Alaska Railroaders: The Outfielders and Batting Order

The fictional Alaska Railroaders, comprised only of MLB free agents, have selected four outfielders.

Anchorage station
The Anchorage Depot is the heart of the Alaska Railroad. The railroad serves as the inspiration for the Alaska Railroaders’ name, uniform, and insignia. 

Previous posts (here and here) have outlined the idea behind the Alaska Railroaders – a fictional Major League Baseball team consisting of free agents (as of the start of the 2016 season). The team will carry four outfielders. Keep in mind that Garrett Jones and Ryan Doumit can also play in right field, which gives the roster some flexibility. 

Starting in left field for the Railroaders would be Grady Sizemore. Sizemore has struggled with a litany of injuries during his career, but in 2015 he served as a capable reserve outfielder for Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, hitting .257/.318/.429 between the clubs with six home runs. Due to the possibilities of creating platoons in the outfield, Sizemore would not be called upon to play more than 100 games and would see most of those starts come against right-handed pitching (against which he has a career slash of .281/.366/.492). If Sizemore can stay healthy in this reduced role, he could slash .260/.313/.393 with 9 home runs. If aggressive enough, he could also make a case for ten steals.

David DeJesus would be the primary center fielder. DeJesus is getting long in the tooth, but his last several seasons are all statistically similar (with an OPS generally in the low .700s). However, I suspect that the Railroaders would see his numbers dip from that mark. Seeing the field about as often as Sizemore, DeJesus is capable of .247/.303/.362, while hitting seven home runs and stealing a handful of bases.

Right field would belong to Alex Rios, who could move to left periodically to give Jones or Doumit a start in right field. Since 2013, Rios has not had an especially strong season. However, he does hit left-handed pitching well and is serviceable enough against right-handed pitchers to be used most games. Rios doesn’t walk much and his power numbers have been down the last few seasons. However, playing as a regular for the Railroaders would probably do him some good – if he stays healthy. Pencil him in for a .265/.305/.403 slash with ten home runs and at least ten steals.

The wildcard in the outfield is Ah-seop Son. Son, just as Jae-gyun Hwang , was posted at the end of 2015 and did not receive a bid. Technically, Hwang and Son, both coming from the same KBO team, could not simultaneously make the jump to the Major Leagues during the same year (both play for the Lotte Giants and, although both can be posted, the Lotte Giants can only accept a bid for one or the other within the same posting period). We will make an exception and say that, for whatever reason, the KBO changed the rule and have allowed both Hwang and Son to play for the Alaska Railroaders. Son hit .317/.406/.472 with the Lotte Giants in 2015, adding 13 home runs. At the very least, Son (who is currently hitting .304/.397/.433 with seven home runs for the Lotte Giants) is a left-handed bat off the bench. He should also help spell Sizemore and DeJesus, whereas Jones and Doumit could help Rios fill right field. Son is a legitimate threat on the bases and has a lifetime .321 batting average in the KBO. Son also walks a great deal and has flashed some power as well – he hit 18 home runs in 2014. By the end of the Alaska Railroaders’ hypothetical first season, Son may very well have more at bats than DeJesus or Sizemore, if only because Son is several years younger than either (offering greater endurance and durability). Logging 358 at bats, Son hits .279/.376/.397 with five home runs and fifteen steals. Son may very well have taken over in left field by June.

Batting Order vs Left-handed Pitcher: Sizmore, DeJesus, Rios, Hwang, Morse*, Uggla, Cabrera, Quintero, [Pitcher]. 

*Jones would see some starts at first against left-handed pitchers. 

Batting Order vs. Right-handed Pitcher: Sizmore, DeJesus, Hwang, Jones, Rios, Doumit^, Uggla, Cabrera, [Pitcher].

^Quintero would invariably have to play against right-handed pitching as well. On those occasions, he would bat eighth in the order, with Uggla and Cabrera sliding up one spot each.

Up next: the pitchers.

Alaska Railroaders: The Infielders

The Alaska Railroaders, a fictional baseball team of 2016 free agents, has selected nine infielders.

Alaska Railroad.jpg
The construction of the railroad in Alaska at the start of the 20th century helped spur the early growth of Anchorage, where the fictional Alaska Railroaders play.

In a previous post I explained some background of the Alaska Railroaders – a fictional Major League Baseball club with a roster consisting of free agents at the start of the 2016 season. I also shared that the team’s first signing would be Garrett Jones (who is currently playing in Japan) and that he would be the primary first baseman.

The starting second baseman would be Dan Uggla. Uggla’s last truly productive season was 2012, but “the last frontier” would give Uggla one last chance to start. The second base market was thin by the time the regular season started, but Uggla could prove himself worthy by supplying power to the lineup. Uggla had a difficult 2015, finishing with a slash of .183/.298/.300, but the 235 career home runs and name recognition (if this team existed, that would be important) offer some appeal. However, Uggla would probably have sit a few games here or there to break up cold streaks, meaning that someone else would also see considerable time at second base for the Railroaders. With some pressure taken off of him, Uggla may be able to move north of the “Mendoza Line” (on a team of all free agents, there isn’t necessarily someone waiting in the wings to take your job). Uggla also knows how to take a walk, but the real hope here is that he will be able to run into a few. I see Uggla definitely playing more than half of the games (if he can stay healthy) for the Railroaders, unless his numbers were truly unbearable. Put him down for 13 home runs home runs along with a .202/.298/.360 slash across 381 at bats. The resulting OPS is not good (.658) but survivable if Uggla delivers some pop.

Everth Cabrera would be the starting shortstop. Cabrera’s career slash of .246/.315/.328 makes clear that he is a light hitter, but his defense is solid. Playing the majority of the time, Cabrera could reasonably repeat his 2014 campaign (.232/.272/.300, 3 home runs, 18 steals). The ability to steal a few bases comes as a welcome addition to this roster. The Railroaders could count on Cabrera for .234/.307/.324, with three home runs and maybe upwards of 15 steals.

The position of third base allows this entire speculation to get creative: Jae-gyun Hwang was posted in December by the Lotte Giants of the Korean Baseball Organization for bidding and did not receive a bid. For the purposes of this project, the Alaska Railroaders did submit a bid and were able to agree to terms with Hwang. Last season, Hwang posted a .290/.350/.521 in the hitter-friendly KBO, while racking up 26 home runs, 97 RBI, and 11 stolen bases. Generally, the recent wave of Korean players has demonstrated that most can prove capable in Major League Baseball. Jung Ho Kang, Dae-Ho Lee, and Hyun Soo Kim have all played well thus far in their MLB careers. Slugger Byung Ho Park has struggled, but will certainly get another chance this season with the Minnesota Twins. Hwang was especially good in Korea during 2014 and 2015 (and presently for the 2016 season is hitting .327/.375/.569 with 17 home runs) and should be at least serviceable for the Railroaders. Hwang, 27-years-old to start the season, will man the hot corner full-time. Strikeouts will be a concern for Hwang, and he will not walk much. That said, the Railroaders will need to march him onto the field each day (and the team would hope that he holds up over a longer MLB season). Hwang could be counted on for .277/.309/.410  while belting 14 home runs, stealing a dozen bases, and providing a spark for the Railroaders offense.

The market is very thin at catcher (as per the eligibility limitations for this team). The Railroaders will start the season with Humberto Quintero serving as the primary catcher, with Ryan Doumit as a backup option. Doumit could also help in right field and at first base if there is a need. Neither of these players could be expected to stay healthy the entire season, especially considering the demands of the position (and the age of each). I am hard-pressed to count on Quintero to start more than 65 games behind home plate. Doumit may be able to contribute 60 games as the backstop, but that leaves 37 games remaining. Of course, most teams use multiple catchers throughout the season as injuries dictate. Quintero and Doumit would simply start the season by sharing the position. Quintero fares somewhat better against left-handed pitching, while Doumit fares better against the more common right-landed hurlers. However, Quintero plays the position better. Quintero should be able to muster .230/.258/.315 across 248 at bats, while hitting three home runs. Doumit is a bit more dangerous at the plate than his counterpart. Doumit will also see extra at bats through his occasional appearance in right field or first base, as well as his ability to pinch hit. Regardless of how the Railroaders use him, Doumit logs just over 250 at bats, hits .261/.339/.412, and slugs eight home runs.

Rounding out the infield would be the reserves: Michael Morse, Kevin Frandsen, and Joaquin Arias. Arias and Frandsen are utility players. Either can spell Uggla, Cabrera, or Hwang as needed. Frandsen would most likely see considerable time at second if Uggla should really struggle. Frandsen could receive around 200 at bats, hitting .256/.300/.360 with four home runs. Morse would serve as the right-handed half of the platoon at first base with Jones. If Morse were to play really well (anything close to how he played in 2010-2012 or 2014), he could force Jones to move to right field more often so that the Railroaders could have both of their bats in the lineup. Arguably, Morse could see upwards of 200 at bats, especially if he sees time as a pinch hitter and designated hitter during interleague play, and hit .265/.342/.404 with five home runs.

Up next: the outfielders

 

Alaska Railroaders: A MLB Team of Free Agents

How would a baseball team of all free agents look?

I have loved baseball for a long time. When I was a young kid though, I was a somewhat fair weather fan. My favorite team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, had a good run in the early 90s, but otherwise I tended to favor football and basketball over baseball. That changed dramatically in December of 1998, when the Pirates signed Ed Sprague to play third base.

Sprague had long been my favorite player, having spent most of his career at that point with my second favorite team – the Toronto Blue Jays.  Sprague had a great season for the Pirates, earning a place on the National League All-Star team, and hitting .267/.352/.465 with 22 home runs. His OPS of .817 was the second highest of his career (for seasons in which he played full-time). While Sprague was with the Pirates, I couldn’t miss a game. I even had a chance to see him hit a home run in person. The Pirates had a fairly decent team in 1999 (finishing 78-83) and, if not for injuries, may have broken up that streak of consecutive losing seasons from 1993 to 2012. I had equally enjoyed the Pirates’ 2003 team.

Sprague signing with the Pirates had demonstrated to me that free agency could help a team (whereas in the early 90s the Pirates had been hurt frequently by free agency). Each season after Sprague’s tenure with the Buccos, I started closely watching the Pirates’ moves in free agency. Of course, as with many other fans, as a teenager I began to wonder how I might perform as a general manager – especially during free agency.

That curiosity started a tradition of mine. Each season, I tried to find a list of the players unsigned to a Major League Baseball team on opening day and construct a team from those players. My goal was to make the team as competitive as possible and use players with some MLB experience (with a few exceptions, as the KBO is going to lend me a hand this time). I also got into the habit of imagining this team as an expansion team without the benefit of an expansion draft. Obviously, there is a need to suspend reality to make this work and to just enjoy the entertainment value of imaging how this team would look. Before I go on, let me say Mark McGwire hates this idea.

Several years ago, I would post the rosters I created onto Facebook. I eventually got out of the habit of posting my “free agent team” online. However, yesterday I had nothing better to think about while landscaping for most of the day. I sat down last evening and starting doing some research. After a few hours, I pieced together a roster along with some statistical projections. I have always enjoyed the numbers associated with baseball. I decided that this blog would work well enough as an outlet for the finished product.

 

Anchoragepicpd
Anchorage, Alaska: the fictional ConocoPhillips Field would be located to the right in this picture. 

I’m calling the team the Alaska Railroaders. The team would play in Anchorage, which has a long railroading history. I am fully aware that Anchorage, with a metropolitan area of less than 500,000 people, could not support a MLB team. However, when I was a kid I was obsessed with Alaska, so that part of this entire scenario was nonnegotiable. The Railroaders would play at the fictional ConocoPhillips Field, which would be built in Bootleggers Cove. Visible through an opening in the grandstand behind center field would be the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet and downtown. A locomotive’s whistle would announce the hitting of a home run by the Railroaders. I imagine the team playing in the National League West division (for the purposes of constructing a roster, I am electing to have the team placed in the NL) and wearing white and gold uniforms with blue and black trim. This would allow the team to generally share the livery of the Alaska Railroad. I also assembled my roster as if the team would start play with the current 2016 season. Before I go on, I should share that I have three short stories involving baseball: The Shepherds and Game 7, Any Pitch is its Hit, and Devil on the Diamond. Each of these stories intertwine baseball and the supernatural. I have also used the “Alaska Railroaders” as a fictional independent league team in a few of my works. 

Three subsequent posts will break the Alaska Railroaders’ roster into pieces: infielders, outfielders, and pitchers. I’m not claiming this team would win the pennant. That said, I would hope to field a team that  could best the 2003 Detroit Tigers in a series. 

I will share the Alaska Railroaders first signing in this post, as he is a player that will see time in the infield and outfield. The Railroaders’ first official player would be Garrett Jones. Jones was most recently with the New York Yankees in 2015, but is probably best remembered for his time with the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2009 to 2013. 

Jones is not technically a free agent, as he signed a contract with the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball in December of 2015. However, for the sake of constructing this roster, we will deem Jones available since he would have most likely preferred to sign with a Major League Baseball club. Jones would serve as the Railroaders’ primary first baseman, although he would likely sit occasionally against left-handed pitching. Against right-handed pitching, Jones has a career slash of .265/.330/.473. Although Jones struggled in 2015 while seeing limited at bats with the New York Yankees, the 34-year-old (at the start of the season) could easily see over 600 plate appearances with the larger role of a first base platoon and the occasional start in right field. Jones also brings some home run power to the roster. He averaged over 19 home runs per season between 2009 and 2014. As far as a projection is concerned, I see Jones embracing this opportunity to the tune of .256/.324/.442 with 22 home runs and an OPS of .766 in 543 at bats. For the record, Jones is presently hitting .247/.331/.463 with 13 home runs across 231 at bats in Japan (as of July 21).

Up next: the other infielders