The Yankees, Braves and Cubs stake their claim at MLB Winter Meetings

There is nothing like the MLB Winter Meetings. Rumors fly around all day long and then when nightfall hits, you are blind sided by the most astounding trades you can imagine. It’s not a coincidence they put the Winter Meetings right near Christmas.

Yesterday, three big moves went down that left three teams big winners. Brace yourselves…

WINTER IS COMING
WINTER IS COMING

3. Chicago Cubs snag Ben Zobrist

You know, for years people raved about Ben Zobrist and I never really understood it. I don’t know why, but I always envisioned him as a super utility player who made the most out of it.

Last season, he went to the Kansas City Royals at the deadline and he helped transform that team and gave it the extra oomph they needed. I finally gained the respect for Zobrist that the rest of the baseball world had had in him for years. Hopefully you read this Ben and accept my apologies.

Zobrist is entering his age-35 year, so the Cubs locked him up until he retires. While he doesn’t have the same power or speed he has had in his youth, he does bring a model of consistency to the table. You know what you are going to get from Zobrist: he’s going to bat in the mid-.270s, belt 15 home runs, steal a handful of bases and get on base pretty darn regularly. He is also going to play — albeit primarily second base with his new team — anywhere you ask him to, and he will do it well.

The Cubs don’t need another power bat in that lineup, if they re-sign Fowler, they don’t need another speed demon. What they need is stability and veteran leadership, and Zobrist — with two World Series trips and one shiny ring on his finger — brings that to a youthful team that sure looks poised to be October relevant for a long time coming.

Throw the stats aside, Zobrist is a huge upgrade. I was convinced that the Cubs were moving Starlin Castro before this as he seemed to have fallen out of favor. This solves this Castro problem and improves a team that made the NLCS two months ago. Win.

2. The Cubs and Yankees win in the Castro deal

I love Rob Refsnyder. I am also a realist. The New York Yankees simply don’t have faith in Refsnyder. If they did, he would have become a regular last season, but instead hovered between Triple-A and the bigs watching the likes of Brendan Ryan and Stephen Drew fail ahead of him and then add to the insult by acquiring Dustin Ackley at the deadline.

It’s definitely not Ref’s bat, but his defense that has come along slowly. While some feel that the Yankees may have gotten another Robinson Cano sans the power in Castro, I think they got stronger. He has the defensive ability and stability that Cano provided, but he has also been known to have the same nonchalant attitude that may have driven the one-time Yankees superstar out of town.

It’s not a good sign for Refsnyder fans, who seemingly becomes instant trade bait. Refsnyder is the real deal, but if the Yankees don’t want to part with him, there is another option to consider.

Let’s not forget that Refsnyder was the Most Outstanding Player in the College World Series for Arizona… as a right fielder. If Ref’s struggles have been in his defensive transition, then perhaps the Yankees can make him their super utility player and move on from Dustin Ackley. As much as Yankees fans want to see Aaron Judge take over as soon as yesterday in right field, he could probably use a full season in Triple-A to reach his full potential. Refsnyder? He needs no more seasoning in the minors, so he will either be traded or the Yankees will have to find a hybrid role for him to stick around. I vote for the latter.

As for the Cubs, Adam Warren seems like the guy who is going to go to the National League and show the world who he is. I think this is a great pickup by Theo Epstein.

I have never shied away that I felt that Warren was more of a bullpen arm because of his success there, but the Yankees seemingly didn’t want to make the decision of what he was. They left him as the swingman and that doesn’t always bode well for a young pitcher. Warren handled it beautifully, and excelled both as a starter and reliever last year.

I think the Cubs let him compete with Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel for the fifth slot in the rotation. Lester, Arietta, Lackey, Hammel and Warren? That’s scary. If he loses out to Hendricks, well you just got yourselves the best seventh inning/set up guy in the NL. Not too shabby.

1. It’s Miller Time in the desert

Yesterday, I led off the day with my hunch that Shelby Miller wasn’t going to make it through the day wearing a Braves uniform.  While I wasn’t correct in the A.J. Pollock prediction, I was right that Miller was dealt. And quite honestly, I think they did better than a straight up deal involving Miller and Pollock.

This trade was stupendous. While Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller and Patrick Corbin form a very scary big three (and rumors are the Diamondbacks are still in the hunt for a big time free agent starter) and they were able to leave both Pollock and Paul Goldschmidt as the focal points of their offense, unless Arizona makes it to the playoffs every year of Greinke’s deal, this trade was a colossal failure.

The last time the first overall pick in the draft was traded was when the Marlins dumped Adrian Gonzalez for Ugueth Urbina. How’d that work out? The same may happen with Dansby Swanson.

For those not in the know, Swanson was the first overall pick in the MLB Draft this past summer. While first round picks are not as certain in the MLB as they are in other sports, Swanson is a polished player with a college career that saw his Vanderbilt Commodores go to back-to-back College World Series finals with him on the squad.

Swanson’s professional debut went well as well as he slashed .289/.394/.482 with 11 extra base hits in 99 plate appearances. Furthermore, as a 21-year old kid looking to make a name for himself, he stood patient at the plate, walking the same amount of times as he struck out (14). That kind of stuff simply can’t be taught, either you have good plate discipline or you don’t.

The past two seasons have seen Brandon Finnegan, Kyle Schwarber and Michael Conforto jump to the big leagues just a few months after being drafted. Swanson is that kind of talent, and if you think he will have a hard time unseating the imposing Erick Aybar at shortstop you are gravely mistaken.

Aaron Blair was the Diamondbacks first round pick two years ago and he reached Triple-A last season. I know not as many of my readers are as privy to the Minor Leagues as I am, but Blair looked great in the Pacific Coast League, which is known more for the long ball and producing names like Mike Trout and Kris Bryant.

Blair held his own posting a 3.16 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. He only struck out 56 in 77 innings, but that’s who he is, more finesse than flare. His strikeout and walk numbers were pretty much on par with his career norms. He will compete for — and most likely win — a rotation spot this April.

Ender Inciarte is my favorite piece in this deal. He’s a 23-year old outfielder who has the ability to play any outfield position and play it well. Furthermore, he fits this Braves team perfectly.

Unless John Hart opens the flood gates and pulls out a monster trade for a monster bat, this team is going to have to win games more like the Kansas City Royals do than the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros do. Small ball at the plate, sound running on the base paths and impeccable defense in the field. Inciarte brings all of that to the table.

Last year, in just his second season, he hit .303/.338/.408 with 27 doubles, five triples and six home runs. He stole 21 of 31 bases, which he certainly needs to improve on, but we know the speed is there. All of those numbers improved on a rookie season that saw him surprise a lot of people and finish fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

His fielding prowess is just a bit below the league averages, but you have to understand that Inciarte didn’t have a home. He played 77 games in right field, 44 games in left field and 22 in center. The Braves will most likely sort out their outfield this spring and with a bevy of youth to play their and Nick Markakis on lock down in right, Inciarte should become the everyday left fielder. That stability could improve his defensive game… which is already pretty good.

I get it. The Diamondbacks play in one of the tougher divisions in baseball (by name at least) and it is an even number year, which means the San Francisco Giants will return to form. Arizona doesn’t have much time to wait, and Dave Stewart has been trigger happy with his youth since taking over.

Miller is a huge asset — those pointing (you know who you are) to his 6 wins and league leading 17 losses really need to understand that there is more to baseball and that shows nothing about what a great season he had — and as I already said makes the Diamondbacks scary in the rotation. If the three pieces they traded away are even marginal everyday players for the Braves come 2017, Atlanta wins this deal in a landslide.

 

 

 

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