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2016 MLB thread. Baseball is upon us! Royals are the champs - Page 331

post #9901 of 73468
Originally Posted by 651akathePaul View Post

Thought this was a joke for split second, but then thought about it and looked it up. Bobby and his agent did it right. laugh.gif The Mets...Not so much. mean.gif


Unbelievable. Who is his agent? EVERY player should hire this dude.

formerly known as Copp 2 of Em


... From the City of Toronto.


formerly known as Copp 2 of Em


... From the City of Toronto.

post #9902 of 73468
Even before he began collecting these payments, the former All-Star embraced the responsibility of being, in his words, "the CEO of my own cash." From the day he signed his first contract, Bonilla followed the gospel preached by his then-agent, Dennis Gilbert: "It's not what you make, it's what you keep."

"Bobby didn't need to live large," Gilbert says. "He looked around and saw lots of people he knew coming out of the game with no money, and he didn't want to be like that."

Here's the full article by ESPN done about a year ago. Pretty interesting read.
post #9903 of 73468
Grady Sizemore has played in 104 games since 2009. laugh.gif
post #9904 of 73468
Originally Posted by Proshares View Post

The Mets OF is ATROCIOUS laugh.gif

Has to be one of the worst outfields of the past twenty years or so, straight AAA.

Realistically, in the next few years will there be any big name OF in free agency we can snag?

Only hope is Wheeler/Harvey become the Maddux/Glavine of the NL East for the next decade and we get some decent pieces around them.
post #9905 of 73468
2008 Giants Outfield is on par with Mets OF

Fred Lewis, Aaron Roward and Randy Winn sick.giflaugh.gif
post #9906 of 73468
Originally Posted by JumpmanFromDaBay View Post

2008 Giants Outfield is on par with Mets OF

Fred Lewis, Aaron Roward and Randy Winn sick.giflaugh.gif

Totally disagree with this idea. Although the 2008 Giants outfield was nothing to write home about, we still had Major League talent in it. Rowand, although incredibly overpaid, was still a serviceable player. Randy Winn hit over .300 that year too. If we had three Fred Lewises, then your comparison would be more valid.

The 2013 Mets outfield and the 2008 Giants outfield are not even in the same ballpark as far as talent level goes.
post #9907 of 73468
Originally Posted by JumpmanFromDaBay View Post

2008 Giants Outfield is on par with Mets OF

Fred Lewis, Aaron Roward and Randy Winn sick.giflaugh.gif

Those players had a combined 9.5 WAR.

Winn: 5.4
Lewis: 2.7
Rowand 1.7

Not that terrible.

According to 2013 ZiPs, Aaron Rowand alone is worth more wins than the 2013 Mets' outfield. laugh.gif
What's 1.21 gigawatts to a McFly like me. Can you please remind me?
What's 1.21 gigawatts to a McFly like me. Can you please remind me?
post #9908 of 73468
Originally Posted by dland24 View Post

Short walk over a small bridge is well worth the free parking!! pimp.gif

Originally Posted by Th3RealF0lkBlu3s View Post

It really is. No shops around, nothing to do before or after games. Located in a terrible part of Oakland (though gentrification could transform the area in 10-20 years' time.)

It's almost exactly like Candlestick. Except I'd say that I prefer the Coliseum to Candlestick, which I think is the worst park I've ever been to (and I was there to see both Giants and Niner games).

Not to touch on a late subject; but I would just like to add that when I lived in SF and had to travel to Oaklnd to watch my Tribe play; it was reletively easy just getting off the train and walking that little bridge. Granted I got harassed by some young bum asking for change, so I almost got into a fight - nonethless that could have been avoided of course - but having a plaza across from the stadium with Wing Stop and the other restaurants, I didn't think the Oakland Col. was that bad.

The stadium is old, that's a given - but it's still a decent park with very easy access from almost all across the Bay. And I also didn't think Candlestick was that bad - I love that it was in a residential area as well, and it was 5 minutes away from a liquor store my cousin owns on 3rd street.
"You go to Israel, the blacks are just treated like dogs" - Donald Sterling, Clippers Owner.
"You go to Israel, the blacks are just treated like dogs" - Donald Sterling, Clippers Owner.
post #9909 of 73468
I remember in the 2nd half of 2009 (after they traded Matt Holliday), the A's had Matt Carson, Matt Watson, Rajai Davis, and Ryan Sweeney in a 4 man outfield rotation:x
post #9910 of 73468
Mike Baxter and Kirk guys really aren't coming close to realizing how bad that is,
post #9911 of 73468
Originally Posted by WearinTheFourFive View Post

I remember in the 2nd half of 2009 (after they traded Matt Holliday), the A's had Matt Carson, Matt Watson, Rajai Davis, and Ryan Sweeney in a 4 man outfield rotation:x

Don't remind me sick.gifsick.gif
post #9912 of 73468
Thread Starter 
Next year OF FA's are thin...Ellsbury? Carlos Gomez? Granderson? Choo?
post #9913 of 73468
Originally Posted by Proshares View Post

Next year OF FA's are thin...Ellsbury? Carlos Gomez? Granderson? Choo?

FA market is going to thin out drastically, it will be all about player development and trades (smokin.gif). Teams are locking up their young stars and buying out arbitration years. Small market teams (TB, CIN) are taking gambles by locking up their faces of the franchise with 10+ year contracts (Votto, Longoria).
Instagram: backyardlobo
Instagram: backyardlobo
post #9914 of 73468
Thread Starter 
Smart way to go. I like the competitive balance that the league seems to be moving towards.
post #9915 of 73468
Hey, me too.
post #9916 of 73468
Everyone but the Marlins.
post #9917 of 73468
Thread Starter 
And yet, they'll still be somewhat competitive laugh.gif

Kev, check your inbox.

And I apologize for not posting up the articles lately. For some reason, IE at the office doesn't populate the spoilers properly. So I've been having to do it one article per post. Between wedding plans and ****, I haven't had a chance to do it at home. Hopefully tonight or tomorrow I'll do a major post or two to catch up and get ready for the regular season pimp.gif
post #9918 of 73468
You getting hitched, Pro?
post #9919 of 73468
Thread Starter 
Yep, May 25th, 2014.
post #9920 of 73468
Thread Starter 
MLB Future Power Rankings (30-16). Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
A year ago, ESPN Insider brought you the first edition of the MLB Future Power Rankings. We updated the rankings in August, and we're back to give you the first installment for 2013.

We've once again asked our three top baseball analysts -- Jim Bowden, Keith Law and Buster Olney -- to rank all 30 teams in five different categories (see table) in an attempt to measure how well each team is set up for sustained success over the next five years.

MAJORS (full weight): Quality of current big league roster
MINORS (full weight): Quality and quantity of prospects in their farm system
FINANCE (2/3 weight): How much money do they have to spend?
MANAGEMENT (2/3 weight): Value and stability of ownership, front office and coaching staff
MOBILITY (1/3 weight): Do they have a lot of young, cheap players, or old, immovable guys?
For a full breakdown of the MLB Future Power Rankings methodology, click here.
The better your rank in a given category, the more points you get, and the average point scores from the three voters are available in the bar graphs accompanying each team's section, rounded to the nearest integer. We weighted the categories and then gave each team a score on a scale of 1 to 100, with the score representing a team's percentage of total possible points. (For a detailed breakdown of the methodology used for the Future Power Rankings, click here.)

With each team's ranking, you'll also get a take from Buster, Jim and Keith. Buster will give an overview of the franchise's future, Jim will explain the biggest dilemma currently facing the team and Keith will highlight an intriguing aspect of its farm system.

We've split the rankings into two parts, starting with the bottom 15. We'll unveil the top tier on Thursday. Now, to the rankings!

Oakland Athletics

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
While some have written off their 2012 AL West title as a fluke, their pitching is very much for real. And if Brett Anderson can ever stay healthy, he and Jarrod Parker will be a formidable one-two punch. The issue will always be scoring runs, as both Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick are good -- but flawed -- hitters, and the A's will never have the dollars to sign a big-name bat as a free agent. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
The A's have never had problems developing talent. They have struggled to keep that talent when it starts to get expensive. More than anything, they need to figure out how to get a new stadium in San Jose, Calif., so they can generate more revenue and keep their young stars. -- Jim Bowden

The System
The A's used a lot of rookies in 2012, led by Jarrod Parker and Yoenis Cespedes, leaving the system a little thin after all of the graduations. They did restock with a strong draft, led by Addison Russell, a prep shortstop who raked in two short-season leagues and finished his first pro summer in full-season ball, something almost unheard of for a player taken out of high school. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Seattle Mariners

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
By signing Felix Hernandez to a long-term deal this winter, this club is determined to build a winner around him. The Mariners have the pitching talent to do it, but at some point they will need to figure out how to score some runs. Free-agent hitters have long been scared off by Safeco Field, but that could change if run scoring increases in 2013 with the fences having been brought in. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero and Mike Zunino are the makings of a decent lineup, but the M's need to add one big masher. They made a run at Justin Upton this winter, but he vetoed the deal. They will be in the mix for Giancarlo Stanton when the Marlins make him available, and they have the talent to swing a deal. -- Jim Bowden

The System
The Mariners still have starting pitching on the way, maybe not quite as potent a group as they appeared to have a year ago, but still enough that they're looking at a rotation surplus in the near term. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Baltimore Orioles

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
The Orioles gave their fans a taste of what could be a very bright future in 2012, but that future will depend on just how good Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy turn out to be. Assuming Matt Wieters, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis maintain their current level of play through their respective primes, this team could be very dangerous in a couple of years. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
They have a plethora of promising young pitchers, such as Chris Tillman, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Kevin Gausman and Bundy, but they all carry question marks. The O's will have to keep an open eye for an available top-of-the-rotation type starter until a few of those youngsters prove themselves. -- Jim Bowden

The System
The 2012 season saw a big uptick in the value of what they had left in the minors -- Bundy emerged as the minors' best pitching prospect in 2012, while their first pick from last year's draft, Gausman, was one of the hottest names in Florida instructional league in September. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

San Diego Padres

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
The Padres have one of the deeper farm systems around and a number of promising young big leaguers. That's the good news. The bad news is that their best player (Chase Headley) will be a free agent after the 2014 season, and will almost certainly walk, and they don't seem to have a superstar on the horizon. The path to contention is there, but GM Josh Byrnes will have to make some tough decisions. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
If July rolls around and the Padres are out of the race, they'll have no choice but to not only listen to offers on Headley as they did last July, but actually trade him for a package of prospects. Their market size will not allow them to pay him what he's presently worth, and his trade value will never be higher. The industry is loaded with teams needing an upgrade at third base including the Yankees, Braves and Dodgers. -- Jim Bowden

The System
The top-ranked organization from last year graduated Yasmani Grandal and Yonder Alonso to the majors while top prospects Joe Ross and Casey Kelly missed large chunks of the year due to injuries, although neither ended up with surgery. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Kansas City Royals

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
After years of hoarding prospects, GM Dayton Moore pushed his chips to the middle of the table by trading Wil Myers (and others) in a deal for James Shields and Wade Davis. The Royals' pitching will be much better, but it's a moot point if Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas don't fulfill their promise. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
Shields is signed through 2014, but to give up a prospect the magnitude of Myers and have Shields for only two seasons would be a major mistake. If the Royals can't sign him to an extension, they might have to try to trade him in the offseason before his walk year and they shouldn't expect the same return they gave up to get him with only one year left on his deal. -- Jim Bowden

The System
They're loaded with sleeper/breakout candidates, lots of guys you love when you see them even though you know, objectively, they're fairly low probability. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Minnesota Twins

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview The short-term future of the Twins is bleak, but rival evaluators rave about the tools of some of the top prospects in their system. Many of them will not arrive until 2014 (at the earliest), and at that point it will be up to Joe Mauer to help them usher in a new era of excitement in the Twin Cities. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
The goal for this organization is clear, and that's finding, developing and keeping its starting pitching. As GM Terry Ryan says, "If you don't pitch, you don't play." With that in mind, he will look to move Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau to bring in some more young talent on the mound. -- Jim Bowden

The System
They fared well in the trades of Denard Span and Ben Revere, and they went for upside in the 2012 MLB draft more than they'd done in the previous few seasons. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Houston Astros

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
In the history of the modern game, there has never been a team that has attempted to rebuild in a manner as extreme as the current Astros. They had the No. 1 pick in the draft last year, they will have it this year, and it's likely they will have it again in 2014 and 2015. They have already added a lot of talent via trades, and this team will eventually be a juggernaut. It just might not be until 2018 or so. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
For the Astros to compete in the AL West sometime in the next five years, the key will be who they select in the June draft. They'll likely be targeting a top college arm who they hope can have a quick impact similar to David Price and Stephen Strasburg, two other college pitchers recently taken No. 1 overall. -- Jim Bowden

The System
Their 2010 draft class started to break through this year, their trade of Hunter Pence looks even better a year later, and they managed their bonus pool in the 2012 draft as well as any team. The big league club may be "Plan 9 from Outer Space" bad this year, but at least respectability is on the horizon. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

New York Mets

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
They've finally decided to rebuild, and you can start to see the makings of a winning team down the road, with Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Jon Niese fronting the rotation, and Ike Davis and Travis d'Arnaud supporting elder statesman David Wright in the lineup. They've even cleared enough payroll to become players on the free-agent market again, and could desperately use an outfielder. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
The Mets' outfield is currently comprised of guys who should be fourth outfielders, and they must acquire a passable outfield to support Davis, d'Arnaud and Wright when the team is ready to compete in a couple of years. Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo could be free-agent targets next winter. -- Jim Bowden

The System
It's a top-heavy system that was boosted substantially by the R.A. Dickey trade. It brought a return that accounts for two of the Mets' top three prospects while they wait for the 2011 and 2012 drafts to start to have more of an impact on the system. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Philadelphia Phillies

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
At some point, things are going to get ugly in Philly, but probably not for another year or two. Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay are still a formidable trio and should keep the Phillies in the wild-card hunt in 2013, but years of trading prospects to stay relevant are going to catch up to them soon. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
If the Phillies are going to compete in the next year or two, they must get some production from their corner outfield spots. If former top prospect Domonic Brown is ever going to help, he needs to shorten his swing, and minor league masher Darin Ruf could help if he can play a passable left field. The Phillies are still trying to figure out their corner outfield positions, a dilemma that will play out during the season. They could end up dealing Brown to the Cubs for Alfonso Soriano if they don't think he'll ever become the 20/20 player they were hoping for. -- Jim Bowden

The System
Years of trades, surrendered draft picks and refusal to give signing bonuses that exceed MLB's recommendations have taken their toll on a system that doesn't look like it'll spit out an average, everyday position player until at least 2015 barring a big step forward from someone like Cody Asche. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Pittsburgh Pirates

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
The Pirates have been rebuilding for more than 20 years, and while they do have one true superstar in Andrew McCutchen, the lack of any other elite players leaves them hoping for a .500 season. Their best hope for winning the NL Central in McCutchen's prime is if top pitching prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon both fulfill their ace potential. Rival officials think that if current GM Neal Huntington is let go, the next GM will be teed up with a foundation for success. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
The Pirates are almost ready to win, but they have to decide if they should wait for Cole and Taillon to develop -- which could take a couple of years -- or if they should trade some of their prospect depth for a player like Chase Headley, who can help them win right now. -- Jim Bowden

The System
The Pirates' system has improved through high draft picks and some tremendous work in Latin America, although those of you who've seen "Pelotero" might find that last part a little hard to swallow. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Chicago White Sox

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
The White Sox never seem to have dynamic position players or exciting prospects, yet they always seem to stay relevant. That could change soon, however, as Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn are both in the decline phases of their careers, and it's unclear who will pick up the slack. New GM Rick Hahn has his work cut out for him. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
A.J. Pierzynski was a rock behind the plate for years on the South Side, but now the club must replace him after letting him sign with Texas as a free agent. Tyler Flowers has long been seen as the heir apparent, but he has struggled in every big league opportunity he has ever had. -- Jim Bowden

The System
The team's selection of two prep players to start its 2012 draft was a great sign the White Sox might not be so reliant on lower-upside/higher-probability college guys under the new draft bonus system, which should help raise their rankings and make the system more productive in the future. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Milwaukee Brewers

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
Unfortunately for Milwaukee fans, this club may have seen the window shut on its current core when Prince Fielder signed with the Tigers. There is a chance the Brewers could compete in 2013, but they'll need Aramis Ramirez and Norichika Aoki to repeat what were surprisingly great years. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
The Brewers tied the Athletics for the best record in the majors after Aug. 20, but the question remains if their young starters will hold on for an entire 162-game schedule. There is no one they can really count on beyond Yovani Gallardo, and that could be an issue for a few years. -- Jim Bowden

The System
It's a system without a ton of upside that's also light on guys who might be above-average regulars at any position on the diamond, the result of some mediocre draft classes and the trades they made to stay in contention over the past few years, including the Zack Greinke deal. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Cleveland Indians

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
By signing Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher this winter, the Indians made themselves more interesting for 2013, but the long-term future of the club is still in doubt. They don't have a reliable starter, and their short-term path to winning involves Trevor Bauer, Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson all pitching like the elite starters their stuff suggests they can be. That's far from a certainty. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma

They need at least two of Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Zach McAllister to become rotation stalwarts for them to move forward because they are not in position to sign any top-quality free-agent starters after their spending sprees on Swisher, Bourn and Mark Reynolds. -- Jim Bowden

The System
The Indians have shortstops galore -- three or four of whom might end up as big league regulars in an optimistic scenario -- and a lot of young pitching that's three or four years away, but short-term help is really limited and they're very light on corner bats who'll have big offensive impact. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Miami Marlins

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
It's hard to write about the Marlins' future because they have shown time and again that they will blow up their team at a moment's notice if it gets too expensive. Rival execs believe they will look to trade Giancarlo Stanton in the next year or so, and he should net a formidable package of prospects whom Miami can look to trade once they get expensive. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
The Marlins must figure out how to win the fans back to a brand-new stadium after a year that featured Ozzie Guillen's insensitive comments and a subsequent fire sale. Stanton is the only reason to watch this club, and the Marlins need to keep drafting well to build a winner around him since we know they won't spend big again on free agents for a while. -- Jim Bowden

The System
In between laughing all the way to the bank, the Marlins' ownership hasn't paid much attention to the farm system over the past few years, spending little on the international market and lowballing its 2012 first-round pick, Oklahoma State lefty Andrew Heaney. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Colorado Rockies

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
Few teams can boast a pair of position players as good as Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, but everything else about this organization is up in the air. Dan O'Dowd still has the title of GM, but former assistant GM Bill Geivett (now a senior VP) oversees the day-to-day operations of the club while still reporting to O'Dowd. It's an unusual arrangement, to say the least. On top of that, the search for consistent pitching -- 20 years and counting -- continues for this organization. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
As Buster noted, the Rockies can't find pitching. They had some success with sinkerballers a few years ago, and their most recent approach has been lower pitch counts to minimize the number of times each pitcher goes through the lineup. A possible Gonzalez deal at the trade deadline for top pitching prospects might even be possible because the situation is becoming that dire. -- Jim Bowden

The System
It was a rough year on the farm for the Rockies, with Chad Bettis and Tim Wheeler missing all or most of the year due to injuries while Tyler Anderson's year started late due to a groin problem. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Time to ban collisions at home.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- An important voice has joined a growing chorus of people in the game calling for rule changes that would effectively ban home plate collisions. St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny -- who was a big league catcher for 13 seasons -- announced he had changed his mind and now wants collisions legislated out of the sport.

From Matthew Leach's story:

"I know the league wants to do the right thing and I know Joe [Torre] does a great job," Matheny said. "So that's my prelude. "But I do believe that this game will get to the point where there will no longer be a collision at the plate. And I am 100 percent in support of that." Matheny framed it primarily as a risk-reward matter, explaining that any increase in the entertainment value from collisions is outweighed by safety concerns.

"I'd just love to hear the rebuttal," Matheny said, "because what I've personally witnessed was enough for me to change my mind. It actually took me a little longer 'till I got to the realization of the risk we're putting these guys in -- and the runner, too. The runner is stuck in a spot sometimes where if he doesn't do it, he feels like he's let his team down. Take it out of their hands. This isn't a collision sport. There's enough of a physical grind with guys being out there for 162 games. We've got the physical aspect of this game. It doesn't need to include that one spot."

For Matheny, this might be a little bit more personal, because he's a longtime catcher and had to retire because of concussion symptoms himself, and last year he saw his own star catcher, Yadier Molina, get blasted in what was regarded as a clean play.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy -- also a former catcher -- has become a strong advocate for change, lobbying MLB executive Joe Torre for the rules to be adjusted so runners will be assured access to home plate and won't have reason to run over catchers. Bochy and others have talked about how rules could be much like those at first base, with essentially two lanes to the bag: If the catcher takes one lane, he cannot restrict the runner from reaching the base in the other lane.

ESPN Baseball Tonight with Buster Olney
Buster Olney and Jayson Stark discuss how MLB can regulate collisions at the plate. Plus, Reds C, Ryan Hanigan talks about managing his pitchers.

More Podcasts »
But there is also movement for change with many folks who aren't in uniform, either: There are a growing number of teams who are essentially instructing their catchers to avoid collisions at the plate, even if it means increasing the likelihood that a run will score. Quite simply, those teams have decided that having your catcher at heightened risk for being run over -- or even having your runners at more risk -- doesn't make good business sense, in a sport that has been increasingly evaluated on dollar value over the last 15 years.

I asked one evaluator to weigh the risk/reward dollar of the home plate collision, and he offered these broad strokes:

"Throughout baseball, a marginal win (in terms of salary cost/production) is valued at an average of 2.5 million. It's about double that number if we use free agents only, excluding pre-arbitration and arbitration players, but let's stick with the overall number.

Ten runs of differential adds up to a win, so you could roughly say that a marginal run is worth $250,000. Obviously, that run will be more valuable if it's a game-winner, or in a game involving two teams in a pennant race. But the context-neutral average value of a run is $250,000.

One of the other considerations in evaluating this is that blocking the plate doesn't necessarily guarantee saving the run. Let's say the probability of saving the run by blocking the plate vs. standing in front of the plate (toward the pitcher's mound) and reaching over for the tag increases by 50 percent (for example, from 25 percent to 75 percent, and it may be less than that). Now the expected value from blocking the plate is only half of $250,000, or $125,000.

Meanwhile, Buster Posey's dollar value in 2012 was $36 million [per FanGraphs]. Obviously, he's hardly the typical catcher, but he provides a very real data point of the type of productivity loss that's risked when a catcher blocks the plate, since they actually did lose him for two-thirds of a season."

For a play that's an outlier to the fabric of the sport -- fans don't go to baseball games expecting to see home plate collisions, which might happen once or twice a month for a team -- it's just not worth it, and that's without even addressing the whole issue that hovers over the NFL, about the potential liability for the league from the players' long-term injuries.

And home plate collisions have altered careers -- Johnny Estrada was never the same after being leveled by Darin Erstad, and John Gibbons went from top catching prospect to a journeyman after being run over by Joe Lefebvre, which was recently referenced in a Richard Griffin story. From the piece:

As a Mets' prospect, Gibbons continued to work hard and finally in 1984, his fifth year in the system, he was given a solid shot at the starting job at spring training. He had already won the job in the eyes of first-year manager Davey Johnson, but in the final week of camp, disaster struck.

"Two days before we broke camp, I took an elbow in the cheek on a play at the plate," Gibbons recalled, showing no anger. "It was kind of a cheap shot. (Joe Lefebvre of the Phillies) was trying to score. The ball was kind of drifting into him. He threw an elbow at me and cracked the cheekbone. It was kind of downhill from there. (When I returned) I injured my elbow, partially torn ligament. That winter they traded for (Gary) Carter. That was kind of it. I thought 'I'm done here.' "

And, of course, there is the famous example of Ray Fosse, who was run over by Pete Rose in the 1970 All-Star Game.

Here's the bottom line: Change is coming on this play, regardless of whether it happens under the watch of Torre or after he leaves. For years, baserunners could roll over middle infielders, and for the sake of the safety of the players, that play was legislated out of the sport. The NFL has banned hits against defenseless targets -- which might be the working definition of a catcher who has his head turned to follow the flight of the ball and is in the crosshairs of a 200-plus-pound baserunner going at full speed with a 30-yard head start.

To defend the home plate collision as a useful play with "It's always been part of the game" is a bad answer. Until the early '50s, it was always part of the game that hitters didn't wear helmets. For a long time after that, it was part of the game that they didn't wear helmets with earflaps. For many years, it was always part of the game that outfield walls didn't have padding, and that was changed, too.

It makes no sense that a handful of times every season a catcher is expected to stand there like a human crash-test dummy, and baserunners are expected to turn themselves into human missiles. In the NFL, linemen intend to go after the quarterbacks, to hit the quarterback when opportunities arise, on every single play -- and the rules for that have been changed, to protect the quarterback.

The next move belongs to Torre. He can either get ahead of the parade and lead the sport to where it's going, or he should at least stand out of the way, for the sake of the players.

Tuesday's games

1. Bryce Harper is killing the ball.

2. Bruce Rondon was a little wild.

3. A White Sox third baseman had a good day.

4. Mike Pelfrey is like Joe Nathan.

5. Yovani Gallardo struggled in his spring debut. His birthday is today.

6. Homer Bailey eased into things, as Hal McCoy writes.

7. Billy Butler went Big Fly, as Bob Dutton writes.

8. A Rockies pitcher was frustrated with his debut.

9. Yu Darvish looked good. Darvish is pitching to be the ace, writes Randy Galloway.

10. The Braves' Evan Gattis is killing the ball.

11. Justin Smoak hit another home run.

12. Josh Beckett had a strong first outing. He's going to have a really good year, I'd bet.

13. Josh Hamilton went hitless.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Brian Cashman said out loud that the Yankees won't sign Johnny Damon.

2. Joba Chamberlain says he can be a starter, but the Yankees aren't interested in that.

3. Jackie Bradley Jr. may stay in the big leagues.

4. Justin Masterson will start on Opening Day for the Indians.

5. Aaron Hill is moving to the No. 3 spot in the D-backs' lineup.

6. The Astros are juggling their lineup.

Dings and dents

1. Jeff Karstens has a problem.

2. Russell Martin has a sore shoulder.

3. Kevin Youkilis is coping with some dehydration.

4. John Danks is ready to get back on the mound, writes Scott Merkin.

5. Chris Narveson is thrilled to get back to the mound.

6. Michael Brantley will be out for the next 10 days or so.

7. Shelby Miller and Rafael Furcal could play this weekend, writes Derrick Goold.

The fight for jobs

1. There is an interesting reliever in the mix for the Tigers.

2. Jeff Baker might have an edge over Mike Olt for a bench job. The Yankees tried to sign Baker in the offseason.

AL West

• Hiro Nakajima got his first hit.

• Robert Andino has had a long, dangerous journey, writes Geoff Baker.

AL Central

• Jamey Carroll is feeling good, writes Phil Miller.

AL East

• Adam Jones warns those who picked against the O's.

• Evan Longoria made his spring debut, as Marc Topkin writes.

• Steve Simmons looks at the other side of J.P. Arencibia.

• Brett Lawrie is viewed as a future star by Mark DeRosa.

• Ricky Romero read some research from teammate Brandon Morrow and is throwing more sinkers.

NL West

• The Padres' Anthony Bass hopes to stay healthy, and impress.

• Tim Lincecum didn't have a pristine line, but he is encouraged, writes Henry Schulman.

• Dante Bichette is part hitting coach, part psychologist, writes Troy Renck.

• Brandon Belt can hoop it, as Alex Pavlovic writes.

• Adrian Gonzalez is happy to be with the Dodgers.

NL Central

• Theo Epstein is always calculating, writes David Haugh.

• Anthony Rizzo wants the Cubs to develop a winning attitude, writes Paul Sullivan.

• Jack Hannahan has impressed the Reds.

• A Cardinals uber-prospect was really impressive.

NL East

• Kris Medlen has been better since his surgery.

• Something for the Phillies to draw on: Teams can improve with age, Bob Brookover writes.

• Wilmer Flores is working in the infield, not the outfield -- although the Mets have been talking about it.

• Travis d'Arnaud is making a splash with his bat, writes John Harper.

• A couple of young Diamondbacks are waiting their turn.

Marlins must move on Stanton.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria says he hasn't seen negative reaction to the slashing of the team's payroll, other than a few crazy phone calls.

From Joe Capozzi's piece:

Loria said he has heard very little negative reaction lately. He said he attended a food and wine festival on Saturday and was "probably approached by 20 or 30 people all of whom congratulated me and said, 'You had to do what you did.' To a person." Negative feedback? "I haven't seen anything. I got a few silly phone calls. That was in November. It stopped. I'm hoping maybe we can just call a halt to it all and try and get behind the home team this next year."

Really, it's a brilliant mindset, and got me to thinking that maybe other noted sports figures should consider the same:

Scott Norwood: "I DIDN'T see the ball go wide right. Bills win!"

Chris Webber: "Timeout? Who called a timeout? Not me."

Ron Washington: "I DIDN'T see Nelson Cruz miss David Freese's fly ball. Man, the champagne was sweet!"

Bill Buckner: "What do you mean 'Ground ball between my legs'? I didn't see that. A few crazy people say something about that, but that was back in October. I was probably approached by 20 or 30 people all of whom congratulated me on the play."

Loria, beyond demonstrating that he lives in some other universe, made some news in saying that he doesn't see the Marlins offering Giancarlo Stanton a deal anytime during the course of this season.

Now, before we examine the strategy behind this, let's leave room for the possibility that there's been a lot more movement behind the scenes than Loria (or Stanton, for that matter) really cares to acknowledge. It's always possible that overtures on a new deal have been made, with general parameters outlined, but the conversation wasn't embraced -- a conversation uncomfortable for the Marlins, who wouldn't want to be rebuffed, and for Stanton, who wouldn't want to embarrass the team by saying no. They might have all moved on dedicated to pretending the conversation never happened, like a homely dude who gets turned down when he asks the prom queen for a date; neither the dude nor the girl would want anybody else to know about such a proposal.

If we take Loria's words at face value -- "Giancarlo needs to play this year" before they'll talk contract -- then the Marlins' strategy really doesn't make a lot of sense.

If we take Loria's words at face value -- "Giancarlo needs to play this year" before they'll talk contract -- then the Marlins' strategy really doesn't make a lot of sense. Because barring a significant injury, Stanton is only going to get more expensive.

He has two years and 118 days of service time, meaning he won't be eligible for arbitration until next winter. As one agent notes, the only real comparable for him would be Carlos Gonzalez, who signed a seven-year, $80 million deal with the Rockies with two years, 59 days of service time prior to the 2011 season.

The market has exploded since then, given the huge dollars paid out to free agents in the last calendar year. If the Marlins were to approach Stanton after this season, after he moves one year closer to free agency, he'll be in position to ask for something in the range of $120 million to $140 million, which the Marlins would probably never do. And the bigger the contract, the greater the discount there will be in his trade value.

The Marlins aren't going to win this year, and very few fans are going to show up to watch them. So why not take a serious offer to Stanton right now, something in the range of $100 million, and make him make a decision, for several reasons.

1. If he says yes, the Marlins will have a star player locked up for years to come, somebody who can be the anchor of their lineup. (And they sure as heck should be able to afford him, given the fact that they basically have zero payroll obligations past 2013).

2. If he says no, the Marlins would be able to deal him when his trade value is at its highest, while he's making relative pennies. If Miami put him up for auction now, they would get a prospect haul equivalent to the annual revenues of Vermont. (Minus the maple syrup.) The Rangers, Cubs, Padres and Cardinals could be among the teams who might bleed their farm systems to make something like this happen.

3. If he says no and the Marlins' overture is made public, then Loria can move on with a clear conscience. (Not that this is so important, given his unique ability to pretend there's nothing wrong.)

Stanton might actually be in for a rough year, because there's really no reason to pitch to him, given the weakness of the rest of Miami's lineup. But he is still only 23 years old, with 93 homers, and he's coming off a year in which he clubbed 37 homers in 449 at-bats while playing in one of the most acute pitchers' parks in the big leagues. He is viewed as a transformative talent, and so there will be a wealth of interest in him, no matter when the Marlins make their decision in him.

But the sooner the better for the Marlins, no matter which way Stanton decides.


• Loria either doesn't get it or doesn't care, writes Greg Cote. The Marlins saw trouble with their ticket sales even before last season, says David Samson. The letter Loria wrote the other day blamed everybody but himself.


• Michael Weiner, the leader of the players' association, says stronger PED penalties could be on the way, and soon.

From the piece:

"There are certainly some players who have expressed that," Weiner said. "We've had discussions with the commissioner's office. If it turns out that we have a different penalty structure because that's what players are interested in, that's what the owners are interested in, it will be for 2014."

Weiner spoke to the media after he met with the Toronto Blue Jays as part of his annual tour of spring training camps.

"On one hand, we do have the toughest penalties of any team sport," Weiner said. "Fifty games is more than you'd see for the first time in football and hockey and basketball. More and more players are vocal about the desire to have a clean game. More and more players are vocal about being willing to accept sacrifices in terms of testing in order to make sure we have a clean game."

Michael Cuddyer, Matt Holliday and David Wright have been among the marquee players who have said they want to see stronger penalties. Cuddyer mentioned a year's suspension for a first positive test, and a lifetime ban with a second positive test.

What all of this demonstrates, again, that Weiner listens to the players, which is why he is so good at what he does.

• There are a lot of reasons why Kyle Lohse is still unsigned -- first and foremost, the fact that he's attached to draft-pick compensation. Another, in the eyes of rival evaluators, is his ugly history pitching for the Twins; he had a 4.88 ERA while working in the American League, which might make AL teams shy away.

The same evaluator had another thought: "When's the last time you saw a pitcher leave the Cardinals and get better?"

Dan Haren, but really, he was a young pitcher when he was traded for Mark Mulder, who was just starting his career. And Edwin Jackson. Beyond that, not many.

• A longtime coach raved last week about Miguel Cabrera's incredible ability to make adjustments, to change the way he uses his feet and his hands in an at-bat -- shortening his swing path when needed, shortening his stride. Like this -- a monster home run crushed off Jonathan Papelbon in Monday's exhibition.

• Nick Castellanos had a good day, too, as John Lowe writes.

• Justin Upton's home run was also epic, as David O'Brien writes.

• Johnny Damon says he's ready to sign if the Yankees want him. It doesn't appear as if Yankees GM Brian Cashman is interested, as Erik Boland writes.

The Yankees aren't considering the Damon option at all. They'll go through their process: Examine internal options, like Slade Heathcott and then consider stuff on the trade market.

Dings and dents

1. Wilson Ramos could get some at-bats as a DH on March 3, writes James Wagner.

2. A Rockies pitcher is feeling better.

3. Chris Young had a quad cramp.

4. Alex Gordon is dealing with a back issue.

5. Michael Brantley was spiked.

6. Dontrelle Willis got hurt after seven pitches.

7. The Rangers are pleased with Colby Lewis' progress.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Charlie Manuel needs to be more flexible with his lineup, writes Phil Sheridan. The Phillies still can't hit lefties, writes David Murphy.

2. The Dodgers are looking at Juan Uribe as a backup first baseman, writes Bill Plunkett.

3. The Twins could reunite with Jim Thome.

The battle for jobs

1. Brian Roberts continues to impress for the Orioles.

2. Jerry Sands is trying to win a spot on the Pirates' bench, writes Bill Brink.

3. Trevor Rosenthal has muscled his way into the competition for the Cardinals' rotation.

4. Miguel Olivo hopes to impress the Reds. Barring a tremendous shift in spring performance, I'd bet that Devin Mesoraco is headed to Triple-A. Mesoraco needs to play as much as possible, and it's evident that Ryan Hanigan is going to be the primary catcher for the Reds.

Monday's games

1. Brian Matusz made his case for a rotation spot.

2. Carlos Villanueva got hammered.

3. A couple of Oakland prospects pitched.

4. Drew Smyly is happy with his new changeup.

5. Adam Wainwright was sharp, writes Rick Hummel.

6. Alex Cobb was not sharp.

7. Martin Perez had a strong spring debut, as Drew Davison writes.

8. Jedd Gyorko was The Man for the Padres.

NL East

• Anthony Rendon wants to take advantage of his situation.

• Collin Cowgill is impressing his manager. Lucas Duda was given side work after his terrible start in spring training, writes Kevin Kernan.

NL Central

• Starling Marte is adjusting his free-swinging ways.

• So far, so good for Billy Hamilton.

• Hiram Burgos impressed with his control.

NL West

• Madison Bumgarner has fixed his delivery.

• Hunter Pence is from another time, writes Bruce Jenkins.

• Gerardo Parra is content with his role.

• Carlos Gonzalez wants to turn back the clock for the Rockies.

• Chad Billingsley is back.

AL East

• The Yankees suddenly seem short of power.

• Tim Wakefield got a look at a Red Sox knuckleballer.

• Somewhere along the way, the Blue Jays-John Farrell relationship went bad, writes Michael Silverman.

• Josh Johnson quells doubts about his arm.

• The Rays want Wil Myers to be a complete player.

AL Central

• Alex Rios is looking for the same rhythm as last year, as Mark Gonzales writes.

• Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez are the key for the Indians, writes Bud Shaw.

• The Twins are changing their internal pitching philosophy, writes Tom Powers.

AL West

• Mariners' players reach beyond the team for offseason help.

• Mike Trout was happy with his debut.

• The Astros' Phil Humber was off the mark.

Ranking strength of early NL schedules.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- This is Part II of our rankings of the early-season schedules, from toughest to easiest. On Saturday, the focus was on the American League. Sunday, we turn our attention to the National League:

1. Pittsburgh Pirates

Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 33 of their first 42
Home/road: 22 of their first 42 at home
Schedule notes: There is a perception that the Pirates have a whole lot at stake early in the season, as they try to rebound from their second-half collapse last year, and they could get a strong indication of just how good they are -- or just how tough a year it's going to be -- right out of the gate. After they open with the Cubs, the Pirates' next 29 games -- that's 29 straight -- are against teams that contended last year, including the Cardinals, Nationals and Braves. In fact, the Pirates see the Nationals and Braves more early in this season than the Phillies do, despite the fact that they play in a different division.
The hurdle ahead: The Pirates get a tough series of games in late May, too, including a four-game interleague stretch with the Tigers.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks

Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 28 of their first 41
Home/road: 23 of their first 41 at home
Schedule notes: They didn't catch much of a break in how their first interleague games are scheduled -- three games at Yankee Stadium in mid-April, and then four games against the Texas Rangers at the end of May.
The hurdle ahead: Interestingly, the D-backs will play about two-thirds of their games against the Dodgers in the first half, leaving only a couple of series for the second half against L.A. Arizona could roll into the All-Star break, because it finishes up the first half with a 10-game homestand.

3. Colorado Rockies

Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 28 of their first 41
Home/road: 19 of their first 41 at home
Schedule notes: The gauntlet really starts for the Rockies in mid-April, when they begin a monthlong stretch of games against teams expected to contend, from the Diamondbacks to the Braves to the Cardinals -- and oh, by the way, their first two interleague series will be against the Tampa Bay Rays and Yankees.
The hurdle ahead: Colorado's first-half schedule is packed with games against the Dodgers and Giants -- four series against each team, in fact, which will make for a lighter second half.

4. San Francisco Giants

Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 28 of their first 40
Home/road: 22 of their first 40 at home
Schedule notes: I once had a conversation with Giants manager Bruce Bochy about the strength of schedule stuff, and he chuckled. "It doesn't really matter with us," he said, "because we play the same way against everybody." The Giants play a lot of close games, regardless of whether they're facing the Dodgers or the Mets. The Giants will see a lot of the Dodgers in the first half of the season.

The hurdle ahead: They didn't catch a break with their interleague matchups, which include four games with Oakland and a series against the improved Toronto Blue Jays.

5. Chicago Cubs

Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 27 of their first 41
Home/road: 22 of their first 41 at home
Schedule notes: The Cubs will be tested early -- from April 5-24, they will only play teams that contended last year, from the defending champion Giants to the Rangers to the Reds. So the lamentations could come early this year.
The hurdle ahead: The Cubs have only two games against St. Louis before June 17, which means the second half of their schedule will be filled with games against the Cards.

6. Miami Marlins

Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 26 of their first 41
Home/road: 19 of their first 41 at home
Schedule notes: They have a ton of games against NL East teams early, and don't really start seeing some of the better teams outside of their division until May.
The hurdle ahead: The Marlins will run into a buzzsaw right before the All-Star break, with two weeks of games against the Braves, Cardinals and Nationals. Good luck with that.

7. St. Louis Cardinals

Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 26 of their first 41
Home/road: 19 of their first 41 at home
Schedule notes: They'll face a string of contenders at the outset, with 12 straight against the Diamondbacks, Giants, Reds and Brewers. It won't be easy early on for them.
The hurdle ahead: The Cardinals will have a chance to feast right before the All-Star break, with nine straight games against the Astros, Marlins and Cubs.

8. Cincinnati Reds

Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 25 of their first 41
Home/road: 22 of their first 41 at home
Schedule notes: Cincinnati gets to hit the ground running with some early-season challenges, opening the year with an interleague series against the Los Angles Angels, then facing the Cardinals and Nationals.
The hurdle ahead: It won't be easy for them, either, in their final games before the All-Star break; in the last two weeks of the first half, they'll face the Giants, Brewers and Braves (with a series against the Seattle Mariners mixed in).

9. Washington Nationals

Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 25 of their first 40
Home/road: 21 of their first 40 at home
Schedule notes: Nine of Washington's first 18 games are against the Marlins and Mets.
The hurdle ahead: Their interleague draw won't be easy: three games early against the Chicago White Sox, a two-gamer against the Detroit Tigers in early May and four games against the Baltimore Orioles in late May.

10. Atlanta Braves

Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 20 of their first 41
Home/road: 15 of their first 41 at home
Schedule notes: Don't be surprised if the Braves win a lot in the first weeks of the season, because they have a lot of games versus the Cubs-Marlins-Rockies-Mets ilk. But after opening the season with six home games, the Braves will just about live on the road, for 16 of their next 18 games.
The hurdle ahead: After opening their season with the Phillies, the Braves won't see Philadelphia until July 5, when they play in Philly for the first time all year. That means a whole lot of Braves-Phillies games after the All-Star break.

11. San Diego Padres

Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 20 of their first 39
Home/road: 18 of their first 39 at home
Schedule notes: The challenge will come early, because exactly half of their first 24 games are against the Dodgers and Giants -- but those will be interspersed with games against the Mets, Rockies, et al.
The hurdle ahead: The Padres will play most of their games against the Dodgers and Giants before the All-Star break, leaving San Diego with one set of home-and-home series against each of those division rivals in the second half.

12. Los Angeles Dodgers

Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 21 of their first 39
Home/road: 24 of their first 39 at home
Schedule notes: So L.A. will get a whole bunch of home games early, including the six-game homestand to start the year and a nice leisurely nine-game homestand in early May. And the Dodgers have more off days early in the season than most other teams in the league.
The hurdle ahead: L.A. will have four series against the Giants in the first half of the season, so the two teams will face each other in only seven games after the All-Star break. The Dodgers and Giants won't see each other between July 7 and Sept. 12.

13. Milwaukee Brewers

Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 21 of their first 40
Home/road: 21 of their first 40 at home
Schedule notes: The Brewers would seem to have a shot at getting off to a nice start, because of the relative softness of their early schedule. Fifteen of their first 27 games are against second- and third-tier NL teams, from the Rockies to the Padres to the Cubs.
The hurdle ahead: Milwaukee won't see the Cincinnati Reds until May 10, and has only six games against them before July 8.

14. Philadelphia Phillies

Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 21 of their first 41
Home/road: 20 of their first 41 at home
Schedule notes: The Phillies had an easy schedule early last season, and it didn't work for them, but they'll get another shot at the pillow-soft stuff at the outset of this season. In their first interleague series of the season, the Phillies face the Royals, then they get the Mets and will see the Marlins 10 times before May 22. Philadelphia would seem to be a candidate for a strong start.

The hurdle ahead: Oddly, the Phillies' first game against Washington doesn't happen until May 24, and after opening the season against the Braves, they won't see them again until just before the All-Star break.

15. New York Mets

Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 20 of their first 41
Home/road: 21 of their first 41 at home
Schedule notes: Somebody must really, really like the Mets, because it's hard to imagine a team in a tough division like the NL East getting an easier first month than New York's early slate. The Mets open with six games at home -- which is nice -- and 13 of their first 16 games are against teams that finished under .500 last season, including the Marlins and Rockies. This makes the Mets a premium candidate for the "I can't believe they're this good" start.
The hurdle ahead: But on the flip side, there will be a price to pay. Only three of the Mets' first 28 games are against the Nationals and Braves, which means they'll be seeing a whole lot of those two NL East teams thereafter. More than a quarter of their schedule after May 1 is filled with games against Atlanta and Washington.

News and notes

• In an effort to upgrade their rotation, the Rockies reached out to Tampa Bay to ask about Jeff Niemann and others, and while the talks haven't advanced, there is reason to think there could be a match. Colorado wants to get more stability for its rotation, and the Rays would appear to have a surplus of starting pitching -- behind David Price, they have Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Niemann, and they've been impressed with what they've seen from Roberto Hernandez, the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona. And the Rays have some depth coming up from Triple-A, as well.

The Rockies are looking at starting pitching throughout baseball, Troy Renck writes.

• The same name keeps popping up in Reds camp in conversations about converting Aroldis Chapman to a starter: David Price. The Reds think that if Chapman makes the transition from the bullpen to the rotation, he has the ability to be as good as Price, with his overpowering fastball. "Imagine him as your No. 5 starter," said one player. "Wow."

The gamble for Cincinnati, of course, is that the Reds are tinkering with something that's already really good and theoretically risk diminishing their bullpen, which was a major strength for them last season. But remember these two factors at play, as Chapman works to become a starter: Pitching coach Bryan Price is regarded as one of the best in the game at what he does and already has helped fix Chapman with some in-season issues in the past couple of years; and catcher Ryan Hanigan is highly respected by rival evaluators for the way he works with pitchers. The presence of those two would seem to give Chapman a slightly better chance at being able to make the jump from reliever to starter, as they work with him day to day.

Other players on the team sense that Chapman has gotten much more comfortable within the clubhouse, and is much more apt to trust others than when he first arrived.

Homer Bailey looked like an ace at the end of last year, John Fay writes.

• These comments are classic Davey Johnson, about Drew Storen's health in the postseason.

• Evan Gattis is emerging as someone to watch in Braves camp.

Saturday's games

1. Stephen Strasburg was shaky, writes Adam Kilgore.

2. The Phillies got an early treat in spring training: Chase Utley on the field. Cole Hamels was sharp.

3. John Lackey was back on the mound, Peter Abraham writes.

4. Zack Wheeler threw a couple of scoreless innings, Marc Carig writes.

5. The Jays' Brandon Morrow was rusty.

6. Ryan Braun homered in his first at-bat.

7. The Astros won with new energy, writes Brian Smith.

8. Ryan Raburn was The Man for the Indians.

9. John Maine is off to a good start.

10. Tyson Ross made his first appearance.

Dings and dents

1. Clay Buchholz passed a hamstring test.

2. John Danks believes he'll be on the Opening Day roster.

3. Kyle McClellan's recovery has been slow.

4. And the hits just keep on coming for the Marlins: Jeff Mathis has a broken collarbone.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Neil Walker could be close to getting a multiyear deal, writes Rob Biertempfel.

2. The Phillies made a trade that may or may not stem from a dispute they had with a player, Jim Salisbury writes.

3. The Cardinals have a decision to make with Adam Wainwright, writes Joe Strauss.

The fight for jobs

1. Bruce Rondon impressed everyone in his spring debut, writes Tom Gage. The competition remains open for the Detroit closer job, writes Jeff Seidel.

2. On a long road back, Jon Garland is trying to make the Mariners' rotation, writes Jerry Brewer.

3. Jason Bay is facing long odds, writes Ryan Divish. The fact that he got a major league contract surprised a lot of folks in the game.

4. The Twins are trying some new guys in the middle infield, Phil Miller writes.

NL West

The Diamondbacks are hoping for a season of redemption.

This could be a make-or-break season for Troy Tulowitzki, writes Troy Renck.

Pablo Sandoval made everybody laugh.

Matt Kemp sets the tone for the Dodgers, writes Dylan Hernandez.

NL East

Bryce Harper has started his transition to left field, writes Bill Brink.

John Buck is a nice fit for the Mets, writes John Harper.

NL Central

James McDonald is trying to find what he lost in the second half last year.

The Brewers' reliance on young pitchers is worth the gamble, writes Tom Haudricourt.

Todd Frazier is scrappy, writes Hal McCoy.

A shortstop prospect is on the Cubs' radar, writes Gordon Wittenmyer.

AL East

Ryan Flaherty is really confident this year, says his manager.

It's hard to get excited about these Red Sox, writes Dan Shaughnessy.

Francisco Cervelli is trying to do all he can to hold down the Yankees' catching job.

David Price is realistic about his future, Tyler Kepner writes. The Rays need him to take on a leadership role, writes Marc Topkin.

AL Central

Jeff Francoeur is aware of the criticism, and uses it as motivation, writes Bob Dutton.

Glen Perkins has a kinship with Eddie Guardado.

AL West

Felix Hernandez threw his second bullpen session, Geoff Baker writes.

Jemile Weeks is looking for a fresh start, writes Susan Slusser.

Here's the Athletics doing yoga, courtesy of John Hickey.

Jered Weaver isn't worried about money left on the table. I've had this conversation with him and believe he truly isn't bothered by what others have signed for.

Ranking strength of AL schedules.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
GOODYEAR, Ariz. When the late, great Mike Flanagan served in the Baltimore Orioles' leadership in 2005, the team got off to a strong start, winning 30 of their first 46 games. I called "Flanny" in late May and asked him whether he thought they would be aggressively adding players before the trade deadline.

He was always honest with me, and he told me that, no, the Orioles probably wouldn't be making big deals. The fact is, he explained, Baltimore's start was partly the product of a favorable early schedule, and there was an expectation within the front office that there would be regression. If the team held its ground in the next seven weeks, then, yes, it might do something noteworthy, but the sense was that there was a bill to pay because the schedule was about to get tougher. Which is what happened.

Other general managers have offered different variations of that through the years, relative to their teams. Front offices pay attention to strength of schedule and evaluate it to help frame their decisions.

A projected strength of schedule doesn't always apply, of course: The Pittsburgh Pirates had a 70-60 record late in this past August, and 13 of their final 32 games came against the lowly Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs -- and Pittsburgh still couldn't get to .500. But sometimes it does: The Phillies had an incredibly easy schedule at the outset of last year, and when they started poorly and were unable to take advantage of that pillow-soft slate of games in April and early May, it was a sign they would never be able to fully dig themselves out.

As I wrote here earlier in this offseason, the fact that the Astros have shifted from the NL Central to the AL West is expected to hurt the playoff chances for the teams they left behind -- along with teams in the AL East and Central -- and markedly enhance the odds for teams such as the Angels, Rangers and Athletics.

Here is a ranking of the American League schedules, toughest to easiest -- which include a crazy quirk in the slate of the Tigers and White Sox.

1. Kansas City Royals
Games against teams with records of .500 or better last season: 26 of their first 39.
Home/Road: 19 of their first 39 will be at home.
Schedule notes:We should get a strong indication by the end of May whether Kansas City can be a serious player in the AL races because its schedule in the second month of the season is absolutely brutal. From April 30 to June 2, the Royals will play 29 of 32 games against teams that had records over .500 last year. Did we mention May will be brutal?
The hurdle ahead: The Royals seemingly didn't catch a break with their interleague matchups in the first half, either: the Phillies, Braves and Cardinals.

2. Houston Astros
Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 31 of their first 41.
Home/Road: 22 of their first 41 will be at home.
Schedule notes:Look, they're playing in the same division as the Athletics, Rangers, Angels and Felix Hernandez, so it's going to be tough no matter how it's drawn up for them. But in the first quarter of the season, the Astros also have road series in Boston and New York and two series against the Tigers. Yeesh.
The hurdle ahead: Thirteen of their 19 games against the Angels will be played before the All-Star break.

3. Seattle Mariners
Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 30 of their first 41.
Home/Road: 20 of their first 41 are at home.
Schedule notes: Like the Astros, they play in a tough division, and the difficulty of their slate reflects that. The Mariners will play a four-game series against each of their significant division rivals in the month of April a four-gamer against the Athletics, against Texas, against the Angels. So, there's a good shot that Felix Hernandez will be pitching at least one game in each of those.
The hurdle ahead: The Mariners open the season with seven games on the road -- the four-game set at Oakland, then three against the White Sox.

4. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Games against teams with records of .500 or better last season: 25 of their first 41.
Home/Road: 19 of their first 41 will be at home.
Schedule notes: The Angels get to experience the first interleague quirk, opening the year against the Reds, in Cincinnati, before continuing on the road to play Texas.
The hurdle ahead: The Angels can look forward to playing the bulk of their scheduled games with the Astros and Mariners (roughly 2/3 of them) in the first half.

5. Toronto Blue Jays
Games against teams with records .500 or better last season: 23 of their first 41.
Home/Road: 21 of their first 41 will be at home.
Schedule notes: Only three of their first 16 games are within the AL East, but from April 19 until May 26, they will face a parade of division rivals, including 10 games in that span against the Yankees and home-and-home series with the Orioles and the Rays.
The hurdle ahead: They didn't catch much of a break with their early interleague play -- in May, they'll have a two-game set against the Giants, then a four-game set against the Atlanta Braves.

6. Minnesota Twins
Games against teams with records .500 or better: 25 of their first 40. Home/Road: 21 of their first 40 will be in Target Field.
Schedule notes: The scheduling gods threw a mint the Twins' way early in their season their first interleague games, in mid-April, are a three-game home set against the Mets -- but outside of that, it'll be tough sledding.
The hurdle ahead: The Twins will need the All-Star break when they hit it. Thirteen of their 19 games against Detroit will be played in the first half, and the first two weeks in July will be an AL East extravaganza for the Twins, with 14 games against the Rays, Jays and Yankees.

7. Cleveland Indians Games against teams with records of .500 or better: 24 of their first 40.
Home/Road: 19 of their first 40 games will be at home.
Schedule notes: Nineteen of Cleveland's first 22 games are against teams outside of the division, mostly against the AL East.
The hurdle ahead: The Indians don't play their first game against Detroit until May 21 and after that series, Terry Francona goes back to Boston for the first time, for four games against the Red Sox.

8. Oakland Athletics
Games against teams with records of .500 or better last season: 22 of their first 42.
Home/Road: 20 of their first 42 will be at home.
Schedule notes: Ten of their first 16 games are against the Astros and Mariners, but it gets tougher after that. The Athletics don't play their first series against the Rangers until May 13.
The hurdle ahead: Just before the All-Star break, the Athletics might get a soft spot to build on for the second half -- consecutive series versus the Cubs, Royals, Pirates and Red Sox. It looks good on paper now, but we'll see.

9. Baltimore Orioles
Games against teams with records of .500 or better last year: 20 of their first 40.
Home/Road: 15 of their first 40 will be in Camden Yards.
Schedule notes: In the past, some teams have had a lot of off-days in April, but not the Orioles. They'll play their first game on April 2, and from that point, they'll have just two days off before May 6 -- 32 games in 34 days.
The hurdle ahead: Nine of their first 45 games are against the Rays, and in fact, they'll have played 24 of their 38 2013 games against Tampa Bay and the Yankees by the All-Star break.

10. Tampa Bay Rays
Games against teams with records of .500 or better last year: 19 of their first 39.
Home/Road: 19 of their first 39 will be at home.
Schedule notes: They'll be tested right out of the gate because almost every team they will see in the first month is regarded as a contender.
The hurdle ahead: Just before the All-Star break, the Rays will have two weeks of opportunity -- seven games in a home-and-home series against Houston, along with a series against the Twins and White Sox. It'll be their time to gain ground before midseason.

11. Texas Rangers
Games against teams with records of .500 or better last season: 17 of their first 40.
Home/Road: 15 of their first 40 games will be at home.
Schedule notes: The Rangers will live on the road for much of the first month of the season. But that will include a season-opening road series in Houston, back-to-back series in Seattle and Wrigley Field, and a late-April series in Minnesota. So, there could be worse things.
The hurdle ahead: It won't be until mid-June that the Rangers will start to get their share of the AL East teams such as the Jays, Yankees and Orioles, and that's about the time they will have interleague series against the Reds and Cardinals.

12. Boston Red Sox
Games against teams with records of .500 or better last year: 19 of their first 42 games.
Home/Road: 24 of their first 42 will be at home.
Schedule notes: At the end of April, they have four home games against the Astros, and not long after that, they'll have another four-game set at home, against Minnesota. They'll want to feast in that time.
The hurdle ahead: Boston opens the season on the road at Yankee Stadium, then plays another road series in New York at the end of May -- but remarkably, the first time that the Red Sox will host the Yankees at Fenway will be July 19. The first half ends with a 10-game road trip.

13. New York Yankees
Games against teams with records .500 or better last year: 15 of their first 41 games.
Home/Road: 22 of their first 41 will be at home.
Early schedule notes: They have a tough 10-game stretch in which they'll be tested by divisional foes from April 19-28 seven games against the Blue Jays and three against the Rays. But they could have a soft part of their schedule from April 29 to May 16; in that time, they'll play the Astros, Rockies, Royals and Mariners.
The hurdle ahead: The Yankees need to take advantage of that soft spot because it's going to get rough about June 11 because they will face, in order: the A's, Angels, Dodgers, Rays, Rangers and Orioles. This is their first-half meat grinder.

14. Detroit Tigers
Games against teams with records of .500 or better: 14 of their first 39.
Home/Road: 21 of their first 39 will be in Detroit.
Schedule notes: From their season-opening games against the Twins to the fact that they have a home and a road series against the Astros in the first quarter of the season, Detroit would seem to have a nice chance to get out of the gate quickly this year.
The hurdle ahead: The Tigers do see a lot of AL East teams early, but they don't play the Indians for the first time until May 21 and don't see the White Sox until July 9 -- and they play Chicago only three times in the first half. But the White Sox and Tigers will play 16 times in the second half.

15. Chicago White Sox
Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 13 of their first 40.
Home/Road: 19 of their first 40 will be at home.
Schedule notes: There are doubts about whether the White Sox can repeat their 2012 success in 2013, but their early-season schedule will at least give them a shot to start well, depending on how they fare against the Indians and Jays. Neither of those teams finished over .500 last year, but both went through major offseason upgrades, and the White Sox will face them 10 times before April 25.
The hurdle ahead: The White Sox get an early taste of interleague play and get stuck with the Nationals -- but in May and June, they'll get the Mets, Marlins and Cubs.

I'll hit the National League on Sunday.

• The Mets have pushed back Johan Santana. The bottom line: He probably has only so many bullets to throw in a given season, and in this way, the Mets might have a better chance of having more during the season. Santana worked incredibly hard in his throwing program leading up to the 2012 season and completely faded at the end. Perhaps if he starts later, he can finish later. Or that's what they have to hope. Brandon Webb could never regain the arm speed he lost; Santana will be trying to get his back.

• San Jose is hanging on to the dream of getting a new ballpark, writes John Woolfolk. The committee formed to study this issue is probably working on its second inaugural address.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Angels have switched to dynamic ticket pricing.

2. The White Sox added a left-handed-hitting third baseman.

3. Aaron Crow's future seems settled, writes Bob Dutton.

Dings and dents

1. David Ortiz is making strides, as Peter Abraham writes.

2. Chris Carpenter was officially placed on the 60-day disabled list.

3. The Marlins have shifted to a Plan B after Justin Ruggiano got hurt.

The fight for jobs

1. The Cubs might be looking at Plan C at third base.

2. There is a favorite for the Rangers' center-field job, as Evan Grant says.

3. Robbie Ross had a nice first outing in his effort to be the No. 5 starter for the Rangers. All he does is get people out.

Friday's games

1. Shin-Soo Choo did what Shin-Soo Choo does.

2. The Indians' outfielders had some issues.

3. Rick Porcello was impressive.

4. Victor Martinez was back.

5. Gerald Laird got a hard time from the Tigers' bench. In a nice way.

5. The Padres' Jedd Gyorko made an immediate impact.

AL East

• Junichi Tazawa was one of the good things that emerged from the Red Sox rubble of 2012. David Ross raved about the quality of his splitter last week after catching him in the bullpen.

• The Red Sox have a knuckleballer in their camp.

• John Lackey is excited to take the mound.

• Nate McLouth is ready to go.
• The Yankees have a one-tool player in their camp.

• Mariano Rivera threw live batting practice, as Mark Feinsand writes.

• R.A. Dickey and his new manager have forged a relationship, writes Jeff Blair.

• Wil Myers will make his Rays debut today.

AL Central

• Nick Swisher is cleaning up in spring training, writes Bud Shaw.

• Kevin Correia is hoping for an efficient spring debut for the Twins, writes Phil Miller.

AL West

• An Astros prospect vows to learn from his mistakes, writes Brian Smith.

• The Athletics are looking forward to seeing Hiro Nakajima play.

• A Mariners pitcher survived a life-threatening brain issue.

• Hank Conger needs to establish himself this spring.

NL East

• Davey Johnson is entering one final glory year, writes Thomas Boswell.

• Jonathan Papelbon defined what he meant by lack of leadership. Other Phillies vow to be better leaders, writes Ryan Lawrence.

• The Braves are remade, as Mark Bradley writes.

• A new Marlin has impressed with his defensive skills.

NL Central

• The Pirates and Andrew McCutchen want to run more, writes Bill Brink. Travis Snider is in the swing of things.

• Ryan Braun is playing through distractions.

NL West

• The Diamondbacks have questions that need to be answered, writes Nick Piecoro.

• A young Colorado prospect had a starring role Friday.

• Barry Zito is aiming to keep the groove going, writes Henry Schulman.

• Aaron Harang has slimmed down.
post #9921 of 73468
Thread Starter 
Rays succeed their own way.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- As John Landis directed the legendary movie "Animal House," the actors realized that Landis was working to keep two groups separate. During down time, the actors who played characters in the Delta Tau Chi fraternity -- Bluto's fraternity -- stayed away from actors who were tied to the stiff fraternity, a distance which seemed to fuel the distance and resentment in the movie's scenes. The parties held by the Delta Tau actors seemed better, cooler; they seemed to be having more fun than their counterparts.

Which brings us to the Tampa Bay Rays.

I don't know if they have more fun than any other team -- it's very possible they don't -- but they sure as heck like to have fun, and they don't mind feeding the perception that they do. Rays Manager Joe Maddon was asked Thursday about David Price's comments about not wanting to shave his facial hair to play for the Yankees, and he smiled. "Beards, earrings, tattoos, we like it all," Maddon said.

He went on to explain that he'd rather have players thinking about what to do to get better than about a long set of rules related to dress and facial hair. Now it probably stands to reason that some of the more buttoned-down teams -- the Reds, the Yankees, the Braves -- probably care as much about getting better as the Rays do.

But this is their way. They are baseball's Island of Misfit Toys, because they have to do things differently to keep up -- and, in a lot of years, to stay ahead. They align their defense differently, and more aggressively, than any other team. They structure their lineups and their bullpens differently. They sign their best young players very early, like Evan Longoria, or they trade them eventually, because they have to; Price loves playing here, but he's about to become too expensive for them, as Carl Crawford did.

BBTN: Cuddyer's PED comments
Buster Olney discusses Michael Cuddyer's comments about PEDs with Troy Renck. Plus, Richard Durrett talks about the Rangers moving on without Josh Hamilton.

More Podcasts »
All of their veterans who were developed in other organizations -- all of them, not one or two -- are guys who have been cast-offs seeking redemption. Last year, it was Fernando Rodney and this year, it is Yunel Escobar, James Loney and Roberto Hernandez (the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona). The Rays are thrilled with what they've seen from Escobar so far this spring; on Thursday, he thrived in a drill that rewards short, powerful swings. Hernandez has impressed with his heavy two-seam fastball. If Hernandez bounces back to be something closer to the pitcher he was for the Indians in 2007, well, he would become only the latest in a long line of Rays reclamation projects.

Tampa Bay even has a one-eyed pitcher, whom Bob Klapisch writes about today and who was recommended by another player, Joel Peralta.

It all works too. If the Rays see improvement from Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore, they should be able to fill in the gap created when they dealt James Shields to the Royals, in the trade for young power hitter Wil Myers. In a lot of organizations, Myers might already be penciled into the cleanup spot in the big league lineup, but Myers -- who has shown a quick bat in his first days with the Rays and makes a different kind of sound on contact, in the estimation of hitting coach Derek Shelton -- may well spend a lot of 2013 in the minors.

More than any other organization, the Rays fully develop their prospects, maybe to the point of holding some of them in the minors longer than they need, in order to maximize their return when those players reach the big leagues.

It all works. Check out the numbers over the last five seasons in the AL East, which show the amount of payroll dollars spent per win, with postseason appearances in parentheses.

Rays: $623K (3)
Blue Jays: $1.03M (0)
Orioles: $1.05M (1)
Red Sox: $1.74M (2)
Yankees: $2.17M (4)
*Based on data from Cot's Contracts

Each market is different, with different pressures; the Rays don't have a big fan base or revenues like the Yankees and Red Sox do. They also don't have to deal with relentless pressure from their fan base to spend big and win annually. But they have an untenable ballpark situation and an uncertain future, and until that changes, they'll keep running their animal house -- boar's head, earrings and beards included -- as they see fit. And they'll always seem as though they're having more fun than anybody else.

PED penalties

Michael Cuddyer joined the growing chorus of players who want PED cheats treated harshly. From Troy Renck's column:

Cuddyer wants a one-year suspension for the first positive test and a lifetime ban for the second.

"I think 100 percent guys would be for it. I can't speak for everybody, but listening to certain guys' comments and talking to certain guys, I think guys would be all for stiffer penalties," said Cuddyer, 33, who is entering his 13th season in the majors, second with the Rockies. "That's a full year's pay and then you can never play again. If that's not a deterrent, I don't know what is."

I agree with him completely, after talking with a lot of players. And I'm really curious to see what steps the union leadership takes to reflect the desire of the players. Because the longer they wait, the longer cheaters will have an opportunity to steal jobs and money that really should belong to some of their union brethren.

Leadership void in Philly

Jonathan Papelbon says he hasn't seen any leadership in the Phillies' clubhouse. The context, from Mandy Housenick's story:

"I think we're capable of greatness," Papelbon told The Morning Call on Wednesday. "I think we're capable of a world championship. I really, truly believe that. But the biggest key for us is that we're going to have to find our identity, and we're going to have to find our identity quick."

[Roy] Halladay helped lead the Phillies to their fourth and fifth consecutive NL East crowns in 2010 and 2011, which included their record-setting 102-win regular season two years ago.

After the way things went last year -- the Phillies were 14 games back at the All-Star break, had their fewest wins (37) at the midway point since 1997 and finished the year in third place -- Halladay has his sights set on a return to glory.

"The big thing for me is when I first came over, we always had such good teams that there wasn't a real sense of urgency because they always felt like it was a matter of time before they took over the division," Halladay told The Morning Call on Wednesday. "Now the division's getting better and I just think there needs to be more of a sense of urgency at the start of the year and especially in spring training. We've got to try and win games in spring training. It's hard to flip the switch. We've had guys that have been talented enough and could always just flip the switch when they had to. That's got to change."

So, too, does the leadership issue. It's something that's been irking Papelbon for a while.

"Since I've been here I haven't seen any leadership," he said.

V-Mart's tactics

The great thing about moving from camp to camp is that you'll inevitably learn something about how a player does his work, and this week, the coolest story I heard was about Victor Martinez and how he controls the pace of the game. As it was described to me: If you see an opposing pitcher throwing well, Martinez will always slow the game down -- by stepping out of the box, calling for timeout, doing everything he can to disrupt the rhythm of that pitcher. Some hitters have routines that they go to between each pitch, but Victor's tactics are related to the pitcher, rather than himself. Anything to disrupt an opponent. If the pitcher is getting knocked around, Martinez's at-bats are streamlined.

Which is pretty cool. Now I can't wait to see Victor hit again.

Martinez's wait to play will end today.

Jim Leyland revealed what may be his Opening Day lineup, and Martinez will likely hit fifth. Last year, the Tigers' No. 5 hitters ranked 29th among 30 teams in OPS. That will change now that Martinez is back.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. In the Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson flip-flop, the only unknown is how Granderson will react to left field -- a position he has started in only three times in the big leagues. Unless he's absolutely horrendous while coping with a different angle, it's hard to imagine the Yankees' reversing this decision.

The Yankees' front office loves Gardner, writes Joel Sherman.

2. Johnny Cueto decided to stay in camp with the Reds.

3. The Rangers have hired Ivan Rodriguez.

4. Martin Perez wants to be the No. 5 starter for the Rangers.

Dings and dents

1. Alex Rodriguez released a statement about his rehab, as Christian Red writes.

2. David Ortiz is still out.

3. The Royals' Lorenzo Cain is on the mend.

4. Matt Garza is confident he'll be ready for the start of the regular season.

5. Giancarlo Stanton hit in a cage, as mentioned in this Joe Capozzi piece.

The fight for jobs

1. The Orioles have about 10 guys going for one spot in their rotation.

2. The logjam at second base is a plus for the Blue Jays, writes Ken Fidlin.

3. The competition for the Braves' third base job is set to begin.

4. Jobs are at stake in the Giants' camp, writes Henry Schulman.

5. The Mariners' closer isn't assuming he's the closer.

Divisional buzz

NL East

• The Braves' new outfield will be unveiled today.

• Mark Lerner was at the Nationals' spring training site, as Amanda Comak writes. You read this piece and it's pretty apparent they are ready move from Viera, which is the Siberia of spring training sites, in how it's remote from most other places.

• Ross Detwiler is finding his comfort zone.

The Phillies believe in some of their unproven talent, writes David Murphy. Here's the start of David's piece:

We live in a world where a Top 100 list seems to be a prerequisite for any entity that has a halfway-decent Google page rank. This year, most of those lists rank the Phillies near the bottom of the majors in overall talent. Ruben Amaro Jr. has a relatively simple explanation for this.

"It's all a bunch of crap," he said earlier this week.

• Terry Collins is eager to get the preseason started.

NL Central

• Starling Marte is trying to become the type of leadoff hitter that the Pirates need him to be.

• Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon are looking to leave their mark.

• Matt Holliday has a chance at a fresh start, as Joe Strauss writes.

• Ty Wigginton is still trying to make the playoffs.

• Zack Cozart says defense is first for him.

• Norichika Aoki is feeling more at ease.

NL West

• Snow buried the Diamondbacks' practice plans.

• Chase Headley is going through some reps.

• Barry Zito looks good. That Zito is still grinding away and trying to get better with the Giants in the final year of his seven-year, $126 million deal speaks well of him. The contract was widely labeled a disaster years ago, and it would have been easy for him just to phone it in.

• Adrian Gonzalez is working with some new hitting coaches.

AL East

• Daniel Bard had a nice first outing, as Scott Lauber writes.

• Kevin Gausman looked good in his first outing of spring.

• This will be a pivotal season for J.P. Arencibia, writes Richard Griffin.

AL Central

• The Indians are coming at Carlos Santana with a new message, writes Paul Hoynes. He is learning from Sandy Alomar, as Mike Peticca writes.

• Kenny Williams is learning how to relax, writes Rick Morrissey.

• The Twins are undergoing another renovation under Terry Ryan, writes Tyler Kepner.

• For the Twins' catchers, spring is anything but fun, writes Tom Powers.

• A couple of Tigers pitchers have been helped by Tommy John surgery.

• Jeff Manto likes what he sees in Dayan Viciedo.

AL West

• Baseball Prospectus is predicting a 13-victory improvement for the Astros. This is fascinating because I know some of the internal team projections that are done throughout MLB have Houston in the range of 50-55 wins. Somebody's projection is going to be very wrong.

• Derek Norris did a makeover in the offseason, writes Susan Slusser.

• An Angels pitcher is coming back from Tommy John surgery, writes Jeff Fletcher.

Don't sleep on February moves.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
In recent years, teams have sped up their offseason calendars quite a bit, and as a result it seems like free-agent players have gone off the board faster than they used to. Part of that is thanks to the most recent collective bargaining agreement, which pushed up the dates for tendering contracts both to potential free agents as well as to arbitration-eligible players. But some of it is also likely due to front offices determining their strategy, and targets, far sooner than in the past. Still, every year there are important acquisitions made in February. This year has been no different.

If we take a step back to last year, we find free agents like Edwin Jackson, Ryan Ludwick and Justin Ruggiano inking deals in February, as well as the Jeremy Guthrie-Jason Hammel and A.J. Burnett trades. This year, we have already seen one big-name star like Michael Bourn wait until February before choosing his new team, and proverbial last-big-free-agent-standing Kyle Lohse may even push into March before selecting a suitor. Still, even aside from these two big-ticket players, this month has seen important moves.

Here are a few February transactions that could prove crucial in 2013.

Oakland Athletics acquire Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez for Chris Carter, Brad Peacock and Max Stassi

This could work out to be a rare win-win trade for both teams, but in order to get to that point you have to assume good health for Jed Lowrie -- which is a big if, considering that he has never amassed 100 games played or 400 plate appearances in any single major league season. Perhaps that is why Oakland isn't counting on him to start every day, but will rather spread him around all four infield positions.

And what could make his acquisition a boon for the A's is that you could see the switch-hitting Lowrie contributing at all four spots. Getting average or better production, both offensively and defensively, across all infield positions would make Lowrie the shining example of a super utility player. (People like to mention "Super" Joe McEwing when they discuss this role, but McEwing was worth just 2.7 WAR in his nine-year career. Lowrie was worth 2.5 WAR just last season.)

Of course, the A's paid a potentially costly price to get Lowrie. Carter was a revelation last season, as he thumped 16 homers in 260 plate appearances, and trading him means they are that much more reliant on Brandon Moss' breakout season not being a fluke. Brad Peacock was considered an excellent prospect just a year ago, and despite some superficially bad ERA numbers -- which will happen in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League -- he struck out more than a batter per inning last season. Given Oakland's young pitching depth, it's unlikely that he'll be missed, but he could prove to be a nice piece for Houston.

New York Yankees sign Travis Hafner

Before the Yankees tried to trade A.J. Burnett to the Angels last February, they briefly engaged the Indians in trade talks that centered on Travis Hafner, though ultimately they could not come to an agreement. But the Yankees always get their man, and one year later, Hafner is wearing pinstripes. He won't quite have as expansive a role as Raul Ibanez did last year for New York, as Brett Gardner's injury woes helped conspire to get Ibanez into the green pasture 93 times. That simply will not happen with Hafner, who is a designated hitter only, and just against right-handed pitchers.

But that doesn't mean he'll have less value than did Ibanez, as for his career Hafner has been a much better hitter than Ibanez -- 24 percent better, in fact, according to their wRC+ figures (135 for Hafner, 111 for Ibanez). And while Hafner has had trouble staying out of the trainer's room in recent years, he is the epitome of the old adage "he's either productive or injured," as he has posted at least a 115 wRC+ in each of the past four seasons. It didn't make many waves, but if Hafner ends up socking a few dingers for the Bombers this fall, it'll have been worth its weight in gold.

New York Mets sign Brandon Lyon

Not since he was part of Theo Epstein's fabled closer by committee for the 2003 Red Sox had Brandon Lyon posted a swinging strike percentage as high as he did last season. Lyon, whose fastball velocity had been declining for years, finally succumbed to shoulder surgery in 2011. When he came back, he was a new pitcher -- gone was his slider, junked in favor of more two-seamers and cutters. More surprising, however, were the new results, which included a career-high 24.4 strikeout percentage. If you subtract his walk percentage from that K percentage, you get16.6, which was a top-30 figure among relievers who tossed at least 60 innings last season, and it bettered the numbers put up by new teammates Bobby Parnell's (14.3) and Frank Francisco's (13.2).

And with Francisco declaring himself at "zero" percent recently, Lyon's acquisition -- along with that of reliever Scott Atchison, who missed our cut-off date here by three days -- could end up being pretty important. Parnell may end up being the one who closes games, but either way Lyon figures to be an important piece in the back of New York's 'pen, especially if he can come close to duplicating his results from last season.

Considering the fact that the Mets' bullpen shut down its opponents only 12 more times than it melted down against them last year (only the Astros and Cubs had a worse rate of shutdowns minus meltdowns), Lyon's presence could be a calming one for the club and its fans.

Now, will all of these deals be the difference between postseason glory and early tee times? No, of course not. But they don't have to be effective. And while this season February moves may have dried up a little quicker thanks to pitchers and catchers reporting earlier than usual, that may likely even out by the time we reach April thanks to the longer training camp times. We have already seen the Yankees lose Curtis Granderson, and there will undoubtedly be other events this spring that preclude roster scrambling transactions. They may not come with the fanfare and well-catered news conferences that are par for the course in December and January, but that doesn't mean you should sleep on them.

Toronto's secret weapon.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
When the Toronto Blue Jays pulled off their blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins, the focus immediately went to the two pitchers in the deal, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. Toronto's rotation was terrible in 2012, and their starters were one of the main reasons the team allowed 784 runs last season, more than all but five other MLB clubs. Johnson brings the ability to dominate when healthy, while Buehrle is the safest bet in MLB for 200 average or better innings. With one fell swoop, the Marlins rebuilt a battered rotation.

However, a secondary storyline is hiding under the Blue Jays' offseason. The foundation for their 2013 offensive identity was laid in that same transaction. With that move -- and a few more additions later in the offseason -- the Blue Jays have given themselves the opportunity to run more than any team has in recent years.

Everyone knows that Jose Reyes is one of the fastest players in baseball, and he uses his speed to greatly enhance his overall value. In fact, according to FanGraphs' baserunning metrics, Reyes has accumulated the sixth-most runs from baserunning of any player in MLB over the last 10 years, despite missing large chunks of time with various injuries. But on the Blue Jays' roster of sprinters, Reyes might be third on the team's list of most dangerous baserunning weapons.

To get a better idea of seasonal baserunning value, we can take the amount of runs a player has created on the bases and prorate it to 600 plate appearances, which is approximately one full season's worth of playing time for a regular position player. Over the last 10 years, the most valuable runner per 600 plate appearances (with a 1,500 PA minimum to keep the sample size reasonably large) has been Brett Gardner, who checks in at 10.3 runs per season. Three spots behind Gardner is Blue Jays outfielder Rajai Davis, who has averaged 8.3 runs per season on the bases. Two spots behind Davis? Newly acquired utility infielder Emilio Bonifacio, who came from Miami with Reyes in the megadeal.

Need for speed
Over the last three years, Toronto's trio of speedsters has been among the best base stealers in the game.

R. Davis 130 3
J. Reyes 109 6
E. Bonifacio 82 13
That's right -- the 2013 Blue Jays are going to feature two of the six most effective baserunners in baseball over the last decade, and neither one is named Jose Reyes. If you're wondering, Reyes checks in at 5.8 runs per 600 plate appearances, 16th overall in the last 10 years. It doesn't stop with Reyes either. The Blue Jays also imported infielder Maicer Izturis (3.9 runs per 600 PA, No. 40) over the winter, and are retaining center fielder Colby Rasmus (3.2 runs per 600 PA, No. 60). And if Rasmus struggles or is injured, the team would likely call up 22-year-old speedster Anthony Gose, who put up a staggering 5.1 runs of baserunning value in just 189 plate appearances as a rookie last year.

Even assuming a reduced role for Davis with Melky Cabrera -- an above average but unspectacular baserunner -- taking over as the regular left fielder, we can still project him as a force on the bases. After all, even on days when Davis isn't starting, he'll likely be used as a late-inning pinch runner, and Davis is absolutely fearless as a base stealer. Last year, Davis was in position to steal 118 times and he ran on 59 of those, exactly half of his opportunities. No other player in baseball ran even close to that frequency. Only five other players attempted a steal in at least one-third of their opportunities last season, and two of them -- Gose (35 percent) and Bonifacio (33 percent) are now Davis' teammates.

Aggressive baserunning has largely gone out of vogue in baseball over the last 20 years; the increased offensive environment that began in 1994 led to a change in the calculus of how often a player should run. When hits and especially home runs are plentiful, the value of advancing into scoring position is reduced -- the runner is more likely to score from first base, after all -- and the cost of making an out is higher because it prevents more batters from coming to bat. With the reduction in offense throughout the sport, runs are now more scarce and the tide has shifted back toward increasing aggressiveness on the bases.

During the offensive heyday at the turn of the century, the break-even rate for base stealing was around 70 percent, with runners who succeeded less often not adding any real value to their teams no matter how many bases they stole. Last year, it was down to about 66 percent. Outs simply aren't as harmful as they used to be, and the potential run gained by getting into scoring position is more critical to winning than it was when every game ended 10-9.

The Blue Jays appear to be extremely aware of the rising importance of baserunning and have built a roster to take advantage of a more aggressive style than we've seen in some time. It also helps that they play on artificial turf, which speedsters love.

Over the last 10 years, no team has created more value on the bases than the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays, who checked in at 34 runs overall, led by Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria. The team also featured quality running role players like Jason Bartlett and Sean Rodriguez. That team won 96 games and finished atop the American League East.

This Blue Jays team could very well challenge that Rays team for the best baserunning club we've seen. Even with Davis and Bonifacio serving as part-time players to begin the season and Gose likely ticketed for Triple-A, this is still easily the fastest team in baseball. And the Blue Jays' speed is likely to be a factor in every game they play this season.

Porcello has solid spring outing.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Friday's home opener for the Atlanta Braves against the Detroit Tigers was a quick-moving, if not terribly eventful spring training game, with the JV squad in the game by the sixth inning and a handful of prospects, mostly on the Tigers' side of the aisle.

• Rick Porcello sat at 92 mph and touched 94 in his two-inning stint as Detroit's starter, throwing mostly fastballs; the pitch didn't have a lot of life, but he was around the zone with it. His 76-78 mph curveball had good depth and some angle with an 11-to-5 break, with one hanger that he got away with, and his changeup at 83-84 had good fading action.

Porcello has always been worse from the stretch, and porous defense behind him has never helped, but there are things he could improve: He added a slider that has never been even an average pitch, and his fastball command has been a problem even though his control is fine.

If the three-pitch mix he showed Friday is what he'll use going forward, junking the slider, there's still some hope here that he can at least make his ERA line up with his peripherals, even if it doesn't quite measure up to the impressive raw stuff he had out of high school.

• Luke Putkonen came in first out of the Tigers' bullpen and was the surprise guy of the day, working 94-96 mph and throwing strikes. Putkonen works with an average fastball as a starter, but last year was his first with significant work in the 'pen and he showed some of that increased velocity in a brief stint in the majors in 2012. A plus fastball with good command and control usually adds up to at least a middle reliever, and Putkonen has the third pitch (a splitter) to avoid becoming a specialist if he's given the opportunity to face some lefties.

• Four rookie hitters appeared for the Tigers, with none distinguishing himself at the plate, although center fielder Daniel Fields made a very impressive catch on a ball hit deep into the left-center gap after he came in to replace Quintin Berry. Unfortunately, he was overmatched in his one at-bat the next inning. Outfielder Tyler Collins showed a really sound swing with good balance and upper-body strength, although as a corner guy, the bar will be high for him to profile as a regular, and it looks as if he can get tied up inside because he loads so deep.

Nick Castellanos was over-rotating at the plate, perhaps trying too hard to crush the ball, not something I've seen from him much in the past. Avi Garcia was also pretty rotational but doesn't have the same kind of hand acceleration as Castellanos; he's a below-average runner, so, like Collins, he's going to have to rake to profile in a corner.

• Atlanta rolled out the A lineup for the home opener, then used mostly 4A types to finish the game. Craig Kimbrel's outing earned some notice because he was all over the place, although he's notorious for looking bad early in spring training and I wouldn't read anything into just one outing.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Feb 288:22AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintSome nearly-unbelievable things simply can't be made up, and this one qualifies. Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer and his wife are expecting twins, the team's communications director reported via Twitter Wednesday night. If that doesn't qualify as kismet, nothing does.

Mauer was born in Minnesota, raised in Minnesota, drafted No. 1 overall by the Twins, won an MVP with the Twins and signed a long-term deal with them, too. Now he'll be the father of twins. Not that it was inevitable by any stretch, but how in the world can Mauer ever leave the organization, now?

There's been suggestions in the recent past that perhaps trading Mauer might behoove the Twins, since they are rebuilding and could use the payroll space Mauer's departure would clear. As far as we know, the club has never seriously considered the idea, nor has Mauer asked to be traded to a contending team.

Mauer, now 29, appears set to stay in Minnesota and with the Twins for the duration of his career. His current contract runs through 2018 and includes full no-trade protection. With twins on the way, too, Mauer could be a Minnesota lifer. Literally.

Tags:Minnesota Twins, Joe Mauer
If Hughes isn't ready
February, 28, 2013
Feb 287:35AM ETBy Doug Mittler | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintA big question mark surfaced this week regarding Phil Hughes with word that the Yankees right-hander has a bulging disk in his back and likely would be sidelined for two weeks, per Wallace Matthews of Skipper Joe Girardi said Wednesday that it's possible Hughes isn't ready to go come Opening Day.

Hughes, who went 16-13 with a 4.23 ERA in 2012, is penciled in as the Yankees' No. 4 starter behind CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte. Given Pettitte's age and injury issues the past few years and an undetermined fifth starter, the Yankees are still hoping to get another quality season from Hughes, who is a free agent next winter.

Given that spring training is a little longer this year thanks to the World Baseball Classic, Hughes should have plenty of time to prepare for the start of the season, and so far, he seems to be making progress, reports George A. King of the New York Post. Hughes says he feels a "significant" difference after having days of resting and taking anti-inflammatory meds.

With Ivan Nova and David Phelps competing for the final rotation spot, presumably both would get a turn or two in the five-man during the regular season until Hughes returns. The Yanks don't have much in the way of major league-ready arms in their farm system, so the most likely minor leaguers would be Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and Brett Marshall.

The name of Kyle Lohse has surfaced, but GM Brian Cashman already has said Hughes’ situation will not force him to reach out to the veteran right-hander, as King wrote.Tags:New York Yankees, Kyle Lohse, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, David Phelps, Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, Brett Marshall
Cushion for Headley trade
February, 27, 2013
Feb 273:37PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments1EmailPrintWhile spring training results don't mean a whole lot, if the San Diego Padres were ever going to be given the green light to trade Chase Headley, Jedd Gyorko is certainly flipping the switch. The infielder, who play shortstop as an amateur but has split time between second base and third base as a pro, could replace Headley if and when the Padres move the third baseman is what would certainly be a lucrative trade.

Headley, coming off a career year, is slated for free agency following the 2014 season, and if there is no long-term deal in the offing, the Friars may see an opportunity to cash in on his value, which may never be higher than it is right now -- having hit 31 homers a year ago and having two years left until he's eligible for the open market. Gyorko's early-spring performance alone isn't going to impact the club's decisions, but his presence might.

The trial at second base worked to some extent -- and he may be the team's starter at the position come April -- but Gyorko, scouts opine, belongs at third base. The question is: will Gyorko hit for enough power to profile at the hot corner? He smacked 30 home runs a year ago, but 24 of them came while playing at Triple-A Tucson in the Pacific coast League, one of the bandboxes in the southern conference of the circuit. He did hit 11 of those 24 on the road, but just two of those came in neutral or pitcher's enviroments.

Headley will earn $8.575 million this season and has one more go-round with arbitration next winter, which could net him upwards of $12 million, or more than 20 percent of the club's total payroll. Here we discussed which clubs could be in on Headley if the Padres make him available.
Tags:San Diego Padres, Chase Headley, Jedd Gyorko
Yankees outfield update
February, 27, 2013
Feb 272:43PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintWith GM Brian Cashman ruling out the possibility of the club signing Johnny Damon to help fill the void left by Curtis Granderson's arm injury, it appears the New York Yankees will stay in house. A trade is always a possibility, but Granderson is only expected to miss about six weeks of the regular season.
Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera, two veterans, are among the club's non-roster invitees and figure to be in the mix for a roster spot coming out of spring training. Melky Mesa is on the 40-man roster and could also be the choice.

The free agent market is nearly empty. Damon and Bobby Abreu aren't outfielders anymore, and neither is Carlos Lee. Grady Sizemore is a major injury risk. Scott Podsednik remains available but the Yankees may prefer a better bat, which is where Diaz and Rivera fit best.

Zoilo Almonte is also in camp with the big club, though despite his roster advantage may be on the outside looking in, depending on how the aforementioned veterans perform.

Whether or not trading for Alfonso Soriano is something the club will strongly consider remains to be seen.Tags:Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees, Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreu, Juan Rivera, Grady Sizemore, Scott Podsednik, Zoilo Almonte, Melky Mesa, Matt Diaz
Mid-season arms race
February, 27, 2013
Feb 271:55PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintWith Javier Vazquez's knee surgery scaring teams off this spring there could be three viable starting pitchers available to contenders in June or July. Vazquez could change his mind once he's healthy.

Free agent Kyle Lohse still may prefer to sign before the seasons starts but the draft-pick compensation attached to his price tag falls off after the draft in early June. Roy Oswalt, if he returns to pitch at all, is likely to repeat his mid-season comeback from 2012.

The Washington Nationals have been linked to Lohse and Vazquez and the Mets have been linked to Oswalt, but both clubs went in other directions: Washington signed Dan Haren and Chris Young, and the Mets went for Shaun Marcum. Once June rolls around, if all three veterans arms still are available and are interested in continuing their careers, some contender is likely to strike, perhaps including the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees.Tags:Kyle Lohse, Javier Vazquez, Roy Oswalt
Lohse's best strategy
February, 27, 2013
Feb 2712:57PM ETBy Jason Catania | Recommend0Comments1EmailPrintAs clubs continue to claim they have no interest, right-hander Kyle Lohse remains a free agent. Spring training games already have begun, so time is running short on Lohse to be ready to go by the start of the 2013 season, especially for a new team.

Most recently, the New York Yankees said they aren't interested, even after Phil Hughes came down with a back injury, and the Texas Rangers reiterated their lack of interest, too.

Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post writes that he doesn't expect the Colorado Rockies to be an option, either, despite their ongoing search for starting pitching, while Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that the Brewers aren't discussing Lohse with agent Scott Boras.'s Jon Morosi tweeted recently that the Pittsburgh Pirates are another team in the same boat.

Where Lohse lands is still very much up in the air, and it could come down to which contender suffers the first injury to its rotation. At this stage, the waiting game may be Lohse's best option, as he may need a club to get desperate in order to get anything more than a below-market one-year deal. The draft-pick compensation clearly is a factor, and from Lohse's perspective so is the chance to reestablish value if he does settle on a one-year pact.

One outside-the-box idea may be the Miami Marlins, who own a protected first-round pick (since it's in the Top 10) and may feel some pressure to spend a little money after their fire sale earlier this offseason. This type of strategy could lead to the signing team basically purchasing a solid pitcher who would almost definitely have value on the trade market during the summer, especially once injuries and performance issues come into play.

Baseball Prospectus' Ben Lindbergh offers a projected stats-based look at why Lohse hasn't yet found a home:

Ben Lindbergh
Lohse's projections for 2013
"2012 stats: 2.86 ERA, 6.1 K/9 (2.2 WARP)

Projected 2013 stats: 4.10 ERA, 5.8 K/9 (0.6 WARP)

This is why Lohse is still without a team. Yes, it has to do with the draft pick that a team would have to surrender to sign him, but the pick hasn't stopped teams from signing the other free agents who received qualifying offers. In Lohse's case, it's the pick coupled with legitimate performance concerns. He's regression waiting to happen, and no one wants it to happen to them."

Tags:New York Yankees, Kyle Lohse, Texas Rangers, Miami Marlins, Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers
Fantasy impact: Altuve batting No. 2
February, 27, 2013
Feb 2711:33AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintHouston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve is among the better second baseman in baseball. He has good on-base skills, plays and can steal bases. He posted very strong numbers in both areas in his first full season in the big leagues in 2012 with a .340 on-base percentage and 33 stolen bases. Skipper Bo Porter said Wednesday in spring camp that Altuve will bat second, with Marwin Gonzalez or Tyler Greene leading off for the 'Stros.

That begs the question: Could this remove stolen base opportunities for Altuve and reduce his fantasy value?

It very well could, but there are several factors to consider when assessing Altuve's draft value. First, what kind of manager is Porter? Does he like to push the envelope on the bases? We don't know just yet, but it's difficult to imagine Altuve being given the red light a whole lot, particularly considering the lack of offense the club figures to roll out there in 2013.

Altuve can help fantasy owners -- even if Porter is a bit more conservative -- by getting on base even more than he did a year ago. He doesn't work deep counts and draw a lot of walks, but he does make consistent contact and figures to play everyday.

It's worth noting that a year ago Altuve served in the No. 2 spot in the order for more than 200 plate appearances and he thrived in the role, batting .318/.353/.423 with 10 stolen bases in 11 attempts.

The ESPN Fantasy Projections don't seem to be too confident in Altuve for 2013, however, predicting a drop in batting average, on-base percentage and stolen bases. He does rank as the No. 8 fantasy second baseman, but the scouting world has never loved Altuve's upside and in moving to the American League West he certainly won't be getting any breaks in terms of the opposing pitchers. Altuve could be asked to sacrifice himself more at the plate this season, limiting his value. I'm not a big Fantasy Baseball player anymore, but I might take a flier on Danny Espinosa or Rickie Weeks before Altuve, despite their own issues with consistency and injuries.

ESPN Fantasy Expert Eric Karabell still likes Altuve's chances to swipe bases, regardless of where in the order he bats:

Eric Karabell
Altuve's still a good bet
"As long as Altuve hits at the top of the Houston order, he’s going to provide enough fantasy goodness to be a starting second baseman, or top 100 player. We do know, however, that stolen base production is not really predicated or adversely affected by lineup position, so in theory Altuve could hit lower in the order and still swipe 30-plus bases. I like him hitting first or second, though, and don’t underestimate potential sleepers in Houston’s lineup helping him score 90-plus runs. Frankly, Tyler Greene, Chris Carter and Justin Maxwell are decent sleepers in deep formats."Tags:Houston Astros, Jose Altuve, Danny Espinosa, Rickie Weeks
Pacheco's fantasy outlook
February, 27, 2013
Feb 2710:14AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintJordan Pacheco is not likely to be a superstar in Major League Baseball. Maybe not even an all-star. He is a solid hitter, however, and if the Rockies stick with their plan to work him back in at catcher in 2013, fantasy owners will benefit greatly.

The catcher position is the thinnest in baseball and that fact bleeds over into the fantasy realm. If Pacheco, who batted .309/.341/.421 takes another step forward at the plate and gets enough time behind it to qualify, he'd likely be viewed as an absolute steal in later rounds.

Pacheco, reports Troy Renck of the Denver Post, has spent some time this winter working with catching instructor Jerry Weinstein after catching in just five games for the Rockies in 2012. Pacheco caught regularly in the minors the three previous seasons, but the club had him focus on third base a year ago. His bat certainly profiles better behind the plate, though it's difficult imagining more than the occasional start at catcher with Wilin Rosario the projected starter and veteran Ramon Hernandez back for a second year with the club.

For fantasy owners, Pacheco just needs to qualify at catcher -- and hit -- to be a fantasy all-star.

Tags:Colorado Rockies, Jordan Pacheco, Wilin Rosario, Ramon Hernandez
Hicks the favorite in CF?
February, 27, 2013
Feb 279:34AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintThe Minnesota Twins took advantage of the market this offseason and traded not one but two centerfielders. Denard Span landed in Washington with the Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies acquired Ben Revere. The Twins received young pitching in return for both -- an organizational weakness, at least prior to the trades.

As spring training nears -- less than a month remains until pitchers and catchers report -- the Twins have a question mark in center field and skipper Ron Gardenhire wants prospect Aaron Hicks to have the chance to win the gig, writes Phil Mackey of

"This kid can run it down, he's got a cannon, he's a very talented kid, he had a heck of a year at Double-A," Gardenhire said. "Who knows if he's ready offensively? But I don't want to go into spring training saying he has no chance to be here, he's not ready for this. I want to see what he can do... I think we've got to give him a really solid look here."

Darin Mastroianni may have the inside track, Mackey adds, and another factor could be service time. If Hicks, who has yet to play above Double-A, starts the year in the minors the club can push back his free agent clock by a year. If he ends up needing half a season or so in Triple-A, his arbitration clock -- avoiding Super Two status -- could be pushed back, too.

Joe Benson could see some time in center, as well, though long term the job appears to be Hicks', even if he doesn't win the job out of the gate in 2013.Tags:Aaron Hicks, Darin Mastroianni, Joe Benson, Minnesota Twins
NL West extension candidates
February, 27, 2013
Feb 279:27AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrint
The National League West isn't flooded with candidates for contract extensions, but there are some superstars that qualify, starting with left-hander Clayton Kershaw, one of the top few starting pitchers in all of baseball. The Los Angeles Dodgers don't have many other players that fit the bill, mostly because half their roster is already in the middle of a multi-year contract.

The defending champion San Francisco Giants have Buster Posey's long-term situation to deal with but Pablo Sandoval and Madison Bumgarner already have been extended. Tim Lincecum has a lot to prove after a poor 2012, but he'll be in the club's conversations, too. The Colorado Rockies could look to do something long-term with centerfielder Dexter Fowler or even Tyler Colvin. Fowler is arbitration eligible for the second time this offseason and Colvin will be eligible after 2013.

The Arizona Diamondbacks and second baseman Aaron Hill have exchanged thoughts and the club could consider multi-year pacts with right-handers Ian Kennedy, who filed for arbitration earlier this week, and Daniel Hudson, who becomes eligible next winter. Outfielder Gerardo Parra, also set to go through the arbitration process in the coming days and weeks, could be viewed as a value on a two-or-three year contract as a fringe starter and perfect fourth outfielder.

The San Diego Padres are certainly weighing their long-term options with third baseman Chase Headley, who is coming off a career year at the plate and is set for year two of arbitration after earning just under $3.5 million a year ago. He's set for free agency after the 2014 season is likely to be traded or signed to a long-term solution, probably within the next year or so.

The Friars also could consider multi-year contracts for left-hander Clayton Richard, righty Luke Gregerson, outfielder Will Venable and right-hander Edinson Volquez, who is slated for free agency following the 2013 schedule.Tags:Arizona Diamondbacks, Daniel Hudson, Ian Kennedy, Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres, Clayton Kershaw, Chase Headley, Dexter Fowler
More signs Stanton will be traded?
February, 27, 2013
Feb 278:26AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments2EmailPrintThe first sign that perhaps Giancarlo Stanton may be traded fairly soon came when the rest of the roster -- every player making seven figures with the exception right-hander Ricky Nolasco -- was traded away over the winter. Sign No. 2 may be ownership saying no long-term offer will be made to the right fielder. That news popped Monday when Jeffrey Loria said the time to approach Stanton is not this season.

He may be right -- Stanton is not arbitration eligible until after this season -- but if the club doesn't do something to tell Stanton he's wanted and that Miami is the place for him, he may spurn any future offers so he can get to free agency and skate South Beach faster than the club paired payroll over the offseason.

The best time to move Stanton via trade may come before Loria feels is the right time to look to lock him up for the long haul. The closer Stanton gets to free agency -- and the pricier he gets via arbitration -- the more his value to others clubs shrinks.

The deal the Arizona Diamondbacks received in exchange for Justin Upton probably doesn't help the Marlins in any near-future trade negotiations for their young star. If Stanton, however, has a big first half, his value could skyrocket and clubs with loads of young talent could line up to make offers. If Loria has no plans to pay Stanton long term, they will trade him. At least that's their history, as they rarely let a player get through his contract and leave without more than draft-pick compensation.

This situation does not appear to be developing much, but it's worth keeping an eye on Loria's future comments on the subject, as well as Stanton's health and production.Tags:Miami Marlins, Giancarlo Stanton, Ricky Nolasco
Does Soriano fit in the Bronx?
February, 27, 2013
Feb 277:55AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintWith Curtis Granderson expected to miss around six weeks of the regular season there has been some buzz about whether or not the New York Yankees could make a deal for Alfonso Soriano. He can still hit some and bats right-handed, potentially helping he lineup balance and the former Yankees slugger, who has a no-trade clause, says he's open to playing in the Bronx.

My questions is: Does Soriano fit? Soriano is owed $36 million over the next two years and it seems unlikely the Chicago Cubs would cover anywhere near all of it no matter what the trade return and the Yankees are focused on staying under the luxury tax threshold for 2014 so they can take advantage of a kickback.

Even if the salary could be worked out, Soriano's perceived defensive deficiencies may not be ideal for the Yankees. But the 37-year-old, oddly enough, is coming off three straight strong years in left field, according to Fangraphs' UZR/150, suggesting he's figured out left field and might actually be undervalued overall as a result.

The contract appears to be the biggest obstacle, and the Yankees may have other options, especially considering they really only have a true need for an everyday type player for a month or two. They could show interest in potential roster casualties Casper Wells, Eric Thames, Ezequiel Carrera or Jarrod Dyson, all of whom come without the big contract.Tags:New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Alfonso Soriano
Hamilton a quick study?
February, 26, 2013
Feb 263:31PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintCincinnati Reds prospect Billy Hamilton is the fastest baserunner in all of baseball. He stole a trillion bases in 2012 -- or so it seemed -- and improved his overall stock as a prospect by hitting the ball well and getting on base. This spring he's impressing the club with his defense, too, which could shorten his path to the big leagues.

Hamilton, a natural shortstop, was moved to center field over the offseason and looked new to the position in the Arizona Fall League, opined ESPN Insider's Keith Law. He seems to be improving, and fast -- naturally, right? -- according to skipper Dusty Baker.

With the club moving Shin-Soo Choo to center, a position at which he has little experience in the majors and may not be suited for, Hamilton's progress will likely be monitored very closely. If he his at Triple-A and shows even more progress in center field, his ETA could move up to some time in 2013, which would impact Choo and left fielders Chris Heisey and Ryan Ludwick.Tags:Cincinnati Reds, Shin-Soo Choo, Billy Hamilton, Chris Heisey, Ryan Ludwick
Carrera on the trade block?
February, 26, 2013
Feb 261:21PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments0EmailPrintWhen players are out of minor league options and don't make the 25-man roster, the club has few options. One is to designate the player for assignment and hope they clear waivers. The other is to dangle the player on the trade market. The Cleveland Indians may be hit those crossroads with centerfielder Ezequiel Carrera this spring, writes Jordan Bastian of

With the additions of Michael Bourn earlier this month, Carrera is now the fifth outfielder on a team that is likely to carry just four -- Drew Stubbs, Michael Brantley and Nick Swisher. If Swisher is named the regular first baseman, the club could have room for Carrera.

Carrera is just one of several players this spring that will present such a dilemma. The newly-acquired Mike Carp in Boston, Seattle outfielder Casper Wells, Blue Jays lefty Brett Cecil, A's first baseman Daric Barton, Pirates outfielder Jose Tabata and Rangers centerfielder Julio Borbon, among others.

The injury to Brantley isn't likely to play a role in Carrera's chances at a roster spot.Tags:Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Oakland Athletics, Cleveland Indians, Casper Wells, Pittsburgh Pirates, Julio Borbon, Mike Carp, Jose Tabata, Daric Barton, Brett Cecil, Ezequiel Carrera
Who could target Headley?
February, 26, 2013
Feb 2612:48PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | Recommend0Comments2EmailPrintThe San Diego Padres and third baseman Chase Headley agreed to a one-year deal last week, avoiding arbitration. The switch-hitter will earn $8.575 million in 2013, reports Ken Rosenthal of That one year contract may be as far as it goes, however.

Headley and the team are "not on the same page," regarding a long-term solution, reported the San Diego Union-Tribune last month. "It was a quick discussion. We weren’t on the same page right from the start."

This doesn't mean the two sides won't ultimately find common ground, but another statement Headley made about the discussion may be telling: "This close to free agency, it has to be a good deal for us. You can’t sacrifice what’s fair."

The Padres aren't exactly a free-spending club and Headley's big year in 2012 suggests he could approach the salary figured of the top third baseman in the game. He's slated for free agency following the 2014 season, which means GM Josh Byrnes will have to figure something out within the next year or so or they may be forced to put Headley on the trade block.

Among the deals Headley and his agents, the Hendricks Brothers, could look to as a basis for future negotiations include the 5-year, $45 million deal Ryan Zimmerman received from the Washington Nationals with similar service time. That plus inflation could net Headley well over $50 million for five season, perhaps into the $75-80 million range. Whether the Padres can house that kin of contract is unclear.

If Headley reaches free agency in two years and continues to produce at similar levels as this past season, $100 million isn't out of the question, either.

It's conceivable that if talks don't warm up by mid-season, Headley could be shopped this coming summer, especially if he's performing well and the team is out of the race in the National League West. There were reports this past season that clubs inquired about his availability, but it does not appear as if conversations went very far. That could change sooner than later.

Among the clubs that could have serious trade interest in Headley if he becomes available include the New York Yankees, who do not have a long-term answer at third base, Los Angeles Angels, Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs.'s Jim Bowden says the time Padres need to move quickly:

Jim Bowden
Time for the Padres to make a move?
"Right now, the free agent and arbitration markets are at an all-time high. With third basemen such as David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman and Evan Longoria already signed to long-term deals, Headley’s trade value is the best among the third baseman who could be available. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize the small-market Padres might not be able to afford a long-term extension, and if they can't sign him they should trade him now."

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Thread Starter 
Taijuan Walker’s Journey.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Taijuan Walker is an elite pitching prospect. Despite the TINSTAAPP rules, Walker has ranked in the top 15 of the major top 100 lists, and he’s Seattle’s No.1 or No. 2 prospect, depending on the list. Walker’s 2012 line, however, was a little underwhelming. He posted a 4.69 ERA and 4.04 FIP, and during the couple chats I’ve done with Mike Newman, I’ve seen quite a few questions about whether we should be worried about it. The answer is no, but I thought it warranted a longer, more detailed answer.

Age is one of the most important aspects when looking at prospects, and Walker has that going for him. While being older doesn’t mean a player isn’t talented or even talented enough to be a quality player at the major-league level, a young age allows for more development time and more time to convert tools into skills. It’s also important because you want a player’s physical peak to match the timeline in which he can use those physical gifts meaningfully in a major-league game. If a person physically peaks in his/her early-to-mid-20s, then you would like for players to be in the majors and producing at that time.

Getting to the majors as a 21- to 23-year-old can help the player adapt to the high level of play and begin utilizing skills while he’s physically peaking. When he begins to physically decline in his late-20s, his experience and “baseball IQ” will (theoretically) compensate for the slight loss in physical talent, leading to his “performance peak.” If the player waits until his mid-20s to get to the majors, he’s fighting Father Time while trying to adjust to the majors, but it’s certainly not impossible for him to be a quality player. Walker is on pace to pitch in the majors at the age of 21.

That puts Walker is on the right side of this age conversation. Born on August 13, 1992, Walker was 19 for almost all of last season. Here are the median ages of each full-season league in 2012, courtesy of Baseball America.

League Level Median DOB Median Age
Midwest Low-A 11/28/1989 22
South Atlantic Low-A 1/6/1990 22
Carolina High-A 11/1/1988 23
California High-A 10/3/1988 23
Florida State High-A 12/20/1988 23
Eastern AA 12/20/1986 24
Texas AA 10/20/1987 24
Southern AA 11/3/1987 24
International AAA 1/4/1985 26
Pacific Coast AAA 7/3/1985 26

Having been skipped over High-A and the California League, Walker went to the Southern League (Double-A) and pitched against hitters several years older. As Keith Law noted, Walker was the youngest pitcher who spent the entire season in Double-A. But even if he was young, his stuff should have been able to get batters out, right? Well, kind of. Many of the batters he faced had a few more years of baseball experience, and they’re also more physically capable of punishing Walker for his mistakes. He was good enough to hold his own, but he also had to learn some lessons he would have otherwise learned in High-A, which hurt him occasionally

But even if he was young for his age, does his moderately underwhelming performance signal a sign of trouble? I took a look at the top pitchers from this past season, specifically the ones drafted out of high school (it would be unfair of me to judge the ones drafted out of college for being a bit older) and found out how they performed their first time through Double-A.

Player Age League IP K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 ERA FIP
Taijuan Walker 19 SOU 126.2 8.4 3.6 2.3 0.9 4.69 4.04
Felix Hernandez 18 TEX 57.1 9.1 3.3 2.8 0.5 3.30 3.17
Edwin Jackson 19 SOU 148.1 9.5 3.2 3.0 0.5 3.70 3.11
C.C. Sabathia 19 EAS 90.1 9.0 4.8 1.9 0.6 3.59 3.90
Matt Cain 19 EAS 86.0 7.5 4.2 1.8 0.7 3.35 4.08
Zack Greinke 19 TEX 53.0 5.8 0.8 7.3 0.8 3.23 3.60
Clayton Kershaw 19 SOU 24.2 10.6 6.2 1.7 1.5 3.65 5.02
Gio Gonzalez 20 EAS 154.2 9.7 4.7 2.1 1.4 4.66 4.80
Josh Johnson 21 SOU 139.2 7.3 3.2 2.3 0.3 3.87 2.92
Johnny Cueto 21 SOU 61.0 11.4 1.6 7.1 0.9 3.10 2.89

A couple things are interesting here: The first is that a lot of these pitchers pitched in Double-A around the same age as Walker. The second is they didn’t all perform so well, statistically speaking. King Felix is otherworldly, so comparing him to other guys is a little unfair. Edwin Jackson mowed through Double-A, but Sabathia, Cain and Kershaw had some bumps along the way (though Kershaw’s performance was only 24 innings). Gonzalez was a year older and had an even worse go of it. As for Johnson and Cueto, they were a full two years older than Walker. If Walker could sit in Double-A for another year or two, he’d probably dominate there, as well. This, of course, isn’t to say that Walker is definitely going to be the top-of-the-rotation pitcher like these fine gentlemen, but it should alleviate concerns over his Double-A performance. Getting to Double-A at 19 means you’re pretty good — and being able to hold your own at that level at that age means you’re pretty good, too.

That, however, leads me to a final point about minor-league statistics. Be careful. Statistics are great for major-league players because they’re accrued against major-league players. Everyone is assumed to have the skills to produce at that level. Minor league statistics are accumulated against a lot of guys who will never step foot on a major-league field, and as a result, context really needs to be considered when looking at them. Minor league players use the minor leagues to work on aspects of their game that aren’t so good because those weaknesses need to improve by the time they reach the majors.

This is good for them in the long-term, but it hurts short-term production. Luckily, statistical results don’t really matter in the minors, but once they’re in the majors, they do. This is why so much focus is placed on the scouting reports: If you have the raw tools of major-league talent and are gradually turning them into skills, you’re on the right track. As for Walker’s scouting report, Mike loves him some Taijuan Walker.

A scout once told me minor-league development is about the journey, not individual events. We’re so used to looking at individual season performances because each season is so important in the majors, but the minors don’t work that way. In the majors, everything is about winning and utilizing skills to accomplish that goal, but in the minors, it’s about the gradual developing those skills to the point that they can be used in the majors. Walker could have pitched in and dominated High-A, which would have been awesome for his statistics, but the Mariners decided Double-A would be better for his future with the Mariners. So don’t worry about Taijuan Walker. He’s actually ahead of schedule.

How Much Better Could Justin Masterson Be?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The other day, the Cleveland Indians announced that Justin Masterson will be their starter on Opening Day, barring some sort of injury. One might consider this damning with faint praise, as the Indians aren’t even necessarily ankle deep in proven quality starters, but what this provides is an opportunity to talk a little bit about Masterson, and what he is, and what he could be, maybe. Masterson stands to be important if this year’s Indians are to make a run for the playoffs. Masterson stands to be in the majors for a while yet, as he’s only 27 and as he’s demonstrated that he can throw 200 reasonable innings.

We have a pretty good idea of the Justin Masterson skillset. He’s got a big, sweeping motion and he leans heavily on a low-90s sinker. Sometimes he’ll threaten to go entire games without throwing anything else. Masterson keeps the ball on the ground, he strikes out about one batter for every six, and he issues the occasional walk. Last year, he posted about the same FIP as Jon Lester and C.J. Wilson, which is good company at least in terms of name value. Masterson’s ERA was elevated, but, ERA.

But I’ve written about pitchers and their strike zones before. Conveniently, Masterson’s entire big-league career has come during the PITCHf/x era. As I’ve noted earlier, using plate-discipline data available at FanGraphs, we can calculate a difference between actual strikes and expected strikes. Pasted below is a table of the ten pitchers with the greatest negative differences per 1,000 called pitches, since 2008. Minimum 200 innings, starters only, adjusted so that the league average is zero.

Pitcher Diff/1000
Vicente Padilla -30
Ian Snell -32
Mitch Talbot -32
Jeff Niemann -34
Oliver Perez -34
Felix Hernandez -35
Glen Perkins -35
Jeremy Sowers -39
Andrew Miller -47
Justin Masterson -52

Relative to the league average, over his career, Justin Masterson has pitched to the tightest strike zone out of the sample. Because 1,000 called pitches is an unfamiliar denominator, know that Masterson has averaged about 1,815 called pitches per 200 innings. So this is a pretty extreme result we’re looking at, and it’s the sort of thing that makes you want to regress it going forward. It makes you want to blame someone other than Masterson — someone like, say, Masterson’s catchers. One wonders if this is a framing thing, since, in theory, a strike zone is a strike zone. Why should Masterson get screwed so badly?

For support, we can also look at some numbers generated by Matthew Carruth and made available at StatCorner. StatCorner shows a pitcher’s rate of pitches in the strike zone taken for balls, and also a pitcher’s rate of pitches out of the strike zone taken for strikes. Here are Masterson’s rates, as a starter, against the league averages:

Year zTkB% Lg zTkB% oTkS% Lg oTkS%
2008 26% 20% 8% 8%
2009 24% 18% 6% 8%
2010 21% 16% 5% 8%
2011 22% 16% 5% 7%
2012 19% 15% 5% 7%

Every year, Masterson has had way more pitches in the zone called balls than the average. Every year, Masterson has had fewer pitches out of the zone called strikes than the average. This confirms what we were talking about above — Masterson hasn’t been pitching to the same strike zone as everyone else. It makes you wonder how much better Masterson could be if the zone treated him more fairly.

I mean, it’s intuitive. Take some of Masterson’s balls and turn them into strikes. Masterson ends up with more favorable counts, and that works to a pitcher’s advantage. Every ball/strike switch has a certain run value, and it isn’t negligible. Those can add up over the course of a season. For the sake of visual example, let’s look at Masterson throw a couple balls that might ordinarily go as strikes:

We can sort of examine the framing idea. Masterson has made 121 career starts, to a small variety of catchers. Let’s break his starts down by catcher and look at that same Diff/1000 measure, looking at strikes minus expected strikes per 1,000 called pitches. Is he just getting killed by his receivers?

Catcher GS Diff/1000
Carlin 1 18
Toregas 3 -36
Cash 2 -38
Shoppach 4 -43
Varitek 13 -45
Santana 46 -53
Marson 51 -54
Gimenez 1 -90

Obviously, we can’t make much of the guys to whom Masterson has just thrown a game or three or four. Of interest are the three regular backstops, in Jason Varitek, Carlos Santana, and Lou Marson. We see rates of -45, -53, and -54 — all miserable, and all similarly miserable. Maybe this is actually about Masterson, and not about the catchers?

Well, based on research by Carruth, it turns out Marson and Santana have been identically bad at framing, so maybe it shouldn’t come as a shock that their Masterson numbers are identical. Varitek, though, is different, in that he looked like an above-average receiver in 2008-2009, when he occasionally caught Masterson with the Red Sox. Yet, while Varitek overall was above-average, he was below average with Masterson. Better than Santana and Marson, but not by a whole lot.

So you wonder, and you wish we had more data. It seems like bad framing is at least partly responsible for Masterson’s negative numbers. But we can’t tell the extent, in that we don’t know how much is the catchers and how much is Masterson himself. Masterson throws a lot of moving sinkers, which can be difficult for umpires to call. Masterson might also have particularly inconsistent command, causing his catchers to move their targets. A pitch in one place that was supposed to be in that place is more likely to get called a strike than a pitch in the same place that was supposed to be in another place. Masterson’s command could be partly responsible for his seldom being given the benefit of the doubt.

But given what Masterson has done with the Indians with below-average catchers, I can’t help but wonder what his numbers might look like with an average catcher, or an above-average catcher. In 2013, he stands to pitch to Santana and Marson again, so there won’t be any help there. But I’m reminded of the Derek Lowe example. Between 2008-2011, Lowe pitched to good receivers, and he pitched to an outrageously favorable strike zone. In 2012, Lowe mostly pitched to the same receivers as Masterson, and he lost that favorable strike zone. Probably not coincidentally, Lowe’s performance cratered, and he struck out just under eight percent of the batters he faced. I don’t think it was all about the catchers, but I suspect the catchers played a big role in Lowe’s success and then in Lowe’s failure.

Which makes me curious what Masterson might be, were he able to pitch to a Jesus Flores or a Jeff Mathis or even a Jose Molina or a Brian McCann. With average receivers, one figures Masterson’s stats would improve. With great receivers, one figures Masterson’s stats would improve even more. He’s spent the bulk of his career as a starter throwing to relatively poor receivers, and he’s been reasonably effective. Give him a few extra strikes and, well, he already generates grounders and strikeouts. What if Masterson were allowed to expand the strike zone?

There is no answer here. I don’t know how much of Masterson’s strike-zone disadvantage is on his catchers, and how much is on him, because of the way that he pitches. Masterson might be and probably is unusually prone to bad calls by human umpires. Some people are going to be like that, and some people are going to be the opposite. But I know I’ll be paying attention if Masterson moves on, or if the Indians end up with a new backstop at some point. Masterson’s already a decent starting pitcher, despite the numbers above. What if he could be so much more? What if his numbers don’t adequately reflect his ability? It’s not something worth obsessing over, but this is one of the questions we’re beginning to be able to ask.

The Unique Power-Speed Combos of Braun, Pence and Jones.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Of the positive events for hitters, home runs and infield hits are polar opposites, and not just in terms of impact. The home run is the realm of the beefed-up slugger, the lumberers. The infield hit is reserved for the wisps, the sprinters, the scrawny slap hitters. Unsurprisingly, there is a weak negative correlation between home runs and infield hits on a per-plate appearance basis — I found a minus-0.45 correlation coefficient between the two for all hitters with at least 1000 plate appearances between 2008 and 2012.

Hitters who are able to both beat out dribblers and blast fly balls out of the park, then, are quite rare. Looking at the last five years, three players stand out from the pack:

With over 100 home runs and infield hits since 2008 — 20 per season of each — Ryan Braun, Adam Jones and Hunter Pence find themselves in a class of their own.

Although most fans should be somewhat aware of the speed of this trio, their star power — as with most hitters — comes from their power. Braun, Jones and Pence make up three of the 56 players to hit 100 home runs over the past five seasons. Of their 15 individual seasons, only twice — Jones in both 2008 and 2009 — has any of these players failed to hit 20 home runs. Consistent power, even without secondary skills, is usually enough to get people to take notice.

Add speed, and the player becomes a spectacle. Only thrice has a player in this trio failed to steal 10 bases in a season — Jones in 2010, Pence in 2011 and 2012. Still, we generally don’t expect to see players with that kind of power atop the infield hit leaderboards. Consider those who join them in the top ten over the past five years: Ichiro Suzuki, Michael Bourn, Alexei Ramirez, Derek Jeter, Shane Victorino and Juan Pierre. These players, particularly Ichiro, Bourn and Pierre, are much more typical examples of who I expect to see legging out infield hits.

Unlike most power hitters, none of the Braun-Pence-Jones trio can be classified as a fly ball hitter. Only Braun in 2008 posted a GB/FB under 1.0, and although this may limit their power output, their speed allows them to post higher batting averages (helping their on-base ability) than most power hitters. Pence owns a .313 BABIP, Jones owns a .316 mark and Braun checks in at a stratospheric .337. Ground balls already go for hits more often than fly balls by nearly a two-to-one margin (.238 to .131 in 2012); adding on 20 infield hits per season only exaggerates the disparity. Of the 56 100-homer hitters over the past five years, just 20 notched a BABIP above .310; Braun’s .337 BABIP trailed just Miguel Cabrera, Matt Kemp and Joey Votto.

The speed half of the combo hasn’t necessarily manifested itself in defense. Braun has improved since shifting to left field, to his credit, but is still just a roughly average corner outfielder. Pence’s coordination issues have similarly limited him to an average corner outfielder. Although Adam Jones passes the eye test for me (and others) in center field, his game hasn’t been appreciated by the metrics.

Still, these three players have combined for nine all-star berths and 60.6 WAR (over 12 per year) since 2008. It shows the extreme value players who contain multiple skillsets — especially skillsets that are seemingly diametrically opposed — can offer a team, and few players demonstrate it better than Braun, Pence and Jones.

Ricky Romero Sinking and Not Sinking.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
A preface:

(1) The Blue Jays are of tremendous interest this year, after having spent the offseason adding R.A. Dickey and the Marlins. Many expect that the Jays will win their division for the first time since 1993. At the very least, if they’re not favorites, they’re close to it.

(2) Ricky Romero is of tremendous interest, because what the hell happened?

(3) We’re suckers for anything having to do with PITCHf/x and player-on-player analysis. What’s that? Players making use of PITCHf/x data in an attempt to improve themselves or others? A FanGraphs post is all but obligatory.

My attention this morning was steered to an article in the National Post by John Lott. It talks about Ricky Romero, and, more specifically, it talks about Romero’s sinking fastball. Romero isn’t going to be the key to the Blue Jays’ attempted turnaround, but he is individually at a delicate place in his career, after 2012 saw his performance tumble like so many tumbleweeds tumbling down a slope and maybe off of a cliff? Romero, of course, has made it a priority to bounce back, and he talks about some help he might’ve gotten from teammate Brandon Morrow:

Brandon Morrow’s research startled Ricky Romero. It showed that Romero had almost given up on a key pitch during his disastrous 2012 season.

In 2011, when his ERA was 2.92, Romero threw sinking two-seam fastballs 22% of the time. Last year, his sinker rate fell to 11%. His ERA was 5.77, worst among big-league starters.

Morrow found those figures on the website, printed them out and gave them to Romero.

“I was a little bit amazed by it,” Romero said Tuesday, pulling the sheet from his locker.

What we have is evidence that Romero significantly cut his sinker usage. We also have some acknowledgment on Romero’s part that he probably did it for a reason, and we have Romero dedicating himself to throwing the pitch more often from now on. Pitching coach Pete Walker talks a little about how important the pitch is when the lefty Romero is pitching to lefty hitters. This is something that falls in line with a lot of optimistic spring-training articles — it’s no different than an article about a pitcher trying a new pitch — but it feels more substantial than an article about a guy coming to camp with a new attitude. If you want to believe that Ricky Romero can turn things around, you might figure there’s something here, you might figure the sinker frequency will be the key.

Let’s discuss, and let’s start simple. Ricky Romero’s big-league career in a nutshell:

2009: pretty good
2010: pretty good
2011: pretty good
2012: bad

All right, that’ll serve as part of the foundation. Now, about that Brooks Baseball data. Brooks Baseball carefully separates Romero’s two-seam fastball from his four-seam fastball. We just have to take it on faith that the numbers are more or less correct. Romero, for his part, basically confirmed that he does throw both pitches. The two-seamer is Romero’s sinker, and here are his historical rates:

2009: 14%
2010: 13%
2011: 22%
2012: 11%

If you look just at the last two seasons, that’s striking. Previously, though, Romero was effective without a meaningfully different sinker rate than he had in 2012. Last year, by these numbers, Romero threw a sinker once for every nine pitches. In 2010, he threw a sinker once for every eight pitches or so. There were more sinkers, but there weren’t way more sinkers.

But, that’s just overall. The Jays’ pitching coach identified the sinker as a key against left-handed hitters. Here are Romero’s historical sinker rates against lefties:

2009: 11%
2010: 15%
2011: 26%
2012: 8%

That’s a little more significant. There’s a huge drop between the last two seasons, but there’s also a drop relative to 2010. Romero last year did not throw a lot of sinkers to left-handed hitters, by this data. He leaned more heavily on his curve and four-seamer.

But to be perfectly honest, the problem with Romero in 2012 wasn’t so much about left-handed hitters. A breakdown:

wOBA by LHB against Romero

09-11: .364
2012: .390

wOBA by RHB against Romero

09-11: .296
2012: .348

Lefties had more success against Romero, but righties had a lot more success against Romero, as his strikeout rate plummeted to 15%, and his walk rate climbed to 14%. In 2012, Romero threw 13% sinkers to righties. That’s down from his rate in 2011, but it’s right on his rate in 2010, when he was quite effective. Romero has never been real great against left-handed hitters, so to whatever extent the sinker was key for him against lefties before, it wasn’t doing him a lot of good. Dropping the sinker probably didn’t help, but this seems to have been about more than one pitch. Granted, everything is interconnected.

More important than sinker frequency — and a certain factor in determining sinker frequency — is sinker strike percentage. Here’s where we can see something of note, in reviewing Romero’s career:

2009: 59%
2010: 58%
2011: 59%
2012: 50%

The sinker has never been a major pound-the-zone pitch for Romero, but half the time he threw it in 2012, he threw it for a ball. It’s no wonder he threw the pitch less often; he wasn’t able to control it or command it. His four-seamer strike rate didn’t change. His curveball strike rate got a tiny bit better. His changeup strike rate got a good deal worse. Romero lost the feel for his sinker, and so it was less successful, and so it was thrown less often. The changeup data suggests it wasn’t just the sinker feel he lost.

Here’s the ultimate point: there seems to be something meaningful in Ricky Romero’s sinker rate data. His turnaround, though, won’t be as simple as throwing more sinkers. It’s unlikely that Romero’s problems in 2012 came out of him throwing fewer sinkers. His problems came from his locating worse, for whatever reason or reasons. Romero will be as good as his control and command, and his sinker rate could follow that, not guide that. Throwing more sinkers won’t help if they’re balls half the time. Romero needs to find his location, and from there, he can get everything back on track. It sounds so simple until you realize it’s incredibly hard. Romero’s reduced sinker rate was a symptom. It’s on him and his coaches to take care of the cause. Throwing the pitch over and over in the spring couldn’t hurt, but Romero’s going to need his changeup, too, and if mechanical fixes were easy and guaranteed, Romero probably wouldn’t have had the 2012 he had in the first place.

Giancarlo and Carlos.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Jeffrey Loria and the Marlins’ front office need to save face as much as anyone since Harvey Dent (dated pop culture reference: check). One suggestion has been that they should re-sign their one remaining superstar, Giancarlo Stanton. That is easier said than done, given that Stanton publicly expressed displeasure in the immediate wake of the team’s massive trade with Toronto. Even if he had not, why would any player want to make a long-term commitment to the Marlins at this point (note to Giancarlo: make sure and get that no-trade clause in writing. Also, stick with rentals.)?

As Buster Olney points out, even if one thinks Stanton is unlikely to sign an extension, if the Marlins do at least make a good faith offer, they can at least say they tried, which in itself would be progress and might help them a bit in the court of public opinion. If he turns it down, at least they could feel free to trade him when is value is highest. Naturally, Loria is saying exactly the wrong thing: “Giancarlo needs to play this year.” Aside from the particulars of the whole Marlins mess, when considering how much it would cost to extend Stanton, not many recent comparisons come to mind. Olney cites an agent to compares Stanton to the Rockies’ Carlos Gonzalez after his 2010 season, when he signed for seven-years and $80 million dollars. That comparison makes sense in that Gonzalez was then and Stanton is now young, talented, and still a year away from arbitration eligibility. A comparison with Gonzalez is a helpful starting point, but beyond the increased money in baseball now, there are good reasons to think a Stanton extension would be significantly bigger. As good as Gonzalez was and is, Stanton projects to be even more valuable.

It is important to understand how the cost of marginal wins has increased since 2011 and how that might effect a hypothetical Stanton extension. Moreover, one cannot ignore how unattractiveness of playing for the Marlins might drive up a player’s asking price. I will not be focusing on those issues with respect to Stanton and the Marlins, however. Instead, I want to focus on something else that would likely drive up the cost of a Giancalo Stanton extension relative to that given to Gonzalez prior to the 2011 season: Stanton’s greater projected value compared to Gonzalez prior to 2011.

This is not to take anything away from Gonzalez. It is wild to think about Dan O’Dowd taking Billy Beane to the cleaners, but that is what happened when Gonzalez was just once piece of a trade for one year of Matt Holliday before the 2009 season. I simply think that when comparing how Stanton projects now to Gonzalez projected in 2011, there are good reasons Stanton has greater projected value.

Not everything tilts towards Stanton’s side of the ledger. Stanton is a fine defensive right fielder, but back in 2010, Gonzalez was still playing a chunk of the season in center Whatever one makes of defensive metrics, I could understand if someone would prefer Gonzalez’ defensive skills. Gonzalez’ superior speed also manifests itself on the bases. Questions of value aside, one might have more confidence in Gonzalez’ likelihood of aging gracefully given his speed. Moreover, while Gonzalez is not a master of contact, Stanton’s strikeout rate — 28.8 for his career so far — is a bit scary. It is not that so much that strikeouts are worse than other outs, but that a lack of contact puts pressure on his other skills and also might indicate “old player skills,” i.e., that Stanton might decline earlier than the average hitters. Stanton’s knee surgery last season might also be a bit of a concern.

These are legitimate points, but I still think that the Stanton’s projected offensive superiority relative to opre-2011 Gonzalez tips the scales significantly. It might be simple enough to point out that from 2008-2010, Gonzalez hit for a 118 wRC+, while from 2010-2012, Stanton has a 140 wRC+. That does a nice job of summarizing just how big the gap is. But is is worth specifying the differences because that will highlight the particular reasons why Stanton’s projected future value now is greater than Gonzalez’s was prior to 2011.

Stanton has had a somewhat high BABIP (.328) so far in the majors, so one might be concerned that it would regress. However, he has not been reliant on that BABIP for a more significant part of his offensive production. More germane to the point, Gonzalez’ BABIP through 2010 was .369. That is not to dismiss BABIP as a skill for hitters. Given that it does fluctuate more year-to-year than many other peripherals, though, having a higher BABIP may indicate a greater degree of luck than having one closer to average.

When we look at certain skills that stabilize more quickly we also see that (aside from strikeouts) they favor Stanton over pre-2011 Gonzalez. Stanton’s walk rate is about 10 percent so far in the majors, whereas Gonzalez (prior to signing his contract) was below seven percent. Perhaps most significantly, and definitely most obvious in this case, is the power differential. While CarGo’s power was impressive even in the context of Coors field (.220 from 2008-2010, .262 in 2010), Stanton’s, as is well known from dozens of .gifs, is simply monstrous: .282 over the last three seasons, culminating in a stunning .318 in 2012. Given how quickly power (especially home run power) stabilizes relative to other stats, the advantage for Stanton here is quite significant for purposes of projection.

Two more factors are worth mentioning for contextualizing these statistics: park and age. Although the effect of Coors relative to other parks is often overemphasized when discussing Rockies hitters (and is accounted for, at least in terms of value, by using stats wRC+), it has to be taken into account when comparing stuff like raw BABIP and isolated power. Although it will be a while before we have a good idea of how the Marlins’ new park plays, it is safe to say that Gonzalez’ home park has been friendler than Stanton’s. This matters because a player’s value for an extension or in a trade is based on more than just how he would play in his home park, but how he would play elsewhere if he were traded or a free agent.

As for age, Gonzalez was hardly an old man when he signed his extension in 2011, he was 25. Stanton is 23. That may not seem like a huge difference, and people calculate aging curves differently. As hinted at earlier in the discussion of speed and strikeouts, Stanton and Gonzalez might not really be similar in how they age. For the sake of brevity, though, if we look at basic component aging curves, while 25 is very close to a hitter’s peak, at 23 a player is still developing in just about every respect. So, for example, Stanton’s somewhat problematic contact rate is still likely to improve, as is his good walk rate, and, frighteningly, his power. While at 25 one might still have expected some improvement in true talent (as opposed to his observed numbers) from Gonzalez, the improvements at that age are less dramatic, and there would be less time for them, as well.

Carlos Gonzalez was (and is) a good player and projected to earn his seven-year, $80 million extension from the Rockies back in 2011. As good as Gonzalez projected to be, Giancarlo Stanton has an even better projection now than Gonzalez did then. Stanton is not perfect, but his big advantages as a hitter and his age (implying not only a longer time until his likely decline, but more room for improvement) help Stanton project to have more value going forward than Gonzalez did at the time he signed his extension. Coupled with the money in the game now (not to mention the “excitement” players feel over the prospect of signing with the Marlins), and you have a recipe for a big, big contract. Gonzalez’ contract might be a good starting point for a comparison, but an extension for Stanton would be likely to far outstrip it based on Stanton’s abilities alone.

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Thread Starter 
Maybe Hanley Ramirez Should Actually Start At Shortstop?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Los Angeles Dodgers have many stars. The Los Angeles Dodgers don’t have a star third baseman, at least not one that is slated to start third base this year. The Dodgers *do* have many good defensive shortstops, and none of them is starting at shortstop. The weirdest thing is that it might all make sense, at least for now.

Hanley Ramirez hasn’t been a great defensive shortstop, at least not in the major leagues. He hasn’t ever added a win of fielding plus positional value, and his best UZR/150 at the position was +0.9, in 2008. That was a long time ago, and since — only three shortstops have played 1000 innings at the position over the last three years and been worse with the glove than Hanley Ramirez.

It might cause some consternation, then, to discover that a good defensive “system” shortstop (Luis Cruz) is slated to play third base next to Ramirez in 2013. Cruz only has five hundred major league innings at short, but he’s never had a season in which he was a minus-fielding shortstop. Say what you want about Dee Gordon‘s defense — Bullpen Banter’s Steve Fiorindo said he “wasn’t worried about” Dee Gordon‘s defense due to his athleticism which should lead to “plenty of range and arm” — but there are other shortstop types on the roster too: Juan Uribe, Nick Punto, Justin Sellers, and Jerry Hairston, Jr to say the least. By UZR/150, all of them are better-than-scratch defenders at shortstop that have had better-than-scratch defensive seasons at the position more recently than Ramirez.

Ceding double-digit runs at shortstop when you’ve got multiple scratch or better defenders as options on the current roster seems like folly.

But there are the particulars of Ramirez’s defense. Baseball Info Solutions breaks down each infield defender on balls straight to them and to their left and right. To his right, Hanley had been terrible for two straight years before joining the Dodgers: -14 and -21 at shortstop. That was in opposition to decent numbers up the middle (-2 and +2) and good work to his left (+1 and +7).

Admittedly, there are two ways to look at these numbers if you are his acquiring team. You could think that moving him to third base essentially eliminates the need for range to his right. Or you could put a great defensive third baseman next to him that could get to some of those balls to Ramirez’s right.

Obviously we know which path the Dodgers decided to go down. Since Cruz was best to his left and straight on (+4 and +6 compared to +1 to his right), it seems to have worked out fine. Ramirez went from double-digit bad to his right to -7 with Cruz as his partner. And the team as a whole was 15th in the league in UZR/150 (0.9) and BIS’ Defensive Runs Saved (+4), with the fifth-lowest BABIP allowed (.283). There’s no evidence, at least, that a massive defensive shortcoming was part of the team’s failing.

And there might have been benefits to the decision to put Ramirez at short.

Hanley Ramirez hasn’t taken well to criticism, seemingly. In 2010, Fredi Gonzalez pulled him from a game for lack of hustle, and when given a chance to be contrite, the shortstop responded with “It’s his team. He can do whatever he f——- wants.” When asked to cut his hair and change his style, Ramirez also bristled. He once took his manager to task for failing to retaliate when the player was hit. Ozzie Guillen had harsh words once the shortstop was gone, too — but to be fair, he said the same when Ramirez was still in town.

Most of these comments came during the star shortstop’s worst years. There’s a chicken and the egg thing going on though — was he performing poorly before he was criticized, or did the criticism keep him from righting the ship? Joe Girardi is not the softest of managers, but he coached Ramirez through his best seasons, and Ramirez once tearfully thanked him for it. But Ramirez might have been a better player, and more athletic, those days.

Now approaching thirty, Ramirez is once again negotiating a relationship with a new staff. Perhaps they thought a kinder, gentler approach would get the most out of their new shortstop. When asked about defense and his team’s acquisition, Dodger skipper Don Mattingly said “He can do this.” And small samples aside, Ramirez responded with better offense (8% better) and defense with the Dodgers.

The Dodgers might be losing a few runs here or there due to Hanley Ramirez playing at shortstop despite his bad range to his right. With a good defender to his right, though, that negativity is mitigated. And by showing him a little positivity, maybe the Dodgers will reap the best Ramirez has to offer.

New York Mets Top 15 Prospects (2012-13).
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The New York Mets’ top prospect list is a lot stronger now than it was when the off-season began, thanks to the R.A. Dickey trade with Toronto that brought two of the club’s Top 3 prospects into the system. The club lacks impact bats but it has a plethora of high-ceiling arms.

#1 Zack Wheeler (P)

22 25 25 149.0 115 4 8.94 3.56 3.26 2.99

Organizations have to make bold moves at times when trying to win championships and the Mets’ top prospect list has benefited from that, both with the R.A. Dickey trade with Toronto, as well as the deal that saw veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran head to the San Francisco Giants, an organization that has won the World Series in two of the past three seasons. That latter trade netted Wheeler, a pitcher with the upside of a No. 1 or 2 starter.

The right-hander has plus fastball velocity that sits in the mid-90s and touches the upper 90s. He also flashes a plus curveball, a solid slider and a changeup that should become at least average. When asked about Wheeler’s stuff, a talent evaluator had very good things to say about his fastball-curveball combo, “They’re going to generate a lot of swings and misses,” he said. Wheeler has an easy delivery and get a solid downward plane on his offerings with at least average command and control. The contact I spoke with said the pitching prospects biggest needs are to improve his changeup, continue to become more efficient and learn when/how to properly use his weapons.

Wheeler, 22, spent the majority of 2012 in double-A before receiving six late-season starts in triple-A where he performed quite well. He’ll return to triple-A but will face a stiffer test while pitching in the offense-boosting Pacific Coast League. The Georgia native is almost ready to assume a permanent role in the big league rotation and that could come as soon as mid-to-late 2013. Wheeler and Matt Harvey could form a tantalizing one-two punch for years to come at the top of the starting rotation.

Additional Notes

As I stated Monday, I love what Wheeler brings to the rotation. Over the years he has simplified the moving parts in his mechanics and features arguable the best fastball in the minors. Add in a slider, curveball and changeup that are all average or better and the you’ve got the second or third best starter in the minors. Mets fans will never bad mouth Carlos Beltran again after they witness Wheeler’s greatness this summer. (JD Sussman)

#2 Travis D’Arnaud (C)

23 303 93 21 16 19 59 1 .333 .380 .595 .415

The young catcher entered 2012 as the Jays’ top prospect and he did nothing to change the lofty status, although a knee injury ended his season prematurely in June. Had he not been injured, d’Arnaud likely would have made his big league debut last year when MLB incumbent J.P. Arencibia suffered a fracture in his hand. After the season, Toronto shocked the industry by acquiring NL Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey but it cost them the talented catching prospect

d’Arnaud has the potential to be both an above-average hitter and fielder. He has enough power to predict 15 home runs in his prime and he could hit for a decent average, thanks to his good bat speed and short stroke. Behind the plate, the California native shows an above-average arm that helps him control the running game and he’s at least average in every area, including blocking, receiving and game calling. One talent evaluator said the prospect was close to being ready for the big leagues and the trade to New York gives him a much clearer path to a big league job — especially after both Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas were included in the Dickey deal.

When I saw d’Arnaud play I was a little surprised by his lack of energy on the field – both on offense and defense. With that said, he showed good athleticism sliding to his right to block a wild pitch and also while fielding a ball out in front of home plate. In speaking with the New York organization, I was told that — in a perfect world — d’Arnaud would be allowed to gain a little more seasoning at the triple-A level before assuming the full-time gig at the big league level, but a strong spring could force the club’s hand.

Additional Notes

The Mets top prospect is a strong, sturdily build right handed hitter with considerable upside. In a perfect world, d’Arnaud projects make numerous all-star games on the back of plus power and defense. But, it’s hard to say that will happen. Injuries have cost him valuable experience and hindered his development making is future more uncertain than most top prospects. (JD Sussman)

#3 Noah Syndergaard (P)

19 27 19 103.2 80 3 10.59 2.69 2.60 2.21

Syndergaard has come a long way since being considered a “signability pick” during the 2010 draft. A late bloomer in high school, the tall Texan’s velocity now sits in the mid-to-upper 90s and can touch triple-digits. He also possesses above-average control for both his age and experience level. Those attributes made him attractive to New York and he was an impressive addition to the organization during the R.A. Dickey trade that also netted the organization its No. 2 prospect in catcher Travis d’Arnaud.

The issue with the right-hander, though, is his secondary stuff. Both his curveball and changeup currently grade out as below average and questions remain about their future potential. A talent evaluator asked about Syndergaard’s secondary stuff commented, “The curveball has come a long, long way… it is, at times, average,” He also stated that the young pitcher is toying with a slider and referred the changeup as “OK.” If the secondary pitches don’t improve then Syndergaard could develop into a shut-down, high-leverage reliever who could dominate on the strength of his ground-ball-inducing fastball.

When I saw him pitch in May it looked like he was getting out in front of the curveball and dragging his arm behind him — making it almost impossible for him to throw it for strikes. He also was not doing a good job of holding base runners. The tall Texan should move up to the Florida State League in 2013 and could eventually join a dominate, hard-throwing young staff with the likes of Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler.

Additional Notes

Two weeks ago we had a great discussion about Syndergaard. He works off a two pitches, a big fastball that will make him a ground-ball machine at higher levels and an above average change. It will be interesting to see how the Mets handle the young right hander after the Blue Jays were cautious. (JD Sussman)

#4 Wilmer Flores (SS)

20 547 148 29 18 38 60 3 .300 .349 .477 .369

Flores is one player that perhaps suffers from Over-Exposed Prospect Syndrom. Signed at 16, Flores — now 21 — has been on top prospect lists since that time and has developed at a steady pace. A former shortstop, he’s now splitting time between second base and third base. After spending parts of five years in A-ball and below, Flores finally reached double-A in the second half of 2012 during a breakout season. At that level, the young Venezuelan hit more than .300 and started to tap into his raw power more consistently than ever before. He does a nice job of barrelling the ball and making contact, but he’s still too aggressive at times, and could stand to improve his pitch selection when looking for balls to drive.

In the field, the 6’3” infielder just got too big for shortstop, where his range dwindled. He doesn’t have the body of a prototypical second baseman but he turns the double play OK. Ideally, he’s best suited for third base where his strong arm helps make up for his average range. His ideal position would probably be first base but his right-handed power would be just average. A strong spring could ensure a triple-A assignment for Flores in 2013. He could reach the majors by the end of the year, if a spot opens up. When asked about his future in the organization, a Mets contact stated, “We’re still very excited about him.”

#5 Rafael Montero (P)

21 20 20 122.0 96 6 8.11 1.40 2.36 2.58

Despite having a small frame, Montero has dominated the low minors and provided 122 innings of work in 2012 while splitting the year between two A-ball levels. The right-hander dials his fastball up into the low-90s but can touch 94-95 mph. His repertoire also includes a promising slider and a developing changeup. He basically came out of nowhere last year, and a talent evaluator said, “He’s a guy that, a year ago, was a sleeper… I’m really surprised he hasn’t gotten more attention…He absolutely looks like he belongs.”

Montero’s stuff plays up because he has above-average command and plus control. The contact I spoke with referred to the right-hander’s command as “plus-plus” and commented that the hitters don’t see the fastball well out of his hand. The 22-year-old also has an easy delivery and a clean arm. Although Montero made just eight games in high-A ball, he should move up to double-A to begin 2013. He has the ceiling of a No. 3 starter. The contact I spoke with had high praise for the young Latin player: “He has a really advanced feel on the mound and for the hitters and what they’re trying to accomplish.”

#6 Michael Fulmer (P)

19 21 21 108.1 91 6 8.39 3.16 2.58 3.27

Fulmer is another member of the dominating 2011 Oklahoma prep pitching class that also included Baltimore’s Dylan Bundy and Arizona’s Archie Bradley. The Mets prospect has a big strong pitcher’s frame but he doesn’t leverage it enough to produce a strong downward plane on his pitches and he works up in the zone too much. A contact I spoke with said Fulmer struggled to reach the fifth inning in the first half of the season, due to high pitch counts, but improved in the second half when he realized pitching was about more than just getting swings and misses.

Fulmer, 20, could stand to smooth out his delivery, which should help him improve his command but his control is OK. His stuff is quite good, with a low-to-mid-90s fastball, a potentially-plus slider and a changeup that remains a work-in-progress. He should move up to high-A ball in 2013 and could eventually join a talented rotation that could also include Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Noah Syndergaard.

#7 Jeurys Familia (P)

22 8 1 12.1 7.30 6.57 48.5 % 5.84 3.66 0.0

Familia, a Dominican Republic native, was quite durable in 2012 at the triple-A level, pitching 137 innings over 28 starts, but his overall results were less than stellar after a promising ’11 season. Familia, 23, has a fastball that works in the mid-to-upper 90s and his slider is above-average.

His lack of a consistent changeup, control issues and delivery all suggest a relief role is in the cards for the hard thrower. He showed flashes of developing into a high-leverage reliever during a big league stint with the Mets in 2012. I’m told Familia will be given every opportunity to break camp with the big league club in 2013 — as a reliever. A talent evaluator likened Familia’s situation to that of Texas’ Alexi Ogando and stated, “He’s another guy with power stuff… He made some pretty good [MLB] hitters look bad.” If he fails to crack the 25-man roster, though, he could eventually move back to the starting rotation, depending on the club’s needs.

#8 Luis Mateo (P)

22 12 12 73.1 57 2 10.43 1.10 2.45 1.85

Mateo joins Rafael Montero as a breakout (of nowhere) prospect from 2012. A couple steps behind his fellow Dominican Republic native on the organizational ladder, Mateo his a solid fastball in the low-to-mid-90s and backs it up with plus command and control. He also has a solid slider that helped him dominate young competition. A contact I spoke with referred to the breaking ball as “an absolutely wipe-out slider… It’s a big-league pitch right now.” He also cautioned, though, that Mateo needs to learn to not rely on it so much.

Mateo is a little behind the eight-ball in terms of his development after he had two contracts voided and a one-year suspension for falsifying his age.The soon-to-be-23-year-old could skip over low-A ball and open the year in the Florida State League with a strong spring training. His lack of a reliable off-speed pitch could continue to be an issue in his quest to develop into a mid-rotation starter. If he cannot find a reliable changeup, Mateo could end up as a high-leverage reliever capable of shutting the door in the ninth inning.

Additional Notes

I’ve read mixed reported about Luis Mateo but when I saw him in Brooklyn he showed an above average mid 90s fastball and an average slider. He profiles best as a fast moving relieve pitcher because he losses velocity quickly, lacks a third pitch, and has a lot of recoil in his delivery. (JD Sussman)

#9 Domingo Tapia (P)

20 20 19 108.2 92 2 8.37 2.65 3.98 2.68

Tapia is yet another young, hard-throwing arm in the Mets system. He throws a mid-to-high-90s fastball with excellent movement and commands the ball surprisingly well. His second best pitch is a changeup and his breaking ball — a slider — is inconsistent. His control is good.

Tapia, 21, has an impressive frame for a pitcher and he induces crazy-good ground-ball rates, in part because of the leverage he gets from his 6’4” frame. His combination of velocity and worm-burning rates is enticing, although the lack of a breaking ball could eventually place him in the bullpen. One talent evaluator I spoke with gave a Roberto Hernandez (formerly known as Fausto Carmona) comp. “He may not be a big strikeout guy… but I think he’ll get plenty of outs.” Tapia will move up to high-A ball in 2013.

#10 Brandon Nimmo (OF)

19 321 66 20 6 46 78 1 .248 .372 .406 .372

On the surface, Nimmo’s 2012 season doesn’t look that impressive — mainly because of the low batting average and high strikeout rate, but he’s come a long way in a short period of time. The outfielder, selected out of a Wyoming high school in 2011, was extremely raw when he was selected in the first round of the draft. He was also playing a very tough home ball park in the New York Penn League and a contact told me that the wind often comes straight in from right field. He pointed to Ike Davis’ year in the league, which resulted in zero home runs in 58 games.

Nimmo, soon-to-be 20, needs to jump on good pitches to hit when they’re made available to him. He racks up walks but is too passive at times. He shows good gap power but his eventual home-run potential is debatable. A left-handed hitter, he struggles against southpaws. In the field, he has a chance to develop into an average-or-better fielder with a solid arm. The contact I spoke to said the prospect could be a solid center-fielder or a plus corner outfielder. Nimmo should make his full-season debut in 2013 but will move slowly.

Additional Notes

The Mets have oversold Nimmo’s athleticism but he is an interesting package. His approach is passive, he is content letting pitch after pitch go by as he waits on a fastball, preferably low in the zone. His pitch recognition needs considerable work and presently undermines his hit tool. Power could be his carry tool, it has the potential to be plus. Right now Nimmo is very raw and a full season assignment would be aggressive. But I don’t see the Mets keeping him in Brooklyn either. (JD Sussman)

#11 Gavin Cecchini (SS/DH)

18 218 47 9 1 18 44 5 .240 .307 .321 .295

Cecchini was the Mets’ first round draft pick in 2012 and his brother Garin Cecchini is a talented prospect in the Red Sox system. The younger Cecchini is not flashy but he has solid all-around skills. In the field, he’s a steady fielder at shortstop with solid range and good actions. His arm is just average. As a contact said, “There is no question that he’ll stay there.” A broken finger caused him to DH for part of the season.

Cecchini, 19, is a solid hitter and profiles as a No. 2 hitter. He could hit for a decent batting average and possesses solid gap power but little home-run strength. He’s a good base runner but has just average speed. The contact I spoke with said Cecchini is very instinctual, plays with good energy and is a natural leader. The Louisiana native should open 2013 in low-A ball after a strong fall instructional league, and is easily the Mets’ shortstop of the future.

Additional Notes

I understand why Cecchini doesn’t get a lot of respect, he isn’t a tool-shed like many highly ranked shortstops. But, his upside his higher than many give him credit for. He has average tools across the board with a chance for an above average or better hit tool as a shortstop. Frankly, that’s an exciting package. (JD Sussman)

#12 Cory Mazzoni (P)

22 26 26 144.1 154 12 6.48 2.24 3.93 3.65

A second-round pick from the 2011 amateur draft, Mazzoni reached double-A in his first full season. The right-hander was durable in ’12 with 144 combined innings between high-A and double-A. His stuff has improved in recent years and he can now hit the 93-95 mph range with his heater. He has a very good slider but he lacks a reliable third pitch (a splitter).

Mazzoni, 23, has above-average control but is still learning to consistently command his three-pitch repertoire. I’d also like to see him stay on top of the ball better and induce more ground-ball outs. A contact I spoke with said Mazzoni is a strike-thrower who is very aggressive in the zone, but threw perhaps too many strikes in double-A. He could develop into a solid No. 3 or 4 starter if he can round out his repertoire. If not, he could end up in the bullpen.

#13 Jacob Degrom (P)

24 19 19 111.1 90 4 7.76 1.62 2.43 2.54

DeGrom, 24, was drafted in 2010 but pitched only 26 innings prior to 2012 thanks to Tommy John surgery. The right-hander recovered well and flashes a 93-96 mph fastball. His secondary stuff has been stunted by his time off but his slider shows potential. His changeup needs a fair bit of work.

DeGrom has above-average control and a strong start to the 2013 season could help him reach double-A in the coming year, if he can get off to a fast start when he returns to high-A ball. He has a solid pitcher’s frame and, if he can put his injury history behind him, DeGrom could develop into a No. 3 or 4 starter. If his changeup doesn’t come along as hoped, though, he could find himself in the back-end of the bullpen.

#14 Kevin Plawecki (C/DH)

21 252 54 8 7 25 24 0 .250 .345 .384 .349

Plawecki’s well-rounded game helped him go 35th overall to the Mets in the 2012 amateur draft. He has a solid offensive approach and should hit for a good average because he makes above-average contact; he actually walked more than he struck out during his debut in the New York Penn League. The Purdue alum has flashed some power and could develop average or better power.

Behind the plate, Plawecki is a solid receiver and calls an OK game. He doesn’t have the strongest arm but he does a nice job of throwing out base runners (32% in his debut) due to solid mechanics. The Indiana native could skip over low-A ball and open his first full season in high-A. He could develop into the Mets’ starting catcher of the future.

Additional Notes

Plawecki was far too advanced for short-season ball. He has an excellent approach but it’s a contact orientated swing which doesn’t get his lower half involved. Because he’s a catcher he doesn’t need to be a slugger to carve out a major league career, but at best I see him as a second division starter. (JD Sussman)

#15 Jack Leathersich (P)

21 38 0 72.0 52 3 14.13 4.00 3.00 2.35

One of my favorite under-the-radar prospects in the system, Leathersich reached high-A ball in his first full pro season. He’s been dominant since turning pro with 139 strikeouts in 84.2 innings of work. His ERA in high-A was a little high but he allowed almost one-third of his runs in two of his 26 outings. Leathersich’s fastball works in the 90-94 mph range and he has an above-average curveball. His changeup is below average.

Leathersich, 22, is a southpaw that can hold his own against right-handed hitters because of his deception and the movement on his heater. He has a chance to be a solid seventh- or eighth-inning reliever. He should open 2013 in double-A and could reach the majors by the end of the season if he continues to hold his own against right-handed hitters.

Domonic Brown Good News/Bad News.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Everybody’s aware that, by and large, spring-training results are meaningless. Not everybody always acts like it, but everybody gets it, on some level. The stats don’t really matter, and the wins and losses don’t really matter. But spring training can still serve some purposes, for us as fans. As we discussed yesterday, spring training can generate highlights as good or almost as good as the highlights generated during the regular season. That is, of plays in isolation, separated from context. And there’s also some analysis that can be done, if done carefully. Previously, Michael Saunders never demonstrated any ability to hit to the opposite field or cover the outer half of the plate. Between 2011 and 2012, he re-worked his swing, and in spring 2012, he covered the other half of the plate. It was promising, and, sure enough, Saunders had a breakthrough season. Spring training isn’t entirely devoid of substance.

Which brings us to the matter of Domonic Brown, on Tuesday, February 26. On this Tuesday, Brown generated a highlight, and he also did something maybe worth talking about for analytical purposes. Behold, what Domonic Brown did to a thrown pitch by a member of the Yankees organization:

That is a big home run, and in the Phillies’ dugout, you can see the coaches acknowledge that it was a big home run. Brown, in a way, is fighting for a job, as he’s not being guaranteed a regular gig in a Philadelphia corner. Somewhat inexplicably, he’ll face competition from Delmon Young, but Brown is a young player who used to be a tippy-top prospect so he’s got a lot of the fans on his side. Phillies fans will be encouraged to see anything and everything that Brown does well on a playing field. They’re all waiting for Brown to take the next step, and so maybe this is a sign. Let’s get into the good news and the bad news.

Good news
Domonic Brown hit a home run. What’s more, he hit a home run to center field. What’s more, he hit a home run over the batter’s eye in center field. The fence is measured at 401 feet away from home plate. The batter’s eye is something like 25 feet tall, give or take a little bit. That’s a mammoth home run, captured by this screengrab:

That’s a home run you can’t really fake. You’re either capable of clearing the batter’s eye in dead center field, or you’re not. Brown cleared it, which is a wonderful sign after a few years of people wondering about his power. Used to be that Brown was supposed to develop into a guy who could hit for power and average. He’s the owner of a dozen big-league home runs, but this is the sort of strength that can get you re-noticed and re-evaluated. Brown’s goal in camp — the best he can do — is to be impressive. It’s impressive to hit ordinary dingers, but it’s extra impressive to hit extraordinary dingers, and so this could be a good sign with regard to where Domonic Brown is as a player at the present day.

Bad news
After the home run, the broadcasters acknowledge that the wind has been swirling, and of course strong winds can do funny things to fly balls. There’s no question that Brown hit the ball solidly, but maybe it carried for reasons other than its own velocity and spin; maybe the wind allowed the ball to sail to an area to which it wouldn’t have sailed were it not for the wind. Though Domonic Brown cleared the dead-center batter’s eye, maybe it wasn’t just Domonic Brown who did it. Maybe the ESPN Home Run Tracker would make this home run out to be an awful lot more modest.

Good news
Observe the American flag during the baseball’s flight:

Sure enough, the wind was blowing, but the wind wasn’t blowing out. It was blowing to the right, and it wasn’t the horizontal angle that made Brown’s moonshot a moonshot. Can we eliminate the wind as a variable? No, we cannot, but we have reason to believe this was pretty much all about Brown’s strength.

Bad news
The pitcher on the mound for the Yankees wears number 95. Good players in spring training don’t wear number 95, and our hero in question is one Zach Nuding. Nuding hasn’t pitched above single-A, and a few years ago he was a 30th-round draft pick. He’s not a top prospect and he hasn’t missed bats. This is one of the problems with spring-training performance analysis — the things that happen in the later innings often don’t happen against big-league baseball players. Who cares what Brown can do against a single-A starting pitcher? Brown isn’t being held back by his inability to hit single-A pitchers. You don’t see a lot of single-A pitchers in the major leagues.

Good news
So what about the identity of the pitcher? That matters, generally, but specifically, what matters is the quality of the pitch. An unfamiliar or lesser talented pitcher will just throw good pitches less often than a good pitcher, but it’s not like a single-A pitcher can’t throw good pitches. Nuding is a big guy and his fastball gets into the mid-90s. It was a Nuding fastball that Brown hit out. Maybe the pitch wasn’t bad. Maybe it was a big-league-caliber pitch thrown by a non-big-league-caliber pitcher. Additionally, it was a home run with two strikes, which is impressive. But, yeah, maybe the pitch was fine, and Brown applied a better swing.

Bad news

Two batters later, Nuding allowed a double to Cody Asche. One batter later, Nuding allowed a homer to Tommy Joseph. It wasn’t a great inning for Zach Nuding, because Zach Nuding isn’t great. Brown destroyed a fastball in just about the very center of the zone. That’s right where Brown would’ve wanted it.

Our conclusion is that Domonic Brown did a good thing, made somewhat less impressive by the identity of the opposition at the time. But still, for anyone wondering about Brown’s power, it’s still in there, which he proved on Tuesday. Charlie Manuel spoke highly of him after the game, and if these are the early signs of Brown turning the corner, then Phillies fans could be in for something special, and for a lot less Delmon Young than they’ve feared. It’s way too early to say that Domonic Brown is going to take a leap forward, but it’s not too early to talk about it. A home run like this has a way of getting people talking.

Where ZIPS and Steamer Disagree.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
With the ZIPS projections now loaded onto the site and the player pages, I thought it’d be fun to take a look at a few examples where ZIPS and Steamer — probably my two preferred projection systems at the moment — differ this year, and whether there’s anything in particular we can learn from those differences.

First, I wanted to whittle down the population of players that I was dealing with. While I appreciate Steamer’s pluckiness, 4,136 projections for position players might be a little bit of overkill. I, for one, am not overly concerned with how Jeyckol De Leon is going to perform this year. Maybe it’s just me.

ZIPS projects a slightly more sane number of position players — 1,046, to be exact — but even that is still a little unwieldy, as a good chunk of those guys are sub-replacement level minor leaguers who aren’t going to see the Majors this year. By and large, we care mostly about the projections for players who are going to see substantial regular playing time in the big leagues this year, or at least, I do. Carson can care about all the fringe prospects he wants; I’ll leave that to him.

So, in order to get a list of projections for guys we care about, I excluded players who had never been in the majors or were projected to be below replacement level, leaving us with 601 Major League position players. That was still a little unwieldy, though, so I took the top 180 players by the average WAR of the two systems, which gave us a good selection of players that are projected to be league average or better by one of the two systems.

From there, it was a pretty simple sorting task to find some big differences, but many of them are driven by assumptions about playing time rather than big gaps in the actual projections. For instance, ZIPS lists Brett Jackson as a +2.5 WAR player, while Steamer comes in at just +0.9, which seems like a huge difference of opinion until you realize that the ZIPS number is based on 626 PA and the Steamer number is based on 274 PA. Rescale them both to 600 PA, and the gap is just 2.4/2.0, showing that the two systems are essentially in agreement on Jackson’s overall profile for 2013.

Since I care more about the differences in the projected performances than in the playing time gaps, we’ll focus on the big discrepancies in projections per 600 plate appearances (or 450 PA for catchers). Putting things on the same playing time scale will inflate the numbers of part-time players and injured guys while depressing the numbers of durable iron men, but we’ve already gotten rid of most of the part-time guys with our filtering, so that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make. Oh, and thankfully, the two systems were already on almost identical scales for these players, so there was no need to make any adjustments to the numbers as we did with the Fans projections last week.

Long introduction finished… on to the differences. We’ll start with the 14 players where Steamer projects at least +1 additional WAR per full season (600 PA non-catchers, 450 PA catchers):

Name ZIPS WAR ZIPS WAR/600 Steamer WAR Steamer WAR/600 Difference
Justin Upton 3.3 3.0 5.1 4.7 1.7
Pablo Sandoval 3.4 3.7 4.5 5.0 1.3
Daniel Murphy 1.0 1.3 2.6 2.5 1.2
Wilin Rosario 2.6 2.5 3.5 3.7 1.1
David DeJesus 1.4 1.7 2.6 2.7 1.1
Michael Young 1.3 1.3 2.2 2.3 1.1
Paul Goldschmidt 2.5 2.3 3.3 3.3 1.0
Nick Swisher 2.4 2.4 3.5 3.4 1.0
Alex Avila 3.1 3.0 3.5 3.9 1.0
Allen Craig 1.9 2.3 3.0 3.3 1.0
Lorenzo Cain 1.5 1.9 2.3 2.9 1.0
David Wright 3.8 3.7 5.1 4.7 1.0
Jesus Montero 1.9 1.4 2.6 2.4 1.0

While it was pretty easy to spot patterns with the differences between the fans and Steamer, this is a pretty interesting variety of player types. There’s no regular in baseball that Steamer likes more relative to ZIPS than Justin Upton, as Steamer is projecting a .374 wOBA while ZIPS comes in at just .342. Steamer projects six more doubles, six more home runs, and 22 fewer strikeouts in nearly equal numbers of playing time, so this simply comes down to a difference in opinion on how well Upton’s performance will translate outside of Arizona.

The three guys behind Upton are all in their mid-20s and theoretically headed towards their primes, so if you stopped after the top four, you might assume that Steamer is more optimistic about young players improving than ZIPS is. However, you’ll see shortly that we can reject that hypothesis pretty easily, and after all, these four are followed by the likes of David DeJesus (33), Michael Young (36), and Nick Swisher (32), so there doesn’t appear to be an obvious biased towards a particular age range here.

If you squint, you can kind of see a pattern towards favoring guys who hit for power, but you have to ignore Cain, Murphy, DeJesus, and Young in order to see that pattern really stick. In reality, it seems like this is just a pretty big potpourri of player types, and Steamer has differing reasons for preferring them. With all the variables that go into projections — aging curves, park effects, differing amounts of regression on certain numbers — it’s natural that there are going to be places where two well constructed models diverge. The fact that we can’t easily identify a common reason for the difference might actually be considered a good thing.

Let’s move on and look at the players that ZIPS likes more than Steamer. Again, we’re looking at players where’s at least a +1 WAR difference per 600 PA (or 450 PA for catchers).

Name ZIPS WAR ZIPS WAR/600 Steamer WAR Steamer WAR/600 Difference
Jurickson Profar 3.7 3.6 0.7 1.2 2.4
Bryce Harper 4.7 4.4 3.0 2.7 1.7
Craig Gentry 2.5 4.5 1.1 2.8 1.7
David Ortiz 3.1 4.4 2.4 2.9 1.6
Giancarlo Stanton 6.4 6.7 5.6 5.5 1.3
Mike Olt 2.9 3.6 0.7 2.5 1.1
Brett Lawrie 4.5 4.7 3.4 3.7 1.0
Torii Hunter 2.8 3.0 1.8 2.0 1.0

And here’s why we can discard the notion that Steamer likes young players more than ZIPS. Of the eight players where ZIPS is more bullish, two of them are 20-year-olds, two others are 23-year-olds, and there’s a 24-year-old. And then there’s two 37-year-olds, just for fun. So, ZIPS likes both the very young and the very old more than Steamer. Or, at least, a couple of very young and a couple of very old players. With just 22 players where there’s a gap of +1 WAR per full season, we can’t really draw any hugely firm conclusions about the differences.

I do think it’s interesting that ZIPS goes along with the fans optimism about Harper and Profar, however. We noted that the fans were far more optimistic than Steamer in regards to players with very short Major League track records, but ZIPS is actually quite a bit more bullish on these two as well. To see if this was a persistent pattern, I went and looked at the projections for players who had never played an MLB game, and ZIPS was consistently higher for most of them as well. There are 15 minor leaguers that ZIPS projects out to +2 WAR/600 or better for 2013, and ZIPS is higher on every single one of those 15 than Steamer is.

So, between ZIPS, Steamer, and the Fans, it seems like Steamer is at the low end on prospects and very young players, ZIPS rests in the middle, and the Fans are at the high end.

Of course, none of that explains why ZIPS is also higher on David Ortiz and Torii Hunter than Steamer, but it could be that Dan Szymborski is using a flatter aging curve than the guys calculating Steamer are. That’s just a wild guess based on two data points, though, so don’t take that guess seriously. As with before, it’s informational to know where the two systems differ, but don’t draw any conclusions about whether one is more right than the other based on these examples.

Many tests have shown that combining multiple projections is better than simply relying on one system anyway, so that methodology will smooth many of these gaps. If one good projection system thinks Upton is a +3 win player and another thinks he’s a +5 win player, then I’d be just fine assuming that he’s actually a +4 win player. The truth often lies in the middle ground. I suspect we might find that these players end up not too far from the number between their ZIPS and Steamer projections for 2013.

A-Rod’s Cousin Is Selling Replica World Series Ring. So What?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spring training games are underway. The hot stove stories that kept us going all winter have been replaced by stories about non-roster invitees trying to make a major-league roster, behind-the-scenes looks at what your favorite player did over the winter, and columns drawing conclusions about spring statistics. And Alex Rodriguez stories. There are always A-Rod stories.

So it was on Sunday when several outlets reported that A-Rod’s cousin was selling Rodriguez’s 2009 World Series ring. And not just any cousin, but Yuri Sucart, the person A-Rod fingered as the person who convinced him to take steroids while he played for the Texas Rangers. Sucart was later banned from MLB clubhouses but his name recently resurfaced in news reports about Biogenesis, the Miami anti-aging clinic that purportedly supplied PEDs to A-Rod and others.

A-Rod. Traitor. Biogenesis. PEDs. Greedy cousin. Perfect storm.

It turns out that the ring for sale is a replica of the one A-Rod received from the Yankees after the 2009 World Championship run. According to this article, A-Rod had replica rings made for friends and family. But the auction house selling the ring for Sucart claims it’s not just any replica, but an identical duplicate of the ring A-Rod received:

After winning the World Series, Alex requested the Yankees issue him an additional ring, so he could give it to a close family member who had supported him throughout his life and career. The Yankees obliged this request, understanding how significant an event finally winning a World Series was to him. An additional ‘player’s ring’ was issued to Alex (exact same ring as Alex and all other Yankees players received) and we offer that ring here. It comes with a notarized LOA from the recipient, Alex’s cousin Yuri Sucrat [sic] (a name that should be well known by most Yankees fans). It also comes with copies of his driver’s license and Dominican passport as proof that the ring originated from Alex Rodriguez.

Bids started at $5,000. As of this writing, there were ten bids, pushing the price up to $33,657. The auction ends on April 5th.

If the auction house description is accurate, the interesting story here is that A-Rod asked the Yankees to have a duplicate ring made for a “close family member who had supported him throughout his life and career,” that the close family friend was Sucart, and that the Yankees obliged. It’s unclear whether A-Rod paid for the duplicate or the Yankees did, but either way, for purposes of the Biogenesis investigation, it may be significant that A-Rod remained close with Sucrat after the cousin was banned by MLB, and at least through the end of 2009.

The less interesting story is that a Yankees World Series ring is for sale. I suppose it would be noteworthy if A-Rod were selling his only World Series ring, given the nature of his relationship with the Yankees now (active but strained) and the apparent balance in his bank account (large). But it’s not like it’s the only World Series ring currently for sale. In January, Yahoo! Sports reported on a 2005 White Sox World Series ring for sale on eBay for $24,999. On Monday, eBay was listing four World Series rings for sale: a 2007 Red Sox ring starting at $35,999; a 1983 Orioles ring starting at $10,500; a 1998 Padres ring starting at $5,995; and a 2009 Yankees ring, starting at $29,995. It appears this 2009 Yankees ring is different than the one Sucrat is selling.

Beyond eBay, you can find additional World Series rings for sale all over the web. Here’s a 2010 Giants ring for sale for $14,995 on The same site lists two 1999 Yankees “Dynasty” rings owned by players, one for $24,995 and one for “call for price.” Rings commemorating World Series or Championship Series victories by the Mets, Cardinals, Red Sox, Braves, Orioles, Marlins, Padres, Indians, A’s, Dodgers, Tigers, Phillies and Reds are also for sale.

As fans, we feel emotionally attached to our favorite team. We collect autographs and bobbleheads and set up special displays to hold all of our treasured memorabilia. When our favorite team wins the pennant or the World Series, the emotional attachment becomes stronger and deeper. For many fans, it’s inconceivable that a player would sell his World Series ring, even after he’s retired.

There are exceptions, of course. Several well-known players who found themselves in difficult financial situations sold their World Series rings recently. The most notable ones are Jose Canseco and Lenny Dykstra and there was no hue and cry.

The same is true for long-retired players and managers. Former Yankees shortstop Phil Rizzuto sold his 1953 and 1996 World Series rings in 2006, along with a thousand other baseball-related items. Rizzuto was 88 at the time; he and his wife wanted to move to a smaller house. His daughter Patricia described the sale as an effort to “thank his fans for the loyalty they’ve shown him” while Rizzuto was still alive. He died in 2007.

Former Orioles manager Earl Weaver sold his 1966 World Series ring in 2011, along with other baseball keepsakes, so as to avoid intra-family squabbles over the items. Weaver told the Associated Press at the time, “I have four children. They have children, and their children have children. I don’t know how to divide whatever memorabilia there is among them.” He decided passing cash onto the next generations was simpler. Weaver died earlier this year.

But an active player selling his ring? Betrayal! A retired player who doesn’t need the cash? How dare he! But isn’t that fans imposing their passion, their emotion, their team connection on the players? We think we know how players feel about the team and the fans, but we don’t. We don’t know what happened in the clubhouse. We don’t know the ins and outs of the players’ relationships. We don’t know the sacrifices that were made to win those championships and whether that left some players with less than happy memories.

The World Series flags that fly high above the ballpark — those are for the franchise and for the fans. The rings are for the players, coaches and staff. And how they choose to treasure those rings — or not — is for them to decide. For the fans, flags fly forever.

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I mentioned this last year, but Vin Scully is amazing. I'll be watching the Dodgers a lot, specifically to hear Scully.

I was watching the first bit of the Angels/Dodgers game last night and he really makes you connect with players with how he tells their story. I'm so glad he came back.
post #9925 of 73468
Thread Starter 
Kyle Lohse and Other Pillow Contract Players.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Players choose the services of Scott Boras for a simple reason. The simplest reason, even: he gets money.

But not even Boras can truly command the invisible hand of the market. See Kyle Lohse. Despite many seeing him as one of the best pitchers available in this year’s free agent class, Lohse remains unsigned into march — a far cry from the four-year, $40 million deal or higher many saw him attaining.

Of course, for all of Boras’s success, Lohse isn’t his first high-profile client whose market has dropped out from under him. The safe play given the age of most of these players (over 30) and MLB’s guaranteed contract system would be to take a multi-year contract at a depressed average annual value. Quite often, however, Boras has eschewed the long term deal for the “pillow contract,” a one-year contract so-called because it lets the player land softly from their bottomed-out market and get up and try again next season.

Let’s take a look at some examples.

Pillow Contract Players
Edwin Jackson

The Lohse-Jackson comparison can be educational in two ways. First, Jackson and Lohse were considered to be on a somewhat similar level entering free agency this season. Jackson looked better from a fielding independent perspective, but Lohse’s RA and ERA over the past two seasons were the best of the free agent class (meaning better than Zack Greinke and Brandon McCarthy), and one figured that distinction would be worth something.

Instead, Lohse is getting the treatment Jackson received after the 2011 season. The five-year, $50 million contract Jackson was looking for never materialized, and instead of taking a three-year deal worth around $30 million from Pittsburgh, Jackson took the pillow contract at $11 million with Washington. The situation is a bit different for Jackson — he was 28 at the time of the deal, whereas Lohse is already 34 — but it worked out and more, as he earned a four-year, $52 million contract with the Cubs this offseason. Jackson dropped Boras before signing the contract, but the pillow contract strategy still worked for the player.

Adrian Beltre

The pillow contract Beltre took after his disappointing (at least with the bat) stint in Seattle was brilliant: a one-year, $9 million deal with a $5 million player option. Essentially, it was a $14 million deal for Beltre, where he could forfeit the option for the clearly better prospects if he played well. He parlayed a .321/.365/.553 year in Boston into a five-year, $80 million contract with Texas — the best illustration of the pillow contract going right.

Ryan Madson

Madson reportedly had a four-year, $44 million contract in place with the Phillies last offseason. It fell apart, and with few teams looking for a closer that offseason, Madson was left with a one-year, $8.5 million deal with Cincinnati. Madson didn’t even pitch in 2012 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and now it appears he won’t be ready for opening day 2013 with Anaheim. The Angels paid just $3.25 million for the 32-year-old Madson despite the righty racking up over 1.0 WAR each year from 2008-2011 using either FIP or runs allowed.

Here’s one of the obvious perils Lohse faces with a pillow contract — at 34, injury risk becomes much more real than for a 28-year-old Edwin Jackson, for example. Lohse spent 84 days on the DL in 2010 after undergoing surgery for compartment syndrome in his shoulder and spent 54 days on the DL in 2009 between a groin strain and a forearm strain; he pitched under 120 innings in both seasons.

Francisco Rodriguez

Rodriguez made the somewhat surprising decision to accept arbitration from Milwaukee after the 2011 season. The decision earned him $8 million from the Brewers, but K-Rod had his worst season since breaking through in 2002. The 30-year-old (remarkably; remember, he was only 20 when he debuted in Anaheim) allowed a 4.38 ERA (111 ERA-) and 3.83 FIP (98 FIP-). Combine last year’s incompetency with his clubhouse and off-the-field issues, and it should be no surprise Rodriguez remains a free agent this season. Could he have gotten a two-year, $10-12 million contract had he tested the waters? Impossible to say for sure, but looking at the contracts relievers have picked up over the past two years, it seems like a distinct possibility — he posted a 71 ERA- and 72 FIP- in 2011 between the Brewers and Mets, a very solid year.

Eric Gagne

Gagne was another failed Brewer reliever. Milwaukee signed him to a one-year, $10 million dollar deal for a comeback attempt in 2008, but “Game Over” ended up referring to the wrong squad. Gagne blew seven saves against 10 conversions and seven holds as he finished with a brutal 5.44 ERA (128 ERA-) and 6.13 FIP (144 FIP-); he served up 11 home runs in just 50 innings. The Brewers threw another $1.5 million at him in 2009, but he never pitched in the majors again.

Kevin Millwood

The free agent landscape was a bit different in the mid-2000s, but Millwood arguably signed two pillow contracts. In 2003, he posted a 4.01 ERA (96 ERA-) in 35 starts. in 2004, he accepted arbitration from the Phillies after failing to find a long-term suitor, resulting in a one-year, $11 million deal. The gamble failed, as he dropped off in 2004 — he recorded a 4.85 ERA (110 ERA-) despite a 3.80 FIP (86 FIP-), and he was limited to 25 starts by a sprained right elbow.

He got a second chance with a one-year, $7 million contract from Cleveland the next season, and he capitalized in a big way. His 3.73 FIP was actually worse given the park (88 FIP-) but he posted a tremendous 2.86 ERA (67 ERA-), his second-best season behind his breakout 1999 campaign, when he posted a 2.68 ERA (59 ERA-) in 228 innings. The Rangers gave him a five-year, $60 million contract prior to the 2006 season — a deal in which Millwood essentially provided market value on non-playoff teams.

The results here were mixed — the two reliever pillow contracts failed, and I would argue Millwood’s first attempt failed as well. Millwood’s second attempt as well as Jackson and Beltre saw the pillow contract work to perfection — between the pillow contract itself and the subsequent attempt, the players pulled in much more than they would have earned with a long-term contract the first year and perhaps more even than what they initially hoped for.

This mixed nature, in my opinion, is unsurprising. This strategy is specifically enticing to players of their nature — and of Lohse’s nature — because they offer wildly varying ceilings and floors. Jackson has always been viewed as a risky talent. Beltre was excellent as a younger player but his bat failed to show up in Seattle. Rodriguez and Gagne were dominant closers at one point but slipped in their late 20s. Millwood was an injury risk.

Lohse fits in perfectly with this group. His track record the past two seasons is fantastic, but he was terrible and injured in 2009 and 2010. At 34, there are questions about decline and further injury.

For Boras Corporation, the pillow contract seems like an obvious strategy — they have a large enough portfolio of clients to handle the risk of busting and the payoff for success is large. I would imagine the decision is tougher for the player. How confident are they in their ability to stay healthy? Have they kept their finances in order? Much of the decision likely comes down to the individual situation. But Lohse’s maximum long-term payday is likely dropping as the calendar crawls towards opening day, especially given the restrictive qualifying offer hounding him. Given the success of other starting pitchers employing the pillow contract strategy under Boras, my expectation is he eventually finds a one-year deal and attempts to try the market again next year.

Cleveland Indians Top 15 Prospects (2012-13).
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Indians system doesn’t have a ton of depth but both Francisco Lindor and Trevor Bauer offer high ceilings. The club also has some really intriguing sleepers such as Danny Salazar and Anthony Santander. The organization has done an outstanding job of finding value in the Latin market.

#1 Francisco Lindor (SS)

18 567 126 24 6 61 78 28 .257 .352 .355 .328

Lindor is one of the more well-rounded offensive prospects in the game. He has plus makeup, which helps his tools play up. He’s a four-tool player whose only questionable tool is his power, which will likely top out around 15 in a full year. The switch-hitter also walked almost as much as he struck out in 2012. When I asked a contact to tell me what Lindor does well at the plate, he mentioned the prospect’s consistent middle-of-the-field approach from both sides of the plate.

“He has above averaged bat-to-ball ability, strike zone awareness and developing discipline,” the contact added. Lindor, 19, handles breaking balls extremely well for a young player and his willingness to use the whole field and ability to make consistent contact both suggest he’ll eventually hit for a very good batting average.

Lindor has average speed — if not a tad better — and his defense is outstanding, thanks to his range, arm, hands and instincts. I asked another talent evaluator to contact on the young shortstop’s defense. “His glove is very special. He has instincts and natural abilities that can’t be taught. He has Omar-Vizquel-type abilities with the glove. He has plus arm strength to make any play from shortstop,” the talent evalutaor said. “He just has to continue to learn the pace of the game and his pre-pitch positioning but he really doesn’t have any true weakness in the field.”

After a respectable season in low-A ball, the Puerto Rico native will move up to high-A ball and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him break out and reach double-A in the second half of the year. He has the potential to develop into a corner-stone-type player.

#2 Trevor Bauer (P)

21 4 4 16.1 9.37 7.16 45.5 % 6.06 5.18 0.0

Unlike Francisco Lindor and his plus make-up, Bauer finds himself in a Cleveland Indians uniform because of questions surrounding his maturity. Traded in a three-player deal between Cleveland, Arizona and Cincinnati, the former first round draft pick (third overall in 2011) will look to realize his immense potential with a fresh start. Cleveland could end up with a real steal if he realizes his true value.

Bauer’s repertoire includes a mid-90s fastball and plus curveball. He also mixes in a slider, splitter and changeup. He needs to learn that there are benefits to working in the lower half of the strike zone. Both his command and control need polish. Bauer, 22, reached the majors in his first full season, but he should open 2013 back in triple-A. He could be one of the first players recalled in the event of an injury. With some polish and added maturity, Bauer has the ceiling of a No. 2 starter.

#3 Dorssys Paulino (SS)

17 250 77 19 7 18 45 11 .333 .380 .558 .419

As if Francisco Lindor wasn’t enough, Cleveland also boasts a second high-ceiling shortstop prospect. Just 18 and a step behind his fellow shortstop prospect, Paulino hit extremely well in short-season ball in 2012 and likely earned an assignment to full-season ball for the coming season.

Paulino has a quick batting stroke and a good eye, both of which help him hit for average despite his inexperience. He even outstanding gap power that could eventually develop into some over-the-fence pop. A contact I spoke to referred to the prospect’s offensive approach as, “an aggressive power threat with a natural swing and gap-to-gap approach.”

In the field, Paulino is inconsistent but he has athleticism, a solid arm and good range. He still has a number of rough edges that need to be sanded down and he makes youthful mistakes but I like his potential at the position. With Lindor in the system, though, shortstop is probably not a legitimate option for the Dominican Republic native.

#4 Tyler Naquin (OF)

21 161 37 11 0 17 26 4 .270 .379 .380 .366

Naquin was one of the best pure hitters available in the 2012 amateur draft. He uses the whole field and does possess some good gap power. There are some tweaks that could be made to his hitting mechanics, though, that could help him generate more pop. He has good speed although stealing bases has not been a huge part of his game (outside of his junior year of college).

I asked a contact what attracted the organization to him as a first round draft pick. “His plus hit-ability and advance feel to barrel the baseball,” he said. “Plus arm strength. Plus runner. [Naquin is] a baseball player with an instinctual feel for the game. He has tools to profile as an everyday center field.”

I asked the contact to expand upon his opinion of the outfield prospect’s defense because of questions about his ability to stick in center field. “His defense has been solid so far in pro ball. He grew up as a center-fielder and moved in college. His routes and jumps continued to improve during the summer and we see no reason why he can’t be at least an average center-fielder. We don’t have any concerns about him staying in center field.”

As mentioned above, Naquin, 22, has a very strong arm so a relocation to right field may not be such a bad thing if he can develop a little more over-the-fence pop. He’ll likely move up high-A ball to begin his first full pro season and, if all goes well, he could reach the majors in short order.

#5 Luigi Rodriguez (OF)

19 521 123 21 11 50 133 24 .266 .336 .404 .338

Rodriguez, 20, played in full-season ball in 2012 as a teenager and held his own. He struck out way too much for someone with modest power, but he should see his K-rate decrease with added experience. Rodriguez’s game is built around his plus speed, although he still needs to polish his running game.

In the field, he projects as an average-or-better center-fielder but he’s still learning the nuances of the position after turning pro as a middle infielder. Rodriguez will move up to high-A ball in 2013 and should spend the entire year at that level. He could develop into a solid big league regular with a MLB ETA of 2015.

#6 Mitch Brown (P)

18 8 8 27.2 20 3 8.46 3.25 3.58 3.81

One of my favorite prep pitchers from the 2012 amateur draft, Brown was selected by the Indians in the second round. He made eight starts in rookie ball after turning pro and showed off his polished approach on the mound. Brown, 18, has low-90s fastball that touches the mid-90s and he has a potentially plus-curveball and a cutter that could also be an above-average offering. His changeup has potential. Brown has an easy delivery that includes some deception, which helps his stuff play up.

He also has a chance to develop into an innings-eater thanks to his solid athleticism and strong build. A contact I spoke with said the propsect’s maturity should also help him succeed. “He is a really great person who is very advanced for his age. Has a chance to be a front of the rotation starter,” he said. “I think he just needs to continue to advance with his command of his fastball and gain consistency to his pitches.” A Minnesota native, it’s impressive that the cold-weather prospect is as advanced as he is at this point. He could open 2013 in low-A ball and has the ceiling of a No. 3 starter.

#7 Danny Salazar (P)

22 22 22 87.2 71 4 7.80 2.77 2.36 2.98

A major pop-up prospect in 2012, Salazar returned from Tommy John surgery with a vengeance. He can dial his four-seam fastball up into the upper-90s and has touched triple-digits. His slider has plus potential but the missed time has hindered its development. His third pitch is a changeup that is quite promising. Both his command and control show potential to be average or better.

Salazar’s durability remains in question and he’s managed to pitch more than 100 innings just once in six pro seasons. If he cannot hold up to a starter’s workload then he could make a dominating shut-down reliever capable of pitching in high-leverage situations. He should return to double-A to open the 2013 season but should see triple-A. If he holds up, Salazar has a chance to develop into a No. 2 starter thanks to his diverse repertoire.

#8 Ronny Rodriguez (SS)

20 553 136 23 19 21 105 13 .261 .295 .441 .327

A third talented shortstop in the system who’s actually a step ahead of Francisco Lindor (and two ahead of Dorssys Paulino), Rodriguez is a toolsy middle infielder with surprising power. Unfortunately, the rest of his game is quite raw and he’s overly aggressive at the plate, which led to just 18 walks in 454 at-bats in 2012. Rodriguez, 20, doesn’t steal a ton of bases but he has above-average speed, which helps him in the field.

He has above-average range and a strong arm but he makes a lot of youthful mistakes in the field. He probably won’t be able to hold off Lindor at shortstop so third base or second base could be his eventual home if he develops into an everyday player. It’s possible that his approach at the plate will force him into a long-term bench role. He’ll face a stiff challenge when he graduates from A-ball and moves up to double-A in 2013.

#9 Tony Wolters (2B/SS)

20 537 126 30 8 36 104 5 .260 .320 .404 .327

An above-slot signee as a 2010 third rounder, Wolters reached high-A ball in 2012 and showed some pop as an offensive-minded second baseman. He has a decent amount of gap power but he’s overly aggressive at the plate and needs to improve his two-strike approach. The left-handed hitter holds his own against southpaws.

In the field, Wolters shows a strong arm but lacks first-step quickness, which limits his range at shortstop and makes him a more promising second baseman. He could easily play shortstop in a back-up role, though. If he can’t trim the strikeouts, Wolters could end up as a utility player. A 2013 assignment to double-A will be a stiff challenge.

#10 Cody Allen (P)

23 27 0 29.0 8.38 4.66 38.6 % 3.72 3.68 0.2

A starter in college, Allen immediately took the bullpen when he turned pro and his fastball velocity jumped into the mid-to-upper 90s. He also flashes a potentially-plus curveball (at times referred to as a slider). His command definitely needs his polish and his control took a hit when he reached the majors.

The 23rd round draft pick from 2011 has already exceeded all expectations after playing at four different levels in 2012. The organization previously drafted Allen in 2010 and made a big push to sign him out of a Florida junior college but he committed to play for High Point in North Carolina in an effort to continue rebuilding his value after Tommy John surgery.

A contact I spoke to suggested moving out of a heavily-scouted area to a smaller school — along with his injury history — may have caused Allen to slip through the cracks. “I am surprised by the speed he has made it to the big leagues but not by his success. Our scouts have always liked his ability,” he explained.

Allen has the ceiling of a high-leverage reliever who could eventually lay claim to the Indians’ closer’s role. For now, though, he’ll likely settle in as an eighth-inning guy despite his relative inexperience. The contact I spoke with agreed that the young pitcher had potential as a high-leverage reliever “He has a 7* fastball now up to 96 and a plus power curveball. He is fearless and throws strikes. He comes right at hitters and isn’t afraid to challenge them.”

*The 20-80 scout scale is often simplified to 2-8.

#11 Jesus Aguilar (1B)

22 514 123 31 15 58 115 0 .280 .372 .461 .374

The Venezuelan first baseman has impressive raw power from the right side of the plate, even though he went deep just 15 times in 2012. He’s so strong that he doesn’t have to pull the ball to put it out of the park. Aguilar has hit for average throughout his pro career but he needs to get better against breaking balls and be quicker to the ball if he’s going to produce a good batting average at higher levels.

The first baseman’s value is tied solely to his bat. He’s a below-average runner and lacks range at first base. Aguilar does have decent arm strength and good hands. He’ll return to the double-A level to open the 2013 season but could move quickly — and possibly see time in the majors this year — if he finds early success.

#12 Jose Ramirez (2B)

19 326 102 15 3 25 26 17 .354 .404 .465 .395

The 20-year-old second baseman stands just 5’9” and will never produce power but he’s also has a .342 career average in his first two pro seasons. Ramirez does an outstanding job of making contact and above-average bat speed could allow him to rack up a solid number of doubles. I asked a contact what allows Ramirez to hit for a consistently high average and he stated, “Confidence in his hands, outstanding bat-to-ball ability and instincts for the game. He understands how a pitcher will attack him at a very early stage in his career.”

The switch-hitting Ramirez has plus speed but his base running is still somewhat raw and needs polish. He has the potential to develop into an above-average fielder with good actions, solid range and a decent arm. After a strong showing in low-A and a strong showing in the Dominican Winter League, Ramirez should move up to high-A ball in 2013 and could see double-A before the year is out. The talent evaluator I spoke with said his success against better competition in the DWL has shown that his lack of size will not be an issue as he moves up the ladder.

#13 Kieran Lovegrove (P)

17 8 7 21.0 28 1 7.71 3.86 6.00 3.53

Lovegrove is a highly-projectable hurler with a strong pitcher’s frame who needs some tweaks to his delivery to realize his full potential. If his command can improve, he has a chance to develop into a No. 3 starter. His repertoire includes an 87-93 mph fastball, a slider with plus potential and changeup that is a work in progress. Lovegrove, 18, struggled during his first taste of pro ball but was not overwhelmed.

A contact I spoke with said Lovegrove needs to continue to add strength to his frame, learn to repeat his delivery, and become more consistent with his control/command. “We like his delivery components, he just needs to get more consistent in repeating them, which should come with some added core strength gains,” he said. Lovegrove will open 2013 in extended spring training before an assignment to a short-season club in June. You have to dream on Lovegrove but he’s an intriguing talent.

#14 Scott Barnes (P)

24 16 0 19.0 7.58 3.32 36.4 % 4.26 3.67 0.1

Barnes doesn’t have the highest ceiling but he’s left-handed and continues to exceed expectations. Moved into the bullpen at triple-A in 2012, the southpaw made his MLB debut and held his own. The role fits him well because his delivery has some effort to it and his fastball plays up and works in the low-to-mid 90s. He also has a very good slider and throws an occasional changeup.

Barnes, 25, has a decent shot at breaking camp with the big league club with the ability to fill a number of roles, including loogy, long-man and spot starter. The contact I spoke to about Barnes, though, feels the rookie will thrive in the bullpen. ”His deceptive delivery will play up in shorter stints,” he explained.

#15 Anthony Santander (OF)

17 176 47 15 4 13 37 6 .305 .381 .494 .398

It’s not often that a Latin teenager makes his pro debut in North America and hits more than .300 but that’s just what Santander did in 2012. Despite his strong debut, the switch-hitter is still extremely raw — both as a hitter and a fielder. He flashes at least average power potential with the ability to hit for a strong batting average but he’s too aggressive at times.

Santander played mostly left field during his debut and he could develop into an average or better corner outfielder. If his power fails to develop, though, he’ll likely end up as a fourth outfielder with one plus tool (his hit tool). Santander could move up to low-A ball with a strong spring but he could probably benefit from another stint in extended spring training.

Umpires are Improving.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Fact: one of the most exciting areas of study right now is catcher defense, and catcher pitch-framing. A little bit of the shine is off, but we’re still making discoveries, and the whole thing is exciting because at last we’re able to put some numbers to something that’s long been suspected or known. Previously, we were left with guesswork and anecdotal evidence. Now we have an understanding of who’s good and who’s not good, and though it’s all still evolving, more and more people are aware of it, and more and more people are talking about it.

Yet conversations about pitch-framing are seldom just about pitch-framing. Practically every time it comes up, the conversation turns to whether or not this ought to be left to skill. Sure, some catchers receive better than others, and it can make a meaningful difference. But why should it be that way? Why can’t umpires just call consistent strike zones for everybody? Why can’t we just have automated, perfect strike zones, to even the playing field? And so on and so forth. It’s exciting that we’ve identified pitch-framing as a talent, but people are split on whether or not they want this talent to keep having an effect.

So, conversations about receivers often end up as complaints about umpires. Indeed, we can all recall instances in which blown calls were made that were all but inexcusable. I think most people agree that strikes should be strikes and balls should be balls, or else the integrity of the game is jeopardized. But for all the complaining people do about umpires, we have to acknowledge one fact: umpires are getting better. They’ve been getting better for at least a few years.

In terms of calling the strike zone, at least. I don’t know if they’re getting any better at bang-bang plays at bases or traps. Probably not? But calling the strike zone is a part of their job, too, and it’s the biggest part of their job, and the numbers say they’ve been making progress as a group.

I mentioned this briefly on Wednesday in talking about Justin Masterson, but I figured this is worthy of its own post. Occasional FG writer Matthew Carruth runs StatCorner, and on the player pages you can find measures of the rate of pitches in the zone called balls, and the rate of pitches out of the zone called strikes. Bad calls, basically. Check out what’s been happening to the league averages during the recent PITCHf/x era:

Starting Pitchers

Year zTkB% oTkS%
2007 22.0% 9.2%
2008 19.2% 8.2%
2009 17.4% 7.9%
2010 15.2% 8.1%
2011 15.2% 7.5%
2012 14.4% 7.4%

Relief Pitchers

Year zTkB% oTkS%
2007 23.5% 8.5%
2008 19.8% 7.7%
2009 17.9% 7.6%
2010 15.7% 7.5%
2011 15.9% 7.0%
2012 15.0% 6.9%

The column headers should be intuitive, since I already noted what they would be. Just a few years ago, one in five pitches in the strike zone was called a ball. Last year it was more like one in seven. There’s been steady progress in that department, and there’s also been steady, if slighter progress in pitches out of the zone getting called strikes. The trends exist for starters and relievers alike, which, yeah, why wouldn’t they? And they’re pretty hard to ignore.

What might be driving this? Any number of things. Maybe there’s something to the idea that catchers are getting better at receiving quality pitches, but then it’s curious that they wouldn’t be getting more balls called as strikes. As PITCHf/x has become available to us, it’s also been available to umpires and to their superiors. Umpires all try to get better, their superiors all want for them to get better, and maybe umpires have just become more aware of their previous flaws. Only in the past few years have they been able to be confronted by so much information. It wouldn’t be surprising for there to be a response. The more data there is, the better umpires can be evaluated, and the more umpires can grow. And maybe the more consistent umpires have been rewarded while the lousier ones have been worked with or penalized.

The StatCorner strike zone, naturally, isn’t perfect, but strike-zone imperfection or inconsistency isn’t going to explain away the trends above. I’d consider that not a major source of error, but a minor one.

Of course, we’re still looking at less than 90% of pitches in the strike zone getting called strikes. That’s not close to good enough by many people’s standards, and some people won’t accept even 1% mistakes. Umpires, without question, remain flawed when it comes to calling the zone, and they’ll never be perfect so long as they’re human, because humans are incapable of perfection at even the simplest tasks, and calling balls and strikes isn’t simple. Never having done it myself, it’s probably terrifying! Balls fly fast and pitchers annoyingly make them move around, as if the velocity didn’t make judgment tricky enough. The argument for an automated strike zone is always going to have reason to exist, until or unless an automated strike zone is implemented.

But so long as we have red-blooded humans crouching behind the catchers, everyone can agree that it’d be good for them to get better, and the numbers say they’ve been getting better. It’s something, at least. It’s not about either having problems or resolving problems; life isn’t that binary. Reducing the frequency of mistakes is progress, and better than the alternative.

Incidentally, the other day on Clubhouse Confidential, they were talking about rising strikeout rates, a trend of which many of you were probably already aware. There’s no question that there are a ton of factors at play, there, but one wonders if improving umpires might be a contributing variable. Five years ago, roughly one in five pitches in the strike zone was called a ball, and pitchers struck out 17.5% of batters. Last year, roughly one in seven pitches in the strike zone was called a ball, and pitchers struck out 19.8% of batters. It’s probably not not a factor, even if it isn’t a major one. But maybe it’s a major one, along with the other major ones.

Umpires: flawed. But, umpires: improving. As long as we’re going to have human umpires calling the strike zone, steady improvement seems like a welcome compromise.

Joba Wants to Start. Yankees Want it to Stop.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
When it comes to Joba Chamberlain and the Yankees, the phrase “star-crossed” comes to mind. On Wednesday, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News quoted Chamberlain saying that he still believed he could be a starting pitcher. Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman responded with snark: Girardi said, “I’d like to catch one more game, too,” and Cashman said, “We’re down an outfield bat… see if he can play center.”

The next day, Joel Sherman of the New York Post slammed Chamberlain, criticizing him for “his look-at-me side” and called him “a 5-year-old,” and “a physical red flag.” “It seems very unlikely Chamberlain will be re-signing with New York after the season,” writes Mike Axisa. “That makes me sad.” How did it come to this?

Joba Chamberlain grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, the son of unmarried parents who split up when he was an infant. His father’s family belongs to the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. Though he was born Justin Heath, as his mother battled drug addiction, his name was changed to Joba (a nickname his father liked) Chamberlain (his father’s last name). Joba was a good-not-great high school player at Lincoln Northeast High School. But he battled weight problems and after graduating high school he worked for the city’s maintenance department for a year.

From there, he went to University of Nebraska-Kearney, a Division II school in a town that takes its name from Fort Kearny, which you may remember as a stop on the Oregon Trail. Joba had an unsightly ERA that year, but began losing a lot of weight and gained velocity on his fastball, and the next year, he transferred to the flagship campus back home in Lincoln, where he took the team to the College World Series in 2005.

The Yankees drafted Joba Chamberlain with the 41st pick in the 2006 draft, a supplemental pick that they received from the Phillies after Tom Gordon departed as a free agent. They viewed him as a future ace, declaring him untouchable in trades along with two other prize pitching prospects, Phil Hughes (drafted in the first round in 2004) and Ian Kennedy (drafted ahead of Chamberlain in the first round in 2006). They refused to trade any of them for Johan Santana, or for Mark Teixeira. The reason, as Hank Steinbrenner said in 2007: “We’re going to have three No. 1’s three years from now.”

But while Chamberlain was a starter throughout college and the minor leagues, the Yankees saw their bullpen as a major weakness in 2007, and so they decided to call up Chamberlain as a starter reliever. In retrospect, that moment appears to have been a major inflection point in his entire career. Brian Cashman hates being blamed for the rash of injuries that Chamberlain has sustained since then, though. “People are so [bleeping] stupid,” he raged to Joel Sherman in June 2012:

We only brought him up to relieve to finish off the innings he was allowed to throw while trying to help [the major league team]. And we probably don’t make the playoffs in ’07 if we didn’t put him in the pen. But he wasn’t bounced back and forth. And the debate only began because instead of keeping him in the minors hidden as a starter, we tried to win in the majors.

Wanting to win in the majors is an admirable goal. But it doesn’t make sense here. Trading for Johan Santana would have helped them win, too, but they decided to hold onto Chamberlain because they believed that Chamberlain had more value to the team as a starter than they would have been able to get in a trade. If Cashman was willing to prioritize Chamberlain’s development as a starting pitcher over trading him for Johan Santana, why did he arrive at a different conclusion when it came to filling out the back end of the bullpen in August of 2007?

When the New York Post asked Joba in August 2007 how he felt about switching to the bullpen, he said, “Any way I can help is something I’m willing to try. It’s been fun my last couple of outings.” Of course, Chamberlain was an instant sensation in 2007. He gave up a single earned run in 24 innings, good for the highest ERA+ of all time for any pitcher season with at least 20 innings pitched. (I’m assuming it’s the lowest ERA- of all time, but I wasn’t able to check.) To protect his arm, Joe Torre obeyed the team’s “Joba Rules“: Joba got a day off for every inning he pitched.

After the 2007 relief stint, the Yankees remained outwardly determined to make Joba a starter, but they opened the 2008 season with him in the pen and did not shift him to starting duties until June ’08. He missed a month in August with a rotator cuff injury. According to ESPN’s Wallace Matthews, Cashman now says that injury “convinced the Yankees that Chamberlain was more suited for relief work than starting.” He spent the 2009 season in the rotation, remaining healthy but only pitching 157 1/3 innings in 31 starts as the Yankees tried to limit his innings by rarely allowing him to go deep into games. He came out of the bullpen for his last game of the season, and he has been a reliever ever since.

He also has had more injuries. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011, and while still in recovery for that, he had surgery for a ruptured appendix. Then, in the 2012 offseason, he suffered a gruesome ankle injury while playing on a trampoline with his son Karter, at which point the New York Daily News openly speculated that his “career may be over.” In all, he has pitched just 49 1/3 innings in the past two years.

The Yankees are clearly frustrated by his injuries; just as clearly, Joba has been, too. But the Yankees and general manager Brian Cashman are disingenuous in their reasoning. It is simply inaccurate for Cashman to claim that Joba “wasn’t bounced back and forth.” He was a starter in college and early 2007, then a reliever in late 2007 and early 2008, then a starter in late 2008 and 2009, then a reliever on his last game in 2009, as well as in 2010, 2011, and 2012.

If Cashman believed that Joba’s 2008 shoulder injury meant that he could not be a starter, then why did he make Joba a starter in 2009? If Cashman believed that Joba’s greatest value to the team was as a starter, then why did he pitch in the bullpen in both 2007 and 2008?

Frankly, I find it distasteful to blame Joba for his injuries — it strikes me as blaming the victim. (Though it is certainly fair to hold Chamberlain accountable for his actual infractions, such as his 2009 DUI.) It’s not like he wanted to have a ruptured appendix or to get Tommy John surgery. And even Joel Sherman acknowledges the Yankees’ possible culpability in all of this.

[Y]ou can have a pretty good argument the organization has harmed Chamberlain as much as he has hurt himself. Did they rush him too quickly to the majors and let a cult of personality set in? Did the Joba Rules bring about future injuries? There certainly are questions of Joba being misused and miscast…

Like Axisa says, Joba is almost certainly headed out of New York after this season, just as Jacoby Ellsbury is likely headed out of Boston. I’m sure the Yankees initially had the best of intentions. But they let short-term tactics take precedence over long-term strategy on multiple occasions. The Yankees started with a high-ceiling starter and turned him into a middle reliever. They may have had a good reason for doing so. But it is hard to defend the process.

Kev, if you're interested.

Job Listing: Indians Executive Development Fellow.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Title: Executive Development Fellow (EDF), Baseball Analytics

The Executive Development Fellow (EDF) for Baseball Analytics will be exposed to all facets of the Indians baseball operations during this intensive, structured 12-month immersion into the organization. The EDF will participate in a comprehensive orientation program, regular feedback meetings and a cross-functional mentorship program to facilitate enhanced organizational and career development.

The primary purpose for this EDF is to assist the Baseball Analytics department with compiling baseball-related data, performing statistical and sabermetric analysis, and developing reports and processes for baseball systems. This EDF’s duties include collecting and preparing baseball data for use in advanced statistical analysis and predictive models; assisting other analysts and staff on statistical research and/or technical projects; creating reports, charts, tables, graphics, and other documents to deliver information to front office staff in concise and readable formats; and working on other projects as assigned, consistent with departmental needs and the candidate’s skills.

The Baseball Analytics EDF will be responsible for the following:

• Data Collection: Compile, enter, document, and validate new sources of information (online and/or print) and transform them in a format suitable for integration with existing baseball systems.

• Research and Analysis: Extract, analyze and interpret large volumes of statistical and other baseball data, as determined by departmental priorities. Assist with statistical analysis under the direction of an analyst. Develop code, processes, procedures, and documentation necessary to properly understand and reproduce research results.

• Model Implementation: Develop models, conclusions, and recommendations. Work with technical and analytical staff to deploy newly developed models into production.

• Statistical Reports: Create new reports, charts, tables, graphics, and other tools to deliver statistics, model predictions, and other information to Baseball Operations staff in concise and readable formats.

• Sabermetrics: Monitor new articles and discussions in sabermetric communities for developments applicable to front office decision making.

• Ad-hoc requests: Assist Baseball Analytics Department in extracting information from databases as needed.

• Other: Undertake other projects as assigned to support entire baseball department.


• Undergraduate (or higher) background in Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Science, or Economics.

• Experience with a relational database such as Microsoft SQL Server, and proficiency in SQL query language.

• Experience with Microsoft Excel, including pivot tables, charting, and macros.

• Experience with R, S-PLUS, Matlab, SAS, STATA, SPSS, or another statistical analysis software package.

• Background in common statistical techniques, including regression analysis and data mining.

• Ability to effectively analyze and interpret large amounts of data.

• Strong knowledge of baseball, particularly in sabermetrics.

• Ability to develop and maintain successful working relationship with members of the Front Office

• Ability to work with multicultural populations and a commitment to fairness and equality.

• Ability to act according to the organizational values at all times

• Ability to walk and / or stand for entire shift.

• Ability to work extensive hours, evenings, and weekends required

• Frequent bending, stooping, reaching and lifting.

• Ability to lift and transport items up to 55 lbs.

• Reads, speaks and comprehends English effectively.

• Hazards may include, but are not limited to, slips, trips, falls and cuts.

Apply On-line

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MLB Future Power Rankings (15-1).
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
A year ago, ESPN Insider brought you the first edition of the MLB Future Power Rankings. We updated the rankings in August, and we're back to give you the first installment for 2013.

We've once again asked three of our top baseball analysts -- Jim Bowden, Keith Law and Buster Olney -- to rank all 30 teams in five different categories (see table) in an attempt to measure how well each team is set up for sustained success over the next five years.

MAJORS (full weight): Quality of current big league roster
MINORS (full weight): Quality and quantity of prospects in their farm system
FINANCE (2/3 weight): How much money do they have to spend?
MANAGEMENT (2/3 weight): Value and stability of ownership, front office and coaching staff
MOBILITY (1/3 weight): Do they have a lot of young, cheap players, or old, immovable guys?
For a full breakdown of the MLB Future Power Rankings methodology, click here.
The better your rank in a given category, the more points you get, and the average point scores from the three voters are available in the bar graphs accompanying each team's section, rounded to the nearest integer. We weighted the categories and then gave each team a score on a scale of 1 to 100, with the score representing a team's percentage of total possible points. (For a detailed breakdown of the methodology used for the Future Power Rankings, click here.)

With each team's ranking, you'll also get a take from Buster, Jim and Keith. Buster will give an overview of the franchise's future, Jim will explain the biggest dilemma currently facing the team and Keith highlights an intriguing aspect of their farm system.

Wednesday, we revealed teams ranked from 30 through 16. Now we give you the top 15.

So who's No. 1? Which team did our team of experts think is best equipped for success over the next half-decade? It's time to find out.

FPR: No. 30-16

St. Louis Cardinals

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
The Cardinals are sitting in that sweet spot where they have a strong big league club, an elite farm system and plenty of long-term payroll flexibility. This club has a knack for developing excellent role players, such as David Freese, Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter, which allows it to spend for free agents (such as Matt Holliday) when the need arises. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
As Albert Pujols knows, the Cardinals are not afraid to let a superstar walk as a free agent. Adam Wainwright is set to hit the market next winter, and the Cards must decide if they want to sign him to an inflated market deal now or let him test the market. -- Jim Bowden

The System
The Cardinals have the top farm system in baseball heading into 2013, featuring impact prospects up top, plenty of depth in position players and pitching and enough help close to the majors to push them ahead of the Twins, who have as much depth but most of it further away.(Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Texas Rangers

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
For the first time since we started doing the Future Power Rankings, the Rangers are not No. 1. While some may criticize them for allowing core players such as Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson and Mike Napoli to walk as free agents, they deserve credit for discipline and sticking to their philosophy of not overvaluing any one player. Even without Hamilton, this team will be competitive for years to come, though it might take a small step back in 2013. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
Elvis Andrus is a free agent after the 2014 season and the Rangers have interest in signing him long-term. However, their early discussions with agent Scott Boras have found the two parties so far apart that the Rangers may have to trade Andrus at some point before the 2014 season and hand shortstop over to Jurickson Profar, arguably the top prospect in the game. -- Jim Bowden

The System
They've got a few valuable, near-in guys in Profar, Mike Olt and the enigmatic Martin Perez, with righty Cody Buckel not too far behind. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Tampa Bay Rays

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
By trading James Shields to the Royals over the winter in order to acquire top prospect Wil Myers, the Rays may have taken a step back for 2013. However, they have plenty of cost-controlled talent to keep them relevant for a few years, and could get an influx of it if they decide to trade David Price before he hits free agency following the 2015 season. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
The Rays must figure out how to get out of their Tropicana Field lease earlier than the agreed-upon 2027. The Rays are willing to pay a fee to the city to get the right to shop other locations in Tampa, and they need to increase their revenue in order to re-sign all of the stars they produce. -- Jim Bowden

The System
They're good, because they have to be. Some setbacks among high-profile prospects this year, like Hak-Ju Lee's mechanical issues at the plate and a few players getting suspended for using weed or speed, were balanced out by the Shields trade, which netted two top-100 prospects and a former one, and strong full-season debuts by a few members of their 2011 draft class.(Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Washington Nationals

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
On paper, the Nats are the best team in baseball right now. And because of a core of young stars led by Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Gio Gonzalez, they are set up for years to come. One thing to watch: Both Strasburg and Harper are represented by Scott Boras, and he never allows his clients to sign extensions before free agency. These two could set some records if they hit free agency in their mid-20s. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
With Strasburg, Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren, the Nats love their rotation. However, they have little starting pitching depth in the organization, and they could be in serious trouble if an injury or two arises. -- Jim Bowden

The System
I love the Nationals' top five prospects, but after that, there's something of a cliff, although it's at least the result of two productive strategies: the trades for Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span, both of which made the major league club better, and the decision to bet their whole 2012 draft (pretty much) on Lucas Giolito, a No. 1 overall candidate who fell to No. 16 due to well-founded injury concerns.(Click here for more) -- Keith Law

New York Yankees

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
The Yankees' future is up in the air in a way it hasn't been for 20 years. Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda will all be free agents after the 2013 season, and it wouldn't be surprising if this is their last season in pinstripes. The Yankees are going to get under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold for 2014, which will allow them to start spending again. So don't expect them to be down for long (if at all). -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
Cano and Granderson are arguably the Yankees' two best position players, and both are free agents after this year. The Yankees need to figure out if they can (and want to) sign both of them. This was complicated by the broken arm Granderson suffered in spring training that will keep him out until May. -- Jim Bowden

The System
The Yankees' system is top-heavy, with several elite prospects but not a ton of depth, led by the group of position players who started in low Class A Charleston last year that could produce as many as three above-average or better regulars plus several other guys who'll have big league value. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Chicago Cubs

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
In Theo We Trust. This club is undergoing a teardown unseen this side of Houston, but they've rid themselves of pretty much every significant payroll obligation beyond 2014. It's been an encouraging rebuilding effort, though Matt Garza's injury woes will prevent them from extracting full value for him in a trade. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
They have made a lot of strides adding position-player talent to the organization, and now they must add arms. Most of their winter spending was on pitchers, but they don't have a future ace in the pipeline. -- Jim Bowden

The System
They've turned around substantially after trading Paul Maholm, spending lavishly on international free agents (when permitted) and drafting well in 2012, although most of what I like about this system is a good two years away. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Cincinnati Reds

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
This club is very well set up for the next couple of years, with Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, Mat Latos and Jay Bruce all signed at least through 2014. They are close to surpassing the $100 million mark in payroll for the first time in club history, but as the $225 million deal they gave Votto suggests, they will spend when they need to. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
As Buster said, they are set up well for the next couple of years. Dusty Baker has done a great job there, but he is well into his 60s and is only signed through 2014. The Reds will need to decide if they want to groom a replacement or make a splash with someone from outside the organization. -- Jim Bowden

The System
Billy Hamilton's conversion to center field after he broke the minor league single-season stolen-base record was their big story of 2012, putting him on track to potentially reach the majors this year, especially since the team has no real center fielder on the roster. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Los Angeles Dodgers

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
The Dodgers have made no secret of the fact they are willing to spend a lot of money to put a winning team on the field. In Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp they have two of the best players in the game, and they will be a player for every major free agent there is. In fact, the biggest hole in their lineup is at second base, and a certain Yankees second baseman is set to hit the market next winter. Stay tuned. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
The Dodgers have the talent, and now they must decide if Don Mattingly is the right man to lead this club to the World Series. When his contract wasn't picked up over the winter, Mattingly had to see the writing on the wall: win or else. -- Jim Bowden

The System
The Dodgers put just two guys in my ranking of the top 100 prospects, but had I gone another 40 to 50 names, you would have seen more blue on the list, led by Cuban bonus baby Yasiel Puig, who got only a little playing time this summer before a staph infection that required surgery and knocked him out of the Arizona Fall League. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Detroit Tigers

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
Owner Mike Ilitch has made it clear he wants to win the World Series at all costs, and he has a superstar-laden team that can do just that. The Tigers are where the Phillies were a few years ago, with a roster of stars in their primes but a shallow farm system. In other words, the fans should enjoy the success while it lasts. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
They have Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera both locked up for at least three more seasons, and now must turn their attention to Justin Verlander, who is a free agent after 2014. He wants to finish his career with the Tigers, but he also wants to be the highest-paid pitcher in the game. -- Jim Bowden

The System
Their system has been hit hard by trades and the loss of first-round picks by virtue of signing free agents -- their last top-40 pick was in 2009, and their highest pick in the past two drafts was 76th overall in 2011. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Boston Red Sox

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
By shedding the salaries of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett in last summer's blockbuster with the Dodgers, Boston's front office suddenly gave itself a lot of flexibility. The Sox made a number of midlevel signings over the winter, but none of them cost the club a draft pick or will severely hamstring them down the road. With a number of promising prospects on the way, the Sox are poised to be a force again soon. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
In 2011, Jacoby Ellsbury was an MVP candidate, but he spent most of 2012 on the DL. He'll be a free agent after next year, and in a perfect world the Sox would re-sign him and move him to left field to make room for top prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. Of course, Ellsbury is represented by Scott Boras and will surely chase top dollar, so if the Sox don't want to pay a premium for him, they might have to deal him in July if they aren't going to contend. -- Jim Bowden

The System
A lot went right on the farm for Boston this year, with top prospect Xander Bogaerts making major strides on defense at shortstop, Bradley lighting everyone up with his plate discipline and Matt Barnes and Henry Owens posting very strong full-season debuts. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Atlanta Braves

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
The Braves' identity is changing rapidly: Chipper Jones is gone, and Brian McCann could follow next winter. This is now Jason Heyward's team, and if the Upton brothers can play to their potential and Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy prove they are for real, this team is talented enough to topple the Nats. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
Although the Braves are still trying to find their long-term solution at third base in the wake of Jones' retirement, the bigger issue is behind the plate. McCann is recovering from shoulder surgery and will be a free agent at season's end. Do they sign him long term or hand the future over to top catching prospect Christian Bethancourt? -- Jim Bowden

The System
Atlanta didn't dip much into its farm system to acquire Justin Upton, but its system wasn't strong to begin with thanks to a very weak track record in the draft over the past several years. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Los Angeles Angels

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
Their organizational structure is quite similar to Detroit's: A few high-end (and expensive) stars, not much lineup or prospect depth. The difference is that the Angels' rotation is filled with question marks after Jered Weaver, and even he has seen his velocity drop consistently over the past few years, raising questions about how long he can maintain his current level of performance. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
While the big league team is talented, they don't have a top-of-the-rotation starter in the system, and those are the kind of arms needed to win championships in the tough AL West. They are hoping that Tommy Hanson can recapture the form he showed in 2010 -- when he posted a 3.33 ERA in more than 200 innings for the Braves -- to give them a formidable No. 3 starter behind Weaver and C.J. Wilson. -- Jim Bowden

The System
The cupboard is nearly bare after years of trades, promotions and lost draft picks, with the Angels the only team that didn't have a pick on the first day of the 2012 draft. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Toronto Blue Jays

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
Yes, the trades they made over the winter were designed to "win now," but this club has Jose Bautista, R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, Brandon Morrow, Melky Cabrera and Ricky Romero all signed for at least the next two seasons. They'll be contenders for a while. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
The Blue Jays made a bunch of trades to improve their big league club, but they decimated their farm system in the process. They built their system by spending aggressively in the draft, but they won't be able to do that in the future thanks to the spending limit in the new CBA. Therefore, they will have to be a bit more creative and really nail their top draft picks in order to replenish the farm. -- Jim Bowden

The System
There's almost no one left after the Dickey trade and the deal with the Marlins during their fire sale, although the Jays wouldn't deal top prospect Aaron Sanchez, who has the raw stuff and delivery to develop into an ace if he can develop average or better control. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

San Francisco Giants

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
Yes, they've won two of the past three World Series, but that's in the past. The future has plenty of questions, as their farm system is weak and they have invested heavily in some older players. Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner are locked up for the foreseeable future, and while Buster Posey won't hit free agency until after the 2016 season, he is going to set some arbitration records if they don't lock him up soon. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
Tim Lincecum's two year, $40.5 million contract expires at the end of this season, and the Giants have to see if the two-time Cy Young winner can recapture his Cy Young form after his disastrous 2012 season. Even if he is stellar again, that 2012 performance will certainly be a point of discussion at the negotiating table. -- Jim Bowden

The System
Several good starting pitching prospects highlight a system that's very light on bats right now and, after closer Heath Hembree, doesn't have much that's likely to help the major league team in 2013. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

Arizona Diamondbacks

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category.

The Overview
GM Kevin Towers has gone out of his way to acquire guys who play the way manager Kirk Gibson played, and has surrendered a lot of high-end talent (Justin Upton and Trevor Bauer) in the process. This is a solid club from top to bottom, but it's rare for a team bereft of superstars to make a deep playoff run, which is what Arizona is trying to do. -- Buster Olney

The Dilemma
Whether Arizona believes it or not, World Series are won by teams with superstars. Last year it was the Giants with Matt Cain and Buster Posey, the year before that it was the Cardinals with Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. For the Diamondbacks to win a championship they are going to need a middle-of-the-order impact star player who can carry the team during offensive slumps. The D-backs don't consider it a dilemma, but the win-loss record might say differently over the next few years. -- Jim Bowden

The System
Dealing Bauer for 50 cents on the dollar didn't help, nor did failing to get any of Atlanta's top six prospects in the Upton trade, but the Diamondbacks are still very deep in arms and now oddly deep in shortstops who can field but don't get on base. (Click here for more) -- Keith Law

The best 30 players in 2018.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
If you haven't seen it yet, the latest edition of the MLB Future Power Rankings by Keith Law, Buster Olney, and Jim Bowden is up.

Here, rather than looking at the team rankings, we're instead focusing on who the best players in the future are likely to be, focusing on players currently in professional baseball. Predicting for 2013 is already difficult, so our view of 2018 is already a bit foggy, but it's always fun to at least try.

No doubt some of the players below will fall off the list and there will be someone who's now just entering college or someone completely unexpected -- see Jose Bautista five years ago -- jumping onto the list. But this is our best early guess. The players are ranked by the 2018 ZiPS projected WAR.

1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Projected 2018 stats: .273/.367/.508, 28 HR, 6.5 WAR

No. 1 is probably the least surprising player on the list. Trout was so good in 2012 that even if that turns out to be his best season, he can still very easily be a perennial MVP candidate. People do tend to overrate how much very young superstars improve, but Trout could give back nearly half his 2012 WAR and still be one of the very best in baseball.

2. Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals
Projected 2018 stats: .287/.377/.573, 38 HR, 6.4 WAR

Harper didn't have the year that Trout did -- nobody did, really -- but he probably has more room to grow, especially in power potential. Even if he's a hair behind Trout long-term, there's no shame in that, and the Nats will be best served to at least sound out Harper on a long-term deal soon, though it's unlikely agent Scott Boras will bite.

3. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Projected 2018 stats: 2.89 ERA, 202 K, 50 BB, 5.7 WAR

In 2018, Kershaw will be just 30, and in the long term, he's probably the safest pitcher in baseball. One of just two pitchers in the top 10 for 2018, Kershaw is already on a Hall of Fame path.

4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Miami Marlins
Projected 2018 stats: .270/.369/.580, 38 HR, 5.5 WAR

This is his projection if he stays a Marlin, which seems unlikely given ownership's proclivity toward extreme thrift. Put Stanton in a park that favors right-handed sluggers, like Camden Yards, and he could move up the list.

5. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants
Projected 2018 stats: .291/.368/.469, 18 HR, 5.3 WAR

While catchers are inherently risky, Posey has already survived a gruesome ankle injury and put up an MVP season just a year later. He's not going to hit .336 that often going forward, but he has staked his case as the best catcher in baseball.

6. Manny Machado, SS/3B, Baltimore Orioles
Projected 2018 stats: .268/.336/.489, 26 HR, 5.3 WAR

He is generally believed to have plus-power potential, and the computer agrees with the scouts. As noted for Stanton, Camden's a good home for a right-handed power hitter. The only question now is if the O's play him at short, which this projection assumes. As a third baseman, he drops out of the top 10.

7. Jurickson Profar, SS, Texas Rangers
Projected 2018 stats: .274/.358/.475, 20 HR, 5.0 WAR

Profar is likely to start the season in Triple-A, thus delaying the Rangers' final decision on how to solve the middle-infield logjam. In the end, the Rangers will have to make the room for Profar, and if he is in fact the player traded, they better fill some other serious needs.

8. Starlin Castro, SS, Chicago Cubs
Projected 2018 stats: .293/.341/.478, 19 HR, 4.7 WAR

Can he stay at short? The stats have generally been more positive (or at least, less negative) on Castro's defense than the eye has been. Wherever he ends up, by 2018 he's likely to be one of the best hitters for average over the past decade, though he's not going to ever be a guy who racks up walks.

9. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Washington Nationals
Projected 2018 stats: 2.91 ERA, 168 K, 47 BB, 4.5 WAR

With his Tommy John surgery behind him and the Nats being careful with him in 2012, he's a lot less risky than he was a year ago. One of Strasburg's top comps in ZiPS is Roger Clemens, and it's a testament to how accomplished Strasburg is (despite relatively little professional experience) that the comparison isn't ridiculous.

10. Jason Heyward, RF, Atlanta Braves
Projected 2018 stats: .259/.349/.492, 28 HR, 4.4 WAR

Along with Freddie Freeman, who just missed the top 30, Heyward will hopefully anchor the middle of Atlanta's lineup for the next decade. Even if he never becomes a hitter for average, his power and glove still make him a star.

11. Justin Verlander, RHP, Detroit Tigers
Projected 2018 stats: 3.47 ERA, 163 K, 48 BB, 4.4 WAR

Five years of 15 wins and Verlander will enter the 2018 season with roughly 200 wins at the age of 35. Even if he isn't the latest pitcher to be "The Last 300-Game Winner," Verlander is likely to be entering the homestretch of a Hall of Fame career and surpassing Hal Newhouser as the best pitcher ever in Tigers history.

12. Mike Zunino, C, Seattle Mariners
Projected 2018 stats: .254/.337/.418, 21 HR, 4.4 WAR

Zunino is in the most precarious position of any player on this list. He needed no time whatsoever to transition to professional ball after Seattle selected him third overall in the 2012 draft, terrorizing the Northwest League for a month and then continuing his trail of destruction after being promoted all the way to Double-A. However, the track record is so limited that his projection could change a lot over the next couple of years.

13. Yu Darvish, RHP, Texas Rangers
Projected 2018 stats: 3.50 ERA, 180 K, 69 BB, 4.3 WAR

It's easy to forget how young Darvish still is, having just turned 26 in August. He walked more batters than you would like in his MLB debut, but he still has a great deal of upside as he gets more comfortable with a new league in a new country.

14. Mat Latos, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Projected 2018 stats: 3.45 ERA, 163 K, 45 BB, 4.3 WAR

Johnny Cueto got more press, but for the second half of the season, it was Latos who was truly the staff ace. Still just 25 years old, Latos made his miserable April seem like a distant memory.

15. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
Projected 2018 stats: .273/.356/.520, 34 HR, 4.3 WAR

Ignore Rizzo's cup of coffee with the Padres, his .285/.342/.463 line with the Cubs in 2012 is a far more accurate representation of where he is as a player. The Theo Epstein Cubs aren't done rebuilding yet, but if they can round up a worthwhile third baseman, the infield will already be one of the best in baseball.

And the rest

16. Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals: 4.2 WAR
17. Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pirates: 4.2
18. Brett Lawrie, 3B, Blue Jays: 4.2
19. Gio Gonzalez, LHP, Nationals: 4.1
20. Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners: 4.0
21. David Price, LHP, Rays: 4.0
22. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Tigers: 3.9
23. Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox: 3.9
24. Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Giants: 3.9
25. Dylan Bundy, RHP, Orioles: 3.8
26. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds: 3.7
27. Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays: 3.7
28. Zack Wheeler, RHP, Mets: 3.7
29. Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees: 3.6
30. Wil Myers, RF, Rays: 3.6

Will 2013 Be Justin Morneau’s Last Stand?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Once upon a time, Justin Morneau was a very solid player. He was never the player his most-valuable-player status would have seemed to convey, though he was still solid. But that time was more than two seasons ago, and as he enters a contract year in what will be age-32 season, it’s fair to wonder if this is Morneau’s last stand.

To be sure, Morneau is no scrub. Since the Integration Era began in 1947, he is one of 78 first basemen who has accumulated at least 20 WAR through age 31. He’s a plodder on the bases, but his bat and glove have both been well above league average throughout his career. He’s a four-time All-Star, won the aforementioned MVP Award in ’06, and finished second for the award in ’08 as well. That’s a pretty impressive resume.

From 2006-2010, he was one of the 25 best position players in the game, and was seventh-best among first basemen. Not a Hall of Fame track by any stretch, but a very good player who could be the second or third-best player on a championship club. And with Joe Mauer around to be the leader, Morneau had the luxury of being exactly that player. But then, the injuries came, to his knee, wrist and most distressing, to his brain, in the form of multiple concussions. Through his abbreviated 2010 campaign, Morneau was a .286/.358/.511 hitter. Since, he has hit a paltry .254/.317/.403. For the past two seasons, his 95 wRC+ was worse than that of several players who have been dealt/discarded in the past year, including Brett Wallace, Gaby Sanchez and Mike Carp.

Now, obviously Morneau’s contract made it harder to discard him. But that won’t be the case for much longer. This season is the last on the six-year contract extension that he signed back in 2008, and there is no club option attached to the deal either. And with Chris Parmelee, Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham all under contract for 2014, Minnesota will certainly have no shortage of first-base candidates. Emotions seem to run deep in the Twins’ organization, and there may be a movement to keep Morneau given what he has meant to the organization, but he is going to have to do his part to make himself worth their while. And a first baseman who slugs in the low-.400’s and has a declining walk rate isn’t exactly a rare commodity.

And it’s not like Morneau would be in rarified company — plenty of first basemen have disappeared when they reached his age. As I mentioned earlier, 78 first basemen — including Morneau — have tallied 20+ WAR through the age of 31. Nine of those players are current — Kevin Youkilis, Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, Mark Teixeira, Morneau, Adrian Gonzalez, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Joey Votto. We’ll leave them out of the sample, for the moment. Of the 69 players remaining, 26 of them — or 38 percent — were not able to accumulate another 5 WAR as first basemen. Recent players that fit this group include Frank Thomas, Richie Sexson, Mike Sweeney, Mo Vaughn, Wally Joyner and Cecil Fielder. Now, these players were not necessarily useless. Some of them, like Thomas for instance, went on to have productive finishing kicks as designated hitters. But since much of Morneau’s value comes from his glove, it would not seem that DH is a likely career path, so we’re only looking at first-base value here.

We’re down to 43 players in our sample now. Of the 43, another 17 players didn’t pile up 10 WAR for the remainder of their careers after their age-31 season. So, in other words, only 26 of the players here were able to contribute more than 10 WAR at first base after they had reached the point in their careers at which Morneau currently finds himself.

This data isn’t necessarily a death knell for Morneau. Far from it. Plenty of first basemen went on to be productive after their primes ended. Still, Morneau needs to show some sort of rejuvenation this season, or face becoming rapidly irrelevant. Taking a look at his projections doesn’t offer much encouragement. Of the five projections housed here at FanGraphs, none has Morneau reaching 600 plate appearances or more than 2.1 WAR. Bill James, the Fans and Steamer see him regaining a little bit of his offensive mojo, but Oliver and ZiPS don’t see him improving on 2012.

Certainly, the key for Morneau is going to be his plate discipline. Last season, he started swinging at a lot more pitches. Only 15 qualified hitters swung at more pitches out of the strike zone than did Morneau, but while he was swinging at more pitches, his contact percentage didn’t increase accordingly. As such, his swinging-strike percentage was essentially the highest of his career (it was higher in his 2003 cup of coffee, but that really doesn’t count). As a result, he wasn’t able to get as much loft on the ball — his fly-ball percentage was also the lowest mark since his ’03 cup of coffee.

Less power and less patience is not generally a desirable trend. But 2013 will represent a great — and perhaps the last — chance for Morneau to show that he can contribute in a meaningful way. He is healthy for the first time in what seems like forever. He played in three straight games at first base earlier this week, something that didn’t happen until late March last year, as he prepares to play first base for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. With improved health, particularly in his wrist, perhaps he will get back to the business of making hard contact. If he can’t though, 2013 may end up being Morneau’s last stand.

Strike Zone Generosity and Team Pitching Success.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Everything, ultimately, has to come down to runs. Or wins, I suppose, but wins and runs are strongly correlated. By boiling measures and evaluations down to runs, we’re given an understanding of how much they matter at the end of the day. We know how to value a guy who hits a lot of home runs. We know how to value another guy who’s said to be great in the field. Runs and wins are at the core of performance analysis, because runs and wins are what teams are trying to add to get better.

When you talk about catcher pitch-framing, one generally ends up talking about the difference between a ball and a strike. It might seem like a missed call here and there shouldn’t matter — these are just individual pitches! — but each call does matter, and as they pile up, they matter more. Toward the end of last season, Joe Maddon said something to the effect of Jose Molina saving his team 50 runs or so because of his receiving. Catchers are ranked on their framing by runs saved or cost, and this is calculated by using the run-value difference between a ball and a strike. Each season, the best framers seem to be tens of runs better than the worst framers. When you’re talking about tens of runs, you’re talking about a significant effect.

But the actual effect, presumably, is quite complicated, in the way that park factors are quite complicated. You can look at framing in isolation, and that’s how you can end up with differences of tens of runs. But it isn’t as simple as just taking a pitch and making it a ball or a strike. That pitch will have an effect on the next pitch, which will have an effect on the next pitch, and so on. Perhaps, after a ball, a strike is more likely to follow. Perhaps, after a strike, a ball is more likely to follow. How much does framing, or the size of the strike zone, make a difference on a team level, when you include the whole picture?

Following, you will see charts. Preceding the charts is this explanation of what you’re looking at. For the trillionth time, I’ve used FanGraphs’ plate-discipline data to come up with expected strikes totals for individual team pitching staffs from 2008-2012. I then calculated the difference between actual strikes and expected strikes, and put that on a per-game scale, where the average game has about 78 called pitches. I then adjusted the numbers to set the year-to-year league average at zero. A Diff/Game of 1.0 refers to about one extra strike per game. A Diff/Game of -3.0 refers to about three fewer strikes per game. I calculated every team’s Diff/Game for every year since 2008, and then I plotted some performance metrics against them. The charts begin now.

Looking at team ERA- against Diff/Game, we see a downward trend, but the relationship is weak. Still, the average ERA- of the 15 worst teams in Diff/Game is 105. The average ERA- of the 15 best teams in Diff/Game is 96. Our slope is -1.8 — that is, for each additional strike, ERA- goes down by nearly two points. There’s something here, as noisy as it is.

Of course, we know that ERA and thus ERA- can be noisy. FIP- offers a little stabilization, and here we see a slightly stronger relationship, albeit still a weak one. The slope of our line is about -1.5, but the data sure looks scattered.

And here’s our strongest relationship of the three, where we just isolate strikeouts, walks, and fly balls. The slope, again, is about -1.5, and the average of the 15 worst teams in Diff/Game is 104 while the average of the 15 best teams in Diff/Game is 96. There’s a lot of noise here, still, and that’s to be expected, but it sure feels like we’re not measuring nothing. By this measure, at least, getting a more generous strike zone is helping pitching staffs prevent runs. When you put it that way it sounds silly and obvious, but one also has to notice the fairly weak relationship. In between the pitches that can be framed, there are a lot of other pitches, and it isn’t clear the effect a well-framed pitch or a poorly-framed pitch has on the next pitch in the sequence.

Potentially of interest:

We hardly see any relationship between strike rate and Diff/Game. Yeah, the slope of the line is positive, but the correlation is tissue paper. This hints at the interconnectedness of it all, and speaks to the danger of thinking about pitch-framing in isolation. Not all pitches are borderline pitches.

For the record, if we go all the way back to the first chart, with ERA-, recall that the slope of the line is about -1.8. Over a full season, this works out to a little over ten runs saved for each additional strike per game over average. Since 2008, 34 teams have finished with a Diff/Game of at least 1.0, while nine teams have finished with a Diff/Game of at least 2.0. Two teams have finished at at least 3.0. At the other end, 30 teams have finished at at least -1.0, with eight teams at at least -2.0 and one team below -3.0. None of the worst 15 teams in Diff/Game finished with an average or better FIP-, which seems worth noting.

The top team of the last five years in Diff/Game? The 2009 Atlanta Braves. The runner-up? The 2011 Atlanta Braves. In third place? The 2008 Atlanta Braves. The 2010 Atlanta Braves show up in sixth, and the 2012 Atlanta Braves show up in seventh. Brian McCann and David Ross have been all right, at least in this department. And also in many other departments too.

Robinson Cano and Second Base Aging Curves.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Yankees have a long standing policy against negotiating contract extensions for players under contract, preferring instead to wait until the player reaches free agency to hash out a new deal. They even held that line with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, two of the iconic players in franchise history, so it hasn’t just been selectively applied here and there. So, it was pretty interesting to hear that the Yankees are ignoring that policy with Robinson Cano, and have confirmed that they recently made Scott Boras a “significant offer” to get him from becoming a free agent after the season.

Brian Cashman’s answer for why they’ve changed course with Cano:

“Since we’re the team, we have a right to change our minds and adjust the policy whenever, especially ownership,” Cashman said. “It’s not like it’s a country club, and here’s the code of conduct that you can’t deviate from. We’ve had a history of doing things a certain way, but it doesn’t mean that it has to be that way every day.”

For the Yankees to shift policy and extend Cano an offer now suggests that they’re both a little scared of what his price might be if he gets to free agency, and that they’re comfortable with how well he’ll age that they don’t need to see his age-30 season before deciding to sign up for the rest of his decline phase. The fear about his price if the Dodgers get involved is certainly valid, but should the fact that Cano is a second baseman scare the Yankees away from making a long term commitment to him before they have gathered all the information possible by letting him play out the 2013 season?

Second baseman, if you haven’t heard, have a reputation for falling apart without much notice. Edgardo Alfonso, Carlos Baerga, Marcus Giles, Chuck Knoblauch, and even Roberto Alomar all went from being pretty terrific players to completely unproductive in a hurry. Most recently, Chase Utley has seen his production tumble, as injuries have begun to take their toll, and he’s been less productive at the plate than he was during his prime. The anecdotal evidence about the detrimental affects of playing the position — taking hard slides while turning the double play is the most often cited reason — are there, but anecdotal evidence can be selectively applied, and Cano is clearly a better player than most of the guys who fell apart earlier than expected. How concerned should the Yankees be about making a long term commitment to a second baseman headed for his age-30 season?

The evidence suggests that he’s not any more of a risk than a great player at any other position on the field. Over the last 50 years, there have been six second baseman (Cano included) who have put up a 130 wRC+ or better from ages 26 to 29. Here’s how the list of second baseman since 1963 who spent their prime years just bashing the baseball:

Chase Utley 2,687 9% 16% 0.236 0.330 0.305 0.385 0.541 0.395 137 57.1 18.8 31.0
Joe Morgan 2,725 15% 8% 0.157 0.280 0.276 0.389 0.433 0.375 135 12.0 22.5 30.1
Rod Carew 2,555 10% 8% 0.100 0.372 0.348 0.410 0.449 0.386 143 2.0 8.1 25.5
Robinson Cano 2,748 7% 12% 0.220 0.323 0.314 0.365 0.534 0.384 138 3.2 - 24.3
**** McAuliffe 2,160 14% 16% 0.187 0.274 0.254 0.361 0.441 0.361 134 15.0 (3.6) 21.8
Craig Biggio 2,612 12% 13% 0.155 0.323 0.294 0.390 0.449 0.374 134 (20.0) 6.7 19.7

As you can see, Cano has put himself in some pretty good company. Now, here’s how the other five players on that list performed starting with their age-31 season, which is the years that the Yankees would be buying out with a long term deal for Cano.

Joe Morgan 5,390 17% 9% 0.163 0.272 0.270 0.396 0.433 0.376 136 (25.0) 39.5 49.5
Craig Biggio 7,299 8% 15% 0.167 0.308 0.279 0.357 0.446 0.351 110 (29.0) 18.6 36.8
Rod Carew 4,915 11% 9% 0.096 0.355 0.327 0.403 0.424 0.370 130 12.0 (5.glasses.gif 31.4
Chase Utley 1,327 11% 12% 0.169 0.274 0.264 0.367 0.433 0.351 119 24.0 12.5 12.6
**** McAuliffe 1,735 12% 13% 0.141 0.245 0.231 0.324 0.372 0.319 98 (9.0) (0.3) 6.8

Finally, here are the same players, just with the changes in both their playing time and their production in that playing time during the two different timeframes.

Name 26-29 PA/Year 31+ PA/Year 26-29 WAR/600 31+ WAR/600 PA% Decline WAR% Decline
Joe Morgan 681 539 6.6 5.5 21% 17%
Craig Biggio 653 664 4.5 3.0 -2% 33%
Rod Carew 639 546 6.0 3.8 15% 36%
Chase Utley 672 442 6.9 5.7 34% 18%
**** McAuliffe 540 434 6.1 2.4 20% 61%
Average 637 525 6.0 4.1 18% 33%

Overall, the group lost an average of about 100 plate appearances per year and went from playing like +6 win players to playing like +4 win players when they did take the field. McAuliffe had the biggest decline, as he was essentially done as a useful player by age 34, but one guy falling apart out of five isn’t the clear trend that the reputation of aging second baseman would suggest. Even including McAuliffe, these five players averaged 3.5 WAR per season after they turned 31. Hardly a group that just fell apart after their prime was over.

If we give Cano a projection of just below the group’s average performance for his age 31-40 seasons — Utley’s further decline will likely pull the +3.5 WAR per season average down slightly as he gets older — assuming he’ll have enough leverage to land a nine year deal, the Yankees would be paying for around +30 WAR over the life of the deal. If you assume something like 5% inflation annually over the next nine years, the average price of a win during Cano’s contract would be in the $7 million per win range, which would place a fair market deal in the range of $210 million. Projecting long term inflation isn’t easy, especially with the varying television deals being struck lately, so that might even be a bit of an undershot — we saw most of the premium free agents this year sign for more than the crowd expected when the winter began.

There’s no question that Scott Boras is going to be using the Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, and Joey Votto contracts as his starting points in negotiations. Votto signed away his age 30-39 seasons for $225 million, and was two years away from free agency when he got that contract. Fielder signed his 28-36 seasons for $214 million, but isn’t as good as good of a player as Cano and had his market limited to AL teams because of his body type. Pujols signed his age 32-41 seasons for $240 million, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the contract Boras tried to beat if he gets Cano to free agency.

At some point in the near future, Robinson Cano is going to become a very, very rich man. The fact that he plays second base probably won’t hurt him in negotiations much, as the evidence that great second baseman age worse than other positions doesn’t really hold up very well. Cano won’t be a +6 win player in his 30s, but he doesn’t have to be to be worth $200+ million on his next deal. If the Yankees want to keep him from free agency, their “generous offer” is almost certainly going to have to start with a two.

post #9927 of 73468
Originally Posted by RaWEx5 View Post

Those players had a combined 9.5 WAR.

Winn: 5.4
Lewis: 2.7
Rowand 1.7

Not that terrible.

According to 2013 ZiPs, Aaron Rowand alone is worth more wins than the 2013 Mets' outfield. laugh.gif

that's absolutely insane
post #9928 of 73468
Originally Posted by 651akathePaul View Post

I mentioned this last year, but Vin Scully is amazing. I'll be watching the Dodgers a lot, specifically to hear Scully.

I was watching the first bit of the Angels/Dodgers game last night and he really makes you connect with players with how he tells their story. I'm so glad he came back.

no one better
post #9929 of 73468
Kev, if you're interested.

Job Listing: Indians Executive Development Fellow.
Saw that. I wish I had the proper math/computer background...

Maybe I'll apply for the hell of it.
post #9930 of 73468
One half inning down, one blown call. Why are officials so bad (regardless of sport)?
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