by Tom Baird
First, please read a brief explanation of my rankings. These rankings should read like a crappy Fantasy Draft preview. They should not be understood as a straight ranking of players. I know that JD Martinez is better than Carlos Santana. I think that Santana will be underrated in this market, and will thus make a better signing for a team looking for value. Obviously, free agent signings have loads and loads of context that we cannot predict, so these rankings are extremely flawed. Still, I would rather consider cost than not consider it, even if the cost is a huge guess on my part, so here are my flawed rankings. Obviously, when these players get signed for significantly more or less money than I am expecting, the rankings will change.
by Tom Baird
Mike Minor was supposed to be good. Then he faded.
Over the past eight years, there have been several Atlanta Braves' players that were going to be great but weren't. While I understand this is common, it appeared that many players struggled to develop within that system over a brief time period. The team had Jason Heyward, Kris Medlen, Tommy Hanson, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran, Jair Jurrjens, Johnny Venters and more over the past eight years, and they all seemed to stagnate in their development shortly after arriving to the majors. Some of this stagnation can be explained by injuries, but there is a solid argument that Fredi Gonzalez and his staff mismanaged some great players.
We all know what happened with Simmons. The under-appreciated all-world defensive talent was sent to Anaheim in an exchange that brought Atlanta two solid pitching prospects. Simmons initially struggled, and then found his groove. ESPN reports that this happened the week Simmons started hitting:
Unfortunately for Mike Minor, he was never traded to Anaheim, and thus never received divine help. He was forced to figure it out on his own. He did receive some helpful guidance from his pitching coaches in Kansas City, and managed to turn his career around. With the help of Royals' coaching staff, Minor decided to utilize a Fastball-Slider combination to dominate hitters. In fact, The Roundtripper has exclusive transcripts from their conversations:* We can show you, in great detail, how Mike Minor decided to adjust his repertoire.
Coach: Hey Mike, you need to throw one or two innings at a time. It will help your velocity, and it will help save your pathetic broken body.
Mike: Sounds good. I'm a reliever now.
Coach: Once you're regularly throwing 95mph, you can use the fastball about 10% more than you did in 2014, which is the last time you pitched because your body was broken.
Mike: Sounds good.
And it WAS good. This rising fastball showcases his new velocity and high spin rate. In 2017, he struck out 88 batters in about 77 innings. He also had a 4 to 1 K/BB rate.
The conversation continued.
Coach: Also, you know that slider you rarely throw? Can you please throw that twice as much as you did in 2014? It looks JUST LIKE your fastball when it comes out of your hand, and then either disappears or trails off the plate. If a dude does get a piece of it, it'll look like Tom's best hit in Little League.
Mike: Who's Tom?
Coach: Super cool guy, but he's bad at playing baseball.
And then 2017 happened. Mike Minor became Andrew Miller Lite, and now he's living the High Life. Minor's slider/fastball combination was likely the second greatest such combo among relievers in 2017. If you have watched the playoffs at all over the past ten years, you have likely seen a dominant fastball/slider combination from guys named Lidge, Romo, or Miller. When the pitcher is elite, this particular skill set can be close to unhittable. Hitters have to guess when they'll get a fastball, and it's almost impossible to guess that consistently against dominant relievers. If it's a fastball with a spin rate like Minor's, they will have a tough time barreling the ball.
Going forward, Minor will have to maintain his control, keep his newfound velocity, and avoid hanging his slider, but he should continue to be dominant. Brad Lidge and Sergio Romo ultimately declined due to hitters laying off the slider and waiting for a weak fastball. Given Minor's age and skill set, he is an excellent free agent reliever.
I have a confession. I have always insisted that teams should NEVER pay for relievers. I believe, just like Jonah Keri, that "relievers are fickle and unpredictable." In a recent article for Sports Illustrated, Keri states that teams should simply "scoop up as many quality arms as you can, then see which ones stick." I could not agree more, given how unpredictable relievers can be. As the Dodgers saw this year with Brandon Morrow and Kenta Maeda, and as the Royals previously witnessed with Wade Davis, some mediocre starters can be used quite effectively as power relievers. Why pay large amounts in cash or prospects to acquire a reliever when a player like Brandon Morrow can be found on the scrap heap for the league minimum?
With all that said, I think that contending teams can pay for a good reliever. I think that Mike Minor will make any contender a greater threat, both throughout the regular season and during the playoffs. Teams are able to maximize leverage through matchups, and we've seen recent playoff teams like the Royals, Cubs, Indians and Dodgers rely more heavily on their bullpen than on starting pitching in order to maximize leverage. I personally believe this may signal a new movement in baseball, even during the regular season.
Although Minor should land with a contender, I would not be surprised if a team like the Mets, Phillies, Brewers or Angels make a strong offer. Obviously, his market may ultimately be effected by Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Addison Reed. Considering age, health, and pitch control, I rank Minor as the top reliever available. I predict that he will be sought by half the teams in MLB, but will likely land with Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Boston, or San Francisco, for 40M/4yrs.
*This statement is a lie. I am lying. We have no connections.
Spanning an entire continent, lifelong fans Chris Kubak and Tom Baird take you on a magical, sabermetrically enhanced journey through Major League Baseball.