Edwin Jackson in 2013, which was just a signing to kill time while young players developed and it essentially was a smart move (even if it put Cubs fans through agony every time he pitched). The Padres got the grade of C because they didn’t sign any free agents that will make any long-term impact but did give Wil Myers and extension after his first “good” season. Myers is still fairly young and at age 26 could be a veteran in the clubhouse when many of the Padres prospects make it to the main roster down the road.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

ADDITIONS- Mark Melancon, Jimmy Rollins, Justin Ruggiano,

DEPARTURES- Jake Peavy, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Angel Pagan

OFFSEAON GRADE – B

PREDICTED FINISH – 2nd in NL WEST

The Giants earned a B due to the Mark Melancon signing and that will prove to be a huge addition for the Giants. In the 2016 offseason, San Francisco bolstered their starting rotation with two big signings, but the Giants relief pitching was a nightmare. Melancon gives them the closer they needed, but the rest of the bullpen in San Francisco is still highly questionable. The Giants lineup is very good and I have no doubt it will be again, but the relief pitching will be the biggest question mark heading into this season. San Francisco has one of the best 5 man rotations in MLB to match their lineup, but if a starter can’t make it thru the 6th inning for San Francisco, it’ll lead to instant panic for Giants fans after what they saw in 2016. The Giants are a team that I feel will look to trade for RP early-on this season since they will again be in a tight race with the Dodgers for the NL West crown and wildcard spot. This team knows how to win and has a fantastic manager, so I feel the Giants control their own destiny this season and few changes to the bullpen could make them favorites in the NL.

COLORADO ROCKIES

ADDITIONS- Ian Desmond, Mike Dunn, Greg Holland, Mark Reynolds, Dominic Brown, Alexi Amarista

DEPARTURES- Boon Logan, Nick Hundley

OFFSEAONS GRADE- D

PREDICTED FINISH – 3rd in NL WEST

Colorado only got a D because of how much money they are paying Ian Desmond to play a position that he has never played before. The Desmond experiment in Texas last season worked out well enough that he was able to help Texas get into the playoffs, but it certainly didn’t warrant anyone in MLB giving him $70 million to play first base at age 31 for the next 5 seasons. The Rockies actually have a good 1B prospect in the minors in Ryan McMahon which is another reason Colorado fans are scratching their heads at this signing. It’s no secret that the ball flies out of the park in Colorado, but I don’t feel Ian Desmond will be able to come close to living up to that contract and putting up career numbers. Colorado was somewhat stuck on the fence between being an average team or a good team and the Desmond signing keeps them average. If it had been a one or two year deal for less money I could see the logic of taking a risk doing that, but this move may handicap the Rockies for years to come. Needless to say, they do not have enough to compete with the rest of the NL West and instead of developing young players, they decided to spend $70 million on the wrong guy in Ian Desmond.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

ADDITIONS- Taijaun Walker, Ketel Marte, Fernando Rodney, Chris Iannetta, Jeff Mathis

DEPARTURES- Jean Segura, Wellington Castillo

OFFSEASON GRADE- D

PREDICTED FINISH – 4th in NL WEST

No disrespect to Taijaun Walker, but Seattle won the trade when they landed Jean Segura. Walker is 2 years younger than Segura, but Segura had an amazing 2016 and will likely help Seattle compete with Houston and Texas for the AL West crown for years to come. Walker now becomes the #2 starter in Arizona and in reality should still be a back of the rotation guy due to his young age and still having to develop as a starting pitcher in MLB. Arizona has made some questionable moves and signings the past few seasons and trading away Segura might end up topping that list. Besides the terrible trade, Arizona signed a 40-year old closer in Fernando Rodney and a bad catcher in Chris Iannetta. Those two moves do nothing to make Arizona any better than they were in 2016. Even if Zack Grienke lives up to the hype and has a bounce-back season, I don’t think it’ll do much to help Arizona’s playoff chances. The only reason that I gave Arizona a D instead of an F is because they did get something back in the Segura trade, but they gave up a better player to Seattle.

By: Anthony Dunleavy

 

AL West Offseason Grades

 

Spring training is upon us and it’s time to take a look at what the Rangers, Astros, A’s, Mariners, and Angels did this past winter. Below you will see my take on what “grade” I believe each team achieved this offseason, as well as where I think they will finish in the division and my thoughts on the moves that were made (or weren’t made).  I hope you enjoy, and please feel free to give me feedback and also your take of the 2017 AL West offseason.

TEXAS RANGERS

ADDITIONS-Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, Mike Napoli, James Loney, Josh Hamilton

DEPARTURES-Ian Desmond, Carlos Beltran, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Mitch Moreland, Shawn Tolleson,

OFFSESON GRADE – C

PREDICTED FINISH – 3rd in AL WEST

Texas earned an average grade of C this offseason because they didn’t really make any moves to make the team better than what they had in 2016. Ian Desmond is a tough loss for the Rangers, but after the contract Colorado gave him, you can’t blame Texas for that one but you can blame them for losing Beltran to Houston. Ross and Cashner are mediocre at best, while Napoli and Loney are two players on the wrong side of 30 that just don’t do much to make your team significantly better.If John Hamilton can remain healthy and clean, he could be a good cheap addition, but time will tell on that. Perhaps a trade with Chicago for Chris Sale this offseason might have been the best idea for Texas, but I’m not sure they had enough to compete with the package Boston sent to the South Side. I do suspect Texas will be trading prospects for SP at some point this season (Quintana, Archer or Gray are likely candidates) so they still have time to improve the rotation via trades.

SEATTLE MARINERS

ADDITIONS-Yovani Gallardo, Danny Valencia, Drew Smyly, Jean Segura, Carlos Ruiz, Casey Fein, Jarrod Dyson

DEPARTURES-Norichika Aoki, Chris Iannetta, Franklin Gutierrez, Adam Lind, Taijaun Walker, Nate Karns

OFFSEASON GRADE-B

PREDICTED FINISH-2nd in AL WEST

I liked the moves Seattle made this offseason, especially adding Jean Segura. The addition of Segura makes the Mariners infield one of the best in MLB also consisting of Seager, Cano and Vogelbach. The additions of Gallardo and Smyly as back of the rotation guys were nice moves and with a lot of run support from the Mariners lineup could both prove to be steals. Dyson is a serviceable everyday player who should do well in LF, but doesn’t necessarily put your team over the top. Seattle always has an advantage at home, but they need to remain consistent all season which has been an issue for them the past few seasons. I think it’s very unlikely that the wildcard team comes from anywhere but the AL East, but I suppose there is a chance and Seattle will be very much in the playoff hunt this season via wildcard or AL West division champs. I graded the Mariners with a B since I would have liked a better starting pitcher added to the rotation, but they could have certainly done worse than Gallardo and Smyly.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS

ADDITIONS-Danny Espinosa, Cameron Maybin, Ben Revere, Luis Valbuena, Jesse Chavez

DEPARTURES-Jhoulys Chacin, Jered Weaver, C.J Wilson, Geovany Soto,

OFFSEASON GRADE-D

PREDICTED FINISH-4th in AL WEST

The LA Angels, once again, have already wasted another year of Mike Trout’s career. They have arguably the best player in MLB and they are handicapped by the Pujols contract for 4 more seasons after 2017. 2021 can’t get here soon enough for LA, because until then they will have to settle for “affordable” players like Espinosa, Valbuena and Chavez, all of which should not be in the everyday lineup but will be by default in Anaheim. Cameron Maybin had good numbers thru 94 games last season, but is hardly a “big” free agent signing. Nobody is trading for Pujols and he isn’t retiring, so LA needs to focus on their own farm system to develop talent to surround Trout, and perhaps just should avoid signing anyone till 2021 and shoot for that top draft pick the next 4 seasons. The only reason I have the Angels finishing 4th is because Trout is in the lineup, otherwise they would be at the bottom of the AL West. The Angels had a disappointing offseason and it will reflect in their record in 2017.

HOUSTON ASTROS

ADDITIONS- Norichika Aoki, Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick, Brian McCann, Charlie Morton

DEPARTURES- Doug Fister, Colby Rasmus, Luis Valbuena, Jason Castro, Pat Neshek

OFFSEASON GRADE-A

PREDICTED FINISH-1st in AL WEST

Houston had a terrific offseason and did exactly what they needed to do.  They added veterans and filled holes through free agency and didn’t give away any of the young prospects in trades. The additions of Beltran and McCann were smart moves, and Reddick was a good signing although I feel they overpaid for him. Reddick, Aoki and Springer make up a solid outfield that will compliment an already good infield. Houston (much like Texas) will be in the market as the season plays out to add SP, and again I feel players like Quintana, Gray  and Archer will all be on the Astros radar, but I think Houston will be very wise about who they give up. I think Houston will win the AL West and could end up making A LOT of noise in the playoffs if things play out their way. They earned an A this offseason and things are looking very bright in Houston.

OAKLAND A’S

ADDITIONS-Rajai Davis, Matt Joyce, Trevor Plouffe, Santiago Casilla, Alejandro D Aza

DEPARTURES- Danny Valencia, Arismendy Alcantara

OFFSEASON GRADE-D

PREDICTED FINISH-5th in AL WEST

Oakland, in total Oakland fashion, added what they could afford and that isn’t very much and earned themselves a D. They added no one that makes their team significantly better nor did they lose anyone that they’ll regret leaving. I guess the big question here is what will happen at the deadline or in the offseason a year from now. It think it’s EXTREMELY likely Sonny Gray will be traded long before that, and if Kyle Schwarber proves to be the best DH in a league with no DH; do the Cubs trade a terrible fielding yet amazing hitter to Oakland for a package of Gray, Cotton, Holmes and Montas? It may not be those exact players, but since Cubs already have the ring and seem able to win without Schwarber, I don’t think it’s as far-fetched as it sounds. Oakland would love to land a bat like Schwarber and have the young pitching that the Cubs will be looking for in the not too distant future. That’s just one scenario, but some team will be adding Sonny Gray to their roster at some point this season.  I do feel for the sports fans in Oakland since they might be losing the Raiders and will then be stuck with the A’s.

By: Anthony Dunleavy