Monday, August 31, 2020

Top 10 Trade Deadline Deals: 2020 Edition

I wasn't expecting much from this trade deadline, somehow, and yet in the last 24 hours things became absolutely insane. Stars flew across coasts, teams split up rotations, and a true competitive giant became clear. Somehow the biggest money-spending teams, like the Dodgers and Yankees, went largely without doing anything, which was a surprise, but far from the only one this deadline.

I have a Top 10 set up, as per usual, but first, several honorable mentions:

-Mychal Givens to Colorado, prospects to Baltimore

-Miguel Castro to Queens, prospect to Baltimore

-Jarrod Dyson to the White Sox, prospects to Pittsburgh

-Mitch Moreland to the Padres, prospects to Boston

-Cameron Maybin to the Cubs, prospects to Detroit

-Jose Martinez to the Cubs, prospects to Tampa

-Ross Stripling to the Blue Jays, prospects to the Dodgers

-Brian Goodwin to the Reds, prospect to Anaheim [this is one of the dumbest moves for me, as the Reds now seem like they're actively preventing Tyler Stephenson or Aristedes Aquino from having any playing time]

-Kevin Pillar to the Rockies, prospects to Boston

-Jason Castro to the Padres, prospects to Anaheim

-Taijuan Walker to the Blue Jays, prospects to Seattle

-Tommy Milone to Atlanta, prospects to the O's [this would have been #10 had he not gotten rocked last night]


#10: Tommy La Stella to Oakland, Franklin Barreto and a prospect to Anaheim:
How it Benefits Oakland: I think the A's had run out of ways to placate Franklin Barreto, as they'd been relying on Tony Kemp at 2nd all year, but even then they needed a bit more flexibility, and this gives them that. La Stella could return to his role as bench-player-extraordinaire from 2018 as well as providing a solid infield bat and essentially being a return to the Jed Lowrie era of utility guys getting starts. Definitely a smart lineup-strengthening move for Beane and co.

#9: Todd Frazier to the Mets, prospects to Arlington:
How it benefits the Mets: Reunites them with a clubhouse presence that can help them advance AND be comfortable in the NY metropolitan area. Frazier's Mets years weren't his BIGGEST, but he still developed a sharp fan following, and became a solid producer for the team. As okay as he was in Texas, he could become even better in Queens and return to his former glory, which could benefit New York along with their other new additions of Miguel Castro and Robinson Chirinos. 

#8: Trevor Rosenthal to San Diego, prospects to Kansas City
How it benefits the Padres: One of many attempts to help the Friars' scattershot bullpen in the wake of injuries to Kirby Yates and some inflated ERAs, along with Taylor Williams and Dan Altavilla. Rosenthal is the most stark addition- the former St. Louis closer had a return to form in KC this year with 7 saves and 21 Ks, finally returning to the conversation. Now that he's a factor in the Padres' bullpen, he could either challenge Drew Pomeranz for the ninth inning job or join Williams and Altavilla in the middle-relief journey.

#7: Archie Bradley to the Reds, Josh Van Meter to the D-Backs
How it benefits the D-Backs: Van Meter's a sharp bench player, and he could definitely do well in a bigger role.
How it benefits the Reds: Well, the Reds are another team with bullpen injuries, and even Raisel Iglesias isn't doing as well as usual, so...all-star reliever and closer Archie Bradley will do just fine! The guy's having another fantastic season, he's versatile, and he'll bring a lot to the table alongside Amir Garrett in that bullpen. This move brings them slightly closer to competing in the NL Central.

#6: Robbie Ray to Toronto, prospect to Arizona
How it benefits the Jays: STRIKEOUT ARTIST ROBBIE RAY IS NOW YOUR #2 MAN, TORONTO. Granted, Ray has gotten into some trouble this year, and is struggling to keep opposing offenses at bay, but getting out of the NL West and away from the Rockies, Dodgers and Padres may be better for him. He's still doing a lot of strikeouts, and putting him next to Taijuan Walker, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Tanner Roark is a good look for the Jays. 

 #5: Mike Minor to the A's, prospects to the Rangers
How it benefits Oakland: Like the Ray deal, this one is a lot better in concept than it is numerically this season, hence the lower placing, so you have to put it into the perspective of 'Mike Minor was amazing last year, and hopefully he still has some of that power with him for the last month of the year'. Minor's been slumping so far, and hopefully it's an environmental thing rather than a loss of velocity or anything. Anyway, he'll be a good match for Mike Fiers in the A's rotation, and bring some much-needed experience to that mostly-young crew.

 #4: Jonathan Villar to the Blue Jays, prospects [JEFF CONINE'S SON] to the Marlins
How it benefits Toronto: Gives them a substantial, offensively-talented replacement for Bo Bichette and an eventual DH option once Bo returns. But also, Jonathan Villar in this lineup could make the Jays into the postseason contender this team definitely wants to be. Ray and Walker help, but Villar adds a legitimate star alongside Biggio and Grichuk to bulk the lineup, and this team's chances. It's not an outwardly OMG move like getting Price or Tulo, but it's a lower-key move for a lower-key Jays team. Which I can respect.

 #3: Austin Nola to the Padres, Taylor Trammell, Luis Torrens and Ty France to the Mariners
How it helps the Ms: Trammell, Lewis and Kelenic in the same outfield? Holy crap. France will fill the utility role Nola had been filling so far. Torrens will hopefully get the starting gig he's been waiting for.
How it benefits the Padres: As this lineup was turning out to be a monolith, the real weak point looked like it would be catcher, even as Torrens came in. Austin Nola is not only a decent catcher, but he's got that sort of lineup x-factor about him where he can get a lot done in a lot of roles, and would probably gain star power within another season or so in Seattle. Putting him in a competitive San Diego team that has a space for him and needs another bat like him is a wise move that, I imagine, is going to warrant me putting this at #3 over Mike Minor and Robbie Ray in a year's time [remember when I said last year that I'd come back to Zac Gallen in a year or so? D-Backs made a steal there]

 #2: Starling Marte to the Marlins, Caleb Smith, Humberto Mejia and a prospect to the D-Backs
How it Benefits Arizona- Their only real rotation loss was Robbie Ray, so adding Smith and Mejia to the Weaver-Gallen-Clarke-Young wheel is actually a pretty nice deal.
How it Benefits Miami: This was my biggest shock, because it was a reminder that the Marlins were still trying to compete, even after dealing Smith and Villar. It proved that all the Marlins needed was a big star in the lineup to remain in the conversation, and Starling Marte in that outfield with Magneuris Sierra and Corey Dickerson could be genuinely dangerous. Marte is still a league-caliber bat with some more damage to do this season, and even if the Marlins only make it a short while into the playoffs, having Marte could bring them a little more life than otherwise.

#1, of course: Mike Clevinger and Greg Allen to the Padres, Cal Quantrill, Austin Hedges and Josh Naylor to the Indians

How it Benefits Cleveland: Honestly, in a longer term scenario, the Indians might have gotten more out of this, because Josh Naylor is gonna replace Domingo Santana as DH, Austin Hedges will add another [sub-.200] catcher to the rolodex, and Cal Quantrill should be a steady replacement for Clevinger, at least in terms of likability.
How it Benefits San Diego: So, now the Padres' rotation is Clevinger-Paddack-Lamet-Davies-Richards. That's, uh...that's pretty good, especially for a team that now has a better bullpen, bench and lineup. Clevinger might be the cherry on top of all the other moves, because he gives the team a genuine ace, someone they might have had with Chris Paddack had he gotten off to a better start this year. Clevinger will lead this rotation into the playoffs, where they should be welcomed. Also, Greg Allen is another nice bench bat, along with Moreland. 

Huge deadline this year. Lots of odd moves and outcomes. Interested to see how the rest of the season rolls out now.

Staying Out of Last, the O's Way

The Red Sox are still in last. The Orioles, despite falling a great deal from where they were a few weeks ago, aren't. They clearly don't have a good enough team to bring down Toronto for the extra wild card spot, and they may not be competing this year...but they are nowhere near as bad as they were.

Last year they had someone to build the team around, but it was someone as...streaky as Trey Mancini. This year, it's Anthony Santander, who is quickly becoming a true pro, leading the team in WAR, RBIs and home runs. Santander had a very up-and-down first few years, so it's fantastic that he's finally broken out and is joining Renato Nunez, Hanser Alberto, Chance Sisco and Pedro Severino. Hell, even Cedric Mullins has returned to 2018-era numbers. Even Mason Williams is doing some impressive stuff in an errant call-up [though is there any other kind for Mason Williams?]. And the arrival of Ryan Mountcastle and his average does signal a future for this team, as soon as some fella named Rutschman has a path paved to Baltimore.

The without Tommy Milone...isn't great, but not terrible either. Alex Cobb, Asher Wojciechowski and Thomas Eshelman are all competent starters, and Means is...slowly getting his stuff back. Even the bullpen without Givens isn't terrible, as Miguel Castro, Cole Sulser, Tanner Scott and Paul Fry are all pretty good. I figure they either call some other starter up or plug someone like Dillon Tate or David Hess into the mix, and they'll be alright.

I do think ending the year in 4th is a good prediction and goal for this Orioles team, as they're better than Boston, and are good enough to finally stay out of last while also...knowing that competing this year is a bad idea. The future might bring a slightly better O's team, and I'm excited to see it.

Coming Tonight: Not sure if I'll be able to do a post tonight that isn't my usual TOP 10 TRADE DEADLINE DEALS list. I'm writing this last night, so hopefully there's enough this deadline to fill ten spots.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Snake Bitten

The 2020 Diamondbacks. An okay team in search of good luck.

Let's just put aside the MadBum thing for right now. I was skeptical when they signed him, he's lost a lot of what made him great, the rest of his contract is very 50/50 as to which version of him will show up. You get past that, and there's still a good D-Backs team for this year. Merrill Kelly and Zac Gallen got off to great starts, Starling Marte, Christian Walker and Ketel Marte are all hitting.

But...the further you look with this team, the less depth there is. The bench is full of people like Jake Lamb, Dalton Varsho, Tim Locastro and Andy Young, all young, wishful thinking guys who aren't doing much at all despite big stakes. The two veteran arms, Luke Weaver and Robbie Ray, have high ERAs and can't keep opposing offenses down. Enough of the bullpen works that it's not a real issue, but a lot of guys, including Hector Rondon and Kevin Ginkel, are a bit concerning. There's an issue with catchers not hitting, and unlike in San Diego they're not buying.

Even worse, now Merrill Kelly's out for the rest of the season. Kelly...was at ace-levels this year. And now they've lost him. Granted, Zac Gallen is still pulling incredible numbers for a sophomore pitcher, and if they hold onto him he'll be an ace for them for a while, but...Kelly, Leake [HA, KELLY LEAK!] and MadBum have all dropped from this once mega-rotation. Gallen-Ray-Weaver-Clarke-Young is a good rotation in concept, but Ray and Weaver aren't performing. So, like in Texas, the execution is killing this team.

I hope they can hold onto their main performers this deadline,'s not looking good at all, folks.

Coming Tomorrow- You take away Trey Mancini and expect this team to end in last? Don't bank on it.

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2008 R.A. Dickey

Topps SHB #9: 2008 R.A. Dickey, Seattle Mariners
Between R.A. Dickey's initial trial run as a starter with the Rangers in the mid 2000s and his breakout in 2010 as a starter with the Mets, there was a 3 year period of Topps card inactivity for the knuckleballer and Cy Young winner, mainly because there wasn't a ton to report in this period.

In 2007, Dickey spent the whole year in Milwaukee's AAA club, and had a solid year there, which makes me wonder why the Brewers never brought him up. In 2009, Dickey spent a week or so with the Twins' AAA team before the Twins called him up for a stint that was not very well photographed, and therefore I can't give you a card of.

His 2008 tenure with the Mariners I can help you with, though.

Dickey made 14 starts with the Ms in 2008, and did mediocre job, with a 3-8 record and a 6.72 ERA. He fared better in relief, with a 2 ERA in 18 appearances, and 2 wins. I don't blame his material as much as I blame the 2008 Mariners. You can see why he did better with the 2010s Mets teams is what I'm saying.

Back to my old theory that Topps needs to include a soothsayer on its staff so that they know to include cards of a player before they win a Cy Young. I'd have taken this in exchange for the 2008 Topps Richie Sexson card that wasn't accurate [we'll get to that in another post].

Still, while this card doesn't mark an especially memorable stage in R.A. Dickey's baseball career, it's still a necessary entry into this Should Have Been series.

All That Heaven Gallo-ws

[Yes, it's a stretch, but so is calling the Rangers a playoff-caliber team]

Look...for a brief moment this season, the Rangers had a chance.

August 15, they're 10-9, they've won 6 of their last 7, they christen Rafael Montero the new closer, bank on Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Lance Lynn, and get ready to cruise.

...and then the Padres series happens.

Since the masses have already spoken on the manner, I'll leave it at this- Chris Woodward's insistence on unwritten rules and decency is too little league. You're managing a mediocre AL West team who was supposed to compete this year and then starts getting massacred by another team that was supposed to compete, AND IS. Don't blame the rules. Don't blame customs and decency. Because people also pointed out a moment last year where Woodward's Rangers went for a grand slam on 3 balls while leading by a ton.

If you sign Corey Kluber, Jordan Lyles, Kyle Gibson, Todd Frazier and Robinson Chirinos to help your team compete, none of them perform to standard and said team drops 4 straight to a team managed by a man named Jayce Tingler...the problem is not the rules. The problem isn't decency. The problem is you.

Hopefully it won't be for much longer in Arlington.

Listen, Joey Gallo, Lance Lynn, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Nick Solak and Jonathan Hernandez are the best parts of this team, and they're all doing insanely well. Take them out of the equation, and I imagine by tomorrow some of them might be out of the equation, and this team is just listless, last-place caliber tripe. They've won 2 games since August 15th, and they're currently playing the Dodgers. Seattle might end up in third soon.

I wish it was better, because this team looked so good in February. Sad that it had to come to this.

Coming Tonight: Normal season I'd bench a custom of someone who got injured, but I'm posting this tomorrow because I don't wanna wait til December.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Hook, Line and Winker

So, the brave Reds roster-bulking experiment...sort of worked?

I mean, of the moves the Reds have made over the past two seasons, a great deal of them are working, and the three best performers on this team, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer and Nick Castellanos, were yielded from said quest to compete. However, some similar trials, like Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Tanner Roark, and now Mike Moustakas hitting .230 and Shogo Akiyama hitting under .200, haven't faired as well.

Plus, a lot of the once strong core members of the lineup, like Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez, Tucker Barnhart and Freddy Galvis, just aren't hitting, making the new members have to cover a lot more slack than intended. A lot of the members of the supposed supplementary force, like Philip Ervin, Josh Van Meter, Christian Colon and Matt Davidson, have also been unsuccessful.

Thankfully there is some promise in this team's farm system, as Jesse Winker, FINALLY trusted in a starting role, is hitting beautifully with a .341 average and 9 homers. This team has also seen great material from Aristedes Aquino and Tyler Stephenson in brief callups, but for some hare-brained reason they've been keeping them at the alternate site for most of the season while the real team flounders. 'Promote Aquino' is the Cincinnati version of 'Re-sign JT'. And yet, like with JT, they refuse to listen.

Best news for the Reds, and probably the reason for their recent winning streak, is their pitching is stronger than ever. Yes, Wade Miley is taking time to recover from his first few starts, but Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer, Tyler Mahle and Luis Castillo have all been strong. Plus, you have a bullpen made with people like Tejay Antone, Amir Garrett, Lucas Sims and Tyler Thornburg, who are all sharp. There is more security in this pitching staff than there has been in nearly a decade.

I really want the Reds to pull it together, especially the more senior members of the lineup, but it may take more than just wishful thinking to save this team.

Coming Tomorrow- One of the only people in Arlington who has decided to hit.

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: The Hall of Famers of 2008

Topps SHB #7: 2008 Frank Thomas, Oakland Athletics
 As I do this project, I enjoy finding the players who've fallen through the cracks, the middle relievers, the once-strong infielders, the players who Topps figured they'd be alright without, but...sometimes, Topps, for one reason or another, makes a big omission and tries to rectify it with no avail.

In 2008, two Hall of Famers, both definite first-ballot HOFers for sure, were playing their final seasons, and ended the year in uniforms different from the one on their Topps flagship card. In both cases, Topps would make a 'sunset issue' the following year in 2009 Topps, one being genuine and the other being greatly airbrushed for some reason, but the 2008 Update set didn't feature this sort of finality.

It's most jarring in Frank Thomas' case. Thomas was released by the Toronto Blue Jays in April 2008, as his Topps card on the Jays was heading to shelves. Four days later he signs with the Athletics, a team that gave him a monster comeback season in 2006, with 39 homers and 114 age 38. The A's remembered what he did for them, how he led them into the postseason, and they re-sign him. In return, Thomas, now 40, gave them 55 games, 5 home runs, and a .263 average.

How Topps didn't put him in Update boggles the mind. Even if they did a 2009 Topps A's card, he's still Frank Thomas, he was still contractually on Topps' docket, and he still could have used a Topps Update card. But Topps was more interested in giving a card to Yamid Haad, a veteran minor league catcher who was about to take over as catcher for the Indians before they signed Sal Fasano.

Yamid Haad played 0 games in the 2008 season and got a Topps card. Frank Thomas played 55 and didn't.

And before you go 'oh, they wanted to reward a career minor leaguer', Mike Hessman never got a Topps card with Atlanta, New York or Detroit. He's on my list, for the record. Wladimir Balentien is also on my list. Yamid Haad is a fluke.

Anyway. This next one actually has a reason to not be in 2008 Update:

SHB Topps #8: 2008 Greg Maddux, Los Angeles Dodgers
Greg Maddux was traded by the Padres to LA on August 14th 2008, after the cutoff date for Topps Update. So he at least has an excuse.

But his 2009 Topps card is badly filtered, slightly airbrushed, and not a great final sendoff for the landmark, legendary starter.

So I made this one, which is more indicative of Maddux's second half for the Dodgers, where he pitched into the postseason and helped this team stay alive amidst series' with Chicago and Philadelphia. In the regular season, Maddux went 2-4 with a 5.09 ERA in 7 starts. In the postseason, Maddux worked in a relief role with a 0.00 ERA over 4 innings, and 3 strikeouts. Not bad for a 42-year old.

Maddux and Thomas deserved better final releases, and even if Thomas got a good one in 2009, they still needed their 2008 chapters marked by Topps. Which, I guess, is what I'm here for now.

Quick Whit

In a season  where the Twins and Indians are sharp, and the White Sox and Tigers are better than they've ever been...that leaves the Royals in last, yet again. Right back where they were 10 years ago.

Unlike the 2010 Royals team, this Royals team actually has a bit going on for them. Whit Merrifield is still a league talent, he's hitting .301 and is tied for the most RBIs on the team with Jorge Soler [both have 19]. Maikel Franco and Ryan O'Hearn both have had outstanding starts slowly diminish. Ryan McBroom and  Cam Gallagher are both doing well vying for starting roles. And the youth movement  in  pitching has brought Brady Singer and Kris Bubic to alright debuts with the team, though the emphasis should be on  Brad Keller and Danny Duffy.

And yet...this team still has patches where people aren't hitting, and still has people like Matt Harvey refusing to pitch well. Despite people like Trevor Rosenthal [who might be gone soon] doing  what they're told, the pitching  is a rocky mix between unhittable relievers and veteran pitchers who just can't get it done anymore. This team's incongruence between the old guard and the youth movement is costing them, because neither  can really stand out.

Whit Merrifield, clearly this team's best player, still has two more years left on his contract. I don't think he'll go at the deadline, but Brad Keller, Trevor Rosenthal, and even Ryan McBroom all could. And I doubt that'll really help anything. But this is where the Royals are right now.

Coming Tonight: Definition of clutch hitter in Cincinnati for the last few years. Glad he's finally gotten a starting  role.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Sink or Swim

Once again, we revisit the strangest team in covid-addled baseball, the Miami Marlins.

Through a number of doubleheaders, the Marlins have officially caught up to the Phillies, both in games-played and in W/L percentage, and are still in  2nd in the NL East. They're also sitting  on a playoff spot that will go to them unless they completely shit the bed in the next month, as they're seeded second out of all five non-division-leading playoff-adjacent teams.

And yet they still remain  the Marlins, and they remain a team that has gotten over Covid. Harold Ramirez, Garrett Cooper, Caleb Smith and Sandy Alcantara still have yet to return from the Covid-break. Miguel Rojas has, and he's still one  of the best performers on the team, but a lot of this Marlins team had to be revised on  the fly. Rookies like Isan Diaz, Monte Harrison and Eddy Alvarez were discarded after attempts at playing time failed, surging players like Magneuris Sierra, Pat Venditte and Mike Morin all got injured. And many pieces of the Opening Day rotation, like Jordan Yamamoto and Robert Dugger, were shelved due to inconsistency.

So now we're dealing with younger arms, like Pablo Lopez, Elieser Hernandez, Trevor Rogers, Humberto Mejia and, most interestingly, Sixto Sanchez, whose debut was alright but still a sign that the future is being deployed ASAP for the Marlins. Meanwhile, Lopez is topping his rocky 2019 with a 1.98 ERA over 5 starts, and Hernandez is coming off as a truly dominant pitcher in this third, and most successful, call-up, leading the starters with 32 Ks.

With Villar, Dickerson, Aguilar, Anderson and Rojas all hitting, Alfaro catching up in Cervelli's absence, and Matt Joyce continuing to find substantial work 15 years into his career, this is a pretty strong and formidable Marlins team, and it'd be interesting to see them waltz into the postseason  for once.

Coming Tomorrow- With the hero catcher injured and the hero outfielder slumping, looks like it's his turn once again to carry the team.

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: The 2008 Chad Bradford Chronicles

Topps SHB #5: 2008 Chad Bradford, Baltimore Orioles
 I credit the movie Moneyball for clueing me into a lot of the more niche aspects of 2000s-era baseball, and niche players like Scott Hatteberg, Carlos Pena, Ricardo Rincon, Billy Koch and Jeremy Brown. Perhaps the biggest 2002 Oakland A's oddity whose stock grew after this movie was Chad Bradford, the sidearming reliever whose janky motion turned away several GMs [but not Billy Beane].

I've heard of people collecting him contemporarily, especially Nick from Dime Boxes, just for how refreshing  of a player he was in this era, despite being woefully underrepresented on cards.

Well, his final full season in 2008 was similarly unrepresented. Upper Deck made a card of him with Baltimore, where he started the season and played in 2007 as well, but Topps did not. A lot of the 2008/2009 entries in this project  were covered by UD in some way, but not Topps flagship, which says a lot about both companies in this point.

Anyway, Bradford was still a relief asset for teams in 2008, and posted a 2.45 ERA in 47 appearances, some career numbers for him in his seasons since his 2001 breakout. His strikeout numbers had diminished, but  he was one  of the bright spots of a middling Baltimore team.

Now, at the waiver period in August, the Orioles placed him on waivers so that a competitor could scoop him up. The team that did purchase Bradford was a competitor...ironically, a divisional competitor.

Topps SHB #6: 2008 Chad Bradford, Tampa Bay Rays
Yes, Bradford found himself a bullpen asset on the AL Champion Tampa Bay Rays, who rewarded him by actually giving him a decent team to support. Again, his K numbers were low, but he posted a 1.42 ERA in 21 appearances. His good work continued into the postseason, as despite some Boston players getting  hits off him in the ALCS, Bradford held a sub-3 ERA for the entire playoffs.

Bradford pitched for the Rays in 2009 for his final season, but I could not find any 2009 photos from my source, so the saga ends in 2008.

[Similarly, I wish my source went as far back as 2005 so I could make Topps cards of him for every  year they missed from 05-07, but mine starts at 2008]

Still, these customs fill in a great piece of the story for Bradford, and one of his best seasons, that Topps and its bias against relievers sadly neglected to document.

Cavan Can Wait

Yesterday, around 1ish, the Toronto Blue Jays decided that they were competitors this year. It happens at every halfway point contemporarily, where the Jays, all of the sudden, catch enough momentum that they feel like they're competitors, and begin to start trading for people.

It was news to me. It was news to Taijuan Walker. And I imagine it was news to the Seattle Mariners.

The Blue Jays put the Mariners in the awkward position of trading Walker hours after he made a public statement on political injustice. Walker was one of the main Mariners ambassadors that led to the Ms striking on Wednesday night. So the day after, they trade him to Toronto? That is not a good look, even if the M's are clearly at the point where they need to trade players. It just came off as severely bad timing for all parties involved. Walker still preached the same message, it just...came as a member of the Blue Jays. A Canadian team, albeit currently playing in Buffalo.

So, now the Blue Jays have added Taijuan Walker to a rotation that includes Hyun-Jin Ryu throwing smoke, Chase Anderson and Tanner Roark catching  up after bad starts, three injured starters [apparently Matt Shoemaker WAS injured after all], and...a bunch of people like Shun Yamaguchi, Anthony Kay and Sean Reid-Foley who could, in theory, start games but haven't yet. So he helps immensely.

But is this team really a competitor? Especially in 2020, a year  where the Yankees, Rays AND ORIOLES all could potentially be playoff teams? the past week or so, the Jays' playoff case has vastly improved. Cavan Biggio's bat has come alive, and is now leading  the team in WAR, and dominating in Bo Bichette's absence. Randal Grichuk is leading the team in RBIs, and is having his best season in years. Santiago Espinal has proven to be a decent replacement for Bichette. And despite the lack of outward WAR success, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Rowdy Tellez and Teoscar Hernandez are all doing well at the plate.

So...are they a competitive team? MAYBE? It's not like 2015 or 2016 where suddenly they're gonna waltz to the end. They're MAYBE a sleeper wild card team? Maybe they get one or two more players and coast a bit? I don't think they're aiming to completely dominate. I just think they're aiming to finish over .500 and ride the perks.

Coming Tonight: The Marlins had to completely reorganize their pitching staff. This is one of the guys  who made the new one.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Garrett Richards is Healthy and Thriving

I don't know how the Angels did it, but for the better part of the 2010s, they rest their rotation on  the well-beings of two pitchers, Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker, who could not for the life of them stay off the IL. Richards, after stellar work from 2013 to 2015, played 6 games in each of the next 2 seasons, and increased his output to 16 starts in 2018. Shoemaker, after a stellar rookie year in 2014 and consistent seasons in 2015 and 2016, began to see injuries take more and more from the next 2 seasons in Anaheim.

The most interesting part is that these were never 'something's wrong, everybody's hitting him' injuries. Both pitchers posted solid ERA numbers before going on the IL for the remainder of the season. Eventually, though, LA gave up on both of them. Toronto claimed Shoemaker, and Richards signed with San Diego.

The 2019 season was arguably the same for both of them. Shoemaker started the season healthy, got off to an outstanding start for the Jays with a 1.57 ERA and 3 wins in 5  starts before missing the rest of the season due to injury. Richards, however, was a late-season call-up for the Padres, making 3 starts but posting an 8.31 ERA over 3 starts. It was not the comeback either of them had hoped for.

2020 has brought prolonged health so far for both hurlers, but their stories couldn't be more different this season. Shoemaker has yet to post a win in 5 starts, and has a 4.91 ERA. As his Blue Jays improve for the stretch, perhaps his numbers will improve.

Richards, though, is having a fantastic year so far. In 6 starts, he has a 3.52 ERA with 25 strikeouts, as well as a 0.9 WAR, his highest since 2017. He is also a member of a rotation that includes young talent like Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack, as well as an impressive Zach Davies performance or two. He's found  himself on the right Padres team at the right time, and I'm glad his luck has improved.

The Padres, meanwhile, are for real. Machado's hot as hell right now, and he, Tatis, Grisham, Myers and Jake Cronenworth are an excellent core that could take this team well into October. I do think they have enough to fend off Colorado, who have dropped recently, and I do wonder how they'll do in the next month against the Dodgers.

It's nice to see Garrett Richards, and the Padres, doing better.

Coming Tomorrow- Speaking of Shoemaker's current team, somebody's son who's good at contact-hitting.

The Great LA Flop

I sometimes wonder what might have happened if we got the Angels team that this offseason made it look like we were getting.

I mean, think about it. Ohtani in  peak two-way form? Teheran in his prime? La Stella, Upton and Simmons  all healthy and ready? Trout with another MVP caliber year? That all sounded nice, didn't it? Meanwhile, we're at the halfway point, and Ohtani can't pitch, Teheran's been moved to the bullpen, La Stella and Upton are tanking, Simmons is hurt again, and Trout's arguably  having his most human year yet. All while Seattle and Arlington are ahead of them in the standings.

For a team that has made it a point to spend like a contender, even going as far back as signing Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, the Angels have largely been a disappointment over the last decade. Yes, this team has finished above .500 a few times, and made the playoffs in 2014, but the past 6 seasons  have been progressively timid affairs, slipping further in the standings until we're at a last place finish with Anthony Rendon, Dylan Bundy and Mike Trout all in their prime.

What happened? It's not Maddon's fault, it's not the roster, it's just...this team continues to fall on  bad luck and it's getting harder and harder for them to stand out.

David Fletcher should be at Brandon Lowe levels of mainstream success, as he's hitting .321 with 13 RBIs and a 1.4 WAR. But because he's hidden behind Trout and Rendon, he's not getting the publicity  he deserves. Yes, Anthony Rendon is getting pub, Trout has his 10 homers, and Bundy is making a ton of waves with his 44-K start, but the real lede is being buried. The team could be restructured around Fletcher as well as Trout, and begin  to grow from the farm up rather than spending money on contracts every 5 years and hoping that does something.

I wish the outlook was better for this team...but even with everything they've bought, they may not peep further out of last this year.

Coming Tonight: Former oft-injured Angels hurler, current healthy Padres arm.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Relatively Real O'Neill

The St. Louis Cardinals have been back for nearly two weeks, and...honestly, are pretty close to where they were before. Close to .500, lacking a strong center.

The biggest news is that the hero for this team has arrived, and that hero is Paul Goldschmidt. After an okay first year in St. Louis, Goldy is now hitting .344 with 8 RBIs and a .9 WAR. Goldy's leadership capabilities and power numbers have returned from AZ, and he is leading this team along with Paul DeJong, Harrison Bader and...Brad Miller for some reason, whose runaway bat from Philly last year has returned for 2020.

Plus, the main core of Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty, Kwang-Hyun Kim and Dakota Hudson has been pretty strong, winning games without too many strikeouts. Even Johan Oviedo, after one start, is already rivaling those 4 and making for a seriously strong rotation.

Granted, the delayed start has affected a few people, including Tyler O'Neill, Kolten Wong and Matt Carpenter, who aren't hitting as well as usual so far, as well as Andrew Miller and Daniel Ponce de Leon.  You also have guys like Molina and De Jong who took longer to come back from COVID.

The concerning part is that, despite all this progress, they're still in 2nd behind the Cubs, and just sort of waiting to catch up. The next month may be a serious crunch, because they're still playoff favorites, but they're behind in terms of games. Hopefully they have enough to stay relevant, especially in a very Cubs-centric year.

Coming Tomorrow- infielder extraordinaire for a last place team with too many great players to be in last.

Why I Collect (ft. 2004 Fleer products)

What makes something stand out?

For me, it's newness. The feeling that  these variables and elements haven't been brought together in this way to my knowledge. Something I've never seen before and looks cool. This is why I've always loved players in new uniforms. Gerrit Cole as a Yankee? Zack Wheeler as a Phillie? Amazing! It's new to me on a card, and therefore it stands out.

How odd, how new, must it have been in 2004 to see cards of Vladimir Guerrero as an Anaheim Angel? A man who'd worn the same Expos uniform since 1996, made a career as an  Expos playing for the Angels. Done up in a red warmup jacket, like the one above.

Something like that, in 2004 or even now, has the power to stand out to the average collector. Fleer knew this would be one of their first Vlad Angels cards. This looks the part.

To me, to want to collect  something means that it looks new to me, and that it sticks in my mind. 2004 Fleer Classic Clippings has stuck in my mind for 14 years, but it has nothing to do with Vladimir Guerrero.

In 2006, I was in fifth grade. I had not yet begun to collect baseball cards. My dad had his collection 'round  the house, and when  I was bored I would sort his old 70s and 80s cards by team, by year, by position at times. The players meant nothing to me. I was amused by the colors, the designs, the contrasts. They were cool enough even if I'd run by them a million times.

My fifth grade classroom had a sort of device where if you did good things, impressed the teacher in some way, you get a ticket with  your name in the fishbowl. If your name gets called, you  pick from the prize bucket. Lots of assorted cool stuff in there. Appealed to many different people.

But sprinkled throughout that  prize bucket were...packs of baseball cards. But not usual packs, like sealed, retail packs. These were cello-wrapped selections from 2004 Fleer products. Apparently my  fifth grade teacher knew a guy who worked for Fleer who, when the company was bought by Upper Deck in 2005, had a number of leftover cello-pack samplers from 2004 products. So this was his way of getting rid of them.

The cello packs contained one  card each from:
-2004 Flair
-2004 Fleer Classic Clippings
-2004 Skybox LE
-2004 Skybox Autographics
-2004 Fleer Patchworks
-2004 Fleer Showcase

I didn't win in fishbowl very often, because a lot of probability went into that...but when I did, I remember going for those grab-packs of baseball cards. They spoke to me just from their contrast to the baseball cards I was familiar with from my dad's collection.

My initial quest was to chase the names I knew. From a childhood of playing 2003 Backyard Baseball, certain names were familiar to me. Todd Helton. Nomar Garciaparra. Andruw Jones. And seeing them in  packs appealed to my young sensibilities as a collector.

What I didn't yet understand was that I was looking at a picture of an MLB that didn't exist  anymore. The Expos were dead in 2007. The Red Sox had won a World Series, and would soon win another. Shawn Green and Richie Sexson were calming down. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez wouldn't rule the MLB for much longer.

Nomar and Vlad were outdated in these uniforms by the time this set came out. Not that I'd have known or cared. They were stars, right out of the video game. And they belonged in my now burgeoning collection.

Eventually, the people I began pulling cards of began to exceed my  grasp. Who was this big guy, Bartolo Colon, throwing smoke? Why was it such a big deal that Billy Wagner was pitching for my hometown Phillies? And who was this Josh Beckett guy, whose face I'd seen on the top of a pack, from Flair? Why was he so special?

It turned into me going through these packs with my dad. 'Is he good? Is he good?' And him rationalizing and saying that Reggie Sanders was DHing in Kansas City, not in St. Louis, and that Angel Berroa was slumping in KC, and that Doug Mientkiewicz was a backup at best. But that Mark Teixeira one might be good to hold onto.

I won a bunch of these. Stole a few and got caught. By the end of the year, a bunch were left in wrappers that were new to me, unknown to me, and I never got to see what was in them.

That might have been where the addiction began.

There were other factors as well. My friend from down the road getting a complete set of 2005 Topps, with  even more newness and shared collaboration with the 2004 universe. Then around this time, I kept getting invited to Little League end of the year parties, and everyone would go home with a pack of Topps from 2007. And that  turned into me wanting  to expand the universe further and buy more packs, which led to me going crazy on 2007 Topps and Opening Day and Upper Deck and...cannonballing headfirst into the hobby.

But the 2004 packs were always my first, and they always stuck out to me. I wondered what the rest of them  that I didn't get looked like. How Carlos Delgado and Lance Berkman looked on 2004 Showcase. How the other Skybox Autographics portraits looked.

JustCommons finally uploaded some of them to their mega-catalog. So I figured, what the hell.

The results yielded some players I didn't recognize in these designs. Juan Pierre on  Classic Clippings? I only knew the Patchworks one.

The faces were the same as I remembered. Kerry Wood at his peak, Jeff Bagwell winding down, Eric Chavez healthy.

These were even more jarring. Thome, Halladay and Burrell in this set? Had I finally gotten those? And how could then even do a photo like Teixeira's on Classic Clippings.

The newness, and the cool detail, still got to me 14 years later. The set still lived and breathed like it did in  those packs from Fleer.

They had less of the Patchworks ones I needed, but seeing Kerry Wood and Eric Chavez in this set made it feel better. The finality, the closure of a lot of this...that helped immensely.

The Showcase ones really impressed me. Not only  because this  set looks and scans the best of the 3, but a lot of these players just look awesome in  this set. Alomar as a White Sox is in  this set. Final-year Edgar Martinez is in this set. All of this meant so much to me.

But not as much as these two.

In 2004, even in an MLB where Derek Jeter existed, Jim Thome was my favorite player. We'd been to Citizens Bank Park a few times after it opened, and Thome was undeniably the star, hitting like hell, and making it worthwhile. Thome was so much fun to watch, and he was an easy pick to collect in  this era.

In 2008, my last year of little league, due to my lack of hitting against 12-year-old pitching, my coach decided to use me as a pinch-hitter, a bunt-over kind of guy. My dad pointed me towards Juan Pierre, then with the Dodgers, just as a source of speed and bunting. Pierre quickly became one of my  favorites, even after his wonderful year in Philadelphia, and I realized I needed to collect him as well.

These two players were  benchmarks in  my  collection, and among  the many  reasons, along with 2004 Fleer Showcase, that I collect. To have  them finally felt right. It felt new, and special, and it felt right.

I've still got a few more singles left to track down for my collection from these sets, not even mentioning the 3 or 4 that weren't on there, but I'm optimistic. These took 14 years. Collecting takes time. Some cards, some collections, take more energy than others.

But almost all of them are worth it if you believe in them.