The non-tender deadline passed Friday evening, pushing a few more interesting names to the free-agent pool, and the Cards hooked up with the Jays for a trade (spoiler alert: it didn’t include Josh Donaldson). Here’s a look back at the key news from the weekend…
Aledmys Diaz has been traded to Toronto.
Diaz fell out of favor in 2017, getting demoted to Triple-A Memphis in late June, and his fate appeared to be sealed once Paul DeJong took the starting shortstop job and ran with it. While there is now one fewer middle-infield option to crowd up the depth chart in St. Louis, DeJong’s job security will be clearer once the Cards’ offseason roster retooling is complete.
With Toronto, Diaz should be positioned as the backup to Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis, two oft-injured middle-infielders who should enable Diaz to be relevant in AL-only formats even if he’s no longer a consideration in mixed leagues.
Is there any reason to think Diaz can bounce back to something that more closely resembles his 2016?
His surprisingly rapid collapse in 2017 mirrored his 2016 rise in terms of magnitude. Now 27, he’ll need to prove that his successful run wasn’t a complete fluke in order to stick as a part-time player. Looking at his batted ball profile, the difference last season was a drop in hard-hit rate from 31.5% in 2016 to 23.6% in 2017. Not surprisingly, his HR/FB rate also plummeted, as he homered on 7.7% of his flyballs last season after posting a 12.6% clip in 2016. Diaz swung at a pitches outside the strike zone at a significantly increased rate (up to 38.7% from 28.2%), while he made contact less frequently in those instances (65.2%, down from 69.3%).
The pitch breakdown reveals a sudden inability to handle four-seamers and sliders in particular, which he slugged better than .500 against in 2016 en route to 12 of his 17 homers.
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(Pitch breakdown stats courtesy of BaseballSavant.com)
A seemingly lost ability to handle premium velocity is problematic, unless Diaz was hiding an injury that caused him to lose bat speed, but looking back at the news throughout the first half, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
Additionally, his lengthy run at Triple-A resulted in an uninspiring .253/.305/.388 line with just four homers in 46 games. Even in his 2017 form, Diaz is a better hitter than Ryan Goins, who the Jays non-tendered at Friday’s deadline, and that he had a season in 2016 that flashed a higher ceiling makes him more appealing.
In return for Diaz, the Cardinals received outfield J.B. Woodman, who does not appear on James Anderson’s current Top 400 Prospects List.
Non-Tendered Players of Note
The full list of players who were not tendered a contract by their respective clubs can be viewed here (the players who became free agents on 12/1).
From that bunch, a few could make a significant impact in leagues in 2018.
Matt Adams — If nothing else, Adams’ 2017 numbers back up his 2013 and 2016 power levels as healthy norms. In each of the last two seasons, Adams has been a top-50 hitter in terms of barrel rate. There are a few significant flaws, however, as he’s limited defensively to first base, and he doesn’t draw many walks (career: 6.0% BB%). Additionally, he’s battled a variety of injuries throughout his time in St. Louis and Atlanta.
The American League would be ideal for Adams, who could be a cheap solution for the White Sox as the primary DH (0r at first base if Jose Abreu is traded). The Indians could consider him if Carlos Santana goes elsewhere and if they don’t end up re-signing Jay Bruce. Actually, the entire AL Central makes sense for slightly differing reasons, but the ultimate win for Adams would be the first scenario laid out above since Cleveland’s home park boosts left-handed power and the lineup around him would be strong, providing plenty of run-producing opportunities. A less competitive team would offer a more prominent spot in the lineup. If the National League used DHs, Adams (and his agent) would be in a much better position right now.
Hector Rondon — Teams are evolving to the point that a closer who has simply “done it before” isn’t as likely to get that opportunity solely for that reason. Things seemed to unravel for Rondon when he was hurt late in the 2016 season, as he did not pitch particularly well en route to the team’s World Series title that October, and he followed it up with his worst full season in Chicago since 2013, when he was a Rule 5 selection. In the three-year window between his first and last season with the Cubs, Rondon ranked 13th among qualified relievers with a 3.9 WAR between 2014 and 2016. During that span, he posted a 2.44 ERA thanks to a 9.3 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, and 0.68 HR/9. Homers have been an issue for him in back-to-back seasons, but he hasn’t experienced a velocity drop yet (his 96.4 mph average fastball velocity in 2017 matched his career-high from 2015).
Lefties have become a problem for Rondon over the last two seasons, as they hit 230/.337/.437 against him (.346 wOBA). He’ll turn 30 in February, and where he lands will completely determine whether he’s a bridge to the ninth inning or if he’ll get a chance to close again. If he lands on a second-division team, he’s much more likely to get a chance to compete for that role again this spring. Consider Rondon an option in the final rounds of a draft-and-hold league as a saves dart given the uncertainty about his role prior to signing with a new team.
Drew Smyly — Smyly is recovering from July Tommy John surgery, so he may not be ready to pitch until the later part of the second half of 2018. A talented lefty with a low-90s fastball, working his way back from a major arm injury, he looks an awful lot like a Mike Minor starter kit. Extremely deep dynasty leagues (and huge Score Sheet leagues) may have some interest if a team signs Smyly to a two-year deal with the hope of making him a bigger part of their plans in 2019.
Follow me on Twitter @DerekVanRiper.