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The Morning Edition (April 2, 2013)

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

From Last Night:

  • Bryce Harper backed a great performance from Stephen Strasburg with 2 HR
  • Clayton Kershaw twirled a CGSO and homered
  • Justin Upton homered in his Braves debut
  • The Brewers and Angels both won in extras

What I’m Watching Today:

  • David Price begins his Cy Young defense against the O’s in Tampa (3p Eastern)
  • The new look Blue Jays begin their season behind R.A. Dickey (7p Eastern)
  • Darvish looks to help the Rangers against the undefeated Astros (8p Eastern)

The Big Question:

  • What will Hyun-Jin Ryu’s debut look like in LA? (10p Eastern)

It was an exciting Opening Day and today’s abbreviated schedule looks to pact a slightly less forceful punch despite some exciting talent toeing the rubber. I’ll have my eye on the Blue Jays, especially to see if they can get off on the right foot. Check back each and every morning for musings from around the league. As the season gets a little further along, this will become a place for more analysis and debate.

The Nine Best Left Fielders for 2013

Compiling a list of The Nine best left fielders proved interesting this season because so many of the players on this list were not full time left fielders last season. By my count, three or four of the top nine spent time at a different position in 2012 and as of this publication, they are not all 100% locks to play left field. If you’re reading this during the season and are like, “Hey, #1 plays centerfield!” you might be right. Please take the positionality of the outfielders with a grain of salt.

That said, this was a very deep list. Apologies to many who didn’t make the cut. Prove me wrong and end up on next year’s list.

9. Curtis Granderson/Brett Gardner (Yankees)

Now it may seem strange to have the ninth spot go to two players, but I’m just not sure which Yankee is going to be in left field this season and either one would fit right here on my list, so it’s both of them. Whichever plays there, lands here. Granderson hits for power, but Gardner is much better at getting on base and plays a much better defense. Both players have great aspects of their games and both have weaknesses.

8. Yoenis Cespedes (Athletics)

Cespedes hit nicely in 2012, but missed 33 games and played below average defense. It’s hard to be sure about those flaws because we don’t have any great data from his time playing in Cuba, but he has all the necessary tools to excel in the majors. My hesitation with him is merely that I don’t have nearly as much information about him as I do for everyone else on the list. If he repeats his 2012, he’ll move up the list quickly.

7. Carlos Gonzalez (Rockies)

CarGo’s place on this list is really a testament to his contemporaries rather than a knock on him. He’s on base a lot and hits for power to go along with some good baserunning chops. His defense is something of an open question because certain people love it and certain people hate it. Gonzalez gets help from his park to some degree, so that will cost him just a spot or so on the list. Great player, but not a top five left fielder for 2013.

6. Justin Upton (Braves)

Upton still has his prime ahead of him and is moving to the Braves and left field to play with his brother, but he also had a rough season in 2012 compared to a great 2011. Most people see the talent and expect great things, but he also seems to have developed the reputation as an underperformer. The change of scenery should be good for him because his coaching staff and front office won’t be looking to trade him every day. A good season for Upton is ahead, but not a great one.

5. Matt Holliday (Cardinals)

Holliday is a great and consistent offensive performer and is just starting to slow down defensively at 33. He’s the centerpiece of a great lineup and hasn’t been worth fewer than 4 WAR since 2006. The ceiling might be lower than Upton, but the floor is higher.

4. Alex Gordon (Royals)

Gordon took a while to arrive relative to expectations, but he finally did in 2011 and followed it with a great 2012. He’s a gold glove defender in left and does everything well. Power, speed, and discipline mix nicely in Gordon and for my money, after Ben Zobrist, is probably baseball’s most underrated player. The Royals might not have enough to contend this year, but they have a star in left.

3. Bryce Harper (Nationals)

Harper is another player moving to left this season, and he’s doing it on baseball’s best team. He had a great season for a teenager at 19 and another year under his belt should only make him better. Harper is often referred to as a generational talent, but even if he isn’t Mantle or Mays, a single step forward from last season should be enough to put him near the top of this list. Harper does everything well and should be at the top of this list for years to come.

2. Ryan Braun (Brewers)

Ryan Braun is arguably baseball’s best all-around player. He is an MVP at the plate, runs the bases well, and is consistently improving his defense in left. He’s entering his prime despite having a collection of elite seasons already under his belt and has never missed more than twelve games in a season in five and a half big league seasons. The fact that Braun is second on this list despite that resume tells you something about the man ahead of him.

1. Mike Trout (Angels)

Mike Trout had an all-time great season at 20. The guys who do that, tend to be all-time greats. He hit for power and average, ran the bases as well as anyone in the game, and was among the very best defensive centerfielders in the sport. He was, by far, the best player in the league in 2012. That performance is not something you can easily duplicate, but even 75% of what he was last season would be enough to challenge Braun for first on this list. If Trout was half as good as he was last season, he would still be a perennial all-star. Mike Trout might not be the best player in the league for years to come, but it’s hard not to dream on his talent and get caught up in his 2012 season. Lost in this love letter to Trout is that there is a player on the Angels who is good enough on defense that he is pushing Trout to left in 2013; Peter Bourjos. Trout is the best left fielder for 2013 only because there is someone on his team who is a better defensive centerfielder than he is. Pretty amazing.

Like this list? Hate this list? Have a more nuanced feeling about this list? Join the discussion in the comments section or on Facebook and Twitter. 

Lots of Baseball Happens: Signings, Extensions, and Trades

In the most cliché move yet this offseason, the hot stove is heating up as baseball’s GMs decided to start making moves in the week before the Winter Meetings in Nashville. Because my day job doesn’t allow me to spend the 12 hours a day I would like to writing about baseball, I’m going to have to get you caught up at lightning speed.

Here are the big moves from this week and my brief take on each:

Angels sign RP Ryan Madson, 1 year, $6 million plus incentives

Excellent move by the Angels who followed up by dumping Jordon Walden on the Braves for Tommy Hanson. Madson was a solid reliever for the Phillies for several years before signing a 1 year deal with the Reds last season. He got injured before the season and never threw a pitch, so it’s hard to judge exactly how healthy he may be. The Angels took that risk and added Madson to their bullpen on a one year deal during and offseason that has seen two meh relievers (League and Broxton) get three year contracts. Grade: A

Braves sign OF BJ Upton , 5 years, $75 million

The Braves needed to resign or replace Michael Bourn and this will do the trick. I have my doubts about Upton going forward and think he’s a guy who peaked early and will never live up to his skills. That said, he’s been a useful big leaguer with flashes of star power in the past and the Braves are only signing him through his age 32 season. I don’t love this deal, but it’s not a huge risk given how big contracts are getting. I think Upton has a couple more $15 million seasons in him, I’m just not sure how many and when they’ll come. I’m glad my team isn’t taking this risk, but I’m guessing the Braves won’t regret this and if they do, it won’t be a huge regret. Grade: B-

Nationals acquire Denard Span from the Twins for P Alex Meyer

The Tigers fan in me is thrilled Span is leaving the AL Central. The analyst in me thinks the Nationals made a shrewd move here. A cost controlled Span for three more seasons will do wonders between Harper and Werth and can provide a nice boost at the top of the order in a much cheaper way than the free agent options. Meyer is an interesting prospect, but most of the people I’ve talked to or read seem to think he’s a risky-high upside type. Span fills a hole in the Nats outfield and they traded from pitching depth, and they have a lot of that. The Twins have Ben Revere to fill the Span void and they do need a lot of pitching. I like this deal for them except that I think they probably could have gotten more in a deal for Span. Grade (Nats): A, Grade (Twins): C+

Pirates sign Russell Martin, 2 years, $17 million

The Pirates got something they needed. Offense. Martin hits for power and walks at a decent rate while provide some value on defense through solid pitching framing and debatable throwing skills. He’s a good fit for the Pirates and it’s hard to call $8.5 million for a free agent who can easily get to 2.0 WAR an overpay. Can’t complain if I’m a Bucs fan, but I really just want to point out that the Pirates outbid the Yankees for a player. The Pirates…outbid…the Yankees. With money. Grade: B

Mets extend David Wright, 7 years, $122 million

This extension starts after 2013 and carries Wright into his age 37 season. I was preparing a “What Should the Mets Pay Wright” piece when the news broke of this extension and I have to say, the Mets are getting a really solid yearly price for the cost of guaranteeing a lot of years. This is similar to the Longoria deal in a lot of ways except Longoria signed his four years ahead of free agency and Wright signed his one year ahead. Wright proved, through signing this deal, that he is committed to winning in New York and he’ll likely be a Met for life. Assuming he stays healthy, it’s hard for me to see a way in which this deal becomes a mess. It might not payoff, but it should mostly pay off. Grade: B+

The Winter Meetings are coming next week and a lot more action should be coming. Check back with STT for complete coverage.

122 days until Opening Day.

Is Now the Time to Trade Justin Upton?

So the pundit echo chamber buzz of the week is about the Diamondbacks listening to offers on Justin Upton, their 25 year old RF coming off a down season. You may remember him from such posts as, “I Thought He Would Win MVP this season.”

Needless to say, I saw a good deal of potential in Upton entering this season and haven’t lost a ton of faith in him after a meh 2012.

But should the Diamondbacks trade him?

As always, it depends. If someone makes a really good offer, you should always take it, but if we’re talking about reasonable offers, I would argue it depends a lot on what players you get back.

That sounds like a stupid answer, but I mean it in a very specific way. You should trade Upton now if you’re getting back big league players. For example, Dave Cameron at Fangraphs evaluated an Upton for Andrus deal. That’s a deal you take.

But if it’s for prospects, I’m waiting.

But not because I’m someone who wants to see proven talent and all that, I’m waiting because this is the wrong time to trade Upton. His value is never going to be lower. He’s coming off a down season that followed a great year. You’re selling low on your most valuable asset if you deal him now.

That’s a fine strategy if the deal you want won’t be available during the season. The Rangers won’t deal Andrus or other big league pieces in July. So if you want an MLB level guy, pull the trigger.

If you want a massive prospect haul, wait. Those guys will be available in July because the team you’re dealing with won’t have to subtract from the big league team to get Upton, and they’ll be more desperate. The options will be more limited.

There are 3-5 OF on the market right now who can be as good as Upton in the short run. At the 2013 deadline, that number should be much lower.

Hold on to Justin Upton because he’s either going to help you contend in 2013 or bring you a bigger return than dealing him now.

Tigers Perspective: Lots of people are asking if the Tigers should target Upton, but I can’t see them doing it. I don’t know for sure what Arizona is asking for, but I think you’re talking about Castellanos, Smyly, and more. That’s a high price to pay for a player coming off a down season. The Tigers have a loaded 3-4-5 combo for the next two seasons and a solid leadoff man. They need depth more than they need star power. Pass.

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