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Circling the Bases: Bourn Still Searching

Ray Flowers

Ray Flowers

The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: M-F at 5-8 PM EDT), Ray Flowers has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. You can follow Ray on Twitter (@BaseballGuys), he never sleeps, and you can also find more of his musings at BaseballGuys.com.

LAROCHE RE-SIGNS WITH NATS

Adam LaRoche has agreed to a two-year deal with the Nationals for $24 million (there is also a mutual option for 2015). Apparently Adam was unable to convince a team to give him a three-year deal, so he returned to the devil he knew, the Nationals, and a chance to once again make the playoffs (obviously the mutual option leaves open the possibility of a return for a third year). LaRoche is coming of a season of a career best 33 homers and his 100 RBI also tie his career best. Moreover, over the last seven years he has gone deep at least 21 times with 83 RBI each season (save for his injury plagued 2011 effort of 43 games). Some more data. Since that 2006 season, here are his rankings at the first base position: 7th in extra base hits, 8th in homers, 8th in RBI and 9th in runs scored, all of that despite the fact that he appeared in just 43 games in 2011. He's not an elite power bat but there aren't many guys who you can legitimately book for a .275-25-85 season like LaRoche. What this will do is expedite the Michael Morse out of town train. The Nats have Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth in the outfield and LaRoche now at first leaving Morse with no place to play. Ken Rosenthal is already reporting that the Nats have engaged in trade talks with five or six teams for Michael M. Morse only has 485 games of big league experience, he's 30 years old, is due $7 million this season and will be a free agent next year, but the man can hit. Per 162 games during his career he's hitting .295 with 23 homers and 82 RBI. Someone is gonna get one heck of a hitter that merely needs to stay healthy.

BERKMAN SIGNS WITH RANGERS

Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt might be in trouble with the Rangers, and they have Lance Berkman to thank for that. Berkman signed a one year deal for $10 million with the Rangers (there is an option for $12 million for 2014, and that option becomes $13 million if Berkman somehow reaches 550 plate appearances in 2013). Berkman, one of the greatest switch hitters in big league history, is coming off an injury ravaged season in which he appeared in just 32 games for the Cardinals. The Rangers certainly paid a lot of money for a guy who seemed likely to retire, but Berkman did hit .301 with 31 homers and 94 RBI just two years ago (2011), and some will posit that he could come close to reaching those numbers if (A) he takes to the role of DH and (B) if he is able to stay healthy. Both of those are obviously huge risks, especially when you consider his performances in 2009 (.274-25-80) and 2010 (.248-14-58) are nowhere near his '11 effort. Honestly, those are likely to be more reflective of the type of hitter that Berkman currently is than the 2011 version. Remember, this guy isn't exactly operating with two strong legs anymore. There is no doubt he can still pop the long ball, and his control of the strike zone is still impressive so he will continue to get on base (his OBP season low since 2000 is .368, still a strong number – career .409). The Rangers may have paid too much, but adding Berkman is a move the offense could certainly use.

Here is what has happened as a result of the signing. The Rangers now have their full-time DH in Berkman. That means the team will no longer have an open spot to slot in daily players who want to get a rest. The trickle down effect leaves the lineup looking like this:

C A.J. Pierzynski
1B Mitch Moreland
2B Ian Kinsler
3B Adrian Beltre
SS Elvis Andrus
OF David Murphy, Nelson Cruz, Leonys Martin/Craig Gentry
DH Berkman

If you notice, there is no mention of Olt or Profar in that expected starting lineup.

Olt, an up and comer, has only 33 at-bats in the bigs and just 420 plate appearances above the Double-A level. He did mash in Double-A hitting .288 with 28 homers and 82 RBI in 95 games, and should power the ball at the big league level, but he does have a love of the strikeout that could limit his success, at least at the start of his big league career. It's fair to wonder if Moreland will be able to hold off Olt long term, but let's not overlook the fact that Moreland has had success to this point of his young career – he hit .275 with 15 homers and 50 RBI last season in just 327 at-bats. Will the Rangers keep Olt around as a part-time player if that's the way it plays out? Remember, that Olt has only 460 plate appearances above Double-A --- that's a guy who could certainly use more seasoning in the minor leagues in my mind.

Profar though... that's a huge issue. One of the elite prospects in the game, he doesn't have a position to play now. The Rangers already have Andrus and Kinsler up the middle so Profar has no spot on the field. There had been rumors of the Rangers potentially asking Kinsler to play first base opening up second for Profar, but with Berkman now at the DH spot, first base already has two options in Olt/Moreland. There's no way that the Rangers let Profar sit on the bench and play a day or two a week, do they? Like Olt, Profar is still very young and has little big league experience with only 17 at-bats above Double-A (his work with the Rangers last season), and just one season of work at Double-A. The upshot is that in a dynasty league you'll likely have to wait a year for Profar to really get going. If you're in an AL-only league you can still roster Profar of course, but expectations need to be muted. In a mixed league of 10 or 12 teams, it really looks like Profar is nothing more than a reserve round risk at best, and one that doesn't have the look of paying off early in the year.

BOURN STILL IN SEARCH OF

Michael Bourn continues to be without a team, a very odd thing considering the talent that he is. Well, it's not that odd actually as major league baseball has a rule in place that says anyone who declined a draft pick compensation qualifying offer from his former team, as Bourn did when the Braves offered it to him, is owed a first round draft pick when that player is signed by another club. Teams are obviously reluctant to give up a first round draft pick (and the allotted cash for the draft slot selection that they would lose), especially those team that are trying to rebuild their teams, and this has caused guys like Bourn and Kyle Lohse to be available on the open market for far longer than they should be. I've pointed this out before with Bourn – but people don't seem to understand the value he brings. Each of the past five years he has stolen 40 bases. No one can match that. Only B.J. Upton has a streak of 3-straight 40 theft seasons the past five years. Bourn is the only player in baseball to have stolen 40 bases while scoring 80+ runs the last four years. The last four seasons Bourn has averaged 54 steals and 93 runs scored. He's also hit .280 in that time. He has no power – 16 total homers and 180 total RBI the past four seasons – but he's an elite performer in two categories and a strong one in the third. Plus – his consistency is off the charts excellent. Don't overlook his game when you hit the draft table, we just need to know what ball cap he will be wearing this season.

BY THE NUMBERS

.206: The hardest starting pitcher in baseball to get a hit off of the last three years is Clayton Kershaw with that .206 BAA. Justin Verlander is second at .210 followed by Jered Weaver at .214. Remarkably, the easiest starting pitcher to beat around the yard is Nick Blackburn who, literally allowed batters to hit .308 off him. There was one other nearly inept hurler and that was Aaron Cook who allowed batters to hit a cool .300.

2: The number of Athletics' hurlers who finished in the top-2 in baseball for worst line drive rate allowed (minimum 162 innings pitched). Jarrod Parker (25.6) and Tommy Milone (24.7) led the way as the easiest fellas to pound a liner off of. It's obviously a good bet that both will see that number regress, likely substantially, in 2013. At the other end is an ex-Athletic in Trevor Cahill, the man with the lowest line drive rate at 16.1 percent. While it's likely that number will climb, it may not by much. Cahill, an extreme ground ball hurlers, owns a 17.0 percent mark for his career.

4: The number of pitchers who have recorded 200 Ks in each of the past three years. You know the names – Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and Yovani Gallardo. Verlander leads the way with 708 Ks the past three years followed by Kershaw at 689 and King Felix at 677. Gallardo? He is just 9th on the list at 611, 30 behind the #4 man on the list – Tim Lincecum. The Giants former ace struck out “just” 190 batters last season, he threw only 186 innings, to sneak well ahead of Gallardo. Showing remarkable consistency here are Gallardo's strikeout totals the last three years: 200, 207 and 204.

5: The number of men who received at least six runs if support per nine innings last season: Scott Diamond (6.97), Lance Lynn (6.70), Gio Gonzalez (6.68), Jered Weaver (6.54) and CC Sabathia (6.12). If all five men pitch the same as they did last season, and their run support numbers decline as expected, it will be hard for any of them to match last seasons win totals. Well, maybe not Sabathia.

12 wins – Diamond
15 wins – Sabathia
18 wins – Lynn
20 wins – Weaver
21 wins – Gonzalez

34: The league leading games started mark in 2012, a total reached by the following group of men: Zack Greinke, C.J. Wilson, Justin Masterson and Bruce Chen of all people. As I recently pointed out, all-time great Steve Carlton posted 30 COMPLETE GAMES in 1972. Moreover, he totaled at least 10 complete games for 16-straight years (1967-82). Last season Justin Verlander led baseball with six complete games.

Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Thursday at 7 PM EDT and Friday's at 9 PM EDT. Ray's analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.