Playing Fact or Fiction with MLB's Hottest 2016 Spring Training Buzz, Week 4
While excitement and optimism reign supreme in spring training, the injury bug's yearly debut has quashed some of those good vibes in a number of camps. Three pitchers—Atlanta's Andrew McKirahan, Miami's Carter Capps and Colorado's Jairo Diaz—have been lost for the year to Tommy John surgery.
Chances are they'll be joined on the sidelines by other pitchers, both starters and relievers, before Opening Day rolls around. But the injury bug hasn't only been making the rounds in bullpens this spring.
Will a contender make a drastic move to replace an injured All-Star infielder? Is a big name making big bucks about to lose his job to an inexpensive youngster? Do players, and not the team, make the final decisions on what roles they'll fill on an Opening Day roster?
We'll hit on all of that and more in this week's edition of Fact or Fiction.
Fact: Travis Shaw Will Get Semi-Regular Playing Time in Boston
Travis Shaw continues to make a strong impression on the powers-that-be in Boston, so much so that manager John Farrell may not be able to keep him off the field.
"Depending on how things shake out as we get through camp, he's earning the right to get on the field and stay active," Farrell told ESPN.com's Scott Lauber. "He's contributing. That's our job to make sure that he's getting semi-regular at-bats. He's earning them with each game played. He's earning more and more."
A corner infielder, the 25-year-old Shaw hit .270 with 23 extra-base hits (13 home runs), 36 RBI and an .813 OPS over 65 games last season. While it's important not to get too excited about that kind of production over such a small sample size (remember Will Middlebrooks?), Shaw looks like the real deal.
He's not going to supplant Hanley Ramirez at first base or Pablo Sandoval at third, but he can certainly spell Ramirez on occasion while playing the hot corner in place of Sandoval when the Red Sox are facing a left-handed pitcher, against whom Sandoval owns a career .673 OPS.
Fiction: St. Louis Will Trade for Erick Aybar to Replace Jhonny Peralta
If St. Louis shortstop Jhonny Peralta was going to miss the entire season, then all the speculation about the Cardinals potentially trading for Atlanta's Erick Aybar would make sense. But the torn ligament in his left thumb isn't a season-ending injury.
Could he be out of action until the All-Star break? It's a reasonable assumption to make. But after consulting with Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, who underwent a pair of surgeries to repair the same injury during the offseason, it's not an assumption Peralta is willing to agree with.
“Better to do it (surgery) now than try to wait,” Peralta told Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "If I do it now, I’ll be ready for June or something like that.”
Whether it's June or July that Peralta gets back on the field, the Cardinals do have in-house options to fill the void in utility infielders Greg Garcia, Jedd Gyorko and 25-year-old shortstop Aledmys Diaz. Of the three, Diaz looks to be the presumptive favorite to take over.
Even if the Cardinals wanted to bring in Aybar, there's no guarantee they could. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's David O'Brien, the Braves would have to be "blown away" to trade the 32-year-old former All-Star.
St. Louis isn't going to blow away the Braves—or any team—for a temporary fix.
Fact: Tim Lincecum Will Wind Up in San Diego
The most notable free agent left on the market, Tim Lincecum, is open to signing with any team—even one he spent the better part of a decade facing as a member of the San Francisco Giants.
"I don't know that he's got any affinity to any particular club," his agent, Rick Thurman, told Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune. "I haven't really discussed that with him. I know that he loves the West Coast. He's discussed the Padres with me. He's definitely got interest if they have interest in him. We'll just have to wait and see."
Per Thurman, San Diego has been "very active" in its pursuit of the 31-year-old, who was limited to only 76.1 innings of work in 2015 due to an injured hip that ultimately required surgery to repair. That there appears to be mutual interest isn't a coincidence—it's a calculated risk for both sides.
Lincecum gets to stay on the West Coast in a division he's familiar with and pitch at a ballpark he's had great success at in the past. In 18 career appearances (17 starts) at Petco Park, he's pitched to a 2.41 ERA and 1.10 WHIP over 116 innings of work while striking out 140 batters.
The Padres not only get another experienced starter to slot into the back end of their rotation, but they strengthen their bullpen as a result. Currently in the rotation, Brandon Maurer had a 3.00 ERA and 1.06 WHIP over 51 innings of relief for San Diego in 2015.
It's a partnership that would work for everyone involved—at least until the Padres try to flip Lincecum at the trade deadline.
Fiction: Ricky Nolasco Will Start the Season in Minnesota's Bullpen
Ricky Nolasco finds himself competing with Trevor May and Tommy Milone for the final spot in Minnesota's rotation, with the two losers in the race destined to join the Twins bullpen. That's not a place the veteran starter has any intention of visiting, however.
"If the club believes that he is better suited for a relief role," his agent, Matt Sosnick, explained to 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson, "Ricky has made it clear to me that he would directly address his feelings of disappointment to his manager and the GM, and that he would ask the team about his other options.”
Translation: If my client isn't in the starting rotation, he's going to demand a trade and become a distraction.
Normally, teams wouldn't take kindly to such assertions. Some might even push that player into the role he doesn't want to fill—partly out of spite, and partly to reaffirm that it's the team and not the player (or his agent) that makes the roster decisions.
But the Twins know they couldn't trade Nolasco right now, not with $24 million left on his contract and the 33-year-old pitching to a 5.64 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over his first two injury-filled, ineffective seasons in Minnesota.
They'll give Nolasco another chance to produce some semblance of a positive return on their investment before replacing him with Milone or top pitching prospect J.O. Berrios, who will be patiently waiting to make his major league debut while at Triple-A.
Fact: Tyler Naquin Will Be Cleveland's Opening Day Center Fielder
Tyler Naquin's star doesn't shine quite as brightly as it did when Cleveland made him the 15th overall selection in the 2012 draft, but the 24-year-old has made a strong case that he should be the one patrolling center field for the Tribe on Opening Day.
Manager Terry Francona told Cleveland.com's Zack Meisel:
So often, you see the guy that gets off to the hot start, he's the guy that everybody talks about. And I don't think you make a club the first week of camp. But I don't want to take away what he's done, either. The first week, he's been very impressive, and that's good because you're looking for that. But I don't think you just make your team out the first week of camp, either.
The Indians have options to replace Abraham Almonte, who will miss the first half of the regular season as he serves an 80-game suspension for taking performance-enhancing drugs. Veterans Collin Cowgill, Rajai Davis and Will Venable are all capable of filling the void left by Almonte's absence.
But unlike Naquin, none of them have any considerable upside. Cowgill has struggled to hit in the majors, while Davis and Venable are past their primes and best suited for part-time roles. Naquin isn't the next coming of Kenny Lofton, but he could prove to be better than any of the team's other options.
Francona will give him a chance to prove it.
Hit me up on Twitter to talk all things baseball: @RickWeinerBR.
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