2017 MLB Midseason Awards: Best and worst trade value changes

2017 MLB Midseason Awards: Best and worst trade value changes

The Pirates look pretty good right now, not in terms of the NL playoff picture, but for holding on to Andrew McCutchen through the winter.

Pittsburgh didn't like the offers it received for McCutchen, who was coming off the worst season of a career in which he had hit .298/.388/.496 entering 2016.

Last season, McCutchen hit just .256/.336/.430. He was entering his thirties and had lost some foot speed, so naturally, that one offseason led to the widespread opinion that his decline phase had set in.

Why is it that we so often cite the need for a large sample size, then write a player off after one down year?

McCutchen is not finished. At the All-Star break, he's hitting .294/.380/.528, and that's after hitting just .200 through 45 games. McCutchen over the last calendar month has hit .409 with a .505 on-base percentage.

Which is why he receives the prestigious honor of Player Who Helped His Trade Value the Most.

Other candidates: J.D. Martinez, Jay Bruce, Zack Cozart, Yonder Alonso, Pat Neshek, Raisel Iglesias, Freddy Galvis

As for the other end of the spectrum ...

Player Who Hurt His Trade Value the Most — Carlos Gonzalez
For this one, we're not looking at every player in the league but rather actual trade candidates. Manny Machado, for example, has had a bad first half by his standards, but it's not like he's being shopped.

CarGo had a brutal first half, hitting .221/.299/.338 with six homers, 22 RBIs and 64 strikeouts in 263 at-bats. He's never been this lackluster in Colorado.

On June 6, Gonzalez went 2 for 2 with a homer, two RBIs, two walks and four runs. The Rockies were hoping it was the start of a CarGoesque hot streak. It wasn't — he has 10 hits and 20 strikeouts in 70 plate appearances since.

This season-long slump from the soon-to-be 32-year-old is unfortunate for the Rockies, who have contended in 2017 even without his bat and have enough in the outfield to trade him away, especially with the emergence of Raimel Tapia.

The Rockies weren't going to get a ton for Gonzalez even if he had a strong first half because he's a free agent after the season. But at this point, he's in that Jeremy Hellickson range where he'd be a decent fit in some places but has so high a 2017 salary that you won't accomplish both goals of shedding payroll and getting a significant prospect in return. For the Phillies, that doesn't matter because they're willing to pay what they need to pay to get a deal done. The Rockies are in a different financial situation, though.

There's also still the possibility that Gonzalez gets hot. What did we just say about writing a player off after a small sample? In 2015, CarGo hit .259 with a .766 OPS and 13 homers in 82 games in the first half, then went crazy after the break, hitting .285 with 27 homers and a .975 OPS in 71 games.

Other candidates: Julio Teheran, Marco Estrada, Jeremy Hellickson, Hector Neris

Most Underrated First Half — Justin Turner
I was ready to boycott the All-Star Game if Turner didn't get in via the final vote. OK, maybe not. But I would have been crotchety about it. 

Like, how insane of a first half did the guy need to have just to barely make it onto the NL bench? He hit .377 with a 1.056 OPS in 65 games, missing a little less than three weeks with a hamstring injury. Turner and Daniel Murphy are legitimately two of the top seven hitters in the National League, which is hilarious because both were Mets as recently as 2013.

The young, exciting duo of Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger has gotten the bulk of attention out west, plus there's that Clayton Kershaw guy and Kenley Jansen's record-breaking 50-strikeout, 0-walk start to the season. Turner's name doesn't yet carry the same weight, but enough people are finally beginning to take notice.

Over his last 162 games, Turner has hit .328 with 43 doubles, 34 home runs, 110 RBIs and 99 runs. This season, he's walked more than he's struck out. 

Runners on first and third, down two runs with two outs in the ninth inning: How many hitters are you taking ahead of Justin Turner?

Other candidates: Logan Morrison, Justin Smoak, Mike Moustakas, Alex Wood, Felipe Rivero, Jason Vargas, Brad Peacock

Most Predictable First Half (Team) — Oakland Athletics
The last-place A's have a bunch of power hitters who walk a lot, strike out a lot and play poor defense. 

Unsurprisingly, they're eighth in homers but 23rd in runs, they have the third-most strikeouts and nine more errors than any other team.

Maybe this isn't the way to build a club?

Most Predictable First Half (Player) — Daniel Murphy
Murphy last season: .347/.390/.595, 47 doubles, 25 homers, 104 RBIs

Murphy this season: .342/.393/.572, on pace for 53 doubles, 26 homers, 118 RBIs

All the guy does is hit. In a sport in which consistency is so often mentioned but so hard to find, Murphy defines it. You know what you're getting every night, against all kinds of pitching, home or away.

Worst 1-Year Deal — Michael Saunders, Bartolo Colon
Difficult to choose between these two. Saunders signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Phillies that carries a value of $9 million because of next year's buyout. 

For that $9 million, the Phillies got 200 at-bats of a .205 hitter with the lowest on-base percentage in either league (.257).

The Braves signed Colon to a one-year deal worth $12.5 million. They did not expect him to drop off so drastically from his age-43 to age-44 seasons but he did, and on July 4 he was released. Colon had a 3.43 ERA and .268 opponents' batting average last season and was an All-Star. In 13 starts with the Braves, he went 2-8 with an 8.14 ERA and .338 opponents' batting average. 

Saunders signed a minor-league deal with the Blue Jays after being let go by the Phillies, while Colon has resurfaced with the Twins.

Other candidates: Neftali Feliz, Mike Napoli

Best 1-Year Deal — Greg Holland
More than half of the league — and that includes the Phillies — was interested in Holland this past offseason as he worked back from Tommy John surgery. The formal Royals closer missed all of 2016 but was so good in his last two full seasons, making the AL All-Star teams in 2013 and 2014 and posting a 1.32 ERA in 133 games.

The Rockies eventually won his services with a one-year, $6 million contract loaded with incentives. He's been so good that, barring injury, he's going to hit at least nine of the 11 incentive benchmarks on his contract to make this a $13 million year.

Either way, the Rockies are happy to have him. Holland (1.62 ERA) leads the National League with 34 games finished and leads the majors with 28 saves.

Yankees GM calls Phillies' Rob Thomson one of the best in business

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Yankees GM calls Phillies' Rob Thomson one of the best in business

CLEARWATER, Fla. – According to New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, “the Phillies got one of the best,” when they hired Rob Thomson as bench coach.

“It was tough to see him leave,” Cashman said. “He is a great coach, an exceptional baseball man. His knowledge of the game is off the charts.

“Gabe Kapler has someone at his side that he can trust to have everything lined up properly all the time and that will free up Gabe Kapler to focus on whatever he wants to focus on at the given time. Rob Thomson will keep the rudder steady every step of the way."

Thomson, 54, spent 28 years in the Yankees organization, most recently as Joe Girardi’s bench coach. He was one of five people (along with Eric Wedge, Hensley Muelens and Carlos Beltran) to interview to become Girardi’s successor during the offseason (see story.) Aaron Boone got the job.

Timing worked in the Phillies’ favor in hiring Thomson. There was a lag between when Thomson found out he would not be the Yankees’ manager and Boone’s hiring. The Phillies offered him their bench coach job and he took it.

“He would have been a candidate to return here, without question,” Cashman said. “It would have been the final call of Aaron Boone, but I would have recommended him highly to Aaron Boone. I gave (Phillies GM) Matt Klentak the highest recommendation.”

Thomson described himself as a good self-evaluator. He’s not sure he’d be cut out to manage every team, but he believed he’d have been a good fit for the Yankees job. He knew that organization, its operation and its players well.

“I understand that it’s part of the business,” Thomson said. “Brian and his staff, who are very smart people, had a certain person in mind and it wasn’t me. So you have to move on and refocus.”

Kapler did extensive research on Thomson and said he often heard that Thomson was “the best in the business at planning and running a spring training camp.”

Cashman concurred.

“Gabe Kapler has as good a right-hand man as you can find,” he said.

One plugged-in baseball observer described Thomson as similar to the late John Vukovich – a loyal-to-his-manager baseball taskmaster – only with a little less volume in his voice.

“He’s tough,” Cashman said. “He will be brutally honest. He’ll say what a player needs to hear, not necessarily what a player wants to hear. And he’ll always relate well to players because he always has their best interest at heart.

“The Phillies got one of the best.”

New bench coach Rob Thomson is Yankees’ loss, Phillies' gain

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New bench coach Rob Thomson is Yankees’ loss, Phillies' gain

CLEARWATER, Fla. – It will probably hit Rob Thomson sometime on Sunday. That’s when the New York Yankees visit Spectrum Field, the Phillies’ spring-training home.

Thomson spent 28 seasons in the Yankees’ famous pinstripes, serving in player-development, front-office and coaching roles.

Most recently, he was the bench coach for former Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Thomson was one of five people interviewed to replace Girardi after last season. Aaron Boone got the job, but Thomson wasn’t a free agent for long. The Phillies quickly scooped up the 54-year-old baseball lifer and installed him as new manager Gabe Kapler’s top lieutenant.

On Sunday, Thomson will look across the diamond and see his past.

But all he’s thinking about is the future.

“I feel like I’m part of the Phillies family already,” he said. “The people have been great. They’ve welcomed me right in.

“I’m here to support Gabe in any way I can. I’ve got his back all the time.”

Phillies management wanted a veteran coaching presence around the 42-year-old Kapler, whose only managing experience came a decade ago in the low minors. New pitching coach Rick Kranitz held that position with three other clubs over 10 seasons. New hitting coach John Mallee previously held that position with the Astros and Cubs.

Thomson worked on Joe Torre’s staff before working under Girardi. He lived through the Yankees’ growth as one of baseball’s analytic giants. He's just what the Phillies and Kapler were looking for.

“I ask everybody everything all the time,” Kapler said. “I contacted no fewer than 20 people about Rob and heard nothing even remotely negative. I weigh that more than a six-hour interview. You might nail the interview, but you can’t fake your career.”

Kapler’s most valuable appraisal came from Girardi, who said Thomson was an incredible teammate.

“In my opinion, that’s the best compliment anyone in baseball can give,” Kapler said.

Thomson is a former catcher. He played on the 1984 Canadian Olympic team and in the Tigers' farm system before joining the Yankees’ player development department.

While working on Torre’s staff, Thomson learned the value of trust.

“Joe Torre was really into relationships and gaining trust with a player and that taught me a lot,” Thomson said. “Before you can really help players, they have to be able to trust you.

“With Joe Girardi, he was a little more analytics-driven so that taught me a lot. We’d always looked at numbers but it taught me to really dive into some of the more critical numbers that are around today.

“In a lot of ways, Gabe reminds me of Joe (Girardi) because of his presence and openness to ideas. Those are great qualities for a leader to have.”

Thomson arrives at work pre-dawn in spring training to plan the day. He is known to arrive at noon for a regular season night game. With data study, scouting reports, video, one-on-one coaching and meetings, the preparation for a single game rivals what happens in the NFL – only it happens every day. When game time arrives, Thomson will be at Kapler’s side, making suggestions and offering ideas (see story). He said he takes nothing personal, so Kapler can wave him off any time.

“But I won’t," Kapler said with a laugh. “I need that.”