Takeaways from the 2016 MLB Winter Meetings

Aside from the mid-season trade deadline that sees numerous players changing squads with the hopes that they might be the final piece needed to push any given team into the postseason, the Winter Meetings are the busiest time of year for trades and signings to take place around Major League Baseball. mlb

In the past, some of baseball’s biggest deals have taken place during the Winter Meetings (it was the 2007 meetings when the Tigers picked up Miguel Cabrera). But while the 2016 Winter Meetings that took place in National Harbor, Maryland, didn’t have nearly as much action as some of the previous ones, there were still some huge transactions that will vastly affect teams when the 2017 season begins.

Following the signings of big-time free agents Yoenis Cespedes and Carlos Beltran over the past couple of weeks, the Winter Meetings began on Sunday evening, with many rumors swirling around as to what would take place over the course of the five day event. But over time, as always, fact was quickly distinguished from rumor.

Things kicked off with the signing of Matt Holliday by the New York Yankees on a one-year, 13 million dollar deal. While the acquisition doesn’t immediately jump off the page as all that great, it’s still an impactful one. The seven-time All-Star can play a variety of positions, and can still hit with the best of them, knocking 20 homers in 2016.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia PhilliesOn the opposite side of the spectrum is Mark Melancon, who is one of the best at limiting homers, giving up just three total over the course of 71.1 innings last season. For his efforts, Melancon was grabbed by the Giants for the next four years at a price tag of 62 million. After saving 88 games over the last two years, Melancon certainly earned it, and San Francisco appears to have found their closer.

It also appears that Melancon will come in handy for the Giants, as their long-time rivals, the Dodgers, were successful in resigning Rich Hill on a three-year, 48 million dollar deal. After being virtually on his way out of the sport at one point, Hill posted a 2.12 ERA last season, and would likely be the Dodgers’ ace if not for Clayton Kershaw. Still, he sits as one of the best pitchers in the game.

Offensively, it became apparent that the Blue Jays were looking into other options other than Edwin Encarnacion following their signing of Kendrys Morales a few weeks ago, but it became even more so with the addition of Steve Pearce for 12.5 over the next two years. Pearce doesn’t have nearly the power of some players, but his bat is still one that can impact any given game, despite not being a huge move.

However, just as it seemed that the Winter Meeting were going to be a bit slow, with just a few above average deals, the Red Sox decided to take things up a notch. Following a trade for reliever Tyler Thornburg from the Brewers in exchange for Travis Shaw, Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington, Boston made the biggest splash of the offseason to this point.

Reaching deep into their farm system, the Red Sox sent away highly coveted prospects saleYoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, along with Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz, in return for Chris Sale. If Sale can keep up his dominance that’s made him one of the best pitchers in baseball, the Red Sox could win the division with ease in 2017. But as has been seen in the past, baseball is extremely unpredictable.

Nearly as uncertain is a player’s health from any given season to the next, and Wilson Ramos is a prime example of that. After beginning 2016 on a tear, Ramos suffered a season-ending injury this past season, but hopes to be ready to go sometime around the middle of 2017. Whenever he arrives with the Rays, who signed him to a two-year, 12.5 million (18.5 with incentives) dollar deal, he’s sure to make his presence known.

Wade Davis is also sure to make a big difference for the Cubs, as if they needed any more help. After winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years this season, Chicago picked up lockdown reliever Wade Davis from the Royals in a trade that sent Jorge Soler to the Royals. With Aroldis Chapman winding up with a team away from Chicago as the Winter Meetings progressed, Davis could come up big in 2017.

But while teams such as the Red Sox and Cubs were focused on rebuilding their major league lineup, there were those like the White Sox who made huge improvements to their farm system. After receiving quite the hall from the Red Sox in the Chris Sale deal, the Sox proceeded to pick up Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning from the Nationals, losing just Adam Eaton in the swap.

Many see this as a vastly one-sided deal, with the Nationals getting the short end of the stick. But after losing out on Chris Sale and Mark Melancon, the Nationals were undoubtedly looking to add an impact piece and were all in to get Adam Eaton. They may regret it in the short term, but in the long term things may work out in their favor.

desmondOne player who didn’t have things work out quite the way he had been hoping was Ian Desmond, who agreed to a five-year, 70 million dollar contract to play in Denver. After struggling mightily in 2015, following a turndown of a 7-year, 102 million dollar offer from the Nationals in 2014, Demsond really broke out again in 2016 with the Rangers.

The Rockies could use some offense (among other things), and Desmond adds a big piece to their improving lineup, despite not getting the contract he could have received just a few seasons ago.

The final big transaction made on the final day of the Winter Meetings saw Aroldis Chapman going back to the Yankees for five years and 86 million dollars. Coming off his help with the Cubs in their World Series title quest in this season, Chapman has long been known as a devastating pitcher, with his 102+ mile per hour fastball. It will be interesting to see how the Yankees fare in 2017 in what has become a competitive division, but with Chapman locking down the ninth, anything is truly possible.

But while some teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox and White Sox left the Winter Meetings with their teams very different from when things began, with others doing hardly anything at all to improve their club, it’s important to keep in mind that there are still over 16 weeks left until the 2017 season begins.

The shaking up of teams this offseason could possibly be far from over.

Gary Sanchez: The American League’s Trevor Story

When Trevor Story came up with the Rockies on Opening Day and proceeded to set the baseball world on fire by blasting a homer in his first four career games (six total over than span), he accomplished something that had never been done in the history of Major League Baseball. You had to figure it’d be awhile before we saw anything quite like that again.Sanchez

But then Gary Sanchez was called up by the Yankees.

Despite getting two at-bats towards the end of the 2015 season, Sanchez performed poorly in Spring Training and was assigned to Triple-A to begin 2016. However, once he proved himself at Scranton, the Yankees decided to move him back up to the big league squad, and Sanchez has not disappointed.

In 20 games this season, Sanchez has batted a scorching .403 with ten homers — the same number he hit in 71 games this year at Triple-A. To put things in perspective, Sanchez has also recorded seven doubles, leading to 17 of his 31 hits this season being for extra bases and an unheard of .883 slugging percentage. To say Sanchez has been good would be a huge understatement.

Sanchez has in fact been historic, much in the way Trevor Story was performing before his season-ending injury earlier this season. With Sanchez’s first 10 homers coming over just 22 career games (counting the 2 from last season), he sits behind just Trevor Story and George Scott for the fewest number of games to ten career home runs (Story and Scott did it in 21 games). In addition, Sanchez’s 20 RBI’s joins him with the likes of Joe DiMaggio and Hideki Matsui as the only Yankees to ever reach that mark in their first 22 games in the pinstripes.

With Sanchez showing now signs of cooling off anytime soon, the Yankees look to be in a good spot heading forward. Having won their last three games, they now sit 3.5 games back of a Wild Card spot and 5.5 back of the division lead. While they will have to continue to beat good teams to stay in the race, and hold a small chance at the playoffs by all accounts, anything is possible in the game of baseball.

Gary Sanchez has already proven that.

Zach Britton on the Same Journey as Mariano Rivera

Before I get too far into this post, let me begin by saying that I am in no way comparing Zach Britton to Mariano Rivera as far as the caliber of pitching is concerned (not yet, at least). Rivera is in a class all his own as the best closer in baseball history, hands down, and will inevitably be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Britton is still a long way away from being anywhere close to the pitcherClosers Rivera was. But even so, there are undeniably a lot of similarities to this point in both of their careers.

Like Rivera, Britton began his career as a starting pitcher. Coming up through the Orioles’ system, Britton posted a 3.38 ERA over the course of 137 games in the minor leagues. However, upon reaching the majors, Britton wasn’t able to stick, posting a 4.77 ERA over 46 starts ranging from 2011-2013.

Rivera faired much the same in his attempt to be a big league starter. In his only season starting for the Yankees, Rivera was horrible, positng a 5.51 ERA over 10 starts. The following season, Rivera was made a reliever, and the year after that at the age of 27 was made the full time closer, notching 43 saves his first season as the ninth-inning-guy.

The rest is history.

In the first season as a full-time closer for Britton in 2014, he recorded 37 saves and posted a 1.65 ERA — a huge turnaround from the three subpar seasons in which he attempted to make it as a starter. And he hasn’t looked back since. Over the past three seasons, the two-time All-Star has recorded a collective 1.44 ERA as well as 111 saves, including 38 alone so far this season. But Britton is still being overlooked in the minds of many.

This year, Britton is not only having a breakout season that’s leading to him being seen as a top-notch closer, but also BrittonAas a candidate for Cy Young or even (less likely) American League Most Valuable Player.

Britton is certainly making a good case to be in the running. After all, it’s been nearly four months since Britton allowed an earned run, coming all the way back on April 30th.

Since then, Britton has gone 43 straight appearances without allowing an earned run. When you put it all together, Britton has recorded one of the best seasons ever for a reliever, tallying a 0.53 ERA to this point — on pace to be the lowest single-season ERA ever for a reliever with over 50 games pitched (Rivera’s lowest ever was 1.38 back in 2005).

If that isn’t remarkable, I don’t know what is.

So, maybe Britton won’t go on to be a Hall of Fame closer. Sitting well over 500 career saves back of Rivera, Britton certainly has a long way to go before he could even come close to being viewed in that light, and there have been a fair amount of relief pitchers to explode onto the scene only to fall apart within a few years. That’s not the point I’m trying to make at all. But regardless, the similarities between the two are hard to ignore.

Who knows? Maybe Zach Britton’s career will turn out much like that of Mariano Rivera.

Failed starter, turned All-Star closer, turned all-time great.

1,000 Homers Worth of Players Lost this Week

This week hasn’t been the best for two of the game’s best power hitters.

On Sunday, it was announced that Alex Rodriguez will be ending his playing days on Friday, as he will be FielderArodtaking part in his final game after being released by the Yankees. Following that, on Tuesday, it was revealed that Prince Fielder’s playing career has also come to a close, for a much different reason.

Rodriguez is set to serve as an advisor for the Yankees following Friday’s game, as the Yankees letting him go as a player has left Rodriguez out of a job. With his departure goes 696 career homers, and two decades worth of incredible stats, including three 50+ home run seasons.

But Rodriguez’s departure doesn’t come without controversy that has seemingly followed him throughout his career. Serving multiple suspensions over his career, Rodriguez isn’t liked by a good amount of people around baseball, but his loss is still somewhat sad on a baseball level.

Fielder, on the other hand, left virtually no one with a dry eye when conducting his tear-filled retirement announcement earlier this week. Having undergone a second neck surgery this season — a surgery that appeared to threaten merely this season — Fielder has been forced to give up baseball for good.

He takes with him 319 career bombs, and will undoubtedly be missed around the baseball world. Hitting a career high 50 homers back in 2007, Fielder hasn’t nearly been that type of power hitter in quite some time, fighting injury after injury over the past several years. But no one expected his retirement to come so quickly, or unexpectedly.

At the end of the day, whether or not you were a fan of Alex Rodriguez or Prince Fielder, or couldn’t care less to see them go, this is still one of those weeks around baseball that will change its face. Power hitters like these two don’t come around all that often, and it will be interesting to see the corresponding moves both teams make to recoup for their losses.

1,015 home runs is a lot to replace.

Ichiro Suzuki Notches 3,000th Hit

It took him a bit longer than expected, sitting on 2,998 hits for seven straight games, but Ichiro Suzuki finally tallied his 2,999 hit on Saturday and promptly recorded knock number 3,000 on Sunday, making him the 30th player all-time to reach the incredible mark. Ichiro

With the hit, Ichiro has all but locks himself in as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Although Ichiro’s batting average for this season has taken a bit of a dive recently, due to his several hitless games in a row, he’s still batting .317 on the season and holds a .314 lifetime average.

It’s that type of consistency that has ultimately given Ichiro so much success over his career. Spending most of his “prime” years over in Japan before coming to the United States in 2001, Ichiro absolutely burst onto the scene, hitting .350 with 56 stolen bases his rookie year. That would turn out to be just the beginning of what would turn into ten straight 200-hit seasons and subsequently 3,000 hits.

Whether Ichiro retires in the next year or two, or decides to play until age fifty is yet to be seen. But one thing is for sure. As long as Ichiro continues to don a uniform, he’ll continue to do what he does best: Get hits — lots of them.

State of the Baseball World After the Trade Deadline

The days and weeks leading up to baseball’s annual trade deadline is always a hectic time around Major League Baseball. Virtually, no player is safe from the trade market if the right offer is presented, and there is guaranteed to always be some exciting moves. In the end, it’s the trades made now that can make or break any team’s season two months down the road.

Over the last week, or so, before Monday’s trade deadline, a number of big-time transactions (18 trades, involving 49 players, on Monday alone) took place. Although some where bigger than others, and will therefore have greater impacts, they all will have some impact on the landscape of Major League Baseball. Since it would be nearly impossible to discuss every single move, here’s a recap of some of the larger ones in my mind:

Arguably the biggest trade made of the entire week was the one that saw Aroldis Chapman heading to the Cubs for a Chapmanquad of prospects, in Adam Warren, Gleyber Torres, Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford. While giving up four future stars for a closer isn’t necessarily always a good move, it definitely is in this case. With Chapman possessing a fastball that can be cranked up to 105, Chapman is one of the most dominant at what he does and definitely makes the Cubs the World Series favorites again after they had fallen off a bit as of late.

Another move that made a team favorites once again was the one that saw Melvin Upton Jr. getting sent off to the Blue Jays for Hansel Rodriguez. Upton has truly been having a breakout season after a few down years, and he will be able to help make the Jays even better. Although he pales in comparison to Toronto’s power group of Troy Tulowitzki, Edwin Encarancion, Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson, Upton Jr. is still a big pickup for the Jays.

The only true blockbuster trade of the past week involved a total of seven players. Andrew Cashner, Colin Rea (later returned due to injury concerns) and CashnerTayron Guerrero were sent to the Marlins for Jarred Cosart, Carter Capps, Luis Castillo (the prospect returned for Rea) and Josh Naylor. While Cashner hasn’t been having the greatest of seasons, he has shown signs in the past of being dominant at times. On the flip side, Cosart hasn’t really ever lived up to the hype and will be looking to breakout with San Diego.

Speaking of hype — while the Nationals have lived up to the preseason billings to this point in the season, their closer, Jonathan Papelbon, has not. For that reason, the Nats went out and secured what they view as the answer to the problem, getting Mark Melancon from the Pirates for Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn. I like the move a lot, as Melancon can truly be a big impact player towards the end of any given game and should give them added security to lock up close games.

One of the oddest trades of the lot occurred when Matt Kemp was sent to the Braves for Hector Olivera. While Kemp is going to be a Brave for the foreseeable future due to his large contract, Olivera, on the other hand, was immediately released upon his arrival to San Diego. Overall, Olivera has been more trouble than he’s worth, not playing the way he had been expected and getting involved in a lot of off-the-field issues. For that reason, the move works out great for the Padres, as they finally were able to free up Kemp’s contract, despite losing him to the Braves, who are looking to rebuild.

Another team who made it apparent they were in the rebuilding stage are the New York Yankees. After sending off Chapman earlier in the week, the Yankees parted ways with another piece of the Yankees’ “three-headed monster” in the form of Andrew Miller, leaving just Dellin Betances in what was once seen as the best bullpen in baseball. Even so, the Yankees were able to acquire Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen to reload their subpar farm system.

But the Yankees weren’t yet done with their team reshaping. On the day of the deadline, the Yankees sent Carlos BeltranBeltran to the Rangers for Dillon Tate, Nick Green and Erik Swanson. While the Yankees felt confident heading into this season that they could make the postseason, things haven’t gone their way, and the Yankees are obviously planning for next year and beyond by adding a ton of great prospects to their farm system.

However, the Giants are seemingly planning for now, going out and picking up Matt Moore from the Rays for Matt Duffy, Lucius Fox and Michael Santos. This move gives the Giants yet another key piece to their rotation to attempt another run at the World Series. Whether or not they get there is yet to be seen, but Moore will assuredly give them good outings that improves their chances greatly.

But while the Giants are on top in the National League West, the Dodgers made a move to attempt to chase them down. On Monday, the Dodgers acquired Rich Hill and Josh Reddick from the Athletics for Frankie Montas, Grant Holmes ad Jharel Cotton. Although those three are some big time pieces to give up, the Dodgers received back a nice piece in Josh Reddick and a pitcher who (once healthy again) should help them make up a few innings with Kershaw on the DL.

BruceOne of the moves that I liked the most is the pickup of Jay Bruce by the Mets for Dilson Herrera and Max Wotell. Anticipated to be slotted behind Yoenis Cespedes in the Mets’ lineup, the addition of Bruce makes the Mets a very formidable bunch. If the Mets didn’t have a any sort of chance before at chasing down the first place Nationals, they certainly have a decent shot now.

But while the Mets are looking to chase down the Nationals, the Rangers are looking to extend their lead in the American League Central. After Jonathan Lucroy was reportedly traded away to the Indians for a few prospects, that deal turned out to fall through, as Lucroy vetoed the trade. In the end, however, Lucroy found himself heading to the Rangers, in addition to Jeremy Jeffress, in exchange for Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz. Although I really liked those two prospects, Lucroy and Jeffress should help the Rangers in their push towards the postseason, especially with Beltran being added as well.

Finally, the Blue Jays made another splash just before the deadline arrived, getting Francisco Liriano, Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez from the Pirates for Drew Hutchinson. With the Jays’ rotation needing a bit of a boost, I feel that Liriano will give them just that. It remains to be seen how much of an impact he will have, but Liriano could be a major difference maker for Toronto in the weeks to come.

While not all of these trades will wind up paying off, it will certainly be interesting to follow them all as the season progresses. Sometimes it’s the simplest of moves that can cause a team to take off. You never can tell from one year to the next what will be the key to taking teams to the ultimate high of a World Series title.

Ichiro Suzuki Nearing Two Ultimate Hit Milestones

Although it won’t officially count in the record books, Ichiro Suzuki is on the verge of surpassing the all-time hit record of 4,256 professional hits, set by Pete Rose over the course of his would-be Hall of Fame career. Sitting on 4,255 combined pro hits between Major League Baseball and Japan’s equivalent level Nippon Baseball League, Ichiro is just two hits shy of having the most hits in professional baseball history.

SuzukiHowever, as previously stated, it won’t go down as the official record for hits in Major League Baseball history, as 1,278 of Ichiro’s career hits came over in Japan and therefore don’t count towards his career numbers here in America. But regardless, it’s still an amazing accomplishment.

Ichiro first broke into the majors back in 2001 at age 27. That year with the Mariners, Ichiro recorded one of the best first seasons in MLB history. With 242 hits, a .350 average and 56 stolen bases, Ichiro walked away with the MVP and Rookie of the Year awards, along with a Silver Slugger, Gold Glove and an All-Star appearance. Quite the haul for a player in their very first year.

Going on to have nine consecutive superstar level seasons following 2001, including nine more Gold Gloves, nine subsequent seasons of 200+ hits (including the single-season record of 262 back in 2004) and nine more All-Star games, Ichiro hasn’t been on the same level since his last star season in 2010. But that doesn’t matter. He’s still an all-time great and a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer.

His approaching milestone of 3,000 career MLB hits is further evidence of that. Although Ichiro has slacked off a bit in his seasonal numbers since leaving the Mariners in 2012, he is still fun to watch, and can still hit with the best of them. Now just 23 hits away from becoming the 30th player to reach the 3,000 hit mark, the 42-year-old Ichiro is certainly still an MLB-level talent.

Even though he won’t go down in history as the all-time hits king — Pete Rose would seem to be happy about that — Ichiro will definitely go down as the best all-around player to ever come out of Japan, and one of the best in the entire history of Major League Baseball.

Hit-record or not, Ichiro is still in a class all his own.