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2016 MLB thread. THE CUBS HAVE BROKEN THE CURSE! Chicago Cubs are your 2016 World Series champions. - Page 1026  

post #30751 of 78800
Thread Starter 
Thanks man laugh.gif I got a PM from 651 the other day (thanks for that!) and I thought "Damn, I've been away a while", so I got my **** together and checked in. Just swamped between moving and a new role at work.

I'll check that out tomorrow, flying to Florida for Xmas.
post #30752 of 78800
Any teams unveiling new uni's/fitteds this year?
Hip Hop is dead. There is no "savior".
Hip Hop is dead. There is no "savior".
post #30753 of 78800
Here's some.

post #30754 of 78800
Twins new gear is wack. Don't see anything new with the mets.

Pirates showing love to the military pimp.gif
Hip Hop is dead. There is no "savior".
Hip Hop is dead. There is no "savior".
post #30755 of 78800
The Twins script writing on the jersey is huge lol
post #30756 of 78800
Originally Posted by Jewbacca2 View Post

The Twins script writing on the jersey is huge lol

Yeah. I kinda like the idea of gold on the trim, but those letters are too darn big.

I still prefer the white pinstripe look for the home whites. Classic look.

Vikings | Timberwolves | Mariners | Twins | Huskies


aka 651

Vikings | Timberwolves | Mariners | Twins | Huskies


aka 651

post #30757 of 78800
wilpons always trying to make an extra buck constantly changing the uniforms.
post #30758 of 78800
Originally Posted by GotHolesInMySocks View Post

Twins new gear is wack. Don't see anything new with the mets.

Pirates showing love to the military pimp.gif


Mets are just combining two of their home jerseys. They got rid of the off-white, blue pinstriped home jerseys and the plain white home jerseys. Now they're going with a white pinstriped home jersey. That's probably the only change unless they start using that new logo where they replaced the UN building in the NY skyline with the CitiCorp building.

post #30759 of 78800
I think the A's could use an update to their uniform.
A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

post #30760 of 78800
wish we'd go back to the sleeveless jerseys.

"what ch'all know 'bout dem Texas boys!?!"
"what ch'all know 'bout dem Texas boys!?!"
post #30761 of 78800
The Reds sleeveless is pimp.gif

I have a blank one I want to turn into a Griffey

AJ Pierzynski signed with the Braves for 1 year... Idk how I feel about it, I guess Gattis is going to LF
post #30762 of 78800
The Mets added some white to their caps. They have like 9 total jerseys now.

I do like the Twins new jersey but I also liked what they had.
post #30763 of 78800
Originally Posted by Th3RealF0lkBlu3s View Post

I think the A's could use an update to their uniform.

We need an upgrade at 2b and or facilities

Ca's Xmas
post #30764 of 78800
Originally Posted by 03silverbullet View Post

wish we'd go back to the sleeveless jerseys.

Hate the Rangers, but those are beautiful.
post #30765 of 78800
Looks like my dude Kevin Mench. Idk why, but I used to be a huge Hank Blalock fan laugh.gif
post #30766 of 78800
Originally Posted by madj55 View Post

Looks like my dude Kevin Mench. Idk why, but I used to be a huge Hank Blalock fan laugh.gif

Mench wore like a size 12 hat. Steroids, not even once lol
post #30767 of 78800

post #30768 of 78800
hank blalock had a few great years
post #30769 of 78800
Nats sign Dan Uggla to a minor league deal...and I thought it couldn't get worse than Espinosa. I hope Mike Rizzo is working on something that won't leave us with an open competition between Espinosa and Uggla sick.gif
post #30770 of 78800
Thread Starter 
Curt Schilling's strong HOF case.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
For baseball fans, the end of the year is about more than the holidays. No, for those of us devoted to the sport, it also represents Hall of Fame argument season. Baseball being baseball, stats for players will always come up in these heated debates. But for all the great tools we have to support our arguments these days, sabermetrics hasn't done a whole lot with the playoffs.

One of the most heated debates has been around the merits of Curt Schilling's case for the Hall of Fame, where there is a wide gulf from the stat-friendly crowd that believes he's a slam-dunk for Cooperstown and some of the more veteran writers into traditional statistics. And the playoffs factor in.

On a basic level, Schilling's case doesn't look all that compelling, as 216 wins is a low number for a Hall of Fame pitcher. HIs 3.46 ERA doesn't look very shiny when compared with the fact that every full-time starter in the Hall of Fame with fewer wins, with the exception of Jesse Haines, has a lower ERA.

The thing about stats, however, is that they have no meaning by themselves. Context is crucial. If you just say that a player has 55 ZORK or something, that has no meaning unless you know what ZORK means or what the ZORK of other great players is. A pitcher's win total is very different simply because of the realities of the game at the time it was played. For instance: Wouldn't it seem odd to declare that Sandy Koufax stunk because he didn't have a single season in which he won as many games as Old Hoss Radbourn did in his average season? Top pitchers simply win fewer games today because the usage is different.

ERA, while a better stat than pitcher wins, suffers a great deal in many cases when context is added. Schilling played almost entirely in a high-offense era and retired before that era ended. In the parks and leagues Schilling pitched in, a league-average ERA over his career would have been 4.39. Contrast that with a pitcher like Don Drysdale, who pitched a lot in Dodger Stadium in the 1960s, resulting in a 3.53 ERA being league-average over the course of his career. ERA+ compares ERA to league average and Schilling's 127 meets Hall of Fame standards -- the other pitchers with more than 3000 innings and an ERA+ between 125 and 129 are Schilling, four Hall of Famers (Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer, Stan Coveleski) and Kevin Brown.

So even if the seasons all end in September, Schilling would have a strong argument for Hall of Fame induction. However, the postseason is an important part of Schilling's career highlight, and for all the great tools we have to support arguments these days, sabermetrics hasn't done a whole lot with playoff performance. Yet the story of Schilling's career is woefully incomplete without it.

From a statistical standpoint, the playoffs have always been kind of the awkward cousin at the family dinner. Whether you're a hard-core sabermetrics guy or more old-school, the postseason never seems to fully count in the ledger. We all want our favorite teams to win the World Series, love the high drama of October, and all can think of dozens of historical moments, but we don't really evaluate the overall performances on the same plane as we do regular=season statistics. We all grew up memorizing the fact that Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs. That leaves 15 postseason Ruth home runs floating in the ether, never really "counting" in the same way as the 714 regular-season dingers, despite those 41 games in which he hit them being the most important.

[+] EnlargeRivera
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
It's possible only this guy was better than Schilling in the postseason -- all time.
When we talk about a Hall of Famer, for players with a lot of playoff performance, the postseason inevitably figures into our arguments. So when we're arguing who goes to Cooperstown and using the best stats we have available, it only makes sense to objectively integrate that information somehow. After all, Reggie Jackson wasn't called Mr. October because he carved a bunch of sweet jack-o'-lanterns.

There are a lot of philosophical ways to go about integrating playoff stats in with a player's overall record. Given that these are very short series in which each game is far more crucial than a regular season game (and that there are no playoff WAR currently calculated), I like to use Win Probability Added for playoff performance for this purpose, especially considering that we're talking a lot about that abstract concept of greatness. Here's a primer on the concept from the indispensable

WPA captures big moments fairly well. The top 3 WPA games (for hitters) in baseball history feature David Freese's walk-off homer in Game 6 of the 2011 Series, the Kirk Gibson home run -- you know which one -- and Steve Garvey crushing the Cubs in the 1984 NLCS Game 4 (he still hears about it from Cubs fans). The bottom of the WPA list includes such epic meltdowns as Jose Valverde in 2012 and (sadly) Donnie Moore during the 1986 ALCS. When looking at the career numbers, it's a who's who of playoff excellence. Here are the top 10 pitchers and hitters, with some explanation below:

Top 10 Hitters by Playoff WPA

David Ortiz 3.3
Albert Pujols 2.9
Carlos Beltran 2.8
Lance Berkman 2.7
Pete Rose 2.6
Lou Gehrig 2.3
Miguel Cabrera 1.9
Charlie Keller 1.9
David Freese 1.9
Dave Henderson 1.8

Top 10 Pitchers by Playoff WPA

Mariano Rivera 11.7
Curt Schilling 4.1
John Smoltz 3.6
Andy Pettitte 3.5
Orel Hershiser 2.8
Art Nehf 2.7
Orlando Hernandez 2.6
Red Ruffing 2.5
Roger Clemens 2.5
Rollie Fingers 2.4

Since wins is the "currency" of WPA, it combines nicely as a measure with the more general WAR that you see used to evaluate regular season performance. But before I add in the numbers, there are two adjustments to make. First, there are far more playoff games than there were through most of baseball history. A team today can play up to 20 games if the team has a wild card game, but before 1969, the most postseason games a team could possibly play was seven, with the exception of nine in 1903 and 1919-1921. So I added in a simple adjustment factor to attempt to put the eras on a more even field.

Now, before we add WPA to career WAR, there's another big question to answer. How important is a playoff game relative to a regular season game? There's no obvious answer to this question as it's more of a philosophical thing. I crowd-sourced this question on Twitter a few years ago to get a wide range of answers, from a mixed audience of journalists, analysts, and fans. While there wasn't anything approaching unanimity, the median response was that it was roughly three times as important as a regular season game.

Going with the wisdom of crowds here, adding the adjusted playoff WPA with the added weight to career lines moves up a lot of playoff heroes in the WAR rankings (I'm using baseball-reference's WAR here). For some players, the changes are quite large. Mariano Rivera improves from a ho-hum 72nd in WAR to 17th, the only reliever in the top 100. Bob Gibson, Reggie Jackson and Johnny Bench all move up a dozen places in the all-time rankings.

Integrating playoff stats also has a large effect on some of the players on the ballot this year. By career playoff WPA, six of the top 25 postseason pitchers of all-time are on this year's ballot: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, John Smoltz, Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina. From early tallies of writers who have shared their ballots, it appears that Smoltz, Johnson, and Martinez all have excellent odds of comfortably eclipsing the 75 percent threshold and being inducted. Clemens will not be elected this year, but it's not due to anything in his playing record but for, well, "other" reasons. That leaves Schilling and Mussina, two candidates with excellent overall résumés that are languishing in the middle.

But how do they look with playoff performance being factored in?

Adding in playoff performance using the methodology I outline above, Schilling and Mussina, already excellent candidates from their overall stats, 26th and 24th in WAR respectively all-time, climb even higher up the ladder against incredibly difficult competition, as you can see here in a list of pitcher WAR if you add playoffs:

1. Cy Young 172.8
2. Walter Johnson 157.8
3. Roger Clemens 148.0
4. Lefty Grove 123.1
5. Pete Alexander 121.8
6. Kid Nichols 116.6
7. Christy Mathewson 112.5
8. Randy Johnson 108.8
9. Tom Seaver 107.7
10. Greg Maddux 107.6
11. Bret Blyleven 100.5
12. Eddie Plank 96.1
13. Bob Gibson 95.9
14. Warren Spahn 94.9
15. Curt Schilling 94.6
16. Phil Niekro 93.8
17. Mariano Rivera 93.5
18. Gaylord Perry 92.4
19. Pedro Martinez 89.9
20. Tim Keefe 88.9
21. Mike Mussina 88.2
22. John Clarkson 85.7
23. Steve Carlton 85.6
24. Robin Roberts 85.4
25. Nolan Ryan 85.2

Schilling takes the biggest leap of any pitcher on this year's ballot, with integrating playoff performance giving him an argument as the 15th-most valuable pitcher in baseball history. While he'll always be remembered for the bloody sock game, in which he threw 7 innings of one-run ball in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS with his ankle barely patched together, that game almost overshadows one of the longest records of playoff excellence for any pitcher in history. Despite playing the entirety of his career in a high-offense era, Schilling sported an immaculate 2.23 ERA in 19 playoff starts over 133.1 innings, good enough for an 11-2 record. He was consistent too, with two runs or fewer allowed in 16 of those 19 starts.

Schilling will almost certainly not be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015, but the voters will still have seven more chances to not make a giant mistake and fail to induct one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. If Schilling's playoff performance isn't enough to get him over the hump and into Cooperstown, then playoff performance isn't enough to get anyone not named Mariano Rivera over the line.

If playoffs don't count, we'd might as well start crowning our yearly champion at the end of September.

Breaking down the Yankees' 2B options.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Davey Johnson managed 17 seasons in the big leagues and believed it to be absolutely crucial to introduce young players onto his roster regularly because of the energy and enthusiasm they could inject daily. Veteran players can lag through the grind of the long season, with nagging injuries, and if you had one or two newcomers hungry for success, Johnson thought, they could raise the bar for the others, naturally pushing the older players. A rookie hustling to first base on a routine ground ball or being in position to back up a play changed everything for the whole roster, in Johnson's eyes, because the established players wouldn't want to be embarrassed.

Joe Girardi, manager of the New York Yankees, has a similar affinity for young players, appreciating what they can contribute beyond the production measured on their page. Given a choice between mistakes made through over-aggressiveness or through a lack of energy, Girardi would rather have the former, the teachable moments such as explaining to a rookie why he shouldn't have gone for an extra base, instead of watching a frustrated veteran lope to first base after popping up.

Girardi and the Yankees' staff might have this sort of choice in spring training when they pick a second baseman. After trading Martin Prado for Nathan Eovaldi, they don't have a clear frontrunner at the position to play in an infield that also includes third baseman Chase Headley, shortstop Didi Gregorius and first baseman Mark Teixeira. The Yankees are monitoring the market, and if some attractive alternative at second develops, they could make a move.

But it's very possible the Yankees will choose among four options: two on their 40-man roster, Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela, and two on minor league contracts, Cole Figueroa and Nick Noonan.

They will vie for the starting position with very different sets of skills. Refsnyder was primarily an outfielder before transitioning to second base, as Skip Schumaker did in his time with the St. Louis Cardinals, and he has performed well enough to make the change stick. Two seasons into the move, Refsnyder is still refining his ability to turn a double play and is an offense-first player as a patient right-handed hitter who will take walks and, the Yankees believe, continue to develop some power. In 137 games combined in Double- and Triple-A last season, Refsnyder racked up 55 walks and 58 extra-base hits, posting a .387 on-base percentage.

Pirela is not as well-rounded as Refsnyder as a hitter, but it could well be that he would hit for a higher average because of his slashing style; he'll swing aggressively and put the ball in play, and has a reputation for playing all-out all the time. For a taste of that, watch him round the bases as he hits a triple in Fenway Park on the final weekend of the season. For now, Pirela is viewed as more advanced defensively, given his experience as a middle infielder in all of his seasons in professional baseball. He actually began to play some in the outfield last season so that he might present more versatility.

Pirela is a right-handed hitter, like Refsnyder, while Noonan and Figueroa are left-handed hitters, so if Pirela or Refsnyder wins the everyday job at second, Noonan or Figueroa could step in occasionally against a tougher right-hander.

The Yankees plan to evaluate all of that in spring training, seeing how Refsnyder's defense has developed and whether Pirela can be an effective hitter in the big leagues. Opportunities unknown at the moment will eventually present themselves then as veteran players are cut loose in other camps, and by Opening Day, that could be the Yankees' direction.

But it's worth remembering that the Yankees are fielding older players at every position other than shortstop, where the 24-year-old Gregorius is. Jacoby Ellsbury is 31, and so is Brett Gardner. Teixeira is 34, Brian McCann and Headley are both 30, Carlos Beltran is 37, Garrett Jones is 33, and Alex Rodriguez is 39. The Yankees might benefit from having a couple of young players, such as Pirela or Refsnyder, playing to prove himself.

Girardi can relate to that from personal experience: Part of the reason he was valued as a player was his daily investment in each game. Yankees manager Joe Torre loved that Girardi ran up the first base line on ground balls to back up every throw and ran out every ground ball he hit, because of the tone he thought Girardi set.

This is why every spring, Davey Johnson would watch the minor league games with particular interest, to see if there might be someone new, someone different, someone insatiably seeking an opportunity. This may be something the Yankees could use in 2015.

Around the league

• Speaking of middle infielders, Stephen Drew's asking price is $9 to $10 million, writes Joel Sherman.

[+] EnlargeSeth Smith
Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports
Seth Smith posted an .815 OPS against right-handed pitching last season.
• The Mariners likely will go into next season as a popular favorite to win the AL West, following their lineup upgrades this offseason: Nelson Cruz, Justin Ruggiano and now Seth Smith. Seattle has managed to make those adjustments without really touching a pitching staff that finished second in the majors in ERA last season.

This is what the Mariners' lineup could look like:

1. Austin Jackson, CF
2. Seth Smith/Justin Ruggiano, RF
3. Robinson Cano, 2B
4. Nelson Cruz, DH
5. Kyle Seager, 3B
6. Logan Morrison, 1B
7. Mike Zunino, C
8. Dustin Ackley, LF
9. Chris Taylor, SS (the No. 1 player at the position according to the team website).

This was the last major item on the Mariners' to-do list. The Mariners wanted an outfielder with more than one year of team control, said Jack Zduriencik.

Brandon Maurer in 2014
Maurer (MOW-er) really took off after being moved to the bullpen last season. Only four relievers had a better K/BB ratio than Maurer (7.6) in 2014.
Stat As SP As RP
IP 32 1/3 37 1/3
K/BB 17/14 38/5
ERA 7.52 2.17
Avg FB velocity 92.4 96.0Source: ESPN Stats and Info
The best thing for the Padres in this deal is payroll management: They've shed the $13 million obligation to Smith, a great hitter against right-handed pitchers who is nonetheless viewed as a platoon player.

The Padres also added Brandon Maurer. And the day before, the Padres added Shawn Kelley, who is entering his final season before reaching free agency.

• The Rays agreed to a deal before Christmas with Asdrubal Cabrera, and are now waiting for him to take his physical. The trade could signal the departure of Ben Zobrist, writes Roger Mooney.

• The Orioles' interest in Colby Rasmus is serious, writes Roch Kubatko.

• The Royals' Alex Gordon had wrist surgery.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Indians invited a couple more players to spring training.

2. Chris Parmelee elected to become a free agent.

3. The Dodgers are expected to sign Sergio Santos.

NL West

• The Dodgers should not be signing a pitcher accused of throwing games, writes Steve Dilbeck.

AL East

• You can draw your own conclusion about why the Orioles aren't hosting the 2016 All-Star Game, writes Peter Schmuck.

• There is Rusney Castillo.

• Christian Vazquez will enter spring training as the favorite to be the Red Sox's everyday catcher.

AL West

• Four young statistical analysts help the Angels make sense of it all, writes Pedro Moura.

• A Rangers prospect has lost his spot in the lineup in winter ball.


• Jeff Bagwell is open to the idea of rejoining the Astros' organization.

• Soot Zimmer, wife of Don, writes this about her husband.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Eleven in baseball at a career crossroads.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Some players will go into 2015 still defining themselves, like the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper. Others, like David Ortiz, have cemented their legacies.

But there are folks in the game -- both players and managers -- for whom 2015 will represent a career crossroads, when they’ll move in one distinct direction or another.

Here are 11 of them:

Dee Gordon, 2B, Miami Marlins

His position change at the outset of 2014 paid off in a big way, resulting in a strong first half for Gordon, who made the All-Star team and finished the year with a .289 average and 64 stolen bases. But the new Dodgers’ front office had enough concerns about Gordon’s performance that it made him available in a trade, a classic case of moving a hot stock before an expected fall.

Gordon has a chance in 2015 to make that decision look bad -- or good. If his offensive performance more closely mirrors what he did in the second half, when his OPS dropped to .648, then the Marlins, too, might start searching for alternatives. If he has a good year hitting amid a trio that will include Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton, then Gordon will be entrenched as an every-day major league second baseman.

Terry Collins, manager, New York Mets

The Mets’ pitching has matured, and Matt Harvey is on track to return from Tommy John surgery in 2015, making this a team poised to make a run for the first time since Collins became manager. It’s a team with holes, as well, at shortstop, and in its lineup depth; if David Wright doesn’t bounce back, the Mets will have a huge problem.

If the Mets play meaningful games in the last week of September, Collins will be on the crest of what could be a wave of success. GM Sandy Alderson is known for patience, and for not overreacting, but if the Mets flounder -- especially in the first half, when the club’s fan base will be engaged emotionally -- then Collins may well find himself out of a job.

Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City Royals

The whole industry has been waiting for the breakout from Hosmer, and maybe what we saw in October was the first of that -- the power, the strong at-bats, to go along with the Keith Hernandez-like confident defense. Hosmer is 25 years old and plays his home games in a canyon, so he’s still seen as a developing player.

But rival executives will be watching him very closely this season because he is starting to climb the arbitration ladder and is a client of agent Scott Boras; if he erupts at the plate, he may soon be too expensive for the Royals, either as a free agent after the 2017 season or earlier, if Kansas City decided to take advantage of his trade value before his departure.

Those evaluators will want to see more, however, than a .716 OPS, which is what he put up for the whole of the 2014 regular season. With a big year in 2015, Hosmer could plant a flag as a star.

CC Sabathia, SP, New York Yankees

As the 34-year-old left-hander has lost velocity on his fastball, he has not found what he needs for equilibrium on the mound, posting a 4.78 ERA in 2013 and then 5.28 in eight 2014 starts before his season ended with knee trouble that has been increasingly chronic.

The Yankees aren’t necessarily counting on Sabathia -- who has two years remaining on his contract -- to return to his All-Star form, but they would love it if he could contribute 200 decent innings. If he cannot, the Yankees may begin to reconsider his role. Sabathia is set to make $23 million for this season and $25 million for 2016, with a $5 million buyout on a vesting option for 2017.

Rick Porcello, SP, Boston Red Sox

He might have as much or more money on the line as just about any player in the majors based on how he performs this summer. Porcello just turned 26, and he will become eligible for free agency next fall. With a strong season pitching for the Red Sox with a better defense behind him than he had in Detroit, the sinkerballer could set himself up for a really significant payday, somewhere well above the Edwin Jackson threshold of $50 million.

But if he has a rough season amid a lot of scrutiny in a town searching for the heir apparent to Jon Lester, the market will cool on him.

Dallas Keuchel, SP, Houston Astros

He had a really nice year, lowering his ERA from 5.15 in 2013 to 2.93 by generating the highest rate of ground balls of any starting pitcher in the majors.

If Keuchel -- who turns 27 on New Year’s Day -- backs up last season with another good one, he could alter the industry perception of his work, from a one-year wonder into something more.

Mike Redmond, manager, Miami Marlins

By all accounts, the Marlins’ manager has done excellent work, and in theory, this organization might have identified its Ron Gardenhire, someone who could be poised to run the team for many years.

But the X-factor with the Marlins -- as always -- is the competitive streak of owner Jeffrey Loria. In spite of light payrolls of the past, he wants to win and expects to win, and by the standards of this franchise it has loaded up. The Marlins invested big in Giancarlo Stanton, traded for Martin Prado and Dee Gordon and signed Mike Morse.

There is absolutely no indication that Redmond is on anything other than rock-solid ground with the Marlins, and if Miami makes the playoffs in 2015, Redmond might be given part ownership of the Home Run Thing in left-center field. But Joe Girardi, Fredi Gonzalez and other former Marlins managers will tell you that Loria does have a high standard for success that needs to be met.

Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates

In 2012, the Pirates slugger mashed 30 homers. In 2013, he followed that with 36, and while that also came with a lot of strikeouts, Alvarez had seemingly established himself as a power-hitting force in the big leagues. But last year, he developed some throwing yips from third base and lost his place in the every-day lineup in September, getting only one at-bat after Aug. 27.

Now he’s moved to first base, where the throwing issues won’t be a problem, and the Pirates are ready to cede the position to him if he gets back on track. Pittsburgh saw enough ugly in his struggles, however, that it hedged its bet a little, signing veteran Corey Hart -- a good defensive first baseman -- to play against left-handers and perhaps to do more, if needed. Additionally, the Pirates recently won the rights to negotiate with infielder Jung-Ho Kang, who has the positional flexibility to move around.

Alvarez will turn 28 in February, and with a big power year, he’ll return to his previous standing as one of the game’s more prolific sluggers. A poor season will result in relegation and the Pirates’ preparing to move on.

Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds

There were elements in Hamilton’s work last season that were outstanding -- the strong development in his defense as a center fielder and, of course, those days when Hamilton’s speed was a difference-maker. But Hamilton, 24, needs to demonstrate progress in his offense in his second full season, lest he get typecast as a light-hitting specialty item. He really had problems in the second half -- not unusual in young players -- with his OPS plummeting to .511.

Even before the end of the regular season, Hamilton had plans to counterattack in 2015, to refine his bunting to open up holes in the infield that he could exploit, and his former managers and coaches will testify to his work ethic. It may be that Hamilton suffered, to some degree, from the problems in other parts of the Reds' lineup last season, and a return to form for Joey Votto and Jay Bruce could take pressure off him.

But Hamilton’s rookie-season mulligan has been used, and now he’ll need to show he can have more consistent at-bats against right-handed pitching and that he can get on base more often.

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays

He was the centerpiece of one of the biggest trades of the offseason, moving from Oakland to Toronto. If he takes advantage of his new surroundings -- hitting in a better hitters’ park in the middle of a lineup that also includes Russell Martin, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion -- then Donaldson will be set up for an enormous payday, either through his rapidly increasing salary arbitration awards or through a long-term contract.

But if there’s regression, then the industry perception of him may quickly change, because of his age -- he was a late bloomer who just turned 29 -- and because of Oakland’s choice to move him.

Prince Fielder, 1B, Texas Rangers

There were warning signs in Fielder’s performance at the end of 2013, especially the hopeless at-bats in the postseason; in one stretch of four plate appearances, he saw a total of five pitches.

The Tigers worked to dump him and the Rangers grabbed Fielder, needing left-handed power, and he wound up missing most of 2014 because of a neck problem. The Rangers are under the impression that Fielder can make a full recovery and that he can return to his previous career path, when he was one of baseball’s most prolific sluggers; he is only 12 homers away from 300 for his career.

If Fielder doesn’t produce significantly at the plate in 2015, however, then his future -- and the Rangers’ decision to trade for him -- will look very different. Texas needs a solid comeback from him.

For the readers: Which other players do you see as entering a crossroads season?

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Dodgers are close to signing a pitcher who was expelled from a league in Taiwan.

NL West

• The Padres have multiple options for the fifth spot in their rotation, as Jeff Sanders writes.

NL Central

• The Cardinals are loaded with left-handed hitters, as Rick Hummel writes.

• A Pirates vice president sees potential in millennials.

• Starlin Castro was released by a local prosecutor.

• The roller-coaster ride was crazy for David Ross before he signed.

AL East

• Dan Connolly writes about what the Orioles’ priority should be.

• The Orioles are still perched atop the AL East, writes Nick Cafardo.

• The Red Sox roster is OK, writes John Tomase.

AL Central

• Jose Iglesias is making progress, writes Anthony Fenech.

• A Q&A with Twins GM Terry Ryan.

• The Twins are attempting to stockpile arms.

They’ve recognized that given their gap in developing pitching, they need some veteran stabilizers for their rotation -- pricey, yes, but necessary, at this stage in the organization’s evolution.

• Calling Joe Macko an equipment manager doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.

AL West

• Geoff Baker wonders if the Mariners’ signings are enough.


• John Shea compares Joe Panik’s glove flip to Derek Jeter’s flip play.

• There is sad news about Jim Bouton’s father.

• A list of Canada’s top college players.

• A figure in MLB’s drug investigation faces prison.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Top 12 surprise stats of 2014 MLB season.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
No sport overflows with information the way baseball does, with each pitch of each plate appearance adding to the growing expanse of an analytic universe. The players begin generating these numbers in early March, in exhibition games, and this continues until the final pitch -- and in 2014, that meant a popup caught by Pablo Sandoval in foul territory in Kansas City.

But in spite of the eight months spent peeling away the layers of this daily data, there are still surprises to be found in the winter, upon further review:

1. Garrett Richards allowed an MLB-low .261 slugging percentage last season.

So, in other words, Richards effectively reduced hitters into the immortal Mario Mendoza, for whom the Mendoza line is named; Mendoza had a .262 career slugging percentage. This number reflects the hitters’ sentiments last season that the challenge of trying to hit Richards was an absolute nightmare because of the staggering movement of his cut fastball and because of how hard he threw.

2. The Rockies finished first in home OPS at .902 and 29th in road OPS at .636.

That’s an OPS difference of 266 points, and that means that in home games, the Rockies’ players were Superman; on the road, they were Clark Kent. If you are Jeff Bridich, the Rockies’ new general manager, how do you evaluate that? If you are a rival GM and are considering a deal for a Rockies player, how much weight do you put into those numbers? How can Bridich really know what he is selling? And how can an opposing executive really know what he is buying?

Last year, Troy Tulowitzki had an OPS of 1.246 at home; on the road, .811. Is that only because of the conditions in Colorado? Is his daunting history of injuries somehow related to the fact he has played his home games a mile high above sea level, literally taking in less oxygen than stars who play their home games in lower altitudes? Might he be less apt to get hurt while playing for the Mets? And would he be less productive outside of Colorado?

These are the sorts of questions rival executives have asked -- and the Rockies have asked, for that matter -- as they evaluate Colorado players. As written here before, it’s like the Rockies are working with the euro in terms of currency while the other 29 teams deal in dollars; there’s an exchange-rate problem for Colorado.

3. With runners in scoring position, the Reds’ Devin Mesoraco had 17 extra-base hits, 16 walks and 22 strikeouts.

He was arguably MLB’s most underrated player in 2014, obscured by the Reds’ season-long struggles. As a catcher he posted 50 extra-base hits in 113 games with an .893 OPS. That’s pretty damn good.

4. Last season, the Rangers had 62 quality starts, easily the least in the majors.

To put it another way, Texas had exactly 100 starts that were not deemed “quality.” Tough to win that way.

5. Mike Trout struck out in one-third of his at-bats on the road, tied for the most in the majors (103 in 308 at-bats).

In Thursday’s column, I wrote about how some pitchers believe they’ve finally found some kryptonite to wield against Trout: the high, riding fastball that he struggled to get to and lay off. He’ll have an entire winter to consider a counterattack.

6. The Pirates’ pitchers hit 88 batters, by far the most of any team.

They led the majors in hit batsmen in 2013 as well, despite ranking 10th in walks; they were ninth in walks in 2014. Those numbers translate into a philosophy of pitching inside, and into some degree of retaliation: Three of the 26 most-hit batsmen in 2014 were Pirates, including Andrew McCutchen.

7. The three teams ranked at the bottom in stolen bases all reached the championship series in their leagues in 2014.

That would be the Orioles, Giants and Cardinals. Make of it what you will.

8. The Twins’ pitchers ranked last in the majors in strikeouts -- for the fourth consecutive season.

This seems impossible, given the 30-team field, but there it is.
Phil Hughes
Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports
Aside from Phil Hughes, the Twins' pitchers didn't fan many batters in 2014.

A true story: In 2010, I wrote a book about basketball coach Don Meyer, who coached in South Dakota, an area very much a part of Twins nation. During the book tour, Coach Meyer and I traveled all over that part of the country, from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Fargo, North Dakota, and Twins fans who had waited in line for Coach Meyer’s signature would ask me about the prospects for their favorite team.

After two days of hearing the same answer over and over, Coach Meyer -- who had pitched in college and loved baseball -- turned to me and said drolly, “If I hear you say the Twins need power pitching one more time, I’m going to have to punch you.”

That truth lingers: The Twins need power pitching.

9. Hitters averaged just 3.38 pitches per plate appearance against the Marlins’ Henderson Alvarez.

It’s worth noting that the hyper-aggressive Sandoval -- who will swing at almost anything within two time zones -- averaged 3.53 pitches per plate appearance. So Alvarez, a strike thrower, turned hitters into something collectively even more aggressive than the Panda. Not that this is always a bad thing, because ...

10. The Astros’ Jose Altuve averaged an MLB-low 3.11 pitches per plate appearance.

And he led the majors with a .341 average and 225 hits.

11. Houston’s Dallas Keuchel generated 36 double-play grounders.

With that, he crushed the field: Rick Porcello mustered 30, while the third-place finishers in that category tied with 24. As you can imagine, Keuchel had the highest ratio of ground balls to fly balls among all starting pitchers last season, by far.

12. Carlos Carrasco’s ERA in his final 10 starts last season was 1.43.

Oh sure, you could dismiss this as a small sample size. Carrasco’s ERA in the first 44 starts of his career was 5.62, after all, with 87 walks in 246T innings. In those last 10 starts, he had 11 walks and 78 strikeouts.

But in 2013, you probably wouldn’t have thought of Corey Kluber as a Cy Young candidate, either. The Indians seem to be pretty good with pitching.

Carrasco clearly turned a corner in August after years of being known as a pitcher whose results didn’t match his talent. We’ll see if his evolution continues in 2015, when the universe of numbers will grow some more.

Moves, deals and decisions

• The Orioles remain interested in some of San Diego’s surplus outfielders, writes Eduardo Encina.

• Ken Davidoff reviews the overrated and overhated of 2014 in major league baseball.

NL East

• Mike Vorkunov wonders: Would Tulowitzki be successful with the Mets?

• Here’s who will stay and who will go among the Nationals, from Pete Kerzel.

NL Central

• Joe Strauss has some advice when it comes to the Cardinals.

NL West

• The Giants are taking the World Series trophy on tour.

AL Central

• Santa made a list related to the Indians, writes Paul Hoynes.

AL West

• A lot has changed for Jeff Banister, as Rob Biertempfel writes.

• Gerry Fraley offered a ranking of the AL West clubs.

• An update on the Angels’ stadium-lease deal.


• The wife of an Angels pitcher has beaten cancer.

• Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin is the Tennessean’s sports person of the year.

• The Hall of Fame voting needs transparency, writes Steve Buckley.

• Missed this when it was first published: Hawk Harrelson is not interested in cutting back his schedule.

• Bud Selig dealt with major issues during his tenure.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Top 10 MLB storylines of 2015.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
As 2015 approaches, here are my 10 biggest storylines to watch in the world of baseball.

1. The new commissioner

Rob Manfred can probably relate to Prince Charles somewhat, because he’s been waiting patiently for his turn at the throne in recent years. But his time will begin next month, when Bud Selig will follow through on his threat of many years and walk away from the job.

Manfred presumably will get all of the perks of the post, the use of the private jet -- hopefully, its code name is Fastball -- and the staggering salary that all commissioners get these days. We’ve already gotten a reaffirmation of what matters most to Manfred in recent days, when MLB worked out a new five-year collective bargaining agreement with the umpires. The current labor agreement with the players’ union has two years remaining before it is set to expire, and if Manfred stays with a proven formula for financial growth in the sport, he’ll make the next agreement happen.

But what’s next for him? What’s the big-ticket project that he wants to focus on? Manfred hasn’t tipped his hand.

Some club executives continue to hope that the sport can find a way to better market its stars nationally. If Major League Baseball does find a way to alter this, the current group of young and elite players are more than worthy of being featured -- Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Madison Bumgarner and Giancarlo Stanton.

Selig leaves the sport on solid ground overall, but he kicked the can down the road on the Oakland ballpark situation, and the status quo remains with the Rays and Tropicana Field. Baseball is probably not that far removed -- say, within five years -- from entertaining the possibility of expansion.

2. The Chicago Cubs

Wrigley Field is being renovated, and so is the team that inhabits it. The Cubs improved last season behind Anthony Rizzo and the first contributions from the wave of star prospects, but in 2015 the franchise appears poised to take a big step forward with new manager Joe Maddon, new ace Jon Lester and a player who is thought to be capable of monstrous offensive production in Kris Bryant, a 6-foot-5 slugger who mashed 78 extra-base hits in 138 games last season in the minors, with 86 walks and 162 strikeouts. Bryant probably will reach the big leagues sometime in mid-April, and later in the summer, shortstop Addison Russell will probably follow, although it’s unclear exactly what position he’ll play initially.

Maddon and president Theo Epstein have spoken openly of increased expectations for next season, and it’s not out of the question that the Cubs could play meaningful games in September, or vie for a playoff spot. If any of that materializes, well, prepare yourself for Cubs mania. The fan base, long starved for hope, is ready to emerge from its slumber.

3. The AL Central

This has all the makings of the best division race. The Tigers have won the division four years running and have the biggest names in Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and David Price. The Indians might have the deepest pitching staff, headed by Corey Kluber. The Royals are the defending American League champions, and if Eric Hosmer’s late-season offensive burst becomes a habit, Kansas City is fully capable of making the postseason again. And the White Sox are probably the winter’s most improved team, augmented by the signings of Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson and Melky Cabrera. Even the Twins should be more competitive, given the addition of Ervin Santana and the maturation of their young players.

For years, the AL Central’s interdivision games were often sleepy affairs. Now, with such depth, the intensity of these could be at its highest in years.

4. Giancarlo Stanton

He is the first $300 million man after signing his $325 million deal with the Marlins -- although he really won’t get paid the most significant dollars until the back end of the deal, beyond the opt-out clause he holds after the 2020 season. The payment schedule is breathtaking: Over the next six years, he’ll make salaries of $6.5 million, $9 million, $14.5 million, $25 million, $26 million and $26 million. In the final years of the contract, he is set to earn $29 million in 2021, then $29 million, $32 million, $32 million, $32 million, $29 million in 2026, $25 million in 2027. There is a $25 million option for 2028, with a $10 million buyout.

What all of this means is that he’ll face far more scrutiny, far more pressure, than ever. In the past, a Stanton slump was like a tree falling in a forest --- nobody heard it -- but now everybody will notice. Look, his contract is so enormous that it will be impossible to match in production, and Stanton is known to be a smart guy who will understand that, and that nobody will ever feel sorry for him again.

But Stanton is stepping into a vortex in 2015, ready or not.

5. Troy Tulowitzki

Troy Tulowitzki
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Will Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki be in Colorado long term?
At some point, his situation needs resolution, and maybe next summer that will happen once and for all. Some rival officials believe Tulowitzki needs to demonstrate in spring training and in the first months of the season that he is healthy enough to have a chance to remain productive through the duration of his contract, which has six more seasons and $118 million in guaranteed money.

If Tulowitzki truly wants out of what has been a losing situation in Colorado, he needs to say that clearly, to give the Rockies’ ownership the political cover it needs to move him for less than what casual fans might expect. Or, if the Rockies’ leadership fully intends to keep him, a loud proclamation to that end would be a good thing.

The All-Star shortstop and the Rockies have been hovering in a murky place for months, with folks in the industry wondering whether they’re fully committed to each other moving forward. This could be the crossroads year, and if Tulowitzki stays in the lineup and hits, a midseason swap of a star shortstop will be the biggest conversation of the summer.

6. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees

The two franchises are like the Kardashians of Major League Baseball -- although we aren’t really sure whether they possess actual overriding talents, everything they do will be noticed. Boston spent heavily on Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez to rebuild its lineup, and the Red Sox could go back to being the offensive juggernaut they have been in the past, with Mookie Betts hitting at the top of the batting order, Dustin Pedroia in the No. 2 spot and David Ortiz hitting third.

The Yankees haven’t made the playoffs the past two seasons, and the questions for the aged everyday lineup remain the same: Will injury take down Mark Teixeira, who is said to be working extremely hard this winter to bounce back, and/or Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Chase Headley et al? The Yankees will have 20-somethings at second and shortstop, in all likelihood, with older players all around them.

7. Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw

They are the best players in the sport, and what they have accomplished thus far in their respective careers is unprecedented, the sort of production generated by all-time great players. But they are not without their challenges: In 2014, pitchers and catchers identified what they viewed as the kryptonite to Trout’s game -- the high fastball that he struggled to reach -- and his strikeouts soared from 136 to 184. You could see Trout looking to make the adjustment against that pitch in his at-bats last summer, and it's work that will continue into 2015.

And while Kershaw has conquered the regular season, with four straight ERA titles, three Cy Young Awards and a Most Valuable Player Award, he will have to wait all summer for his next shot at postseason redemption.

8. Cuba

As the renewed relations between Cuba and the U.S. are more defined, so, too, will the impact of the change on Major League Baseball. There is an assumption that the enormous prices paid out to defectors will drop, but that theory will be tested in the months ahead once the bidding on infielder Yoan Moncada plays out.

9. The front-office work of the Dodgers and Padres

The executives of these Southern California teams are poised to be cast as geniuses or knuckleheads by the end of the summer. The Dodgers won 94 games last season despite a lot of internal strife, and the makeover effected by new Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has been striking -- he and his staff have worked to improve the defense and alter the clubhouse culture while settling the logjam of outfielders by moving Matt Kemp.

The general perception of the Padres in the industry is that they needed more time, a gradual approach to team building -- but new GM A.J. Preller went all George Patton with a lightning strike, adding the big-time right-handed power of Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers and Derek Norris. If they are relevant in late September, the gambit will be viewed as a success and Preller will be given the keys to Coronado; if the Padres struggle with defensive problems and lineup imbalance -- as some rival evaluators suspect -- the narrative will be that the front office was reckless and imprecise.

10. Milestones

If Alex Rodriguez can still hit -- something that the Yankees are not assuming, based on the moves they’ve made this winter -- he has a bunch of benchmarks in front of him. He needs just 61 hits to reach 3,000 for his career and six homers to match Willie Mays at 660 for fourth place on the all-time home run list. Rodriguez needs only four runs to tie Derek Jeter in career runs scored, at 1,923, a possibility that leads to this open-ended question: If this happens in Yankee Stadium, will he be cheered or booed?

With 34 homers, David Ortiz would hit 500.

Ichiro Suzuki needs 156 hits to reach 3,000. Adrian Beltre needs 146 hits to reach 2,750.

Beltre also needs just five homers to get to 400, and Miguel Cabrera needs 10 to achieve the same mark.

We’re not supposed to care about wins anymore, although the players do -- and Mark Buehrle’s first win in 2015 will be the 200th of his career. Joe Nathan needs 24 saves to become the sixth reliever in major league history to accumulate 400.

• Speaking of Tulowitzki: The Mets need to show some creativity, writes Joel Sherman.

• Dylan Bundy knows that this is a big year for him, Roch Kubatko writes.

Moves, deals and decisions

Delmon Young
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Delmon Young signed a one-year deal to remain in Baltimore earlier this week.
1. The Orioles re-signed Delmon Young.

2. Jack Hannahan signed with a team in South Korea.

3. The Braves added A.J. Pierzynski.

AL East

• Jeff Pentland, perhaps a candidate for the Yankees’ hitting coach position, has an endorsement.

• The Rays like how their roster is shaping up.

AL Central

• Two Detroit pitchers were not taken in the Rule 5 draft.

AL West

• The Astros and Padres have been rebuilding in different ways.

NL Central

• Derrick Goold writes about Cardinals on the rise.


• David Wright did a nice thing.

• The Indians provided a gift for a teacher fighting cancer, Terry Pluto writes.

• Doug Fister treated Twitter followers to Starbucks.

• Here’s John McGrath’s Hall of Fame ballot. Here’s the ballot of C. Trent Rosecrans.

• Merry Christmas, folks …

And today will be better than yesterday.

Who’s ready to move on from 2014?.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
These are some folks in Major League Baseball who probably can’t wait to put 2014 behind them.

1. The Texas Rangers

Last year began with what was effectively a season-ending collision between Derek Holland and his dog Wrigley, and it went downhill from there. Prince Fielder played his last game May 16, managing just three homers, and Shin-Soo Choo reached base 180 times, after reaching base 300 times leading up to his free agency in 2013. The Rangers’ win total plummeted from 91 in 2013 to 67 last season, and Texas finished 31 games out of first place. Manager Ron Washington resigned after a personal scandal.

Texas should have better luck in 2015.


Here’s a good sign: Elvis Andrus, an enormous disappointment for the team last season, is working hard this offseason, as Gerry Fraley writes.

2. Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles

Following his MVP-caliber season of 2013, his production disintegrated in 2014 -- his home runs declined from 53 to 26, his doubles dropped from 42 to 16, his RBIs sank from 138 to 72. After posting a 6.4 in WAR in 2013, he dipped to a 1.8. But the capper came in September when Davis, outspoken in defending himself against speculation that he had used PEDs in 2013, was suspended for the use of Adderall, for which he did not have an exemption. Davis missed the playoffs, and his teammates were swept by the Royals in the American League Championship Series.

Davis recently received a therapeutic use exemption for Adderall in 2015, a season that will lead up to his free agency next fall.

3. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

The other day, Diane Firstman made the case for Verlander to be a relief pitcher, a thought that stemmed from the dip in his performance in 2014. Among pitchers who qualified for the ERA title, Verlander ranked 81st among 88 in ERA, at 4.54. Only three pitchers allowed more hits than he did and only 10 allowed a higher slugging percentage.

But Verlander is owed $140 million over the next five seasons, so he will not be moved to the bullpen anytime soon; the Tigers desperately need him to be an elite pitcher again. There are a couple of reasons to think he could bounce back: (1) He had core surgery last winter, limiting the usual offseason work that he does; (2) He finished better, posting a 3.89 ERA in 34⅔ innings with five walks and 27 strikeouts.

4. The instant replay gurus

Major League Baseball went into last season having done only cursory testing of the instant replay system, and so the managers and players were human guinea pigs in sorting through what didn’t work, such as the managers' game-delaying amble onto the field as they waited for a thumbs-up or thumbs-down from the bench, and what did work. The transfer rule was rightly changed early in the season, and other adjustments were made along the way -- and the postseason played out without any major controversy involving instant replay or the new home plate blocking rules, a piece of good fortune for the sport.

So now the umpires -- who just agreed to a new five-year collective bargaining agreement -- will go into 2015 with a better understanding of how replay operates, and baseball will benefit from having some of the kinks worked out.

As MLB declared from the outset, instant replay was a work in progress, and it’s in a better place now. But upon further review, there was ugliness with this in 2014.

5. Ruben Amaro Jr., Philadelphia Phillies

Ruben Amaro Jr.
AP Images/Matt Slocum
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has been criticized by fellow executives for his negotiation style.
There’s always an assumption that roster decisions are all made by the general manager, but the truth is often more complicated than that. Majority and minority owners can get involved, team presidents can sway the process and some managers even have some pull; sometimes general managers are just along for the ride.

But whether Amaro made the choices and negotiated all of the Phillies’ value-killing options himself, he has become the face of the team’s messy inertia. The Phillies were perceived by a lot of rival executives as having the greatest reasons to sell leading up to the trade deadline -- and yet the high-volume baseball world of transactions spun without Philadelphia participating; after the deadline passed, Amaro seemed to blame his peers with other teams for not making better offers. Privately, his peers blamed him for not adjusting to the realities of the market and bringing more ideas to the negotiating table.

The Phillies now appear to be on the path to rebuilding in earnest, given that they’ve moved Jimmy Rollins and seemed more prepared than ever to swap Cole Hamels; dumping Ryan Howard seems inevitable.

Next year can only be an improvement over the rough times of 2014 for Amaro.

6. Major league hitters

The work conditions of the position players charged with producing runs have changed dramatically; hitters are under siege.

The amphetamines that were probably used by an extraordinarily high percentage of players as they coped with the long schedule are no longer available -- only one element of advantage enjoyed by pitchers. The use of statistical analysis has leaned in the direction of pitchers, from the scouting reports they employ to the defensive shifts their coaches deploy. Hitters rarely see a starting pitcher more than two or three times in a game unless their name is Kershaw or King Felix, and it seems as though every reliever emerging from the bullpen throws harder than the guy he is replacing.

No wonder offensive numbers have plummeted. In 2000, the heart of what we’ll always known as the steroid era, 24 of 30 teams scored more than 750 runs; in 2014, only three teams managed to hit that mark.

Defensive shifts are now prevalent, and crushing to hitters. For example, Brian McCann hit 130 ground balls and liners against shifts, and batted .154 on those balls in play; when the shift wasn’t used against him, he hit .176 on liners and ground balls.

Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information sent along that and these other numbers for hitters when they generated grounders and line drives against the shifts, and when they didn’t see the shift:

Mike Napoli -- .111/.360
Chris Davis -- .121/.333
David Ortiz -- .201/.250
Adam LaRoche -- .233/.298

Those are some of the more acute numbers; some hitters actually fared better against shifts than they did when opponents used a regular alignment.

It will be left to teams and offensive players to continue the search for an antidote in 2015.

7. Matt Harvey (and the many others recovering from Tommy John surgery)

Harvey is devoted to excellence and was on his way to mounting a challenge to Clayton Kershaw for the title of Best Pitcher on Planet when he blew out his elbow, and so 2014 was filled with rehabilitation baby steps and minor flare-ups with the Mets over his regimen, his media access and his days in Port St. Lucie.

The monotonous days of tossing a baseball 30 feet with an athletic trainer staring him down are behind him as 2015 begins -- as they are for the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez, the Royals’ Kris Medlen and others who suffered torn elbow ligaments early last year.

8. Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies

The David Murphy story that came out recently detailing the family tension over the management of Howard's money placed his 2014 struggles in a different context. Hopefully for his sake, that situation is settled and he can wholly focus on the business of being a ballplayer again, with whatever team makes a move for him. Presumably, the Phillies’ willingness to eat enough money to have Howard move on will enable him to go to an AL team, such as the Rays or the Orioles; the Phillies already have told Howard they’d be better off without him, and some rival executives fully expect that the Phillies will release him in the weeks ahead if they cannot find a taker.

9. Allen Craig, Boston Red Sox

He went from being the heart of the Cardinals’ attack, consistently generating some of the best production with runners on base in the history of baseball, to unloaded in a midseason trade to Boston. Craig was hurt in September 2013 and scouts felt he never really had his feet under him at the plate last season. Craig batted .128 in 29 games with the Red Sox, and now he appears to be surplus, in light of Boston’s signing of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez and the development of Mookie Betts. Reportedly, the Red Sox have talked to other teams about possible deals for Craig, who is signed for three more seasons and is owed $26.5 million.

Nobody deserves a reset button more than Craig after his lost year of 2014.

10. Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees

For the first time since Rodriguez was a child, he had a summer off, serving his season-long suspension. Soon he’ll be back in the game he loves to play, and he’ll demonstrate with his play in March and April what he has left.

• Former Yankee David Phelps says A-Rod will be welcomed back.

Around the league

• The other day, the Pirates posted the winning bid on a versatile infielder from Korea. Pittsburgh is set at second base (Neil Walker), shortstop (Jordy Mercer) and third (Josh Harrison), with a platoon possible at first (Pedro Alvarez and Corey Hart). But Jung-ho Kang can play multiple positions, so the Pirates will bring him in and see what develops. The relatively modest winning bid of $5 million-plus should make it apparent that Kang is not a slam-dunk, can’t-miss player; if he were, some big-market team probably would’ve outbid the Pirates for him.

• Phil Hughes and the Twins appreciate each other.

• The Orioles still have a lot of work to do with their outfielders.

• Ken Davidoff writes about Max Scherzer, who remains unsigned.

• The Braves signed Jason Grilli.

• Jordan Walden got a two-year deal.

• The Marlins claimed reliever Preston Claiborne from waivers.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Yankees’ search for a hitting coach has been postponed.

2. The Orioles claimed Ryan Lavarnway.

3. The Royals’ Casey Coleman has cleared waivers.

4. The Indians have invited a left-hander to spring training.

5. The Brewers claimed an outfielder.

6. The Twins signed Tim Stauffer.

NL East

• A Nationals prospect has bloomed late, writes James Wagner.

NL Central

David Ross
Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY Sports
Catcher David Ross signed a two-year contract with the Cubs this week.
• The Cubs announced the signing of David Ross.

NL West

• The Giants made their deal with Jake Peavy official. A gesture by the Giants helped him make his decision.

• Jedd Gyorko is enjoying his first Christmas with twin sons.

• Corey Dickerson has a lot to appreciate, writes Thomas Harding.

• The Dodgers still don’t know what Alex Guerrero’s position will be.

AL East

• The cold-blooded approach that the Yankees are taking with Alex Rodriguez was missing in dealing with Derek Jeter, writes Joel Sherman.

• Mookie Betts is the favorite to be the Boston leadoff hitter for 2015.

• Boston’s rotation talk is going in circles, writes Michael Silverman.

• Gordon Edes wonders if the depth approach will work for the Red Sox.

AL Central

• The Tigers’ defense might be the best it has been in years, says Dave Dombrowski.


• Jimmy Rollins thinks a Phillies minority owner should get the chance to run the team.

• Peter Abraham found it difficult to pare his Hall of Fame ballot to 10.

• Nick Cafardo has changed his thinking on the ballot.

• L.J. Mazzilli was suspended.

• The average salary in baseball has climbed to almost $4 million.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Hamels would make Pads a top contender.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Padres are said to be pursuing Cole Hamels, writes Ryan Lawrence.

San Diego still has three of its top four prospects remaining after its flurry of trades, based on Baseball America’s rankings -- catcher Austin Hedges, pitcher Matt Wisler, and outfielder Hunter Renfroe -- and the Padres have a potential trade chip in Wil Myers, who will be under team control for five more seasons. So San Diego has the roster firepower to put together a trade for Hamels, because it’s hard to imagine the Phillies trading the left-hander without at least asking for at least two in that group of four players.

Don’t forget that Hamels grew up in the San Diego area and the Padres are among the teams to which he could be traded without his permission. This distinguishes the Padres from a team such as the Red Sox, who are one of the teams to which Hamels could veto a trade.

But the money involved ... that’s where the most significant question of any San Diego-Hamels deal will linger.

Hamels is owed $90 million for the next four seasons, with a vesting option for 2019, seemingly a really expensive player for a team with a payroll that reached a record $90 million last season. But the Padres are working with fresh TV dollars burning a hole in their pockets, and they are working to get your attention; the addition of Hamels would be the capper.

The team doesn’t have a lot of big-dollar payroll obligations. Not one of the three best starting pitchers on the roster -- Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross or Ian Kennedy -- is signed to a long-term deal. The Padres have bought into Matt Kemp for $15 million a year for the next five seasons, while Justin Upton is set for free agency after 2015 and is very likely to test the market. Joaquin Benoit is signed through next season, and so are Will Venable and Carlos Quentin.

Seth Smith and Cameron Maybin are both locked up through 2016, with options for 2017, but the money owed to the two is not so significant that it would deter a club that is thinking big -- Smith is owed just $13 million and can be moved easily in the current market because of his production against right-handers. Maybin is owed $16 million, which might be regarded at sunk cost. Second baseman Jedd Gyorko signed a six-year, $35.5 million deal early last season.

For argument’s sake, let’s say that Padres pushed on the gas and flipped Myers and one of their top three prospects to the Phillies for Hamels, while taking on his whole contract (something the Phillies have asked interested teams to do). This is what their rotation and lineup might look like, with their 2015 salaries noted:

1. Hamels ($22.5 million)
2. Kennedy (projected to make $10.3 million in arbitration, according to
3. Cashner ($4.3 million projected)
4. Ross ($5.7 million projected)
5. Brandon Morrow ($2.5 million), Josh Johnson ($1 million) or Cory Luebke ($5.25 million)

C Derek Norris (Not eligible for arbitration)
1B Yonder Alonso ($1.6 million projected)
2B Gyorko ($2 million)
3B Yangervis Solarte (Not arbitration eligible)
SS Clint Barmes ($1.5 million), Alexi Amarista ($1.5 million)
LF Upton ($14.5 million)
CF Venable ($4.25 million), Maybin ($7 million)
RF Kemp ($15 million to the Padres)


Benoit ($8 million)
Dale Thayer ($1.3 million projected)
Kevin Quackenbush (Not arbitration eligible)
Alex Torres (Not arbitration eligible)
Nick Vincent (Not arbitration eligible)


Smith ($6 million)
Tim Federowicz (Not arbitration eligible)
Will Middlebrooks (Not arbitration eligible)
Quentin ($8 million, with a $3 million buyout for 2015)

Regardless of whether the Padres swap for Hamels, they have some roster pruning to do, with their surplus of outfielders; it’s hard to imagine that Quentin will be on the team on Opening Day (he could be a good fit for Cleveland, if the Padres buy down some of the dollars owed to him). Given their extra layer of starting pitching, they also could look to move Kennedy and his $10 million-plus salary.

But for argument’s sake, let’s say the Padres went to spring training with the roster above, minus Quentin. Their payroll would be about $120 million, more than double the size of their 2012 payroll of $56 million, and about a third larger than last season.

Only the Padres’ ownership knows for sure how realistic it is for a team to spend that much, and whether this winter’s parade of moves is a spend-money-to-make-money gamble; already there are questions in other front offices about whether San Diego is extending itself too far out on a financial limb. But if Ron Fowler and his fellow Padres owners are willing to dip into their share of potential profits in an effort to win, as the Tigers’ Mike Ilitch does annually, hey, that would be their prerogative.

Wil Myers
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Wil Myers, traded to San Diego from Tampa Bay last week, could be on the move again.
I wrote here Saturday that an outfield of Myers in center, flanked by Kemp and Upton, is ill-fitting in the massive Petco Park outfield. But a trade of Myers in a package for Hamels would make a whole lot of sense -- with a better defender in center resulting for San Diego -- if the Padres are prepared to take on the massive cost of the left-hander’s contract and the possible inflexibility with their payroll in years to come.

A Padres rotation headed by Hamels, in front of Cashner and Ross, would make this team a legit candidate to win the NL West.

• Jim Duquette placed the odds for the Padres acquiring Hamels at 10-1.

Around the league

• Reds owner Bob Castellini declares that his team is not rebuilding. From John Fay’s story:

"We're not rebuilding. If we were Johnny Cueto'd be gone," he says. "Mike Leake'd be gone. The payroll is up."

But the Reds are never going to have a payroll that matches the big market clubs. So while the rest of baseball has been wheeling, dealing and signing players this offseason, the Reds have been making moves to meet the "payroll challenges" they face.

Reds general manager Walt Jocketty clarified things last week.

"Our payroll has increased every year, despite what some people are writing or thinking, our payroll is increasing again this year," Jocketty said. "It's not increasing to the level it would need to have been able to keep the guys we traded. It's still increasing quite a bit over last year, but everyone's salaries are jumping up. We knew that going into last year."

• Justin Verlander could be a super reliever, writes Diane Firstman.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Orioles have hired Sean Berry, writes Roch Kubatko.

2. The Indians are inviting Scott Downs to spring training.

3. Mike Quade is going to work for the Twins.

4. The Mariners signed three.

Dings and dents

• Oswaldo Arcia has been sidelined because of a hand injury.

AL West

• Jeff Banister could be helped by one influence.

AL Central

• A bunch of right-handers could help the Detroit bullpen. The Tigers intend to bolster their bullpen from within.

• Hawk Harrelson is all-in for next season.

AL East

• Matt Wieters talked about the departure of Nick Markakis.

• Rocco Baldelli is thrilled to be back on the field.

NL West

• Casey McGehee knows he can’t be Pablo Sandoval.

• Troy Tulowitzki is itching to get back.

Jimmy Rollins
AP Photo/Kim Johnson Flodin
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins was brought in by the Dodgers partly to improve their clubhouse.
• Jimmy Rollins wants to be a leader in the Dodgers’ clubhouse.

• Steve Dilbeck thought the Dodgers’ clubhouse was ordinary.

• The bottom line: The folks who now run the team spent a lot of time asking questions to staffers and players about the clubhouse culture after taking over the group. “There was surprise at how much of a mess it was,” one member of the organization said. Because of what they heard, the Dodgers' front office has worked to make it more functional.

NL Central

• Other teams have coveted ex-Cardinals, as Bernie Miklasz writes.

• Neal Huntington has made PNC Park a destination spot for free agents.

NL East

• The Mets and Yankees are 25-1, writes David Waldstein.

That number on the Yankees seems out of whack to me, for a couple of reasons: 1. The AL East is not a division of powerhouses, and in spite of the Yankees’ warts, they could win the division and reach the postseason lottery; 2. The Yankees always are aggressive in midseason trades, so if they are close and there are good players available, you would assume they would be looking for upgrades.

• Mike Hill believes Martin Prado represents an upgrade at third base.


• Hall of Fame voting has hit a logjam.

• In Cuba, baseball remains a grand preoccupation, writes Michael Powell.

• The Yankees are doing a really nice thing for the children of one of the New York cops who was killed Saturday.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Padres' new star-studded lineup ill-fitting.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The whole baseball world is talking about the San Diego Padres today, in the dead of winter, probably for the first time since Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter were traded for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez a quarter-century ago. The Padres’ spring training site in Peoria, Ariz., has usually been a place reporters pass on their way to some other more interesting venue, but in a couple of months, San Diego’s rounds of batting practice will be must-see, with Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers taking turns to launch baseballs way over the tilted heads of awestruck teammates shagging fly balls.

Before the events of recent days, you would’ve been more likely to find Bigfoot in the Gaslamp district of San Diego than three of baseball’s most explosive power hitters in the Padres’ lineup. The team has everybody’s attention, and presumably, this will translate into immediate payoff in offseason ticket sales. The Padres can already count a win in the anticipation column.

Which is why it’s no fun to acknowledge the cracks in these days of Padres bliss: When quilted together, the pieces San Diego has acquired appear completely ill-fitting, like a resplendent suit that runs beyond the fingertips and over the toes.

Kemp alone, or Upton alone, or Myers alone would represent an offensive upgrade for a team that challenged records for futility last year. But the Padres invested heavily and grabbed all three, plus All-Star catcher Derek Norris -- a splurge that must feel good for the San Diego ownership which watched the 2014 Padres lineup stack up zeroes day after day.

But Myers is viewed by a lot of scouts as a below-average right fielder, and now he needs to play center field. Kemp has generated some of the worst defensive metrics in the majors, and he will be the right fielder. Some evaluators reiterated Friday, after the news of the Upton trade broke, that they see him as subpar defensively. And this trio will inhabit one of the most pitcher-friendly venues in the majors, Petco Park, with its canyon alleys nightly invaded by a marine layer from San Diego’s harbor.

The sport has trended toward run prevention in recent seasons, and the Padres’ outfield alignment will run completely counter to that, and against the history of successful teams sprinkling their lineup with at least a couple of high-end defensive players. Oakland pitchers griped privately last season about Norris’s catching skills, and evaluators opined Friday that among the Padres’ infielders, only first baseman Yonder Alonso can be considered above-average.

“There’s not going to be a lot of help for the pitchers, that’s for sure,” said one advance scout wi****lly.

Occasionally, there are teams that win with these sort of powerful Frankenstein lineups. The Tigers, for example, have played deep into October in recent seasons despite having lousy defensive teams -- but remember, they had Miguel Cabrera to anchor the lineup, and a rotation mostly comprised of elite strikeout pitchers, such as Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. The Dodgers had defensive problems at short, second and center field last season and won 94 games, but they also went 25-4 in Clayton Kershaw’s starts -- before targeting defensive upgrades this offseason.

A lot of the time, the all-hit, no-field lineups result in ugliness, like that of the 1996 Red Sox, who sometimes had Jose Canseco, Kevin Mitchell, Mo Vaughn, Mike Greenwell, Mike Stanley and others shoe-horned into the same lineup. That Red Sox team hit 209 homers but had an ERA of near 5.00, not surprisingly.

One rival official says the Padres’ projected lineup actually reminds him of a team of more recent vintage -- the 2014 Atlanta Braves.

“They’ve got a lot of power and they’ll have good days, but there’s a lot of all or nothing there, and a lot of strikeouts,” he said.

Myers had 90 strikeouts in 325 at-bats last season; Upton had 171 strikeouts last season; Kemp had 145. The three of them all ranked in the top 45 in strikeout rate among hitters with more than 350 plate appearances. Jedd Gyorko had 100 strikeouts in 111 games.

The distinctly right-handed composition of the San Diego lineup may also increase the vulnerability of the group. Kemp, Myers and Upton are all right-handed, and so are Norris and Gyorko. This is what the Padres’ lineup options could look like:

C Norris R, Federowicz R
1B Alonso L
2B Jedd Gyorko R
SS Alexi Amarista/Clint Barmes L/R
3B Yangervis Solarte S
LF Upton R
CF Myers R
RF Kemp R

Alonso is a left-handed hitter and Solarte a switch-hitter, but they don’t really hit for power and won’t be deterrents to opposing managers' stacking up right-handed pitching against the Padres, starters as well as relievers. Arizona’s Brad Ziegler and the Giants’ Sergio Romo, two of the NL West’s best right-handed relievers, might pitch in all of their teams' games against San Diego. (Austin Hedges, the Padres’ best catching prospect, is also right-handed.) It’s easier for right-handed batters to hit homers than it is for lefties in Petco Park, and Kemp, Upton and Myers have the sort of power needed to overwhelm any park. But the Padres will see opposing teams attacking them with the same game plan day after day, because they lean so heavily to the right.

The Padres are a work in progress, given their massive surplus in outfielders. They could theoretically keep the left-handed-hitting Seth Smith and mix him in against right-handed pitchers, but Kemp and Upton are everyday players, and if Smith spelled Myers on a given day, Bud Black would have to identify another center fielder from a group best suited to play the corners. It might be better for the Padres to trade Smith, and/or Cameron Maybin, and/or Will Venable. Perhaps through the rest of their offseason moves, San Diego will find a better balance.

But it’s hard to imagine the core of the Padres changing that much before the start of the 2015 season. They will have a lot of right-handed power, they will strike out a lot, and they will probably have to play through defensive deficiencies, and if the Frankenstein formula doesn’t work, then the splash of the winter could quickly evaporate through the summer.

Fans in San Diego historically support teams that win and ignore teams that lose, and if the Padres’ reconstructed team struggles again to hover around .500, dragged down by the defense and the strikeouts and a weakness against right-handers, would-be patrons will quickly head for the beaches and bike paths.

Justin Havens of ESPN Stats & Info sent along these numbers:

Justin Upton's last three seasons
HR Fly ball distance Strikeout rate
2014 29 287 ft. 26.7%*
2013 27 280 ft. 25.0%
2012 17 278 ft. 19.3%
*11th-highest strikeout rate last season
Justin Upton appears to have made the conscious tradeoff of generating more power but also having an increasing amount of swing-and-miss in his game.

The one outstanding question: Who is going to play center field?

Padres outfield acquisitions -- defensive notes:

Matt Kemp: minus-72 defensive runs saved in 6,927 career innings in CF (minus-12 in 326 innings last season)
Wil Myers: minus-10 DRS in 1,332 career outfield innings (53 career innings in CF)
Justin Upton: 0 career innings in CF

Very few teams have received less production from their right-handed hitters over the last few years than the Padres: Their 2014 slugging percentage from their right-handed batters was the lowest by any team since the 1992 New York Mets.

Upton is entering his prime, if this past season is any evidence. He was one of just three players in baseball in their age 26 seasons or younger to smash 25 homers and have at least 100 RBIs. The other two? Giancarlo Stanton and Mike Trout.

The Padres introduced Matt Kemp on Friday, writes Jeff Sanders.

From Sanders’ story:

The new face of the Padres would have had to digest a wild 48 hours of transactions to even begin to comprehend just what his arrival means to this city’s long-beleaguered baseball franchise, and who’s had time for that?

“This is unbelievable; I was just referring to him as a rock star -- a G.M. rock star,” Kemp said Friday afternoon as he sat next to General Manager A.J. Preller in his introductory press conference. “He’s doing so many things. I’ve done a couple of different interviews over the last couple of days and every day it’s something different ...

“A G.M. rock star. Making moves.”


• A.J. Preller sure keeps things moving, writes Richard Justice.

• The Padres have stacked their lineup, writes Corey Brock.

• The trade for Upton makes sense, writes Keith Law.

• The Padres’ fervor could backfire in a big way, writes Joel Sherman.

Notes from around the leauge

• Major League Baseball has reached a new five-year agreement with umpires.

• Now that Casey McGehee is about to be traded to the Giants, Martin Prado could simply be installed as the everyday third baseman, but his presence gives Miami tremendous flexibility. He wouldn’t be a bad candidate to bat behind Giancarlo Stanton, to at least force opposing pitchers and managers to think about facing a hitter who is likely to put the ball in play.

What the Miami Marlins ’ lineup could look like:

2B Dee Gordon
LF Christian Yelich
RF Stanton
3B Prado
CF Marcell Ozuna
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
SS Adeiny Hechavarria

• The Marlins are also adding pitching depth in David Phelps.

• The Marlins replenished their pitching inventory.

• The Yankees have the second-largest payroll in baseball and have spent the most money on player acquisition in baseball history, but in recent seasons they have relied more and more heavily on analytics, on identifying undervalued assets -- and that includes elements of each player. Last year, they traded for Brandon McCarthy with a specific idea of how they could help him be more efficient, and through the augmented use of his cut fastball, McCarthy excelled for the Yankees, evolving from an Arizona cast-off into a free agent who got $48 million from the Dodgers.

The Yankees acquired Nathan Eovaldi with something in mind, with some alteration they will attempt to implement in the weeks and months ahead, and the success or failure of that -- whatever it is -- will determine whether their trade for the right-hander works. Eovaldi has a special talent to throw hard, generating the fourth-highest average fastball velocity of any pitcher in the majors last season, but some scouts say he has a tendency to meet every crisis with an instinct to throw harder, and he lacks command of his secondary stuff. Last season, he allowed 223 hits in 199 2/3 innings with 142 strikeouts. Eovaldi had an ERA of 4.37, but his FIP (fielding independent pitching, which reflects a truer read of what his ERA should’ve been) was 3.37. The Yankees think he has more than he’s shown.

As Erik Boland noted, the Yankees now have a lot of young starting pitching, in the 24-year-old Eovaldi, Masahiro Tanaka (26), Ivan Nova (27) and Michael Pineda (25).

With the trade of Martin Prado, the Yankees are banking on Rob Refsnyder and others to compete for the second base job in spring training, unless some opportunity presents itself, such as one with Asdrubal Cabrera. And they are acquiring Garrett Jones with the notion that he gives them coverage in three spots -- designated hitter, first base and right field -- and that his left-handed swing is perfect for Yankee Stadium. He ranked 15th among all qualified in hitters in the percentage of fly balls he generated among balls he put in play. Jones has had three seasons of 21 or more homers but never a true breakout season, but he also has played the home games in his career in pitchers’ parks, in Pittsburgh and Miami.

On paper, Alex Rodriguez continues to be further marginalized on the Yankees’ roster. Chase Headley will be the third baseman, Mark Teixeira the first baseman (and he is said to be redoubling his work this winter in his effort to bounce back) and now either Jones or Carlos Beltran could take a lot of the designated hitter at-bats.

• Will Middlebrooks gets to turn the page and move on to San Diego, and the Boston Red Sox get a nearly perfect catching complement to Christian Vazquez, in Ryan Hanigan. Hanigan and Vazquez will be a nice match in their devotion to the craft of catching.

• Craig Breslow is re-signing with the Red Sox.

• Jon Lester will work with his old batterymate, David Ross.

• The chances of the Mets working out a deal for Troy Tulowitzki are slim, writes Adam Rubin.

• There is a right way and a wrong way for the Mets to get Tulowitzki, writes Ken Davidoff.

• Dave Lennon thinks it would be a mistake for the Mets to trade for Tulowitzki.

• The Tulowitzki trade rumors won’t die, writes Patrick Saunders.

If Tulowitzki wants to be traded, this is the time when he needs to come out and state loudly that he prefers to go someplace else. The Rockies wouldn’t possibly lower their trade demands unless they have some political cover, and Tulowitzki has to be willing to be the bad guy, so to speak, in order for that to happen.

• The Tampa Bay Rays are striking a cooperative tone.

• Andre Ethier seems to be a Plan B or C for some teams that have talked to the Dodgers, but as some of the other options continue to come off the board, the talks for Ethier have a chance to accelerate.

• The Giants’ lineup, with Casey McGehee, could look like this:

CF Angel Pagan
2B Joe Panik
C Buster Posey
1B Brandon Belt
RF Hunter Pence
3B McGehee
SS Brandon Crawford
LF Gregor Blanco/Juan Perez

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Rays named Rocco Baldelli their new first base coach.

2. Scott Coolbaugh was named the hitting coach of the Orioles.

3. The Pirates signed Corey Hart.

4. The Royals announced the signing of Alex Rios.

5. Bryan Price is being invited to big league camp.

6. Doug Mientkiewicz was promoted to Double-A.

7. Oakland cut Nick Punto.

8. The Angels acquired a second baseman.

AL East

• Rick Porcello wants to make new memories in Fenway.

• Matt Albers seeks a permanent home with the Jays.

• Paul Beeston got a standing ovation from the Jays’ staff.

• The Rays say the Wil Myers trade proposal was too good to pass up.

AL Central

• Dayton Moore has not earned just faith, but also trust, writes Vahe Gregorian.

• The Progressive Field facelift is progressing.

AL West

• Derek Holland talked about his lost season with Evan Grant.

NL East

• The Nationals are taking their time to build a contender, writes Thomas Boswell.

• It looks like Chase Utley is staying with the Phillies, writes Ryan Lawrence.

• Ruben Amaro says it’s time to turn the page.

NL West

• Another Justin Upton trade brings more doubt for the Diamondbacks.

• Andrew Friedman is going to get an earful if the Matt Kemp trade backfires, writes Dylan Hernandez.

• The Howie Kendrick trade could haunt the Dodgers, writes Steve Dilbeck.

• Andrew Friedman says the Dodgers’ moves are designed to create a highly functioning team.


• Bud Selig has collected honors and titles in the last year, and now he’ll get another.

• Mike Matheny picked No. 26 to honor a friend.

• Some baseball writers debated the Hall of Fame questions.

• The Dodgers owe the most tax.

• A couple of teams are discontinuing pension plans for their non-uniformed personnel.

And today will be better than yesterday.

If Jays want Duquette, they should ante up.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The compensation for the trade of non-uniform personnel in the major leagues has never been that much, with the most recent example being the relatively paltry return that the Red Sox received when Theo Epstein moved from Boston to the Cubs. The return was relief pitcher Chris Carpenter, who has pitched in a total of 18 games in the big leagues.

Think about that: Epstein is regarded as one of the best and brightest minds in baseball and was being pursued for a leadership position with a billion-dollar company, and he was under contract, and all the Red Sox received was a second-tier relief pitcher. If the Cubs achieve the potential that rival executives see in them, with a tremendous wave of prospects reaching the big leagues and Jon Lester poised to throw the first pitch of the season, imagine how much money the team stands to make through Epstein's machinations. Great baseball executives continue to be the most undervalued asset in an industry currently obsessed with identifying value.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos has a chance to raise that bar now, with the Toronto Blue Jays' ownership still in the process of looking for a replacement for CEO Paul Beeston.

Kenny Williams, an executive with the White Sox, has been considered, but to date, Chicago owner Jerry Reinsdorf has not allowed Williams to pursue the Jays' gig. Recently, Jerry Crasnick reported that the Jays also have an interest in talking with Washington GM Mike Rizzo.

But Orioles general manager Dan Duquette is a natural fit in so many ways, having served years ago in Canada as the general manager of the Montreal Expos, which is part of the reason the Jays' ownership reached out to the Orioles.

Duquette's contract with the Orioles runs through 2018. Within the industry, giving employees under contract an opportunity to pursue promotion with another organization is treated as common courtesy, but by law, Angelos was well within his rights to turn down the Jays' request.

But Toronto's interest in Duquette is serious enough that the Jays' ownership has been backed in its pursuit by the commissioner's office, which has encouraged the two sides to have a dialogue.

This is an extraordinary situation, to ask a team to allow the highest-ranking executive within its successful baseball operations department to leave to take a job with another organization that is a direct competitor; the Jays, after all, are in the AL East like the Orioles.

So Angelos would be well within his rights to ask for extraordinary compensation, and for the sake of the Orioles' organization, he should consider all possibilities. He should at least ask the Jays' ownership for a couple of the Jays' best prospects in return for Duquette, who wants to pursue the Jays' CEO job.

Angelos could recuse Duquette from the process, given his obvious conflict of interest in this situation, and ask his baseball operations advisers -- such as manager Buck Showalter -- to create a possible compensation list for the Jays' ownership. The Orioles could ask for one or perhaps two of these players:

Marcus Stroman, the Jays' highly touted young pitcher who had a 3.65 ERA in 26 games last season; Aaron Sanchez, a relief pitcher who allowed just 14 hits in his first 33 innings in the big leagues last summer; Daniel Norris, a left-hander who advanced from Class A to the big leagues; Jeff Hoffman, the Jays' first-round pick in 2014; Max Pentecost, a 21-year-old catcher; or Richard Urena, a 19-year-old shortstop.

Let's say Jays ownership agreed to give up Hoffman, or Hoffman and Urena. A package like that would add tens of millions of dollars in player value to the Orioles' organization, something that Angelos should seriously consider.

If the Jays' ownership says no, well, then the Orioles can move ahead with the status quo. It never hurts to ask.

And it's possible Toronto's ownership, looking for the future leader of the Jays' organization who can do for the team what Epstein is doing for the Cubs, will be prepared to pay a steep price, yet a fair price, given the value of good baseball operations leadership these days, in a sport flush with money.

It's a conversation the Orioles should explore, as soon as possible.

Around the league

• Sources say that after Bud Selig retires as commissioner, he will be paid about $6 million annually in what will effectively be a pension.

• The St. Petersburg city council vote may have sealed a future without the Rays. John Romano thinks the onus is now on the Rays.

• The Dodgers stared down the Padres' request for more compensation in the Matt Kemp deal, and now the move will go through. The Dodgers were upset with the leaking of Kemp's medical information.

The Padres are serious about putting together a contender for 2015, writes Corey Brock.

[+] EnlargeDerek Norris
Brad Mangin/MLB Photos/Getty Images
The A's trade of Derek Norris to San Diego is not sitting well for many Oakland fans.
• The Padres traded for another catcher, Derek Norris, and Keith Law likes the trade for both Oakland and San Diego. The fans of the Athletics do not, apparently, based on the number of retweets of this shot on Twitter.

Oakland keeps adding pitchers.

• It's very rare that a player gets a full no-trade clause on a two-year deal, but that's what happened with Jake Peavy, as Jerry Crasnick writes.

• The Orioles, like the Yankees, continue to look for a hitting coach, as Eduardo Encina writes, and Baltimore is having conversations with San Diego about its glut of outfielders. The Orioles are going to interview Scott Coolbaugh.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Rays are working to finalize the Wil Myers trade.

2. This is a great move: The Royals signed a sixth starter in Kris Medlen.

3. Nyjer Morgan signed to play in South Korea.

4. Seattle signed some minor leaguers.

AL East

• The Yankees continue to say it over and over: They're not spending big dollars this winter.

• There's no reason for the Red Sox to rush into a Cole Hamels trade, writes Scott Lauber.

It's worth repeating again: Hamels can reject a deal to the Red Sox, and might choose to -- in spite of financial guarantees -- so that he doesn't have to pitch in the AL East and walk into the vortex left behind by Jon Lester. This Red Sox/Hamels conversation could turn out to be wasted breath; he won't pitch in Boston if he doesn't want to.

• The road of a new Rays outfielder has been rocky, as Roger Mooney writes.

• The Jays are considering second base and bullpen options.

AL Central

• Justin Verlander vows to be the best pitcher he can be.

• The White Sox and Cubs are looking for catching depth.

AL West

• The dimensions of Minute Maid park should suit Jed Lowrie, again.

• The Rangers are interested in Brandon Beachy, writes Gerry Fraley.

NL East

• Mets GM Sandy Alderson could learn from Padres GM A.J. Preller, writes John Harper.

NL Central

• Derrick Goold writes about some St. Louis prospects.

• The Reds have a question to answer in left field.


• Here is how Vin Scully lost and found his World Series ring.

• Tyler Kepner writes about the passing of a baseball card-collecting icon.

• The Red Sox are being sued.

• The great photographer Bart Silverman is retiring. You may not know him, but you've undoubtedly seen his work.

And today will be better than yesterday.

The future of MLB in Cuba.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
There is a temptation to say that the possible normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States could lead to rapid and significant changes in professional baseball, because we've all heard the harrowing stories of escape from the island of players from Orlando Hernandez to Yasiel Puig. We've seen the talent of players, such as Jose Abreu, who is widely regarded as one of the three or four best hitters in baseball after just one season of Major League Baseball.

But while there is general relief in the industry that change in the politics between two countries so close to each other geographically is imminent, there is also skepticism among executives familiar with baseball in Cuba that the landscape of baseball will see a marked shift anytime soon.

The inevitable first domino, some executives say, is that the incredible prices being paid to defectors from Cuba -- most recently, the Diamondbacks' signing of Yasmany Tomas to a $68.5 million deal -- will plummet. Maybe this won't affect the bidding on Yoan Moncada, the infielder who worked out for scouts last month in Guatemala, but some club officials believe that eventually the market will be undercut by the prospect of change. After all, nobody wants to be the last to pay retail.

To date, players from Cuba at least 23 years old have been treated as distinct from young players in other countries, because of the circumstances in their homeland. "MLB will want to have the players from Cuba treated just like the players from the Dominican or Venezuela," said one executive, referring to the rules that make the talent from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela and other places subject to an international signing cap and luxury-tax system.

Club officials say that while Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes and others have had success, the talent pool in Cuba is relatively thin, generally speaking. "The best guys are already out of the country," one AL executive said.

Joe Kehoskie, who has worked as an agent and has tracked the players and the circumstances in Cuba for years, sent along these thoughts:
"As has been true for the past 50-plus years, the possible impact on MLB depends almost entirely on whether Cuba has changed its position when it comes to allowing Cuban players to play professional baseball outside Cuba without needing to defect.

"For decades, there has been a widespread misconception that the U.S. embargo has been keeping Cuban players out of Major League Baseball, but that's not true. In reality, it's the Cuban government that's been keeping Cuban players out of MLB, just as the Cuban government, until last year, kept Cuban players out of the professional baseball leagues in Japan, Korea and Mexico, despite those countries having no embargo in place.

[+] EnlargeYulieski Gurriel
Yuki Taguchi/WBCI/MLB Photos/Getty Images
Yulieski Gourriel is one of the few top options remaining in Cuba.
"Given that we don't know if Cuba has changed its position vis-à-vis allowing Cubans to play professionally abroad, and given that only Congress can lift the embargo, I'm not expecting Wednesday's news to have much, if any, short-term impact on MLB. Even if the embargo was lifted today, I still wouldn't expect much of an immediate impact at the Major League level, as the cupboard is just about bare in Cuba after the widespread defections of the past few years. At this point, as far as impact-caliber, Major League-ready players are concerned, there are maybe a half-dozen such players left in Cuba, with the talent dropping off quickly after Yulieski Gourriel, Alfredo Despaigne and Jose Miguel Fernandez.

"Unless Wednesday's news took even Cuba by surprise, the fact that Alfredo Despaigne signed a two-year contract with Japan's Chiba Lotte Marines last week suggests Cuba isn't expecting any big or fast changes when it comes to its approach to, or relationship with, Major League Baseball. Otherwise, it would have made little sense for Cuba to send Despaigne to Japan for a reported $4.2 million when he would have signed for at least 20 to 30 times that amount in MLB.

"While I wouldn't anticipate a major short-term impact on MLB if the embargo is lifted and Cuba truly opens up, I'd expect the number of Cuban minor leaguers to grow quickly from the dozens today to at least several hundred and maybe even a thousand or more within three to five years, if MLB teams are allowed to go into Cuba and take a wide-net approach like they do in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and elsewhere.

"Unless MLB creates or partners with a Cuban rookie-level league, MLB's talent pool will see hundreds of additional players competing for a finite number of major league and minor league roster spots, which could be bad news for lower-caliber players from other countries, especially those from the D.R. and Venezuela."

And what about teams establishing academies in Cuba? Here's what Kehoskie said:
"MLB teams are likely to be prohibited from building or investing in facilities in Cuba unless the embargo is lifted.

"Even if that were to occur, I doubt many, if any, teams will make a major investment in infrastructure unless Cuba makes wholesale changes to its system of government. Even though the rest of the world has been trading with Cuba for decades, foreign ownership of land and businesses is still relatively rare in Cuba, and such investments come with a lot of risk.

"The financial aspect aside, Cuba already has the most structured amateur baseball program in Latin America. It's possible that some or all MLB teams would want to replicate their D.R. and Venezuela operations in Cuba, but given that 98 percent of prospective professional baseball players either don't sign a contract at all or don't make it out of A-ball, Cuba would be smart to resist it. It wouldn't be progress for Cuba to have masses of 13-year-old boys dropping out of school in order to practice their baseball skills, as is common in the D.R. and elsewhere in Latin America."

Cuban nationals who have defected describe a rabid appetite for baseball in their homeland, and you do wonder if many years from now -- say, 25 years or so, depending on how the economy of the country evolves -- if Havana might be a natural spot for expansion.

"While having an MLB team in Havana is a fascinating idea, it's hard to imagine it happening within the next 15 or 20 years," Kehoskie wrote. "Even if Cuba were to become a capitalist country and then do everything it could to welcome foreign investment, it would likely take decades for the Havana area to build up enough wealth to support an MLB team.

"Adjusted for PPP (Purchasing Power Parity), Cuba's per capita GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is currently estimated to be only one-third to one-fifth of that of the United States. In terms of the Caribbean region, Cuba is substantially less wealthy than Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Panama, none of which are remotely considered ready to support an MLB team."

Todd Radom, a graphic artist who has created brands, logos and identities for professional baseball teams for more than two decades, is well-versed in the history of the sport in that country, and he tweeted this logo from a team in Cuba in the 1950s.

[+] EnlargeHavana Cubans
Todd Radom, Todd Radom Design
Introducing the Havana Cubans?
So I asked Todd what theoretical logo he might propose for an expansion team in Cuba, and he sent along the logo to the right.

Nothing like this is close to reality, but it's important to keep in mind the passion for the sport in Cuba, which is reflected in Ernest Hemingway's lines in "The Old Man and the Sea" about a fisherman in Cuba musing on the water about the play of the great Joe DiMaggio. "But I must have confidence and I must be worthy of the great DiMaggio, who does all things perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in his heel …"

Eventually, it seems, that passion will be exported, and imported, more freely.

Brayan Pena, a catcher from Cuba, is excited about the news. The Orioles' Henry Urrutia is really happy about the change.

The normalization of relations between the two teams could bring Cuban stars to the U.S., writes Michael Schmidt.

Around the league

• On the mid-winter podcast, Karl Ravech, Justin Havens and I discuss the Rays' trade of Wil Myers, the Giants' slow winter and the Dodgers' spending habits, and we debate the question of which is the best division in baseball.

• The Nationals were perceived around the industry to be the big winners of the deal that involved the Rays and the Padres, and Keith Law agrees with that assessment.

Wil Myers' MLB Career
After winning the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year award, Myers experienced a significant dropoff in '14.

Stat 2013 2014
Games 88 87
HR 13 6
BA .293 .222
WAR 1.9 -0.9Source: ESPN Stats & Info
The bottom line on Myers: Sources say the Rays developed doubts as early as 2013 about whether Myers will ever develop into a consistent player, and so the timing of this makes sense. Myers' value is still relatively high, and this is a case of a small-market team extracting value -- selling a stock high, if you will -- given its concern that Myers' performance may not meet expectations.

But the series of moves won't really pay off unless Steven Souza hits. He'll be 26 years old in the spring, and in the past two years he has dominated the minor leagues.

Back to Myers: Exactly 200 players have had at least 300 plate appearances in each of the past two seasons. Only five of them experienced a larger drop-off in OPS from 2013 to 2014 than Myers (.831 to .614).

Largest drop in OPS from 2013 to 2014

Chris Davis, .300 drop
Stephen Drew, .241
Allen Craig, .236
Hanley Ramirez, .223
Nate Schierholtz, .218
Wil Myers, .217

From the Elias Sports Bureau: Myers will be the first Rookie of the Year winner to switch teams within two years of winning the award since Butch Metzger and Pat Zachry won in 1976 and were traded a season later.

Here's is Marc Topkin's story on the Rays deal. The Padres are getting a player with power to match Petco Park.

• The Dodgers have been doling out dollars in its deals like a generous family that tells all kids to take three pieces of candy from the basket on Halloween. Last week, for example, they sent Dan Haren to the Marlins via trade, along with the $10 million to pay his salary, and then told the Marlins they can keep the dollars if Haren retires.

[+] EnlargeMatt Kemp
Michael Thomas/Getty Images
Matt Kemp has had a number of injuries over the past few years.
So the Dodgers are perfect targets to be squeezed for extra cash if another team wants to try that. While the Dodgers continue to say privately they have every reason to believe that the Matt Kemp trade will go through, the Padres are in position to ask for more dollars to make the deal happen. Last week, the Dodgers agreed to send $32 million to San Diego to help offset the $107 million owed to Kemp over the next five years, but Kemp’s medical history is a mess; rival officials say there are concerns about a shoulder, an ankle and his feet. None of that is necessarily a surprise, but the Dodgers already have a lot of moves in motion under the presumption that this deal will be finished, and the Padres could use the medicals as a way to push for more cash, if they choose to. Plus, their leverage has changed; a week ago, they did not have a corner-outfield power bat in hand, and now they do in Myers.

My guess is that the Dodgers will be forced to send more dollars along. One longtime evaluator sent these thoughts along: "The Dodgers have to pay here, and it may be more than $3 million difference (beyond the original $32 million). The other point is the Padres don't need this deal; it's been pretty widespread they have talked to the Braves about Justin Upton, and they could always explore Marlon Byrd from the Phillies. Is Kemp that much better? Will he stay healthy? … It was such a screwy and convoluted trade from the beginning that either they have an out or … they can squeeze the Dodgers."

The Jimmy Rollins deal is in limbo because of the Kemp holdup.

• Edinson Volquez signed with the Royals, meaning Kansas City's major winter business is probably over.

The Kansas City rotation could look something like this:

1. Danny Duffy
2. Jeremy Guthrie
3. Jason Vargas
4. Edinson Volquez
5. Yordano Ventura

If Volquez can maintain some of the change in approach he adopted with the Pirates in the second half of last season, this could be a good rotation, backed by that great Kansas City bullpen and outstanding Royals defense. K.C.'s front office did well in identifying second-tier solutions for the team's holes in Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios and Volquez, and while it's very possible one or more from that trio struggles in 2015, the signings are all short-term.

The Royals missed their dream offseason, writes Sam Mellinger.

• The Mariners added an outfielder (Justin Ruggiano) who destroys left-handed pitching. Seth Smith of the Padres would be the perfect complement to Ruggiano, or Seattle could simply use outfielder James Jones in a platoon with him. This ends days of search by the Mariners for a right-handed-hitting outfielder, writes Bob Dutton.

• David Ross has three suitors, writes Rob Bradford.

• The Giants re-signed Sergio Romo.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Yankees aren't interested in Jason Grilli at the moment, writes George King.

2. The Red Sox added a pitcher.

3. The Brewers released a couple of minor league pitchers.

Dings and dents

1. Jason Kipnis had finger surgery.

2. Surgeons continued their streak of successful surgeries with Nick Markakis.

3. Jurickson Profar rejected the idea of another surgery.

4. Josh Beckett's comeback has been derailed by a hip injury.

AL East

• The Blue Jays are shaping up for the spring, writes Ken Fidlin.

• A-Rod is an irrelevant sideshow for the Yankees, writes Ken Davidoff.

AL Central

• Melky Cabrera is a tough out.

AL West

• Jacob Nix and Brady Aiken can prevent the Astros from drafting them again.

NL East

• Stephen Drew is on the Mets' radar.

NL Central

• Derrick Goold addresses the question of whether the Cardinals' 25-man roster is set.

NL West

• Joe Panik could move from second base to third base.

• The Diamondbacks moved Wade Miley partly because they didn't like some of his preparation, writes Nick Piecoro.

• Daniel Descalso will add depth to the Rockies.


• The St. Petersburg city council will vote on the Rays' stadium proposal Thursday.

• Twins pitcher Glen Perkins is going to be in a parade.

• John Smoltz beat John Hart in golf.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Atlanta's incoherent offseason.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
After years of winning division titles -- 14 in a row from 1991 to 2005 -- it's been something of a slow decade for the Atlanta Braves. They've rarely been bad, losing 90 games just once since the streak ended, but they've also won only two playoff games and zero postseason series in nine seasons. After a disappointing 79-83 finish in 2014, good for second place but also 17 games out of first, the Braves fired GM Frank Wren, a move that club president John Schuerholz admitted had been a consideration for several seasons.

A change in regime would seem to be the perfect opportunity to start fresh and re-position the organization toward a successful first season in its new suburban stadium in 2017, a goal that team officials have quietly admitted is important. With two star outfielders entering the final years of their contracts (Jason Heyward, Justin Upton) and more holes than a team on a limited payroll could fill in order to put up a fight in 2015, a new front office with a little bit of creativity and without the baggage of the recent past could easily make moves to limit the rebuilding period and get a competitive team back on the field in Atlanta as soon as possible. After all, just look at what new GM A.J. Preller has done in San Diego in just a few months on the job.

The Braves traded both of those final-year outfielders, sending Heyward to St. Louis and Upton to the Padres. If, at the end of the season, you had known both had played their final games in Atlanta, you might have expected that a full rebuild was in the works. But that's not what's happened. The Braves have weakened their 2015 roster while failing to fully commit to a rebuild, and the moves they've made symbolize a team that can't figure out what it is or where it's going. Welcome to baseball's most confounding offseason.

If we've learned anything about major league baseball, it's that an organization must have a development plan in order to assess its current state of affairs as well as to determine short- and long-term goals and how to go about achieving them. It's not important that every club do it the same way, because there's merit in the slow, complete teardown of the Astros, the overnight transformation of the Padres and the one-year hiccup of the Red Sox. However, it is important to have an accurate viewpoint of what your franchise is capable of. It's the lack of that understanding that doomed the Phillies, who are only now accepting that it's time to start over, at least two years after most of baseball understood that fact.

The Braves' offseason moves this winter seem to represent those of a franchise stuck in the middle, one unable to compete in 2015 but unwilling to fully commit to the rebuild it hopes will create a winner when it moves into its new stadium.

Recent departures

For example, four of the team's most notable players have departed this winter, including Heyward (traded to St. Louis), Upton (traded to San Diego) and starting pitchers Ervin Santana (free agent, signed with Minnesota) and Kris Medlen (free agent, signed with Kansas City).

Ervin Santana
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports
Ervin Santana went 14-10 with 179 strikeouts for the Braves in 2014.
Each move made a certain amount of sense for a team not looking to compete in 2015. Swapping Heyward, who is regularly worth four to five wins above replacement (WAR) thanks to a combination of above-average offense and elite defense, for pitchers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins is likely going to make the Braves worse in 2015; however, getting 10 years of team control for the one year that Heyward had left made sense in the long term. You could say exactly the same for Upton, because the 2015 Braves will be weakened without him. But with one year left before free agency and the prospects of extending him unlikely, the package of Padres prospects Atlanta received made sense.

This departed foursome is projected by Steamer to be worth slightly more than 10 WAR in 2015, and, remember, that's from a team that lost 83 games last year with those players (not including Medlen, who missed the year due to injury). Atlanta's 573 runs scored last year topped only that of San Diego, and were the third-fewest runs scored in a non-strike season since the team moved to Atlanta from Milwaukee in 1966.

With those moves, the Braves have removed two of the four above-average hitters (Freddie Freeman and Evan Gattis being the others) from an offense that has been terrible in recent years, which is why the 2015 Steamer projections see them as being the second-worst offense in baseball, ahead of only the Phillies. Without Santana or Aaron Harang, two of the team's three pitchers to top 195 innings in 2014, or the recovering Medlen and Brandon Beachy, the rotation is full of questions, though certainly not without talent. The bullpen has lost useful righties Jordan Walden and Anthony Varvaro. Overall, Steamer projects a 73-89 season, which is consistent with an 83-loss team that has unquestionably taken steps backward.

New arrivals

This would all be fine if the club was planning for the long term and not set on competing in 2015. The problem, however, is that this seems to be a series of half-measures.

The Braves have reportedly refused to even entertain the idea of trading Craig Kimbrel, even though bad teams don't need closers and the assumption that the increasingly expensive Kimbrel will still be dominant by the time 2017 rolls around goes against decades of closer volatility. Meanwhile, the moves they've made to import players (chart below) seem to do little more than plug holes:

Braves' offseason acquisitions
Position Player Deal
OF Nick Markakis 4 years, $44 million
RP Jason Grilli 2 years, $8 million
RP Jim Johnson 1 year, $1.6 million
2B/3B Alberto Callaspo 1 year, $3 million
C A.J. Pierzynski 1 year, $2 million
Markakis' deal in particular is difficult to understand, since he's 31, an overrated defender and over the last two years has barely qualified as a league-average hitter (plus, he recently had neck surgery). Combined, this quintet is projected to contribute slightly fewer than 5 WAR next year, numbers that are accounted for in the above 73-89 record projection. You have to fill out a lineup, certainly, so no one's saying the Braves should have done nothing at all. It's just that there's nothing here that is going to move the needle in 2015, and Markakis isn't likely to be a top contributor on the next good Atlanta team as he ages into his 30s.

Rebuilding or competing?

If there's a plan here, perhaps this is it: There's an argument to be made that with the Nationals appearing to be far and away the favorites in the NL East, the Braves need only to shoot for the 88 or so wins that getting into the wild-card game usually requires. As the Royals and Giants just proved, merely getting into the lottery that is the postseason could be enough. But then again, this Atlanta team wasn't really close to getting there in 2014, and it's almost indisputably further away in 2015.

It's not too late, of course. Gattis has been rumored to be on the trading block, and getting talent back in return would be a nice boost; while Gattis is older than you think (he turned 28 in August) and isn't much of a catcher or a left fielder, teams have been paying high prices to satisfy the buzzword of "right-handed power," which Gattis has in spades. Being without Gattis -- or worse, letting him kick balls around in the outfield -- would make a bad 2015 lineup look worse, but overall wouldn't be the difference between making the playoffs or not. However, trading him for younger, controllable talent would not only help the future but would open up space for highly-regarded 23-year-old catcher Christian Betancourt. (Presumably, this is why Pierzysnki was imported.)

Limited by payroll concerns and the failures of the Wren era, the Braves would have had a difficult time competing in 2015 regardless of the moves made. But they may be limited by their own lack of creativity as well. Other than trading Upton and Heyward, little we've seen from the Braves this winter has made sense. Until that changes, don't expect them to turn things around. As such, 2015 could mark the beginning of several down seasons in Atlanta.

Young stars who should be extended now.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
In what has been one of the most exciting MLB offseasons in recent memory, GMs are now ready to shift their focus to resolving contracts for arbitration-eligible players and then to begin the process of inking their best young players to long-term deals. GMs will focus on these extensions starting now in the hopes of getting deals done prior to Opening Day so it doesn't become an in-season distraction.

It used to be that teams would wait to extend their star players until they were just a year away from free agency, but times have changed. Now that's too late. So they adjusted and began doing it two years out. Now clubs realize that in order to prevent their players from reaching free agency, they must begin the process three to five years out. With so many good young stars getting ready to hit free agency next fall, including Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond of the Nationals, Justin Upton of the Padres and David Price of the Tigers, it’s a reminder to GMs that it would be wise to try and sign their best young players now in order to: (1) avoid letting their stars hit free agency; and (2) save a significant amount of money.

Clubs prefer to have a long track record before awarding these multimillion-dollar deals, but nowadays they just don't have that luxury. Therefore, determining which players should get these deals and the risks that the clubs have to take is tricky. I am a believer that for position players, betting first and foremost on the hit tool is the least risky, though it's important these players don’t have huge holes and can handle the entire strike zone, different velocities and changing speeds of the game’s best pitchers. For pitchers, there is so much risk of injury these days that I would be comfortable signing only true aces.

Based on those criteria, here are the top seven players I think teams should try to extend between now and Opening Day:

1. Corey Kluber, RHP, Cleveland Indians

Kluber would definitely be the most difficult of all the young players to sign, coming off a Cy Young Award-winning season. But to begin the process with three months of negotiating time would at the very least show him how much the team believes in the season he just had and the importance of keeping him an Indian for many years.

In all likelihood, a deal doesn’t get done at this time; instead, it gets tabled for next offseason. So if Kluber were to take a step back performance-wise, the price might come down. Teams always like to extend players before they break out, like the Indians did last year with Michael Brantley. Imagine how much more expensive he would be this offseason had the Indians not locked him up to a multiyear deal in 2013. In this case, the Indians are a year too late. It's amazing how it seems to balance out.

2. Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B, Washington Nationals

Rendon was the Nationals' best overall position player in 2014 and should have been an All-Star, but he was snubbed for some inexplicable reason. Rendon has already shown enough with the bat to prove that he’ll have a chance to play in many All-Star Games; in fact, he should start preparing his trophy case for Silver Slugger awards.

Here’s the only question: Will he collect those accolades at second base or third base? He has shown he can play both positions, and the Nationals appreciate that flexibility. Rendon has the power to hit 20-25 home runs a year, along with stealing 20 bases, and that power and speed combo can be expensive in arbitration. His value will rise because of both his future ability and the ever-rising market. GM Mike Rizzo would be wise to tie him up now.

3. Christian Yelich, LF, Miami Marlins

Yelich has one of the best pure swings in baseball, and his offensive numbers are only going to get better in time. I believe he’ll be a .300 hitter with a .380 on-base percentage and 25-30 steals per year. Plus, he is going to benefit from Dee Gordon and Martin Prado hitting in front of him and Giancarlo Stanton hitting behind him. Defensively, he already has won a Gold Glove award in left field.

When the Marlins extended Stanton with that 13-year deal in November, they told him they would try to sign and extend their other good young players, such as Yelich. The time is right to get this done now before he pulls a Michael Brantley and his value doubles by next offseason.

4. Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles

With all the injuries Machado has had (including to both knees), why in the world would the Orioles want to extend him now? Why not wait until next offseason so he can prove that he’s healthy and can perform at the levels we’re all expecting?

Because it will be way too expensive then. Take the gamble now, as this is a future Gold Glove third baseman who, in time, should win an MVP award. I would try to sign him now because it’s going to be much cheaper and he has told his agents at MVP Sports that he wants that long-term contract. The Orioles’ ownership group usually doesn’t like to take medical gambles, but to me this one would be worth taking.

5. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox

Bogaerts did not play well last year on either side of the ball -- or should I say he didn’t live up to expectations. He’s one of those rare individuals where you bet on the human; he’s bright, instinctive and has the passion to be the best. His physical tools are special and his bat is loud with a good path.

It may take him two to three years to live up to his potential, so the Red Sox would be wise to lock him up long term. The other factor about Bogaerts is that if defensively he doesn’t develop into the above-average shortstop the Red Sox think he will be, he’s athletic enough to be moved to another position, so that risk should not deter them from signing him now. Bet on the bat and you will win.

6. Devin Mesoraco, C, Cincinnati Reds

Mesoraco made his first of what likely will be many All-Star teams this past season, and has quickly become one of the game’s elite catchers after Yadier Molina and Jonathan Lucroy. Mesoraco has improved so much defensively over the past few years that it’s almost mind-boggling. His bat separates him from his colleagues and his on-base percentage and power are going to continue climbing over the next several years. Tying him up now will be a lot less expensive than next year.

7. Josh Harrison, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates

Harrison is a little more difficult to judge than the other six players on this list, because it would be nice to see him put up one more one good season before giving him a long-term contract. However, to at least start the negotiations would make sense, but it would have to be a club-friendly deal to get this one done now.

Harrison’s high energy and enthusiasm are contagious in the Pirates’ clubhouse, but it was his above-average defense at third base and high on-base percentage that really helped improve the Pirates last year. If he can have a similar impact for another full season, his arbitration value will skyrocket. Signing him now could save millions; however, there’s also more risk associated with Harrison than the other six on this list.

Likely landing spots for James Shields.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
James Shields has pitched more than 200 innings and won double-digit games eight consecutive years with a 3.64 ERA during that time, and as the leader of the Kansas City Royals' pitching staff, he was instrumental in the development of many of their young successful pitchers. His intangibles are as strong as his durability, and that's why so many clubs covet him.

He did not pitch well in the 2014 postseason, but most teams will overlook that in part because, including spring training, he threw more than 270 innings on the season. His best fits, in my opinion, are the San Francisco Giants and Boston Red Sox, but they're not the only teams that have a chance to sign him.

1. San Francisco Giants

The world champions have had a difficult offseason after losing third baseman Pablo Sandoval to the Boston Red Sox (for basically the same offer they made) and then falling short on their bids for free agents Jon Lester, Melky Cabrera and Chase Headley. (They were able to retain reliever Sergio Romo, who signed for less to stay home.) However, they're still hard at work, and Shields is atop their wish list. They would love to be able to slot him behind Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain and ahead of Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy in their rotation.

The fact that Shields takes the ball for 32-plus starts a year and you can pencil him in for 220-plus innings per season makes him a perfect fit for a team in need of starting-pitching innings, plus his leadership and winning attitude would fit nicely in a clubhouse that has three championships in five years. The Giants also aren't afraid to be the highest bidder here.

Odds they get him: 3-to-1

2. Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox failed in their attempt to bring Lester back to Boston, losing out to the Cubs by more than $20 million dollars. Given their unwillingness to spend a little extra on Lester, it's unlikely they would turn around and sign Max Scherzer for more years and money. Their best option on the trade market is Cole Hamels, but the prospect package it would take to get him makes that a reluctant option for Red Sox GM Ben Cherington. Jordan Zimmermann and Johnny Cueto also have been mentioned as trade options, but that's doubtful given that both of their clubs are potential playoff teams. Therefore, signing Shields might be the team's best option.

Shields would fill the pitching leadership void that has been vacant since the Lester deal; his mentorship of the Red Sox's young pitchers could make overpaying to get him worthwhile here. A rotation of Shields, Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, Wade Miley and Rick Porcello would make the Red Sox the favorites to win the AL East, in my mind. That said, this is the type of free agent the Red Sox normally offer at least one year less than other teams on the market, which could cost them Shields.

Odds: 5-to-1

3. Texas Rangers

The Rangers have quietly met with Shields and realize that he would not only be an important signing for them to place behind Yu Darvish and ahead of Derek Holland in their rotation, but he would also give them protection if Darvish, Holland, Martin Perez and/or Colby Lewis don't come back fully healthy. Like other teams, they also value his leadership and mentorship qualities.

The real question here is whether the Rangers are willing to spend the kind of money it's going to take to sign Shields after the dreadful results they had last year with their free-agent signing of Shin-Soo Choo and trade for Prince Fielder, who spent much of the season on the disabled list (making eight figures in the process). Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine told me they had a great meeting with Shields and his wife, but the team would have to make a trade or two to lower payroll in order to sign him. That lowers the odds, but it's still quite possible.

Odds: 7-to-1

4. Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays had a great start to their offseason, inking the market's best free-agent catcher in Russell Martin and then pulling off the huge Josh Donaldson trade that changed the middle of their lineup. They also dealt J.A. Happ to the Mariners for left fielder Michael Saunders, who will replace Melky Cabrera in left field. However, they are still one starter and two relievers short of being a legitimate AL East contender. Shields would really fit the bill for them near the top of their rotation, along with veterans Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey and ahead of Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison. The move would also allow the Blue Jays to utilize rookie phenom Aaron Sanchez in the back end of their bullpen.

The Blue Jays' ownership group continues to look for a replacement for outgoing CEO Paul Beeston and have made it clear they're looking for a baseball, not a business, person to work with GM Alex Anthopoulos. Although it might not happen until next season, Anthopoulos should make one more bold move to try to win the AL East before he has a baseball boss, and Shields would work here, and also be a good influence for Sanchez, Stroman and Hutchinson.

Odds: 12-to-1

5. Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers' rotation appears set with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy and Juan Nicasio. However, they also have the World Series-or-bust philosophy, and the fact they have what appears to be unlimited financial resources, at least the possibility of them signing Shields, even if a long shot, should at least be considered. After all, he would be a huge upgrade over Nicasio.

The Dodgers were at least in on Lester, so they could be doing the same here.

Odds: 20-to-1

6. Los Angeles Angels

The Angels would prefer to build their rotation from within or with young players just entering their prime; last year they traded for young Tyler Skaggs and this year it was Andrew Heaney, with cost, control and upside dominating their philosophy. They are pleased that homegrown starter Garrett Richards has developed into a Cy Young-caliber talent, and the emergence of rookie Matt Shoemaker helped propel the Angels to the best record in the American League.

Shields doesn't fit that criteria, so why is he listed here? Well, if they can find a taker for C.J. Wilson and/or Josh Hamilton, they could put that money toward or a Scherzer or Shields.

Odds: 25-to-1

7. New York Yankees

The Yankees are, well, the Yankees, so they have to be listed here. They keep telling everyone they are not "in" on Scherzer or Shields and that could very well be the case, but I'll never eliminate GM Brian Cashman or the Yankees on any available high-dollar free agent.

Odds: 30-to-1

8. St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals' rotation is set, with Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, John Lackey, Michael Wacha locked in, and Jaime Garcia, Marco Gonzales and Carlos Martinez all in the mix. That's why Scherzer, Lester and Shields really don't fit here, but like the Yankees, I never underestimate Cardinals GM John Mozeliak.

Odds: 50-to-1
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Thread Starter 
The Point of Asdrubal Cabrera.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Asdrubal Cabrera‘s signing with the Rays. There was thought the free-agent middle infielder would get multiple years, given the number of teams looking for a shortstop or a second baseman, but by the reports, Cabrera is signing for one year and something in the vicinity of $8 million. Call it the A.J. Burnett contract, if you’d like. Cabrera’s an unexciting player, signing for unexciting terms.

Whenever you think about a fresh transaction, there’s a desire to find and identify that certain hidden something. That one thing about a given player that made him so appealing to his new team. I don’t think there’s a certain hidden something about Asdrubal Cabrera. He’s a fairly established entity: he’s a relatively poor defensive shortstop who used to be a better player than he is. He can play short but he fits better at second, and his overall offense is close enough to being average you can get away with calling it average. What do you have when you have an average hitter who’s roughly an average overall defender? That’s an average player. Cabrera’s close to that, and maybe a little bit worse.

This isn’t a franchise player, the Rays are signing. This isn’t a player many will remember as having been a Ray five or ten years down the line. This is just one of those small, fine deals every team has to make, and the most interesting thing about it is what it means for other players. The Rays are signing Asdrubal Cabrera, which means more and more people are talking about Ben Zobrist.

While we’re here: it’s a perfectly reasonable contract for Tampa Bay. There’s that whole line of thought about how there’s no such thing as a bad one-year contract, and while that doesn’t always hold up, it’s pretty hard to out-and-out hate this. Cabrera last year was almost a two-win player. He was worse before that, but better before that. He projects to be worth more than $8 million in the season to come. He only recently turned 29 years old.

It’s not that the salary is cheap. The years are cheap. For the most part, one-year contracts this offseason have been given to bounceback candidates or rehab types. Kendrys Morales got two years. Billy Butler got three years. Jed Lowrie — a good Cabrera comp — got three years. Michael Morse got two years. Adam LaRoche got two years, and so on and so forth. Regulars available for one year? Alex Rios. Torii Hunter. Clint Barmes and Corey Hart, sort of, but not really. It’s a mild surprise the Rays were able to get Cabrera for what they got him for.

But, he’s there now. And now the Rays have options. The Rays always had options, but now they have a new player in house, ready to plug a hole that might be opened up. It would be possible for the Rays to proceed just like this, but clearly, there’s reason to speculate about Zobrist and Yunel Escobar. There’s flexibility here, and the Rays are forever thinking creatively.

The Rays could trade Escobar. He’s signed to a reasonable two-year deal. Then shortstop could go to Zobrist, or Cabrera, or even Nick Franklin. Zobrist is able to handle the position. Cabrera isn’t a disaster. If the Reds could be good with Shin-Soo Choo in center field, a team in 2015 could be good with Adrubal Cabrera at shortstop.

But, Escobar clearly has a reputation, and he’s coming off a down year, in particular defensively. Which makes Zobrist the more interesting trade candidate. He has one remaining year of team control, at a modest $7.5 million. Because the Rays intend to try to win in 2015, they should want to keep a player as valuable as Zobrist is. But because the Rays are also the Rays, and because they have to operate in a fashion similar to the A’s, Zobrist now is a piece the Rays probably would like to exchange for a longer-term asset or two. With Cabrera in the fold, the Rays don’t need Zobrist. Zobrist is a lot better, of course, but the Rays always need to think about the big picture, and this is an opportunity to sell one of the more valuable players in the game.

Because Zobrist can bounce around between the infield and the outfield, he’s valuable to a greater number of teams. Because there are so few options remaining on the market, he seems all the more valuable. After the year, Zobrist could be extended a qualifying offer, so there would eventually be compensation coming. The Rays can trade Zobrist without crippling themselves, and they should be able to trade him for a piece or two that could help right away.

This offseason, we’ve already seen a number of trades involving higher-profile one-year players. So that gives us some perspective on what Zobrist might be able to bring back.

Yoenis Cespedes fetched Rick Porcello
(Rick Porcello fetched Yoenis Cespedes)
Howie Kendrick fetched Andrew Heaney
Jason Heyward (and Jordan Walden) fetched Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins
Jeff Samardzija fetched Marcus Semien, Josh Phegley, and more
Justin Upton fetched Max Fried, Mallex Smith, and more
The players all brought good talent back. Heyward might be the most comparable player, in terms of cost and performance. Heyward’s much younger than Zobrist is, so that’s a point in his favor, but they’ll both have similar 2015 salaries, and they both provide a lot of their value through defense, while being relatively under-powered. The Heyward trade would be the kind of deal the Rays would want to make. Probably, they’d want someone with better numbers than Miller, but Miller has plenty of obvious raw ability.

The strongest link so far has tied Zobrist to the Giants, but there’s little use in speculation given the number of teams who could accommodate Zobrist and have him fill a hole. If the Rays do trade Zobrist, they should get back a big-leaguer. Depending on that big-leaguer, maybe also a prospect. Zobrist would be a major subtraction from the 2015 Rays, but short-term value and long-term value would come back, and this is just how you all but have to navigate the kind of situation in which the Rays find themselves. In which the Rays have always found themselves, really.

The Rays don’t have to trade Zobrist. Just because it would be the most exciting, high-profile move doesn’t mean it’s the guaranteed move. Maybe they’ll trade Yunel Escobar instead. Maybe they’ll trade an outfielder instead. Maybe they’ll trade no one, instead. But the Rays have considered trading Zobrist for a while, and with Asdrubal Cabrera now signed to a very modest contract, he can function as a positional replacement who’s good enough to not be bad. In the Rays’ ideal world, they wouldn’t have to mind the money so much. They wouldn’t be so incentivized to trade Ben Zobrist. But the Rays don’t operate in their ideal world, so they have to try to make the most ideal world out of the world they have. Signing Asdrubal Cabrera isn’t interesting, directly. But indirectly? There’s a lot going on here.

Your 2014 MLB Legal Year-in-Review: Part Three.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
This is the final installment of a three-part series looking back at what has been an unusually eventful year for Major League Baseball in the courtroom. Part One recapped the legal maneuvering surrounding Alex Rodriguez’s suspension and the Oakland A’s proposed move to San Jose, while Part Two looked at MLB’s 2014 minimum wage and gender discrimination issues. This part concludes the series by reviewing the status of various television-related legal proceedings for MLB and its teams, as well as covering an assortment of other legal developments.


Television revenues are vital to MLB’s business, so it should be no surprise that the league was involved in a series of important TV-related legal proceedings in 2014. Perhaps the most significant of these cases is Garber v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, a suit challenging MLB’s television policies under federal antitrust law.

Wendy Thurm has previously discussed the Garber suit on several occasions. By way of a brief recap, the case alleges that MLB’s television policies violate the Sherman Act in two ways: first, by imposing unreasonable blackout policies on fans; and second, by selling only league-wide pay-per-view subscription packages (MLB Extra Innings and rather than allowing teams to offer their own individual out-of-market plans.
The Garber suit has slowly been proceeding towards trial since it was filed in 2012. In April, however, MLB filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the case on the basis of baseball’s antitrust exemption. Judge Scheindlin denied the request in August, reasoning that MLB’s television policies were not sufficiently “central to the business of baseball” to be covered by its antitrust exemption.

Undeterred, MLB then asked Judge Scheindlin to certify the case for an immediate, interlocutory appeal, arguing that there was “substantial ground for difference of opinion” regarding the applicability of the exemption, which warranted expeditious appellate review. Scheindlin quickly denied that request as well.

Still unsatisfied, MLB then filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in November. This relatively rare request effectively seeks to go over the trial court judge’s head, asking the appellate court to consider the antitrust exemption issue despite Judge Scheindlin’s refusal to allow an immediate appeal. The plaintiff’s have not yet responded to MLB’s petition at the appellate court, and the league’s ultimate odds of success on the petition are uncertain. Nevertheless, the fact that MLB is willing to go to these lengths to have the case dismissed shows how seriously it views the threat that the Garber case presents to the league’s current business model.

The MASN Arbitration

In addition to MLB’s national television policies, its teams’ relationships with regional sports networks were also subjected to legal scrutiny in 2014. In August, the Baltimore Orioles and their network, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) filed suit in New York asking the court to set aside an arbitration decision requiring the network to pay tens of millions of dollars more in broadcast fees each year to the Washington Nationals.

The origins of the dispute date back to the 2005 relocation of the Montreal Expos to Washington. At the time, MLB resolved Baltimore’s claim to the Washington, D.C. territory by giving the Orioles a significant stake in the MASN network, with the Nationals’ broadcast fees to be recalibrated every five years. In 2012, the Nationals requested that their fees be increased from around $30 million per year to upwards of $120 million. Baltimore rejected Washington’s request, and the dispute eventually ended up in arbitration.

In June, a three-member arbitration panel – consisting of the owners of the New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays – awarded the Nationals approximately $60 million per year in broadcast fees. Dissatisfied with the outcome, the Orioles then filed suit to ask a New York court to set the decision aside, despite the fact that Bud Selig had threatened to “impose the strongest sanctions available” should either side take the dispute to court.

Typically, courts are extremely reluctant to overturn an arbitration decision. In this case, however, Baltimore had a plausible argument that the arbitration panel was biased, as the other MLB teams stood to benefit from the Nationals receiving increased broadcast rights fees (part of which would then be shared league-wide through MLB’s revenue sharing system). This argument was credible enough to persuade Judge Lawrence Marks to issue a preliminary injunction in August blocking MLB from enforcing the arbitration decision until the suit is resolved.

Since then, the parties have been engaged in the discovery process, collecting the evidence they will use during the eventual hearing in March. Along the way, the court gave the Orioles a minor victory earlier this month, when it ordered MLB to turn over documents relating to commissioner-elect Rob Manfred’s involvement with the arbitration panel. Meanwhile, Baltimore’s decision to contest the arbitration outcome reportedly will likely cost the team its chance at hosting the 2016 MLB All-Star Game.

Ultimately, even if Baltimore prevails in March, the team’s victory is likely to be modest at best, as the court will likely only go so far as to vacate the existing arbitration decision. In other words, the court would most likely simply throw out the June arbitration opinion, putting the parties back to square one in their dispute. At that point, MLB would likely convene a new arbitration proceeding, this time presumably relying on outside arbitrators. Nevertheless, MLB would obviously prefer to have the existing arbitration award upheld by the court, thereby avoiding the embarrassment of having its original arbitration panel declared to be unduly biased.

The Comcast SportsNet Houston Bankruptcy

Last but not least, the long-running CSN-Houston bankruptcy proceedings were finally resolved in October. As Wendy Thurm has explained, the cable station had struggled mightily since launching in late 2012, after most Houston-area cable and satellite providers refused to pay the roughly $3.50 per subscriber fee the network was demanding. As a result, for the better part of two years only Comcast customers received the network, meaning that only around 1 million households had access to most Houston Astros games.

Because CSN-Houston wasn’t bringing in its anticipated subscription revenue, the network was unable to pay the Astros and the Houston Rockets – its two primary broadcast partners – their promised broadcast rights fees. Eventually, in September 2013, Comcast plunged the network into bankruptcy after the Astros threatened to reclaim their broadcast rights.

Following a year’s worth of legal maneuvering, the bankruptcy court finally approved a restructuring plan for the network in October. The deal transferred the network to DirecTV and AT&T, who jointly agreed to invest $50 million into the venture. Comcast has appealed the bankruptcy court’s decision, but the new network – rebranded Root Sports Houston – already officially launched in November. Because the new station is available to most Houston cable television subscribers, it appears that the vast majority of Astros fans will now be able to watch their team play on television in 2015.

Other Assorted Odds & Ends

In July, a Los Angeles jury awarded San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow $18 million in damages for the injuries he sustained during an attack in the Dodgers Stadium parking lot in 2011. The Dodgers are responsible for approximately $14 million of the verdict, after the jury concluded that the team failed to provide proper security in and around the stadium.

Also in July, the Major League Baseball Players Association filed a grievance against the Houston Astros after the team failed to sign three of its 2014 draft picks: first overall selection Brady Aiken, fifth round choice Jacob Nix, and 21st round pick Mac Marshall. As Mike Petriello explained at the time, the dispute arose after Aiken tentatively agreed to terms on a $6.5 million bonus, only to have the Astros back out on the deal when a pre-contract medical exam allegedly identified issues with Aiken’s elbow. The Astros subsequently made Aiken several less valuable offers, but he refused to sign for anything less than the original agreed upon amount.

Because the Astros failed to sign Aiken, they lacked the slot money necessary to honor the agreement they had reached in principle with fifth round selection Jacob Nix. (Under the new draft bonus pool rules, the total size of a team’s bonus pool is conditioned on its signing some of its top picks.) However, because both Aiken and Nix were being advised by the same agent/advisor (Casey Close), some speculated that the Astros were manipulating the situation to force one of Close’s clients (Aiken) to sign at a reduced rate so the agent’s other client (Nix) could sign as well.

After the Astros eventually failed to sign either Aiken or Nix, the MLBPA filed a grievance against the team on Nix’s behalf. (Although initial reports suggested a grievance was filed on behalf of Aiken as well, this later turned out not to be the case.) The union’s decision to file the grievance was somewhat surprising, considering that the MLBPA does not represent minor league players, and the current CBA prohibits teams from signing draftees to major league contracts. Regardless, Nix and the Astros reportedly settled the grievance earlier this month for an undisclosed sum.

Finally, in December, a third minor-league-salary-related lawsuit was filed against MLB. Unlike the pending minimum wage suits filed earlier this year under the Fair Labor Standards Act, though, Miranda v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball asserts that the minor league salary scale represents illegal price fixing in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The suit’s odds of success appear to be relatively low, however, considering that its claims are likely covered by baseball’s antitrust exemption.

The Best Pitches of 2014 (By Whiffs).
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
There are many different ways to describe the quality of a pitch. We have movement numbers on this site. There are ground-ball rates. There are whiff rates. There are metrics that use a combination of ground-ball and whiff rates. And metrics that use balls in play. There’s a whole spectrum from process to results, and you can focus on any one part of that spectrum if you like.

But there’s something that’s so appealing about the whiff. It’s a result, but it’s an undeniable one. There is no human being trying to decide if the ball went straight or if it went up in the air or if the ball went down. It’s just: did the batter swing and miss? So, as a result, it seems unassailable.

Of course, there are some decisions you still have to make if you want to judge pitches by whiff rates. How many of the pitch does the pitcher have to have thrown to be considered? Gonzalez Germen had a higher whiff rate on his changeup (30.7%) this year than Cole Hamels (23.7%). Cole Hamels threw seven times as many changeups (708 to 101).

So, in judging this year’s best pitches, let’s declare a top pitch among starters and a top pitch among relievers. That’s only fair, considering the difference in number of pitches thrown between the two. It’s way harder to get people to keep missing a pitch they’ve seen seven times as often. And, in order to avoid avoiding R.A. Dickey the R. A. Dickey Knuckler award, we’ll leave knucklers off the list, and include knuckle curves in among the curves.

Aroldis Chapman (643 thrown, 19.2% whiff rate)
The pitch *averaged* 100.3 last year, so of course this is tops. Velocity isn’t everything — Darren O’Day had the second-best whiff rate (16.6%) on four-seamers thrown at least 300 times and his doesn’t crack 90 — but it sure helps. Chapman’s four-seamer also has two inches more rise than the average fastball, though, so it’s a great pitch by movement and velocity. I mean, what are you going to do against this anyway. Unfair, really.

Madison Bumgarner (915 thrown, 13.7% whiff rate)
We had to know this one was coming. Well, we told you about his great fastball anyway in the postseason, and he told us about it himself. At 92 mph, he has above average velocity for a lefty, but it’s probably mostly about location for the sportsman of the year. When his pitches seem so similar for so long, and then one of them ends up high in the zone with velocity, it’s hard to do much but whiff and sit down. Even if you’re Miguel Cabrera.

Pedro Strop (332 thrown, 31.9% whiff rate)
Strop has the kind of reputation that makes you want to look down the list for a reliever with more sliders thrown so that you can ignore the result. But you have to get all the way down to Will Smith (406 thrown, 27.3% whiffs) and Greg Holland (428 thrown, 25.5% whiff rate) to get relievers that threw more sliders, and while those whiff rates are great, they aren’t necessarily up there with Strop’s. The Cubs’ reliever had a breakout year, and you can see why perhaps they signed up despite his control problems to date. Thanks to PitcherGIFs on twitter, here’s a Strop slider that made Jeff Baker miss by over a foot.
Clayton Kershaw (709 thrown, 29.6% whiff rate)
Imagine Pedro Strop except he’s left-handed, has great command, and a great curve ball and wait why did we start with Pedro Strop again? Let’s just revel in the fact that Clayton Kershaw, who didn’t have a slider coming up and just picked it up when the team asked him to, had the best whiff rate on a slider last year. Of course he did. This GIF courtesy Drew Fairservice, who interviewed the pitcher last year.

Joaquin Benoit (248 thrown, 31.9% whiff rate)
Maybe this is cheating. Benoit throws a FOSH, or a splitter grip where the ball rolls off the weaker fingers a little like a circle change. So maybe you should throw this pitch in with the splitters and give Germen (101 thrown, 30.7% whiffs) or Francisco Rodriguez (295 thrown, 29.5% whiffs) the crown instead. We will just go with what PITCHf/x calls a changeup and revel in it. Here’s a nasty GIF from Pinstripe Alley.

Cole Hamels (708 thrown, 27.3% whiff rate)
This dude threw his changeup a lot. Only 13 pitches threw more changeups. Yes, Felix Hernandez was first in changeups thrown, with 1120, and swinging strikes with 197. But Hamels’ change got more whiffs when he threw it, and it’s practically the model to which all lefties throwing changes should aspire. You con’t have to wear the backpacks, you just have to try and throw your change so it does something sexcellent like this. Thanks to Carson Cistulli for his GIF!

Brett Cecil (369 thrown, 29.3% whiff rate)
Cecil, if you aren’t paying attention to the former starter’s work out of the pen, might seem like a Strop. But dude threw more curves than almost any reliever, depending on how you classify Yusmeiro Petit, who threw 400 curves and got a 28.5% whiff rate. Both pitches aren’t quite hammer/yakker curves — they don’t have the big drop of the twelve-to-six pitches — but they do drop more than sliders. Call them power curves if you must. This GIF from BlueJaysPlus:

Corey Kluber (548 thrown, 22.1% whiff rate)
The curveball isn’t known for whiffs (or swings, even), so it’s not surprising that the two curves that lead the category are barely curves as all. Kluber’s curve is a frisbee that has way more horizontal movement than your average curveball, and about half as much drop as a true 12-to-6er. It’s a unique pitch without many comps, as Jeff Sullivan (who normally would have brought you this article, if this author hadn’t had writer’s block and stolen the topic) has found before. Here’s his GIF on the subject.

Manny Parra (110 thrown, 31.8% whiff rate)
Readers of The Hardball Times Annual this year will be familiar with Manny Parra‘s knuckle-stretching grip. For him, the pitch is more fork than splitter (more on that distinction in the THT piece): “I don’t really want to have any seams because I want the ball to come and start slipping and then catch right here at the end. Like a forkball.” He says he doesn’t know which way it’s going, but neither do the hitters. And hitters? “Hitters love predictability.” From BrewCrewBall, a splitter that made a kid very happy.

Masahiro Tanaka (482 thrown, 27.4% whiff rate)
Tanaka — and the idea that the splitter was to blame for his injury this year — inspired the piece in the annual. Hiroki Kuroda threw 847 of them without an injury, but it was Tanaka’s usage that caused concern. By percentage thrown, movement, and velocity, Kuroda’s splitter was indistinguishable from Tanaka’s in 2014 actually. Perhaps it’s how Tanaka’s pitch fits into his repertoire that makes his splitter get almost twice as many whiffs at Kuroda’s (15.7%). We don’t know. All we can do is watch. Cistulli made his very first American splitter go slow-mo:

When Scouting Shortstops Gets Too Subjective.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
When I’m making the calls for the Evaluating the Prospects series, I start picking up trends across multiple lists. Some of it is simple, expected things—trends in types of players I or the industry tend to underrate or overrate—but there can be more specific things that keep coming up. I wrote earlier about the trend of top hitting prospects flopping the big leagues after appearing bored at Triple-A along with a general plea of ignorance in any scouting projections, but now there’s now another constant I keep hearing on almost every list.

It’s become part of common internet prospect lingo to ask/comment on whether a prospect that plays shortstop in the minors can “stick at the position.” What this means is if he can project to be average to slightly below, or in other words, good enough to send out there on an everyday basis, assuming his bat is enough in combination with his defense to be one of the top 30 shortstops in the big leagues.

This seems like a simple enough question, but there’s a persistent blind spot in the industry of underrating the defensive ability in short looks (a showcase, infield practice or just a handful of games) of shortstops with solid fundamentals, but without flashy actions.

Some of this comes from a team talking about their own prospect, trying to change the consensus that their own prospect can, in fact, stick at shortstop in the big leagues. I can say from working in three front offices that over 95% of the time, the team that has a prospect also has the #1 highest value of him out of all 30 teams. There’s a number of understandable reasons for this effect, but it only accounts for a small part of the overall trend.

I hear it often and in the all three talent markets: the draft, July 2nd and now on organizational prospect lists. The player getting underrated is a shortstop with anywhere from 45 to 55 speed on the 20-80 scale, that has fringy to average pure range for the position and the minimum amount arm strength (55) for the position. So many times, this player doesn’t seem in early looks like he could stick, but now a scout, a plurality of scouts or a whole organization later come to realize that he can.

You probably have a mental image of these two sorts of players. There’s the flashy (almost always Latin) shortstop with quick hands, plus speed and the actions that, after one ground ball, look like a big league shortstop. This guy could be Elvis Andrus, Rey Ordonez, Andrelton Simmons or any other number of players you may be thinking of right now. Then there’s the other guy, either with a third base looking frame and/or speed (Jhonny Peralta, Juan Uribe, Jordy Mercer) or just a guy with unspectacular tools (Jed Lowrie, the recently-traded Franklin Barreto or 2015 draft prospects Alex Bregman of LSU and Brendan Rodgers, from an Orlando-area high school).

You can see there’s a subtle amount of racial influence here in most cases, but what I’m realizing is that the answer to “is he a shortstop?” is a snap reaction that’s answering a different question. The answer is often addressing “does he look like Rey Ordonez?” rather than “can he be fringy to average defensively with enough bat to be one of the 30 starting shortstops?” question, which is the one being asked by the scouting report. It usually isn’t until the high minors or big leagues that the default answer by scouts is to the more important question.

I find myself (and other scouts echo my sentiment) that when you go to a showcase and see 40 kids you’ve never seen before run out to shortstop and each take a half dozen grounders that I write in my notes after you see some Jed Lowrie type tools “2B fit” or “3B fit” next to his name. Then, this same player plays in games the rest of the evaluation period until signing/draft day and you start seeing instincts, positioning and the intangibles of defense and you slowly start thinking this kid might be able to stick.

This happens in various forms at every level of baseball, but there’s little accountability for when scouts or writers get it wrong, because the shortstop was called a future non-shortstop at every level until he proved it in the big leagues for multiple years. It didn’t matter if you were wrong, because everyone was wrong, because they were answering the wrong question.

The more accurate way to think about shortstop defensive evaluations is in three buckets: definite yes, maybe and definite no. Some scouts may already think of it this way, but odds are only the flashy guys go in the first bucket and some of them don’t show the consistency to deserve that standing. Plenty of second bucket guys are getting tossed in the third bucket way too quickly, before they claw their way to where they belonged in the first place.

Barreto and Rodgers (the front-runner for the #1 overall pick in June) are both interesting cases to watch going forward, but the best case study may be two current college players. There’s another 2015 draft shortstop prospect I haven’t mentioned yet — University of Florida product Richie Martin. He is the flashier type of shortstop and has plus speed: he immediately passes the eye test and every scout you talk to says he should be at least an average defensive shortstop.

When you drill down or talk to a scout who is really paying attention, you’ll hear it pointed out that Martin makes a number of mental errors and lapses in focus to where he’s clearly behind Bregman as a defender currently. Bregman is a smaller guy that is a tick slower, doesn’t have flashy actions and has been projected as a pro second baseman or catcher his whole amateur career for these reasons.

That said, Bregman makes every play and to make up for his merely okay range, he charges almost every ball hit to him and has sure hands, making nearly every play. Martin has always had a light bat and was almost benched as a sophomore, but had a breakout offensive summer on the Cape, so now he’s seen as a complete prospect that likely goes in the top 50 picks. Some scouts are a little wary of the short track record of offensive success and the inconsistency on defense, so it’ll be interesting to track the scouting consensus and actual results for these two SEC shortstops.

While this is just one case study and it could go either way, I’ll be paying closer attention to scouts’ and other publications’ pronouncements, along with my own, about who can stick at short and who cannot. This is also yet another reason why, for next year’s prospect rankings, I’ll be going through this year’s rankings and pointing out where I was wrong. Here’s to hoping it won’t be longer than the actual list.

Your 2014 MLB Legal Year-in-Review: Part Two.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
This is the second in a series of posts looking back at the most significant events in what has been an unusually eventful year for Major League Baseball on the legal front. Part One reviewed the legal maneuvering surrounding Alex Rodriguez’s suspension and the Oakland A’s proposed move to San Jose. This part now looks at baseball’s minimum wage issues and two potentially embarrassing gender discrimination suits filed against MLB and its teams in 2014.

MLB Pay Practices

MLB’s allegedly unlawful pay practices were the subject of considerable legal scrutiny in 2014. Most significantly, in February the league was hit with the first of two class action lawsuits filed on behalf of former minor league baseball players, cases asserting that MLB’s minor league salary scale violates federal and state minimum wage and overtime laws.

In Senne v. Office of the Commissioner, the plaintiffs contend that MLB has violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by paying minor league players as little as $3,300 per year, without overtime, despite often requiring players to work 50 or more hours per week. Moreover, as the suit notes, minor leaguers typically are not paid at all for their participation in spring training, fall instructional leagues, or mandatory offseason workout programs. All told, then, the suit claims that most minor league players receive well below the federally guaranteed minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

Another group of former minor leaguers then filed a second class action suit against MLB in July on similar grounds. While the second suit – Marti v. Office of the Commissioner – shares much in common with the Senne case, the Marti lawsuit differentiates itself by specifically focusing on the plight of Latino ballplayers (all of the named plaintiffs in the Marti suit originally hail from Latin America).

Both cases are still in the initial phases of litigation. Notably, however, MLB is currently seeking to have the suits transferred from California to Florida federal court. MLB contends that Florida would be a more convenient venue for the parties considering the number of MLB teams with spring training facilities located in the state. In reality, though, MLB is likely hoping to take advantage of Florida case precedent, which holds that professional baseball teams are seasonal recreational operations, and therefore not subject to the FLSA.

The California court will likely decide whether to transfer the cases sometime in the first half of 2015. Either way, a trial is unlikely to occur until 2017 or 2018 at the earliest (assuming, of course, that Congress doesn’t grant baseball an FLSA exemption before then).

Beyond the minor leagues, MLB’s pay practices faced legal scrutiny on others fronts as well in 2014. For instance, in March, MLB successfully defeated a minimum wage lawsuit brought by volunteers at the 2013 All-Star Week FanFest held in New York City. Like the Senne and Marti suits discussed above, Chen v. Major League Baseball asserted that MLB had violated the FLSA by failing to pay its volunteers the minimum wage. Federal court Judge John Koeltl concluded otherwise, however, holding that because FanFest was a “seasonal amusement or recreational establishment,” its volunteers were not owed the minimum wage or overtime. An appeal in the case is pending, with a decision likely to be issued sometime in 2015.

Finally, four MLB teams also faced U.S. Department of Labor investigations into their pay practices in 2014. The Labor Department believed that the Baltimore Orioles, Miami Marlins, Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants were each violating the FLSA by paying their clubhouse attendants, administrative workers, and interns less than the minimum wage and/or failing to pay them overtime.

For example, the Marlins were accused of paying its clubhouse attendants a flat rate of $50 per day despite often requiring them to work 11 hours or more at a time. The team settled the claims earlier this year by agreeing to pay $288,290 in back wages and damages to 39 team employees. The Giants and A’s both reached similar settlements with the Labor Department.

According to a 2013 memo from MLB’s then-COO Rob Manfred, however, the government believes these issues are “endemic to [the baseball] industry,” meaning that other MLB teams may face similar investigations by the Labor Department in 2015.

Gender Discrimination

Along with its minimum wage issues, MLB and its teams were also hit with two potentially embarrassing gender discrimination lawsuits in 2014. First, the New York Mets’ former senior vice president for ticket sales, Leigh Castergine, filed suit against the franchise and its chief operating officer, Jeff Wilpon, in September. The lawsuit accuses the team of unlawfully discriminating against Castergine after she became pregnant out of wedlock in 2013.

In particular, Castergine alleges that Wilpon told colleagues that he was “morally opposed” to Castergine having a child without being married. Wilpon is also accused of harassing Castergine by checking to see if she was wearing an engagement ring in front of her colleagues, and telling her that she would get a raise and bigger bonuses if she were to get married. Later, when Castergine returned to work after giving birth, Wilpon allegedly told her that her performance wasn’t meeting expectations, but that he’d let her finish out the year if she promised not to sue for discrimination. When Castergine complained to the team’s human resources department, she was fired.

For their part, the Mets and Wilpon have denied discriminating against Castergine, instead asserting that she was fired for “legitimate business reasons.” In particular, the team points to personality conflicts between Castergine and other company executives as the reason her job was terminated, conflicts that allegedly pre-dated her becoming pregnant. Castergine’s complaint had anticipated that the defendants would attack her job performance, and counters these allegations by pointing out that she was rewarded with six-figure bonuses, raises and a promotion during her four years with the team.

The suit is currently in the discovery phase, when the parties collect the documents and sworn testimony they will use at trial. Sooner or later, though, one would expect that the Mets will try to settle the case – assuming Castergine is willing – as the discovery process threatens to reveal all sorts of embarrassing information about the team’s ownership and management (neither of which, frankly, need any more bad publicity).

In addition to the Castergine case, MLB faced another potentially embarrassing discrimination suit in 2014. In December, Sylvia Lind – MLB’s director of baseball initiatives and highest-ranking Hispanic female employee – sued the league, Commissioner Bud Selig, and MLB’s executive vice president of baseball development, Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, for gender discrimination.

Lind’s suit alleges that she has been repeatedly passed over for promotions in favor of less qualified and often less experienced male candidates throughout her 19 years working for MLB. For example, when Lind’s former boss was fired by MLB in 2012, Lind says that she was never considered as a replacement for the job, despite her extensive experience in the office. Instead, MLB hired Robinson, who Lind contends lacked the experience and educational background necessary to assume the position.

Lind asserts that this mistreatment continued under Robinson. Her suit states that Robinson repeatedly promoted a less experienced and less qualified male employee over her, while unfairly criticizing Lind’s work performance. For instance, in her most legally damaging allegation, Lind asserts that Robinson told her, “Sometimes you have to hire a man because there are places women can’t go.”

MLB has not yet responded to the lawsuit in court. However, one would expect that the league will vigorously contest Lind’s allegations. MLB will likely argue that Lind’s lack of advancement was due to inadequate job performance, not sexism or racism. For instance, Lind’s complaint acknowledges that she had received several negative performance evaluations from Robinson. Lind assert that Robinson intentionally misrepresented the quality of her actual performance in order to justify his discriminatory treatment of her. MLB will undoubtedly argue to the contrary.

As with the Castergine case, MLB will probably consider settling the suit with Lind. Even if the league truly believes it has not discriminated against her, the prospect of potentially lengthy and embarrassing discovery proceedings in the case may be enough to motivate MLB to resolve the suit out of court. Whether Lind would be open to such a settlement, though, remains to be seen.

The Team Projections and You (National League).
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Hello and welcome to the second half of this exercise, in which I do some of the work and you also do some of the work. Here’s a link to the first part, going over the American League. I think this is all pretty simple to understand. I’ll probably also do something like this again just before the season, when rosters are complete and we have more information in general, but we can still learn something from this, which asks you about the present situations, presently. And maybe any kinks experienced through these posts will be smoothed out by the time we re-visit in March. Are you ready to vote in 15 polls? Or, are you ready to vote in up to 15 polls?

Information’s based on the Steamer projections and the team depth charts. While free agents are still available, and while players will still get traded, this is asking about the roster situations right now, and not what you anticipate the roster situations to be by the end of spring training. Thank you all for your participation!

In, again, alphabetical order:


Projection: 73-89
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

The Braves seem to believe that Nick Markakis is actually a pretty good defender, so perhaps he’s actually a pretty good defender. Freddie Freeman is basically a star, and Andrelton Simmons is basically a different kind of star, and the pitching picture looks stronger if Shelby Miller actually did figure something out down the stretch last season. Mike Minor‘s just a year removed from being excellent.

Reasons for pessimism

The starting outfield right now is Markakis, Evan Gattis, and B.J. Upton. Alberto Callaspo might be a starter. Jace Peterson might be a starter. The rotation drops off fast, and the holes in the lineup are evident. The Braves deny that they’re totally rebuilding, and no one really needs to totally rebuild anymore, but boy do the Braves seem not on the verge of anything particularly good.

I think the Braves' 73-89 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 77-85
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

As quiet as the Brewers have been, remember how long they were in or near first place just a season ago. Don’t confuse inactivity for a lack of competitiveness. Carlos Gomez is tremendous, Jonathan Lucroy is tremendous, and Ryan Braun has the ability to be tremendous when he has full use of his hands. The rotation is competent all the way through, so on the 25-man level, the ingredients are present for a playoff team.

Reasons for pessimism

This isn’t the deepest team, and Braun’s wRC+ has dropped three seasons in a row. Yovani Gallardo‘s strikeouts keep dropping, and Matt Garza‘s own K-BB% has been taking steps back. Wily Peralta serves up homers. Kyle Lohse has posted consecutive worse-than-average FIPs. Do you want Mike Fiers to be the best one? Mike Fiers might be the best one.

I think the Brewers' 77-85 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 87-75
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

There’s someone pretty good seemingly everywhere. What’s the question mark on the position-player side — Kolten Wong? Last year, Wong was a two-win player in 113 games. The big question mark in the rotation is Carlos Martinez, who has obvious talent, and even if Martinez ultimately can’t cut it for 160 innings or so, there’s organizational depth in place to make a move back to the bullpen easily feasible.

Reasons for pessimism

In a lot of areas, the Cardinals keep getting older. It’s not clear how much longer Adam Wainwright will be great. Same goes for Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday. If Jason Heyward‘s power keeps going in the opposite direction from the one expected, maybe he won’t be the impact player the Cardinals thought they were acquiring.

I think the Cardinals' 87-75 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 83-79
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

Here’s a team to dream on. There are prospects almost everywhere, big-league-ready prospects, and who has more sudden breakout potential than really super talented prospects? The rotation’s not a weakness, with Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta at the front, and the position players are incredibly intriguing even before you fold in the Kris Bryant factor. The Cubs are upside. Maybe not totally rationally, but people don’t always have to be rational.

Reasons for pessimism

As fun as it is to dream on big-time prospects, that also makes it easy to overrate them. Right now the Cubs have a pretty weak outfield. Meanwhile, Javier Baez has obvious bust potential, and Miguel Montero hasn’t hit for a few years, and what if Starlin Castro gets in one of his moods? You also have to wonder about almost everyone in the rotation behind Lester. Even though Arrieta was great, what if that was simply a career year, the perfect blend of all circumstances?

I think the Cubs' 83-79 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 74-88
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

Everyone who’s made it to the major leagues has done so because that individual has exceptional talent. These are all among the thousand or so best baseball players in the world. With that in mind, the difference between the best players and the worst players in the major leagues is actually surprisingly small. They’re all amazing. You’re just observing a slice of the very most amazing. The Diamondbacks, to be honest, are composed exclusively of amazing baseball players. There is nothing incorrect about that sentence.

Reasons for pessimism

The main guy to dream on is Archie Bradley. Last year Bradley finished with 75 strikeouts and 49 walks. Our projections don’t yet include Yasmany Tomas, but even if they did, there are no guarantees Tomas is any better than Dayan Viciedo, and Dayan Viciedo is bad. (Although he is, removed from context, an amazingly skilled baseball player! Wow!)

I think the Diamondbacks' 74-88 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 91-71
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

In a world in which Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson both stay mostly healthy, this starting rotation would be basically unfair. They’ll also benefit from an improved defensive outfield, and instead of worrying about a weak middle infield, now there are Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins. The Dodgers did everything. Everything is done. The Dodgers are essentially finished, and boy, the Dodgers look great.

Reasons for pessimism

So, about McCarthy, and about Anderson. Track records are track records, and Joe Wieland isn’t Brandon McCarthy or Brett Anderson. Joc Pederson is an outstanding rookie but he’s also big-league unproven, and the gap between Triple-A and the majors might be the biggest it’s ever been. While Yasmani Grandal is better than A.J. Ellis, an injured Grandal isn’t better than a healthy Ellis, and Grandal seems to have this thing about getting injured sometimes.

I think the Dodgers' 91-71 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 83-79
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

It’s easy to worry about the departure of Pablo Sandoval, but Casey McGehee isn’t actually a bad player, at least judging from recent versions. Few players are more valuable than Buster Posey, and few first basemen are more valuable than a healthy version of Brandon Belt. Don’t forget that Matt Cain is returning to this starting rotation, and this edition of Cain shouldn’t have the health problems of the previous edition of same.

Reasons for pessimism

Not that you can just count on Cain. Not that you can just count on a healthy Belt. It would be easy to understand how McGehee would turn into a problem, and the rotation depth is still Tim Lincecum and Yusmeiro Petit, which doesn’t seem like it’s good enough. The bullpen’s hardly outstanding, and though the Giants might be counting on Hunter Strickland to occupy a more significant role, who could forget October?

I think the Giants' 83-79 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 81-81
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

This is where Giancarlo Stanton is. He plays the outfield with two of his friends, who are less obviously terrific, and then just imagine a rotation where Mat Latos and Jose Fernandez are really and truly healthy. Toss in the possibility of Dee Gordon really having learned something in 2014, and you have the very model of an exciting team. Few elements of these Marlins are dull.

Reasons for pessimism

Latos is projected to be barely better than one of the players the Marlins gave up to get him. Dan Haren might not pitch here at all, and we don’t actually know what Fernandez is going to be, or how soon he’s going to be it. Dee Gordon is an obvious regression candidate, and if he regresses hard enough, the Marlins will have a backup starting in front of other backups.

I think the Marlins' 81-81 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 79-83
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

When Matt Harvey was last healthy, he was as good as any other pitcher in the whole entire world. He’s healthy now, again, and this should be the year that Noah Syndergaard arrives. Throw in an improving Zack Wheeler and a breakout Jacob deGrom and there’s plenty to hang your hat on. On the position-player side, one hopes that rest and recovery will allow David Wright to return to being a force, and Juan Lagares is perhaps baseball’s best example of a guy who contributes star-level performance while leading with his defense.

Reasons for pessimism

The same concerns that apply to Jose Fernandez apply to Matt Harvey, and Wheeler still has issues with his walks. deGrom might get worse just as fast as he got better, and it’s not like Wright is certain to get back to what he was when he was younger and awesome. If Lagares is the most exciting position player, he’s also a position player who projects to be a below-average hitter. It’s a poor man’s boom-or-bust ballclub. Does that still count as a boom-or-bust ballclub?

I think the Mets' 79-83 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 87-75
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

Perhaps you have seen the Nationals’ roster? Find the bad bit. Except for the one bad bit. Everyone knows about that.

Reasons for pessimism

Among the position players projected to be best, pretty much all of them have had very real and very legitimate injury problems in the not-so-distant past. There’s not a whole lot of depth, so an injury would cause things to drop off fast, and, well, that’s what I’ve got for this section.

I think the Nationals' 87-75 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 78-84
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

It’s hard not to get swept up by the blur of activity. The Padres, at least, ought to hit. The catcher should hit. The outfield should hit. There are actually too many hitters, which allows for a very strong bench. Imagine this rotation if they can actually stay fairly healthy. Where’s the best landing spot for a pitcher trying to recover past value? San Diego. Say hello to Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow. The Padres don’t need those pitchers to be healthy, but if they are, this gets a lot better fast.

Reasons for pessimism

Johnson isn’t such a big fan of health. Neither is Morrow. Tyson Ross seems like an injury candidate, given all the sliders he throws, and oh, by the way, Wil Myers wasn’t a good hitter a year ago, and Matt Kemp might be one of the worst defensive outfielders in the game. The defense on this team is not going to be good, and it’s by no means clear the offensive upgrade will be worthwhile. It’ll be interesting to see to what degree the pitchers suffer from the departures of Rene Rivera and Yasmani Grandal.

I think the Padres' 78-84 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 69-93
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

In the grand scheme of things, 2011 was practically yesterday, so would it be so crazy to think the Phillies might play as well as they played yesterday? This is a team with Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Chase Utley on it. What’s that? No. No, a baseball team consists of only three players. What do you mean other players?

Reasons for pessimism

The other players. Also, Lee was just hurt, and Utley doesn’t have the most durable track record. Ben Revere stopped being interesting the very moment he hit his first home run. Now he’s not so much a novelty as he is an unimpressive center fielder. Plenty of those around. I shouldn’t be picking on Revere. Relative to a lot of the others, Revere is more than okay.

I think the Phillies' 69-93 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 86-76
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

This projection doesn’t even project much from Gregory Polanco, who a year ago looked like one of the most valuable assets in the game. Andrew McCutchen is about as close to as good as Mike Trout as it gets, and Starling Marte is a star player who gets to exist in McCutchen’s giant shadow. The Pirates have done a good job of amassing roster depth, which is one way for a lower-budget team to try to avoid getting hurt by too much adversity.

Reasons for pessimism

It’s tough to lose a Russell Martin. So much of Josh Harrison‘s value came from BABIP, and we know how that usually goes. The rotation starts to get shaky behind Gerrit Cole, and those haven’t been the most steady pitchers year to year. Though the Pirates have collected depth, they might ultimately suffer from not getting enough above-average performances.

I think the Pirates' 86-76 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 75-87
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

This one’s simple. Joey Votto ought to be healthier. Jay Bruce ought to be healthier. Homer Bailey ought to be healthier, and Billy Hamilton ought to be better, and Johnny Cueto keeps beating the hell out of his peripherals. On the surface, the Reds have borderline playoff-caliber talent. They have maybe the best relief pitcher in baseball slamming doors left and right. The issue will be one of keeping the roster as intact as possible for as long as possible.

Reasons for pessimism

The currently-listed starting left fielder is Brennan Boesch. The shortstop just had a 56 wRC+. A roster with injury questions is a roster that can get badly wounded in the blink of an eye, and if Votto or Cueto is forced to miss much time, there’s not enough here. The Reds occupy an extremely difficult position on the longer-term win curve. They’re too talented to tear it apart but they’re too mediocre to run with the big boys. Also they don’t have much money.

I think the Reds' 75-87 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 78-84
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

That thing about Andrew McCutchen is also a thing about Troy Tulowitzki. The healthy Tulowitzki is seriously about as good as Mike Trout. So the Rockies are in a high-risk/high-reward position, where so much depends on the health of their shortstop. Tulowitzki can’t make the Rockies contenders by himself, but as long as he’s on the field, that’s an enormous advantage. To a lesser magnitude, Carlos Gonzalez is like this — when he’s on the field, the Rockies are a lot better. Nolan Arenado, quietly, is a real good third baseman, and the rotation might not be dreadful for a rotation you’d think might be dreadful. Mostly, the Tulowitzki thing.

Reasons for pessimism

The Tulowitzki thing. And the Gonzalez thing. What do you do when your best starter might be Jorge de la Rosa? It’s really hard to pitch well in Colorado, and Colorado has a history of pitching like it. With just a little bit of predictable injury, the Rockies look like a last-place team. How long can you put off injury, really?

I think the Rockies' 78-84 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

The Team Projections and You (American League).
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Hello! Welcome to a post with 15 polls in it. Ordinarily, when you click on a FanGraphs post, it’s the author who’s done all the work. In this case, the author has done some of the work, but the work is to be completed by you, as this is an audience exercise. I’ll explain.

You know about the Steamer team projections. We use them a lot. They’re a super tool, for purposes of discussing, say, the highly active White Sox, or the highly active Padres, or the highly active Dodgers, or the so far highly inactive Orioles. When analyzing any transaction, we want to have an idea of how a given team looks, and the linked page makes it really easy. We’re always trying to project; Steamer has already projected. The depth charts have already depth charted.

But! Sometimes people disagree with the projections. Sometimes certain teams might seem way off. That’s what I want to gauge, here, with what I think are pretty easily understandable polls. There’s a poll here for each American League team, and I want to know what you think of their projections. I understand this is just based on Steamer, since we don’t yet have full ZiPS, and I also understand there are moves yet to be made. Max Scherzer won’t be a free agent forever. But I want to know what you think right now, based on conditions right now. I think there might be a lot to be learned from this. Alternatively, maybe there’s nothing to be learned from this. But the most important thing is, here’s content, and nothing has happened in baseball for like a week and a half, so, participate, please. I want to know where you think we’re wrong. People are always saying we’re wrong! This should be fun.

Let us proceed in alphabetical order. Later, the National League post. It would be funny to only have an American League post.


Projection: 84-78
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

The Angels have the best player in the world! They also have a player with the talent to be one of the best players in the world, in Josh Hamilton, and there’s depth in the rotation with the surprising Matt Shoemaker and with Andrew Heaney coming over.

Reasons for pessimism

The best pitcher on the team will miss the start of the season, as he’s coming off a major injury. You don’t know if Shoemaker might turn back into a pumpkin, and, well, did the league partially figure out Mike Trout? How is he going to respond to all the pitches up in the zone? Also, there are probably other reasons.

I think the Angels' 84-78 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 76-86
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

There’s growth potential in a lot of places, and maybe this year Jon Singleton won’t be completely terrible. A couple of talented breakthrough pitchers lead the rotation, and free agency has made the bullpen significantly better.

Reasons for pessimism

Jose Altuve won’t do that again. Maybe Jon Singleton will do that again. The rotation still isn’t particularly deep, and relievers are both volatile and susceptible to midseason trades. Matt Dominguez remains a starting player, so.

I think the Astros' 76-86 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 82-80
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

Hard to find a deeper starting rotation, once A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker return to some semblance of health and availability. The numbers are really rather high on Marcus Semien, and Brett Lawrie has had untold potential pooling just below the surface. Did you know Stephen Vogt is a good hitter? Right now the A’s only look bad at second base.

Reasons for pessimism

Goodbye, everybody. Why should Oakland be any more lucky with Lawrie than Toronto was? Why should we think the rotation will actually hold up? Semien has yet to hit in the majors. Billy Butler‘s coming off a bad year, and still it’s almost impossible to want to count on Scott Kazmir.

I think the Athletics' 82-80 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results
Blue Jays

Projection: 84-78
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

The Jays made some of the biggest additions in Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson, and Martin will also help to improve the whole pitching staff. Michael Saunders is a real solid player when he’s able to be an active player, and there’s reason to believe he’s not hopelessly fragile. Devon Travis might be able to fill the void at second base. Marcus Stroman is stupid good, and Aaron Sanchez, if nothing else, might be an absolutely untouchable reliever.

Reasons for pessimism

Well, Martin’s in his 30s, and Donaldson got rather curiously sold by a team you’d think would highly value him, and Saunders has been hurt a bunch, and…the rotation thins out fast. Neither first base nor second base are currently occupied by what you might call good baseball players.

I think the Blue Jays' 84-78 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 85-77
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

One of the most underrated rotations in baseball also picked up a solid-upside arm in Gavin Floyd. So, if Floyd can pitch, the Indians also have depth, which every team needs at some point. The defense here ought to be better, and if Brandon Moss returns well from his injury, he’ll be a real impact bat.

Reasons for pessimism

Or, Moss won’t return well from injury. There aren’t actually known entities in the rotation, aside from Corey Kluber. If Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn are just done, that hurts, and while you want to blame Jason Kipnis‘ down year on injuries, you always want to blame down years on injuries, and sometimes they’re just changes in ability for whatever other reason.

I think the Indians' 85-77 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 88-74
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

There’s real elite talent here, in Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, and Kyle Seager. Nelson Cruz plugged the most obvious offensive hole, and all he did last season was lead the bigs in home runs. Both Chris Taylor and Brad Miller have excelled everywhere but the majors, and Austin Jackson ought to return to being a solid starter after an offseason of rest. The projections don’t even love James Paxton as much as non-projection evaluators do.

Reasons for pessimism

Paxton was hurt last year, Taijuan Walker was hurt last year, Roenis Elias was hurt last year, and J.A. Happ has never been anything but J.A. Happ. How much can you really count on Jackson to bounce back? Miller might have a strikeout problem, and Mike Zunino definitely has a strikeout problem, and Logan Morrison isn’t actually a good player to be starting at first base. Whenever you have a roster with this much at the top, one well-placed injury can make a big difference.

I think the Mariners' 88-74 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 79-83
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

Is this where I cite the Orioles’ magic? Beyond that, Matt Wieters is coming back, and Chris Davis should improve. Manny Machado remains one of the greatest talents in baseball, even if he might no longer project as a shortstop, and while you can choose to focus on the loss of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, Alejandro De Aza is fine, and David Lough is fine, and Steve Pearce just beat the crap out of the baseball.

Reasons for pessimism

Kevin Gausman is the most talented starter in the rotation, but no one in there is really an impact pitcher. Even in the Orioles’ case, you shouldn’t just rely on clutch performance and good luck, and the whole team’s gotten thinner. It’s a problem if Pearce isn’t a real good hitter again. It’s a problem if Machado’s legs prevent him from being a truly elite defender at third.

I think the Orioles' 79-83 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 77-85
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

This season one shouldn’t expect every player in the clubhouse to come down with malaria. Just look over the top of the roster: Yu Darvish, Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder, Derek Holland, Shin-Soo Choo. That’s a lot of name value, and name value comes from real value, to some extent. As much as Jurickson Profar has struggled with injuries, the healthy version should still be one of the premier young middle-infield talents in the game.

Reasons for pessimism

How hard would it be to believe that Fielder might just be declining? Same goes for Choo, and as for Darvish, the talent is almost unparalleled, but he finished last year with a problem in his elbow, which bodes somewhat poorly. The rotation isn’t deep, given the Martin Perez surgery and the Matt Harrison unknown. All Michael Choice was last year was the player with the lowest WAR in the majors.

I think the Rangers' 77-85 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 83-79
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

After the trade, Drew Smyly immediately took a step forward, for seemingly legitimate reasons. Rene Rivera is like Jose Molina with a bat in his hands, and Steven Souza might be just as good as Wil Myers, and Kevin Kiermaier is coming off some truly absurd statistics, in a good way. Alex Cobb is quietly on the level of some real-life aces, and Evan Longoria has a track record suggesting that 2014 will stand as an aberration in retrospect.

Reasons for pessimism

Even players like Longoria get worse eventually. It might be that Souza has a swing that’s too long to really be successful in the majors in a meaningful way, and Rivera never really hit prior to 2014 so you can’t count on him maintaining a good wOBA. Nick Franklin might be flaming out just as Ben Zobrist enters a more accelerated period of decline.

I think the Rays' 83-79 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results
Red Sox

Projection: 87-75
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

This projection doesn’t even include anything for Rusney Castillo, who gets a default -0.2 WAR instead of the +2 or +3 the Red Sox presumably expect. There’s some amount of depth everywhere, with an outfield where said depth cancels out many of the looming question marks. Having four talented outfielders for three spots helps to mitigate injury and under-performance concerns. The rotation, as it stands, could be very quietly effective when you combine groundballs with a solid-framing tandem of backstops.

Reasons for pessimism

Remember just last year when Xander Bogaerts was particularly not good? The rotation is also both thin and relatively underwhelming, and it’s not like you can just count on health from Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino. Or Dustin Pedroia. Or Mike Napoli. Or anyone, really. This team just last year was a huge disappointment. Might that in any way carry over?

I think the Red Sox's 87-75 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 81-81
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

When you look at that bullpen, it’s easy to figure the team will win more games than its overall level of talent. The Royals added a very intriguing flyer candidate in Kris Medlen, and there’s also no telling when Kyle Zimmer might make an appearance and prove he belongs. The underrated stars are still there, and perhaps some of last year’s offensive disappointments will have gotten better from experience.

Reasons for pessimism

Kendrys Morales, last year, was bad. So was Alex Rios. Edinson Volquez hasn’t been actually good for a long time. It hurts to lose James Shields, as when you peek behind Yordano Ventura, you see something that looks more like the rotation of a last-place team than a first-place team. It’s good to have a strong defense, but you generally don’t want defense to be your strength.

I think the Royals' 81-81 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 86-76
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

J.D. Martinez was a big-time breakout, as was Shane Greene, who the Tigers did well to add for the cost of some non-impact prospects. Even if the Tigers don’t manage to re-sign Max Scherzer, Greene could help to numb the pain, and if Justin Verlander learned anything from the year he just had, he could return to something closer to the level of his track record. This is still a team with Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.

Reasons for pessimism

Cabrera’s getting older, and Martinez is getting older. Verlander’s getting older, and Joe Nathan is getting older. We’re all getting older, but the Tigers seem to be getting older faster, and Alfredo Simon doesn’t seem like a good bet to be effective in a regular role. You’d like to see more in center field, and you don’t really know what they’re going to get out of Jose Iglesias or Nick Castellanos. When you keep borrowing from the future to improve the present, you don’t end up with a whole lot of youth.

I think the Tigers' 86-76 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 76-86
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

Kennys Vargas swings really hard, and that’s fun, and baseball’s fun, and, who knows, right? In football, they say, any given Sunday. In baseball, you could say, any given any day! Hey, Twins, all right!

Reasons for pessimism

Phil Hughes is having to do a lot to prop up the starting rotation, and even last year he seemed somewhat hittable despite his extraordinary strikeout and walk numbers. The defense is going to be a weakness, and while Torii Hunter will be popular with fans in April, who’s to say how popular he’ll still be in August? Oswaldo Arcia has drawn 50 walks to go with 244 strikeouts. All Danny Santana did was run a .405 BABIP, which is a BABIP that begins with a 4.

I think the Twins' 76-86 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results
White Sox

Projection: 78-84
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

Complaining about the back end of the starting rotation skips right by the front end of the starting rotation, which might soon also include an effective Carlos Rodon. And then if Rodon is good, that’s not really a “front end” of the starting rotation, since you’d be talking about four really talented arms. If Adam Eaton is a good defensive center fielder, he’s a real impact player, and there’s little to doubt about Jose Abreu. Melky Cabrera, recently, has been good when he hasn’t had a tumor in his body pressing up against his spine. (He doesn’t have one of those anymore.)

Reasons for pessimism

One thing the White Sox aren’t is deep. The elite talent is real elite talent, but it’s not even just backups who don’t project well — there are also just open, mediocre starting positions. As much as people have compared Avisail Garcia to Miguel Cabrera, by this point Cabrera had 104 career dingers. He had a .535 slugging percentage. Could be that Garcia is Cabrera in the way that Ramon Ortiz was Pedro Martinez.

I think the White Sox's 78-84 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Projection: 83-79
Depth chart page
Reasons for optimism

Wait a second. Masahiro Tanaka, and Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia, and Nathan Eovaldi, and Ivan Nova? Given health, that could be a really outstanding starting five. The bullpen also has a stupid twosome in Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, and while Chase Headley didn’t get Pablo Sandoval money, he might be the better player and the Yankees did well to keep him. I don’t want to dump on Derek Jeter, but compared to late-career Derek Jeter, it’s going to be good to have Didi Gregorius.

Reasons for pessimism

Look at that starting rotation. You already thought about the talent. Now think about the other things. Yeah, the other things also matter. No player in the lineup doesn’t have question marks. There are plenty of star names. Perhaps even too many star names. Now, identify a certain star player. It’s not so easy. The Marlins dumped Garrett Jones on the Yankees to save some money, and the Yankees actually have a use for him. That’s…both good and discouraging?

I think the Yankees' 83-79 projection is:
low, by more than 3 games
low, by up to 3 games
high, by up to 3 games
high, by more than 3 games
View Results

Appreciating Hiroki Kuroda.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Hiroki Kuroda didn’t actually retire, but he did for all intents and purposes. The 39-year-old free agent pitcher, most recently of the New York Yankees but also formerly of the Los Angeles Dodgers, decided to return to his former team, the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, in his homeland of Japan. Kuroda had worked on one-year contracts each of the last four years — weighing the decision of whether or not to return to Japan heavily each season. This year, something tipped the scales.

It certainly wasn’t a matter of the demand for his services. Kuroda is coming off a three-win season and took just $3.3 million to play in Japan. It almost certainly is a matter of a nearly 40-year-old man simply desiring to go home, back to the place in which he grew up and lived for the first 32 years of his life. And back to the team he called his own for the first 11 years of his professional baseball career.

Kuroda was never the best pitcher in the league; he was never the best pitcher on his team. But he wasn’t supposed to be. What he was, was consistent. In an era where pitchers are more volatile than ever, Kuroda was anything but. Since coming to the USA in 2008, he made at least 31 starts in six of his seven MLB seasons. In the other, he made 20.

Over the last five seasons, Kuroda averaged 32 starts per year. Only 11 other pitchers can make that claim. You’ll notice what sets Kuroda apart from those 11 other pitchers:

Kuroda has been among the game’s most durable pitchers, which is impressive. He’s also been among the game’s oldest, which is not only impressive in and of itself, but makes the previous statement that much more impressive.

But it’s not just that he gave his team innings, it’s that he gave his team good innings. As previously mentioned, he was never an elite pitcher, but his career is far more than just innings. During his seven years in the majors, he ranked 19th in pitcher WAR, by FIP. He ranked 17th in pitcher WAR, by ERA.

When you compare him to his historical peers, it’s more impressive. First, consider that Kuroda threw more than 1,000 innings after his age-35 season, something to which only only 46 pitchers during the live-ball era (1940-Present) can lay claim. Of that group, Kuroda ranks 29th in a 50/50 split of FIP-WAR and ERA-WAR. This rank is worse than the previous rank I presented, but this pool of players also dates back 74 years, instead of five. If it doesn’t sound remarkable enough, let me phrase it another way — only 28 pitchers, throughout the history of baseball as we know it, have had better careers, after the age of 35, than Hiroki Kuroda.

So how did he do it? The most important thing, especially for a pitcher his age, is that he stayed healthy. But beyond that, the biggest thing was his command. He never posted a single-season walk rate above 6%, in a time when the league average was a little more than 8%. Other than that, he did just enough of everything. He got just enough strikeouts. He got just enough grounders. How much better was he than the league at allowing home runs? Just enough.

Here’s a nice little nugget from’s Bryan Hoch:

As a Yankee, Kuroda was 38-33 with a 3.44 ERA in 97 starts. No pitcher who has made at least 50 starts with the Yankees produced a lower career ERA as a starter since Ron Guidry compiled a 3.32 mark from 1975-88.

And he was abnormally consistent. In four seasons with the Dodgers, his ERA was 3.44. In three seasons with the Yankees, his ERA was 3.45. Consistency isn’t something we spend a lot of time on — it probably doesn’t matter all too much when a player accumulates his value over the course of a season, so long as he accumulates it. But there’s something to be said for knowing exactly what you’ll get out of a player, with no worries. It’s nice to have somebody to count on.

Kuroda’s walk rate, by season: 5.4, 5.0, 5.9, 5.9, 5.7, 5.2, 4.3

His yearly ERA and FIP, in graphical form:

Kuroda was the model of consistency over his MLB career which, again, is made all more impressive by his age. Neither his ERA nor his FIP ever finished above 4.00 in a single season.

Kuroda made five playoff starts in three separate postseasons. Two in the 2008 postseason with the Dodgers were good. One in the 2009 postseason with the Dodgers was a clunker. The other two, in the 2012 postseason with the Yankees, were also good. He never got the chance to pitch in a World Series.

These have just been words, and what Hiroki Kuroda did at his job every day deserves to be seen, so let’s watch.

The pitch for which Kuroda will be best remembered is his splitter. Opponents hit just .193 of Kuroda’s splitter and slugged just .270. He threw it 3,405 times in the major leagues and allowed 10 home runs off of it, in seven seasons. It generated 463 swinging strikes. Of those 463 whiffs, here are the three with the most movement, courtesy of the BaseballSavant PITCHf/x search engine:

A splitter with considerable armside run:

A splitter with considerable vertical drop:

And, finally, a particularly nasty splitter against Prince Fielder in the 2012 ALCS:

Kuroda struck out 11 batters in 7 2/3 innings of work that night, but the Yankees weren’t able to muster any runs off Anibal Sanchez and Phil Coke, and the Yankees lost, 3-0. That’s rather fitting for Kuroda, though, as he received notoriously low run support throughout his career. The Yankees and Dodgers combined to score less than four runs per game for Kuroda, who will finish his MLB career with a record of 79-79.

For seven seasons, Hiroki Kuroda quietly went about his work in the MLB, before slinking off to Japan, surely to do more of the same. He didn’t have a big personality and he was never elite, so for these reasons, perhaps Kuroda didn’t quite get the appreciation he deserved during his career in America. But that’s not to say what Hiroki Kuroda did isn’t worth appreciating, because it is. Farewell, Hiroki. Sayonara.

The Brandon Webbs of the Near Future.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
At the end of last week, the present author examined the unusual career arc of former excellent right-handed pitcher Brandon Webb. Never regarded as a top prospect, Webb debuted at the beginning of 2003, led all rookies (including both pitchers and hitters) in WAR that season, and then proceeded to become one of the sport’s best pitchers over the next five years — despite a fastball that, whatever its other virtues, featured average velocity at best.

Certain readers expressed some interest in identifying who, among the league’s current pitchers, most resembles Webb — and, indeed, Dallas Keuchel (a name invoked by more than one commenter) appears to be the most obvious choice, insofar as he led all qualifiers in ground-ball rate by a wide margin while also producing an average fastball velocity of 89.7 mph (even as the league average among starters in 2014 was 91.4 mph). The strikeout and walk rates are both similar and, as for pedigree, Keuchel was a seventh-round selection out of college. Webb, meanwhile, was an eighth-round pick, also out of college. Keuchel, like Webb, never appeared among Baseball America’s top-100 prospects. So, really, except for handedness, the two feature decidedly similar profiles (except, one hopes, the injury profile).

For many similar reasons, Cleveland left-hander T.J. House, who posted a 60.5% ground-ball rate — distinguishing him as the only other pitcher with 50-plus innings as a starter to break the 60%-ground-ball threshold in 2014 — qualifies as a possible heir to Webb’s legacy. House, for his part, recorded almost identical strikeout and walk rates to Keuchel over his 10 starts this year and wasn’t selected until the 16th round of the 2008 draft.

So those are two active pitchers who possess more than a passing resemblance to Webb — and who, should they retain their health, ought to exceed by a considerable margin the production expected of players drafted in their respective rounds and throwing fastballs at their respective velocities and having been absent from top-propsect lists.

Of perhaps more interest for me, personally, is the idea of possibly identifying those Webb comparables who lack a body of work at the major-league level yet — or at least one as relatively substantial as either House or Keuchel.

To do so requires first examining Brandon Webb’s minor-league resume and then extracting from that — plus from other more qualitative information — a set of criteria which, when met, ought to produce something like a modern day Webb.

Fortunately for this sort of endeavor, Webb wasn’t promoted in the middle of his minor-league seasons, so there exist two large samples — his 2001 season in the High-A California League and 2002 in the Double-A Texas League — from which to draw.

There are no ground-ball rates — or even ground-ball/fly-ball ratios — extant from these years. We’ll deal with that in a moment. For now, however, it’s at least possible to make observations about Webb’s strikeout and walk rates relative to his peers.

Below are the basic numbers from Webb’s two main minor-league seasons. Note that zK% and zBB% denote Webb’s z-scores both for strikeout rate and walk rate among those pitchers who both (a) recorded starts in at least 50% of their appearances and also (b) faced 100 or more batters over the course of the season.
Year Lev Lg G GS GS% IP BF K% BB% zK% zBB%
2001 A+ Cal 29 28 96.6% 162.1 711 22.2% 6.2% 0.27 0.73
2002 AA Tex 26 25 96.2% 152.0 647 18.9% 9.1% 0.44 -0.33
What one finds is that — so far as strikeouts and walks were concerned, at least — that Webb was pretty average. By neither measure did he ever finish more than a standard deviation from the mean of the aforementioned sample. If one is searching for a comparable to Webb, then, it makes sense to search for those pitchers who were relatively average by this measure — or, certainly not much worse (say, by a standard deviation) than average.

Webb actually produced pretty decent strikeout numbers as a major-league pitcher — better relative to the league than he had as a minor leaguer. But it wasn’t the skill on which his success was most immediately built. His greatest skill was inducing ground balls. As I note above, there isn’t any ground-ball data available from the minor leagues from 2001 or -02. That said, there are two clues which might inform his ground-ball ability as a minor leaguer. First, there’s his major-league performance. Between 2003 and -08 — which is to say, his entire career except for 4.0 innings — Webb recorded a 64.3% ground-ball rate. That was the highest mark not only among qualified pitchers, but among all 512 pitchers who threw at least 20 innings in a starting capacity over that six-year interval.

Below are the top-five ground-ball pitchers from that era, with their numbers as a starter only. Each metric preceded by a -z- once again denotes the relevant z-score for that metric — in this case, among those pitchers who threw 20-plus innings as a starter between 2003 and -08.
# Name Team IP TBF K% BB% GB% zK% zBB% zGB%
1 Brandon Webb D-backs 1314.2 5491 19.3% 7.9% 64.3% 1.13 0.30 3.13
2 Derek Lowe - – - 1232.1 5241 14.8% 6.8% 64.0% -0.02 0.75 3.08
3 Roberto Hernandez Indians 372.2 1595 13.7% 9.3% 62.9% -0.30 -0.27 2.92
4 Sergio Mitre - – - 282.0 1270 12.8% 7.2% 60.5% -0.53 0.59 2.58
5 Chien-Ming Wang Yankees 623.1 2586 10.8% 6.8% 60.5% -1.04 0.75 2.58
As noted, Webb finished with the highest ground-ball rate among the relevant population — roughly 3 standard deviations better than the mean. That’s one clue as to Webb’s probable ground-balling skills at the minor-league level. If he was the best in the majors, then it stands to follow that he was probably pretty decent as a young pitcher in the minors, as well.

While no ground-ball data exists from the minor leagues from 2003 or before, it does exist (care of Stat Corner) for 2007 and later. And here we find a second clue as to Webb’s possible ground-ball tendencies as a minor leaguer — for, as he attempted a return to the majors in 2011 with the Texas Rangers, Webb recorded 12.0 innings with that club’s Double-A affiliate, the Frisco RoughRiders. This, of course, was not the strongest version of Brandon Webb. Indeed, it was a broken version of Brandon Webb capable, as it turns out, of throwing only 12.0 innings. Still, he resembled that healthy version of Webb enough to induce ground balls at a more frequent rate than almost everyone else in the Texas League.

Below are Webb’s numbers from that small sample compared to those other pitchers in the Texas League in 2011 who (a) worked primarily as starters and also (b) faced 100 or more batters over the course of the season.
# Name Team BF GB% zGB%
1 Joe Gardner Drillers 151 69.2% 2.96
2 Kevin Thomas Cardinals 336 62.1% 2.12
3 Brandon Webb RoughRiders 62 59.2% 1.77
4 Jeremy Jeffress Naturals 129 57.0% 1.51
5 Jarred Cosart Hooks 157 57.0% 1.51
The exact rates oughtn’t be the focus here: the minor-league play-by-play data presents challenges to precision so far as that’s concerned. Relative to other pitchers in the league, however, one finds that disabled Brandon Webb — separated by more than two seasons from the best version of himself — still recorded a ground-ball rate nearly two standard deviations better than league average. That’s the worst-case scenario for a Brandon Webb comparable, in other words.

That mostly established, it’s possible to produce some basic guidelines for identifying those minor leaguers who most thoroughly resemble the Brandon Webb of 2001 and -02.

For the purposes of this study, then, I searched for pitchers who:

Faced 100-plus batters in High-A or above in 2014 and recorded more than half of their appearances in a starting capacity; and
Recorded a ground-ball rate two-plus standard deviations better than league average (using StatCorner’s data); and
Recorded strikeout and walk rates no worse than one standard deviation below average; and
When starting, would be unlikely — based off of extant scouting reports — to produce an average fastball velocity above major-league (currently 91.4 mph); and
Have never appeared among Baseball America’s top-100 prospect list.
Applying those five criteria to every pitcher in the eight minor leagues at High-A or above, one finds the 13 pitchers (or 12, because of Scott Copeland’s two appearances) below. Players are sorted by zGB% — i.e. ground-ball rate expressed as standard deviations from the relevant leauge’s average for starting pitchers. Age denotes age as of June 30, 2014. Org denotes the organization to which the relevant player belonged at the end of the 2014 season. FB? represents the best guess as to average fastball velocity based on available reports.
# Name T Age Tm Lev Lg IP K% BB% GB% zK% zBB% zGB% FB?
1 T.J. McFarland L 25 BAL AAA IL 24.0 23.8% 7.6% 73.3% 1.36 0.19 3.76 88-91
2 Charlie Leesman L 27 CHA* AAA IL 68.0 22.4% 10.8% 68.6% 1.02 -0.96 3.16 86-91
3 Kendall Graveman R 23 TOR* AAA IL 38.1 15.2% 3.4% 64.8% -0.69 1.67 2.67 90-92
4 Scott Copeland R 26 TOR AAA IL 25.0 15.8% 6.9% 64.5% -0.53 0.43 2.64 90-93*
5 Dylan Floro R 23 TBA AA SL 178.2 15.0% 3.2% 61.6% -0.50 1.77 2.49 88-92
6 Mark Blackmar R 22 BAL* A+ Car 130.1 15.9% 6.1% 64.7% -0.54 0.51 2.49 87-90
7 Tony Bucciferro R 24 CHA A+ Car 129.1 17.4% 3.0% 64.0% -0.23 1.45 2.39 88-91
8 Jesse Hahn R 24 SDN* AA TL 42.1 22.1% 8.7% 59.2% 0.57 -0.23 2.32 90-92
9 Matthew Bowman R 23 NYN AA EL 98.1 22.1% 6.5% 62.2% 0.97 0.40 2.32 90-93
10 Scott Copeland R 26 TOR AA EL 139.2 14.8% 8.0% 61.4% -0.68 -0.15 2.21 90-93*
11 Tyler Danish R 19 CHA A+ Car 91.2 20.6% 6.1% 61.6% 0.44 0.52 2.08 88-92
12 Kyle Westwood R 24 HOU A+ Cal 132.0 15.9% 4.7% 58.5% -0.65 1.10 2.04 ???*
13 Dallas Beeler R 25 CHN AAA PCL 124.1 16.6% 6.4% 58.1% -0.42 0.62 2.02 89-91
There are a number of caveats to make regarding this list. The most urgent among them are as follows:

While he’s already recorded more than 130 innings as a major leaguer, left-hander T.J. McFarland has only made two starts at that same level — this, despite having made 112 of 122 (92%) appearances in the minor leagues as a starter.
The following players (each marked by an asterisk in the Org column) no longer player for the organization listed: Mark Blackmar (traded to Chicago White Sox), Kendall Graveman (traded to Oakland), Jesse Hahn (also traded to Oakland), and Charlie Leesman (released).
Besides McFarland, four other pitchers have made appearances in the majors: Dallas Beeler, Graveman, Hahn, and Leesman. Hahn was the most successful of the group in 2014, producing strikeout and walk rates of 22.9% and 10.5%, respectively, plus a 50.3% ground-ball rate in 73.1 innings (12/14 G/GS). Relative to major-league starters who threw at least 10 innings, Hahn’s ground-ball rate was (only) 0.8 standard deviations better than the mean. So, not really along the same lines as Webb, even if his (i.e. Hahn’s) minor-league numbers were similarly impressive.
There’s a case to be made that Tyler Danish doesn’t belong among the pitchers listed here, on account of he was selected in the second round — that is, among that group of players from whom more is expected than in the eighth round (where Webb was selected) — of the 2013 draft. Also, he earned a promotion to High-A as just a 19-year-old.
There’s no precise velocity readings available for Scott Copeland. Jay Blue of Blue Jays from Away does mention Copeland sitting in the “low-90s,” however. With regard to Kyle Westwood, meanwhile, one report, courtesy Anton Joe of Astros Daily from August of 2013, cites Westwood’s fastball as sitting in the 88-92 mph range. A more recent reports, however — this from Ron Cervenka of Think Blue LA — quotes right-hander Lindsey Caughel saying that Westwood’s fastball “hits 97.” The latter velocity, while intriguing, would eliminate Westwood from consideration here; however, given that Westwood was entirely omitted from Kiley McDaniel’s report on the Astros farm, it’s also probably fair to say that he’s also not the hottest of commodities right now.
Among those pitchers with zero major-league experience, probably Mets right-hander Matthew Bowman‘s profile most favorably compares to the 2001-02 era Brandon Webb. A 13th-round selection out of Princeton in 2012, Bowman recorded strikeout and walk rates in 2014 that were both better than the Eastern League average for starters. Moreover, his ground-ball rates have frequently hovered around 60% throughout his minor-league career.

A Brief Note about Seth Smith.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Padres didn’t need Seth Smith, and traded him to the Mariners. The Mariners are getting themselves a nice little hitter, especially against right-handed pitching. Jeff will likely have more on Brandon Maurer, who was the Padres’ return for Smith, in the next couple of days, but until then I wanted to type up a little something about Eli Manning’s backup quarterback (it’s true).

Eno reminded us about players with a very defined skill set on Monday, and that is definitely how you would describe Smith. He’s not a very adept defender. He isn’t a complete sieve, but he’s certainly not around for his defense. He’s not the worst baserunner, but he wouldn’t be the first runner you picked to steal a base. Probably not the second either. And he isn’t much against left-handed pitching. Well, he was last year in an incredibly small sample, but given his track record that probably won’t persist.

What Smith does do well is hit right-handed pitching. Since his debut in 2007, there have been 169 batters to compile 2,000 or more plate appearances against right-handed pitchers. Smith is tied for 36th in wRC+. Pretty good, right? Especially for a part-time player. And for a team looking to add a corner bench or platoon bat this offseason, it would have been hard for the Mariners to do better. Let’s look at the players on this list, their current status, and their stats vs. righties since 2007 to drive home the point:

# Name Status PA wRC+
1 Joey Votto Not available 2800 160
2 Prince Fielder Maybe available 3433 157
3 David Ortiz Not available 3112 156
4 Miguel Cabrera Not available 4040 156
5 Shin-Soo Choo Maybe available 2745 151
6 Lance Berkman Retired 2568 148
7 Albert Pujols Possibly kryptonite 3847 146
8 Adrian Gonzalez Not available 3653 146
9 Alex Rodriguez Possibly kryptonite 2561 144
10 Joe Mauer Not available 2805 144
11 Matt Holliday Not available 3880 143
12 Andre Ethier Definitely available 3235 141
13 Josh Hamilton Definitely available 2920 138
14 Giancarlo Stanton Not available 2017 138
15 Justin Morneau Maybe available 2899 137
16 Robinson Cano Already on team 3524 137
17 Ryan Howard Definitely kryptonite 3026 136
18 Andrew McCutchen Not available 2980 136
19 Jose Bautista Not available 3332 135
20 Ryan Braun Not available 3519 134
21 Hanley Ramirez Not available 3421 133
22 Carlos Gonzalez Maybe available 2091 132
23 Pablo Sandoval Not available 2570 132
24 Curtis Granderson Not available 3437 131
25 Carlos Pena Retired 2804 131
26 Adam Dunn Retired 3545 130
27 Chase Utley Definitely available 2981 129
28 Adam Lind Not available 2780 128
29 Matt Joyce Not available 2175 128
30 Kevin Youkilis Retired 2480 126
31 Carlos Beltran Possibly kryptonite 3036 126
32 Mark Teixeira Possibly kryptonite 3036 125
33 Chris Davis Not available 2022 125
34 Bobby Abreu Retired? 2707 124
35 Evan Longoria Not available 2974 124
36 Seth Smith 2348 123
37 Josh Willingham Retired 2905 123
38 Neil Walker Not available 2167 123
So, there are a few players who are likely available with the same skill set, but most of them — Fielder, Choo, Ethier, Hamilton, Howard, Gonzalez, Beltran, and Teixeira — are either very expensive, come with injury concerns, or both.

There are a couple of standouts here — Morneau and Utley most notably — which is nice company to be in. When you add in positional concerns though, Smith sort of stands alone. Utley could probably play the outfield, but I doubt you’d get him to waive his no-trade clause to do so. Perhaps they could have landed Joyce if they had acted sooner, and Joyce is probably Smith’s best comp. But at this moment, given the objective of trying to find an available player with a great track record of mashing against righties and who doesn’t cost a fortune, it would have been hard for the Mariners to do better than Seth Smith.

Shawn Kelley (Future Closer?) to Padres
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Padres acquired yet another player today, as the new General Manager continues to trade away the prospects the past General Manager acquired for win-now assets. You could call Shawn Kelley just a reliever, but that doesn’t make him sound special. He is a little special, though, and he could absolutely close.

A word from our Prospector General on the guy San Diego gave up first — Johnny Barbato was a sixth-round pick with decent numbers relieving in the minor leagues so far. Kiley McDaniel said that he has a “55 fastball and 60 curve as starter with command issues and doesn’t really throw a changeup, so the relief fit is obvious. Fastball plays up to 60 (92-95, touching 97 mph) in short relief stints, so if he can command those two pitches enough, he could be late relief, but more likely is middle relief fit.”

The Yankees may have been cutting costs — Kelley is in his final year of arbitration, due almost three million dollars, and coming off what looks to be a mediocre year by results.

But dive a little deeper, and Kelley is a top-shelf reliever.

By strikeout rate over the last two seasons combined at least, Kelley is a top-15 reliever. He’s had some issues with the walk, so he’s only top 20 when judged by strikeouts minus walks.

Of course there’s a bigger flaw than his walk rate, or the guy with all the strikeouts might have had more saves by now. Over that same time frame, Kelley’s homer rate was also top 15.

Talk to the pitcher, as I did in mid 2013, and it’s just about execution.

I’ve always given up a few homers here and there, I’m aggressive and I attack the zone. I was making some mistakes early in the season. I had a rough week where I gave up three or four in one week. It was about executing my pitches. Make sure the slider is in the dirt. I was making some mistakes.

For a guy that owns a better-than-average walk rate for his career, it looks like command sometimes leaves him for stretches. Not a big deal, maybe.

Unless it speaks to a platoon issue? Kelley threw his slider more often than his fastball last year (and second-most in baseball). It still had the eighth-best whiff rate on a slider in baseball (minimum 100 thrown), so it’s deadly. But we know sliders can have platoon issues, and so does Kelley, so he has a plan for the pitch:

Use to both sides of the plate — backdoor and back foot — so it kind of makes it two pitches. Being able to throw it harder and also being able to take a little off makes it two sliders. I throw more of a slurve to get more depth and movement. I can throw that slower one around the back corner of the plate to the lefty to get him to take or give up on it. I can command it and do different things with it, so I’m not technically a two-pitch pitcher.

You can see Kelley’s slower, slurvier sliders on the left-hand side of this scatter chart for his 2014 sliders.

It’s been a successful plan when judged by platoon peripherals. For his career, Kelley has a higher strikeout rate against lefties. Yes, his walks go up too, but his homer rate is about a third of his homer rate against righties, and his ground-ball rate against lefties is also higher.

Slightly above average velocity for a reliever, decent control, good command when he’s executing right, a deadly slider he can manipulate to avoid platoon issues, and a shrug for his home runs? Pair that with a top-15 strikeout rate, and it sounds like a late-inning reliever and possible closer. Even for one year of control, that’s worth a future reliever that may require Tommy John surgery soon.

Matt Garza Understands His Catchers.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
One of the things you’re supposed to learn about in a literature class is subtext. Subtext isn’t exactly a “hidden meaning,” but it’s the unspoken thematic uncurrent of a particular narrative or conversation. While the following will appear to be another post in a long line of posts about Jonathan Lucroy’s pitch framing (It is!), there’s a broader subtext driving the conversation as well that we’ll discuss at the conclusion.

The essence of pitch framing is well-established and relatively simple. Due to the imperfect nature of human eyes and the lack of a uniformly enforced strike zone, the way a catcher receives a pitch can influence whether that pitch is called a strike. Certain catchers have the ability to make balls look like strikes and to make sure that very few strikes look like balls. And certain catchers obviously lack this ability.

The way a catcher receives the ball influences the call, meaning good framers reduce the number of runs scored against their team and make their pitchers look great in the process. Jonathan Lucroy, catcher extraordinaire, is someone who seems to do this very well.

The two leading framing metrics (via Stat Corner and Baseball Prospectus) mark Lucroy among the best in the business:

Year Innings StatCorner RAA BP RAA
2010 655 23.6 25.1
2011 1,043.2 41.9 38.8
2012 717.1 22.9 21.2
2013 1,074 29.7 28.5
2014 1,182.1 22.1 12.3
And while framing metrics are relatively new and aren’t always taken completely at face value, consistent readings like this suggest that Lucroy is probably quite good. And while the metrics are feeding the reputation, Lucroy also has a public reputation as an excellent framer. Players and coaches who don’t spend much time reading sabermetric blogs also consider Lucroy to have a talent for stealing strikes, and the numbers agree. Both of those facets are important.

Turn around and look at someone like Welington Castillo, the recently displaced Cubs backstop. His framing numbers and reputation are, let’s say, worse:

Year Innings StatCorner RAA BP RAA
2010 44 -3.1 -1.5
2011 31.2 -1.7 -1.4
2012 413.2 -5.4 -3.7
2013 956 -16.7 -16.5
2014 916.1 -24.3 -12
No one is going to challenge me if I argue Lucroy is a better pitch framer than Castillo. Plenty of people will wonder if the difference between the two is really three or four wins per season, but it would be tough to locate someone who thinks Castillo is significantly better than Lucroy at receiving the baseball.

This comparison opens the door for an interesting case study, the first bit of which is an obvious and well-flattened path. When a pitcher leaves a bad framer for a good one, what happens? Obviously, the pitcher gets a higher number of called strikes, controlling for any intervening variables. That’s basically tautological. Matt Garza made this transfer in 2014 and the universe followed the rules, however subtly:

Year Called Strike% (In Zone) Called Strike% (Out of Zone)
2013 91% 16%
2014 91% 18%
But there’s another wrinkle in this entire enterprise that doesn’t get enough attention, mostly because it’s complicating an already complicated measurement strategy.

Imagine that you could play two concurrent baseball games that were identical in every way except for the catcher. If the catchers were Lucroy and Castillo, you would expect the Lucroy game to include a higher number of called strikes because a small number of borderline calls would likely go his way. That’s framing!

But if we take the experimental restraints off the pitchers and let this scenario evolve like it would in the real world, Lucroy wouldn’t just get better calls on the same pitches, he would guide his pitcher to throw pitches farther and farther away from the center of the strike zone, even if he’s essentially calling the same pitches. Call it “second-order framing.”

The pitcher, at some point in time, develops an opinion about his catcher’s ability to frame pitches (his reputation) and also observes the actual, tangible results (his statistics). If you’re throwing to someone you think is a bad framer, you would presumably throw the ball closer to the zone than if you were throwing to someone you think is an excellent framer. Now of course, no pitcher has the kind of pinpoint control to consistently hit their target on the nose, but on average, a pitcher who is throwing the ball three inches outside will throw the ball farther outside than someone aiming one inch outside.

In other words, Garza moving from a very bad receiver (Castillo and others) to a great receiver (Lucroy) should not only lead him to a higher called-strike percentage, it should lead him to a zone profile with more focus on pitches below the zone and beyond the corners. If Lucroy is as much of an upgrade as we think he is over Castillo, it should lead Garza to change the way he populated the strike zone in 2014 compared to 2013 because he knows he’s working with a bigger zone:

Year “Low Pitches” Below 10″ 10″-14″ 14″-18″ 18″-22″ 22″-26″
2013 917 16.91% 9.76% 14.98% 23.72% 34.62%
2014 813 18.94% 12.67% 16.48% 24.85% 27.06%
Hey look, it does! This chart reflects all pitches thrown by Garza that were:

Within six inches of each corner (horizontally).
Fewer than 26 inches off the ground.
If you divide the normal strike zone into thirds, this is the bottom third of the zone and everything below it, extended six inches horizontally in each direction.

The 2013 data is every pitch Garza threw that was recorded by PITCHf/x, via Baseball-Savant. The 2014 data is every pitch Garza threw to Lucroy that was recorded by PITCHf/x, via Baseball-Savant. Of the pitches we would say are close enough to the plate to be contested, these are Garza’s “low pitches.” And when he threw low in 2014, he threw lower than he did in 2013, particularly in the two tiers right below the 18-inch mark, which is the approximate bottom of the zone.

Obviously we can’t be perfectly certain about the causes driving this because Garza’s talent level could have changed, the ballpark, hitters or circumstances could have been arranged differently enough to lead to a different approach. There are also various measurement issues (and some missing data) that pop up anytime you’re dealing with PITCHf/x data that’s measured in fractions of an inch. We also know the strike zone grew in 2014. Still, it didn’t drop to this degree.

Which means framing is probably even more nuanced than we usually acknowledge. Not only will the same pitches get called differently with two different catchers, but pitchers will further expand the zone as a result of their opinion about the difference between catchers. This isn’t a shocking or surprising belief, but it’s an important one to consider when people debate the relative size of framing effects.

Not only does Lucroy get better calls on the same pitches, but that fact creates more pitches in the areas around the plate in which a pitch can be framed. And those pitches are also usually more difficult to hit, which is another point in favor of the great framers.

It’s always tricky to analyze anything that rests on determining where a pitcher meant to spot the baseball, and this is just a single example. But the idea makes sense and we can observe it happening in the cleanest possible case study (Castillo and Lucroy). There are many complicating factors, but this is something that might help us come to terms with the magnitude of the framing numbers.

It might not seem like Lucroy should be able to find a couple of wins per season above average by stealing extra strikes, but if great framers are also creating more opportunities for themselves — and poor framers are creating fewer (a good area for future study) — it all starts to look a little more plausible.

The bottom line is this indicates pitchers have tons of confidence in Lucroy and in framing numbers, but what’s hiding behind that is the idea that good framers don’t just steal strikes — they keep the ball away from the heart of the plate simply with their presence.

Your 2014 MLB Legal Year-in-Review: Part One.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Like any multi-billion dollar organization, Major League Baseball faces its share of lawsuits in any given year. Even by its standards, though, 2014 was a particularly busy and eventful year for MLB on the legal front.

This week I’ll be reviewing and providing updates for the most significant events of the last year. In this installment, we’ll look back at the legal wrangling surrounding Alex Rodriguez’s season-long PED suspension and the on-going saga regarding the Oakland A’s proposed move to San Jose.

The year started off with a bang in early-January, when baseball arbitrator Frederic Horowitz upheld most (but not all) of Commissioner Bud Selig’s 211-game suspension of Alex Rodriguez for PED usage. Facing the prospect of sitting out the entire 2014 season, Rodriguez then opted to file a lawsuit in federal district court, asking the court to set aside Horowitz’s decision. In addition to MLB, Rodriguez’s suit also controversially named the Major League Baseball Players Association as a defendant in the case, alleging that the union had failed to sufficiently protect Rodriguez’s rights during MLB’s Biogenesis investigation.

As one might expect, the MLBPA membership did not take kindly to being named as a defendant in the suit, reportedly briefly exploring the possibility of kicking Rodriguez out of the union. In many respects, though, Rodriguez’s legal claims against the MLBPA were a natural consequence of the union’s shifting views on PED usage, as the MLBPA’s decision not to vigorously defend alleged PED users like Rodriguez exposed the union to claims that it had failed to sufficiently represent the interests of accused players.

In any event, Rodriguez’s lawsuit faced long odds of success from the start, as courts are generally quite reluctant to overturn arbitration decisions. So it was not particularly surprising, then, that Rodriguez decided to withdraw the suit a few weeks later.

Even after throwing in the towel on his legal defense, however, Rodriguez’s legal troubles were not quite finished. In July, Rodriguez’s former law firm sued him for unpaid legal fees of nearly $380,000. The firm eventually withdrew the suit in November – after the judge identified various procedural defects in the case – but has threatened to refile the suit at a later date in state court.

Ultimately, however, the most significant lasting impact of the Rodriguez ordeal will likely prove to be the decision issued by arbitrator Horowitz in January. In particular, Horowitz held that cases like Rodriguez’s – alleging that a player has engaged in continuous or repeated PED usage – are subject to Section 7.G.2 of MLB’s Joint Drug Agreement, and not Section 7.A as most observers had previously assumed.

As Wendy Thurm previously discussed, this is an important difference. Unlike Section 7.A of the JDA – which specifies the traditional 50-game/100-game/lifetime suspension framework for PED cases – Section 7.G.2 does not include any specific corresponding punishment. So following Horowitz’s decision, MLB can potentially impose whatever punishment it sees fit in cases where a player is accused of repeated PED use. As a result, the decision appears to have given MLB significant new power to punish alleged PED users.

San Jose v. MLB

The future of the Oakland Athletics remains unsettled as 2014 comes to a close, with the city of San Jose’s federal antitrust lawsuit against MLB continuing to wind its way through the courts. As Wendy Thurm has previously discussed quite extensively (here, here, and here), the team had hoped to build a new stadium in nearby San Jose, but has been waiting for years for MLB to approve the deal. The hold-up is the result of the A’s allegedly having agreed to assign Santa Clara County – where San Jose is located – to the San Francisco Giants back in the early-1990s. The Giants now refuse to allow the A’s to move into their territory, even though the team would actually be moving further away from AT&T Park.

Having grown frustrated by the delay, San Jose filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against MLB in 2013, claiming that the league’s continued refusal to allow the A’s to move to the city violates the Sherman Act. The case was dismissed by the trial court later that year under baseball’s antitrust exemption. The city then appealed the decision, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held an oral argument in the case this past August. Based on the tenor of the argument, the three-judge panel appeared inclined to rule in MLB’s favor in light of its antitrust exemption.

It’s now more than four months later, though, and we are still awaiting the court’s decision. A delay of that length isn’t particularly unusual, but is a little surprising in this case considering the one-sided nature of the oral argument. There could be any number of reasons why the decision has been delayed, including the possibility that one of the judges is preparing a concurring opinion in the case.

Regardless, should the appellate court ultimately rule in MLB’s favor, expect San Jose to appeal the case to the Supreme Court sometime in 2015. And even if the Supreme Court agrees to take the case, a decision likely wouldn’t be issued until 2016.

Meanwhile, with no end in sight to the legal maneuvering, the A’s have decided to continue to keep their options open. In July, the team signed a new 10-year lease with Coliseum running through the year 2024. Because the team can opt-out of the agreement after the 2018 season, however, the lease hardly reflects a long-term commitment by the team to stay in Oakland.

In fact, shortly after signing the lease extension in Oakland, the A’s also reached an agreement with San Jose extending the team’s option agreement for the land for the planned new stadium for seven more years. A local San Jose citizens’ group then filed a lawsuit in December challenging the new option agreement on various environmental and procedural grounds (the same group – believed to be supported by the Giants – had previously filed a similar suit challenging the city’s original land option agreement with the A’s).

Where all this ultimately ends up is anyone’s guess. The safest bet, though, appears to be that nothing will be resolved for the A’s anytime soon.
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post #30774 of 78800
Shields reportedly has 5/110 deal on the table 👀
post #30775 of 78800
Originally Posted by mr jordan04 View Post

Shields reportedly has 5/110 deal on the table 👀

I would be ok with that if it's us.
post #30776 of 78800
Originally Posted by mr jordan04 View Post

Shields reportedly has 5/110 deal on the table 👀

Real tears for the franchise that does that
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Originally Posted by grusumm18 View Post

Originally Posted by mr jordan04 View Post

Shields reportedly has 5/110 deal on the table 👀

Real tears for the franchise that does that

A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

post #30778 of 78800
Originally Posted by Th3RealF0lkBlu3s View Post

Originally Posted by grusumm18 View Post

Originally Posted by mr jordan04 View Post

Shields reportedly has 5/110 deal on the table 👀

Real tears for the franchise that does that


should i be nervous? nerd.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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If true, gotta be the Angels or Dodgers lol
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good....good laugh.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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