We don’t, and won’t, play in Fantasy Baseball keeper leagues that permit trades. Too much time-suck, too much rancor when the team in last place trades, say, Carlos Gomez to your main rival for, say, Wilmer Flores and Zack Wheeler, and neutralizes your impeccable draft planning and brilliant in-season maneuvering. But Reality Baseball itself is, of course, a keeper league that permits trades, and the run-up to the trade deadline is always pure entertainment.
But now the trading tsunami is over, the seas are once again calm, and here come the Birchwood Brothers in their trawler, dragging the bottom as usual for submerged exotica, and hoping the net brings up more than toxic oysters, dead toadfish, and sea lettuce. Mike Leake? Alex Guerrero? Shane Peterson? Even Mike Foltynewicz? Go to! All of those catches are too easy, and let’s toss them back and leave them for the weekend anglers to hook (although we admit it’s possible that the Braves, and hence Foltynewicz, won’t win another game this season).
No, we are interested only in the phosphorescent sea slugs that are too far below the surface to attract anyone’s attention but ours. And we think we’ve caught some. Here they are, in no particular order:
Tyler Holt, Indians OF. The promotions of Holt and Tyler Collins (who came very close to making the cut here) are significant, because they mark the first time that the population of MLB players named after the third-to-last slaveholding President of the United States has exceeded 1% of the total. But Holt makes it on the merits, too. Holt’s two-season (592 total PA) stats in Triple-A: .296/.378/.371, 40 SB, 9 CS. He’s very fast—his SB/CS numbers are very close to Jose Ramirez’s, and if you think that’s a criticism, check Jose’s MLB SB/CS numbers—and is a plus fielder in center field, too. The only thing blocking him there is the superannuated Michael Bourn, over whom Holt will be an improvement in every aspect of the game. Bourn, however, isn’t going anywhere, in either sense of the phrase, since he parlayed his superb 2012 season into a four-year, $48M contract that no one, including the Indians, now wants. So with the departure of Brandon Moss and David Murphy, Holt should really have become the Indians’ everyday right fielder. But their current bright idea is apparently to put Lonnie Chisenhall there, on the long side of a platoon with Holt, and we can almost understand, since it’s hard to give up on those first-round draft choices with power. Moreover, when Holt does start, he bats ninth, which isn’t the best way to use his speed. Even so: Bourn is just a sunk cost, and Chisenhall is Chisenhall, which means he’s capable of long slumps and his fielding may undo him. So it’s not impossible to see Holt winding up as the Indians’ full-time CF or RF, stealing some bases, scoring some runs, and producing a high OBP.
Bruce Rondon, Detroit RP. With Joakim Soria gone, the candidates for Tigers closer are Alex Wilson and Rondon. Wilson’s been great this year, but is a softish thrower and doesn’t strike people out. Rondon, conversely, has a triple-digit, but somehow very hittable, fastball. Yet Rondon’s got too much going for him to be passed up: 13.15 K/9 (a top-10 figure), a 2.54 FIP (right next to Chris Archer and Corey Kluber), and, most significantly, a bottom-10, .429 BABIP, which has no place to go but down. We think he’ll take over from Wilson as the Tigers’ closer at some point soon–and why not? Why wouldn’t the Tigers take a look at what they’ve got?—and do fine.
Aaron Sanchez, Toronto SP/RP. Sanchez began the season in the Blue Jays’ rotation and pitched well, contracted “upper body soreness” in early June, spent about 7 weeks on the sidelines, and has been near-perfect in four appearances as a set-up guy since his return. The prevailing wisdom is that he’s just a setup guy unless and until Roberto Osuna, the anointed closer, begins to struggle. Maybe so. But we think the Blue Jays are cannier. Their pickups of Mark Lowe and (we’re serious) LaTroy Hawkins suggest that they’re contemplating a bullpen with a Sanchezless future. Conversely, take a look at the Toronto rotation, even as supplemented by David Price. Can the Blue Jays really afford to have Drew Hutchison (1 QS in his last 9 starts) in their rotation? Not, we think, if they’re planning to make the playoffs, and Lowe and Hawkins free Sanchez to take over from Hutchison (or Buehrle/Garza/Dickey if anyone gets hurt). Make him a starting pitcher again on that team and he will have serious value.
David Holmberg, Cincinnati SP. Here is yet another starting pitcher—he was preceded by Michael Lorenzen, Jon Moscot, and Josh Smith—summoned from Louisville to fill a hole in the Cincinnati starting rotation, which at this point has more holes than filling. We can’t figure Holmberg out, but we like him. He’s a lefty, and is, of course, described by scouts as a back-of-the-rotation type, but we suspect they didn’t mean the back of the rotation on a Triple A team, which is where he’s been for two successive subpar seasons. He doesn’t have overwhelming stuff, he doesn’t miss bats, and he doesn’t give up many fewer walks than the norm. And yet: Called up by the Reds last September, he had four consecutive excellent starts against contending teams; called up again last week, he just had another one against Pittsburgh. Over those five starts, he’s got a 2.12 ERA, which is roughly half of what he had at Louisville. Why is this happening—why is he a different pitcher in the majors than he is in the minors? Our answer lacks analytical rigor, and doesn’t satisfy us, but it’s the best we can do after reviewing his numbers: he rises to the occasion. In all of his starts, he’s put some men on base, but then, in those high-leverage situations, he doesn’t let them score. Maybe, when you’re a second-round draft choice pitching poorly in Louisville and wondering where your career’s gone, there aren’t enough occasions to rise to. Or maybe Holmberg’s run of good starts is a blip, and he turns into a pumpkin tomorrow. But we touted him on Twitter last week, and we’re staying with him.
The Birchwood Brothers are two guys with the improbable surname of Smirlock. Michael, the younger brother, brings his skills as a former Professor of Economics to bear on baseball statistics. Dan, the older brother, brings his skills as a former college English professor and recently-retired lawyer to bear on his brother's delphic mutterings. They seek to delight and instruct. They tweet when the spirit moves them @birchwoodbroth2.