2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Catchers

This is the second installment of the 2017 MLB Season Position Rankings. In this installment, we will be focusing on catchers. Catchers will be weighed by their offensive as well as defensive stats.

Lets start our list of backstops at number five.

5. Yasmani Grandal- Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 MLB Season

Yasmani Grandal will be a steady presence behind the plate for the Dodgers in 2017. (Kevin Sullivan, Dodgers Staff Photographer)

Yasmani Grandal has proven to be a steadying presence behind the plate for the Los Angeles Dodgers. After being acquired from the Padres in the 2014 Matt Kemp trade, he has come into his own. He has provided a solid bat with some good power, knocking 27 long balls to go along with 72 RBI’s in 2016.

Grandal also has good control over the opposing team’s running game. In 2016, Grandal threw out would-be base stealers at an above average 29 percent. Grandal also had 13 defensive runs saved in 2016, providing elite defense behind the plate.

While Grandal does hit for a relatively low average (career .238 hitter), he makes up for it with good power and exceptional defensive skills. Look for Grandal to contend for his second career NL All-Star appearance in 2017.

4. Wilson Ramos- Tampa Bay Rays

Wilson Ramos turned into an offensive force for the Washington Nationals in 2016. With the decline of Bryce Harper from his 2015 MVP form, Ramos was able to pick up some of the slack and help Washington to their third NL Division Series in the last five years. However, the Nationals were unable to get over the hump.

Ramos posted career highs in all major offensive categories. He batted .307 and launched 22 bombs to go with 80 RBI’s. While putting up career highs in offensive numbers, Ramos also exhibited a strong control over the base paths. Ramos was well above league average (27 percent) in throwing out baserunners, limiting opposing teams to 37 percent.

While Ramos did provide ample control of the run game, his overall defense left something to be desired. He posted -1 defensive runs saved in 2016. The Tampa Bay Rays snagged the slugging catcher this off season, and will value him more for his bat than his glove in 2016.

3. Salvador Perez- Kansas City Royals

2017 MLB Season

The base paths are on lock down with Salvador Perez behind the dish. (John Rieger, USA Today Sports)

Salvador Perez has been one of the top catchers in all of baseball since becoming a full-time starter in 2013. In that time, Perez has garnered four AL All-Star appearances to go along with four Gold Gloves. He has provided a steady presence for the Royals and helped fuel their back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014-2015.

While his bat did slip some from his career averages (career .272, .247 in 2016), his power was ever present. Perez slammed 22 home runs, the most of his career to go along with 64 RBI’s.

He also continued to show why he is considered one of the best defensive catchers of the game. Perez threw out opposing baserunners at an astounding 48 percent, easily tops for the catchers in contention for this list. He also provided solid overall defense with 3 defensive runs saved. Perez is set to continue his run as top defensive catcher in all of baseball for years to come.

2. Jonathan Lucroy- Texas Rangers

Jonathan Lucroy saw his season be split between the NL and the AL as the top catcher available was traded from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Texas Rangers at the 2016 trade deadline. Lucroy posted solid numbers in both leagues in 2016, batting .292 while providing exceptional power evident from his .500 slugging percentage. He used his 24 home runs to pad his slugging percentage while pairing them with 81 RBI’s.

Lucroy was a force for the Texas Rangers down the stretch, both behind the plate as well as in the batters box. He threw out runners at a 39 percent clip, more than 10 percent better than the league average. Lucroy also had 4 defensive runs saved in 2016, proving he is one of the top overall catchers in baseball. A change of scenery seemed to fuel Lucroy in 2016. Look for him to continue his ascent while helping lead the World Series contending Texas Rangers in 2017.

1. Buster Posey- San Francisco Giants

Buster Posey has proven to be the total package for the San Francisco Giants. He has four career NL All-Star appearances, three Silver Sluggers, one Gold Glove, and an NL MVP Trophy to go along with his NL ROY award. Posey easily gained the top spot in these rankings, but not just by his trophy case. He posted a batting average of .288 to go along with 14 home runs and 80 RBI’s.

Posey was able to couple his solid offense with his stellar defense to garner his fourth NL All-Star appearance and earn his first Gold Glove. Posey posted stellar defensive numbers, providing 23 defensive runs saved in 2016, easily tops on this list. Combine that with his ability to limit the running game by throwing out 37 percent of baserunners, and you have the best defensive catcher of the 2016 season. Posey will give the Giants a strong glove and bat in 2017.

Catchers play a vital role in the offense and defense of a team. While catchers are more heavily weighed on their defensive stats, in the next installment of this series we will be looking at some of the biggest bats in the game. Stay tuned!

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Why Baseball is the Greatest Sport

Baseball has been dying. America’s pastime is not as popular as it once was. Football and Basketball have risen above it because they are faster and “more” exciting sports. The faster pace is definitely true and nobody would argue that. However, baseball is definitely exciting. In fact, baseball is the best sport.

No Clock

In football, basketball, hockey, soccer, and basically every sport, you have a clock. This allows fans to know how much time is left in the game and when they can expect it to be over. With the clock, teams can also manage it to their advantage. Teams with a small lead can kill the clock to help them win.

SCOREBOARD

Photo: ESPN

In baseball, there is no clock. Baseball has innings. Fans and teams have no idea how long a game can last. It could last two and a half hours, or it could last four hours. Baseball does not let a clock dictate how much time is left in a game. As a result, teams can’t kill clock. Baseball teams can’t take the easy way out. They have to play hard all the way through. They can’t let up and take it easy.

All-Star Game

The MLB All-Star game is better than any other All-Star game in sports. The league that wins the MLB’s All-Star game gets to host the World Series. This gives both teams a reason to play hard.

The NFL’s All-Star game, which is the Pro Bowl, is a joke. The best players rarely play. They are worried about getting hurt. The Super Bowl is also the week after, meaning no one from the two best teams in football will be playing.

Last year, the six quarterbacks on the rosters were Russell Wilson, Jameis Winston, Teddy Bridgewater, Eli Manning, Derek Carr, and Tyrod Taylor. Those guys are decent quarterbacks, but they are nowhere near the best in the NFL. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, and Aaron Rodgers were all absent.

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Photo: Chicago Tribune

The NBA’s All-Star game is filled with entertainment. There is a lot of exciting offense, but that is mostly because zero defense is played. It just becomes guys shooting wide-open threes and throwing alley-oops from all across the court. The best players play, but it is not a hard fought game and the guys mess around more than anything else.

In the MLB’s All-Star game, the best players play. They play hard and they play to win. Home field advantage for the World Series is on the line. Baseball is also not a violent game and no one is worried about getting injured.

Player Rings

NFL players, quarterbacks specifically, and NBA stars get overrated and underrated based on the amount of championships they have won. Dan Marino is hardly ever talked about as a top 5 all-time quarterback, but John Elway is. Fans say Tom Brady is better than Peyton Manning because he has more Super Bowls. Bill Russell is actually considered an all-time great because he won 11 championships in an era where the NBA was small and slow. Elgin Baylor doesn’t get the credit he deserves because his NBA finals record is 0-8.

Seattle Mariners

Photo: Huffington Post

Championships are team accomplishments, and baseball fans seem to understand that better than any other sports fans. No one thinks less of Ken Griffey Jr. or Tony Gwynn for never winning a ring. Griffey and Gwynn were some of the greatest hitters of all time and they get that credit despite not winning a title. Nobody thinks Yogi Berra is the greatest player of all-time due to the fact he has won more World Series than any other player. In baseball, players put up the numbers and get the credit they deserve.

Team Sport

Baseball is more of a team sport than any other. Lebron James lead the 2007 Cavs to the NBA Finals with his best teammates being Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Daniel Gibson. In basketball, one player can lead a team a long way, even to the championship like Lebron. There is no way they are going to win it all though. That season the Spurs swept the Cavs in the Finals 4-0.

Football is more of a team sport. You need a lot more than one star player to lead a team to the championship. Both the offense and defense need to do well. Tom Brady couldn’t save the Cleveland Browns’ season with how bad their team has been.

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Photo: ESPN

In baseball, you don’t really need a superstar to win the World Series. Take a look at the 2010 San Francisco Giants. Buster Posey was their only 300 hitter. No one on their team hit 30 home runs. They didn’t even have a batter get 90 RBI’s. They didn’t have a starting pitcher with an ERA below 3. Tim Lincecum lead the starters in wins with 16.

This Giants team beat the star-powered Texas Rangers. Josh Hamilton was the best hitter in the league with a 359 batting average, 32 home runs, and 100 RBI’s. Vladimir Guerrero hit 300 with 29 home runs and 115 RBI’s. Nelson Cruz joined the team late, but hit 318 with 22 home runs and 78 RBI’s. They had two great starting pitchers in CJ Wilson and Cliff Lee and the hottest closer in the league in Neftali Feliz.

The Giants victory over the Rangers proved that baseball is a team game. Championships are a team accomplishment and every position is important.

Unpredictability

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Photo: Boston Globe

The Giants 2010 World Series proves just how unpredictable baseball can be. Last place teams can beat first place teams in the regular season. The Cubs overcame a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series. The 2004 Boston Red Sox overcame a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees in the ALCS and went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Clay Buchholz threw a no-hitter in his second career start. Josh Hamilton, Lou Gehrig, and 14 others once hit four home runs in a single game. You never know what is going to happen. No lead is safe in baseball either. Baseball may be low scoring, but it just takes one swing to put one run on the board.

It is difficult to predict the playoff teams in the MLB at the beginning of the season. Almost everyone can predict most of the NBA playoff teams and almost everyone predicted a Cavs/Warriors rematch in the finals. In the NFL, it is also not too difficult to predict playoff teams. In baseball, it is much more challenging. The season is long. Teams can go hot and cold so quickly. There are always teams that breakout.

Playoffs

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Photo: SportsLogos.net

You won’t see any team below 500 in the MLB playoffs. The worst team to make the playoffs in baseball was the 2005 San Diego Padres, who finished with an 82-80 record. The 1981 Kansas City Royals made it with a 50-53 record in a strike-shortened season and different system. The bottom line is only the best teams in baseball make the playoffs.

Each league now allows five postseason teams. There are three division winners and two wildcards. The NFL allows six teams from each conference and the NBA allows eight. Teams below 500 have also made the playoffs in these leagues. It is fairly common to happen in the NBA. The Carolina Panthers recently won their division with a 7-8-1 record and the Seattle Seahawks won with a 7-9 record. You would never see this in baseball and you should never see it in any sport.

Contracts

In baseball, there are no max-contracts or even a salary cap. Max contracts put a maximum on how much players can make based on their years of experience in the league. Max contracts have allowed the NBA to form the “super team” culture that traditional basketball fans hate because teams don’t have to necessarily break the bank to sign a top free agent. For example, Lebron James could have signed with any team he wanted to in free agency. The offer he received from each team would be essentially the same because each team could only offer him a certain maximum amount of money to come play for their team. Money does not talk in situations like this. Instead, the team’s success and location does.

Giancarlo Stanton recently signed a 13-year contract with the Marlins for $325,000,000. This is the largest in baseball history. Before him, Alex Rodriguez had the richest contract of 10 years for $275,000,000. The free market determined the value of these players and not a max-contract. The free market allows talent to be distributed evenly among baseball teams. It is difficult to build a super team in baseball.

stanton_cbssports

Photo: CBS Sports

The NBA, along with the NFL, has a salary cap. A salary cap puts a limit on the amount a team can spend to put together its roster. The MLB does not have a salary cap. This forces teams to make money so they can afford to buy players. Some people may argue and say it is unfair that only the rich can win. This is not always the case. Big-name free agent signings don’t always work out. The 2016 champion Cubs were 14th in payroll. The 2015 champion Kansas City Royals were 16th. The Dodgers and Yankees, who were the top paying teams in both of those seasons, were no where to be found in the World Series. Spending money can make a roster look good on paper, but it does not always guarantee success.

Some fans will say that a salary cap is necessary because it will keep competitive balance. Well, lets look at the NBA as an example. Since the NBA implemented the salary cap for the 1984-85 season, only ten different teams have won the NBA Finals. That is just ten teams in 32 years. Three of those teams, the Cavaliers, Warriors, and Mavericks, have only won the Finals once. Then there are teams like the Lakers, who have won eight. The Bulls have won six. The Spurs have won five. If you are going to make the competitive balance argument, the NBA is not the league to look at. 

Baseball, which does not have a salary cap, has had a much more even spread of world champions. Since 1985 (the same year the NBA added their salary cap), 18 different teams have been crowned world champs. Compare that to the 10 in the NBA. Only eight of those teams have won more than once. The MLB proves that a salary cap does not bring competitive balance.

 

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Everything You Need to Know About the AL Playoffs

As the one game wild card playoffs are finishing up, now is a good time to look at each American League team and determine what will push them to win it all, or what could end up being each team’s downfall. The Boston Red Sox start their series against the Cleveland Indians and the Texas Rangers will faceoff against the Toronto Blue Jays, who won the wildcard one game playoff against the Baltimore Orioles this past Tuesday. Both series commence on Thursday, October 6th, with the Jays vs. Rangers series at 4:30pm and the Red Sox vs. Indians series at 8pm on TBS.

 

The Boston Red Sox (93-69)

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David Ortiz has had a phenomenal last season. Will he be able to finish his career with another World Series champions celebration? Photo courtesy of John Tlu Macki of the Boston Globe

The Red Sox come into the playoffs as the AL team with the third best record. Do not let that fool you, however, as the Sox may be the most complete team in the AL. The lineup, top to bottom, may not have as much true power as the Blue Jays, but still contains three hitters with over 30 hr’s during the season (Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez, and David Ortiz). Betts is a potential regular season MVP (As outlined in one of my articles from last week) and David Ortiz has been Mr. Clutch during the Red Sox last three World Series runs. The true question mark around the lineup is whether the youth that powered the team, aka the Killer B’s (Betts, Bogaerts, Bradley Jr., and Benintendi) will be able to handle the added pressure surrounding the MLB Postseason.

The Red Sox’s biggest question mark entering the season surrounded the pitching rotation. As the season progressed, however, the rotation became one of the Sox’s biggest strengths. Rick Porcello, often considered nothing more than a middle of the rotation starter, has pitched a potential Cy Young season, finishing with 22 wins on the year. David Price is the big money man, brought in to be the ace, may not have lived up to the expectations of years past, but is still a strong number two. The bullpen was a bit of a question mark during much of the season, but the Sox brought in Brad Ziegler from the Diamondbacks. Since about mid-August, the bullpen has stepped up and dominated competition, turning a concern into a strength as well.

The Red Sox have the pleasure of matching up against the Cleveland Indians in the NLDS, who will provide a difficult matchup for the Sox as the series progresses.

 

Cleveland Indians (94-68)

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Corey Kluber has put together a Cy Young worthy season. Can he rally the injury riddled rotation and carry the Tribe past the Red Sox? Photo courtesy of Chuck Crow of the Plain Dealer.

The Indians came into a season as a favorite only if you were an Ohioan. The Kansas City Royals were coming off a World Series and the Detroit Tigers had seemingly upgraded their lineup by signing Justin Upton in the offseason. It was the Indians, however who ended up with the division crown on the back of one of the best young pitching rotations in the majors (maybe even better than the New York Mets’ young staff).

Yet, as the final months rolled around, half of the young core hit the disabled list, and leaves question marks as to how the Indians’ three man rotation will matchup with the Red Sox. Corey Kluber put together a ridiculous season pitching, putting himself in line for a potential Cy Young by finishing near the top of every pitching category in the American League. Inconsistency is Trevor Bauer’s, the Indians Game 1 starter, middle name. Josh Tomlin has not given up more than 2 runs in any of his last five starts, but was rather inconsistent leading up to September. The bullpen, much like the rotation, has been pretty strong through the season. Cody Allen is one of the more underrated closers in baseball, as he has just accumulated saves consistently while maintaining an ERA around 2.5. Andrew Miller was brought over at the deadline to give the Indians the best setup man in baseball.

The rotation may be questionable, but the lineup is not. A healthy mix of youngsters and seasoned veterans fill the squad as postseason looms. Mike Napoli, a postseason regular with the Red Sox previously, fills the veteran role for the team and will power the Indians through the series. Tyler Naquin has put together a surprising rookie campaign for the Tribe and just gets on base regularly for a team that is less about hitting homeruns and more about small ball baseball. One of the most underrated trades of the deadline saw Brandon Guyer go to the Indians who just rakes as well, scraping together an OBP of .438 since the deadline for the Tribe. All this talk surrounding the lineup does not even include the stud middle infielders the Tribe have built around of Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis who have Indians fans excited for the team’s postseason potential.

The Indians will put up a good fight against the Red Sox, but despite owning home field advantage, will fall to the Red Sox in 6 games, as Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin do not inspire much hope for the Tribe. If the Tribe had Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar healthy, this would be an entirely different conversation.

 

Texas Rangers (95-67)

The Rangers came into the regular season as the favorites in a weak AL West division. The Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners put up a fight for awhile, but the Rangers kept winning and slowly gained ground on both teams as the season progressed. By the time the Rangers were officially crowned division champs, it was a mere formality, as the chance was slim since the beginning of September for either team to challenge the Rangers for the crown. Having the best record in the American League will give the Rangers home field advantage throughout both the ALDS and ALCS rounds, but that is not the only thing the Rangers have going for them.

The Texas Rangers lineup have five players with at least 20 hr’s and most the team have been in the playoffs together multiple times. Adrian Beltre, the ageless wonder at third base, leads the lineup as he has 32 hr’s and a.300 batting average this season. Rougned Odor, the young stud second basemen, has chipped in 33 hr’s of his own (a rare sign for a middle infielder) and has double digit stolen bases as well. He does not walk much, but if Odor puts wood on the ball, he is going for extra bases. Jonathan Lucroy was picked up at the deadline (after Lucroy spurned the Indians) and has provided consistency at the single position the Rangers had issues with throughout the season. The Rangers lineup is in their peak right now, so they will be exciting to watch as the series progresses.

The Rangers also have the pitching to provide support to the lineup. The two headed monster of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish provide two aces at the top of the rotation. Darvish has been pitching better of late, so he will probably get the ball Game 1. The third spot in the playoff rotation leaves the rotation a little shaky, but if Hamels and Darvish can pitch on shortened rest, they may only need Martin Perez to pitch a single game for them in the NLDS. The bullpen is solid, with Sam Dyson closing down games with great success lately, only giving up one earned run in the last ten innings. Dyson was inconsistent midseason, but has come around and looked the part of a closer, despite a lower than usual K rate for a closer. Matt Bush may be one of the best free agency pickups as the former top pick has redeemed his life and career in Texas, performing well in the setup role for the Rangers.

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The animosity is strong between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays. Will the hate carry over into the ALCS and hurt the Rangers’ chance at a World Series run? Photo courtesy of Richard Rodriguez of the AP.

The Texas Rangers have the best record in the AL because of just how complete the team is. The lineup and rotation have playoff experience and stability throughout. The bullpen, though inexperienced, has looked good of late. If there is one thing holding the Rangers back, it will be the animosity (The link leads to the brawl from earlier in the season between these two teams) between them and the Blue Jays from previous series hurting the team during the series.

 

Toronto Blue Jays (89-73)

The Blue Jays were a playoff favorite going into the season. It was unexpected that three AL East teams would be battling for the two wild card spots, along with the Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros, but the Blue Jays came out on top of the pile. The Blue Jays knocked off the Baltimore Orioles in a one game playoff on the back of Edwin Encarnacion’s three run walkoff homerun in the bottom of the 11th.

Homeruns are what you are going to see when watching this lineup. The Blue Jays have four players in their lineups who could hit 30 homeruns a season if healthy, three of which who could reach forty homers. Jose Bautista, the batflip champion, has provided playoff homerun heroics in the past, but does not have to shoulder the power alone. Bautista, Josh Donaldson (another potential 2016 MVP), and Edwin Encarnacion give the Jays the best 3-4-5 hitter trio in all of baseball. Troy Tulowitzki, though often in the background behind the big three, is still one of the best hitting shortstops in baseball when healthy, along with very strong defense up the middle. Michael Saunders was an underrated pickup from the Mariners as he has hit 24 hr’s from the outfield and as many doubles as Josh Donaldson (32).

The Toronto Blue Jays defeat the Atlanta Braves 9-3.

Encarnacion has already hit more than 40 homeruns this season. Does he have enough power in the tank to hit a few more for the Jays this postseason? Photo courtesy of Carlos Osorio of the Toronto Star.

The downside of the Jays revolves around the pitching. Aaron Sanchez has pitched phenomenal all season for the Jays and Liriano has been pitching well since coming over from the deadline. The Blue Jays have  actually gotten a couple of strong seasons from journeymen J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada, but there is a reason they are journeymen. Marcus Stroman was supposed to be the ace of the rotation by the end of the season, but remained inconsistent through most of it. If the rotation can make it to the bullpen, though, then the Jays have a good shot. Joaquin Benoit came over at the deadline as well, and has only given up one run since the beginning of August (that is a 24 inning span).

The Blue Jays lineup is definitely the strongest in the AL, as the power potential is truly real. The pitching will be the X-factor for the Jays as the Rangers are the more complete team on paper. In the end, the Rangers are the favorite for a reason, and  will prevail over the Blue Jays.

 

Tracking the Transactions: Rating AL Deadline Trades for Contenders

With the season coming down to its final two weeks, and a little over a month on their respective new teams, I think now is as good a time as any to rate who has produced with their new teams. We’ve seen some guys bring a huge boost to the teams they ended up with, while others have proven to be more of a liability. Here, I’ll give my opinion on who falls where. I’ll give players a rating between one and five based on how they’ve done since the deadline. Teams will be sorted alphabetically.

Baltimore Orioles – Wade Miley: 2

Miley hasn’t been great since coming from Seattle. A respectable July appeared to show that Miley was on the upswing; this has clearly not been the case, however, as he is just 1-5 with a 7.14 ERA in seven starts with Baltimore. I’m not really surprised by Miley’s lack of success, his numbers were certainly better while he was in Seattle either, posting a 4.98 ERA in 19 starts with them. With what Ariel Miranda (who the Mariners got in the deal for Miley) has done on the mound, the Orioles look like they may have ended up on the wrong end of this deal.

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Photo courtesy of bostonherald.com

Boston Red Sox – Drew Pomeranz/Fernando Abad: 4/3

Both of these guys really follow the same storyline on their journeys to Boston. It looked pretty scary at first, with Pomeranz going 0-2 in his first three starts (and going only three innings in his debut with the Sox) and Abad shouldering a loss in two of his first four appearances.  Since then, Pomeranz has gone 2-2 with just a 2.76 ERA. He hasn’t surrendered over three runs in a start since the end of July, which is a normally a good thing considering Boston has the top offense in the MLB. His record since coming to Boston isn’t the greatest, but if he keeps having these outings, he should start racking up wins when they really matter. Abad is a part of that Sox bullpen, which is still the biggest question mark on the team. He hasn’t surrendered a run in his last eight appearances, spanning back to August 19, though.

 

 

Cleveland Indians – Andrew Miller: 4

Miller has looked great with Cleveland, only allowing two runs throughout the entirety of August. September hasn’t been as kind to him, he’s allowed three runs over four innings; luckily, the Indians have a pretty massive cushion nearing the end of the year, so it’s better for him to get the kinks out now before the postseason (the guy’s sitting at a 1.69 ERA on the year, he was due for a hiccup eventually). He hasn’t seen as many save opportunities as people thought he would but he’s still been a very strong setup man with Cody Allen seeing the bulk of the closing opportunities. It’s hard to evaluate just how much Cleveland gave up for him, since none of the four prospects dealt by Cleveland have seen Big League play. Miller has proven to be a valuable asset, for Cleveland, though, and I’m looking forward to see him in postseason play.

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Photo courtesy of mlb.com

New York Yankees – Tyler Clippard: 5

A lot of people, myself included, were confused as to why the Yankees went and made an acquisition after selling two of the biggest names in the organization in Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. Clippard’s performance has shut me up, however, as he’s been stellar since putting on the pinstripes. He’s allowed just one run in 17.1 innings pitched since joining the Yankees, that’s a 0.53 ERA for those keeping track. He’s the go-to guy in the pen on a Yankee team that has improbably stayed in this AL playoff race. He’s looking reminiscent of his All-Star days in Washington, which is great to see given his recent dip in performance over the past couple of seasons.

 

Seattle Mariners – Drew Storen/Ariel Miranda: 3/5

Drew Storen has received a lot of flak over the years for his performance as a closer. I think August shows that he’s still a strong arm in the bullpen, going 2-0 and only allowing one run over eight innings of work. He’s still prone to the occasional meltdown, however, surrendering four runs in his initial outing with the team. Since then, he hasn’t allowed more than one run in an outing.

Ariel Miranda looked like a young guy that was just a piece from Baltimore for Wade Miley. He’s turned into a real asset at the back of the rotation for a Mariners team that’s hanging around in the Wildcard Race. His numbers won’t blow you away, but let’s not forget that August was his first month of MLB play, and the fifth man slot isn’t known for posting overpowering stats. He was 0-1 as a starter in August, with a 4.90 ERA (he picked up one win in a relief appearance). In two starts this month, however, he’s picked up two wins and recorded his first career quality start in the Bigs.

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Photo courtesy of zimbio.com

Texas Rangers – Jonathan Lucroy/Carlos Beltran: 5/4

Lucroy was one of the biggest names heading in to the deadline, and he’s proven why with his performance since coming to Texas. The Rangers have ballooned their divisional lead since their deadline acquisitions that have further bolstered their offense. Lucroy has hit ten homers in his month and a half in Texas (he had 13 in four months with Milwaukee this year) and has driven in 25 runs as well.

Beltran came to Texas as one of the big surprises of 2016. The 39 year old showed he could still rake, clobbering 22 homers and 64 RBIs while hitting .304 in New York. He’s tapered off a bit since the deadline, but he hasn’t been bad by any stretch of the mind. He’s hitting a respectable .284 with the Rangers, hit five homers, and driven in 23 RBIs. He’s certainly looked like an upgrade from Prince Fielder, who manned the DH spot before ending up on the DL and later retiring from baseball altogether. Texas is a very hot team at the moment, and I’m interested to see how far into the postseason Beltran, Lucroy, and the rest of this offense can carry the team.

 

Toronto Blue Jays – Melvin Upton Jr./Scott Feldman/Francisco Liriano: 2/1/3

Upton was meant to bring a speed aspect to an otherwise one-dimensional Blue Jays outfield. Since joining the Jays, however, he has only stolen six bases since joining Toronto. primarily because he hasn’t been providing much at the plate either, batting just .226 in August and .200 so far in September. His power numbers have also slowed down considerably, as he has just four homers since joining Toronto. There’s always time for Upton to turn it around and make a difference in these AL East and Wildcard races, but his performance so far makes me wonder whether he was a wise acquisition.

Feldman and Liriano currently both find themselves in the bullpen, after being part of the Opening Day rotations for their former teams (Liriano also started for a month with Toronto). Feldman has struggled, allowing 23 hits and 14 runs (13 earned) in 13.1 innings since joining Toronto. He just hasn’t found his comfort zone since leaving Houston, where he was already beginning to display struggles. Liriano has been what we’ve come to expect from him this year, mediocre. He had two quality starts and two not-so-great starts as a part of the Jays’ rotation in August. The same can be said for his two September bullpen performances. In one he didn’t record a single out and surrendered three runs (two earned) and in the other he went two scoreless innings and struck out three batters.

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American League Division Race Outlook

There is a month left in the season and there are about ten teams fighting for five spots in the American League (AL). The inclusion of the second wild card spot, though stimulating much debate at the time of introduction, has led to much more excitement down the stretch for fans as competition becomes fierce for the extra playoff spot. It is not just the wild card that is competitive, however, as two of the three divisions are still open to change.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

As of writing, the Toronto Blue Jays are sitting atop the AL East. The Jays have been very hot lately, winning four of their last five games. Josh Donaldson has been putting together a MVP caliber season for the Jays, and yet, this may be the hottest he has been all season with his six homers in the last five games. Bat flip champion Jose Bautista is healthy again and will make the potent lineup even stronger as the postseason looms.

Jose Bautista will forever be remembered in baseball lore for his ALCS Game 5 bat flip after a go ahead three run dinger in the bottom of the 7th inning. Photo courtesy of Chris Young of the CP.

Jose Bautista will forever be remembered in baseball lore for his ALCS (American League Championship Series) Game 5 bat flip after a go ahead three run dinger in the bottom of the 7th inning. Photo courtesy of Chris Young of the CP.

 

Chances are, the Jays should be able to hold off competition to keep a playoff spot, as the offense is just too dominant not to win games this September. The biggest question will be whether the rotation can keep the Jays in the lead in the east. The Jays rotation can be described in one word: inconsistent. The talent is there, but starters R.A. Dickey, Francisco Liriano, Marcus Stroman, and even Marco Estrada lately have been entirely too inconsistent for a team that has World Series aspirations. Look for the Jays to have to lean on their offense and Aaron Sanchez, who is not currently in the rotation due to innings constraints, to force their way into the playoffs. The Jays will get into the playoffs in a wild card spot, as the Red Sox are a more complete team and will catch them by season end.

 

Cleveland Indians

The tribe has all of the pieces that make small market fans salivate. The young stud pitching core is complimented with a successful small ball lineup that is headlined by their middle infielders Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis. Lindor leads the MLB in three hit games this season with twenty-one and is a true cornerstone piece the Indians can build around for the next few years. The Indians also upgraded their bullpen at the deadline, adding one of the best setup men in baseball, Andrew Miller. A complete team on paper, the Tribe seems like a playoff lock, so long as the young team does not run out of fuel down the stretch.

 

Lindor smiling as the postseason moves closer into his grasp. Photo credit courtesy of Ken Blaze at USA Today Sports

Lindor smiling as the postseason moves closer into his grasp. Photo credit courtesy of Ken Blaze at USA Today Sports

Yet the Tribe’s offense has gone cold, producing more than one run in a game once in the past week. Danny Salazar, the best starter for the Indians in the first half of the season, has been sputtering lately and may be sidelined with injury for the foreseeable future. A series with the Twins could be just what the Indians need, however, to right the ship and gain some momentum heading into the home stretch of the regular season. The Indians will hold off the Tigers and Royals and win the AL Central.

 

Texas Rangers

The Rangers are another team that just looks complete on paper. The lineup has the potential for true production from top to bottom, especially after the reinforcements purchased at the trade deadline at a prospect premium. The pitching rotation has two heads at the top, Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, which can guarantee a quality start for the team. Even the backend of the bullpen has stabilized after starting August rather shaky. Sam Dyson has reeled off three saves in a row and Matt Bush may have been one of the best under the radar signings in the 2016 offseason.

Hamels pitching in incredible form as the postseason looms. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Becker USA Today Sports

Hamels pitching in incredible form as the postseason looms. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Becker USA Today Sports

The Rangers have almost a nine game lead in the AL West, a number that seems rather insurmountable during the last month of the season. Carrying the best record in the AL, the Rangers should breeze into the playoffs and play whoever wins the one game wildcard playoff. The key for the Rangers will be the bullpen, which took a blow with the Jeremy Jeffress DWI. Sam Dyson has managed to pitch pretty well so far in the closer role, but his WHIP (Walks + Hits per innings pitched) has been 1.50 since July and his K:BB ratio (Strikeout vs. Walk Ratio) is 16:9, which shows signs of regression for Dyson. The Rangers do have alternatives though, including the aforementioned Jeffress, Jake Diekman, and Matt Bush who have all pitched very well lately from the bullpen.

 

All stats are courtesy of baseball reference and are as current as 08/31/2016

 

The Legacy of Alex Rodriguez

A-Rod Cover photo

A-Rod mulling over his future legacy. Photo courtesy of Elise Amendola of the AP

 

In the present, Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) may be an unwanted salary burden on the New York Yankees roster. Playing sparingly for the pinstripes, he has since announced he will be ending his professional career and moving to an adviser role with the Yankees.

His career was not always spent on the bench. A-Rod is a recipient of the Most Valuable Player Award three times, was a member of the American League All Star team fourteen times and even won a couple of Gold Glove awards in an era defined by great defensive shortstops, like Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra.

Drafted first overall by the Seattle Mariners in 1993 out of high school, he began the 1994 season quickly skyrocketing through the Mariners farm system before making his debut at shortstop on July 8, 1994. The expectations placed on A-Rod were enormous, much like the hype that surrounded Bryce Harper in present time. The only difference was, the Mariners already had multiple, integral pieces in place for a potential playoff run. A-Rod would be the icing on the cake for them.

A young Alex Rodriguez in Seattle. Photo courtesy of Bob Leverone Sporting News.

A young Alex Rodriguez in Seattle. Photo courtesy of Bob Leverone Sporting News.

A-Rod would go on to headline a roster that included Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez, perennially making it to the playoffs, but never sealing the deal. A-Rod used up his service time never making it past the American League Championship Series with the Mariners. By the time free agency hit, A-Rod was already a four time all-star at a vital position and would receive a lofty paycheck.

That lofty paycheck would be a 10 year, $252 million deal. Not only was the deal the most expensive in MLB history, but it was more than $50 million larger than the next closest deal. That was a deal that caught many experts by surprise because Texas had been dwelling in the cellar of the division for the last season and had multiple needs to spend money on.

Despite three strong seasons in Texas, where A-Rod hit a combined 156 home runs, won a gold glove and a MVP award, Texas looked to move him due to the financial burden it put on the team. A potential deal to the Boston Red Sox, before the start of the 2004 season, was vetoed by the player’s union due to A-Rod voluntarily reducing his salary. This led to the New York Yankees trading for A-Rod, a move that seemed like a slap in the face to Red Sox Nation (Who ended up getting the last laugh during the infamous “Four Days in October” during the playoffs that season).

A-Rod celebrating winning the World Series in 2009. Photo courtesy of Charles Wenzenburg of the N.Y. Post.

A-Rod celebrating winning the World Series in 2009. Photo courtesy of Charles Wenzenburg of the N.Y. Post.

A-Rod continued his dominance on major league pitching for much of his reign on the Yankees. A-Rod won two of his MVP awards with the Yankees, along with clubbing 30 home runs at the heart of the lineup when the Yankees won the World Series in 2009. A-Rod had often been the focal point of criticism come playoff time in New York, as his postseason numbers were never strong. All that changed in 2009 when A-Rod went on to hit for a .365 batting average and six home runs in 15 games for the Yankees in the postseason.

A-Rod’s career is not without controversy; however, much like the rest of the late 90’s and early 2000’s for baseball, A-Rod was often a focal point of talks concerning potential steroid abusers. A-Rod has come out and admitted to using steroids while in Texas from 2001-2003. He was not punished for the admission of guilt as there were no penalties for steroids at the time and he claimed to have stopped using them once he joined the Yankees.

Later, news surfaced that A-Rod would be suspended for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, which would lead to him sitting out all of 2014 after a lengthy appeals process. The DEA released notes in November of 2014 where A-Rod admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, which painted A-Rod as a liar due to him vehemently denying using any performance enhancing supplements through much of the 2014 season.

A-Rod has consistently put up numbers that would normally paint a player as a first ballot Hall of Famer. Yet, the steroid controversies in Texas, along with Biogenesis, make the decision a lot more difficult. No known steroid user, including Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, have cemented a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame yet. A-Rod will always be remembered as an outstanding baseball player, with his countless all-star appearances and three MVP awards. Only time will tell how badly the steroids will tarnish A-Rod’s ultimate legacy.

 

Three Potential MLB Trade Deadline Deals

Jon Lucroy

Could Jonathan Lucroy be on the move? Credit to Jim McIsaac of Getty Images

The trade deadline is looming, and it gives MLB teams both the chance to reload for the playoff race or unload for the future. The MLB deadline is notorious for being a whirlwind of activity all day, with trades being announced all over social media and television. This article will outline some of the more obvious candidates to be moved as August 1st looms, along with some of the potential returns that could be gained by each team on both sides of the trade.

 
Jonathan Lucroy is an obvious candidate because he has bounced back from his injury plagued 2015 season to be a 2016 National League All Star for the Brewers. This season his average has been hovering around .300 all season coupled with 13 home runs and being near the top in a number of defensive categories, which displays him as one of the top all-around catchers in the game.
The Brewers are sitting 16.5 games back in the division and are looking to quickly rebuild their team, so Lucroy could be moved to a contender in exchange for prospects. Lucroy’s contract does not hinder a team, with him earning $4 million in 2016 and him having a team option for $5.25 million on his contract for 2017.
The cost would be heavy because he is not in a contract year and he is an elite catcher, so that limits the interested parties to teams that have a deep enough farm system for him. Ultimately, I think the Indians close the deal on him, especially with the troubles facing Yan Gomes all season. It would be a hefty price to pay, but I think the Indians get it done by starting a package around both Bradley Zimmer (Outfielder) and Justus Sheffield (Left-Handed Pitcher), both of whom are top 100 prospects according to mlb.com.
Despite the Brewers having a number of Outfielder prospects already, Zimmer would jump in front of all of them in terms of both getting to the MLB first and in the farm system rankings. Sheffield is a young pitcher who has the potential for three above average pitches by the time he reaches the majors. He has the floor of a mid-rotation guy but could develop into a front-line starter if his development remains strong. The Indians have, arguably, the best young rotation in baseball, so losing Sheffield will not hurt. Zimmer would hurt a little, but the Indians have enough outfield depth in their system that it only stings, especially since Zimmer has not been performing as well as the Indians’ other stud outfield prospect Clint Frazier.

 

Update: The latest news has the Rangers eyeing Lucroy as an alternative to paying for pitching. Lucroy is an excellent defensive backstop and would help strengthen the rotation from a different perspective. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reported the Rangers interest first.
Source: http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/texas-rangers/rangers/2016/07/29/rangers-take-indirect-path-improve-pitching-rotation

 

Jay Bruce

Jay Bruce smiling at the idea of moving to a contender. Credit to Sam Greene for the photo.

Jay Bruce is another strong candidate to be moved before the deadline comes on the first of August. The right fielder has produced an all-star season for the Cincinnati Reds, hitting .271 and knocking in 79 RBI’s (runs batted in), leading the league at the time of writing. Bruce has always been known as a power left-handed bat, yet many Reds fans were worried about his power outage in the 2nd half of 2015 that maybe he was not the player that was a staple in their playoff lineups through the early 2010’s. All worries have been erased though, and with the Reds sitting comfortably in last place in the National League Central, the time appears ripe to make a deal.

 

Bruce, just like Lucroy, also has a team option for 2017, so Bruce would not be a rental for a team, but also a contributor for all of next season. His biggest knock is his defensive value this season, with him leading the league in errors in right field.

 

According to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, Bruce still has at least 4 teams interested, including the Mariners, despite the defensive deficiencies. The Reds want at least one top prospect, it is just a matter of how valuable that one top prospect is when all is said and done.
The arms race may drive up the price for Bruce, but I think a deal will be struck between the Reds and the Rangers for a package headlined by Jurickson Profar. Profar was once a top prospect in baseball, before injuries and lack of playing time has diminished his reputation a tad. The Reds would use him in the infield, especially if Zack Cozart and/or Brandon Phillips are traded either at the deadline or in the offseason. Even without a middle infield trade for the Reds, Profar can slot into third base for a slumping Eugenio Suarez and will be expected to handle the middle of the diamond in the future.
The Rangers infield is set for the foreseeable future, especially with Adrian Beltre signing his extension through the 2018 season, so Profar’s loss would not hurt too badly. Bruce would fill the third slot in the outfield for the Rangers and bring some power to a team that is hurting in the outfield. Rookie Nomar Mazara started hot, but has been slumping as late, and the Rangers currently have Shin-Soo Choo on the disabled list.

Update: Latest rumors have the Dodgers circling Bruce still. Bruce was rumored to be involved in a 3 way trade with the Dodgers, Rays and Reds, but those talks have stalled according to Jayson Stark of ESPN. Other potential teams, as of now, include the Nationals, Mets, and Mariners.
Source: https://twitter.com/jaysonst/status/759390902813093888

Jeremy Hellickson

Jeremy Hellickson has been dealing all season, could he be moved as well? Photo from Gary Landers of the Associated Press.

Jeremy Hellickson is the final player that will be analyzed in this article. Hellickson broke through with the Rays before being traded to the Dbacks in 2015, and then the Phillies in his final year before he hits free agency. Since joining the Phillies, he has displayed ample skill that has led to a 3.65 ERA (Earned Run Average) and a WHIP (Walks+Hits per Innings Pitched) sitting at 1.12. His bounce-back this season has led to the Phillies shopping him around.
The Phillies are out of the playoff race and Hellickson remains their strongest chip to trade. The starting market is rather thin, as evidenced by the return the Padres got for a struggling Andrew Cashner this season. The only other strong rental starting pitcher, Rich Hill, has been hit with nagging injuries over the past couple weeks which has hurt his trade value. The Phillies also have three young starting pitchers that the team will focus on building around and as such, will not have a need for Hellickson in the future.
As previously mentioned, Hellickson will be on the last year of his contract before hitting free agency. A perk of trading for Hellickson is that the receiving team will be able to potentially get a draft pick for him if he signs the other team. Hellickson will be able to receive a qualifying offer from the team, which if turned down, will grant the team a draft pick at the end of the first round in the following amateur draft.
There are a number of teams that could be interested in adding to their rotation including the Rangers, Orioles, Blue Jays and Dodgers. After seeing the return for Andrew Cashner on 7/29, the Phillies will be in a prime position to get at least one stud prospect. I am going to go with the Blue Jays that make the trade for Hellickson, who would slot in to the back-end of the rotation and push Marcus Stroman into the bullpen for the playoff push. The Blue Jays have gotten solid seasons from castaway veterans Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ, along with an arguably Cy-Young season from their young stud Aaron Sanchez. Combined with the potent Blue Jays offense, Hellickson could be one of the final pieces to their playoff puzzle.
In exchange, the Phillies would receive a package centered around the pitcher Sean Reid-Foley, who has been dominant at both Low and High A minor league ball this season. The Phillies have a plethora of stud position player prospects in their farm system, but have graduated their handful of stud pitching prospects to the majors already this season. Reid-Foley has a four pitch arsenal, with his fastball, slider, and changeup all grading out to be above-average offerings. He could easily slot in to the middle of the rotation for the Phillies down the road.

2016 American League West Preview

Courtesy of, brokenbatsingleblog.wordpress.com

Courtesy of: brokenbatsingleblog.wordpress.com

The Texas Rangers were the best team in the AL West last year. The Rangers had a solid offense with good enough pitching to back it up. They had some vets like Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre who really helped them push their way to a division title. However, they were not the team everyone talked about. That team, was the Houston Astros. They came out of nowhere and almost won the division and were good enough to make it to the Wild Card round.

The Astros finished second last year but, were a major surprise to baseball as they had been picked by many to not contend at all. Their young players stepped up and shinned. Carlos Correa has the talent and the ability to be a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate.

The Angels finished third last year and played well throughout the season, just barely missing the playoffs. They had the offense coming from their superstar Mike Trout and future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. Their problem was, and still is, pitching.

The Seattle Mariners finished fourth last year in a disappointing 2015 campaign. They struggled in hitting as they finished in the bottom three for both runs scored, strikeouts, and batting average. Their pitching was also nothing to write home about as they finished the year with a 4.16 ERA.

Last were the Athletics who were expected to have a down year. They traded away many of the pieces they had brought in for the 2014 playoff run. Billy Beane decided it was time to rebuild. They brought in some interesting players through trades and Sonny Gray was spectacular.

That was last year though, lets move on to what should be an exciting 2016 for the AL West. I will start by giving which place I believe the team will finish in, then I will go through almost every position and tell you all what I see and lastly I will name my player or players to watch.

1st Place: Houston Astros

Courtesy of: www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

Courtesy of: www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

Last year the American League West had a surprise team, the Astros. While they did not win the division they had everyone talking. This was because they were well ahead of schedule. The Astros were a young team that many thought wouldn’t be contending this soon after they had blown everything up years before. Everything is finally coming together for a team that was the worst in the majors for almost 3 years. Their loyal fanbase will have to opportunity to watch a team that has unbelievable talent.

The outfield rotation of Rasmus, Gomez, Marisnick, Tucker and especially Springer are all solid. They can play defense well and carry some impressive bats. Springer and Gomez should have excellent seasons this year. Gomez will finally be able to play a full season with a winning team. Springer will look to continue to improve on what was a spectacular 2015 season. As long as the injury bug does not get to him he should have a monster year.

The infield, particularly the middle of it, will be amazing as well. Jose Altuve was one of the only good players on the team during their rebuilding process. His patience has paid off. With him and Carlos Correa manning the middle of the field the Astros may have the best middle infield in baseball. Correa has shown that he can be a major force. He can hit for average, power, bat with runners in scoring position, steal bases and play defense. The kid was a number one overall pick for the Astros and he has not disappointed. Look for him to have an amazing year and look for his name on the MVP ballot at the end of the year.

The starting rotation added Doug Fister to the mix which is a solid pickup. Keuchel, the reigning Cy Young Winner, McHugh, Fiers, and Feldman make up the rest of what should be a solid rotation. They have their ace and a great number 2 in McHugh. Those two should make the top of this rotation deadly. The back of their rotation is also made up of solid overall pitchers. Many of them are innings eaters who will keep you in a ballgame and give you a good chance of winning once you get to the bullpen.

The bullpen has the potential to be great. Ken Giles who was the Phillies closer was traded to Houston this offseason. He did not win the closing job, it was announced that Luke Gregerson would have that job, but, I can see Giles eventually winning it back. Pat Nesheck and Tony Sipps will also round out what will be an older but, effective bullpen.

The Astros should win this division barring any terrible injuries. Look for them to make some trade deadline deals to improve their corner infield positions and maybe add one more starter if they have the money to. They are one of my picks to make it to the World Series this year.

Player to Watch: Carlos Correa

2nd Place: Texas Rangers

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

This Rangers team came out and won the division last year, yet they were not the talk of the division. Many people outside of Texas had forgotten that they were the Division Champions, not the Astros. They will be looking to improve on their performance last year as they will have Yu Darvish back this year and an interesting piece in Ian Desmond patrolling left field. Ultimately they will finish 2nd behind an up and coming Astros team because their age will start to show and I do not think they will end the season with a healthy enough team to win the division.

The outfield will have Ian Desmond who to an extent is an experiment out in left field. He has been an infielder for his entire career but, he looked serviceable during Spring Training. They brought him in for his bat and they got him cheap. They are hoping this move will pay off. The rest of their outfield is much less exciting. Delino Deshields Jr. will be playing center field and while he is solid on defense he has a lackluster bat. Shin-Soo Choo will be playing right field and is a solid, but not all that exciting, player. He had a great season last year but, has been known to be injury prone throughout his career. Lastly is Josh Hamilton who should be back sometime in May. He has always had the potential to be a star but, his past and his age are starting to catch up to him. Sadly I do not see him playing all that well this year.

The Rangers infield will be solid. Adrian Beltre will playing solid defense and swing a mean bat. People are wondering if he is a Hall of Famer, I think he is and I think he will continue to prove that this season. Elvis Andrus will continue to bat for a decent average, steal bases, and playing great defense. Rougned Odor won the starting job at Second for now. Jurickson Profar will be called up if Odor starts to struggle at all. Mitch Moreland will be manning first base and will continue to hit. The big man has finally come into his own and deserves to be their starter. Prince Fielder will also play some first but, will mostly be their big bopper at DH. He will continue to do what he always has done, hit.

The most exciting part about this team is their starting rotation. Lets get the 3, 4, and 5 pitchers out of the way to start. Martin Perez is young and has good stuff but, he will need to prove that he deserves to stay in this rotation. Colby Lewis has been the Opening Day starter in the past and he has also dealt with health issues. If he can stay healthy he will be a solid back of the rotation guy. Derek Holland is in the exact same situation as Lewis. Now we get to the fun part, Yu Darvish who will be back in May and Cole Hamels. These two are both Aces and have been top 3 in Cy Young Voting. They are one of the best 1-2 punches in the game. Their only problem is staying healthy. If either of these two are down for too long a time the entire rotation gets significantly worse. If they are healthy for the entire year they will be fun to watch.

Here is most likely the biggest weakness for the Rangers, their bullpen. Look at these names and tell me what average fan will know them? Not one. Shawn Tolleson will be their closer and he has been solid the last two years with ERA’s of 2.76 and 2.99 respectively. He is not flashy but, he should get the job done. After him is a mix of many no name players. This will be an area they will need to improve drastically if they want a chance at winning the division.

Overall this Rangers team will be solid if they improve the bullpen and if they stay healthy. That is two too many ifs for me. I doubt they will stay healthy and I don’t think they will be able to improve the bullpen enough. I do think they will have a good year and have a chance at the wild card.

Player(s) to Watch: Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels

3rd Place: Seattle Mariners

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

Courtesy of: www.sportslogos.net

This team has consistently under-performed.  Robinson Cano, King Felix, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager are their best players. These four are great but, they have never been enough to push them over the top. There are just too many holes. They will play some good baseball but, they will not be anything spectacular this year. This team outside of a few players is boring.

The outfield will consist of Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin, Seth Smith, and Franklin Gutierrez. All of these players are good, but none are great. Aoki will hit for a good average, Martin has not hit well, Smith was once a solid player but, age has caught up to him, and Gutierrez is the definition of OK. This outfield will be boring, not much more to say than that.

The infield is similar. Kyle Seager is fun but, will most likely be forgotten as his brother Corey takes over in Los Angeles. Ketel Marte is 22 and could be a fine major league player. The only problem is that he wont be a star. He, like most of this team will be good but, not great. Robinson Cano has been solid but not the Superstar Seattle wanted. His power numbers have dropped off a cliff seemingly and age is not on his side. He will be good like every year but, unless he regains that power stroke he will not be the Superstar Seattle desperately needs. Adding Adam Lind to play first adds  power and stability to the position. He is again like the rest of this team, solid, but nothing amazing. He will play well and hit 20+ homeruns this year. Nelson Cruz was a great addition to the team. He was the only really exciting hitter last year for this squad. For a time it seemed like he alone could carry this team on his back along with his 44 homeruns. Sadly that was not the case. Cruz is 35 this year and he should start slowing down, right? Chris Iannetta will be the catcher this year. He is a good defender with no bat. They are all solid but, will any of them bring the necessary boost that the Mariners need? I do not believe so.

The starting rotation is a little more interesting. Wade Miley, Taijuan Walker and Nate Karns are like the rest of this team, solid but nothing great. King Felix is well the King of Seattle. He is always in the talk for Cy Young and has been the backbone for this lackluster pitching staff. I am sure he will be in talks for the Cy Young again this year. Iwakuma won 15 games last year and proved he could be the number 2 behind the King. This was something Seattle has needed for a long time. The only problem is that he is heading into his age 35 season and will most likely not be able to put up the numbers as he has been for much longer.

The bullpen has some intriguing players but again none of them are great. Steve Cishek will be trying to get back into form as he once was in Miami. Joaquin Benoit has always been a good option in the pen and will most likely continue to be just that. Lastly the addition of Nick Vincent from the Padres is a move that will go under the radar but, should prove to be a great one for the Mariners.

The Mariners are a good team, do not get me wrong. The problem is they are boring. They do not have what it takes to push for the division or a playoff spot. Some people are picking them as a dark horse team but, until there is a spark from one of their players I do not foresee them being anything more than a .500 team.

Player to Watch: King Felix

4th Place: Oakland Athletics

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

Billy Beane has been doing Billy Beane things. He has brought together a cheap but, intriguing roster. I do have them finishing 4th just to be safe but, I think this team could make a charge at the wild card if certain things can go their way.

Their outfield consists of Khris Davis, Billy Burns, Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp, and Chris Coghlan. These 5 could be a great rotation. Davis and Reddick bring power. They could each hit 25+ homeruns this year. Burns and Crisp bring the speed and Coghlan is just solid all around. They could do great things as a group. If Davis can reach his full potential watch out, he could be a monster hitter. Billy Burns is probably the most exciting player you have never heard about. He is the typical Billy Beane player.

The infield should be interesting as well. Marcus Semien could be very good if he can bring down the strikeout numbers. The A’s received him in a trade with the White Sox last year and he has been pegged as their Shortstop of the Future. Jed Lowrie is always a solid veteran to have on your team. He is manning second because age is starting to catch up with him but, his bat should still provide solid at-bats. Yonder Alonso, Mark Cahna, and Billy Butler will all be splitting time at DH and first base. Alonso was picked up from the Padres last year and has been a solid everyday player. He can hit for contact and has gap power. If he can hit with runner is scoring position and add some more power, Alonso could finally reach the potential many thought he had. Steven Vogt was a suprise player last year. He hit 18 homeruns and drove in 71. He is a solid bat and even better behind the plate.

The rotation will be where this team will need to improve. They have a lot of injuries to deal with and not much talent to speak of. They will be the reason this team does not make the playoffs and they are why I have them fourth. Of course their is one Superstar, Sonny Gray. Everything I said before only talks about the rest of the rotation. I think Gray could win the Cy Young away this year. He has amazing stuff and is very collected for how young he is. People need to start paying attention to him. The only problem is that knowing Billy Beane he could get traded if the season completely implodes.

The bullpen will be a major strength for this team. They have the potential to be one of the best ones in the game. Sean Doolittle will be closing this year and doing his normal thing of getting outs as long as he is healthy. They brought in Ryan Madson and John Axford who were both previously All-Star type closers. If they can get back into form, watch out. These three could be what they Pirates had a few years ago with Grilli, Melancon, and Watson. Liam Hendricks and Mark Rzepczynski also have a track record of getting the job done. This bullpen could be amazing and if the starters can keep the game close and give it over to the pen the A’s could win many more games than people are predicting, including myself.

This team has potential if the moves they have made pay off. They could make the playoffs as a wild card. Sadly it is more likely that they will finish right around .500 because not every move can always pay off.

Player(s) to Watch: Sonny Gray and Billy Burns

5th Place: Los Angeles Angels

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

Courtesy of: en.wikipedia.org

I know many of you have been wondering where this team would be. I can tell you right now that this team is vastly overrated because of two players, Mike Trout (he is not overrated, just the team) and Albert Pujols (he is overrated). They will have a bad year for many reasons, one being money and two being the lack of any prospects. This is normally any team’s nightmare. When you have all your money sunk into just a few players and no prospects that means rough years are heading your way and I think that starts this year.

The outfield of Daniel Nava, Craig Gentry, Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun is just not good. Left Field will be platooned by Nava and Gentry and neither of them are all that great. Trout is obviously one of the best players in baseball so no matter what else I say, much of it does not apply to him. Calhoun is solid but, it seems as though he has already reached his best. I think that last year will be the best year he ever has which again is not bad but, left much to be desired.

The infield is a train wreck outside of Andrelton Simmons. Yunel Escobar is decent but, nothing great. Johnny Giavotella is serviceable at best. CJ Cron is a similar player to Calhoun except he plays first base. Albert Pujols is one of the best players ever and he hit 40 bombs last year but, he is still a huge chunk of their payroll and he can’t carry teams like he used to. Simmons is a wizard on the field and is improving at the plate. The problem is that the Angels gave up so much to get him and for what reason? They will not be good this year. These kinds of moves are made by GM’s and Front Offices who are afraid to lose their jobs. Lastly Carlos Perez and Giovanni Soto are behind the plate and are decent at best. Perez is young and has some potential but, I would not count on him for much.

The rotation is not terrible but, there are many questions left unanswered. CJ Wilson is having shoulder problems which means it is just swollen and he isn’t out for very long or, it means surgery and he is out for quite awhile. Garret Richards has the potential to be solid but, I just do not know if he has what it takes to be the Ace for a team. 2014 was a great year for him but, 2015 was average. Alex Heaney was a top prospect for the Marlins and has been traded around a bit. If, and I really do mean if, he can pull it all together he could be a nice young player. I just have not seen enough of him to be convinced that he will be able to. Santiago and Shoemaker are not bad but, they are not playoff caliber players and Jared Weaver is in the twilight of his career.

The bullpen has even more questions than the rotation. How much longer can Street be this good? He and Joe Smith are the only good players in a very average bullpen. Will anyone step up? Does their depleted farm system have a diamond in the rough? They do not have the money to go out and get anyone and their farm system is atrocious.

The Angels are heading into what could be a long string of bad years. They will need to try and dump contracts near the trade deadline to try and revamp this team. They have no money and a bad farm system. All of this spells impending doom for a once great franchise. They may be in the hunt near the beginning of the year but, eventually I think it will all fall apart. The worst part about this is that they cannot blame it on injuries. As of now Wilson is their only injury problem. This could be the year the Angels start to fall apart.

Player to Watch: Mike Trout (Who else?)

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