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Predicting 'Boom or Bust' for the Riskiest MLB Experiments of 2013

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2013

Predicting 'Boom or Bust' for the Riskiest MLB Experiments of 2013

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    Each spring in the MLB, there are a number of interesting storylines to follow as teams undertake one risky experiment or another in an attempt to improve for the coming season.

    Whether it is changing a player's position, signing a risky free agent to serve in a key role or opting against re-signing a key player in favor of an in-house option, teams take some big chances each offseason.

    Here is a look at the 10 riskiest MLB experiments of 2013, as well as predictions on whether the results will be boom or bust for the team and players involved.

1. Signing Brian Wilson to a Major League Deal

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    While a number of teams have shown interest in Brian Wilson on a minor league deal, Adam Rubin of ESPN tweeted in the middle of January that Wilson is determined to land a major league deal.

    Coming off Tommy John surgery, Wilson, who was slated to make $6.8 million this season, was non-tendered to start the offseason.

    As teams continue to put the finishing touches on their bullpens, someone should be willing to give Wilson a big league deal.

    But after what was the second elbow surgery of his career and at the age of 31, Wilson may not be more than a middle reliever the rest of his career.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Bust, unless he settles for a minor league deal or can be had for $1 million or less.

2. Reds Move Shin-Soo Choo from Right Field to Center Field

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    After struggling with Drew Stubbs (.610 OPS) and Zack Cozart (.687 OPS) hitting at the top of the order, the Reds desperately needed to find a center fielder capable of being a table-setter.

    For better or worse, they got their guy in Shin-Soo Choo, acquiring him in a three-team trade with the Indians and Diamondbacks for shortstop Didi Gregorius.

    With a .381 career on-base percentage and a pair of 20/20 seasons under his belt, Choo should be a welcome addition to the Reds' lineup.

    The biggest question will likely be how he handles moving to center field, where he has just 10 games under his belt.

    While he's lacking in experience, he consistently ranks among the best right fielders in range factor, and he has the speed and arm to make a smooth transition.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom. He'll play solid defense and give the Reds a .370-plus OBP hitting out of the leadoff spot.

3. Mets Bolster Bullpen with Trio of Veterans on Minor League Deals

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    Last season, the Mets' 4.65 bullpen ERA was the second worst in baseball, and they lost one of their most reliable arms to free agency in Jon Rauch.

    While they're close to adding a solid setup man in Brandon Lyon, they are relying heavily on a trio of veterans on minor league deals to turn things around in the 'pen.

    Pedro Feliciano hasn't pitched in the majors since his last go-around with the Mets, when he made a career-high 92 appearances in 2010. The Yankees signed him to a two-year deal, but injuries kept him from ever taking the field.

    LaTroy Hawkins spent last season with the Angels, making 48 appearances with a 3.64 ERA in 42 innings. Now 40 years old, his strikeout rate fell to 4.9 K/9 last season. He clearly doesn't have the same stuff he once did.

    Scott Atchison was a surprisingly reliable arm in the Red Sox bullpen last season, making 42 appearances and posting a 1.58 ERA in 51.1 innings. The 37-year-old journeyman doesn't have a sparkling track record,  though, and expecting those kind of numbers again is asking a little much.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom for one of the three. My money is on Feliciano.

4. White Sox Cut Ties with A.J. Pierzynski, Name Tyler Flowers Starting Catcher

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    Last season, a 35-year-old A.J. Pierzynski enjoyed one of the best seasons of his 15-year career, hitting a career-high 27 home runs while driving in 77 runs and hitting .278 to win his first Silver Slugger.

    After making $6 million last season and likely earning a raise, the White Sox let Pierzynski walk in free agency. He signed a one-year, $7.5 million deal with the Rangers.

    Tyler Flowers, one of the team's top prospects, will replace him behind the plate, Last season, the 27-year-old hit .213, with seven home runs and 13 RBI in 136 at-bats. But he has a .275/.391/.484 line and 80 home runs in six minor-league seasons, so the tools are there for him to make a positive offensive impact.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom. He won't match Pierzynski's numbers from last season, but a .270 batting average, 15 home runs and  60-RBI seem doable.

5. Orioles Sign Jair Jurrjens to Be No. 5 Starter

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    After going 13-6 with a 2.96 ERA in 2011 and making his first All-Star team, Jair Jurrjens looked like one of the game's top young starters.

    He entered the 2012 season at the age of 26 and appeared ready to emerge as one of the game's elite starters atop the Braves' staff.

    Instead, he struggled to a 9.37 ERA through his first four starts and wound up demoted to Triple-A. For the season, he made 11 appearances for the Braves (10 starts) and went 3-4 with a 6.89 ERA, leading to his non-tender this offseason.

    The Orioles signed him to a one-year, $1.5 million contract to compete for their fifth starter spot, and he represents perhaps the biggest offseason addition for the team.

    As bad as he was last season, signing him to a minor league deal and making him earn his spot in the spring may have been the safer route for Baltimore. Until he proves he's returned to form, it's hard to look past last season.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Bust. His leash will be a short even if he does win the job with so many in-house options to replace him. I'll be surprised if he wins the job out of camp.

6. Blue Jays Sign Melky Cabrera to a Two-Year, $16 Million Deal

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    One of the biggest stories of the first half last season was the emergence of outfielder Melky Cabrera, who came to the Giants  in an offseason trade for left-hander Jonathan Sanchez.

    Cabrera was hitting .346/.390/.516 on August 14 and appeared headed for a big offseason payday, but a positive PED test earned him a 50-game suspension and marked the end of his time with the Giants.

    Even though he was eligible to return for the postseason, the Giants opted to keep him off the roster and made no attempt to re-sign him this offseason.

    The Blue Jays jumped at the chance to add him, signing the 28-year-old to a two-year deal worth $8 million per season. He'll play left field and hit second in their stacked lineup.

    Now, the question remains, is he the player he was last year in San Francisco, the guy who hit ..305/.339/.470 in Kansas City in 2011? Or the guy who hit .255/.317/.354 in Atlanta in 2010? If he can settle somewhere between his 2010 and 2011 numbers, he'd be a solid pickup.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom. Thanks to a loaded lineup around him and solid on-base skills, he'll post a .325 OBP and approach 100 runs scored.

7. The Yankees' Catcher by Committee

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    When the Pirates signed Russell Martin to a two-year, $17 million deal early this offseason, it completely changed the Yankees' catching plans, as they were expected to bring back Martin on a one-year deal.

    Opting against signing the likes of A.J. Pierzynski, Mike Napoli and a number of second-tier guys, the Yankees will instead turn catching duties over to some combination of Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine.

    The 31-year-old Stewart, who has a .583 OPS in six big-league seasons, was acquired from the Giants last season.

    Cervelli is 26 and has seen just 490 at-bats over parts of five seasons, though he has a decent .271/.339/.353 line. One has to wonder if he can put up those numbers in extended at-bats.

    The wild card is Romine, who ranked among the top catching prospects in the game, but played just 31 games last season while battling injury. The 24-year-old likely has to prove himself healthy and productive in the minors before the Yankees will even consider making him part of the equation.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Bust. They'll be looking to acquire someone by midseason when neither Stewart nor Cervelli is hitting better than .225, and Romine is still in the minors.

8. The Upton Brothers Playing Together on Braves

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    With the departure of Michael Bourn in free agency and the retirement of Chipper Jones, the Braves found themselves needing a pair of outfielders to shore up their roster.

    The center field void was filled quickly, as the team signed B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75.25 million deal in late November.

    Despite having one of the most impressive skill sets in all of baseball, B.J. has not always seen that translate to production. For instance, he hit a career-high 28 home runs and swiped 31 bases in 2012, but he did it while hitting just .246 with a dismal .298 on-base percentage.

    Those questions marks were enough for the deal to quickly be described as one of the offseason's worst.

    However, the Braves then made things significantly more interesting when they sent a package of players to the Diamondbacks for outfielder Justin Upton.

    Still just 25 years old, Justin has been knocking on the door of superstardom for years. However, he took a step back last season and was in desperate need of a change of scenery.

    Could Atlanta reap the rewards of the two brothers pushing each other, leading to career years from both of them?

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom. The answer to that question is yes. Yes they could.

9. Tigers Turn Closer's Role over to Top Prospect Bruce Rondon

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    Former All-Star closer Jose Valverde struggled down the stretch last season, to the point that the team turned to left-handed setup man Phil Coke to close games during the team's postseason run.

    With Valverde gone in free agency, the Tigers opted to address the vacancy in-house, as they didn't sign anyone on the free-agent market to compete for the job.

    The team has a handful of veterans capable of landing the role, with Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Al Alburquerque and Coke all solid options.

    However, the front-runner for the job is flame-throwing prospect Bruce Rondon, who has yet to make his big league debut but recorded 29 saves with a 1.53 ERA and 11.2 K/9 over three minor-league levels last season.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom. The 22-year-old may see some bumps along the way, but he has the stuff to not only hold the job all season, but quickly emerge as one of the game's best stoppers, a la Craig Kimbrel a few years back.

10. Reds Move Aroldis Chapman from Bullpen to Rotation

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    Last season saw a number of pitchers make the move from the bullpen to the rotation with varying results. Chris Sale, Kris Medlen and Jeff Saardzija emerged as staff aces, Daniel Bard struggled and Nefatli Feliz battled injury.

    The biggest name making the move this season is Aroldis Chapman, who was an All-Star closer last season. He saved 38 games with a ridiculous 122 strikeouts in 71.2 innings of work.

    With the re-signing of Jonathan Broxton to close, the Reds opted to give Chapman a crack at the No. 5 spot in the rotation, bumping Mike Leake to the bullpen or minors in the process.

    One of the biggest reason for the Reds' success last season was that their five Opening Day starters made all but one start. So messing with that five-man group is a risky proposition.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Bust. I don't expect Chapman to be ruined the way Bard was last season in Boston. But after a few short outings, or perhaps an injury, I see him ending up back in the role he thrived in last season—at least for 2013, until they give the transition another go.

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