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What would a Cuban WBC team look like if everyone could play?

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Cespedes is my all-Cuba cleanup hitter. Photo via Business Insider

Cespedes is my all-Cuba cleanup hitter. Photo via Business Insider

I saw a little throw-away post at USAtoday.com before the start of the 2016 baseball season: there were no less than 23 Cuban-born players on MLB rosters on 2016 opening day.  And even more defected or were signed in the 2016 calendar year.

How awesome is that?  I think its great that we have a huge contingent of Cubans playing in the league again and I wish that a generation hadn’t been lost due to politics.  A good percentage of the teams in the majors now have at least one Cuban on their 40-man roster somewhere, and many have multiple IFA Cuban signees scattered in their lower minors.  Not the Nats though; we got kinda burned by Yunesky Maya and then blew our IFA budget last year on some D.R. players; perhaps they’ll go after some of the rising talent next July 2 window.

I’ve long hoped for a unification of the Cuban National team to compete in the WBC; I think they’d take so much pride in their team it would really add to the event.  However it looks as if the Cuban government will continue to hold a grudge and prevent any defectors from representing their country in the 2017 WBC.  The WBC rosters were announced recently, and we’ll see some of these names in the analysis below for reasons that will become apparent soon.

So, since we won’t get a full-strength Cuban WBC team, I thought I’d take a stab at what could have been.   I did a similar post in March of 2013 but with all the recent defections the roster looks much improved.

 


 

Manager: Fredi Gonzalez of the Atlanta Braves.  The only Cuban-born hall of Famer Tony Perez can be the bench coach.  They can bring out the likes of Tony Oliva and Camilo Pascual to be his assistants; they’re the most decorated Cuban ex-pros still living.

Pitching Coaches: Livan Hernandez and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez: the brothers re-unite to teach the staff how to throw junk balls and make starts despite being hooked on Marlboro Reds.

Hitting Coaches:  Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro.  These two can double as “Strength coaches.”  :-)

Positional Players:

  • C: Yasmani Grandal, starting catcher for the Dodgers, 2015 All-Star.
  • 1B: Jose Abreu, 91 homers in his first three years in the MLB, Rookie of the Year in 2014, when he also made the All-Star team and won the Silver Slugger.
  • 2B: Aledmys Diaz: debut in 2016 and made the All-Star team; prodution fell off so he “only” finished 5th in 2016 Rookie of the Year voting.
  • 3B: Adonis Garcia: a solid bat for Atlanta at the corner despite debuting at age 30.
  • SS: Jose Iglesias: 2015 All-Star for Detroit after finishing 2nd in RoY voting in 2013.
  • LF:  Jorge Soler: Flipped to Kansas City this off-season, escaping a log-jam in Chicago.  Huge power, yet to reach his potential.
  • CF: Yoenis Cespedes: just signed the largest contract of the off-season; not really a CF but played there nonetheless.  2-time All-Star and Home Run derby winner 
  • RF: Yasiel Puig: despite his demotion in 2016 has the potential to be one of the elite players in the game, which he in-arguably was his first two years in the league.  2015 all-Star.

That’s a pretty solid starting lineup; 6 of the 8 players here have already made a MLB all-star team.  Lots of power; you’d probably have a slugger like Soler batting 7th.  I think you line these guys up Iglesias, Diaz, Pug, Cespedes, Abreu, Grandal, Soler, Garcia, Pitcher.

Reserves:

  • Catcher: Brayan Peña
  • Corner Inf/PH: Yonder Alonso , Kendrys MoralesYulieski Gurriel, Yoan Moncada
  • Middle Infield: Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria,  Alexei Ramirez,  Alex Guerrero
  • OF: Rusney CastilloHector OliveraYasmany Tomas, Leonys Martin, Alfredo Despaigne, Yoelkys Céspedes, Victor Mesa

The reserves include a number of solid veteran guys like Alonso and Morales, middle infield cover from the likes of  Hechavarria and Ramires, and plenty of OF coverage from players like Tomas and Olivera.  And one of the top prospects in all of baseball (Yoan Moncada, the centerpiece of the Chris Sale trade this past off-season) can’t even crack this lineup; he may be your starting 3B before long.  Perhaps Gurriel, a decade-long star in the Cuban series, should be starting at third over Garcia; we’ll see how he fares once he gets more time in Houston.  Despaigne is the biggest player on this list who still hasn’t come to the MLB: he opted to take up the Cuban government’s relaxing of rules and has been playing in Japan recently.  Yoelkys Cespedes is indeed Yoenis’ younger brother and is getting some attention for his abilities already.

Starting Pitchers

  • Oridismar Despaignehe’s been knocked to the bullpen in the Majors, but someone has to start for the Cuban team.  Career 4.89 ERA.
  • Raisel Iglesias: posted a 2.53 ERA in 2016 as he transitioned from the rotation to closer.  He’s gotta start for this team though.
  • Roenis Elias: 4th starter for Seattle in 2014-15, struggled/got hurt for Boston in 2016.
  • Ariel Miranda : 10 starts for Seattle last year with a 3.54 era; he may not make their rotation in 2017 but he’ll get time.

So, we’re a little light on starters.  We may be reaching out to some domestic-based pitchers.  Starter Lazaro Blanco just pitched two masterpieces in the Caribbean Series, shutting out the Dominican Republic team for 6 innings then giving up just one run in seven innings in the semis against Mexico.  Their #2 and #3 starters (Vladimir Banos and Vladimir Garcia) weren’t half bad either.  Freddy Alvarez got pummeled in his only series start but is on the WBC roster as a returning veteran and should see time.  Perhaps we should also look at promising 18-yr old Cuban prospect Osvaldo Hernandez, who was just declared a FA and may sign a multi-million dollar deal soon.

Relievers

  • Aroldis Chapman (2009 WBC team member): the most dominant reliever in the game, 4-time All-star
  • Dalier Hinojosa: setup guy with Philly, decent numbers, like a 6th/7th inning guy.
  • Raudel Lazo: lefty reliever with Miami’s farm system; closed for their AAA squad and posted a 1.78 ERA in 2016 in New Orleans.
  • Yaisel Sierra: struggled in AA for the Dodgers, demoted to bullpen.
  • Armando Rivero, RP for Atlanta
  • Yadier Alvarez: LA’s #1 remaining prospect; only in high-A but well regarded.

Past Chapman and Hinojosa, there’s not much depth here either, so again we dip into the domestic-based players.  Cuba depended on three late-innings relievers in the Caribbean series: Livan Moinelo, Miguel Lahera and Jose Garcia.  All three are named to the official WBC roster.

 


In summary, the Consoildated all-Cuban team can bash the heck out of the ball … but will struggle on the mound until the 8th or 9th inning when Chapman can take over.  But it’d be a fun team to watch play!

Did I miss anyone?  Maybe; its impossible to keep track of the dozens of Cuban signings done over the last couple of years.  Pipe up if you see someone mising.

Some references used to make this:

And Peter Gammons just posted his own version of this the day before I published (but weeks after I wrote this).  Compare and contrast his team; i did not cross check to see if I missed anyone.

My 2016 End-of-Season Awards Predictions

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Scherzer may have the best shot of our 4 "finalists" for awards this week. Photo via washtimes.com

Scherzer may have the best shot of our 4 “finalists” for awards this week. Photo via washtimes.com

Quick break from Nats off-season stuff to talk about the “silly season” of baseball.  Its awards week, with all the major BBWAA awards to be given out this week.

Here’s my predictions for how the awards will go.  This is not necessarily how I believe the awards should go … once again, I think narrative wins out over Mike Trout‘s 10+ WAR season, and we may see an east coast bias in the AL rookie award.  But lets see how it goes.

Here’s the list of finalists, published last week.

The writers have to submit their ballots at the end of the season; I finished this post in early October but waited until the awards season to arrive to publish it.  Thus, it contains no inclusion of any post-season accolades or accomplishments since the votes were already in before the playoffs started.

How do I think the voting will go?

  • AL MVP: Betts, Trout, Donaldson, Machado, Altuve (maybe some 5th place votes for Ortiz).
  • NL MVP: Bryant, Seager, Murphy, Rizzo, Freeman/Arenado
  • AL Cy Young: Kluber, Verlander, Porcello, Sale, Britton
  • NL Cy Young: Scherzer, Fernandez, Hendricks, Lester, Snydergaard
  • AL Rookie: Sanchez, Fulmer, Mazara
  • NL Rookie: Seager, Turner, Maeda
  • AL Manager: Franconia, Bannister, Girardi
  • NL Manager: Baker, Maddon, Roberts

Actual Award Results added as they were awarded:

My prediction results: 4 for 8.  Got Seager, Franconia, Scherzer, Bryant.  Missed on Fulmer, Roberts, Porcello, Trout.  Historically i’ve been pretty good at these predictions; this was a very bad year for me.  Which is good, because it means that the electorate is improving and that generally my over-thinking of voters picking bad results should lessen.

Links to other awards that I didn’t necessarily predict:


 

Note: I made some prediction mistakes based on the publication of the 3 finalist links; I’ll note those in the discussion links below.

Discussion:

  • AL MVP : I know some view “MVP” as “Best Player,” but it isn’t.  And I’m in agreeance with the narrative that with like candidates, the playoff chase matters.  Who cares that the Angels went 74-88 with 10-win Trout; Betts had nearly as valuable a season while doing a bit of everything for Boston.  Betts wins, Trout gets another 2nd place finish.  With the publication of the finalists, we now know that I was wrong on Donaldson for 3rd and that it will go to Altuve; i get that, since Altuve was “in the lead” for a lot of the season.
  • NL MVP: Bryant and it isn’t close.  I think Seager gets 2nd over Murphy b/c he’s a short stop.
  • AL Cy Young: I like Kluber slightly over Verlander but I could see arguments on both sides.  What I really hope does NOT happen is over-emphasis on Britton’s season.  Yes he’s had a nice season; no he isn’t the best pitcher in the AL.  I am slightly proud of myself for at least getting the top 3 right.
  • NL Cy Young: Kershaw’s injury has opened the door for a slew of guys: Scherzer probably has the combination of wins, IPs, Ks to be the “leader” even if he’s eclipsed in WAR by Fernandez, Snydergaard.  Lester, Cueto and Hendricks also each have cases.  This could be a completely wide-open race.  I wrote most of this before the tragic death of Fernandez; will he now win out of sentimentality?  No he won’t; with the publication of the 3 finalists we know Fernandez wasn’t in the top 3.
  • AL Rookie: Michael Fulmer was a shoe-in until Gary Sanchez hit 20 homers in his first 45 games; this race is closer than you might think.  Fulmer really should get it, but the NY media narrative game is strong.  I think Sanchez ekes it out; it was a pretty historic debut.  I did get the third finalist wrong, Cleveland’s Naquin sneaks in.
  • NL Rookie: Seager is in the MVP discussion and should win unanimously.  Trea Turner’s probably top 3, as is Seager’s japanese teammate Maeda.  I am guessing Maeda pips Turner for 2nd place based on playing a full season.
  • AL Manager: No idea how this goes: maybe Franconia in Cleveland still?  Perhaps Girardi for having the Yankees in the WC mix after their sell-off?  Maybe John Ferrell for getting Boston’s act back together?  Maybe Bannister in Texas for running away with a division that most thought Houston would win?  I thought Girardi would sneak in over Francona; if we knew about Francona’s post-season exploits we may be giving him the award unanimously.
  • NL Manager: Baker in Washington still for me.  Yes Maddon will get some love, but Baker’s going to improve the Nats by 13 wins; the Cubs were widely expected to get to 100 wins.  Maybe Roberts in LA gets some love too.  Honestly this is the award i’m least confident in guessing.

 


 

Running Diary of Awards candidates.

End of April; Here’s MLB’s players of the month link.

  • MVP : Manny Machado and Bryce Harper had fantastic months.  Names also in the mix early in 2016: Dexter Fowler, Nolan Arenado, Josh Donaldson.
  • Cy Young: Jordan Zimmermann and Jake Arrieta, picking up right where he left off.  Also off to great starts: Chris Sale, Stephen Strasburg and Noah Snydergaard.
  • Rookie: Nomar Mazara and Trevor Story.  Also in the mix: Kenta Maeda, Aledmys Diaz, Vincent Velasquez.

Mid May Check-in:

  • MVP : Jose Altuve now in the lead in the AL.  Machado and Mike Trout in the mix.  In the NL Harper has tailed off, opening the door for Clayton Kershaw and Anthony Rizzo to nose their way into the discussion.  Arenado also tailed off a bit in May but still strong.
    Cy Young: Sale has won his first 9 starts and looks unbeatable; Zimmermann has taken a step back in the AL race.  In the NL, Kershaw remains the class of the league and the likes of Arrieta and Strasburg stay close behind.
  • Rookie: Nomar Mazara leading the way in the AL: Twins 1B Byung Ho Park close behind.  In the NL, Diaz is also an MVP candidate right now and remains in the NL ROY lead.  Story’s “storybook” start keeps him close.

Half-way point of the season: Cliff Corcoran’s First half Awards,  Jeff Passan‘s mid-way awards article.  The Ringer’s Mike Baumann‘s mid-season awards post.

  • AL MVP : Jose Altuve has cooled slightly, leaving last year’s 1-2 finishers Trout and Donaldson in the lead again this year.  But if Altuve continues to produce at these levels (with slash lines nearly identical to Trout’s) he’ll win as long as Houston stays in the playoff hunt.  And once again, Trout finds himself leading the league in value-based stats while playing for a dead-last team, and once again he likely finishes 2nd to someone like Donaldson, who has a good but not as good of a season but plays for a winner.  Ortiz’s monster farewell season gets him top 5 votes.
  • NL MVP: Harper has never regained his bat since the walk-a-thon in Chicago, and with a lack of any other candidate it seems ripe for another Kershaw double.  He’s hit the D/L though, having some wonder if the likes of Kris Bryant could get the award since he’s the best player on (one of the) best teams.  Matt Carpenter is quietly having a fantastic season.  If the Giants (as of the halfway point owning a better record), then their leader Buster Posey will get votes.
  • AL Cy Young: Sale has started the season 14-2 and Cleveland’s entire rotation (led by Danny Salazar) sits among various league leader categories.
  • NL Cy Young: Kershaw remains the class of the league and needs to miss significant time to lose out.  Its hard to fathom the season he’s having, with just 9 walks in 121 innings in the first half.  Strasburg is the first NL starter in 100 years to start a season 12-0 and seems like the likely 2nd place finisher.  But there’s a slew of NL starters with sterling numbers right now: Bumgarner and Cueto in particular.  NL East beasts Snydergaard and Fernandez have been awesome as well.
  • AL Rookie: Nomar Mazara has tailed off and Park got demoted to AAA; the leader in the  clubhouse seems like Detroit starter Michael Fulmer right now.  Tyler Naquin is in the running, and Baltimore’s Hyun Soo Kim is there as well.
  • NL Rookie: Diaz and Story are still on the whole having great seasons but Dodger SS Corey Seager is running away with this and could hit 30 homers from the shortstop position this year.  Don’t sleep on Seager’s teammmate Kenta Maeda though; he’s rebounded from a rough patch to be a solid starter.
  • AL Manager: probably Jeff Bannister for the turnaround in Texas.  Perhaps Terry Franconia for the surprise in Cleveland.
  • NL Manager: likely our own Baker for having the Nats on a 96 win pace, which would beat 2015 by 13 games.  But likely it goes to Bochy or Madden for leading good teams to good records.
  • Comeback Player of the year: I have nothing narrative-driven for either league.  Maybe Stephen Wright in the AL and maybe Anthony Rendon in the NL?

Mid August check in:

  • AL MVP : I think it goes Altuve-Trout-Donaldson at this point.  Betts and Machado fill out the top 5.
  • NL MVP: With Kershaw’s injury, I think its Kris Bryant’s to lose.  Daniel Murphy gets some top 5 votes, as does Buster Posey and Nolan Arenado.
  • AL Cy Young: Hamels and Quintana seem like the obvious choices, even if Fulmer is leading the league in bWAR.
  • NL Cy Young: Kershaw’s injury has opened the door for a slew of guys: Bumgarner, Scherzer and Strasburg, deGrom and Arrieta.  Who knows how it shakes out.  If Strasburg finishes the season 21-3 though, it’ll be hard to vote against him.
  • AL Rookie: Michael Fulmer leads the AL in bWAR midway through August; he seems like a shoe-in for ROY.  And he’s crushed it for my fantasy team too; that Cespedes trade isn’t looking so hot now is it?
  • NL Rookie: Seager sits 3rd in the NL in bWAR; he has to be the unanimous vote right now.
  • AL Manager: Franconia in Cleveland.
  • NL Manager: Baker in Washington.

Mid September check-in:

  • AL MVP : Its tight: Trout has now eclipsed 10 WAR on the season.  Altuve has dropped out, but Betts has risen.  Its going to be close, but I think it goes Betts-Trout-Donaldson with Machado and Altuve filling out the top 5.  You have to think Ortiz’s monster farewell season will get some votes too.
  • NL MVP: This is now Bryant’s to lose.  Daniel Murphy gets some top 5 votes, as does Buster Posey and Corey Seager.  Anthony Rizzo also gets some MVP votes, and if the Mets somehow sneak into the playoffs so does Cespedes on narrative.  Freddie Freeman getting some attention with his monster WAR season but he’ll be a 5th-place type vote getter at best.
  • AL Cy Young: this race is wide open.  Kluber leads the league in bWAR but may not be the best pitcher on his staff.  Porcello has reached 20 wins but is vastly eclipsed by Kluber in terms of Ks.  Sale, Quintana in the mix, as is Verlander.  Tanaka has quietly had a solid season too.  Some narrative-driven writers are pushing for Zach Britton.
  • NL Cy Young: Kershaw’s injury has opened the door for a slew of guys: Scherzer probably has the combination of wins, IPs, Ks to be the “leader” even if he’s eclipsed in WAR by Fernandez, Snydergaard.  Lester, Cueto and Hendricks also each have cases.  This could be a completely wide-open race.  I wrote most of this before the tragic death of Fernandez; will he now win out of sentimentality?
  • AL Rookie: Michael Fulmer was a shoe-in until Gary Sanchez hit 20 homers in his first 45 games; this race is closer than you might think.  Fulmer really should get it, but the NY media narrative game is strong.
  • NL Rookie: Seager is in the MVP discussion and should win unanimously.  Trea Turner’s probably top 3, as is Seager’s japanese teammate Maeda.
  • AL Manager: No idea how this goes: maybe Franconia in Cleveland still?  Perhaps Girardi for having the Yankees in the WC mix after their sell-off?  Maybe John Ferrell for getting Boston’s act back together?  Maybe Bannister in Texas for running away with a division that most thought Houston would win?
  • NL Manager: Baker in Washington still for me.  Yes Maddon will get some love, but Baker’s going to improve the Nats by 13 wins; the Cubs were widely expected to get to 100 wins.  Maybe Roberts in LA gets some love too.

 

Ask Ladson 9/23/16

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Turner is on everyone's mind.  photo via wp.com

Turner is on everyone’s mind. photo via wp.com

I know my “Fantasy post-mortem” post didn’t move the needle; luckily Nats MLB.com beat reporter Bill Ladson posted another inbox!  2nd one in two weeks!

Here’s how I would have answered these questions, if I was in a position to have random fans email me questions all the time :-)

Q: Is Trea Turner eligible for the National League Rookie of the Year Award? If he is, he should be the winner.

A: Absolutely Trea Turner is eligible.  Is he going to win?  Uh… better go check the season that Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager just had.  Turner probably finishes 2nd or 3rd.  If I had a vote, I’d probably go Seager, Kenta Maeda, Turner, Trevor Story and then Aledmys Diaz to round out the top 5.  Turner has been awesome no doubt, but Seager is an MVP candidate and did it all year.  If Turner had done what he has been doing for the full season?  Yeah he’d probably be at a Mike Trout level of production and we’d be having a far different conversation about him.  Ladson Agrees.

Q: You said you thought Dusty Baker sticks with slumping players too long, but you didn’t list Bryce Harper on that list.

A: I think its one thing to stick with a slumping player too long when you have a better alternative (or even a possible better alternative) on the bench.  But how do you possibly claim that Bryce Harper deserved benching?  He was the frigging MVP last year; talk about impatience.  And even with his “down” season Harper still has an OPS+ of 117.  Harper has had a really weird season: his month by month splits show him crushing in April, falling off a cliff in May after the walkathon in Chicago, rebounding for a solid June, hitting just .176 in July, rebounding again in August (.934 OPS) and then again falling off a cliff so far in September (hitting just .203 this month).  If the partern holds, he’ll get hot again just in time for the October playoff games :-)

Are the persistent rumors about his shoulder true?  Respected national reporter Tom Verducci has reported it not once but twice, each time with a more vehement denial from GM Mike Rizzo, but his drop off from last year is pretty apparent for all to see.  Certainly it would explain why he’s struggled so badly this year.  Are Rizzo et al denying so as to prevent a competitive disadvantage from being public knowledge?  Probably too late for that.

Ladson agrees; Harper is a different story.

Q: Do you think the 2016 Nationals team is stronger than the ’14 Nationals was?

A: Yes I do.  I think the 2016 rotation(at full strength) matched up better than 2014’s, the bullpen is stronger, and I think the hitting is more consistent with more production across the team.  Now, maybe a better question is, “Which team was better positioned heading into the playoffs?  There the answer is inarguably the 2014 team; the rotation we’ll field in the NLDS is two studs and then two question marks, we really don’t have a shutdown lefty in the bullpen, and two of our best hitters (Harper and Danny Murphy) are hurt.  Not a good time for all these injuries to hit.  Ladson gives the edge to 2014 for similar reasons as I gave.

Q: Being a longtime Expos fan and seeing that you covered them, how would you compare Vladimir Guerrero to Harper?

A: I’ll freely admit that I’m not nearly as qualified to answer this as Ladson.  But i’ll give it an opinion; Guerrero was a better hitter, more capable of hitting whatever was thrown his way.  They were comparable in terms of defense; both had powerful arms and great range.  I give Guerrero the edge in speed on the basepaths, and Harper the edge in power (which is tough to say given that Guerrero hit 40+ a few times and had 449 for his career).  Both players only have one MVP: Guerrero’s came at age 29 as soon as he got out of Montreal.  Harper won his last year at the tender age of 22, and you have to think he’s got more in him.  Ladson gives the edge to Guerrero for now.

Q: With the emergence of Turner in center field, do you think the Nats will bring back both Ben Revere and Michael Taylor next season?

A: Revere no, Taylor yes.  Revere is arb-eligible and is making north of $6M this year; he’s an obvious non-tender this coming off-season.  Taylor is still under complete club control and is not arb-eligible for another year.  I can see the team going one of three ways (as we’ve discussed here at length):

  1. Turner to short, Espinosa traded and we look for a CF in trade or via FA.  Taylor the 4th outfielder.
  2. Turner to short, Espinosa moved, Harper to CF and we get a FA corner outfielder (my preference but not likely to happen).  Taylor the 4th outfielder.
  3. Standing pat: Turner stays in CF, Espinosa stays at short, and Taylor is the 4th outfielder.

In all these scenarios, Taylor is the 4th outfielder.  Is he even the 4th outfielder?  Well, he’s now had 781 plate appearances in the majors; he’s hitting .224 and he’s struck out 248 of those appearances.  Not good.  I’m not sure what we do with him at this point.  Ladson agrees with me on non-tendering Revere, and thinks Taylor needs another year in the minors.