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Whoa, We’re Halfway There: Recapping the MLB Offseason at the Midway Point

Every year, the holidays mark the point in the offseason in Major League Baseball that is smack in the middle of the final out of the World Series and the first day pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. During that three month stretch in the winter months, there is plenty of time for teams to sort out their rosters with trades, free agent signings, and other roster moves. These very important changes go a long way in separating the contenders from the pretenders for the upcoming season.

Now that we are seven weeks down and only seven more to go, let’s take a look at the major story lines of the offseason so far.

Booming Reliever Market

This has been one of the slowest moving free agent markets in recent history, with signings virtually non-existent for a multitude of reasons. Some argue it is because of the Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton fiasco. Others think it is being caused by the changes made to the CBA or the shift teams have made to a newer, younger style of baseball. Whatever the reason may be, it has not slowed up the relief pitcher market in the slightest.

High leverage relievers have been flying off the boards in GM rooms across the country, with major contenders looking to upgrade their bullpens in any way possible. A shift to overpowering bullpens have been a major change that baseball has seen over the course of the last few seasons, and 2018 is shaping up to be no different.

A total of 14 of the league’s best relievers have been scooped up so far this offseason, with eight of them going to just four different teams. The World Champion Houston Astros have signed Hector Rondon and Joe Smith to shore up their shaky bullpen that almost let them down in the World Series last year. The previous season’s world champs, the Chicago Cubs, have signed Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek to fill the roles of Rondon and Wade Davis. Meanwhile the Rockies picked up former Clevelander Bryan Shaw to go along with the re-signing of lefty Jake McGee. The rebuilding Phillies also added two veterans to their bullpen to assist with their young rotation by signing Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter.

Six other elite relievers were signed in this bullpen-driven offseason. Fernando Rodney (Twins), Anthony Swarzak (Mets), Luke Gregerson (Cardinals), Mike Minor (Rangers), Brandon Kintzler (Nationals), and Juan Nicasio (Mariners) all found new homes for the 2018 season.

Aces Staying Put

While relievers have been flying off the shelf, ace starting pitchers have not been uprooted in the slightest so far in this offseason market. Heading into the offseason, there were two available top of the rotation starters on the free agency market and two “available” top of the rotation starters on the trade market: Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Chris Archer, and Gerrit Cole.

The rumor mill has been basically silent for the former Cub Jake Arrieta heading into the holiday season. While the Cy Young Award winner seems very unlikely to return back to Chicago, the lack of any other interested teams has come as a surprise. A combination of his inconsistency over the last two seasons and his high asking price as a Scott Boras client lead to him being a tricky signing for any team. (Note: Watch out for the Milwaukee Brewers.)

Yu Darvish has been involved in enough rumors for all the starting pitchers on the market combined. Interested suitors have included the Cubs, Astros, and Rangers, as well as others. There is still no end in sight, but Darvish seems likely to be the first ace to find a new home in the coming weeks.

Both Chris Archer and Gerrit Cole are no strangers to trade rumors as their names have come up in trade talks for the last two seasons. Archer seems like an ace that will likely be on the move due to Tampa Bay’s apparent rebuild with the trade of Evan Longoria recently. His team-friendly contract will net a large return and he will immediately slot in at the top of any contender’s rotation. The same could be said for Cole as he appears to be closer to finding a new home. The likely destination in his scenario seems to be New York as the Yankees have shown tons of interest spanning over the last few weeks.

Angels are Going For It

FINALLY. Mike Trout will head into 2018 with a team around him that should have the Postseason on their minds. The greatest player of our generation and the player who will go down as the greatest baseballer of all time will be hitting in a lineup that will have some firepower this upcoming season. The Angels have put in work this offseason after signing Justin Upton to an extension following his trade from the Tigers at the deadline last year.

We start off with the Japanese Babe Ruth: Shohei Ohtani. The two-way player will look to make an impact on the mound and in the box this season as a 23 year old. He was one of the most impactful and crazy free agent signings in the history of the game for a reason. If you don’t know about this kid yet, use your Google machine to watch some videos and prepare to be amazed.

In addition to the electric factory that is Shohei Ohtani, the Angels also brought in a couple of infielders that will improve their team dramatically. The Halos traded for Ian Kinsler who will likely slot in at the keystone and work up the middle with Andrelton Simmons. Kinsler has been one of the most consistent players in the league throughout the course of his career. He has been drastically underrated for far too long and while he isn’t as good as he once was, he is still a major upgrade at second base. The team also signed free agent Zack Cozart, who will potentially be the every day third baseman. Cozart had been painstakingly average during his career up until 2017 when he seemed to put it all together. He was an All-Star and had a .385 OBP to go along with his 141 OPS+.

Marlins Fire Sale

Before we cover the actual trades that are going down in Miami, let’s first recap the utter stupidity that has gone down in baseball in regards to the Marlins recently.

In September, the franchise was sold from Jeff Loria to a group led by the likes of Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter. Yes, THAT Derek Jeter. The team was sold for $1.2 billion and with it, Jeets & Co. got a team that has finished in the bottom four in home attendance numbers for four consecutive seasons and 15 of the last 16 years. In addition, the team has placed in the bottom six in all of baseball in Opening Day salary for their players the last four seasons and 16 of the last 18 years. As CEO, Jeter assumed control of a team with a stacked lineup that finished just ten games out of the NL Wild Card. With any sort of rotation that he could put together, the team would be well on its way to a playoff berth. Instead they got rid of players that the brand new front office could not afford.

So the team has begun a massive fire sale. It began with the trading of second baseman and leadoff man Dee Gordon to the Seattle Mariners for two prospects. Next in line was a man by the name of Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees for Starlin Castro and two more prospects. Then came Marcell Ozuna to the St. Louis Cardinals for four prospects. And just like that, the Marlins had traded three of their best players for a grand total of zero prospects that land in the MLB.com Top 100. One more time for the people in the back. ZERO top 100 prospects.

The next two players in line to likely be traded are outfielder Christian Yelich and catcher JT Realmuto. Realmuto has already requested a trade from the team and the versatile Yelich will likely have many suitors. If you are betting the over/under for total wins next season for the Miami Marlins, it may be early, but I’ll do you a favor and recommend you take the under.

You’re halfway there, people! Only seven more weeks until you can start reading stories about how your favorite player has lost weight since last season or revamped his swing and will be poised for a “breakout year!”

Giancarlo Stanton Joins The 50 HR Club

In the 8th inning of last night’s San Diego Padres at Miami Marlins game, Giancarlo Stanton broke a 2-2 tie with a laser beam home run. The Marlins won the game 6-2, with Stanton’s blast being the deciding factor. This was a special home run for Stanton, more than just helping the Marlins win their game. This was his 50th home run of the season, and we are not yet into September.

MLB’s 50 Home Run Club

With his 50th home run of the season, Giancarlo Stanton has joined an elite club. In MLB history, there have only been 44 individual seasons of 50 or more home runs hit. These 44 seasons have been produced by 28 different players, with only nine players (Alex Rodriguez, Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire, Mickey Mantle, Ralph Kiner, Sammy Sosa, Willie Mays) having accomplished the feat multiple times. Babe Ruth, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa are all tied for the lead with four seasons each of 50 or more home runs.

Yesterday’s game for Stanton was his 127th of the season, putting him as having played the fewest games of any other player in the 50 home run club. The next lowest is Mark McGwire in 1996, having hit 52 home runs in just 130 games. As it stands today, the Marlins have 33 games remaining. Stanton has, so far, played 127 of their 129 games. While the Marlins do not have a realistic shot at the playoffs, it is likely that Stanton will play nearly every remaining game, though not all, with a realistic shot at 60-plus home runs.

Recently, I wrote about Stanton becoming the Marlins all-time home run leader and the pace he would have to keep up to reach 60 home runs. At the time, he had 43 home runs for a pace of 60 for the season. Since then, he’s hit 7 home runs in just 12 games and sits on a pace of 63, which would tie him for sixth all-time with Sammy Sosa’s 1999 season.

Stanton’s Ridiculous Hot Streak

Not only has Stanton been blasting home run after home run, but he has been hitting incredibly well in general. Going from 7/5 to 8/27, he has hit .353/.461/.935 with 12 2B, 29 HR, and an astounding 244 wRC+ in 204 plate appearances. With the 29 home runs hit, that is an absolutely absurd pace of 1 HR every 7 plate appearances. Even better than that, in the 46 games played in that time span, Stanton has homered in 23 of them.

Thanks to this recent amazing play, if you consider nearly 1/3 of the season recent, Stanton has become one of the best players in the MLB. He now sits at 5.7 fWAR, just behind Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, and Anthony Rendon.

Overall, Stanton is hitting .296/.389/.670 with a 167 wRC+. As it stands, his .670 slugging percentage is the best in the MLB since Albert Pujols slugged .671 more than a decade ago in 2006. His 167 wRC+ leads the MLB just three points ahead of Jose Altuve and Joey Votto, with Harper and Judge just a bit back of them. Perhaps best of all, Stanton currently has a 13 home run lead over the next closest player Aaron Judge.

Best Hitter of the First Half Vs. The Best Hitter of the Second Half

Speaking of Aaron Judge, we all remember how excellent he was in the first half of the season and how many home runs he had hit. For a quick comparison, below are each player’s numbers before and after 7/5 when Stanton’s hottest streak began:

Start of season – 7/4:

Judge – .329/.447/.689 197 wRC+ 28 HR in 347 PA

Stanton – .265/.347/.523 123 wRC+ 21 HR in 346 PA

7/5 – Today:

Judge – .194/.353/.388 96 wRC+ 9 HR in 201 PA

Stanton – .353/.461/.935 244 wRC+ 29 HR in 204 PA

As electric as Judge was in the second half, Stanton is absolutely blowing those numbers away in about 140 fewer plate appearances.

Looking even closer at the second half numbers for Stanton, he has hit .338/.448/.881 with a 228 wRC+, giving him the 4th best second half wRC+ going back to the 2002 season (as far as back as the Fangraphs Splits Leaderboards go). In fact, the only name above him on that list is the all-time home run leader Barry Bonds, appearing in 2002, 2003, and 2004 at 256, 241, and 234 wRC+ respectively. There are only 13 second half seasons of 200 or better wRC+, making what Stanton is doing historically significant.

Single Season Home Run Record

When talking about the all-time home run leader, we are also talking about the single season home run leader in Barry Bonds. While Bonds only hit 50-plus home runs the one time, he made sure it counted by crushing 73 bombs in 2001. He actually did this in only 153 games played, which seems even crazier looking at it now.

To think about just how impossible it seems to hit that many home runs, Stanton would need to hit 23 home runs in the final 33 games of the season just to tie the single season record, let alone hit 24 and break it. By hitting 24 home runs from this point on, that would give him 53 home runs hit in his final 79 games played of the season.

With how blazing hot he has been, I can’t say he won’t be able to do it, but shooting for 60 or more seems far more practical. If Stanton does hit 60 or more home runs, he will be the first player outside of the Steroid Era (I.E. Bonds, McGwire, Sosa) to have done it since Roger Maris’ 61 in 1961. The achievement of this would not be anywhere near the spectacle of the 1998 home run race, but it would still mean a lot to a large portion of MLB fans, and Stanton just may give it to us.

Giancarlo Stanton Is Finally Doing What We All Expected

Giancarlo Stanton: The Miami Marlins Home Run King

In yesterday’s game against the San Francisco Giants, Giancarlo Stanton crushed yet another home run, his 43rd of the season in just 115 games. This home run passes Gary Sheffield for the most home runs in a single season by a Marlins hitter, a record set back in 1996. Stanton now holds three of the top four spots on the list, and four of the top six, with only Sheffield and Miguel Cabrera sharing the list with him.

This was just the latest home run by Stanton in what has been a barrage the last month or so. Going back to 7/4, just a week before the All-Star break, Stanton was hitting .265/.347/.523 with 21 HR in 346 plate appearances. From 7/5 till yesterday, Stanton has been smashing home runs left and right hitting .328/.436/.928 with 22 home runs in just 149 plate appearances.

Overall, Stanton is now hitting .283/.374/.640 with 43 home runs in 495 plate appearances and 115 games.

Stanton and Career Expectations

It took eight seasons of his career, but Giancarlo Stanton has finally turned into the monster power hitter many of us had hoped for.  All it took was 22 home runs in his age 20 season in just 100 games, and then 34 the next season in a full season to make MLB fans want more. In 2012, Stanton was on pace for 48 home runs over a full 162 games, but instead played only 123 while hitting a career high 37 home runs. He faced more injuries in 2013 and only hit 24, but came back with 37 more home runs in 2014.

2015 and 2016 were much like 2012 and 2013, with Stanton playing 74 and then 119 games, with 27 home runs both seasons. For some, it seemed as though his star had faded and he may never truly be the elite home run hitter many had envisioned. However, for the first time in a few years, we are seeing a healthy Stanton, one that is showing off his true raw power. Sitting at 43 home runs with 45 games remaining for the Marlins, it looks as though the show has just begun.

The Rest of the Season and the 50 Home Run Club

As it stands, Stanton is hitting a home run about every 2.67 games this season. If the pace continues, this would put him at another 16-17 home runs if he plays every remaining game. This puts Stanton right on the edge of 60 home runs, something that has not been done since Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa in the 2001 season.

The most home runs hit in a season from 2002-present has been Ryan Howard, hitting 58 home runs in 2006. We have also seen Alex Rodriguez hit 57 and 54, Jose Bautista and David Ortiz hit 54, Chris Davis hit 53, Jim Thome 52, Andruw Jones 51, and Prince Fielder 50 on the nose. Seeing as Stanton is just seven home runs shy of the 50 home run club, it’s fair to say that he could rise up to the Ortiz/Bautista/Arod levels before the season is done, if not the magical 60 mark.

If Stanton does keep up the level of home runs that he has been hitting, and does indeed reach 60 home runs, he will become the fifth player to do so, joining Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Marris, and Babe Ruth. This will also be one of nine overall seasons of 60 or more home runs, as both McGwire and Sosa appear on the list multiple times.

NL MVP in Stanton’s Near Future?

While taking a quick look at a possible MVP in Stanton’s future, he leads the MLB in both home runs (43) and slugging percentage (.640), and sits eight in fWAR in the NL (4.4 ) in what has become a very crowded NL MVP race. The Marlins sub-par record this season as well the extreme level of competition will likely hurt Stanton when it comes to the MVP vote.

However, if he manages to 55-plus, or even 60 home runs, other players may have a hard time overcoming such a huge home run total. It also helps that he has a nice batting average (.283) and a well above average OBP (.374) at the moment as well. His wRC+ is 5th in the NL at 156, but not far enough back from the leader (Justin Turner – 166) to make that much of a difference.

Stanton is no stranger to MVP Races, as he finished second to Clayton Kershaw in 2014 with 8 first place votes. At the moment, Stanton still does not appear to be a top three NL MVP candidate. If recent history is an indicator, hitting 50-plus home runs will get you a top four finish in the MVP voting, unless you are Jim Thome in 2002.

2006 Ryan Howard – 58 HR – 1st Place

2002 Alex Rodriguez – 57 HR – 2nd Place

2007 Alex Rodriguez – 54 HR – 1st Place

2010 Jose Bautista – 54 HR – 4th Place

2006 David Ortiz – 54 HR – 3rd Place

2013 Chris Davis – 53 HR – 3rd Place

2002 Jim Thome – 52 HR – 7th Place

2005 Andruw Jones – 51 HR – 2nd place

2007 Prince Fielder – 50 HR – 3rd Place

Leaderboards Since 7/5

As mentioned near the start of the article, Stanton has been going insane with the bat since 7/5. In that time Jose Altuve has a 207 wRC+ hitting .434/.469/.654 in 145 plate appearances. Mike Trout is just behind him with a 195 wRC+ hitting .347/.480/.602 in 123 plate appearances. Giancarlo Stanton leads baseball since 7/5 with a 234 wRC+ hitting .328/.436/.928 in 149 in that time. As excellent as Altuve and Trout have been, both fighting for the AL MVP themselves, Stanton has been just that much better than the pair.

It took eight seasons to get this kind of monster production of out Giancarlo Stanton, but the wait was worth it and he is putting on a show for us almost every night.