READING MY MIND

Yusniel Diaz

Well, if you could have read my mind a couple days after the All-Star festivities, you would find what I was thinking in the words below. Today I am going to share the baseball related items that I’ve been thinking about since the games stopped for the mid-season break.

THE MACHADO TRADE

After learning that Manny Machado was, indeed, shipped to the Los Angeles Dodgers I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Not that they had nearly enough in the way of young prospects to trade for Machado, but that the rival Dodgers snatched him up has to be a deflating blow to the Diamondbacks. Thanks to an outstanding start to their season, Arizona spent much of the first half in first place in the National League West. Now they will spend the second half looking up at the Dodgers. And they won’t be alone.

Not only Las Vegas, but fans everywhere have installed the Dodgers as the favorite to win the west. Why not? The Dodgers are the team with Clayton Kershaw and Manny Machado. And a hot Matt Kemp. A hot Max Muncy. And depth in their starting pitching. And Kenley Jansen closing. The Dodgers may win the west by five games or more.

For their part, the Baltimore Orioles got a terrific prospect in outfielder Yusniel Diaz. I raved about him after I got to scout him in the Arizona Fall League. I think the Orioles got themselves a fine hitting outfielder for years to come.

Here’s what I said about him in my December 15 edition of BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD when I did my 2018 prospect rankings:

I am quoting myself here-“I can’t really explain how excited I am about the athletic ability of Yusniel Diaz. He is still learning how to play stateside and there are some rough edges, but man, can he play. The ball screams off his line drive barrel bat. He has a cannon for an arm and can move quickly in right field, where I saw him play most of the time in the Arizona Fall League. I haven’t seen much power yet, but his frame is so strong that I’m convinced the power will come. He’s had shoulder woes in the past, but those seem to be behind him at this point. He has very, very quick hands and a sweet, sweet swing. He is a bit too much “upper half” in his hitting approach right now, but once he learns to use his legs and trunk more efficiently, watch out. Diaz is the type of player that will quietly put up big enough numbers to have an impact at the major-league level. Maybe he won’t be a consistent All-Star, but he’ll get his share of attention. Like my “GUYS” that have come before him, I’m rooting for a solid career and good, steady play day in and day out from an outstanding prospect.”

Apparently the Baltimore Orioles agree with that assessment, as Diaz was the clear focal point in their pursuit and ultimate acquisition of the former Cuban player.

Diaz will join outfielder Austin Hayes as two very credible future outfielders if and when the team wants to shed the contract of Adam Jones or Danny Velencia, two current Orioles outfielders.

Right-handed pitchers Dean Kremer and Zach Pop as well as third baseman Ryan Bannon and infielder Breyvic Valera joined Diaz in leaving the Orioles for the Dodgers.

Kremer’s well above average fastball sits in the 91-96 miles per hour range, and it is his best pitch. He uses a complete repertoire that includes a good curveball, an average slider and a changeup. He is in development as a starter, and he should be able to remain in that role with Baltimore and has an expected graduation date of 2020. So he is a long-term hold and develop prospect.

Third baseman Ryan Bannon is known as of now for his defensive prowess as well as an above average arm. He is playing at Class-A Advanced this year, where he has already hit 20 home runs. It remains to be seen if his power holds at upper-level classifications as he progresses with the Orioles. The team already has Ryan Mountcastle as their best prospect. Mountcastle plays third base. It is more than likely the club would move Bannon before moving Mountcastle, who is much further along in development. I project Bannon to become a solid second baseman.

Right-hander Zach Pop has served as a closer this season in the Dodgers system. He brings has fastball at 97 to 98 miles per hour with regularity. He may well be developed as a late inning reliever with the Orioles, a role they will likely want to fill by the time Pop graduates to the major-league club in late 2019.

Breyvic Valera is a third baseman, and second baseman out of Venezuela. He is 26, so he has to move along in the Orioles system as his baseball clock is ticking. He played for the Dodgers parent club this year, appearing in 20 games and hitting .172 with five hits in 34 plate appearances. All his hits were singles. Valera was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals and he began his career with St. Louis with their Venezuelan team in the summer of 2010 when he was just 18.

Machado will bring some firepower to the Dodgers lineup for at least the rest of this season. Wearing new uniform number 8, Machado will likely slot second in the Dodgers batting order just ahead of Max Muncy. But that may change from game to game.

Lengthening their lineup with a power hitter like Machado makes great sense for the Dodgers. He didn’t break the Dodgers prospect bank, as the team is still loaded with young players to fill-in at the big league level for years to come. What Machado does is give the team a quality shortstop until incumbent Corey Seager returns from Tommy John surgery.

All the metrics indicate Machado is a better defensive third baseman than shortstop. However, Machado much prefers being more in the game at shortstop and he has expressed his delight at playing shortstop for the Dodgers. I would expect his next contract will have clarification for him to play shortstop, not third base.

It wouldn’t surprise if the Dodgers tried to shed some payroll this year so they can avoid a huge hit with the MLB luxury tax. I’m pretty sure they would love to retain Machado as a free agent signing if he proves to be worth his eventual asking price, and if his position and that of Seager are resolved. But that’s not until the offseason. His presence with the Dodgers is for here and for now.

Strong and powerful, the athletic centerpiece of the trade from the Orioles standpoint, Yusniel Diaz may be “the one that got away” from the Dodgers when it is all said and done a few years from now. But make no mistake, by trading for Machado, the Dodgers got their man.

FRANCISCO MEJIA GOES TO SAN DIEGO

Prior to the morning of July 19, 2018, Francisco Mejia was the top prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization. Signed as a catcher, but seeing playing time in the outfield before being traded to the San Diego Padres, Mejia boasts a top quality switch-hitting bat, his best overall skill. He should be able to hit for a solid batting average once all adjustments are made to his new league and new team. His hit tool is for real.

Mejia was traded to the Padres for left-handed All-Star reliever Brad Hand and right-handed reliever Adam Cimber. Both Hand and Cimber have joined the Indians bullpen.

It is ironic that Mejia was even available for the Indians to trade him to the Padres. But for fate stepping in, things may have been different. In July 2016, Cleveland thought they had traded Mejia, RHP Shawn Armstrong, shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang and outfielder Greg Allen to the Milwaukee Brewers for catcher Jonathan Lucroy. However, Lucroy did not receive assurance from Cleveland that he would be their No. 1 catcher in subsequent seasons. Lucroy chose to veto the trade, using a no-trade clause in his contract at the time with the Brewers.

Now, two weeks short of two years later, Mejia is on the move again. This time it is to the Padres.

With Austin Hedges an excellent defender behind the plate but a mediocre hitter at best, it makes one wonder why the Padres needed Mejia at the price of two quality relievers however, Mejia is known as a good hitter with gap power who has upside remaining in his entire game. Still only 22, Mejia can serve as a good hitting catcher or as a potential outfielder for San Diego. With Mejia and Hedges, the Padres can have a very reliable offensive/defensive tandem to deploy behind the plate for years to come.

While it is doubtful, it may be possible that either Hedges or Mejia will be used in trade to fetch an unmet need.

I have scouted countless games in which Mejia caught, played third base and left field. I have not seen him play right field, the Indians latest experiment to get his bat in the game prior to his trade to the Padres.

Mejia has a strong and accurate arm behind the plate. He has work to do on blocking balls in the dirt as well as in calling a game and serving as a shepherd to his pitchers. He is stiff and lacks range at third base. He is barely average as an outfielder at this early stage of his outfield transition/experiment. It seems apparent that Mejia prefers catching to playing anywhere else on defense.

I have always found Mejia to lack energy on the playing field. He shows no sense of urgency. He shows little outward sign that he enjoys playing the game. I once thought Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor or third baseman Jose Ramirez would make excellent mentors for Mejia. They both play with their hair on fire. Mejia could have learned how to play the game from them. Now he will likely find new mentors with San Diego. I hope so.

Brad Hand was used as an All-Star closer for San Diego. A lefty with deception, he fits a much needed role in the Indians pen. I see both Hand and current Indians closer Cody Allen sharing the 8th and 9th innings, depending upon the game matchups. Both can close. One can set-up for the other along with the currently injured Andrew Miller and newly acquired Adam Cimber. So in essence, the Indians have Hand, Allen, Miller, Cinder, and even Neil Ramirez to use from the 7th inning on.

Cinder is a sidearm/submarine type pitcher capable of facing both left and right-handed hitters. His funky delivery will add an interesting wrinkle to the bullpen arms available to manager Terry Francona. Veteran lefty Oliver Perez has added depth to the pen as well.

The encouraging aspect of this trade from both team’s perspective is the club control that comes with each of the three players involved.

Francisco Mejia has played only a total of 12 major-league games. He won’t be eligible for arbitration until 2021. He won’t be a free agent until 2024.

Brad Hand is signed through 2020 with a team option for 2021. He signed a three-year, $19.75MM contract that extends from this year until 2020. That’s a very reasonable price for a team like Cleveland with a prudent payroll.

Adam Cimber still has rookie status remaining this season. He will not be a free agent until 2024.

IMPACT AND RAMIFICATIONS OF THESE TRADES

The biggest loser in the Dodgers trade for Manny Machado has to be the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Last year, the Dbacks made a huge splash by acquiring J. D. Martinez at this time of year for middle infielders that weren’t part of the Dbacks future. In one of the best trades in Arizona’s history they sent prospect infielders Dawell Lugo, Sergio Alcantara and Jose King to the Detroit Tigers for Martinez, a power hitting outfielder who helped the Dbacks enter the postseason. Lugo is the highest rated among them, and he may have a nice future as a second baseman with Detroit as early as this year.

This year the Diamondbacks are once again looking for a slugger who can offer a knockout punch. They were supposedly “in” on the Machado dealings, but fell short. Arizona just doesn’t have prospects available to trade after literally emptying their prospect bank in recent years.

If the Dbacks are to fetch a hitter, they may have to be willing to use a major-league quality player or players in return. However, some of their expendable roster piece players have little to no trade value. For example, the team has three catchers on their 25-man roster. For me, the most valuable may well be John Ryan Murphy. That leaves Alex Avila or Jeff Mathis. Or maybe the Dbacks have their catchers ranked in a different order. Regardless, none of the three gets them close to trading for a slugger. They would need to find several quality players to get the bat they need.

What if the Diamondbacks are hopelessly out of the pennant race by July 31? What if they are six or seven games behind the Dodgers? Or maybe they’re even behind Colorado and/or San Francisco. Would they move free agent to be Patrick Corbin to a team like the Yankees for prospects? Why not? Would they trade free agent to be A. J. Pollock to a team for prospects? Why not?

Jeff Mathis, Daniel Descalso, and Jon Jay join Corbin and Pollock as players set to be free agents at the end of this year. Maybe one or more of them other than Corbin and Pollock have value elsewhere.

My point? I would trade Corbin and Pollock as quickly as possible and shore up my roster with major-league ready players for the future. I think chasing a playoff slot in 2018 will not bear fruit. I would want to get value for Corbin and Pollock. And maybe even Descalso before it is too late. I would try to add much needed depth to a thin organization.

We must not forget that the Diamondbacks organizational depth took an additional hit when their first selection in the 2018 First Year Player Draft, middle-infielder Matt McLain failed to sign a contract with Arizona. He was the 25th man chosen in the draft. It appears he is heading to UCLA as opposed to signing with the Dbacks. The Diamondbacks had $2,275,800 in slot money available for him and were said to have offered McLain the full slot value. He chose not to sign. Less unusual is the fact they failed to sign picks numbered 23, 26, 27, 29, 30, 32, 33, 34, 37, 39 and 40 as well.

The Diamondbacks will head to the second half of the season with a rotation of Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Patrick Corbin and Zack Godley. Clay Buchholz, currently on the DL with a left oblique strain should likely claim the 5th spot when it is needed. However, Shelby Miller, who returned from Tommy John surgery only to suffer an inflamed elbow is on the shelf after being told to rest after no structural damage was found in his elbow.

The Diamondbacks rotation is solid unless they suffer another injury or poor performance. If they do trade Corbin or any other starter, they must get a major-league starter in return.

Prior to dealing for Brad Hand and Adam Cimber I didn’t see any possible way for the Cleveland Indians to get past Houston, New York or Boston in a short playoff series.
Late in games this season, their bullpen just couldn’t hold any leads offered by a terrific starting rotation. Time and again Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger or Carlos Carrasco would leave a game with a lead, only to see the relief corps squander the lead and lose the game.

Maybe, just maybe the acquisitions of Hand and Cimber will change that dynamic.

Given that Andrew Miller and Cody Allen are pending free agents after this season, the Indians are well positioned with potential replacements for each of their roles in closer Hand and late-inning reliever Cimber. I feel the trade was a brilliant piece of work by the Indians front office.

The Indians now have another quality lefty in the pen to help Miller, and Oliver Perez, if they do, indeed, keep Perez. I hope they do. Having lefties available in Yankee Stadium could be very important to the team’s future hopes.

Obtaining Brad Hand as they did, the Indians kept him off the roster of the Yankees, Astros or Red Sox, their chief competitors. Those teams may still be looking for a bullpen piece, but Hand and Cimber are spoken for and are off the market.

DRIBBLERS

I was saddened when I heard and read about the racist, sexist, and homophobic tweets from the past by Brewers pitcher Josh Hader. Hader, like all of us, has learned there are consequences for everything we say and do. Everything. There is no valid excuse for horrible words that damage and hurt others. None. And to say “I take full responsibility for those words” is an empty phrase to me with no meaning. Who else would take responsibility for words he had written? They were his words. Unless taking “full responsibility” means, “OK, I did it.”

Saying he was “just a child” as some have indicated in response to Hader is totally ridiculous. A child is 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 or even 12. A child is not 17, the age at which Hader fired away tweet storms of vile words and feelings.

Yes, we all make mistakes. We must all, however, learn there are consequences for everything we say and do in life. Mr. Hader is now in an interesting learning curve.

———
Commissioner Rob Manfred has indicated he is open to MLB expanding by two teams. He gave no timetable for expansion. However, he did say that cities like Las Vegas, Charlotte, Nashville, Montreal, Vancouver and some day Mexican locations would be considered.

I do like the idea of balanced leagues with balanced schedules. But there is another way to achieve that which I will share later in this piece. Here are my thoughts on expansion and some negative aspects:

1-Why talk expansion when existing franchises are broken beyond repair in their current locations?. There is no hope for Tampa Bay and Oakland to be competitive in their current substandard homes. Yet I have not seen any official announcement that Tampa Bay is indeed moving to Ybor City on the other side of the bridge that separates Tampa from St. Petersburg. And if the new facility is approved, who’s paying the estimated $900,900,000 bill to build it? And if it is built, is there any indication the people of Tampa/St. Pete and the multiple Interstate corridors will support live baseball?

Oakland appears to be nearing a deal for a new stadium. When will that be announced? How long will it take to build? I have less concern that the Bay Area will support a relocated team within the same general area as their current county baseball park now. But in reality, talk of expansion is coming before the Oakland situation is resolved.

The Miami area is sending a very loud, clear and well earned message to the new ownership of the Miami Marlins. People are staying away from Marlins home games in droves. The situation is well earned by new ownership that has stripped the club of competitive exciting players in their persistent desire to save payroll. The situation is pitiful. The good people of greater Miami paid dearly in tax dollars for what is now a dinosaur.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have settled a lawsuit with their county owned stadium management board about the future of Chase Field. The Dbacks are free to flee their county lease before the lease is due to expire. Where will they go? Who pays the freight for the new stadium? I doubt the Diamondbacks have anywhere near the $1 billion it will take to find the Dbacks a new playground. Will the local Native American community foot the bill? If so, how do the Native community and the Dbacks both make enough money to keep a new complex afloat? I’m sure they’ve thought about that, right?

So until these knotty little issues (and more like them) are resolved, why even discuss expansion and get the hopes of several communities hanging on every word about a possible future baseball team coming to a community near them?

2-Where in the world will major-league baseball find enough pitchers to staff two new complete franchises that include clubs at Rookie, Class-A, Class-A Advanced, Double-A, Triple-A and major-league levels? And that doesn’t include multiple teams at some levels. That’s literally hundreds of new pitchers needed. Hundreds. And frankly, isn’t it tough enough already for clubs to complete their organizational pitching rosters? Aren’t existing clubs looking high and low for that 4th and 5th starter and those prized bullpen arms?

3-Is there enough interest in the sport and business of baseball to warrant 32 organizations in 32 cities and communities? Are enough people watching live baseball, televised baseball, and streamed baseball games and listening to baseball games on radio and devices to support two additional organizations? What happens when existing senior citizens, a large current market for baseball dies off? Are the future senior citizens, now in their 40’s excited about baseball? Are children 10, 11, and 12 excited about playing baseball? Or are they playing more soccer and basketball around the house? I wish I knew the definitive answers across the board-not just in one region of the country.

Before expansion, I believe professional baseball needs an injection of reality. A balanced schedule can be as easily achieved by reducing franchises. In fact, it may be a better solution than increasing franchises. Having 28 baseball organizations would be a good solution. Each club could have a roster of 30 players. I like it. Why expand when professional baseball can contract and achieve a better overall product for the remaining 28 teams with increased and more competitive rosters. I think that’s a much better solution. And no, I don’t want my team contracted. But no, I don’t want to watch games in empty stadiums, either.

Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff where we can discuss all our ideas and suggestions with each other.

About The Author

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Bernie's work has been featured on MLB Pipeline, MLB.com and FanRag Sports, among others. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff