A good idea from the Venezuelan Winter League

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The VEWL adds an interesting twist to playoff rosters.

This is your reminder that, even though it’s the beginning of January, there is high quality, meaningful baseball being played. The Venezuelan Winter League has wrapped up its regular season, with the Navegantes de Magallanes finishing 33-25 to lead the pack.

The VEWL is NOT an instructional league designed to give more seasoning to underdeveloped prospects. MLB teams don’t get to select which players participate, as they do in the Arizona Fall League. This is a highly competitive endeavor in which each team strives to win the championship as well as national admiration, in a country where such leisurely pursuits are a much-needed break from daily life.

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The VEWL might not be very large by American professional sporting standards, but they have a robust postseason. Six of the eight teams make the playoffs, with four advancing to the second round, and two playing for the championship. They also have a unique rule to spice up the postseason rosters.

Now that’s pretty cool! If this rule existed in the United States, we would see Mike Trout in the playoffs every year, along with all of the other giants of the sport. There would have to be usage restrictions in place, as well as injury assurances. We can’t have the Braves drafting Jacob deGrom and then starting him every day until his elbow blows out.

Assuming all the necessary parties could agree (Ron Howard voiceover: they wouldn’t), this would be a fun experiment. Surely, you see where this is heading: let’s have a mock draft as though this rule applied to the 2018 MLB playoffs!

All ten playoff teams will draft two players from the 20 eliminated teams. It will be a standard two-round draft, with the best regular season record selecting first. And with that, the Boston Red Sox are on the clock…

Round One

  1. Boston Red Sox select Jacob deGrom: It seems blasphemous that Trout wouldn’t be the first overall pick. However, the Red Sox already have a crowded outfield of Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley, Jr., and AL MVP Mookie Betts. There’s also designated hitter J.D. Martinez to consider, should they reach the World Series and have to play games in an NL park (spoiler: they did). Their pitching staff was far less certain, with Chirs Sale’s velocity diminishing in September, and David Price’s past playoff struggles. As 2018’s best pitcher, deGrom is a better roster fit.
  2. Houston Astros select Mike Trout: In ALCS Game Five, in which the Astros were eliminated, they started George Springer, Tony Kemp and Jake Marisnick in the outfield. Two of the three are less than ideal players in such a pivotal, season-defining game. There’s nothing like the best player in baseball to fill a need.
  3. New York Yankees select Anthony Rendon: Rookie Miguel Andújar was a sensation offensively, but a train wreck as a third baseman. At times, they used Adeiny Hechavarria in his place. Rendon is an excellent all-around player. This selection moves Andújar to DH with Giancarlo Stanton playing left field.
  4. Oakland Athletics select Max Scherzer: The A’s didn’t last too long in the playoffs, getting blasted out if the Wild Card Game by the Yankees, 7-2. They “started” Liam Hendricks and used their bullpen for the entire game. With an ace like Scherzer, perhaps they’d have lasted longer and gone further than a one-and-done wild card game.
  5. Milwaukee Brewers select Andrelton Simmons: Simmons isn’t the absolute best player available, but he’s not far off. Orlando Arcia, with his .268 on base percentage and 55 DRC+, started at shortstop in the playoffs for the Brewers. Furthermore, the rest of the infield included the defensive tragedy of Mike Moustakas at third base, Travis Shaw and second base, and Jesus Aguilar at first base. Simmons’ superhuman range and above average bat would be a welcome change.
  6. Chicago Cubs select Aaron Nola: The Cubs may have been tempted to grab Simmons to replace suspended shortstop Addison Russell if the Brewers hadn’t snatched him first. Instead, they’ll add an outstanding starter in Nola. He would join trade deadline acquisition Cole Hamels at the front of the playoff rotation.
  7. Los Angeles Dodgers select Edwin Diaz: The Dodgers have very few holes on paper, which is probably why they made it to the World Series. With Kenley Jansen having an inconsistent year, the addition of a shutdown reliever like Diaz really shortens the game.
  8. Cleveland Indians select Brandon Nimmo: Pop quiz: name two Cleveland outfielders. Even if you get Michael Brantley (who has since signed with Houston), you probably can’t name another one. With Nimmo in center field, they could’ve benched either Jason Kipnis or Melky Cabrera. Maybe they would have even won a playoff game!
  9. Colorado Rockies select Matt Carpenter: If you’re playing Ian Desmond at first base, you probably won’t get very far. Substitute him with Carpenter’s .257/.374/.523 slash line and now you’re cooking with gas. Along with Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story, this pick gives the offensively challenged Rockies three of the top four home run hitters in the NL.
  10. Atlanta Braves select Blake Snell: Mike Foltynewicz and :checks notes: Anibal Sanchez (?!?) were excellent at the front of the Braves rotation, but the rest were just okay. Snell adds depth and allows them to use intimidating starters (or whatever Sanchez is) throughout the playoffs.

Round Two

  1. Boston Red Sox select J.T. Realmuto: Boston’s top two catchers in 2018 were Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez. Both are excellent defensively, but simply putrid with the bat, sitting at the bottom of all qualified hitters in 2018. They contributed DRC+ of 62 and 76, respectively. Realmuto’s was 113.
  2. Houston Astros select Mitch Haniger: After raiding two division rivals, Houston’s playoff outfield from left to right is now Haniger, Trout, and Springer. Their combined fWAR in 2018 was 13.3.
  3. New York Yankees select Francisco Cervelli: Gary Sanchez is the future for the Yankees behind the plate, and he’ll probably have a long career smashing majestic home runs. However, he was awful in 2018, as he struggled with injuries for most of the second half. Former Yankee fan favorite Cervelli is the best non-playoff catcher available.
  4. Oakland Athletics select Buster Posey: Imagine Giants fans reactions to seeing Posey suit up in an A’s uniform! Jonathan Lucroy was a disappointment last season, so our run on catchers continues.
  5. Milwaukee Brewers select Patrick Corbin: Even though Milwaukee finished with the best record in the NL, their best starters were Jhoulys Chacin and Wade Miley. Superb as they may have been, neither is an ace. Corbin took baseball by storm in 2018, and instantly becomes the Game One starter.
  6. Chicago Cubs select Yadier Molina: This isn’t even a need pick. They would do better to draft a middle infielder or another pitcher. Willson Contreras is a pretty good hitting catcher, but he’s one of the worst pitch framers in baseball. Really, this pick is more about sticking it to the Cardinals.
  7. Los Angeles Dodgers select Whit Merrifield: The Dodgers tried to address the second base spot by adding Brian Dozier over the summer, but he never hit much for them. Merrifield improves the overall speed and defense of the team, while fitting well with their theme of versatility. He would probably start some games at second base, or come off the bench as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. He can even play a little outfield.
  8. Cleveland Indians select Tommy Pham: Remember the pop quiz from round one? That’s why Cleveland needs to draft two outfielders, not just one. Brantley, Nimmo and Pham turn a weakness into a strength.
  9. Colorado Rockies select Jose Leclerc: The Rockies paid $32.5 million to Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, and Jake McGee in 2018, who recorded DRA of 3.90, 4.07, and 6.15. Selecting a reliever for the postseason admits a certain degree of front office failure, but it’s not much different than adding Seunghwan Oh at the trade deadline. Leclerc was very quietly one of the top relievers in baseball for the Rangers, striking out 38.1 percent of batters and allowing just one home run in 57 23 innings.
  10. Atlanta Braves select Trea Turner: Charlie Culberson’s emergence was a nice surprise for the Braves, but they can still do better for a postseason shortstop. Turner’s 19 home runs and league leading 43 stolen bases provide an appealing upgrade, and allow Culberson to function as a supersub.

Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at www.OffTheBenchBaseball.com. Tweets @depstein1983

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