State of the Expansion Franchise: Iowa

Part II of a five-part series reflecting on our 2012 expansion.

With 40 games to play in their third season in the league, John Renbarger’s Iowa Cyclones stand the best chance of any expansion team to earn a playoff berth.

The Cyclones have put themselves in such a position by being the most active of the four expansion teams in the trade market, adhering to a specific drafting strategy and offensive concept, and lucking into Mike Trout.

Mike Trout

Mike Trout

Iowa Cyclones Roster Evolution

Players acquired pre-2012: 37
Players dealt away: 18
Players cut: 15
Still Cyclones: 4  — OF Mike Trout, C Salvador Perez, OF Jayson Werth, 1B Ryan Howard.

2014 record: 68-52 (.567)
2013 record: 67-93 (.419)
2012 record: 60-100 (.375)

Face of the franchise: Mike Trout

GM Style: Off the charts — Iowa likes to roll the dice. It has attempted just one sac bunt all year — a successful squeeze by Jason Castro — and 8 hit-and-run maneuvers. It has not intentionally walked a single player.

The luck of the draw back in that 2012 expansion draft had Iowa selecting fifth, not first. But the much-heralded Trout fell to the Cyclones when the first four clubs chose, instead (because of needs or temporary insanity), Alex Avila (Michigan), Alex Gordon (Springfield), Eric Hosmer (Hickory) and Michael Pineda (Hickory).

“What a steal that has been,” John conceded. “Without Trout I guarantee I never would have gotten to where I am now.”

Where they are now is in a position leading the wild-card race with 68 wins, although many clubs are hot on their tails.

In the 2012 and 2013 drafts, the Cyclones deliberately eschewed one-year relief studs in favor of late-round pitchers with lesser cards who were expected to move into the starting ranks the following season. This also allowed Iowa to spend middle-round picks on prospects, while other clubs were stocking their bullpen — third baseman Kyle Seager being a prime example.

Still, while Iowa has stockpiled an impressive mound corps of some of the best young arms in the game, which is propelling the club’s current playoff run, a much different Iowa team could be taking  the field next year, due to some freakish bad luck. Aces Matt Harvey, Matt Moore and A.J. Griffin all spent virtually the entire year on the disabled list and will not be carded next year. But Iowa still has Shelby Miller and Tanner Roark.

“I will be hurting to keep 17 quality players,” John says of this year’s roster cutdown, adding that he’s undecided about carrying all three of Harvey, Moore and Griffin for an entire season on his taxi squad. “I will be looking to upgrade my hitters (in the 2015 draft) so that in 2016 I will have three young pitchers still along with a good quality staff.”

Iowa’s offensive strategy focuses on on-base and slugging numbers at the expense of defense, except at catcher and center field, where original draftees Salvador Perez (35th pick in 2012) and Trout remain staples of the club.  Iowa has been perfectly content, for example, to start Jed Lowrie, a 4 second baseman, in the majority of its games this year, because of his offensive superiority over Brian Dozier, a 2e6.

This may be the offseason in which Iowa cuts bait with one of its four remaining originals — first baseman Ryan Howard, struggling with the Phillies. But Trout, Perez and right fielder Jayson Werth still have plenty of life in them.

John says the trade he is most proud of is acquiring Adrian Beltre (from Michigan for Pedro and Henderson Alvarez in 2012). And the trade he most regrets? Trading Adrian Beltre (to Applegate at the 2012 trade deadline). “I just never got the value from (Josh) Willinghammer that I was expecting, and as such all I have to show for Beltre is (Clay) Buchholz’s card this year, granted it is amazing, but next year I will have nothing.”

After this year’s playoff run, Iowa may have to bide its time in 2015 as its pitchers heal, but it will also be gearing up to be a formidable foe in 2016 — just in time for new divisional alignments in the I-75 League.

“All in all, I have had a blast playing Strat these last three years, and it makes baseball way more fun and way more stressful to watch,” said John.

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