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2016 MLB thread. THE CUBS HAVE BROKEN THE CURSE! Chicago Cubs are your 2016 World Series champions. - Page 657

post #19681 of 77571
Thread Starter 
Yankees still a fourth-place team.
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Unless you were deep in the heart of the Amazon or making that final ascent to the summit of Mount Everest, you probably heard that the New York Yankees signed a pitcher on Wednesday. Not just any pitcher, mind you, but Masahiro Tanaka, the import from Nippon Professional Baseball, and the best player available in a free-agent market that's already seen most of the big names sign contracts.

You also may have heard that a lot of currency was involved in making this deal happen, $155 million, spread out over seven years, a lot of money even for an MLB team in 2014.

If the Yu Darvish contract and Darvish's performance had not already done it, the bidding war for Tanaka and the eventual dollar figure of the contract officially closes the door on the era in which players from Japan's professional league were considered novelties. From now on, NPB's top stars will be looked at as comparable to very good MLBers, and their contracts will continue to reflect this reality. But that's an article for another day.

You're here for the bottom line -- specifically, the real-world effect on the bottom line of the Yankees' win total in 2014. So let's get cracking.

The Yankees are a team facing difficult challenges going into the 2014 season. A surprising frugality set over the organization the last few years thanks to the team's obsession with getting the payroll under the luxury tax limit in order to "reset" the penalties. An aging team, the Yankees did little last winter to staunch the bleeding of talent due to departures and age. The team still managed to put together 85 wins and stay relevant until the closing weeks of the season, but it didn't seem so much as a heroic battle in which the Yankees simply came out on the losing end, but more akin to an aging lion in the African veldt, giving one last weak roar as the jackals take his kill.

Star, not a superstar
Masahiro Tanaka's ZiPS projection.

Year ERA IP ERA+ WAR
2014 3.68 191 113 3.8
2015 3.55 185 117 4
2016 3.48 168 120 3.7
2017 3.4 150.2 122 3.5
2018 3.5 141.1 119 3.1
2019 3.6 132.2 116 2.8
2020 3.69 124.1 113 2.5
Playoffs? Playoffs?
Where did the Yankees stand before the signing? To get an idea, I fired up the old ZiPS projection system and the Monte Carlo simulator and used 2014 projections to get an estimate of the team's chances of contention. Before the Tanaka signing, the Yankees' mean projected record came out at 80-82, the worst of the five teams in the AL East. There's a great deal of uncertainty, and a team projected to have 80-win talent may actually have 85- or 75-win talent. Or possibly even 90- or 70-win talent. That's the use of a Monte Carlo system, putting together all these uncertain probabilities.

In the end, after simulating the 2014 season a million times (assuming current roster construction), the pre-Tanaka Yankees won the division 7.2 percent of the time, made the playoffs either through a division championship or a wild card 19.7 percent of the time, and won the World Series in 1.7 percent of the million simulations. Adding Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann helps the team, but only really cancels out the loss of Robinson Cano -- it doesn't fix the team's other holes. The only question is just how much Tanaka moves the needle.

Tanaka's projections in New York are solid (see table above), but the problem for the Yankees is that Tanaka is unlikely to be is a true superstar, someone like Clayton Kershaw, who can actually add six to 10 wins to a team.

His projected 3.8 WAR represents a three to four-win upgrade for the Yankees, with his innings likely to displace some combination of innings thrown by David Phelps, Michael Pineda, Vidal Nuno and a few others, projected to be somewhere between around 1.0 WAR.

Running the simulation a second time, with the Tanaka boost now built-in, the outlook for the Yankees improves, but not to the degree that it thrusts the franchise back into the first tier of playoff contenders. The Tanaka Yankees simulate to an 83-80 average finish, which keeps them behind every other AL East team other than Baltimore, and gives them a 12.0 percent shot at the division, 29.4 percent playoff odds and 2.6 percent odds of winning the World Series.
Minor changes
The odds of New York making the playoffs, winning the division and World Series, before and after the Tanaka signing.

PLAYOFFS DIV WS
Before 7.2% 19.7% 1.7%
After 12.0% 29.4% 2.6%
To put the probabilities a different way, Tanaka improves the Yankees' chances to win the AL East by only 4.8 percentage points, claim a wild card by only 9.7 percentage points, and win the World Series by less than 1 percentage point.

Tanaka's likely to succeed in the majors, but he doesn't fix the Yankees by himself.

Still good dollar value
Purely from a value standpoint, $155 million for Tanaka is not unreasonable. ZiPS still believes Tanaka has growth left as a pitcher and assuming $5.45 million per win in free agency with 5 percent yearly growth, estimates that a pitcher of Tanaka's abilities should earn $146 million over seven years in a straight-up contract in free agency. There's also an opt-out clause after four years that provides additional cost to the Yankees, as Tanaka's ability to seek a new contract if he hits his optimistic projections reduces the upside that the Yankees can wring out of the contract.

The indirect costs to the Yankees are high as well. This was the team's best chance to reset the luxury tax penalty to the minimum. With Tanaka in the fold at $22 million a year, the Yankees already have $147 million in guaranteed contracts for nine players in 2015 and $142 million guaranteed for seven players in 2016.

Before the Tanaka signing, the Yankees appeared to be an aging, expensive, hole-ridden team, with a weak farm system, that had an uphill fight to be serious contenders. After the Tanaka signing, the Yankees appear to be a slightly better aging, expensive, hole-ridden team, with a weak farm system, that has an uphill fight to be contenders. The Bronx Bombers are expensively raging against the dying of the light, but the Masahiro Tanaka signing only delays the darkness.

Pitchers poised to make 'the leap'.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
One of 2013's big stories was the emergence of Max Scherzer, the eventual American League Cy Young Award winner. Though he entered the season with a career-best ERA of 3.50 and neither an All-Star Game or Cy Young vote to his name, the 28-year-old righty dominated the AL en route to a 21-3 record, a sterling 2.90 ERA, and the Cy Young Award.

The elite pitchers in baseball don't emerge from the ground, fully formed stars in the manner of Greek mythology; they usually come from the group of good to very good pitchers. Somewhere out there, there's a merely good pitcher about to become a terrific one. The challenge is identifying just who that will be.

The odds of any particular pitcher taking a step forward are relatively small -- if it were easy, everybody would do it -- but here are my favorite candidates to break out and have a Cy Young-esque 2014 season.


Mat Latos, RHP | Cincinnati Reds
Still just 26 years old for the 2014 season, Latos has been one of the more dependable starters during in the majors, never missing serious time (127 starts in four full seasons), with his worst single-season ERA being just 3.48.

At 6-foot-6, Latos looks like a pitcher, and his stuff, a few fastball flavors, slider, curve, and change, all thrown with good command, tends to agree. Despite a record for durability, we have yet to see a full season of Latos being completely "on" as he continued to pitch through shoulder soreness (2011), an abdominal strain (2013), and suffered a rough start in 2012 while he adjusted to the pitcher-unfriendly confines of Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

He finished eighth in the NL in FIP (3.10) last season and appears ready to take the next step.


Jeff Samardzija, RHP | Chicago Cubs
Three years ago, Samardzija's name being on a list like this would be absolutely ludicrous. Lots of people -- myself included -- doubted the Cubs could ever turn Samardzija from a flamethrower with miserable command into a top-flight starter.

Even the Cubs appeared to question their chances at times, trying the Shark in a number of roles in his first three stints in the majors, which consisted of a 5.95 ERA and 50 walks in 81 2/3 innings for Chicago. He even struggled at times to get minor leaguers out, with a 4.17 ERA and five walks per game in Triple-A -- not exactly screaming "top-flight starter."

The wide receiver jokes about Samardzija are a thing of the past as he continues to show steady improvement. Sometimes the hardest thing for a prospect to do is lose those extra walks, but while he's no Bob Tewksbury, his 3.1 walks per nine in the past two seasons is quite respectable. Samardzija's second half featured a rather ugly 4.72 ERA, but a lot of that was fueled by a .324 BABIP as the Cubs' summer turned sour faster than an egg salad sandwich left sitting in your car.


Rick Porcello, RHP | Detroit Tigers
It would seem almost unfair for the Tigers to get the next Max Scherzer, but despite a mixed-record in the majors, Porcello retains some breakout potential.

He's still very young -- he just turned 25, is younger than Chris Archer and a few months older than Matt Harvey -- and his strikeout rate has shown continual improvement (from 4.7 his first two seasons to 7.2 last year) and his FIP has gone down every year he's been in the majors.

What has hidden Porcello's improvement is that he's a ground ball pitcher (third-highest ground ball percentage in baseball last year) on a team that had been playing a lot of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. An infield of Cabrera (at first), Ian Kinsler, Jose Iglesias, and Nick Castellanos is likely to provide better defensive support for Porcello in 2014.


Justin Masterson, RHP | Cleveland Indians
By ERA, Masterson's 2013 was not as strong as his career-best 2011, but there is one key difference: strikeout rate. From 2010 to 2012, his rate hovered at about 17 percent, but in 2013 it jumped up to 24.3 percent. Strikeout rates for pitchers tend to stabilize very quickly, much less prone to the lucky/unlucky runs that can sometimes plague other pitcher statistics, like BABIP and homers allowed.

A 30 percent boost in strikeout rate is nothing to laugh at -- it was Scherzer's jump from 8.0 K/9 to 11.1 K/9 in 2012 that set off my alarm -- and all that's missing for the grounder-heavy Masterson is a top-notch infield defense.


Homer Bailey, RHP | Cincinnati Reds
After years of underperforming, Bailey finally established himself as a Real Major Leaguer in 2012, but I still suspect that his upside is higher than the solid 111 ERA+ he has put up the past two seasons.

In 2013, Bailey was 11th in baseball in percentage of pitches that were swinging strikes. The top 10 includes both Cy Young Award winners and five others who received votes (Yu Darvish, Anibal Sanchez, Sale, Harvey, and Madison Bumgarner). Bailey throws hard, with the seventh-fastest fastball average in 2013 and the second-fastest slider, and given his ability to miss bats, his upside is higher than simply being a good No. 2 or 3 starter.


Ivan Nova, RHP | New York Yankees
Nova cut back on his fastball usage in 2012 and saw his ERA rocket above 5.00. He went back to his heater 60 percent of the time in 2013, and got his ERA down to 3.10 in 20 starts. His biggest problem may not be other batters so much as an infield with more holes than the plot of a Michael Bay movie.

Two small-market clubs going all-in.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
When the New York Yankees really go for it, when they unleash their financial might in an effort to protect their brand and win a championship, that means firing almost half-a-billion dollars at the best and most expensive players.

Two other teams have unleashed the full fury of their resources this winter, although you might've missed it. The Tampa Bay Rays and San Diego Padres have pulled out all stops, and if you're trying to imagine what that looks like, well, just think of drag-racing Mini-Coopers.

That is not said to demean either franchise. Actually, it's noted with great admiration. This is a baseball version of The Charge of the Light Brigades, and the Padres and Rays should be respected for it, for doing all that they can to compete against the moneyed monsters within their respective divisions.

The Rays agreed to terms with Grant Balfour Thursday, in a winter in which they spent dollars to sign James Loney and David DeJesus, their own free agents. To put those numbers in context: Masahiro Tanaka will make a little over $22 million per season in his seven-year deal with the Yankees, and Loney's $21 million, three-year deal represents the Rays' largest investment in a free agent ... ever; Balfour represents the third-largest investment. Unless some great offer suddenly emerges for David Price, it appears the Rays will keep the Cy Young left-hander, in spite of his $14 million salary, and go into the 2014 season with a franchise-record $74 million payroll, or about 18 to 20 percent higher than their 2013 budget.

The Padres have quietly made a similar move, a push that really began a couple of years ago with the team's new ownership approving deals for Carlos Quentin and Huston Street, and then taking on Ian Kennedy last summer in the midst of his arbitration years. This winter, the Padres committed $8 million for Josh Johnson, signed Joaquin Benoit to a two-year, $15.5 million deal, traded for Seth Smith to address a specific roster need, and traded for left-hander Alex Torres in a seven-player deal with the Rays on Wednesday.

And just as the Rays seem to be leaning toward keeping Price, rather than flipping him for prospects, the Padres have chosen to carry third baseman Chase Headley into the last season before he becomes eligible for free agency, instead of trading him.

It appears that the Padres will take a payroll of about $85 million into the 2014 season, or about $30 million more than the team spent in 2012.

Padres GM Josh Byrnes noted the improvement of Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, the expected return of Cory Luebke, Joe Wieland and Casey Kelly, in addition to Kennedy and Johnson. It's possible that San Diego could have one of the best pitching staffs in the National League. To contend with the powers of the NL West, Byrnes said, "we're going to have to have really, really good pitching, and we'll at least have a chance."

Friedman, in the Dominican Republic, wrote in an e-mail: "We want to give our organization the best chance to compete and to win. We know that it's going to cost us more than we can practically afford. In some respects it's the price of our success. If we didn't have these types of players, if we didn't have the opportunity for a great season we'd be looking at a significantly different payroll."

Around the league

• Jon Lester made it very clear: He's willing to take a hometown discount to stay in Boston.

How much could that mean, given Lester's age and pitching history?

One comparable might be what Matt Cain got with the Giants before the 2012 season -- the six-year, $127.5 million deal which also covered the 2012 season. The Red Sox might prefer something closer to the $80 million, five-year deal that Anibal Sanchez got from the Tigers.

For years, there had always been some question about how good Lester good be, because he wasn't as consistently excellent as the game's very best pitchers. But in his work in the last months of the 2013 season, and through the postseason, he seemed to climb from the lofty second tier of starting pitchers into the top tier. He seemed to fully realize his potential, pitching to both sides of the plate.

In the second half of 2013, Lester allowed just four homers in 87 2/3 innings, with a 2.57 ERA, and in five starts in October, he surrendered only six earned runs in 34 2/3 innings, with 29 strikeouts. He would seem to be worthy of a solid five-year investment, at least, with perhaps some haggling over a sixth year.

• Grady Sizemore, now 31, hasn't played in a major league game since 2011, and he's had a total of 435 plate appearances since 2009. The Red Sox did extensive work leading up to their signing of Sizemore, to get a sense of where he is.

"We spent quite a bit of time with him over the last couple weeks, mostly in Arizona," said GM Ben Cherington. "Our scouts and medical staff went out there to see him. He's doing everything possible to put himself in a position to play and of course we know how good he is when he can do that. We think we can help him, but we'll know a lot more by the end of March."

John Farrell has a long history with Sizemore.

Sizemore changed his mind at the last minute, says Reds GM Walt Jocketty.

• Matt Garza is close to landing a four-year, $52 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, although as of Thursday evening, it hadn't been pushed across the finish line.

Club officials with other teams indicated that they were leery of giving him more than a three-year contract because of his history of elbow trouble, but Garza has some extra appeal as the best available free-agent pitcher who is not tied to draft-pick compensation. The fact that Garza is prepared to take a four-year deal with a team not viewed as a classic landing spot for pitchers is a clue that the Brewers separated themselves by being willing to consider a fourth year.

The Cardinals should be prohibitive favorites to win the NL Central, based on statistical models and the potency of their young pitching, but the Brewers could be interesting; they usually hit, and with the addition of Kyle Lohse and Garza in the last year, their rotation will be improved, undoubtedly. Just as the Yankees had to extend themselves in the Tanaka bidding because of the failure of their player development system to produce good young pitching, the Brewers have had to fill in the gaps of what they are not generating from within.

• The Pirates are turning the page on A.J. Burnett's return, writes Jerry Crasnick.

• Jonny Gomes had some thoughts about the Yankees. Gomes also had some specific thoughts on A-Rod, as Scott Lauber writes. From the piece:
"He does steroids or whatever, it sucks. He does this or that, it sucks. He's always in the news, it sucks," the Red Sox left fielder told the Herald yesterday before the 75th annual Boston Baseball Writers' dinner. "But this is the players' union he's going against. It's all of us. Not a real good idea."

Rodriguez recently filed a lawsuit against the MLBPA and Major League Baseball in an attempt to overturn a 162-game suspension for his violation of the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. It was expected that the embattled New York Yankees third baseman would take action against MLB, but turning against the union has irritated many players in the rank and file, including Gomes.

The union represented A-Rod in his arbitration hearing last fall, but Rodriguez' suit claims the MLBPA "abdicated its responsibility" to defend a player and even takes issue with former union chief Michael Weiner, who died of brain cancer in November.

"I think what he had going on is pretty individual," Gomes said. "He did it. It was his decision, his suspension. But I don't think it's really a good idea to go after our union. Down to my (expletive) kids, down to the benefits we have, down to our retirement fund, the union makes our lives better.

"We pay dues to the union for our rights ... Him and the Yankees were butting heads last year. Whatever, don't care. But he's truly going against every single major league player, and every single major league player that's played this game before. It brings a whole different light on things."

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Orioles haven't talked with Fernando Rodney in weeks, writes Dan Connolly.

2. The Orioles signed Aaron Laffey.

3. Nothing is pending with a contract extension, says Max Scherzer.

4. The Royals signed Jon Rauch.

5. David Aardsma agreed to terms with the Indians.

6. Sooner is better for an extension for Giancarlo Stanton, says the Marlins' GM.

7. The Giants worked out a two-year deal with a utility player.

Dings and dents

1. Matt Harvey wants to come back in September.

2. Miguel Cabrera says he's ready to go.

NL East

• Darin Ruf is ready for any role.

• Mike Adams is something of a forgotten man.

NL Central

• Don't count the Pirates in yet, writes Dejan Kovacevic.

AL East

• Blue Jays fans are fidgety, writes John Lott.

• Alex Anthopoulos is taking the brunt of the criticism for the Jays' inaction this winter, but the bottom line is always the budget -- as it is for the Orioles' Dan Duquette. These GMs are required to paint within the lines prescribed by ownership, and to this point, there has been no indication that either Anthopoulos or Duquette has gotten a green light to increase payroll. Last year was the first season in Jays' history that the team went over $100 million.

• Bob Elliott wonders: What's next for the Jays?

AL Central

• Rick Hahn's moves have revitalized the White Sox fan base.

• Brian Dozier is worthy of a good guy award, writes Jim Souhan.

• Drew Smyly is excited about joining the Tigers' rotation.

• Nick Castellanos is comfortable at third base, writes Lynn Henning.

• Gordon Beckham is over his injuries.

• Bench and bullpen will be key for the Indians, writes Paul Hoynes.

AL West

• A Hall of Famer is delivering advice to Texas pitchers.

• Michael Kirkman is on his last opportunity with the Rangers.

• The Mariners' manager has become the latest disciple of the Seahawks' coach.
post #19682 of 77571
bobby i read that article on the yanks still being a 4th place team. what'd you think of it?
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post #19683 of 77571
When it comes to drugs and PED's don't know why baseball has always been under the microscope. NBA and the NFL, have the same issues, yet it is always swept under the rug.
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post #19684 of 77571
Quote:
Originally Posted by ooIRON MANoo View Post

When it comes to drugs and PED's don't know why baseball has always been under the microscope. NBA and the NFL, have the same issues, yet it is always swept under the rug.

They didn't need PEDS to grow the sport.
post #19685 of 77571
Thread Starter 
Not fourth best Deadset but probably still behind TB and Boston.

They could potentially have one of the worst infields of all time laugh.gif I'm glad they got Tanaka but that's mostly because it'll stop them from spending blindly on the upcoming FA SP's.

There's just so much that needs to go 100% right in order for them to stand in the hunt. The AL could legitimately have 10 contending teams sick.gif think the NL is in for an even worse beating this year unfortunately.
post #19686 of 77571
Quote:
Originally Posted by Franco23x View Post

They didn't need PEDS to grow the sport.

Not sure if serious....

laugh.gif
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post #19687 of 77571
Quote:
Originally Posted by ooIRON MANoo View Post

When it comes to drugs and PED's don't know why baseball has always been under the microscope. NBA and the NFL, have the same issues, yet it is always swept under the rug.

It's because the stats in baseball mean much more than the stats in any other league.
post #19688 of 77571
Quote:
Originally Posted by Proshares View Post

Not fourth best Deadset but probably still behind TB and Boston.

They could potentially have one of the worst infields of all time laugh.gifI'm glad they got Tanaka but that's mostly because it'll stop them from spending blindly on the upcoming FA SP's.

There's just so much that needs to go 100% right in order for them to stand in the hunt. The AL could legitimately have 10 contending teams sick.gif think the NL is in for an even worse beating this year unfortunately.

Wait, but wasn't signing Tanaka essentially (to use your words) "spending blindly on the free agent pitchers?"  :lol

post #19689 of 77571
Thread Starter 
Sure, I guess that's one way to look at it laugh.gif I was referring more to the upcoming FA class. They needed the signing for this upcoming season.

If Kershaw was still without an extension, I would have been more opposed. I say it because if they went into the season sans Tanaka combined with either CC continuing to struggle or missing the playoffs again, I have no doubt in my mind they would have made Scherzer the next $200mm+ pitcher. Masterson and Bailey are the only guys upcoming under 30 (barely) and they'll end up getting close to $100mm next off season. As much as I like Bailey, that's obscene. I'll take my chances on a 25 year old for 4 years I guess.

Long walk for a short drink of water.
post #19690 of 77571
Angels and O's conducting due diligence on Arroyo.
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post #19691 of 77571
2014 Ten Breakout Players

Agree with Rendon, Paxton, and Ventura. KC believed in Yordano enough to render Santana an expendable fluke. Been waiting on Rendon as much as Kolten Wong. Less pressure on Paxton than Tai.

http://espn.go.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/43685/five-breakout-position-players-for-2014
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post #19692 of 77571
Quote:
Originally Posted by ChampCruThik View Post

2014 Ten Breakout Players

Agree with Rendon, Paxton, and Ventura. KC believed in Yordano enough to render Santana an expendable fluke. Been waiting on Rendon as much as Kolten Wong. Less pressure on Paxton than Tai.

http://espn.go.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/43685/five-breakout-position-players-for-2014

I played against 2 guys on that list and I'm just sitting here on NikeTalk. Smh lol
post #19693 of 77571
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jewbacca View Post

I played against 2 guys on that list and I'm just sitting here on NikeTalk. Smh lol
What position?
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post #19694 of 77571
Quote:
Originally Posted by ChampCruThik View Post

What position?

I pitched.
post #19695 of 77571
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jewbacca View Post

I pitched.
What you hit on the gun?
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post #19696 of 77571
Quote:
Originally Posted by ChampCruThik View Post

What you hit on the gun?

I topped out at 83. I was mainly used as a lefty specialist which is why I was able to play with and against lots good talent lol
post #19697 of 77571
Quote:
Originally Posted by Th3RealF0lkBlu3s View Post

I thought there was a joke in there somewhere, but wow, the guy really started a forest fire.

same here laugh.giflaugh.gif
post #19698 of 77571
post #19699 of 77571
I'm ready. MLB Extra Innings package renewed. Why wait? pimp.gif
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post #19700 of 77571
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Originally Posted by 651akathePaul View Post

I'm ready. MLB Extra Innings package renewed. Why wait? pimp.gif

post #19701 of 77571
Erik Johnson officially penciled in for CWS' rotation.
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post #19702 of 77571
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post #19703 of 77571

Perry is hilarious when he's on the fangraphs podcast.
post #19704 of 77571

 

:lol

post #19705 of 77571
Quote:
Originally Posted by AyZee View Post
 

 

:lol

That can apply to the Lakers too. :lol

post #19706 of 77571
Cowboys*
post #19707 of 77571
Thread Starter 
Ranking all 30 farm systems.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
To kick off my look at the best prospects in the minor leagues this week, I've ranked all 30 MLB farm systems from top to bottom, considering only the players who are currently in their systems and who have not yet exhausted their rookie of the year eligibility. (I use the same criterion for the individual player rankings that will be posted over the next three days.)
The future is now
The full schedule of Keith Law's annual prospect rankings package.

Jan. 28: Farm system rankings
Jan. 29: Top 100 prospects
Jan. 30: AL East top 10s | ALC | ALW
Jan. 31: NL East top 10s | NLC | NLW
Similar to last year, there are only a handful of systems that combine both a few high-impact or high-ceiling prospects and also have depth down to and past the end of their top 10 list. (My top 10 rankings by team will be released on Thursday and Friday.)

Many systems ranked in the teens boast a couple of very good prospects -- say, one or two guys who project as above-average regulars, and another two or three who might be everyday guys -- and then it's bench parts and relievers. Those players are good to have, as you'd much rather fill those spots with minimum-salaried players than have to reach out to free agency, but their asset value is much lower than the values of prospects who project as average or better.

One last point: Of my top 10 farm systems, only three are "large market" teams (although the proper term would be "high revenue"). Scouting and player development are still the best way to build a competitive major league team, and while some extra money in scouting helps, success in either area is far more a function of the people you employ than the money you throw at the players. Good organizations hire and retain good people, enact strong processes and then execute them -- even when fans or writers don't see the big picture.



1. Houston Astros

On the one hand, when you pick first overall every year, you should probably end up with a pretty good farm system, and the Astros' top five prospects are all first-round picks. On the other hand, the Astros have done everything they needed to do to restock what was a few years ago the worst system in the majors, like exceeding MLB's recommended signing bonuses for Lance McCullers Jr. and Rio Ruiz in 2012, or landing prospects like Jonathan Singleton, Domingo Santana and Asher Wojciechowski in trades.

They've become more aggressive in Latin America, as well, after years of dormancy following the departure of legendary Venezuelan scout Andres Reiner in 2005, and have been willing to endure some brutal seasons at the major league level in pursuit of the goal of strengthening the weak system. They have depth and they have a couple of high-ceiling guys at the top of the system, getting close to the point where the light at the end of the tunnel no longer looks like an oncoming train. It's been ugly, Astros fans, but hang in there.



2. Minnesota Twins

The Twins have more high-end talent -- I'm referring to players who have both high ceilings and also have a reasonable probability of getting close to those ceilings -- than any other organization right now. They have a pair of potential future MVP candidates in Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, with more power arms than this system has had in ages. They don't quite have Houston's depth, but the gap between the systems is quite small.



3. Pittsburgh Pirates

Almost everything went right for the Pirates in 2013 -- and I'm only talking about their farm system. They bounced back from failing to sign their first-round pick in '12, Mark Appel, by landing the best prep hitter in last year's class in Austin Meadows, while several prospects already in the system took huge steps forward into my overall top 20.



4. Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are absolutely loaded with bats, but they could use a few arms; either arm, not terribly picky, must throw at least 92 mph.

Their top four prospects are all impact position players, three because of how they'll hit, one (Albert Almora) because of his defense/offense combination. With those prospects joining what they already have in the majors, they could have one of the NL's best offenses by 2016.



5. Boston Red Sox

They rival Houston for the best top 10 of any team, with as many prospects on the top 100 as the Astros have, and while they don't have Houston's depth, Boston's system is pretty deep, with at least a half-dozen pitching prospects who reasonably project (that is, not just pie-in-the-sky forecasting) as No. 4 starters or better.

And that ignores the part about their best prospects being position players who hit and most of whom play very good defense. When a defensive whiz like Christian Vazquez, a catcher who can hit a little, can't crack your top 10, you're doing a lot of things right.



6. New York Mets

The turnaround in this system is remarkable, especially when you consider they have not had a top-10 pick since they took Matt Harvey in 2010, and it puts the Mets in excellent shape relative to the other four teams in their division.

The decisions to trade R.A. Dickey and Marlon Byrd look even better in hindsight. The Mets also have one of the minors' best collections of pitchers who throw strikes but aren't strictly finesse guys.



7. Kansas City Royals

The first wave of top Royals prospects hit Kansas City over the past two years, but most of them haven't come close to expectations yet -- although I think Eric Hosmer has finally turned that corner. The next group is less hyped, but might be just as good, with power arms leading the way and a couple of strong bats.

This wave of talent is shallower than the last one, but the Royals' biggest window of contention is going to start very soon.



8. Colorado Rockies

A sneaky-good system, although with Eddie Butler and Jonathan Gray throwing 98 mph tablets by hitters I doubt the Rockies can keep their prospect depth on the QT. They've generally been a productive club in Latin America despite avoiding the biggest bonus babies, and I'm in the camp that assumes that 2012 first-rounder David Dahl will return this April without missing a beat.



9. San Diego Padres

The Padres were my top system two years ago and graduated a lot of that depth to the majors. However, they filled the void nicely with two more solid drafts, helping make up for lost seasons from Casey Kelly and Rymer Liriano (both of whom missed 2013 due to Tommy John surgery).

Their recent trade for major league reliever Alex Torres also included Jesse Hahn, another power arm to add to the system, but he missed their top 10 behind several pitchers with a better chance to remain starters.



10. Baltimore Orioles

Very top-heavy, but a strong front five, all on the top 100, due in no small part to a string of four straight solid first-round picks since the Matt Hobgood fiasco. (Hobgood, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2009 draft, has a 5.05 ERA in his career and hasn't made it past Class A.)

Their depth is improving, though it's still behind where it'll need to be to keep the club competitive in the AL East, and more investment in intriguing international amateurs like Olelky Peralta will help bolster the system.



11. Los Angeles Dodgers

Also a very top-heavy system, like Baltimore's, with two elite guys at the top and three solid guys after, followed by a lot of reliever/fifth starter depth. They did have some intriguing arms in short-season ball who could push this system's overall value up a lot by next year, especially since none of their top eight prospects are likely to lose eligibility in 2014.



12. St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals have produced so much homegrown talent over the past five years that it's hard to believe they're still above the median, but with potential superstar Oscar Taveras on top, a half-dozen more prospects who project as regulars or better, and lots of pitching and bench depth, they're poised to keep stocking the major league team for several more years. One system weakness, though, as you might have heard: shortstop.



13. Texas Rangers

Most of the talent here is very young and likely three years away, but there is as much All-Star potential in this system as there is in just about any of the systems after the top five -- just a lot less probability, as guys like Joey Gallo or Lewis Brinson could be elite big leaguers just as easily as they could wash out in Double-A.



14. Philadelphia Phillies

Similar to Texas but with fewer prospects who are potential grade 65 or better players in the majors. I thought the Phillies had one of the best drafts, perhaps the best of anyone, in 2013, landing a few high-ceiling high school kids -- such as shortstop J.P. Crawford -- while mixing in some solid college bats like catcher Andrew Knapp.



15. Arizona Diamondbacks

A lot of high-ceiling pitching here, which is probably a good strategy for a team that plays in a hitter's park 1,100 feet above sea level, but light on near-term position players other than shortstop Chris Owings.

One bright spot on the hitting side: Brandon Drury, who looked like a throw-in to the Justin Upton trade, but broke out with a big year for low Class A South Bend and may help salvage a mostly disastrous trade for the D-backs.



16. Cincinnati Reds

Plenty of outfielders and power arms here, light up the middle and possibly light on starting pitching candidates after Robert Stephenson. At worst, they'll put a pretty good bullpen together on the cheap from all of those A-ball starters, a group that includes 2012 supplemental first-round pick Nick Travieso.



17. Cleveland Indians

Danny Salazar reaching the majors was great for the system, but deletes him from the Indians' top 10, and they had several prospects who had disappointing years, none more than former No. 3 overall pick Trevor Bauer, whose stuff wavered and who couldn't throw strikes. Aggressive promotions for Dorssys Paulino and Jose Ramirez hurt their performances, although both are still promising middle infield prospects.



18. Washington Nationals

The Nats' system has a little more depth than it's had in several years, but most of their elite prospects have already graduated, with only Lucas Giolito in the overall top 50. Their list's caliber drops off quickly after six or seven names.



19. Miami Marlins

They keep graduating guys like Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich faster than most other organizations would, which doesn't help their ranking but also is one positive way that the front office has bucked the industry. They don't stash good players in the minors to manipulate service time -- when a kid shows he might be ready, he's up to sink or swim. This will be a big year for some starter prospects in the system who may be on the cusp of a move to the pen.



20. New York Yankees

It seemed like everyone who mattered in this system got hurt in 2013, and of those who didn't most had disappointing years. The good news is every one of the injured prospects should be healthy to start 2014 (except Slade Heathcott, for whom "healthy" is an abstract concept), but it also means the Mason Williamses and Tyler Austins of the system will run out of excuses if they don't hit.

A strong day one draft class in 2013 -- when they had three of the top 33 picks -- helped boost the system.



21. Seattle Mariners

The M's graduated three top prospects to the majors in 2013 in Mike Zunino, Nick Franklin and Brad Miller, so there's less on the farm now after the two starting pitchers (Taijuan Walker and James Paxton) who are on the cusp of helping the big league team. Their Class A clubs will be the teams to watch if you're looking for prospects.



22. Atlanta Braves

A very top-heavy system, led by first-rounder Lucas Sims and Panamanian catcher Christian Bethancourt, but years of subpar drafts as well as trades to bolster the major league team have thinned the system out. Atlanta is the only team with two undrafted (yet draft-eligible) free agents in its top 10 prospects.



23. Tampa Bay Rays

Years of good trades helped keep the Rays near the top of the list since I started compiling these rankings, but they've been crushed by the graduations of Wil Myers and Chris Archer last year plus several unproductive drafts -- when Kevin Kiermaier and Tim Beckham reached the majors in September, they were the first players drafted and developed by the Rays to suit up for the team since David Price and Matt Moore from the 2007 draft.

The Rays have been hurt by on-field success that gives them lower picks and limits their draft and international bonus pools, but they haven't fared well even within those limits.



24. Toronto Blue Jays

It's tough to trade away three top 100 prospects, as the Jays did last winter, and maintain a strong system, but the Jays compounded that problem by failing to sign their first overall pick (Phil Bickford) for the second time in three years.

The Jays can afford to trade prospects if they're hitting on high draft picks, but they haven't done so often enough other than the selections they ended up dealing.



25. San Francisco Giants

The Giants have a lot of high-floor arms in their system and a couple of intriguing up-the-middle bats, but not quite enough of either to overcome a lack of high-ceiling (potential star) prospects after hard-throwing Kyle Crick. They are in position to use that pitching depth to make a midseason acquisition if they need to this year, which wasn't true of their system going into 2013.



26. Oakland Athletics

The A's have one of the youngest top 10s of any team in the majors, but aside from budding superstar Addison Russell, most of their talent is far away and still very uncertain.



27. Chicago White Sox

The ranking doesn't reflect it yet, but this system is headed in the right direction thanks to better drafts, including a few surprises from later-round picks. I did not include Cuban defector Jose Abreu in any rankings, as he's 27 years old, but the Sox would be higher if he counted in their favor.



28. Detroit Tigers

This system boils down to third baseman Nick Castellanos and a lot of power arms who seem like probable relievers, as well as some slick defensive middle infielders, any of whom could establish himself as a valuable asset with a year of offensive production. I'd like the system more had the Doug Fister trade yielded a top-50 prospect, as you'd expect given Fister's performance the past two years.



29. Los Angeles Angels

An awful system after years of lost first-round picks and trades to bulk up the major league team, it improved marginally in 2013 with some new arms, but regression from most of the top position player prospects in the system was a huge disappointment.



30. Milwaukee Brewers

There may not be a player in this system who projects as an above-average player in the majors; the best bets are all teenagers who played in low Class A or below in 2013, and none is close to a lock to get there.

The system lacks ceiling and it lacks depth beyond reliever candidates and likely fourth outfielders, with nothing in the middle of the diamond and no starting pitching of note.
post #19708 of 77571
Thread Starter 
Derek Jeter, Yankees must face facts.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Simply put, what Derek Jeter will try to do in 2014 -- be a regular shortstop for a playoff team in the summer in which he will turn 40 years old -- is unprecedented. No one has ever done it before.

The closest was Luis Aparicio, the Hall of Fame shortstop. He turned 39 in April 1973 and that year, he played 132 games for the Boston Red Sox, hitting .271 with 18 extra-base hits in 561 plate appearances. The Red Sox went 89-73, but the next season, Mario Guerrero was their shortstop and Aparicio was cut, which gives you some insight into how he played.

"Luis was at the end of the line, as much offense as defense," says Peter Gammons, who covered the Red Sox then for the Boston Globe. "The next spring Darrell Johnson was the manager and he released Aparicio and Orlando Cepeda the same day in spring training."

Jeter's ankle trouble limited him to just 17 games and 73 plate appearances last season. The fact that Jeter posted a .542 OPS is really irrelevant, because it was such a small sample size, and Jeter was never fully healed and able to do the sort of conditioning and preparation he usually does, after spending a lot of last offseason in a walking boot.

The fact is that nobody really knows, as of now, what Jeter could be next summer -- not the doctors who have worked with him, not Manager Joe Girardi, not Jeter. And the future Hall of Famer and the Yankees should go into this year with eyes wide open to all possibilities.

There should be regular conversations between Jeter and the staff about how he's playing, about what's working and what's not working, because the Yankees have too much at stake this year, after failing to make the playoffs last season and spending almost half a billion dollars to upgrade the roster, to simply commit the whole season to a player surrounded by so many question marks at such a key position.

The Yankees need to be open-minded. They should be prepared to give Jeter a good chunk of time to re-establish himself, given how Jeter performed less than two years ago. In 2012, Jeter led the majors with 216 hits, including 47 extra-base hits and a .791 OPS.

Jeter needs to be open-minded, as well. He has been a superlative player for almost two decades and because of that, he could safely assume that he will be in the lineup each day, as the Yankees' best available option at shortstop. But there will be a day when Jeter will not be the best option, and the Yankees did not assume that Jeter would be OK this year, which is why they signed a safety net in Brendan Ryan, who is regarded as one of the best defensive shortstops in the big leagues.

Jim Thome told me a few years ago that he reached a turning point in his career when he embraced his physical limitations. He realized that if he took days off, he was more effective when he played. Thome was once one of baseball's best grinders, someone who played every day, but because of back trouble, it became more difficult for him to be ready to play in day games after night games, or every day for a week.

So he and his managers assessed the forthcoming schedule and picked out days when rest made sense, when Thome was better served by having a day off, when the team was better served, in the big picture, by having Thome rest.

It's possible that Jeter will come back and will be able to play daily, as he did in 2012, when he played 159 games, with 135 appearances shortstop and 25 at DH. It's also possible that on given days -- such as when Masahiro Tanaka pitches and generates grounders with his splitter -- that the Yankees would be better served by having Ryan at shortstop. Depending on how Jeter plays, there could be days when the Yankees' best lineup will be having Ryan at shortstop, Carlos Beltran at DH and an outfield of Alfonso Soriano, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, with Jeter sitting out.

If Jeter bounces back and hits like he did in 2012, then he should be a part of the top of the Yankees' lineup. Two years ago, Jeter had a .364 on-base percentage hitting leadoff and New York ranked third in OBP for leadoff hitters among the 30 teams. Ellsbury, one of the game's elite leadoff hitters and a major stolen base threat, should hit in the No. 1 spot at the start of the year and Jeter should hit No. 2, with Beltran likely sliding in at No. 3.

But if Jeter doesn't hit early in the season and Gardner gets on base regularly, then Girardi and Jeter should be prepared for change; if Jeter doesn't hit early, the manager and the captain should be open to the possibility that the Yankees could be better with Ellsbury and Gardner at the top of the order.

Girardi has always had great affection and respect for Jeter; having watched the two of them since 1998, I think Girardi almost thinks of Jeter as something close to a younger brother. If Girardi ever moved Jeter to a lower spot in the lineup, it should never be construed as a personal slight, or an insult; it would be because Girardi put together the lineup that he believed gave the Yankees their best chance to win, which he owes to the Yankees, to the other players, to Jeter.

It's not unusual for an aged star to shift to a different part of the order. Paul O'Neill sometimes hit sixth or seventh in 2001, his last season. Mickey Mantle actually hit in the No. 2 spot in eight games in his last season of 1968. Joe DiMaggio hit in the No. 5 spot in handful of games in his last season. Thome started in five different parts of the order in 2011.

It happens.

Maybe it won't happen to Jeter this year, maybe it will. No matter what happens, Jeter will be forever remembered as an all-time great player, one of the best of his generation, and there's no sense in any of them -- Girardi, Jeter, General Manager Brian Cashman -- feeling uncomfortable about talking about changes that are inevitable, whether it's this year or the next or the year after that.

Around the league

• With Matt Garza's deal with the Brewers now official, all eyes in the industry have turned to Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, the two most prominent starting pitchers available, given their ages and 2013 performances. Both are attached to draft-pick compensation, of course.

Sam Mellinger speculates on what the Garza signing might mean for the Royals, who have kept the back porch light on for Santana in case he decides he's OK with a team-friendly deal.

• Walt Jocketty thinks Billy Hamilton is ready. From John Fay's story:
"I don't feel pressure … [Hamilton said.] "This is how it usually is before a season. I know what my job is. It's to come in and spot up (Shin-Soo) Choo. It's going to be tough to do what he did. Coming into the season, I want to play my game."((

The Reds don't expect Hamilton's on-base percentage to approach Choo's. Choo got on base at a .423 clip -- second in the National League to Joey Votto. Hamilton hit .256 with a .308 on-base at Louisville.((

But Hamilton gives the Reds speed. The Reds think he will be an upgrade in center, even though Hamilton is new to the position. He also gives the Reds a rare base-stealing threat. He stole 13 bases in 14 attempts after his call-up last year. He set an all-time record for the minor leagues with 155 steals in 2012.

But it's a big question whether Hamilton's bat is ready. If it is, new manager Bryan Price knows what kind of impact Hamilton can have.

"I saw what Ichiro (Suzuki) did for the 2001 Seattle Mariners," Price said. "We're not comparing the two. But the speed element -- Ichiro wasn't going to hit a lot of home runs -- but he put a lot of balls in play, beat out a lot of ground balls. Almost anything to the left side was going to be a hit unless the third baseman cut it off.

"He wreaked havoc. Pitchers had to rush to the plate. They paid a lot of attention to him. He got a lot of fastballs for guys hitting behind him. He got a lot of hitters in good counts to hit. He created a lot of scoring opportunities. I understand the importance of it."


It's crucial for the Reds' lineup that Hamilton is an effective player, and given his incredible prowess on the bases, it may not be necessary for Hamilton to produce within the standard models for leadoff hitters. If Hamilton has a .300 on-base percentage, for example -- and that may be what the Reds could reasonably expect in Hamilton's first year in the big leagues -- he could still score a whole lot of runs because his singles and walks tend to lead to him standing on second or third base shortly thereafter.

Think of Hamilton like a young starting pitcher who has one great tool -- an overpowering fastball -- but who lacks a great second or third pitch. It's possible that the pitcher will get hammered, and it's also possible he can dominate some lineups.

What will be especially important, in Hamilton's first months as a regular, is that the other parts of the Reds' lineup are functional. If Hamilton struggles, the Reds cannot afford to have dead spots in the seventh and eighth holes in their batting order. Last year, Cincinnati's No. 7 hitters ranked 22nd in OPS, and their No. 8 hitters were 24th.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Orioles have remained in contact with the representatives for some starting pitchers. A lot of teams are bottom-feeding right now, trolling around and waiting for the right deal -- for the prices to drop and for the players' desperation to rise.

2. Ryan Flaherty is going to spring training trying to win the Orioles' second base job.

3. Michael Young tells Dylan Hernandez he will either play for the Dodgers or retire, in all likelihood. The Dodgers are his first choice, writes J.P. Hoornstra.

4. The White Sox are preparing for the No. 3 pick in the draft, writes Colleen Kane.

NL East

• Darin Ruf should be playing right field for the Phillies instead of Marlon Byrd, writes Bob Brookover.

• Curtis Granderson is ready to bring his leadership skills to the Mets, writes Kevin Kernan.

• Ryan Doumit may or may not get some time at catcher.

NL West

• The curveball pushed Russell Wilson to football, writes Troy Renck.

AL East

• The National Post breaks down all of the rotations in the AL East.

• Bryce Brentz is going to keep plugging away.

AL Central

• Joba Chamberlain has dropped some weight.

• Michael Bourn says the 2014 Indians will contend.

It's worth repeating: Cleveland's offense, which was tied for fifth in runs in 2013, has a chance to be markedly better this season, given the struggles of Bourn, Asdrubal Cabrera and Nick Swisher last season.

• Don Cooper sees a bright future in Chicago.

• Byron Buxton is a natural as a father, too, writes Mike Berardino.

AL West

• The Astros' new pitching coach has a wealth of experience, writes Evan Drellich.

• Randy Harvey wonders if the Astros' pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka was all for show.

• The Tanaka contract could motivate Yu Darvish, writes Jeff Wilson.

• Shin-Soo Choo says he'll be better against lefties. As mentioned here before, some evaluators believe his regression against lefties is rooted in the moment that Jonathan Sanchez broke his thumb with a pitch in 2011.

• Robinson Cano is embracing new opportunities, writes Bob Dutton.

Early picks for every division.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
There are still some front-line free agents who will sign before the start of the regular season, and the inevitable spring training injuries to come, so it's too early to lock in predictions for 2014.

But right now, this is what I'm looking at:

Division winners for the AL -- Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers, Oakland Athletics
Wild-card teams -- Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees
Division winners for the NL -- Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers
Wild-card teams -- Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres

With David Price still in Tampa Bay, the Rays could have an extraordinary rotation. The Tigers may lack thump in the middle of their lineup, but they should be significantly better defensively with more speed and Joe Nathan will stabilize their bullpen. Oakland loses Bartolo Colon, but the Athletics will have Sonny Gray at the outset of the season with what could be an overpowering bullpen. Xander Bogaerts should help the Red Sox get back to the playoffs.

Washington added Doug Fister to an already strong rotation, and I bet the Nationals will be fueled by what they didn’t accomplish last year. Atlanta has growing money concerns with its young core, but has enough depth to get back to the playoffs. St. Louis looks capable of running away with the NL Central if its young pitching continues to manifest. Though the Dodgers have lineup holes, their pitching staff -- led by Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke -- could be extraordinary.

The two teams I’m most torn about, among those picked for the postseason here, are the Padres and Yankees.

I wrote here the other day about the Padres' collection of front-line pitching, including the expected return of Cory Luebke and deals for Joaquin Benoit, Alex Torres and Josh Johnson. The big question about San Diego will be whether its lineup will improve, given that it ranked 24th in runs scored last season.

It's worth noting that the Padres actually scored just 31 fewer runs than the Dodgers last season, in a year in which Everth Cabrera and Yasmani Grandal were suspended, Yonder Alonso was limited to 92 games because of injury and Cameron Maybin played in only 14 games. Only one member of the Padres, Will Venable, played more than 146 games.

San Diego was basically luckless in 2013 and there's no guarantee that won't happen again. But the Padres have some depth, with the potential to post productive lineups against right-handers and left-handers, because of acute platoon numbers.

• Venable -- .807 OPS versus right-handers

• Chris Denorfia -- .799 OPS versus left-handers

• Carlos Quentin -- 1.057 OPS versus left-handers

• Kyle Blanks -- .829 OPS versus left-handers

• Jedd Gyorko -- .829 OPS versus left-handers

• Grandal -- .752 OPS versus left-handers

• Seth Smith -- .748 OPS versus right-handers

[+] Enlarge
Andy Hayt/Getty Images
Padres third baseman Chase Headley is expected to bounce back in 2014.
Chase Headley should be better, and the Padres can reasonably expect that Cabrera and Alonso are going to play in a lot more games. They’re a really interesting team -- and time will tell whether they can separate themselves from a pack of wild-card contenders that may include Pittsburgh, which must overcome the loss of A.J. Burnett; Cincinnati, which has had a quiet winter; the Diamondbacks, who may still add a needed starting pitcher before the start of the regular season; the Giants, who could be helped by the addition of Tim Hudson and a possible comeback season from a slimmed-down Pablo Sandoval.

About the Yankees: Yes, their infield is full of question marks -- seemingly the only sure thing is that the quartet you see on Opening Day will not be the same in September -- and they have pitching questions. But when assessing their 2014 playoff chances, we should remember that what they have is tremendous potential for difference-making in-season upgrades now that they’ve moved past the $189 million threshold.

No longer will they be counting nickels and dimes. New York will be able to take on money, which is a unique power in the middle of a season.

The Yankees' farm system might be something of a mess, and in a competitive bidding situation for the likes of Price that may well be pivotal. But some teams will get to July and August and start looking to dump money off their 2014 books, and the Yankees will be more willing and able to absorb that cost than other teams -- much in the same way that the Rangers took on Prince Fielder and the money owed to him. That means the Yankees could be in position to take on the onerous contracts of good players who are marketed.

For example: Someone like Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies' shortstop, who is owed $134 million for the next seven seasons.

Let's pause a moment to make this absolutely clear: This is all speculation at this point. There is no indication that Colorado is dangling Tulowitzki; rather, they've made it known they intend to keep him.

But if the Rockies struggled early and began looking for opportunities to unburden themselves of the 29-year-old's contract, this is the type of player the Yankees would be uniquely positioned to target. A limited number of teams would be willing to take on Tulowitzki's deal.

Others who could be made available, depending on how their respective teams are faring and whether they might be looking to move dollars in midseason:

• Billy Butler -- He’s owed $8 million for this season and $12 million for next season at a time when fewer teams are willing to anoint (and pay for) a full-time DH. He’s not really a fit for the Yankees, though, because they're already loaded with DH candidates.

• Rickie Weeks -- Owed $11 million for 2014 in the last season of his deal before reaching free agency.

• Jimmy Rollins -- Owed $11 million for 2014 and has a very makeable $11 million vesting option for 2015.

• Cliff Lee -- Will make $62.5 million in 2014 and 2015, including a $12.5 million buyout on a 2016 option.

• Cole Hamels -- In second year of a seven-year, $147 million deal.

• Josh Willingham -- Will make $7 million this year in the last season before free agency.

• Michael Cuddyer -- Is set to make $10.5 million this season before free agency.

• Yovani Gallardo -- Teams were concerned by his 2013 performance, and he'll make $11.2 million this year, with a $13 million team option for next season.

• Jim Johnson -- Oakland is unafraid of making major bullpen changes in a pennant race, and if the Yankees are struggling to fill the closer's role these two teams could be a match, depending on the prospect.

• Carlos Gonzalez -- Owed $63.5 million for the next four seasons. He's probably a candidate for more of a prospect-driven deal than a salary dump.

• Matt Kemp -- Owed $128 million for the next six seasons.

• Carl Crawford -- Given his struggles in Boston, it would seem unlikely the Yankees would consider him. He'll make $82 million over the next four seasons.

• Andre Ethier -- Owed $71.5 million for the rest of his current deal.

• Matt Wieters -- The Orioles dangled him in the trade market last winter, and if Baltimore flounders early, it would make sense for them to take offers again. But like Gonzalez, he'd be a candidate for a prospect-driven deal.

• Mark Buehrle -- He had a 4.15 ERA last season in his 13th consecutive season of more than 200 innings, so he is a plow horse -- and being paid like a racehorse. Buerhle will make $37 million for 2014 and 2015, and rival executives say the Blue Jays made him available in the past year. If he's throwing effectively, this is the perfect salary-dump candidate for a prospect-starved organization as Toronto looks to save as much money as possible.

• Jose Reyes -- Owed $86 million for the next four seasons including a buyout of his 2018 option. He is 30 years old, and if the Blue Jays were willing to eat some of his contract, he could be interesting for a team that may soon need a shortstop -- such as the Yankees.

The Royals might have their best team in the past two decades, and may well reach the postseason; if I don't pick the Yankees, I'll probably go with the Royals because of their dominant defense and bullpen. The Indians' offense should be better. The Angels' rotation should be improved, and they have the best player in the sport. The Orioles' waning chances seem to be predicated on whether they get a couple of unexpected pitching performances to complement their solid everyday lineup.

For the readers: What would your picks be?

Around the league

• Within this piece, there is word that the Phillies have hired a statistical analyst.

• Justin Masterson and the Indians have shelved talks about a multiyear deal.

• Jerry Remy is returning to broadcasting. Remy’s return looks like the wrong move.

• David Ortiz wants a new contract, but the Red Sox should stick to the plan, writes Gerry Callahan.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Reds want to keep Homer Bailey.

2. The Brewers signed Pete Orr.

NL East

• Craig Kimbrel was among those attending the Braves’ early camp.

• Brandon Beachy is hoping his frustration is in the past, as Mark Bowman writes.

• Drew Storen wants to keep rolling.

• Intensity will be Matt Williams' calling card, writes Mike Harris.

• The Phillies' rotation worries Ryne Sandberg.

NL Central

• A Cardinals prospect is looking forward to spring training.

NL West

• Ubaldo Jimenez is still available, writes Troy Renck, who doesn’t think there could be a match with the Rockies.

AL Central

• Victor Martinez wants to be back for 2015.

• Yordano Ventura was named one of the top minor leaguers.

AL West

• The Rangers could have another move, writes Gerry Fraley.

• Corey Hart believes his knees have improved, writes Bob Dutton.

From the story:

"I've ramped up everything," he said Sunday when the Mariners concluded their two-day FanFest at Safeco Field. "I’ve been running bases and doing baseball stuff. I haven’t gotten on the field yet to do fly balls, but I’ve been doing simulated ground balls to work on my footwork and agility. It’s been progressing. I’ve been able to do everything. It’s been nice."

There might be no aspect of the Mariners’ upcoming spring camp that will be more closely watched or more crucial to their success than Hart’s ability to handle the daily grind on his knees after missing all of last season.

"Does he hit the ground running?" general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "We’ll have to find out. He’s certainly talented. He could be a really good piece for us."


I still think it makes sense for either the Mariners or the Rangers to sign Nelson Cruz.

Two small-market clubs going all-in.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
When the New York Yankees really go for it, when they unleash their financial might in an effort to protect their brand and win a championship, that means firing almost a half-billion dollars at the best and most expensive players.

Two other teams have unleashed the full fury of their resources this winter, although you might've missed it. The Tampa Bay Rays and San Diego Padres have pulled out all stops, and if you're trying to imagine what that looks like, well, just think of drag-racing Mini Coopers.

That is not said to demean either franchise. Actually, it's noted with great admiration. This is a baseball version of "The Charge of the Light Brigade," and the Padres and Rays should be respected for it, for doing all that they can to compete against the moneyed monsters within their respective divisions.

The Rays agreed to terms with Grant Balfour on Thursday, in a winter in which they spent dollars to sign James Loney and David DeJesus, their own free agents. To put the numbers in context: Masahiro Tanaka will make $22 million-plus per season in his seven-year deal with the Yankees, and Loney's $21 million, three-year deal represents the Rays' largest investment in a free agent ... ever. Balfour represents the third-largest investment. Unless some great offer suddenly emerges for David Price, it appears the Rays will keep the Cy Young left-hander, in spite of his $14 million salary, and go into the 2014 season with a franchise-record $74 million payroll, or about 18-20 percent higher than their 2013 budget.

The Padres have quietly made a similar move, a push that really began a couple of years ago when the team's new ownership approved deals for Carlos Quentin and Huston Street, and then took on Ian Kennedy last summer in the midst of his arbitration years. This winter, the Padres committed $8 million to Josh Johnson, signed Joaquin Benoit to a two-year, $15.5 million deal, traded for Seth Smith to address a specific roster need, and traded for left-hander Alex Torres in a seven-player deal with the Rays on Wednesday.

And just as the Rays seem to be leaning toward keeping Price, rather than flipping him for prospects, the Padres have chosen to carry third baseman Chase Headley into the last season before he becomes eligible for free agency, instead of trading him.

It appears that the Padres will take a payroll of about $85 million into the 2014 season, or about $30 million more than the team spent in 2012.

Padres GM Josh Byrnes noted the improvement of Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, and the expected return of Cory Luebke, Joe Wieland and Casey Kelly, in addition to Kennedy and Johnson. San Diego could have one of the best pitching staffs in the National League. To contend with the powers of the NL West, Byrnes said, "We're going to have to have really, really good pitching, and we'll at least have a chance."

Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman, in the Dominican Republic, wrote in an e-mail: "We want to give our organization the best chance to compete and to win. We know that it's going to cost us more than we can practically afford. In some respects it's the price of our success. If we didn't have these types of players, if we didn't have the opportunity for a great season we'd be looking at a significantly different payroll."

Around the league

• Jon Lester made it very clear: He's willing to take a hometown discount to stay in Boston.

How much could that mean, given Lester's age and pitching history?

One comparable salary might be what Matt Cain got with the Giants before the 2012 season -- a six-year, $127.5 million deal. The Red Sox might prefer something closer to the $80 million, five-year deal that Anibal Sanchez got from the Tigers.

For years, there had always been some question about how good Lester could be, because he wasn't as consistently excellent as the game's very best pitchers. But in his work in the last months of the 2013 season, and through the postseason, he seemed to climb from the lofty second tier of starting pitchers into the top tier. He seemed to fully realize his potential, pitching to both sides of the plate.

In the second half of 2013, Lester allowed just four homers in 87 2/3 innings, with a 2.57 ERA, and in five October starts he surrendered only six earned runs in 34 2/3 innings, with 29 strikeouts. He would seem to be worthy of a solid five-year investment, at least, with perhaps some haggling over a sixth year.

• Grady Sizemore, now 31, hasn't played in a major league game since 2011, and he's had a total of 435 plate appearances since 2009. The Red Sox did extensive work leading up to their signing of Sizemore, to get a sense of where he is.

"We spent quite a bit of time with him over the last couple weeks, mostly in Arizona," said GM Ben Cherington. "Our scouts and medical staff went out there to see him. He's doing everything possible to put himself in a position to play and of course we know how good he is when he can do that. We think we can help him, but we'll know a lot more by the end of March."

John Farrell has a long history with Sizemore.

Sizemore changed his mind at the last minute, says Reds GM Walt Jocketty.

• Matt Garza is close to landing a four-year, $52 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, although as of Thursday evening, it hadn't been pushed across the finish line.

Club officials with other teams indicated they were leery of giving him more than a three-year contract because of his history of elbow trouble, but Garza has some extra appeal as the best available free-agent pitcher who is not tied to draft-pick compensation. The fact that Garza is prepared to take a four-year deal with a team not viewed as a classic landing spot for pitchers is a clue that the Brewers separated themselves by being willing to consider a fourth year.

The Cardinals should be prohibitive favorites to win the NL Central, based on statistical models and the potency of their young pitching, but the Brewers could be interesting; they usually hit, and with the addition of Kyle Lohse and Garza in the last year, their rotation will be improved, undoubtedly. Just as the Yankees had to extend themselves in the Tanaka bidding because of the failure of their player development system to produce good young pitching, the Brewers have had to fill in the gaps of what they are not generating from within.

• The Pirates are turning the page on A.J. Burnett's return, writes Jerry Crasnick.

• Jonny Gomes had some thoughts about the Yankees. Gomes also had some specific thoughts on A-Rod, as Scott Lauber writes. From the piece:
"He does steroids or whatever, it sucks. He does this or that, it sucks. He's always in the news, it sucks," the Red Sox left fielder told the Herald yesterday before the 75th annual Boston Baseball Writers' dinner. "But this is the players' union he's going against. It's all of us. Not a real good idea."

Rodriguez recently filed a lawsuit against the MLBPA and Major League Baseball in an attempt to overturn a 162-game suspension for his violation of the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. It was expected that the embattled New York Yankees third baseman would take action against MLB, but turning against the union has irritated many players in the rank and file, including Gomes.

The union represented A-Rod in his arbitration hearing last fall, but Rodriguez' suit claims the MLBPA "abdicated its responsibility" to defend a player and even takes issue with former union chief Michael Weiner, who died of brain cancer in November.

"I think what he had going on is pretty individual," Gomes said. "He did it. It was his decision, his suspension. But I don't think it's really a good idea to go after our union. Down to my (expletive) kids, down to the benefits we have, down to our retirement fund, the union makes our lives better.

"We pay dues to the union for our rights ... Him and the Yankees were butting heads last year. Whatever, don't care. But he's truly going against every single major league player, and every single major league player that's played this game before. It brings a whole different light on things."

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Orioles haven't talked with Fernando Rodney in weeks, writes Dan Connolly.

2. The Orioles signed Aaron Laffey.

3. Nothing is pending with a contract extension, says Max Scherzer.

4. The Royals signed Jon Rauch.

5. David Aardsma agreed to terms with the Indians.

6. Sooner is better for an extension for Giancarlo Stanton, says the Marlins' GM.

7. The Giants worked out a two-year deal with a utility player.

Dings and dents

1. Matt Harvey wants to come back in September.

2. Miguel Cabrera says he's ready to go.

NL East

• Darin Ruf is ready for any role.

• Mike Adams is something of a forgotten man.

NL Central

• Don't count the Pirates in yet, writes Dejan Kovacevic.

AL East

• Blue Jays fans are fidgety, writes John Lott.

• Alex Anthopoulos is taking the brunt of the criticism for the Jays' inaction this winter, but the bottom line is always the budget -- as it is for the Orioles' Dan Duquette. These GMs are required to paint within the lines prescribed by ownership, and to this point, there has been no indication that either Anthopoulos or Duquette has gotten a green light to increase payroll. Last year was the first season in Jays' history that the team went over $100 million.

• Bob Elliott wonders: What's next for the Jays?

AL Central

• Rick Hahn's moves have revitalized the White Sox fan base.

• Brian Dozier is worthy of a good guy award, writes Jim Souhan.

• Drew Smyly is excited about joining the Tigers' rotation.

• Nick Castellanos is comfortable at third base, writes Lynn Henning.

• Gordon Beckham is over his injuries.

• Bench and bullpen will be key for the Indians, writes Paul Hoynes.

AL West

• A Hall of Famer is delivering advice to Texas pitchers.

• Michael Kirkman is on his last opportunity with the Rangers.

• The Mariners' manager has become the latest disciple of the Seahawks' coach.

Five strangest moves of winter.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Every offseason, there are some deals that make you scratch your head. Not necessarily for the money paid to the player, but for the return received in trade or how that player actually fits on the roster. The 2013-2014 MLB offseason has been no exception.
Let's take a look at five transactions where we're not sure what one team was thinking.

Colorado Rockies trade Dexter Fowler to the Houston Astros for Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes



Fowler isn't perfect, but he was the best center fielder the Rockies had. They preferred the upside of Lyles, hoping that they could find another Tyler Chatwood. And perhaps there is logic in that, because they're both young pitchers who might have been rushed to the majors.

But where Chatwood has a good fastball and gets tons of ground balls, Lyles has neither a good fastball nor generates enough grounders to succeed at high altitude. Last season, among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched, just two -- Charlie Morton and Samuel Deduno -- generated a higher percentage of ground balls than did Chatwood. Lyles, meanwhile, ranked 41st on that list. Perhaps the Rockies can change Lyles' game, but that's a big bet when the player you're giving up is a known and precious commodity -- a league-average center fielder.

The issue is that Fowler may be even be more than that. Over the past two seasons, he ranks 10th among qualified center fielders in wRC+, on par with Carlos Gomez. And now that he has left Coors Field, his defensive statistics -- advanced and otherwise -- will only look better, as the cavernous Colorado ballpark throws off all defensive outfield evaluations. To compound the problem, the Rockies are now hoping to play star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez in center field more frequently, but given the giant pasture there and CarGo's past knee troubles, that plan looks like a recipe for disaster.

The Astros also gave up Barnes in the deal, but he is likely no better than replacement level, and the Rockies already had two such players in their outfield in Charlie Blackmon and Charlie Culberson. Barnes then became even more irrelevant when the the Rockies traded for Drew Stubbs less than two weeks later. He'll be lucky to be the team's fifth outfielder.

Los Angeles Dodgers sign Chris Perez



There's no way to sucarcoat it: Last year, Perez was terrible. The Dodgers had a full bullpen of better pitchers -- particularly Kenley Jansen, Paco Rodriguez, J.P. Howell, Brian Wilson and Ronald Belisario. In addition, rookies Chris Withrow and Jose Dominguez were better. Heck, even Carlos Marmol, in his time with the Dodgers, performed better than did Perez in Cleveland. The Dodgers then added to their stable of competent-to-good relievers when they signed Jamey Wright.

With as many as eight competent relievers under contract, surely the Dodgers didn't need a ninth? And yet, they decided to lock in Perez. This makes little sense, and will probably cost a kid like Withrow or Dominguez a shot at a big league job.

The deal also didn't really make much sense from Perez's standpoint, if his end goal is to try to retain a closer's job. At best, he'll be No. 3 on the depth chart for saves behind Jansen and Wilson, and the Dodgers will have no reason to trade him to a contender at midseason, since they will already be contenders. If he doesn't work out in a middle-leverage role, he'll be cut. And if he does work out, he may have pigeonholed himself back into the far-less-lucrative setup man territory.

The Dodgers are probably hoping for a rebound from Perez, but given that they already had a whole bullpen full of better choices, and the fact that Perez's average fastball velocity was the lowest of his career last year, there is little reason to expect such a rebound. On top of all that, there was no reason to lock him up for a major league job in early December when they could have waited for cheaper options to emerge. All things considered, this move just didn't make any sense.

San Francisco Giants sign Joaquin Arias to two-year extension



Like Perez, Arias is a replacement-level player. He has one skill -- he is above-average at third base defensively. The Giants have sometimes made use of this skill -- Arias started at third base 18 times last season, but the bulk of his work there has come as a defensive replacement.

In his two seasons with the Giants, he has played 129 games at third base, but he has started just 57 of them, and has played a complete game at the hot corner just 51 times. He's a defensive sub -- around when the team wants to give Pablo Sandoval a breather, and on the bench when they don't. Nevertheless, the team locked him into a two-year deal this week, to cover his last two arbitration years. The cost will be modest, so it's an easily corrected mistake, but one that shouldn't have been made in the first place.

For one thing, Sandoval is a free agent after the 2014 season, and the Giants' next starting third baseman might not need to be replaced defensively. Furthermore, Sandoval is once again in shape this year, and dare we say, the best shape of his life. With such improved conditioning, he might not need to be replaced as frequently himself this season. After all, it's not like he's a defensive disaster -- for his career, he has a positive UZR at the hot corner.

Finally, the team has Nick Noonan available at the league minimum salary. Like Arias, Noonan is a banjo-hitting utility infielder with a good glove. The difference is that Noonan is a lot further from arbitration, and will make less for the foreseeable future.

Having Arias around this year isn't the worst thing in the world, but given that the Giants don't know what third base will look like next year and have a league-minimum earner around in Noonan, it wasn't necessary to lock in Arias for a second year.

Detroit Tigers trade Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals for Robbie Ray, Ian Krol and Steve Lombardozzi



The Nationals may have got the steal of the offseason with this deal. Last year, Fister's 4.6 WAR (per FanGraphs) made him the 12th-most valuable pitcher in the majors, and over the past three years, only eight pitchers have had a higher WAR.

For their trouble, the Tigers got a utility infielder that they didn't really need and two pitchers who don't figure to crack their starting rotation and have just a grand total of 31 innings pitched above Double-A. Ray is a decent prospect, but for a team that is trying to win the World Series right now, this was a perplexing move. The Mariners were the first team to be burned when they got too little in return for Fister, and the Tigers will almost assuredly be the second.

Nationals sign Nate McLouth to two-year deal



McLouth is a good player and the Nationals had some depth issues with their outfield last year. So on the surface, this signing makes perfect sense. But then you read things like the team expects to give him "significant at-bats," and you see that he will be paid more than $5 million a season, which is more than what most fourth outfielders make. And you start to wonder, exactly how is this arrangement going to work?

By signing this contract, the Nationals are essentially saying that they are confident that one of their corner outfielders -- Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth -- will get hurt at some point. And maybe that will happen. But what if it doesn't? What if they're healthy all season? McLouth is a nice player, but any day he spends in the lineup in front of a healthy Harper or Werth is a day where the Nationals don't have their best team on the field. McLouth on his best day might be as good as Harper or Werth on their worst, but you'd have to squint to see it. In the past three seasons, McLouth's best wRC+ is an even 100; that is also Werth's worst. Harper's wRC+ hasn't yet dipped beneath 121, and probably won't any time soon.

Perhaps the Nationals want to play McLouth in center, but that wouldn't be a great idea. McLouth hasn't played significant innings in center since 2011, and he hasn't played well in center since 2009, and that was really the only season out of his five with significant time in center field in which he was actually valuable.

Scott Hairston would be a better bet to play over Denard Span if he needs a breather. For one, Hairston hits right-handed, which better complements Span. For another, he has played a better defensive center field in his career than McLouth. For their careers, Hairston has been worth 3.4 UZR per 150 games in center, while McLouth's UZR/150 is minus-12.3. And when you throw in the fact that both McLouth and Span hit left-handed and that Span is McLouth's equal at the plate and clear superior with the glove (Span's UZR/150 in center is 6.1), it's hard to see how you would justify playing McLouth over Span at all, never mind in center field.

McLouth is a nice player, but he is inferior to all three of Washington's starting outfielders, and in certain situations -- specifically against left-handed pitchers -- he is inferior to Hairston as well. So unless one of the other four outfielders lands on the disabled list, giving McLouth that aforementioned significant playing time will be a mistake.

Predicting 2014 disappointments.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
As we fight our way through the doldrums of winter to the opening day of spring training, we've been talking the past few weeks about players with shots at breaking out in 2014. (Last week, I looked at pitchers poised to make "the leap" in 2013.)

Baseball's a zero-sum game, with every win being a loss for someone else and every home run hit being a home run allowed for the other guys. Inevitably, there are going to be a number of players who are going to disappoint in 2014, so I decided to take a look at players headed for such a falloff. For each of the players involved, I've included their 2014 ZiPS projection. After all, what's the fun of having a projection system lying around if you're not going to use it?


Carlos Beltran, RF | New York Yankees

Beltran had two solid years in St. Louis and is one of the most underrated players of this generation, but the Yankees are signing Beltran two years too late. If you graph the aging curve of late-30s outfielders -- and they're mostly good ones because the lesser lights are long gone at this point -- it looks like you're drawing a really cool water slide.

Beltran's walk rate has dropped off an even steeper cliff, his 2013 rate being only half of what it was just four or five years ago. Beltran's swinging at more marginal pitches than ever before, hacking at 31.4 percent of pitches out of the strike zone the past two seasons. Contrast that with his prime years, when that percentage was in the mid-teens. Beltran's defense is no longer a plus, and while he'll get significant time at DH, the presence of Alfonso Soriano means he's going to be needed in the field regularly.

2014 ZiPS projection: .267/.327/.479, 26 HR, 115 OPS+, 1.7 WAR (as RF), 2.2 WAR (DH)


Derek Jeter, SS | New York Yankees
The main reason I think the Yankees are far from a playoff team is their reliance on older players (like Beltran), as well as older players with injury concerns (like Jeter). The soon-to-be-40-year-old shortstop had his 2013 season ruined by the ankle he broke in the 2012 ALCS, and while the Yankees have hedged their bets and kept Brendan Ryan around in case of Jeter missing significant time again, they clearly expect a positive contribution from Jeter this season.

That's an uphill climb, given that Jeter turns 40 in June and had already declined enough defensively to become an extremely marginal defender at shortstop before the injury. Jeter will beat the .190/.288/.254 line he put up in 2013, and his defense -- which major defensive metrics estimated would have been worth minus-40 runs over a full season -- will be better. But if he stays healthy and is hitting .250/.300/.300 in June, will a team with a history of giving Jeter anything he wants tell him it's over?

2014 ZiPS projection: .259/.322/.357, 5 HR, 7 SB, 85 OPS+, 0.4 WAR, 330 PA


Corey Hart, 1B/OF | Seattle Mariners
After the blockbuster signing of Robinson Cano, the Mariners went bargain hunting, signing Hart to a one-year deal with incentives that could allow him to nearly double his salary. The Mariners were obviously eager to add some more power to a team that slugged .390 in 2013, but even though Hart's health is no longer an issue, it's a reach.

Like Michael Morse, Hart gets most of his value from power, and Safeco Field has never been kind to right-handed power hitters, even with the fence moved in slightly. In Hart's final two years in Milwaukee, he had a 39/17 home/road homer split, suggesting that the Mariners probably needed to sign Miller Park, as well.

2014 ZiPS projection: .246/.307/.421, 18 HR, 52 RBI, 106 OPS+, 0.9 WAR


Jeff Locke, LHP | Pittsburgh Pirates
Riding an 8-2, 2.15-ERA first half, Locke earned a surprise trip to the All-Star Game in July. An ERA of 5.98 the rest of the way brought his final-season stats down to a more realistic -- but still adequate -- 3.52 ERA over 30 starts. Soft-tossers who don't strike anybody out are generally poor long-term bets, and the ones who do survive tend to have excellent control (or are knuckleballers). Seeing as Locke led the National League in walks allowed, we can't praise his command.

2014 ZiPS projection: 8-10, 4.09 ERA, 88 ERA+, 1.0 WAR


John Danks, LHP | Chicago White Sox
When the White Sox signed Danks to a five-year extension after the 2011 season, it seemed like a reasonable gamble. Reasonable or not, it looks ugly today, as Danks has simply not been the same pitcher since his shoulder surgery.

Never having big velocity numbers to start, Danks' fastball dipped below 90 mph, and from his Pitch f/x data, both his horizontal and vertical breaks on nearly every pitch were at career-lows this past season. If Danks is to get a second wind in his career, it's going to need to be for a team like San Diego that plays in a park that will better insulate him from the occasional mistake pitch.

2014 ZiPS projection: 6-9, 5.12 ERA, 84 ERA+, 0.5 WAR


Junior Lake, OF | Chicago Cubs
The second half of the season was extremely bleak on the North Side (even by Cubs standards), but Lake was one of the few bright spots, hitting .284/.332/.428 after being called up from Triple-A Iowa. While the Cubs have a farm system stocked with future stars, Lake isn't likely to be one of them.

His numbers in Iowa look promising on a cursory glance (.295/.341/.462 in 2013), but for the Pacific Coast League, which hasn't had the same drop-off in offense that the majors has, they're fourth-outfielder material. The ZiPS projection system translates his Iowa performance at .258/.298/.377 and his 2012 minor league performance at .255/.301/.373.

2014 ZiPS projection: .252/.295/.380, 10 HR, 41 RBI, 12 SB, 0.3 WAR


Jarred Cosart, RHP | Houston Astros
Cosart had an impressive 1.95 ERA in his first 10 starts in the majors, at age 23. But if you let your eyes drift over and start looking at his other stats, his brief time in the majors suddenly looks a lot less impressive.

Walking more than five batters per game in the majors (with more walks than strikeouts) after walking five batters per game in the Pacific Coast League does not bode well for continued success in the majors. Cosart's not approaching the lost-cause status that Trevor Bauer's nearing, but his game still needs considerable refinement.

2014 ZiPS projection: 6-7, 4.30 ERA, 93 ERA+, 1.3 WAR

Rumors.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
White Sox have faith in Cooper
January, 28, 2014
JAN 28
12:47
PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
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There's plenty of reason for optimism with the pitching staff that the Chicago White Sox already have in the fold as teams around the league continue to count down the days until their hurlers report for the start of Spring Training.

As Doug Padilla of ESPN Chicago writes, "Sure the White Sox lost 99 games last season, but the 3.98 staff ERA was ninth in the American League. To put that into perspective, the White Sox were the only team with a losing record to have a staff ERA under 4.00 and were the only losing team in the top 10 in staff ERA."

If the rotation can hold up their end of the bargain, then Nate Jones could well be the answer to replace the traded Addison Reed at the end of games. As Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times points out, "pitching coach Don Cooper has a way of molding closers."

"Listen, man, I can go back to Shingo Takatsu, [Dustin] Hermanson, Bobby [Jenks] and all the years after that [Sergio Santos, Santiago]," Cooper said. "We never had, 'Hey, we just acquired a closer.' We always figured out who was the best guy to close."

That track record and trust in Cooper's tutelage goes along way towards explaining why the White Sox have not gone after any free agent closers like the still-available Fernando Rodney.


Dan Szymborski
Predicting 2014 disappointments
"When the White Sox signed John Danks to a five-year extension after the 2011 season, it seemed like a reasonable gamble. Reasonable or not, it looks ugly today, as Danks has simply not been the same pitcher since his shoulder surgery."
Tags:John Danks, Addison Reed, Nate Jones, Don Cooper
Yankees could turn to Phillies for help
January, 28, 2014
JAN 28
11:52
AM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
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Now that the New York Yankees have signed Masahiro Tanaka to a contract that catapulted their 2014 payroll above their self-imposed $189 million cap, ESPN.com's Buster Olney thinks the team might have a huge advantage once the season gets into full swing.

"Yes, their infield is full of question marks -- seemingly the only sure thing is that the quartet you see on Opening Day will not be the same in September -- and they have pitching questions," Olney writes. "But when assessing their 2014 playoff chances, we should remember that what they have is tremendous potential for difference-making in-season upgrades.

"No longer will they be counting nickels and dimes. New York will be able to take on money, which is a unique power in the middle of a season."

That power could well be used to lure away one, if not more, of the high-priced Philadelphia Phillies to the Bronx, should the aging National League East team struggle in the first half of the season. In particular, Olney suggests that the likes of Jimmy Rollins, Cliff Lee and/or Cole Hamels might each be made available by the Phillies under the right circumstances.

Additionally, by claiming that extra salary, the Yankees would not necessarily be hamstrung by the fact their minor league system has fewer prospects than most organizations that they can use in a "win today" kind of trade. ESPN Insider's Keith Law ranked the Yankees just No. 20 in the majors in his 2014 annual rank of farm systems.


Jerry Crasnick
Odd offseason for the aging Phillies
"According to Baseball-reference.com, the Phillies had the third-oldest contingent of position players in the majors last year (at an average age of 30.0), behind the Yankees and the Dodgers. And they didn't get any younger with the addition of the 36-year-old Byrd. Of the projected 2014 position-player starters, center fielder Ben Revere, third baseman Cody Asche and Brown are the only ones who weren't born during the 1970s."
Tags:Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Jimmy Rollins, Masahiro Tanaka
Last chance for V-Mart in Detroit?
January, 28, 2014
JAN 28
10:22
AM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
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The highest-paid player on the Oakland Athletics is Yoenis Cespedes, who is scheduled to make $10.5 million in 2014. Even for a budget-conscious team like the A's, that's not a contract that's going to break the bank going forward. However, for the Detroit Tigers, with seven players set to make at least $10 million this season, at some point there's got to be some trimming of the payroll.

That's the concern of Victor Martinez, who is set to make $12 million in this, the final year of a four-year deal. Although Martinez says he'd like to return to Detroit next season, he's quite aware that he might not be able to do so. "I want to stay here, yes," Martinez said. "But they have a lot going on. They have Scherzer; they have Miggy."

As Tom Gage of the Detroit News points out, Martinez "will no doubt hit cleanup for the Tigers this season" but is quite aware of the ticking of the clock. "You're getting older and you know that the end of your career might be right in the corner," Martinez laments.

With an expected roster of at least ten players who will be at least 30 years of age at the start of this season, with Scherzer set to join that group in July, Martinez may well end up being the "old man out" when his free agency does, in fact, kick in.



Tags:Detroit Tigers, Max Scherzer, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter
Tribe and Masterson far apart
January, 28, 2014
JAN 28
9:20
AM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
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Although Justin Masterson can become a free agent at the end of the year, he's still going to be a member of the Cleveland Indians rotation this season. However, the arbitration-eligible pitcher has yet to come to terms on a contract with the team for 2014, and the longer it takes to do so, the less likely it is he'll stick around for 2015 and beyond.

Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the Cleveland Indians have "shelved" talks with Masterson and his agent as it relates to a multi-year contract. The two sides will instead focus their energies on a compromise one-year deal in the hopes of avoiding a scheduled February 20 arbitration hearing.

"There is a $3.75 million difference between what Masterson is seeking for the 2014 season and what the Indians have offered. It’s the biggest difference among any unsigned player who filed for arbitration this winter," Hoynes writes. "The 6-6, 250-pound Masterson filed at $11.8 million. The Indians countered at $8.05 million. The midpoint is $9.925 million."

Although both sides have said they're open to a long-term relationship, because of the gulf in the current negotiations the chances of some sort of meeting of the minds going forward seems highly unlikely to occur.

Hoynes also suggests that the Indians might be interested in pitcher Scott Baker, who pitched in just three September contests for the Chicago Cubs in 2013. The Cubs don't seem to want him back, but the Seattle Mariners have also reportedly expressed interest in the former 15-game winner.
Tags:Cleveland Indians, Justin Masterson, Scott Baker
Monday Roundup: O's second thoughts
January, 27, 2014
JAN 27
2:34
PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
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Despite hitting just .224 in 85 games for the Baltimore Orioles last season, Ryan Flaherty heads towards the spring optimistic that he will be able to win the starting second base job outright.

According to Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports, Flaherty is the favorite to win the job now that Brian Roberts has signed with the New York Yankees. Flaherty is expected to compete with Jemile Weeks and Jonathan Schoop for the spot in the Baltimore lineup.

"Schoop is more versatile, but if the Orioles envision him as their eventual second baseman, he needs to play the position every day in Norfolk. Weeks' value would increase if he can move around," Kubatko writes.

Here's a recap of some of the other buzz from around the major leagues this Monday afternoon:
David Ortiz: The Boston Red Sox designated hitter would like to finish out his career at Fenway Park, but only if the team is willing to give him a multi-year deal when his current contract expires at the end of the season. If not, Big Papi might be forced to seek employment elsewhere.
Ervin Santana: Where will the free agent pitcher end up for 2014? Although there are many interested suitors, including the Chicago Cubs and potentially the Toronto Blue Jays, one team that might not be picking up the phone is the Seattle Mariners.
Drew Storen: The reliever says that he is not worried about recent trade rumors that surfaced when Grant Balfour's name was linked to the Washington Nationals. He says his name has come up many times since 2011, so he's used to it, and fully expects to pitch for the Nats in 2014.
Jason Kipnis: The second baseman says he is "absolutely open" to talking with the Cleveland Indians about a contract extension, but does not want the situation to become an in-season distraction. Although he won't become a free agent until 2018, without a long-term deal, he would be subject to arbitration every season until that time.
Brandon Beachy: Atlanta Braves beat writer Mark Bowman says that the pitcher, who saw action in only five games last season after recovering from 2012 Tommy John surgery, "will not have any limitations when Spring Training begins. But he says he will pace himself during the camp's early portion."
Chris Nelson: The infielder, who played for three different teams in 2013, is reportedly on the verge of "wrapping up a deal" with the Cincinnati Reds, this according to ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick.
Paul Janish: Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the "slick fielding shortstop" has signed a minor league deal with the Colorado Rockies and will be invited to big league camp.
Tags:Brandon Beachy, Ryan Flaherty, David Ortiz, Chris Nelson, Jemile Weeks, Jonathan Schoop, Jason Kipnis, Ervin Santana, Drew Storen, Paul Janish
Reds ponder future for Bailey, Chapman
January, 27, 2014
JAN 27
1:22
PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
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The Cincinnati Reds and Homer Bailey both seem to be optimistic that an agreement will be reached that would avoid the pitcher's 2014 salary being set by an arbitrator. However, although the Reds say they want to keep Bailey in their rotation for the long-term, so far there hasn't been any movement on that front.

"I'm not going to put a timeline on anything," Bailey said. "These are not processes that get done overnight. Last year we did our arbitration four days before we went to the hearing. They had a bunch of guys to sign. I'm not one to rush things and say it has to be done by this type of date. It's not something I want to have to deal with during the season."

The two sides are about $3 million apart for 2014. Bailey could become a free agent after the season if a new deal is not worked out before then. If Bailey were to walk, or perhaps get traded near this year's deadline, there's always the possibility that the Reds could finally decide to convert Aroldis Chapman from their closer to part of their rotation.

C. Trent Rosencrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that manager Bryan Price says the Reds would like to get more than 60 innings out of Aroldis Chapman this season. While Price is likely talking about the potential of using the pitcher in relief stints of more than just one inning at a time, the temptation to use him as a starter is certainly something the new manager has pondered in the past.

"In regards to Aroldis, I was on record last Spring Training that pitchers get better throwing innings, especially pitchers that don't have a lot of innings under their belt or pitchers that struggle to throw strikes or throw their secondary pitches over the plate. I haven't changed that philosophy," Price said shortly after taking over for Dusty Baker.
Tags:Cincinnati Reds, Homer Bailey, Aroldis Chapman
White Sox rotation taking shape
January, 27, 2014
JAN 27
12:33
PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
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The Chicago White Sox were one of the teams that tried to woo Masahiro Tanaka to their rotation, but in the end, they fell short of that goal. However, general manager Rick Hahn remains quite optimistic in what he already has on the mound for 2014.

The White Sox are heading into the season with Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and John Danks as their top three. Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago notes that pitching coach Don Cooper said this weekend that Felipe Paulino has "a real good chance" at making the Chicago White Sox rotation. His station also quoted Cooper as saying that "Erik Johnson is penciled in pretty firmly" already in the starting five.

Doug Padilla of ESPN Chicago writes that the team's optimism in Johnson is part of the reason they weren't all that upset to miss out on Tanaka. "The White Sox could have as many as two rotation spots up for grabs if no roster additions are made in the next two months, but Johnson's focus will remain on the small details while letting the big picture take care of itself."

"The goal is to follow the process and try to work on what I need to work on each day, whether it be fastball, curve, slider, change," Johnson said this weekend. "Whatever they say I need to work on, that’s what I'm going to put my emphasis on."

While Hahn would not confirm anything at the back end of the rotation, he did tell the Chicago Daily Herald that "having the competition between Johnson, Paulino, Andre Rienzo, the kid (Eric) Surkamp we took off waivers from San Francisco and Charlie Leesman, we've got interesting guys with some upside that could help us."
Tags:Chris Sale, John Danks, Jose Quintana, Eric Surkamp, Felipe Paulino, Erik Johnson, Charlie Leesman, Andre Rienzo
Could David Ortiz leave Boston?
January, 27, 2014
JAN 27
11:03
AM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
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The 2013 season ended with David Ortiz standing in the middle of Fenway Park with a microphone in his hand, celebrating a World Series victory with the Boston fans for what he infamously had hailed earlier in the year as being "our city." While it's hard to imagine Ortiz ever playing elsewhere, the slugger would not rule it out in a Sunday interview.

Ortiz told a local sports anchor that while he would like to retire as a member of the Boston Red Sox, "as I always keep on telling people, this is a business. Sometimes you've got to do what's best for you and your family. As long as they keep offering me a job and I keep doing what I'm supposed to do and the relationship keeps on building up, I'm going to be there. Hopefully, I won't have to go and wear another uniform."

But, Ortiz added that if he doesn't get offered a long-term deal, it may be "time to move on." Getting a contract that isn't just for one more season is something that is hugely important to Big Papi. According to Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston, "Since last season ended, (Ortiz) has expressed his desire in interviews for another extension, but Boston general manager Ben Cherington said the club had not yet entered negotiations and did not seem to consider it a matter of urgency."

Ortiz is in the final year of two-year, $26 million deal and would become a free agent at the end of the season if an extension is not worked out prior to the offseason.
Tags:David Ortiz
With Garza gone, what pitcher is next?
January, 27, 2014
JAN 27
10:22
AM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
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After several starts and stops, the Milwaukee Brewers and pitcher Matt Garza finally announced that they have come to terms on a multi-year contract. According to several sources, the deal is for four seasons, with an option for 2018, that could ultimately earn the pitcher as much as $67 million.

With Garza off the board, Ervin Santana is considered by many to be the best remaining option on the market, and the pitcher reportedly has received interest from several teams. One of those teams, according to Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish is the Chicago Cubs, though he thinks that while it is "not impossible" he could go there, a signing is not likely at this time.

ESPN Insider Eno Sarris thinks that the best fit for Santana might well be north of the border. "The Toronto Blue Jays have to sign a pitcher. It's not a question of desire. They're short a starting pitcher, maybe two ...(and) two potentially elite starting pitchers are available on the free-agent market: Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, and the Blue Jays must make sure at least one of them is toeing the rubber in the Rogers Centre by summer."

Sarris lists Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ, Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison as the current candidates for the final three spots in Toronto's rotation behind R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle. His opinion of that collection of arms? "For a roster that looks to be built for the now, it's a grim group of pitchers."

It doesn't look like Santana will end up with the Seattle Mariners. As Greg Johns of MLB.com reports, while general manager Jack Zduriencik said this weekend that he does want to add a No. 3 starter to his rotation, "his answer clearly indicated the club will continue pursuing lower-profile free agents."

"The Mariners just signed former Brewers first-round draft pick Mark Rogers to a minor league deal," said Johns, "and they are believed to be in the running for former Twins starter Scott Baker, who pitched well for the Cubs in the final month last season after returning from Tommy John surgery."
Tags:Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays, Matt Garza, Milwaukee Brewers, Mark Rogers, Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Baker, Ervin Santana
Doumit done as a catcher?
January, 27, 2014
JAN 27
9:33
AM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
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(UPDATE: On Sunday, David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution contacted Ryan Doumit's agent. He said that the comments made by Brian Dozier about his client not wanting to catch anymore were untrue. "If Dozier had been correct," O'Brien writes, "it would sure have been interesting to see what the Braves thought and eventually did about the situation. But as of now, it doesn't seem like the comment was at all accurate.")

Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that while talking with Minnesota Twins infielder Brian Dozier, the second baseman mentioned to him that Ryan Doumit "is 'not catching anymore' after talking it over with his family."

Doumit had suffered a concussion in August after taking a foul tip off his mask while playing behind the plate, and apparently wants to avoid a repeat occurrence at all costs. This news, if true, might come as a bit of a surprise to the Atlanta Braves.

Doumit, who played with the Twins last season, is now with the Braves after a December trade sent him to the team in exchange for pitcher Sean Gilmartin. At the time, most people thought Doumit was being acquired to catch in the event that Evan Gattis struggled handing full-time catcher duties in the post-Brian McCann era. However, if he's not planning to get behind the plate, there's really no place for him to play.

As ESPN.com's Keith Law noted at the time of the deal, "The problem is that Atlanta doesn't have a spot to move (Doumit) to if it decides it can't live with his catching, with first base and all three outfield spots filled. He could end up an expensive bench piece for a team that could use the help but operates on a budget that doesn't allow for that kind of extravagance."
Tags:Ryan Doumit, Evan Gattis
No Rangers return for Young
January, 27, 2014
JAN 27
9:04
AM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
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(UPDATE: According to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, Michael Young "remains undecided whether he will return for his 15th major league season or retire to spend more time with his three sons." Young said on Sunday that if he does decide to return to the majors this season it's "a safe bet" that he would do so in a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform.)

There doesn't seem to be any happy reunion on the horizon for Michael Young and the Texas Rangers, as the American League West team expects to look internally for somebody to fill the role of utility infielder off the bench.

According to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Rangers had considered making Young an offer earlier this offseason, but don't foresee that happening now. Wilson added that Jon Daniels said that while Young "likely has many opportunities to play," if he chooses retirement the Rangers would like to be part of that announcement.

There's still a chance the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers might come calling, but one other potential suitor could be the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates have previously had interest in Ike Davis and Mitch Moreland this winter, but as of the moment, seem to be resigned to starting a combination of Gaby Sanchez and Andrew Lambo at first base.

Young could certainly provide some veteran depth at the position, but it remains to be seen if he even wants to play at all in 2014.


Jim Bowden
Five players who benefit from non-moves
"Lambo showed some promise in 2013, crushing 32 home runs with a .932 OPS in Double- and Triple-A, but he had just 30 at-bats during a September call-up. He's a bit old to be considered a "prospect," but multiple pro scouts said me that they believe Lambo has a chance to put up the same type of numbers as Morneau did for the Pirates in 2013. Right now, he's in line to get the bulk of the at-bats for the Pirates at first base."
Tags:Michael Young, Andrew Lambo, Gaby Sanchez
Will Santana return to Minnesota?
January, 26, 2014
JAN 26
1:38
PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
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Mike Berardino of St. Paul Pioneer Press reports from TwinsFest that Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan said that left-hander Johan Santana "very much remains" on the team's radar.

"He lives down in Fort Myers, so geographically it makes a lot of sense," Ryan said. "We've had some dialogue with his representation. He's not quite ready to make a decision yet, but we're keeping an eye on him down there. Obviously it would be a good fit for both of us."

Ryan said that the Twins are courting Santana, even though the pitcher won't be ready until sometime in the summer. This statement took ESPN New York's Adam Rubin a bit by surprise because he says Santana's people have always portrayed Johan as expecting to be ready for the beginning of the season.

"Santana is recovering from a second surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder. It took him 19 months to get into a major league game again the first time, and this is a rare surgery for a pitcher," Rubin says. So, Ryan's comment that Santana is "not ready to go" is certainly new information being brought to the table that bears watching going forward.

Tags:Minnesota Twins, Johan Santana
Pestano ready to rebound
January, 26, 2014
JAN 26
12:22
PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
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In 2012, Cleveland Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano was as reliable as they come, finishing second in the majors with 36 holds on the year. Last season, it all fell apart for Pestano, as he threw so poorly he ended up getting demoted to Triple-A in July.

According to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a previously undisclosed injury may have been to blame. He writes that Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway acknowledged that Pestano suffered an elbow injury while pitching for Team USA in the WBC last spring, adding that it was the first such admission from anyone in the organization.

"I think some of that WBC injury really trained his arm to do something different than he's done in the past," Callaway was quoted as saying. "The reason Vinnie was so good in the past, is that he has unorthodox mechanics. When he had a little bit of an injury in the WBC, he started throwing like a normal person, which isn't good."

Callaway said he expects the reliever to regain his 2012 form now that he has had time to fully recover and get back to pitching in the manner that led to his prior success.

Tags:Cleveland Indians, Vinnie Pestano
Sano prepares to have major impact
January, 26, 2014
JAN 26
10:32
AM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
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For Minnesota Twins prospect Miguel Sano, the offseason got off to a rocky start when he played in just two games in the Dominican Winter League before getting shut down with a strained ligament in his throwing elbow. However, the third baseman is determined to avoid surgery and show the team he's ready to begin his big league career.

Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Sano fully expects to not only make the Twins opening roster, but insists that he'll have a huge impact on the team this season. "His sore elbow kept him from doing his normal workout for six weeks, so (Sano) put on a few extra pounds. But if his body has gotten bigger this offseason, so have his expectations. Sano may have only 67 games of experience above Class A, but made it clear Saturday in Target Field that he intends to play here this season -- and right away."

Miller says that Sano predicted that he would hit 45 home runs this year -- "Maybe 55, you never know." That's probably more the excitement of youth than boa****l bravado talking, but Sano has received a clean bill of health by team doctors, and with no pain or apparent structural damage to be seen, there's every reason for optimism.
Tags:Minnesota Twins, Miguel Sano
Verlander doesn't think he'll miss time
January, 26, 2014
JAN 26
9:17
AM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com
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Earlier this week, Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski seemed to be hedging on whether or not pitcher Justin Verlander would be recovered enough from his offseason surgery to be able to take the mound for the team by Opening Day.

"I'm not concerned for him being out an extended period," Dombrowski said. "If he misses any time of the season, it would only be a very short time period. I'm not ready to say that he will. But he's doing very well."

On Saturday, after hearing back from Verlander, who was confused as to why those comments seemed to hint he might not be ready to hit the ground running, Dombrowksi clarified the situation. "We anticipate that he will be ready for the start of the season -- and he should be ready. I can't say 100 percent that he will be ready, but I'd be very surprised if he's not," Dombrowski told the Detroit News.

The Tigers open the 2014 season with a three game series at home against the Kansas City Royals beginning on Monday, March 31.
post #19709 of 77571
Tom Verducci:
Baseball's State of the Union: Some Ways to Improve the Game
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Baseball's State of the Union: Some ways to improve the game
SI.com

When Koji Uehara struck out Matt Carpenter for the final out of the 2013 World Series, the celebration at Fenway Park that night might well have served as a celebration of everything that is right about baseball today. A year that opened with a passionate international tournament that football could not dream of replicating, the World Baseball Classic, ended with a team, the "Boston Strong" Red Sox, reminding us that the accessibility and everyday companionship of baseball provides larger social import rarely seen in other sports. The 2013 Red Sox joined the 1947 Dodgers, the 1955 Dodgers, the 1968 Tigers, the 2001 Yankees and the 2004 Red Sox among teams with profound civic meaning.

Moreover, by almost any measurable, the business of Major League Baseball is more successful than ever before. New national TV contracts that begin this year soared 102 percent in value. Money from regional sports networks has skyrocketed, with the Dodgers leading the way with a $6 billion deal over 25 years. Attendance remained greater than 30,000 per game for a 10th consecutive year -- extending a run in which every year since steroid testing began (2004-13) has drawn more fans per game than every year of the Steroid Era at its height (1995-2003). Apple named the MLB At Bat app as the highest grossing app for the fifth straight year. Postseason TV viewership was up 20 percent. Labor peace extended through a record 20th straight season.

How flush with money is baseball? Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw just signed the richest contract ever, a seven-year deal that will pay him $30.7 million a year -- or roughly $1 million a start. Big money for stars is one thing. Even more tellingly, a 31-year-old outfielder who never has been an All-Star, Shin-Soo Choo, makes more money ($18.5 million) than Peyton Manning ($18 million).

The champagne corks that popped that October night in Fenway Park, however, were not matched by many at the Park Avenue offices of MLB or the commissioner's office in Milwaukee. Underneath the pride in the sport's financial success is a concern for the game's standing as both an American cultural institution and an entertainment option, particularly for a younger generation of fans bombarded with choice and marching to a louder, faster drumbeat than did their parents.

As President Obama delivers his State of the Union address tonight, he confronts a time when citizens and lawmakers, like boxers heading to their corners, reflexively take diametric positions that make the politics of compromise so difficult. For baseball, the State of the Union is a concern less for where it stands but more for where it may be headed.

"I think we're at an obvious crossroads," Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said, "especially with the change in the leadership in the commissioner's office pending. The next five to seven years will be an important time that offers both challenges and opportunities.

"The aging and graying of baseball's demographics is obviously a concern and has been for several years, but the opportunity it presents is interesting. The world of technology has only partially hit baseball and it's going to change a lot of things, as it has in every industry it has touched. How baseball adapts to that and utilizes technology is a major challenge going forward."

Said agent Scott Boras, "We are stepping out of one era and advancing into a new one. What we do have is fresh content seven days a week for eight months. We offer a dynamic that is seven times that of the NFL. The question is, how do we get the next generation?"

Commissioner Bud Selig has said repeatedly that he will retire when his contract ends on Jan. 24, 2015. He turns 80 in July. Some owners still believe Selig will sign another two-year extension. Others believe he will hand-pick his successor from within baseball. Almost none of them believe an outsider has much of a chance.

The challenge for the next commissioner is obvious if not delicate: How much do you change a sport that prides itself on timelessness? The adoption of instant replay and the abolishment of home-plate collisions this year is a start. Baseball must consider changes to the way it looks, the way it is marketed, even the way it is played. Running baseball these days is like wrapping yourself in a luxurious down comforter in a house with no heat: the TV money is the comforter that provides the warm feeling, but sooner or later you have to get around to fixing the furnace.

"My sense is we already [messed up] our place in the national consciousness," said a high-ranking NL executive. "The only thing that has saved us is the DVR. When the DVR was invented it put a premium on live daily content, which became the only thing where commercials were still relevant. That sole fact is responsible for an $8 billion business. If it weren't for that, baseball players wouldn't make three times what football players make."

Baseball players earn averages of $3.2 million a year and $17.9 million in a career -- or 68% more than football players per year ($1.9 million) and 167% more over their average career ($6.7 million). If live content is king in the DVR age, the kingdom of baseball is enormous. Baseball plays more games by the third week of April than the NFL does in its entire season, postseason included.

Conversely, the huge quantity of all that live content -- the stuff advertisers love because people don't time shift it so they can zap through the commercials -- erodes the "event" feel of baseball in a society that places increased premium on "events." Even the World Series has lost some luster as an event, in part because of interleague play and especially because of the increased popularity of college and pro football.

Last season baseball staged 29 playoff games in a 30-day span. The Wild Card games, which began in 2012, have been a hit because their win-or-go home dynamic creates an "event" feel. Last year the two Wild Card games drew more viewers than all 14 non-clinching League Division Series Games.

By the time casual fans get to the World Series, having been asked to watch a month's worth of important three-and-a-half hour games -- and with NFL betting pools and fantasy leagues in full swing by then -- they need a Game 7 to become truly enthralled. And that's where MLB has been unlucky. There has been only one World Series Game 7 in the past 11 years -- the first such drought in the history of the Fall Classic. (The last Game 7, in 2011, is the highest-rated game among the 55 World Series games played since the championship-starved Red Sox won in 2004.) In contrast, from 1985-91, in the golden age of baseball network viewership, baseball staged four Game 7s in seven years.

The apex of World Series viewing was Game 7 of the 1986 World Series between the Red Sox and Mets, which drew a 38.9 rating and a 55 percent share while up against Monday Night Football. The broadcast environment has changed too much since then for a direct comparison to be applicable (for instance, the rise of cable and streaming and on-demand content). Options for an entertainment-obsessed society have multiplied.

Even considering those caveats, however, what concerns baseball is that it has lost ground to basketball and with young viewers. In 1986, the World Series did twice the rating of the NBA Finals (28.6-14.1). Last year the NBA Finals out-rated the World Series for the fourth time in the past five years (10.5-8.9).

The aging of the baseball audience is obvious. The median viewer age for the World Series clincher was 53; for the NBA Finals clincher it was 40. According to Sports Media Watch, among 18-34 viewers, more women watched Game 6 of the NBA Finals than men watched Game 6 of the World Series. The NBA Finals, which benefits from King Football being dormant in June, attracted more than twice as many 34-and-under viewers (10.83 million) as did the World Series (4.68 million).

Still, when Harris Poll asked sports fans last December to identify their favorite sport, more than twice as many people picked baseball over pro basketball -- 14 percent to six percent. (Pro football led the way with 35 percent.) The poll found baseball's appeal was particularly strong among Hispanics, households with income greater than $100,000 and with suburbanites, and particularly weak among African-Americans, people who live in rural areas and "Echo Boomers," a.k.a. young viewers.

Baseball's loss of young viewers in the postseason typically is blamed on late start times and long games, but those popular theories hold little truth. The 1986 World Series, for instance, had later start times than the 2013 World Series and had the exact same average time of game (3:20). Among the 29 playoff games last year, the seven lowest-rated games all started at 6 p.m. or earlier. It's an established fact: if you put the games on earlier fewer people will watch.

What has hurt baseball's younger viewership may be more about how culture changed. Many of the qualities associated with baseball are less valued in today's society than they were in 1986, qualities such as teamwork, humility, patience, pensiveness, perseverance, and strategizing. The qualities that have gained in cultural value are not associated with baseball, such as self-promotion, entrepreneurship, violence, action, noise and gambling. In 1986 people bought albums, read books and watched network TV; now they buy songs, read tweets and watch video on their phones.

You could see an example of this cultural shift to the faster and louder -- essentially, away from baseball and toward football -- in how Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander reacted to the ravings of Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman after the NFC title game: Sherman, he said, would get a pitch toward his head if he ever tried that kind of self-promotion in baseball. In football, where simply doing your job invites over-the-top self-congratulation, Sherman only became more popular.

(You can add performance-enhancing drugs to this shift in sporting values, too. Since 2006, the NFL has had 172 percent more PED suspensions than baseball, 87-32, and yet baseball, with the far better testing program, is mentioned far more often as the sport with the drug "problem.")

Exciting young baseball players such as Bryce Harper, Jose Fernandez and Yasiel Puig have been castigated for not "acting the right way," which typically means tamping personality. Meanwhile, sports fans are flocking to "personalities" in other sports, be they aspirational or notorious; as in the reality TV genre, value judgments on character are no longer necessarily applicable to popularity. It's unheard of to find a baseball player in popular culture today (commercials, movies, TV, etc.) with a speaking role out of uniform, as athletes such as Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, LeBron James and Dale Earnhardt Jr. regularly do.

"The one thing we have to change is this idea about 'playing the game the way it ought to be played,'" said one senior MLB executive. "I'm not talking about showing up the opponent. I'm talking about showing genuine emotion -- like Shane Victorino in the World Series. The 18-34 [viewer] is used to seeing celebrations and exhibits of passion. In baseball, that's not allowed. Remember when Matt Harvey was criticized for doing too many TV appearances? We have to move away from that."

As society speeds up, baseball is slowing down. Last year produced the lowest batting average in the major leagues since the designated hitter was adopted 40 years ago. Runs per game sunk to its lowest level since 1992. Meanwhile, strikeouts hit a record high for an eighth straight year.

Baseball has seen a perfect storm develop for run prevention. There are more good pitchers than ever before while average velocity is increasing and while the increase in information and data, because of how it affects scouting and the alignment of defenders, heavily favors defense. The net result is more games with more pitching changes and more strikeouts and fewer runs. Translation: it takes longer for less to happen. Last year more than one out of every four plate appearances ended without the ball being put into play -- strikeouts and walks accounted for 28 percent of the game, with the raw numbers for such non-contact plays having increased by 10 percent in 10 years.

"The ball not being in play is a huge thing," said an NL executive. "The game is fundamentally different than it was 50 years ago."

Here's a quick way to measure how it takes more and more pitches and more and more pitchers to produce fewer and fewer runs. It's a look at the rate of strikeouts, the number of pitching changes per game (PC) and the total runs per game in the 40 years since the adoption of the DH, taken in snapshots 10 years apart:

Year/Strikeouts/Pitching Changes/Runs per Game
2013 19.86% 5.90 8.34
2003 16.43% 5.33 9.46
1993 16.97% 4.54 9.20
1983 13.52% 3.21 8.62
1973 13.68% 2.74 8.42

There is no evidence that the rates of strikeouts and pitching changes are slowing. Said one owner, "The game is a fantastically appealing game in part because of the daily-ness, the randomness and the complexity, but it's going to have to change. The NFL has a Competition Committee that is changing the rules every year. Baseball embraces and celebrates its history, but it has to make adjustments, too. And people will not find it an abomination. We did it a little this year with replay. These changes should be looked at with greater enthusiasm rather than resignation."

The NFL radically has changed how pro football is played. It sells quarterbacks the way Hollywood sells leading actors, and continually changes the rules to keep these stars healthy and make them look better. Completing a pass has never been easier. With hardly anyone bothering to notice what it did to the history books, the NFL this year set all-time records for completions, pass attempts, percentage of passes completed, total yards and points. Of the top 12 quarterbacks all time as ranked by passing yards per game, 10 of them are active.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell rather casually floated the idea recently of changing the very fundamental scoring rules of the sport -- doing away with the extra point and re-valuing a touchdown as seven points -- and caused barely a ripple of concern. The NFL uses pencil and paper, not stone tablets, to write its rules. Almost nobody thinks this is a bad thing that the NFL has little historical consistency.

Baseball, because there is a kind of tyranny in its statistics, does not enjoy a similar freedom. To be fair, Selig has modernized the game in many ways. Since 1997 baseball has instituted interleague play, increased revenue sharing, the toughest steroid testing program in American sports, replay on boundary calls, World Series homefield advantage to the league that wins the All-Star Game, realignment, a second wild card in each league and now expanded replay. But none of those changes have addressed the conundrum of how the game is taking longer to produce less action while the pace of popular culture has quickened.

What kind of changes may be next? What follows are some ideas that could at least be starting points for healthy discussions. Keep in mind that changes in baseball come slowly and incrementally, so the idea of implementing all of them, or even most of them, any time soon is not realistic. Consider these as conversation starters:

• The Bonus Batter. I proposed this idea last October. Each manager each game gets to pick one at-bat when he can send any batter to the plate -- including somebody already in the lineup -- to bat for someone else without having to lose the player who gives up the at-bat. The idea is to get the stars of the game to the plate in the biggest moments and, if the manager picks the right spot, a situation where he can't be walked. It also adds tension and strategy to the game.

Sounds crazy? People thought the same thing in 1973 about the idea of designating one player to do nothing but hit.

• The Summer Game. It makes no sense that in one of the few windows when baseball has the sports calendar to itself -- the All-Star break in July -- it goes dark for two nights after the All-Star Game. It needs an "event." It should schedule one game for the Thursday after the All-Star Game, bill it as The Summer Game, and play it at an iconic American venue, such as the foothills near Mount Rushmore, the mall in Washington D.C., the Field of Dreams field in Iowa, Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y., the Rose Bowl, Michigan Stadium, TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., etc. In some cases you may need to build a temporary field and compromise on attendance and dimensions, but you're talking about one regular season game out of 2,430 that is visually stunning, brings Major League Baseball to a place it never has been before, appeals to the "event" appetite of demanding sports viewers, and underscores baseball's unique place in Americana.

• Bracket-style Home Run Derby. The current format is tedious and uninspired. Do away with "rounds" of hitting. Select the 16 most high-profile sluggers and let them go at it bracket-style. (Can you say "office pool?") How about Harper going head-to-head against Mike Trout? Winner advances, loser is knocked out. Think you might want to watch that?

• Best-of-five LCS. The inventory of non-clinching postseason games has grown while attracting smaller audiences. A best-of-five LCS (the way it was from 1969-84) pumps more urgency into the postseason and lifts the profile of the World Series, which becomes the only best-of-seven round instead of just another round.

• A neutral site World Series. Boras is a proponent of creating a Super Bowl-style World Series Weekend. At a predetermined warm-weather site, hold an awards gala on Friday night, in which the top awards are announced, followed by Games 1 and 2 of the World Series the next two nights. The series then would be hosted in a 2-2-1 format by the league champions. The down side: one team would not get a World Series home game in the event of a sweep. A possible workaround to that problem is to play only one game at the neutral site or adopt a best-of-nine format with no off days.

"I'm big on the World Series being a planned event," Boras said. "The problem with World Series ratings right now is that they are regional."

• Fund college baseball. "Baseball literally has billions of dollars set aside, and for what?" said one club executive. "What they should and can do tomorrow is to fund scholarships for college programs."

Baseball programs are allowed a maximum of only 11.7 scholarships. Full rides are almost unheard of. Basketball and football typically pay the full cost of college for elite players, thus providing a major incentive for the multi-sport athlete to chose those sports over baseball.

• Install a pitch clock. Baseball has tried for 20 years to improve the pace of games, but without an actual clock it never will happen. The rulebook states that a pitcher should deliver a pitch within 12 seconds when the bases are empty. It's the most abused rule in the book. The average time between pitches is about 19 seconds with the bases empty and 27 seconds with runners on.

• Limit timeouts. Baseball is the only sport where teams get an unlimited number of timeouts. The number of mound conferences between the catcher and pitcher has become absurd. If the manager and pitching coach are limited in their trips to the mound (a second in the same inning requires the removal of the pitcher), so should the catcher.

• Limit pitching changes. A rule already exists: a pitcher has to face one batter. But what if he had to obtain one out before he could be removed? Or, if you gave a manager an allowance of only one mid-inning change per inning, what if he had to finish the inning?

• Start every batter with a 1-and-1 count. This is too radical for my tastes. You essentially would be changing strikeouts to two strikes and walks to three balls. This is a common tactic for amateur coaches in scrimmages to improve the pace of play to get more repetitions for hitters, pitchers and fielders -- and it does work toward creating a faster game. I just don't believe baseball requires something this drastic.

It's worth remembering that baseball is a thriving business. More people consume baseball in more ways than ever before. No other sport provides fans, especially families, with a better (and cheaper) in-person experience than baseball, where the ballpark itself, the outdoor air and the impulse to gather as a community are part of the unique attraction. And as the American population continues to age, baseball's strong loyalty from an older demographic may not be a bad thing.

But what happens as this young generation of discriminating viewers ages, the viewers occupied by football who don't watch the World Series unless their favorite team is playing or unless there is a Game 7? Will they turn to baseball as they age and their lives slow down? Or does the lack of an emotional connection to baseball in their youth keep them forever apart from the sport? No one can be sure of that answer, not in these unprecedented times when culture changes so quickly and when entertainment choices grow so abundant. In such uncertain times, the greatest risk to take may be not taking one at all.
post #19710 of 77571
So the Brew crew just giving away money, lack a playoff roster, and their farm system is the worst in the majors? That fanbase is totally effed.
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NikeTalk › NikeTalk Forums › The Lounge › Sports & Training › 2016 MLB thread. THE CUBS HAVE BROKEN THE CURSE! Chicago Cubs are your 2016 World Series champions.