Boston Red Sox Should Be Open to Trading Jon Lester

With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline getting closer and closer, the Boston Red Sox have to keep an open mind when it comes to trading staff ace Jon Lester.

At 37-44, Boston is in fourth place in the American League East and seven games out of first place. The Sox are by no means done for the season. But after failing to sign Lester, a free agent to be after the season, to a long-term extension, it makes sense for the club to see what it can get in return for the left-hander.

The answer, in all likelihood, is a lot.

Look at what the Matt Garza trade fetched the Chicago Cubs last year. The Texas Rangers gave up two highly regarded prospects, Mike Olt and C.J. Edwards, in return for Garza, who like Lester was approaching free agency. However, Lester has proven to be a better pitcher than Garza and could nab an even bigger return.

Garza was 6-1 with a 3.17 ERA when he was dealt. In comparison, Lester is currently 9-7 with a 2.92 ERA in 17 starts this season.

With Lester, Jake Peavy, John Lackey, Brandon Workman, Felix Doubront, Rubby De La Rosa and Clay Buchholz, Boston has immense starting pitching depth. Trading Lester would allow one of the team's younger guys more time in the rotation.

Almost any contending club would be thrilled to land a pitcher like Lester at the trade deadline. The San Francisco Giants, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels and St. Louis Cardinals are all contending teams that have have the prospects necessary to make such a deal happen. 

Jeff Samardzija, David Price, Cliff Lee, Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel are just a few of the other starting pitchers likely to be available in the coming weeks. Lester would sit right there at the top of that list with Samardzija, Price and Lee.

With a month to go before the trade deadline, Boston fans do not have to worry about losing their ace just yet. According to Jason Mastrodonato of MassLive.com, general manager Ben Cherington is not ready to sell. Cherington said the team was:

Focused on 2014. ... We're trying to look realistically and be honest with where we are — I'm not sugarcoating where we are. It's not where we want to be. We've created a deficit for ourselves. But we still think the deficit is one we can overcome. We still believe in the talent, we believe we can be a good team this year.

So that’s what we're interested in doing, is trying to be as good a team as we can. If at some point, the picture changes, then it changes. Then we'll have to adjust at that point. But we're not at that point yet.

Trading Lester now, tomorrow or next week would be jumping the gun, but if that picture does change, Cherington would be foolish not to consider moving the 30-year-old left-hander.

The best-case scenario would be for the two sides to come to terms on a new contract—something the Red Sox would like to do, according to Fox's Ken Rosenthal. However, it appears the two are far apart, and Lester does not want to be a distraction during the season.

Rosenthal also brings up the possibility of the Red Sox re-signing Lester in the offseason following a trade but notes that players sometimes see trades as a “sign of rejection.”

Lester may not be an example of one of those players. According to Ricky Doyle of NESN, he recently said there would be no hard feelings should Boston move him.

If the Red Sox can not come to terms on a new deal with Lester, they should put him on the block if they remain behind in the standings. They do not need to jump at the first offer they get, but they should float his name around and see what is out there.

If they do that, multiple teams will be throwing prospects at the Red Sox in order to acquire the star's services.

 

Disagree with what Boston should do with Lester? Feel free to comment below or follow me on Twitter @GPhillips2727 to talk anything baseball.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

What Billy Hamilton’s Offensive Evolution Will Mean for MLB Career

Take a moment to imagine a ballplayer who's a pest at the plate, a magnet in center field and an unstoppable force on the basepaths.

The guy you just imagined is Cincinnati Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton. Or the player he's becoming, anyway.

Coming into 2014, we knew Hamilton was fast. Maybe even the fastest baseball player ever. Knowing that, there was little question he could make the grade on the basepaths and in the field. Speed goes far in those two arenas.

But then there was the thing we didn't know: whether the switch-hitting 23-year-old would even be able to hit his weight (160 pounds) in the big leagues.

Hamilton hit .368 in 2013, but that was over just 22 plate appearances and after he slashed just .256/.308/.343 at Triple-A. And according to Baseball America, ESPN's Keith Law (subscription required) and Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus (subscription required), Hamilton's bat really was that much of a question mark.

Wrote Parks:

Hamilton is the fastest player I've ever seen on a baseball field, but his baseball skills can still play raw, especially at the plate. ... Hamilton's bat is likely a better fit for down-the-lineup, and despite the elite run, the 23-year-old might fail to live up to the lofty ceiling created by his lofty speed.

Thus were there doubts when the Reds tabbed Hamilton to replace Shin-Soo Choo both in the leadoff spot and in center field in his rookie season. If his bat was as advertised, he'd be looking at a career as a pinch runner and/or defensive replacement rather than as an everyday player.

And early on, Hamilton's bat did look as advertised. He wore the golden sombrero against St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright on Opening Day, and he was just 2-for-22 after seven games.

Flash forward to the present day, however, and things look a little different.

Hamilton is hitting a solid .282 with a .717 OPS, which is a tick above the league-average OPS. Look past his 2-for-22 start, however, and he's a .299 hitter with a .756 OPS over 68 games. And he's only getting better (via FanGraphs):

The roots of Hamilton's particularly impressive June surge aren't hard to find.

His decreased strikeout rate has meant more balls in play, and he entered Saturday batting .354 on balls in play this month. Hamilton's power surge, meanwhile, can be partially traced to a monthly fly-ball rate near 40 percent. When fly balls aren't caught, they're liable to turn into extra-base hits.

And that goes double for Hamilton. Pun absolutely intended.

Beyond the stats lies another explanation for Hamilton's surge: There's a comfort factor that wasn't there before.

"I'm very comfortable now," he recently told MLB.com's Phil Rogers. "Early in the season, the first few games, I felt like I wasn't a big leaguer. I was just here to be here. Now I feel like I'm supposed to be here."

Paul Daugherty of The Cincinnati Enquirer tried to dig even deeper, asking Hamilton what's changed since Opening Day. Hamilton reiterated that he's more comfortable, but Daugherty added that the speedster "alluded to 'adjustments.'"

Something like that can be code-talk for "Go look at the video." And when I did, I noticed something.

Though Hamilton's a switch-hitter, he's batted lefty in the majority of his 2014 plate appearances (216 of 295). The majority of his production has come there too, as he's a .300 hitter batting lefty.

And this is where an adjustment seems to have taken place.

Consider the stance Hamilton was using against Wainwright back on Opening Day:

That's a really wide-open stance, and it didn't exactly work. In striking out four times, Hamilton had all sorts of issues with his timing. As he'd probably be the first to agree, it was ugly.

Not helping matters is that such a wide-open stance wasn't exactly routine for Hamilton. Check out how it compares to the stance he was using during September last year:

Hamilton's stance last fall was much more closed. While he only got so many plate appearances, that he hit .368 using that stance is a pretty good indication that it didn't need to be changed.

What happened between the end of 2013 and Opening Day? I'm not sure. But what I do know is that Hamilton has closed his stance as 2014 has moved along.

Here's a look:

Hamilton's not all the way back to the stance he had last September. But he has gotten a lot closer to that stance and has certainly benefited from it.

And it's apparent that Hamilton's adjustment hasn't helped him against just one pitch type. Brooks Baseball can vouch that it's helped him against everything:

This is not to suggest Hamilton doesn't need to evolve even further as a hitter, mind you.

Beyond his June production likely being a bit too good to be true, he needs to work on his hitting from the right side and his overall plate discipline. He's only a .233 hitter against lefties, and he should be walking a lot more often than 4.4 percent of the time.

What Hamilton has made clear, though, is that his hit tool isn't all that doomed after all. There's clearly some talent there, and he's shown he can make adjustments to tap into it. We shouldn't take that for granted, as not all young hitters are able to adjust when dealt a reality check.

So scratch that once-possible future as a pinch runner/defensive replacement. The question now is not whether Hamilton can be an everyday player, but how good of an everyday player he can be.

Short answer: maybe even better than the one he already is.

Let's venture to use wins above replacement as a measuring stick. If we do that, we find FanGraphs has Hamilton's WAR at 2.9, which puts him 10th among outfielders and fifth among center fielders.

Given how Hamilton's hitting is right around league average, maybe this makes you skeptical. But you have to remember this guy's main source of value isn't his bat. It's his legs.

And those have lived up to the hype.

By virtue of his 34 stolen bases and other good baserunning plays, FanGraphs has Hamilton's baserunning value at 4.7 runs above average. That's good for fourth in MLB. This would be the statistical way of saying something we expected to be saying: Yup, Hamilton's baserunning is a huge asset.

Then there's his defense. He rates as easily the best defensive center fielder in baseball, and that's believable for two reasons:

  1. Hamilton is first among center fielders in ultimate zone rating and tied for first in defensive runs saved.
  2. He certainly passes the eye test.

The arm Hamilton used to need at shortstop has proved to be a weapon in center field, and goodness knows his speed allows him to cover quite a bit of ground.

If we take Hamilton's first-half WAR of 2.9 and project it out over the second half, we get a WAR of just under 6.0. By FanGraphs' typical guidelines, that's a WAR of a star-level player.

And remember, this is assuming that Hamilton's hitting only stays right around league average. Even if he never gets better than he's been, he can still be a star. As mind-boggling as that may be, well, that's Hamilton's speed for you. It's a source of value as powerful as any in the game today.

The scary thought is how good Hamilton can be with an above-average bat.

Since that's what he's been packing in June, we actually have a solid idea. With above-average offense added to his baserunning and defense, FanGraphs has Hamilton's June WAR at 1.6. Over a full season, a good-hitting, good-running, good-fielding Hamilton could thus be worth easily more than 6.0 WAR.

Yup. His ceiling is not that of a mere star-level player. It's that of a superstar-level player.

At the least, what Hamilton has done with his offensive surge is show that there's more to him than just his speed. In showing he can hit, he's shown he belongs and that he can more than earn his keep.

And then there's the even higher potential that Hamilton has shown this month. If that ends up being no mere tease, he's a player we're going to be talking about for a long time.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

Follow zachrymer on Twitter

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Jabari Parker Throws out First Pitch at Brewers Game, Makes Young Fan’s Day

The Milwaukee Bucks selected Jabari Parker with the No. 2 overall pick in 2014 NBA draft, and to celebrate, he got the opportunity to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Milwaukee Brewers game.

On Saturday, Parker threw out the first pitch for the Brewers before their game against the Colorado Rockies. After throwing out the pitch, he made sure to give the ball to a young fan behind home plate.

[MLB.com]

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Why Pittsburgh Pirates Made Right Choice Trading Jason Grilli for Ernesto Frieri

After being removed from his role as the closer of the Pittsburgh Pirates one week ago, Jason Grilli was settling into his new role as a normal reliever.

But according to Matt Snyder of CBSSports.com, the Pirates reached an agreement with the Los Angeles Angels to swap former closers Grilli and Ernesto Frieri.

Neither Grilli nor Frieri has performed up to potential in 2014, but this may be one of the best trades the Pirates have made in a long time.

Frieri owned an earned run average of 6.39 in 31 innings pitched for the Angels in 2014. However, he is no stranger to success on the mound. The 28-year-old from Colombia was signed by the San Diego Padres in 2003, and he has enjoyed great success pitching in the National League.

In 105 appearances out of the bullpen for the Padres from 2009-2012, Frieri owned an impressive 2.33 ERA while averaging 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.

Now, he is heading back to the National League, and he should be looking forward to a new beginning with a team that is beginning to turn its season around.

Pittsburgh's bullpen already featured two stars at the back end: current closer Mark Melancon (2.35 ERA, 14 saves) and Tony Watson, who has been arguably the best reliever in the league this season with a record of 5-0 and an ERA of just 0.98.

Now, it has added another dangerous force in Frieri.

Sure, it seems that Frieri lost some effectiveness over the last two seasons with the Angels, pitching to an ERA of 3.80 in 2013 before his awful season this year. However, he is now heading back to the league where he dominated opposing batters from the moment he stepped on a big league mound.

Adding to the excitement in Pittsburgh, it has been proved that a change of scenery is all it could take for a struggling player to really turn his season or career around.

Ask Ike Davis, and he will tell you all about it.

Davis was traded only 12 games into the 2014 regular season after batting .208 with the New York Mets. Since arriving in Pittsburgh, Davis has batted .246 with four home runs and 19 RBI in 60 games played.

At that pace, Davis is currently on track to own his highest single-season batting average since 2011. More importantly, he has helped the Pirates win games and get back into the race for the postseason.

Then there is Grilli, whose glory days seem to be almost over. Now 37 years old, Grilli probably doesn't have many years left in his tank. After all, his current contract is set to expire after this season.

On the other hand, Frieri is still in the prime of his career at only 28 years of age. If he had owned a high ERA his whole career, this trade wouldn't be very exciting for Pirates fans.

However, Frieri has shown the ability to dominate opposing batters in the National League, and it would be no surprise to see him turn his season around in Pittsburgh much like Davis is currently doing.

 

*Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Athletics’ Yoenis Cespedes Throws Out Another Runner at Home vs. Marlins

Oakland Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes is back at it again.

In the bottom of the third inning during Friday night's game against the Miami Marlins, Giancarlo Stanton began running for home after a base hit. However, Cespedes did what he does best, throwing a laser to home plate to somehow get him out.

Cespedes now has an MLB-leading 10 outfield assists this season, as he continues to show off arguably the strongest arm in the majors. The Athletics ended up getting the 9-5 win to move to 49-30 for the year.

[MLB.com h/t Hardball Talk]

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

White Sox vs. Blue Jays Live Blog: Instant Reaction and Analysis

The White Sox defeat the Blue Jays after a seventh-inning bomb from Dayan Viciedo.

Chicago improves to 38-44 on the season, while the Blue Jays fall to 45-38 and remain just one game ahead of the Orioles for the lead in the AL East.

Without the offense of Jose Bautista, the Blue Jays were left wanting for run support. A Mastroianni two-run homer and RBI single from Kawasaki were all they had.

Thanks for following the game with me! Until next time.

FINAL SCORE: WHITE SOX 4, BLUE JAYS 3

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Thurman Munson’s 22 Errors Deserved a Fool’s-Gold Glove

Seventh in an 11-part series examining the vagaries of awards voting.

You could probably find at least one undeserved Gold Glove awarded every season. The vast majority of Gold Glove recipients are repeat winners, sort of making the award like a concussion—once a player gets one, it becomes progressively easier to get more.

To be sure, most repeat winners are among the very best defenders in the league and deserve the honor, but as we saw with Jim Kaat, precedent eventually plays a big role.

As well, a Gold Glove sometimes becomes a “throw-in” for players who have had strong seasons with the bat (or on the mound). Perhaps it’s unfair to spotlight Thurman Munson for this, but I do so more for who didn’t receive the Gold Glove than who did.

Munson had already won a Gold Glove the previous year and had come into his own as one of the best backstops in the American League. In truth, no AL catcher enjoyed a truly standout season behind the plate in 1973 (unless you count Detroit’s Bill Freehan, who played only 98 games), but Munson, with a league-high 80 assists and a 48 percent caught-stealing rate, was a good choice.

Smashing a career-best 20 home runs and batting .301 didn’t hurt his cause, either, and though it shouldn’t have had any bearing on the Gold Glove vote, Thurman's lively bat likely helped him beat out Oakland’s light-hitting Ray Fosse, who enjoyed an equally strong season with the mitt.

However, the defending AL Gold Glove winner did not follow up his 1973 campaign so well. In fact, despite making the All-Star team, Munson suffered a setback in 1974. His offense dropped across the board, finishing with a lackluster .697 OPS. Yet thanks to the virtual absence of an injury-plagued Carlton Fisk, Munson had no real competition at the plate, making his off-season with the bat look good enough at season’s end.

Even so, Munson’s “default” slugging and defending Gold Glove earned him an encore in 1974—an honor that should have gone to Ellie Rodriguez, the unsung journeyman backstopping his first season for the California Angels. (Ironically, Rodriguez had begun his Major League career with the Yankees in 1968 after toiling in their farm system for four years. But New York’s selection of Munson in the first round of the 1968 amateur draft made Rodriguez expendable; left unprotected in the 1969 expansion draft, he was snatched up by the Kansas City Royals.)

Of course, when evaluating catchers’ performances, chances and putouts—being almost exclusively the result of receiving strikeoutsare poor statistics to utilize, especially when one's battery mates include strikeout machines Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana (ergo, Rodriguez led the league in both categories in 1974). More tellingly, Rodriguez tied Munson for the AL lead in assists with 75.

However, Munson committed, by far, a league-worst 22 errors, including a horrendous 11-game stretch in early August during which he booted seven plays (ignominiously crowned by a three-error meltdown on August 13). Yet in essentially the same amount of innings, Rodriguez miscued only seven times, giving him a glittering .992 fielding average to Munson’s subpar .974 (league average: .983).

Eighteen of Munson’s errors came on throws—that’s a lot of extra bases gifted to existing baserunners. In fact, 11 of those throwing errors led directly to unearned runs, either on the throws themselves or allowing baserunners to get into scoring position, after which they were driven home. More amazingly, five of those runs scored on errant pickoff attempts to third base—this does not scream Gold Glove.

Advanced sabermetrics were unknown in 1974, of course—and I don’t believe in getting too far into them both because many of the highly specialized sabermetrics border on the arcane and because it’s unfair to criticize in hindsight using evaluations that were unavailable at the time. However, for the sake of argument, Rodriguez’s total zone runs dwarfs Munson’s in every category, according to Baseball-Reference. Furthermore, Rodriguez’s range factor per nine innings not only far surpassed Munson’s but also outdid every other full-time catcher in the AL.

Apart from the huge disparity in errors, though, what should have tipped the scale heavily in favor of Rodriguez was his effectiveness at stopping baserunners. Ellie’s powerful arm nailed would-be thieves at a 48 percent clip—resulting in an AL-topping 56 caught-stealings, far and away the best performance in the American League. Munson’s 35 percent caught-stealing rate was next-to-last among regulars in the Junior Circuit. (Of course, the pitcher shares fault in a stolen base, but that's still a big deficit.)

True, Rodriguez allowed 20 passed balls to Munson’s eight, which partially washes out the difference in errors—passed balls being the only key statistic that favored Thurman—but Rodriguez should be cut a little slack for backstopping the most inaccurate staff in the AL. California issued the most walks in the league—and more than 100 more than Munson’s Yankees.

With Angels hurlers missing the strike zone so often, some pitches that could have been scored wild might well have instead been rung up as passed balls. (Incidentally, Rodriguez’s 20 passed balls were a fluke; he never before or again yielded more than eight in a season.)

Despite Rodriguez’s defensive superiority in 1974, being a light-hitting catcher on a last-place team surely camouflaged him come awards time. Again, not that hitting is supposed to play a role in Gold Glove voting—even though it clearly does—but Rodriguez’s home run and RBI totals pale even to Munson’s off-year. There was no way that seven home runs, 36 RBI and a .253 batting average on only 100 hits were going to accrue votes for Rodriguez.

As an aside, Rodriguez—who claimed to be a better stickball player in his youth than Willie Mays—actually clubbed more doubles than Munson in 122 fewer at-bats. More significantly, his 69 walks yielded a very respectable .373 on-base percentage—far better than Munson’s awful .316.

Similarly, being a light-hitting rookie catcher likely buried Jim Sundberg, even on a Texas Rangers team that had risen from last place in 1973 to second in 1974. Stepping right into a starting role, Sundberg fielded .990 on just eight errors, rang up the third-most assists, led all catchers in double plays and surrendered only nine passed balls. He, too, was more deserving of the Gold Glove than Munson, but even the most precocious freshmen hardly ever receive recognition for their defense.

Thurman Munson claimed a third Gold Glove in 1975. That award, too, is highly debatable considering an AL-topping 23 errors—the most ever by a Gold Glove–winning catcher, breaking his own dubious record of the previous year. Sundberg caught a slightly superior season with the mitt, but I’m certain voters were deterred by his horrid .199 batting average and meager run production. Sundberg’s day would come, though, as he owned the Gold Glove for the following six seasons.

Whereas Munson was ascending to stardom in 1975, Ellie Rodriguez, one of the better defensive catchers of his time, saw his wandering career wind down. He played only 90 games for the Halos that season, albeit well. Traded to the nearby Los Angeles Dodgers just before Opening Day of 1976, Ellie put in 36 games in Dodger Blue before his Major League sojourn ended.

Across a nine-year career that took him to five cities, Ellie Rodriguez always fielded well—even making two All-Star squads—yet never was officially recognized for his defensive prowess. In 737 games, he committed the same amount of errors as did Thurman Munson just in 1974 and 1975 combined.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Tigers’ Justin Verlander Has Winless Month for First Time in His Career

Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander took a no-decision in Friday night's contest vs. the Houston Astros, leaving him without a win for the month of June and winless for the first time in any full calendar month of his MLB career, as reported by The Oakland Press' Matthew Mowery on Twitter.

Verlander, 6-7 in 2014, went 0-3 in the month of June, losing his first three starts before failing to take a decision in his final two outings of the month. The Tigers went 1-4 in his June starts, and they have dropped seven of their last 10 games started by Verlander.

Verlander's remarkable streak of earning at least one win in each full regular-season calendar month (April to September) began in April of his rookie season in 2006. His streak of consecutive months earning a win will end at 50, barring an unforeseen relief appearance and win this weekend.

The six-time All-Star has 143 career victories compared to only 84 losses for an impressive .630 winning percentage.

However, the 31-year-old right-hander has struggled this year, allowing more hits than he has innings pitched for the first time since his rookie season of 2006. His 4.72 ERA is the second-worst of his career, besting only the 4.84 mark posted in his 2008 campaign, when he went 11-17.

Verlander's previous low of one win in a calendar month has occurred nine time, most recently in September 2013.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

White Sox’s Jose Abreu Becomes Fastest to Hit 25 Home Runs in MLB History

Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu slugged two home runs in Friday night's contest against the Toronto Blue Jays to become the first player in MLB history with 25 homers through the first 67 games of his career, per ESPN Stats & Info.

Abreu led off the fifth inning of Friday's game with his 24th home run of the season. He hit his 25th of the year and second of the game in his next at-bat in the seventh inning.

Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion also hit home run No. 25 Friday night, creating a three-way tie atop MLB's home run leaderboard. The third player, Baltimore Orioles outfielder Nelson Cruz, went deep in the second game of Friday's doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays.

With his 25 home runs in only 67 games, Abreu has shattered the previous record of 72 games needed to reach 25 homers, set by Rudy York of the 1937 Detroit Tigers. Mark McGwire was second fastest, needing 77 games to reach the mark during his rookie campaign with the Oakland Athletics in 1987. Wally Berger of the 1930 Boston Braves now drops to fourth on this list, hitting 25 home runs in his first 79 career games.

AL Home Run Derby Captain Jose Bautista should be looking forward to this year's Derby, as Abreu, Encarnacion and Cruz are all American Leaguers. Florida Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton currently paces the National League with his 21 homers, while Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki sits in second with 18.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Predicting the Biggest Buyers and Sellers at MLB’s Midway Point

The 2014 All-Star Game is still a few weeks away, but don't let that distort your vision of the 2014 season. By the start of play on June 30, almost every team in baseball will have reached its midway point. With 81 games in the books, ample time has been provided to determine buyers and sellers in the upcoming trade market.

In theory, at least.

Due to factors such as the second wild card, revenue sharing, cable television dollars and regional sports networks, more teams are in the race than ever before. The days of only five or six teams truly having a chance to win the World Series are long over. With that, market factors shift.

Over the next five weeks, don't expect more than a handful of true buyers and true sellers to emerge and complete deals. With teams like the Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins teetering on the edge of contention or acceptance of lost seasons, the landscape could shift quickly.

At this moment, only 10 teams are operating with clear goals in mind. With five buyers and five sellers clearly emerging, here are the teams to watch. 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs and are accurate entering play on June 27. 

Begin Slideshow

Assessing Derek Jeter’s Farewell Season at the Midway Point

The 2014 season has reached its midway point, meaning Derek Jeter's farewell tour, age-40 season and goodbye to the game of baseball has reached the same juncture. When assessing Jeter's play thus far, context is critical.

On the surface—looking only at the raw numbers and production from New York's shortstop—Jeter is having his worst season in the big leagues. With an OPS+ of just 83, the former MVP candidate is hitting 17 percent below league average.

Defensively, the days of jump throws in the third base hole and instinctive genius across the diamond have disappeared, replaced by a shortstop with poor range and diminishing foot speed. While FanGraphs actually rates Jeter's defense as a tick above average, the 20-year pro has made some rare mental mistakes in the field.

Yet for all the reasons that Jeter's current talent level and production can be critiqued, two factors should override the numbers and offer perspective: age and health.

First and most important, Jeter is in the midst of his 40-year-old season. With his milestone birthday coming a few days ago, the future Cooperstown-bound star is in rare company among shortstops in baseball history.

As you can see by the following chart, Jeter's production thus far in 2014 currently ranks fourth out of the five shortstops to garner at least 250 plate appearances in their respective age-40 seasons. With time to improve or decline further, Jeter could realistically surpass Honus Wagner in OPS+ at the same age or fall to the bottom of the list.

While the numbers can be instructive, think about the small amount of names on that chart. Jeter is just one of five shortstops ever to take the field this much at such an advanced age. That in itself is remarkable, a sentiment echoed by Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes, per Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today Sports.

"Do you know how difficult it is to play shortstop? It's super hard," Reyes said. "You have to be in on all the plays. And to be moving so much at 40? Wow, Jeter, many blessings. My respect to you."

Upon turning 40, Jeter didn't offer any insight or reveal any issues with age, per Dan Barbarasi of The Wall Street Journal. As the first half of his final year commenced, the same stoic, focus Jeter was evident.

"Physically, I feel the same," Jeter said. "I really don't sit down and look at my age and adjust or compare. I've just never done that. I figure I probably shouldn't start now."

In Reyes' tribute to Jeter, he referenced "moving so much," a basic tenant of manning the shortstop position at the big league level. The fact that Jeter, after missing almost the entire 2013 season due to complications from leg injuries and surgery, has stayed healthy enough to play in 67 games is remarkable.

With diminishing skills and production, it's easy to reference that Jeter's impending retirement is the right call and that the Yankees will likely find a way to upgrade the position when the all-time great hitter departs, but those ideas cloud the reality of New York's situation: If Jeter wasn't playing right now, regardless of the numbers, the team would be in a worse spot.

As presently constituted, the Yankees don't have a shortstop capable of outplaying Jeter. Sure, Brendan Ryan is a defensive wizard who could add to the team defense, but his career OPS of .619 is inept and too low to play on an everyday basis.

While the team is likely to be aggressive at the trade deadline, shopping for an upgrade at shortstop simply isn't in the cards considering the needs for an impact starting pitcher and infielder with pop at second or third base.

Home runs, like the one hit in Toronto's Rogers Centre earlier this week, are few and far between for a hitter currently posting a .327 slugging percentage, but there's value to what Jeter has brought to the Yankees this year, especially when considering his age and the lack of viable replacements behind him on the depth chart.

John Harper of the New York Daily News recently wrote about Jeter's importance to this particular Yankees team, highlighting what a breakout could mean for a mediocre offense.

Five years ago, he posted a 6.5 WAR and finished third in the AL MVP vote for the eventual World Series champions in New York, a magical run for the then-35-year-old shortstop. The blast from the past proved to be Jeter's final special season, but the fact that he's still going is something to behold.

If you had told general manager Brian Cashman that Jeter would still give the Yankees 100-plus games, around 1.0 WAR and be able to hold down the shortstop position five years later, it's likely the longtime executive would have signed up for that deal on the spot.

Moving forward, the Yankees shouldn't expect far more from Jeter than he's provided throughout the first half of the 2014 season. If he can simply replicate his first half numbers, a line line could look something like this: 140 games played, 150 hits, .320 OBP, 20 extra-base hits.

While that may not seem like much, only two shortstops in baseball—Ian Desmond and Jed Lowrie—reached those totals last season, per Baseball-Reference (subscription required).

With one half of his final season left to go, Jeter is a far cry from the player he once was, but the fact that he's taking the field every day, providing some value and further cementing his status as a rare and special shortstop, is the most glaring takeaway from this farewell tour.

 

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs and ESPN unless otherwise noted and valid entering play on June 27.

Agree? Disagree? Comment, follow me on Twitter or "like" my Facebook page to talk about all things baseball.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

5 Scorching MLB Prospects Who Deserve Midseason Promotions

This season already has featured promotions for some of baseball’s top prospects, as we’ve seen George Springer, Gregory Polanco, Marcus Stroman and Andrew Heaney receive call-ups to the major leagues, while big names such as Kris Bryant, Mookie Betts and Joey Gallo have moved up to higher minor league levels.

However, while the aforementioned players already have received promotions, there are even more prospects putting up impressive numbers who are long overdue for the challenge of a new level.

Here are five scorching prospects who deserve midseason promotions.

Begin Slideshow

Abreu, Cruz, Encarnacion Look Primed to Deliver Best Home Run Race in Years

The upcoming Home Run Derby has been a popular story around Major League Baseball this week with the announcement of Jose Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki as league captains, as well as the news that the All-Star event will be switching to a new bracket format. But there's no need to wait until July 14 at Target Field to watch a bona fide home run competition, because one has been going on for much of the past month between Jose Abreu, Nelson Cruz and Edwin Encarnacion.

And boy, did that trio put on a show Friday night.

All three sluggers hit homers, and because Abreu knocked a pair out of the park after entering the evening one back of Cruz and Encarnacion, they now share the major league lead with 25 apiece. All this happened, by the way, in less than an hour and a half.

Really, who needs the Home Run Derby when we've got a season-long race featuring Abreu, Cruz and Encarnacion?

In fact, Abreu—an MLB rookie who competed in five home run competitions in his native Cuba in the past—recently told David Wilson of MLB.com that, no offense, but he'd rather not be invited by Bautista to participate on behalf of the American League:

I change my whole mental approach when I go there. It messes with my mind. I never go to the plate trying to hit home runs. It's something that I'm blessed with and it happens, but I never go trying to hit home runs, so I feel like when I have gone to these things, it has been not beneficial to me afterward.

Apparently, though, Abreu is fine with continuing to hit as many home runs as he can in games that actually count.

What made this Friday's action even more entertaining was that, because the Chicago White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays were playing the second of a four-game series on Friday, Abreu and Encarnacion were involved in the same game. The Sox wound up winning 5-4, so Abreu not only out-homered Encarnacion, 2-1, his team also benefitted.

Meanwhile, Cruz and the Baltimore Orioles were busy splitting a doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays, winning the second game 4-1 after dropping the opener, 5-2.

Just because it's more fun to experience all four four-baggers blow by blow, here's how it all went down Friday night.

First came Abreu's 24th long ball, at approximately 8:22 p.m. ET, which put the White Sox ahead of the Blue Jays 1-0 in the fifth inning—and more importantly, tied both Encarnacion and Cruz for the major league lead:

That was followed just one inning later by Encarnacion's 25th at roughly 8:48 p.m. ET, a solo homer to pull the Jays to 2-1—and put Encarnacion in the home run driver's seat (albeit briefly):

Abreu then went ahead and smashed a drive to dead center in the seventh inning, his second solo shot bringing the score to 3-2 in favor of the White Sox. With this over-the-fencer at about 8:54 p.m. ET, Abreu re-tied Encarnacion and passed Cruz:

As if threatened by having been kept in the park through the first 15 innings of the Orioles' doubleheader to this point and thus having fallen behind not one but two other sluggers on the same night—within a matter of mere minutes—Cruz joined Friday's fun with his 25th of the season. A two-run opposite-field launch job at approximately 9:41 p.m. ET, Cruz's long ball extended the O's lead to 4-1 and kept him even with Abreu and Encarnacion.

Folks, buckle up: As fantastic as Friday was for each of Abreu, Cruz and Encarnacion, their display may be but a teaser for a home run chase that could carry on through the summer and on into the fall.

With the halfway point in the 162-game schedule here and the All-Star break approaching, it's safe to say baseball doesn't get to enjoy a race quite like this—three premier power hitters, all in the AL and all tied for the major league lead, to boot—all that often. At least not in the past handful of seasons.

Going back to the turn of the century with the 2000 season, three players reached the 25-home run mark while also being within three dingers of each other at the end of the first half on nine occasions out of 14 seasons. But sticking to only the past five years, Abreu, Cruz and Encarnacion will be just the second trio to do so in that time frame if they stay that close.

Outside of Josh Hamilton (27), Jose Bautista (27) and Adam Dunn (25) in 2012, it hasn't happened from 2009 on. Whereas from 2000 through 2008, it occurred every year except for 2007.

And while it may be unlikely that each of Abreu, Cruz and Encarnacion reaches the 30-homer plateau before the second half starts, they do have a little more than two weeks to try to get there. If they do, they would be in even rarer territory within MLB history:

Whether you're watching along with each home run by Abreu, Cruz and Encarnacion because of how tight their race is or simply for the sheer number of homers they're hitting—proximity to each other be damned—there's something to enjoy either way.

Friday night brought a little of both.

 

Statistics are accurate through June 27 and come from MLB.comBaseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com, except where otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Pirates’ Josh Harrison Avoids Tag During Bizarre Rundown in Extra Innings

It's very rare that you see a baserunner successfully avoid getting tagged out during a rundown, but Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Josh Harrison was able to do so in a very clutch situation.

In the bottom of the 10th inning against the New York Mets, Harrison got caught in a rundown. However, thanks to some quick thinking and some quick cuts, he was somehow able to advance to third base.

To make the night even better for Harrison, he came up with a walk-off double in the 11th inning to give the Pirates the 3-2 win.

[MLB.com]

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Mike Trout Blasts 489-Foot Solo HR into Fountain in Kansas City

Every time you think Los Angeles Angels phenom Mike Trout can't get any better, he goes and does something like this.

During Friday night's game against the Kansas City Royals, Trout hit a screamer to center field in the first inning. The ball went so far that it landed in the outfield fountain at Kauffman Stadium.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the ball went an incredible 489 feet, while SportsCenter pointed out that it was the longest home run hit in the big leagues this season.

At just 22 years old, Trout continues to have a phenomenal start to his career. This season, he has now already hit 18 home runs with 59 runs batted in.

[Twitter, MLB.com]

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Phillies Broadcaster Throws Back Freddie Freeman’s HR from Outfield Booth

Atlanta Braves slugger Freddie Freeman got his day off on the right foot with a big three-run home run against the Philadelphia Phillies, but what happened immediately after was far more entertaining for the home fans.

Tom McCarthy, the Phillies broadcaster, actually ended up catching Freeman's home run on Friday night. Thanks to some encouragement from the fans, he ended up throwing the ball back onto the field.

[MLB.com, h/t Hardball Talk]

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Phillies Broadcaster Throws Back Freddie Freeman’s HR from Outfield Booth

Atlanta Braves slugger Freddie Freeman got his day off on the right foot with a big three-run home run against the Philadelphia Phillies, but what happened immediately after was far more entertaining for the home fans.

Tom McCarthy, the Phillies broadcaster, actually ended up catching Freeman's home run on Friday night. Thanks to some encouragement from the fans, he ended up throwing the ball back onto the field.

[MLB.com, h/t Hardball Talk]

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Jason Grilli to Angels: Latest Trade Details, Comments and Reaction

The Los Angeles Angels swapped one disappointing closer for another, sending Ernesto Frieri to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Jason Grilli.

The Pirates officially announced the move on Twitter:

In 34 appearances this season, Frieri is 0-3 with a 6.39 ERA and 11 saves. Grilli's been only slightly better, posting an 0-2 record, 4.87 ERA and 11 saves in 22 appearances. The two have combined to blow seven saves.

Mike Scioscia has already confirmed that Grilli will only be given late-inning duties to start out, per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times:

The L.A. Times' Mike DiGiovanna reported that Joe Smith will take over as the team's closer:

Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto is banking on the trade to help Grilli return to his 2013 form, per Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register:

Grantland's Jonah Keri doesn't think that these kinds of closer swaps happen often:

Rob Neyer of FoxSports.com argued that neither team will really win the trade this year, with both pitchers' projections for the rest of the season in line with one another:

At least with Grilli, the Angels are getting a more experienced pitcher who's had a more consistent stretch over the last few years. It's easy to forget that the 37-year-old made the National League All-Star team last year. He finished tied for seventh in the NL in saves, with 33.

Although Grilli's performance has tailed off this season, it's not even close to Frieri's decline from last year to now. The guy who saved 37 games is nowhere to be seen.

Perhaps the change of scenery will help both players. The Angels are hopeful that Grilli can regain some confidence and eventually be transitioned back into the closer role. If that happens, Smith will be able to move back to late-inning duty, where he's been used throughout his career.

This was a low-risk deal from Los Angeles' perspective, and if it can get back a consistent closer, then offloading Frieri will have been more than worth it.

 

Note: All stats are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

David Wright Injury: Updates on Mets Star’s Shoulder and Return

Updates from Saturday, June 28

Mike Puma of the New York Post provides an update on David Wright's shoulder:

FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal added more:

 

Updates from Friday, June 27

ESPNNewYork.com's Adam Rubin provides an update on David Wright's status:

 

Original Text:

A poor year for the New York Mets is looking worse, as David Wright is now dealing with an apparent shoulder injury.

The star third baseman was set to start the team's June 27 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates until he became a late scratch, according to ESPNNewYork.com's Adam Rubin:

Marc Carig of Newsday provided a few more details on the situation, which has apparently been an issue for some time:

Rubin provided comments from Wright:

Last night on a couple of different occasions I did something to reaggravate it and it got worse. I was hoping to be able to push through it. They obviously shut that down. So now it's just protocol, like normal—head back, get an MRI. Hopefully just some rest, maybe an injection, and hopefully I'll be back in a couple of days...

I would say it's fairly painful. The issue is that these last three weeks I felt like I've been able to be productive and go through normal baseball things without feeling hesitant. Last night that wasn't the case. I felt like it was prohibiting me from doing certain things on a baseball field.

Wright has had an underwhelming season up to this point, totaling just six home runs and 41 RBI to go with a .277 batting average in 79 games. Unsurprisingly, the Mets have struggled with him, as they recently moved into last place in the NL East with a 36-43 record.

However, the seven-time All-Star was seemingly turning the corner with a 10-game hitting streak, eight of which also came with an RBI and included two home runs.

Unfortunately, injuries have been a serious issue for Wright in the past few years after being somewhat of an iron man to start his career. The veteran averaged 156 games per season in his first six full years in the league, but he has only played in about 123 per year over the last three.

If this shoulder issue turns out to be a long-term problem, the Mets could be in serious trouble for the rest of the year. Eric Campbell is taking over third base duties for the upcoming game and could see more time at the position for the duration of Wright's injury.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

Follow TheRobGoldberg on Twitter

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com