Ever since people created sports, athletes have always done and will continue to do anything they can to get an edge.
For example, Pud Galvin, 19th century baseball pitcher, openly took a Brown- Sequard elixir, a steroid precursor, derived from animal testicles. Even before that, according to sportsanddrugs.procon.org, the ancient Greeks took drugs to enhance their performance in the Olympic Games, as they experimented with herbal medications, took wine potions and ate animal hearts in search of any advantage. This historical precedent has continued into contemporary society, as athletes ranging from professional to high school are taking amphetamines such as Adderall and Vyvanse to gain an edge. These drugs have legitimate medical uses such as treating people with ADHD, but some athletes instead use them to gain an energy boost or to maintain hyper-focus through a sporting event. Harrison Macher (’15), who wrote his senior speech on the drugs used to treat ADHD, cautions those who think taking amphetamines will automatically give an athletic edge.
“Personally I have the exact opposite effect. Suddenly this season, I would puke my brains almost everyday,” he said. “Some people think that it helps but it is up for debate because different people experience different results. It increases your heart rate a lot, your metabolism is significantly faster and you are not taking in deep breaths when the chemicals are active in your body. At the same time you have an insane amount of energy so it is easy to overwork your body.”
Along with the effects that Macher mentioned, amphetamine use has also been scientifically proven to cause anxiety, high blood pressure, paranoid delusions and even nerve damage according to amphetaminerisks.com. This does not fully cover the side effects of these drugs. Macher says side effects are the hardest part to deal with, even with prescribed use.
“The one thing people need to realize about amphetamines is how common negative side effects are,” he said. “Two of them are not being hungry and not being able to sleep.”
While performance-enhancers are the drug of choice for many athletes, many have turned to drugs that have the exact opposite effect, such as depressants, like marijuana. Marijuana, according to an ESPN special report, impairs skills requiring eye-hand coordination and fast reaction times along with impairing concentration; in other words it is far from a performance enhancer.
“It is not easy to quantify this, but I would definitely say that someone who is smoking weed on a regular basis is going to perform a lot worse than someone misusing amphetamines,” Macher said. “They are going to be a lot slower along with many other effects.”
Always armed with a copy of Ted Williams’ book The Science Of Hitting and an affable personality, Charlie Manuel has seen and done it all in professional baseball.
Manuel, who is in his 52nd year in professional baseball of a career and owns a major league managerial record of 220-190, signed with the Minnesota Twins organization in 1963 out of Parry-McClure High School in Buena Vista. After signing, he played in the minor leagues with the Twins for six years before getting called up to the major leagues in 1969. In the majors, Manuel received sporadic playing time and was shuttled between the major and minor leagues. After spending parts of six years in the major leagues hitting, knocking four home runs, he decided to go overseas to continue his playing career. In Japan, Manuel had to make numerous adjustments both on and off the field.
“When I first went to Japan it was completely different from the Major Leagues in culture and style of play,” he said. “When I first went to Japan I was so uncomfortable it was unreal. Everything was different for me and I couldn’t sleep at night. It was hard to even order something to eat.”
Manuel was a quick study, as he hit 189 home runs in 6 seasons including 48 in 1980. He also became fully fluent in Japanese, overcoming the language barrier. Even though it was very difficult at times, Manuel is grateful now for his experience in Japan.
“It taught me a lot about a lot about myself and it taught me self-discipline,” he said. “If you wanted to play you had to practice and be on time; it was much more of a regiment and they practiced way harder than we ever did here.”
Virginia holds a special place in Manuel’s heart, as he grew up in Buena Vista and lived in Roanoke for 19 years.
“We moved to Buena Vista when I was in seventh grade and I have always thought that Virginia is one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been with the Shenandoah Valley and the mountains,” he said. “I liked everything about it. I liked that there are four seasons and even before I moved to Roanoke I spent a lot of time in this area and also in Southwest Virginia. I’ve known a lot of people and I have always considered Virginia my home.”
Manuel’s experience in Japan partially led to his next career in the game as a hitting guru and eventually a major league manager. He credits one of his managers in Japan, Hiroshi Arakawa, along with major league managers Billy Martin and Walter Alston for teaching him the game.
“I learned different things from each different guy,” he said. “Walter Alston and Billy Martin taught me a lot about how to handle things.”
Manuel returned to the states after his career in Japan and was a scout for nine years in the Minnesota Twins organization before becoming a minor league manager in 1983. After managing in the minor leagues in the Twins system five years, Manuel was hired as the Cleveland Indians hitting coach in 1988. He returned to the minors after two years as hitting coach to manage in the Cleveland organization from 1990-1993, but he made his mark when he returned to the majors as the hitting coach from 1994-1999, becoming the manager of the club in 2000. Manuel credits his experience with the core of those Indians teams in the minors for advancing his career.
“Most of those Cleveland hitters from the mid ‘90s I had in the minor leagues,” he said. “The way those players played in the minor leagues played a huge role in me getting to the big leagues as a coach.”
The Indians of that era could certainly hit, as they led the American League in runs in 1994, 1995, and 1999. Manuel loved coaching and managing those groups of hitters and saw great depth in those teams.
“Those were what I called lineups,” he said. “People might not understand this and I tried to explain it when I was in Philadelphia, but when we set our lineup up we look for balance and we look for a good lineup up and down. If we were weak in one position we didn’t just forget about that position; we were looking to upgrade that bat at that position.
“Once you do that you have good balance in your lineup and you end up with a good offense. When I was hitting coach in Cleveland we had such a good bench with (Jeromy) Burnitz, (Brian) Giles, (Sean) Casey and (Richie) Sexson. In order to be a good team in the major leagues you have to have an attitude and a philosophy of winning, but at the same time it’s talent and depth that carries you all the way through the season.”
After leaving Cleveland in 2002, Manuel went on to manage the Philadelphia Phillies from 2004-2012. He achieved great fame in Philadelphia for winning five division titles in a row from 2007-2011 and, in what Manuel calls “the greatest accomplishment of my career,” winning the 2008 World Series over the Tampa Bay Rays. That 2008 team was led by a dynamic offense that scored 799 runs, finishing second in the National League in that category. He had another “lineup” there, as the team was strong and balanced offensively.
“For five years with the Phillies we had tremendous lineups,” he said. “Our best lineup was when we had (Pat) Burrell and (Jayson) Werth to hit behind (Ryan) Howard and (Chase) Utley with Jimmy Rollins and (Shane) Victorino hitting at the top of the lineup. We could steal second, steal third and then score on a ground ball. We also had Michael Bourn sitting on the bench and played one of the best little ball games in all of baseball.
“Werth and Utley could also run, but we had a team of power hitters who were also on-base guys like Werth and Burrell. They took a lot of pitches and had about 100 walks each so we had good balance. We beat people a lot of different ways.”
One of the major stars of that team was Chase Utley, who is known for his all-out style of play. Manuel loved having him as a player, comparing him to Kirby Puckett.
“Kirby Puckett was my favorite player before I had Utley,” he said. “Utley was always prepared, put a lot into it, and demanded a lot of himself. Utley could care less if he had attention, but if you wanted to say something good about him he thought that was a lot better than him saying something good about himself. It wasn’t even close who spent the most hours out of all the hitters I have ever coached in the video room; it was Utley.”
Leadership is a tough thing to measure from afar, but Manuel says that the Philadelphia media always tried to tell him whom his leaders were. In his estimation, he had two true player leaders who stood out among the rest in Philadelphia.
“The whole time I was in Philly we had one vocal leader; that was Aaron Rowand, who came over from the White Sox,” he said. “He was the guy who would look at you and say, ‘What are you doing!’ and set you in line if you did something that he didn’t like. He would also get the manager involved with it. (Chase) Utley was always a leader. He was quiet and he led by example. Getting to know Utley, if he didn’t like something he would pull you aside and have lunch with you. He would talk about professionalism and what was required and how you should be playing. He was very good at that, but also if you did something wrong he had the respect of the players enough that he could just stare and look at you and send you a message.”
While Manuel loved his time managing, hitting has always been his true passion. While he tries his best to teach his pupils the art of hitting, he does not think there is a Charlie Manuel clone in the baseball world.
“I don’t think there is one guy out there who has my philosophy of hitting,” he said. “I work with you individually and what you think you are as a hitter and what I think you are. I am going to do whatever I can do to get you to be the best hitter possible. If I had two players sitting here I might not let one guy even listen to what I tell the other guy because I might tell him the exact opposite. I want you to play to your strengths and I want you to master your hitting.”
Manuel was inspired by the man whose book he said he has at least ten copies of, Ted Williams. Williams, despite being one of the greatest if not the greatest hitter to ever live, always made time for Manuel.
“Every time I saw Ted Williams he used to talk to me,” he said. “When I was in rookie ball with Greg Nettles, Ted Williams was the manager in Washington and he used to come out and work with us because we were left-handed hitters. Billy Martin was my manager and he used to get mad because Williams would work with us and tell him to leave us alone. I could see Williams down on the street and he would stop me and start talking about hitting. He always called me Bush; he called everybody Bush (Bush in those days meant bush-leaguer, or a minor leaguer.)
“I used to start talking to him about his book and he would get mad and loud and say ‘A sports writer wrote that!’ I would say to him that in that book it says you teach an uppercut. He would say ‘I don’t teach no uppercut!’ and he would get really upset. I loved talking to him. He was before his time.”
Manuel is still in his time even at 71 years old, as he currently serves as a special advisor to the General Manager of the Phillies, Ruben Amaro Jr. He will also serve as a coach in Spring Training for the Phillies, where he will continue to teach the art of hitting.
Through all his years managing in the minors and majors, Manuel had one goal.
“My philosophy has always been about winning,” he said. “Some people in the minor leagues said it was all about development but if you are a major league prospect and want to be a major league player then winning should definitely be in your resume.”
To get the W’s on the stat sheets, Manuel knew he had to do plenty of work off the field with his players.
“If you were my player you were going to get to know me and I was definitely going to get to know you,” he said. “Communication was the biggest thing; I wanted to be trustworthy and consistent everyday. I had a very high passion for the players and I was fortunate to always be around talented players.
“We had quite a bit of success and it was something that I loved to do. I would never tell this to a player, but I always put him first. I liked to bring players into my office and look them straight in the eye and tell them who I am and what it is all about and give them choices on who they wanted to be.”
After rewatching We are Marshall and Bull Durham recently I got to thinking about the greatest sports movies of all time. While complying my list of great sports classics, one name kept popping up over and over: Kevin Costner. While he is far from a one-genre star, as he has appeared in over 40 movies, he is most famous for his starring roles in several sports classics. Will Perry (’16) has a massive appreciation for Costner’s work. “Kevin Costner is the greatest sports movie actor,” he said, “of all time.” In Costner’s honor I will now build my list of his top five sports movies, although I highly doubt He will come.
1. Bull Durham- This movie epitomizes the life of a minor league baseball player and shows us simultaneously the beauty and ugliness that comes with the job. This movie has way too many good quotes to single one out as the best, but here is one of my favorites with clean language.
Best Quote: “Come on Rook. Show us that million-dollar arm, ‘cause I got a good idea about that five-cent head of yours.” Crash Davis
2. Field of Dreams- A quiet film with a relatively low production budget, Field of Dreams nevertheless is one of those movies that has become better and more famous with age. From Terrace Mann, played by James Earl Jones famous speech on the value of baseball to Ray Kinsella, played by Costner, and his dad finally playing a game of catch, the movie made an emotional impact on any viewer with a pulse.
Best Quote: “ Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack.” Terrance Mann.
3. Tin Cup- Costner plays Roy McAvoy, a failed professional golfer who makes a living by giving lessons at a driving range. This one especially speaks to me as an athlete, as it portrays, given in an extreme way, the frustrations of failure and how one really has to fight to overcome that impulse. Sarah Maurer (’16) enjoyed one of the movie’s most famous scenes. “I liked the part where he is on the driving range betting the other guy that he can outdrive him,” she said. “He hits the ball onto the road.”
Best Quote: “Well, so am I! I mean, look at me, all right, what I'm wearing. I mean, I'm playing for Rio Grande Short-Haul Trucking, Briggs and Brown Sanitation, First State Bank of Salome, Woody's Smokehouse... You think a... you think a guy like me bothers to worry about the percentages?” Roy McAvoy.
4. For the Love of the Game- This movie portrays Costner as Billy Chapel, an old former MLB pitcher as he remembers the best game of his career, a perfect game. Along the way, the director does a great job of blending Chapel’s personal struggles with his memory of the game. It also reflects on the realities of aging and is a highly relatable film that gets bonus points for having the legendary Dodgers announcer, Vin Scully, announce the perfect game.
Best quote: “The cathedral that is Yankee Stadium belongs to a Chapel.” Vin Scully.
5. Draft Day- Costner stars as the fictional General Manager of the Cleveland Browns, Sonny Weaver Jr. who is under a great amount of pressure to make a good selection in the upcoming NFL Draft. As a huge fan of Moneyball, both the movie and book, I appreciated the massive amount of trade maneuvering that Weaver Jr. did in the movie. I personally didn’t find the personal backstory in this film as compelling as some of his classics, but the main story is solid.
Best Quote: [discussing a potential draft pick] “He looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane.” Sonny Weaver Jr.
The free agent market and trade market has centered on offense to this date. Big names such as Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin have changed locations; all going to an AL East giant, while international free agent Yasmany Tomas signed with the Diamondbacks and Nelson Cruz went to the Mariners. While there are relatively few position players left on the free agent market, with Melky Cabrera and Chase Headley leading a very thin selection, the only free agent starting pitcher to sign so far was A.J. Burnett to the Pirates after a rocky one-year tenure in Philadelphia (Note-Jason Hammel has since signed with the Cubs.) The free agent market was skewed towards starting pitching to start with and starting pitchers are now an overwhelming majority of the top free agents. This is primarily due to the decrease in offense around the league, as teams are now much more focused on acquiring hitters than pitchers. That being said, pitchers such as Max Scherzer and Jon Lester are going to find a home somewhere, most likely with rich bounties of money in the bank. While I have no crystal ball and I do not even play a fortune-teller on TV, here are my predictions for the top 10 starting pitchers’ new homes and salaries, with favorites and one wild card team listed.
1. RHP Max Scherzer, age 30
2014 Team: Tigers
Favorites: Yankees, Tigers, Cubs, Blue Jays, Nationals
Wild Card: Angels
Ultimate Destination: Chicago Cubs, 7 years, $175 million
Scherzer has had an odd free agent experience so far as the top dog on the market, as he has gotten relatively little buzz compared to his southpaw friend next on the list. While he is certain to get paid somewhere, there are a lot more reports about teams who cannot afford him than teams who are interested. The Yankees have been rumored to be out on him, citing lack of interest in another big contract, but we would be foolish to completely rule them out. Keith Oddo (’15), a longtime Yankees fan thinks they could be a favorite for Scherzer. “The Yankees will outbid the other teams and get Scherzer,” he said. “They also find a way to get the guys they want.” Although the Angels have been seldom connected to Scherzer, they make a lot of sense to me as a win-now team with a large payroll and a major need for starting pitching. I settled on putting him with the Cubs partially as an aftershock of #2 on my list resigning in a familiar city, as it leaves the Cubs with a big stack of cash and urgency to land a big free agent starting pitcher. The Cubs have been heavily connected to trading for Cole Hamels, but their new regime seems set on stockpiling position player prospects and the Phillies would probably ask for at least 2 of Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Addison Russell or Albert Almora. The Cubs probably will not pay that price and that will lead them to Scherzer instead.
2. LHP Jon Lester, age 30
2014 Team(s): Red Sox/ Athletics
Favorites: Red Sox, Cubs, Giants, Dodgers, Yankees
Wild Card: Blue Jays
Ultimate Destination: Boston Red Sox, 6 years, $150 million
The Red Sox have certainly been busy this offseason with the signings of Sandoval and Ramirez. Those two signings give them an abundance of position players, but their starting pitching is still suspect. According to the Steamer projection system, they do not have a single starting pitcher under contract for 2015 who is projected to have an ERA under 4.00 and only one, Clay Buchholz, who is projected to have a Fangraphs WAR over 2. That means that at best, they have a bunch of #4 or 5 starters in a 5 man pitching rotation. This is where a homegrown player such as Lester could factor in, as they should not be afraid to spend the money to bring him back if they are willing to spend to bring in Sandoval and Ramirez. Add in Lester’s multiple public statements during his time in Boston about how badly he wanted to resign and it seems like a perfect reunion. There was some bad blood over the Red Sox reported offer of 4 years, $70 million, which was panned by most as a lowball offer, but Dr. Wanda Finney does not buy that as a deterrent to him signing with Boston. “He would go back to Boston,” she said. “if they pay him enough.” The biggest contender to take him away from the Red Sox seems to be the Cubs, as according to a report from David Kaplan of CSNChicago.com, the Cubs have made Lester an offer over $135 million. That certainly makes them a serious contender, but at the end of the day I think Lester’s comfort level in Boston wins out if the money is close. One team that could blow apart the Boston reunion if they really want to is the Dodgers, as they have the financial muscle to outbid anyone. Brett Jones (’16), who is both a Nationals and a Dodgers fan, sees the Dodgers in the bidding for one of the big starting pitchers, especially Lester. “The Dodgers should get Lester because you cannot have enough depth in the starting rotation,” he said. “They need another pitcher with Beckett retiring and Billingsley gone.”
3. RHP James Shields, age 32
2014 team: Royals
Favorites: Red Sox, Rangers, Blue Jays, Angels, Dodgers, Cubs
Wild Card: Marlins
Ultimate Destination: Los Angeles Angels, 4 years, $80 million
While some may choose to focus on how ridiculous his nickname “Big Game James” is given his career 5.46 postseason ERA, those who dwell on that for too long are missing the bigger picture with this reliable workhorse. His strengths start with his reliability and clean bill of health, as he has thrown 200 plus innings every year since 2007. At the same time, that could play against him to some degree in free agency, as some teams may be concerned about his huge workload, especially given that he will pitch this year at the age of 33. These factors will most likely limit the years that any team is comfortable giving to him, as he will likely at most get 5 years and more likely 4. Given the Angels all-in mentality as Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton continue to age and become more expensive, they would certainly seem to be in the market for a pitcher such as Shields and he may have a desire to be closer to his home in California. The Angels are far from his only potential suitor however, as the Red Sox make a lot of sense if they miss out on a Lester return and the Blue Jays also seem like a solid fit, especially with their recent trade of J.A. Happ.
4. RHP Ervin Santana, age 31
2014 team: Braves
Favorites: Royals, Braves, Angels, Diamondbacks
Wild Card: Twins
Ultimate Destination: Kansas City Royals, 3 years, $40 million
Santana was victimized last year partially by a qualifying offer and partially because of reports of outlandish $100 million demands, as he ultimately had to settle for a one year $14.1 million deal with the Braves. Similar concerns may arise again this year, as was once again tagged with a qualifying offer, which means that any team who signs him that does not have a top 10 protected first round pick in the amateur draft will lose their first pick if they sign him. As a pitcher he profiles a grade below the first 3 guys, as he is much more of a solid #3 pitcher in a rotation than a top of the line guy. This means that teams such as the Royals, who in all likelihood are losing Shields, can afford him, as he will not have nearly the price tag of the top 3. The Royals are familiar with him, as he pitched for them in 2013 and he fits a need for a team looking to repeat it’s 2014 success.
5. RHP Brandon McCarthy, age 31
2014 team(s): Diamondbacks, Yankees
Favorites: Yankees, Cubs, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Braves
Wild Card: White Sox
Ultimate Destination: New York Yankees, 3 years $39 million
McCarthy did not have a good year according to traditional statistics, as his ERA was a middle of the road 4.05, but that number is very deceiving. For the first half of the year, he was pitching in Arizona where the ball flies well and the Diamondbacks did not allow him to consistently throw his cutter, one of his main pitches. This predictably did not go well for either the player or the team, as he gave up 15 homeruns in the first half on his way to a 5.01 ERA. The Yankees however smartly saw some major upside with him, as his strikeout to walk rates remained strong, which led them to acquire him for a low upside young pitcher in lefty Videl Nuno. He rewarded them with 90.1 quality innings of work with an ERA of 2.89 and I think both the team and the player see the fit. Other smart organizations such as the Cubs and Red Sox could see him as a cheaper alternative to the bigger name pitchers and decide to sign him.
6. LHP Francisco Liriano, age 31
2014 team: Pirates
Favorites: Pirates, Cubs, Angels, Blue Jays, Phillies
Wild Card: Cardinals
Ultimate Destination: Pittsburgh Pirates, 3 years $39 million
Liriano has always been somewhat of an enigma, as his career has been one flash of brilliance after one flash of injury or control problems. He seems to have found a home in Pittsburgh however, as he has posted two solid seasons in a row, with 2013 being the second best of his entire career. With their huge park and reliance on defensive shifts, the Pirates seem to be a safe haven for starting pitchers. The most serious contender to take him away from Pittsburgh to me would be the Blue Jays, as they have a need for a starting pitcher and they just signed Liriano’s former battery mate in Pittsburgh, Russell Martin.
7. RHP Hiroki Kuroda, age 39
2014 team: Yankees
Favorites: Yankees, Japan
Wild Card: Dodgers
Ultimate Destination: New York Yankees, one year, $13 million
This is one of the simpler free agent cases, as Kuroda has stated in the past that he would only consider pitching for the Yankees or returning to Japan. Despite his advanced age, Kuroda was still effective and reliable for the Yankees in 2014, leading the team by far in innings pitched. I think he has one more year left in the states and that most likely it will be for the Yankees, unless he is persuaded by a bigger one year guarantee to return to the Dodgers, the team he broke into the majors with. Oddo agrees. “Kuroda was their most consistent pitcher last year through all their injuries,” he said. “He would fit perfectly as their 4th or 5th starter, especially if they sign one of the big free agent starters.”
8. RHP Jake Peavy, age 33
2014 team(s): Red Sox, Giants
Favorites: Giants, Braves, Cardinals, Pirates
Wild Card: Marlins
Ultimate Destination: San Francisco Giants, 2 years $22 million
Peavy is no longer the ace he was in his San Diego days, but he is a solid back end of the rotation starter for a National League team. He had a great time in San Francisco last year, as he posted an ERA of 2.17 in 78.2 innings and won a World Series ring. Throw in the Giants history of retaining their own players from World Series teams and the Giants have to be considered the heavy favorite. The other strongest contender seems to be the Braves with Peavy’s Alabama roots and club president John Hart’s mandate that they need more pitching, even after the Jason Heyward-Shelby Miller swap.
9. RHP Jason Hammel, age 32
2014 team(s): Cubs, Athletics
Favorites: Cubs, Braves, Giants, Pirates, Angels, Royals
Wild Card: White Sox
Ultimate Destination: Chicago Cubs, 2 years $20 million (Actually nailed this prediction)
Hammel had a resurgence at the beginning of last year after being signed by the Cubs to a 1 year $6 million contract, leading him to be sent to the A’s last year along with RHP Jeff Samardzija for top prospects SS Addison Russell and OF Billy McKinley. I think he returns to the place in which he had success last year before imploding for the Athletics, as there is still a need for pitching in Chicago and he fits well there. If the Giants miss out on bringing back Peavy or the Royals do not sign Shields as I predicted, I could also he a solid fit for him in KC or Atlanta.
10. RHP Justin Masterson, age 29
2014 team(s): Indians, Cardinals
Favorites: Red Sox, Cubs
Wild Card: Pirates
Ultimate Destination: Boston Red Sox, 1 year $8 million
After a very successful 2013 that saw him make the All-Star team and post an ERA of 3.45, Masterson majorly regressed in 2014, as he posted a ghastly WAR of -1.7 and was demoted to the bullpen by the Cardinals by the end of the year. He was pitching through a knee injury all year and saw his average fastball velocity plummet from an average of 93.1 MPH in 2013 to 90.3 MPH in 2014 according to PITCHf/x. He may turn out to be a solid buy low candidate for a team with a solid infield if he is truly healthy, as ERA predictors such as xFIP and SIERA see him in a much more positive light than his ERA from last year and his ground ball percentage remained at a very high 58.2% last year.
As the season starts, every fan base has optimism that this year is THE year (except maybe Cubs fans, for whom THE year never seems to come). However, only a couple of teams are going to be successful in making the playoffs. As much as I would like to tell everyone that their team is going to make the playoffs, they must be realistic. Certainly, I will look foolish by the end of the year, but here are my predictions for the year, this time the National League version. (By the way, if you missed them, here are my AL predictions.)
1.Washington Nationals, 90-72
Key offseason additions: RHP Doug Fister (trade), OF Nate McLouth, LHP Jerry Bleavins (trade), C Jose Lobaton (trade)
Key offseason losses: RHP Dan Haren, LHP Ian Krol (Fister trade), INF/OF Steve Lombardozzi (Fister trade)
After a breakout 2012 campaign in which they won 98 games, the Nationals had World Series aspirations going into 2013. Unfortunately for them, they got off to a slow start and never fully recovered leading them to a disappointing second place finish. With the addition of Fister and improved health they could once again be dangerous in 2014. They certainly have question marks, with the health of Fister in doubt as he starts the year on the DL and the performances of veterans OF Jayson Werth and 3B Ryan Zimmerman in question. In the case of Werth, it is a health issue, as he has dealt with nagging injuries for the last couple of years, but he mashed last year to a tune of an OPS+ of 154 (For those of you who are not sabermetrically inclined, that means that he was 54% better than the average major league hitter last year). Zimmerman's questions, however, come primarily on the defensive side of the ball, as his defensive decline last year was well-documented. If he can correct his throwing issues, his current lack of range would be much easier to swallow. As a whole though, I am nitpicking, as the Nationals are the clear favorites with a great starting rotation No. 1-4 and a young core of position players including SS Ian Desmond and phenom OF Bryce Harper.
2. Atlanta Braves, 87-75
Key offseason additions: RHP Ervin Santana, RHP Gavin Floyd
Key offseason losses: C Brian McCann, RHP Tim Hudson
One could be deceived into thinking that the Braves had a relatively quiet offseason with relatively few moves if they just looked at the transaction log. Unfortunately for the Braves things were not quite as quiet as they seemed, as young RHPs Kris Medlan and Brandon Beachy are lost for the season with Tommy John surgeries. Combining that with the losses of Hudson and McCann,this team looks significantly worse than the 2013 version. Santana should help, but the rotation just looks too thin to put them over the Nationals.
3. Philadelphia Phillies, 78-84
Key offseason additions: RHP A.J. Burnett, OF Marlon Byrd, RHP Roberto Hernandez, RHP Brad Lincoln (trade)
Key offseason losses: RHP Roy Halladay (retired), C Erik Kratz
The Phillies have been in steady decline in the last two years coming off of a five-year run of division titles from 2007-2011. The last time they won fewer games than their total of 73 last year was 2000 when Scott Rolen was their third basemen and star attraction. They still have a lot of talent with a great top-three pitching rotation of LHP Cliff Lee, LHP Cole Hamels and RHP A.J. Burnett. Once Hamels recovers from his shoulder injury he will go along with a core of former All-Stars that includes 2B Chase Utley and 1B Ryan Howard. The problem in the last two years, as it is with most older teams, has been health, as their star players have not been able to stay on the field. If everything goes right, they could be competitive, but teams that rely on older players do not normally have everything go right.
4. New York Mets, 73-89
Key offseason additions: RHP Bartolo Colon, OF Curtis Granderson, OF Chris Young,
Key offseason losses: RHP LaTroy Hawkins
Like the Braves, the offseason transaction log is deceiving as the Mets lost star RHP Matt Harvey and they traded their best outfielder from last year at the trade deadline, Marlon Byrd. While Granderson and the ageless Colon should help, it is a stretch to expect Colon to post another sub-3 ERA with a relatively low K/9 rate. Granderson's power may be somewhat stifled by the still spacious dimensions of Citi Field compared to his old homer-friendly home park of Yankee Stadium. C Travis d'Arnaud and RHP Noah Syndengaard could help ease Mets fans’ concerns of the future by having standout rookie campaigns (d'Arnaud played 31 games last year, but is still rookie eligible), but the Mets would be a stretch to contend this year even with Harvey and have little chance without him.
5. Miami Marlins, 67-88
Key offseason additions: C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 1B Garrett Jones, 3B Casey McGehee, RHP Carter Capps (trade), INF Jeff Baker, RHP Chad Qualls RHP Carlos Marmol
Key offseason losses: DH/1B Logan Morrison (Capps trade), OF Juan Pierre, 3B Placido Polanco (retirement)
Let's start with the positives, which almost begin and end with stars RHP Jose Fernandez and the almighty OF Giancarlo Stanton. They have some good young arms in RHP Nathan Eovaldi and RHP Jacob Turner, but their plus stuff so far has not translated into great results at the major league level yet. Saltalamacchia and Jones give them two other major league bats besides Stanton, but Jones is best suited for a platoon role and Saltalamacchia was incredibly fortunate last year with a .372 BABIP (batting average on balls in play). With a normal amount of correction for a player with little speed, Saltalamacchia's BABIP should fall to around .290 or .300 and his batting average should likewise fall to around .230 or .240 if his strikeout rate remains around his astounding 29.6% rate from last year. The bottom line is that the Marlins did not do enough this offseason to improve their major league worst offense to be competitive in 2014.
1. St. Louis Cardinals, 94-68
Key additions: SS Jhonny Peralta, OF Peter Bourjos (trade), 2B Mark Ellis
Key losses: OF Carlos Beltran, 3B David Freese (Bourjos trade), RHP Edward Mujica, RHP John Axford, RHP Fernando Salas (Bourjos trade)
The Cardinals are still the class of the NL Central, as they have both top end talent and they are deep on their roster 1-25. Their offense, led by OF Matt Holliday and C Yadier Molina is still the class of the NL, although they may not be able to repeat their batting average with runners in scoring position of .330 last year. I think that regression may be more of a problem than the loss of Beltran, who was the worst defensive right fielder in baseball last year with a -15.3 UZR, or Ultimate Zone Rating. The Cardinals also have good replacement options for the loss of Beltran, as they will start the season with Matt Adams at first base and Allen Craig in right field and super prospect OF Oscar Taveras waiting in the wings to take over right field. The strength of this team is their wealth of pitching, as they have stud RHP Adam Wainwright on top of the rotation and multitudes of young power arms behind him including RHP Michael Wacha and RHP Shelby Miller. Some of the pitchers such as RHP Carlos Martinez and RHP Trevor Rosenthal would be in the starting rotation for most teams, but the Cardinals have enough depth to use those guys as weapons out of the bullpen.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates, 88-74
Key offseason additions: RHP Edinson Volquez
Key offseason losses: RHP A.J. Burnett, OF Marlon Byrd, 1B Justin Morneau, 1B/OF Garrett Jones
While this projects a six-win drop off for the Pirates, I think I am being somewhat generous with this ranking. Considering that they lost their No. 2 starter and their starting right fielder to free agency and did not really replace them, they could have some issues this year compared to their magical 2013. I also think that their bullpen will not be as good this year as it is hard to project that RHPs Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon and LHPs Justin Wilson and Tony Watson will all post sub-3 ERA's again. The thing that will keep the Pirates in contention this year will be their young guns, as stud RHP Gerrit Cole gets to pitch a full season and top prospects RHP Jamison Tallion (as this is being posted he just had Tommy John, knocking him out for 2014) and OF Gregory Polanco should come up and contribute this year. Even if Polanco does not tear the league up offensively in his first year, he could be worth 2 WAR (wins above replacement) just on the merit of his outstanding defense and closer to 3 or 4 WAR in a partial season if he hits well.
3. Cincinnati Reds, 84-78
Key offseason additions: OF/INF Skip Schumaker? (as broad as I have made this category, I'm still not sure Skip qualifies)
Key offseason losses: OF Shin-Soo Choo, RHP Bronson Arroyo, C Ryan Hanigan
The Reds are traditionally an offense first team, but they have shifted in recent years to a team based on pitching. Last year their offense was incredibly top-heavy, as Choo, 1B Joey Votto and OF Jay Bruce tore it up while the rest of the offense was composed of either league average hitters or below league average hitters. Some may argue that 2B Brandon Phillips also qualifies with his 103 RBI's despite posting an OPS+ of 92. Those people tend to ignore that RBI's are mostly a product of having people get on-base in front of you and Phillips had the No. 2 and No. 4 hitters in OBP hitting in front of him in Choo and Votto. The bottom line is that if the Reds are going to make the playoffs they need another hitter or two to step up and produce, whether it be a guy like 3B Todd Frazier or OF Ryan Ludwick or even a player acquired in a midseason trade.
4. Milwaukee Brewers, 81-81
Key offseason additions: RHP Matt Garza, LHP Will Smith (trade), 1B Mark Reynolds, 1B Lyle Overbay
Key offseason losses: OF Nori Aoki (Smith trade), 1B Corey Hart, RHP Francisco Rodriguez
This was one of my sleeper teams from last year based on their base of position player talent. They underperformed last year with a record of 74-88, but they had to deal with the loss of OF Ryan Braun to suspension and injury and 3B Aramis Ramirez to a knee injury. With the addition of Garza, I think they have a solid, but unremarkable rotation with RHP Yovani Gallardo RHP Kyle Lohse, and RHP Marco Estrada all being No. 2 0r No. 3 type of starters. While they lack a true ace, all of those guys should be able to keep them in most games and their offense could be dangerous. OF Carlos Gomez and SS Jean Segura both had breakout seasons last year, with Gomez actually ranking first in the NL in WAR according to baseball-reference.com. Gomez's WAR was boosted heavily by outstanding defensive ratings, but even if he does not quite repeat, they should have plenty of offense with all of those guys and underrated C Jonathan Lucroy. I could be talked into putting the Brewers ahead of the Reds in the division, but in the end I do not like the fact that Braun's thumb is hurt again and that the Brewers do not have much depth to withstand injuries.
5. Chicago Cubs, 68-94
Key offseason additions: RHP Jason Hammel, INF/OF Emilio Bonifacio, OF Justin Ruggiano, RHP Jose Veras, LHP Wesley Wright
Key offseason losses: C Dianer Navarro, RHP Kevin Gregg (still free agent)
As always, it seems that the Cubs are waiting for next year. Unlike previous years in which next year seems to be an empty promise, the Cubs could actually be better in 2015. SS Javier Baez and 3B Kris Bryant are on a fast track to Chicago along with RHP C.J. Edwards and OF Albert Almora. Their short-term success will depend on the two players who were supposed to be the building blocks of the franchise, SS Starlin Castro and 1B Anthony Rizzo. I feel much better about a bounce-back for Rizzo than Castro, as Rizzo ran into some bad luck last year in the form of a .258 BABIP and his power remained while Castro saw a 3.8% increase in his strikeout rate from 2012 to 2013 and seems to be caught in the middle on his plate selection. Castro tried to be more patient last year and it took him away from what made him successful as a Pablo Sandoval type of hitter who could hit the ball anywhere it was pitched. If he and Rizzo improve in 2014, it could lead to some optimism about the future on the North Side of the Windy City.
Los Angeles Dodgers, 92-70
Key offseason additions: RHP Dan Haren, RHP Chris Perez, LHP Paul Maholm, 2B Alexander Guerrero, 2B Justin Turner
Key offseason losses: RHP Ricky Nolasco, 2B Mark Ellis, INF Nick Punto, RHP Edinson Volquez, INF Michael Young (retirement), INF/OF Skip Schumaker
I like what the Dodgers did this offseason for the most part, as they bought low on two good starting pitchers in Haren and Maholm and retained players such as 3B Juan Uribe and RHP Brian Wilson. The only move that did not make sense to me was declining 2B Mark Ellis' $6.5 million option, as his plus defense makes him a better option than their current platoon of INF Dee Gordon and Turner. They expected Guerrero to be ready to step immediately into the lineup, but they could have minimized the risk for a relatively small amount if they had kept Ellis around. The Dodgers are the favorites in this division, as they are by far the most talented team. The only thing that could derail them is injuries, as ace LHP Clayton Kershaw is already on the DL indefinitely with a back injury and players such as SS Hanley Ramirez and CF Matt Kemp have a long history of injuries. Like every other team, if their key guys do not stay healthy they could be in trouble, as the Giants are in a position to challenge them.
2. San Francisco Giants, 86-76
Key offseason additions: RHP Tim Hudson, OF/1B Michael Morse
Key offseason losses: LHP Barry Zito (retirement)
Instead of adding players from outside of the organization, the Giants primarily focused on extending the players they already had such as OF Hunter Pence, RHP Tim Lincecum, RHP Ryan Vogelsong, and LHP Javier Lopez. I really like the addition of Hudson, as he is still effective when he is on the mound despite his advancing age and his ankle injury. I also think that 1B Brandon Belt could have an even better year this year and that OF Angel Pagan could bounce-back strong from his injury.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks, 82-80
Key offseason additions: OF/1B Mark Trumbo (trade), RHP Addison Reed (trade), RHP Bronson Arroyo, LHP Oliver Perez
Key offseason losses: OF Adam Eaton (Trumbo trade), LHP Tyler Skaggs (Trumbo trade), 3B Matt Davidson (Reed trade), RHP Heath Bell (trade)
Kevin Towers went into the offseason with a definite wish list, as he wanted a right-handed power bat, a starting pitcher and a closer. In that respect, he was successful, as Trumbo, Reed and Arroyo fit all of those categories. However, I do not think that the Diamondbacks actually significantly improved themselves for either the short or long term. Trumbo is certainly powerful, but especially as an outfielder I do not think his combo of power and poor on-base skills along with poor defense provides an upgrade over Eaton's better-rounded skill set. The idea of needing a "proven closer" is also outdated, as shown by the two World Series teams last year, the Red Sox and the Cardinals, going with closers without much closing experience, RHP Koji Uehara and RHP Trevor Rosenthal. In this case, Towers decided that the sense of security provided by having a "proven closer" was a big enough need to give up a promising 3B prospect, Matt Davidson. The theme of these moves is that they do not provide much upside and that the team is not significantly better than last year's team, especially with the loss of their ace, LHP Patrick Corbin, to Tommy John surgery. The Diamondbacks could reasonably project improved performances from C Miguel Montero and 2B Aaron Hill after they combined to only post 1.7 WAR last year, but other than that I do not see any other players who could make the 2014 Diamondbacks much better than the 2013 version.
4. Colorado Rockies, 76-86
Key offseason additions: 1B Justin Morneau, LHP Brett Anderson (trade), RHP LaTroy Hawkins, LHP Boone Logan, OF Drew Stubbs (trade), OF Brandon Barnes (trade), RHP Jordan Lyles (trade)
Key offseason losses: 1B Todd Helton (retirement), OF Dexter Fowler (Barnes and Lyles trade), LHP Drew Pomeranz (Anderson trade), RHP Rafael Betancourt
The Rockies were very busy this offseason, with a lot of parts moving in and out. While in some cases this could signal significant improvement, the Rockies, like the Diamondbacks, did a lot to not get much better. Morneau would have been an imposing acquisition a couple of years ago, but his production was barely above a major league average hitter last year at an OPS+ mark of 103. He simply has not been the same since his concussion troubles. While he provides solid defense at first base, his signing makes the Rockies place last year's batting average champion, OF/1B Michael Cuddyer regularly in right field, where he posted a -13.4 UZR rating. For some context, that was second worst in the majors last year, only better than new Yankees RF Carlos Beltran. As always with the Rockies, if stars SS Troy Tulowitzki and OF Carlos Gonzalez stay healthy, they could surprise. If I were a gambling man however, I would place that bet, as Cargo has never played over 145 games and Tulo has not played 150 games since 2009.
4. San Diego Padres, 76-86
Key offseason additions: RHP Josh Johnson, RHP Joaquin Benoit, OF Seth Smith (trade), LHP Alex Torres (trade)
Key offseason losses: RHP Luke Gregerson (Smith trade) RHP Jason Marquis, LHP Clayton Richard, OF/PH Mark Kotsay (retirement)
Some experts are touting the Padres as a sleeper pick due to their lack of weaknesses and power arms in the rotation. I agree with the second part of that reasoning, with RHP Andrew Cashner as one of my favorite fantasy picks this year and RHP Tyson Ross emerging as a viable starter last year. However, the Padres will remain near the bottom of the division because they have a bunch of injury-prone players who are already hurt such as Johnson, OF Carlos Quentin and OF Cameron Maybin. The Padres seem to be abnormally struck by the injury bug every year and stockpiling injury risks is not helping their misfortune. Third-baseman Chase Headley is headed for a strong year as he is one year away from free agency and 2B Jedd Gyroko to continue to develop, but for a team with no superstars they have too many potential holes such as 1B with a powerless Yonder Alonso to be serious contenders.
I know I am late to the party on getting my predictions up, as the Dodgers already swept two games from the Diamondbacks in Australia. Be assured however, that those games will have no impact on my standings projections. Also, keep in mind that the number of wins I project is just an educated guess. The important part is not the exact number of wins, but the reasoning behind the win totals. With that disclaimer out of the way, it is time for me to roll the dice on my educated guesses for the 2014 season, starting with the American League. Note that all additions and subtractions without a parenthesis behind it were acquired or lost through free agency.
1. Tampa Bay Rays: 94-68
Key offseason additions: RHP Grant Balfour, C Ryan Hanigan, INF Logan Forsythe (trade)
Key offseason losses: RHP Roberto Hernandez, IF/OF Kelly Johnson. RHP Fernando Rodney, LHP Alex Torres (Forsythe trade)
The Rays biggest move of the offseason is the one they did not make, as most experts predicted a trade of LHP David Price for a big batch of prospects. The Rays had different plans however, as they decided to keep their ace and go for the AL East crown in 2014. The Rays added a solid relief pitcher in Balfour and an underrated pitch-framing expert in Hanigan, and they did it in their typical bargain bin fashion. With continued growth of RF Will Myers and RHP Chris Archer, I think the Rays are in a great position to grab the AL East crown.
2. Boston Red Sox: 88-74
Key offseason additions: C A.J. Pierzynski, RHP Edward Mujica, CF Grady Sizemore
Key offseason losses: CF Jacoby Ellsbury, SS Stephen Drew (still a free agent), C Jarrod Saltalamacchia,
Coming off a World Series championship, I think the Red Sox are due for some regression. With the loss of Ellsbury to their rival Yankees and the loss of two solid performers to free agency in Drew and Saltalamacchia, I do not think a repeat is in the cards. Likely regression from veterans coming off big years such as RF Shane Victorino, RHP John Lackey, and RHP Koji Uehara could really hurt the defending champions. To be clear I think that all three of those guys, especially Uehara, will be very good this year but I also see three veterans who outperformed their career averages and are most likely to regress back to their normal numbers. I do like SS Xander Boegarts to have a great rookie year and I think Dustin Pedroia's power will come back now that he is over his 2013 thumb injury.
3. New York Yankees: 87-75
Key offseason additions: CF Jacoby Ellsbury, RHP Masahiro Tanaka, C Brian McCann, RF Carlos Beltran, INF/OF Kelly Johnson, 2B Brian Roberts
Key offseason losses: 2B Robinson Cano, RHP Mariano Rivera (retirement), LHP Andy Pettitte (retired), OF Curtis Granderson, LHP Boone Logan
After much talk of a $189 million salary cap, as if that was being stingy, the Yankees notably decided to blow right past that mark to $197.5 million according to Cots Contracts. Despite all of the activity, I think that the most likely outcome is about what they did last year. While the additions make this team look like a potential dynamo, I think that they will miss Robinson Cano and the great Mariano Rivera more than currently anticipated. Despite a lineup full of former All-Stars, the Yankees have major question marks in the infield, such as Kelly Johnson at third base even though he has never played third full time, a certain 40 year old shortstop coming off major ankle surgery, injury riddled Brian Roberts at second, and 1B Mark Teixeira coming off a major wrist injury. Their starting pitching should keep them in most games with depth 1-5, with a solid #6 in case of injury in RHP David Phelps. There are questions in the rotation such as whether LHP C.C. Sabathia can be effective with diminished velocity, how will Tanaka pitches in his first MLB season and if wild card RHP Michael Pineda can stay healthy after missing two years due to a shoulder injury. Despite these question marks, I think that the rotation will be above average. Overall though this team has as much volatility as any, as they could run away with the division if everything breaks right and they could also sit in 4th if the question marks turn into questionable performances.
4. Baltimore Orioles: 78-84
Key additions: RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, OF/DH Nelson Cruz, OF David Lough
Not so key addition: DH/OF Delmon Young (I am so sorry Orioles fans, I feel your pain.)
Key losses: RHP Jim Johnson (trade), RHP Scott Feldman, OF Nate McLouth, OF Michael Morse, RHP Francisco Rodriguez
For most of the offseason, Orioles fans were griping that the team had not added anything, especially after a failed signing of RHP Grant Balfour due to a failed physical. Until the surprise signings of Jimenez and Cruz, it seemed like their biggest addition would be the famously inept Delmon Young, who Ruben Amaro Jr. decided to torture Phillies fans with for 80 games last year. Despite the additions of Jimenez, whose performance is always a coin flip, and the always overrated Cruz, I still do not see the Orioles seriously contending this year I think breakout star 1B Chris Davis is due for some regression from his monster 2013 season. In addition, the Orioles are uncertain about the status of their young stud 3B Manny Machado as he recovers from knee surgery. While the Orioles could benefit from better performance from their highly touted catcher, Matt Wieters, and from their former star RF Nick Markakis, I do not project major improvements for either one, as Wieters has major issues from the left side of the plate and Markakis has lost almost all of his power. If you think I am being too negative here, you may be right. However, I see many problems with this team, despite a solid core of position players centered on CF Adam Jones and the aforementioned Davis, Machado, and Wieters.
5. Toronto Blue Jays: 77-85
Key additions: C Dioner Navarro
Key losses: RHP Josh Johnson, OF Rajai Davis, C J.P. Arencibia
The Blue Jays were rumored all offseason to be contenders for free agent starting pitchers such as Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. However, they ultimately were pretty quiet with Navarro being their only significant free agent addition. Navarro should be a significant upgrade over Arencibia and his .227 OBP, even if he does not match his career year of 2013. In addition, I think the starting staff should be better with R.A. Dickey being able to throw his hard knuckleball again with improved health and hopefully somewhat better health from the talented, but injury prone RHP Brandon Morrow. However, even if Dickey bounces back closer to his 2012 form and OF Jose Bautista has a healthy season, I still do not think the Blue Jays will contend this year. Their problems go beyond their stars, as they have to no depth in their rotation beyond Dickey, LHP Mark Buehrle and Morrow for when the inevitable injuries strike.
1. Cleveland Indians: 90-72
Key offseason additions: RHP John Axford, OF David Murphy
Key losses: RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, LHP Scott Kazmir, RHP Chris Perez, RHP Joe Smith, RHP Matt Albers
Many experts are predicting major regression from the Indians, such as ESPN the Magazine's recent prediction of 83 wins. However, I am very high on this team, as I really like their core of position players with star 2B Jason Kipnis, on-base machine 3B/C/DH/1B Carlos Santana (not a misprint on the positions), and underrated C Yan Gomes. In addition, I think that last year's free agent additions, CF Michael Bourn and OF/1B Nick Swisher, are due for bounce back years. They had rough 2013 seasons compared to their career norms and I think they are due for some positive regression as long as Bourn's hamstring turns out to only be a minor issue. I am somewhat concerned about the pitching staff after losing Jimenez and Kazmir, but I think RHP Danny Salazar is due for a major breakout year, as he showed great stuff in his brief call-up to the majors last year that was backed by strong peripheral stats. In addition, I also like RHP Corey Klueber and RHP Zack McAllister to be solid behind their more established #1 starter, RHP Justin Masterson. The bullpen is a concern with the losses of the "proven closer" Perez and solid relievers in Smith and Albers, but I like RHP Cody Allen to step up and provide some stability in the back end of the game along with Axford.
2.. Detroit Tigers: 88-74
Key additions: 2B Ian Kinsler (trade), RHP Joe Nathan, OF Rajai Davis
Key losses: 1B Prince Fielder (in Kinsler deal) RHP Doug Fister (trade), SS Jhonny Peralta 2B Omar Infante
The Tigers were nothing if not bold this offseason, as they traded away Prince Fielder, their #4 hitter and "lineup protection" (has been proven statistically to be a myth, but it is quite a popular myth) behind superstar 1B Miguel Cabrera. They also gave away a solid starter RHP Doug Fister to the Nationals for virtually no return and lost solid regulars, Peralta and Infante, to free agency. It was not all bad for the Tigers this offseason, as they did add an underrated player in 2B Ian Kinsler and a solid relief pitcher in RHP Joe Nathan. In addition to all of their losses from trades and free agency, the Tigers also suffered a major blow with the injury to defensive whiz SS Jose Iglesias. It would not shock me if the Tigers repeated with the strength of their top three starting pitchers, RHP Justin Verlander, RHP Max Scherzer and RHP Anibal Sanchez, and with AL MVP Miguel Cabrera, but I think they are primed to be dethroned off their streak of division crowns.
3. Kansas City Royals: 84-78
Key offseason additions: 2B Omar Infante, LHP Jason Vargas, RF Norichika Aoki
Key offseason losses: RHP Ervin Santana, LHP Will Smith
The Royals have been a popular sleeper team for the last two years, as they have had a young lineup with plenty of upside and a lights out bullpen. The question has always been about their starting pitching, as they have a recent history of mediocre starting staffs. They took a major leap forward last year, as their starting rotation, lead by RHP James Shields and recently departed Ervin Santana lifted them to 86 wins. The Royals decided to replace Santana with the soft-tossing Jason Vargas, who has been a reliable innings eater, but he is certainly not an ace. While the Royals still have plenty of upside with the continued development of C Salvador Perez and 1B Eric Hosmer along with bounce back candidate 3B Mike Moustakas, I do not think they have enough high quality starting pitching behind Shields to make a substantial run at the divisional crown.
4. Chicago White Sox: 72-90
Key offseason additions: 1B Jose Dariel Abreu, OF Adam Eaton (trade), 3B Matt Davidson (trade)
Key offseason losses: RHP Addison Reed (Davidson trade), LHP Hector Santiago (Eaton trade), RHP Gavin Floyd
The White Sox have been praised this offseason, and rightly so, for adding a solid core of position players while only giving up a reliever in Addison Reed and a pitcher who may be a reliever in the long term, Hector Santiago. While the White Sox will not contend this year in all likelihood, they are building a solid foundation for the future. One key piece of that future is Jose Dariel Abreu, the 26-year-old Cuban who signed a 6 year, $68 million dollar contract in the offseason. If he can develop into a consistent 35-40 HR bat, which is not crazy with the Nintendo like numbers he put up in Cuba, then the White Sox could have themselves a bargain even at $11.3 million per year.
5. Minnesota Twins: 68-94
Key offseason additions: RHP Ricky Nolasco, RHP Phil Hughes, C Kurt Suzuki
Key offseason losses: C/OF Ryan Doumit (trade)
The major Twins story lines of the year have been the move of star Joe Mauer from catcher to first base and the development of super prospects OF Byron Buxton and 3B Miguel Sano. Unfortunate news developed on the later news early in the spring, as Sano had to undergo Tommy John surgery. Buxton, however, has continued to impress and the Mauer transition has gone well so far. Despite the additions of Nolasco and Hughes, the Twins simply do not have the pitching or the hitting required to contend in the near future. If Sano recovers well from Tommy John and Buxton continues to tear up the minors, they could have a fearsome lineup in the future. The problem that has plagued the Twins lately though has been a lack of starting pitching and that continues to be an issue. Help could be on the way in the form of the 6-9, 220 lb Alex Meyer, but he is also probably a year or two away from making an impact at the major league level.
Oakland A's: 90-72
Key offseason additions: LHP Scott Kazmir, RHP Jim Johnson (trade), RHP Luke Gregerson (trade), LHP Eric O'Flaherty (starts year on DL), OF Craig Gentry (trade), LHP Drew Pomeranz (trade), INF Nick Punto
Key offseason losses: RHP Bartolo Colon, RHP Grant Balfour, OF Michael Choice (Gentry trade), Seth Smith (Gregerson trade), Brett Anderson (Pomeranz trade), C Kurt Suzuki
As you can see from the transaction log, GM Billy Beane was busy this offseason. He bolstered his bullpen with the additions of JIm Johnson, Luke Gregerson and Eric O'Flaherty while losing his former closer, Grant Balfour. He also replaced the ancient, but still effective Bartolo Colon with Scott Kazmir, who had not pitched in the majors since 2011 before making a big comeback for the Indians last year. One major limiting factor for the A's could be the health of their starting pitching staff, as Jarrod Parker had to undergo Tommy John surgery and A.J. Griffin is out until at least May with an elbow injury. If they are going to make my projection come true, they need good health from the rest of their starting staff.
2. Texas Rangers: 88-74
Key offseason additions: 1B Prince Fielder (trade), OF Shin-Soo Choo, OF Michael Choice (trade), LHP Joe Saunders,
Key offseason losses: 2B Ian Kinsler (Fielder trade) OF/DH Nelson Cruz, RHP Matt Garza, RHP Joe Nathan, DH Lance Berkman (retirement), OF Craig Gentry (Choice trade)
If the Rangers were healthy, they would be on top of these predicted AL West standings. Unfortunately for them, they have been plagued by injury after injury LHP Derek Holland hurt his knee by tripping on his dog. LHP Matt Harrison has back issues. Former top prospect INF Jurickson Profar tore a muscle in his back and is out 10-12 weeks. C Geovany Soto tore a meniscus in his knee, and, as if all those injuries were not enough, ace RHP Yu Darvish has neck issues and is out for at least Opening Day. I can see the Rangers weathering the storm somewhat with a dynamic lineup core of Choo, Fielder, and 3B Adrian Beltre, but they will have little margin for error from here on out.
3. Los Angeles Angels: 87-75
Key offseason additions: 3B David Freese (trade), LHP Tyler Skaggs (trade), DH/OF Raul Ibanez, LHP Hector Santiago (trade), RHP Joe Smith, RHP Fernando Salas (trade)
Key offseason subtractions: OF/1B Mark Trumbo (Skaggs and Santiago three team trade), CF Peter Bourjos (Freese trade), RHP Tommy Hanson
I seriously considered putting them first in this division with the rash of injuries that has hit both the A's and the Rangers, but ultimately I had them falling just short. If their two most expensive players, 1B Albert Pujols and OF Josh Hamilton, bounce back to anywhere near what they used to be, the Angels could have a great offense when you factor in the best player in baseball, OF Mike Trout. While Raul Ibanez is nowhere near what he used to be at the age of 42, he is useful as long as he is utilized only as a DH versus right handed pitching. If he has to play the outfield, something has gone terribly wrong, as he posted a -19 runs saved in 100 games in the outfield last year according to baseballreference.com. The pitching, as always, is the key for the Angels as they need RHP Jered Weaver to be healthy and to gain some of his lost velocity back, as he averaged 86.8 MPH on his fastball last year according to fangraphs.com, down from his average of 88 MPH in 2012. The back end of the rotation is very young with RHP Garrett Richards and the two acquired arms, Skaggs and Santiago. The Angels success or failure this season could hinge on whether those guys can be effective major league starters or not.
4. Seattle Mariners: 74-89
Key offseason additions: 2B Robinson Cano, RHP Fernando Rodney, DH/1B/OF Corey Hart, DH/1B/OF Logan Morrison (trade), C John Buck
Key offseason losses: 1B Kendrys Morales (still a free agent), DH/OF Raul Ibanez, LHP Oliver Perez, RHP Carter Capps (Morrison trade), OF Jason Bay (retirement)
We could debate the merits of Logan Morrison and John Buck all day, but I prefer to talk about the biggest signing of the offseason, Robinson Cano. Coming to the Mariners on a shocking 10 year, $240 million contract, Cano was signed to boost the Mariners into contention. He gives the Mariners a major advantage with rare elite offensive production at a middle infield spot. Unfortunately for Mariners fans, one man does not make a team and the rest of the Mariners team outside of Cano, ace RHP Felix Hernandez, RHP Hisashi Iwakuma and 3B Kyle Seager is pretty dreadful. One would think that the Mariners would have learned their lesson about playing defensive liabilities in the corner outfield with Ibanez and OF Michael Morse on the corners for parts of last year. The Mariners never seem to learn however, as they signed Hart and Morrison, both defensive liabilities with multiple knee surgeries, to play corner outfield part of the time. If they resign Kendrys Morales, which has been rumored on multiple occasions, they could have 4 guys best suited to play 1B or DH with Justin Smoak also in the mix. Last time I checked each team can only have one guy at a time at each of the 1B and DH positions.
5. Houston Astros: 56-106
Key offseason additions: OF Dexter Fowler (trade), RHP Scott Feldman, RHP Jesse Crain, RHP Chad Qualls, RHP Matt Albers
Key offseason losses: OF Brandon Barnes (Fowler trade), RHP Jordan Lyles (Fowler trade), LHP Erik Bedard
It is hard to say much positive about the 2013 Astros or their prospects of winning in 2014. It is just going to be rough in the near future, but the good news is that help is coming from the farm system. Under the sabermetrically inclined GM Jeff Luhnow, the Astros are headed in the right direction with prospects such as OF George Springer, RHP Mark Appel, and SS Carlos Correa on a path to Houston.
Some Americans today feel that we have a crisis in leadership. The line of thinking goes that we do not have a person to truly lead us, even with the presence of our 44th President. It is true that in the world today, we do not have a Martin Luther King Jr., Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or Nelson Mandela type of icon. The obvious question that has not been asked however is whether in the year 2014, we need and would accept a modern Roosevelt.
On March 12, 1933, Roosevelt eased the minds of Americans when he held his first Fireside Chat, addressing their concerns about the banking crisis over their radios. Those Fireside Chats established Roosevelt as an American icon who embodied the ideal of a leader. Today, the public is able to voice its opinion on every issue, big or small, in 140 characters or less. Roosevelt made riveting speeches to the American public in which each word was not scrutinized as much as enjoyed. When President Obama makes a speech, each word is analyzed as if it were an individual nuclear missile, each ready to start a miniature political war. How is President Obama supposed to encompass a nation in a blanket of leadership if he gets verbally destroyed before the blanket is even knitted?
Leadership is a product of necessity. During the presidency of Roosevelt, the nation was faced with one of its greatest challenges, the Great Depression. The people, many of them poor and disillusioned with America, needed a leader. Roosevelt proved to be the man for the job, as his New Deal policies lifted the country out of one of its darkest times. In today’s world, it is an understatement to say that we have issues. However, our issues today, such as a growing national deficit, do not smack us in the face as hard as the Great Depression struck Americans in the 1930s. Batman was never needed in Gotham until a villain emerged. Until a clear villain emerges in the ilk of the Joker, we will not have another Batman like Roosevelt.
Leadership, at times, can be looked at in too broad a scope. The people who complain about a lack of leadership need to follow the famous advice of Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
One never needs to see over a podium in order to be a leader. By acting with class and dignity each day, a person can inspire those around them. Within the sporting world, Derek Jeter is a prime example of this. Jeter does not make giant, inspirational speeches or even talk at all in most cases. Instead, he just shows up each and everyday and does his best to help the Evil Empire win games. He also does not draw unnecessary attention to himself off the field, which is amazing considering he plays in the fishbowl media market of New York. Because of this blue-collar approach, Jeter is one of the most respected players in the game and undoubtedly the leader of the Yankees.
The next time that you, the reader, are looking for a leader, look within yourself. See what you can do that day to inspire those around you. The change may not be immediate, but over time the more leaders we have, the less we need to depend on others to lead.
Despite being the best player on a big market team, Chase Utley has never received a lot of media attention. Whether it is because of his quiet demeanor, his recent injury history, or his robotic determination to take over the world, the bottom line is that he has been constantly overlooked. Is he a Hall of Fame player though?
First, the positives. Utley was the best second basemen in all of baseball from 2005-2010 and the second best player in all of baseball in that time period. He is only behind the even more robotic Albert Pujols, as he amassed 42.7 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in that time period according to fangraphs.com. Even if you do not trust WAR to determine a player's value, it is indisputable that Utley was a great player in this time period, as he posted an on-base percentage of .388, a wRC+ (weighted Runs created plus) of 136, and provided great defense and base running, all at the thin position of second base. For voters who look for peak value, Utley is as good as they get. Another factor that could boost his case with some voters is his postseason prowess. He has a career postseason on-base percentage of .402, a slugging percentage of .500, and a long line of memorable postseason moments such as his 2008 fake out of Akinori Iwamura and his Mr. October impression in the 2009 World Series. Even though clutch for the most part is a narrative sold by T.V. networks to boost ratings, there is no doubt that Utley's postseason performance would rate as clutch. Put that in with voters’ affection for players that are identifiable with one team, in which category Utley clearly fits as the second best position player in Phillies history, and it seems as if he should be a lock. As an exercise in irony, let's compare him to his current manager and current Hall of Fame second basemen, Ryne Sandberg.
Utley: 11 seasons, 5671 PA, 1410 H, .287 BA, .373 OBP, .498 SLG, 217 HRs, wRC+ 128, 44.7 base running runs above average, 101.7 fielding runs above average.
Sandberg: 16 seasons, 9282 PA, 2386 H, .285 BA, .344 OBP, .452 SLG, 282 HRs, wRC+ 115, 23.9 base running runs above average, 60.0 fielding runs above average
In the ratio statistics, defense, and base running, Utley clearly comes out on top. In counting statistics such as hits and home runs however, Sandberg has a clear edge. Utley has played five fewer years than Sandberg however and he still has some baseball left in him. If he can boost his counting numbers to be close to Sandberg's without destroying his ratio statistics, then he should be put at least in the category of Sandberg as a player if not above him. Sandberg barely got in percentage wise, as he got 76.2 % of the votes, but he got in on his third year on the ballot, so it is not as if he got in on a pity vote in his last year of eligibility.
Unfortunately, one cannot just ignore the negatives. The main negative with Utley comes with his lack of healthy years, as he was not called up to the majors until he was 24 and did not have a full time job until he was 26 because he decided to go to UCLA and because the Phillies blocked him with Placido Polanco. This late start combined with a case of chondromalacia patella in both knees that cut his 2011 and 2012 seasons short have left Utley with a relatively short track record compared to most Hall of Famers. This lack of playing time also affects his counting numbers, which Hall of Fame voters greatly value, as he only has 1,410 career hits and 217 career HR's. He has also started to decline on the field, as his once stellar defense has regressed to slightly above average to average and his 2013 walk rate of 8.5% is down from his career rate of 9.7%. If he does not have a late career push, his counting numbers will never reach the lofty standards of Hall of Fame voters. Another factor that could work against him is his lack of fame. It has very little to do with his performance on the field, but he somehow flew under-the-radar in his prime despite playing for a big market team that consistently made the playoffs and being the best player on most of those teams. He has been overshadowed by Ryan Howard, who maybe has a more sexy skill set with his light tower home runs instead of the all-around brilliance of Utley.
Overall, I think that if he has two more above average years, which is certainly possible with his 2013 renaissance, then he has a very good Hall of Fame case as a man who was among the very best in the game in his prime and had a relatively short, but brilliant career. If he gets hurt next year and never returns to form, then he is a borderline case who probably will not get in. My brain tells me that he will probably not get in anyway because his defensive brilliance will not be recognized because of his lack of Gold Gloves. My heart, however, will always hold out hope that #26 will find his way to Cooperstown. If he gets there, you can bet that I will have a ticket and come in full Utley apparel, as he has always been my favorite player.
Congratulations Boston, your Red Sox are World Champions. Red Sox players have received their championship rings and despite not winning the big prize, the Cardinals received their National League Champions pennant. World Series rings and league championship pennants are a major part of what drives players to be their best, but the other key motivator is the almighty dollar.
Most of the Red Sox and Cardinals players are either locked into long-term contracts or do not have enough service time to cash in at the stock market of baseball, free agency. However, six of the fifty World Series participants are set to be free agents. Here is a quick look into each of their free agencies along with an attempt to place them with a team and contract. All of my predictions are almost guaranteed to be wrong, as players almost always go where they are seemingly least likely to go in free agency. Then again, (shameless self-plug alert) I also said that about my World Series predictions and I somehow managed to predict the Red Sox over the Cardinals in 6 (Mr. Schaefer also predicted this correctly.) With that said, I feel obligated to put my predictions out there for the enjoyment of you, my readers, and so that I can mock them later. Before I put my predictions out there, I would be remiss if I did not thank mlbtraderumors.com for being an invaluable resource for writing this post.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Center Fielder
Potential fits: Red Sox, Mariners, Rangers, Cubs, Yankees, and the Phillies.
Prediction: Mariners, 8 years, $160 million.
Mike Napoli, 1st basemen
Potential fits: Red Sox, Rangers, Blue Jays, Pirates and the Rockies.
Prediction: Red Sox, 3 years, $39 million.
Stephen Drew, Shortstop
Potential fits: Red Sox, Yankees, Cardinals, Mets, Dodgers, and the Pirates.
Prediction: Dodgers, 4 years, $50 million.
(To answer the obvious question, since this is an off-the-wall prediction of sorts, the Dodgers would move Hanley Ramirez to third and plug Drew in at shortstop.)
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Catcher
Potential fits: Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies, Rangers, Rockies and the Blue Jays.
Prediction: Yankees, 4 years, $40 million.
Carlos Beltran, Right fielder
Potential fits: Cardinals, Yankees, Orioles, Rangers, Phillies and the Royals.
Prediction: Rangers, 2 years, $30 million.
Edward Mujica, Relief Pitcher
Potential fits: Phillies, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Tigers, Orioles, Yankees and the Rangers.
Prediction: Diamondbacks, 2 years, $16 million.