spring training 2018

Spring training 2018 preview

In just three days, a new season of baseball will be upon us. Though Opening Day comes in April, the spring training sessions will become a test run for all 30 franchises in time for the 2018 MLB regular season. These next few practices and exhibition games will showcase how each organization’s adjustments gell and execute.

Some teams will look to build upon success from 2017. Other teams will look to bounce back from past misfortunes. Sure, some teams have a steeper mountain to climb than others, but that is what’s great about baseball. Any team with the right chemistry and momentum can create big waves around the league. On top of that, that hot streak can translate to an October appearance, and maybe even a World Series ring.

Starting Friday, Feb. 23, the states of Arizona and Florida will host the latest and greatest names to hit the diamond.

Cactus League

In Glendale, one team is looking for another shot at the World Series. The other seeks a comeback after a dismal 2017 outing.

spring training 2018

Photo from MLBShop.com

The Los Angeles Dodgers held baseball’s best regular season record last season at 104-58. The Dodgers seemingly breezed through the National League playoffs, giving up just one game in the NLCS.

With a smoother path to the World Series than that of the Houston Astros, many saw the Dodgers as the favorite to win. But Houston proved to be the hungrier team and beat Los Angeles in a thrilling seven-game series for the hardware.

Now, the blue and white are working to get that ring and end a 30-year drought.

On the other hand, the Chicago White Sox are coming off of a 67-95 season, fourth in the AL Central. The White Sox finished 10th in the American League in batting average and 13th in ERA. On top of that, the White Sox have mustered five straight losing seasons.

Over in Scottsdale, two Wild Card teams will begin to build upon their solid foundations from 2017.

The Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies earned the two National League Wild Card slots last season. The Diamondbacks hosted and beat the Rockies 11-8, but got swept by the Dodgers in the NL Division Series. Their game will commence on Friday at 3:10 p.m. Eastern time.

Grapefruit League

spring training 2018

Photo from MLBShop.com

Down to West Palm Beach, Florida, comes another anticipated matchup to kick off the spring exhibitions.

The Houston Astros are looking to defend their World Series title and bring in another ring in 2018. With a roster stacked with All-Stars, Houston will have a big target on its back come April. The Astros will begin their exhibition rounds against the Washington Nationals.

The Washington Nationals are coming off of a 97-65 season, on top of running away with the NL East Division once again.  However, the Chicago Cubs did not appear intimidated and eliminated Washington in the NLDS. The Nationals will begin their runs with a new skipper, former Chicago Cubs bench coach, Dave Martinez.

In Tampa, the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers will hope to start on a high note.

The Yankees ended 2017 with a 91-71 regular season record.  The Pinstripes gave the Astros a run for their money in the ALCS, forcing seven games. But Houston prevailed and took home the AL pennant. Now with Giancarlo Stanton in their ranks, the Bronx Bombers have established a “pitcher’s nightmare” batting order.

The Tigers, on the other hand, have arguably the steepest mountain to climb in the American League. With a dismal 64-98 season in 2017, Detroit has its work cut out for them. The Tigers pitching lineup finished last in the AL in ERA at 5.36. Holding the first pick of the upcoming MLB Draft, a pitcher should grace the stage wearing that Tigers cap.

Thank God It’s Friday

America’s pastime is almost here and ready for business. Whether with a new skipper or new players, all 30 teams will look to work in the new faces for April.  On Friday, Feb 23, baseball fans all over the world will get to hear their favorite two words once again: Play ball!

 

Featured image by Pioneer Press: John Autey

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Miami Marlins 2018 Season

Miami Marlins Prepare for 2018 Season

After finishing last season 77-85, The Miami Marlins began a major overhaul in preparation for the 2018 season. It all began when Jeffrey Loria sold the Marlins for $1.2 billion to Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter.  Many Marlins fans were relieved when they heard that Loria will no longer own the team after 15 seasons being in charge.

During Loria’s first year as the owner (back when they were the FLORIDA Marlins), the Marlins beat the New York Yankees in six games to win the 2003 World Series. It was their first title since 1997, and like then, they won as a Wild Card team.

That, however, would be the last time the fish got to play in October.

Now, as one might expect with the new ownership, big changes would come for the 25-year-old franchise. The roster saw arguably the biggest change of all.

Miami’s (EX) Star Slugger

The trading of outfielder, Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees (speaking of which), caught several baseball fans off guard. The former Marlins slugger became the league leader in home runs during the 2017 season with 59, (Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge was runner-up with 52), setting a franchise record in the process.

In that season, he also lead the league in RBIs (132) and became the first Marlin to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award. All of this came after manager, Don Mattingly, moved Stanton from the cleanup spot to second after Dee Gordon.

The 13-year $325 million contract Stanton signed with Miami was not helping the organization’s piling financial woes, so it came with little surprise that it landed on the chopping block. But where he ended up shocked several people.

In their defense, the Yankees are among a small handful of teams that could afford Stanton’s salary. Not many experts, however, saw the Pinstripes as the top team for Stanton. The Yankees are coming into the 2018 season as the runner-ups of the American League. Their roster includes Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and CC Sabathia.

This time, the Bronx Bombers are working in their new manager, former Yankee third baseman Aaron Boone.  Boone, fortunately will have plenty of firepower to work with in the batting order with Stanton now on board.

More Departures

Other notable Marlins will wear different uniforms this upcoming season.

All-Star outfielder, Marcell Ozuna, had arguably the best season of his career. He posted career highs in batting average (.312), home runs (37) and RBIs (124). Ozuna also received his first Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Awards in the same season. The 27-year old will play for the St. Louis Cardinals this season.

Outfielder Christian Yelich earned Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards during his time with Miami as well. He also played for Team USA during the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Yelich now has Miller Park as his new home and will be playing for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Speedy second baseman, Dee Gordon, will have a new home in Seattle, Washington. MLB.com indicated that the Mariners have moved Gordon to center field. Gordon has led the big leagues in stolen bases in three of the last four seasons, including last season when he stole 60 bases.

His teammates will include Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz.

According to MLB.com, Marlins catcher, J.T. Realmuto might be the next one off the roster. Realmuto lost his arbitration case with Miami and will receive less money than he proposed. His exit is not official at this time, but the Washington Nationals and Arizona Diamondbacks appear to be potential suitors for the 26-year-old.

Miami Marlins 2018

As the 2018 season approaches, the Miami Marlins will have new prospects looking to fill in the ranks, including 23-year-old Lewis Brinson. MLB.com reported that Brinson met former Marlins outfielder, Juan Pierre, at a workout. Brinson looked up to Pierre as an idol.

Pierre knows very well both extremes playing for the Marlins, including winning the World Series in 2003 and enduring a 100-loss season in 2013.

The Miami Marlins will have a lot on their plate in the next few stages of their rebuilding process. Several challenges await Sherman, Jeter and company. These include justifying the fire sale of notable players and improving the pitching roster. Last season, Miami ranked 26th out of 30 teams in ERA (4.82).

Rebuilding teams is never easy, and does not usually create immediate improvement.  On top of it all, Marlins Park have had among the lowest attendance ratings in each of the last five seasons.  But the new ownership will have to step up if they wish to avoid being called “Jeffrey Loria 2.0.”

 

Featured image from miamiherald.com

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2018 New York Yankees preview

2018 MLB preview: New York Yankees

2017: 91-71 (second place in AL East, first in Wild Card)

Last postseason appearance: 2017

Last World Series title: 2009

2017 Recap

To say a team that hovers around the top one or two in payroll every year actually exceeded expectations would sound a bit odd. But that is exactly the case with the 2017 New York Yankees. On Opening Day, New York opened as 30-1 odds to win the World Series. When October came around, they were one win shy of a World Series berth.

The Yankees started the season hot and entered the postseason flaming. They went 15-8 in April and 20-9 over the last 29 regular season games. Against the first place Red Sox and third place Rays, New York went a combined 23-15. They also dominated Interleague play, going 15-5.

2018 New York Yankees preview

All Rise. (Photo from The New York Times)

So how did New York surpass expectations? Two names stand out heavily: Aaron Judge and Luis Severino. Judge, a physical freak at 6-foot-7, 282 pounds, struggled during his first stint at the big league level in 2016. In 27 games, Judge struck out 42 times, hit just four home runs and batted .179 with an OBP of .263. A year later and Mr. Judge was the runner-up to Jose Altuve for AL MVP and was named AL Rookie of the Year.

Judge led the AL in runs (128), home runs (52) and walks (127). Overall, he finished second in WAR, OPS and at-bats per home run, third in OBP, slugging percentage, runs created and time on base, sixth in total bases and RBIs and seventh in extra-base hits. When an at-bat started out with a ball, Judge hit .357.

Luis Severino, who in 2016, spent time in the minors and made a handful of appearances out of the bullpen for New York, was one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball in 2017. Severino finished sixth in strikeouts, WHIP and K/9, seventh in ERA+ and FIP and 10th in WAR among pitchers. He was absolutely outstanding on the road, ending the season with a 2.24 road ERA.

As a team, New York finished with the second best run differential in the MLB. Among the 15 AL teams, they ranked first in home runs and walks, second in runs, total bases and OBP and third in hits and slugging percentage. The pitching was also impeccable, finishing with the fewest amount of hits allowed and the third best ERA.

The Yankees had a tremendous season, yet not everyone in New York was happy with the team’s performance. After 10 years as manager, New York decided to relieve Joe Girardi of his duties with the team and hire Aaron Boone to run the team.

2018: Around the Diamond

The biggest splash of the offseason was of course, the Yankees trading for the 2017 NL MVP, Giancarlo Stanton. A team that ranked first in home runs now has Stanton, who hit more home runs than anyone in 2017. He also finished first in RBIs and slugging percentage, second in total bases, third in runs and WAR and fourth in OPS. Quite frankly, there wasn’t much any team could do to stop this man. Against lefties, he hit .323, and against righties, Stanton clubbed 44 home runs.

Stanton looks to be the DH while Judge will hold down right field, but these players could flip-flop at any moment. Joining them in the outfield will be Brett Gardner, who is coming off his first 20-20 season of his 10-year career, and Aaron Hicks, who hit 15 home runs in just 88 games. Keep in mind, the Yankees will probably also be forced to play Jacoby Ellsbury, who has three years left on his deal and is owed $64 million.

Starlin Castro, an All-Star for New York in 2017, was sent to Miami in the Stanton trade, and Chase Headley returned to the San Diego Padres in free agency after three and a half seasons with New York. This means the Yankees have some holes to fill in the infield. Unless they make a move, Miguel Andujar, a 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic, will start at third, and Ronald Torreyes will man second.

2018 New York Yankees preview

Expect a lot of big flies in the Bronx. (Photo from Twitter)

It still feels weird to not see Derek Jeter at shortstop, but Didi Gregorius has been terrific in the Bronx. Gregorius is coming off back-to-back 20-home-run seasons and hit .321 on the road in 2017. With the addition of Stanton, as well as Greg Bird being healthy, Gregorius will slide down the order, which is actually where he thrives. Last year, when batting seventh, Didi hit .333, and in the eighth-spot, he hit .563.

Bird, whose 2017 was spoiled because of a foot injury, could bounce back and have a really solid season. He will most likely be hitting behind Judge and Stanton and in front of Gary Sanchez, which means pitchers will be forced to go after him. Although he hasn’t had the success at the big league level that he is hoped for, 2018 could be a nice breakout year.

Speaking of Sanchez, the Yankees catcher is one of the best offensive players at his position. In 2017, he led all catchers in home runs (33), RBIs (90) and runs scored (79). All that is terrific, but he also finished first in errors for catchers and first in past balls. He needs to clean it up behind the plate, but this man is a problem with a bat in his hand.

On The Bump

New York will continue to be led by Severino, and it will be interesting to see what Sonny Gray can do in a full season with the Yankees. Although he settled down the second half, Masahiro Tanaka needs to be better if this teams wants to win a title.

Last season, Tanaka allowed the fourth most home runs and finished eighth in walks per nine innings. He had a 5.47 ERA in the first half, and, when it comes to road ERA, the 29-year-old is still probably in disgust. Tanaka finished 2017 with a 6.48 ERA when away from Yankee Stadium.

CC Sabathia is back for another year, which is great for the clubhouse and pretty solid for the product on the field. Rounding out the rotation will be Jordan Montgomery, who had a solid rookie season in 2017, winning nine games with a 3.88 ERA.

The bullpen, which finished third in the MLB in ERA, should without a doubt sustain its previous success. A bullpen that consists of Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson and Dellin Betances is flat-out scary. However, a crazy stat from last year is Betances finishing seventh in hit batters despite being a reliever. He literally tied with Max Scherzer, who threw 140 more innings than him.

The Future

Yankees infielder, Gleyber Torres, is regarded as one of the five best prospects in the MLB. Torres, who was acquired from the Cubs in 2016 when the Yankees let them borrow Aroldis Chapman, became the youngest player to win MVP of the Arizona Fall League in 2016. He was off to a great 2017 before getting injured during a play at the plate, which required Tommy John surgery. Still, in 55 games between Double and Triple A, Torres hit .287 and had a .383 OBP. The 21-year-old should see some big league action in 2018.

2018 New York Yankees preview

Gleyber Torres will be playing in the MLB at some point in 2018 (Barstool Sports)

The other infielder on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list is Miguel Andujar, who, like mentioned earlier, could be starting at third base for the MLB club come Opening Day. Andujar hit .315 with 16 home runs between Double and Triple A in 2017, while also going 4-7 in the bigs.

Joining Torres and Andujar on the top prospects list are four other Yankees. This is without counting Clint Frazier, who played in 39 games for the Yanks, but could possibly be traded since their outfield is so stacked.

Speaking of outfielders, Estevan Florial, ranks 44th on the prospects list. In 110 games between A and A+, Florial hit .298, stole 23 bases, had seven triples, and had an OBP of .372. He has potential to become a 30-30 player, but needs to kick back on the strikeouts.

The Yankees top pitching prospect, Justus Sheffield, who was acquired with Frazier in the Andrew Miller trade in 2014, had a solid 2017 in Double A. In 17 starts, the lefty had a 3.18 ERA and struck out 82 batters. The Yankees also have two more pitching prospects in the top 100, as Albert Abreu (No. 74) and Chance Adams (No. 75) could both blossom into something special.

 

2018 Prediction: 90-72

This offense will be good, but there are questions in terms of production from the corner infield positions. Also, on paper, Boston’s starting pitching is better than New York’s. Severino had a fantastic 2017, but we will see if he can replicate that. Sonny Gray did not look great with New York, and Tanaka clearly cannot be trusted away from New York. However, the roster is too talented, and the Yankees will again, win the Wild Card and make a run at a World Series title.

 

Featured image by MLB.com

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Yu Darvish free agency

Why Darvish to the Brewers makes sense

As we all know, the hot stove has been rather cold this offseason. Scott Boras, agent extraordinaire, stated that this free agent market is about six weeks behind schedule. Almost all the big name free agents are still on the market as we have now entered February. We once thought that Giancarlo Stanton was holding teams up as they waited for him to move, but that does not seem to be the case as he was traded over six weeks ago.

Yu Darvish is one of the top three free agents still on the market, and he is expecting a big payday despite his World Series collapse. He has been connected to several teams, Milwaukee included. Here is a look as to why the Brewers may make sense for Darvish more than any other team.

The Brewers are hunting

Yu Darvish free agency

The Brewers made an aggressive move for Christian Yelich. (Photo from CBS Sports)

Milwaukee had a very exciting season last year despite not making the postseason. The Cubs were coming off a historic World Series and were primed to continue their dominance. Nobody saw what was coming from the team just north of the north-siders from Chicago.

The Brewers had the lowest payroll in baseball in 2017, yet competed with the Cubs until the very end. Now that they know they have what it takes to compete, it is time to build up and go for it.

The Brewers showed last week just how serious they are about competing. The signing of Lorenzo Cain was one of the biggest free agent moves of the offseason thus far. Not but on the same night, they also traded for the last Marlins outfielder left, Christian Yelich.

The move for Yelich was a good one. Yelich had the most team-friendly contract in that Marlins outfield from 2017, and he shows signs of getting even better. The only thing is that the Brewers gave up their top prospect, and the No. 13 overall prospect in baseball, Lewis Brinson. On top of that, they gave up three other young talents from their system. This move shows just how serious they are about competing now.

The need for pitching

Yu Darvish free agency

Jimmy Nelson had a breakout year in 2017. (Photo from The News and Observer)

One of Milwaukee’s biggest surprises of last season was the performance of Jimmy Nelson. Nelson has solidified himself at the top of the rotation in along with Chase Anderson.

The only thing is that he damaged his shoulder last September. Nelson is apparently ahead of schedule, but it is unknown when he will be ready to rejoin the rotation.

The Brewers offense looks like a strong one at the moment. With the emergence of Eric Thames and Travis Shaw, coupled with the new improvements to the outfield, Milwaukee has an offense to be feared. An addition to the rotation could compliment these improvements very well.

This is where Darvish comes in. The 31-year-old would fit perfectly into the team and could slide them right into a neck-and-neck competition with the Cubs. The addition of Jhoulys Chacin certainly helps, but Darvish would really solidify their position and make their rotation a strength as well.

Will Darvish go for it?

Darvish has not been afraid to address rumors on Twitter. There have been several instances of him responding to reports of him talking to teams and alluding to who he may be interested in. Many reports suggest that he is still very interested in returning to the Rangers or the Dodgers. The Yankees have also been mentioned, along with the Chicago Cubs.

Yu Darvish free agency

The baseball world has its eyes on Darvish to make a decision (Photo from the Star-Telegram)

None of these teams come as a surprise as they are going to be contending in 2017. This race is a big deal in the National League especially though. With how tight the NL Central race will be, along with the desire to catch the Dodgers, teams are desperately trying to do whatever they can to not allow the Dodgers to run away with anything once again.

Milwaukee does not provide the same sort of big market draw that Chicago and Los Angeles offer. However, the Brewers may have the leg up in terms of payroll. At the moment, Milwaukee is under the $100 million threshold for payroll in 2018. They have not been afraid to go over that number in the past, so they ought to have the budget to do so.

Chicago and Los Angeles do not have the same sort of flexibility. The Dodgers already had the highest payroll in baseball in 2017. The Cubs, while having a large payroll already, still need to save some money for when their players need to be paid. Chicago has also been heavily tied to Bryce Harper for free agency next year. If they are seriously interested in signing him, it is unlikely they will give a six-year contract to Darvish.

Only time will tell if the Brewers will be able to bring in the Japanese ace. These dominos ought to be falling soon though, as we are just a couple of weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training. Darvish has to have that in mind, as he just so happens to be a pitcher himself.

 

Featured image from Newsweek

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NL Central face of the franchise

The current face of every NL Central team

One conversation that will never get old is talking about who the cornerstone player of every franchise is. Some teams have an obvious representative, others not so much. Here is a look into the face of the franchise for every team in the NL Central.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Josh Bell

If we were to have this conversation two weeks ago, then there would be a much more obvious answer for the Bucs. However, the Pirates’ front office thought it was time to do some shuffling. Even though Pittsburgh fans are upset about giving up Andrew McCutchen, who has been an icon in the Steel City for some time, it was a good move to show concern for the future. It just looks especially bad because of what the Marlins have been doing this offseason as well.

NL Central face of the franchise

Josh Bell represents a changing of the guard in Pittsburgh. (Photo from Rumbunter.com)

Some may be wondering why Starling Marte is not in this spot. His 80-game suspension does not help his cause here. He also is an All-Star and two-time gold glove winner who can steal bases with the best of them. However, he does not represent the future for the Pirates. He is 29 years old, and the Pirates are not going to be contending anytime soon.

Josh Bell just finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. If it were any other year, Bell would have had a much better chance of bringing home the award. With Cody Bellinger breaking out in LA though, the race was much more clear cut. Bell has the chance to be a prototypical slugger in Pittsburgh for a while, as he is only 25 years old.

In the future, Bell could be a force in the middle of the lineup with 30 home run potential. He provides more pop than Marte does, and is already a threat in the middle of the lineup. His young age coupled with his power is the reason why he has the opportunity to take the place of Cutch in Pittsburgh.

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto

No argument here. If you were to argue faces of the franchise around baseball, this may be one of the easiest.

Joey Votto has been a fixture at first base for the Reds for over a decade. He has won the NL MVP and made it to the All-Star game five times. Not to mention, there may not be anybody better at getting on base than Votto.

Votto also has a set of intangibles that would make any manager salivate. He is the kind of guy that can lead a young group of guys into the big leagues, and that is what he is doing now as the Reds have a wave of young players coming up. His baseball smarts along with his excellent talent make him one of the best hitters in the league.

Another thing about Votto is that he is not showing signs of slowing down anytime soon. He is heading into his age-34 season and coming off a year where he could have easily won the MVP. Yes, Giancarlo Stanton had the power numbers that make anybody go nuts. However, if you are looking at the full package, Votto is much more valuable.

If Votto keeps up the pace he is at for another couple of years, there is a solid chance he will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he is eligible.

Chicago Cubs: Theo Epstein

NL Central face of the franchise

Theo led the charge to break the curse in Chicago. (Photo by John Arguello)

Chicago is still fresh off a World Series title in 2016. It is still crazy to say considering many Chicagoans went a lifetime without seeing their lovable losers make it all the way.

Epstein made his way to the Windy City in 2011, and from the start there were many who were certain that it was their time because of it. After he masterminded the destruction of the Boston curse, this seemed like a doable task for the 44-year-old president of the Cubs.

With apologies to Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, Epstein is a favorable choice for this title. He is the one who orchestrated the revival of success in Wrigley, and many knew that as they chanted, “In Theo we trust.”

While Rizzo has become a poster boy for the Cubs, and Bryant has won an MVP at third base, it is impossible to not credit Epstein with the Cubs’ success.

As a baseball executive, there is no doubt that Epstein has already earned himself a spot in Cooperstown.

St. Louis Cardinals: Yadier Molina

NL Central face of the franchise

Yadier Molina has been the most important face in St. Louis since the departure of Albert Pujols (Photo by Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

Ever since the departure of Albert Pujols, Molina has done an excellent job of stepping into the role of leading this storied franchise. While Molina may not be the best player in the league by a long shot, there are things that he does that put him above most.

He has those intangibles that his NL Central counterpart Joey Votto has. Molina’s ability to call a game is second to none, while he also knows exactly how to make a young ballplayer feel comfortable on the mound.

Yadi doesn’t have those offensive stats that pop out on the box score, but Tony La Russa made it clear when he was manager of the Cardinals that it didn’t matter. La Russa once stated that even if Molina hit .000, he would still have a spot in the lineup. Now that says something about a player.

While it is not clear if Molina will make it to Cooperstown, he will certainly be remembered as one of the greats to wear the Cardinals uniform. He stated earlier this offseason that he will not play after his contract with the Cardinals expires in 2020. These three years we have left with him will be pivotal in determining his place among the greats.

Milwaukee Brewers: Bob Uecker

The Brewers have made big moves this offseason for Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. They also have their eyes set on locking up Yu Darvish in a long-term contract. As a result, the name on this list may be different in a few years. Despite a great year from Travis Shaw and Jimmy Nelson, it doesn’t come close to the reputation that Bob Uecker has set for himself.

Uecker is getting close to Vin Scully territory with his broadcasting. He is being held back from that status though as he is not in a place like Los Angeles, and also spent a decade playing professional ball in the 50s and 60s. Shortly after his playing days, he joined the Brewers broadcasting booth in 1971.

After many successful years in the booth, Uecker earned an iconic role as the broadcaster in the Major League movie franchise. Many don’t realize that you can still tune into his legendary broadcasts to this day. He also won the Ford C. Frick award in 2003 in recognition for his broadcasting, cementing himself among the legends in the game.

While the Brewers are making moves to compete on the field, Uecker always makes it entertaining to tune into the game. It will be a sad day when the 84 year old will have to hang up the mic and retire from the booth.

 

Featured image by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

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MLB Free Agents

When will the free agent market topple?

The hot stove has been a buzz this offseason. Much of the conversation has centered around trades and international signings. Giancarlo Stanton has moved on to the Yankees, and the young phenom, Shohei Ohtani is an Angel. However, we have yet to see many big names fall off of the free agent board this winter. Why is that?

Patience a free agent’s friend

MLB free agency

Relievers like Brandon Morrow are having a good offseason thus far (Photo from FanRag)

In this day of age, free agents are paid an exuberant amount of money, especially if they are on the right side of 30 and have shown great potential. That is why it is best to wait and see what the market does before signing onto any long-term deals.

This winter has been kind to relievers thus far. Although not a lot of closers have come off the board, middle relief pitchers have been doing quite well. What this means is Wade Davis, the top reliever on the market, is going to be in for a big payday. He should be coming off the board soon as many relievers have been flying off and there are plenty of teams looking for a new closer.

What we have yet to see is many offensive players get signed to new teams. We have seen Giancarlo Stanton, Evan Longoria and Marcell Ozuna move to new ball clubs. However, the only big name hitting free agents to be signed thus far are Zack Cozart and Carlos Santana. Neither of these players signed deals that exceeded four years though, which is what some of the other free agents are looking for.

Has it always been like this?

MLB free agency

Bryce Harper will likely fetch the largest contract in baseball history next winter (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Mike Axisa of CBS Sports wrote an article back in November about how slow the offseason was pre-thanksgiving. He stated that you are not imagining things, the hot stove is rather cool this year.

Some rumors were that teams were waiting for the Giancarlo Stanton trade to be finalized before any free agent hitters would be signed. Well, Stanton was traded two weeks ago and the winter meetings have come and gone. What is the hold up?

One theory is that next year’s free agent class is having a large influence. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will both be testing free agency, and they could be fetching figures in the $400 million range, so it would make sense that teams are saving up for those kinds of contracts to land a new franchise player.

Harper and Machado aren’t the only big names hitting the market though. Clayton Kershaw has an opt-out clause after 2018. Other big names are hitting the market such as Josh Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon, Andrew McCutchen, Brian Dozier, and A.J. Pollock. Either way though, we should be getting close to some names coming off the board. Then again, who knows anything in this tumultuous offseason.

Who will be the next to come?

Unfortunately, we still may be a ways away from any hitters being swept off the market. As mentioned earlier, Wade Davis should be picked up by someone soon, even though there have not been many rumors surrounding him. Yu Darvish has met with the Cubs and stated that he thought the meeting went well.

Pitchers are the hot commodity at the moment, partially due to the fact that power hitters are a dime a dozen these days. Major league ballplayers hit more home runs last year than any other year in history.

Perhaps teams are not sure how to value someone like J.D. Martinez. Normally, a player who hit 45 home runs and over 100 RBIs with a .300 batting average would be signed by now, at least we should have heard more about him at the winter meetings. However, teams are not sure how much to give the slugger. It has been reported that Martinez is looking for something in the range of seven years, $200 million. He has been linked to Boston, but nothing seems imminent.

We still have a way to go before pitchers and catchers report in February, so there is still plenty of time for the dominoes to fall. Once some teams figure out that they won’t be able to trade for some of the names they would like to, then they will focus their attention onto some of the available free agents.

This free agent class does not offer some of the young superstars like next year’s class will. However, players like J.D. Martinez and Lorenzo Cain both have the ability to make a difference on a contending team. Even with how things have been going, it is difficult to imagine them being available for much longer.

 

Featured image from Arizona Sports

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Manny Machado top destinations

Top destinations for Manny Machado

The dust from the Giancarlo Stanton hot stove has settled, but the rumor mill is not slowing down. It seemed like Stanton would be the biggest name on the trade block, but Manny Machado is a name of similar star power with only one year remaining on his contract.

Baltimore would be wise to move Machado as their AL East rivals are pulling away from the competition. With the acquisition of Stanton, the Yankees are all in for October this year. It has become evident that the Orioles do not have what it takes to compete with them or the Red Sox at this point. With only one year of control over Adam Jones and Zach Britton as well, it is time to see what haul of prospects they can bring in for the future.

Any contending team could use Machado’s services in 2018. General Manager Dan Duquette has stated there will be no open window for teams to discuss a contract with Machado, so odds are he will hit the free agent market next winter. With that being said, here are the most likely destinations to land his services.

5. New York Yankees

Manny Machado top destinations

Even after the Stanton acquisition, the Yankees are still hungry for more (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

The Yankees have emerged as suitors for Machado in 2018. However, the Orioles do not believe it is in their best interest to trade their cornerstone player to their division rival. Even if they are to trade him elsewhere, they believe there is a possibility he could still be flipped to New York.

Baltimore is in the market for some young arms, and New York has that in their farm system. That has to be attractive for them as New York is always the team to go after the big name players. Landing Machado would immediately make them World Series favorites for 2018.

The largest hurdle they will have to jump is the Orioles’ reluctance to hand him over within the division. The Yankees would have to give up a serious haul to get them on board.

4. Chicago White Sox

The White Sox are not a conventional team to find on this list. There is no real chance for them to even win their division in AL Central. Reports have emerged, however, that they have the most intriguing offer for the Orioles. Even if that is the case, it still does not make sense.

The guys from the south side have been wheeling and dealing to the point where people fear they will be one of the most dangerous teams in baseball come 2021. They have six prospects in the MLB Top 100, and that doesn’t include former No. 1 prospect, Yoan Moncada.

Since Machado is only under contract for one year, there is no guarantee he will stick with the team long term. It is hard to believe that he won’t test the free agent market, so it does not make sense for the White Sox to give up more than one of these Top 100 prospects. The only way this will work is if they are confident that he will sign with them after 2018.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona lines up well with Baltimore in the sense that they have the arms Baltimore wants. One name that has popped up onto the market is Zack Greinke. He is owed a salary of $34 million each of the next four years and is already 34 years old, so it is not exactly what Baltimore may want. However, he is still proving to be a viable option in the rotation.

The Diamondbacks are not far off from competing either. While they may have been swept in the divisional series by the Dodgers, they still have what it takes to do well in October. Again, this may come down to whether or not the Diamondbacks feel they can keep Machado past 2018.

2. St. Louis Cardinals

Manny Machado top destinations

It will take a lot for the Cardinals to part with their top pitching prospect,
Alex Reyes (Photo from ESPN)

The Cardinals are back into the mix in the rumor mill. Although they did not land the 2017 NL MVP, they did land his outfield counterpart, Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna provides a good punch to the lineup, but General Manager John Mozeliak has expressed that he is not done adding pieces to his lineup.

The Cardinals are thought to be the perfect fit for the young superstar. They have the most attractive pitching prospects for the Orioles and have a place for him at shortstop, which is where he would like to move. St. Louis had a surprise from their rookie shortstop last year, but he is able to play third base as well.

St. Louis knows that if they add Machado, then they will have enough to compete with the Cubs in 2018. However, the prospect cost may be too much for the Cardinals to go for. It will be difficult for the Orioles to get Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver or Jack Flaherty without any guarantee that he will stay past 2018. What happens in the next few weeks may determine how much the Cardinals, or other teams value one year of a superstar player.

1. Baltimore Orioles

Even with all of the rumors floating around, the Orioles are still the most likely place Machado will play. Between the Orioles not wanting to trade with the Yankees and the high asking price for Machado, it is doubtful that anything will be able to get done. If the Orioles realize that it will be hard for them to get a trade done with the current asking price and lower it, then it will be more likely for him to go St. Louis or Arizona.

If the Orioles can settle with two higher-end pitching prospects, then something will be done. Only time will tell if the Orioles bargain for the 25-year-old free agent to be.

 

Featured image from Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

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Joey Votto

Joey Votto is baseball’s least-recognized star

With baseball’s sudden burst in power, some of the game’s best performers have seemed to slip through the cracks.

Yes, Giancarlo Stanton’s season was impressive. His 59 home runs are the most in baseball since Barry Bonds’ record-breaking 73 back in 2001. The MLB also broke the record for most total home runs in a season this year previously set in 2000.

41 players hit at least 30 home runs this season, which was the most since the 2000 season when 47 reached the mark. The Astros and Dodgers set the record for most total home runs in a World Series as well.

The MLB seems to have gained its power back after only 11 players reached 30 home runs back in 2014. It has captured fans’ attention and made baseball that much more entertaining.

The players this year have done something that hasn’t been done since the start of the century. It makes it easy to forget about players like Joey Votto, who quietly remains consistent.

The numbers

Joey Votto might be the most underrated superstar of the day. When you look at Votto’s numbers, it is hard to believe he has only won one MVP, one Gold Glove and been named an All-Star just five times. He still has not won a Silver Slugger either.

Votto is a career .313 hitter with 257 home runs and 830 RBIs. He also has an incredible .428 on-base percentage.

At .428, Votto ranks 10th all time in that category. The only player ahead of him that is not already in the Hall of Fame is Barry Bonds. Also, the next highest active player on the list is Miguel Cabrera at 68th with a .395 percentage. Votto is getting on base just as often as many all-time greats and more often than any of his peers. 

Perhaps the most impressive performance by Votto this season was when he reached base safely at least twice in 20 straight games, coming up just one game short of the record set by Ted Williams in 1948. Only two other players have done so in 20 straight games. That would be Barry Bonds in 2004 and Pete Rose in 1979.

Unappreciated and underrated

Votto is proving himself to be a future Hall of Famer. However, it is doubtful that many fans outside Cincinnati are aware of this.

Votto turned 34 this year and may have played his best season yet, or at least he believes so.

Joey Votto

Votto with his 2010 MVP award, one of the few honors he has received. (Photo by HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)

“I wanted this to be my work of art,” Votto told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I felt like shrinking strikeouts, keeping the walks, competing on a daily basis, playing every day, improving my defense. I felt this was definitely the best year of my career.”

One common knock on Votto is his “lack of aggression at the plate” because he gets so many walks. But isn’t the point of baseball to score runs? And you score runs by getting men on base. This is about as silly as people bashing James Harden because of how many points he gets from shooting free throws. In basketball, you need to score points to win, and that is what Harden does.

Votto got those runs, finishing 10th in the MLB with 106. Also, here are some numbers to show Votto is a disciplined batter, rather than unaggressive.

Votto may be the disciplined hitter in the game. He swung at the fewest pitches outside the zone at 15.8 percent. Talk about patience. He waits for his pitch and then capitalizes off it. This also works the pitch count and makes pitchers work to get him out. In contrast, Votto swung at 71.4 percent of pitches in the zone, which was the 32nd highest.

Those numbers average out to a 41.9 swing percentage, which was one of the lowest in the league. Don’t question his aggressiveness based on this stat though. Aaron Judge’s swing percentage was even lower at 41.1 percent. Nobody questions Judge’s aggressiveness as he led the American League in home runs and the MLB in strikeouts.

What else is crazy is that Votto received the 14th most pitches in the strike zone, but still led the league in walks. Votto isn’t going to just swing at anythiing. He is going to wait on a pitch he can drive, and if not he will take that free pass to first base.

Accolades

How has a future Hall of Famer like Votto won so few awards? He has just one MVP that he won in 2010 over Albert Pujols and Carlos Gonzalez. He finished third in 2015 behind Bryce Harper and Paul Goldschmidt and second this season.

He has been voted an All-Star just five times.

Votto also has zero silver sluggers. Albert Pujols won during Votto’s first three full seasons in the league, but Pujols was the best player in the league at the time, making it understandable. But it is the players who have finished on top of Votto that are more questionable. Prince Fielder, Adam LaRoche, Paul Goldschmidt, Adrian Gonzalez and Anthony Rizzo have all won the award over Votto.

Who is supposed to win the Silver Slugger? The Louisville Slugger website explains who is supposed to win the award.

“Coaches and managers of Major League teams vote for the players they feel are the best offensive producers at each position in the field in both the American and National Leagues. They base their selections on a combination of offensive statistics including batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, as well as the coaches’ and managers’ general impressions of a player’s overall offensive value.”

This season, Votto led National League first basemen in batting average and on-base percentage and was third in slugging percentage, tied for second in home runs and fourth in RBIs. Paul Goldschmidt finished behind Votto in all of those stats except RBIs. Anthony Rizzo won last year, but only topped Votto in home runs and RBIs.

Of course Votto missed a lot of time during the 2014 season due to injury, so it makes sense he did not win that season. But on what planet is Adam LaRoche a better hitter than Votto? And how does Votto finish ahead of Goldschmidt in MVP voting, but behind in Silver Slugger?

As for the MVP award this season, Stanton did have a monster season as he led the league in home runs (59) and RBIs (132) while also batting .281. Votto finished just two points behind Stanton, making it the closest vote since 1979 and the fourth-closest of all time. Both received 10 first-place votes, but Stanton finished with one more second and third-place vote.

Both had tremendous seasons. Stanton showed what he is fully capable of when healthy and Votto continued to show his consistency and ability to get on base.

Maybe some day Votto will get the league’s respect the past Reds’ greats like Barry Larkin and Johnny Bench. Maybe Votto will earn another award or two. Even if he does not, Votto probably won’t be too upset when he is sitting in Cooperstown someday.

 

Featured image by JAMIE SABAU/GETTY IMAGES

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Machado

Where things stand with Giancarlo Stanton

There has been no doubt that the MLB offseason has been engulfed by the rumors surrounding the 2017 NL MVP, Giancarlo Stanton. At this point, mostly all there has been is speculation. There are a lot of factors that go into a trade of this magnitude, so there are a lot of things that have to go right in order for it to go through. Here is an up to date summary of all that has been going on surrounding Stanton.

No-trade clause

Stanton

Magic Johnson and the Dodgers probably don’t have the ability to take on Stanton’s contract (Getty Images)

One of the biggest factors in Stanton’s contract at the moment is not only the large amount of money he is owed, but the fact he can reject any trade the Marlins may put in front of him.

Stanton is a SoCal native, and he reaffirmed that when he put the Los Angeles Dodgers as his preferred spot to be traded to, per MLB.com columnist, Jon Morosi. The Dodgers are the only team to be reported on that list. It has also been reported by Chad Jennings of the Boston Herald, that Stanton would reject a trade to either Boston or St. Louis. However, that report has been refuted by others.

The Jon Morosi report suggests that Stanton is keeping an open mind to where he could be traded. He will evaluate his options once there is some more light shed on them though.

This is not the first time a no-trade clause has been a factor lately. Justin Verlander told the Tigers as well that he would prefer to play for the Dodgers. However, once late August came around, Verlander realized that he would not be going to Los Angeles. He then accepted a trade to the Houston Astros, and the rest is history.

Best fits for the Marlins

Stanton

Reyes is a very attractive pitching prospect for the Marlins (ESPN)

The Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals are the teams that appear to be pursing the Miami slugger the most. While all of them could use him in their lineup, there are some that can offer more to the Marlins than others.

The only two teams who have actually submitted an offer to the Marlins are the Giants and the Cardinals. It has been reported that Joe Panik and Tyler Beede have been mentioned in that offer. The Cardinals have a lot of pitching to give, and one name mentioned in the offer was Sandy Alcantara while other details remain unclear.

What the Marlins are looking for out of this trade are to relieve some of the financial burden of Stanton’s contract, and to acquire some young pitching. The team that has the most to offer in that department are the St. Louis Cardinals, who may have the best pitching prospect in baseball in Alex Reyes. They are also well below the luxury tax cutoff, giving them a lot of financial flexibility.

The number one priority for the Marlins right now though is speaking to the Dodgers and seeing if they can come to an agreement. Stanton will not consider any other teams without knowing that Los Angeles is out of the running. The Dodgers are already likely going to go over the luxury tax, so it would not be in their best interest to add the largest sports contract in the world to their payroll. It would not make sense for the Marlins to take on a large part of Stanton’s contract for the Dodgers either, as then there would be little point to be trading him at all.

The Marlins need tor rule them out quick though, as some reports have indicated that other teams want a resolution from Stanton by December 10th, the first day of the Winter Meetings. This is so they can move onto other options as the free agent market remains untapped.

What all this means for Stanton

Stanton has made it clear that he does not want to go through a rebuilding phase. Derek Jeter has suggested that rebuilding may be the route the Marlins take though. Stanton has been in the league for seven years now and has yet to play on a winning team. In order to avoid this, he is going to have to redefine where he would like to be traded to.

The Cardinals make sense from a baseball perspective for Stanton. They are in big need for a game changing bat in the middle of the lineup, and are looking to consolidate talent. The Cardinals have also only had one losing season since 2000, so he would be playing for a winner. St. Louis isn’t far off from competing with the Chicago Cubs, and this offseason will really define their future. Stanton would play a big part in helping them compete, and surely could make them into World Series contenders.

The case seems to be that Stanton wants to play in a more high-profile place rather than St. Louis, and who can blame him? He is a young baseball star with loads of money and wants to spend nights out on the town. Not to mention he is also from Los Angeles and has family and friends there. Stanton will have to make the decision as to what is more important to him though.

The Giants don’t seem to fit the criteria of being soon to be winners either. The fact they don’t have much to offer the Marlins on the prospect side doesn’t help either. Boston would make sense for Stanton as they seem to be perennial contenders. That is why Boston and St. Louis seem like the most likely destinations with all things considered. Which means Stanton has to reevaluate his options in order to play for a winner.

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Boston Red Sox

2017 Boston Red Sox profile

After two first place AL East finishes in a row and two straight ALDS appearances, John Farrell was fired. That is just an example of how much the fans and ownership expect of this team. Even with a World Series title to his credit, Farrell wasn’t safe from the offseason axe. But it was more than just Farrell’s performance that got him the boot in Boston. His players’ performance, or lack thereof, played a part as well.

2017 Season

Boston Red Sox profile

Chris Sale pitched well in the regular season, but struggled in his first playoff appearance of his career (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports).

After being swept by the Indians in the 2016 ALDS, many thought it was just the beginning of a Red Sox resurgence. The team had won 93 games, won the AL East and had a young nucleus.

But instead of improving, the team became stagnant. They posted the exact same regular season result as 2016, winning 93 games and the AL East in 2017. While that is a good season for most teams, it was the lackluster playoff performance that did Farrell in.

The addition of Chris Sale was supposed to put a rotation that featured two Cy Young winners in Porcello and Sale over the top. Instead, it faltered in the ALDS.

Sale would post an 8.38 ERA in the series, giving up 13 hits in 9.1 IP. Ironically enough, David Price, who had been moved to the bullpen after struggling as a starter, logged the second most IP for the Red Sox with 6.1, all out of the pen. His 0.00 ERA was a bright spot on an otherwise gloomy playoff performance.

But even with the poor pitching in the series, it’s the offense that will need some help this offseason.

Team Needs

Even after a playoff collapse, the Red Sox pitching staff was excellent in the regular season. Their collective team ERA of 3.70 was good enough for fourth in all of baseball. It was the offense that struggled throughout the season, posting the 26th highest team slugging at .407. They also finished 27th in home runs, hitting 168 as a team. The loss of David Ortiz was certainly felt this season, and young players like Andrew Benintendi and Mookie Betts weren’t able to make up for it. Power will be in high demand in Boston this offseason.

Another, more specific area of need is first base. The departure of Mitch Moreland won’t cause too much unrest in Boston, but it will leave a gaping hole at first base. Hanley Ramirez is a DH first type player, and there are no true first basemen on the Red Sox roster. If Boston wants to keep a hold of the AL East crown, they will have to find an answer for their first base question. But if the Red Sox are able to, they could kill two birds with one stone.

Potential Offseason Acquisitions

Boston Red Sox profile

Giancarlo Stanton was a force in Miami, and is the prize of Dave Dombrowski’s eye (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images).

Eric Hosmer has been linked to Boston even before the season ended. It seems like a perfect fit for both sides. A great player in the prime of his career, and a big market team willing to pay the price. But it isn’t that easy. If the Red Sox swing and miss with Hosmer, they will have to look at other options to fill in at first base.

Carlos Santana has also been listed as an option for the Red Sox. While Santana is a step below Hosmer in terms of overall play, he would be a noticeable improvement over the departed Mitch Moreland.

Another option the Red Sox could consider is one much more flashy than either Hosmer or Santana. Giancarlo Stanton is the top name on the Red Sox wish list this holiday season. And after his 2017 NL MVP season, it’s easy to see why.

Stanton would be the ultimate luxury on a team that is set in the outfield with Betts, Bradley and Benintendi. But Stanton’s prodigious power could be too much for Dave Dombrowski to dismiss. The Red Sox could play Stanton at DH and move Hanley Ramirez to first base full time, but his diminished defensive skills could make the move a hard sell to Boston fans.

With a strong nucleus and a large market, the Boston Red Sox should be in contention for years to come. But their run as AL East champions may be coming to an end. With the New York Yankees “rebuild” all but over, the Yankees and Red Sox could again be locked into an arms race rivaling that of the Cold War.

 

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