Nick Castellanos: Third Baseman… Again?

By Andy Burdick

According to sources, AL MVP Miguel Cabrera has told the Detroit Tigers that he wants to return to playing first base.

This seemed like the more than inevitable defensive change for Cabrera that fans and analysts had been expecting since his return to the hot corner full time in 2012.  Cabrera, who has never been known for his defensive prowess, proved to be completely over-exposed at third base defensively in 2013 as he finished with a Defensive Runs Saved (Rdrs) of -18, his worst season in the field since 2007 with the team formerly known as the Florida Marlins.

So now that Prince Fielder has been traded to Texas and Cabrera is presumably returning to first base, that leaves everyone wondering what will happen at third base in Detroit.  Jhonny Peralta left for much more lucrative pastures in St. Louis, but one of the reasons General Manager Dave Dombrowski stated Detroit didn’t make a push for Peralta was because they viewed him as a short stop, not a third baseman.

With the alternatives on the free agent market looking roughly like this, it’s hard to imagine the Tigers being overly excited about signing Placido Polanco or Brent Lillibridge to take over at third.

There are also no clear internal options ready to take over at third… unless you consider third-baseman-turned-outfielder-potentially-turned-third-baseman-again Nick Castellanos.  Castellanos spent parts of 2012 and all of 2013 learning the ropes in the outfield and even made a few appearances in Detroit’s outfield at the end of the season.  Dombrowski has already stated that Castellanos has a nice swing and is going to hit, which has to be somewhat reassuring for the Castellanos supporters.  His Minor League track record looks pretty outstanding as well, as you can see below.

2010 18 Tigers GULF Rk DET 7 29 24 5 8 2 0 0 3 0 1 4 5 .333 .414 .417 .830
2011 19 West Michigan MIDW A DET 135 562 507 65 158 36 3 7 76 3 2 45 130 .312 .367 .436 .803
2012 20 Lakeland FLOR A+ DET 55 243 215 37 87 17 3 3 32 3 2 22 42 .405 .461 .553 1.014
2012 20 Erie EL AA DET 79 341 322 35 85 15 1 7 25 5 4 14 76 .264 .296 .382 .678
2013 21 Toledo IL AAA DET 134 595 533 81 147 37 1 18 76 4 1 54 100 .276 .343 .450 .793
4 Seasons 410 1770 1601 223 485 107 8 35 212 15 10 139 353 .303 .359 .445 .804

At 21 years old in 2013, Castellanos started to display some of the power scouts had been saying he would develop as he grew older, hitting 18 home runs and slugging .445.  Hitting 18 home runs in Triple-A at 21 years can’t be a bad sign, right?

However, going into 2014 with Castellanos as the only third baseman has got to be a frightening prospect for the Tigers.  He is an unproven player at third (all 38.2 of his Major League innings came in the outfield for Detroit) and at the plate (18 Major League plate appearances is what Keith Law would call a ‘small sample size’).  These factors have likely contributed to Dombrowski downplaying all of the Castellanos speculation recently as he is quoted as saying:

“We had no further discussion on Peralta’s situation when the Fielder trade was made.  We still think of him as a shortstop and that’s what he’s looking to play, so we did not revisit that situation. And we really couldn’t revisit it until we decided upon Cabrera and [Nick] Castellanos and what we were going to do there, and we still have not made any final decision on that at all.”


Detroit Tigers outfielder/third baseman Nick Castellanos

Look at that beautiful head of hair and tell me it’s not Major League ready.

While Castellanos may seem like the most appealing option for the Tigers, and while he does have a magnificent head of hair, it sounds like, as of his quote, Dombrowksi is going take the responsible wait-and-see approach.  Castellanos will probably get every opportunity to win the third base job out of spring training, but if he is looking over matched at the plate or on the field, don’t be surprised to see him back in Toledo fine-tuning his game before he takes over as the new Detroit Tigers third baseman.

James Loney: A Fit In Pittsburgh?

By Andy Burdick

When you look at gaping holes in a lineup, the one at first base in Pittsburgh stands out.  Garrett Jones, who put together a decent career in Pittsburgh, had his platoon issues and worked his way into being non-tendered.  Gaby Sanchez has similar platoon issues, but isn’t as costly as Garrett Jones, so he has yet to play his way out of Pittsburgh.

Still, with Sanchez incapable of hitting righties, it leaves a lot to be desired at first base.

And this is why Pittsburgh is probably looking very closely at improving at first base through free agency this offseason.

Derek Bell outfielder Pittsburgh Pirates Operation Shutdown

He’s never had to compete for a starting position. Why would he start now?

After a 2013 which saw one of baseball’s youngest stars win an MVP and lead the Pirates to 94 wins and their first playoff birth in 20 years, Pittsburgh is no longer a destination for crusty old veterans who can weasel one last, overpriced contract out of the organization (see: Matt Stairs, Derek Bell, et al).

And while principal owner Bob Nutting has stated that the team might have more money to spend in the upcoming seasons, he’s probably not going to throw it around all willy-nilly.

“I think what we’ve seen the last several years, without losing focus on our development system … is we’ve been able to increase our commitment to major league payroll.  I certainly would like to see that continue as we move forward.”  – Bob Nutting

That could be interpreted as miser-code to keep the fans happy, and if you analyze it semantically, he really says nothing concrete about the future spending habits of the club.  But Major League Baseball will be distributing approximately $25 million more in TV revenue to teams from 2014 – 2021 and Pittsburgh drew about 300,000 more fans last season than the year before, so there’s money to spend if the need arises.

All of these factors point to a perfect storm that could put Pittsburgh in a competitive financial position to sign free agent first baseman James Loney to a multi-year contract, which would make sense from a financial and statistical perspective.  While Loney isn’t a prototypical power hitting free agent first baseman in the mold of Mike Napoli, he is a bit of a sabermetric darling and could help improve the Pirates club drastically for a more than reasonable price in 2014.

Loney will turn 30 in May of next season, so while he’s still no spring chicken, the ravages of age shouldn’t be taking their toll on him just yet (fingers crossed), and he’s proved himself durable so far in his career.  Since 2008, when he became a full-time player, Loney has averaged 156 games a season.  So hopefully when he’s inked to a multi-year deal, it won’t be long enough to see him start to decompose and not earn the value of his contract.

Now let’s take a look at Loney’s career line at the plate:

8 Yrs 1084 4082 414 1059 208 20 86 534 32 17 317 501 .285 .340 .421 .761 106

As you can see, home runs aren’t really Loney’s shtick.  Based on his career, Loney has demonstrated slightly below average power.  His career isolated power (ISO) is .136, which is slightly below league average. And it’s not that Loney is completely void of power as he has averaged 31 doubles a year during his career.  It’s just that his pop is more gap-to-gap than over the fence.  Last year for the Rays, Loney had a career high line drive rate (LD%) of 29.8% and he boasts a career LD% of 23.6%.  To help put things into perspective, his career .421 slugging is only .002 points behind Pirates second baseman Neil Walker.

The biggest strength of Loney’s offensive game is his ability to get on base. With Andrew McCutchen hitting primarily third now, Pittsburgh has lacked a hitter who can consistently get on base at the top of the lineup throughout the majority of his tenure. Loney’s career .340 OBP would give Pittsburgh an opportunity to have a player who consistently gets on base in the two-hole.  Imagine a Pirates lineup that looks like this:

1. Marte

2. Loney

3. McCutchen

4. Alvarez

5. Walker

6. Martin

7. Mercer

8. Tabata

Oh, to dream!

Defensively, Loney potentially provides a lot more unappreciated value.  With the departure of defensive whiz Clint Barmes, Jordy Mercer is looking like the primary option at short stop going into 2014.  According to Baseball Info Solutions Defensive Runs Saved statistic (Rdrs), Loney was worth 4 runs above average at first base last year relative to the rest of the league; Gaby Sanchez was worth -3.  Combining Jordy Mercer’s defense with a below average defensive first baseman may help people appreciate how valuable good defense at first base can be.

Finally, the Pittsburgh Pirates are not the New York Yankees.  And while Bob Nutting may be the 10th richest owner in Major League Baseball, he’s not going out and spending his money like Arte Moreno.  If the front office decided that Loney was a good fit in Pittsburgh, the deal would have to be at the right price.  Loney’s been about an 8-win player (WAR) since 2008, his first full season.

For the value that he provides, Loney will probably be in line to earn a contract with an average annual salary of around $8 million.  If he received a deal in the ballpark of the Marlon Byrd contract (2 years, $16 million), I wouldn’t be all that surprised.  A third year might not prove a bad investment if a team is willing to make it, as traditionally players with high LD% tend to remain productive later on into their careers (see: Tim Salmon, Todd Helton, Michael Young).

If Pittsburgh is going to make a splash in the free agent market this winter, I would rather they make a move that will help them in the batter’s box and on the diamond.  A somewhat cost-controlled option like James Loney would make a great fit at first base for the 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Value of David Murphy

By Jason Ruggiero

David Murphy Cleveland Indians outfielderOn Monday David Murphy was officially announced as the newest member of the Cleveland Indians.

Murphy, a left-handed hitting outfielder, produced the lowest batting average of his 8-year career in 2012 when he managed just a .220 average. Over his career, Murphy is a .275 hitter.

Continue reading

Tri-State at the Plate Episode #35: Trolling the Royals

Jason and Andy kick off this week by talking about Jhonny Peralta and how taking PEDs pays off.  Then Andy talks about the Pittsburgh Pirates, their recent DFAs, trades, and roster moves, while Jason poo-poos everything.  Jason then discusses why he loves the David Murphy signing giving Andy an opportunity to poo-poo on David Murphy.  They finish up reading moves that were proposed at a winter meeting simulation (spoiler alert: NO REAL GENERAL MANAGERS WERE INVOLVED).  Click the link below for a good time:

Alex Dickerson Dealt to the Padres

By Chris Bradley

Alex Dickerson Altoona Curve Outfielder traded to San Diego Padres

Alex Dickerson is now a member of the Padres organization.

In a move that shocked Pirate Nation, 2013 Eastern League Rookie of the Year Alex Dickerson was dealt to the Padres for prospects Jaff (not Jeff) Decker and Miles Mikolas. Dickerson, 23, hit .288 with 17 homers and 68 RBIs for Double-A Altoona in 2013. The readership may remember me discussing Dickerson at length when taking about the Pirates future. Continue reading

Andrew Lambo: First Blood Part 2014

By Andy Burdick

Following Pittsburgh’s stellar 2013 campaign, two big questions are lingering in the minds of Pirates fans:

1. How will General Manager Neal Huntington handle the right field situation?

2. How will General Manager Neal Huntington handle the first base situation?

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Looking Ahead: 2013 – 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates Offseason

By Andy Burdick

The 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates exceeded the expectations of pretty much everyone except the hardcore yinzers who have been predicting a 90 win season for the Pirates since the Kevin Young era.  And while Pittsburgh will have difficulty replicating the success of this past season, they are a team on the rise with an exceptional farm system that is also built to compete right now.  This gives the Pirate faithful something to look forward to in the offseason.

As long as no free agent signings go into Operation: Shutdown, things are looking up in the Steel City. Continue reading

Arizona Fall League Recap: Vol. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8…etc.

By Chris Bradley

Congratulations to the Surprise Saguros, 2013 Arizona Fall League Champions!

Surprise Saguaros Celebrate

The Surprise Saguaros celebrate a splendid season. (Alliteration Alert!)

Since I have been negligent in my duties to the readership regarding recaps of the AFL, I decided to author a post discussing the top Tri-State performers from the 2013 AFL. Continue reading

Tri-State From the Stretch: Clint Hurdle and Terry Francona are Managers of the Year.

Clint Hurdle Manager of the Year copy

Clint Hurdle is the 2013 National League Manager of the Year.

Terry Francona Cleveland Indians 2013 American League Manager of the Year

Terry Francona is the 2013 American League Manager of the Year. And super hawt!


Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Season Recap Vol. 2: The Hitters

By Andy Burdick

Getting To Know You

As with the pitchers, it’s important that you have an opportunity to see how the season went for the hitters before we start digging deep into the strengths and weaknesses of the lineup.  While the pitching was the Gibraltar of the Pirates in 2013, the hitting had its ups and downs. Continue reading