Let’s pump the brakes on Shohei Otani

Hideki Matsui, former Yankees star and current special advisor for New York, is expected to play a major role in the pursuit for Shohei Otani. Otani, the Japanese two-way star, is hoping to bring his talents to the MLB, but the Players Association is standing in the way.

Typically, when a player like Otani becomes available to sign, there is a massive bidding war. Because of his age, only 23, the signing will mirror more of a college recruitment process, rather than a typical negotiation for an MLB free agent. The club that ends up signing Otani will be forced to pay a posting fee to his Japan Pacific League team, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

CBA

Under the most recent posting system, according to Baseball America, the “fee was capped at $20 million, but there is no current posting agreement between Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and Major League Baseball.” An agreement needs to be announced before Otani can come to the US. The goal is to lower the costs of the bids, especially after we saw Nippon Ham Fighters receive a $51 million posting fee from the Rangers for Yu Darvish.

According to the old Collective Bargaining Agreement, “Otani would have been eligible to be a true free agent if posted this offseason, not subject to any bonus restrictions” (Baseball America). Unfortunately, under the current CBA, the age cutoff to become exempt from the bonus pools was altered to 25, after it was previously 23.

Because of this, Otani would have to sign a minor league deal. Otani could earn some extra cash in his signing bonus, but this only allots to a few million because teams do not have a lot lying around in their 2017-18 international bonus allotments.

If Otani decided to come after the 2019 season, he would have a chance to sign as a true free agent, and receive a contract that is north of $150 million. There is even a chance that his signing bonus will be less than the money he would earn if he stayed in Japan for the upcoming season. All in all, teams will have to sell Otani on why he should come play in their city, rather than flaunting money in his face.

Just how good is he?

In 2017, as a member of the Fighters, Otani in 231 plate appearances, hit .332 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs. As a pitcher, he posted a 3-2 record with a 3.20 ERA. In 2016, while starting 20 games, Otani went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA, and struck out 174 batters in just 140 innings of work. As a hitter, he hit .322 with 22 home runs in 323 at-bats.

Shohei Otani

In 2016, Otani hit .322 with 22 home runs (NBC Sports)

Otani hopes to hit and pitch in the MLB, but will be able to pull it off?

“It’s difficult,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said in an interview. “It depends on the quality of both skill sets. The usage and the expectations of it will really come into play. It’s going to take a special player to do both. It’s hard enough to do one or the other.”

That is a polite way of saying Otani will not be able to do both. There is no shot someone would be able to put up numbers as both a hitter and a pitcher. The whole “Japan’s Babe Ruth” talks need to stop.

First off, there are only six teams in the league that Otani plays in. Six, which means that there are far less players to game plan for. Also, if we are looking at Otani as a pitcher, the guy has never thrown over 200 innings. If you think he is just going to come over here and dominate, then you are mistaken my friend. At least Yu Darvish had four seasons of 200+ innings before making the move to the MLB.

The most innings Otani has ever thrown was 160, back in 2015. He has totaled 543 innings in his five seasons. Before jumping to the MLB, Daisuke Matsuzaka had thrown over 1,400 innings. Hiroki Kuroda had over 2,000 under his belt before signing with the Dodgers. Both were unable to make an All-Star team and did not sustain consistent success in the states.

In 2008, Hisashi Iwakuma, a member of the Golden Eagles, went 21-4 with a 1.87 ERA in 201.2 innings. Iwakuma has had a solid couple of years in the states, but nothing special. This is a guy who logged over 1500 innings in Japan, yet is an average pitcher at best.

Offense

Shohei Otani

Yakult Swallows legend, Akinori Imamura (The Trading Card Database)

Sure, his 2016 offensive stats were really good, but he had less than 330 at-bats. Does anyone remember Kosuke Fukudome? Before signing with the Cubs, Fukudome had some monster seasons in the same league that Otani plays in. In 2003, Fukudome hit .313 with 34 home runs and 96 RBIs. The year before, he hit .343 in over 600 plate appearances. In five MLB seasons, Fukudome was a career .258 hitter and hit a total of 42 home runs. Translation, even a full-time hitter, who mashed in Japan, struggled to hit over .250 in the MLB.

What about Akinori Iwamura? As a member of the Yakult Swallows in 2004, Iwamura hit 44 home runs with 103 RBIs. The following season, he hit 30 more home runs and drove in 102. In 2006, Iwamura hit .311 with 32 home runs. In his four MLB seasons, Iwamura hit .267 with 16 total home runs. I think it’s fair to say that the competition is a tad different.

Conclusion

If Otani comes to the MLB for the 2018 season, he will be one of the most over-hyped busts of all-time. He does not have the experience as a pitcher to perform over the course of an MLB season and his offensive stats do not even resemble guys like Iwamura and Fukudome, two boarder line scrubs in the MLB.

If Otani was smart, he would stay in Japan and focus on his game. He should pitch two more seasons in Japan, throw at least 200 innings in both of them, and then receive a monster $100-million-dollar contract from an MLB team if he performs. Instead, he is going to come over to the MLB, prove he is not elite at pitching or hitting, and miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars.

 

Featured image by SI.com

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MLB unanimous rookie of the years

A look back at the MLB’s unanimous Rookie of the Year winners

On Nov. 13, Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger were both unanimously selected as the 2017 American and National League Rookies of the Year respectively, a feat that has only been done on three other occasions. Judge set an MLB record for most home runs in a season by a rookie with 52, while Bellinger set a Los Angeles Dodger record with 39. Both finished in the top 10 in their respective MVP votes, with Judge finishing second and Bellinger ninth.

Baseball fans should consider themselves lucky to witness such incredible seasons by two rookies, as we may not see dual performances like this for another decade. With this in mind, let us take a look at the past pairs of unanimous Rookie of the Year winners.

1997: Scott Rolen (PHI) & Nomar Garciaparra (BOS)

MLB unanimous rookie of the years

Scott Rolen went on to play 17 seasons in the MLB, making seven All-Star teams, winning eight Gold Gloves, one Silver Slugger and one World Series. (Photo from DickAllen15.com)

A second-round pick by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1993, Scott Rolen was a young hulking third baseman who possessed power and premier defense. In 81 games in double-A, Rolen batted .343 with 12 home runs and 57 RBIs.

Rolen made his MLB debut in 1996, although his first full season didn’t come until 1997 when he batted .283 with 21 home runs, 92 RBIs, 93 runs scored and 16 stolen bases.

Other National League rookies in his class included Vladimir Guerrero, Andruw Jones and Livan Hernandez, but Rolen still managed to be unanimously selected NL Rookie of the Year. His 1997 campaign was a sign of things to come, as he went on to play 17 seasons in the MLB, making seven All-Star teams, winning eight Gold Gloves, one Silver Slugger and one World Series.

You could say expectations out of the gate were high for Nomar Garciaparra, as the Boston Red Sox selected him with the twelfth overall pick in 1994. He had a cup of coffee in the MLB in 1996, although his first full season wasn’t until 1997. A then 23-year-old Garciaprra batted .306 with 30 home runs, 98 RBIs, 122 runs scored and 22 stolen bases. He not only was unanimously selected AL Rookie of the Year, but he placed eighth in the AL MVP vote and was voted an All-Star and Silver Slugger.

Aside from Garciaparra, the American League’s underwhelming 1997 rookie class was headlined by Jose Cruz and Deivi Cruz, Jason Dickson and Mike Cameron. Garciaparra’s career was majorly affected by injuries, although he still managed to bat .313 with 229 home runs and 936 RBIs in his 14-year-career. He most notably won back-to-back AL batting titles, batting .357 and .372 in 1999 and 2000 respectively.

1993: Mike Piazza (LAD) & Tim Salmon (CAL)

MLB unanimous rookie of the years

Piazza would go down as the greatest hitting catcher of all-time, batting a career .308 with 427 home runs and 1,335 RBIs. (Photo from Pintrest.com)

Mike Piazza, whose Los Angeles Dodgers rookie home run record of 35 was broken by Bellinger this season, was taken by the Dodgers in the 62nd round of the 1988 MLB draft. It has been said that Piazza was only selected because of head coach Tommy Lasorda’s personal relationship with Piazza’s father, Vince. Whatever the case may be, Piazza is arguably the biggest draft steal in MLB history.

Piazza’s rookie season in 1993 was incredible, as he batted .318 with 35 home runs and 112 RBIs. The 24-year-old finished ninth in the NL MVP vote and was voted an All-Star and Silver Slugger to boot.

No rookies from the NL class of 1993 had a season that could compare with Piazza, although his fellow teammate and rookie, Pedro Martinez, also had a Hall of Fame career. Piazza would go down as the greatest hitting catcher of all-time, batting a career .308 with 427 home runs and 1,335 RBIs.

Tim Salmon, a California born kid, was drafted in the third round of the 1989 draft by the then California Angels. Salmon won the American Minor League Player of the Year Award in 1992, which was also the same season he made his major league debut.

In his official rookie year, Salmon batted .283 with 31 home runs and 95 RBIs, which was good enough to be selected AL Rookie of the Year. Other rookies from his class include Aaron Sele, Jason Bere and Wayne Kirby, so it’s no surprise why Salmon dominated the AL ROY vote.

He went on to play 14 seasons in the MLB, driving in over 1,000 runs along the way, unfortunately falling just one home run short of 300.

1987: Benito Santiago (SD) & Mark McGwire (OAK)

Benito Santiago was signed as an amateur free agent by the San Diego Padres in 1982. His major league debut came in 1986, but his official rookie season came a year later. In 1997, Santiago batted .300 with 18 home runs and 79 RBIs. Pitchers Mike Dunne and Joe Magrane both had very respectable rookie campaigns, but Santiago was the clear choice for ROY in 1987.

MLB unanimous rookie of the years

McGwire, whose rookie home run record of 49 was broken by Judge, was the 10th overall selection in the 1984 draft by the Oakland Athletics. (Photo from TheGreedyPinstripes.com)

His rookie season was the beginning of a 20-year MLB career in which he was considered one of the premier catchers in the National League for nearly a decade. He would go on to make five All-Star appearances, win four Silver Sluggers, three Gold Gloves and one NLCS MVP.

Mark McGwire, whose rookie home run record of 49 was broken by Judge, was the 10th overall selection in the 1984 draft by the Oakland Athletics. His rookie season came in 1987, where a then 23-year-old McGwire put on a show for the ages, batting .289 with 49 home runs and 118 RBIs. McGwire finished sixth in the American League MVP vote and was selected an All-Star for the first time.

Fellow rookies Kevin Seitzer and Matt Nokes had solid rookie seasons, but McGwire’s was arguably the greatest rookie campaign of all-time up until that point. He went on to have a Hall of Fame caliber career, mashing 583 home runs and 1,414 RBIs. His admitted steroid use will likely keep him out Cooperstown, although the impact he left on the game will never be forgotten.

 

 

 

 

 

Featured image by ESPN.com

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Backyard Baseball 2001

Most disrespected pros of Backyard Baseball 2001

Produced by Humongous Entertainment, the Backyard Sports franchise has been a staple of amusement for children since 1997. The Backyard Sports franchise included games such as Backyard Football, Backyard Soccer, Backyard Basketball, Backyard Hockey and yes, even Backyard Skateboarding. The majority of the games featured one or more professional athletes, which added a sense of realism to this imaginary sports realm.

More specifically, Backyard Baseball 2001 starred 31 different major league players from all 30 MLB teams. Out of the 31 players, nine have already been inducted into the Hall-of-Fame (Ken Griffey Jr., Cal Ripken Jr., Ivan Rodriguez, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Randy Johnson, Frank Thomas, Barry Larkin and Tony Gwynn), while Derek Jeter, Vladimir Guerrero and Chipper Jones promise to propel that number to 12 by 2019.

For myself, Backyard Baseball 2001 was the original catalyst for my obsession with the sport itself. I was able to learn about the players and teams that made the professional game so great. All baseball fans will remember icons like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Alex Rodriguez, who were all featured in Backyard Baseball 2001, although I will forever remember and respect lower-profile players like Marty Cordova and Alex Gonzalez, specifically because of this incredible game.

The final remaining active player from the 2001 class was Carlos Beltran, who just recently retired after winning his first World Series in his 20 years in the MLB. Beltran will make quite the Hall of Fame case, although looking back at his attributes in Backyard Baseball, I don’t recall him being one of the pros that chosen very often, if at all. He tended to be outshined by Kenny Lofton’s speed, Larry Walker’s power or Vladimir Guerrero’s all-around ability, causing him to consistently fall short of making my Humongous Melonheads lineup.

After looking back at each player’s in-game stats and their real-life stats prior to the 2001 season, it’s fair to say some of these major leaguers were significantly snubbed.

Carlos Beltran

Beltran took the league by storm in 1999, batting .293 with 22 home runs, 27 stolen bases, 112 runs scored and 108 RBIs. He was subsequently voted the American League Rookie of the Year, receiving 95 percent of the first place votes. His 2000 season was cut short due to injury, which was the likely cause for his low attributes.

Backyard Baseball 2001

Beltran has a great swing and can steal bases like nobody’s business. He’s also one of the best switch-hitters around. The outfielder’s exceptional coordination and defensive ability make him an asset to any team. (Photo via Cespedes Family BBQ on Twitter)

At 24 years old, Beltran represented the Kansas City Royals in Backyard Baseball 2001, although his stats failed to resemble his real-life ability. His batting attribute was 5/10, which was the same rating given to pros Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, who were the two pitchers featured in the game.

Both Schilling and Johnson’s career batting averages were under .151 at this point in their careers. Why the developers gave Beltran, Schilling and Johnson the same batting attributes is beyond me.

In 2001, Beltran had a 20/30 season while batting over .300. He must have used his poor attributes as motivation, as he would go on to hit over 400 home runs and steal over 300 bases in his illustrious career.

Jason Giambi

To me, Giambi is easily the most disrespected player on this list. As the American League MVP in 2000, Giambi batted .333 with 43 home runs and 137 RBIs. He led the league in walks, on-base percentage and on-base plus slugging.

Backyard Baseball 2001

Great power, excellent fielder with great hands, drives in runs, walks – everything you ask for from a first baseman. Great coordination that rivals Vicki Kawaguchi’s. His all-time favorite baseball player is Mickey Mantle, in case you’re wondering. (Photo from Viva La Vita)

Giambi, who represented the Oakland Athletics in 2001, had a batting attribute that measured 7/10, which may seem respectable at first glance. However, Derek Jeter and Jason Kendall, who also shared a 7/10 batting stat, had less combined home runs and RBIs than Giambi in 2000. Anyone who saw Giambi play in late ’90s knows that he deserved a full 10/10 batting stat, as he was arguably the most dangerous hitter in the game at that time.

In 2001, Giambi batted .342 with 38 home runs and 120 RBIs, coming in second in the American League MVP vote behind Rookie of the Year and MVP Ichiro Suzuki. In my opinion, Giambi was snubbed, as his WAR measured a full 1.5 points higher and lost by seven vote points.

Due to his admitted steroid use, Giambi will likely fall short of the Hall of Fame. His career .277 batting average, 440 home runs and 1,441 RBIs make him a Hall of Fame caliber player either way.

Jeromy Burnitz

Backyard Baseball 2001

Jeromy is one of the best left-handed batters in the league. This talented outfielder has a sweet swing and can hit to all fields. His defense is solid and his arm is fantastic. He also likes to play Ping-Pong – but hey, who doesn’t? (Photo via Reddit from r/Baseball)

Coming off of three consecutive seasons with over 30 home runs from 1998-2000, one would expect Jeromy Burnitz to receive one of the higher batting attributes among sluggers in Backyard Baseball 2001. I would consider his 7/10 batting rating to be a bit disrespectful.

Representing the Milwaukee Brewers, one could expect Burnitz to be snubbed in the ratings department, as the team had failed to reach the .500 mark since 1992.

Both Kenny Lofton and Barry Larkin had identical 7/10 batting stats as Burnitz, although Lofton and Larkin combined failed to hit as many home runs through the same three-year period as Burnitz did alone. I believe Lofton and Larkin deserve their 7/10 marks, as they were both great contact hitters in their own right, although I believe Burnitz absolutely deserved a higher rating in the batting category.

Shawn Green

Green had a miraculous 1999 campaign, batting .309 with 42 home runs, 123 RBIs and 20 stolen bases with the Toronto Blue Jays. In 2000, he would move out west to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a deal centered around fellow Backyard Baseball pro Raul Mondesi.

Backyard Baseball 2001

Shawn, a rare blend of power and speed, has a strong arm and is a decent fielder. This outfielder’s mighty swing can send the ball yard and then some. He’s been playing baseball since he was a toddler – and it shows! (Photo via Reddit from r/Baseball)

Green took a step back in 2000, but still managed to score 98 runs and drive in 99 RBIs with 72 extra-base hits.

Due to our shared Jewish heritage, I tended to select Green quite often. His batting stats are not what I am putting into question, rather his fielding. The vision of Green costing me precious runs after taking a fly ball of the head remains to this day.

The Backyard Sports developers decided to give him 5/10 for his fielding attribute, which made him tied for the second worst fielding player of the featured pros despite being only one season removed from winning a Gold Glove award.

Two notable names that have a better fielding attribute than Green include Mo Vaughn (8/10) and Mark McGwire (7/10). McGwire won his sole Gold Glove in 1990, ten years before the game had been released, while Vaughn never did. Interesting to see Green be snubbed so blatantly.

Which sport stars do you think were disrespected in the Backyard Sports series?

 

Featured image by MuseumOfPlay.com

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Cincinnati Reds offseason

Cincinnati Reds offseason breakdown

The Cincinnati Reds have been stuck in a period of stagnation, as they have failed to reach a .500 record since 2013 and have three consecutive fifth place finishes in the National League Central.

2017 season

In Bryan Price’s fourth season as the Reds manager, Cincinnati went 68-94 for a second consecutive year. Although the team as a whole was underwhelming, the Reds offense alone was very respectable, finishing 14th in runs scored and RBIs, 13th in home runs and 18th in batting average.

The team was led by Joey Votto, who played in all 162 games, and led the National League in walks, on-base and on-base plus slugging percentage. It is anticipated he will finish within the top three in the National League MVP vote.

Cincinnati Reds offseason

Joey Votto headlines a rebuilding Cincinnati club. (Photo by Al Behrman/AP Photo)

Other impact players included first-time All-Star Zack Cozart, Adam Duvall, Scooter Gennett, Scott Schebler and Eugenio Suarez, who each hit over 24 home runs and drove in at least 60 RBIs. Many baseball fans expected speedsters Billy Hamilton and Jose Peraza to take the next step in 2017, but both saw regression in their batting averages.

 

The main cause for the Reds’ struggles stems from their inconsistent pitching, as Cincinnati ranked 29th in earned run average, walk rate and quality starts. Only the Seattle Mariners used more starting pitchers than the Reds this season. Brandon Finnegan, Anthony DeSclafani and Tony Cingrani, who pitched a total of about 360 innings in 2016, only amassed 36 total innings due to injuries in 2017. This forced young arms like Amir Garrett, Luis Castillo and Sal Romano into action.

Garrett showed promise in his first three starts, pitching a total of 19.2 innings while allowing only four earned runs and striking out 21. Unfortunately for the rookie left hander, right hip inflammation forced him onto the disabled list in May. After returning from the DL, Garrett struggled mightily, finishing the season with a 7.39 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in 70.2 innings pitched.

Romano and Castillo were bright spots for Cincinnati, as they combined to pitched 176.1 innings with a 3.79 ERA. It is clear the Reds will rely on all three of these young arms in 2018.

The best pitcher on the Reds roster is closer Raisel Iglesias, who pitched a total of 76 innings, logging 28 saves with a 2.49 ERA and 10.9 K/9. He pitched more than one inning in 18 of his 63 appearances, showing his longevity in the bullpen. The Reds will rely heavily on Iglesias in 2018, as he is the only reliever on the roster to have two consecutive seasons with a sub-3 ERA.

Prospects to keep an eye on

Nick Senzel, Third Baseman

Cincinnati Reds offseason

In 187 minor league games, Nick Senzel is batting .315 with 21 home runs, 105 RBIs and 32 stolen bases. (Photo by Daytondailynews.com)

Ranked eighth among all MLB prospects by MLB.com, Nick Senzel promises to be a franchise player for Cincinnati. The former second-overall selection in 2016 has been flying through the minor leagues, advancing from rookie ball to Double-A in just two seasons.

In 187 minor league games, Senzel is batting .315 with 21 home runs, 105 RBIs and 32 stolen bases. I absolutely expect to see Senzel at the major league level in 2018, as he will likely replace Suarez or Cozart on the left side of the infield once one is dealt.

Jesse Winker, Outfielder

Winker played 47 games at the major league level this season, batting .298 with seven home runs and 15 RBIs. In 85 minor league games, Winker batted .314 with 24 extra-base hits and 41 RBIs.

The corner outfielder seems more than capable of playing an everyday role with the Reds. However, a log jam in their outfield may force Winker to start the year in Triple-A if they don’t move Schebler or Duvall by the start of 2018.

Dilson Herrera, Second Baseman

Herrera was acquired by Cincinnati in the deal that sent Jay Bruce to the New York Mets. The 23-year-old played in 68 games at the Triple-A level this season, batting .264 with 17 extra-base hits and 42 RBIs.

His season was cut short after season-ending arthroscopic shoulder surgery in July, but he is expected to be a full participant in spring training. There is a major log jam in the Reds infield, and Herrera will further complicate things for Reds management, although this problem of excess is one that all teams would love to have.

Team Needs

Cincinnati Reds offseason

(Photo by Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports)

The Reds certainly could use more pitching, as their rotation lacks an established arm with a proven track record. Only Homer Bailey and Bronson Arroyo have finished a season with double-digit wins and a sub-4 ERA in their career. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, they don’t have much wiggle room in terms of salary cap, as they will need to sign Gennett, Hamilton, DeSclafani, Suarez and Iglesias this offseason. All are arbitration eligible and should be retained though.

Also, the team will have to make a big decision regarding All-Star Zack Cozart, who is a free agent this offseason. The Reds will likely offer him a $17.4 million qualifying offer, which will allow the team to acquire a compensatory first-round pick in 2018 (if he were to sign a deal with another club for north of $50 million).

If Cozart were to accept the qualifying offer, the Reds would be unable to make any significant move in free agency. If they were to lose him, they would be without one of their key contributors from the 2017 season. A decision regarding Cozart will be a likely indication of the team’s direction moving forward.

Potential offseason moves

With the Reds not in a clear contending position, it is likely they sell some of their established players in order to continue developing their farm system. Trading Suarez and Duvall would open up every-day roles for the aforementioned Senzel and Winker, while moving players like Iglesias or Cozart (if signed) could get the Reds a good haul in terms of prospects.

I assume the Reds will be selling this offseason in order to continue bolstering their farm system, which currently ranks eighth in the MLB according to Bleacherreport.com.

Trend

In my opinion, the Reds are a team trending in the wrong direction in terms of winning right now. They had a mediocre 2017 campaign and seem to be looking to continue their rebuilding process.

If I were a Reds fan, I would be disappointed with management for not being able to put a winning team around superstar Joey Votto, as the Reds don’t look like they will contend for a playoff spot until the end of the decade.

However, with a top-10 farm system, the Reds long-term future looks bright.

 

Featured image by WTOP.com

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Andrew Knizner

How Andrew Knizner’s AFL performance impacts St. Louis

Andrew Knizner has been making waves in the Arizona Fall League. The seventh-round pick in the 2016 MLB draft for the Cardinals had a solid season in the minors. The 22-year-old catcher managed to rack up 12 homers and 51 RBIs in 95 games between Single and Double-A this past year.

Adding to the Cardinals’ catching core

The Cardinals have had the most reliable guy they could ask for behind the plate since 2004. Yadier Molina has put in more innings and excelled more than any other catcher during that time. He has established himself as a premier catcher and has come close to reaching a Pudge Rodriguez level of excellence.

Knizner

Molina has been one of the best catchers of this generation (Photo from SI.com)

Not only does St. Louis have Molina through 2020, but they have the best catching prospect in baseball, who is ready for some major league action. Carson Kelly is a converted third basemen, who has adjusted to the catching position very nicely. He has established himself as a potential Gold Glove winner, and has had his bat catch up to his glove the last couple of years.

The only problem is that Kelly is not getting younger. Molina’s contract extension through the 2020 season leaves some doubt as to how Kelly will get playing time in St. Louis. Kelly would soon be turning 27 by the time he could get consistent playing time with the Cardinals. This is what makes his future with the ball club murky.

Andrew Knizner is another name to bring some intrigue behind the plate. He is a converted third baseman, much like Kelly, and is still learning the tricks of the trade. He has not had a lot of flubs behind the plate, but his bat is what garners some attention. Knizner has shown that he can put the ball in play with solid contact, while also showing good plate discipline. Pitch selectivity is always good to see in young guys because it is an important skill to have when dealing with nasty pitching in the big leagues.

What Knizner’s success means for the offseason

It sure is a good thing that Knizner is breaking out in the AFL. He currently has a .358/.403/.537 slash line along with three home runs and 12 RBIs in 67 at-bats. That should give the Cardinals more comfort that they may have another option behind the plate after Molina hangs up his cleats.

The Cardinals are exploring trades before any free-agent signings according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. The Cardinals have a lot of prospects they could potentially trade away. Knizner’s performance puts him as well as Kelly in the mix of the names that could be traded away this offseason.

Knizner

Knizner or Kelly fitting into a Miami trade could make sense, it is whether or not Stanton allows it to happen (Photo by Getty Images)

The team that the Cardinals have been attached to the most is the Miami Marlins. They are looking to lose most of the salary that is guaranteed to Giancarlo Stanton, so it appears evident that they will try to move him by the end of the offseason. If the Cardinals are looking to make that move with the Marlins, either for Stanton or another outfielder, both Kelly and Knizner could be thrown in there as the Cardinals can afford to give one up.

The Marlins already have a young and successful catcher in J.T. Realmuto. Much of Realmuto’s value comes from his performance at the plate though. He has also spent some time at first base.

If the Marlins are really looking to go into rebuild mode, then their current first baseman could be on the move. Justin Bour had a career year and could get a couple solid prospects in return as he has a team-friendly contract.

Kelly’s defensive prowess and young age could play a part in this trade. As the best catching prospect in baseball, it would be hard for the Marlins to turn that away. It would be contingent on Bour being dealt as well as mentioned earlier.

St. Louis is still in very early talks with Miami. Kelly or Knizner could play a role in how things play out as they are showing to be valuable prospects.

Other possibilities

In case a Stanton trade doesn’t work out for the Cardinals, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich may be on the table as well. Not only that, but the Cardinals have showed interest in Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado. Both the Blue Jays and Orioles are in need of younger catching prospects, so Kelly or Knizner would make sense as pieces in a trade like this.

Even if these big name trades don’t happen, the Cardinals are still shopping around to see where they can improve. The front office knows they need to prove they are serious about contending with the Cubs. They have money and lots of prospects. Knizner only helps their bargaining power and gives them more flexibility for the future.

All in all, the reality to take away from his performance and potential is that Carson Kelly may not play a full season in St. Louis. With Yadier Molina blocking him, it would make sense for the Cardinals to move him somewhere else. Then they could look for Knizner to be the successor to Molina.

 

Featured image by Getty Images

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Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

The Arizona Fall League will name a champion on Nov. 18, and Braves prospect Max Fried could have a key role to play. The southpaw has fully overcome Tommy John surgery to reestablish himself as a top prospect in MLB.

For the Braves, Fried’s rise couldn’t have come at a better time. With many prospects like the much heralded Ronald Acuna ready to make the major league jump, Max Fried has tasted MLB, and is ready to take the ball every fifth day in Atlanta. This is prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook.

The injury

Entering 2014, Fried was one of the hottest left-handed pitching prospects in baseball. Drafted with the seventh overall pick in 2012, the San Diego Padres were sure they had an “ace of the future” waiting in the wings. They might have been right, had Fried not injured that prized left arm of his.

At just 20 years old, in 2014, Fried was the third ranked prospect in San Diego’s farm system as rated by Baseball America. Everything seemed to be going according to plan, until early in the spring months, Fried began feeling soreness in his left forearm.

As a result, the Padres medical staff shut down all throwing activities for the young hurler. He wouldn’t see live action again in 2014 until mid-July. However, he didn’t last long. In his third start after his return, he began to complain of soreness in his arm, this time in his elbow. And this time, it would require surgery to repair. Tommy John surgery and the resulting rehab would cost Fried nearly two years of his career, and he wouldn’t again pitch until 2016.

The comeback

Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

Max Fried as a fresh-faced draft pick of the San Diego Padres. (Photo courtesy of: AP/Alex Gallardo)

Although Max Fried would lose nearly two years of his development to rehab after undergoing Tommy John, he remained committed to the cause. However, when he resumed pitching he would no longer be doing it for the team that drafted him. During December of 2014, Fried was part of a trade that sent Braves’ outfielder Justin Upton to San Diego in return for a load of top-end prospects. Fried was one of them.

In 2016, Fried would break camp with Low-A Rome in the Braves system. While he started slowly, the surgically repaired elbow stood up to the test of live action. By season’s end, Fried would be firmly entrenched as one of the most dominant pitchers in the Sally League.

In 21 games (20 starts) Fried pitched 103 innings, striking out 112 batters, and posted a 3.93 ERA for the year. Excellent work for a young pitcher coming back from the vaunted Tommy John surgery.

Building off a strong 2016, the Braves decided to challenge Fried by jumping him two levels to Double-A. In 19 starts for Mississippi, Fried pitched to a 5.92 ERA and won two while losing 11. However, the strikeouts were still there. He fanned 85 over 86.2 innings of work. This would suggest that his pitches were taking time to find their bite at an advanced level.

If that were all there was to go on, you might think of Fried as a ho-hum type of prospect, but he buckled down when the Braves moved him to Triple-A Gwinnett. In two starts at Gwinnett, spanning six innings of work, the youngster only surrendered one hit, walking two and striking out six. It was on the back of this performance that Fried earned his first big league call-up. And he didn’t disappoint.

For Atlanta, their eighth ranked prospect, fared well in his first taste of MLB. In nine appearances (four starts), Fried went 1-1 with a 3.81 ERA striking out 22 and walking 12 in 26 innings of work.

For Fried, the road back has been long, but his outlook for 2018 is bright.

Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

Max Fried fires one to home as a member of the Atlanta Braves.
(Photo courtesy of: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

As it stands now, into the last week of the Arizona Fall League’s schedule, Fried has arguably been the best pitcher in the league. What Fried has done in Arizona, considering his past injury, has been remarkable. His line this fall 3-1 with a 1.73 ERA has shown that this young man is ready for the big-time. Fried has tested himself in Arizona against baseball’s most elite prospects, and has come through in fine style.

The strikeouts are still there as well. In 26 innings of work for the Peoria Javelinas, Fried has struck out 32 batters, while only walking eight. Mitch Keller and Justus Sheffield are the only other starting pitchers in Arizona with a better WHIP than Max Fried. Neither of those two pitchers, however, has posted as many innings of work as Fried has this fall.

Based on the late season call-up to Atlanta, and the success he had there, it would be inconceivable to see Fried start anywhere but Atlanta. It’s a bonus for the Braves’ front office personnel that Fried has dominated in Arizona like he has.

The kid is ready. Give him the ball.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: David Banks/Getty Images)

 

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New York Yankees

New York Yankees team profile

The New York Yankees are without a doubt the most storied franchise in baseball history. That is why many fans were not too happy about them “rebuilding” in 2017. Like most events in Yankees’ history, they were able to have their cake and eat it too. They were ahead of schedule in 2017, besting the pundits predictions. But how did they get there?

2017 season

After going 84-78 and finishing fourth in the AL East in 2016, many believed it was time for the Yankees to finally begin the dreaded rebuild. Only three everyday position players on that team were younger than 30 years old (Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks, all 26 years old), and the major league team seemed ready to be laid bare to cultivate the fruits of the farm. But as the Yankees are known to do, they ended up competing yet again for a World Series berth in 2017.

New York Yankees

C.C. Sabathia has been a key contributor in the Yankees rotation. (Photo by Kathy Willens/Associated Press).

Breakout seasons from Gary Sanchez, Gregorious and Hicks all contributed to the Yankees 91 wins. However, the real story of the season was the behemoth in right field, Aaron Judge. His 52 home runs are the most ever by a rookie, topping Mark McGwire’s record 49 in 1987. Judge also easily paced the team with a 171 OPS+. With the AL ROY already a lock, all that’s left is the coveted MVP.

The often forgotten piece of the Yankees surprise resurgence was their pitching staff. Luis Severino assumed the role of staff ace and proved to be an excellent frontline starter. His 14 wins tied the team lead, and his 2.98 ERA lead the starting staff.

Grizzled veteran C.C. Sabathia was also able to turn in a solid campaign, winning 14 games and posting a 3.69 ERA. The deadline addition of Sonny Gray helped balance out the starting staff. A strong bullpen comprised of Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and the breakout of Chad Green (1.83 ERA in 40 games) was able to lock down opponents in the late innings as well.

All of these factors combined to bring the Yankees within one game of the World Series. To achieve that status, some glaring holes will need to be addressed.

Team needs

The biggest of those holes is the one Joe Girardi left. The longtime Yankees skipper was let go after guiding the Yankees to within one game of the World Series. After 10 years at the helm, general manager Brian Cashman believed that Girardi had lost his personal touch with the players. With Girardi out of the clubhouse, Cashman seems to be looking high and low for the next manager of the Yankees.

Names from former Cubs catcher David Ross to current ESPN analyst Aaron Boone have been rumored to be in the running. One thing is for certain though, they are looking for someone with a more personal touch. Many of the players had expressed the same sentiment Cashman had. A manager with playing experience seems to be the focus.

Another area the team needs to focus on is the corner infield positions. First base was an odyssey all season long. Greg Bird was finally able to get healthy and performed well in the playoffs. Third base was solidified by mid-season acquisition Todd Frazier. With Frazier becoming a free agent this offseason, Chase Headley is the lone option. The Yankees may just go through the 2018 season with Headley as the starter. With Manny Machado coming up for free agency, don’t be surprised to see the Yankees make a run at him.

Potential free-agent signings

With a glaring hole at third base and the Yankees unease with Headley as the starter, Mike Moustakas will be in Brian Cashman’s sights. The career Royal slugged 38 homers in 2017, setting the Royals single-season record. He also batted .272, which would be an upgrade over Frazier.

New York Yankees

Shohei Otani has drawn comparisons to Babe Ruth, Josh Beckett and Anthony Rizzo (Photo by Getty Images).

While the Royals will make a run at keeping Moustakas, the upcoming rebuild in Kansas City will be a huge factor. The Yankees will at least make a call to the burly Royals third baseman and also may look to the far east for free agents.

The one name that everyone in New York will be asking about has no MLB experience. In his time in Japan, he has garnered comparisons to none other than Babe Ruth.

Shohei Otani will be the most coveted player on the market this offseason. All Otani has done since his debut at age 18 is dominate the Japanese league. In five seasons, Otani has slugged 48 homers and won 42 games. He has hit .286 and posted a 2.52 ERA, proving to be dominant on both the mound and at the plate.

With the Yankees’ history of Japanese players, Otani may favor the bright lights of New York.

Impact minor leaguers

Two prospects stand out for the Yankees that could make the jump to the majors next year. One of those is infielder Gleyber Torres. Torres was on the fast track to the majors this past season, seeing time at third base at Triple-A. However, a season ending injury left Torres waiting for next season, and now might be his chance. He hit .309 in 23 games at AAA, and should start the season there. But if he can impress in camp, Torres may start the season on the big league club.

The other option is third baseman Miguel Andujar. He has shown a cannon of an arm in the minor leagues, and his defense has continued to improve. His bat is no slouch either, as he hit .317 at Triple-A and launched nine homers. While he may not profile as a future silver slugger, his bat and glove combine to make him a potential starter for the big league club.

This team is definitely on the rise. With a stacked farm system and a strong major league club, the Yankees will be a threat in the AL East for years to come. Look for them to make some impact free-agent signings and maybe even some big trades with their deep farm system.

 

Feature image by Getty Images

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Mookie Betts contract 2018

Contract expectations for Mookie Betts in 2018

Markus Lynn Betts is one of Major League Baseball’s rising stars. In 2016, Betts placed second in the American League MVP vote, while being awarded his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards.

Prior to the 2017 season, the Boston Red Sox raised Betts’ contract from the league minimum of just about $500,000 to $950,000 as a sign of good faith, as he clearly deserved a raise after his miraculous season, although Betts felt he deserved much more. According to ESPN.com writer Scott Lauber, the Red Sox failed to ink Betts to a long-term deal as “[they] just couldn’t come up with a number that he thought was the right number for him”.

In 2017, Betts struggled, batting just .264, compared to his .318 mark a year before, although he managed to score and drive in 100 runs, while also winning his second Gold Glove, a feat that only three former Red Sox players have accomplished: Dwight Evans, Fred Lynn and Carl Yastrzemski.

The 25-year-old Betts is entering his first year of arbitration, so it’s time to speculate over what dollar amount he will command this offseason. In order to find Mookie’s true market value, we must look at comparable players and what contracts they signed during their first arbitration eligible year.

Andrew McCutchen

McCutchen, a first-round pick in 2005 by the Pittsburgh Pirates, entered the major leagues in 2009. Through their first three years of service time, McCutchen and Betts post nearly identical stats across the board.

 

Player (ages)

PA G BA / OBP / SLG WAR HR XBH RBI SB
Andrew McCutchen (22-25) 2497 577 .290/.374/.484 18.8 82 232 295 98
Mookie Betts (21-24) 2309 508 .292/.351/.488 24.1 78 236 310 80
Mookie Betts contract 2018

(Photo by USA Today)

Also, they share a multitude of awards and accomplishments, including a top-three MVP finish, two All-Star appearances, a Silver Slugger and at least one Gold Glove.

Prior to the 2013 season, McCutchen avoided arbitration by signing a six-year, $51.5 million contract. Due to the contract being back-loaded, McCutchen made a total of $4.86 million in 2013.

With this in mind, if Betts were to go to arbitration, it would be fair to assume that Betts would command more that the $4.86 million that McCutchen agreed to play for in 2013, as you would have to account for inflation, as well as financial insurance due to the fact that it would be a one-year deal.

If he were to avoid arbitration, it is fair to assume he would command well over the $8.6 million per year that McCutchen signed for prior to 2013, as you must account for inflation, as well as the fact that Betts was just a hair more productive over the same period.

Mike Trout

Trout, a first-round pick in 2009 by the Los Angeles Angels, made his major league debut in 2011, although his first full year of service time didn’t come until 2012. Since that time, Trout is, and has been, arguably the best player in baseball. It may come as a surprise to some, and maybe not to others, but Mookie Betts and Mike Trout are very comparable players through their first three years of service time.

 

Player (ages)

PA G BA / OBP / SLG WAR HR XBH RBI SB
Mike Trout (19-22) 2195 493 .305/.395/.549 28.6 98 235 307 102
Mookie Betts (21-24) 2309 508 .292/.351/.488 24.1 78 236 310 80

In this time period, Trout won a Rookie of the Year and was a three-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger, two-time MVP runner-up and one-time MVP.

Mookie Betts contract 2018

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Prior to the 2015 season, Trout avoided arbitration by signing a six-year, $144.5 million contract. In the first year of this deal, Trout made a total of just $6.1 million, although at the end of the day, he would make about $24 million annually.

With this in mind, if Betts were to avoid arbitration, he would likely command a similar deal that offers upwards of $20 million annually. If Betts were to go to arbitration, it is fair to assume that he would command just as much or more than the $6.1 million that Trout agreed to play for in 2015, as once again, you must account for inflation and financial backing.

Market Value

After comparing Betts to arguably the only two comparable players in the MLB, I believe that he is entitled to a hefty raise in 2018. If he were to go to arbitration, I assume he would ask for upwards of $9 million, while the team would propose a deal closer to $7 million.

If he were to avoid arbitration and settle on a one-year deal, an $8 million figure seems appropriate for the 2018 season. If he were to sign a long-term contract, Betts could be looking at a six-year deal for upwards of $120 million, earning him a net of over $20 million a year.

Either way, Betts will be arbitration eligible until the end of the 2020 season, ensuring that at a minimum, Boston will retain the superstar until then. Whenever Betts signs his inevitable long-term deal, he will become one of MLB’ highest paid players, for good reason.

 

Featured image by Over the Monster

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Honoring baseball's military veterans

Honoring baseball’s military veterans

Veteran’s Day is upon us once more, so it is only fitting to honor baseball’s military veterans today. From the Civil War, our nation’s greatest struggle, to the rice paddies of Vietnam, there have been dozens of baseball men that have fought alongside the “common Joe”.

Some of the names of the men who’ve served our nation in its greatest time of need you will know, others you will not. The list of names is too exhaustive to name them all, but we tip our caps all the same. Here are five men who’ve served with distinction.

Morgan Bulkeley – Civil War

Honoring baseball's military veterans

First president of the NL and Civil War veteran, Morgan Bulkeley. (Photo courtesy of: National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Morgan Bulkeley never played in a game, but the Hartford-based businessman was the first president of the National League. Bulkeley would only hold the National League’s presidency for one season in 1876. Not wanting to make baseball his life’s work, he walked away from the post.

In 1937, Bulkeley was enshrined in the Hall of Fame with Ban Johnson, the first president of the American League.

Bulkeley has the distinction of being the only Baseball Hall of Fame member to serve during the American Civil War. Even though he came from money, Morgan Bulkeley and his brother Charles both enlisted in the Union Army in 1861. An unusual choice given these were the sons of Aetna Insurance co-founder, Eliphalet Bulkeley.

For those that aren’t up to date on their Civil War history, the unusual nature of the Bulkeley boys’ enlistment lies in money. During the Civil War, a person could buy their way out of the draft and pay for another person to serve in their place. The Bulkeley boys choosing to enlist was the exception to the rule, make no doubts about it. For Morgan Bulkeley’s brother Charles, this decision would seal his fate. He would not survive the war.

For Morgan Bulkeley though, he spent his time under the command of Gen. George McClellan in the 13th New York Regiment. It must have been a shock to go from a life of extravagance, to marching around the dirty, dusty countryside in pursuit of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. This is exactly the life Bulkeley lived from the years 1861-1865.

Grover Alexander – WWI

Alexander is a name that rests among the greatest names in the history of pitching. What you might not have known, however, is Alexander also saw live combat in World War I.

Prior to the war, Grover Alexander broke into the big leagues in 1911 with Philadelphia. From that time on, he was one of the most dominant pitchers in the National League. He led the NL in wins five times between the years 1911-1917, posting three consecutive 30+ win seasons from 1915-1917. On top of those 30-win seasons, he also posted sub 2.00 ERA in each of those three years as well. He did all of this while war threatened to consume the entire world.

The United States had managed to keep a “veneer” of neutrality for most of WWI, but in the spring of 1917, peacetime was over. The U.S. was now on a war footing with Germany, and with an army that had been drastically reduced in strength over time, needed fresh recruits.

In 1917, and for the first time since the Civil War, the nation’s men were subject to conscription into the armed forces. This is the avenue by which Grover Alexander found his way into the Army.

Three games into the 1918 season, Alexander, at the rank of Sergeant found himself among the killing fields in France. A member of the 342nd Field Artillery Battalion. It was at his post, while under an enemy artillery barrage, that Alexander suffered severe hearing damage from a nearby shell explosion. This explosion also left Alexander with epilepsy.

It was 99 years ago today, that peace was reached between the belligerents of WWI, and by the spring of 1919 Alexander was back at his old post. On the hill, toeing the rubber as a member of the Chicago Cubs.

Warren Spahn – WWII

Honoring baseball's military veterans

All of Warren Spahn’s 363 career wins came after he won the Purple Heart in WWII. (Photo courtesy of: Dailydsports.com)

Spahn, a fresh-faced rookie in 1942, got his first taste of big league ball with the Boston Braves. He made two starts over four appearances in 1942, and by December he would be finding himself in Army green.

Spahn was one of the “luckier” baseball players of his generation in that his career was interrupted at the beginning, rather than during his prime years. Ted Williams, Bob Feller and Joe DiMaggio are just a few players that lost some of their peak years.

It was in December of 1944 that Warren Spahn would find himself fighting for his life during the Battle of the Bulge. This was the last gasp offensive of by the German war machine. Spahn, a combat engineer, was part of the under-equipped troops that were left to face the onslaught.

Spahn did several interviews after the war, in which he would recall the bitter cold and terrible conditions in which they fought. He has also recounted how fierce the fighting was while his unit tried to break free from the German forces that had surrounded them.

When the 1944 German winter offensive was stopped cold, Spahn’s unit was sent to Remagen. It was here, while working on the Ludendorff Bridge in March 1945, Spahn would get hit in the foot with shrapnel. This would be the end of the line for his time at the front.

It earned him a Purple Heart, but it was an incredible twist of good fortune for Spahn. The following day, the entire bridge collapsed into the river below taking over 30 men to their untimely demise. For his actions at Remagen, Spahn earned a battle-field commission of 2nd Lieutenant.

Ted Williams – Korean War

Ted Williams is all legend. This man was the game’s best hitter when he was called away to service during WWII like so many others.

Williams was drafted into service in 1941, but was exempted due to having a dependent mother, but he would later enlist in the Marines in 1942. After completion of his triple-crown season in ’42, Williams was off to training. It was during the years 1943-1945 that Williams would earn his pilot’s wings. The war would end before he would see any active combat.

However, the 1950’s brought with it a new fight. The Korean War.

Of the 1.8 million soldiers that fought in Korea, Ted Williams was one. Immediately Williams was back at flight school learning the controls of the F9F Grumman jet fighter. His involvement in the conflict would consume the majority of his 1952 and 1953 season’s.

In Korea, Williams was the wing man of future space traveler, John Glenn. In Glenn’s estimation, the pair flew together on about half of Williams’ 39 combat flights. Glenn would later recall that Williams was a very active pilot, and an excellent one at that.

Ted Williams was right in the line of fire taking on enemies in the air, and he almost was a goner on a few occasions. On one of those occasions, Williams’ plane was on fire after being badly hit. The landing gear on his smoking wreck was inoperable. The only option left was to attempt a belly landing. In true Ted Williams fashion, he did what he always did. He stayed calm, and he stuck the landing. Williams escaped the cockpit just moments before his mangled plane was engulfed in flames.

Al Bumbry – Vietnam War

Honoring baseball's military veterans

Al Bumbry never lost a man during his time leading troops in Vietnam. (Photo courtesy of: Getty Images)

Bumbry has the distinction of being one of only 10 major league players to fight in the Vietnam War. He would win the Bronze Star for his actions under fire as a platoon commander.

The most remarkable thing about Bumbry’s time in combat, is that he never lost a man under his command. This takes on even more significance when you realize the amount of responsibility on the young lieutenant’s plate. In an interview with The Washington Times, Bumbry said, “I was a tank platoon leader in Vietnam for a year. It was all very stressful. I had nine vehicles and 45 men in my platoon, and I was responsible for all of our activities.”

Bumbry, like the millions of others like him, returned home a changed man. He also returned a better ballplayer, to which he credits an accelerated maturing process forged in the fires of Vietnam. Though Bumbry floundered in his first 35 minor league games before being called to active duty in the Army, when he finally returned, he went on a tear through the minor leagues.

In 1972, Al Bumbry was called up to the big club in Baltimore where he played in nine games. The following year, 1973, Bumbry would solidify a spot in the Orioles lineup, and win the AL Rookie of the Year award.

Following his RoY campaign in 1973, Bumbry would firmly entrench himself as the everyday center fielder in Baltimore. From the years 1973-1985, Al Bumbry would put together a respectable career in MLB. He was a 1980 All-Star, a (.281) lifetime hitter and a key member of the Orioles’ 1983 World Series championship team.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: fadeawaypodcast.com)

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Washington Nationals 2018

Washington Nationals team profile

After a successful regular season, the Nationals came up short in the postseason once again. The franchise still has not won a postseason series. This year looked to be their year, as their roster had few holes in it especially after bolstering their bullpen. However, Game 5 in the NLDS slipped through their fingers, and now Washington is in a state of perplexity. What can they possibly do at this point that they have not already done?

The managerial carousal

The Washington Nationals fired another manager at the end of 2017. This time, Dusty Baker was the victim despite winning 192 games in two seasons and winning the NL East both years. He is also the third manager to be fired in five years in Washington.

Washington Nationals 2018

Dusty Baker is the latest example of how Washington is insecure at the manager role (Photo from AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

What makes the situation interesting is that they have still won their division four times in seven years. Not only that, but two of the three managers (Davey Johnson and Matt Williams) have won the NL manager of the year during their tenure in Washington.

Is the management really the problem? It is understandable why the front office points to the skipper role as the issue with their teams. This is apparent in the fact that there are no glaring issues in the roster. The bullpen was by far the weakest aspect of the team at the beginning of the season, but were able to make it an asset through trades.

Replacing the manager will not fix the Nationals’ issues. Dave Martinez has accumulated a lot of experience under the wing of Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay and Chicago. However, he still has a lot to learn as a manager seeing as this is his first gig. What it is really going to come down to is the Nationals being able to execute in the postseason.

Washington found themselves down 2-1 in the NLDS against the Cubs. They were able to win Game 4 in order to force a fifth and final game, and the offense really showed up when it needed to. The only problem was that Matt Wieters fell apart when it mattered most, and his mistakes cost the Nationals three runs in what ended up being a one run game.

The players need to be held more accountable, rather than thinking that the manager is the problem.

Bryce Harper and free agency

2018 marks the final year on superstar Bryce Harper’s contract, and oh boy will teams be coming out for him this time next year. No matter where he signs, expect for him to surpass Giancarlo Stanton for the largest contract in the sports world.

What has Nationals fans worried is that Harper has been rather aloof when it comes to his status in Washington. Harper asked Washington for a $400 million extension, which the team of course was not able to meet.

This is purely speculative, but it seems Harper made a rather high asking price just to see if the Nationals would meet it. It is hard to think that he expected Washington to pay up that kind of dough. It is very tempting for Harper to test free agency, so why not see if you can get that much?

Harper had to be ecstatic when he heard of Stanton’s record contract. That is because most teams would value Harper over Stanton at this point in time, despite the 59 home runs Stanton hit this year. The precedent of Stanton’s contract may just boost Harper’s value through the roof.

One ridiculous move that will never happen is Washington possibly trading Harper this offseason. Harper has never said out loud that he would like to stay in Washington, so his future there looks murky. With the high possibility of him chasing the money in 2018, why not see what you can get for him this offseason? One season of Harper’s services for a contender could be worth some very valuable prospects in the long run, and Washington should have an eye past 2018. This is especially the case since their current formula can’t seem to get them past the NLDS.

What is in store in 2018 for the Nationals?

Don’t expect a whole lot different in 2018. The NL East is going to be controlled by Washington once again. Brandon Kintzler, Matt Albers and Jayson Werth are some notable names leaving, but the core is still in tact. On top of that, Adam Eaton will be returning from his devastating injury he sustained early in the season.

Washington Nationals 2018

Eaton’s return to Washington will have a large impact. (Photo from MLB.com)

The Nationals ought to target an arm or two in order to bolster their bullpen. Other than that and maybe adding an arm like Jaime Garcia to the rotation, they shouldn’t be too active at the winter meetings barring any big news.

Derek Jeter and the Marlins will be taking a step back next season as the front office has expressed a desire to tear things down and build back up. Miami finished second place in the East despite being 20 games back of the Nationals. The Mets may be making moves this offseason in order to get back into their World Series form from a few years ago, but they are still far behind the Nationals.

The main questions is, who will face Washington in the NLDS? Also, will Dave Martinez make the difference that the front office hopes he can make? Either way, all of the 2018 season is already riding on whether or not they will make it past the NLDS.

The ultimate goal is the World Series obviously. However, they first need to win their first playoff series in franchise history.

 

Featured image from Sports Illustrated

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