Wild(card) is the Wind…
If you’ve played fantasy baseball for any length of time you know that this time of year can be stressful for AL or NL only leagues. As if the pundits aren’t enough, you have the smart GMs conducting business in secret so you won’t know what hit you when the deal goes down too close to your league deadline. In my AL only league, the deadline for trades is the Sunday following the trade deadline. If you are like me, as much as you try to divest yourself of some of the risk before the noise gets too loud, you probably have between 2 and 5 players in danger of being traded to the other league. If they happen to be closing games you do what you can to acquire their potential backup, but sometimes that’s out of the question and you just have to brace yourself for a devastating fantasy hit. It’s frustrating that all of this takes place in a climate where the extra Wildcard entry keeps teams from making any moves until they absolutely have to. That describes the two weeks in front of us. A fantasy player spends four months, including Spring Training, to position themselves for the ten week stretch run for the money. They can, in a fair league, deal with great players from the other league landing on last place teams (in our league if a player like Carlos Gonzalez were to be traded to the NY Yankees for Brett Gardner and Michael Pineda; if Gardner and Pineda were on separate rosters Cargo would hit the waiver wire. And it wouldn’t matter if the players were miles apart in value such as Brian McCann and Nick Goody either; if the players are on separate rosters the last place team benefits), but it’s always tough when/if, say, Kenley Jansen were to be traded to Houston for an obscure minor leaguer and a player like A.J. Reed. The A.J. Reed owner may or may not be happy, but the Will Harris owner is bumming. By the time it happens, in most cases, it’s a little late to do anything about it and your place in the standings might suffer.
I didn’t like the Wildcard when it was first instituted and I hated it even more when Florida, Anaheim, Boston, New York, St Louis and others won the World Series with that back door entry into the playoffs. Baseball is a grueling six month grind and up until the advent of the Wildcard I always believed the best team won every year. Every team has injuries; it’s how much depth you have to deal with them that makes you championship timber was the assumption. I grew to at least accept the Wildcard over the years, but some of the things that came after it, like the unbalanced schedule and interleague play, I will never be a fan of. That said, it is what it is these days. You can’t hit the catcher, you can’t take out the second baseman and everybody is in it; that is only if the pundits agree. Today is July 16th, the day after the first games post All-Star break. Boston leads the Wildcard chase with 38 losses. Houston & Toronto have 41 losses. The Tigers have 43 losses. The White Sox & defending champion Royals have 44 losses. The Mariners have 45 losses. Even the hapless Yankees only have 45 losses. Between Boston, Houston & Toronto I feel like Houston is a led pipe cinch to get one of those Wildcard slots, but let’s say only one of them is, whichever one you like. That leaves 7 teams fighting for the one slot left. If I had to hazard a guess on the second slot right now I’d pick Toronto, but let’s not forget Baltimore is only up two games in the division. No lock by any stretch, but stubbornly hanging in there despite a very shaky rotation. A team like Boston, despite injuries and another shaky rotation, could easily slide into the playoffs with all that young talent. I guess my point is, how do you tell Detroit, Chicago, Seattle, NY and especially KC to pack it in and go home? I know why AL GMs are holding the fort, hoping against hope that a nice ten game stretch can make their decision for them. It’s not easy telling your fan base to quell their enthusiasm, but please don’t forget to come to the stadium and spend as much money as you can. I get it, but I don’t think everyone does. A Wildcard is a playing card with arbitrarily determined value. No kidding.
With all of this in mind I thought it might be fun to take a look at the American League as it stands and make some very general observations if not predictions…
Baltimore Orioles (52-36) – The Orioles are dangerous. There is no other explanation for this team leading the division with that rotation. Zach Britton might well be the best closer in baseball for all the hype behind Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and others. I had my hands on him four or five years ago when he washed out as a starter. I took my eye off him and now I regret it. What can you say about this club? Adam Jones hasn’t even really gotten into gear yet, but they can mash. You know the names; Manny Machado, Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, Jonathan Schoop and on and on. Now that my club has been all but eliminated, I’m hoping they win the division. I love Buck Showalter. I was so upset when NY let him walk after the ’95 Wildcard fiasco. I can’t complain today of course, but I’ve always been a fan. I root for him. Baltimore is going to score, but their middle and late relief has done monster work. Michael Givens has 7 wins in relief. That’s the same number as Jose Quintana. That’s 4 more than Ervin Santana & Michael Pineda. That’s 3 more than Taijuan Walker. That’s 6 more than 15 start Kevin Gausman. Just so you are familiar with my underachieving pitching staff. I traded Givens for Max Kepler before he became Minnesota’s starting RF, but I’m so jealous of those 7 W’s. Ever heard of Brad Brach & Roll Star? There’s 6 more wins. In fact, I heard last night Baltimore relievers lead the majors with 23 relief wins. Pretty impressive. I don’t know if they can hang the rest of the way, but with Buck’s stewardship they will be trouble for someone.
Boston Red Sox (50-38) – You have to be impressed with the development of Boston’s youngsters. You don’t have to like it, unless you are ESPN, but you have to be impressed. Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts have funky names, but there is nothing funky about their bats. The Red Sox have withstood, to date, withering disappointments from Christian Vazquez, Blake Swihart, Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, Rusney Castillo, Pablo Sandoval, Eduardo Rodriguez, Koji Uehara, Carson Smith, Roenis Elias, Henry Owens and even David Price & Craig Kimbrel, but the train keeps moving on. The veterans just keep producing (Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, etc) and they score more runs than anyone else. That covers up a lot of garbage. Drew Pomeranz is on the scene now, but I don’t believe he puts them over the top. Meanwhile, simply because Boston traded him, Anderson Espinoza can now join Casey Kelly and his ilk as post hype underachievers. How is it, that Boston never seems to suffer the indignity of a traded prospect flourishing into the player they implied he was? Jeff Bagwell would ordinarily qualify, but he had very little hype back in Larry Anderson‘s days. Still, this summer or for the next five years, this organization, thanks mainly to the Dodgers, is in great position to compete.
Toronto Blue Jays (51-41) – This team grinds. They have guys like Kevin Pillar, Darwin Barney & Devon Travis that just irk the hell out of the opposition. Not in an A.J. Pierzysnki kind of way, but by making plays and getting two outs hits and being pests. Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista get all the headlines, and rightfully so, but Toronto actually underachieved in the first half as far as I can see. Guys like Drew Storen and others disappointed. What I think I see now though, save for Marcus Stroman‘s inexplicable step backward, is a team that can blow by Boston and Baltimore just like they did the Yankees last year. Jose Bautista will miss six weeks all told and yet they don’t seem to have much trouble scoring often enough to win. I think they’re a bit hamstrung as far as making a key acquisition at the deadline as they emptied the farm last year, but they don’t need much in my opinion. J.A. Happ could turn back into a pumpkin, but I like them to play better in the 2nd half.
New York Yankees (44-45) – Let’s face it; this geriatric bunch is headed nowhere. It really is time to burn it down. The problem here is that the Steinbrenners will not allow beleaguered GM Brian Cashman to do it. I love Brett Gardner, but since there is zero chance of trading Jacoby Ellsbury I’m in favor of moving him. We’ve seen his best. Brian McCann? Enjoy his fight, but if his contract is moveable let the Gary Sanchez era begin. Mark Teixeira? It’s over for him in NY. Great guy, great glove, but no more $20M per or whatever he’s getting. A-Rod? The end can’t come soon enough. Carlos Beltran? Let’s do it. Chase Headley? His defense is back, but now he can’t hit for power. Time to move on from this 3 DH madness. Both Nathan Eovaldi and Pineda are free agents at the end of the season. It’s so hard to get that kind of ability at that age I want to hold onto them as laughable as it sounds. I’d love to keep the Aroldis Chapman-Andrew Miller–Dellin Betances thing going for another couple of years, but that’s a pipe dream. If it wasn’t for Tampa, this team would be sinking to the very bottom of the division.
Tampa Bay Rays (34-55) – When Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon jumped ship any reason to follow the Rays went with them. They are deadly boring and they play in front of nobody in the major league’s worst ballpark. It was fun when they could beat Boston now and again, but this team is just awful. The malaise is so mind numbing that Chris Archer has it now. Adding players like Logan Morrison and Danny Farquhar is not helping. Sure they have a handful of decent players like Kevin Kiermaier, Steven Souza Jr and Corey Dickerson, but the place is just a weigh station for most players until their contracts expire and they can make another team’s roster. First team I’d contract if that was an absolute requirement.
Cleveland Indians (53-36) – I never knew how much I enjoyed Terry Francona until he was out of Boston. Now I can root for the guy. The Indians were everybody’s sleeper pick for the division the past couple of years and really didn’t do much. This year everyone figured Detroit or KC again, but it’s the Tribe that has the fat 6.5 game bulge with 73 games left to play. They have a great young staff, play good defense and can hit just enough. I still have trouble rooting for Mike Napoli, but he’s been quite the find on the cheap hasn’t he? Lonnie Chisenhall seemed left for dead with Marlon Byrd jumping on board. Not so fast. Jose Ramirez? Love this kid; he was one of my pre-season sleepers, but I failed to save enough money to draft him at our fantasy auction. Rajai Davis? Well with Michael Brantley, Byrd and others fighting for PT, Davis looked to be in yet another wrong side platoon. Wrong again. And Brantley is now their trade deadline pickup. I’d like to see you do better than that. Big fan. Tyler Naquin has really played well. Carlos Santana is still a Rock Star. Even Juan Uribe is contributing. Francisco Lindor is a star. Jason Kipnis is back. If it wasn’t for Yan Gomes‘ out making ability, this team would be firing on all cylinders. How did the Yankees beat them 3 out of 4 last week? It’s a mystery, but I think Cleveland makes the playoffs this time around. That 13 game winning streak was huge.
Detroit Tigers (47-43) – Great offense, but that seems to be where it ends. Where would they be without Michael Fulmer? When did Justin Upton turn into B.J. (call me Melvin) Upton? How great is Ian Kinsler? This is a veteran team that can hit. J.D. Martinez has been missed (anybody see that Stephen Moya circus act in RF last night?), but Victor Martinez is still getting it done. Justin Verlander seems to be back (thanks Kate). Francisco Rodriguez is only in his early 30’s despite being in the league forever, but he’s still getting it done. Still, Anibal Sanchez appears done and it doesn’t look very promising for Detroit. The White Sox are not much of a threat, but KC should eventually blow by them. The Tigers cannot live on 2 plus starter and 1 reliable bullpen piece alone.
Kansas City Royals (45-44) – The mighty Royals are one game up on the Yankees, but no one thinks NY will finish with a better record. Too bad for KC that NY isn’t their problem. This team has been ravaged by injuries for sure. Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon & Wade Davis are the biggest names, but there are numerous lesser players this team was counting on to perform that haven’t. Kris Medlen, Yordano Ventura, Chris Young, Alcides Escobar, Joakim Soria, Jarrod Dyson, Omar Infante…The list is long. They are 8 games out and a lot of teams in front of them for that Wildcard game, but you can’t count these guys out yet. I don’t however, like their chances all that much. If this is it, they had a nice run for a small market team. I like what Cheslor Cuthbert has done in Mike Moutakas’ stead and Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy have been great so far, but it doesn’t seem like enough does it?
Chicago White Sox (45-44) – This team bugs me. As an owner of Jose Quintana you can imagine why, but how is Chris Sale a 14 game winner? Of course he’s a superior pitcher, but the lack of support for Quintana is mind numbing. You have to figure after last year the odds would swing back in his favor with the additions of Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie. No go. They are still running J.B. Shuck out there on most days in the absence of Austin Jackson. They just don’t score runs. They aren’t making the playoffs either, but you don’t hear cries for them to sell off David Robertson or anyone else it seems. Nate Jones is a positive, but Jose Abreu isn’t getting anything to hit and they are getting nothing out of the catching position. Nothing to see here I’m afraid and love him or hate him I miss The Hawk on their broadcasts.
Minnesota Twins (32-57) – Paul Molitor must have the patience of Job. What a disaster. Name a player doing it all for the Twins; OK, Eduardo Nunez, but we all expected his season right? No? Well join the club. Byung Ho Park and his 12 homers? Whiffing in Triple A. Eddie Rosario? Still doesn’t walk and back on the roster by default vs anything he did in Rochester. The pitching has been awful overall, but the bullpen after Glenn Perkins went down, has been abysmal. Kevin Jepsen is in Tampa after totally stinking out the joint. Trevor May has been extremely disappointing. Kyle Gibson, Tommy Milone, Ricky Nolasco, Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes (now out for the season)…It’s been a collective effort. They’ve been playing out the string since May 1st! Max Kepler is just about the only bright spot. I like the Twins though and I wish them well.
Texas Rangers (54-37) – How these guys are 54-37 is beyond me. Their Opening Day Closer, Shawn Tolleson, imploded. Their staff ace, Yu Darvish, has yet to make any real impact due to injury. Their best reliever, Keone Kela, missed the first three months. Their leadoff hitter, Shin Soo Choo, missed almost the whole first half. Their $24M DH, Prince Fielder, hasn’t done much at all. Their 1B, Mitch Moreland, coming off a 23 HR 85 RBI season, has taken a step back. Their only saviors are Cole Hammels, last minute sign Ian Desmond, Jurickson Profar, surprise rookie Nomar Mazara, 2B Rougned Odor and their rock solid 3B Adrian Beltre. I’ll throw Matt Bush & Sam Dyson in there too, but 17 games over? Did they play the Angels 15 times already? Kela and Darvish are back and things should only get better. Print the playoff tickets? They only have a 4 game lead on Houston after all the trouble they were in. I’m guessing pitching help is on the way, Lord knows they have the bait in Profar, Joey Gallo, Lewis Brinson and others, but health is a big issue here. It would not surprise me if Houston caught and passed them, but Texas always seems to be at the Astros head to head so who knows. If they do fall behind Houston though, they may not make the playoffs. That would be kind of shocking after their first half.
Houston Astros (49-41) – Houston, we had a problem. I think it’s behind them. If they get another starter look out. They are in a good groove after an abysmal start. Most teams don’t recover from 14-27 or whatever they were. This team is solid and should be playoff teams when all is said and done. Jose Altuve is the league’s MVP about now and young players like George Springer and Carlos Correa are rocking and rolling. They just signed a Cuban player named Yulieski Gurriel that will apparently help them right now (as in this summer). Lance McCullers is back from injury. Ken Giles seems to have righted the ship. Michael Feliz is nasty. Luis Valbuena has really turned it around. Tweener starters like Mike Fiers, Doug Fister and Colin McHugh seem to pitch just well enough. Reigning Cy Young award winner Dallas Keuchel seems to have made his way back too. Colby Jack Rasmus is producing. Even Carlos Gomez is playing better. Will Harris settled things in the bullpen. Things are looking up in Houston.
Seattle Mariners (45-45) – I really thought this team would be better this year. It’s just not happening. Robinson Cano is doing his thing now that the sports hernia thing is behind him. Seth Smith has performed. Da Ho Lee has been a great pairing with Adam Lind. Nelson Cruz is delivering the mail. Kyle Seager is still the man. Even Leonys Martin is making a bit of a career come back. So what gives? Well, in a word, pitching. Their best two starters in Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker are on the DL. Hisashsi Iwakuma has been OK at best. Wade Miley had his moments, but he wasn’t worth Carson Smith (TJ surgery or not). Nathan Karns held his own, but they pushed him to the pen. James Paxton is dealing with growing pains. Next up to audition is Mike Montgomery. Seattle, like NY and Chicago, is headed nowhere, but you have to keep grinding. So do their fans I’m afraid.
Oakland Athletics (39-51) – This once proud organization finds itself a meeting place for wayward players and hangers on. Like Tampa West, players come here to rebuild their value, take money they couldn’t get elsewhere, rehab and enjoy the pressure free atmosphere. Their best player, Josh Reddick, seems to make this team go. If he’s on the DL, they stall. Khris Davis is providing value, but if you look at their salary structure you’d hang yourself. Get a load of this; Billy Butler $6.7M, Jed Lowrie $8M, Henderson Alvarez $4M, Coco Crisp $11M, John Axford $2.7M, Marc Rzepczynski $2.4M, Yonder Alonso $1.6M, Sam Fuld $1.75M, Danny Valencia $1.6M…No wonder Josh Reddick wants a raise from$4.1M. We all realize that it takes money to field a major league caliber team, but they’ve only got 7 more wins than Minnesota! Imagine if the Twins didn’t have to run Kevin Jepsen out there. That said, I’ve always liked the A’s, crappy stadium and all. It’s because of scrappy players like Stephen Vogt getting by on $510K. Billy Beane needs to change direction a bit though it seems to me. There is still some nice young talent here.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (38-52) – I don’t weep for this franchise. Something isn’t right, but they seem to keep the status quo there. Sure they have Mike Trout, but there isn’t much else to celebrate honestly. Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney absolutely gutted their rotation. Jered Weaver‘s salad doesn’t scare anyone. Hector Santiago alternates good and bad starts. Tim Lincecum is just hanging on at this point and Jhoulys Chacin is wavier wire fodder. Other rotation candidates are either trick or treat (Matt Shoemaker) or they have trouble staying healthy (Nick Tropeano). Huston Street & Albert Pujols are nearing the end and the only regulars worth mentioning are C.J. Cron (broken hand), Kole Calhoun and Cam Bedrosian…Zip on the farm. Trade Mike Trout and alienate the fan base? Doubtful. They are in no man’s land and I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Do you?