Playing Fact or Fiction with MLB's Hottest 2016 Spring Training Buzz, Week 3
The games may not count, but with the 2016 exhibition season underway, baseball has finally returned. Split squads, games pitting professionals against amateurs, and a slew of players who have little chance of cracking an Opening Day roster are all on display as we creep closer to the regular season.
While meaningful baseball is only four weeks away, those four weeks will feel like four months, especially when things begin to go awry. Injuries, ineffectiveness and any number of off-field distractions all contribute to chipping away at the optimism that currently permeates through every team's camp.
And we've already begun to see those chips emerge.
Have injuries forced two teams to look outside their organizations for replacements? Will one of the game's premier sluggers get his wish? Is a once highly touted prospect about to become the victim of a numbers game?
We'll hit on all of that and more in this week's edition of Fact or Fiction.
Fact: Miami Will Add an Experienced Reliever
You can't help but think the first opinion of an MRI on the right elbow of Miami reliever Carter Capps was pretty bad when sources told the Miami Herald's Clark Spencer and Andre C. Fernandez that the Marlins had begun exploring trades for another reliever before getting a second opinion on the test results.
Capps, who has dealt with elbow issues in the past, had a ridiculous ratio of 16.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 2015, fanning 58 batters over 31 innings of relief while pitching to a 1.16 ERA and 0.81 WHIP. Expectations were high for the 25-year-old in 2016 prior to this setback, with some speculation that he'd replace incumbent closer A.J. Ramos.
“We have a lot of guys in the pen that can step it up,” Ramos told Spencer and Fernandez. “Obviously it makes things easier if Capps is here with us, but there are guys that have been there and we’re still in good shape.”
While the Marlins have internal options to replace Capps, including Kyle Barraclough and Bryan Morris, neither one is an ideal late-inning reliever—Barraclough due to shaky command (6.7 walks per nine innings) and Morris due to a lack of whiffability, as he's averaging well below a strikeout per inning over his four-year career.
Rebuilding clubs such as Atlanta, Cincinnati and Milwaukee all have a number of available relievers who could be of interest to the Marlins, and there are always some veterans who unexpectedly become available as spring training rolls along.
If Capps is indeed going to be out of action for a significant amount of time, the Marlins will add an experienced reliever from outside the organization to fill the void.
Fiction: Raising the Fences at Coors Field Will Help the Rockies
In an effort to make Coors Field less of a hitter's paradise (and a pitcher's nightmare), the Colorado Rockies announced that they'll be raising some of the venue's outfield walls before Opening Day.
"The goal is to raise the wall heights to make it potentially more playable and more fair—for pitchers," Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich told the Denver Post's Nick Groke. "We really don't know, exactly, the effect it is going to have. We are going to live it together, this year, and see what happens."
That makes sense—higher walls should lead to fewer home runs. With Rockies pitchers allowing 100 round-trippers at home—the third-highest total in the majors—those extra few feet could result in a few more postgame celebrations at Coors Field.
But those raised fences aren't going to help an offense that hit nearly 55 percent of its home runs on the season (102 of 186) at home and has struggled to hit on the road for more than a decade. Nor will they help improve the team's outfield defense, which advanced metrics grade as one of baseball's worst.
"Balls that hit the fence are now going to bounce like they hit a chain-link fence, which isn't always predictable," Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon told Groke. "It'll kill the bounce. So you'll see outfielders have to go farther out to field the ball, which could allow more triples."
As for the notion that Gerardo Parra's arrival represents a significant upgrade in left field, think again. As FanGraphs' August Fagerstrom wrote in November, "We’re now 2,000 innings removed from his Gold Glove 2013 season, and everything seems to be trending the wrong way."
Essentially, the Rockies traded some relief on their pitching staff for additional constraints on their offense and defense.
Fact: Edwin Encarnacion Will Sign an Extension to Stay in Toronto
Toronto Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion is entering the final year of his contract. Preliminary discussions about an extension have already taken place, according to Sportsnet's Shi Davidi. Chances are, those discussions are only going to intensify over the next few weeks.
Since 2012, only two players have hit at least 150 home runs—Baltimore's Chris Davis (159) and Encarnacion (151). He's also one of four players to drive in at least 400 runs (423) and one of nine who have posted an OPS above .900 during that time.
The 33-year-old slugger won't negotiate once the regular season begins, but he didn't hide his desire to get a deal worked out before then.
“I want to stay on this team, I love this team, I love this city but it [doesn’t] depend on me,” he told Davidi last week. “It depends what they’re thinking. I hope we get it done so I can stay here for the rest of my career.”
With Encarnacion and Jose Bautista both set to hit free agency after the season—and Bautista looking destined to test the market after refusing to waver on his asking price, which has been reported as being more than $150 million, per TSN's Rick Westhead—the Blue Jays can't afford to not get a deal done.
Fiction: Kansas City Will Add a Free Agent to Replace Jarrod Dyson
A strained right oblique forced Jarrod Dyson from Kansas City's exhibition opener and is expected to keep him out of action for at least six weeks, according to the Kansas City Star's Rustin Dodd.
With former Royals David DeJesus and Alex Rios, along with veterans Marlon Byrd, Austin Jackson and Grady Sizemore, still available as free agents, could the club fill the void from outside the organization?
The Royals aren't going to bring any of those players into camp, despite the fact that oblique injuries tend to linger and are easily reaggravated. Including Dyson, the defending world champions have 10 outfielders on their 40-man roster—and others in camp as non-roster invitees.
From veterans such as Terrance Gore and Travis Snider to prospects such as Jorge Bonifacio, Brett Eibner, Jose Martinez and Bubba Starling, the Royals have plenty of internal options to replace Dyson, who was set to split time with Paulo Orlando in right field.
There's simply no reason for Kansas City to add to its payroll before Opening Day.
Fact: Ruben Tejada Won't Make the Mets' Opening Day Roster
Ruben Tejada, whose broken leg at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers' Chase Utley this past October led to MLB rewriting the rules about sliding into second base, is healthy and in camp with the New York Mets. But sentimentality doesn't guarantee that the 26-year-old infielder will break camp with the club.
“A lot depends on how spring training goes,” a team source told Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News regarding the shortstop's status. “We’ll have to see.”
A career .255/.330/.323 hitter, Tejada offers little value as a right-handed pinch hitter on a bench that is heavy on right-handed bats, as Alejandro De Aza is the only left-handed bat in the group. With Wilmer Flores set to serve as the team's primary utility infielder, Tejada doesn't have a role to fill.
If Tejada is able to put together a strong spring, perhaps the Mets will trade him to a team in need of some middle infield depth. If he's not, the club will simply release him and look to add another left-handed bat before Opening Day arrives.
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