The Major League Baseball season is in full swing and there have been quite a few surprising starts that have led to early success for their respective ball clubs. This off-season was filled with many splash free agent signings and big trades that had everybody talking. However, it has also proved why you don’t have to break the bank to improve your team. Here are the top five underrated moves that have shaped up early in 2016.
Matt Latos signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Chicago White Sox this off-season. Latos came into 2016 looking to prove he could still get major-league hitters out on a consistent basis. So far this season, he has rekindled the All-Star form he had while pitching in Cincinnati. Through six starts, Latos upholds a 5-0 record with 2.62 ERA.
This hot start by Latos was very unexpected because last season was very forgettable, as he bounced around between the Miami Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers and the Anaheim Angels. He struggled at every stop posting a very ugly 4-10 record with a 4.95 ERA, making it very easy to understand why teams were reluctant to pick him up. The Chicago White Sox, however, were willing to take a chance on the 28 year-old and are reaping the benefits of this move.
The resurgence of Latos has rejuvenated a starting rotation led by Chris Sale. Combined, Sale and Latos are 12-0 spearheading the team’s great 22-10 start. Baseball is very unpredictable and that sometimes the best thing for struggling players to do is change scenery, in order to rectify their career. That is exactly what Latos has done, proving that a new situation and a little bit of confidence goes a long way.
The Baltimore Orioles had been looking for a consistent outfield bat since they lost Nick Markakis before the start of the 2014 season. For now it appears that they’ve found their answer in Mark Trumbo, whom they acquired from the Seattle Mariners for catcher Steve Clevenger. Trumbo split time last season in both leagues, starting with the Arizona Diamondbacks, a place where he became the odd man out in the outfield. And the Seattle Mariners, whose ballpark wasn’t suited for a power hitter like Trumbo.
Trumbo has found the magic he had at the start of his career with the Angels. When in a span of three years (2011-13) he hit 95 homers and looked to be a staple in Angels’ lineup for years to come. However, the Angels went a different direction and looked for pitching help in dispense of the then burgeoning slugger.
Essentially, the past two seasons, his career was at a crossroads, treading water without making any progress. So when Baltimore decided to sign him this off-season, it became a perfect fit to Trumbo’s skillset — contributing on a team that relies on the home run ball to score, which is right up Trumbo’s alley. In 127 plate appearances, Trumbo is hitting at career-levels, yielding a .325 average with nine home runs and 24 RBIs. He has lengthened a lineup that was already stacked with power involving Adam Jones, Manny Machado and Chris Davis.
Trumbo has fit in like a glove in this very potent Orioles’ lineup. Baltimore may have found the missing piece in the outfield with Trumbo for a very minimal price.
The Arizona Diamondbacks were one of the busiest teams this off-season trying to rebuild into a contender quickly. They bolstered their rotation and bullpen with the additions of Zach Greinke and Shelby Miller. Those moves haven’t necessarily worked out quite as well as Arizona envisioned to start the season, but both look to have gotten back on track. In addition to establishing depth on the mound, the Diamondbacks also addressed depth in the batters box by acquiring second baseman Jean Segura from the Milwaukee Brewers.
Arizona took a chance on Segura, whose value significantly dropped the past two seasons. Segura has dealt with tragedy in his personal life, losing his infant son a year ago. This could’ve been a key reason why he struggled so much last season, hitting under .250 and striking out 93 times, the most in his career. Segura also learned how to handle pressure back when he was a coveted prospect within the Angels’ farm system. Ultimately, he was sent to the Milwaukee Brewers when the Angels acquired Zach Greinke for their 2012 playoff run.
Now in 2016, with an established role to utilize, Segura has become at peace with himself professionally and personally finding a comfort zone in Arizona. To start the season, Segura has been one of the most consistent hitters across baseball, as he’s racked up the second most hits in the NL (46) and maintains the sixth best average (.336). For what’s it’s worth, he’s been the table-setter for the Diamondbacks’ lineup, putting pressure on opposing pitchers from the very beginning.
Segura is a sneaky five-tool player that doesn’t get enough notoriety for his defense and base running ability. At just 26 years of age, Segura is hitting his stride and the Diamondbacks have found their second baseman for the foreseeable future. Time will tell if he’ll be able to keep up this torrid offensive start, but regardless he affects a game in a multitude of ways, which will always provide value to his game.
For the New York Yankees not much has gone right to start the 2016 campaign. They have a 12-18 record and are currently in the basement of the American League East. The one thing that has worked out for the Yankees is the acquisition of second baseman Starlin Castro from the Cubs for pitcher Adam Warren.
Castro struggled for the majority of the 2015 season as the former shortstop was moved to second base for the better defender in Javier Baez. He bought into Joe Madden’s plan and picked it up offensively at the end of last season. Castro was made expendable with the signing of Ben Zobrist this off-season and the Yankees needed to make this move in order to get younger.
New York acquired a player with a proven track record. At just 26, he is a three-time All-Star and the Yankees are counting on a rebound type of year from him. He has certainly delivered early on in 2016. He’s hitting .296 with 3 home runs and 12 RBIs, which leads the team. He’s been the only constant in the Yankees’ lineup that has struggled mightily across the board. Castro has quickly endeared himself to the Yankees’ faithful setting a record with seven RBIs in his first two games in pinstripes.
The way it’s panned out, this appears to be the best move for Castro’s career because he was expected to be the savior for a desperate Cubs franchise and at the very beginning. However, when the strifes began it was more mental for Castro. A strong head example is that early on he played defense merely on instincts, not being set defensively and even one occurence forgetting how many outs there were in an inning.
It was clear in 2015 that Castro had lost his confidence and become stagnant until the latter part of the year when he got comfortable with his role. That being said, it was inevitable that the Cubs wanted to go a different direction than Castro, as they were very active in the free-agent market eventually landing Zobrist.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have a knack for signing the forgotten guy and in turn, revolutionizing their career (case in point: Francisco Liriano in 2014 and Starling Marte last year). This season its former Oakland Athletic and Tampa Bay Ray, Jon Jaso, whom Pittsburgh signed to a two-year, $8 million contract.
Jaso has provided stability at first base, a position that has been hard to find consistent play both in the field and at the plate. They’ve found their man; he is currently hitting .291 with 3 home runs and 12 RBIs out of the lead-off spot. Jaso’s production is making the lineup even scarier with Andrew McCutchen, a yearly MVP candidate, hitting behind him.
Jaso has also improved their infield defense considerably as he is very sure handed, something that cannot be said for former Pirate Pedro Alvarez, who became a defensive liability and the team couldn’t continue to sacrifice defense for offense. As we all know giving opponents extra outs is a cardinal sin in baseball and happened too frequently for the Pirates to stick with Alvarez. Jaso hasn’t made an error in 209.1 innings or in 109 chances, so currently, defense is no longer a problem at first base.
This is another example of the Pirates great ability to get every player to buy into the team’s vision and philosophy. Jaso is one of so many players that have revived their career in Pittsburgh because the coaching staff puts them in the best situation to succeed.