Here are today’s minor moves from around the league…
The Twins have sold left-handed starter Kris Johnson to the Hiroshima Carp of Nippon Professional Baseball, reports Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN. At least six clubs from Japan’s top league showed interest in Johnson, but the Carp submitted the highest bid, according to Wolfson.
The move appears to work out for both the Twins and Johnson, as Wolfson reports in a followup tweet that the Twins will receive a six-figure sum for selling Johnson’s rights, while Johnson himself will have a seven-figure salary in Japan. (Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press tweets the Twins will receive something in the “mid six figures.”)
Johnson, 30, was acquired from Pittsburgh following the 2013 season in exchange for Duke Welker. Johnson and Welker had both been available for the Twins to select as a PTBNL in the Justin Morneau trade. The Twins initially selected Welker, then flipped him back to the Pirates for Johnson in the offseason. (The other player in the trade, Alex Presley, was claimed off waivers by the Astros earlier this year.)
Johnson made three spot starts for the Twins this season, surrendering seven runs in 13 1/3 innings of work with a 12-to-9 K/BB ratio. Though he has very little big league experience, Johnson has six seasons of experience at the Triple-A level and posted a 3.48 ERA with 7.0 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 in 132 innings at that level in 2014.
Johnson offered the following take on his situation to Wolfson via text message: “I’m very excited about playing for Hiroshima and appreciate the Twins making it happen. I talked to different players about how great the fans and team treat foreign players. I was really impressed with the respect they showed me during the negotiations.”
This transaction marks the second time that the Twins have sold a player to a foreign league, as last offseason the team sent lefty Andrew Albers to the Hanwha Eagles of the Korea Baseball Organization.
The Nationals gave Rafael Soriano $28MM (half of it deferred) over two years and sacrificed a draft choice to install him at the back of the pen of one of the league’s most talented rosters. Though he was a reasonably productive pitcher, however, Soriano was not the force that Washington had hoped and he ultimately ceded his closer’s role late in 2014. Now entering his age-35 season, the Scott Boras client will presumably look to score another multi-year deal, but faces market competition in maximizing his dollars.
Soriano actually had a stronger overall campaign in his second year in D.C. In particular, he restored his strikeout rate to the mid-8 K/9 level that he had generally maintained over his previous several seasons, after ending 2013 with 6.9 K/9 – his lowest mark by far since his rookie year. While Soriano posted near-identical earned run marks in each of his two seasons with the Nationals (3.11 and 3.19, respectively), he seems to have re-learned to induce whiffs in spite of his reduced fastball velocity. In particular, Soriano seems to have restored some confidence in his slider after it went missing in 2013, increasing its usage and effectiveness. All of those factors would, it seems, bode well moving forward.
Buttressing his good-but-not-great recent production level is its place in the overall context of his career. Since 2006, the veteran has recorded at least 60 innings in seven of nine campaigns. And he has only concluded a season with an ERA higher than last year’s 3.19 mark once: his injury-shortened 2011. While he probably no longer offers the hope of double-digit strikeouts per nine innings, Soriano seems a good bet to deliver a full load of solid innings.
And whatever one thinks of the merit of valuing pitchers based on saves and the like, Soriano’s broad experience is a feather in his cap. He now owns 207 career saves, meaning that he has been exposed to a ton of high-leverage situations. And without suggesting anything about its predictive value, it is worth noting that Soriano has a long record of positive “clutch” scores (per Fangraphs). That experience has its value, particularly for a team that expects to contend and wants a veteran presence in the pen.
Teams intrigued by that consistency will surely also notice that Soriano has been fairly good against lefties: for his career, he has held them to a .234/.309/.395 line. Even better, though he was not as dominant against righties as he had been at times in the past, Soriano showed in 2014 that he can be deployed confidently against hitters of both sides. In fact, facing a nearly even number of left-handed and right-handed bats, Soriano held the former to a .273 wOBA (against a .297 mark from righties).
It is not terribly surprising that Soriano has seen some decline in his fastball velocity, but it nevertheless must be accounted for. He has maintained his heater in the 91+ mph range over the last two seasons, after sitting between 92 and 93 earlier in his career. He has seemingly compensated for that fact by increasingly utilizing a mix of four-seam, two-seam, and cut fastballs, though pitch-recognition mechanisms Baseball Info Solutions and Pitch F/X disagree as to his actual mix amongst those three offerings. But the bottom line is that that Soriano’s days of rearing back and throwing it by hitters are probably over. Meanwhile, he has increased his slider velocity to over 84 mph, the highest level of his career, decreasing further the separation for his primary offspeed offering.
One additional factor to consider is Soriano’s tendency to induce a significant number of fly balls, which has spiked back toward the well-above-average rates he maintained earlier in his career. In 2014, Soriano generated only a 31.6% groundball rate while permitting flies at a 49.1% clip. Though a meager 4.8% HR/FB kept the damage to a minimum, Soriano’s career mark sits at nearly twice that level. A few more balls leaving the yard could put a big dent in Soriano’s bottom-line productivity.
It bears mentioning that Soriano’s late-season struggles led to a demotion from the closer’s role — in part due to his inability to keep the ball down — which certainly does not help with perception as he enters the market. And that move was not without statistical basis: Soriano posted a 6.48 second-half ERA after marking his first 37 innings with an impressive 0.97 mark. And those numbers, in turn, had their source in Soriano’s declining peripherals: his strikeout percentage dropped significantly (26.7% to 19.7%) while his rate of line drives allowed went up (14.8% to 24.1%).
Finally, while Soriano has been healthy of late, he does have a deeper injury history that could come into play in a multi-year scenario. Soriano underwent Tommy John surgery early in 2004, returning late in 2005 after a long recovery. Since, he has seen flareups from time to time and even underwent an ulnar nerve transposition and bone spur procedure on his right elbow back in 2008. Most recently, he missed 66 games in 2011 for inflammation. Though his overall recent health has been good, there has to be at least some consideration for the fact that Soriano has a decade or so of mileage on his replacement UCL.
Soriano is married and has two children. The Dominican native also enjoys a special relationship with his mother, with whom he speaks by phone twice a day, per an interesting profile from James Wagner of the Washington Post.
Soriano persevered through a poor economic upbringing and early difficulties in his career. His quiet disposition belies a warm personality, according to Wagner. But there is no question that a new club will not be getting a boisterous, rah-rah presence. By the same token, Soriano is generally stoic on the hill and does not (visibly, anyway) seem to be overly affected by pressure situations. Though at times he has had a less-than-stellar clubhouse reputation, Soriano seems not to have left that impression in D.C. even after his demotion from the closer role, according to a recent report from the Post’s Adam Kilgore.
As I explained back in early September, Soriano is one of many similarly situated veteran relievers. Though I said at the time that he was one of the few to have maintained his value coming into the year, that assessment was based in part on his poor 2013 and came before his late-year struggles were fully manifested.
At this point, Soriano looks to face a tough market, with plenty of competition on the supply side. His precise placement is subject to debate, but he probably falls in the same general tier as other veteran arms such as Sergio Romo, Francisco Rodriguez, and Casey Janssen.
It is difficult to assign possible landing spots for a sub-elite reliever. But in Soriano’s case, one major factor is his pronounced flyball tendency, which could make him more appealing to a club that plays in a more spacious park while reducing the level of interest from teams with more home run-friendly environments.
Soriano faces a wide range of plausible outcomes, given his warts, the healthy supply of veteran late-inning arms, and the ever-present volatility of a market with so few actors. But he does have a rather extensive track record of finishing off wins, and that can still boost a player’s earning capacity. Though Soriano may have slightly more upside, and perhaps even more downside, I see him landing a two-year, $12MM deal that falls near the bottom of the range of last year’s closer market.
The Angels announced (Twitter link) that they have claimed catcher Jackson Williams off waivers from the Rockies. As MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez explains (also on Twitter), the Angels’ 40-man roster is full, but Williams will head directly to the 60-day disabled list, as he’s coming off knee surgery, so he therefore does not require a 40-man roster spot at this time.
The 28-year-old Williams made his big league debut with the Rox this season, appearing in seven games and collecting 16 plate appearances. He picked up three hits in 14 official at-bats, including his first Major League homer.
Williams was selected 43rd overall by the Giants in the 2007 draft but left that organization as a minor league free agent last offseason and signed a minor league pact with Colorado. In five seasons at the Triple-A level, the University of Oklahoma product has a .235/.307/.361 batting line. Angels director of communications points out that Williams was Garrett Richards’ catcher in college (Twitter link).
Williams twice ranked among the Giants’ top 30 prospects, according to Baseball America, placing 18th and 16th, respectively, following the 2007 and 2008 campaigns. BA listed him as the best defensive catcher in San Francisco’s system on three separate occasions, most recently before the 2011 season.
The Twins have declined their $3.6MM club option on right-hander Jared Burton, director of communications Dustin Morse announced (on Twitter). Burton will receive a $200K buyout and hit the open market this winter.
Burton, 33, came to the Twins prior to the 2012 season on a minor league deal after shoulder surgery had temporarily derailed his career with Cincinnati. (The return of former Reds GM Wayne Krivsky to the Minnesota front office may have had something to do with the team’s interest.) Burton proved to be an excellent find for the Twins in 2012, as he pitched to a 2.18 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 over 62 innings in in his first year with the team. That performance netted him a two-year, $5.45MM extension, which included this option.
Burton’s performance has tailed off over the past two seasons, though he was still solid in 2013, compiling a 3.82 ERA (3.61 FIP) with 8.3 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in 66 innings. This season, he got off to a dreadful start to his 2014 campaign, but he did recover to post a 3.41 ERA over his final four months, with the end result being a 4.36 mark.
Overall, Burton spent three seasons with the Twins, totaling a 3.47 ERA with 7.6 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and 10 saves in 203 appearances (192 innings).
Having already captured the American League crown, Kansas City Royals closer Greg Holland added "Best Reliever in the AL" to his list of 2014 accomplishments.
Major League Baseball honored Holland with the Mariano Rivera Award, while Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel took home the Trevor Hoffman Award, which is given to the best reliever in the National League:
Holland finished second in the AL in saves, with 46, while posting an impressive 1.44 ERA and 1.83 FIP, according to Baseball-Reference.com. The 28-year-old was one-third of an impressive bullpen trio in Kansas City that also featured Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera. According to FanGraphs, Royals relievers tied for first in WAR (5.9).
Andy McCullough of The Kansas City Star wondered whether Wade Davis was actually the better reliever. Davis posted an obscene 1.00 ERA:
MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince was also a bit skeptical as to Holland's candidacy:
Kimbrel's win didn't garner anywhere near as much outcry. The Braves star led the NL in saves for the fourth season in a row, posting 47 in 2014. While his 1.61 ERA was his highest in three years, his 1.83 FIP was slightly improved from last year, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
Holland accepted his award in full uniform because the Royals are taking on the San Francisco Giants in Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday night. Kimbrel admitted that he was hoping formal wear won't be necessary if he wins the award in the future.
"I'm a little jealous [Holland] gets to wear his uniform right now," he said, per CBSSports.com's Matt Snyder. "I'm very humbled and grateful to have this opportunity. Thanks."
Holland's Royals will look to even the Fall Classic against the Giants after dropping Game 1, 7-1.
The Braves were a bit disappointing this year, finishing tied for second in the NL East at 79-83. Perhaps next year, Kimbrel can help Atlanta get back into the postseason.
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San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval had a rough start to the year, but was able to turn it around and finish the regular season hitting .279 with 16 home runs and 73 runs batted in.
Now that the Giants are up 1-0 in the World Series against the Kansas City Royals, it's become apparent that Sandoval can make contact well out of the strike zone.
ESPN's David Schoenfield tweeted Sandoval's absurd heat map against fastball before Game 2, showing just how often he gets on base off of pitches on the corners.
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Keep it locked right here as we bring you live coverage of the 2014 World Series!
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Center field is home to the most dynamic athletes on the diamond.
It's also home to some of the best all-around prospects in the minor leagues. From Byron Buxton to Albert Almora, the center fielders who crack this top 10 aren't just the best players at their position but some of the most promising future stars in all of baseball.
The fourth installment of this series known as 'Tomorrow's All-Stars" searches through the minors to find the players who will be the most dangerous center fielders in five years' time. Buxton, who headlines the list, is the No. 1 prospect in the game, per MLB.com. However, the right-handed hitter is just one of five players from the top 50 who made the grade for this countdown.
The San Francisco Giants blew out the Kansas City Royals 7-1 in Game 1 to open the World Series, but if anything, that rare lopsided scoreline just goes to show how unpredictable this series can be.
Both teams made it here by dominating their opposition—the Royals entered the Fall Classic without a postseason loss, while the Giants lost just two. They also combined for six extra-inning playoff games between them, which indicated that every game could have go down to the wire.
That's now not the case after the Giants dominated the Royals Tuesday night in Kansas City, and the unpredictable can open up enticing bets for those looking to make some coin.
Here's a glance at odds for Game 2 as well as World Series prop bets to consider.
Game 2 Odds
Game 2 Over/Under: 7
Note: Game 2 odds courtesy of Odds Shark, last updated Oct. 22 at 1 p.m. ET
Prop Bets and Other Odds
Odds to Win 2014 World Series MVP
It's early—very early—but Hunter Pence and Madison Bumgarner are looking like steals at 12-1 to win the MVP.
Bumgarner had a three-run lead before even stepping onto the mound in Game 1 but pitched as if the game was on the line. He allowed just three hits and one run—a homer in his last inning pitched—in seven innings, while Pence cranked a first-inning home run and went 2-for-3 in the win.
But obviously, the MVP isn't won in Game 1 of any series. Between two teams that have grown a liking to close games, we should see things get tight enough later in the series for a hero to emerge for either team.
If the Royals are going to bounce back, it wouldn't be remiss to count on big bats those of Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer or Alex Gordon to deliver those clutch moments, as they have all postseason, though the trio went a combined 1-for-10 in Game 1.
Should things continue as they're going, though, Bumgarner is probably the easiest pick at 12-1. Unless the Giants sweep, he'll get another chance to pitch, which just might help make Bumgarner the first pitcher MVP since Cole Hamels in 2008.
Odds to Win 2014 World Series
If you're looking to take the Giants to win the series, you better do so now. Another convincing victory, and San Francisco will see its odds of winning the title go from a toss-up to nearly guaranteed.
The Royals may just be down 1-0 in the series, but falling again in Game 2 would be nothing short of brutal. It would leave the Royals needing to win two in San Francisco to even the score, and Kansas City knows from its drubbings of the Angels and Orioles just how hard that can be.
Fate seemed to be on Kansas City's side all postseason long and still may be. But history isn't on their side after Tuesday's loss, per the Giants' Twitter fan account:
Game 1 was the Royals' first loss of the postseason, and they could continue to tighten up and struggle just as easily as they could bounce back. This team has been fighting from behind for months just to get here, but it needs to simply focus on getting back to the basics to get back in this series.
World Series Exact Result
If simply picking who will win the series isn't enough for you, you can take it one step further and try to predict the exact number of games it will take the victor to win.
Neither of these teams has lost more than one game in a series this postseason, leading one to believe it will be a short series no matter which way it goes. But according to these lines, it seems like the oddsmakers believe that trend will be bucked in favor of a long series.
Each team entered with just 12-1 odds of pulling the sweep, which is no longer possible if you're the Royals. But if you think San Francisco's Game 1 drubbing wasn't a fluke, going 12-1 for a Giants sweep could land you a big payday.
It is worth remembering, though, just how effective the Royals can be when it all comes together. They've mastered the art of holding on to tight games in October, and all it could take is a Game 2 victory at home to turn the tide of the series and give them hope heading to AT&T Park.
Note: Series prop bets courtesy of Odds Shark, last updated Oct. 22 at 1 p.m. ET
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