The Sandbox: Want To Build A World Series Winner? Trade For Young Hitters, Not Young Pitchers

Jared Sandler
July 29, 2019 - 10:39 am
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QUICK NOTES

The Marcus Stroman trade appeared to help the Rangers by eliminating a pitcher on the block from the grasp of contending teams interested in Minor, thus helping his market, but the return was really low which might set the price tag lower than what would be worthwhile. But deadlines and desperation do unpredictable things so who really knows?

This is why it is so tough having "would/should you trade them" discussions...it is so hard to have a freaking clue what the market is or will be and the potential return plays a huge role in answer the above question.

LEADING OFF

Want to build a World Series winner? Go and acquire young hitters…not young pitchers! Huh? Yeah, I confuse myself sometimes, but give me a few seconds and I’ll explain…

The evolution of baseball is now not confined to the physics or the finances, but to team building as we once knew it. As recently as this decade it seemed that teams were starving to grow their pitching and if they were lucky, to do so in an act of gluttony. Homegrown arms were saviors due to the risk and expense of free agent pitching contracts. But, the other day when discussing potential returns in a Mike Minor trade, I was shocked to advocate for the acquisition of position player prospects.

Acquiring top of the line pitching prospects isn’t easy, but the challenge decreases when you’re offering an established Major League pitcher in return. Teams, over time, have demonstrated a greater willingness to part with one of their minor league arms for a Major League arm as opposed to a Major League bat. Thus, Mike Minor would appear to be the key to unlocking that treasure chest of pitching prospects.

Even still, the exchange rate isn’t equal. Let’s equate this to actual currency. Let’s say Mike Minor is worth $10 (numbers are random and not to scale). In a trade for a team’s best pitching prospect, that might only be worth $7, but it could maintain an equal value of $10 for a team’s best position-player prospect.

Why?

Well, despite a shift in team-building I’ll get to shortly, pitchers are still valuable and still expensive and risky in the open market. Plus, teams now invest more time and resources than ever before in these young arms and are less willing to just move them as freely as they once were. Plus, the way the best teams are built these days with an increase of really bad teams around the league shifting the distribution of talent, most contenders have stud lineups in which a guy or multiple guys might be blocking their young stud hitters. On the contrary, there might not be a single rotation in MLB where that team’s number five starter is truly “blocking” that same team’s best pitching prospect for when the time is right. 

So, if the Rangers were to trade Mike Minor, would I be upset if they got a stud pitching prospect? No! Not at all. And, depending on their trade partner, that package might be at its best with a pitching prospect headlining the deal. However, I want talent and don’t want to take a discount just to get a young and unpredictable arm when this team as it is currently constructed can also very badly use to stud bats, too.

What do recent World Series Champions, the Red Sox, Astros, Cubs, and Royals all have in common? For the most part, their core hitters all either came from within or were acquired at young and not-yet-established ages (pre-arbitration), with a few exceptions. They also share in common that their rotations and bullpens included, or in some cases were led by, studs acquired either in free agency or trade for a hefty price.

I’m not going to mention every player on each team but take note of the weight carried by homegrown bats and acquired arms for the following teams…

The 2015 Royals had homegrown/pre-arb bats Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, and Lorenzo Cain. While their staff had Yordano Ventura, they also added Edinson Volquez, Jeremy Guthrie, and Johnny Cueto along with Wade Davis in the bullpen to join their homegrown guys.

How about the 2016 Cubs? Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber, and Willson Contreras got help from Dexter Fowler and Jason Heyward, the latter of whom provided little offensive help that season. Their rotation, however, was carried by acquisitions Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, John Lackey, and Jason Hammel joining Kyle Hendricks who, while acquired in a fateful Rangers trade, was added before even making his MLB debut. Oh, and Aroldis Chapman played a pretty big role, too.

Moving on to the 2017 Astros, we’ve got Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, George Springer, and Marwin Gonzalez with the sticks.  On the bump, Justin Verlander, Charlie Morton, and Mike Fiers carried a considerable load.

And while the 2018 Red Sox had the biggest single position player acquired for big dollars in free agency in J.D. Martinez, they also had Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and their best individual player, Mookie Betts. On the mound? Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, and Nate Eovaldi were all acquisitions, as was Craig Kimbrel.

I’ll spare you from assessing 2019 but the strongest contenders pretty much all follow the same pattern.

The reality is that young stud prospect bats more successfully convert as big leaguers than pitchers. They’re also easier to predict because they aren’t as susceptible to year-ending injuries like pitchers are with Tommy John. A young, stud pitching prospect could be in High-A but still anywhere from 3-6 years away based on how teams slowly move them along plus the risk of a 14-month TJ absence. That same delay isn’t nearly as prevalent in with hitters.

It isn’t that pitching isn’t important. Quite the opposite. But I want my big investment to be for a guy who is already established—COUGH COUGH GERRIT COLE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE COUGH COUGH.  There is still risk with giving an established guy a big contract but that’s where front offices make their money—deciding who is and isn’t deserving of a bank-breaking deal.

The Rangers need pitching and hitting improvements to get on the level of “World Series contender,” which, of course, is the ultimate goal. Bullpens are easier fixes but it seems like their best bet is to draft well and hope to develop guys on the mound while curbing the waiting game and getting an already-made horse while trying to stock up on young bats to develop a threatening core the way World Series winners before have done and future World Series winners appear to be doing.

Again, maybe their trading partner lines up best with their farm that arms are the most sensible return, but if they go in the way of bats, don’t look at it as a disappointment. It seems like the way of the future is to get the young bats and the proven arms.

(ST)RANGER THINGS

*Good news/bad news regarding Joey Gallo. The good news is that we now know why he all of a sudden got stuck in a big funk: his hamate bone. The bad news is, of course, that it was his hamate bone and he’s undergone surgery and will be out for at least a month and maybe longer. The surgery removes the hamate bone and has no long term effects so this won’t be a concern for Joey come 2020.

*Count me in the group of folks who was thrilled with Santana’s April but thought his track record would catch up with him. It looked that way in May when he took a step back but he’s been awesome since June. Now the question is whether or not the Rangers move him. It’s a great question and I’d love to know what his value is because without that knowledge it’s tough to opine. I will say, though, that something the Rangers must consider is that his value will likely never be higher so it is important to weigh that against potential future impact. Let’s see what happens!

*Willie Calhoun is back with the Rangers and I’m going to make a bold prediction that he never plays another game at Triple-A Nashville unless it is on rehab assignment. Before his most recent demotion, he was pulling off of everything and, overall, struggling. Upon his return, he drove the first two balls he put in play to the opposite field and immediately reestablished a more balanced approach. He did it again yesterday with his game-tying double to left-center.

*Ronald Guzman just hasn’t gotten into a rhythm this here. He told me as much a month ago. It wasn’t an excuse as much as it was frustration. He said he was putting in the work but once it came to the games it just wasn’t consistently translating. Guzzy is about as honest and genuine as it gets and his frustration was palpable. He’s just 24-years old and great in the clubhouse. The Rangers still view him as a potential big part of the future, but they want him to get his cuts in every day in Triple-A and hopefully, he can find that rhythm for which he’s been searching.

*Rafael Montero was signed as a 21-year old int'l FA by the Mets in 2011. He eventually grew into one of their best prospects making his debut in 2014 when the Mets sent former Ranger Dillon Gee to the DL. His only full season was 2017 (4.38 FIP) and then missed 2018 to TJ. As he was working his way back from injury with the injuries, evaluators were raving about how his arm looked. When we finally saw him Tuesday, he looked the part. The slider was nasty and it paired nicely with a mid-90s heater.

*Edinson Volquez still hopes to pitch this year, but announced that he’d retire at the end of the year. Upon injuring his arm, Volquez said he wanted to retire but the team talked him into sticking around and mentoring the younger pitchers. Volquez has had a great career and can walk away proud of his accomplishments. A 14-year career produced a World Series, an All-Star Game, a no-hitter, and a sterling reputation among teammates and opponents.

*Shawn Kelley felt a pop in his shoulder in Houston. He tried to lob another pitch and it hurt. The MRI showed no damage so the plan is to just wait until it doesn’t hurt anymore, then start ramping back up to throwing pitches.

*Rougie has been very good of late. Since June 21, Rougie is slashing .260/.284/.606 (.890). What really stands out is the way he’s using the entire field. Prior to June 21, just 44% of balls in play went to centerfield or left field but since then that number has jumped to 58%. When Rougie isn’t pulling off of everything he’s a more balanced hitter. Woody also talked about Rougie being more aggressive in the zone of late after starting the year focusing so much on patience that he lost his edge.

*Speaking of Rougie, regardless of his recent surge, his lack of consistency prevents any degree of reliability and thus makes it tough for the front office to count on him as a part of their core. The Rangers entered the season hoping to realize improvements from Gallo, Mazara, and Odor to further cement a strong core of young hitters but only Gallo has improved. That Gallo is solo in that regard is a disappointment.

*The Rangers acquired RHP Shane Carle from the Braves for cash consideration. Carle was optioned to Triple-A Nashville. He was a 10th round pick of the Pirates in 2013. He's had two stints with the Pirates, one with the Rockies, and recently a stint with the Braves. He's a 27-year old with a mid-90s FB, SL, CB, and CH. He was really good (2.89 ERA) with Atlanta in 2018 but had 9.64 ERA in 6 games in 2019. He also had a 5.13 ERA in AAA this year, but the Rangers are clearly taking a flier on him to try tap back into the guy who posted a sub-3 ERA over 50+ games just a year ago. Costs virtually nothing.

*The Rangers also acquired RHP Ian Gibaut from Tampa Bay for cash or a PTBNL and optioned him to Nashville. He had a 2.92 ERA in 13 minor league outings in 2019 mostly at Triple-A Durham and pitched in one game with Rays. To clear space, LHP Jesse Biddle was placed on the 60-Day IL. Gibault is a hard thrower who averages better than a K/IP but has also walked almost a batter/inning.

*As a result of Carle’s acquisition, the Rangers DFA’d Kyle Dowdy. He was a rule 5 acquisition who didn’t quite show enough to re-earn his roster spot after time on the Injured List. The Rangers returned Rule Dowdy to Cleveland.

*LHP Yohander Mendez (UCL) began a rehab assignment last week. The Rangers hope he’ll be an option for them before the year ends.

*Pitcher Luke Farrell has been assigned to the Arizona Rookie League Rangers to begin his medical rehab assignment. Farrell, who has 30 games of Major League experience, suffered a fractured jaw in Spring Training when he was hit by a line drive off the bat of Giants Minor League infielder Jalen Miller.

STRATEGY NOTE OF THE WEEK

This is more of a strategy involving how we view players and their development and progression and a reminder Pedro Payano offered us with his performance on Tuesday night. He came back Sunday and pitched okay, too.

MAILBAG

Olageur Estrada (Facebook): Out of the current roster, which position players do you think are probably going to the be the face of the franchise going into the new stadium?

Joey Gallo is the best player on the team and definitely has the personality to be the “face.” He’s a total stud and is easy for whom to root. Elvis will also be a part of that because he’s been around for more than a decade and has been a mainstay in the lineup and has an infectious personality. It would be nice, however, if his production bumped up!

Andrew Alvarez (@double_a_18): If the Rangers trade Nomar Mazara, does Joey Gallo move to right field?

IF they move Maz, then I think Gallo likely gets more playing in right field when healthy, yes. Joey is very capable of playing center and doing it well, but it is taxing on the body and I think it’d be best for his body to play a corner spot. He can do both, but his cannon of an arm could be valuable in right field. We don’t yet know the dimensions of the new park, but in the current park, left field is the spot that requires more mobility, so he does provide that value there.

Virgil Ross Green (@vrossgreen): What’s a respectable stat line for Rougie by year’s end?

Consider how bad his start was, if he can finish with a .235 BA and .725 OPS that’d be an impressive turnaround, but those numbers would still yield disappointment. You don’t get a pardon for a bad start so it’d be great to see him end the year with a league average OPS of around .750-.760, but that would require another three or four weeks of a surge or, just consistent quality over the final two months.

MOMENT OF THE WEEK

In the series opener vs. the Mariners on Monday, Hunter Pence lobbed a foul ball down the third base line in the first inning that was very playable for Mariners 3B Kyle Seager. The ball, however, was not in play so as Seager reached over the side wall, two Rangers fans in enemy territory legally interfered with Seager and prevented him from making the catch. Legal, as in, they didn’t reach over the wall thus they were well within their rights. It extended Pence’s at bat and he eventually collected an RBI single.

Pence was really appreciative so within an inning, those fans received a nice thank you! Way to go, Hunter.

ANECDOTE OF THE WEEK

Elvis wasn’t in the starting lineup on Friday in Oakland because he had a busy day. After the team’s Thursday game, Elvis hopped on a redeye back to Dallas so that he could take a citizenship exam at 10 a.m. He passed and officially earned U.S. Citizenship. Then, he hopped on a plane and flew back to San Francisco and joined the team in Oakland arriving just before the third inning. Upon arrival, he talked to the media…

KT’S “HOLY WOW” GREAT PLAY OF THE WEEK

Maz’s 454-foot blast was just the fourth home run to reach the third deck in T-Mobile Park history, joining Daniel Vogelbach, Carlos Delgado, and Mo Vaughn.

KT’S “HOLY WOW” WTF PLAY OF THE WEEK

Trevor Bauer was upset at his outing so when he saw Terry Francona come out of the dugout to remove him from the game he showed his frustration by throwing the ball out of the field of play.

But credit Bauer issuing a true apology. No excuses. Didn’t try and say “Sorry, but…” He owned it. He's one of baseball's most fascinating figures and whether you like him or not, the game is better with him.

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“He's been pretty vocal in saying that as a hitter, you have to be aggressive to a pitch. He spent the early part of the season trying so hard to differentiate between a ball and a strike that he got passive and was behind on a lot of them. I think right now, he trusts himself that he will swing at strikes and is more ready to hit." -Chris Woodward on Rougned Odor

“I still stand by the fact that Guzzy is going to be the first baseman. I just challenged him. Go down and continue to do the work he has been doing. He says he has a pretty good idea of what he wants to do and what he wants to accomplish. When he gets consistent at-bats, it will much better prepare him for when he comes back.” -Chris Woodward on Ronald Guzman, who was demoted to Triple-A Nashville on Tuesday

“I have been doing this since I was nine years old. Now I am 36. I don’t feel bad. I’m happy. I’ve done everything in baseball, made the playoffs, pitched in the World Series, won games, strikeouts. I’m not trying to be a Hall of Famer. I don’t want to go out like this. If there is a chance, I can do it for two months or two weeks, why not. I’m not doing this to try and get a contract for next year. I just want to prove it to myself. If I can come out of the bullpen for the Rangers, that would be great.” -Edinson Volquez, who announced he would retire at the end of the season, on his decision and his quest to come back.

“I told him, “Remember you stepped on my bat? Here. You can step on it again.’” -Ramon Laureano of the Athletics on what he said to Adrian Sampson that fired the Rangers RHP up after Laureano hit a home run off of him.

STATS OF THE WEEK

*Danny Santana’s 11 games of 3+ hits leads the Rangers and ranks T-8th in MLB. This all coming from a guy who didn’t start the season in the big leagues and wasn’t an everyday player for a while.

*Among players who have played at least 60% of their games at second base, Rougned Odor leads AL second basemen in HR (18) and ranks behind only D.J. LeMahieu in RBI (58)

AROUND THE LEAGUE

*It’s impossible to judge the Mets’ strategy without knowing A) what they’re doing with Thor and B) what they’ll get for him if they trade him. A strong haul for Thor could in fact help them compete in 2020 and beyond so I’m going to wait to pass judgment. It’s does however, on the surface, appear as if they’re going in several different directions. What’s odd about the Stroman deal is that he’s a ground ball pitcher acquired by a team with a really bad infield defense.

*

*Paul Goldschmidt hit a home run in six straight games, setting a new Cardinals franchise record. The Major League record is eight straight games set by Don Mattingly (1987) and Ken Griffey Jr. (1993). At the rate in which home runs are hit these days, I wonder how long until someone matches or breaks that mark?

*Speaking of home runs marks, for the first time ever four straight days featured a three-home run game. The streak started with Robinson Cano on Tuesday, continued with Paul DeJong on Wednesday, then came Nelson Cruz on Thursday, and capped off by Mookie Betts on Friday. 

*And how about another? The Orioles set a MLB record with 2+ HR in ten straight games.

*Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell has been placed on the 10-day injured list and will undergo arthroscopic surgery to remove loose bodies in his left elbow. He’s expected back in September, but that’s a big blow for Tampa.

*The Red Sox are watching their finances due to the luxury tax and that’s led some to believe they’ll try and trade away J.D. Martinez this offseason (if not before). I’ve heard Mookie Betts’s name mentioned in that vein and that would be a grand mistake. Betts will be a free agent after next year and at just 26 years old right night, he’d earn a mega deal. He’s worth it and the Red Sox should clear their books to make sure it happens.

*I think it’s great the Giants are playing well and if they feel like the owe it to Bruce Bochy to go for it, he’s earned that and that’s fine, but I think trading MadBum is the right move, though it appears they won’t go in that direction San Fran’s run is great but they’re very unlikely to make the playoffs. I’m not sure what the market would be for Bumgarner, who is a free agent-to-be, but I imagine they could get something of appeal for him. Again, in Bruce Bochy’s last year, maybe they feel like they owe the manager who led them to three World Series titles one more shot to play beyond 162 and I guess if holding on to a guy they shouldn’t is the trade for those titles, that’s fine.

*Tigers OF Nicholas Castellanos was very critical of the Comerica Park dimensions last week, calling his home park his entire career “a joke” due to its 420 foot centerfield. The timing of the comments were odd considering that A) Castellanos had just hit a walkoff home run the day before and B) he could very well get traded, but he isn’t wrong. Baseball is the only sport with such stark differences to its playing field from city-to-city. Weather and other sciences will obviously prevent total ballpark-to-ballpark balance, but hitters in Detroit not only have to deal with very cold temperatures to begin the year, but some very pitcher-friendly dimensions. I love the charm of each park’s nuances, but I don’t know if I’m in favor of something as extreme as a 420-foot centerfield.

*Our good pal Derek Holland was DFA’d by the Giants last week and then traded to the Cubs. Good for Derek, who will be a lefty matchup guy for a contending team. I’ll be pulling for Derek and the Cubs.

*Troy Tulowitzki announced his retirement on Thursday. He’ll join the University of Texas as an assistant coach. Though Tulo went to Long Beach State and grew up in California, he formed a relationship with UT Head Coach David Pierce. Tulowitzki was one of the game’s best shortstops while with the Rockies and was a big acquisition by Toronto in 2015. The Rofers Centre was deafening in the playoffs with chants of “Tu-Lo” whenever he came up to bat.

MINOR LEAGUES

*Get to know Nick Solak (2B/OF), who was recently acquired by the Rangers in exchange for Pete Fairbanks from Tampa Bay

*Scott Heineman continues to get time at first base with Triple-A Nashville, likely foreshadowing a possible fit this year for him in Arlington. Heineman was exclusively an outfielder before this year. No matter where he’s played, he’s been producing in the box with a slash of .383/.449/.600 (1.049) since returning from shoulder surgery in June.

*I figure it’s time for a Demarcus Evans update and the RHP continues to dominate Double-A hitters. He hasn’t allowed a run since June 14 and has allowed just 5 hits over that stretch spanning 15 innings. Overall with the Riders, since getting promoted to Frisco is late May, Evans has a 1.13 ERA with a .114 BA over 24.0 IP with 39 Ks. The only area of concern is in the walks column as he’s issued 16. Overall, stud.

*RHP Tyler Phillips (Double-A) has added a slider to hopefully give him another weapon with which to attack hitters. He previously threw a fastball, curveball, and changeup but the two non-fastballs weren’t getting the results necessary to exist by themselves. It’s worth noting that he’s been much better of late. After posting a 7.64 ERA with a .340 BA over his first 8 Double-A, he’s posted a 3.13 ERA with a .185 BA over his last four starts.

*Cole Winn got off to a slow start to 2019 but over his last 6 appearances, the 19-year old has posted a 2.92 ERA with .222 BA against. Walks are still an issue for Winn, who has issued 14 over 24.2 IP during this stretch.

*Since returning from a blister and shoulder fatigue, LHP Brock Burke has been really strong. He has 3.25 ERA, 28 strikeouts and six walks in 27.2 innings. Expect Burke in next year’s season-opening rotation. He could very well debut on the bigs this year.

HE SAID IT!

*I thought Jon Daniels had some interesting things to say last week with Ben & Skin. First, he talked about the expediency with which they’re preparing a return to competitiveness

He also talked about whether he feels the organization is further along on the hitting or pitching side

And then talked about some of the young pitchers and where they are in regards to contributing in 2020