Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Monday, December 29, 2014

Vikings Season in Review

Three Reasons to be Optimistic
I couldn't be more excited about Teddy right now. It's still a bit ridiculous that he fell all the way to number 32 in the draft, considering he had three really good years at Louisville but was passed up for Blake Bortles because of not doing well in a situation that's kind of similar to a football game, but I'm obviously not complaining. He improved a ton throughout the season, especially on the deep ball. I'm excited for the future.
2. Improvements to the defense
Lots of players on D made jumps this year, like Everson Griffin, who justified his massive extension with 12 sacks this year, or Sharrif Floyd, who went from 19 to 42 tackles from 2013 to this year, or Anthony Barr, who made 55 tackles in 12 games and just generally wrecked havoc wherever he was. But none improved more than the young cornerback-safety combination of Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith. We'll start with Rhodes. The second year corner out of Florida State finished eighth in the league with 19 passes defended and shut down the dangerous Alshon Jeffery last week (two receptions, 34 yards) while shadowing him for the entire game, something he's likely to do more of next year. As for Smith, he had a good rookie season two years ago before being sidelined with an injury in 2013 that held him to eight games. This year he made the leap, being the only player in the league with at least three sacks and three picks, (five total interceptions) and making several really athletic plays like his interception against the Dolphins. They're two big reasons the Vikings' D went from 31st to 14th in yards per game allowed this year.
3. The receiving corps
Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright both did very well this year, unfortunately it came at the expense of....
Three Reasons to be Pessimistic
1. Patterson
I understand that Patterson didn't progress as a route runner and struggled to fit into Turner's offense, but nobody seems to notice that he isn't getting the same opportunities as last year. All the screen passes that went to Wright this year could have easily gone to Patterson. As stupid as Bill Musgrave was, at least he knew how to get Patterson involved, on relatively simple things like screens and reverses. Of course, it's likely that there are things going on internally that we don't know about. Patterson clearly isn't very popular with the coaching staff, as evidenced with this quote in the Star Tribune from Zimmer. “I’ve got a plan for this offseason for him, and hopefully it works. But it’s going to be up to Cordarrelle. I’ll leave it at that.”
2. The offensive line
Teddy was overwhelmed with pressure all year, often having to throw the ball away. There's a good chance the Vikes will address this in the draft, and a bounce back season from Matt Kalil, who was terrible this year but is only 25 would help a lot. 
3. It's in our nature
Almost every Vikings fan knows this feeling. We're always expecting the worst. Late, game winning drives from other teams haven't surprised me for years. We've always had that attitude, and it isn't changing any time soon.
Looking Ahead to the Draft
The Vikings need several things, most notably offensive linemen and defensive backs. If he's there at number 11, I would take Cedric Ogbuehi, an offensive tackle from Texas A&M who needs to improve his run blocking, but is an excellent pass protector, the area the Vikings struggled most in last year. If Kalil can bounce back, suddenly a really weak area last year can become a strength. 
What's next with Peterson?
It's been the elephant in the room all season. What do the Vikings do with Peterson? He'll be 29 next season, which is just before running backs start to lose their legs, and the child abuse scandal would be the perfect excuse for the Vikings to cut ties with him and get 15 million dollars worth of cap space. That said, if they release him, a rejuvenated All Day could make them regret that decision. It's a big dilemma and a potential franchise swinging choice.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Case for.... Billy Beane Knowing what he's Doing

     There hasn't been a GM more criticized this offseason than Billy Beane, and for good reasons. He's traded five of the A's seven all-stars from last year, (cut to Billy Butler saying, "Hey, this isn't what I signed here for!") all of whom are under team control until at least 2016. But could this offseason come back to be positive for Oakland? Could all the critics end up eating their words? Crap, I hope I didn't just give some movie producer an idea for an awful sequel to Moneyball. Let's just move on the deals.
     We'll start with the Derek Norris deal. While the catcher posted a respectable .270/.361/.403 line last year, that doesn't show how much he dropped off after the All-Star break, hitting just .245/.314/.344. He first half surge can be explained by an abnormally high BABIP of .336, compared to just .312 in the second half.
     On the other side of the deal, the A's received Jesse Hahn, a right handed pitcher who went 7-4 with a 3.07 ERA last year after being considered a top prospect for both the Padres and Rays, where he was previously. He has the potential to be an all-star sometime in the near future.   
     About 90 feet away from Norris last year was first baseman Brandon Moss, who hit .234 with 25 homers last year. However, much like Norris, his production was very front loaded. In the first half of last year, he hit .268 and 21 of his 25 homers, followed by Drew Butera numbers in the second half: .173, batting average 15 RBI, 31 hits, 21 of which were singles. He was traded to Cleveland about two weeks ago for minor league second baseman Joe Wendle.
     Wendle just finished up a decent year in AA Akron last year, where he hit .253/.311/.414 in 87 games. He has good gap power, smacking 20 doubles in that short amount of time. One more thought on Moss: While Norris is only 25, creating a bit more risk to that trade, (of course, they got a better haul in return) Moss is 31, so that combined with his regression could make him a very big disappointment next year for the Indians.
     Age was the reason I defended the A's Josh Donaldson trade a few weeks ago. Namely because he's going to be 30 next year and his average dropped about 50 points between 2013 and 2014. He'll still be a fine player in Toronto, but maybe not the same one he was for the A's.
     Beane has a good history, and he's known for being unorthodox, so let's at least give these moves a chance before we criticize them. They might be a lot better than we think.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Offseason Moves... Lots of Offseason Moves

I take one weekend off, and the GMs immediately fire off the most hectic week of the offseason. Granted, I should have had the foresight not to take the Winter Meetings off, but I didn't. And now we have a ton a deals to analyze.
Cruz to the Mariners
Seattle's been widely criticized in the media for handing out too many years to the 34 year old Cruz, and they have a point. However, as much as we talk about not handing out four year deals, as a GM, you can't expect to sign someone if your not willing to overpay him, because there will always another GM who is. So in a weird way, overpaying someone like Cruz is also just market value. Especially for a team in win-now mode like the Mariners.
Samardzija to the White Sox
I'm baffled about why nobody's making a bigger deal about this trade, both as a brilliant one for the White Sox and a terrible one for the A's. We'll start with Chicago. I'm wildly impressed that they were able to snag a pitcher as good as Samardzija for a group a guys that includes one real prospect (Rangel Ravelo). Meanwhile, Billy Beane has snatched the "strangest offseason plan" award for this year. The A's can't seem to decide on a coherent direction. First they sign Billy Butler, then they trade Josh Donaldson (which I liked but it doesn't make sense with their other moves) and now they trade their best pitcher who won't be a free agent until 2016 for one prospect. Speaking of trades that don't make sense...
Kemp to the Padres
Somehow I hate this deal for both teams. Just like in the Samardzija trade, the team dealing the star only got one good prospect, (in this case Zach Eflin) But I dislike the move for the Padres as well. What use to they have for Kemp? He's not going to turn a team that went 77-85 last year into a playoff team. It just doesn't make sense.
Santana to the Twins
I'm neutral on this one. Santana had an ERA of 3.95 in the spacious Turner Field but a FIP of just 3.39. Still, four years seems like a long time for a guy who was average at best last year. Then again, I hated the Phil Hughes signing last offseason. We'll see where it goes.
Gordon for Heaney, Heaney for Kendrick
Finally, a trade that's good for everybody! The Angels got the two things they really need: prospects for a farm system decimated by the lack of draft picks they've had by signing Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. As for the second basemen, it's a slight gamble for the Marlins to acquire Gordon, who didn't do as well after the all-star break last year, but while he wasn't getting on base as often he was still hitting well, and even if he only hits about .260 next year, he'll still be valuable because of his speed and defense. Finally, Kendrick is the opposite of Gordon. He'll never wow you with his skills, but he's consistent and hits about .290/.335 every year.
Porcello for Cespedes
While I like the Tigers aggressiveness going for Cespedes to hit behind Cabrera, I wouldn't have given up Porcello for him. After the trade deadline, when they acquired David Price, the Tigers, along with the A's were declared the team to beat in the AL. And now, they're short on pitching. It started just after they got Price, when the Tiger fan base collectively forgot this isn't 2011 and Verlander isn't a dominant starter anymore*. Now Sherzer is almost certainly leaving this offseason, they traded Drew Smyly in the Price deal. Now without Porcello, Price is their only really good starter. As a Twins fan, I like this.
*He posted a 4.54 ERA last year.
Lester to the Cubs
Not much to say here, I'm generally against large contracts given to pitchers because their arms are so fragile, (Johan Santana anyone?) but like I said in the Cruz paragraph, if you want someone, you have to overpay.
Rollins to the Dodgers
Toiling away on the miserable Phillies the last few years, Rollins has been sneaky-mediocre, posting .243/.323/.394 with good defense. Taking salaries into account here, he has a way better value than Hanley Ramirez. Good pickup for the Dodgers.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Quick Thoughts on the Donaldson Trade and Hunter Signing

    As you probably know by now, A's and Blue Jays just pulled the trigger on one of the bigger trades of the offseason, sending all-star third baseman Josh Donaldson up north. Here are my thoughts.
     Earlier this week I mentioned that there are guys like Stanton and Heyward who are younger than lots of people realize because they've been around for so long, (which I'm renaming the Giancarlo Stanton theory) Donaldson is the opposite, 2013 was his first full season, when he was 27 years old, a pretty late start. With that in mind, it's entirely possible that Donaldson's peaked already. His OPS+ fell from 145 to 126, between 2013 and 2014 and with his age, he only has three or four really good years left maximum.
     On the other hand, Brett Lawrie completely qualifies for the Stanton theory. He's only 24, despite being in the league since 2011. While he's been disappointing for the Jays the last few years, he's always been a plus fielder at third base, and still has time to become a better hitter.
     Kendall Graveman went to Oakland, in the deal, and he can make in impact as soon as next year. He has a career 2.30 ERA in the minors, including 1.88 in 38 innings in AAA last year.
     Overall, this was a pretty even trade for both teams, but with Donaldson's age and regression offensively, I'll declare the A's the winners of this trade; just when he was starting to get a little criticism, Billy Beane pulls off a shrewd and underrated move like this one.
     And that was where I was going to end the column... until the Twins did the most nostalgic move on the offseason.*
*Not that they had any competition
     I can't find a single reason not to like this move for the Twins. You say Hunter's too old? I'll politely inform you that they didn't have any chance of contending anyway. Another common criticism is that they paid him too much money, my response to that is, it doesn't matter how much they paid him, it's only for one year, it's not like the Twins were planning on signing a big money free agent and they can't afford him anymore because of the 10 million they're giving Hunter.
    He hit .298/.319/.446 last year in Detroit, but his contributions will be more off the field. I can't think of a better mentor for Aaron Hicks, and overall it'll just be fun to have him in a Twins uniform again.
That's all for today, we'll discuss the Markakis and Cruz deals this weekend.