Saturday, April 10, 2021

NHL Trade Review: Lightning get Savard in three team deal

 


        The Tampa Bay Lightning have acquired defensemen David Savard from the Columbus Blue Jackets in a three team deal with the Detroit Red Wings. The Lightning also acquired defenseman Brian Lashoff from Detroit, while sending a 2021 first round pick and a 2022 3rd round pick to the Blue Jackets, and a 2021 4th round pick to Detroit. The Blue Jackets retained 50% of Savard's salary, while Detroit retained 25% of his original salary. 

The Lightning have a ton of strong left-handed defensemen, but they lacked defenders on the right side. Savard is a great defensive defenseman, and while he does not bring much to the table offensively, he should be a great fit to play on the right of Norris candidate Victor Hedman. The three draft picks, including a first is a steep price, especially for a pending UFA. But, Tampa Bay's cap situation got them into this. Considering this year's buyer market, it is odd that they had to give up a first and a third for Savard, but the Lightning have shown that they are willing to overpay for fits. Last trade deadline they dealt recent first rounder Nolan Foote and two first rounders for Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow and a 3rd round pick in two separate trades. Savard will definitely help them in their own zone during their run to a second Stanley Cup in a row. However, he played second pairing minutes in Columbus, and that could now be jacked up. They will pay just $1.062 million, or 75% of Savard's $4.25 million cap hit towards the veteran, although it will be less in actual money. Lashoff has NHL experience, and played in 75 games in 2013-14, but he is just an AHLer at this point. He will stay put in Grand Rapids, Detroit's AHL team, as Tampa Bay is re-assigning him there.

Savard, 30, has one goal with five assists for six points in 40 games plus 89 blocked shots and 95 hits in 40 games for the Blue Jackets this year. In his NHL career, all in Columbus, Savard has scored 41 goals with 125 assists for 166 points with 958 blocked shots and 1117 hits in 597 games.

Lashoff, 30, has scored one goal with two assists for three points in 13 games for the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins this year. In his NHL career, all in Detroit, Lashoff has scored two goals with 13 assists for 15 points in 136 games. 

The Blue Jackets are big winners here, getting a first and a third for Savard when he is a pending UFA, and the market seems to be low. The first round pick could very well be in the 30-32 range overall, as Tampa Bay looks stacked again. It seemed unlikely that they could get a first, and they ended up getting a third round pick as well. Savard was a 4th round pick back in 2009, and he ended up playing nearly 600 games for the Jackets, good enough for 4th in franchise history, two behind captain Nick Foligno, who could soon leave as well. 

Detroit are the real winners of this trade, just in pure value. They spend $1.062 million against the cap (about $242k in real life) just for this year so they can buy a 4th round pick. That is great value, and while they do give up Lashoff, they don't need him in the NHL, and he can still go to Grand Rapids, so it doesn't affect AHL team chemistry. 

NHL Trade Review: Avalanche acquire Dubnyk

 


       The Colorado Avalanche have acquired goaltender Devan Dubnyk from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for defenseman Greg Pateryn and a 2021 5th round draft pick. 

The Avalanche have had a backup goalie issue all season, as Pavel Francouz has been out with an injury. They recently traded a 6th round pick to Buffalo for Jonas Johansson, who has been successful so far, with a .920 save percentage through four games. But, they get a more experience backup for Philipp Grubauer, plus Johansson had a 3.79 GAA for the Sabres this year. Dubnyk is far from perfect, but there were not many great rental goaltending options available, and the price here is low. He has had a rough past two seasons, which are probably a result of being overworked. David Rittich and Ryan Miller would have been better rental options. Colorado brought in Patrik Nemeth last night, so Pateryn moved down the depth chart. After being acquired for Ian Cole earlier this year, he did not play a big role for the Avalanche. Dubnyk is a pending UFA, with a $2.16 million cap hit. San Jose did not retain any money, but Minnesota did when they traded him to the Sharks in the offseason. 

Dubnyk, 34, has an .898 save percentage with a 3.18 GAA and a -4.6 GSAA in 17 games for the Sharks this year. In his career for the Sharks, Minnesota Wild, Edmonton Oilers, Arizona Coyotes and Nashville Predators, Dubnyk has a .914 save percentage with a 2.60 GAA and a 26.5 GSAA in 537 games. 

The Sharks are sellers for the second year in a row, and they get a draft pick back for Dubnyk, plus some defensive depth. This trade leaves them with an even scarier goaltending tandem than before, with Martin Jones starting and 22 year old Alexei Melnichuk likely backing him up. Pateryn will be a 7th or 8th defenseman for the Sharks, and the pending UFA is mainly acquired so the Avalanche can balance out the salaries. Pateryn has a $1.175 cap hit, so the Sharks save just under $1 million. Pateryn and Dubnyk were teammates in Minnesota in 2018-19 and 2019-20. 

Pateryn, 30, has two assists in 11 games for the Avalanche and Wild in 2020-21. In his NHL career for the Wild, Avalanche, Dallas Stars and Montreal Canadiens, he has scored four goals with 37 assists for 41 points in 278 games. 

NHL Trade Review: Panthers bring in Montour

 


       The Florida Panthers have acquired defenseman Brandon Montour from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a 2021 3rd round pick.

       The Panthers have been in the market for a defenseman since Aaron Ekblad went down with a season ending injury. Montour is also a right-handed defender, but is not close to being on the same level as Ekblad. He was a good puck moving player for the Ducks, but really fell of when acquired by the Sabres a bit over two years ago. He has a -4.9 GAR and a 44.67 xGF% right now, which is not NHL caliber. He can move the puck and contribute offensively, and is an upgrade over Brady Keeper and Matt Kiersted, the latter of which just debuted after four seasons at the University of North Dakota. Montour may not even be better than Gustav Forsling, who has been a solid depth option for Florida this year. He looks to be a pure rental, with an expiring contract on a $3.85 million cap hit. Florida uses the cap space that they cleared when they traded Brett Connolly to Chicago. 

Montour, who will turn 27 tomorrow, has scored five goals with nine assists for 14 points in 38 games for the Sabres in 2020-21. In his NHL career for Buffalo and the Anaheim Ducks, Montour has scored 29 goals with 76 assists for 105 points in 281 games. 

No Sabre has played more minutes than Montour this year, and Buffalo will thank him for that. But it also is not a great look when you are playing the most minutes on the league's worst team. Montour has struggled with the Sabres, so a third round pick is a nice return. It gets better when you consider that Eric Staal barely netted that, and Taylor Hall may not get much more. 

Friday, April 9, 2021

NHL Trade Review: Nemeth returns to Colorado

 


        The Colorado Avalanche have acquired defenseman Patrik Nemeth from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a 2022 4th round draft pick. 

The Avalanche have a solid defensive group, but could use depth, especially with Erik Johnson on LTIR. Plus, Jacob MacDonald is currently suspended. Nemeth was going to be out of Detroit's lineup, although that could have been due to an injury or because this trade was expected. A 4th round pick is not a high price for a solid defensive third pairing player. Plus, the Avalanche have familiarity with Nemeth, who played for the team in 2017-18 and 2018-19 before leaving to the Red Wings for the past two seasons.

Nemeth, 29, has scored two goals with six assists for eight points in 39 games for the Red Wings this year. In his NHL career for Detroit, the Avalanche and Dallas Stars, Nemeth has scored seven goals with 49 assists for 56 points in 353 games. 

The Red Wings are full on sellers once again this year, as any pick will help the cause. Nemeth was productive defensively for the last two seasons, and they will thank him for that while moving on with their fresh new draft pick. 

NHL Trade Review: Leafs acquire Nash


 

       The Toronto Maple Leafs have acquired forward Riley Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for a conditional 2022 7th round pick. If Nash plays in 25% of Toronto's playoff games, then the pick upgrades to a 6th rounder. 

The Maple Leafs could use some bottom-six help, especially defensively.  Nash brings exactly that. He can play center and right wing, and can be a shutdown defender while killing penalties. He does not bring in any offense, but the Leafs will be fine in that area, especially if they bring in a top-six winger to play with John Tavares and William Nylander. Nash is in the final year of a three year, $8.25 million contract, with a $2.75 million AAV. His responsible defensive play will help Toronto come playoff time. Not only does he kill penalties, he can stay out of the box, with just two minor penalties all season. Unfortunately, Maple Leafs fans may not see Nash in action until playoff time; he will be sidelined for the next 4-6 weeks with a knee injury.

Nash, 31, has scored two goals with five assists for seven points in 37 games for the Blue Jackets in 2020-21. In his NHL career for the Blue Jackets, Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes Nash has scored 63 goals with 109 assists for 172 points in 578 games. 

The Blue Jackets are in sell mode, sitting seven points back of a playoff spot, while playing one more game than the 4th place Predators. Now with Boone Jenner, Zach Werenski and Gustav Nyquist out, they have and even better reason to sell. Nash's injury prevented them from getting a good return, as they undoubtedly would have received a better pick for a healthy Riley Nash. They still do get a late round draft pick, and it probably will be a sixth rounder, unless Nash's injury nags on. 

Thursday, April 8, 2021

NHL Trade Review: Panthers and Blackhawks Make Six Piece Trade


 

       The Chicago Blackhawks have acquired forward Brett Connolly, defenseman Riley Stillman, forward Henrik Borgstrom and a 2021 7th round pick from the Florida Panthers in exchange for forward Lucas Wallmark and defenseman Lucas Carlsson. 

The main takeaway for this trade is that the Panthers are clearing up cap space for a bigger move, either this year or in the future. Connolly is in the second year of a four year contract with a $3.5 million cap hit. He earned that deal by being a consistent third line scoring option, with 41 combined goals in the previous two seasons. However, he has not produced for Florida this year. In 21 games, Connolly has just 16 shots, after he had 193 in 69 games in 2019-20. As the Panthers look for a better scoring option and an Aaron Ekblad replacement, this trade helps them, as they did not retain any money. The two sweetener players who they give up are interesting, and both have NHL experience. In return, they get some depth both on offense and on the blue line. Wallmark should be a familiar name for Panthers fans, as he played in seven games (plus two in the playoffs) down the stretch last year after being acquired for Vincent Trocheck. He gives them an extra center, and had double digit goals in the previous two years. Carlsson is a young Swede who was drafted in the 4th round in 2016 by Chicago. He has split time between the AHL and NHL this year. 

Wallmark, 25, has scored no goals with three assists in 16 games for the Blackhawks this year. In his NHL career with the Blackhawks, Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes Wallmark has scored 23 goals with 36 assists for 59 points in 183 games. 

Carlsson, 23, has one assist in 12 games for Chicago this year, and a goal and two assists for three points in seven games for the AHL's Rockford IceHogs. In his short NHL career Carlsson has no goals and two assists in 18 games. 

There were rumors that the rebuilding Blackhawks would be renting out their cap space in exchange for assets, and that is exactly what they did here. Those assets are two players and a 7th round pick. The pick is not a big deal to them, and the other two are not big time prospects. Well, not anymore. Borgstrom was a first round pick in 2016, picked 23rd overall. But he has slumped in limited NHL time and is currently playing in his hometown in Finland. He spent most of last year in the AHL, scoring 23 points in 49 games. He is still an RFA, so Chicago gets his rights. Stillman, like Carlsson, was a 4th round pick in 2016. He is physical, with 78 hits in 43 NHL games, including some this year. He could replace Carlsson in Chicago's defensive cycle. Connolly still is just one year removed from a 19 goal season, so there is still hope. But, Chicago does not get enough back for taking on his full salary. 

Connolly, 28, has scored two goals with two assists for four points in 21 games for the Panthers in 2020-21. In his NHL career for Florida, the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, Connolly has scored 100 goals with 92 assists for 192 points in 517 games. 

Borgstrom, 23, has scored 11 goals with eight assists for 19 points in 27 games for HIFK Helsinki in Finland this season. In his NHL career Borgstrom has scored nine goals with 10 assists for 19 points in 58 games. 

Stillman, 23, has no points in eight NHL games and three assists in five games for the AHL's Syracuse Crunch this year. In his NHL career Stillman has no goals and five assists in 43 games. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

NHL Trade Review: Isles bring in Palmieri, Zajac

 


        The New York Islanders have acquired forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a 2021 1st round pick, a 2022 conditional 4th round pick, and forwards AJ Greer and Mason Jobst. The 4th round pick becomes a 2022 3rd rounder if the Islanders advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. New Jersey also retained 50% of both Palmieri and Zajac's salary. 

The Islanders had some forward holes before and after captain Anders Lee's season ending injury, but they are all gone now. Palmieri is the big prize here, although he is having a down season. His 9.5 shooting percentage is his lowest since 2013-14. Palmieri scored a minimum of 24 goals and a max of 30 from 2015-16 to 2019-20, and was an elite power play presence for the Devils. He had exactly 11 power play goals in each of the past three seasons, but has netted just one so far this year. He is a right-handed shot, but could still fill in for Lee on the top left wing role. Palmieri could also move down to the second line if the Isles want to keep him on the right wing. He was born in Smithtown, which is on Long Island. Zajac is a veteran who mainly plays center, but could move to the wing, as the Islanders have an open spot on the third line at left wing. He provides center depth in case a center goes down, like Casey Cizikas did on the postseason last year. Zajac actually has more points than Palmieri this year, but that is because of an absurd 20.6 shooting percentage. His 34 shots in 33 games will not be good enough. Zajac also has a 53.7 faceoff percentage in his career. Of course, both players were Devils when Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello was in New Jersey, but only Zajac actually played a game under Lou (he played quite a few games, actually). They will reunite with Andy Greene and Cory Schneider, former longtime Devils who have recently joined New York. A first round pick is steep in a buyers' market, but that is a little bit more than what Palmieri would have cost, and then you throw in Zajac. The 4th is an extra pick, while Jobst and Greer are to offset the contracts. Both players will be free agents at the end of the season, and after salary retention, New York has about $3.1 million left in cap space. 

Palmieri, 30, has scored eight goals with nine assists for 17 points in 34 games in 2020-21. In his NHL career for the Devils and Anaheim Ducks Palmieri has scored 183 goals with 172 assists for 355 points in 595 games. 

Zajac, 35, has scored seven goals with 11 assists for 18 points in 33 games for New Jersey this year. In his NHL career, all with the Devils Zajac has scored 202 goals with 348 assists for 550 points in 1024 games. 

This may hurt for Devils fans. Palmieri was one of the team's best players, and by far their best winger. And Zajac was the team's longest tenured player after they traded Greene at last year's deadline, and he played over 1000 games and 15 seasons for the club. But, both were pending UFAs, and they eat some money to potentially get a better return, which could explain the conditional 4th rounder. The first is obviously the key here, as it helps them continue with their long going rebuild, although at this point the pick looks to be late in the first round. The Devils do not get much more than AHL depth with Jobst and Greer, who both are not really prospects. The most notable thing about them is their difference in size; Jobst stands five feet and eight inches tall, seven inches smaller than the six-foot-three Greer. Jobst captained Ohio State University, and had 36 points in 36 games in his final season, before signing with the Islanders. The AHL has not been kind to him, and he is not young. Greer was a 2015 2nd rounder by Colorado, and was acquired in the offseason for Kyle Burroughs, who just debuted for the Avalanche recently. He has played some NHL games over three years for the Avs, but not with great results.

Greer, 24, has scored one goal with one assist for two points in 10 games for the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers in 2020-21. In his NHL career in Colorado, he has scored a goal with five assists for six points in 37 games. 

Jobst, 27, has no goals and two assists in six games for the Sound Tigers this year. In his two year pro career, Jobst has scored five goals with 10 assists for 15 points in 50 games. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

MLB Trade Review: Yankees acquire Odor

 


       The New York Yankees have acquired IF Rougned Odor and cash considerations from the Texas Rangers in exchange for OF Antonio Cabello and OF Josh Stowers. 

Right off the bat, this is a really confusing trade for New York. Odor has hit 30 home runs in three seasons, including 2019, but in 2019 he also struck out a league leading 178 times with a .721 OPS. He also has a deplorable .289 OBP, something that the Yankees will want to fix. He has been an above average defender at second base in the past, but second is also the only position he has ever played in a big league game, despite playing some third base this Spring. The Yankees could test his versatility by trying out Odor at shortstop or first base. If he can play the former, it could push Tyler Wade out of the 26 man roster. While the Rangers will eat up most of the $27 million owed to Odor over the next two seasons, his recent play has not been worth giving up two prospects. He had a .192 xBA, a 31.8 K% and a 4.7 walk rate on one of baseball's worst teams last year, and couldn't make the team this year. 

Odor, 27, hit 10 home runs with a .167 average and a .623 OPS in 148 Plate Appearances for Texas in 2020. In his MLB career, all with the Rangers, Odor has hit 146 home runs with 62 stolen bases, a .237 average and a .728 OPS in 3434 Plate Appearances. 

The Rangers do a pretty good job here. They knew that trading Odor would require eating up just about all the money, but they save a little bit of it by trading him and not just paying all $27 million, but most of it. They also get two prospects back. Cabello was a big international signing for the Yankees in 2017, but he struggled in 2019 in the Appalachian League, and has not even reached Low-A. Stowers was acquired in the second Sonny Gray trade, although technically not, as the Yankees immediately flipped Shed Long, acquired for Gray, to Seattle for Stowers. A 2018 2nd round pick after he had a .974 OPS at the University of Louisville. He had a nice season at Single-A in 2019, and could move up to AA this year. 

Cabello, 20, hit three home runs with five stolen bases, a .211 average and a .610 OPS in 251 Plate Appearances for the Pulaski Yankees in 2019. In his short minor league career Cabello has hit eight home runs with 15 stolen bases, a .251 average and a .753 OPS in 443 Plate Appearances. 

Stowers, 24, hit seven home runs with 35 stolen bases, a .273 average and a .786 OPS in 460 Plate Appearances for the Charleston RiverDogs (Single-A) in 2019. In his minor league career Stowers has hit 12 home runs with 55 stolen bases, a .268 average and a .788 OPS in 704 Plate Appearances. 

MLB Trade Review: Braves acquire Arcia

 


       The Atlanta Braves have acquired shortstop Orlando Arcia from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for RHPs Chad Sobotka and Patrick Weigel. 

There is probably going to be a person out there that sees Arcia's 1-for-11 start to 2021 and draws a conclusion that the Brewers had given up on the player afterwards. Well, the real reason stems from the end of Spring Training. As seen on Opening Day, former Padres top prospect Luis Urias had won the starting shortstop job, moving the former starter, Arcia, to the bench. Arcia had a 96 OPS+ in 2020, and that was a career high. He has some power and speed, but overall he is not a starting-caliber player. Oddly enough, he is the youngest player in this trade. The Brewers sell him for Weigel and Sobotka, two tall right-handers. Both have MLB experience, but Sobotka is the interesting one. He has struggled in minor MLB stints, aside from a productive 14 game run in 2018. But, Sobotka has maintained his strikeout ability in the majors and minors, and in 2019 his fastball averaged 96.1 mph with a 2499 rpm spin rate. His slider also had an elite 2959 spin rate. Weigel has just one game of MLB experience, and he had good numbers at AAA in 2019. The Brewers have had interest in him since 2014, when they drafted Weigel in the 22nd round, although he did not sign. Both pitchers will go to Milwaukee's alternate training site, but could be a future bullpen option.

Sobotka, 27, allowed five runs in 3.2 innings in 2020. In 2019, he struck out 38 with a 6.21 ERA in 29 innings. In his MLB career, all in Atlanta, Sobotka has an ERA of 5.36 with 61 strikeouts, a 1.468 WHIP and a 4.92 FIP in 47 innings. 

Weigel, 26, allowed two runs in 0.2 innings last year. In 2019 for AAA Gwinnett and AA Mississippi, he had a 2.73 ERA with 71 strikeouts and a 1.152 WHIP in 79 innings pitched. In his minor league career Weigel has a 3.15 ERA with 346 strikeouts and a 1.186 WHIP in 362.2 innings. 

With Arcia in Atlanta, you have to wonder what this means for the futures of Johan Camargo and/or Pablo Sandoval. One will surely be gone if Arcia is now on the roster. Camargo can play multiple infield and outfield positions, and he is a switch hitter. But, he had a .611 OPS in 35 games last year. Also a switch hitter, Sandoval is 1-for-2 with a home run this year, but he does not give the Braves any defensive flexibility besides at third base. Expect one of them to be gone with Arcia stepping in as a backup to Dansby Swanson. His .279 xBA and 16.9 K% in 2020 were career highs. He is also an above average defender. 

Arcia, 26, hit five home runs with two stolen bases, a .260 average and a .734 OPS in 189 Plate Appearances for Milwaukee last year. In his MLB career, all for the Brewers, Arcia has hit 42 home runs with 39 stolen bases, a .244 average and a .658 OPS in 1876 Plate Appearances. 

Friday, April 2, 2021

NHL Trade Review: Blackhawks bring back Hinostroza

 


       The Chicago Blackhawks have acquired forward Vinnie Hinostroza from the Florida Panthers in exchange for forward Brad Morrison. 

A Chicago native, Hinostroza was drafted by the Blackhawks in the 6th round back in 2012. His first three NHL seasons came with them, until he was traded to unload Marian Hossa's salary. Hinostroza scored 21 goals combined in the next two seasons, but he has mostly been a healthy scratch this year while being reunited with Head Coach Joel Quenneville. By re-acquiring him, GM Stan Bowman continues his long tradition of bringing back players. While Hinostroza has not done anything this year, he has been productive in the past, and his cap hit is just $1 million, before becoming an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The cost is also very low, as Morrison, acquired in the offseason from Los Angeles for Olli Maatta, has split time between the AHL and ECHL. Bringing in Hinostroza could also make the Hawks more inclined to deal pending UFAs Mattias Janmark and Carl Soderberg.

Hinostroza, who will turn 27 tomorrow, has no points in nine games this year for the Panthers. In his NHL career for the Panthers, Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes, Hinostroza has scored 34 goals with 66 assists for 100 points in 255 games. 

His lack of playing time this year shows that Hinostroza was not valued highly by the Panthers. Florida will be a buyer at the trade deadline, which is in 10 days. And with star defenseman Aaron Ekblad out for the year, they need cap space to acquire a defender, potentially Columbus' David Savard. This trade clears up a little bit of space, but still some space. A 2015 4th round pick by the Rangers, Morrison had a decent WHL career, but he has not been exceptional since turning pro, and he is not a young prospect. 

Morrison, 24, scored three goals with two assists for five points in six games for the AHL's Rockford IceHogs this year. For the ECHL's Indy Fuel, he has a goal and an assist in three games. In his AHL career for Rockford and the Ontario Reign, Morrison has scored 13 goals with 12 assists for 25 points in 56 games. 

Monday, March 29, 2021

NHL Trade Review: Senators and Kings make a swap

 


       The Ottawa Senators have acquired forward Michael Amadio from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for defenseman Christian Wolanin. 

This is merely a swap of depth players between the two NHL teams closest to the salary cap floor. This is not a big NHL trade, but both players have a good amount of NHL experience with AHL success. Both have also played a good amount of time in the NHL this year. Wolanin was recently waived by the Senators, and cleared. When he gets to Los Angeles, Wolanin could easily become their new seventh defenseman. The Kings only have six defenseman on their roster, but three on their taxi squad, which is also a place where Wolanin could go. He is a better option than Austin Strand and Daniel Brickley, who do not have a ton of NHL experience. Wolanin probably would be below recent first rounder Tobias Bjornfot on the depth chart. He is still relatively young, and the former 4th round pick has had trouble breaking into Ottawa's starting lineup after success at the University of North Dakota and the AHL. 

Wolanin, 26, has three assists in 15 NHL games, and no points in one AHL game in 2020-21. He had 31 points in 40 AHL games in 2018-19. In his NHL career, all in Ottawa, Wolanin has scored five goals with 13 assists for 18 points in 58 games. 

The Senators do not have a shortage of young, or at least capable NHL forwards, so Amadio will have to work his way up. A 3rd round pick in 2014, he has struggled in a good amount of NHL time this year, and last played in the NHL on March 14th. Since then, Amadio has spent some time playing for the AHL's Ontario Reign. Starting in Belleville (Ottawa's AHL affiliate) seems like the most likely situation for Amadio right now. He is a couple of years younger than Wolanin, and can play on the Senators' fourth line. 

Amadio, 24, has just two assists in 20 games for the Kings in 2020-21, with the same number of assists in two games for Ontario this year. In his NHL career, all in Los Angeles, Amadio has scored 16 goals with 23 assists for 39 points in 168 games. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

NHL Trade Review: Kings acquire Lemieux

 


       The Los Angeles Kings have acquired forward Brendan Lemieux from the New York Rangers in exchange for a 2021 4th round draft pick.

The son of former instigator Claude Lemieux, the younger Lemieux plays like his father did. While Claude scored 41 goals in one season, Brendan is not a goal scorer. He is a fourth line player who has gotten some power play time, but really should not play on special teams. He can fight, and be a physical presence on Los Angeles' fourth line. The price of a 4th round pick is not much, especially when Lemieux is under contract through 2021-22, with a $1.55 million cap hit. Even when that expires, Lemieux will be a restricted free agent. At the time of the trade, Lemieux's 59 penalty minutes lead the NHL, six above Trent Frederic, who has become quite acquainted with Lemieux this year. 

The Rangers are not completely out of the playoff picture, but that does not mean that selling off a player makes no sense. The Rangers have a lot of skaters, especially with Phillip Di Giuseppe and Brett Howden returning from injury. Also, Vitali Kravtsov is returning to North America soon. Lemieux is not great on offense or defense, and he is very expendable. They also can clear a little bit of cap space for next year. 

Lemieux, 25, has scored two goals with five assists for seven points in 30 games this year, with 61 hits. In his NHL career for the Rangers and Winnipeg Jets, Lemieux has scored 21 goals with 22 assists in 43 points, plus 366 hits in 161 games. 

Friday, March 26, 2021

NHL Trade Review: Habs acquire Staal

 


       The Montreal Canadiens have acquired forward Eric Staal from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a 2021 third round draft pick and a 2021 5th round pick. The Sabres also retained $1.625 million, or 50% of Staal's salary.

This is act one of the everything must go sale for another Sabres rebuild. Staal was the second biggest name expected to be traded, behind winger Taylor Hall. Like every other member of the Sabres, who currently have a 15 game losing streak and a .250 points percentage, Staal has had a pretty terrible season. While he is sixth on the team in points, he is on his way to a career low point total, as Staal's 0.31 points per game is a career worst. The veteran is good at face-offs, although his 48% win rate on them right now is low for his standards. He can play on the power play, and boost Montreal's bottom-six as they try to finish in the top four in the North Division. He has just a 5.1 shooting percentage and a 91.5 PDO, so things can easily get better. Staal's 51.2 CF% is well above his old team's average. We will probably see a lack of trades between American and Canadian teams because of the mandated quarantine time between borders, but that was limited to just seven days from 14 earlier today for NHL players, which helps Staal and the Canadiens out. Both teams win here, as the Sabres get a decent mid-round pick and a mid-to-late-round pick for Staal, who was going to leave as a free agent after this season, and the Canadiens get a good bottom-six player for under $1.7 million (after retention), and they still have two third round picks and two fifth round picks in this year's draft.

Staal, 36, scored three goals with seven assists for 10 points in 32 games for Buffalo this year. In his NHL career for the Sabres, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes, Staal has scored 439 goals with 592 assists for 1031 points in 1272 games. 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

NHL Trade Review: Ducks acquire Volkov


 

       The Anaheim Ducks have acquired forward Alexander Volkov from the Tampa Bay Lighting in exchange for F Antoine Morand and a 2023 conditional seventh round draft pick. The pick can transfer to a 2024 7th rounder depending on conditions from a draft day 2020 trade with Columbus.

This is the first trade of the trade deadline season, and it is certainly not a blockbuster. Volkov is a decent prospect who just fell out of favor after Ross Colton impressed the Lightning with four points in his past seven games. Drafted in the second round (48th overall) in 2017, Volkov had 30 points in 46 AHL games last year, and scored exactly 23 goals for the Syracuse Crunch in both 2017-18 and 2018-19. He made his NHL debut last year, and he also played in one playoff game. That one playoff game happened to be Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and Volkov drew a tripping penalty that led to the Cup-winning goal. Anaheim gets a young player who can fit into their bottom-six if given a chance. It is probably worth it for them, as the Ducks are 9-19-6, with minimal production from their bottom-six.

Volkov, 23, has scored three goals with two assists for five points in 19 games for Tampa Bay this year. In his two year NHL career, he has three goals with three assists in 28 games. 

The Lightning clear up an NHL roster spot here, and they get some value back. Morand was drafted just 12 spots after Volkov in 2017, but his career has not progressed like Volkov's. After posting 70 points in 62 QMJHL games in 2018-19, Morand went to the San Diego Gulls of the AHL, where he has really fallen off. Still, Morand is young, albeit undersized. The seventh round pick is just some additional value for the Bolts.

Morand, 22, has scored one goal with five assists for six points in 21 games for the Gulls in 2020-21. In his AHL career, Morand has scored six goals with 16 assists for 22 points in 75 games. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Washington Nationals 2021 Season Preview

 


       We are finally at the end of my season previews for 2021. This year, the Nationals do not have their roster all official by the time I finished my preview for them, since I started these a week earlier than I normally do. For the team themselves, they really disappointed, as the reigning World Series champions finished in last place, while playing in the same division as the Phillies and their bullpen. You would think that this could just be a 60-game blip, but there are enough reasons to believe that Washington may not recover.

Offseason additions: OF Kyle Schwarber, 1B Josh Bell, LHP Brad Hand, C Alex Avila, LHP Jon Lester, IF Jordy Mercer, OF Gerardo Parra, LHP Luis Avilan, LHP TJ McFarland.

Offseason subtractions: RHP Anibal Sanchez, C Kurt Suzuki, 1B Eric Thames, LHP Sean Doolittle, IF Asdrubal Cabrera, OF Adam Eaton, IF Howie Kendrick, IF Brock Holt.


Trade Deadline 2020 summary

Acquired: None.

Traded: None.

2020 record: 26-34

2020 placement: 5th (tied)

2020 WAR leader (batter): Trea Turner

2020 WAR leader (pitcher): Max Scherzer


Starting Pitchers

The rotation entered 2020 as Washington's strength, but it oddly became a weakness as the season progressed. Three-time Cy Young winner and future Hall-of-Famer Max Scherzer finished outside the top-5 in Cy Young voting for the first time since 2012. Scherzer didn't even receive a vote, as he had a 3.74 ERA with 92 strikeouts in 67.1 innings. He had a 4.33 xERA, with an uncharacteristically high 9.4 H/9. His 7.8% BB% was a big raise from 2019. Scherzer's velocity on his pitches stayed the same, but he is 36 years old, so age could play a role in his deterioration. The one slumping player who I am worried about is Patrick Corbin. Corbin's sinker and fastball velocity decreased to just over 90 mph last year, while his slider's whiff rate dropped by over 10 percent. The high-strikeout pitcher had just 60 Ks with a 4.66 ERA in 65.2 innings. No National League pitcher allowed more hits than Corbin, who allowed 85, for an 11.6 H/9. He had a 5.17 xERA while batters had a .289 xBA against Corbin. The first season of Stephen Strasburg's seven year, $245 million contract was a waste, as he made just two starts and missed the rest of the season with a hand injury. He had just two strikeouts while allowing six runs over five innings in those two starts. Strasburg has had a calf issue this Spring Training, but he should not miss any regular season time. His last healthy action was in 2019, when he won World Series MVP, and had a 3.32 ERA with 251 strikeouts in a league leading 209 regular season innings. Since the rotation wasn't already old enough, Jon Lester was brought in. Lester lead the NL in wins in 2018 (take what you want from that), but has not been good in 2019 or 2020. He had just 42 strikeouts in 61 innings with a 5.16 ERA for the Cubs. He had a 12.3 barrel percentage and a .517 xSLG against. Lester's high-80s fastball was extremely awful, with a .767 xSLG against and an 8.2 whiff rate. The big rotation fight will come with the fifth spot, as there are multiple candidates. Erick Fedde had a 4.29 ERA in 11 games (eight starts), but he struck out just 28 in 50.1 innings, for an awful 12.6 K%. Fedde throws a sinker that had just a 1836 rpm with a 7.6 percent whiff rate, and his highest whiff rate on a pitch was 28.1%. Joe Ross was the favorite for the fifth starter spot last year before he opted-out of the season. He split time between the rotation and bullpen in 2019, and did not pitch well, with a 5.48 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 64 innings. He had an 87.5 mph average exit velocity against, although he also walked 11.2 percent of batters. Since Ross didn't pitch last year, he could start out in the bullpen. Austin Voth is also an option after he was pretty good in limited time in 2019. Voth could not carry that over to 2020, as he had a 6.34 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 49.2 innings. His 5.52 xERA was an improvement, but still not very good. He also had a pretty bad 1.510 WHIP. 

Relief Pitchers

After Brad Hand's option was declined by the Indians, the Nationals were wise to pick him up in free agency. The three-time all-star led the AL in saved with 16 last year, with a 2.05 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 22 innings. He walked just 4.7% of batters, with a .174 xBA against and a 2.56 xERA. Batters had just a .486 OPS against Hand, who has had an ERA+ of at least 130 in each of the past five seasons. He should step in to be the new closer after Daniel Hudson struggled in the role last year. Hudson did have 28 strikeouts in 20.2 innings, but he also had a 6.10 ERA and a 12 BB%. There were some positives to Hudson's season, as he had just a 6.5 H/9 and and a .185 xBA. Hudson's slider had a 48.1 K%, which was a 16% improvement from his great 2019. Tanner Rainey throws a slider that is one of baseball's most underrated pitches. He threw the pitch over 39 percent of the time, and batters went 1-for-20 with 16 strikeouts and a 75.5 whiff rate. Rainey throws a high-90s fastball, and he had a 2.66 ERA in 20.1 innings. He struck out 32 batters with a .180 xBA. Veteran Will Harris could miss the beginning of the season because of a blood clot in his arm. While he had a 3.06 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 17.2 innings, Harris' season was not that good. He allowed 21 hits and walked nine, for a 1.698 WHIP, after he had a 0.933 WHIP in 2019. He had a 5.13 xERA, with a 91.2 mph average exit velocity. After many years of battling in the minor leagues, Kyle Finnegan made his MLB debut less than two months before his 29th birthday. Finnegan's first season went well, as he had a 2.92 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 24.2 innings, allowing just 21 hits. He also had just a 28.6 hard hit percentage against. Finnegan did walk 12.9% of batters, and his split finger had a 995 rpm spin rate, which honestly may be more impressive than a 2500 rpm spin rate. He may not be the best relief pitcher, but Wander Suero is good at striking out batters. He has a 9.8 K/9 in his career, and Suero had 28 strikeouts in 23.2 innings with a 3.80 ERA. His 27.9 hard hit percentage in 2020 was a career best. His cutter velocity dropped by nearly two miles per hour on average, down to 91 mph. Of Fedde, Ross and Voth, the two who don't make the rotation will probably be in the bullpen. Sam Clay has a 2.57 ERA in seven Spring Training innings, and the lefty got a major league deal after he had a 3.25 ERA with 72 strikeouts in 69.1 innings. Ryne Harper had 25 strikeouts in 23.2 innings for Washington last year, but he also had a 7.61 ERA. Harper's fastball was terrible, with a .486 average against (18-for-37). 

Catchers

Veteran catcher Yan Gomes won back the starting catcher job from Kurt Suzuki, who left in free agency. Gomes had a .787 OPS and a 107 OPS+, while his .286 xBA and 18.3 K% were big improvements on previous seasons. Gomes still only hit four home runs in 30 games, but that is actually a 20 homer pace in a 150 game season, so don't read too much into that. He was not a good pitch framer. Alex Avila has had an odd mix of good and bad offensive seasons, but he has caught three of the Nationals' four main starters (Scherzer in Detroit, Corbin in Arizona, Lester in Chicago, credit to MLB.com for that stat). In 23 short games for the Twins last year, Avila was on the bad side of his hitting spectrum, with a .184 average and a .641 OPS. 

Infielders

The big trade of Washington's offseason was when they acquired Josh Bell from Pittsburgh. Bell had a great start to 2019, and finished with 37 home runs and an all-star appearance. He tailed off towards the end of the season, and that carried over into 2020, as he hit eight home runs with a .226 average and a .669 OPS. The switch hitter had a career high 26.5 K%, with a career low 9.9 BB%. Bell still did hit the ball hard, with an average exit velocity of 91.7 mph. Returning for his 16th season in D.C. is Ryan Zimmerman, who has been the greatest position player in franchise history, and by WAR he actually is first since the team moved from Montreal, just barely edging out Scherzer. The 4th overall pick in 2005 opted-out of the 2020 season, and after the way his 2019 season went, Zimmerman will be a bench bat and backup to Bell at first. He hit six home runs with a .736 OPS in 2019. In the Statcast era, Zimmerman has a 92 mph average exit velocity. Four time all-star Starlin Castro broke his wrist early on in 2020, and never returned. He was playing fine in his first 16 games, with a .754 OPS. One area where Castro needs to improve is getting on base, as he had a .300 OBP in 2019 despite a decent .270 average. He has never won a Gold Glove, but the former shortstop is a good defensive second baseman. He had two outs above average in 2020, and nine in 2019. Trea Turner received MVP votes for the first time in his career, as he had a league leading 78 hits with a .335 average, a .986 OPS and 12 home runs while also swiping 12 bags. Turner had an elite sprint speed of 30.1 ft/s. Turner's average sprint speed has never dropped below 30. Turner also had a career best K% of 14.2 percent. Carter Kieboom was a top prospect, and the Nationals depended on him after Anthony Rendon left in free agency. So far, he has not followed through, as Kieboom hit .202 with a .556 OPS in 33 games. He did have a solid 14.4 walk rate, and he had a .902 OPS at AAA in 2019. Josh Harrison, who should be a lot older than 33, is entering his second season with the Nationals. He played corner outfield, second and third base last year. Harrison had a 105 OPS+ in 33 games, which was actually the second base in his career. While he only struck out 13.2 percent of the time, Harrison does not hit the ball hard, with an 83.8 mph average exit velocity. 20 year old Luis Garcia took over at second base when Castro was injured, but he had a .668 OPS, meaning that he could use some more minor league time. Garcia had just an 83.5 mph exit velocity, a 3.6 walk rate and -7 outs above average. 

Outfielders

While his -2 outs above average may have stopped him from leading the team in WAR, Juan Soto showed just how ridiculous he is. Soto hit 13 home runs in 47 games, and led the National League with a .351 average. Soto's .490 OBP, .695 slugging and 1.185 OPS all led the Major Leagues. He had a 17.9 barrel percentage, with a .697 xSLG. He struck out just 14.6 percent of the time, with an insane 20.8 walk rate. Soto's on-base was the best since Barry Bonds set the all-time record in 2004 (.609). The next best OBP since 2009 was also in 2020, as Freddie Freeman had a .462 OBP. Plus, Soto turned 22 in October. That is one year younger than Victor Robles, who had a solid 2019 rookie season before regressing last year. Robles hit three home runs with four stolen bases and a .608 OPS. His sprint speed dropped by over one ft/s, and he had an awful 82.2 mph average exit velocity, with a 22.9 hard hit percentage. Robles had just a .280 xSLG. Robles had three outs above average, and with Soto and new acquisition Kyle Schwarber in the corners, he will need to be elite defensively. Schwarber hit 38 home runs with an .871 OPS in 2019, but he did not carry that over to 2020, as he hit 11 home runs with a .188 average and a .701 OPS. Schwarber's 29.5 K% was his worst since 2017, although he did have an increased 13.4 percent walk rate. He also had a 92.8 mph average exit velocity. Schwarber had -4 outs above average in left field, and is so bad defensively that the Nats would rather move Soto over to right field than experiment with Schwarber in right. Gerardo Parra's "Baby Shark" walk-up song was a fan favorite when the team won the World Series in 2019, but he spent 2020 in Japan. Back in Washington on a minor league deal, Parra had a .688 OPS for Yomiuri last year. He stole six bases with a .747 OPS while playing all three outfield positions and first base for the team in 2019. Andrew Stevenson followed up being great in a very small sample size in 2019 (.953 OPS in 30 games) by being, well, great in a very small sample size. The left-handed hitting outfielder hit two home runs with two stolen bases and a 1.179 OPS in 15 games. 

Projected Rotation
Max Scherzer (R)
Patrick Corbin (L)
Stephen Strasburg (R)
Jon Lester (L)
Erick Fedde (R)

Projected Bullpen
Brad Hand (L)
Daniel Hudson (R)
Tanner Rainey (R)
Will Harris (R)
Kyle Finnegan (R)
Wander Suero (R)
Joe Ross (R)
Austin Voth (R)

Projected Lineup
SS Trea Turner (R)
2B Starlin Castro (R)
RF Juan Soto (L)
LF Kyle Schwarber (L)
1B Josh Bell (S)
C Yan Gomes (R)
CF Victor Robles (R)
3B Carter Kieboom (R)
Pitcher

Projected Bench
C Alex Avila (L)
UT Josh Harrison (R)
1B Ryan Zimmerman (R)
OF Gerardo Parra (L)
OF Andrew Stevenson (L)


Projection

The Nationals have a lot of big questions entering 2021, so it would be easier to go over what isn't a question, and Soto and Turner are basically it. The rest of the lineup is not great, the bullpen is not elite, just average, and the rotation, the guiding force in 2019, is aging. If Scherzer, Corbin and Strasburg cannot all regain their old form, then the team will be in trouble. They are not completely out of the playoff picture, but the Braves and the resurgence of the Mets will hurt their chances. As of now, they are not a playoff team. 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Toronto Blue Jays 2021 Season Preview


 

       This year there are about 3-4 teams that I am not sure just how to predict. The Blue Jays are certainly one of them. They nearly beat out the Yankees for second place in the AL East, and they still made the playoffs. The team was also determined to spend money in the offseason, and while they missed out early in the offseason, they were able to improve with an amazing second half. That included one of the biggest fish on the market, center fielder George Springer.

Offseason additions: OF George Springer, IF Marcus Semien, RHP Kirby Yates, LHP Steven Matz, RHP Tyler Chatwood, RHP David Phelps, LHP Francisco Liriano, LHP Tommy Milone, LHP Travis Bergen.

Offseason subtractions: RHP Anthony Bass, RHP Taijuan Walker, RHP Chase Anderson, RHP Matt Shoemaker, 3B Travis Shaw, RHP Sean Reid-Foley, OF Derek Fisher, IF Jonathan Villar.


Trade Deadline 2020 summary

Acquired: LHP Robbie Ray, IF Jonathan Villar, RHP Ross Stripling.

Traded: LHP Travis Bergen.

2020 record: 32-28

2020 placement: 3rd

2020 WAR leader (batter): Cavan Biggio

2020 WAR leader (pitcher): Hyun-Jin Ryu


Starting Pitchers

The biggest area for concern with the Blue Jays entering 2021 is easily their rotation. They do have a legitimate ace, but afterwards things really fall off. Hyun-Jin Ryu proved that his 2019 NL Cy Young runner-up season was not a fluke, as he finished 3rd in AL Cy Young voting. Ryu had a 2.69 ERA with 72 strikeouts in 67 innings. He had just a 6.2 walk rate, with a 29.2 hard hit percentage. Ryu's main pitch is a slow curveball, which had a .185 average and a .261 slugging against, and it had just a 1478 rpm spin rate. The Blue Jays really need Ryu to stay healthy, because things will get ugly if he is injured. Robbie Ray always had walk issues, but those became more than issues last year. Ray was acquired at the trade deadline after he had a 7.84 ERA with 31 walks in 31 innings. Despite only making seven starts, he still allowed more walks than anyone in the National League. Add his 14 walks in 20.2 innings with Toronto, Ray walked an MLB leading 45 batters. He had a 6.62 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 51.2 innings. Batters also had a 91.6 mph average exit velocity against the lefty. Tanner Roark had been a dependable starter for a number of years, but his debut season in Toronto was easily his first. He struck out 41 batters in 47.2 innings, with a 6.80 ERA and a 6.53 xERA. Batters had a .539 xSLG against Roark, who also allowed a 13 barrel percentage. Batters also hit at least .300 against Roark's main three pitches each. The Blue Jays gave up three players for Steven Matz, who lost his spot in the Mets' rotation last year. Matz had a 9.69 ERA while striking out 36 in 30.2 innings. He also had a 7.09 xERA, a .302 xBA against and a .570 xSLG. Matz could not even limit hard contact, with a 49 hard hit percentage, and a 13.5 barrel percentage. At the very least, Matz has had a good Spring Training, striking out 12 while allowing one run in 10 innings. Closing out the Blue Jays' great rotation from 2016-17 is Ross Stripling, who was acquired from Los Angeles at the trade deadline. Stripling was a pretty good swingman for a few years, but had a rough 2020. Combined between two teams, he had a 5.84 ERA with a 6.49 xERA and a 91.2 mph average exit velocity. He could either start or come out of the bullpen, and that probably depends on Nate Pearson's health. Pearson walked 13 in 18 innings with a 6.00 ERA, but the team's top prospect can hit 102 mph, and he had a 2.30 ERA with 119 strikeouts in 101.2 minor league innings in 2019. Injuries have been a problem for Pearson, and he could start in AAA, or the alternate training site. 

Relief Pitchers

The Blue Jays are betting that Kirby Yates' elbow injury has healed. Yates allowed six runs with eight strikeouts in 4.1 innings before missing the rest of the year. Yates was arguably the best reliever in baseball in 2019, with a 1.19 ERA, 101 strikeouts and a league leading 41 saves in 60.2 innings. He had a .170 xBA and a .254 xSLG against, and his main two pitches, a split-finger and fastball, almost exactly spilt his strikeouts while each had a whiff rate of exactly 34.4%. Rafael Dolis pitched for the Cubs from 2011-2013, but reinvented himself from 2016 to 2019 in Japan, earning him a deal with Toronto. It worked in year one, as Dolis split closing duties with Anthony Bass, and had a 1.50 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 24 innings, while only allowing 16 hits. Dolis had a .170 xBA with an 85.4 mph average exit velocity, but he also had a 14 percent walk rate. Leading the Toronto bullpen early last year was Jordan Romano, before he missed time with a middle finger injury (yes, I am serious). Romano had a 1.23 ERA in 14.2 innings, while striking out 21 and allowing just eight hits. His high-90s fastball really showed off, as batters went 1-for-20 with a 52.4 percent whiff rate against the pitch. Ryan Borucki was a productive starter in his rookie season of 2018, but he missed almost all of 2019, before moving to the bullpen last year. Borucki struck out 21 in 16.2 innings with a 2.70 ERA. Batters went 2-for-26 with 14 strikeouts against Borucki's slider. His sinker averaged 94.8 mph, and in 2018 that averaged 91.5 mph. Tyler Chatwood can also be a starter, but after succeeding out of the 'pen in 2019, he will start there. Chatwood had 5.30 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 18.2 innings over five starts for the Cubs last year. His pitches have amazing spin rates, as his curveball had a 2977 rpm spin rate, and his cutter was at 2739 rpm on average. David Phelps had a 2.77 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 13 innings for the Brewers last year, but was traded to the Phillies and immediately experienced their bullpen curse. Phelps did strikeout 11 batters in 7.2 innings, but allowed 11 runs. He had an 85 mph exit velocity against despite a terrible barrel percentage of 14.6 percent. AJ Cole may be in camp on a minor league deal, but his performance for Toronto last year should earn him a spot. Cole had a 3.09 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 23.1 innings, but he had a 2.48 xERA with a three barrel percentage and a .292 xSLG. While his fastball dropped by one mph from 2019, its slugging against dropped by over 200 points. Another player who could start or come out of the bullpen is Tom Hatch, who had a 2.73 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 26.1 innings after an impressive camp. Hatch allowed an 86.4 mph average exit velocity, and his fastball had an average spin rate of 2598 rpm. Veteran Francisco Liriano did not pitch in 2020, but he had a pretty good season out of Pittsburgh's bullpen in 2019. Liriano had a 3.47 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 70 innings. Liriano had 60 hits allowed, but he walked 11.9 percent of batters. He had a 29 hard hit percentage and an 85.8 mph average exit velocity. Tim Mayza was a big part of their 2019 bullpen, but missed 2020 with Tommy John surgery. Mayza pitched in 68 games, and struck out 55 in 51.2 innings. He has allowed just one baserunner in 3.2 Spring Training innings. 

Catchers

The Blue Jays have an interesting catcher race, as it is possible for one player to start, or not make the team. 22 year old Alejandro Kirk skipped AA and AAA, and played in nine games last year. Kirk had a .400 OBP with a .983 OPS. He walked 56 times while only striking out 39 times in Single-A and High-A in 2019. If the team keeps Kirk down, then Danny Jansen will start. Jansen hit six home runs with just a .671 OPS last year. He did have a 14.3 percent walk rate, but Jansen's 85.1 mph average exit velocity was 10 mph less than Kirk's. He is the only catcher who is a lock to make the team, so at least he has that going for him. Reese McGuire had an .872 OPS in 30 games in 2019, but he went just 3-for-41 last year. He has just a 4.9 walk rate in his career as well. McGuire is out of options, so he could be DFA'd so the team could bring up one of the non-roster invitees like Cole or Liriano. 

Infielders

Entering 2019, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was easily baseball's top prospect after hitting .381 with a 1.073 OPS in the minors the year before. His first two seasons have not been so eye-popping, aside from the 2019 Home Run Derby. He played in all 60 games last year, hitting nine home runs with a .791 OPS, a 50.8 hard hit rate and a 92.5 mph average exit velocity, while striking out just 15.6 percent of the time. That is above-average, but it doesn't compare to the second best prospect at the time, Fernando Tatis Jr. After -19 outs above average at third base in 2019, Guerrero moved to first base, where he had -2 OAA. Don't freak out, since Guerrero just turned 22. Bo Bichette followed up his great debut in 2019 by having a good 29 games in 2020. Despite walking just 3.9 percent of the time, he had an .840 OPS with five home runs and four stolen bases. Bichette had a .292 xBA while improving defensively. A right knee sprain cost him half of the season. 2019 MVP finalist Marcus Semien will move from shortstop to second base after signing with the Blue Jays. His OPS dropped to .679 in 2020 from .892 the year before. Semien had just a .203 xBA with a 28.6 hard hit percentage. His defense at short really fell off, with -7 outs above average, so moving away to an easier position should help. Semien's arrival will move Cavan Biggio to third base. Biggio decreased his strikeout rate to 23% in 2020, with a 15.5 walk rate. He hit eight home runs with six stolen bases and an .807 OPS. Biggio's versatility will help the Blue Jays a lot, as they do not have many bench spots. He can play second and third base, as well as all three outfield positions. Semien can also play short and third, while Joe Panik fills in as a utility backup infielder. Panik had a .640 OPS in 41 games for the Blue Jays last year. From 2015-2019, his highest strikeout rate was 9.7%, but that rose all the way to 19.1 percent in 2020. At the very least, it came with a career best walk rate of 14.2 percent. He was strictly a second baseman with the Giants and Mets, but the Blue Jays tested his versatility, playing him at third and shortstop. Another option is Santiago Espinal, a shortstop who had a .641 OPS in 26 games last year. Rowdy Tellez will be the backup first baseman, a DH option and a good pinch-hitter option. Tellez hit eight home runs with an .886 OPS, while nearly cutting his strikeout rate in half, down to 15.7%. He had a 90.7 mph average exit velocity, and a 95.8 mph against fastballs. 

Outfielders

The Blue Jays' signing of George Springer will complicate the outfield picture, as now the team has four good outfielders. After hitting 39 homers with a .974 OPS and winning a Silver Slugger in center field, Springer was one of the few Astros to not slow down last year, hitting 14 home runs with an .899 OPS. He walked 10.8 percent of batters with a .290 xBA and a .560 xSLG. Springer only stole one base, but he had an above average sprint speed of 28.2 ft/s. There are concerns with Springer not being able to be a center fielder for the long-run, but he did have two outs above average last year. The right fielder Silver Slugger went to Teoscar Hernandez in 2020 after he had a career season. Acquired in 2017 from Houston for now-teammate Francisco Liriano, Hernandez hit 16 home runs with six stolen bases, a .289 average and a .919 OPS. Hernandez also had a .294 xBA with a .608 expected slugging. He crushes baseballs, with a barrel percentage of 18%, a 93.3 mph average exit velocity, and a 53.1 hard hit rate. Two things that he did not do well was play defense, with -5 outs above average, and not strikeout, with a 30.4 K%. The arrival of Bichette in late 2019 pushed Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to left field, but he just kept hitting. In 57 games last year, Gurriel hit 11 home runs with a .308 average and an .882 OPS. He had a 49.4 hard hit percentage, and slugged .616 against breaking balls. Randal Grichuk is an above-average hitter, and he will have to split time between DH, the bench, and any open outfield space. He hit 13 home runs with a .793 OPS last year, which would have been higher if not for a 5.6 BB%. Grichuk had a pretty good 11.2 barrel percentage and a .463 xSLG. Jonathan Davis has good speed, and has seven stolen bases with a .582 OPS in 70 career games. He can be a 5th outfielder if the team needs one. 

Projected Rotation
Hyun-Jin Ryu (L)
Robbie Ray (L)
Tanner Roark (R)
Steven Matz (L)
Ross Stripling (R)

Projected Bullpen
Kirby Yates (R)
Rafael Dolis (R)
Jordan Romano (R)
Ryan Borucki (L)
Tyler Chatwood (R)
David Phelps (R)
Tom Hatch (R)
AJ Cole (R)
Francisco Liriano (L)

Projected Lineup
CF George Springer (R)
SS Bo Bichette (R)
RF Teoscar Hernandez (R)
1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (R)
2B Marcus Semien (R)
LF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (R)
DH Randal Grichuk (R)
3B Cavan Biggio (L)
C Alejandro Kirk (R)

Projected Bench
C Danny Jansen (R)
1B Rowdy Tellez (L)
IF Joe Panik (L)


Projection 

Last year I didn't pick the Padres or White Sox to make the playoffs if they weren't expanded, because I felt that they were one year away. Now with the Blue Jays in a similar situation, I'm making the same mistake again. The Blue Jays can definitely make the playoffs, and I won't be surprised. But that rotation is just awful, and you can't win with one good starter, even if that starter is not just good, but great. 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Texas Rangers 2021 Season Preview

 


       The Rangers are definitely a sleeper team. To make the playoffs? No, not even close. I am talking about them being a sleeper team to finish last in baseball. People's minds float to the Pirates, Orioles and Tigers when thinking about the league's worst teams, but the Rangers are in that conversation. Their team has seen a lot of changes over the past few years, and now new GM Chris Young has to rebuild the team from scratch. 

Offseason additions: DH Khris Davis, OF David Dahl, RHP Mike Foltynewicz, RHP Dane Dunning, 1B Nate Lowe, C Jonah Heim, IF Brock Holt, OF Delino DeShields Jr., IF Charlie Culberson, RHP Ian Kennedy, RHP Hunter Wood, RHP Nick Vincent, RHP Justin Anderson, C John Hicks, C Drew Butera.

Offseason subtractions: RHP Lance Lynn, OF Shin-Soo Choo, IF Elvis Andrus, C Jeff Mathis, RHP Corey Kluber, RHP Rafael Montero, RHP Jesse Chavez, RHP Nick Goody, IF Derek Dietrich, OF Danny Santana. 


Trade Deadline 2020 summary

Acquired: OF Marcus Smith, IF Dustin Harris.

Traded: LHP Mike Minor, C Robinson Chirinos, IF Todd Frazier.

2020 record: 22-38

2020 placement: 5th

2020 WAR leader (batter): Isiah Kiner-Falefa

2020 WAR leader (pitcher): Lance Lynn


Starting Pitchers

Lance Lynn carried the rotation last year, and now that he is gone, there is no one left. Kyle Gibson has already been announced as the Opening Day starter, and Gibson has just one season with an ERA+ over 100 in the last five years. That year came in 2018, when Gibson still had a 4.30 xERA. In 2020, he struck out 58 in 67.1 innings with a 5.35 ERA. Gibson had a 5.70 xERA, and walked ten percent of batters, and had a 1.530 WHIP. Batters had a .283 xBA and a .450 xSLG against him. Mike Foltynewicz also was great in 2018, with a 2.85 ERA, but his career has come crashing down since then. He had a 4.54 ERA in 21 starts in 2019, and after getting crushed in his first start of 2020, Foltynewicz was DFA'd, never to see the field again that year. A massive concern with Foltynewicz's first start was that his fastball was sitting 91 mph, four mph below his average in 2019. The most promising prospect in Texas' rotation is Dane Dunning, part of MLB Pipeline's top 100 prospects who was acquired for Lynn. 2020 was Dunning's rookie season as a member of the White Sox, and he had a 3.97 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 34 innings. He also had a 3.68 xERA, and a 32.6 hard hit percentage. Dunning's best pitch is a slider, which had a .116 xBA against with a 43.5 percent whiff rate last year. 28 year old Kohei Arihara comes from the Japanese League, where he had six successful seasons. For Nippon Ham in 2020, Arihara struck out 106 batters in 132.2 innings with a 3.46 ERA. He also had a 2.0 BB/9 and a 0.7 HR/9. Six-foot-seven right-hander Kyle Cody has a really good chance to make the rotation after he was productive in eight games last year. Cody had a 1.59 ERA while striking out 18 batters in 22.2 innings, allowing just 15 hits. Cody allowed just two barrels all season, and he had a .198 xBA and a .309 xSLG against. His primary two pitches are his fastball and slider, which both had an average against under .130. Kolby Allard has a 3.37 ERA in 40 AAA starts, but could not put things together in the Rangers' rotation last year. Allard had a 7.75 ERA while walking 13.2 percent of batters. He did have a 4.80 xERA, which is a big improvement considering what his actual ERA was. Taylor Hearn could also make the rotation, but he spent all of 2020 in the bullpen, and also could easily go back there. Hearn had a 3.63 ERA while striking out 23 in 17.1 innings. Hearn also had a 3.30 xERA while limiting batters to a .182 xBA and a .294 xSLG. His main issue was walks, which he did at a 14.5 percent rate. 

Relief Pitchers

The Rangers closer role is a bit of mystery after Rafael Montero was traded to Seattle. The favorite is Jose Leclerc, who was the closer in 2019 before missing just about all of 2020. While he had a 4.33 ERA in 2019, Leclerc was much better than that, striking out 100 in 68.2 innings, and having a 2.99 xERA. His .164 xBA against was among the league's leaders, as was his .266 xSLG and 28.3 hard hit percentage. Both Leclerc's slider and changeup had a whiff rate over 40 percent in '19, and his fastball averaged 96.8 mph. The breakout star of last year's bullpen was Jonathan Hernandez, who could miss some time with a UCL sprain, although at the moment Tommy John surgery is not in the plans. Hernandez had a 2.90 ERA while striking out 31 in 31 innings last year. He also had a 2.66 xERA and a .291 xSLG. His slider had a 47.7 percent whiff rate, while his changeup was at 51.7 percent. Hernandez's sinker may have only had a 16.7 percent whiff rate, but it averaged 97.7 miles per hour. Joely Rodriguez had a nice return to the MLB from Japan, before a hamstring injury made him miss time. Rodriguez had 17 strikeouts in 12.2 innings, with a 2.13 ERA. Batters went 0-for-16 against Rodriguez's changeup, with seven strikeouts. He also had a .215 xBA against. Left-hander Brett Martin pitched in 51 games as a 24 year old in 2019, but was much better in 2020, with a 1.84 ERA and a .170 xBA against. Martin only struck out eight batters in 14.2 innings, but also allowed just eight hits. Unfortunately, Martin also walked nine batters. Jordan Lyles had a 2.45 ERA in 11 starts down the stretch of 2019 with the Brewers, earning him a contract with the Rangers. His first year in Texas did not go well, as Lyles had a 7.02 ERA with just 36 strikeouts in 57.2 innings. Lyles' 45 earned runs allowed was more than any other American League pitcher. His fastball got hammered, with a .330 average against and a .651 slugging plus a 90.5 mph average exit velocity and just an 8.5 percent whiff rate. Former Royals closer Ian Kennedy is in camp on a minor league deal. Kennedy was terrible in 2020, allowing 17 runs in 14 innings with 15 strikeouts. He was a good closer in 2019, as Kennedy saved 30 games with a 3.28 xERA, a .217 xBA against and 73 strikeouts in 63.1 innings. Wes Benjamin debuted in 2020, and he had a 4.84 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 22.1 innings. Benjamin also had a 3.85 xERA, and his fastball had a .255 slugging against. Jimmy Herget is in camp on a minor league deal, but he was one of Texas' better relievers in 2020. Herget had a 3.20 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 19.2 innings. He walked 16.1 percent of batters, but he limited batters to a 27.8 hard hit percentage. 

Catchers

Top prospect Sam Huff has never played in AA or AAA, but he played really well in 10 MLB games last year. Huff had a .355 average and three home runs in the majors. Huff also had an average exit velocity of 95.7 mph. While he may not start the year on the team, Huff deserves a shot after what he did last year. If he does make the team, then Jose Trevino will probably be his backup. Trevino, whose alma mater is in the news or something, had a .715 OPS in 24 games last year. Another backup option, either for Huff or Trevino, is Jonah Heim, who debuted last year for the A's. In 35 AAA games in 2019, Heim hit four home runs with a .358 average and a .968 OPS. 

Infielders

The Rangers have a pretty big positional battle going on right now between Ronald Guzman and Nate Lowe, with the loser going to the bench. Guzman is an above-average defensive first baseman, and his .750 OPS in 26 games led the team (minimum 20 games). Still, Guzman struck out 27.9 percent of the time, and his 86.3 average exit velocity is not good. While he is not the favorite for the job, Guzman has made a good argument in Spring Training, hitting .346 with three home runs. Lowe was brought in to start at first, but he has gone just 4-for-25 so far this spring. He has 11 home runs with a .770 OPS in 71 career games, and he hit 16 home runs with a .929 OPS in 93 games at AAA in 2019. Rougned Odor has a lot of power, but his last season with an OPS+ over 100 was 2016. Odor hit 10 home runs in 2020, but he struck out at a 31.8 percent rate while only walking 4.7 percent of the time. He hit .167 with a .209 OBP last year, and while Odor usually hits the ball hard, his average exit velocity was just 86 mph last year. Odor may lose his second base spot to Nick Solak, while one of them plays third base. A 2016 2nd round pick of the Yankees, Solak had an .884 OPS in 33 games in 2019, which earned him a role in 2020. Playing in 58 games, Solak hit just two home runs with a .671 OPS. He only struck out at an eighteen percent rate, and Solak showed off his speed, swiping seven bags with a sprint speed of 28.6 ft/s. He was a terrible defender, with -8 outs above average, and -6 at second base. Isiah Kiner-Falefa has caught games in the past, but moved to third base last year, where he had six outs above average and won a Gold Glove. Kiner-Falefa will now take over for Elvis Andrus at shortstop. Offensively, he is not as good, with a .699 OPS. He did steal eight bases, and only had a 14 percent strikeout rate. The backup infielder spot is a fight between Brock Holt and Charlie Culberson, two utility players who are non-roster invitees. Holt played more in 2020, and is the favorite. He hit .262 in 20 games for the Nationals, but also went 3-for-30 in Milwaukee. Holt hit .297 with a .771 OPS for the Red Sox in 2019. Culberson only had seven at-bats last year, and had a .731 OPS in 108 games for Atlanta in 2019. 

Outfielders

Joey Gallo's skill set is so odd and unique, as he is so good at some things, and terrible at other things. Gallo was great in 2019, with a .598 slugging and a .986 OPS in 70 games. But, he hit just .181 with a .679 OPS in 2019. Gallo had a 94.8 mph average exit velocity in 2019, but that dropped by over three mph in 2020. He struck out 35 percent of the time, which sadly was a career best. Gallo also walked 12.8 percent of the time. He had two outs above average in right field, and he won his first Gold Glove. He has a 21.5 barrel percentage in his career. Former all-star David Dahl was non-tendered by the Rockies after he had a .470 OPS in 24 games. Dahl only played in 100 games in 2019, but he hit 15 home runs with a .302 average and an .877 OPS, earning him the all-star nomination. Dahl can play all three outfield positions, but he will start in left field for the Rangers. One of the team's top prospects is Leody Taveras, whose cousin Willy stole 68 bases for the Rockies in 2008. Leody is also a speed demon, swiping eight bags with a 29.1 ft/s sprint speed. Taveras had a .703 OPS in 33 games, and while he had a 10.4 walk rate, he also struck out 32.1 percent of the time. Willie Calhoun hit 21 home runs with an .848 OPS in 83 games in 2019, but he had a -1.0 WAR with a .491 OPS in 29 games in 2020. He had -2 outs above average in left field, and Dahl's arrival probably signifies Calhoun's end as a starter. For the second consecutive season, Calhoun had a 15.7 percent strikeout rate. He could alternate at DH with Khris Davis, who had two rough final seasons in Oakland. Davis was once elite at hitting the ball hard, but he just had an 87.7 mph average exit velocity and a 31.7 hard hit rate last year. He hit just two home runs in 30 games, with a .632 OPS. Eli White, who had a .460 OPS in 19 games last year, is in the race for the 4th outfielder spot after a good Spring Training. So is speedster Delino DeShields Jr., who is back with the Rangers on a minor league deal. 

Projected Rotation
Kyle Gibson (R)
Dane Dunning (R)
Mike Foltynewicz (R)
Kyle Cody (R)
Kohei Arihara (R)

Projected Bullpen
Jose Leclerc (R)
Jonathan Hernandez (R)
Joely Rodriguez (L)
Brett Martin (L)
Taylor Hearn (L)
Ian Kennedy (R)
Jordan Lyles (R)
Jimmy Herget (R)

Projected Lineup
CF Leody Taveras (S)
3B Nick Solak (R)
RF Joey Gallo (L)
DH Khris Davis (R)
C Sam Huff (R)
LF David Dahl (L)
2B Rougned Odor (L)
1B Jorge Guzman (L)
SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa (R)

Projected Bench
C Jose Trevino (R)
UT Brock Holt (L)
1B Nate Lowe (L)
OF Willie Calhoun (L)


Projection

Yes, this team is awful. The Rangers just do not have a strength. The rotation, bullpen and lineup are all terrible, and it is just a matter of time until they get the recognition they deserve for being the league's worst team. At least the Pirates have Ke'Bryan Hayes. The Rangers don't have that guy yet, as Huff has played in just 10 games, and no AA games. Even in a weak division, the Rangers will be baseball's worst team in 2021. 

Friday, March 19, 2021

Tampa Bay Rays 2021 Season Preview

 


       We had all figured out that the Rays are able to fix players by some sort of sorcery called analytics before, but 2020 confirmed it to the rest of the world. The Rays seemed to hit on every single player, then ran away with the AL East division, before going all the way to the World Series. The final game of the season is when people started asking questions about their methods, when Blake Snell was pulled early, leading to a team loss. Then again people were confused when Snell was shipped off to San Diego soon after. But, Tampa Bay has proved in the past that they shouldn't be questioned, so we will see if that stands for 2021.

Offseason additions: RHP Chris Archer, LHP Rich Hill, RHP Michael Wacha, C Francisco Mejia, LHP Jeffrey Springs, RHP Chris Mazza, RHP Hunter Strickland, RHP David Hess.

Offseason subtractions: LHP Blake Snell, RHP Charlie Morton, OF Hunter Renfroe, LHP Aaron Loup, RHP John Curtiss, RHP Aaron Slegers, LHP Jose Alvarado, C Michael Perez, 1B Nate Lowe.


Trade Deadline 2020 summary

Acquired: OF Brett Phillips, LHP Cody Reed, RHP Edgar Garcia.

Traded: 1B Jose Martinez, SS Lucius Fox, IF Daniel Robertson.

2020 record: 40-20

2020 placement: 1st

2020 WAR leader (batter): Brandon Lowe

2020 WAR leader (pitcher): Ryan Yarbrough


Starting Pitchers

As Snell and Charlie Morton moved to San Diego and Atlanta, Tyler Glasnow was left alone to be the ace of the rotation, with a few question marks around his teammates. Glasnow has amazing stuff, but was not able to put it all together in 2020, as he had a 4.08 ERA before struggling in the postseason. Still, Glasnow had 91 strikeouts in 57.1 innings, with a 3.28 xERA and a .189 xBA against. He can touch 100 mph on his fastball, and batters went 10-for-83 with 58 strikeouts against Glasnow's curveball, which had a high 2939 rpm average spin rate. The only other returning member of the Rays expected to be in the rotation is Ryan Yarbrough. A left hander who had a 3.56 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 55.2 innings, Yarbrough is elite at forcing soft contact. Batters had an average exit velocity of just 82.6 mph with a 25.1 hard hit percentage against him in 2020. With the Rays being a high-velocity team, Yarbrough's fastest pitch averaged just 87 miles per hour. Making his way down to Tampa Bay is 41 year old Rich Hill, who is actually underrated thanks to his age. The Rays will be Hill's 10th team, after he spent 2020 in Minnesota. Since turning his career around in 2015, Hill has been a strikeout pitcher, but only had 31 in 38.2 innings last year. He had a 3.03 ERA but a 5.10 xERA. Hill's 10.9 BB rate was his worst in the Hill Success Era™. Hill had a 29.9 hard hit percentage against. Chris Archer returns to the Rays, where he spent his first seven seasons as the team's ace, before being traded in a lopsided deal for Glasnow, Austin Meadows and Shane Baz. Archer was falling off when the Rays traded him, before jumping off a cliff in Pittsburgh. He missed 2020 with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, but he had a 5.19 ERA with 143 strikeouts in 119.2 innings in 2019. Archer also had a career worst 4.1 BB/9, with a 5.45 xERA and a .472 xSLG against. Another project for the Rays' pitching staff is Michael Wacha, the former all-star who last had an xERA under 4.00 in 2017. Wacha was a Met in 2020, and had a 6.62 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 34 innings. But, he had a 4.61 xERA, while walking just 4.5 percent of batters. While his fastball had a .400 average against, Wacha's changeup is a plus-pitch. The low-spin change had a .199 xBA against with a 40.8 percent whiff rate, finishing off 24 of Wacha's strikeouts. Luis Patino likely will not make the Rays, but he was the headliner in the Snell trade. He struck out 21 batters in 17.1 innings out of the bullpen for San Diego last year. Another rotation option is Shane McClanahan, who debuted in the playoffs and struck out seven batters while allowing one baserunner in three Spring Training innings. Yonny Chirinos has been a key rotation contributor for the past few years, but he will miss the season with Tommy John surgery.

Relief Pitchers

Nick Anderson had a really bad postseason, and was the guy who blew game six of the World Series. That really ruined what was an amazing season for Anderson, who put in a bid for the league's best relief pitcher. He struck out 26 batters while only walking three in 16.1 innings, saving six games and allowing just one earned run (0.55 ERA). Batters had a .140 xBA and a .348 xSLG. Both Anderson's fastball and curveball, his two pitches, had an average against under .100. Big righty Pete Fairbanks had his Rays success transformation last year, striking out 39 in 26.2 innings with a 2.70 ERA. Fairbanks throws a fastball that averaged 97.4 mph in 2020, and he allowed just a .296 xSLG against. His slider had a 42.7 percent whiff rate, with 5.4 inches of vertical movement above average. Closing out last year's big three is Diego Castillo, the smallest but the heaviest of the trio. Castillo split closing duties with Anderson, and had a 1.66 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 21.2 innings, for what was a career low (but still pretty good) 25.8 strikeout percentage. Armed with a wipeout slider, Castillo had an average exit velocity against of just 84.4 mph, while limited batters to a .177 xBA, a .273 xSLG and a 27.8 hard hit percentage. A small concern for him may be a career worst walk rate, which was inflated up to 12.4 percent last year. Chaz Roe was effective in 2019, but an elbow injury limited him to 10 games last year. In 2019, Roe struck out 65 in 51 innings with a 3.31 FIP. Roe's primary pitch is a slider, which has a ton of movement. The pitch had 3.7 inches above average of vertical movement, and 15.1 inches above average horizontally. He also had a 28.2 hard hit percentage against in 2019. Collin McHugh opted-out of the 2020 season after an injury, but he was really good over six seasons in Houston. McHugh struck out 82 batters in 74.2 innings for the Astros in 2019, but he had a 4.70 ERA. Batters had just a 30.3 hard hit percentage against McHugh. His slider struck out 61 batters with a 2825 rpm spin rate. 2017 5th round pick Josh Fleming debuted out of the rotation last year, but the veteran additions will likely send him to the 'pen. Fleming had a 2.78 ERA with a 1.082 WHIP and a 3.33 xERA in 32.1 innings. Fleming is a sinkerballer with no pitches averaging over 2000 rpm, but the sinker works, as his groundball rate was nearly 65 percent last year. Ryan Thompson was a Rule-5 pick in 2018, but did not make his MLB debut until 2020. Thompson is a submariner who struck out 23 with a 4.44 ERA in 26.1 innings. But, he had a 3.28 xERA, while batters had a .190 xBA against his slider. Thompson's main pitch is a sinker, which batters hit .375 against. Lefty Jeffrey Springs comes from Boston, where he had a 7.08 ERA last year, but he also struck out 28 batters in 20.1 innings. He throws a changeup about a quarter of the time, and the pitch nearly had a 53 percent whiff rate. Acquired with Springs was Chris Mazza, who limited batters to an 86.4 mph average exit velocity, but they had a .294 xBA. He struck out 29 batters in 30 innings while opening for Boston last year. Trevor Richards had a 1.93 ERA at the tail end of the 2019 season, but had a 5.91 ERA in 32 innings in 2020. He can start games and be a long relief option. 

Catchers

The Rays are sticking with Mike Zunino for 2021, and despite his raw power, Zunino is one of the league's worst hitters. In 118 games over the past two seasons, he has hit 13 home runs with a .161 average and a .556 OPS. He has a strong arm behind the plate, but Zunino's 44 K% and .146 xBA in 2020 are not going to cut it. Francisco Mejia was once a top catching prospect in the league, and he was just acquired in the Snell trade. Mejia had a .754 OPS in 79 MLB games in 2019, with a 1.157 OPS in 18 AAA games. He played in just 17 MLB games in 2020, and went 3-for-39. Third catcher Kevan Smith has a disadvantage by not being on the 40-man roster. He had an .830 OPS in 17 games for Tampa Bay last year. 

Infielders

While he was a switch-hitter at a point early in the season, Ji-Man Choi was worse offensively. He hit just three home runs in 42 games, with a .741 OPS. Choi walked 13.8 percent of the time, but he had just a .190 xBA and a .298 xSLG. A knee injury could keep Choi out of the Opening Day lineup, but he should be the first baseman when he comes back. Brandon Lowe was an all-star in 2019, but he broke his leg before playing in the game, which cost him most of the rest of the season. Lowe did not regress once fully healed in 2020, as he hit 14 home runs with a .916 OPS and a team-leading 2.4 WAR. Lowe also had an elite barrel percentage of 17.5%, and he had a .547 xSLG. He crushed fastball, with a .641 slugging and a 94.7 mph average exit velocity against heaters. Entering his 4th year at age 25 is Willy Adames, who may not be the starting shortstop for long, with Wander Franco coming soon. He had a career season in 2020, hitting eight home runs with an .813 OPS. However, he struck out 36.1 percent of the time, with -4 outs above average. While he has just 12 stolen bases in his career, Adames has above average speed, with a sprint speed of 28.2 ft/s. The Rays need Yandy Diaz to be healthy and performing, after he played in just 34 games last year. Diaz had a top ten percentile exit velocity in 2019, but he had just an 88.3 mph exit velocity. He had a .307 average last year, while walking 16.7 percent of the time, and striking out just 12.3 percent of batters. However, Diaz had just a .320 xSLG. If Diaz gets injured again, Joey Wendle should start at third base. He stole eight bases with a .777 OPS in 2020, but he had just an 86.7 mph average exit velocity. Wendle had three outs above average, and four at second base. Another potential backup third baseman is Mike Brosseau, who could start at first base if Choi is not ready to go. The undrafted utility infielder hit five home runs in 36 games with a .936 OPS. Brosseau had a 90.9 mph average exit velocity, but did strikeout 31.6 percent of the time. He is also a good defender, with four outs above average while playing all three bases and both corner outfielders. Yoshi Tsutsugo was a star in Japan before signing a three year, $21 million deal with Tampa Bay. Tsutsugo, who plays third base and left field, hit eight home runs, but also had a .197 average and a .708 OPS. His OPS could have been much worse, if not for a 14.1 walk rate. 

Outfielders

The breakout star of the playoffs was undoubtedly Randy Arozarena, who was recalled at the trade deadline and hit seven home runs with four stolen bases and a 1.022 OPS. Arozarena won ALCS MVP, while hitting 10 home runs in the postseason altogether, and he had an OPS over 1.000 in all four series. Arozarena also has great speed that went under-the-radar thanks to his power. His average sprint speed was 28.8 ft/s. Kevin Kiermaier is entering his 9th season in Tampa Bay, which is really impressive considering the change the team has had since then. Kiermaier may be traded soon, as he had just a .683 OPS in 49 games. He stole eight bases, and had a career high walk rate (12.6%) and strikeout rate (26.4%). Kiermaier still has elite speed, with a 29.3 ft/s sprint speed, while having six outs above average. Austin Meadows can be the starting right fielder, while also being a part of the DH rotation. After hitting 33 home runs in 2019, Meadows had just four in 36 games, with a .667 OPS. Meadows had a .177 xBA and a 32.9 strikeout rate. The Rays need Meadows to get back to his 2019 form. Manuel Margot is ready to be Kiermaier's replacement, but for now he will have to mostly play right field. Margot stole 12 bases with a .679 OPS, while striking out just 15.7 percent of the time. Margot had 15 outs above average in 2019, and he has two in 47 games last year, both in center field. Brett Phillips had a massive playoff hit, but he seems to be the odd-man out for now. Phillips went 3-for-20 for Tampa Bay last year, and that walk-off hit in the World Series was his only of the postseason. Tsutsugo and Brosseau also bring outfield depth. 

Projected Rotation
Tyler Glasnow (R)
Ryan Yarbrough (L)
Rich Hill (L)
Chris Archer (R)
Michael Wacha (R)

Projected Bullpen
Nick Anderson (R)
Pete Fairbanks (R)
Diego Castillo (R)
Chaz Roe (R)
Collin McHugh (R)
Josh Fleming (L)
Jeffrey Springs (L)
Ryan Thompson (R)

Projected Lineup
DH Austin Meadows (L)
3B Yandy Diaz (R)
2B Brandon Lowe (L)
LF Randy Arozarena (R)
1B Ji-Man Choi (L)
SS Willy Adames (R)
CF Kevin Kiermaier (L)
RF Manuel Margot (R)
C Mike Zunino (R)

Projected Bench
C Francisco Mejia (S)
IF Mike Brosseau (R)
IF Joey Wendle (L)
3B/LF Yoshi Tsutsugo (L)


While trading Snell and losing Morton in free agency really makes the rotation a question, the Rays' front office and coaching staff has earned the benefit of the doubt. The bullpen is really good, and while the lineup is not elite, it is still above-average. The Rays may have fallen below the Yankees on the totem pole in the offseason, but they are definitely still a playoff team.