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Familiar faces: Tigers, Yankees recall 2009 trade

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Familiar faces: Tigers, Yankees recall 2009 trade

When outfielder Austin Jackson tracks down a deep fly or Detroit Tigers teammate Phil Coke throws a scoreless inning of relief, New York general manager Brian Cashman doesn't fret about the fact that both players could still be Yankees.

``I don't block it out at all,'' Cashman said Tuesday in the visitors' dugout at Comerica Park before Game 3 of the AL championship series. ``We gave up good players, but you have to do that to get good players.''

On Dec. 9, 2009, Detroit dealt center fielder Curtis Granderson to New York in a three-team deal that also included Arizona. Jackson and Coke were sent from the Yankees to the Tigers, who also got Game 4 starter Max Scherzer from the Diamondbacks.

Granderson surpassed 40 homers and 100 RBIs in each of the past two seasons with the Yankees, finishing fourth in 2011 AL MVP voting. But he entered Game 3 hitless in seven at-bats with five strikeouts during this year's ALCS.

Jackson has been a key player for the Tigers in the field and at the plate. Coke gave up only one hit in three innings of relief to help them win the first two games at Yankee Stadium.

In the first trade of the 2009 winter meetings, Arizona acquired pitcher Edwin Jackson from Detroit and right-hander Ian Kennedy from the Yankees while the Tigers also got pitcher Daniel Schlereth from Arizona.

Granderson was - and is - a popular player in Detroit, but he was moved in a trade in which money - of course - was a factor. Granderson's salary was $10 million this year, while the Tigers received four players who cost less than $6 million combined.

``There's a lot of people in that trade, so it's hard to keep up with everybody,'' Scherzer said. ``Really, once I got traded over to Detroit, it has been a great home for me. I'm so happy to be in this city and play for this team and this organization. And to be a part of something special here is great, and hopefully we can keep going.''

Since the trade, there's been plenty of history between the teams. Detroit eliminated the Yankees in the first round of last year's playoffs, winning a decisive Game 5 in New York.

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EXTRA ARM: Cardinals pitcher Jake Westbrook was pumped up after throwing 49 pitches in a simulated game Tuesday, saying he'd be ready whenever the team needed him.

``Without a doubt. I feel strong in saying that, especially the way today went,'' Westbrook said. ``I have a lot of confidence after the way I threw today.''

The 13-game winner has been sidelined with a strained right oblique since Sept. 8. He's thrown off the mound four times and said he was eager to contribute. Westbrook could be available in the World Series if St. Louis gets past the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS.

``That would be great,'' Westbrook said. ``That's why I'm doing all this, to have that opportunity if need be, and just let them know I'm ready.''

The simulated game also allowed a few reserves, including Skip Schumaker, Matt Carpenter, Adron Chambers and injured Lance Berkman, to hone their swings.

``Jake threw very well,'' manager Mike Matheny said. ``It was a win all around. As we move forward, much like the Berkman question, we need to see what we have available, take a look at all the options and look at the opposition and be able to make an adjustment from there.''

Berkman, who has missed most of the season with knee problems, feels better but isn't optimistic about playing again this season. Thus far, he hasn't done much running.

``Miracle is probably a strong word, but it's certainly unexpected,'' Berkman said. ``I'm really actually pleased with where I am physically given how I felt two or three weeks ago.''

Westbrook said his next step is uncertain. He might throw another extended bullpen session to stay sharp.

Westbrook was hurt in a loss at home to Milwaukee. The right-hander recalled getting injured on a pitch that was no different from any other delivery, and then gutting out the rest of the inning.

``I kind of knew I was done after that,'' he said. ``It was probably not the smartest thing to keep throwing, but I wanted to kind of fight through it. I was able to get through the rest of the inning unscathed.''

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GO THE DISTANCE: Jack Morris knows all about heavy workloads.

The former Detroit Tigers ace threw out the ceremonial first pitch Tuesday night before Game 3 of the ALCS. Asked what he thought about Justin Verlander's shutout in Game 5 of the division series against Oakland, Morris took an unsolicited swipe at the Washington Nationals for shutting down Stephen Strasburg in September.

``I think everybody in the Washington Nationals' front office should pay attention that guys should go deep into games,'' Morris said. ``I shouldn't say that, should I?''

Strasburg was shut down with about 3 1/2 weeks left in his first ``full'' season following reconstructive elbow surgery. Wanting to protect his arm, the Nationals put an innings limit on their young ace.

Morris, who won seven postseason games for Detroit, Minnesota and Toronto, said Verlander isn't the only active pitcher working deep in games. He noted that CC Sabathia also threw a complete game to help the Yankees get past Baltimore in their previous series.

``It reminds me that there's still hope,'' Morris said. ``I believe the pitch count is overrated. I think the whole thing will come to fruition, the cycle, the experiment, and they will see that there is value in starting pitching to go deep in the games, to help save the bullpen.''

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Here's how the Nationals outfield could sustain the loss of Bryce Harper

Here's how the Nationals outfield could sustain the loss of Bryce Harper

If the Nationals can’t re-sign Bryce Harper, don't expect them to go searching for a high-priced free agent like Michael Brantley to replace him. 

(A note: This is still an if! We haven't closed the door on Harper staying in DC.) 

The Nationals already have a promising in-house solution if Harper walks: Victor Robles.

Robles is currently rated as the fourth-best prospect in baseball, according to MLBpipeline.com. Robles has played 34 games for the Nationals over the last two season including 21 in 2018.  His slash line this September was .288/.348/.525 with three doubles, three home runs, a triple, and 10 RBI.

Of course there's upsides to known quantities like Brantley - even if he comes with injury concerns: He hit .309 last year with 17 home runs and 76 RBI last season. In 2014, he finished third in American League MVP voting. He had a slash line of .307/.385/.506 with 45 doubles, 20 home runs, and 97 RBI. The following season, Brantley led the Majors with 45 doubles. 

If you can’t stand batters that strike out, Brantley is the guy for you.

In 613 plate appearances in 2018, Brantley struck out just 60 times. His 9.5 strikeouts per 100 at bats was tied for second-best in the MLB. By comparison, Harper’s strikeout ratio in 2018 was 24.3%. As a team, the Nationals finished tied for sixth in fewest strikeouts per game (7.96). Additionally, Brantley led qualified hitters in contact rate (90.9 percent) and swinging-strike rate (4.0 percent) in 2018. 

But even with all that, there's some question marks here if the Nats opt to swap Harper for a slightly lower-priced free agent: Brantley is a left fielder.

Over his career, Brantley has spent some time in center field but has not played there since 2015. What would the Nationals outfield alignment look like if they signed Brantley? 

Of the 112 games Juan Soto started with the Nationals this past season, all 112 were in left field. Adam Eaton’s strongest defensive position is right field. The likely answer would be move Soto to right field (where he played in the minors), Eaton to center, and keep Brantley in left field. Eaton was the Nationals’ Opening Day centerfielder in 2017.

So while a team like the Phillies may be looking to spend the money on an outfielder like Brantley, if Harper doesn't return, don't expect the Nationals to enter the market. 

At least not while their prospects look so promising.

MORE ON MICHAEL BRANTLEY

 

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Explaining my National League ROY ballot

Explaining my National League ROY ballot

This was tight. Really tight. A category for the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. A category for the Nationals’ Juan Soto.

Sorting through 16 categories showed Acuna and Soto should have split the National League Rookie of the Year award. It also showed me a narrow advantage for Soto, which is why I voted him first, Acuna second and Dodgers starter Walker Buehler third. Once the votes from other members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America were added, Acuna won, Soto was second and Buehler was third. It wasn’t close. It should have been.

First, a thought about the general process here: Writers take this seriously. Once assignments for the awards are distributed, we start to talk about them in the Nationals Park press box. Even non-voters hop in on the conversation. Sympathies are relayed to those who have an extremely tight choice, as I did this season and last when I voted for MVP (I’m big in Cincinnati thanks to my Joey Votto selection).

I outline specific categories, talk to opposing players and managers and watch as much as possible in order to come to a conclusion. The only thing easy about voting for ROY this season was the chance to see the leading candidates often since one played here and the other is in the division.

I used 16 categories to largely determine my vote. They were as follows: OPS, OPS+, Baseball Reference WAR, Fangraphs WAR, Baseball Prospectus WARP, OBP, WRC+, SB, HR, late-and-close OPS, 2 outs RISP OPS, BB:K ratio, WPA, “Clutch”, WOBA, and an overall defensive mark.

There’s no perfect formula here. But, when looking through those, Soto took nine, Acuna six and one, Fangraphs WAR, was even. That, coupled with Soto doing this in his age-19 season as the league’s youngest player (Acuna was just 20, so, like everything else the leader’s advantage here is slight), and talking to others in the league, prompted me to vote for Soto.

Again, the gaps were minute. Baseball Reference’s WAR formula favored Acuna. Fangraphs had them even. Baseball Prospectus put Soto clearly ahead. Soto was significantly better in late-and-close situations. Acuna was better with two outs and runners in scoring position.

If Soto had a distinct lead anywhere, it was via command of the strike zone, which is currently his premier talent. His walk and strikeout rates were both superior to Acuna. When asked about Soto, opponents and teammates alike brought it up.

However, Acuna is the better defender and baserunner. Points back to his favor.

Soto was intentionally walked 10 times signifying what opponents thought of dealing with him. Acuna was intentionally walked just twice (though his spot in the order has some influence there).

This ping-ponging of qualifications could go on.

What the National League East has is two of the best players in baseball. Not just young players at this stunningly low age, but two of the best. Soto was fourth in on-base percentage and seventh in OPS in the National League when adjusted to be among the qualified leaders (an explanation from Baseball Reference: In order to rank the player, the necessary number of hitless at bats were added to the player's season total.). Acuna was eighth in slugging under the same adjustment.

The 2019 All-Star Game is in Cleveland. Expect both to be there and this to be just the beginning of them being measured against each other.

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