Gregory Polanco and the Pirates
The single most significant winter ball story has been 22 year old Pirate outfielder Gregory Polanco, the Darryl Strawberry lookalike who was the MVP in the Dominican as he put up an astounding .428 on base percentage. He is close to being another huge chip in the rebirth of a franchise that had the third best record in the National League in 2013 and has Baseball America’s rating as the best farm system in the game.
Polanco went from A to AA to AAA last year, is a top defensive center fielder, made adjustments on and off the field in the Dominican, and while the Pirates expect he will begin the season in AAA, like Gerrit Cole in 2013, he could well be up by June. Says one National League GM: “Polanco, Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte will be the best outfield in the league. Their all-around games are really good.”
McCutchen and Marte were two of the league’s top six outfielders in WAR, two of the top three in defensive runs saved, and Polanco is going to fit perfectly on a legitimate contender in what is the most underappreciated division in the game.
It’s been a long climb, but Neal Huntington may have not only reconstructed the Pirates, but done so for the long run.
On the last Ides of January, the Toronto Blue Jays were considered the potential favorites in the American League East.
Didn’t work that way. This time around, they admit that the only way they’re going into the pitching free agent market is if Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez fall down to them, in which case both might go back from whence they came. Instead, after veterans Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey, the Jays plan to build on youth and rehabs, with Brandon Morrow, rookie Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ and the return to health of Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison. One official told me, “We have to figure out what we have and go from there.” And $80M for Santana or Jimenez is considered too big a gamble.
Last winter, the Yankees wanted to sign Stephen Drew, but were told he would only play shortstop. So he ended up with Boston. But this week Scott Boras dropped several hints that Drew would be willing to play other positions, which might make him more attractive to both the Red Sox and Yankees; Boston might be able to use him at short, third and even first base, and the Yankees could play him at second and third and have him as insurance if Derek Jeter has any physical problems. In fact, Drew’s value may be greater if he will play several positions.
What the Red Sox have yet to decide is whether Drew would be comfortable as a utilityman, considering how hard he worked to come back from a serious ankle injury and the diligence with which he prepared the entire 2013 season. Early on in their negotiations, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington let Drew and Boras know that the plans are for Xander Bogaerts to be the Boston shortstop, which might limit Drew to games at first, third and short against righthanded pitching.
The Braves are restricted to a $90M payroll, which with six big players going to arbitration—Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, Chris Johnson—means this an important month for the team.
Most interesting is the case of closer Craig Kimbrel, who some feel could close in on $9M after 3+ seasons with 138 saves, a 1.39 earned run average and 381 strikeouts in 227 1/3 innings. He presents the dilemma of the great closer whose value exceeds the outs clubs think closers are worth. If, after five years in the big leagues, Kimbrel can get $15M of the Braves $90M payroll, it may cost them Jason Heyward, who will be a free agent at the age of 27 after 2015. Or Freddie Freeman, who’ll be a free agent at 27 after 2016.