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2016 MLB thread. THE CUBS HAVE BROKEN THE CURSE! Chicago Cubs are your 2016 World Series champions. - Page 660  

post #19771 of 78800
The Astros are going to be much improved this year. They're still gonna suck, but not near as bad lol

They've added some quality arms in the pen. Even when they had leads last year, then pen would just blow it. Smh.
post #19772 of 78800
curious to see t-mac play baseball... been hearing about it for years.
post #19773 of 78800
Originally Posted by dland24 View Post

@FTatis23: 8 points in the superbowl...i had 8 rbi in one inning.

mean.gif chan ho park that year
post #19774 of 78800
Thread Starter 
Astros no longer the worst.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Houston Astros have not been very good the past three seasons. They haven't cracked 60 wins, and have generally played an unwatchable brand of baseball while doing so.
This year should be different. Not only are some of their prospects about to graduate to the majors, but they have acquired some depth at the major league level. They won't be the worst team in baseball, and might not even be one of the three worst.

Addition by subtraction
During the past two seasons, the major league roster experienced quite a bit of turnover as the team experimented with different players. Some of those experiments have worked out, and some did not or have not. The opportunities afforded to Brett Wallace, for example, have largely gone for naught. J.D. Martinez and Marwin Gonzalez also have failed to make the most of their opportunities. Brandon Barnes has a nice glove, but it's hard to maintain a sub-.300 on-base percentage and be a valuable major league player.

Trimming the fat
These eight players, who were well below replacement-level in 2013, are now gone or will see a diminished role.

Brandon Barnes 1.0
Brett Wallace 0.0
Trevor Crowe -0.1
Rick Ankiel -0.3
Marwin Gonzalez -0.4
Carlos Pena -0.4
Ronny Cedeno -0.7
J.D. Martinez -1.1
TOTAL -4.0
Of course, it wasn't just kids who stepped into the batter's box last season, but the veterans the team had also failed to produce much of value. Neither Carlos Pena nor Ronny Cedeno slugged better than .350. Rick Ankiel produced just a .231 OBP in his short stint (25 games) in Houston. And once-upon-a-time top-100 prospect Trevor Crowe couldn't post a .300 OBP or slugging percentage.

These eight made more than one-third of the plate appearances by Astros position players last season, and combined for a woeful .227/.283/.357 line. That was good -- or bad, actually -- for a .640 OPS. The rest of the Astros weren't exactly a bunch of All-Stars, but their collective .694 OPS was significantly better.

The good news for Houston fans is that those eight players are either ancient history, or should be phased out by the end of the season. The last man standing likely will be Wallace, but he eventually will be replaced by top prospect Jonathan Singleton. Keith Law ranked Singleton as the No. 78 prospect in all of baseball and No. 5 in Houston's system, and he may have ranked even higher had he not missed nearly half of last season thanks to a suspension for marijuana use.

Another prospect who should be ready for a gig at some point this season is George Springer. Ranked 19th overall by Law, Springer is a center fielder who may not get to play center field right away thanks to Dexter Fowler's arrival. However, there is no one blocking him in left or right field, so when he is ready for prime time, Fowler's presence shouldn't hold him back.

Fowler himself adds to the stable of league-average position players the team will suit up in 2014. With Jason Castro at catcher, Jose Altuve at second base, Chris Carter at designated hitter and Fowler in center field, Houston projects to have four league-average position players. In addition, Matt Dominguez does enough things well to be decent at third base.

Add Singleton and Springer to those five guys, and you have the potential for 2-WAR players at nearly every position. Contrast that with the first eight players, who combined for minus-4 WAR last season (see table), and see the significant improvement. The pitching will still be abysmal, at least for now, but Houston will at least be able to hold its own in the batter's box.

The worst of the rest
That's more than we can say for the Miami Marlins. It is no secret that Giancarlo Stanton is an exceptional hitter. Steamer only projects three hitters -- Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout and Joey Votto -- to post a better wOBA than Stanton this coming season. However, the players around him can be classified as dreck. No other position player on the roster projects to be worth more than 2.0 WAR either by Steamer or ZiPS.

Retreads such as like Rafael Furcal, Ty Wigginton and Casey McGehee abound, and because the Marlins graduated several of their prospects last season, there aren't a lot of reinforcements coming. Jake Marisnick should contribute this year, but his playing time will come at the expense of other young, somewhat talented players in Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. In other words, when he graduates, it won't have the same positive effect on their lineup like Singleton and Springer will have in Houston.

The pitching is similarly built. Jose Fernandez is projected to be a star, but the rest of the rotation is filled with guys who will be league average at best. But the lack of depth up and down the roster, and the lack of talent among the group of starters, make the Marlins the front-runner to be the worst team in baseball. And if something should once again happen to Stanton -- who has played in only 74 percent of all possible games the past two years due to various injuries -- Miami will really struggle to put runs on the board.

The Marlins won't be the only ones who struggle to post crooked numbers. The Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins and Philadelphia Phillies all had trouble putting runs on the board a year ago, and likely will face the same challenges this year.

The White Sox and Phillies should be able to squeak out enough 3-2, 4-3 sorts of wins thanks to their starting rotations, but the same cannot be said for the Twins and Chicago Cubs. Even after all of the attention the Twins paid to their starting rotation earlier in the offseason, FanGraphs' depth charts still peg them as one of the three worst rotations in baseball. The Astros' pitching will likely be similarly poor, but they are not going to have the same difficulties hitting the ball.

In fact, according to FanGraphs' depth charts, the Marlins, White Sox, Cubs and Phillies all project to produce fewer WAR than the Astros, with the Marlins at least 5 WAR behind every other club.

Last season, the Astros had a bunch of very poor hitters clogging their lineup. This season, they will be improved, as most of those players will be history, and players such as Fowler, Singleton and Springer will join the lineup. This is going to make it a lot easier for the Astros to stay in games, and the improved offense should help them avoid being baseball's worst team.

GM buzz: Latest on free agents.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
With pitchers and catchers due to report to spring training in a couple of weeks, the rumor mill continues to churn because many quality free agents are still on the market, including: Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, A.J. Burnett, Bronson Arroyo, Paul Maholm, Stephen Drew and Nelson Cruz.

Why are so many players still on the market? Well, the agents and union have their theory, while the clubs have a different view. Multiple agents representing free agents who are still on the market told me over the weekend that they, as well as the players' union, are concerned that social networking and the media’s advanced coverage of the sport are hurting the market value of their clients.

Some even went so far as to suggest that teams are possibly violating the clause in the collective bargaining agreement that prevents clubs from influencing a free agent's market value by relaying to the media the offers they’ve made to free agents, and whether clubs plan to make an offer or decline to make an offer. Certainly media coverage of baseball’s offseason is the best it’s ever been, but these conclusions have very little merit when you look at the enormous contracts that were given out this offseason to the likes of Robinson Cano, Clayton Kershaw and Masahiro Tanaka, among others.

On the other hand, general managers and assistant GMs have a different opinion. The majority believe the main reason so many free agents remain on the market is that all have some type of negative issue surrounding them, whether that's injury history, a performance-enhancing drug suspension, career inconsistency or draft-pick compensation. GMs also point to the agents’ inflated expectations in terms of years and dollars considering the risks associated with these players.

With that in mind, here’s the latest scuttlebutt from the front offices around the league.

Where will they land?

• David Price is staying in Tampa. Rays GM Andrew Friedman has listened to every club that had a trade proposal for Price and came away knowing his best decision is to keep him and try to win this year.

The Rays know that trading Price at the deadline probably won’t be an option because the team will be in a pennant race, so it will be next offseason when he’s finally traded. The Cubs, Braves, Diamondbacks, Nationals, and Dodgers are the early favorites.

• The Cleveland Indians find it hard to envision a scenario where Jimenez returns to Cleveland. Factoring in the value of the draft pick they are planning to get if he signs elsewhere, his value would have to drop so low that too many other teams would be motivated to sign him before they would.

The Indians are comfortable with a trio of young starters (Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer) competing for the final rotation spot behind Justin Masterson, Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister. Jimenez likely lands in Toronto.

• The Reds have not made an offer to Arroyo and don’t plan to. Instead they are preparing for a rotation of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake and rookie Tony Cingrani, who has spent a lot of time this offseason improving his slider, which can be a difference-maker for this high-ceiling left-hander.

Arroyo prefers the East Coast, but he might have to head west for a spot with either the Los Angeles Angels or Arizona Diamondbacks.

• The Royals have not completely ruled out Ervin Santana, but it is highly doubtful that he'll return to Kansas City. The Royals believe if they stay healthy, their rotation will be fine, and they look forward to the competition between Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura and Luke Hochevar for the final rotation spot. As with Jimenez, Toronto is a likely landing spot for Santana.

Based on my conversations with front-office executives, here are where most of the other free agents should likely land:

• Nelson Cruz: Seattle Mariners
• Stephen Drew: Boston Red Sox (according to one source, Drew has received a two-year offer from Boston)
• A.J. Burnett: Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies or Pittsburgh Pirates
• Kendrys Morales: Morales has the best chance of being this year’s version of Kyle Lohse, who didn’t sign last year until late March.

• According to league sources, the Los Angeles Dodgers are working to add an infielder (rather than a starting pitcher) as their top priority and hope to get something done in the next 48 hours. It appears they won’t be bidding on any of the remaining high-cost starting pitchers unless one of them is willing to take a short-term deal, as Dan Haren was willing to do with the Dodgers earlier this offseason.

• Max Scherzer and Jon Lester are the two most likely impending free-agent starters who could sign extensions by Opening Day. Even though Scherzer is represented by Scott Boras, who prefers to take his clients to free agency, it appears Scherzer prefers to remain loyal to the Tigers -- if they’re willing to pay him close to his market value of seven years, $196 million.

Tigers President Dave Dombrowski has a long history of doing deals with Boras, and the moves Dombrowski has made this offseason to reduce payroll give him enough room to get this deal done. Likewise, Lester has made it clear he wants to stay in Boston and is willing to take fewer years and dollars to get it done as long as the Sox treat him fairly (and most executives think they will). If Scherzer and Lester re-sign with their current clubs, that will leave Justin Masterson and Homer Bailey as the most sought after free-agent pitchers next fall.

• Andrew Cashner might go to an arbitration hearing over a $125,000 differential, which is ridiculous. The Braves' Jason Heyward is in a similar situation, as he and the Braves are just $300,00 apart.

The Braves are among five teams -- along with the Blue Jays, Marlins, Rays and White Sox -- that regularly employ the "file and trial" method of arbitration. This is when a team tells agents that if the arbitration-eligible players are not signed by the time players and clubs exchange salary figures, then the team will take the case to arbitration and not negotiate anymore.

This philosophy worked well for years and encouraged signings because of the hard deadline. However, it has since become an antiquated policy because in most cases the differential is relatively small compared to the quickly escalating salaries across the sport. Going to war over a few hundred thousand dollars doesn't make sense in a world of $100 million payrolls.

• The Orioles have approximately $15 million to spend, but can anyone pass their physical exam? Grant Balfour and Tyler Colvin -- who both had contract agreements with Baltimore fall apart after their physicals -- should be a warning to all interested free agents. The Orioles and Mariners remain interested in Cruz and Morales.

• The Angels might end up with Chris Capuano or Paul Maholm instead of Arroyo, which would be a mistake.

• The Yankees have just one or two more minor moves left, with the bullpen the priority. The Mets are also looking for bullpen arms with little to spend.

• The Nationals have been in discussions with the Rays for catcher Jose Lobaton, as they look for a backup for Wilson Ramos.

'Contract year' has a whole new meaning.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Draft-pick compensation was never an issue for Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo or Brian McCann. The loss of a draft pick didn’t discourage the Mets from signing Curtis Granderson, but probably only because their first-round pick is protected, meaning they only had to give up a second-rounder instead.

But it has been more than a month since any free agent who turned down a qualifying offer has signed, with five remaining on the table -- Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales.

The players scheduled to hit the market next fall can draw an important lesson from this group: Don’t get caught in the "Dead Zone."

If you’re traded during the season, as Matt Garza was last winter, then your team can’t extend a qualifying offer, and you avoid draft-pick purgatory. If you have a great season, as Choo did, then you shift out of the Dead Zone.

But if you are a good veteran who has a solid season -- but not a great season -- well, then you might get stuck.

Consider the players who could be free agents next fall. Unless Max Scherzer has a major setback through injury, he almost certainly moved himself out of the Dead Zone with his dominant, Cy Young winning performance in 2013. If he hits the market next fall, he'll have big-market teams bidding on him without concern about the draft pick.

On the other hand, there is the case of Justin Masterson. Barring injury, the Indians right-hander almost certainly will receive a qualifying offer even if he doesn't have another All-Star season. And if Masterson -- who is not close to working out an extension -- is dominant again, he will move out of the Dead Zone. But if he merely has a good performance, with an ERA in the range of 3.50 to 4.50, that qualifying offer could affect his marketability the way it has for Jimenez, his former teammate. (Masterson could be a trade candidate, and Paul Hoynes deals with the question of what they could get in return here.)

Similarly, Chase Headley has a lot at stake this year. If he hits in 2014 the way he did in 2012, when he had an .875 OPS and finished fifth in the MVP race, he'll get great offers next winter, as one of the few great third basemen available. But if he's more like he was in 2013, when he had a .747 OPS, then the Padres -- an organization that must feed on drafting and development -- may well extend a qualifying offer that could drag down Headley's free agency.

Other players who need to play well to avoid the Dead Zone next winter:

David Ortiz: Here's a reason why the Red Sox don't really have to negotiate with Ortiz. If he has a great season, they can give him a qualifying offer and all but end any chance another team would even think about signing him, at age 39, because they'd have to give up a draft pick for a player on a short-term deal. Keep in mind: This is not a good time to be a free agent viewed as a DH. Ask Kendrys Morales.

Asdrubal Cabrera: He is coming off a terrible 2013 season and will be 29 next fall. If he has a great year, the fact that he is a switch-hitter and has played multiple positions probably would mean that teams would view 2013 as an aberration. If he has an average year (or worse) ... that'll be a problem.

James Shields: He will turn 33 next winter, the same age that Kyle Lohse was in 2012, right before he became the poster boy for the Dead Zone.

Jed Lowrie: Remember, the Athletics will shed Jim Johnson's salary next winter, so they might be able to give Lowrie a qualifying offer if he has a good year.

Hanley Ramirez: L.A. is talking about an extension with Ramirez, but if he doesn't sign and has a great season, he'll move outside of the Dead Zone as a high-impact infielder. Ramirez played like a superstar last year, but he had a .741 OPS across 2011-12, and if he reverts to his pre-Dodgers form, he could have a problem on the market.

Brett Gardner: If he has a good season, the Yankees -- with their financial clout -- will offer him arbitration.

Around the league

• The Blue Jays appear to hold the commanding position in the free-agent pitching market that remains, to the degree that Toronto is like a beer vendor inside the Super Bowl site.

If anybody wanted something to drink at MetLife Stadium, they had to deal with the vendors' terms. Similarly, Toronto can just sit back and wait for one of them to agree to its terms. The Blue Jays need a starting pitcher and are willing to pay, and because there are so many free-agent starters available, one of them will need Toronto, whether it's Santana or Jimenez or A.J. Burnett.

• The battle between the Cubs and rooftop owners shifted to the radio.

• Some teams had significant concerns about whether Matt Garza would be at a heightened risk for an elbow injury, and the Brewers worked to protect themselves with a fifth-year vesting option.

By the way: The wide perception within the industry is that Brewers owner Mark Attanasio was the driving force behind this deal, rather than the team’s baseball operations department, much in the same way that Attanasio pushed for the Kyle Lohse deal last spring.

• Chris Davis says he’d like to know more about the extension that was offered.

• Sources say the pressure to win more games has been ramped up markedly within the Astros' organization, after three consecutive seasons of at least 106 losses. Most statistical systems designed to predict performance usually don't generate numbers in the extremes -- 100-plus wins or 100-plus losses -- and so some of the early sabermetric projections that have the Astros winning close to 70 games may be no more accurate than similar projections made last spring (including a few within the Houston organization).

But rival evaluators believe the Astros will be better this year, through the maturation of their young players, such as Jonathan Singleton and George Springer, and money spent on veterans, and have a legitimate shot at avoiding 100 losses and perhaps climbing a rung in their division. The fact that every team in their division has seemingly improved this winter could be a problem, however.

The Mariners signed Cano and may add more help before the start of spring training. The Angels have had a good offseason, plugging rotation holes and improving their defense. The Rangers signed Choo and traded for Prince Fielder. Oakland is merely the two-time defending champion and stacked its bullpen.

Houston will have the No. 1 overall pick for the third consecutive year in 2014. If the Astros lose 106 games or more games again, they would match the '62-65 Amazin' Mets as the only team in history to lose so much for so long.

Meanwhile: The Astros are working to get back on TV. Jim Crane says he would find a comfortable place for Nolan Ryan within the Astros organization.

Dings and dents

1. Yet another Texas Rangers player has been hurt this offseason, as Gerry Fraley writes.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Ian Kinsler rejected a trade to Toronto before being dealt to Detroit.

2. The questions about David Ortiz are not an issue of respect, writes Scott Lauber.

3. The Rays are still dangling Jose Lobaton to interested teams.

4. Kenley Jansen is not concerned about being the Dodgers' last arbitration case.

The battle for jobs

1. There will be a lot of pitchers battling for spots in the Nationals' camp.

AL East

• The Jays' Paul Beeston said the other day that baseball should be played on grass.

• The Rays' focus is on depth, writes Marc Topkin.

AL Central

• The Tigers' payroll is expected to go up in 2014, in spite of the Fielder trade.

• Mike Moustakas has dropped some weight.

NL Central

• Bernie Miklasz takes a look at the division.

• A.J. Burnett is a risk, and Travis Sawchik considers how much of a risk he is.

NL West

• Matt Kemp doesn’t intend to rush back, writes Dylan Hernandez.

• Madison Bumgarner deserves the Opening Day start, writes John Shea.

Cubs new manager will connect quickly.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Rick Renteria dreams in two languages: Spanish and English. This is not unusual for folks who know more than one language. But when he speaks in his sleep loud enough to wake up his wife, there’s one common denominator. He’s talking about baseball.

Renteria is the new manager of the Chicago Cubs, bearing a reputation for having a personality that pushes players. “His personality is a big driver,” said Josh Byrnes, general manager of the San Diego Padres, for who Renteria worked as a coach before being hired by Chicago. “He’s definitely got an infectious personality.”

But Renteria’s ability to speak two languages fluently has been viewed by potential employers as a major attribute, and he is thought to be especially good at connecting with young players, partly because of his understanding of language.

“The best managers connect to all players,” said Byrnes.

Renteria’s parents had moved from Mexico to California, and Salvador Renteria had gone to night school to learn English. “He thought we should be able to speak the language of the country we lived in,” said Renteria, who has four brothers. Their mother, Angela, preferred to speak Spanish, perhaps out of a concern about how her English sounded, and so Renteria grew up in a household in which both languages were spoken regularly, with his father making a point of speaking English with their children.

As Rick Renteria got into baseball, he began to understand the differences in how the languages are used, how different phrases are rooted in different cultures. He reads and writes in both Spanish and English, and he has found himself articulating an idea in Spanish, he said, only to be corrected by player saying that a particular word or phrase might be more exact.

“Sometimes, you say something in Spanish, and you can see from the expression of the player that what you just said might be a little off,” Renteria said. “And they’ll say, ‘We say it this way. Quite frankly, I’m still trying to grasp it.”

[+] Enlarge
AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles
Shortstop Starlin Castro is just one of many talented young Cubs players of Latin descent.
Renteria has worked to learn the idioms that tend to be tied to various countries, so that he can have the best possible chance to convey a thought to a player from Cuba, from Venezuela or any other country. “You want to make sure that everybody feels involved,” Renteria said.

The Cubs, like most organizations, have players from all over the world, but most of their best young players -- those who they must rely on in the club’s rebuilding -- are from places where Spanish is the primary language.

Outfielder Jorge Soler defected from Cuba. Shortstop Javier Baez grew up in Puerto Rico and was the Cubs’ first pick in the 2011 draft. Second baseman Arismendy Alcantara is from the Dominican Republic -- and so is Starlin Castro. The Cubs’ incumbent shortstop is coming off a frustrating season, and there’s hope that Renteria’s daily mien will help him get his career back on course.

It will all start with communication -- through an understanding of language -- that Renteria works at constantly. “It’s an on-going process,” he said.

Around the league

• Jeremy Hellickson, part of the Rays’ rotation, had elbow surgery.
From Roger Mooney’s piece:

Hellickson said he threw his first bullpen session on Jan. 15 and said everything felt fine.

“Then I got on the mound three days later and I couldn't even straighten out my arm. It just kind of locked up,” he said. “I threw about 10, 15 pitches in that bullpen. Came away and it didn't feel good at all, not comfortable.”

The problem was loose bodies in his elbow that were removed Jan. 29 during arthroscopic surgery performed by Dr. Koco Eaton, the Rays’ orthopedic surgeon.

As a result, Hellickson is expected to miss the first six-to-eight weeks of the regular season.

“I'm absolutely looking forward to getting back out there this year,” Hellickson said. “I guess a lot of people were doubting me toward the end of last year, so I was motivated to get back out there and do what I know I can do. It definitely (stinks). It's frustrating to have to go through this and hopefully it's just a month, month-and-a-half. I'm just going to rehab, work hard and get out there as soon as possible.”

• Right-handers Jake Odorizzi, who appeared in seven games for the Rays last season with four starts, and Alex Colome, who made one start for the Rays, are the leading candidates to fill Hellickson's spot in the rotation.

• The Diamondbacks announced extensions for general manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson.

• The Braves have three whopper arbitration hearings, and they are set to begin on Feb. 11.

• David Ortiz sent a message to media haters.

• Derek Jeter was back on the field.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Mets signed Kyle Farnsworth.

2. Doug Fister worked out a deal with the Nationals.

3. The Orioles have made an offer to a pitcher from Korea. So have the Rangers.

4. The Astros signed Jerome Williams.

5. The Rockies finalized some minor-league deals.

6. The Rangers will bring a prodigy to spring training, writes Evan Grant.

Dings and dents

1. A Rangers catcher avoided serious injury.

NL East

• The Mets are looking to clear up the Ike Davis situation quickly.

• The Mets can bring him into camp, evaluate the progress of his swing through many at-bats, and if it looks like he’s back to where he was last year, they could always release him in the second week of March and pay him only a quarter of the $3.5 million he is set to make for the 2014 season. Given his past success, it’s worth that one last look to determine whether they believe he will bounce back.

• Here is an examination of the Nats’ payroll.

• Denard Span is feeling upbeat after a good finish last year.

• The Braves believe in their core.

NL West

• Sergio Romo says he could have handled last season better.

• Michael Morse says he’s not afraid of AT&T Park.

AL East

• The Red Sox have depth concerns in a couple of spots, writes Tim Britton.

• David Ross is fired up.

AL Central

• Trevor Plouffe is holding down third base, for now.

• Bryan Holaday is going to back up Alex Avila.

• Avila could be poised for a comeback, writes Kurt Mensching.

• Tom Gage asks: Who is the ace of the Tigers?

• The Royals’ lineup falls into place naturally, says Ned Yost. Totally agree.

AL West

• Ryan Divish asks: Is Mike Zunino ready to take over the full-time catching duties?

I have no idea whether he can or not, but while the Mariners have been in the news a lot this winter, some rival evaluators have said they have significant questions about whether Zunino will ascend as a player as he ages. Those evaluators believe that Zunino will have to be extremely diligent about his body and fitness to give himself the best possible chance because they have doubts about his raw skills.

• The Mariners could have a powerful addition to their lineup.

Toughest lineup quandaries in MLB.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
When Joe Torre managed, he jotted down lineups in his time away from the park, mulling over various possibilities, internally debating certain combinations.

In other words: He was like a lot of baseball fans and reporters, who like to think through different lineup quandaries, especially in the cold of winter.

Around baseball, there are interesting lineup quandaries.

For the defending champion Red Sox: Who hits leadoff?

Boston’s leadoff hitters ranked first in on-base percentage last season and third in runs scored, but the guy primarily responsible for that is gone. So now John Farrell has to decide who will replace Jacoby Ellsbury in the No. 1 spot in his batting order.

He’s got a few imperfect candidates such as Dustin Pedroia, who actually has done some of his worst work when he’s hit leadoff, or Jackie Bradley, who doesn’t have a lot of experience, or maybe Xander Bogaerts, who may ultimately be needed to hit in the middle of the Boston order.

But the Red Sox are likely to open the year with Bradley at or near the bottom of their lineup to help ease his transition into the big leagues. They’ll probably use a combination of hitters in the leadoff spot -- Daniel Nava against right-handed pitchers, given his high OBP (.411 versus right-handers in 2013), and against lefties, maybe Shane Victorino (.861 OPS versus lefties in ’13) or even Jonny Gomes (.795 versus lefties in ’13).

Detroit Tigers: Who bats fifth?

The Tigers dealt Prince Fielder and should have more speed, better defense and more roster flexibility with Rajai Davis, Jose Iglesias, Nick Castellanos and Ian Kinsler.

But they may lack some thump in the middle of their batting order. Miguel Cabrera will presumably hit third and Victor Martinez fourth -- but who hits fifth? Torii Hunter could be a candidate, but he again thrived in the No. 2 spot, posting a .805 OPS there last season. So could the No. 5 hitter be Alex Avila against right-handers? Kinsler? Andy Dirks?

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus could choose to go with a hot hitter in that spot, or maybe just read the matchups from day-to-day.

St. Louis Cardinals: Who hits second?

Bernie Miklasz wrote about this recently, presenting the interesting puzzle that faces Mike Matheny. Tony La Russa began the Cardinals’ history of using the No. 2 spot in such an effective manner, usually with a really good left-handed hitter -- and the Cardinals are predominantly right-handed, with Allen Craig, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina and Jhonny Peralta.

From Bernie’s piece:

Of course, there is the new shortstop, Jhonny Peralta. But he's made only 36 plate appearances as a No. 2 hitter in his career. And he isn't a good base runner. To cite an advanced metric, Peralta is about a minus-17 in Base Running Runs (BRR) over the past six years according to Baseball Prospectus. Ugh.

I wouldn't be surprised to see manager Mike Matheny use Peralta as the No. 2 hitter. Peralta bats right-handed, which would prevent having two left-handed hitters at the very top of the lineup. (Which is only a potential problem against [left-handed] pitchers.)

I also wouldn't be surprised to see Matheny try Bourjos as the leadoff man, which would move Carpenter to the No. 2 spot. General Manager John Mozeliak doesn't believe it's a good idea to bat Bourjos leadoff, but the manager makes out the lineup. And the manager wants to implement more speed.

Ultimately? If Carpenter stays in the No. 1 spot, as he should, then I believe we'll see Wong or Taveras picking up a lot of plate appearances at No. 2 at some point during the 2014 season.

Texas Rangers: Is Prince Fielder’s best spot in the three-hole?

Ron Washington has already said this is where Fielder will hit, and in some respects, that construction could make sense because Washington could go left-right-left-right at the top of his order, with Shin-Soo Choo hitting leadoff and Adrian Beltre batting cleanup.

But Fielder has usually hit cleanup in his career because he’s played with others -- Ryan Braun and Cabrera -- who fit better in the No. 3 spot, and because he’s not really a classic No. 3 hitter given his strikeout totals. But Fielder has a career OBP of .389, and he and Choo may constantly create opportunities for Beltre and those who follow.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Where should Mike Trout hit?

Wherever he bats, he’ll be the most dynamic hitter in the game with his power and speed combination. But this choice is really more about the other hitters in the Angels’ lineup than it is about Trout. Josh Hamilton really struggled for a lot of last season, but was much better after he was moved down in the lineup. Albert Pujols appears to be ready to go for 2014, and even if he’s not the same caliber of hitter that he once was, he’ll still reach base a lot.

Trout batted second in most games and hit a lot in the No. 3 hole, as well. If I were in Mike Scioscia’s shoes, I’d be going into spring training thinking about Kole Calhoun as a candidate to hit leadoff after his solid showing last season, and then go with Trout in the No. 2 hole with Pujols at No. 3 and Hamilton at No. 5 or No. 6, with Raul Ibanez hitting fourth or sixth against right-handers, depending on where Hamilton will feel most comfortable. The lower half of the Angels’ lineup could look like this:

2B -- Howie Kendrick

3B -- David Freese

C -- Chris Iannetta

SS -- Erick Aybar

New York Yankees: Where does Brett Gardner hit?

In many ways, he is a perfect No. 2 hitter behind Jacoby Ellsbury because he is historically a good OBP guy (.352 for his career), he’ll have extended at-bats (4.23 pitches per plate appearance last season, sixth most in the AL) and give Ellsbury a chance to run. He and Ellsbury can pressure opposing pitchers with their speed. When Ellsbury reaches second, Gardner has the ability to bunt for a hit and, at the very least, advance the runner.

In a vacuum, using Gardner in the No. 2 hole would be a no-brainer for Yankees manager Joe Girardi. But there is the matter of the incumbent, a player who ranks No. 10 all-time in hits and led the majors in hits two seasons ago, Derek Jeter, who missed almost all of last season because of his ankle trouble.

It figures that Girardi will start Jeter in the No. 2 spot in the lineup at the outset of 2014, to give him a shot to show he can hit in the way that he did in 2012. Jeter has earned that opportunity through his Hall of Fame career

But if Jeter doesn’t hit in April and Gardner is performing well early, Girardi should make the change.

Los Angeles Dodgers: What do you do with Carl Crawford?

Once again, the Dodgers have a lineup with a lot of interesting parts that don’t really fit well together. Andre Ethier might be the best fit in the No. 2 spot, but the same could be said for Hanley Ramirez. Yasiel Puig is dynamic and you could make a case for him hitting just about anywhere in the lineup, including third, but then what would you do with Adrian Gonzalez? He has a history of driving in runs, but has seen his walk total steadily drop from 119 in 2009 to 47 last season.

Crawford probably presents the greatest puzzle for Don Mattingly, though, because his speed would seemingly make him a candidate to hit at the top of the order. But Crawford has 38 stolen bases over the last three seasons and had a .329 on-base percentage last year. He has power, but really isn’t a power hitter.

Crawford hit leadoff in most of his starts last season, and probably will do the same in 2014.

Seattle Mariners: Who do you put around Robinson Cano?

The Mariners’ No. 3 hitters ranked 28th in OPS last season, and you’d have to figure that Cano will bat in that spot and solve that problem. What, then, is the best way to take advantage of his presence? Who should hit second, and who should hit fourth? (And yes, we know there is almost no statistical evidence that one hitter has an impact on the hitter who precedes him, but we also know that almost all pitchers, catchers and managers say they are constantly making choices based on who is on base and who is on deck.)

Kyle Seager is arguably the Mariners’ best returning hitter from last season. He fared better batting second or fourth and struggled in the No. 3 spot. Should Seager hit in front of Cano, or might Cano have a chance to see more pitches to hit if Seager hits behind him? If Seager bats second, then who bats cleanup? Corey Hart, who missed all of last season? Logan Morrison? Justin Smoak? Would Hart be better in the No. 2 spot, seeing more fastballs because Cano is hitting behind him, with Seager batting cleanup?

If the Mariners sign Nelson Cruz, then this probably will be settled with Seager batting second, Cano third and Cruz in the No. 4 hole.

Cleveland Indians: Where should Asdrubal Cabrera hit?

Cabrera had a poor season last year with an OPS of .700. After he was greatly disappointed by his own play in the Indians’ wild-card loss, Cabrera seemed to drive into the offseason on a mission to be better in 2014. He’s got a lot at stake this year, given his impending free agency, and is said to be in excellent condition and fully prepared for the start of spring training.

If Cabrera is in launch mode, Terry Francona could have some enviable choices. He could hit Michael Bourn in the leadoff spot, followed by Cabrera (a switch-hitter who had a .792 OPS in 2011), Jason Kipnis at No. 3 and Carlos Santana in the cleanup spot. Or Nick Swisher could hit in the No. 2 hole again-- he had 246 at-bats there last season, with a .337 OBP -- with Cabrera doing damage in the No. 5 or No. 6 spot.

It bears repeating: The Indians had one of baseball’s highest-scoring offenses last season despite the fact that a number of their hitters either had mediocre or subpar seasons. Cleveland’s offense could take a step forward this season, and if that happens, Cabrera figures to be a big reason for the improvement.

For the readers: What would you do with some of these lineup quandaries?

• Among some of the teams that have had internal conversations about Ervin Santana and Stephen Drew, medical issues have affected interest about the possible length of offers. There is concern about Santana’s elbow and about Drew’s hips.

Santana could be drifting into a difficult place for free agents. Because he is tied to draft-pick compensation, teams that might normally offer him a good one-year or two-year deal might be reluctant to give up a pick for a player on a contract of that length. On the other hand, the medical concerns and draft-pick comp issue might also prevent teams from thinking about anything more than a three-year deal.

• If you are in the shoes of the Royals or the Indians, there is some psychology to consider before re-signing Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez, respectively. Think about the situation that would be in place if circumstances drove Santana back to Kansas City on a one-year deal: Santana would know that if he had a good year in 2014, the Royals would probably give him another qualifying offer, which again would tamp down the interest in him as a second-tier free agent -- and if he had a poor year, he would really be in trouble when he returned to the free-agent market next fall. The carrot that usually dangles in front of free agents really wouldn't be in place for either Santana or Jimenez if they returned to their former teams on a one-year deal.

• Draft pick compensation could cut ties between the Indians and Jimenez, writes Paul Hoynes.

• Chris Capuano had been looking for a two-year deal, but in the last week, that ask has been reduced to a one-year deal, sources say. Dave Cameron has noted that Capuano could represent good value -- and some team analysts believe this, as well.

• As recently as a week ago, the request for Bronson Arroyo was for a three-year deal.

• Alexander Guerrero says second base and shortstop are completely different positions, as Mark Saxon writes.

• Some teams that have evaluated Nelson Cruz view him essentially as a DH in the making, because of the regression they've seen in his defense, reflected in metrics. Cruz, 33, ranked among the worst outfielders in UZR/150 last season, and there has been a drift in his year-by-year rating in that category. It’s an imprecise statistic and sometimes completely at odds with the eye tests of scouts and coaches, but the trend in the numbers is clear apparent.

Cruz’s UZR/150 by year
2006 -- 13.9

2007 -- 7.7

2008 -- 12.3

2009 -- 9.3

2010 -- 12.8

2011 -- -7.9

2012 -- -3.3

2013 -- -6.5

The Mariners very much need a right-handed hitter to balance their lineup, and Cruz could do that and help to back Robinson Cano, but on the other hand, Seattle is already stacked with DH-type first base/corner-outfield candidates: Corey Hart, Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison and Jesus Montero.

• Buster Posey has put on 10 pounds this winter. The Giants have reaped the benefits of a long offseason.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. A senator is helping the Yankees speed up the paperwork for Masahiro Tanaka, writes Anthony McCarron.

2. Jason Hammel signed with the Cubs. Some teams that looked into him are concerned he is at a higher risk for an elbow injury, given his ulnar nerve last summer.

3. James Shields is open to a longer stay in Kansas City.

4. The Red Sox signed Rich Hill.

5. Alex Avila settled his arbitration case with the Tigers.

6. The Rangers are taking a shot at Daniel Bard.

7. Reed Johnson signed with the Marlins.

8. The Padres signed Tony Sipp.

Dings and dents

1. Justin Verlander should be ready for the start of the regular season.

2. Manny Machado has been cleared for some activities.

3. Jesse Crain is set to resume throwing.

The Battle For Jobs

1. Steve Johnson is ready to compete for a spot in the Orioles’ rotation.

AL East

• The Orioles have work to do.

AL Central

• Casey Crosby could be used out of the Tigers’ bullpen.

AL West

• Michael Young exits as a Ranger. He is over 2011, but not over it, as Richard Durrett writes.

• Josh Hamilton honored Young.

NL East

• Chris Johnson is trying to build on 2013, writes Carroll Rogers.

• The Braves’ young core is set to get expensive, writes Mark Bradley.

NL West

• Here are some Diamondbacks story lines.

• For Tim Lincecum, San Francisco feels like home, writes Ann Killion. From her piece:

Lincecum is maturing on and off the field. Last season, mostly thanks to Chad Gaudin's influence, he finally learned how to use the computer analytics that have long been available to him. He said it gave him more confidence going into each start. He plans to continue his new routine, even though Gaudin is now in Philadelphia.

Lincecum also is excited to tap into the knowledge base of new teammate Tim Hudson (who didn't make Friday's event due to terrible weather in the South). Lincecum met Hudson at the All-Star Game in 2010.

"We were both sitting out in the bullpen not pitching," Lincecum said. "He's a smaller guy who's probably been asked the same questions I have throughout my career, but he keeps pushing back."
Lincecum has a question for Hudson.

"How do you throw a slider?" he said.

Off the field, Lincecum continued working with the trainers he saw last offseason, focusing on improving strength and flexibility. He took his first trip to Europe, visiting Amsterdam and London with friends and their significant others. He sold his downtown Seattle condo and bought a house in the Madison Valley neighborhood, south of the University of Washington, with a yard that's better for his two dogs than a high-rise patio.

• Yasiel Puig is making a quick recovery, writes Bill Plaschke.

Finding the next A.J. Burnett.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
With A.J. Burnett deciding not only to return to play in 2014 but to open himself up to bids from teams other than the Pittsburgh Pirates, the market for free-agent pitchers has changed yet again. Burnett might be a bit older than guys like Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez, but he's also not going to ask for a long-term contract. Teams wanting to minimize their overall commitments can pursue Burnett as an upgrade without having to offer up a three- or four-year deal.
Of course, it wasn't so long ago that there was no demand for Burnett. After a couple of miserable seasons in New York -- if you judge a pitcher by ERA, anyway -- the Yankees just wanted to be done with Burnett, and paid the Pirates to take him off their hands. Pittsburgh assumed just $13 million of the $33 million Burnett had remaining on his contract, and he proceeded to give them two excellent years for bargain prices.

So instead of bidding up an aging Burnett who has re-established his market value, why not look for the next A.J. Burnett, a pitcher at the low point of his value with a contract that could be assumed in lieu of signing any of the free agents on the market?

Here are three options for pitchers who might have a Burnett-like career rejuvenation still left in them.

Ryan Dempster, RHP | Boston Red Sox
Contract: One year, $13.25 million remaining

Dempster's first year in Boston didn't go so well, as he posted his highest walk rate since 2007 and the highest home run rate of his entire career. That's not a great combination, and Dempster ended up losing his spot in the Red Sox rotation after the team acquired Jake Peavy at the trade deadline. With spring training just a few weeks away, Dempster is on the outside looking in, and his main role with the Red Sox is to provide depth in case one of the starting five get hurt.

However, there are plenty of reasons to think that he can still help a team that doesn't have Boston's rotation depth. His stuff didn't seem to decline at all, as his velocity held steady and batters made contact on just 77 percent of swings against him, right in line with his days as a quality pitcher in Chicago. If he can get the walks in line -- he walked 4.15 per nine in 2013, up from 2.71 in 2012 -- normal regression should fix his home run problem, and the strikeout rate should allow him to return to being a quality starting pitcher.

The Red Sox might enjoy the depth he provides, but $13 million is a high price for a backup starter, and any team who would take his contract off their books would probably not have to give up much to get him. With a decent chance for a rebound and only a single-year commitment, Dempster could easily be a nifty acquisition for a team that would rather not pay free-agent prices.

Josh Beckett, RHP | Los Angeles Dodgers
Contract: One year, $15.75 million remaining

While Beckett is currently penciled in to the No. 5 spot in the Dodgers' rotation, he certainly isn't guaranteed a spot, as the team's pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka showed. Even without Tanaka, there have been talks that the Dodgers could pursue a free-agent starter such as Bronson Arroyo, and shedding Beckett's contract would likely encourage them to make a run at one of the starters remaining on the market.

For a team not interested in making a multiyear commitment to a pitcher like Arroyo, however, Beckett could be an interesting one-year option. He missed nearly all of the 2013 season with a groin injury, but the good news is that his arm seemed to be in decent shape when he was on the mound. Hitters made contact on only 76 percent of their swings against him last year, rivaling the numbers he put up back in his glory days in Miami. While it seems like Beckett has been around forever, he'll be only 34 next year, and his peripheral numbers don't support the idea that he's lost his ability to pitch at the big league level.

He might not be an ace anymore, but if he can stay healthy enough to throw 160-180 innings, Beckett could easily be an above-average starting pitcher. If a team can get the Dodgers to kick in some cash to help facilitate Beckett's exit, landing him on a one-year deal could be a nice little upgrade for a team looking for a rotation boost.

John Danks, LHP | Chicago White Sox
Contract: Two years, $28.5 million remaining

The Pale Hose are a team in transition, and GM Rick Hahn made several good moves this winter to help set up the franchise for future success. However, they're unlikely to be contenders in 2014 -- and maybe not in 2015, either.

While Danks is still young enough -- he's going to be 29 this year -- to figure into the White Sox's long-term plans, he's more valuable to a contender for the next few years, and the White Sox probably wouldn't mind getting a chance to reallocate some of his money to fill out the rest of their roster with lower-cost players.

Though Danks didn't show the same stuff or strikeout ability as he did before shoulder surgery sidelined him in 2012, he did post the lowest walk rate of his career (4.6 percent), seemingly acknowledging that he'd have to find new ways to succeed with a reduced repertoire.

Danks is still young enough to reinvent himself as a command-oriented innings eater, and while $28 million for a back-end starter is no bargain, a team that could convince the White Sox to eat some of that money in order to facilitate a trade could end up with a better option than paying any of the remaining free-agent starters who would take a two-year deal.
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freddie freeman, 8 years 125 million extension with the braves

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Great deal for the Braves
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Thread Starter 
Guess they're banking on him being near .900 OPS every year. Good deal for him.
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Originally Posted by Proshares View Post

Guess they're banking on him being near .900 OPS every year. Good deal for him.

At 23, he just hit .320, 23 homers and 100+ don't think he'll ever repeat those numbers. He's a professional hitter, the guy hits line drive after live drive, how is this not a good deal for the Braves as well?
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If he reverts back to being a sub-2 OWar player and a negative DWar player next year, do you still think its a great deal?  I realize that baseball players contracts are ridiculously inflated these days, but to say that it was a "Great" deal for the Braves after one stellar season, is VERY premature IMO.

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Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by worldbeefreeg View Post

Originally Posted by Proshares View Post

Guess they're banking on him being near .900 OPS every year. Good deal for him.

At 23, he just hit .320, 23 homers and 100+ don't think he'll ever repeat those numbers. He's a professional hitter, the guy hits line drive after live drive, how is this not a good deal for the Braves as well?

Easy there chief, that was just an observation not me saying he won't do it laugh.gif

But I do think that was close to his career year. I don't think he's a .371 BABIP kinda guy or even a .390 OBP. I think his 2012 overall numbers brings us closer to what he truly is. I doubt he'll hit 30 HR's in a season, he's never really had that kinda power. But hey, I could be wrong. About $15mm a year sounds good for him. He's been consistent his first three seasons, just have to hope the defense gets a little better. Guys like Morneau, Howard and Adrian make more so he fits into that range.

Similar to Andrus' deal last season.
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Im glad the Braves signed Freeman long term I dont get why people underestimate his defense he plays gold glove defense almost like Teixeira. They only gave Heyward a 2 year extension I'm sure he's gone after that.

now only if we can sign Kimbrel to a extension y but wish.
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Good for Freeman pimp.gifpimp.gif

Can't wait for this year to begin already
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Curt Schilling diagnosed with cancer eek.gif .

You never wanna see that happen to anyone. Hope he's treated promptly and thoroughly.
ESPN baseball analyst and former major league pitcher Curt Schilling announced Wednesday that he has cancer.

"I've always believed life is about embracing the gifts and rising up to meet the challenges," Schilling said in a statement released by ESPN. "We've been presented with another challenge, as I've recently been diagnosed with cancer."

In December, ESPN announced that Schilling would be part of its Sunday Night Baseball broadcast team for the upcoming season. It also announced a multiyear contract extension with him.

ESPN did not say what Schilling's broadcast plans will be for the upcoming season.

"Our thoughts are with Curt and his family during this challenging time," the network said in a statement. "His ESPN teammates wish him continued strength in his cancer fight and we look forward to welcoming him back to our baseball coverage whenever he's ready."

Schilling, 47, pitched in the major leagues for 20 seasons, enjoying stints with the Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks and Boston Red Sox. The six-time All-Star finished with a career record of 216-146 to go with a 3.46 ERA. His 3,116 strikeouts rank 15th all time in the majors.

The right-hander, though, was best known for his performances in the postseason. In 19 starts, he compiled an 11-2 record with four complete games and a 2.23 ERA. He'll forever be a part of Red Sox lore, helping them to World Series titles in 2004 and '07.

Schilling also won a title as a member of the Diamondbacks in 2001, when he shared MVP honors with fellow starter Randy Johnson. Last year, Schilling told The Boston Globe he had a heart attack in November 2011 and had surgery to place a stent in one of his arteries. He said he experienced chest pains while watching his wife, Shonda, run in the New York Marathon.

Shonda Schilling also battled cancer after being diagnosed with stage 2 malignant melanoma in 2001.

"Shonda and I want to send a sincere thank you and our appreciation to those who have called and sent prayers, and we ask that if you are so inclined, to keep the Schilling family in your prayers," Schilling said in his statement.

He added: "My father left me with a saying that I've carried my entire life and tried to pass on to our kids: 'tough times don't last, tough people do.' Over the years in Boston, the kids at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have shown us what that means. With my incredibly talented medical team I'm ready to try and win another big game. I've been so very blessed and I feel grateful for what God has allowed my family to have and experience, and I'll embrace this fight just like the rest of them, with resolute faith and head on."
New York Yankees | New York Jets
New York Yankees | New York Jets
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Yea.....pray for Schilling. Cancer is something you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. I enjoy Schilling on Baseball Tonight and hopefully he's able to persevere through this.
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Thread Starter 
Jeez, that sucks mean.gif hoping he gets the proper treatment and pulls through.
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schill frown.gif
When S&T has that moment of clarity: "...we're grasping at straws talking about Spygate, Deflategate, the system, French kissing relatives, UGGs, Trump, etc." - @trey ohh five
When S&T has that moment of clarity: "...we're grasping at straws talking about Spygate, Deflategate, the system, French kissing relatives, UGGs, Trump, etc." - @trey ohh five
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curt schilling tired.gif definitely wish him all the best
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First the money problems, now this. mean.gif Curt don't deserve it.
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Schilling ohwell.gif
4L 8O 15S16 T23 !42
L. A. A N G E L S, L. A. L A K E R S, U K W I L D C A T S, L. A. R A M S, L. A. S P A R K S.
"This game is in the refrigerator! The door is closed, the lights are out, the eggs...
4L 8O 15S16 T23 !42
L. A. A N G E L S, L. A. L A K E R S, U K W I L D C A T S, L. A. R A M S, L. A. S P A R K S.
"This game is in the refrigerator! The door is closed, the lights are out, the eggs...
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Thread Starter 
Prospects who just missed top 100.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Every year I compile my ranking of the top 100 prospects in the minors, I end up with a few guys I wanted to squeeze onto the end of the list but just couldn't place them above the last few players who made the cut.

Here's this year's consolation prize winners, 10 prospects -- sorted by division -- who just missed the top 100.

Allen Webster, RHP | Boston Red Sox
Top 2013 level: Majors

Webster still shows lots of pluses -- mid-90s velocity, good sink and a swing-and-miss changeup -- but he's also shown two big minuses that knocked him from a top-100 spot last year. One is that he still doesn't have a consistently average breaking ball, with a slider ahead of his curve, but neither there yet as a strong second pitch. The other is command; for a guy who can really sink the ball, Webster pitches up in the zone with his fastball far too often, and big league hitters were more than happy to show him the error of his ways during his brief stint in Boston (8.60 ERA in 30 1/3 innings).

He turns 24 this month and could still develop into a No. 3 starter, but the more years that go by and he doesn't find that third pitch or improve his fastball command, the more likely it is that he ends up falling short.

J.R. Murphy, C | New York Yankees
Top 2013 level: Majors

Murphy, 22, looks like a solid-average everyday catcher, probably not more, but not a whole lot less. His game management skills are exceptional, from game-calling to reading hitters to understanding situations, and he's thrown out nearly 35 percent of runners the last two years.

His bat is light for most positions but will be enough to make him a regular behind the plate, probably a .330 OBP/.370 slugging guy -- pretty close to the AL aggregate line for catchers in 2013.

Kaleb Cowart, 3B | Los Angeles Angels
Top 2013 level: Double-A (Arkansas)

I wrote more about Cowart in the Angels team report; his defense is still outstanding, and he hit a little bit from the right side, but his left-handed swing was a mess all year and it showed in a .202/.263/.277 line.

He'll turn 22 in early June, and he showed so much promise at the plate in 2012 that I can't bury him entirely, but the year was so bad -- along with the scouting reports -- that his probability of becoming a big league regular took a major hit.

D.J. Peterson, 1B/3B | Seattle Mariners
Top 2013 level: Low Class A (Clinton)

I didn't love Peterson's power projection in college, as it's not a classic power swing and he hit at high altitude in all his home games at New Mexico (and many road games). Hitters can have power even without a lot of rotation or loft in their finishes -- Giancarlo Stanton and Paul Goldschmidt are examples of guys with flatter swings even in their follow-through -- but it's the road less traveled. Combine that with Peterson's likely eventual move to first base and I didn't see a potential star, just a regular.

That said, the 22-year-old Peterson, who was the 12th overall pick in the June draft, played very well after signing, especially in making contact -- he had a .303/.365/.553 line across two levels -- and reports from pro scouts were quite positive, so I've bumped him up from where I had him in June, just to the fringes of the top 100.

Alex Gonzalez, RHP | Texas Rangers
Top 2013 level: High Class A (Myrtle Beach)

"Chi-Chi" was the Rangers' first pick in the 2013 draft, an Oral Roberts product with a swing-and-miss cutter and a capacity to generate ground balls. His delivery is simple and his fastball is solid-average at 90-93, so he has mid-rotation starter potential, but the moderate 6-foot-2, 195-pound build means the 22-year-old doesn't have a ton of upside and fell a little short of the main list.

Mauricio Cabrera, RHP | Atlanta Braves
Top 2013 level: Low Class A (Rome)

Cabrera sits 95-100 mph as a starter with exceptional arm strength that would probably make him a top-five pick if you threw him in a typical draft class. His curveball and changeup are still developing, the change further along, and he's learning how to pitch rather than just blow guys away with heat.

The arm strength is extraordinary, and Cabrera will pitch all of 2014 at age 20, with a high ceiling if he can start to convert his physical ability into practical baseball skills.

Raimel Tapia, OF | Colorado Rockies
Top 2013 level: Rookie (Grand Junction)

My sleeper prospect for the Rockies going into 2014, Tapia almost made the main list this year but it's more realistic to wait for another year of growth from the talented young center fielder.

Tapia has ridiculous hand-eye coordination and shows strong acumen for hitting. His 6-foot-2 frame still has a little more room to fill out, so if he has to move from center to a corner, he'll likely do so as he adds more power. He raked last summer despite jumping from the Dominican Summer League to the Pioneer League, and may jump again to the low Class A Sally League this year at age 20, where we'll get a better read on just how advanced his bat is already.

Casey Kelly, RHP | San Diego Padres
Top 2013 level: Did not pitch (injured)

Kelly missed 2013 after Tommy John surgery, gaining a year of service time but not of needed reps on the mound, where he could have worked on his fastball command.

When healthy, the 24-year-old will show you three above-average pitches, but the fastball, which runs up to 96 mph, is often flat, and he gives up too much hard contact for a guy with this kind of stuff. I always bet on good athletes, including Kelly, a former shortstop and quarterback who's among the best-fielding pitchers I've ever scouted. He needs to get healthy, then learn to pitch to the edges of the plate and stay out of danger.

Andrew Susac, C | San Francisco Giants
Top 2013 level: Double-A (Richmond)

Like Murphy, Susac looks like an everyday catcher in the majors, although his production will be different: less defense, more power. Susac, who turns 24 in March, has a plus arm, nailing 40 percent of runners last year in the Eastern League, but his receiving is only fair, and he'll create more value with his bat between the 15-20 homer power and his patience at the plate.

Edwin Escobar, lhp, San Francisco
Top 2013 level: Double-A (Richmond)

Acquired from Texas in April 2010 so the Rangers could keep Rule 5 pick Ben Snyder, Escobar slowly blossomed into a back-of-the-rotation starter candidate, showing a fastball up to 93-94 mph in 2013 and an above-average to plus changeup. His curveball is fringe-average, but he hasn't had trouble against left-handed batters through Double-A. Scouts praise the 21-year-old's feel for pitching, and as the stuff stands now he's a potential fourth starter with a chance for a little more.

Implications of the Freeman contract.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
There is snow and ice piling up outside again, so here are some quick observations about Freddie Freeman's $135 million deal.

1. Among the group of talented Braves youngsters -- Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel, Mike Minor -- Atlanta has placed its largest investment, with its very limited resources, on the player it believes will provide the greatest return in production. It's that simple. Freeman had a .795 OPS in his first season, .796 in his second, and .897 last year, when he finished fifth in the NL MVP voting.

Heyward has battled injury and inconsistency, with his more complicated swing. Simmons is arguably the best defensive player in the big leagues, but teams don't pay for defense like they do for offense, which is why Gerardo Parra -- one of the game's dominant defensive outfielders -- signed for $4.85 million, rather than $48 million.

Kimbrel is the best one-inning pitcher in baseball, unquestionably, but the Braves needed to bet on a nine-inning player among their core of young players, especially given the struggles of the team's highest-paid veterans, Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton.

2. On the same day that the Braves finished their Freeman deal, they also agreed to a two-year, $13.3 million deal with Heyward, who will be eligible for free agency after the 2015 season. The Freeman contract all but locks in the reality that Heyward will be playing elsewhere in 2016, because if he plays well the next two seasons -- and there were great signs of progress last summer -- then he will be too pricey for the Braves. If he struggles, they would probably choose not to re-sign him.

3. As written here last week, the Braves almost certainly cannot afford to keep Kimbrel, who is headed for an arbitration hearing later this month. If Kimbrel wins his hearing -- he asked for $9 million and the Braves offered $6.55 million -- he could be in line to make something in the range of $14 million to $15 million through arbitration in 2015.

The contract with Freeman gives the Braves' front office a greater foundation on which to explain to the fan base that difficult choices have to be made -- and while a trade of Kimbrel will be very difficult, whenever it happens, the signing of Freeman could make it easier to swallow.

4. Unless Kimbrel agrees to a long-term deal -- and really, the best business bet for him is to continue to climb the arbitration ladder, rather than sign -- then the Braves should at least be open to the idea of marketing him this summer, even if Atlanta is in a pennant race.

Kimbrel's trade value will never be higher than it will be before this year's deadline, and the Braves have other relievers who could step into the closer's role and at least be OK. History has shown that the best time to trade relievers is during the regular season, rather than in the offseason.

It's worth repeating: There are very, very few teams that will be able to pay what Kimbrel's salary will be. The Dodgers are among those -- and executives Stan Kasten and Roy Clark used to work with the Braves. Down the road, the Dodgers seem like the perfect trade partner for the Braves.

This is a big deal for the Braves, writes Mark Bradley.

Around the league

• The Padres hoped that Cory Luebke would come back and give them 120 to 160 innings this year -- and now he'll miss the entire season.

• Ervin Santana's asking price has plummeted to a three-year deal, according to sources, down from more than $100 million earlier in the offseason. Kansas City had interest in signing Santana before the offseason began, and he may well have gotten a deal in the $40 million to $50 million range from the Royals -- but it appears the door all but slammed shut on a return to K.C., now that the Royals can bank on a compensation draft pick.

Wrote here last week that there is concern over the condition of Santana's elbow, for a pitcher who relies heavily on his slider.

• Sources say that earlier in the offseason, the Angels had dangled a four-year, $53 million offer to Matt Garza, similar to the four-year, $50 million deal Garza got from the Brewers -- but the Angels pulled it off the table when there wasn't a quick agreement.

• The Mets say they haven't made an offer to Stephen Drew.

• For the second time, The Ballpark in Arlington will have a name.

• Susan Slusser writes about one of baseball's smartest people.

• Oakland has the same old winning approach, in the same old park, writes Tyler Kepner.

• The Dodgers' owners bought another team.

• CSN Houston remains afloat.

• A-Rod should stay away from spring training, says David Cone.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Oakland signed an outfielder.

2. The Indians settled a grievance with Nick Hagadone.

3. The Diamondbacks are talking with Bronson Arroyo, and Nick Piecoro wonders if this is a good idea.

4. The Rockies announced their non-roster invitees.

5. The Giants hired a new player development director.

6. The Angels worked out some deals.

7. A free-agent pitcher will work out for the Angels.

8. Jeff Baker agreed to terms with the Marlins.

9. The Nationals remain interested in Oliver Perez, writes James Wagner

AL East

• CC Sabathia worked on his core strength.

• Red Sox coach Brian Butterfield will work with Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks.

• Boston continues to see value in Stephen Drew.

• With Freddie Freeman's contract in the books, Roch Kubatko looks at the ripple effects on Chris Davis and the Orioles.

AL Central

• Brad Ausmus will be different from Jim Leyland, writes Lynn Henning.

• Detroit's rotation lacks stellar understudies, writes Tom Gage.

• Here's a look at Byron Buxton's swing.

AL West

• Jesse Crain was encouraged after his throwing session.

• There are questions about the Mariners' bullpen.

NL East

• Cody Asche could be the Phillies' next team leader.

• Travis d'Arnaud is ready to catch on with the Mets, writes Kristie Ackert.

• Zack Wheeler wants the ball on Opening Day.

• Chris Young got some hitting tips from Rod Carew, as Ken Davidoff writes.

NL Central

• Here are the Cardinals' concerns, from Bernie Miklasz.

NL West

• The Diamondbacks have a bumper crop of optimism.

• Mark Saxon wonders: Is Hyun-Jin Ryu headed for a sophomore slump?

A predictable bidding war.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Bronson Arroyo has been like baseball’s version of an old, dependable pickup truck. The odometer is well over 100,000 miles at this point, but year after year, he always starts, in all kinds of weather...

2004: 27 starts, 178.2 innings
2005: 32 starts, 205.1 innings
2006: 35 starts, 240.2 innings
2007: 34 starts, 210.2 innings
2008: 34 starts, 200 innings
2009: 33 starts, 220.1 innings
2010: 33 starts 215.2 innings
2011: 32 starts 199 innings
2012: 32 starts 202 innings
2013: 32 starts 202 innings

That's one whole decade of taking the ball on the day you’re supposed to pitch, start after start. An evaluator who works for a team currently bidding on Arroyo says that there will be days that the right-hander might give up a crooked number in the first inning, but when you look up in the fifth or sixth inning, Arroyo usually has been through the lineup twice -- and at the very least, he’s competed, kept your team within range and saved your relievers for the day.

“He’s not a bullpen-killer,” said the evaluator. “Some pitchers just kill your bullpen, but Bronson will get you into the middle of the game. He’s predictable.”

Among remaining starters on the free-agent market, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana are more dynamic and younger, but they are also attached to draft-pick compensation, which is why Arroyo appears to be front and center in the hottest free-agent contest of the moment. For years, he has shown up every day to go through the same training and throwing routines, on off days and during All-Star breaks.

The Diamondbacks, who have so far been frustrated in their attempts to get a high-end, front-of-the-rotation starter, want Arroyo because of that predictability, and they want him to lead a staff that is pretty young.

The Orioles want Arroyo because, although his tendency to generate fly balls may not make him the best possible fit for Camden Yards or in road destinations like Yankee Stadium, that predictability is something Baltimore desperately needs, given all the questions about their rotation.

The Dodgers would love to have Arroyo at the back end of their rotation, and he would be a perfect fit in so many different ways. The larger ballparks of Dodger Stadium, Petco Park and AT&T Park would suit his fly ball ways, and because of the presence of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, Arroyo would never need to be more than he is. The Dodgers have such a dominant front end of their rotation that what they would value most is predictability. They have already signed Dan Haren, Josh Beckett is said to be on his way back, and Chad Billingsley is ahead of his surgery-rehab schedule and could return in May or June. But Arroyo is wanted because there really aren’t any question marks about him.

The Angels have also been in the mix this winter at one time or another, and what seems to be the separator in the negotiations is whether Arroyo will get three years in an offer from any of the teams, as he wants, or if he’ll have a choice of two-year deals.


• Speaking of the Diamondbacks: Archie Bradley is confident he’s ready for the big leagues, writes Nick Piecoro.

AP Photo/Tom Uhlman
Brandon "Dat Dude" Phillips could be on another team sometime in 2014.

• Other teams say that the Reds were particularly motivated to move Brandon Phillips in the fall, and there is always the possibility they could revisit some talks before the start of spring training, with the same old road blocks still in place. Phillips, 32, is owed $50 million for the next four seasons and has had a dip in his OPS in each of the last two seasons -- and he has a limited no-trade clause. He can block deals to 12 different teams.

The Yankees, who flatly rejected a conversation about a Phillips-for-Brett Gardner deal, are one of the teams to which he could block a trade, and it appears New York has finished spending for the winter. The Dodgers are not one of the teams to which he can block a deal, and given the significant concerns of some evaluators within the organization about whether Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero can play second base, L.A. could be a natural landing spot if the Reds are intent on moving the infielder.

• Even after signing utility man Justin Turner, the Dodgers continue to look for somebody who can provide a safety net at shortstop, and perhaps be an option for the time when Hanley Ramirez permanently shifts to third base.

• Think about how unusual the union’s relationship is with Alex Rodriguez: On one hand, the union lawyers represent Rodriguez -- for example, in discussions about what’s accessible for him in spring training this year -- and on the other hand, those lawyers have needed to hire outside counsel to represent them because Rodriguez has sued them.

• The Braves held a press conference to announce Freddie Freeman’s new deal, which GM Frank Wren says is a first step.

• Carlos Santana played well enough at third base in winter ball to give himself a shot at playing the position for the Indians. This is not to say he has convinced everybody he can play third; rather, he now has an opportunity to be considered.

• Masahiro Tanaka will soon be on his way to the United States.

• Vinnie Pestano is set for arbitration Friday. In my opinion: If you’re a relief pitcher who turns 29 this month and is coming off a season in which you were sent to the minor leagues, like Pestano, or if you threw two innings last year, like Josh Tomlin, it’s a bad idea to take your team to arbitration. Because even if you win, you lose -- in perception.

The great cautionary tale in this will forever be that of catcher Andy Allanson, who took the Indians to arbitration and won, but really lost. Hank Peters, then the GM of the Indians, said after being told of the decision, “Andy Allanson's future with the Indians is behind him.”

From that 1992 Jim Henneman piece:
But, one has to wonder if the fear of arbitration isn't sometimes overrated. As Toronto general manager Pat Gillick (one of those interested in Olson) often has said, arbitration is not always as great a risk as pictured.

"I don't worry about arbitration," Gillick has said, "because it's a nonguaranteed contract."

In other words, there are risks on both sides.

Catcher Andy Allanson found that out the hard way four years ago, after winning a healthy raise through arbitration. After learning of the arbitration award, ex-Orioles general manager Hank Peters, then with Cleveland, left no doubt that the decision cost Allanson his job.

"Andy Allanson's future with the Indians is behind him," said Peters.

Once considered a bright prospect, Allanson did not play in the major leagues in 1990 and has played in only 82 games as an emergency fill-in with the Tigers, Brewers and Giants the past three years.

Teams make decisions all the time based on cost efficiency: Is a particular player worth the price being paid? And if a team loses in arbitration to a role player and there are signs early in spring training that said player could struggle in the season ahead, the team has the option -- really, it has the motive -- to cut the player with 16 days left in spring training at one-sixth of his salary.

If you’re Craig Kimbrel, this is not a concern. For other players, yes. Tomlin and Pestano might win the arbitration battle, but lose the war.

• Logan Morrison settled his case with the Mariners.

• Derek Jeter looks great in workouts, says teammate David Phelps.

• Josh Hamilton has put on more than 20 pounds this offseason.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Bryan LaHair signed with the Indians.

2. The Cubs are not expected to sign a free-agent pitcher from Korea, who is working out in Arizona.

3. The White Sox hired Bruce Benedict.

4. The Astros are making a roster move.

5. The Orioles signed two players to minor league contracts.

The battle for jobs

1. Jake Odorizzi has a chance to win a spot in the Tampa Bay rotation.

2. Phelps wants to win the No. 5 spot in the Yankees’ rotation.

AL Central

• Eric Hosmer wants the great feelings of last summer to continue.

• Nick Castellanos must win the third-base job, says Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski.

AL West

• The Rangers sold their naming rights.

• The Rangers need to put those dollars to work and sign Nelson Cruz, writes Kevin Sherrington.

• The Rangers have had a lot of success in Latin America.

NL Central

• Bullpen turnover will test the Cardinals’ depth, writes Jeff Gordon.

• Joey Votto opened up in a radio interview.

NL West

• The Diamondbacks have a lot of optimism about their farm system.

• The Padres are decidedly optimistic for 2014, writes Dennis Lin.

Breakout sluggers of 2014.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
It was September 2008. Bryce Harper was 15 years old. The Tampa Bay Rays were on their way to the playoffs in their first-ever winning season. And of the 15 fly balls that a 27-year-old 4A player whom most fans had never heard of hit after August 31, a third of them flew over the fence. His name was Ben Zobrist, and the next season he emerged as one of the best players in baseball.

Fast-forward a year to the end of the 2009 season. Another unremarkable player in his late 20s posted a .944 OPS from September 1 on. A man who had once played for four different teams in one season hit 10 home runs in just 109 at-bats. His name was Jose Bautista, and in 2010 he belted 54 home runs.

I noticed this trend after the 2010 season, and so I embarked on the first of what became my annual trip in search of the "next Jose Bautista." To do this, I look at the September leaderboard for home runs, home runs per fly ball, and isolated power (ISO) to see if anyone out of the ordinary jumps out. And quite often, they do.

For 2011, I picked Michael Morse, and he rewarded my faith by hitting 31 homers. A year later I called Brent Morel the next next Jose Bautista, and he repaid me by hitting .177 without going yard once. Call him the exception that proves the rule.

Last year, I called Jason Castro the next, next, next Bautista, and I'm proud to call that one a success. Castro hit 18 homers in 120 games while playing the toughest position in the field, and his 130 wRC+ put him in the same neighborhood as Giancarlo Stanton, Carlos Beltran, and even Bautista himself. (The big breakout story of 2013 was of course Chris Davis. As I noted a year ago, he fit the mold too, but I did not think his September power surge was as out of character as Castro's.)

If using September power numbers to predict the next season's performance sounds overly simplistic, you're right. A few dozen at-bats aren't nearly enough to get a good read on a player, especially if you're projecting him to do something far beyond everything else he's done in his career. But if you suspend your disbelief for a moment, it makes some logical sense: If a guy is playing at a level he's never reached before, even in a small sample size, it could be an indication that something has clicked.

Looking at last year's September leaderboards, there isn't a single player who pops out as having Bautista-like surge. That said, here's a list of the five best candidates to be the next, next, next, next Jose Bautista.

Wilson Ramos, C | Washington Nationals

Ramos is a lot like Castro last year: a reasonably young, once-highly-touted catcher who had already established himself as a solid hitter before the outfield fences became too confining for him in the season's final month. After hitting just 9 home runs from April through August he blasted 7 in September in fewer than half the opportunities, as over a third of the fly balls he hit in the season's final month ended up in the bleachers.

Health is always a question for Ramos, but if he can stay on the field in 2014 he could be in for a big season.

Will Middlebrooks, 3B | Boston Red Sox

That Middlebrooks hit 6 home runs in September wasn't unprecedented -- it wasn't even the only time he hit a half-dozen in a month in 2013. But Middlebrooks hit just .194 when he hit those 6 April home runs, and he was sporting a miserable .617 OPS when the Red Sox sent him down to the minors in June.

Something seemed to click for him in Triple-A, and in the context of the .805 OPS he posted after being recalled in August perhaps the fact that more than a quarter of the fly balls he hit in September left the yard is a good sign for the future.

Justin Smoak, 1B | Seattle Mariners

For years Seattle fans have longed for the day when Smoak would realize his potential and blossom into a middle-of-the-order bat, and if last September is any indication, they might not have to wait much longer.

He saw his monthly home run totals grow almost exactly linearly over the course of the 2013 season, culminating with 6 big flies in only 24 games in the season's final month. His having power potential isn't a surprise, but Smoak using it effectively would be.

Adam Lind, 1B | Toronto Blue Jays

I hesitate to include Lind on this list because his power isn't a secret at all -- he hit 35 home runs in 2009 -- but after seeing what Chris Davis did last year perhaps we shouldn't be too quick to assume that a resurgent one-time top prospect doesn't have more room to grow.

Lind belted 7 home runs in only 68 at-bats after August 31, hitting a whopping 37 percent of his fly balls out of the park with a slugging percentage more than double his batting average. If that surge has any staying power the 30-year-old could be one of the best hitters in the league in 2014.

Brian Bogusevic, OF | Miami Marlins

Bogusevic is the darkest horse of this group, which means a breakout year from him would be the most fun to watch. A converted pitcher whose only real offensive success before last August had come from a weirdly high BABIP in 2011, he hit 4 home runs in just 65 at-bats in September after having taken 220 at-bats dating back to June 2012 to hit his previous 4 dingers.

In all likelihood it was a fluke of a small sample size, but those numbers make him worth mentioning.
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Tommy John Surgery: Major Surgery.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Laser eye surgery has become a pretty routine procedure. Nothing’s yet been perfected, and fear comes from a machine slicing your eyes open, but patients are in and out in practically no time at all, and the risk of complications is incredibly low. And many of those complications are minor and/or temporary. It’s a safe and accepted part of contemporary living. Given that it involves removing tissue from one body part and weaving it into another, it’s something of a miracle that Tommy John surgery these days has a success rate even within sniffing distance of laser eye surgery. Of course, it’s not that automatic, and of course, there’s still the year-long rehab, but Tommy John surgery isn’t feared the way it used to be, and the results tend to speak for themselves. Certainly, among fans, it seems like the operation is simply seen as a year-long delay. Less devastating, more annoying.

To an extent, that’s justified. Surgeons know what they’re doing, the rehab track has been tested a million times over, and most pitchers are able to make it back and make it back effectively within the usual timetable. Sometimes they even feel stronger, perhaps because other parts of their bodies are able to heal while the pitcher isn’t throwing. But it’s important to understand that there can be speed bumps. Sometimes there can be even bigger obstacles. Recovery from Tommy John shouldn’t be taken for granted, and you could just ask Cory Luebke.

Ever so quietly, Luebke went about establishing himself as one of the more promising starting pitchers in the National League. He started 17 times for the Padres in 2011 and allowed 39 runs, with four strikeouts for every walk. He came out in April 2012 pitching similarly well. At the end of that same month, he underwent Tommy John surgery.

As usual, it was expected that Luebke would be able to return early in the 2013 regular season. What actually happened was that Luebke made zero appearances. He experienced several setbacks during his effort to get back to the mound, and just the other day, it was announced that Luebke needs Tommy John surgery again. The Padres expect him to take about a year, again. They feel pretty confident in the timetable, just like last time.

The Luebke situation has been a disappointing mess, but it also hasn’t been an isolated event. Anecdotally, it feels like we’ve seen a greater number of pitchers than usual struggle during their Tommy John rehabs of late. It doesn’t mean the surgery has somehow gotten more dangerous or less effective, but Luebke isn’t the only reminder that ligament replacement surgery is still a pretty big deal.

Last summer, Daniel Hudson was working his way back from Tommy John surgery. He was sent out on a rehab assignment, and shortly before he was brought back by the Diamondbacks, he came down with some elbow stiffness. Examinations revealed that Hudson needed another Tommy John surgery, having re-torn his ligament. He’s on the way back again.

Brandon Beachy was incredible. Remember Brandon Beachy? He had Tommy John surgery in the middle of 2012. He managed to return to the Braves on time with little particular difficulty, and he turned in a few decent starts, but then his elbow started barking and he had to be shut down. He underwent an arthroscopic procedure for cleanup purposes, and now he’s looking to be healthy for spring training.

There’s Scott Baker, who had Tommy John surgery in March of 2012. Last offseason, the Cubs signed him to a one-year contract in the hopes that he’d bounce back and they’d be able to flip him for prospects around the deadline. That isn’t what happened. Instead, Baker experienced setback after setback, and he made his 2013 debut in September, throwing with diminished velocity.

Ryan Madson was a similar kind of case. He had Tommy John surgery at the end of March 2012. Last offseason, the Angels signed him to a one-year contract, in the hopes that he’d bounce back and be able to help a competitive team’s bullpen. That isn’t what happened. Instead, Madson experienced setback after setback, and he was released in August having not appeared in the bigs. He’s throwing now, looking for an employer.

It doesn’t end there. Joel Zumaya hasn’t been heard from since Tommy John surgery early in 2012. Joey Devine also hasn’t been heard from since Tommy John surgery early in 2012. Felipe Paulino had issues returning to the mound, although there were complications with his back and shoulder that might have been unrelated to what happened with his elbow. But the common thread is that a bunch of guys had Tommy John surgery and they’re still today looking to get back to what they were. Not one of these pitchers followed the timetable that we’re so happy to just take for granted. Of course everyone’s always warned that there can be issues and delays, but it seems like the actual probabilities aren’t sufficiently appreciated.

Tommy John surgery isn’t shoulder labrum surgery, and the surgeons who perform it know the procedure like the backs of their hands. But it’s not just a 12-month delay, even if that’s maybe the most usual outcome. There can be setbacks, and there can be major setbacks. Ligaments can be re-torn. Elbows can otherwise need to be re-opened. Of course it’s never good news when a pitcher requires ligament replacement surgery, but on top of the loss of a year, there can be a loss of a lot more than that.

I’ve got no idea how the pitchers above are going to do going forward. Many of them should return to the majors, and they could be successful if and when they’re ever healthy. The Braves will be counting on Beachy, and the Diamondbacks made a point of re-signing Hudson. The Mariners scooped Baker up and the Padres will look forward to having Luebke whenever that is. Maybe they’ll simply have missed a little more time. But in each case, recovery went awry, and it’s too easy to forget that that can happen.

Tommy John surgery was one of the most significant developments in baseball in the 20th century, and it’s helped to save so many virtually countless careers. It really has gotten to the point where a lot of fans simply take the procedure and the recovery for granted. That speaks volumes about the effectiveness of the operation and the people doing it, but ultimately, it’s still surgery, and it’s still pitching. Tommy John surgery is great. Elbows and shoulders suck.

The Future-Future Usage of Billy Hamilton.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
As the 2014 season approaches, the Cincinnati Reds are left with the unenviable task of figuring out exactly what to do with Billy Hamilton. After his September call-up, Hamilton electrified fans. In 13 games, he went 13 of 14 in stolen base attempts and scored 9 runs. He also managed to hit .368 in that span with a .105 ISO. If scouting reports and minor-league track records are to be believed, only two of those three stats should be taken to heart when projecting his future value. In 2013, in AAA, Hamilton had a .308 OBP and .657 OPS. He swiped 75 bags during that time, but the word is out on him — at this point, he just doesn’t have great hitting skills.

Hamilton will almost certainly be a part of the 2014 Reds roster, it’s the capacity at which he’ll be used that is up in the air. His speed (and its impact on his defense) is his asset, and putting him at the top of the lineup will give him the most chances to use that asset. This will also exploit his biggest weakness. Hiding his weakness by putting him at the bottom of the order will lose him a lot of opportunities to use his legs. I’m sure the Reds will wait to see how he fairs in Spring Training before making any decisions, but Hamilton’s status is currently in limbo.

“No one’s ever given me the time to show what I can do,” he says, a lean, tightly-muscled sprinter’s body slipping into uniform. “What people don’t understand is that it’s never a lack of opportunity, just time. I could hit .260 if I played every day up here. Maybe .270, .280 with a good hitting instructor. But a lot of the time, when a player’s called up, it’s those first few weeks that count. If you don’t get in the lineup, you become an extra man the rest of your career.”

It’s easy to imagine Hamilton saying such things toward the end of this April, but that quote is actually from 1979 and belongs to Matt Alexander, the most proficient pinch-runner in baseball history. He holds the records among pinch runners in appearances (271), steals (91), and runs scored (89). He appeared in 374 games, but logged a mere 195 plate appearances. He only amassed 4.3 BsR in nine seasons, and stole bases at a 60% career rate. Yet the A’s and Pirates used him almost exclusively for pinch running. Alexander ended his career worth -.5 wins above replacement. His skills on the base paths just weren’t good enough to really make him an effective player in such a small role.
Which brings us back to Hamilton. Whether he hits first, ninth, or somewhere in the middle, he’s going to get a chance in the lineup in 2014. His early struggles might be forgiven due to his age and inexperience, but eventually — again, if Hamilton hits like we think he will — the columns and blog posts regarding what the Reds should do with him will start cropping up. What is a team to do with a no-hit, all-speed/glove outfielder? There are many options. Here are a few.

1. Send him down, tell him to work on his hitting.

2. Trade him to a team that loves speed, hope to get something of value in return.

3. Cross your fingers and pray that he learns to hit enough to turn into a poor man’s Michael Bourn.

4. Take the bat out of his hands, relegate him to pinch runner/defensive replacement.

Though the rate of change has been somewhat gradual, the role of pinch runner is slowly dying. Teams just aren’t subbing them in at the same clip anymore. There could be a lot of reasons for this. Teams are stealing less and less, and are starting to only send the players that have a good-to-great success rate. Roster spots are certainly at a premium, as teams carry such a large swath of relievers now. This leaves precious few bench spots for defensive replacements and pinch hitters — the latter still being a big need for NL teams. With a very limited number of bench players, it’s perhaps not kosher to “waste” one by having them pinch run. It just might be more appealing to GMs to use that 25th spot on a lefty-specialist or big bench bat rather than on a player used mostly for base running and stealing. Billy Hamilton, however, is no ordinary base runner.

It’s hard to project how valuable Hamilton would be if he were just a pinch-runner, as there aren’t really any test cases with which to compare. In the height of Matt Alexander’s pinch-running feats, he appeared in 90 games in one season. During his short stint in 2013, Hamilton accumulated 2.7 BsR in 13 games. Extrapolating those numbers for 90 games over, say, four years nets almost 75 BsR. That would be good enough for about 8th best in the past 40 years. While that’s very impressive, it’s not very realistic. After a while, the book will start to come out on Hamilton — when he likes to run, the best ways to keep him close on first, etc. It would be unfair to just use a calculator and say he’d be the 8th best base runner of the past 40 years if he were strictly used as a pinch runner. But say he’d be worth 60 BsR, or even 50. Are those numbers high enough to keep him on as a specialized bench player? The easy answer is that if we can project him to be worth more runs that the current 25th man on the roster, then, yes. It would be worth keeping him around as a runner and defensive replacement. And it’s not like he doesn’t have arms. If the Reds really need a pinch hitter in a long game, they could certainly give him a bat and hope for the best

I’m not arguing that Hamilton should certainly be relegated to such a specialized role. I am saying that it is certainly worth a try. Hamilton is currently 23 years old, and, at least according to aging curves, he has about four years of base-stealing productivity left. He may push that number higher due to his extreme grasp of the skillset, but he’s not going to be the same player when he hits 30. I doubt the Reds would even try the pinch-running experiment in 2014, opting instead to allow Hamilton to get at-bats and work out the kinks. But the time may soon come when Cincinnati will have to decide to keep Hamilton on the bench strictly for his legs. It wouldn’t be the first time. Oakland owner Charlie Finley kept full-time pinch runners on his teams through much of the 1970s. In fairness, an idea is not a good one simply because Charlie Finley tried it. The opposite might be true, in fact.

Hamilton might prove himself a worthy-enough hitter in 2014 and make this whole argument moot. Who knows? But if his subpar on-base skills and total lack of power end up costing his team about as much as his legs help them, it might be time to send him on a different path and let Billy Hamilton surpass Matt Alexander as the best specialty pinch runner the game has ever seen. The immediate future of Billy Hamilton seem fairly obvious. It’s the future beyond that future that brings on all sorts of tough questions and wonderful possibilities.

2014 Top 10 Prospects: Cincinnati Reds.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Reds system is thin on impact talent, as well as overall depth. The organization boasts a potential No. 1/2 starter but things drop off dramatically from that point. There are a lot of fringe-average regulars, utility players, No. 4 starters and middle relievers in the making.

#1 Robert Stephenson | 70/AA (P)
20 22 22 114.1 92 10 10.71 2.76 2.99 2.96
The Year in Review: Stephenson had a breakout year during his first full pro season and played at three levels. He spent the majority of the year in A-ball but topped out in Double-A. The 20-year-old hurler (who recently turned 21) struck out 136 batters in 114.1 innings of work and walked just 35.

The Scouting Report: The young pitcher has succeeded early in his career thanks to his ability to mix premium fastball velocity (95-98 mph) with potentially-plus control. Add in a plus curveball and a solid changeup and you have the makings of a top-shelf starter. He’s one of the most underrated arms in the minors.

The Year Ahead: After making just four starts at the level in ’13, Stephenson should return to Double-A to open the 2014 season. He’s definitely on the fast track and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him reach Triple-A — and possibly even the Majors — in the second half of the season.

The Career Outlook: Stephenson needs to add some polish and consistency but he has the makings of a top-of-the-rotation starter if he realizes his full potential.

#2 Billy Hamilton | 60/MLB (OF)
22 22 9.1 % 18.2 % .368 .429 .474 .398 155 4.1 0.8 0.6
The Year in Review: Hamilton’s impressive streak of seasons with 100+ stolen bases came to an end in 2013 but he still nabbed 75 base in 90 tries. Unfortunately, his bat is nowhere near as advanced as his base running and he posted an OPS of just .651 in 123 games. His minor league performance was still strong enough to earn him a late-season promotion to the Majors where he hit .368 in 13 games and stole another 13 bases in 14 attempts.

The Scouting Report: The young athlete has received a lot of hype for his stolen base totals in the past and it’s somewhat justified due to his game-changing, plus-plus speed. However, his hit tool is not nearly as developed and he’ll likely continue to be overmatched at the Triple-A/MLB levels until he makes some further adjustments. He’s adapted well to the outfield and could become a plus defender in time.

The Year Ahead: The speedy shortstop-turned-outfielder is currently pencilled in as the Reds’ opening day center-fielder but a lot can change between now and April. Ideally, his bat could probably use another two to three months of seasoning in the minors.

The Career Outlook: Hamilton has a chance to be an impact player even if his only plus tool is his speed — but the offensive development will dictate if his contributions come from the starting lineup or from the bench.

#3 Phillip Ervin | 60/R (OF)
20 200 57 11 9 25 34 14 .331 .425 .564 .439
The Year in Review: The 27th overall selection in the 2013 amateur draft out of Samford University, Ervin got off to a quick start to his pro career. He hit .331 with an OPS just shy of 1.000. He also stole 14 bases in 15 attempts. The young outfielder spent the majority of the season in the Pioneer League but also played 12 games at the Low-A ball level.

The Scouting Report: The Alabama native has solid-average tools across the board but his only plus tool could end up being his bat. He utilizes a short stroke that’s quick to the ball and he uses the whole field, which results in a high batting average. He also has a good eye. Ervin has slightly-above average speed and can play centre field in a pinch but he’s better suited to right field where he can take advantage of his strong arm.

The Year Ahead: Ervin will look to prove his hot start was not a fluke. He’ll likely open the year with a refresher in Low-A ball but could quickly rise to High-A ball.

The Career Outlook: Ervin probably isn’t star but he could be a solid everyday right-fielder with the ability to eventually hit 15-20 homers in his prime.

#4 Yorman Rodriguez | 55/AA (OF)
20 659 156 37 17 54 180 13 .261 .324 .428 .338
The Year in Review: After four-and-a-half years in A-ball or lower, Rodriguez finally reached Double-A in the second half of 2013. He managed a combined 54 extra base hits but struck out 153 times with just 47 walks in 129 games. He also spent some time in the Arizona Fall League where he posted a .758 OPS in 22 games.

The Scouting Report: Rodriguez is the most toolsy player in the Reds system and has been pretty much since he signed in 2008 out of Venezuela. He has a strong arm and enough speed to project as an above-average defensive right-fielder. He also has plus power potential but it’s mitigated by his lack of contact. He doesn’t need to put everything into his swing to hit the ball out of the park so he could shorten his swing a bit to make more consistent contact and still possess 20+ home run potential.

The Year Ahead: Rodriguez will likely return to Double-A to open the 2014 season but should see Triple-A in the second half as long as he continues to make adjustments.

The Career Outlook: Rodriguez remains a boom-or-bust prospect with significant potential but the contact issues need to be addressed.

#5 Jesse Winker | 55/A (OF)
19 486 117 18 16 63 75 6 .281 .379 .463 .386
The Year in Review: Winker’s 16 home runs in 2013 were a bit of a surprise given his scouting reports coming into the year, which predicted fringe-average power. Even with the additional over-the-fence pop he controlled the strike zone well and walked 63 times with just 75 strike outs.

The Scouting Report: Like Ervin above him, but with a slightly lower ceiling, Winker is a player who projects to develop into a solid regular but not a star. He has a potentially-plus tool with his bat and above-average power but but he’s lacking with his defense, arm and speed. Winker’s defensive future is limited to left field.

The Year Ahead: Winker will move up to High-A ball in 2014 and if he continues to show solid present skill he might see Double-A by the end of the year.

The Career Outlook: Just 20, Winker is a player with a high floor but a modest ceiling. He projects to develop into a solid-average corner outfielder but probably not a superstar.

#6 Mike Lorenzen | 55/AA (P)
21 28 7 38.1 49 6 5.63 5.87 6.81 6.17
The Year in Review: Lorenzen earned some frequent flyer miles in 2013. Drafted 38th overall, he played at four different minor league levels and topped out in Double-A. Unfortunately, his control deserted him in both High-A and Double-A with 11 walks in 11.2 innings of work. He was later assigned to the Arizona Fall League and struggled with an 11.42 ERA and 12 walks (with just five Ks) in 17.1 innings.

The Scouting Report: A very athletic pitcher, Lorenzen was actually a two-way player in college (He also played the outfield). As a result, he’s still learning the nuances of pitching so it’s all the more impressive that he was able to move so quickly through the system during his debut. He has a plus fastball that could hit the upper 90s out of the bullpen but may end up working more in the mid 90s as a starter. Both his breaking ball and changeup need a fair bit of polish.

The Year Ahead: The right-hander may have been pushed a little too aggressively last year and both his command and control suffered. He may benefit from having his timetable slowed down a bit in 2014 and may head back to High-A ball to continue his conversion back to starter.

The Career Outlook: Lorenzen’s future is a little cloudy at this point due to the uncertainty over his future role: starter or reliever. His command and control will likely both have a large say over which role he eventually settles into.

#7 Carlos Contreras | 55/AA (P)
22 26 26 132.1 106 11 8.30 4.22 3.47 4.02
The Year in Review: Contreras spent four years in short-season ball but he finally reached Double-A in 2013. He spent the majority of the year in High-A ball and made 18 starts but he finished up the year with eight appearances at the more senior level. After working as a reliever in 2012, Contreras more than doubled his innings output from 60.2 to 132.1.

The Scouting Report: Contreras’ future hinges on his ability to improve both his command and control. He has a low-to-mid-90s fastball and backs that up with a plus changeup. His breaking ball should be average or better. He’s not an overly large pitcher so he’ll have to work to maintain a good plane on his pitches.

The Year Ahead: The right-handed hurler will return to Double-A in 2014 but could move up to Triple-A in the second half — and might even see some time at the big league level if injuries take a bite out of the Reds’ pitching staff depth.

The Career Outlook: Contreras has the potential to develop into a No. 3/4 starter or a set-up man at the big league level depending on the development of his changeup and his command/control.

#8 Nick Travieso | 55/A (P)
19 17 17 81.2 83 7 6.72 2.98 4.63 3.96
The Year in Review: The Reds’ first round pick from 2012, Travieso didn’t make his ’13 debut until June after opening the year in extended spring training. The right-hander still managed to make 17 starts and showed solid control but struck out just 61 batters in 81.2 at-bats. Travieso was an extreme fly-ball pitcher in 2013 and could benefit from inducing more ground-ball outs.

The Scouting Report: The right-hander doesn’t throw as hard as he used to as high school prospect but he still works in the 88-94 mph range. His secondary stuff — slider and changeup — projects as just average so he’ll need to develop above-average control and command to succeed in the upper levels of the system. He has a frame that suggests he could develop into a workhorse, assuming he makes his conditioning a priority.

The Year Ahead: Travieso should receive his first true taste of full season ball. Spring training will likely help determine if he returns to Low-A ball for a little more seasoning or gets challenged with a move up to High-A.

The Career Outlook: Like Winker, Travieso is a former prep pick with a high floor and low ceiling who could eventually develop into either a No. 4 starter or a reliever.

#9 Tucker Barnhart | 55/AA (C)
22 454 100 22 3 54 64 1 .258 .349 .343 .326
The Year in Review: The young catcher spent the entire 2013 season at Double-A and showed above-average defense and enough offense to keep playing every day. He also received an assignment to the Arizona Fall League after the regular season concluded.

The Scouting Report: Barnhart is a plus defender behind the plate. He calls a good game, receives well and has a strong arm. He’s also not shy about getting down and dirty to block balls. At the plate, the switch-hitting catcher has made some improvements and projects as a fringe-average hitter who’s much better from the left side of the dish. He doesn’t have much power but he makes good contact and has a solid eye at the plate.

The Year Ahead: Barnhart will move up to Triple-A in 2014 and should be the first catcher recalled in the event of an injury to Devin Mersoraco or Brayan Pena.

The Career Outlook: Barnhart could eventually develop into a superb-glove, so-so-hit catcher capable of playing everyday or serving as the left-handed hitting half of a platoon.

#10 David Holmberg | 50/MLB (P)
21 3.2 0.00 7.36 25.0 % 7.36 5.50 8.48 -0.1 0.0
The Year in Review: Holmberg, 22, pitched more than 154 innings for the third straight season, which is an almost unheard of accomplishment for a pitching prospect in this day and age of coddling young hurlers. The lefty made 26 starts at the Double-A level before receiving one big league appearance where he got bounced around. He was traded from Arizona to Cincinnati in the offseason during a three-team deal that saw catcher Ryan Hanigan head to Tampa Bay.

The Scouting Report: Holmberg isn’t flashy but that’s not to say he isn’t talented. The southpaw is the type of pitching prospect that tends to fly under the radar. He doesn’t have a big-time fastball or wipeout breaking ball but he’s durable, and has above-average command/control of his four-pitch repertoire that includes a fastball with fringe-average velocity, two average breaking balls in a curveball and slider, as well as a plus changeup.

The Year Ahead: Holmberg’s move from Arizona to Cincinnati clears up a little bit of the logjam in front of him and he has a much clearer route to a Major League call-up. He still has two option years remaining so he has plenty of time to establish himself as a big-league-caliber pitcher.

The Career Outlook: Holmberg has a modest ceiling and will likely settle in as an innings-eating No. 4 starter. His history of high innings totals in the minors suggest that he could eventually be counted on for 200-230 innings a season as a poor man’s Mark Buehrle.

The Next Five:

11. Ben Lively, RHP: Lively, a fourth round draft pick, produced eye-popping numbers in 2013 and he could move somewhat quickly through the system but his ceiling is limited to that of a No. 3/4 starter. He has a four-pitch mix that includes a low-90s fastball, slider, curveball and changeup. His delivery has some deception to it but it’s also not the prettiest and could make it difficult for him to consistently command the ball.

12. Daniel Corcino, RHP: The 2013 season will be one to forget for Corcino. He was torched in Triple-A when both his command and control deserted him. The Dominican worked up in the zone too often and needs to pound the lower half of the zone more consistently. He spent time in the Puerto Rico Winter League as a reliever and thrived. A permanent move to the bullpen could be in the cards.

13. Seth Mejias-Brean, 3B: Mejias-Brean has hit everywhere that he’s played and produced solid on-base averages but his power is below average for a third baseman. He also spent time at first base in 2013 and dabbled with catching in the off-season but, ultimately, it was decided that was not the role for him. The corner infielder will likely develop into a solid part-time, offensive-minded contributor or a Joe Randa-type regular.

14. Chad Rogers, RHP: Rogers isn’t flashy but he projects to develop into an innings-eating back-end starter capable of chewing up innings. A 28th round draft pick from 2010, he split the ’13 season between Double-A and Triple-A and compiled 140 innings. Undersized at 5-11, he needs to keep on top of the ball better to have success in the Majors.

15. Jeremy Kivel, RHP: A hard-throwing Texan, Kivel made 13 starts in his pro debut but his future may very well lie in the bullpen. He has some violence to his delivery while delivering his above-aveage heater, which works in the 94-97 mph range. He backs it up with a potentially-plus slider but lacks a reliable third offering.

Freddie Freeman’s Power Alternative.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
A lot of things happen when you’re guaranteed a hundred thirty-five million dollars. That’s a guess on my part, since I’ve never been in that particular situation, and I can’t speak to what many of those things might be. I presume an overwhelming number of old acquaintances try to re-establish contact. One thing I know for sure is that people talk about you a lot. Lots of people out there talking about Freddie Freeman at the moment, on the heels of his contract extension and also on the heels of literally nothing else happening. Freeman’s eight years are the subject of much dialogue.

Some of the talk is new, and some of the talk is old. There’s just a whole lot of talk, in sum, because even with baseball’s rampant inflation, people are still getting used to the idea of nine-figure contracts and especially nine-figure contracts to non-superstars. People want to know how good Freeman actually is. People want to know how good Freeman will become. And, relatedly, people want to talk about Freeman’s power upside, since he’s a first baseman and first basemen are supposed to hit for more power than Freeman has to date.

Two things to make clear right away:

(1) Freeman’s getting $135 million, but he’s not actually getting paid like an amazing player. Figure that roughly $110 million of that will cover Freeman’s first five years of would-be free agency. That comes out to an average of $22 million per season, beginning in 2017. That feels like superstar money, and it used to be superstar money, but if things continue as they have, Freeman will be getting the market rate of simply an above-average player. Perhaps the Braves need to be a little more efficient than the next contender, but we all have to get used to what money actually means these days, and what it’ll mean down the road. $22 million won’t be that much, really. I mean, it will be, but not in baseball.

(2) “First basemen need to hit for power” is bad analysis. It’s not analysis. First basemen need to be valuable. There are lots of ways to be valuable, and while power’s nice, it’s far from a necessity. People used to think that corner outfielders needed to be able to hit for power. As a consequence, said corner outfielders played some pretty bad defense. Now teams are coming around on filling their outfields with athletes, possibly sacrificing some power but adding overall value. Value is all that matters anywhere.

Anyway, we can talk about Freeman and his skillset and his future. We can talk about his power, because power is a good thing if you’ve got it. Freeman hit 18 homers when he was 18 years old. At that point it was easy to project power upside. He hit 19 homers when he was 20, and it was still easy to project power upside. He hit 21 homers when he was 21 and a full-time player in the bigs, and that was encouraging. Then he hit 23 homers when he was 22. Then he hit 23 homers when he was 23. By no means is Freeman any kind of slap hitter. However, he’s not really showing power gains, and while he’s still plenty young — shockingly young, perhaps — it’s gotten less and less easy to see a true slugger down the road.

Freeman owns a career .181 isolated slugging percentage, which is good and short of fantastic. He topped out at .196 a season ago, as there haven’t been enough glimpses of this:
And last year Freeman came in with a WAR right near 5. So, he was a great player, even while being a first baseman with 23 dingers. What’s the recent history of great first basemen? What have their power profiles looked like?

I went back to 1969, as I like to do, and identified all everyday first baseman player-seasons. This yielded a sample of 955. There were 257 seasons worth at least 4 WAR, or five or six a year, so I chose 4 WAR as a cutoff. I found that in 172 of those seasons, or 67%, the first baseman posted an ISO at least 50% better than the league average. For reference, Freeman last year was at +24%. The year before, +27%. The year before that, +13%.

The higher-power great seasons averaged 5.7 WAR, and an ISO at 185% the league average. The lower-power great seasons averaged 5.0 WAR, and an ISO at 125% the league average. Entirely unsurprisingly, the lower-power great seasons compensated with a reduced strikeout rate, with a higher BABIP, and with better defensive numbers. Power’s a great tool. You basically need some of it to be an excellent first baseman, but you don’t necessarily need a ton of it.

What can we say about Freeman’s future power? Obviously, he’s hit plenty of home runs, and some of them have gone great distances, and he’s young. The flip side is that Freeman’s power hasn’t really progressed in years. I identified 37 players with at least 1,000 plate appearances in the majors through age 23, and an ISO between .160 – .190. Three of those players are Freeman, Jason Heyward, and Anthony Rizzo. The remaining 34 averaged a .176 ISO early on. All 34 have collected at least 1,000 plate appearances between 24 – 31. During that window, they averaged a .185 ISO. Of the 34 players, 18 saw ISO improvements.

Among them is Gary Sheffield. Yet Sheffield showed fearsome power at 23. Same goes for Aramis Ramirez. And Gary Carter, and Jim Rice, and others. Dale Murphy is something of an interesting case. But a lot of the improved players showed signs of improvements. Pablo Sandoval, so far, hasn’t turned into a slugger. Ryan Zimmerman‘s reached 30 homers just once. Billy Butler hasn’t hit for more power as he’s aged. Nick Markakis has slipped. Harold Baines hit 25 homers at 23 and then only once beat that in the rest of his career. It’s far from a given that Freeman will routinely start hitting for major power later on, and he might just settle in as a guy you count on for 20-25 dingers.

Which wouldn’t make him a great first baseman, in the classic sense. In the classic sense, it would make him a disposable first baseman, and really, maybe Freeman will just end up more good, or really good. Great might be too strong, depending on your personal tastes. But Freeman comes with a potential power alternative. The value Freeman doesn’t achieve in the power category, he might make up for somewhere else.

Last year, Freeman posted a .371 BABIP. Way too high, for a slow first baseman. That’s obviously a number you have to regress going forward as you figure out your own Freeman expectations. But it’s an issue of what you regress to. You very well might not want to regress all the way back to the league average.

For one thing, Freeman’s career mark is .334. For another thing, as much as I try to avoid using line-drive rate, in this case I have to acknowledge it. Freeman’s liners suggest a high quality of contact. Other, more advanced information also suggests a high quality of contact. Freeman, very simply, has just stung the ball.

Freeman became a big-league regular in 2011. Since then, he’s one of just 15 players to have a line-drive rate at least one standard deviation above the average, and a pop-up rate at least one standard deviation below the average. Those players have averaged a .340 BABIP. Also, just seven of those players, including Freeman, have posted an above-average rate of homers per fly ball. This puts Freeman in the company of Matt Kemp, Joey Votto, Howie Kendrick, Alex Avila, Jason Kubel, and Jason Kipnis. Just short of making it is Freeman’s teammate, Chris Johnson.

Also, Freeman sprays the ball everywhere, making him beyond difficult to shift. Last year he hit at least .400 to his pull side, up the middle, and the other way. The last three years, he’s one of just 24 players to have line-drive rates of at least 20% to all three fields. Those players have averaged a .320 BABIP. Just six players, including Freeman, have line-drive rates of at least 23% to all three fields. Freeman won’t keep turning 37% of his balls in play into hits, but there’s reason to believe he could end up at, say, 33% or 34%, if it’s true that he hits a greater rate of line drives while seldom popping the ball up.

In this way, Freeman could offset his good but not incredible power, should that part of his game continue. He’s already a pretty good defensive first baseman. He already draws a good amount of walks. He’s worked on cutting down his strikeouts, and if he can sustain a high batting average on balls in play, then he’ll sustain a high batting average, and then he’ll sustain a high wRC+. There are so many different ways to be productive, and Freeman’s been following the most fundamental one — he’s seen the ball and he’s hit the ball hard. He hasn’t put a ton of air under it, but all hits are valuable.

Freeman was a productive hitter in the majors at 21, he was an average player overall at 22, and he was a terrific player at 23. The Braves have signed him for years 24 through 31, and questions do remain about how good Freeman could really be. He doesn’t seem to possess elite power, so odds are against his becoming an elite player. He might not even really be a great player, depending. But what Freeman’s already done while young correlates well with future success, and even if his power doesn’t blossom, it’s above-average, and the same can be said for the rest of his quality of contact. So the Braves have a good hitter for most of the years he should be a good hitter. He doesn’t even need to improve to be worth what he’s getting, and there remains considerable room for improvement.

Batted Ball Profiles for Remaining Free Agent Hitters.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Super Bowl is over, spring training is nearly upon us, and a whole bunch of potentially valuable free agents remain unsigned. Previously in this space, we already took a look at Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana from a batted-ball profile perspective; today and tomorrow, we’ll examine five others – starting pitchers Bronson Arroyo and A.J. Burnett, and position players Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales and Nelson Cruz. Today, we’ll look at the hitters – tomorrow, the pitchers.
Below you will see the three hitters’ K and BB rates, as well as their batted ball breakdowns by type, all expressed relative to MLB averages, both in a scaled to 100 and percentile form.

Drew % REL PCT
K 24.80% 124 78
BB 10.80% 136 83
POP 11.70% 150 84
FLY 31.50% 111 68
LD 23.70% 111 79
GB 33.10% 78 9
—— —— —— ——
Morales % REL PCT
K 17.40% 87 47
BB 7.50% 94 43
POP 5.50% 71 22
FLY 29.60% 105 57
LD 19.90% 93 27
GB 44.90% 105 73
—— —— —— ——
Cruz % REL PCT
K 23.90% 120 75
BB 7.70% 97 46
POP 9.40% 120 67
FLY 31.40% 111 65
LD 19.10% 90 15
GB 40.10% 94 48
Stephen Drew turns 31 next month. His K and BB rates have both been consistently higher than league average over the last few seasons, with both percentile ranks climbing to career highs of 78 and 83 last season, respectively. He has developed a significant fly ball tendency, and his popup rates have also been consistently high. Drew’s popup percentile ranks have been over 70 for four years, and over 80 for two. For a guy lacking big power, this is not a good thing. His fly ball percentile rank of 68 is in line with his career norms. Drew’s 2013 line drive percentile rank of 79 nearly matched his career best, and marked his fourth straight year of 67 or higher. LD rates don’t correlate very well from year to year, but four good years in a row is a nice trend. With all of these popups, flies and liners, there’s obviously not much of the pie left for the grounders – Drew’s best grounder percentile rank since 2008 is 24.

Kendrys Morales will turn 31 this summer. For a power guy, his K and BB rates are both quite low, with 2013 percentile ranks of 47 and 43, respectively. He’s more than just a grip-it-and-rip-it type – his popup percentile rank of 22 is very low – it has been below MLB average in each of his years as a regular. His line drive rates have been quite low, however, as his 2013 percentile rank of 27 essentially matched his 2012 mark. His groundball frequencies have been consistently high – 73 percentile rank in 2013, 70 or higher in three of his last four seasons. That’s not a good thing when you’re among the slowest runners in the game.

Nelson Cruz will turn 34 this summer. Cruz has the nasty combination of a higher than MLB average K rate and a lower than MLB average BB rate. He has met those criteria three years running, and his K and BB percentile ranks of 75 and 46, respectively, are quite representative of his true ability level. Unlike Morales, Cruz has the more typical all-or-nothing power hitter BIP profile with regard to popups and fly balls – his percentile ranks in those categories (67 and 65 in 2013) have consistently been well above league average throughout his career. His miniscule line drive percentile rank of 15 is also representative of his true ability level – it has declined four years in a row. Cruz is not and has never been a prolific ground ball hitter.

Now that we’ve examined the hitters’ batted ball frequencies, let’s examine the production. For each hitter, their actual AVG and SLG by batted-ball type is listed, and the resulting run value is expressed relative to MLB average, scaled to 100. For each batted-ball type, an adjusted relative run value is listed, which incorporates park factors, luck, etc.. The “ALL BIP” line item aggregates the relative run values for all batted-ball types, and the “ALL PA” line item incorporates the K and BB information. (SH and SF are included as outs, and HBP is excluded from the slash line for purposes of this exercise.)

FLY 0.392 —— 0.969 178 112
LD 0.667 —— 0.931 109 103
GB 0.204 —— 0.252 82 146
ALL BIP 0.352 —— 0.616 133 121
ALL PA 0.253 0.335 0.443 117 108
—— —— —— —— —— ——
FLY 0.366 —— 0.978 170 236
LD 0.611 —— 0.8 86 114
GB 0.236 —— 0.246 96 135
ALL BIP 0.343 —— 0.556 117 152
ALL PA 0.278 0.332 0.45 117 149
—— —— —— —— —— ——
FLY 0.379 —— 1.179 221 205
LD 0.691 —— 0.982 119 127
GB 0.273 —— 0.298 133 133
ALL BIP 0.351 —— 0.662 143 142
ALL PA 0.258 0.316 0.488 120 119
As a frame of reference, consider that the MLB average AVG-SLG on fly balls in 2013 was .284-.743, on line drives was .657-.863 and on ground balls was .237-.257. The MLB average AVG-SLG on all batted balls was .323-.505.

Drew’s actual fly ball production run values are inflated significantly by Fenway Park, which turns many a routine fly into singles and doubles. It’s a big comedown from 178 relative fly ball production to 112. Drew’s actual ground ball production was quite low, and is adjusted significantly upward to 146 based on Drew’s hard/soft ground ball rates. However……..Drew is an “extreme ground ball puller” – he hit 6.25 times as many groundballs to RCF/RF than to LF/LCF in 2013… I am very uncomfortable inflating Drew’s ground ball production higher than the league average of 100.

He’s an easy infield overshift decision, and will be hard pressed to do much damage on the ground. That knocks down his adjusted overall projection a tad from the level listed above – adjusted for park, luck, etc., Drew is basically a league average bat, about a .240-.325-.395 guy – not bad for a shortstop, but not the type of guy who deserves big dollars and years.

Morales’ fly ball production, on the other hand, was killed by the new and improved but still pitcher-friendly Safeco Field last year, and should be adjusted upward from a relative run value of 170 to 236. His .611 AVG and .800 SLG on line drives was also much lower than it should have been, due to bad luck. Morales’ hard/soft grounder rates also cause his ground ball relative run values to be adjusted upward, though that must be taken with a grain of salt due to his lack of speed.

Still, it is very clear that Kendrys Morales was a significantly better offensive player than his actual numbers suggested in 2013. While that 149 adjusted relative overall production figure is likely a bit heavy because of Morales’ lack of speed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Morales’ true talent level doesn’t reside somewhere in the .295-.350-.500 range – pretty solid, even for a DH.

Cruz’ fly ball power is real – his home park in Texas punched it up a bit, but a downward adjustment from 221 to 205 is no big deal. Cruz also tattoos his line drives, and his solid ground ball production is supported by his hard/soft grounder rates. His overall BIP run value relative to the league of 142 isn’t far behind Morales’ 152 mark. Cruz gets hurt once you add back the K’s and BB’s – Morales’ relatively low K rate allows his relative production to barely drift downward to 149, while Cruz’ mark drops sharply to 119.

Stephen Drew has a checkered injury history, to be kind, and was helped greatly by his home park last season. He is an adequate defender who shouldn’t have to move off of the shortstop position very soon. He possesses a significant normal platoon split. He is not the type of player to whom you would want to make a material commitment in terms of dollars or years. He is likely worth more to the Red Sox than anyone else because of the Fenway fly ball factor. A one-year, $10M deal to go back to Boston would make tons of sense. For another club to go to that level or higher and give up a draft pick would be done at that club’s peril.

Kendrys Morales has a massive leg injury in his past, though he did hold up quite well in 2013. He is an offense-only player, with zero baserunning or defensive value. He is a switch-hitter who is much more dangerous from the left side. That said, this guy can flat hit, and he has played his entire career in very pitcher-friendly surroundings. In the right ballpark, Morales can put up serious offensive numbers. He is a hit-before-power guy, as opposed to a power-before-hit guy – and that is meant in a good way.

Outside of injury recurrence, there is very little risk that Morales won’t be a significant offensive performer in the next two to three years. You are paying for the bat only, but a two or three year deal for about $10M per year can be justified, if you can stomach the draft pick compensation.

Ah, Nelson Cruz…..his injury history is more of the nagging variety, but there’s the matter of last year’s PED suspension that likely propped up all of his batted-ball numbers last season. While Morales is a bat-only guy who doesn’t play the field, Cruz might be even worse – a bat-only guy who plays the field and gives back a big chunk of his value. He is a power-before-hit guy, and gets no quarter from his K and BB rates. Red flags abound. He’s worthy of a year or two at a modest cost… a DH.

As a regular corner outfielder, there’s really no reason to get anywhere near him. The team most commonly linked to him, the Mariners, might be the worst fit. They need outfielders, for sure, but calling Nelson Cruz an outfielder is truly a stretch at this point, and even though the Safeco fences have come in, they still knock down fly balls to the LCF/CF area that Cruz loves as much or more than any ballpark with the possible exception of PNC Park.

On a closing, related note to the last point on Cruz, let’s take a look at Corey Hart‘s batted ball frequency and production data for 2012.

Hart % REL PCT
K 24.30% 134 85
BB 7.10% 86 35
POP 6.20% 74 27
FLY 37.20% 130 95
LD 18.00% 85 12
GB 38.70% 92 34

FLY 0.379 —— 1.098 192 148
LD 0.654 —— 0.872 110 112
GB 0.278 —— 0.318 143 119
ALL BIP 0.37 —— 0.693 156 132
ALL PA 0.27 0.323 0.507 124 108
In 2012, Hart’s K rate was higher and BB rate was lower relative to the league compared to 2013 Nelson Cruz. He was a more extreme fly ball hitter, and had a similarly low LD rate, though his popup rate was much lower. Production-wise, Hart slightly lags Cruz pretty much across the board of all batted-ball types once you adjust for hitter-friendly Miller Park; he had a 132 run value relative to the MLB average on all BIP, compared to 142 for Cruz.

Plug in the K’s and BB’s, and Hart drops down to 108. Like Cruz, Hart does the bulk of his damage to the parts of the field that Safeco kills, and one likely shouldn’t expect much defensive value, at least in the outfield, from a guy coming off of a significant surgical procedure and a full missed season. While one can understand the search for some righthanders to complement the young lefty bats in Seattle, going after multiple defensively-challenged big-part-of-a-big-field fly ball hitters would appear to be an overly risky strategy.

Lots of player movement is likely to happen in the coming days, with one or more of the above likely to find homes before too long. Breaking these players’ 2013 stat lines into smaller building blocks often yields insights that aren’t obvious on the surface. A major commitment of both years and dollars to any of the above players would appear risky, but the right team adding the right player discussed above for the right contract terms could represent the difference between success and failure in 2014.

Your All-In-One MLB Legal Roundup.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Much of my offseason writing on this site focused on the legal proceedings involving Major League Baseball, partly because MLB is embroiled in quite a few lawsuits, and partly because I try to stick to the advice: “Write what you know.” But as spring training kicks in to gear next week, and then the season in late March, I hope (I really, really hope) to spend more time on interesting baseball stories and less time on the intricacies of the Joint Drug Agreement and federal antitrust law.

Call me a dreamer.

In any event, there have been a few recent developments in MLB-related legal matters; perhaps not significant enough to warrant their own post, but important enough to mention as part of this legal roundup. When readers ask me on Twitter, “Hey, what’s happening with such-and-such lawsuit,” I’ll be able to send them a link to this article. At least for a while.

Houston Astros/CSN Houston

In November, I told you about the mess involving the Astros and Comcast SportsNet Houston — the regional sports network owned by the Astros — Comcast and the Houston Rockets. The network launched in late 2012 but has been unable to reach carriage agreements with any cable or satellite operator in the Houston area, other than Comcast. That’s left 60% of television viewers without access to Astros and Rockets game, and left the RSN without the cash to pay the rights fees promised to the teams.

Last September, Comcast filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition against CSN Houston. The Astros countered with state court complaints against Comcast and the Astros’ prior orwner, Drayton McLane, in which the team alleged it was mislead about the new network’s economic and financial viability.

Just yesterday, the bankruptcy judge in Houston placed CSN Houston under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. That was the move Comcast and the Rockets sought, and what the Astros opposed. David Barron of the Houston Chronicle reported the bankruptcy court will now oversee a reorganization of CSN Houston that will focus on securing carriage rights agreements between the network and the non-Comcast cable and satellite companies in the area. The Astros could lose their equity stake in the network, see a diminution in their rights fees or both.

All things Alex Rodriguez

Last we met, baseball arbitrator Frederic Horowitz reduced Alex Rodriguez’s suspension from 211 games to 162 games — plus the 2014 postseason — should the New York Yankees win the American League East or qualify as a wild card team. Rodriguez didn’t take too kindly to that decision and filed a lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan against MLB and the players’ union. In the suit, Rodriguez claimed the proceeding before Mr. Horowitz was unfair, lacked due process and resulted in unfounded punishment. That case is pending before Judge Edgardo Ramos of the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York.

Immediately, MLB requested a conference before Judge Ramos to discuss its expected motion to dismiss Rodriguez’s lawsuit. In a letter to the court, MLB argued that judicial review of arbitration decisions is quite limited, and that the arbitrator considered and rejected Rodriguez’s allegations the evidence was insufficient to find he used performance-enhancing substances. MLB also took issue with Rodriguez’s claim that the arbitrator misinterpreted the Joint Drug Agreement and Collective Bargaining Agreement. (I’ve written extensively about these legal issues, and believe the arbitrator did misinterpret the agreements. Nonetheless, the court has very limited authority to review the arbitrator’s interpretation).

MLBPA also wrote the judge and previewed its motion to dismiss. The players’ union argued that courts are highly deferential to how unions carry out their duty of fair representation in an employer-employee arbitration proceeding. It then countered Rodriguez’s factual allegations against the union: That the former union head — the late Michael Weiner — wrongly revealed to the public his view of Rodriguez’s defense; that the union should have stopped MLB’s Florida lawsuit against Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch; and that the union should have presented a more aggressive defense for Rodriguez in the arbitration.

Judge Ramos ordered Rodriguez to respond to these letters by this Friday. He will hold a preliminary conference in the case on Feb. 14.

There’s been a bit of Rodriguez-related legal wrangling in a different courtroom in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan. You may recall that in October, after the arbitration had commenced, Rodriguez sued MLB in New York state court and charged the league with tortiously interfering with his contact with the Yankees. He complained about much of the same conduct at the heart of his effort to undo the arbitration decision: Essentially that Anthony Bosch is a liar and a fraud, and that MLB bought acted illegally — by buying stolen Biogenesis documents — for the sole purpose of building the case against Rodriguez.

MLB removed the state lawsuit to federal court (a standard legal maneuver when a collective bargaining agreement is involved) and moved to dismiss the complaint as preempted by the CBA. Rodriguez moved to remand the case to state court. The remand motion has been fully briefed. The judge in that case — U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield — appears ready to decide the motion without argument. If she keeps that case in federal court, she and Ramos will decide whether the two separate lawsuits will be combined before a single judge.

This is all standard legal wrangling that takes place soon after a lawsuit is filed. Still, the most interesting aspect of this whole mess is Rodriguez did not ask the court to enter a preliminary injunction to keep the arbitration decision from going into effect. As such, the suspension is effective and unless overturned by a court, must be served by Rodriguez this season. If the federal court doesn’t dismiss Rodriguez’s complaint to overturn the arbitration decision — and my best guess is that it will dismiss it — the court would then oversee a fact-finding process that may very well take longer than the 2014 season. Under those circumstances, Rodriguez likely will have served his suspension before a court rules on its legality.

City of San Jose vs. MLB

In December, U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte dismissed the remaining state law claims asserted by the City of San Jose against MLB relating to the city’s effort to become the new home of the Oakland A’s. The judge dismissed the federal antitrust counts several months earlier, on the theory that such claims were barred by MLB’s antitrust exemption. By dismissing the state law claims, the court was able to enter final judgment. That allowed San Jose to proceed with its appeal of the federal claims to Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and to re-file its state law claims in state court.

That’s exactly what’s happened. San Jose filed its notice of appeal with the Ninth Circuit, and then immediately asked the court to expedite the matter. San Jose argued that if the court doesn’t resolve the antitrust exemption issues by Nov. 8 — which would be unlikely under the current briefing schedule — the city will lose its opportunity to bring the A’s to San Jose, as that is the date the option agreement expires. It’s an interesting argument, as San Jose is all but conceding that without an active option agreement, it may not have standing to assert antitrust claims against MLB. I’m not persuaded the court will expedite the matter. You can decide for yourself by reading the motion to expedite here.

San Jose did re-file its state law claims in state court — this time in Santa Cruz Superior Court. The complaint reads much like the one the city originally filed against MLB in federal court. If you must, you can find the complaint here. Why Santa Cruz? Well, under California law, a city cannot file a complaint in the county where it’s located. If San Jose wanted to stay close, the other options were San Mateo, San Francisco and Alameda counties. The first two are considered Giants Country and the latter is the home of Oakland. So Santa Cruz it is. A case management conference is scheduled for mid-May.

Antitrust challenge to MLB blackout policy

Last year, around this time, I told you about a lawsuit that had been filed challenging MLB’s policies that result in blackouts of “local” games on MLB Extra Innings and Local is in quotation marks because many teams claim a TV broadcast territory far beyond the reach of its RSN’s signal. I showed you this map.

That lawsuit has proceeded apace and, in the next few months, may come to some sort of resolution. It appears from the court’s most recent scheduling order (which you can read here) that the parties are at the expert discovery phase — which means each side has obtained documents and sworn testimony from the other side’s key witnesses. For MLB, that includes, at a minimum, Red Sox owner John Henry, who is specifically referenced in the scheduling order.

Each side has retained experts and will now provide the other side with those experts’ reports, after which the experts will be deposed. If MLB wants to resolve the case short of a trial, it must soon file a motion for summary judgment wherein it will argue that the facts are undisputed and/or the law compels that the plaintiffs’ antitrust claims be dismissed.

Like the others, this case is going to be interesting to watch over the next few months.

Freddie Freeman and Choosing Youth over Track Record.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
As the calendar has flipped to February, we are officially transitioning out of free agent season — though a few stragglers remain — and moving into extension season. With arbitration providing the nudge for teams and players to run valuations and negotiate over their differences, it’s only natural that these discussions often turn into conversations about long term deals that avoid the process entirely, and the spring training months provide the best opportunity for a team and a player to come to a mutual agreement on a mutli-year extension. While Clayton Kershaw kicked off the extension season a few weeks ago, Freddie Freeman‘s new deal with the Braves is a reminder that extension season isn’t limited to just big market teams with overflowing revenues, and also a reminder of just how important a player’s age has become in long term valuations.

Freeman’s deal is for eight seasons, covering his remaining three arbitration eligible years and then five free agent years beyond that. If we assume that his arbitration prices would have gone something like $5 million/$8 million/$12 million, then he was in line for something like $25 million over the next three years, meaning the Braves bought five additional years of team control for $110 million or so, or essentially $22 million per year. It’s the largest contract extension ever given to a player with between three and four years of service time, though if you count the guaranteed dollars left on Ryan Braun‘s deal when he signed his second extension, the Brewers were on the hook for $141 million over nine years going forward from the point of the agreement.

The Braun comparison is interesting, though, because Freeman’s track record right now doesn’t really stack up to Braun’s at the point that the Brewers committed to him for a decade. Here’s Freeman’s career line compared to Braun’s performances from 2007-2010:

Freddie Freeman 1,908 0.285 0.358 0.466 0.357 127 -6.5 52.9 -45.7 7.1
Ryan Braun 2,548 0.307 0.364 0.554 0.393 141 13.9 143.0 -68.8 15.8
Braun not only had an extra season’s worth of playing time, he had been demonstrably better than Freeman to that point, with a specifically large advantage in the power department. Even if you give Freeman a significant bump for defensive value relative to what UZR suggests he’s been worth, he’s still not particularly close to Braun, and remember, Braun’s defensive rating during that time was dragged down by his miserable rookie season at third base as well. Braun, at the point at which he sold five free agent years for $105 million, was pretty clearly a more accomplished player than Freeman is now.

Of course, baseball has seen a lot of inflation over the last few years, and Braun’s contract came three years ago, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that Braun’s benchmark contract — for players with this level of service time — didn’t last that long. Prices have been going up for everyone, and $105 million in 2011 dollars is more than $110 million in 2014 dollars. This is just part of the cycle of baseball teams getting richer; baseball players get richer too.

But I think there’s something else at play here as well. Braun was 27 when he signed his deal, and the five free agent years he sold for $105 million cover his age-32 to age-36 seasons. Freeman is 24, and the five years he sold cover his age-27 to age-31 seasons. While Braun and Freeman’s total contract prices are similar, and they have somewhat similar amounts of service time at the point of the extension, they really weren’t selling the same thing. Braun sold the Brewers his decline phase, while Freeman is selling the Braves the years that are likely to be his most productive.

Historically, we’ve been conditioned to expect players to prove their value on the field over several years before they land these nine figure contracts, and Freeman stands out as something of an anomaly in the land of $100+ million extensions. He’s had one really good season, a year driven by a sky-high BABIP that almost certainly isn’t sustainable, and as a first baseman with good but not great power, he doesn’t fit the prototype of a superstar, nor has he played like one for an extended period of time. But this is where age comes into play so heavily, because the prime years of a good player are often more productive than the decline years of a superstar, and it’s likely a better investment to give an in-his-prime, good-not-great player more money than it is to reward a superstar for what he’s already accomplished.

We already saw the market come to this same conclusion with Masahiro Tanaka this off-season. Tanaka has no major league track record, but because he will be 25 next year while all the other free agent hurlers are pushing the wrong side of 30, he landed $175 million in guaranteed dollars while Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, and Ubaldo Jimenez probably won’t get that total put together. The market made it very clear that, when given a choice between youth and track record, it would choose youth.

And the Braves had to know that Freeman’s age would weigh strongly in his favor if they let him get to free agency. Even if he never developed into much more than what he is now, and if his BABIP regressed, and UZR actually is measuring his defensive value fairly well, he’s still likely to be a +3 to +4 win player by the time he gets to free agency. If he never learns how to hit left-handers and never adds much power, then he’s basically Shin-Soo Choo, and Shin-Soo Choo just got $130 million for ages 31 to 37. Barring a major injury, Choo seems something close to Freeman’s floor, only Freeman would be hitting the market in his prime rather than leaving his prime. With any reasonable amount of inflation and even stagnant performances from Freeman over the next few years, he was going to get paid as a free agent simply because of his youth.

In fact, I’d say that even with one less year of service time, the better contract comparison here is probably Elvis Andrus. Last winter, after his age-23 season, Andrus signed away his age-26 to age age-33 seasons for $120 million, but also got an opt-out that will let him hit free agency again after his age-29 or age-30 season if he feels he can land a bigger contract at the time. While Andrus was a year closer to free agency, the opt out has significant value, and Freeman’s skillset is generally rewarded more in agency. Andrus’ deal shows the premium that teams are willing to pay to lock up prime years rather than decline years, and that’s what the Braves have done with Freeman.

$135 million for a player three years from free agency is certainly a steep price to pay, and there’s unquestionable downside if Freeman goes the way of Nick Markakis, but in general, I think this is more evidence that teams have decided that they’d rather bet on the prime years of good players rather than the decline phase of great players. Because of his age, Freeman doesn’t have to become a great player to justify this contract; the value to the Braves here is that they’re not likely to be on the hook for any years in which Freeman is worthless. And to a team with the worst TV contract in baseball, that has a lot of value.
post #19792 of 78800

Always hated Curt Schilling.....but never want to see this.  Hope he pulls through.  IIRC, he was having money issues, so I hope he is able to get the proper treatment to beat this.  Prayers with CS.

post #19793 of 78800
The A's new Green ALT
post #19794 of 78800
Nice pimp.gif
post #19795 of 78800

The A’s sign Coco Crisp to a two-year contract extension

Craig Calcaterra


Feb 7, 2014, 3:02 PM EST




Some news out of Oakland as the A’s announce that they’ve signed  to a two-year contract extension.

Crisp signed a two-year deal with Oakland prior to the 2012 season and the A’s exercised their 2014 option on him back in November. They obviously wanted more Coco than that, so now they have him through 2016 with a vesting option for 2017. The deal: two-years and $22.75 million. He is slated to make $7.5 million this year on the option.

Crisp is coming off a 2013 campaign that saw him put together a .261/.335/.444 batting line with a career-high 22 homers and 21 steals. Oakland is his fourth team, but if he plays out this deal plus the option, he’ll have eight years as an Athletic under his belt.

post #19796 of 78800
Coco smokin.gif

A little more money than I wanted to give him but hey whatever...

heart and soul of our team, truly the engine that makes us go, and one of the best center fielders in the game (138 game errorless streak)
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Coco pimp.gif
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@SportsCenter: THIS JUST IN: Alex Rodriguez has dropped his lawsuit against MLB, commissioner Bud Selig and the MLBPA.

Where's that clown that was saying A-Rod was gonna take down the MLB? LOL
post #19799 of 78800
Speedy recovery, Schilling.

Mariners got Sharpshooter Rodney for 2/$14M. Marlins got Marmol for 1/$1.25M.
post #19800 of 78800
Boras wants an opt-out in Drew's contract after the first year. To go with the pick compensation. Injury concerns also scaring suitors. Boras is willing to wait out the market like he did with Bourn into Spring Training.
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