Results tagged ‘ MLB ’

Is It Time for Expansion in MLB?

It has been 16 years since a new team was added to MLB.

It has been 16 years since a new team was added to MLB.

It was 1998 when the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks joined Major League Baseball. Five years prior to that, 1993, MLB welcomed the Florida (Miami) Marlins and the Colorado Rockies, 16 years after the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners were added. Now, over 16 years after adding the Rays and Diamondbacks, is it time for Major League Baseball to add the 31st and 32nd clubs, and how would that change the league?

Because of scheduling, there would have to be two teams added, allowing 16 games to be played each night. Currently, with six divisions – three in each league – there are opportunities for five teams to appear in the playoffs, with the three division champions being joined by the winner of a one-game Wild Card play-in. How would this change going forward? Would the top two teams in each eight-team division within a league be the playoff teams, or would MLB want to keep the five participants (with the two weakest records among the top five qualifiers playing each other) or expand the playoffs to eight teams – which seems like going overboard, though there are financial pluses for the league and teams in expanding the playoffs, but playing games in cold cities in November would be horrific.

Adding two teams from warm cities wouldn’t factor into a November playoff being any more or less terrible. The top 10 television markets without MLB teams are currently:

Is beautiful Portland, Oregon the next location for a MLB team?

Is beautiful Portland, Oregon the next location for a MLB team?

Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne, Florida

Portland, Oregon

Charlotte, North Carolina

Indianapolis, Indiana

Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina

Nashville, Tennessee

Hartford-New Haven, Connecticut

Columbus, Ohio

Salt Lake City, Utah

Greenville/Spartanburg, South Carolina – Asheville, North Carolina

Further down the list – San Antonio, Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, and Birmingham.

Some could argue the vicinity of teams like the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians to Columbus and Indianapolis would make those cities more likely to only have minor league teams, which they both currently do (Indianapolis Indians are the Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Columbus Clippers are the Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians), than the addition of another club. The Reds, in particular, thrive on fans coming from Dayton, Columbus, Lexington, and Louisville to watch Major League quality play, even though minor league clubs are present in each city. The population doesn’t support an additional Ohio team, especially when the Reds and Indians can’t fill their current stadiums on a nightly basis.

That’s why it is so interesting when Brooklyn gets brought up as an expansion city still today. We all know that the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles in 1957, but could New York carry a third team if ownership doesn’t price out their fans the way that the New York Yankees and Mets have appeared to do within their new stadiums and the expensive, luxury “values” that they are providing now?

Could Charlotte represent the south in MLB?

Could Charlotte represent the south in MLB?

It is worrisome to have so many teams packed into one area, and the east coast is littered with teams, specifically the northeast. However, the addition of a team in Charlotte could be really intriguing for MLB. The south has always been ruled by the Atlanta Braves, and Braves Nation is huge due to the existence of TBS and the games being nationally televised for so many years. I grew up watching some pretty terrible, Dale Murphy-led Braves’ teams. Charlotte opens baseball in the south for the National League, as it could create a new rivalry with Atlanta, while focusing on the markets of Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, Asheville, Greensville, and Spartanburg could allow for some lucrative corporate and television endorsement agreements for the club, while expanding baseball in a southeastern region that is heavily populated and not so heavily represented in MLB today.

Additionally, Las Vegas is mentioned often due to its booming population when baseball expansion is discussed. It isn’t even a top 40 TV market, and if it were to earn a team, would the team thrive with so much of the population busy working the casinos and other tourist attractions, while those tourists are busy stuffing themselves with free buffets, drinks, and Celine Dion shows? Can it really support a club when the main economy factor will always be tourists? We’ve seen attendance become an issue in Tampa and Miami in the past due to the tourist ways of Florida populations, so would MLB want another potential revenue draining club?

Portland, Oregon, much like Charlotte, would fit into the Pacific Northwest nicely, creating a natural rivalry with the Seattle Mariners in the American League. There would be some issues with the stadium, as a roof would be necessary, in addition to the fact that Portland has limitations on land due to a pretty strict environmental protection agreement in the area, preventing nature around the city from being destroyed to maintain the area for hikers, tourists, and other green philosophies. Portland is ranked 22nd among all TV markets in the United States, while potentially raking in money from surrounding universities and Nike, among others, in sponsorship and development of the franchise.

Idea One:

With Charlotte and Portland added to the league, this is what MLB would look like with two, eight-team divisions, where the top two teams in each division would be the four playoff teams for each league:

American League

AmericanEast                                                            West

Baltimore Orioles                                   Houston Astros

Boston Red Sox                                       Kansas City Royals

Cleveland Indians                                  Los Angeles Angels

Chicago White Sox                                Minnesota Twins

Detroit Tigers                                          Oakland Athletics

New York Yankees                                 Portland Franchise

Tampa Bay Rays                                    Seattle Mariners

Toronto Blue Jays                                  Texas Rangers

National League

NationalEast                                                           West

Atlanta Braves                                         Arizona Diamondbacks

Charlotte Franchise                               Chicago Cubs

Cincinnati Reds                                      Colorado Rockies

Miami Marlins                                       Los Angeles Dodgers

New York Mets                                       Milwaukee Brewers

Philadelphia Phillies                            St. Louis Cardinals

Pittsburgh Pirates                                 San Diego Padres

Washington Nationals                       San Francisco Giants

Idea Two:

MLB could have four divisions in each league with four teams in each league, with division winners representing the four playoff teams for each league:

American League 

AmericanEast                                           South

Baltimore Orioles                 Houston Astros

Boston Red Sox                     Kansas City Royals

New York Yankees               Tampa Bay Rays

Toronto Blue Jays                Texas Rangers

North                                       West

Chicago White Sox             Los Angeles Angels

Cleveland Indians              Oakland Athletics

Detroit Tigers                      Portland Franchise

Minnesota Twins               Seattle Mariners

National League

NationalEast                                          North

New York Mets                     Chicago Cubs

Philadelphia Phillies         Cincinnati Reds

Pittsburgh Pirates               Milwaukee Brewers

Washington Nationals     St. Louis Cardinals

South                                      West

Atlanta Braves                     Arizona Diamondbacks

Charlotte Franchise           Los Angeles Dodgers

Colorado Rockies               San Diego Padres

Miami Marlins                   San Francisco Giants

Major League Baseball is as successful financially as it has ever been in 2014. With MLB Advanced Media revenue, local and national television contract revenue, and merchandise revenue continuing to fatten the pockets of existing owners, it is time for the league to open the door for another group of billionaires to take over new franchises. There is plenty of talent out there in MLB, so much so that teams are allowing players who can help them now, like Gregory Polanco of the Pirates and Oscar Taveras of the Cardinals, to rot in the minors to avoid salary issues in the future. If owners are so willing to obviously take on losses to save a player, how about players get taken away through an expansion draft. Now is the time. Expansion should be upon us, and whoever the next commissioner of baseball is going to be, it would be a huge splash to add two franchises as his first act as the league’s new fearless leader

 

 

 

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Questions About Velocity

It has been a pretty busy month of baseball to this point. There are also plenty of pitchers who may have a leg up on the competition in the month of May. Several standouts in May have presented an interesting question.

"Diamondbacks

How about these dominant names:

Phillip Hughes: 3-0 (5 starts), 1.62 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 33.1 IP, 24:0 K:BB

Tim Hudson: 1-1 (4 starts), 1.46 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 24.2 IP, 13:4 K:BB

Ryan Vogelsong: 3-1 (5 starts), 1.64 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 33 IP, 29:9 K:BB

Bronson Arroyo: 3-1 (5 starts), 1.73 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 36.1 IP, 24:5 K:BB

Wily Peralta: 1-3 (5 starts), 1.69 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 32 IP, 24:9 K:BB

Dallas Keuchel: 4-1 (5 starts), 1.79 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 40.1 IP, 31:4 K:BB

Mike Leake: 0-2 (5 starts), 1.77 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 35.2 IP, 26:8 K:BB

Pitching is a tricky part of the game. With so many injuries, it is fair to wonder what the wear and tear of long-term success has on a player’s future, and we may be seeing that now with Verlander, specifically. However, for all of the mediocrity that comes with the 85.8 mph average fastball that Bronson Arroyo is throwing this season, perhaps plus-plus velocity continues to be overrated. In fact, as it heats up in May, it is fair to look at pitchers like Hughes (92.1 mph), Hudson (89.0 mph), Vogelsong (90.2 mph), Peralta (95.3 mph), Keuchel (89.3 mph), and Leake (90.8 mph) and wonder if the fastball is really all that important.

Consider the top 20 fastball velocities in baseball since the start of the 2010 season. The numbers range from 95.7 to 93.2 and how many of them have had elbow issues in their careers - 11.

Andrew Cashner (5/2014), Stephen Strasburg (9/2010 and 10/2013), David Price (4/2008), Chris Sale (4/2014), Josh Johnson (7/2007, 10/2013, and 4/2014), Alfredo Simon (5/2009), Jordan Zimmermann (8/2009), Matt Garza (4/2008 and 7/2012), Matt Moore (7/2013 and 4/2014), Edinson Volquez (8/2009), and Luke Hochevar (3/2014), have each spent time on the disabled list due to elbow issues, with Strasburg, Johnson, Simon, Zimmermann, Moore, Volquez, and Hochevar undergoing Tommy John surgeries.

While there are names, like Peralta and Hughes, who are thriving still with 92 to 95 mph fastballs, could it just be another inning before the elbow snaps?

"Hall

Bronson Arroyo has tossed 2,339.1 innings in his career without a single stint on the disabled list. Greg Maddux tossed over 5,000 innings in his 23-year career with one disabled list stint, missing 10 games in 2002 due to a nerve issue, while changing speeds and utilizing movement to become a four-time Cy Young winner. Mark Buehrle is up to 2,956 innings and 195 wins without a stint on the disabled list without an electric fastball. Yordano Ventura and his 96 mph average fastball lasted all of 72.2 innings before injuring his elbow.

For all of the stuff and electricity that is added to the ballpark experience due to an incredible, triple-digit fastball, the torque and force on the elbow will continue to be a single pitch away from snapping the ulnar collateral ligament. There certainly are some impressive names on the list for top 20 velocities since 2010, but when half of them lose time due to injury, is it really worth it? Scouting speed seems ok with Billy Hamilton or Micah Johnson, but the vulnerability of pitchers due to the focus on fastball velocity is risky business these days in baseball.

Super Two Avoidance…Get to Know Oscar Taveras

Cardinals' Future Star Oscar Taveras

Cardinals’ Future Star Oscar Taveras

If you don’t know who Oscar Taveras is at this point, you should ask your internet service provider to explain how you’ve had Wi-Fi go through the boulder that you’ve been living under. Taveras has been a top prospect for three seasons ranking 23rd in 2012, 2nd in 2013, and 3rd in 2014 prior to each season (Baseball Prospectus), gaining all kinds of impressive comps along the way, including Vladimir Guerrero. The left-handed hitting outfielder was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in November of 2008 at the tender age of 16. Much like Gregory Polanco, who I wrote about on Wednesday, he appears stuck in the minors due to the financial constraints of the Super Two process, although…the Cardinals do have better talent blocking Taveras than what the Pirates have blocking Polanco, as Matt Adams and Allen Craig seem much more capable than Jose Tabata and Travis Snider.

Regardless of why Taveras is in the minors, he won’t be there for long. A recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by Derrick Goold quoted Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak saying that the 21-year-old Taveras could come up June 4 when the Cards begin a seven-game road trip in American League parks (Royals, Blue Jays, and Rays), where they’ll need a DH. Bringing up Taveras would allow the club to rotate Adams and Craig in the DH role, while plugging the youngster into the lineup. The only problem will be – what do they do after that series?

Matt Adams turns 26 in August and posted an .839 OPS in 2013. He’s still slashing at .316/.331/.483 this season, but the “Cardinal Way” isn’t showing up in his five walks in 181 plate appearances, including a 25-game and 98 plate appearance stretch from April 12 to May 9 when he didn’t take a single free pass. He still has plenty of offensive potential, but his defensive limitations (being strictly a first baseman due to his 6’3″, 260 pound frame) could lead to an eventual trade, especially with Allen Craig around.

Speaking of Craig, he, too, could see a change of position if Taveras comes up for good. Craig possessing the five-year, $31 million extension will be the player out of the two current Cardinals to stick. His above-average production over the last two-and-a-half years is great, but his injury issues continue to prevent him from being truly elite. The versatility that Craig has shown in the past would be limited, but plugging him in at first base if and when Taveras comes up for good could play a role in his health over the rest of his contract.

Sweet Swing...

Sweet Swing…

More interesting than moving Craig and/or Adams around would be a move or takeover of center field by Taveras. St. Louis center fielders have combined for a .247/.324/.380 triple slash (.704 OPS), with Peter Bourjos and Jon Jay lacking in overall production as the primary culprits. It is debatable as to whether Taveras is a long-term solution in center, but he could certainly handle the position this season, while boosting the St. Louis offense with his potential production along the way.

If he’s up, he needs to play. Taveras isn’t really a player that you keep on the bench and utilize in a 4th outfielder role. He has a nice list of accomplishments:

  • Two-time Futures Game selection
  • 2010 Appalachian League Post-Season All-Star
  • 2011 Baseball America Low-A All-Star
  • 2012 Texas League Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star
  • 2012 Texas League Player of the Year
  • 2012 Baseball America Minor League All-Star
  • 2012 Topps Double-A All-Star
  • 2013 Dominican Winter League Rookie of the Year

All of that…and he’s 21. All of that…and he played in only 47 games in 2013 due to an ankle injury.

Beyond his accomplishments lie his tools, which haven’t even peaked yet. Here is what the scouts say about Taveras:

Jason Parks, Baseball Prospectus: “Elite hit tool potential; natural feel for barreling the baseball; elite hands; elite bat speed; controlled chaos in the swing; batting title future; power will flow from the hit tool; raw power is near elite; game power likely to play above plus; arm is strong; good athlete with instincts for the game; average run; average (or better) glove; special offensive profile.”

Jonathan Mayo, MLB.com: “He is a gifted hitter and has proven that at every level of the Minor Leagues. He utilizes an aggressive approach and consistently barrels up balls, driving them to all fields. He generates impressive bat speed, producing above-average power that plays well in games.Taveras has a strong arm and average speed. He covers ground well in the outfield and the Cardinals have used him in center field in the Minor Leagues. He probably fits best in right field and will get a chance to prove he belongs in St. Louis before long.”

John Sickels, MinorLeagueBall.com: “He’s going to be a monster as long as health issues don’t get in the way. Left-handed-hitting Vlad Guerrero is the ceiling here.”

Taveras has been spectacular throughout his career:

Year Age AgeDif Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2009 17 -1.4 Cardinals FRk 65 272 237 35 61 13 8 1 42 9 28 36 .257 .338 .392 .731 93
2010 18 -2.7 2 Teams Rk 60 260 241 40 73 14 3 8 45 9 13 46 .303 .342 .485 .828 117
2010 18 -2.8 Johnson City Rk 53 229 211 39 68 13 3 8 43 8 12 41 .322 .362 .526 .889 111
2010 18 -1.7 Cardinals Rk 7 31 30 1 5 1 0 0 2 1 1 5 .167 .194 .200 .394 6
2011 19 -2.6 Quad Cities A 78 347 308 52 119 27 5 8 62 1 32 52 .386 .444 .584 1.028 180
2012 20 -4.1 Springfield AA 124 531 477 83 153 37 7 23 94 10 42 56 .321 .380 .572 .953 273
2013 21 -5.9 2 Teams AAA-Rk 47 188 174 25 54 13 0 5 32 5 10 22 .310 .348 .471 .819 82
2013 21 1.4 Cardinals Rk 1 2 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 1.000 1.000 2.000 3.000 2
2013 21 -5.9 Memphis AAA 46 186 173 25 53 12 0 5 32 5 9 22 .306 .341 .462 .803 80
2014 22 -4.7 Memphis AAA 42 180 166 27 52 13 1 6 34 1 12 22 .313 .361 .512 .873 85
6 Seasons 416 1778 1603 262 512 117 24 51 309 35 137 234 .319 .375 .518 .893 830
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/22/2014.

The .893 OPS is just scratching the surface when you consider that nearly 30 percent of his plate appearances came when most American players were high school juniors or high school seniors.

Oscar Taveras has had some high expectations for quite some time, but he has lived up to them at each stop. The comparisons seem unreasonable, but he deserves the opportunity to prove them wrong at the major-league level. The time is coming in St. Louis where Taveras is on the field every day. For a team that has appeared in four World Series in the last ten years, this is just a slap in the face to the rest of the league. Prepare yourselves for greatness, but don’t expect miracles right away. Taveras will be a very special player.

 

Is 755 Still Meaningful?

On Tuesday night, the Atlanta Braves celebrated the 40th anniversary of Hank Aaron‘s 715th home run, which catapulted him past Babe Ruth for Major League Baseball’s all-time record for career home runs. Aaron’s career was finished following the 1976 season, and, while Barry Bonds and his asterisk-filled resume was able to pass him on the home run list, Aaron still holds the major league record for RBI (2,297) and total bases (6,856).

There are many numbers that people remember about baseball:
4,256. Pete Rose – career hits.
714. Babe Ruth – career home runs.
2,632. Cal Ripken, Jr. – consecutive games played.
511. Cy Young – career pitching wins.
61. Roger Maris – home runs in 1961.

756755 is also one of those numbers that is burned into the minds of baseball fans; however, it was replaced by a new record for career home runs, established on August 7, 2007, when Bonds’ 756th bomb left AT&T Park in San Francisco. Bonds would be blackballed from baseball after the 2007 season, leaving the game with 762 career home runs and a legacy tarnished by perjury charges and his link to performance-enhancing drug use.

This morning in my drive home from dropping off my daughter at school, Mike and Mike, the morning ESPN Radio show, were discussing the importance of Aaron’s numbers and what they mean to baseball today. Mike Golic made an excellent point – why can’t baseball throw away the performance-enhancing drug numbers the way that track and field does? When an athlete sets a record, wins a medal, or any other significant merits that are later tarnished by allegations and proof of cheating, those awards and records are stripped, as if they never happened. If baseball wants to keep their records clean, they, led by commissioner Bud Selig, had and have the opportunities to do such a thing. Considering the MLB Player’s Association’s unwillingness to support Barry Bonds when he was unable to find a job after the 2007 season, it would appear that the removal of records would be something that could be easily accomplished by MLB leadership.

SosaMcGwireThe integrity of the game and its records have been tarnished by the use of performance-enhancing drugs. I have long felt that Major League Baseball has had plenty of celebrated miscreants within the game, including racists, womanizers, and cheaters (Ty Cobb, Ruth, and Gaylord Perry fit those descriptions perfectly), while drugs, including “greenies” and cocaine, ran rampant throughout the game for many years undetected and overlooked. After the 1994 player’s strike, the league seemed to be perfectly happy with the home run numbers increasing and the turnstiles producing record numbers, huge revenue, and new stadiums for the good ol’ boy network of owners. Suddenly, those same home runs weren’t as attractive, and the league went after Sammy Sosa, Bonds, and Mark McGwire, instead of acknowledging that they helped to save the game. So, now that the league has moved on from the men who helped to bring it back from the dead and they’re bringing in billions of dollars in revenue through Major League Baseball Advanced Media and lucrative television contracts, they can continue to turn their back on their one-time heroes like Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Bonds, Sosa, and McGwire, while allowing the Hall of Fame to become a mockery of a museum thanks in large part to the attention-starved writers who now make up the voting oligarchy of Cooperstown.

So, while Hank Aaron was and continues to be a living legend and icon in the sport, is it really fair for his number, 755, to continue to be the measuring stick of power in baseball when that number has been surpassed? No…but it doesn’t mean that it has to go away and that 762 is the only number that needs to be remembered. The 714 home runs that Babe Ruth hit are still an important number in baseball, as are the 660 that Willie Mays hit.

There isn’t an asterisk needed for Barry Bonds because there wasn’t one needed for Ruth’s number to be important. Regardless of the drugs that helped Bonds produce into his 40′s, baseball remains a numbers game. We don’t put asterisks on the numbers that players put up prior to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Wouldn’t baseball have been more competitive, as it is today, with the world’s best players on one stage, and not just the top white players?

AaronHank Aaron’s 755 will live on and his legacy of powerful longevity within Major League Baseball will last well beyond his lifetime. His number will remain meaningful as long as his story does, just as others have heard about and learned to love players from well before their lifetimes. There aren’t many who look back at the production that Ruth put up in his career without being awestruck, and the same will remain true for future baseball fans who won’t even see a game until the year 2214. Why? Because baseball remains meaningful, the players remain meaningful, and the numbers remain meaningful to those who love and are passionate about the game.

 

Spring Stars and Surprises

Spring statistics don’t really mean much to anyone, that is, of course, unless those numbers are being used to determine a position battle. I like to see young players who are getting long looks and veterans coming off of injuries prove their health and worth by admiring their feasting on lesser competition. While there are many out there that think that spring training is a waste of time and that the statistics don’t mean anything, they do mean a little something – especially to these players. (Statistics as of 3/20/2014)

Tigers 3B Nick Castellanos

Tigers 3B Nick Castellanos

Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers

.396/.412/.667, 19 H, 7 2B, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 2 SB, 5:2 K:BB in 48 AB

Why Spring Matters for Castellanos: The rookie third baseman is going to need to pick up some of the offensive production that was lost when the Tigers traded Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for a non-Arlington-version of Ian Kinsler. Kinsler has a career .242/.312/.399 line away from the spacious confines of the Ballpark at Arlington and a .304/.387/.511 line at home. Comerica Park is NOT  Globe Life Park in Arlington, and with the injury to Jose Iglesias (who may or may not be offensively capable), the Tigers need more players to step up to allow Miguel Cabrera to be an MVP candidate again in 2014. Castellanos doesn’t have the prospect shine of Byron Buxton or Xander Bogaerts, but he is going to hit. He always has. The fact that he is hitting while re-adjusting to playing third base, having been switched to the outfield just two years ago from the hot corner, is a positive sign. Additionally, he just turned 22 at the beginning of March. Castellanos may never hit 30 home runs and he may struggle to hit .300 due to contact and discipline questions, but if the Tigers are going to maintain solid offensive production, they’ll need this young man to hit the way that he has this spring. There may be some growing pains, but this production is very encouraging.

Mariners OF Dustin Ackley

Mariners OF Dustin Ackley

Dustin Ackley, OF, Seattle Mariners

.457/.490/.696, 21 H, 6 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 1 SB, 6:3 K:BB in 46 AB

Why Spring Matters for Ackley: After hitting .304/.374/.435 in the second half of 2013 (208 plate appearances), Ackley deserved a long look this spring. When the Mariners signed Robinson Cano and Corey Hart and traded for Logan Morrison, it was worrisome that the M’s could have squeezed their former top pick the way that they have their current middle infielders with the Cano signing. An already crowded, though hideous, outfield could still be impacted if Morrison and Hart man the corners with Justin Smoak at first, but the hope for all baseball enthusiasts is that Ackley gets 500 at-bats while playing a single position, something that the former top prospect hasn’t had an opportunity to accomplish in his very shifty career. The month of March has been very kind to Ackley and he should be locked into an everyday role, especially with Franklin Gutierrez out for the year (not shocking) and Michael Saunders floundering last season so badly. His gap power and on-base skills will make him a surprisingly valuable asset in the Mariners push towards contention in 2014.

Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City Royals

.450/.521/.875, 5 2B, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 1 SB, 6:6 K:BB in 40 AB

Why Spring Matters for Moustakas: Moustakas’ career appeared nearly dead when the Royals signed a perfect platoon partner, Danny Valencia, to pair up with the former top prospect. Then, Moustakas went and played winter ball and worked on his swing…and now this. Maybe it was the fire under the sphincter that Moose needed to get his career on track, maybe the alterations were enough,  or maybe he’s a late bloomer like the man that he replaced at the hot corner, Alex Gordon. Gordon was nearly out of the league until a breakout in 2011 at the age of 27, but Moustakas, 25, doesn’t deserve to be given up on just yet, either. Perhaps Moustakas has found the swing that led to 36 home runs and a .999 OPS at the age of 21 in 2010. He may still have some issues against the toughest of left-handed pitchers, but this could be the year.

hamilton3

Reds CF Billy Hamilton

Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati Reds

.325/.413/.450, 13 H, 2 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 9 SB, 12 R, 6:6 K:BB in 40 AB

Why Spring Matters for Hamilton: He’ll never replace Shin-Soo Choo and his ability to get on base, but when Hamilton gets on base, he’s nearly a lock to score. I am not sure how he managed to hit a home run, as the Reds should be instituting push-ups like Willie Mayes Hayes from the great American classic Major League. Hamilton’s wheels will make him a game-changing talent until an injury is to arise. It is highly unlikely that he’ll hit at this rate in 2014, but even a .250/.310/.325 line would afford him enough opportunities on the base paths to score close to 100 runs while stealing 50 or more bases. It may not seem mathematically realistic, but you need to see Billy run in person to gain an understanding of his actual speed. The walks and contact rate is encouraging, and while Great American Ballpark doesn’t have the thin air of the desert, it is still a launching pad – Hamilton just needs to keep the ball on the ground to better utilize his legs and to avoid the push-ups.

Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants

0.00 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 17 IP, 10 H, 16:2 K:BB

Why Spring Matters for Bumgarner: Spring doesn’t really matter much for Bumgarner, I just hope that people see this and realize that he is capable of winning the 2014 National League Cy Young award. The 2014 season is his age-24 season and he already has incredible numbers. His hits per nine fell to a career low in 2013 (6.5) and his strikeouts per nine were a career high (8.9). The dominance in his 17 spring innings will be what you’ll see in 2014. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stole the award from Clayton Kershaw. There weren’t eight pitchers in the NL better than him, regardless of the Cy Young voting.

Hector Santiago, LHP, Los Angeles Angels

2.76 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 16.1 IP, 11 H, 19:6 K:BB

Why Spring Matters for Santiago: Thanks to Joe Blanton being terrible and the Angels minor league system being even worse, Santiago was a lock for the rotation when he was acquired from the White Sox in the Mark Trumbo deal. Santiago, though, is a very interesting pitcher in 2014. He has some friendly ballparks in the American League West and he has the stuff to post nearly a strikeout per inning. Add in an impressive offense and Santiago could be one of the more surprising No.4 starters in baseball. He has shown the strikeout stuff and how hard he is to hit this spring, and if he can cool the walks a bit, which have always been an issue for him, the 26-year-old will continue to be effective for the Halos.

Cardinals RHP Carlos Martinez

Cardinals RHP Carlos Martinez

Carlos Martinez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

1.76 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 15.1 IP, 8 H, 9:3 K:BB

Why Spring Matters for Martinez: The Cardinals just aren’t fair. Joe Kelly, who only went 9-3 with a 2.28 ERA over 15 starts in 2013, is battling one of the club’s former top prospects for the No.5 spot in the Cards’ rotation. Nicknamed “Little Pedro” due to his stature and stuff being similar to future Hall of Fame right-hander Pedro Martinez, this 22-year-old Dominican future star has shown just how unhittable he is when he can manage to control his impressive arsenal. Many will wonder if his best long-term role will be the bullpen due to injury risks and how his stuff plays up in short bursts, but Martinez is much more valuable over 200 innings, and the Cardinals continue to have the depth to plug him into the rotation and reap the benefits of their minor league system. Martinez won’t look like Michael Wacha did down the stretch last season, but that is because he’ll be making a name for himself on his own in 2014.

When Arguing By History Goes Horribly Wrong

Angels 1B: Albert Pujols

Angels 1B: Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols should be a first ballot Hall of Famer, even if you only consider his time with the St. Louis Cardinals. Pujols posted an 83 WAR (FanGraphs) from 2001 to 2011 in the “Gateway to the West”, winning three MVP awards and earning nine All-Star appearances in those 11 seasons. He parlayed that success into a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels prior to the 2012 season.

Since joining the Angels, the Pujols that you grew to love (or hate) has played in just 253 games, compiling a .275/.338/.485 triple-slash with 47 home runs and 169 RBI, while amassing a 4.4 WAR over the last two seasons. “Prince Albert” certainly hasn’t lived up to expectations, but the partial tear of his left plantar fascia played a major role in his sudden decline in 2013, as his 30 home runs and 105 RBI in 2012 can’t truly be considered a failure – unless your own expectations could have been judged in the same way.

Bob Nightengale posted a piece at USA Today which detailed a response that Pujols had to an interesting question:

Are you motivated to put up the same numbers as Mike Trout?

Pujols’ response was intriguing, to say the least:

“Can you imagine someone saying that to me? I felt like saying, ‘Come on, are you serious? Are you really asking me that? Check out my numbers. I know what Mike Trout has done in his first two years is pretty special, but will you look at my numbers. I’ve been doing this for almost 14 years. The only guy in baseball who can match the numbers I’ve put up is Barry Bonds, and someone is actually asking if I can put up numbers like Mike Trout? Are you freaking kidding me?”

We do seem to forget greatness rather quickly in our society, which lives in the now thanks in large part to social media and a non-existent attention span; however, does Pujols have a point?

pujols1You could argue that what Pujols has done – nearly 500 home runs and a little over 2,300 hits – will reach numbers that guarantee a legacy and enshrinement into Cooperstown. If he continues to stay clean, which has been an argument from some in the past, that seems to be a lock, but, as we all know, one wrong move, one wrong vitamin, and one wrong trust in a trainer could leave Pujols waiting on steps of the museum with Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, and others.

Let’s just say that Pujols remains the clean producer that he has been. Pujols will still be considered a monster, likely the second player with 3,000 hits and 600 home runs in Major League history (joining Willie Mays). Does he need to prove anything to anyone, considering that he could post 100 hits and 15 home runs per season over the next seven years to reach those milestones? He certainly wouldn’t be worth his average annual value with that type of production, but given the Angels’ television revenue and the gate revenue that comes along with the milestone chase, perhaps the Halos could still break even.

Here is a bigger question: Is it fair for a member of the media to ask if Pujols can put up numbers that Mike Trout has the last two seasons?

No. Pujols never has posted those numbers and he certainly won’t as he continues to age and decline.

Angels OF Mike Trout

Angels OF Mike Trout

You see, for all of his greatness, Pujols will forever lose value in the battle of statistics. With Wins Above Replacement being such a dynamic measuring tool in player values, Albert Pujols has to understand that he has NEVER been as valuable in a single season as Mike Trout has been in his first two full season. Mike Trout has accumulated a massive 20.4 WAR (FanGraphs) in those two seasons, establishing himself as the top player in the game, even though he has not managed to snag the last two American League MVP awards from Detroit Tigers’ first baseman Miguel Cabrera.

For all of the 14 years of production that Pujols can stand on, for the nine All-Star games, for the three MVP awards – baseball has moved on from legacies and histories to projection. By developing statistics that measure player values currently and in the future, like Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS system, there is information available to teams and fans to dissect and look towards the future with, while hoping that their teams utilize the seemingly endless media revenue streams to lock-up their young stars, like Trout, to long-term deals. Albert Pujols has very little projection left and it seems unlikely that in today’s market, just two years removed, that Pujols would have received the type of contract that he did in Los Angeles.

As for the history that comes with Albert Pujols, he isn’t the player that the Angels are building their franchise around any longer. Although Mike Trout isn’t under team control as long as Pujols, the franchise is aware of the future success of the club, and it lies in the all-around skills and dominance that comes along with the generational talent that they drafted and developed, not the man that they committed a quarter of a billion dollars to in free agency.

If Mike Trout continues to be Mike Trout and he isn’t crippled by injuries like Grady Sizemore or Tony Conigliaro, Pujols will look back at this question and statement to remember that he was the one that could have used a serving of humble pie. Trout’s overall numbers may not reach the 700 home run plateau, but his WAR value could lead him to becoming the greatest player ever.

Pujols has never had a season as valuable as the last two that Trout has managed to post. If he thinks that he is the more valuable player of the two still today, he has to be kidding all of us, right?

Gardner’s Extension: Planting a Seed of Stupidity in Spending

Yankees OF Brett Gardner

Yankees OF Brett Gardner

Brett Gardner is a good baseball player. He has been around since 2008, but he didn’t really get a full-time shot until 2010. He posted a 6.0 WAR in 2010 due to his 97 runs, 47 stolen bases, 79 walks, and solid defense while manning left field  (123 games) and center field (44 games) throughout that season. He followed that up with a good 2011, compiling a 4.9 WAR and leading the American League in stolen bases (49) while seeing his wRC+ fall below 100 (97). The 2012 season was lost due to right elbow surgery (he played in 16 games), and the 2013 season was solid (3.2 WAR), while Gardner become better than league average in creating runs (108 wRC+) while leading the AL in triples (10) and manning center full-time for an injury-crippled Yankee squad.

However, this winter, the Yankees have been very active, acquiring a new catcher in Brian McCann, a solid rotation addition in Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka, and adding one of the elite players on the open market – Jacoby Ellsbury – from their division rival, Boston. This clearly improved the roster and should allow the Yankees to be much more competitive in 2014 and beyond, but with these additions, especially the addition of Ellsbury, Gardner’s name was listed throughout many rumors, as his bat isn’t going to produce the numbers that many corner outfielders are capable of.

On Sunday, the Yankees signed Gardner to a four-year, $52 million extension. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had this to say about the signing:

“He would be a leadoff hitter and playing center field for most organizations because most organizations don’t have multiple center-field options. There are certain places that need a center fielder and would love to have a leadoff hitter. He fit that criteria, and you have to pay him that way.”

Do you?

Gardner3Are there other teams out there that have two players locked into the same role, and, why, when the club was so cautious (prior to this offseason) of the payroll, was it necessary to give a decent player $13 million per season in average annual value for his age 31 to 34 seasons, when he will, likely, be less likely to run and maintain defensive value?

The Atlanta Braves just signed Andrelton Simmons to a seven-year, $58 million extension last week, so it wouldn’t be ideal for the Braves to try to sign Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz to a deal similar to what the Dodgers paid Erisbel Arruebarruena, as both are defensive-minded shortstops, though Simmons showed unexpected pop in 2013. Should the Yankees be excused from this type of investment because of their revenue streams?

Sure, there are other teams that have decided to employ solid defense in the outfield, potentially leaving some runs on the base paths to ensure that it is harder for the opposition to score. The Cleveland Indians, for example, went into the 2013 season with three capable center fielders in their outfield – Michael Brantley in left, Michael Bourn in center, and Drew Stubbs in right – and they became contenders, winning 92 games in 2013 after winning just 68 in 2012. Certainly, Nick Swisher‘s addition, improved production from Jason Kipnis, and surprising seasons from Yan Gomes and Ubaldo Jimenez helped, but…maybe it was the defense.

The Angels had Peter Bourjos penciled into center in 2013 until hamstring and wrist injuries kept him on the disabled list for 106 games in 2013. With Bourjos, Mike Trout, and Josh Hamilton, the Angels, on paper, had a group of three center fielders, as well; although, it would be a reach to consider Hamilton a center fielder at this point. There is also the dynamic offensive numbers that Trout can put up wherever he is playing that separates him from any of the Indians’ outfielders, as well as Gardner – so with Bourjos gone and J.B. Schuck and Kole Calhoun taking his spot, Trout manned center and, once again, posted MVP-caliber numbers while the Angels finished with a disappointing 78 wins.

There are certainly arguments for defensive value that make the Gardner extension reasonable, but $13 million per season seems like a lot of money for the 20th most valuable outfielder in baseball from 2013, tied with Rays’ outfielder Desmond Jennings and Braves’ outfielder Justin Upton with a 3.2 WAR. There are so many other options who could have been more affordable for New York as players like Coco Crisp, Marlon Byrd, and Shane Victorino could have been available to them, and they each posted more productive seasons while earning similar totals to what Gardner will earn from 2015 through 2018. 

Beyond Gardner’s peers, should the Yankees be concerned about his production when compared to his past production?

Season PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% BABIP AVG OBP SLG WAR
2008 141 0 18 16 13 5.7 21.3 0.296 0.228 0.283 0.299 1.1
2009 284 3 48 23 26 9.2 14.1 0.311 0.270 0.345 0.379 2.3
2010 569 5 97 47 47 13.9 17.8 0.340 0.277 0.383 0.379 6.0
2011 588 7 87 36 49 10.2 15.8 0.303 0.259 0.345 0.369 4.9
2012 37 0 7 3 2 13.5 18.9 0.417 0.323 0.417 0.387 0.3
2013 609 8 81 52 24 8.5 20.9 0.342 0.273 0.344 0.416 3.2

His best season will be three-plus years ago when the 2014 season starts and his production has been all over the place since then. You can see that Gardner’s walk rate has gone from 13.9 percent  in his breakout 2010 to 8.5 percent in 2013, while, at the same time, his strikeout rate jumped to a full-season worst 20.9 percent in 2013. Gardner may have been pressing due to a need to be productive with all of the injuries around him, but if he isn’t on base, he isn’t running, and if he isn’t running, where does his value lie? It lies in his defense and if he isn’t playing center field, does that decrease his overall value?

Gardner2Again, there is such a thing as an elite defense, but teams tend to want big offensive production from their corner spots. Brett Gardner is not as sexy in left as he is in center, and with Jacoby Ellsbury unlikely to ever reach the outlier power numbers that he showed in 2011 ever again, there isn’t room for error, regression, or depreciation in Gardner’s skill-set over the next four seasons for him to be worth this investment.

Whether a win is worth $5 million, $7 million, or it is immeasurable, this contract seems unlikely to contain any room for surplus value for the Yankees.

While the Yankees may be able to afford a failed investment that a team like the Reds, Rays, or Pirates can’t, but $52 million for a league-average player doesn’t seem like a wise investment – cost of a win be damned.

Logan Morrison: LoMo NoMo in Seattle?

Hart

Recent Seattle additions: Corey Hart and Logan Morrison

When the Seattle Mariners acquired first baseman/outfielder Logan Morrison from the Miami Marlins via trade for relief pitcher Carter Capps on the same day that the club signed first baseman/outfielder Corey Hart away from the Milwaukee Brewers via free agency, I felt that there was something strange to the deal. The Mariners already had a lot of options at first base, albeit not tremendous ones, in Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero (who has likely moved off of catcher and is a first baseman/DH), and Dustin Ackley (who appears to be a utility player and has experience at first base from his time playing the position at North Carolina). Adding familiar, more successful names, particularly with Hart and the huge Robinson Cano signing was one thing, but how does Morrison really fit in with the Seattle club?

After making some noise in his first 185 games of his career for the Marlins by posting a .259/.351/.460 with 45 doubles, 11 triples, 25 home runs, 90 RBI, and a 150:95 K:BB in 812 plate appearances, Morrison has bombed to a .236/.321/.387 triple-slash since the start of the 2012 season, with 28 doubles, five triples, 17 home runs, 72 RBI, and a 114:69 K:BB in 667 plate appearances. There is still some production there, but Morrison hasn’t been nearly as impressive; however, considering that he is still just 26, there would seem to be some time for him to get his career back on track. But will it be in Seattle?

MorrisonIn addition to the gluttony of first basemen in Seattle, Logan Morrison is an absolute nightmare in the outfield, as he has posted a -26.9 UZR in his career as a left fielder, which is, of course, much worse than the -4.3 UZR that he has provided as a first baseman. After Corey Hart missed all of the 2013 season due to micro-fracture surgery on his right knee, it is safe to assume that he will either be the Mariners’ new DH or first baseman, which could be troublesome for the Seattle defensive outlook if it forces Morrison to the outfield on a full-time basis.

Which brings me to the continued efforts and rumors of a David Price to Seattle trade…After likely losing James Loney to free agency (especially considering his rumored $9-10 million annual salary that he is seeking), the Tampa Bay Rays could still use a first baseman, as the current roster makeup would leave a lot of playing time for Sean Rodriguez at first base, which doesn’t seem like a smart, Rays-like idea. So, could it be possible that the Mariners stole Morrison, which they did in acquiring him for a bullpen arm in Carter, to package him with other, in-house players in a deal for David Price?

It isn’t as if Logan Morrison could be the central figure in the Rays’ return in a deal, but three years of team control on a player with enough of a bat to be useful within Tampa’s unconventional, stats-driven ideology would make him an intriguing addition. With Cano at second base, Nick Franklin appears to be available, and while he isn’t much of a defender at shortstop, the Rays have Yunel Escobar through the 2014 season, with slick fielding shortstop Hak-Ju Lee coming up the prospect pipeline. Franklin could take over second base in 2015 if the Rays decline Ben Zobrist‘s 2015 option (very unlikely with a $7.5 million salary and his yearly effectiveness), or the club could utilize Zobrist all over the field, as they have done over the last several seasons. Taijuan Walker, the 21-year-old top prospect of the Mariners, continues to be the key name mentioned as the centerpiece of a deal, and by packaging this trio to Tampa Bay, the Mariners rotation would have one of the most frightening rotations this side of the Greg Maddux-John Smoltz-Tom Glavine Braves, and Tampa would have affordable, young, major league ready talent that they continually covet. (Side Note: The Mariners gave Corey Hart the No.27, Walker’s number from 2013…were they suggesting something here?)

The Mariners shocked the world when they swooped in and signed Robinson Cano to a ten-year, $240 million deal, and they appear to have moved from a slow and steady rebuild to a team looking to contend immediately. With a unique blend of young talent in Ackley, Franklin, Brad Miller, Mike Zunino, and Kyle Seager already around, the addition of Cano, Morrison, and Hart seemed to implode the existing philosophies on where the team was heading in a matter of a week.

PriceMorrison may not be a star, but he could have been the additional piece needed to pluck David Price away from the Tampa Bay Rays. While there have been plenty of questionable moves by Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik over the last several seasons, the acquisition of Morrison wasn’t one of them, and as the team looks to continue to make bold moves to turn itself into immediate contenders, it will be interesting to see how many more deals and signings could be made in the Pacific Northwest to bring a winner back to the house that Griffey built.

The Hot Stove Has Caught On Fire

It certainly hasn’t taken long for teams to begin dishing out large contracts that they’ll probably regret in a couple of years with free agency well under way. However, the last 24 to 48 hours have supplied the greatest number of gifts, with a lot of examples of “huh”, “why”, “seriously”, and “come again” worthy reactions.

The Trades

The Doug Fister Trade

Detroit Tigers get: 2B Steve Lombardozzi, LHP Ian Krol, and LHP Robbie Ray

Washington Nationals get: RHP Doug Fister

FisterIt has to be called the Doug Fister trade because no one really cares about any of the players that the Tigers got back, right? If this wasn’t a total salary dump, I don’t know what it was, as the “prize” return for the Tigers is Ray, who was a 10th round pick in 2010 and had a 6.56 ERA in 2012 in his first attempt at High-A Potomac before bouncing back and having a solid season between High-A and Double-A in 2013, really doesn’t seem like a tremendous prospect; though, we have been proven wrong by Dave Dombrowski before. After the Tampa Bay Rays received one of the top young prospects in baseball, Wil Myers, in return for two controllable seasons of James Shields, you would think that the Tigers could have received more for Fister, who had managed to post an impressive 32-20 record to go along with a 3.29 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 440.2 innings with Detroit. Fister now joins Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, and Gio Gonzalez within the Washington rotation, making the Nationals strong contenders for first-year manager Matt Williams in 2014.

Winner: Washington Nationals.

Smelling Fowler

Houston Astros get: CF Dexter Fowler

Colorado Rockies get: RHP Jordan Lyles and OF Brandon Barnes

Fowler1Fowler seemed to be on the trading block for some time, but he was finally dealt on Tuesday. The Astros get two affordable seasons (two-years, $11.6 million) of Fowler while they wait for George Springer to prove himself ready, or…they just acquired a nicer trade chip than what they gave up. Jordan Lyles may still be just 23 years old, but he hasn’t put it together in 377 major league innings, posting a 5.35 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and a 6.2 K/9, and it seems very unlikely that shifting to Coor’s Field is going to assist his progression to sudden success. Brandon Barnes has some ability, but it isn’t as an everyday player, as his atrocious 127:21 K:BB and .635 OPS over 445 plate appearances goes to show. Barnes could be a fourth outfielder for the Rockies, with Carlos Gonzalez sliding over to center and Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson battling it out for the left field job, or Colorado could look to free agency to upgrade in center. This deal didn’t make a whole lot of sense for the Rockies unless they saw something in Lyles and didn’t feel that Fowler would ever live up to his hot start from 2013, when he posted a 1.032 OPS and then fell off of the face of the earth. Even if Fowler doesn’t live up to those numbers, he is the most valuable piece in the deal.

Winner: Houston Astros.

The Unimpressive Three-Way

Cincinnati Reds get: LHP David Holmberg.

Tampa Bay Rays get: RHP Heath Bell and cash from Arizona, and C Ryan Hanigan from Cincinnati.

Arizona Diamondbacks get: RHP Justin Choate and a PTBNL

The Rays are always viewed as a smart club and they were able to land another potential closer after losing Fernando Rodney to free agency, leaving the club with Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo to battle it out for the gig. On top of that, they received an excellent framing catcher in Hanigan, who has proved to be quite valuable to Cincinnati over the last several years in game-calling, while inking the backstop to a three-year extension upon the completion of the deal. The bad part, though, is that both Bell and Hanigan weren’t very good last season, with Hanigan, in particular, looking like a nightmare offensively, posting a .198/.306/.261 line over 260 plate appearances, leading to the Reds leaning on Brayan Pena, who was signed to a two-year deal earlier this winter, and Devin Mesoraco, the young, power-hitting catcher who will finally get a full-time look in Cincinnati. The Diamondbacks dumped some salary while dealing Bell for a young, breathing body. Choate pitched in the New York-Penn League in 2013 at the age of 22 and he isn’t much of a prospect. The Reds dumped Hanigan, who was arbitration-eligible, while getting a 22-year-old left-handed starter, who posted a 2.75 ERA in 26 Double-A starts in 2013 with a 116:50 K:BB in 157.1 innings. While Holmberg wasn’t as sexy as Tyler Skaggs or Archie Bradley within the Diamondbacks system, he could become a solid back of the rotation arm or a Sean Marshall-like relief pitcher for the Reds. The good news for Cincinnati is that Mesoraco gets his shot and Holmberg adds some near-ready pitching depth after the likely departure of Bronson Arroyo via free agency.

Winner: Everyone looks like a winner here, as the deal worked well for all three teams, but the Rays received the most help in assisting the team win in 2013.

Why Did Beane Make That (Michael) Choice?

Texas Rangers get: OF Michael Choice and 2B Chris Bostick

Oakland A’s get: OF Craig Gentry and RHP Josh Lindblom

ChoiceThis seemed like an odd deal for Oakland and GM Billy Beane, as Gentry is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter and Lindblom has been pretty terrible since being traded from the Dodgers to the Phillies in the 2012 Shane Victorino deal, as he has posted a 5.10 ERA and 1.50 WHIP over 54.2 innings since leaving Los Angeles (2.91 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 77.1 innings prior to the trade). Maybe a return to the west coast is what Lindblom needs to be a useful reliever, but by getting the elite defensive skills and increasing salary of the light-hitting (.280/.355/.366 in 763 plate appearances), 29-year-old Gentry, and giving up the potential that still exists in the bat of Michael Choice, who is 24 and isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2017, Beane showed that he may be looking beyond three years from now and that he could be putting the A’s in win-now mode. Bostick is a nice second base prospect, having posted a .282/.354/.452 line over 555 plate appearances as a 20-year-old in Low-A in 2013, but the Rangers have quite a few young, up-the-middle prospects (Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar, and Luis Sardinas) and they don’t seem to have a need there, while the A’s have run Jemile Weeks out of town in a trade with Baltimore and Eric Sogard was very…meh…in 2013 at the major league level. Winning now is important, but it doesn’t seem like the A’s really acquired anyone who can really help them in 2014 to get over the hump.

Winner: Texas Rangers.

The Free Agent Splashes

The Yankees Spend Like Crazy…Again.

Who They Signed: C Brian McCann (five-years, $85 million); OF Jacoby Ellsbury (seven-years, $153 million);

McCannWhy It Matters: Notice that the Yankees have committed nearly $240 million after having been rumored to be on a mission to avoid the $189 million threshold of the payroll luxury tax, while not having signed their All-Star second baseman, Robinson Cano, just yet. And, don’t forget, the team is rumored to be interested in signing Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who could be had at a lesser amount after the posting fee was limited to a maximum $20 million bid on Wednesday. McCann is a huge upgrade over the combined .213/.289/.298 triple slash that Yankees’ catchers posted in 2013, while Ellsbury provides great defense and speed as the Yankees try to move on from all of the injuries that suffocated their success this past season. Even if the Yankees are done with the big name signings, including Cano, they should be a better team in 2014.

Twinkies Filled Their Rotation

Who Minnesota Signed: RHP Phil Hughes (three-year, $24 million); RHP Ricky Nolasco (four-year, $49 million);

Why It Matters: The Twins starting pitchers posted a 5.26 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP in 2013, worst in the majors, and the ERA was a whopping 0.45 points higher than the Toronto Blue Jays’ starters (4.81), who finished 29th. Hughes still has youth and potential, but he needs to start tapping into that potential after posting a horrific 5.19 ERA over 29 starts and 145.2 innings. Shockingly, Hughes’ numbers would have made him a solid number three starter for the Twins in 2013…they were that bad. Adding Nolasco was special, but he isn’t an ace. He will likely be the Twins’ Opening Day starter in 2014 by default and he should make the rotation slightly better; although, it couldn’t get much worse.

Kazmir Rejuvenates and Cashes In Athletically

Who Oakland Signed: LHP Scott Kazmir (two-year, $22 million)

Why It Matters: Signing Kazmir to a lucrative contract could lead to another movie about the Oakland A’s after the success of Moneyball. While Kazmir’s resurgence was quite surprising, an eight-figure deal, after making all of one total appearance in the majors in 2011 and 2012 due to severe shoulder woes, was even more surprising. Possessing a mid-90′s fastball and a left arm appears to be all that it took to find a big deal. Kazmir’s story is worthy of attention and praise, but it is a story that needs to be monitored to see if he can maintain the same success in Oakland over the next two seasons. His presence will allow the A’s and Beane to shop LHP Brett Anderson at the winter meetings next week, which could net the club some additional win-now resources.

The Tigers No Longer on the Prowl for a Closer

Who Detroit Signed: RHP Joe Nathan (two-year, $20 million)

Why It Matters: Detroit needed a lockdown closer after shuffling through Jose Valverde, Phil Coke, Jose Veras, and Bruce Rondon at closer before Joaquin Benoit took over and did a nice job over the rest of the season. They got their man after signing Joe Nathan away from the Texas Rangers. Nathan closed 80 games out the last two seasons, while posting a 2.09 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, and at 38 years of age, he doesn’t look to be slowing down after missing the 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery. After dealing Prince Fielder to improve at second base with Ian Kinsler, moving Miguel Cabrera back to first, and plugging Drew Smyly into the rotation (after dealing Fister), the Tigers will have a completely new look in 2014. With their strong rotation, Nathan’s shutdown ability makes them quite dangerous.

Fish Hook Their Catcher and the Red Sox Snag Another

Who Miami Signed: C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (three-year, $21 million)

Who Boston Signed: C A.J. Pierzynski (one-year, $8.25 million)

Why It Matters: With a lot of focus heading towards catcher defense and framing, highlighted by the Rays commitments to Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan this winter, other clubs continue to look towards offensive-minded catchers, and the Miami Marlins and Boston Red Sox locked down their backstops this week. The Marlins seem to have very little hope for a quick turnaround and Saltalamacchia isn’t going to be the other piece to help Giancarlo Stanton and Miami to an NL East title, but it is a start…as long as they don’t trade him before the 2014 season starts. Pierzynski will be on his fifth organization and, despite being hated by some of his competition, he could be a tremendous asset to the character and chemistry that existed within the Boston World Series clubhouse. I guess he is better to have on your team than to play against him.

 

 

One Pitcher…One Game…Who Do You Pick?

All over the internet this week, different analysts have raised the question: “If you could choose any pitcher to pitch an elimination game, who would you choose?” It seems like a pretty easy question, but the answers have been all over the place. Obviously, the concept needs to be narrowed down. Is it right now? Is it in the history of the game? What kind of team is the pitcher facing?

Kershaw3A recent article at FanGraphs actually posed the question to 12 different players. Not surprisingly, Los Angeles Dodgers left-handed starter Clayton Kershaw came out on top, receiving six votes, but it was relatively surprising that he only received six of the 12 votes. David Price ranked second with two votes, while soon-to-be free agent right-hander Roy Halladay, New York Mets’ right-hander Matt Harvey, Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee, and St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright each received one vote. With Andy Pettitte, the all-time leader in postseason wins (19), Cole Hamels (7-4 with a 3.09 ERA in 13 postseason starts), and Chris Carpenter (10-4 with a 3.00 ERA in 18 postseason starts) still around, is it fair to wonder what Baltimore Orioles’ first baseman Chris Davis was thinking when he said the zero postseason start Matt Harvey?

Certainly, the nastiness of the stuff has to be taken into account when you are answering a question like this, and Harvey is undeniably one of the nastiest pitchers in Major League Baseball…when healthy. If that is the case, should Miami Marlins’ right-hander Jose Fernandez be someone to consider? What about Justin Verlander – the guy has won seven of 14 starts, including a complete ownage of Oakland in the postseason, having posted a 0.29 ERA and a 43:7 K:BB in 31 innings (four starts)? Tim Lincecum has five wins and a 2.47 ERA over 54.2 postseason innings, why not him?

As great as Kershaw has been, he has just one win in five postseason starts. Certainly, it isn’t just about wins, as the win is a strange, outdated statistic; however, after watching Kershaw get rocked in the 2009 NLCS against the Phillies (albeit at the age of 21), is he the best option? How can a pitcher have a career 2.60 ERA, including a 2.21 ERA over his last 99 starts, and only win about 42-percent of his starts (63-percent of his decisions)?

It isn’t Kershaw’s fault. That’s why it doesn’t matter.

Pitching is fantastic, but if the team hitting behind that amazing pitcher isn’t scoring, all of those zeroes mean nothing. Case in point:

Courtesy:csnbayarea.com

Courtesy:csnbayarea.com

July 2, 1963.

Candlestick Park, San Francisco, California.

Milwaukee Braves versus San Francisco Giants.

Warren Spahn versus Juan Marichal.

Spahn’s line:

Pitching IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA BF GSc IR IS WPA aLI RE24
Warren Spahn, L (11-4) 15.1 9 1 1 1 2 1 2.84 56 97 0.970 1.68 5.5
Team Totals 15.1 9 1 1 1 2 1 0.59 56 97 0.970 1.49 5.5
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/12/2013.

Marichal’s line:

Pitching IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA BF GSc IR IS WPA aLI RE24
Juan Marichal, W (13-3) 16 8 0 0 4 10 0 2.14 59 112 1.470 1.49 6.7
Team Totals 16 8 0 0 4 10 0 0.00 59 112 1.470 1.68 6.7
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/12/2013.

Kershaw isn’t going to pitch 16 innings anytime soon, he is just as unlikely to pitch on three days rest several times in a series to accumulate dominant postseason statistics considering he has never started a game on three days rest in his career.

cabrera2The question “who would you start in a game that means everything” means very little. The pitcher means a lot to the outcome of the game, but what happens when that dominant pitcher has Miguel Cabrera playing third base with sore legs and Jhonny Peralta at short? What happens when Joe Kelly or some other non-elite pitcher somehow matches zeroes with the dynamic ace? What happens when Don Larson, who posted a career 81-91 record, 3.78 ERA, and 1.40 WHIP, throws the lone perfect game in World Series history?

Wins don’t matter and dominant pitching is only a luxury when it is happening while the offense is scoring runs. A pitcher is only as good as those playing behind him are on a given night. Even Kerry Wood and Roger Clemens, who struck out 20 in a single game, had to have a run behind them in case someone managed to score in between the seven non-strikeout outs.

Shouldn’t the real question be “if you could have one hitter and one pitcher on your team for a means-everything game, who would they be”?

 

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