Top 10 infields in the majors.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
1. Texas Rangers
The Rangers' plan is to give Mitch Moreland a chance to establish himself as the first baseman in spring training, but they will also be devoted to the concept of making sure their best players will be in the lineup; if it becomes clear that Jurickson Profar -- who turns 20 next month -- is one of those guys, he'll play. Profar was shut down in winter ball because of an elbow problem, but the Rangers say he's fine now and is ready to go. The left side of the Texas infield is dynamic defensively, with MVP candidate Adrian Beltre at third and the improved Elvis Andrus at shortstop. Andrus is only 24 years old and still developing as an offensive player, and he showed in the first half that he has room to grow.
The X factor: Ian Kinsler. There was a general regression throughout almost every part of the Rangers' lineup as last season progressed, from Josh Hamilton to Michael Young, but Kinsler's decline may have been the most perplexing. At age 30, his OPS slid by 83 points from 2011 to 2012; his WAR went from 7.1 to 2.0 in the same time frame. The damage he did against fastballs dropped considerably last year. As Profar emerges, Kinsler could be asked to change positions and move to first base, as he has acknowledged, but no matter where he plays, the Rangers will need better production out of him than they got last season; when at his best, Kinsler can be an elite hitter, among infielders.
2. Detroit Tigers
Let's get this out of the way: The Tigers' infield defense was the worst in the majors last season because of plays not made, and for a sinker-ball pitcher like Rick Porcello, the lack of range is a problem. But in the end, Detroit reached the World Series largely because of the offensive excellence of Miguel Cabrera, who had the first Triple Crown season in almost half a century, and Prince Fielder, who made a seamless transition in his first season in Detroit. Those two combined for 74 homers and 247 RBIs.
"They're the best 1-2 punch in the big leagues," an AL general manager said recently. A very underrated part of what Cabrera and Fielder provide is their devotion to playing daily: They answer the bell, every day. Over the last seven seasons, Cabrera and Fielder have missed a total of 40 games. Omar Infante seemingly put a lot of pressure on himself after joining the Tigers in a midseason trade, before settling in and playing better down in the last weeks; he should be better this year.
The X factor: Their shortstop situation. The Tigers exercised the 2013 option for Jhonny Peralta, who is steady but limited, especially on defense. But they demonstrated during the winter that they're open to a possible upgrade, and it'll be interesting to see if Peralta holds this position throughout the season, or if Detroit aggressively looks for an alternative during the year.
3. Cincinnati Reds
If Texas has the best left side in baseball, the Reds probably have the best right side, with Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips, who both excel offensively and defensively. Votto will presumably go into this season fully recovered from the multiple rounds of knee surgery he had last year, and with Shin-Soo Choo joining the Reds, Phillips figures to slide into the No. 2 spot in the Cincinnati lineup. Dusty Baker had to work to get Todd Frazier into the lineup at times last season, but with Scott Rolen closer to retirement, Frazier becomes the every-day guy at third, after posting an .829 OPS in 128 games last year. It's worth noting that while the Reds' hitters generally benefit from hitting in a cozy home park, Frazier fared better on the road than at home in 2012, by a good margin -- his OPS away from Cincinnati was 85 points higher, at .871. Shortstop Zack Cozart, 27, has some pop.
The X factor: For the first time in Votto's time with the Reds, the sum of their parts could really help him to a monster season. In recent years, Cincinnati has sometimes lacked a leadoff hitter who consistently gets on base, or good left-handed/right-handed balance, or depth through the 4-5-6 spots in their lineup. But with the addition of Choo at the top of their lineup, the Reds might have the best group they've ever had around Votto, who finished 2012 with a career-high 1.041 OPS. It could be a really big summer for him.
4. Tampa Bay Rays
Sure, nobody knows exactly what they'll get out of first baseman James Loney, who is probably getting his last full-time shot to show that he can be a consistent run producer. And Tampa Bay's Yunel Escobar experiment will be fascinating; just as the Blue Jays did, they're betting that his talent (and the incredible team-friendly contract) will outweigh all his personality quirks and perceived lack of focus. But no matter what they get out of Loney and Escobar, the Rays should have two bedrocks in their infield, health permitting: Third baseman Evan Longoria and second baseman Ben Zobrist. Over Longoria's last 207 games, he has 48 homers and 154 RBIs, while playing in a home ballpark that's not exactly hitter-friendly, and Zobrist is a WAR superstar; he finished 16th in the majors in 2012 (FanGraphs' version) and 11th in 2011.
The X factor: Escobar. One of the folks in the Toronto organization summed up the shortstop in this way: "Every day, he makes at least one major mistake on defense or running the bases." That's a tendency that runs counter to the Rays' working philosophy, of course; Tampa Bay needs to be efficient. But Escobar is also capable of game-changing at-bats and superlative defense. The question is whether he'll drive the Rays crazy while they wait for those moments -- which is what happened in Atlanta and in Toronto. There's a reason someone who is perceived to be so talented has bounced to four teams (including the Marlins) in four seasons.
5. New York Yankees
Robinson Cano is the game's best second baseman, and if the contract-year theory applies in his case -- he's eligible for free agency in the fall -- he could contend for the MVP award, again. Around him, there are stars capable of great things, even as older players: Derek Jeter led the majors in hits last season, at age 38. Mark Teixeira had 52 extra-base hits in 123 games in what was perceived to be a down year for him in 2012. Only two seasons ago, Kevin Youkilis posted a .411 on-base percentage for the Red Sox. And sometime in midseason, the Yankees believe, Alex Rodriguez will be back from his surgery.
The X factor: The ravages of age; the Yankees are hanging on the physical cliff. Jeter is coming back from a broken leg and, as he has noted himself with some humor, he has reached the age when everybody wonders, year to year, if he can still play. Teixeira turns 33 in April and his OPS has dropped each of the last four seasons:
There was a difference of about 400 OPS points in Youkilis' home/road splits last season, which was a red flag for some teams. Given that Rodriguez is 37 and has now had major surgery on both hips, the Yankees really have no idea whether he can be an effective player anymore.
6. Atlanta Braves
It's still not entirely clear how the Braves will replace Chipper Jones at third base; Martin Prado could be the full-time third baseman, or Atlanta could work the powerful Juan Francisco into the mix against some right-handed pitchers and shift Prado to left field on some days. No matter how the Braves decide to go, however, their infield should be one of the best, now that Andrelton Simmons is established as one of the sport's best young shortstops and Freddie Freeman is emerging as a run-producer. Freeman was hampered for weeks by eye trouble -- which has since been fixed -- but still closed the year with 58 extra-base hits after having a strong second half.
The X factor: The Braves need more peaks than valleys from Dan Uggla, whose slugging percentage has dropped from .503 in 2010 to .453 in 2011 to .384 last year.
7. Toronto Blue Jays
It's a group that seems to have excellent potential: Edwin Encarnacion at first base, coming off a season in which he clubbed 42 homers and drove in 110 runs; shortstop Jose Reyes, winner of the NL batting title two years ago; Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis at second base; and the crazily talented Brett Lawrie at third base, where he has quickly adapted defensively. But as with all teams, there are questions: Is Encarnacion just a late bloomer, like Jose Bautista, or a one-year wonder? Can Reyes, who has a long history of leg problems, stay healthy while playing on Toronto's artificial surface? How much will Bonifacio -- who has been successful in 82 of 96 stolen-base attempts over the last three seasons -- contribute as a regular player?
The X factor: When you listen to rival evaluators talk about Lawrie, they sound like old cowboys talking about a mustang they saw running across the range. Lawrie impresses the heck out of them with his physical tools and his passion, yet they have doubts about whether he can ever be reined in and refined in a way that allows him to become an elite player. "Totally out of control," said one longtime rival coach, noting that at times, it looks like Lawrie will just keep running on the bases until somebody tags him out. Lawrie posted an OPS of .729 last season, and his average of pitches per plate appearance declined significantly, from 4.07 to 3.66. Remember, he's just 22; he turns 23 in a couple of weeks. Clearly, Lawrie could be a great player. Or not.
8. Washington Nationals
Within the industry, the expectation is that Washington will eventually re-sign Adam LaRoche -- and if that happens, the Nationals would have a top-five infield, with third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, shortstop Ian Desmond and second baseman Danny Espinosa. Keep in mind, too, that third-base prospect Anthony Rendon, a high-impact hitter taken in the 2011 draft, could advance to the big leagues sometime in 2013, though the presence of Zimmerman makes his future position unclear.
The X factor: LaRoche. He wants a three-year deal; the Nationals have been offering two years. Because Washington gave him a qualifying offer, he is tied to draft-pick compensation, which has scared off some other teams.
9. San Francisco Giants
The fact that Marco Scutaro got a three-year deal was a stunner in other front offices, but hey, all the Giants saw from him, in his three months with the team, was excellence. Scutaro, who turned 37 in October, hit .362 in the regular season for the Giants, before batting .328 in the postseason. Brandon Crawford might be baseball's best defensive shortstop, and he hit a respectable .260 in the second half of the season. Brandon Belt might have finally established himself as a regular for the Giants, after posting a .781 OPS last season.
The X factor: One of the interesting questions of the Giants' spring training will be the physical condition of Pablo Sandoval, who put on a lot of weight last season -- and helped San Francisco win the World Series, anyway, hitting .325 with six homers in 83 postseason at-bats. Some rival evaluators fretted during October that his success would take him away from good habits through the winter -- and given the structure of their team, the Giants really need him to be an effective player, whatever his weight.
10. Kansas City Royals
There could be a year when the Royals could be at the very top of this list, depending on the development of corner infielders Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. Some scouts thought Moustakas wore down over his first full season in the big leagues -- his OPS dropped from .817 in the first half to .586 in the second half -- but he had a good year defensively. Hosmer started slowly in 2012, hitting .188 in April, and was never really able to bounce back. But his struggles didn't diminish the perception of him as a player of great potential -- and there may not be a player in the majors whose development is more crucial to his team for the upcoming season than him. Shortstop Alcides Escobar has already made solid improvement at the plate, pushing his OPS upward by 100 points over the last two seasons and becoming one of the most efficient base-stealers in the majors; he had 35 in 40 attempts last season. His defense is well-regarded by rival evaluators, but now that he's 26, the Royals would probably like to see some of his defensive mistakes cleaned up.
The X factor: Hosmer. If he climbs back onto the trajectory scouts saw him on in 2011, the Royals' lineup will look very different.
Best of the rest
They have hung onto shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera after listening to offers for him, and given the additions of Terry Francona, Nick Swisher, Trevor Bauer and now Brett Myers, it figures Cleveland will at least let the first half of the season play out before considering dealing Cabrera again. He is the anchor to what should be a good infield: Mark Reynolds at first base, where he played well defensively for the Orioles last year; second baseman Jason Kipnis, who had a solid 2012 season of 40 extra-base hits and 31 steals; and Lonnie Chisenhall and Mike Aviles at third.
The X factor: The presence of Francona. The Indians completely collapsed in the second half of last season, a collective disintegration that seemed to take down numbers for a whole bunch of players. Whether you want to attribute that to frustration or a lack of focus, it would seem that the Indians have a better chance of playing all the way through the whole season this year.
St. Louis Cardinals
Allen Craig has developed into one of the game's best-hitting first basemen, and now, with Lance Berkman gone, the position belongs to him. Third baseman David Freese probably wasn't as consistent as he would've liked, but in the end he posted a year of an .839 OPS and 20 homers. There are questions for St. Louis at shortstop and second base, which is why the Cards talked to the Indians about Cabrera in the offseason.
The Houston Astros are moving to the American League for the 2013 at a time when they are coming off a 55-win season and are still early in a total organizational reconstruction. Because of this, their switch could lead to a tangible shift in a divisional balance of power.
Rival officials have privately noted that the Astros' move to the AL West could help those teams make the playoffs. But there is statistical data that suggests the Houston move could simultaneously hurt their former brethren in the NL Central.
In response to a request from ESPN about the impact of the Astros' shift to the AL, Stephen Oh of AccuScore sent along these notes:
"I was able to run a season simulation with our projected lineups. Our actual [formal] win forecast is still very subject to change, but the initial numbers for the impact of wins on the two divisions most impacted by the Houston re-alignment are pretty interesting:
• The Angels, Rangers, A's and Mariners see an average of plus-3.2 wins with Houston in their division.
• The NL Central teams see a drop of -2.7 wins on average.
• The difference in wins results in a plus-3.4 percent chance of making the playoffs for the AL West teams and a minus-3.4 percent impact on the NL Central teams of making the playoffs.
• The AL Central and East teams improve their wins slightly, but their playoff chances dip slightly because of the more significant bump by the AL West teams [that will play more games against Houston].
• The NL West and NL East teams see win totals go down slightly but playoff odds go up slightly."
Here are more details, from AccuScore, which simulated the season with current rosters based on 2012 and 2013 alignments.
Projecting the current roster of every AL West team using the 2012 and 2013 alignments.
AL WEST '12 wins '13 wins '12 playoff odds '13 playoff odds
Angels 91.4 96.5 80.1% 91.9%
Rangers 85.4 86.7 43.4% 41.2%
Athletics 83.9 85.7 33.7% 34.3%
Mariners 73.9 78.3 2.6% 5.9%
Astros 54.2 54.0 0.0% 0.0%
AVG (Excluding HOU) 83.7 86.8 39.9% 43.3%
Projecting the current roster of every NL Central team using the 2012 and 2013 alignments.
NL CENTRAL '12 wins '13 wins '12 playoff odds '13 playoff
Cardinals 92.7 90.6 63.3% 60.6%
Reds 93.3 90.6 67.4% 60.1%
Brewers 90.9 88.3 52.5% 45.7%
Pirates 71.4 67.9 0.2% 0.1%
Cubs 70.1 67.7 0.1% 0.1%
AVERAGE 83.7 81.0 36.7% 33.3%
How the Astros' move affects other divisions.
OTHER DIVISIONS '12 wins '13 wins '12 playoff odds '13 playoff odds
AL CENTRAL 79.8 80.3 37.3% 36.0%
AL EAST 81.2 82.5 30.6% 29.1%
NL EAST 81.1 80.6 33.0% 35.3%
NL WEST 82.5 81.3 30.1% 31.2%
Moves, deals and decisions
1. David Price agreed to terms, for a bit over $10 million. The assumption within the industry is that the Rays are going to trade Price sometime in the next calendar year, a perception that will only be reinforced by this latest one-year agreement.
2. This is a key year for Charlie Manuel, writes Bob Brookover.
3. Brett Myers will move into the Cleveland rotation, after getting a nice endorsement from former Astros Manager Brad Mills, now a coach with the Indians. Right now, their rotation is shaping up this way: Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Brett Myers will go into spring training as the projected 1-2-3, and two will be added from the group that includes Scott Kazmir, Carlos Carrasco, Zach McAllister, Corey Kluber, David Huff, Jeanmar Gomez and Bauer.
4. The Seattle Mariners have called the Los Angeles Dodgers repeatedly about Andre Ethier, and while the Dodgers' intention is to open the season with him as their right fielder, they have told other teams all winter that they're always willing to listen to offers. As of now, the Mariners haven't been moved to present any, sources say.
Top 10 outfields in MLB.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
1. Los Angeles Angels
This group has a chance to be something really special. Mike Trout has one full season in the big leagues, and it was merely one of the greatest single-season performances in the history of baseball. Josh Hamilton, signed for $125 million this winter, is merely one of the most dynamic hitters in baseball. And Peter Bourjos, who is expected to be the third member of the outfield, is merely regarded as one of the best defenders in the sport; he ranked No. 1 in UZR/150 among outfielders with 400 or more defensive innings in 2012.
For the sake of this discussion, we're going to assume that the bulk of Mark Trumbo's at-bats will be as the designated hitter, but even with that, it would seem possible -- although improbable -- that the Angels' trio could generate 100 steals and 100 homers. Ninety-ninety is probably a more reasonable projection, with 100-100 as the goal.
Something to remember: Part of the reason why rival evaluators believe Trout will continue to be a great player is that his approach at the plate is so simple, with mechanics that are easily repeated, and the adjustments he makes from at-bat to at-bat are so sound.
Look at Trout versus opposing starting pitchers (from baseballreference.com.) as the game progresses:
First PA vs. starting pitcher: .860 OPS
Second PA vs. SP: 1.042
Third PA vs. SP: 1.198
Fourth PA vs. SP: 1.244
2. Washington Nationals
With the acquisition of Denard Span, Washington GM Mike Rizzo finally was able to get the pure center fielder he had been looking for, and now Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth can be committed to the corners for the foreseeable future. The trio is good defensively, but even better offensively, with all three capable of getting on base at a good rate (Werth had a .387 on-base percentage last year, ranking 16th in the majors for hitters with at least 300 plate appearances). It's possible that Span, Werth and Harper could eventually hit 1-2-3 in the Washington lineup.
Something to remember: At age 19, Trout had his struggles early -- before erupting at age 20. Harper had arguably one of the greatest seasons for any 19-year-old, and coming into this year, he will be armed with all the knowledge accumulated last year. He will know that opposing pitchers are going to feed him a steady series of breaking balls. Only two hitters saw a higher percentage last year: Hamilton and Alfonso Soriano.
He will know the pitchers. It's worth noting, again, the steady incline in his performance in the final months of the season. Harper's OPS by month:
3. Oakland Athletics
They have tremendous depth, with the quartet of Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes, Chris Young and Coco Crisp, and excellent defense -- which really fits their spacious home park and aids the pitching. At age 25, Reddick took a big step forward, accumulating 66 extra-base hits, 32 homers among them. The timing of Young's arrival in Oakland seems perfect for him: There won't be a lot of pressure on him after years of being compared to his potential in Arizona, and having known Chili Davis for 15 years, I'd bet that he and Young will work well together; Davis is low-key in his demeanor and methodical, and this will help Young.
Something to remember: Cespedes immediately impressed his teammates with his toughness, with his ability to shrug off a poor at-bat and adjust in subsequent at-bats. Like Trout, he is just getting to know major league pitchers, and as with Trout, there were signs of in-game alterations during games last season. Check out his OPS progression in each at bat:
First plate appearance vs. a starter: .867 OPS, 26 strikeouts in 118 at-bats
Second plate appearance vs. a starter: .999 OPS, 14 strikeouts in 109 at-bats
Third plate appearance vs. a starter: .987 OPS, 16 strikeouts in 86 at-bats
4. Los Angeles Dodgers
It's the outfield with the most star power, for sure: Matt Kemp in center, flanked by Carl Crawford in left field and Andre Ethier in right. Kemp was plagued by injuries and limited to 106 games, and still managed to hit .303 with 23 homers, and Ethier finished the season with 20 homers and 89 RBIs. Crawford missed almost all of last season with elbow trouble before having Tommy John surgery, and he may not be ready for the very beginning of the 2012 season. If each of the three match their best seasons from the past, this group could be the best in the majors, with power, speed and defense. But a significant factor will be how Ethier and Crawford fare against the parade of left-handers they will see, especially in the later innings of games.
Ethier had an OPS of .606 versus lefties last season, and Crawford had even worse numbers (OPS of .566) against lefties while playing for Boston in 2011. Kemp did a ton of damage against lefties last year, with a 1.105 OPS, and the Dodgers will need him to continue that trend, because he's going to see a ton of lefties while hitting among Crawford, Ethier and Adrian Gonzalez.
Something to remember: The Dodgers' payroll is going to be far beyond the luxury tax, and the team's management has a distinct win-or-bust, Steinbrenneresque style of operation right now. If Crawford or Ethier struggle against lefties and the Dodgers suffer in the standings, it's hard to imagine the front office waiting patiently for them to figure out their swings. They're more likely to pursue a right-handed-hitting outfielder who can help balance the lineup -- which might explain why they were open to retaining Shane Victorino for 2013.
5. St. Louis Cardinals
Left fielder Matt Holliday had a typical season of run production, with 27 homers, 95 runs and 102 RBIs in 157 games, and right fielder Carlos Beltran had 59 extra-base hits, including 32 homers. Center fielder Jon Jay took a big step forward as an offensive player, hitting .305 in 117 games, with a .373 on-base percentage; he progressed from 3.63 pitches per plate appearance in 2011 to 3.85 last season, a sign of an improved approach.
Something to remember: Beltran played in 151 games last season, his most since 2008, but he will be 36 years old in April. Given his history of knee trouble, he has reached that stage of his career when the Cardinals will presumably have some contingency plans built in. Beltran was a very good player in 2012, but his OPS of .841 was his lowest over a full season since his first year with the Mets, and his 124 strikeouts were his most since 2002.
6. Cincinnati Reds
Jay Bruce is one of the best overall outfielders in the majors, Shin-Soo Choo can get on base, steal bases and throw, and Ryan Ludwick is coming off a season in which he clubbed 26 homers in 125 games. The only question about the Reds' outfield is how they will be aligned. Their plan going into spring training is for Choo to play center field, but rival evaluators believe that eventually, Bruce will be shifted to center and Choo will move to right.
Something to remember: Bruce is 25 and still developing as a hitter, and there may not be a hitter who has been more defined by what happens early in the count. In those plate appearances in which he moved ahead in the count by taking the first pitch out of the zone, he posted a .929 OPS. When he fell behind 0-1, however, he had a .608 OPS. The difference in his results, depending on the count, was much more acute than that for a lot of hitters -- he had a .421 OPS in at-bats that ended when he was behind in the count, 1.009 when the count was even, 1.032 when he was ahead.
7. Milwaukee Brewers
Left fielder Ryan Braun is one of the game's best hitters, and Norichika Aoki is one of the game's most underrated hitters. In his first year in the majors, the 30-year-old Aoki hit a solid .288/.355/.788 line with 30 stolen bases, and his production home and away was almost identical -- a .789 OPS in Milwaukee, .785 on the road. Carlos Gomez improved last season -- he had 37 stolen bases and 19 homers -- and with his free agency looming next fall, this will be an important year for him.
Something to remember: Opposing pitchers talked in spring training about how Braun would see fewer pitches to hit because of the departure of Prince Fielder -- but it made no difference. In Braun's six seasons in the majors, he has 614 runs, 643 RBIs, 202 homers and 126 stolen bases. He has demonstrated time and again a unique ability to square up pitches. Check out his career numbers in hitters' counts, when he can anticipate fastballs:
2-0 count: 1.329 OPS, 6 homers in 51 plate appearances
3-1 count: 1.686 OPS, 6 homers in 161 PA
3-0 count: 2.000 OPS, 3-for-3
8. Atlanta Braves
The only reason why they're not higher on this list is that it's unclear how often Martin Prado will be in left field. It could be that the bulk of Prado's playing time will be as Chipper Jones' replacement, and if that's the case, then the Braves will fill left with some kind of platoon of Reed Johnson and some left-handed hitter to be named. B.J. Upton takes over in center field, and Jason Heyward will be in right field.
Something to remember: Heyward improved dramatically in every way possible last season, from his approach at the plate to his defense, and he's just 23 years old. His next big challenge will be to learn to cope with left-handed pitchers, something that he and Freddie Freeman will see a lot of in the late innings. Last year, Heyward had an OPS of .934 versus right-handers, and .635 versus lefties; 20 of his 27 homers came against lefties. Heyward has demonstrated the ability to take the ball through the middle and to left field -- check out his numbers according to where he hits the ball here -- and that could be crucial in his adjustments against lefties.
9. Arizona Diamondbacks
Somebody's going to be traded, but whether that's Jason Kubel or Justin Upton, Arizona should have a deep and diverse outfield, a group that includes left-handed and right-handed hitters, good defenders, speed and power. Cody Ross wrecks left-handed pitchers, Gerardo Parra is one of the sport's better outfielders, and in a small sample of 102 plate appearances in September, Adam Eaton showed an ability to get on base.
Something worth remembering: If Kubel is dealt and Upton returns, Upton will be in the vortex of a lot of attention -- about his relationship with the team, about the quality of his at-bats, especially on the road. Upton posted a .670 OPS while hitting away from home last season. He is seeing fewer and fewer four-seam fastballs, according to FanGraphs data:
2009: 50.0 percent of pitches
2010: 38.7 percent of pitches
2011: 33.5 percent of pitches
2012: 30.9 percent of pitches
10. Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles have Nick Markakis in right field and Adam Jones in center field, and manager Buck Showalter used an amalgam of players in left, from Nate McLouth to Lew Ford. The Orioles are hopeful that Nolan Reimold will be back and able to play more this season, and when healthy, he's a good offensive player.
Something to remember: Jones is one of those players who has been talked about for so long that it seems he would be 31 years old. In fact, he's just 27, and figures to continue to grow and learn as a hitter. There has generally been a slow and steady climb in Jones's OPS in his career:
He had 74 extra-base hits in 2012; only seven players in the majors had more. For Jones, the next step as a hitter will be to continue to narrow his strike zone -- as opposed to expanding it, something he did during the Orioles' series against the Yankees in the postseason.
The best of the rest
Detroit Tigers: With Austin Jackson in center, Torii Hunter in right and a combination of Andy Dirks and Avisail Garcia in left. Some rival evaluators believe there will be notable regression in Hunter's offensive production this year, after he hit .389 on balls he put in play last year.
Toronto Blue Jays: They could have one of the best outfields in the majors, depending on three factors:
1. Does Jose Bautista bounce back from an injury-plagued 2012, in which he hit .241 in 92 games?
2. Does Colby Rasmus progress, in what seems to be a tipping-point season for him? He had a .689 OPS last year, and at age 26, potential must start to translate.
3. Is Melky Cabrera for real, or is his performance a product of drugs? He was one of the best players in the NL before getting busted last year, after being viewed as a fourth-outfielder type by the Yankees and Braves and other teams in his career. The fact that Cabrera signed a two-year deal with the Jays -- rather than bet heavily on himself to bounce back on a one-year deal -- could mean that he has his own questions.
Colorado Rockies: They have a seemingly talented group in Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Michael Cuddyer and Tyler Colvin. But the home/road splits with the Colorado hitters always seem to raise questions about their level of excellence. Look at the home OPS and home runs against the road OPS/home runs:
Gonzalez: 1.046/13 at home, .706/9 on the road
Fowler: .984/10 at home, .720/3 on the road
Cuddyer: .858/9 at home, .744/7 on the road
Colvin: 1.032/11 at home, .687/7 on the road
The defensive metrics for the Colorado outfielders are so bad that they've even raised some red flags, for some team analysts, about whether they can even be applied to Rockies players.
• Ryan Freel's family has given the go-ahead for his brain to be studied for trauma, as they look for answers in the aftermath of his suicide, writes Mike Tierney.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Royals signed a couple of veterans in Miguel Tejada and Endy Chavez. These are two veterans who have been on successful teams, and Tejada is renowned as one of the big energy guys in baseball; he's had a nice showing in winter ball, hitting .284 for Aguilas.
2. Matt Carpenter wants to give himself a chance to play second base, writes Derrick Goold.
3. The Yankees' payroll currently stands at $189 million, David Waldstein writes.
4. The Red Sox watched Bobby Abreu work out.
Top 10 rotations in MLB.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Kyle Lohse still doesn't have a home, and there could be a few more trades of starting pitchers. But there is enough information available to rank the 10 best rotations for 2013.
1. Detroit Tigers
The rotation of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello took the Tigers to the World Series, and they could be even better in 2013. Verlander is generally regarded within the industry as the best pitcher on the planet, Fister is coming back from a season in which he was nagged by an oblique injury, and the Tigers will benefit from a full season of Sanchez, who was re-signed to an $80 million deal.
Detroit is listening to offers for Porcello and if the Tigers find the right deal, they would presumably replace him in the rotation with Drew Smyly. But they always have the option of holding their pitching depth; last season, they struggled constantly to find fixes after Fister got hurt. Rival evaluators believe that the Tigers' pitching will be helped by the defensive cleanup that Detroit has done in its outfield, adding Torii Hunter and removing Brennan Boesch and Delmon Young.
Scherzer by month
MONTH ERA IP K
April 7.77 24.1 27
May 4.04 35.2 51
June 3.86 30.1 36
July 3.62 32.1 37
August 2.25 32 44
September 2.17 29 33
Linchpin guy: Scherzer. After he dominated the Yankees in the playoffs, some of their hitters raved about Scherzer's pure stuff and development. In the second half of 2012, he was among the most dominant pitchers in the majors. Check out his month-by-month numbers in the table to the right.
Scherzer is known as somebody who tinkers and sometimes overthinks. If he holds on to what he found last year, he could be the difference between an excellent rotation and something even better.
2. Washington Nationals
Stephen Strasburg is back and healthy, and if Washington follows the typical industry guidelines for building innings in young starters, he'll be able to throw something in the range of 190 innings. Strasburg will be at the front of a rotation that has Gio Gonzalez, who finished third in the NL Cy Young race last season, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren.
Linchpin guy: Zimmermann. He will be three years removed from his Tommy John surgery, and is ready to become, for this staff, what James Shields was to the Rays' rotation -- the reliable front-end guy, the plow horse. Even in a season in which he seemed to tire in the final weeks, he had an excellent year, posting a 2.94 ERA. And the best is yet to come for the 26-year-old.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly/Chris Capuano/Aaron Harang/Hyun-Jin Ryu. For Greinke and Beckett, this is the perfect situation, because they don't have the burden of being The Guy. Kershaw is the National League's best pitcher and he fully embraces all that comes with being the staff leader, from the media responsibilities to those moments when retaliation is needed. Greinke and Beckett can just worry about pitching, which is probably how they prefer it to be. The reason the Dodgers are ranked third -- and not higher -- is that it's not really clear what Don Mattingly is going to get out of Billingsley, Lilly or the starting pitcher who isn't dealt.
Linchpin guy: Beckett. Like other veteran starters who have moved from the AL to the NL, he should benefit from the shift, and Beckett is smart and savvy enough to be able to take advantage of those weakest spots at the bottom of the lineup. Beckett had a 2.93 ERA in his seven starts with the Dodgers, after being acquired from Boston, and now he gets a full-season reset button. He could be excellent. It's evident from Beckett's FanGraphs data that he relied a lot more on his cutter in his last few starts; it's a small sample size, but his strikeouts-per-9 ratio jumped from 6.64 with the Red Sox to 7.95 with the Dodgers.
4. Philadelphia Phillies
Remember two winters ago, when the Phillies were thought to have one of the greatest rotations of all time? There's a been-there, done-that sense about Philadelphia, a group of players who might be in the twilight of their accomplishments together. But Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels still might be the best trio of starters in the majors, and each is fully capable of winning the Cy Young Award. The Phillies led the majors in starting pitcher innings and strikeouts last season despite a miserable year that seemed to fall apart early. John Lannan was signed to help fill out the rotation, along with Kyle Kendrick and Tyler Cloyd.
Linchpin guy: Halladay. It's a really big year for the right-hander, because he has a $20 million option that can vest if he throws 235 innings, something he's done in five different seasons. Shoulder trouble limited him to 156⅓ innings last year, and at 35, he's reached the age where the performance cliff can be treacherous: He's really good when he pitches, but it wouldn't be a shock to anyone if he's taken down by all the years of accumulated wear and tear. Halladay will enter the season with a career record of 199-100.
5. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds finished fifth in the majors in rotation ERA last season, and their group of five was remarkably durable -- Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake started 161 of the team's 162 games. As if that wasn't enough, the Reds intend to shift the overpowering Aroldis Chapman into their rotation in 2013, to give them a needed left-handed presence. Cueto was a Cy Young candidate for most of the season, and Latos made an excellent transition from pitching his home games in massive Petco Park to the confined quarters in Cincinnati. Arroyo, who turns 36 in February, has had seven straight seasons of 199 or more innings. The Cincinnati bullpen should be pretty good, too.
Linchpin guy: Bailey. He has a reputation for being stubborn and hard-headed, but he seemed to figure out some stuff during the 2012 season, with his ERA dropping from 4.14 in the first half to 3.21 after the All-Star break. Bailey was a first-round pick in 2004 and because of that, it feels like he's been around forever -- but remember, he's 26. If he has, in fact, turned the corner, and Chapman repeats his delivery enough to stay in the rotation, the Reds might have the best rotation by the end of the year.
6. Tampa Bay Rays
You start with Cy Young winner David Price, complemented by the underrated Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Jeff Niemann. The Rays finished No. 1 in starters' ERA last season, but they traded anchor James Shields, who threw more than 1,300 innings over the past six years.
Linchpin guy: Moore. He went into the 2012 season as the prohibitive favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year, after his dominating showing at the end of 2011. But Moore struggled for command consistency for the first half of last season, before putting together a very good second half; Moore had a 3.01 ERA after the All-Star break, with 79 strikeouts in 77⅔ innings. If the 23-year-old blossoms this season, this rotation could be great, rather than just pretty good.
7. Toronto Blue Jays
The addition of R.A. Dickey gives them a Cy Young winner at the front of a group that could be dynamic, with its combination of left-handers (Mark Buehrle and Ricky Romero) and power right-handers (Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow). Only Justin Verlander threw more innings than Dickey (233⅔) last season, and Morrow might be ready for a breakout season, after gaining command consistency and lowering his ERA to 2.96 in 124⅔ innings last year.
Linchpin guy: Johnson. When healthy, he's been among the most dominant starters in the majors. Last year, his fastball velocity was down, and he had a 3.81 ERA in 31 starts. It's a big year for Johnson, who turns 29 in January and is eligible for free agency next fall.
8. Atlanta Braves
Kris Medlen had a sub-1.00 ERA in his last 12 starts, and he could emerge as the front-end guy the Braves need to complement Tim Hudson. The Braves are hopeful that Brandon Beachy will be back at full speed by August and September, meaning that he could be their biggest addition during the course of the season. The Braves will have Paul Maholm all season, along with Mike Minor, and they have depth, with prospects Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran waiting in the wings.
Linchpin guy: Minor. He figured out in late May how to not beat himself, how to minimize damage in his innings, how to be aggressive with his fastball, and he was much better down the stretch. Minor -- who actually led the Braves in starts, with 30 -- had a 2.16 ERA after the All-Star break. If he picks up that thread in 2013, the Atlanta rotation will be formidable.
9. San Francisco Giants
San Francisco finished sixth in starters' ERA and the Giants' rotation helped them win the World Series for the second time in three seasons -- and yet the year ended with a lot of questions for the starters. Rival scouts thought Matt Cain showed signs of wear and tear by the end of the postseason, and wondered if he was pitching through fatigue. Madison Bumgarner completely lost his delivery in parts of the postseason, and Tim Lincecum struggled enough to lose his spot in the rotation in the playoffs. But you figure that between that trio and Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito, the Giants' rotation will be one of the best, again.
Linchpin guy: Lincecum. He thrived in the relief role in the postseason, and the Giants are hopeful that he can draw confidence out of that success and apply it to his work in the rotation in 2013. He'll be eligible for free agency after this season, so it's an important year for him to re-establish himself as a reliable starter.
10. Oakland Athletics
The Athletics finished third in the AL in starters' ERA, and now they'll benefit from a full season of Brett Anderson at the front of a young rotation that includes Jarrod Parker (3.47 ERA in 29 starts), Tommy Milone (3.74), A.J. Griffin (3.06 ERA in 15 starts) and Dan Straily; Bartolo Colon was re-signed for just $3 million, and remember, he was pretty good before being suspended.
Linchpin guy: Anderson. In his first full season since having elbow reconstruction, it figures that the Athletics will monitor his innings -- although it's unlikely they'll discuss those limits publicly. Oakland is relying on a lot of young starters, which means that when Anderson pitches, the Athletics will need him to be really good, as he was at the end of 2012; in six starts, Anderson went 4-2, with a 2.57 ERA.
The next best: New York Yankees
The Yankees have had a rough winter trying to explain their new-found austerity to a fan base accustomed to big, bold (and expensive) moves. But they have managed to hold their pitching together and should have a good and efficient rotation, with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes. Michael Pineda is a complete wild card: The talented right-hander is coming back from shoulder surgery, which means that nobody knows what he'll contribute next season -- 100 innings of dominant stuff, or next to nothing, as he recovers. Rival evaluators like David Phelps in a rotation/bullpen swing role.
Linchpin guy: Hughes had a decent season in 2012, despite pitching in a ballpark for which he is an imperfect fit. On the road last year, Hughes went 11-4, with a 3.76 ERA, and 22 of the 35 homers he allowed were in Yankee Stadium, where he went 5-9, 4.76.
We'll have some polling data on this later in the week, as we present rank the teams based on other categories.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Paul Hoynes believes Chris Perez will be the Cleveland Indians' closer in 2013.
2. Missed this the other day: A.J. Pierzynski was formally named as the top catcher for the Texas Rangers. What's interesting about that is that Geovany Soto was under the impression that he would be the No. 1 catcher. Really, there will be plenty of opportunity for both, because Pierzynski could get a good share of at-bats as the DH.
3. The Miami Marlins are talking about listening to offers for Giancarlo Stanton.
4. John Tomase writes about how it all went wrong for the Boston Red Sox.
Biggest risks of the offseason.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
To win a World Series you have to take some risks. And this offseason, plenty of contenders have been taking them. Here are the biggest risks I've seen this winter.
The risk: Moving Aroldis Chapman to the rotation and Shin-Soo Choo to center field
Chapman whiffed 122 batters in 71 2/3 innings last year, and was arguably the NL's second-best closer after Craig Kimbrel. Nonetheless, Cincy has always wanted to use him as a starter, and this offseason GM Walt Jocketty and pitching coach Bryan Price decided to make the move. It’s easy to understand why, in hopes that Chapman can make the same transition that Chris Sale did for the Chicago White Sox and give the Reds a potent top of the rotation with Johnny Cueto, Chapman and Mat Latos. However, Chapman is a much different pitcher than Sale: He doesn’t have the same command and control of the breaking ball and changeup, and there is a question how his fastball will look the second and third time through the lineup.
There is also health risk in making a decision like this, especially considering the shoulder soreness that Chapman has experienced on and off since he signed with the Reds. There is a real possibility that this decision could lead him to the disabled list, the way it did for Neftali Feliz, or he could all of a sudden lose his dominance the way Daniel Bard did when he moved to the rotation.
Manager Dusty Baker prefers to leave Chapman in the bullpen and I have a hunch he will end up back there. In the meantime, Jocketty signed Jonathan Broxton to a three-year, $21 million deal, but he was smart not to make any guarantees as to who would be closer, leaving the door open for Chapman's return to that role. I think it's too risky to move Chapman out of a role where he is so dominant with the team so close to the World Series.
Speaking of risk, the Reds also seem intent on moving the recently acquired Choo to center. Baker has wanted a true leadoff hitter since coming to Cincy, and now he has one. No doubt this deal will significantly help the Reds' lineup and set the table for Joey Votto and Jay Bruce; however, Choo is going to be out of his element in center.
Scouts who watch him every day wonder if he will give up all the offensive gains in the field. He moves side to side extremely well and can go back on the ball adequately. However, he doesn’t come in on the ball very well and he isn't fast enough to really run down balls deep in the gaps. It's possible the Reds will end up using Bruce in center, but he will be stretched there as well. The Reds had better hope their pitchers are striking out lots of hitters, which would make their defense less of a concern.
The risk: Bruce Rondon at closer
Rondon, 22, certainly has the stuff for the role, with a 100 mph fastball that helped him put up a 1.53 ERA with more than a strikeout per inning across three levels of the minors in 2013.
However, as manager Jim Leyland told me after the World Series, there is no guarantee that just because you have the stuff and potential that you can actually be that impact closer during your rookie season. That said, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski has already anointed Rondon as the Tigers' closer for 2013 even though he has never pitched an inning in the big leagues.
The Tigers have had several opportunities this offseason to get an experienced closer. They could have traded for Joel Hanrahan or signed Rafael Soriano, who remains on the free-agent market. In fact, agent Scott Boras has tried unsuccessfully to persuade Dombrowski and owner Mike Illitch to sign Soriano; most in the industry find it puzzling that they’re not willing to do that, especially considering their willingness to spend big and that their lack of a closer was a big problem in the postseason.
If the Tigers don't want to spend big bucks for a closer, that's understandable, but they should at least go out and find someone with some experience in the role, someone like Brian Wilson, while allowing Rondon to develop with less pressure.
Tampa Bay Rays
The risk: Starting Wil Myers at Triple-A Durham
Rays GM Andrew Friedman is one of the best in the game, so his blockbuster deal that netted the Rays Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery from the Kansas City Royals came as no surprise to the industry.
The Rays are telling people internally that the plan is for Myers to start the year in Triple-A, not because they don’t think the bat is ready, but because of arbitration and free-agent eligibility issues. It’s how they do business; they did it with Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton and Matt Moore, so this should not be a surprise. It’s what a small-market club must do to survive.
However the real problem is that with the loss of Upton, this will be an offensively challenged lineup. And with James Shields' proven production missing in the rotation, it won’t be as easy getting to the postseason this year with improvements made by the Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox, not to mention the maturing of the Baltimore Orioles' nucleus. Keeping Myers in Durham to start the year will certainly help them financially down the road, but it could torpedo their playoff hopes in 2013.
New York Yankees
The risk: Senior citizen strategy
The Yankees are obsessed with keeping their payroll under $189 million in 2014, and rightfully so based on luxury-tax and revenue-sharing issues. But that doesn't explain why they've let guys like Russell Martin and Nick Swisher go out and sign reasonable deals elsewhere while signing Ichiro Suzuki and Kevin Youkilis, players who are way past their primes. (Also, they still don't have a starting catcher.)
We get why the Yankees aren't spending big dollars, but instead of signing old free agents they should be making trades to get younger. Their farm system isn't great, but they have some very exciting prospects -- like outfielder Mason Williams -- at the lower levels whom they can deal. And since the Yankees lead the game in revenues, why not go to Scott Boras and offer ridiculous one-year “pillow” deals to Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse and let them go back on the market next fall after winning with the Yankees? This could be the last year of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, so don’t they deserve better than this Senior Citizen Strategy?
Branch Rickey once said that this was a young man’s game, and the Yankees are trying to prove the opposite. A dicey proposition at best.
Hanrahan proves closer myth.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
In the only big transaction during this holiday lull, the Boston Red Sox acquired Joel Hanrahan from the Pittsburgh Pirates in a six-player trade that saw, most notably, Stolmy Pimentel, Jerry Sands, and Mark Melancon go the other direction. The Pirates immediately announced that Jason Grilli would step into Hanrahan's role as the closer for the Bucs in 2013. And just as quickly, a portion of the pundits predicted gloom for the Pirates because they lost their closer.
The truth of the matter is that closers are made, not born, and Hanrahan himself helps prove this.
The current closer paradigm is essentially a product of the late 1970s, a fairly small amount of time in the past for the creation of the whole closer mythos. Herman Franks, the manager of the Chicago Cubs rarely used Bruce Sutter when the team was behind, and the modern closer was born.
Very quickly, the reliever evolved into a ninth-inning, save machine role, with mixed results. As closers devolved into mostly pitching a single inning and racking up easier saves, the leverage index, which measures the importance of a situation based on the base situation, inning, and score, has also declined somewhat for closers. Sutter had a leverage index of 2.0 or greater for seven consecutive years. Gossage pulled off the feat 11 times, and Sparky Lyle managed seven such years. Nowadays, only a handful of relievers hit 2.0 in any given season.
As the closer became even more ingrained in baseball strategy, the mythology developed. Already starting in the '70s, closers didn't just have to be good relievers, they had to combine the tenacity of a bulldog, the determination of a 1940s comic book hero fighting the Nazis, with maybe a little dash of ninja sprinkled in. It also helped to have a cool nickname or a beard that resembled that of a Civil War general. All of this despite the fact that David Smith of Retrosheet.org wrote a research paper for the 2004 SABR Convention and found that despite the changes in reliever usage in recent decades, teams didn't do any better a job at holding leads.
ZiPS projections for all the players involved in the Red Sox-Pirates trade.
PITCHERS IP ERA BB K
Hanrahan (BOS) 59.0 3.66 27 66
Grilli (PIT) 53.2 3.19 21 68
Pimentel (PIT) 105.1 5.38 44 60
Melancon (PIT) 59.1 3.64 17 53
HITTERS BA OBP SLG HR
Sands (PIT) .236 .304 .394 16
Holt (BOS) .269 .349 .340 1
To take Dave's research one step further, I took the roughly 3,000 pitchers over the last 30 years who were primarily used as a reliever and pitched 30 innings in two consecutive seasons, to see how changes in bullpen role affected expectations and results. For expectations, I used Tom Tango's Marcel projections, which is an easy source of historical projections. (My projection system, ZiPS, only goes back to 2002.)
Overall, middle relievers converted to closers tended to outperform their expectations in year two, a trend which disappeared when looking at closers that remained closer. This is to be expected as players that are improving are more likely to be trusted with additional responsibilities. This is what we call selection bias.
Going through players who received at least 10 more save opportunities after a season of fewer than 10 saves, the players that fit that storyline of "good reliever, can't cut it as closer" are damned few. I found only 10 that underperformed their projected ERA by at least a run and when you knock out the ones who turned out to be just fine in future seasons (C.J. Wilson, Dave Veres, Ron Davis) and the ones that were injured, you essentially end up with Mike Perez, Matt Herges, Cliff Politte, and Matt Lindstrom. Frightfully few for a 30-year period, even being nice and throwing in LaTroy Hawkins, who doesn't quite fit given that he handled the job admirably for a whole year before melting down.
Searching more deeply for the Loch Ness Closer, I ended up with the same results using other methods. Surely, given that no projection system takes into account moxie and mojo, the correlation between Marcel-projected ERA and actual ERA was no worse for middle relievers who got chances at closing than for middle relievers who didn't: 0.13 vs. 0.16, dreadfully small numbers. (And that low correlation is not a surprise given that reliever ERA jumps around more than Derek Jeter fielding a grounder in the hole.)
Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman were two of the best closers of this generation not because of a label or a job assignment, but because they were damn good pitchers. Rivera has succeeded because of a cutter that makes grown men cry and Hoffman succeeded because of a changeup that violates the gravitational constant of the universe. Why not just leave it at that?
In the end, the Hanrahan trade can best be evaluated on the basis of how good the players involved are, without the mumbo-jumbo. Lest we forget, Joel Hanrahan was a middle reliever just two years ago, rather than emerging from the womb as a ninth-inning closer. Hanrahan's job title has little bearing on the whether this trade turns out to be a good one or not for the Pirates.
Hanrahan and Grilli is a better combination than Hanrahan and Mark Melancon (Hanrahan's 3.66 projected ERA in Boston was 3.13 in Pittsburgh, due to park and league differences), but in return, the Pirates save money that they could use on a higher upside player (Francisco Liriano) and pick up a project in Pimentel (that 105.1 projected IP is if he played in the majors in 2013). The Pirates, with a tighter budget, need the higher-upside players, while Boston, with a bigger bankroll and other signings meant to compete in the short-term, can take the safer path with Hanrahan. A fair trade for both sides, and no mythology required.
Rumors.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Projected rotation for Tribe
AM ETCleveland Indians Recommend0Comments0EmailRotation candidates for Indians
Ubaldo Jimenez, RHPJustin Masterson, RHPZach McAllister, RHPTrevor Bauer, RHPBrett Myers, RHPJeanmar Gomez, RHPDavid Huff, LHPCorey Kluber, RHPCarlos Carrasco, RHPThe Cleveland Indians will start 2013 with a different starting rotation than they displayed at any point in 2012. That's a good thing, since they ranked third-to-last in starting pitcher ERA.
The additions include right-handers Trevor Bauer and Brett Myers, with Ubaldo JImenez set to return. Justin Masterson, rumored as trade bait, could also be back.
Jon Morosi reported via Twitter Tuesday that the Indians have had talks with Shaun Marcum, too.
The club's depth chart shows but pone southpaw in Huff, but if the Dodgers shop southpaw Chris Capuano the Indians may be a prime suitor.
- Jason A. Churchill
Tags:Carlos Carrasco, Justin Masterson, David Huff, Jeanmar Gomez, Chris Capuano, Cleveland Indians, Brett Myers, Shaun Marcum, Trevor Bauer
Starting pitching crop thinning
AM ETFree Agent Starters Recommend0Comments15EmailFree Agent Starting PitchersZack Greinke, RHP | Dodgers: six years, $147 millionAnibal Sanchez, RHP | Tigers: five years, $80 million Kyle Lohse, RHPEdwin Jackson, RHP | Cubs: four years. $52 millionBrett Myers, RHP | Indians: one year, $7 millionRyan Dempster, RHP | Red Sox: two years, $26.5 millionJeremy Guthrie, RHP | Royals: three years, $25 millionBrandon McCarthy, RHP | D-backs: two years, $15.5 millionHisashi Iwakuma, RHP | Mariners: two years, $15 millionHiroki Kuroda, RHP | Yankees: one year, $15 millionDan Haren, RHP | Nationals: one year, $13 millionFrancisco Liriano, LHP | Pirates: two years, $12.75 millionShaun Marcum, RHPRoy Oswalt, RHPJoe Saunders, LHP
Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHPCarlos Villanueva, RHP | Cubs: two years, $10 millionLohse remains the top free agent starting pitcher available and is now one of the few that warrant a guaranteed spot in the rotation with whatever team he signs with this winter.
Shaun Marcum is also still on the market, as is Joe Saunders. After that clubs seeking rotation help may have to check the trade market.
The Dodgers could trade Aaron Harang or Chris Capuano, particularly if they feel confident Ted Lilly will be of help in 2013.
Other free agents include Jair Jurrjens, Jonathan Sanchez, Erik Bedard, Freddy Garcia, Derek Lowe, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Roy Oswalt and Carlos Zambrano. Gavin Floyd is another potential trade candidate.
Two contenders that still could look to add rotation help are the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds. The Reds are transitioning Aroldis Chapman to a starting role, but if the opportunity arises to add quality one would imagine GM Walt Jocketty would jump at the chance.
The Red Sox did add Ryan Dempster, but a glance at their rotation candidates suggests there's room for another significant acquisition, particularly if the club plans to compete with the Rays, Yankees and Blue Jays.
Javier Vazquez, who did not pitch in 2012, is reportedly eyeing a comeback.
- Jason A. Churchill
Tags:Texas Rangers, Anibal Sanchez, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, Dan Haren, Shaun Marcum, Francisco Liriano, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Ryan Dempster, James Shields, Francisco Liriano, Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster
Bold move for Rockies?
AM ETColorado Rockies Recommend0Comments7EmailIf the season were to start today -- and thank goodness it doesn't, because the weather outside is frightful, and the fire is so delightful ... also, if the season started in mid-December, Dean Martin would have nothing about which to sing -- the Colorado Rockies might be an arm short in their rotation.
Among the club's present options are Juan Nicasio, Christian Friedrich, Jhoulys Chacin, Tyler Chatwood, Drew Pomeranz and Jorge De La Rosa. There's nothing wrong with such a collection on the surface, but ...
Nicasio and De La Rosa are coming off serious injuries, Chatwood may belong in the bullpen and both Pomeranz and Friedrich still need work on their control and command.
Troy Renck of the Denver Post tweets that the Rockies are eyeing Jeff Karstens and Freddy Garcia, and the club was linked to Rick Porcello last week.
The Tigers are fielding calls on Drew Smyly, too, an arm that could interest the Rockies, though they may prefer to spend a few million bucks rather than giving up talent to acquire one.
Jeff Francis has also been linked to the Rockies and remaining free agents such as Aaron Cook, Derek Lowe, Shaun Marcum, Kevin Millwood, and Chris Young could all be considerations.
ESPN Insider's Jim Bowden writes Thursday that if the Rockies are bold, perhaps they could land a couple of high-impact arms:
- Jason A. Churchill
Jim Bowden | The GM's Office
How the Rockies get pitching
"Rockies give up: Carlos Gonzalez
Acquire: Trevor Rosenthal, Shelby Miller and Jon Jay (from the St. Louis Cardinals)
The Rockies have said they don't plan on trading Gonzalez, but they also know if they don?t do something drastic to address their starting rotation woes, it could be a few long summers in Denver. Gonzalez would give the Cardinals the best and most balanced lineup in the National League. To put Gonzalez in the middle of Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, Allen Craig andDavid Freese sets them up for the short- and long-term as they wait for Oscar Taveras to take over for Beltran in 2014. CarGo is locked up through 2017 at less than $15 million per year, which is very reasonable for a player of his caliber. And before you say that Gonzalez is simply a product of Coors Field, remember that people used to say the same thing about Holliday, and he has proven that theory incorrect in St. Louis. Rosenthal and Miller are both close to the majors and have upside. They are the kind of talented arms the Rockies lack. Jay is a solid outfielder, and he would be a nice fit in Colorado.
Tags:Rich Harden, Kevin Millwood, Shaun Marcum, Aaron Cook, Carlos Villanueva, Derek Lowe, Colorado Rockies, Jeff Karstens, Freddy Garcia, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly
AM ETBaltimore Orioles Recommend0Comments0EmailWile the rest of the American League East has either made significant additions to their roster or reloaded with the same crew, the Baltimore Orioles land somewhere in between. They aren't yet satisfied with their pitching staff, however, and remain interested in a starter and a reliever, tweeted Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun.
Rotation candidates for O's
Jason Hammel, RHPWei-Yin Chen, LHPZach Britton, LHPChris Tillman, RHPMiguel Gonzalez, RHPSteve Johnson, RHPJake Arrieta, RHPDylan Bundy, RHPThe starter is Joe Saunders, though if the market on Kyle Lohse falls to them the club could have strong interest. The reliever is Matt Lindstrom, whom the Orioles traded to Arizona to acquire Saunders last summer.
Connolly notes that several clubs are showing interest in Lindstrom.
As of New Year's Day, the Orioles' rotation is unsettled, but adding a veteran like Saunders could mean the bullpen for Matusz and it could stave off the big leagues for a short time for Bundy. There's also a chance the Orioles trade one of the above eight if they are able to sign Saunders or Lohse.
- Jason A. Churchill
Tags:Baltimore Orioles, Zach Britton, Chris Tillman, Dylan Bundy, Kyle Lohse, Joe Saunders, Matt Lindstrom
Sox scouting Abreu
AM ETBobby Abreu | Dodgers Recommend0Comments0EmailBobby Abreu will turn 39 before the start of the 2013 schedule and his skills have declined markedly the past few years. He no longer fits as an outfielder -- he''s never been a good fielder, even in his youth -- and hasn't hit left-handed pitching at all since 2009. So why would the Boston Red Sox be scouting him in Venezuela, as reported by Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald?
One would have to imagine that Abreu's role with a contending club would be limited to the occasional start at designated hitter versus a right-handed pitcher and some pinch-hitting duties. For Boston, it couldn't be much more than that with David Ortiz signed, sealed and delivered at DH.
Lauber did note that it's unlikely the Red Sox will sign Abreu, but some club could take a shot at him on a minor league contract with an invite to big-league camp.
- Jason A. Churchill
Tags:Bobby Abreu, David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox
A few top FAs remain
AM ETTop Remaining Free Agents Recommend0Comments8EmailOnly two free agents on Keith Law's Top 50 free agent rankings remain available -- centerfielder Michael Bourn and right-hander Kyle Lohse -- but they both rank in the top 10, suggesting there are still some good talents for clubs to add to their rosters.
Closer Rafael Soriano (No. 14) also remains available, as does first baseman Adam LaRoche (No. 16), Shaun Marcum (No. 23) and Lance Berkman (No. 28).
The relief market still boasts a few top setup men, including a few with closing experience such as Kyle Farnsworth (No. 38), Jose Valverde (No. 34) and Francisco Rodriguez (No. 46).
Daisuke Matsuzaka (No. 47) and Delmon Young (No. 45) also remain free agents as their markets develop at a snail's pace.
Bourn and agent Scott Boras entered the offseason with big money on the mind, no doubt, but it may be in their best interest to take a one-year deal and re-enter the market next year when fewer center field options are available.
- Jason A. Churchill
Tags:Adam LaRoche, Delmon Young, Jose Valverde, Rafael Soriano, Kyle Farnsworth, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kyle Lohse, Michael Bourn
January 1, 2013Fish willing to listen?
PM ETGiancarlo Stanton | Marlins Recommend0Comments72EmailTop collections of youth
1. San Diego Padres
Yasmani Grandal, Case Kelly, Rymer Liriano, Max Fried, Austin Hedges, Jedd Gyorko, Joe Ross, Zach Eflin, Walker Weickel 2. Tampa Bay Rays
Chris Archer, Enny Romero, Drew Vettleson, Blake Snell, Richie Shaffer, Taylor Guerreri, Desmond Jennings, Hak-Ju Lee, Alex Colome 3. Seattle Mariners
Taijuan Walker, Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley, Danny Hultzen, Brandon Maurer, Nick Franklin, Brad Miller, James Paxton, Victor Sanchez 4. Oakland Athletics
Jarrod Parker, A.J. Cole, Addison Russell, Sony Gray, Dan Straily, Chris Carter, Michael Choice, Derek Norris 5. Pittsburgh Pirates
Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell, Starling Marte, Tony Sanchez, Gerrit Cole, Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson, Wyatt Mathisen, Luis Heredia One of the hottest topics in rumors circles is the idea that the Miami Marlins may field offers for right fielder Giancarlo Stanton. Since the Fish traded away their two best starting pitchers and their starting shortstop, the club has fielded calls, but sources tell Rumor Central that Miami's executives have refused to discuss trades involving the budding superstar. That stance could change fairly soon, however.
Just before 2012 turns to 2013, Dan Jennings, the Marlins assistant GM, told ESPN Insider Jim Bowden that the club will listen to all offers on Stanton but is not actively shopping the slugger.
Jennings' point is that no player is untouchable, but the Fish would have to be overwhelmed to consider such a deal.
Stanton will not be arbitration eligible until this time next year, which means he will spend 2013 as a 23-year-old threat to the 50-homer mark and won't crack the half-million dollar mark in terms of salary. He'll be affordable, even for the Marlins, through 2014, too.
Stanton's moderate salary, however, may not -- and should not -- prevent the club from seeing what they can get for him between now and the start of the 2014 season. It may be ideal to let him continue to mash at the plate, perhaps hit 40-50 long balls this coming season and drive his trade value through the roof.
Stanton, of course, made it known how unhappy he was with the organization's decision to have a fire sale, creating a scenario in which its difficult to believe he'd ever sign an extension to stay in South Beach. Once the team decides the time is right to seriously consider trading him, rival clubs will line up around the block to make their pitch.
If Stanton gets off to a great start in '13, it's conceivable that the Marlins brass could check the offer sheets to see what they can get, and if a team overwhelms them, Stanton could be dealt before the trade deadline.
Such a transaction, whether it takes place over the summer or between seasons, is likely to be a franchise changer, at least if Miami handles it appropriately and demands the right kind of talents in return. The timing would likely be best somewhere in the next 15 months or so, since the club-controlled years are extremely valuable, and the closer he gets to free agency the more his value drops.
Any of the 29 other clubs would be interested, and a handful of those that have strong farm systems and good-to-great young talents in the big leagues will have a shot to land the Big Fish. They'll likely have to wait a year, but chances are, Stanton will be worth the wait -- and the premium bait it will require to get the Marlins to bite.
It's worth noting that Jon Morosi reported Monday night that the Marlins received a call from the Mariners about Stanton, though we have to assume several clubs have contacted Miami to inquire. ESPN Insider's Jim Bowden tweeted over the weekend that the Fish are willing to listen, but have no plans to move Stanton and are not shopping him around the league.
Bowden writes that the Rangers could be equipped to get a deal done:
- Jason A. Churchill
Jim Bowden | The GM's Office
Stanton to Texas?
"Stanton is the No. 1 young right-handed power hitter in game, and he already has 93 career homers despite turning 23 just last month. But Stanton is no one-dimensional slugger. He is also an above-average right fielder with an above-average arm. He studies the game as well as any young player and has terrific work ethic and baseball instincts. If he stays healthy, he'll have a chance to join the 600 home run club someday. The Marlins won't contend until at least 2014, so the prudent move would be to trade him and maximize the return for a player of Stanton's caliber. What's next: The Marlins have said they won't trade Stanton, realizing that he is not only their best player and a future superstar but, more importantly, also their only drawing card. But if he shows up to camp and continues to be unhappy, the Marlins will have to listen to trade proposals come July. There is not a young position player in baseball who has more trade value than Stanton, and with the rebuilding Marlins, if a team such as the Texas Rangers wants to empty the farm for him, the Fish will have to listen."
Tags:Miami Marlins, Giancarlo Stanton
January 1, 2013BoSox next move
AM ETBoston Red Sox Recommend0Comments6EmailThe Boston Red Sox have added a few bats this offseason -- David Ross, Stephen Drew, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes and are working on Mike Napoli, who agreed to a deal weeks ago. Now the club may be after free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche.
LaRoche has been holding out for a three-year deal from the Washington Nationals and has also drawn interest from the Baltimore Orioles. It's unclear whether or not the Red Sox would finalize the agreement with Napoli and still sign LaRoche. It may be one or the other.
I have to wonder why the Red Sox aren't being more aggressive in terms of fixing the starting rotation, however. The club finished 2012 with the fourth-worst ERA in baseball and their starters ranked fourth-worst with a 5.19 ERA.
The Sox have added Ryan Dempster, who should help some, but on paper it appears there is still a lack of stability, even if John Lackey can return and help sometime in the first half of 2013.
The free agent market is almost dry, with Kyle Lohse the top remaining free agent, but there's always the trade route, and perhaps GM Ben Cherington and crew are monitoring the likes of Chris Capuano, Bud Norris, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly, Matt Garza and Ricky Nolasco.
Cliff Lee is a name to keep an eye on, too, though the Phillies' motivations for moving Lee may be gone since the free agent market for outfielders and third basemen is fairly empty.
- Jason A. Churchill
Tags:Chicago Cubs, Miami Marlins, Ricky Nolasco, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox, Mike Napoli, Adam LaRoche, Chris Capuano, Drew Smyly, Rick Porcello
December 31, 2012Marlins pass on Cuban prospects
PM ETMiami Marlins Recommend0Comments0EmailThe Miami Marlins have "zero interest" in Cuban prospects Dariel Alvarez or Aledmys Diaz, both of whom are scheduled to work out for MLB scouts this weekend, reports MLB.com's Joe Frisaro.
Alvarez is a 24-year-old outfielder, and the 22-year-old Diaz is a shortstop.
The Marlins were among the teams interested in Cuban-born outfielder Yoenis Cespedes last season before he ended up signing with the A's. But the Fish are in a cost-cutting mode this winter and show no willingness to pay out any big bonuses.
- Doug Mittler
December 31, 2012D-backs may be in no rush to deal
AM ETArizona Diamondbacks Recommend0Comments3EmailThe future of Justin Upton in Arizona has been speculated all offseason, even though general manager Kevin Towers insisted a few weeks ago it is highly unlikely the outfielder would be traded following the acquisition of shortstop Didi Gregorius from the Cincinnati Reds.
The somewhat unexpected signing of Cody Ross earlier this month leaves the D-backs with a stockpile of outfielders, perhaps paving the way for a trade. If the D-backs opened the regular season today, they'd have Jason Kubel, Justin Upton and Ross in the outfield. Gerardo Parra would be back on the bench and Adam Eaton and/or A.J. Pollock, could be back at Triple-A.
Unless the Texas Rangers blow Towers away with an offer for Upton, the D-backs could be best served by holding on to their stockpile for the time being and wait for a need to develop, suggests MLB.com's Richard Justice.
The D-backs, for example, would have some trading chips if the third base platoon of Chris Johnson and Eric Chavez doesn't pan out. Virtually all teams could use an additional starter come midseason, so Towers could be inclined to be patient.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks
December 31, 2012Wells likely to stay?
AM ETVernon Wells | Angels Recommend0Comments2EmailThe Los Angeles Angels will be paying $21 million each of the next two seasons to Vernon Wells. The veteran outfielder, of course, hasn't delivered an equivalent bang for the buck, but he still has value to the Halos, wrote Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register last week.
At the moment, Wells is slotted as the fourth outfielder behind Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and Peter Bourjos. But given that Bourjos is coming off a rough season at the plate (.220), the Angels may need to cover themselves with a veteran backup, especially since they may still be reluctant to go with the unproven Kole Calhoun as a fourth outfielder.
Wells' name has been linked recently to the Yankees and Phillies, but if the Angels are forced to eat the lion's share of the contract to make any deal happen, it may make sense to simply keep him around.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Vernon Wells, Los Angeles Angels
December 31, 2012Comeback for Vazquez?
AM ETJavier Vazquez | Marlins Recommend0Comments3EmailJavier Vazquez, who last appeared in the major leagues in 2011 with the Marlins, is currently honing his craft this winter for the Ponce Lions in Puerto Rico.
The 36-year-old plans to pitch in the World Baseball Classic and tells Ralph Pagan Archeval of ESPNDeportes.com he is considering a comeback, preferably with a contender. "I have not closed the doors," the 36-year-old Vazquez said.
Vazquez had 12 straight seasons of double-digit wins, including a career-best 16 for the Expos in 2001.
- Doug Mittler
December 31, 2012Lohse's options
AM ETKyle Lohse | Cardinals Recommend0Comments12EmailAlthough both clubs already have full rotations, the Dodgers and Tigers could be in play for Lohse, writes the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo. In those cases, a starter would likely have to be traded -- Chris Capuano or Aaron Harang for the Dodgers, or Rick Porcello for the Tigers -- before either team goes hard after Lohse.
Kyle Lohse is easily the best pitcher still on the free agent market, but it's been a slow-go for the veteran this winter.
Lohse has watched idly as Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson -- two fellow righties thought to be in the same class -- have inked multi-year deals, but it now appears that the picture is becoming clearer for the former Cardinal.
MASN's Roch Kubatko, though, thinks it's unlikely the O's will land Lohse, citing the club's inclination to avoid signing pitchers to big contracts, as well as the desire to hang onto its first-round pick in the 2013 draft.
There has been speculation, like this from ESPN Insider Jim Bowden, that the teams most interested in Lohse are the Orioles, Brewers and perhaps Texas. Bowden explains why the best fit for Lohse would be in Baltimore:
- Jason Catania
Lohse makes sense for O's
"For the Orioles to make it back to the playoffs they could really use a proven starter to slot at or near the front of their rotation. Lohse, 34, has a 3.11 ERA in 399 1/3 innings over the last two seasons and would give the O's rotation some much-needed innings and reliability until top prospects Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman arrive. The AL East is wide open, and the Orioles can't sit around and let someone else take the division. "
Tags:Milwaukee Brewers, Baltimore Orioles, Edwin Jackson, Anibal Sanchez, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Kyle Lohse
December 31, 2012Why Myers remains unsigned
AM ETBrett Myers | White Sox Recommend0Comments0EmailFree agent Brett Myers has expressed a desire to again work as a starter after spending last season in the bullpen for the Astros and White Sox. But the main reason Myers remains unsigned may be money, reports Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.
"The feeling is he's been asking for too much money," a National League GM tells Cafardo. "I think teams are waiting for the price to come down. He can certainly help a team. I think a lot of teams have him on a wish list."
Myers, who made $11 million last season, has been linked to the Padres, Orioles and Twins - clubs that will pay nothing close to that figure in 2013.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Brett Myers, San Diego Padres, Minnesota Twins
December 31, 2012Braves' left field search
AM ETAtlanta Braves Recommend0Comments5EmailThe biggest splash of the Atlanta Braves' offseason was the signing of center fielder B.J. Upton, but they are still searching for someone who will play alongside him in left field.
If the season began today, the Braves could go with Juan Francisco as a primary or platoon third baseman and have Martin Prado split time between left field and third base instead of moving to third full-time. Another left field platoon option is Reed Johnson, who re-signed earlier this month.
David O'Brien of the Atlanta JC tweeted Sunday that he expects the Braves to pass on free agent Delmon Young, who was primarily a DH in Detroit last season.
Scott Hairston may be the best option available, but the Braves seem unlikely to give a multi-year deal that he is seeking.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Scott Hairston, Delmon Young, Atlanta Braves
December 31, 2012LaRoche and the new CBA
AM ETAdam LaRoche | Nationals Recommend0Comments0EmailIt's New Year's Eve and free agent Adam LaRoche is still on the open market. LaRoche has indicated that he prefers to remain in Washington with the Nationals, but he's also sticking to his target of landing a three-year deal.
Another reason LaRoche remains unsigned is the unintended consequences of the new collective bargaining agreement, as outlined earlier this month by ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney.
The new rules were designed to ensure that only elite free agents, who received $13.3 million qualifying offers from their former teams, were attached to draft-pick compensation. The hope was that the compensation wouldn't hinder the players at all this winter. But LaRoche received a qualifying offer, and interested parties may be reluctant to surrender a pick for his services.
With their deal with Mike Napoli in limbo, the Boston Red Sox have been mentioned as a serious suitor for LaRoche. But Tim Britton of the Providence Journal the Red Sox cautions the Red Sox should be cautious about surrendering a draft pick that could prove to be very valuable.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Adam LaRoche, Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals
December 31, 2012Mets counting on Gee
AM ETDillon Gee | Mets Recommend0Comments0EmailDespite the fact that he's still recovering from surgery to address a blood clot in his right shoulder, Dillon Gee will be an important piece for the New York Mets in 2013.
In the aftermath of the R.A. Dickey trade, Gee will be counted on even more, reports the Daily News' Anthony McCarron.
The 26-year-old right-hander has been solid over parts of three seasons in Flushing, posting a 21-16 record and 4.06 ERA in 49 starts. He was having his best year yet in 2012, before the scary blood clot cost him the entire second half.
Good news is, the surgery, which widened a damaged artery in his shoulder in order to increase blood flow, was deemed a success, so Gee should be ready for a full spring training. That's important for the Mets entering 2013, as the staff could very much use a healthy Gee pitching in the middle of a rotation that needs some stability. Outside of veteran lefty Jonathon Niese, the current five-man has plenty of questions, including an ace with his own injury issues (Johan Santana), a pair of youngsters with little big league experience (Matt Harvey and Jenrry Mejia) and of course, the loss of the reigning NL Cy Young winner.
- Jason Catania
Tags:New York Mets, Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey, Ken Harvey, Jenrry Mejia, R.A. Dickey, Johan Santana, Dillon Gee
December 31, 2012More offense at Petco?
AM ETSan Diego Padres Recommend0Comments2EmailIt's been a quiet offseason for the San Diego Padres so far, but that doesn't mean the club's offense won't improve next year.
The Padres are moving in the fences 10 feet along the length of right field and in left center in Petco Park, as San Diego Union-Tribune's Bill Center notes.
That can only help hitters, especially when Petco was the third-worst in baseball in the home run aspect of park factors: at .626, the stadium suppressed long balls by nearly 40 percent below league average.
Taking that even further, lefty hitters have been especially hurt in the homer department over the past three seasons (39 percent below average vs. seven percent below for righties).
While we won't know how the new dimensions will play until games get underway, this is the kind of thing that might make certain Padres hitters, primarily lefty-swingers like Yonder Alonso, Will Venable and especially switch-hitting Chase Headley (who managed to hit 13 of his career-high 31 homers at home in 2012) slightly more valuable -- or at least, more enticing -- for fantasy purposes next year.
- Jason Catania