Playing Fact or Fiction with MLB's Hottest 2016 Spring Training Buzz, Week 7
The countdown to Opening Day is down to mere days, and with each passing hour, the anticipation and excitement for the return of meaningful baseball only grows. That anticipation doesn't just lie with fans, either. It affects players, pundits, managers and front office executives as well.
For those last two groups, that excitement and anticipation is mixed with pressure and anxiety. Final roster decisions need to be made, putting them in potentially uncomfortable positions, especially when it involves delivering bad news to players about their Opening Day status.
Does a dominant spring ensure a player's spot in an Opening Day rotation? Is a former All-Star's career over? Will there be fisticuffs in the first night game of the season?
We'll hit on all of that and more in this week's edition of Fact or Fiction.
Fact: Juan Nicasio Will Start the Season in Pittsburgh's Bullpen
If individual awards were handed out after spring training, Juan Nicasio would have to be considered the Grapefruit League's favorite for the Cy Young. He's struck out 24 batters over 15 scoreless innings, scattering 10 hits and five walks while holding the opposition to a .189 batting average.
Yet it's Ryan Vogelsong, the owner of a 6.08 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in spring training, who will start the regular season as Pittsburgh's fifth starter, not Nicasio. And there's nothing he could have done about it.
"Either Vogelsong or Nicasio will get the final spot, and the other will pitch in relief," wrote Bill Brink for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "but the fact that Jared Hughes will almost certainly start the season on the disabled list seems to indicate Nicasio, who has recent and effective bullpen experience, will pitch in relief."
Nicasio made 52 relief appearances for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015, pitching to a 3.83 ERA and 1.56 WHIP while averaging more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings of work. Vogelsong also worked in relief, spending part of the year in San Francisco's bullpen, but to disastrous results (5.68 ERA, 1.90 WHIP).
It may not be fair, and it's certainly not welcome news to the fantasy owners who drafted him, but it's the right move for the Pirates to make.
Fiction: It's the End of the Line for Nick Swisher
The last time Nick Swisher put together a quality season was way back in 2013, when Wil Myers was the American League Rookie of the Year and before Derek Jeter announced that 2014 would be his last year in the majors.
It's been awhile.
So the news that Atlanta had released him came as no surprise to anyone. Generally speaking, 35-year-old players on surgically repaired knees with a $15 million salary and a combined .204 batting average and .617 OPS over the past two seasons have no place on rebuilding teams.
Or any team, for that matter. But his career is not yet over.
With Atlanta on the hook for the bulk of Swisher's old deal, a new team would only have to pay him a prorated minimum salary if it wanted to bring him aboard. While he didn't have a great spring, hitting .238 with a .670 OPS, he walked as often as he struck out and, more importantly, showed he was healthy.
That's enough for an AL team looking for another bat to toss a minimum salary offer his way, especially since there's hardly any risk in doing so. If he stinks, he can be released with little financial impact. If he shows some life as a part-time designated hitter, he could be a huge bargain.
Fact: Baltimore Will Add Another Outfielder Before Opening Day
The two-year, $7 million contract Baltimore signed Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim to over the winter contained a clause that the Orioles couldn't send him to the minors without his consent. According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Kim is willing to sign off on starting the season in Triple-A, which is good news for the O's.
Rather than carry Kim, who looked overmatched and overwhelmed at points this spring on their roster, and rather than be forced to release him, the Orioles get to continue working with him while clearing a spot for another outfielder on their 25-man roster.
Veterans like Chris Denorfia, Justin Maxwell, Shane Robinson and Drew Stubbs are right-handed options who have recently hit the open market, while David Murphy represents one of the few left-handed hitting corner outfielders available.
Adding a lefty bat like Murphy's, one that's known more for getting on base than for power, makes the most sense for the Orioles. It would allow them to stick with their plan to use Rule 5 draft pick Joey Rickard as part of a left field platoon until Kim shows he's ready in the minors.
On the trade market, Alejandro De Aza of the New York Mets could be a target, while Cincinnati's Jay Bruce would be a more expensive addition, though he would provide significantly more offensive production.
One way or another, the Orioles will have a new outfielder on board before their season begins.
Fiction: There Will Be Blood in World Series Rematch
Citing "multiple industry sources," Newsday's Marc Carig reported that the Kansas City Royals intended to seek retribution against the New York Mets on Opening Night for a Noah Syndergaard fastball that soared over the head of Alcides Escobar in Game 3 of last year's World Series.
Royals manager Ned Yost was quick to dismiss the report. "Some buffoon writes something and you guys are gonna jump like little monkeys in a cage for a peanut," Yost remarked, per Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. "We haven't even thought about it. Our retribution was winning the World Series."
It's hard to believe that nobody associated with the Royals thought about retribution when the schedule was released, or that it hasn't come up at all during spring training. Without question, there are players in that clubhouse who believe payback is due.
It's also hard to believe that the Royals would broadcast their intentions at all, much less days in advance.
Think about it this way. You're back in middle school or high school and someone's done you wrong. Are you going to plaster fliers all over the hallways alerting that person, teachers and the principal about your plans for revenge, or are you simply going to hatch your diabolical scheme and act when the time is right?
You can bet that the umpires (and perhaps the commissioner's office) will speak with both teams before the series gets underway, perhaps going as far as to issue pregame warnings against any funny stuff.
Nobody wants to start the season off by getting thrown out of a game and risking possible discipline, whether it be a fine, suspension or both. Whether or not Carig's initial report was accurate, nothing is going to transpire other than a hotly contested series between two of the best teams in baseball.
Fact: Drew Storen Will Be Toronto's Closer...Eventually
Ultimately, Toronto manager John Gibbons decided that he was more comfortable with his old toy than the shiny new one the front office got him for the holidays, naming Roberto Osuna the team's closer over Drew Storen.
"That's a big part -- familiarity," Gibbons explained to MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm "We know him well, I know him well ... We'll see how it all shakes out in the end. If we need to make adjustments, we'll make adjustments."
Osuna, 21, pitched to a 2.58 ERA and 0.92 WHIP after being thrust into the role in mid-June, successfully converting 20-of-23 save opportunities with 75 strikeouts over 69.2 innings of work in his rookie season.
Storen, 28, posted a 3.44 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over 55 innings of relief for Washington, converting 29-of-34 save opportunities before the team traded for Jonathan Papelbon to replace him, the second time in three seasons he's had the job yanked out from under him for (apparently) no good reason.
Now if you happened to catch the early edition of this week's "Fact or Fiction," you'd have noticed that we called this race in favor of Storen before the Blue Jays blew up our spot.
The reasoning behind that lied primarily in the fact that Osuna, having been developed as a starter before last season, could work multiple innings in a setup role, something Storen cannot provide.
That Osuna showed more whiffability this spring (6 IP, 5 K) than Storen 6 IP, 2 K) certainly didn't hurt his cause. But it's not as if Storen doesn't have a history of making batters swing-and-miss, with a healthy 8.6 K/9 rate over his six-year career.
While Osuna will handle the ninth inning to start the season that doesn't guarantee that he'll have the job a month from now. Storen is going to get a chance to show what he can do in the ninth inning at some point.
When he does, he's not going to let it go—and the prospect of having Osuna available for the occasional two-inning stint down the stretch, will be too tempting for Gibbons to pass up.
Unless otherwise noted, all spring training statistics courtesy of MLB.com and are current through March 29. All other statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs. All contract information courtesy of Cot's Contracts (via Baseball Prospectus).
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