Reacting to B/R MLB Community's Takes on Albert Pujols, Gary Sanchez and More
Welcome to the Bleacher Report MLB mailbag!
There is never a shortage of opinions on the B/R app, so it's time to put your thoughts to work.
We'll begin to narrow our focus in the weeks to come, but for now, the attention was once again on general questions and hot takes after five weeks of MLB action.
What's next for Albert Pujols? Could the Yankees trade Gary Sanchez? Which postseason hopeful is off to the most alarming start?
There was a lot to unpack, so let's get to it.
If you'd like to have your question or hot take included in a future mailbag, be on the lookout each Tuesday afternoon for the crowdsourcing thread on the MLB stream in the B/R app.
Pablo Sandoval vs. No-Hitters
By the end of the season what will there be more of: Pablo Sandoval pinch-hit home runs or no-hitters? (@CHYTnUP)
Excellent prop bet.
An All-Star in his prime, Pablo Sandoval has settled in as one of the most productive bench bats in the game, and he's off to a 5-for-17 start with four home runs as a pinch hitter this year.
Meanwhile, we've already seen four no-hitters, with Joe Musgrove, Carlos Rodon, John Means and Wade Miley etching their name into the history books.
As good as he's been in a pinch-hitting role throughout his career with a .306/.361/.542 line in 158 plate appearances, Sandoval had just three pinch-hit homers entering the 2021 season. He could go the rest of the way without going deep again in that spot.
I'd be shocked if we don't see another no-hitter before 2021 is over, though.
In fact, it's possible we see the single-season record of eight no-hitters challenged at a time when strikeout rates continue to climb and contact rates are an afterthought.
Let's go with five pinch-hit home runs for Sandoval and seven no-hitters.
Hot Takes and Quick Hits
Jesse Winker will be a NL MVP finalist (@Brewcrew69)
The 27-year-old leads the National League in batting average (.374), slugging percentage (.682) and OPS (1.114) to go along with 18 extra-base hits and a .432 on-base percentage in 118 plate appearances. If the season ended today, he would be in the mix, but there's a lot of baseball left.
His breakout is for real, but I'm still betting on three guys from the group of Ronald Acuna Jr., Mookie Betts, Fernando Tatis Jr., Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper and Trea Turner finishing ahead of him in MVP voting.
Mitch Haniger deserves some recognition (@brain2)
Absolutely! The Mariners outfielder was my preseason pick for American League Comeback Player of the Year, and he's off to an excellent start with a 145 OPS+. He is also tied for the AL lead with 10 home runs after going deep twice Tuesday. His .309 on-base percentage leaves something to be desired, but his return has been a big part of Seattle's strong start.
Hot take: The Phillies need a center fielder badly (@Aidan261)
The team's center fielders are hitting .154/.244/.265 for an MLB-worst .509 OPS on the year, and it doesn't look like anyone from the group of Odubel Herrera, Roman Quinn, Adam Haseley and Mickey Moniak has provided any reason for optimism.
This team should have been all over Kevin Pillar during the offseason at the one-year, $5 million price tag that landed him on the New York Mets bench. There is no clear answer on the early trade market.
MLB Emperor for a Day
You are given complete power over baseball for one season. What do you do to fix the game? (@ElCidly)
Ooh, this is a fun one.
My first move would be to hire a third-party arbiter to oversee the collective bargaining agreement negotiations this offseason, because I have zero faith in the abilities of commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark to put aside their egos long enough to avoid a work stoppage. On-field changes don't matter much if there's no baseball.
My next move would be to institute a salary floor to force owners to stop treating teams like a line item in their investment portfolios. Stiff penalties for coming in below the floor would encourage free-agency spending, early extensions and international spending, and discourage tanking. And if tight-fisted owners don't like those increased operating costs, they can sell their teams to someone capable of keeping up.
I would also expand the playoff field to six teams from both the AL and NL, with the two best records in each league receiving a first-round bye. The biggest issue with using last year's playoff format in a 162-game season is that it dramatically waters down five months' worth of baseball, but there's value in an expanded field.
I'm not sold on the idea of robot umpires, but umpires need to be held accountable for their in-game performance. The Twitter profile @UmpScorecards provides an interesting potential template for grading their accuracy, and that would be an objective way to assess things.
A few closing thoughts: The universal DH should be a permanent fixture; the three-batter rule for relievers needs to go; seven-inning doubleheaders are fine but ditch the runner-on-second-base rule in extra innings until the 11th or 12th frame; stop blacking out in-market games; and if we're going to put pitchers on a time clock, we should do the same for the replay-review teams.
What Does the Future Hold for Gary Sanchez?
Is a Gary Sanchez trade a real possibility? (@SportsMega18)
At this point, an outright release of Gary Sanchez seems more likely than a trade.
Yes, he has homered twice in his last three games, but that's all he's done as he's gone 0-for-8 with six strikeouts and two walks in his other 10 trips to the plate during that span.
The 28-year-old is hitting .178/.333/.356 with four home runs in 23 games, and he's a .198/.299/.445 hitter in his last 1,088 plate appearances dating back to the start of 2018.
This is not a cold streak or a slump. This is Gary Sanchez.
He's essentially Mike Zunino without the quality defense, and if he wasn't playing in New York, he would be a complete afterthought.
No one is going to trade for his $6.35 million salary, and I'd be shocked if he's not non-tendered this offseason, provided he makes it through all of 2021 without being designated for assignment.
Fixing the Tampa Bay Rays
How can the Tampa Bay Rays fix themselves? (Frost_Junior)
The first step? Get healthy.
The Rays have 13 players on the injured list, including 10 pitchers, and that has made it tough for guys to settle into roles on a team that utilizes its pitching staff a bit differently than most organizations.
The decision to replace Charlie Morton and Blake Snell with the oft-injured trio of Chris Archer, Rich Hill and Michael Wacha was always going to mean mixing and matching in the rotation around their inevitable injured list trips, but the bullpen has also been decimated.
Offensively, Wander Franco should get the call from Triple-A soon, and the impact baseball's consensus No. 1 prospect can make can't be overstated.
Shortstop Willy Adames is hitting .184/.218/.342 for a 62 OPS+ in his first 119 plate appearances, so he won't stand in Franco's way once service-time considerations are removed from the equation.
All things considered, it speaks volumes about this team's depth that it has posted a 19-18 record despite being short-handed for most of the season.
Expect Tampa to be a factor in the AL East.
Max Scherzer to the Angels?
Should the Angels trade for Max Scherzer? (@NYCSports321)
The Los Angeles Angels can't afford to keep wasting Mike Trout's prime, but it will take more than Max Scherzer for this team to be a serious contender.
The rotation is again one of the worst in baseball, with a 5.10 ERA that ranks 28th in the majors. While Scherzer would be a major upgrade, the unit has been a collective failure, and there is more than one hole on the starting staff.
There's also the matter of cost.
The Angels were No. 26 in our recently updated farm system rankings, and unless they're willing to build a package around one of their high-ceiling outfielders in Jo Adell, Brandon Marsh or Jordyn Adams, it's hard to see them landing Scherzer.
And even if they are willing to part with one of those guys, they will not be the only ones vying for Scherzer's services this summer if the Washington Nationals make him available. A lot of teams with deeper farm systems that can outbid the Angels will also be in the mix.
The Angels' lack of starting pitching needed to be addressed during the offseason, and in a much more decisive way than signing Jose Quintana and trading for Alex Cobb.
Now they're at the mercy of the staff they've assembled.
AL Rookie of the Year Chances for Adolis Garcia
How high are Adolis Garcia's AL Rookie of the Year chances? (@DrakeFmStateFarm)
The St. Louis Cardinals designated Adolis Garcia for assignment following the 2019 season and then traded him to the Texas Rangers for cash considerations.
St. Louis made that move even though he posted an .818 OPS with 32 home runs in 132 games at Triple-A Memphis, and it's a move the Cardinals are quickly coming to regret.
With Leody Taveras struggling to get things going offensively, Garcia has been given an unexpected shot at regular playing time in the Rangers outfield this year, and he's seizing the opportunity.
The 28-year-old is hitting .292/.333/.585 with nine home runs and 26 RBI in 114 plate appearances, and his 1.5 WAR leads all rookie position players.
With an average exit velocity (87th percentile) and hard-hit rate (93rd percentile) that both rank among the MLB leaders, his early performance could be sustainable, especially from a power standpoint.
The smart money is still on someone like Jarred Kelenic (SEA) or Wander Franco (TB) to debut with a bang and deliver on significant hype, and Yermin Mercedes (CWS) also looks like he'll be a factor in the AL race.
That said, no one expected Devin Williams and Jake Cronenworth to be two of the NL's best rookies a year ago, so never say never.
Jose Ramirez on the Block?
With how well Jose Ramirez is playing, do you think [Cleveland] will pull the trigger and trade him for a King's ransom come deadline time? (@Sports365)
Jeff Passan of ESPN reported in March that Cleveland was interested in signing Jose Ramirez to another long-term deal, but the All-Star third baseman has shown little interest.
Big picture, there's no rush.
The 28-year-old is earning a team-friendly $9.4 million this season, and he carries club options for 2022 ($11 million) and 2023 ($13 million) that are also well below his market value.
That gives Cleveland's front office some leverage in negotiations, as it might be willing to offer him a raise over those option-year figures if he'll sign on to a few more seasons of club control.
At any rate, the Francisco Lindor trade gave us a good blueprint for how things will likely be handled with Ramirez as long as he continues to produce at an elite level.
I wouldn't expect any serious trade talks until the 2022 trade deadline, with the front office continuing to work on potentially extending him in the meantime.
It may not be spending big, and it might have just traded the face of the franchise during the offseason, but this is how the Cleveland front office operates, and it still views its club as contenders.
The Next Stop for Albert Pujols
Where does Albert Pujols land? (@RynestoneCowboy)
Unfortunately, there's a good chance we've seen Albert Pujols play his last MLB game.
The future Hall of Famer deserved better than an unceremonious release midway through the final year of a 10-year contract, but he's simply not an everyday player anymore.
"I don't mean this to sound cold in any way," manager Joe Maddon told reporters. "It's just the way it is. It was a group decision, based on ascending players that needed opportunity and Albert wanting to play every day. We just didn't see that as being a mix."
If lack of playing time was in fact what led to the parting of ways, I don't see other teams lining up to give the 41-year-old that opportunity.
He was hitting .198/.250/.372 in 92 plate appearances at the time of his release, and he has not posted an OPS+ above 100, which is representative of league-average production, since the 2016 season.
If he were willing to take on a pinch-hitting and clubhouse-leader role similar to what guys like Jason Giambi and Jim Thome did at the end of their careers, perhaps a contender would bring him aboard, but everyday playing time is likely a non-starter.
It does sound like we might see him play for the Dominican Republic team in Olympic qualifying now that he's not on a 40-man roster and is eligible to participate, but it's unclear if there will even be an Olympics this year.
Most Troubling Slow Start from a Postseason Hopeful?
Which preseason contender are you most worried about in terms of meeting expectations and why? (gleyber28)
The Minnesota Twins, without a doubt.
It's easy to forget they started 5-2, which makes their 12-21 record look even worse.
They dropped 13 of their next 15 games after that strong start, and they are one of just three teams in baseball with a winning percentage below .400.
The offense has been mediocre, even with the excellent numbers put up by Byron Buxton and Nelson Cruz, and the starting rotation has been hit-and-miss with ace Kenta Maeda (5.08 ERA) and free-agent addition Matt Shoemaker (6.43 ERA) both struggling.
However, the biggest issue has been the bullpen.
The relief corps ranks 27th in the majors with a 5.26 ERA, and they have logged a disastrous 1-12 record with seven blown saves in 12 chances as a unit.
Alex Colome (12 G, 5.68 ERA) has not been the late-inning presence the team was expecting when he was signed to a one-year, $6.25 million deal, and losing Trevor May to the Mets has hurt even more than expected as a result.
With the Chicago White Sox looking strong, Cleveland contending once again and the Kansas City Royals off to a better-than-expected start, righting the ship in the AL Central won't be easy, and right now the Twins just are not a very good team.