1. Most Interesting Overlooked Deal of the Off-Season
Craig Gentry-Michael Choice
It’s unusual enough for the American League West’s two prime rivals, the Athletics and Rangers, to trade with one another. Of course, nothing Billy Beane and David Forst ever does is shocking; hey, they traded away 3 number one picks in four months, Grant Green, Jemile Weeks and Michael Choice. But it was dealing the 24-year old Choice to a big market rival for 30 year old center fielder Craig Gentry that may have gone under the radar, but it is fascinating.
The A’s think Gentry’s comp is at least Peter Bourjos. He can fly, is a premium defender and can hammer lefthanded pitching, which he did last year to an .801 OPS. Beane believes they needed a righthanded-hitting center fielder, especially with the risk of a Coco Crisp injury. Two number ones for Gentry and Jim Johnson? The A’s survive in two year cycles.
The Rangers, on the other hand, surrendered their number one draft pick for Shin-Soo Choo, but continue to try to balance one of the game’s best farm systems with the thought of trying to get back to the World Series every season.
Trading Ian Kinsler and Gentry assures that Jurickson Profar and Leonys Martin become fulltime regulars. Choice is interesting, and not just because he went to the University of Texas in Arlington. He’s a corner righthanded bat who can spell Choo against lefties; he had a .408 on base percentage and .852 OPS against them in the Coast League last year.
2. Carlos Santana
One very significant development in Cleveland’s preparation to try to get back into the playoffs is the fact that Carlos Santana is playing third base in the Dominican, which should give them more flexibility in 2014.
Now, Santana was a third baseman in the Dodger organization when the Indians got him in the deal for Casey Blake. But now with Yan Gomes establishing himself as one of the best defensive catchers in the league and Nick Swisher a team core at first base, Santana allows Terry Francona the opportunity to play the switch-hitting Santana at third against lefties—and, remember, his OPS against them was .864—and catch or play first against righthanders, as Swisher struggled from the left side. And he can DH. That flexibility in the middle of the lineup could be huge for a legitimate contender.
In a dozen games, Santana is also hitting close to .400 in the DR, no surprise.
3. Brett Gardner
Since the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, at least a half-dozen teams—from the Phillies to the Tigers—have taken a run at Brett Gardner, knowing he’s a free agent at the end of next season. But Brian Cashman won’t move him until and unless he has to for starting pitching. Cashman loves Gardner’s toughness and likens it to that of Dustin Pedroia, thinks Gardner is very similar to Ellsbury only a year or two behind in skill development, and thinks the defense and the offensive speed will play big in Yankee Stadium and in a lineup that will otherwise play for power.
“Brett is one of the toughest players in the game, an incredible competitor,” says Cashman. “We feel very strongly about him and his role as a leader and catalyst.”
4. Will Middlebrooks
The Red Sox still don’t know if Stephen Drew will be back. Cashman has stated that the Yankees are not signing Drew, but while the Mets have claimed disinterest, one rival GM thinks it’s about negotiations with Scott Boras, that they are not sold on Ruben Tejada and are still concerned about developing a very talented group of young players with the inexperience of Tejada, Juan Lagares and Travis d’Arnaud up the middle.
If Drew returns to Boston, John Farrell will have to find a way to get enough at-bats for Will Middlebrooks, presuming Xander Bogaerts plays a lot of third base, particularly against righthanded pitching. Middlebrooks was sat down during the playoffs, following a season in which he struggled, hurt his back and was sent to Pawtucket.
But when he returned in August, Middlebrooks made adjustments at the plate and became far less pull conscious. From Aug. 1, 2012 to being sent down, in 99 games Middlebrooks had a .224 average, .272 on base percentage and .422 slug. In the 39 games after being recalled from Pawtucket last season, he batted .276 with a .329 on base and .476 slugging percentage, with 8 homers. Righthanded corner power is hard enough to come by, so do not look for Middlebrooks to be dumped.
5. Chris Denorfia
The price Oakland paid for Gentry speaks of the price for righthanded-hitting outfielders who can play center field. Ask the Padres. They have had at least a half-dozen teams try to talk to them about Chris Denorfia, from the Rangers to the Red Sox to the Rockies before they got Drew Stubbs, and Josh Byrnes has told every club he simply won’t deal Denorfia as long as he thinks the Padres can contend for a post-season berth. Which, right now, Byrnes believes, if Josh Johnson bounces back and Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross emerge as power starters in Petco.
6. Brad Ausmus and Rick Renteria
Before Brad Ausmus was interviewed and immediately offered the managerial job by the Tigers, he was interviewed by the Cubs. And Ausmus, who worked with Rick Renteria in the Padres organization, believes the Cubs got precisely the right guy for that job, which requires they develop a core of talent—much of which is Latin—in the next three years. “They got,” says Ausmus, “the right guy.” Just as Dave Dombrowski knows he got the right guy for the Tigers.
Ausmus’s first professional manager? Brian Butterfield.