It is official the Salmon League Baseball keeper deadline for 2017 has come and gone. Keepers are now – barring injury over the next week – locked in for the upcoming season.
This year offered a number of easy choices for many teams, but plenty of owners took the decision down to the wire – including a debatable last-second change from InSaNeAuDiO at the deadline.
I’m going to breakdown the fallout from this year’s keeper choices by looking at the biggest surprises, biggest gambles, and ranking the best and worst teams headed into next week’s draft.
First up, let’s take a look at the biggest surprises.
Rich Hill? More like Rich IsThisGuyForREAL, AMIRITE?!
Hill, 37, is coming off a solid season split between Oakland and Los Angeles. That said, the lefty only managed 110.1 innings while fighting through injuries and ailments that have been a staple of his career. Despite cracking into the league back in 2005, he’s only topped 100 innings one other time and that was way back in 2007 with the Cubs. Since then, ineffectiveness and injury have kept him from being a major contributor.
In looking at the rest of the roster for High Cheese, it’s not hard to see how Danny Salazar or Felix Hernandez made a lot more sense for general manager Levi Elgersma in 2017. Perhaps he knows something we don’t or perhaps he lost a bet, either way; expect High Cheese to target pitching early in the draft.
Last Second Switcheroos
We had two teams make major changes in the waning minutes and seconds before the deadline, despite originally making their announcements well in-advance.
Captain Jack swapped out David Price and his balky elbow for Kate Upton’s boyfriend and (if this information on the internet can be trusted) major league pitcher, Justin Verlander with minutes to spare. An announcement that got buried beneath the commissioner’s failed attempts to post GIFs and the utter chaos that erupted after ZIMA’s amazing keeper announcement video.
As mentioned earlier, InSaNeAuDiO also made a change with mere seconds to go before the 5pm deadline when he swapped Johnny Cueto out and 2015 Cy Young winner, Jake Arrieta in as his pitching keeper for 2017. The move – while bold and unexpected – is also one that could haunt InSaNeAuDiO. Given the two directions both pitchers’ careers appeared to be headed at the end of last season.
End of an Era + Re-Breaking New(ish) Ground
The reigning and defending SLB champion, The Groundhogs was the only team to not make a public announcement about their selections, but was also one of the first teams to send major shockwaves through the league on deadline day when the club made two major decisions.
First, the club opted to part ways with long-time franchise cornerstone, Ryan Braun. Braun has been with the club since 2008 and seemed almost assured of a roster spot again in 2017. The decision to cut Braun is even more perplexing after he posted the fourth highest OPS in his time with the club last season. At 33-years-old, he’s hardly over the hill and is, in fact, younger than Robinson Cano who was kept around for this season…an intriguing decision to say the least.
Second, The Groundhogs became the first second club in league history to keep a relief pitcher over a starter. This hasn’t happened since the money grubbers opted to keep Jonathan Broxton way back in 2010. Admittedly, there wasn’t much to choose from on the roster and Aroldis Chapman certainly holds more immediate value than the club’s alternative options. It’s impossible to fault him for the decision and it was predicted by many in advance, but still it is a first rarity for the league.
Story Time for ZIMA
Coming into the deadline, two of the keepers for ZIMA were all but set in stone. The third keeper was up in the air. Given the club’s long-term commitment to #SpringerDinger and the uncertainty of Trevor Story’s ability to duplicate and/or expand on his breakout 2016 campaign – most assumed it’d be a repeat of last year’s keepers.
ZIMA general manager threw all of that out the window with his incredible keeper announcement video minutes before the deadline. The selection of Story over George Springer was certainly a real (ju)sting to one general manager who was targeting the young shortstop in the draft.
In addition to the surprises, there were also some selections that could be viewed as major gambles for the clubs that made them. In some cases it was a selection between two very good players that could go either way and in others; it was a full-on gamble that a player has turned a corner and is ready to find a new gear going forward.
Byron Buxton or Byron Buston?
Byron Buxton should be a stud. He’s got the pedigree, the skills, and the opportunity. Yet, almost every time the Minnesota Twins have put him in position to take over as the center fielder of the franchise for the next decade – he’s failed to live up to his hype, or even Ben Revere’s hype.
That all changed late last season when he got called up and went on a tear. It was a small sample size of success, but it was enough to convince the Salmon Kings to keep Buxton on as a keeper. If Buxton has finally figured it out, this club will be annoyingly successful for a longtime. If he returns to his earlier form, this will go down as one of the few recent keeper gambles on young talent that didn’t work out.
Turner 1.1 – BAYBAY
Easily the most (over-)hyped player coming into the 2017 season is Trea Turner. The 23-year-old had an absolutely electric MLB debut last season ripping off a ridiculous .342/.370/.567 line while piling up 53 runs, 14 doubles, eight triples, 13 home runs, 40 runs batted in, and 33 stolen bases in just 73 games played. He did all of that while learning to play outfield on the fly to fill a need for the Nationals. It’s unsurprising that he’s ranked in the top 15 on most draft boards and has even gone in the top 5 in a number of major drafts despite his lack of big league experience.
So why on earth didn’t the Genies keep him? Well…that’s a very good question. Despite the hype, Turner did come with a ridiculously high (and unsustainable) BABIP and inflated power numbers that hadn’t made an appearance at any other level. Turner could come back to earth – which would still make him an incredibly valuable player – or he could live up to the hype and force the Genies general manager to spend yet another season lamenting over a keeper selection gone awry. Xander Bogaerts is a very, very good player in his own right and is still growing as a hitter, but Turner has the potential to be the National League’s answer to Jose Altuve and, well, that’s pretty damn good and hard to pass up.
Craiggers Keeps Kyle Schwarzenegger
A year ago, the Genies kept Kyle Schwarber with grand designs of having a catcher-eligible player who rarely catches, but has the ability to get on-base at a great clip and mash very, very, very long home runs whilst entrenched in the middle of arguably the best lineup in baseball. A year ago, that plan blew up along with Schwarber’s ACL during the slugger’s second start of the season in left field.
This year, it’s Sea Bass general manager Craiggers aiming for that same game plan. In rolling the dice on Schwarber’s health and playing time, he left two major contributors from last year’s squad – Yoenis Cespedes and Daniel Murphy – out in the cold for the 2017 campaign. If Schwarber is fully-healed and ready to play most days, this will be a great decision. If his balky knee is a problem in the outfield, things could get dicey with first base in Chicago occupied and no designated hitter slot available.
Finally, let’s take a look at the strongest and the weakest teams heading into draft day.
Big Magoo is Money
It comes as no surprise that money grubbers are ranked at the top of the heap here. The club has three of the best young keepers in the game and the ability to add a four stud to the mix thanks to owning the top draft priority this season. He controls his fate on draft day and has the ability to garner the top overall pick – ensuring he locks up another elite bat at a premium position – or he could position himself to make the most of the wrap, a position which has yielded great results over the years.
cracker jack is back (again)
While he doesn’t have the same draft priority power as the money grubbers, he does have three lights out keepers and a knack for making the most of wherever he lands in the draft. Machado – while unlikely to swap 20 bags again – is at/near the top of the heap at two different positions and is still coming into his prime, Votto is one of the game’s most prolific on-base machines and a noted hater of paper airplanes, and Max Scherzer – if he’s not dead, I’ve heard rumors lately – is a phenom fueled by his love of chocolate syrup and no-hitters.
Volatile. Fuckwithable. Lacking Chill. Stocked with Talent.
38 MPH Heaters general manager Morgan Lux is a lot of things…but one thing he is not, is deficient of talent or enviable draft priority. He’s got his middle infield locked up with two multi-category contributors in Jose Altuve and Francisco Lindor. Throw in Madison Bumgarner as his ace and he has one of the best pitchers in all of baseball anchoring his rotation. This trio of studs is paired up with the fourth overall draft priority, allowing 38 MPH Heaters a lot of leeway to make the most of draft day.
Seriously, Was He High?!
It was mentioned above in the “biggest surprises” section, but opting to roll with Rich Hill as his keeper pitcher over Danny Salazar or Felix Hernandez is a bold choice for High Cheese. If Hill is healthy, effective, and manages to pitch 200 innings at his full capacity, he looks like a genius. That said, right now it seems like a very risky choice for a club that’s once again opening the season handcuffed in terms of position-flexibility, banking on Freddie Freeman matching last year’s career year – which required a blistering 1.067 OPS in the second half – and is sitting on the pedestrian number eight draft priority slot. He’s proven to be one of the savviest general managers in the league in the past, but recent history has not been kind to the High Cheese franchise.
Disappointments – it’s in the Name
There’s a very real chance that the collective ennui of Twins fans is playing into this ranking, but Miguel Sano and Brian Dozier are hardly anyone’s idea of top shelf keepers right now. Sano has the potential to make me look like an idiot for saying that if he can get back on track as a 40 home run masher, but he’s coming off a year where he fell short of the lofty expectations set for him by the club, his fans, and himself. Dozier is coming off of a career year that saw him eclipse the 40 home run mark, all while turning around a putrid first half. Two years in a row he’s put up monster numbers for half a season and looked lost for the other half, which one is the real Dozier and which one will general manager John Kunkel get in 2017? Chris Archer is also coming off a disappointing year, but has the ability to rebound back to ace in waiting status in a hurry. The club has a good, not great seventh draft priority slot – but the club will be starting the draft with some work to do.
The defending champions, The Groundhogs have already gotten some play in the surprises section, but we’re cycling back when looking at their draft day expectations. The curious decision to jettison Ryan Braun and the lack of a frontline starter leaves this club looking a little worse for wear, despite the shiny trophy they’ll be sitting next to on draft day. Jose Abreu is coming off of a down year and has seen his numbers slip each season he’s been in the big leagues. Robinson Cano – while coming off a monster power year – is 34-years-old and continues to see his numbers stymied by his home ball park, forcing him to do a lot of his damage on the road last season. Aroldis Chapman is arguably the best closer in baseball, but he would have been available in rounds three or four (most likely). He’s a very good player and the right choice given the other options, but the lack of any viable alternatives is never good – especially if Chapman is hurt between now and draft day (*wink*). When you toss in the final draft priority, it’s looking like a bit of an uphill battle for the reigning champ.
In closing – let’s take a look at the three keeper reveal videos from cracker jack, Dome Dog, and ZIMA.