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The Nines

"Baseball is 90% mental, and the other half is physical" -Yogi Berra

Trade Dealine: Bay Area Update

With the trade deadline quickly approaching, I thought it might be a good time to start writing again. In order to prevent a five-page essay on what moves every team should make (which I’d be more than happy to do) I decided to concentrate on the two home teams here in the Bay Area. If you have a team that you would like me to talk about shoot me an email at n9nesbaseball@gmail.com. Given their place in the standing we will go over moves the Giants should make and then move on to the A’s.

San Francisco Giants (56-33)

It’s hard to say that the Giants need to fix anything given that they hold not only a solid lead for first in their division, but also currently have the best record in all of Major League Baseball. They have gotten solid starting pitching, which is a San Francisco staple at this point, but their bullpen that has been a strength in the years that they have won the World Series is in desperate need of some better arms. They could also use some more bench depth, although in years past they have had so-so depth and have gotten away with it.

Having Sergio Romo on the disabled list doesn’t help, even though he hasn’t been his sharpest self in the last year or so, but they have not gotten very good contributions out of other arms in the bullpen that they were counting on. Santiago Casilla has some of the best stuff as a closer but is mentally weak and allows a mistake or two to unravel his entire outing. Hunter Strickland shows he can throw hard, but still leaves pitches to much in the zone to be effective in late innings, and Javier Lopez is showing a little bit of age this year sporting a 5 plus e.r.a. Most likely, they will need left handed help more than right handed help, so someone like the Twins Fernando Abad, the Padres Matt Thorton, or look right across the bay at the cheap and controllable Sean Doolittle. Although Doolittle is hurt, he could give them a boost in the second half when he comes off the dl as well as a great option for the next three years. If they are looking to give up some of their top prospects, specifically Tyler Beede or Phil Brickman, then they could shoot for one of the Yankees bullpen arms in Andrew Miller or Arnoldis Chapman. Given what teams have gotten for trades for elite closers in the past (i.e. Ken Giles and Craig Kimbrel) and the amount of years left on Miller’s contract the Giants probably do not want to give up the large package it will take to get him. Chapman will be a hard get as well given that multiple teams will be in on him, and some, like the Cubs, have plenty of organizational depth and can put together ridiculous trade packages.

As far as bench depth goes, the Giants have one of the best infields in the Majors so depth there isn’t too much of a worry. The outfield is where the problems arise. With Hunter Pence coming back from a hamstring injury, and having the injury prone duo of Angel Pagan and Denard Span as the other two-thirds of your outfield it would be smart to look for a solid fourth outfielder to back those three up and give them some rest at times. They do have Gregor Blanco and seventh ranked prospect Mac Williamson on the roster as of now, but neither have provided that extra bat that could be clutch come October. The likelihood that they will go for someone big, like a Carlos Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, or even Josh Reddick. Unfortunately there is no Gerardo Parra on the trading block this year so it will be difficult to find depth. It may be a reach, but calling the Atlanta Braves on Ender Inciarte and see if they can get him for a small package. Inciarte would provide great depth, and a solid future option in centerfield.

Oakland Athletics (38-51)

Unfortunately, the A’s list of needs is a lot shorter than the Giants. Sitting 15.5 games back of the division leading Rangers, the likelihood of the playoffs seems slim this year. The A’s are fortunate enough to have a lot of solid pieces that could get them good returns from teams in races. It would be nice to see the A’s commit to something one-way or another. Build for the future, or build to win now, but don’t sit in the middle. Given their record, they should look towards rebuilding their farm system, especially since they only have one prospect in the top 100 rankings and every other team has multiple. They are currently in extension talks with gold glove right fielder Josh Reddick, which would give the A’s a great outfield for the next couple of years along with Davis and Burns. Personally, I would love to see Davis move to a full time DH and get a better glove out in left field. If they cannot get Reddick to sign an extension, than trading him would give a solid return. A team like the Cubs or the Indians who could both use the outfield depth and both have solid farm systems that could garner good returns. Danny Valencia has shown that his bat is real, and would get a good return from a contending team that needs pop. The Indians come into play here again, as well as the Mets, Marlins, and Dodgers. The Dodgers are probably less likely to trade any good minor league depth because they are trying to get younger, but hey could use the bat at third so I wouldn’t count them out. It would be nice to see the A’s get rid of Billy Butler’s contract but no one is going to want to take on that contract so that option is really not available unless the A’s eat a lot of money.

When it comes to pitching, the A’s have a couple of pieces that could bring them back some depth. Rich Hill is an obvious trade candidate. He has clearly found his grove and kept the hot streak he developed at the end of the year last year going through this year, even surviving a dl stint. Hill is getting serious looks from multiple teams and could go to a contender like the Red Sox or Marlins. The Red Sox are the more likely candidate given their deep minor league system, and Hill could draw a solid return given the weak starting pitching market at the deadline. Sonny Gray’s name has been thrown around, but especially given the rocky season he has had statistically, Billy Beane is probably not going to sell low. Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, and John Axford could all get looks from teams that need bullpen help but are not big enough names to give the A’s any good prospects to build up their system.

Overall this trade deadline should be a fun one in the Bay Area. Remember to follow me at @n9nesbaseball1 on Twitter. If you have any questions, suggestions, or would like to help write, please email me at n9nesbaseball@gmail.com.

Off-Season Report AL West: Houston Astros

Houston Astros 2nd Place 86-76

2015: The Astros came into last season looking to finally move forward after multiple years of being everyone’s punching bag. Things were looking up with batting champion Jose Altuve coming back and a young pitching staff anchored by Dallas Keuchel for the Astros to finally take that next step. After a 15 win opening month of the season, the swing hard or strike out Astros were slowly taking the division by storm. With the midseason acquisitions of Scott Kazmir and Carlos Gomez and the help of young call ups Lance McCullers and Carlos Correa the Astros looked poised to run away with the division. With an inevitable cool down of their bats however and a strikeout or homerun mentality that is doom or gloom, they hit a late season skid. A very hot Rangers team was able to overtake them in the last month of the season and did not relinquish it. Fortunately the Astros were able to hold on for a Wild Card spot and took advantage. Keuchel pitched a gem against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium to put the Astros in the divisional round. They were primed to go to the ALCS and had the defending American League Champion Royals on the ropes and 6 outs away from elimination, but a late game collapse and fiver runs later, the Royals rallied their way to a fifth game and eliminated the Astros two days later. Although they had a heartbreaking end to their season, the Astros ended the year on a high note given they were a year early to the party with all of their young talent, as well as walking away with two regular season awards with Keuchel receiving the Cy Young and Correa receiving Rookie of the Year.

2016: The Astros have a good outlook going into this season, but still have holes left on their roster. After trading away Jed Lowrie to the A’s and losing Chris Carter to free agency both corner spots are now wide open. They could fill third with Louis Valbuena and first with John Singleton but both are very unreliable bats who when given the chance could not produce. As far as the free agent market goes, the only real good option is Ian Desmond who is a good enough athlete to move over to third but the likelihood the Astros will spend that money is slim. They could try to entice him with a one-year deal to help him recover from a poor season last year with the Nationals. They could also use a veteran like Howie Kendrick if he would be willing to move over to third. They have decent depth in the outfield, and with the acquisition of closer Ken Giles their bullpen has been shored up. With a deep itching rotation look for the Astros to make another serious run at the playoffs.

Off-Season Report AL West: LA Angels

After realizing that the past few reviews have been relatively lengthy, I am going to make an effort to make the rest of my previews shorter and more reader friendly. If anyone would like me to expand more on a specific team or wants to write about a team please feel free to email me at n9nesbaseball@gmail.com. Also look for my podcast coming up in the next week or so, and if there are any suggestions on content for that, please see email above. Now that has been said let’s get on with the rest of the AL West Off-Season Report.

L.A Angles 3rd Place 85-77

2015: After a 98 win season and a division title in 2014, the Angels looked to take the next step and make it into the next round of the playoffs. After trading away long time second baseman Howie Kendrick to the crosstown rival Dodgers, it didn’t appear as if the Angels were taking the right steps to repeat. Their 2015 season seemed to reflect just that. Although they got a great rebound season from slugger Albert Puljos and arguably a should have been MVP season from phenom Mike Trout, the rest of their team was just not enough to keep up. A late surge at the end of the season by a revamped bullpen allowed them to vie for a playoff spot but in the end they still came up short. Sadly their somewhat successful season is not what captured headlines, due to the tumultuous relationship between then general manager Jerry Dipoto and both ownership and longtime manager Mike Scioscia. That was good press compared to the awful handling of Josh Hamilton after a relapse with drugs and alcohol. With all of this said, they still ended up only a game out of the playoffs and are a few pieces away from being back in the playoffs.

2016: With a new GM at the helm, hopefully the entire organization can be on the same page to help this team get what they need. It doesn’t quite look that way with owner Arty Moreno coming out and making comments that they are not planning on spending big money on anyone, which takes them out of the market they really needed, left field. They already signed veteran Daniel Nava, which is a small upgrade but not enough to make a real impact. Of course Gerardo Parra would be a good fit here, as he is for almost every outfield in the bigs, but a bigger bat is in need. Hopefully Moreno will open up the checkbook for a Yoenis Cespedas or Justin Upton to fill the need for a big bat in the middle of the lineup. They somewhat answered the question at 3rd base by trading for Yunel Escobar but a big bat in left field would help round out their lineup. As far as pitching goes, they have depth in the bullpen and the rotation but need a bounce back year from basically the entire rotation to have a real chance. They have a hidden gem in Hector Santiago and would have a better rotation with him in it but are handcuffed to veterans Jared Weaver and C.J Wilson.

Wrap-up: In one of the better divisions in baseball, the Angels are only a move or two away from being clear favorites. As with any team, but especially this team, if they can stay healthy and get bounce back years from the pitching that struggled, the Angels can be a real threat not only in the division, but also in the American League.

Off-Season Report AL West: Seattle Mariners

Continuing our look at the AL West, next we look at the fourth place Seattle Mariners.

Seattle Mariners 4th Place 76-86

2015: The Mariners started off 2015 looking to compete with the A’s and Angels who had been at the top of the division for the past two years. With an already solid pitching staff, General Manager Jack Zduriencik looked to put a big bat behind Felix Hernandez and co. They didn’t make a lot of moves but the one they made put a huge thump in their lineup by picking up free agent slugger Nelson Cruz who was coming off of a 40 homer season with the Baltimore Orioles.

With the added protection around Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager the Mariners had a solid middle of the lineup to go with their seemingly great starting pitching many analysts had them plugged as not only the favorites in the division, but many picked them to go to the World Series. Unfortunately, it did not work out that way. With injuries to number two starter Hisashi Iwakuma and the ups and downs of young starter Taijuan Walker their pitching was mediocre at best aside from the always stellar King Felix. That matched along with an offense that couldn’t produce any runs and ended up being the third worse scoring team in the American League. After a disappointing finish and firing their old gm, new gm Jerry Dipoto and the M’s look to rebound in a big way this year.

2016: One thing that the Mariners needed last year was someone at the top of the lineup to get on base. After trading for center fielder Leonys Martin and signing free agent left fielder Nori Aoki to give them solid one two at the top of the lineup, they are much more primed to drive in a lot more runs with Cano, Cruz, and Seager. Dipoto added even more depth by trading for first baseman Adam Lind which only makes an already potentially potent lineup even deeper. Still lacking a solid short stop, they would be smart to go after free agent Ian Desmond if that is within their budget although allowing the very young Ketel Marte to continue to grow at the position would be a reasonable decision. Otherwise, the only moves that they need to make are depth moves, especially in the infield.

On the pitching side of things, outside of Hernandez lies a lot of question marks. If Walker and young gun James Paxton can live up to expectations than that gives some back up for Felix. Wade Miley has potential out of the three spot and Nate Karns showed some real promise in his first full season with Tampa Bay last year. Although on paper this seems like a good rotation, but as last year showed that only means as much as they can actually produce. The bullpen has only got room to improve after the debacle that was Fernando Rodney last year and with the signing of Steve Cishek to add to a decent bullpen they should be able to hold it together.

Like I stated in the A’s off-season review, this division is going to be very competitive and it will be difficult to compete with the three teams at the top. If the Mariners pitching can live up to expectations and the table setters at the top of the lineup can help them produce runs, they may find themselves right in the hunt for a playoff birth.

Off-season Report AL West: Oakland Atheltics

To start us off right, we are going to take a look at the AL West and how each team did last year as well as access the off-season for each team and what else they should accomplish by the start of spring training. Before looking at the teams, we can break down what happened in the AL West last year. All things looked towards the A’s competing at the top of the division with both the Angels after being a playoff team for the third year in a row. The Mariners made a big splash by signing Nelson Cruz to give Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager and making the division a potential three team race. The division ended up being nowhere near this, with the youth of the Houston Astros taking the division by storm with solid pitching and an offense that lived or died by the homerun. They ended up with a wildcard birth after a second half serge by the Texas Rangers anchored by comeback player of the year DH Prince Fielder. Now a look at the A’s.

Oakland Athletics 5th Place (68-94)

2015: The A’s started off last off-season with an unexpected twist, especially after three playoff appearances in a row and what looked like a good chance at a fourth.General Manager Billy Beane made some interesting moves and traded away what would end up being the MVP in Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays for a group of players that have yet to bring back real value. Beane also traded away Jeff Samardzija to the Chicago White Sox and 1B/RF Brandon Moss . The strange moves continued with a 3 year 30 million dollar deal for free agent 1B/DH Billy Butler.

After all was done the newer, younger A’s looked to take back the division that they had been atop of for three years, which was not the case. With poor pitching on the back end of the rotation, an atrocious bullpen, and some terrible first half defense they got off to a start that they could never quite recover from. The did get stand out seasons from rookies Billy Burns and Mark Cahna as well as a near Cy Young season from phenom Sonny Gray. With a near 100 loss season the A’s look to recover in a big way and compete at the top of a very competitive division.

2016: The A’s have already been extremely active this off-season pulling off multiple trades and signing some key free agents. One thing can be said about newly appointed GM David Forst’s goal, make the bullpen better. The A’s have gone out and signed former Royal Ryan Madson and former Brewers closer John Axford to deals as well as made trades for Liam Hendricks, and Mark Rzepczynski which added to a staff that includes closer Sean Doolittle, rookie Ryan Dull, and lefty Felix Doubront.

With the bullpen becoming a potential strength if everyone performs up to expectations the sights then turn to the rotation. Anchored by Sonny Gray, who will only climb his way up the ladder of top pitchers in the game, the rest of the rotation is filled with questions. Can the young guns perform up to their potential? Can Jesse Hahn and Kendall Graveman be the solid rotation pieces they traded for? What will Jared Parker look like coming back from Tommy John? I don’t believe that there should be any addition to the rotation, because the A’s aren’t the division favorites, they should give everyone a chance to prove themselves. Hahn and Graveman both showed they have solid potential and with an ace like Gray the staff will at least be competitive.

Finally, looking at the position players and what improvements can be made there. After trading Brett Lawrie, and trading for Jed Lowrie (welcome back) and Yonder Alonso the infield looks pretty set. Although defensively they aren’t the best, offensively they show promise at every infield spot. Marcus Semien proved he could hit at short and although he was terrible in the first have with the glove, showed major improvements once Ron Washington was brought on staff.Mark Canha provides an interesting dilemma being that he is very athletic for a first baseman but the log jam in the outfield forces him to stay there. Burns proved he can play solid centerfield and is a great leadoff hitter, and Josh Reddick is an elite right fielder defensively and showed he can hit. Coco Crisp has to show he can stay healthy in order to get any real playing time with all of the young talent. Any moves that the A’s make in this area should be depth moves. Players like Gerardo Para and Alberto Callaspo would be good fits who could be everyday fill in players at multiple positions.

Wrap up: The A’s are going to have a hard time competing in one of the better divisions in the league, and with Billy Beane still helping call the shots there is no guarantee that they don’t have a big move coming. That being said, a couple of veteran moves could tie it all together and make them a tough team to beat.

Next up: Seattle Mariners

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