Sunday Notes: Braves, Phillies, Starling, Dombrowski, Japan, more

A few days ago, the Braves traded Cameron Maybin to the Tigers for a pair of promising-but-unproven pitchers. Predictably, the deal elicited mostly angst from Atlanta fans. Not Andrelton-level angst, but enough that yet a few more foam tomahawks hit the bottoms of wastebaskets. Put another way, the camel hasn’t collapsed, but his back is starting to sag something awful.

Youth movement in full swing, veterans are packing up almost as fast as the bandwagon is emptying. NBC Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra worded the exodus as such: “The last major league position player left in Atlanta, please turn out the lights.”

As for my own take on the Braves’ new world, let’s just say I’m highly intrigued. Regardless of how you define their strategy – retooling, tanking, whatever – these moves aren’t being made frivolously. Financial considerations aside, no small number of scouting and data-driven projections are driving the decisions.

The club’s brain trust presumably sees more upside in the kids they’re acquiring than in the experience they’re jettisoning. Of course, the fear is that they could be dead wrong – the light at the end of the tunnel could be the Cannonball Express. But based on the track records of key evaluators, they may actually be right. Special assistant Roy Clark was one of the architects of Atlanta’s glory years, and scouting director Brian Bridges signed Steve Cishek, Craig Kimbrel and Alex Wood when he was an area scout. They know pitching, and young pitching is being imported in droves.

Looking back, John Smoltz had a 5.68 ERA and a 5.6 BB/9 in Double-A when the Braves acquired him from the Tigers in 1987. This best-case-scenario example does come with a caveat: Atlanta lost 300 games over the next three seasons.

Yes, the angst is understandable – it’s not easy being a Braves fan right now – but as a neutral observer, I’d caution against putting John Hart’s and John Copolella’s heads on a chopping block just yet. Most trades can’t be fairly judged for years, and the around-the-corner Braves may well be the 1990s Braves redux. Anything is possible.


What does the reacquisition of Maybin mean for the Tigers? If he builds on his 2015 season (.267/.327/.370) and finally comes into his own at age 29, he’ll be more than just a replacement for Rajai Davis. If he continues to be league-average at best, he’ll simply share time with Anthony Gose.

A centerpiece in the seven-player, prospect-laden trade that brought Miguel Cabrera to Motown in 2007, Maybin was supposed to become a star. Instead, he’s been a slightly better, right-handed-hitting version of the 25-year-old Gose. In other words, athletic and less than the sum of his parts, particularly in terms of consistent statistical production.

Meanwhile – this has nothing to do with Maybin – earlier this summer, someone who has a history with Gose questioned whether he truly loves the game. What that could possibly mean in respect to his performance going forward is something I won’t venture to guess.


I already knew the answer from a statistical standpoint. Ditto his performance level relative to expectations. But I hadn’t heard his own perspective, so I asked Bubba Starling, “How would you describe your professional career thus far?”

“It’s had its up and down, that’s for sure,” responded Starling, who was drafted fifth overall by the Royals in the 2011 draft. “My first season was all right, but the next two really weren’t the best.”

That’s an understatement. Following a solid rookie-ball campaign, Starling scuffled mightily at a pair of A-ball stops, Fanning frequently, he logged an Escobar-esque sub-.700 OPS. Sculpted and uber-athletic, but wholly without polish, the Gardner, Kansas native looked every bit a bust. At best, he was the next Drew Stubbs.

The latter remains a realistic goal. Playing mostly in Double-A this year, Starling put up a .785 OPS while fanning 108 times in 375 at bats. As he put it, “I’ve continued to work hard and this past year was a little better for me.”

Asked about his developmental strides, the 23-year-old outfielder told me that the more he’s played, the better he’s felt. Because of his corn-belt upbringing and his three-sport background, he “hadn’t played a lot of ball coming out of high school” and is “starting to figure things out a little more.”

When I asked how he’s evolved as a hitter, his answer was vague at best.

“I don’t know,” responded Starling. “Like I said, I just go out and get my work in. I’m just trying to make stuff easy at the plate. That’s all I can do.

“I mean, sure, I have a leg kick now, a little bit,” said Starling, when asked to elaborate. “I’m just trying to be on time a little better. I’m trying to relax and let the game come to me, instead of trying to do everything.”

The Royals added Starling to their 40-man roster on Friday, which means he won’t be available in next month’s rule 5 draft.


Phillies GM Matt Klentak was featured in this space last week. The focus was on his information-based philosophy, and how it will impact the culture of the front office he joined at the end of October. Looking back at my notes, a pertinent piece of information was omitted in the column.

I’d asked Klentak about the role he’ll have in manager Pete Mackanin’s in-game decision-making process. This was his response:

“I think the relationship between a manager and a general manager is such that the two will be in constant communication. Pete and I already are. The game is Pete’s to manage. There are be things to talk about before and after, and we’ll do that, but he has his responsibilities and I have mine.”


Dave Dombrowski said something at the GM meetings that raised my eyebrows. Addressing the possibility of adding a back-of-the-bullpen arm, Boston’s new man in charge told a group of reporters:

“We’re trying to get somebody who can close a game if something happens to Koji (Uehara) because (Junichi) Tazawa doesn’t really like to close. We’re trying to find somebody who doesn’t have to be a closer, per se, but… can step in for him.”

Dombrowski subsequently traded for Craig Kimbrel, and it’s safe to say that he won’t be the one stepping in. Uehara is now the “if something happens” guy, but that’s not the part that piqued my interest. What did was “Tazawa doesn’t really like to close.”

Tazawa’s handful of ninth-inning opportunities haven’t gone well, and he’s always been deferential to his elder-statesman countryman when the subject of closing is broached. That said, I’m not aware of Tazawa ever saying that he wouldn’t want to close. Maybe he has, but given his desire to step out of the shadows, I’m not so sure. Color me skeptical.


Yuki Matsui won’t be coming stateside any time soon. The lefthander turned 20 years old three weeks ago, and he’s only pitched in the Japanese Pacific League for two years. Even so, he is a name worth knowing.

Matsui was one of the top closers in Japan this season. Pitching for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, he had 33 saves and a 0.87 ERA . Pitching solely out of the bullpen, he struck out 103 batters and allowed just 37 hits in 72-and-a-third innings.

A former first-round pick in Japan, Matsui is only 5-foot-8, but his fastball reaches 93 mph and he possesses an above-average changeup. According to an international scout for an MLB team, the starter-turned-reliever shows “no fear” on the mound.

According to the scout, Matsui would likely be a fourth-round pick if he was eligible for the amateur draft.


According to Greg LaRocca, a former big-leaguer who played in Japan from 2004-2010, and now scouts for the Orix Buffalo, MLB-style reliever roles are relatively new in the Nippon Professional Baseball League.

“It used to be customary for the starters to go the whole game, and get all the glory,” LaRocca told me. “They’re just recently getting to where there are seventh-inning men, set-up men, and closers. The Hanshin Tigers started it, and now other teams are doing it as well. When I played there, I’d be 0-for-3 and would get to face the starter for a fourth time in the ninth inning.”


Warren Cromartie feels it would be “a travesty” if Tim Raines doesn’t get voted into the Hall of Fame. That’s an opinion many of us share, and for good reason. Raines compares favorably with numerous players already enshrined.

Cromartie and Raines were teammates in the Montreal Expos outfield. So was Andre Dawson, who Cromartie called “a five-tool player with the attitude to go along with the tools.”

I didn’t ask Cromartie how he’d compare Dawson and Raines, but I did ask him who he’s most-impressed with in today’s game.

“I like Miguel Cabrera,” responded Cromartie “I like the way Miggy hits. I can’t keep my eyes off him when he goes up to the plate. He makes hitting look effortless. Hitting is like cutting paper, and he cuts paper.”

Which of Cromartie’s contemporaries does Cabrera remind him of?

Mike Schmidt is maybe a good comparison,” said Cromartie. “There’s the power, the quickness of the bat, the line drives to go with the power. Both could hit the ball line to line. Great hitters.”


Andy Van Slyke won this past week’s irony award in a landslide.

Van Slyke went on a radio show and said that Robinson Cano “had probably the worst single year of an everyday player that I’ve ever seen.”

Cano finished the season with 3.4 WAR and an adjusted OPS of 118. Over his own playing career, Van Slyke averaged 3.2 WAR annually, with an adjusted OPS of 119.


A few months ago I talked to a handful of players about keepsakes. The most meaningful for each were the baseballs from their first hit and home run at the big league level. Minor league mementos are less important, although a few of those “firsts” are in possession of the players as well. Chase Headley isn’t among them.

“My first hit was in Eugene, Oregon in my first pro game, but I don’t have the ball,” Headley told me this summer. “I was hoping that wasn’t going to be my last one, or the farthest I made it. I was aiming a lot higher.”


Last week’s column included a few notes on Javier Guerra, the shortstop prospect that San Diego acquired from Boston in the Craig Kimbrel trade. Here are a few quotes on Guerra, from late September, courtesy of Red Sox farm director Ben Crockett.

“He’s not where he needs to be, but we saw strides this year,” Crockett told me. “We saw his pitch selection improve – that was a big focus coming into the season — and that allowed his power to play more consistently. Whatever the home run totals say, he’s got the ability to impact the ball.

“He’s got enough bat speed to turn on a fastball middle in, but I wouldn’t say that’s going to be the central part of his game. I think he’s going to be at his best if he uses all fields. But given his tools, I certainly wouldn’t put limitations on him.”

Guerra, whose calling card is his glove, hit 15 homes runs in high-A this year in his age-19 season.


Last Sunday’s column includes a segment with Darren O’Day, in which he recalled Josh Donaldson drilling an Oliver Drake splitter up the middle for a single. Donaldson did so after making an adjustment against the Orioles rookie, who had struck him out two days before.

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to ask Drake about that same at bat.

“I remember that one, because a couple of the older guys pointed it out to me, ” said Drake. “O’Day was one of them. When I went back and looked at the video, I saw what they did – he’d moved up in the batter’s box. He’d actually done it the pitch before, and swung through a fastball. I didn’t notice he had made the adjustment, and he ended up putting the ball through the middle for a hit.”

That was in early September. Back in late May, the former Navy Midshipman had made his big league debut against the Marlins, in Miami. As you’d expect, he remembers it like it was yesterday – despite having played it in a fog.

“I got a call late the night before, and then had to catch an early morning flight,” said Drake. “I had like no sleep. The next thing I knew, the game was over and I’d thrown three innings. I never had a chance to think about it, and soak things in. That probably made it a little easier.”



In three seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters, 21-year-old Shohei Otani has a record of 29-9 with a 2.72 ERA, and his 11.0 K/9 this year was tops among NPB pitchers who threw 100-or-more innings. In 557 career plate appearances – Otani is an outfielder when not on the mound – his slash line is .245/.300/.429. Otani has 18 home runs.

ICYMI in Eno’s Jon Lester article earlier this week, left-handed starters threw changeups 65% more often this season than right-handed starters.

In Game One of the 1960 World Series, Yankees manager Casey Stengel pinch-hit for third baseman Clete Boyer with two on and none out in the second inning. The bold move didn’t work, as the Bombers ended up not scoring.

Jackie Robinson had a career .409 OBP. In 10 big league seasons, he walked 740 times and struck out 291 times.

On this date in 1954, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Roberto Clemente from the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in the Rule 5 draft.

Plans are afoot to cover Detroit’s old Tiger Stadium grounds with artificial turf. The Navin Field Grounds Crew is working to stop that besmirching of history from happening, and they need your help.

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
8 years ago

This column has become my Sunday morning over coffee must read treat. Really evokes shades of mid-90’s Peter Gammons. Thanks for putting these together. 🙂

Well-Beered Englishman
8 years ago
Reply to  Jay

Man of simple pleasures here: the Cano/Van Slyke burn was so calculated and so classy.

8 years ago

Agreed with both.

8 years ago
Reply to  MDBuc

On Cano, Van Slyke conveniently omits the fact that Cano was battling a stomach parasite issue in the first half of the season, and came back with a 157 RC+ in the second half. And while Cano’s 83 RC+ in the first half was very bad for Cano, it’s not anywhere nearly as bad as Mike Zunino’s first half RC+ of 43 in 2015.

And Van Slyke also said that Cano was “the worst defensive second baseman ever – I’ve ever seen in 20 years in the big leagues,” which isn’t borne out by the stats.

Van Slyke also slams Edgar Martinez, saying that after Howard Johnson got fired, that “Edgar Martinez walked in the next day and had a job and will have a job in Seattle as long as he’s breathing air because he’s Edgar Martinez.” Van Slyke doesn’t mention the Mariners’ bad track record in recent years of developing hitters, and while the farm system bears some responsibility for that, the hitting coach has a role to play as well.

Van Slyke’s son plays for the Dodgers, and the elder Van Slyke likely betrayed his son’s confidence when he said “When the best player — the highest paid player on the Los Angeles Dodgers — goes to the GM and … is asked what are [the needs of the Los Angeles Dodgers], this particular highest-paid player said, ‘The first thing you need to do is get rid of Puig.’ That’s all you need to know.” The highest paid player on the Dodgers is Clayton Kershaw.

I’m very glad the Mariners are rid of Van Slyke, and I don’t understand how the M’s could have hired someone like Van Slyke in the first place.

8 years ago
Reply to  Jay

A little baseball fix, and now my coffee is done! Yard work, then football!