Results tagged ‘ Bryce Harper ’
As we reach the All-Star break, the season has surpassed its halfway point, and we have a pretty good idea of how the league and teams stand. With so many teams contending, 26 of 30 teams are within eight games of a playoff spot, it should be an exciting finish to the 2015 season. However, individual talents continue to shine, with many surprising players atop statistical leaderboards. So, who are the halfway heroes of 2015?
American League MVP: Angels’ OF Mike Trout
He doesn’t have the .350 batting average or 1.034 OPS of Miguel Cabrera, but Trout is doing his thing once again in 2015, showcasing his ability to hit for power and produce for the Angels. Trout has combined with Albert Pujols to provide the Angels with 50 home runs and 106 RBI in the first half. While Trout isn’t running like he used to (just nine stolen bases), he continues to redefine what teams can expect out of their young talent. Trout, who doesn’t turn 24 until August 7, has already accumulated more WAR than long-time veterans like Victor Martinez, Ryan Zimmerman, Aramis Ramirez, and Alex Gordon. The sky continues to be the limit for this superstar.
National League MVP: Nationals’ OF Bryce Harper
Trout and Harper. Harper and Trout. They’ve always been linked as gifted, young talent, but this is the year that they’re both healthy and producing side-by-side. At 22, Harper has mutated into a powerful, muscular, athletic freak, who leads MLB with his .471 on-base percentage, .709 slugging percentage, 1.181 OPS, and 5.7 WAR. The Nationals will continue to be led by their young superstar, while hoping to get and keep Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth, Stephen Strasburg, and Ryan Zimmerman healthy and in their lineup. Even without them consistently around, Washington and Harper sit atop the NL East.
American League Cy Young: White Sox’ LHP Chris Sale
He doesn’t have the wins or ERA of Astros’ LHP Dallas Keuchel, but Sale has been the most dominant starter in the AL. Just a strong gust of wind from being blown halfway into Lake Michigan, the skinny southpaw has racked up an 11.78 K:9, 2.80 ERA (2.31 FIP), 0.94 WHIP, and .205 BAA. Chicago is in last place in the AL Central, but they are just five games out in the Wild Card and have enough pieces to figure things out, riding the left arm of their ace every fifth day.
National League Cy Young: Dodgers’ RHP Zack Greinke
With an ability to opt-out of his contract at the end of the season, Greinke chose an opportune time to become an unhittable wizard for the Dodgers. His 1.39 ERA is over a half-run better than the 2nd place A.J. Burnett (1.99 ERA), and he has 35.2 consecutive scoreless innings. His 0.84 WHIP, second to Washington RHP Max Scherzer (0.80), and .191 BAA, detail his dominance further. Can he catch Orel Hershiser‘s record for consecutive scoreless innings? We will see after the break!
American League Rookie of the Year: Astros’ RHP Lance McCullers
He’s going to have a difficult time winning the award with his teammate, SS Carlos Correa, lurking in the end-of-year selection process. However, to this point, McCullers has been the most impressive AL rookie. His 2.16 ERA (2.72 FIP), 9.41 K:9, 1.10 WHIP, and .203 BAA are what have made the 21-year-old right-hander such a dynamic addition to the first place Astros’ rotation. Along with Keuchel, McCullers will try to fend off opposing batters down the stretch, firing his electric fastball and knockout punch slider along the way.
National League Rookie of the Year: Cubs’ 3B Kris Bryant
Bryant earned an All-Star bid after hitting .272/.380/.473 with 12 home runs and 50 RBI, as he takes his spot as Savior for the Cubs franchise. Along with first baseman Anthony Rizzo, Bryant will form a dynamic duo of mashing talent in the heart of the Chicago order, and, while the 96 strikeouts may say otherwise, he has proven that he isn’t overmatched by MLB pitching. Look for more of the same, as this 23-year-old continues to make adjustments and show his skills for the Wild Card-leading Cubbies.
American League Manager of the Year: Astros’ A.J. Hinch
This wasn’t the year that Sports Illustrated said that Houston was going to compete, but Hinch has led this group of young, talented players to the top of the American League West after winning just 70 games last season. The players play the game, so Hinch may not deserve all of the credit, but he seems to be pulling the right strings to this point in his brief managerial career. Can they continue at this pace? With Correa, McCullers, Jose Altuve, and Keuchel, they have a core of talent that many other teams are envious of, and they’ll eventually get George Springer back to make them that much more electric.
National League Manager of the Year: Mets’ Terry Collins
When you’ve been outscored by your opponents (297-305), even though your starting staff has a 3.45 ERA (7th in MLB), and your team is still above .500, you know that you’ve done a solid job. Terry Collins was given absolutely NOTHING for his everyday lineup this season, and with David Wright missing all but eight games of the season, you’d think that they’d struggle to stay afloat. However, the Mets are just three games back of Washington in the NL East. New York has an incredibly gifted group of young pitchers, as Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz (who will miss a month with a muscle tear after dominating in his first two starts), and Jacob deGrom share their rotation with fountain of youth eating Bartolo Colon, to give the club a chance to win each night. Collins gets what he can with the cards that he has been dealt, and he deserves a lot of credit for that.
Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks!
2015 Projected Record: 92-70 (1st in NL East, 2nd in MLB)
Manager: Matt Williams (96-66 in one season with Washington)
Bounce-back Player: 1B Ryan Zimmerman
Shoulder woes have slowed Zimmerman in the same way that they did Scott Rolen, but the Nationals have moved Zimmerman to first, where he won’t have to make as many throws. The end result should be a healthier, productive season; although, a thigh and fractured finger were the primary injuries that allow Zimmerman to play in only 61 games last season. This will the the 11th season in a Nationals uniform for Zimmerman, and this is his age-30 season. Don’t consider him washed up. He is locked in at .280/.350/.480 with about 25 home runs and 85 RBI in a dynamic lineup.
Fantasy Player to Watch: OF Bryce Harper
Duh, right? At 22, Harper is ready to continue his assault on opposing pitchers, but THIS is the year that he reaches 30 home runs and stays healthy. What is he capable of when he stays on the field and has Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos, and Ian Desmond on the field with him? This is a dangerous lineup and Harper has the potential to be the most productive player in that lineup. This is the year that he starts heading towards that ceiling, closing in on a .300/.400/.500 line, while increasing his power output as he becomes more physically mature.
Offseason Overview: When you have five very good starting pitchers and you’ve won 96 games, what do you really need to do to improve? Well, sign the best free agent pitcher on the market to a seven-year, $210 million deal, which is what they did when signed RHP Max Scherzer. The move pushed Tanner Roark (15-10 with a 2.85 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 31 starts) to the bullpen, while making LHP Ross Detwiler expendable, as he was shipped to Texas for a couple of prospects. The Nationals didn’t need to do much to improve their team, but they still made a huge splash and got better.
Washington Nationals (@Nationals) March 31, 2015
The Verdict: A healthy Zimmerman and Werth will help the Nationals to 100 wins, but it will be Harper, Rendon, Desmond, and the pitching that will get them to 95 wins. This is the best team in baseball, regardless of PECOTA projections. The pitching is elite and they have Roark ready in a swing role and A.J. Cole ready in Triple-A. With Lucas Giolito and Joe Ross likely to start the year in Double-A, they are far off from making an impact, either. Michael Taylor, a powerful, speedster, will be taking over center for the first several weeks with Denard Span on the shelf. The Nationals are very good, and this is the year that they put it all together.
- 2015 Season Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks (3/1/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Atlanta Braves (2/28/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Baltimore Orioles (3/4/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Chicago Cubs (4/1/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Chicago White Sox (3/4/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Cincinnati Reds (3/11/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Colorado Rockies (2/24/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Houston Astros (3/1/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Kansas City Royals (2/25/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Milwaukee Brewers (3/11/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Minnesota Twins (2/21/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: New York Mets (4/1/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Philadelphia Phillies (2/20/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Pittsburgh Pirates (3/22/2015)
- Season Previews: Miami Marlins (3/25/2015)
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 19, 2015
The Washington Nationals have signed right-hander Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract, shocking the world of baseball by locking-up the market’s top free agent arm, while creating a new philosophy in negotiating tactics that could influence free agent signings in the future. By extending the $210 million over 14 years by deferring $15 million per year, they also free up a bit of payroll for additional signings in years to come.
Perhaps that deferred money will allow them to lock-up Bryce Harper, who will be a free agent after the 2018 season; however, in the moment, this deal does much more for the Nationals than make them creative, financial gurus.
Max Scherzer will now lead the Washington rotation, a rotation that already featured Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister, and Tanner Roark. Obviously, depth in a starting rotation is always nice to have, especially with two pitchers on club’s roster already having Tommy John surgery on their resume (Strasburg and Zimmerman), and Gonzalez having dealt with some shoulder issues last season. What is truly incredible about the Scherzer signing is that Roark appears to be the man who would be bumped from the rotation, even after the 15 wins and 2.85 ERA over 31 starts in his age-27, 2014 season.
The Nationals have the flexibility to deal an arm, with Jordan Zimmermann already rumored to be the one who could be moved.
— Beacon Hill Sports (@BeaconHillSport) January 19, 2015
The Red Sox certainly have the prospects to make a deal for Zimmermann or any other player in baseball, so this isn’t all that surprising. Mookie Betts would make an excellent long-term second baseman – if the Nationals are content with moving Anthony Rendon to third base long-term, and the club doesn’t, or any club this side of the Dodgers, doesn’t appear capable of locking up a Scherzer/Zimmermann/Strasburg trio to the nearly $90 million annually that it would require. Zimmermann, who is due $16.5 million prior to reaching free agency after the 2015 season, arguably, is worth the same type of deal that Scherzer received and possibly more.
After all, when comparing these two players, there are a lot of similarities and a lot of envy from other clubs:
Player A: 45-22, 2.96 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 608.2 IP, 496:112 K:BB
Player B: 55-15, 3.24 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 622.1 IP, 723:179 K:BB
Zimmermann is Player A and Scherzer is Player B. Those strikeouts are certainly a big difference, but Zimmermann is just as dominant in overall numbers – outside of the swing-and-miss stuff.
Still, the Nationals sit here today with the most feared starting rotation in baseball. Just a week ago, ESPN’s Buster Olney had Washington atop his top 10 starting rotations in baseball, and that was BEFORE the club added Scherzer.
As long as Washington is able to produce some runs in 2015, they appear to be capable of winning 100 games. The rotation, as is, features five pitchers capable of 15 or more wins and ERAs under 3.20, so if Jayson Werth, Harper, Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, and company can do their part, this is a very, very dangerous team.
The rich continue to get richer, which appears to be a theme in Major League Baseball, and while the Tigers lose Scherzer from the rotation that they had in 2014, they still have one season with David Price at the top before they need to panic. The Nationals don’t look like they’ll be in that position for several years.
Gregory Polanco was a late signing by the Pittsburgh Pirates in April of 2009, signing as an 17-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, atypical from the normal rush on 16-year-old international free agents every July 2nd. Now 22, Polanco is already older than Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, Nationals’ outfielder Bryce Harper, and just four months younger than Angels’ superstar Mike Trout, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t capable of becoming the next big thing in Major League Baseball.
Polanco is a 6’4″, 220 pound, left-handed hitting machine, who will soon displace the horrific combination of Jose Tabata and Travis Snider in the Pittsburgh Pirates outfield. It is fair to wonder if Polanco in right field from Day One of the 2014 season would have led the Pirates to a better record than their current 18-26 start…that and Francisco Liriano, Wandy Rodriguez, and Edinson Volquez showing some semblance of being major league pitchers in their 23 combined starts. Polanco likely would have been up by now had he not turned down the seven-year, $25 million deal that CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman said was offered earlier this month.
Like many others, Polanco sits in the minors waiting for his opportunity to be promoted, not due to lack of performance, but due to the business side of baseball. His numbers this season (going into Wednesday) and his career:
The Astros’ seemed to say “to hell with it” when determining when it was time to promote George Springer earlier this month, allowing him to come to the majors and begin his service time, while, simultaneously risking another season of team control. While costs and control are issues, the Pirates, who had their first winning season since 1992 last year, could use a player of Polanco’s caliber to ignite an offense that currently ranks 26th in MLB in runs scored and 18th in OPS. After introducing a new generation of Pirates fans to “real” baseball, it is inexcusable and a slap in the face to run anyone other than Polanco out in right field the rest of the 2014 season.
Beyond the typical production, here are some additional sweet treats:
- vs. LHP in 2014: .345/.429/.436, 19 for 55, 13:8 K:BB, three extra-base hits, 15 RBI
- Before breaking out in 2012, Polanco managed a triple-slash of .235/.303/.332 over his first 674 plate appearances
- Since 2012, Polanco has a triple-slash of .315/.384/.496 over 1,214 plate appearances
- Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus: “Well above-average athlete; long legs; more room to add strength; easy plus run; big, graceful strides; excellent range in the field; arm is plus; glove could play above average; good bat-to-ball skills; makes a lot of contact; hit tool likely to play plus; power potential is easy plus; makes quick adjustments; plus makeup.”
- Jonathon Mayo of MLB.com: “Polanco has five-tool potential. He is an aggressive hitter, but doesn’t strike out a ton and has become more willing to take a walk. His swing does have a tendency to get long, a problem compounded by his lanky frame. Still, with his hands and bat speed, he has the potential to be a special hitter with above-average power. Polanco has plus speed and covers ground well in the outfield. He is a center fielder now, but he has a strong arm and could slide over to right field if necessary. That could be his spot in PNC Park before too long.”
- John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall.com: “Five Tool/Seven Skill player with glowing scouting reports, dominated High-A but was merely good in Double-A, granted at age 21 that’s just fine. Spring reports continue to sparkle.”
Polanco looks like he’ll be waiting in Indianapolis for his call until June, but he, and Pirate fans, certainly deserve an earlier promotion. Look for tremendous things from Polanco in the near future. He isn’t capable of monster power numbers, at least not yet, but he can do plenty of things to accumulate value due to his tremendous tool-set, much more than Tabata and Snider.
This is the third year that I’ve created this article (2012 and 2013) and it’s always a lot of fun. After I looked back at the 2013 version and saw that I did mediocre, I figured that it was worth trying out once again, just to see if I’m as brilliant as I like to, humbly, think that I am.
American League East
1st: Tampa Bay Rays
2nd: New York Yankees
3rd: Boston Red Sox
4th: Baltimore Orioles
5th: Toronto Blue Jays
Last year, I went with Toronto, which was an absolute nightmare. They still have a lot of offensive talent, but they don’t have the rotation depth (even with Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez knocking on the door) to compete in this division. I really like the Orioles and I even think that Ubaldo Jimenez can make it work in Baltimore, but I’m hesitant to expect a repeat from Chris Davis in 2014 and we still don’t know the second base situation will work out or when Manny Machado will be full strength. The top three in the East are nearly replaceable parts, as you could put them in any order and look like a genius. For me, Boston doesn’t have the goods this year, having not replaced Jacoby Ellsbury with a legitimate part (Grady Sizemore and Jackie Bradley, Jr.) and a veteran team another year older screams regression. The Yankees are a mess at second after losing Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners, but they added enough parts to look like a team on the rise. The Rays nearly stood pat, but I think that will work for them. A full season from Wil Myers and the tremendous arms in David Price, Matt Moore, and Alex Cobb make them a force. While re-signing James Loney was the highlight of their offseason, the Rays are still strong enough defensively and in the rotation to win this division. The only worry is injuries, as their minor league system hasn’t produced many stars as they’ve moved to the back-end of drafts due to their major league success.
American League Central
1st: Detroit Tigers
2nd: Cleveland Indians
3rd: Kansas City Royals
4th: Chicago White Sox
5th: Minnesota Twins
The Central was quite competitive in 2013, as the Tribe and Royals finally pushed the Tigers and made the division look respectable once again, though Chicago and Minnesota were two of the worst teams in all of baseball. Things still look bleak for the latter two teams, as they are both slowly rebuilding by developing their own talent or acquiring talent in trades. The Twins will be a force to be reckoned with within the next couple of seasons when Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano (who will miss all of 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery), Alex Meyer, and others begin reaching Target Field, and the White Sox will be better with solid, young, major league-ready talent in Avisail Garcia, Matt Davidson, and Jose Abreu being acquired or signed within the last year. Regardless, this division will be a three-way battle in 2014. The Royals will come up a bit short after losing Ervin Santana‘s production to free agency. While Santana struggled to find consistency throughout his career, Yordano Ventura, no matter how good he may be in his rookie season, likely won’t be able to repeat Santana’s 3.24 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 211 innings in his age-23 season in the No.5 starter role. I’m expecting huge things from Eric Hosmer and tremendous improvements out of Mike Moustakas and his new swing, but the rotation isn’t strong enough to contend with the other offenses in this division. The Indians may not win 92 games again this year, but the have the offensive firepower to be a contender. Even with lackluster seasons from Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Bourn, and Nick Swisher in 2013, Cleveland rocked. They’ll struggle due to rotation losses, much like the Royals, needing to replace both Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir‘s innings, but Danny Salazar should continue to establish himself as an electric arm, albeit with around a 170 to 180 innings limit. The Tigers will remain the class of the AL Central due to their rotation. Even after trading Doug Fister, the Tigers were able to replace him with the young lefty Drew Smyly, and the Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez trio should be good for over 600 innings and 600 strikeouts in 2014. Rick Porcello‘s drastic improvements last year leave him heading towards his free agency after the 2015 season, so if he is determined to strike it rich, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him be the 2nd best pitcher on the staff this season. Miguel Cabrera may be all that they need, but rookie Nick Castellanos can swing it, Austin Jackson is looking at a breakout season, and Ian Kinsler, even if he is just mediocre away from Arlington, is more than capable of devastating opposing pitchers. The Tigers may be a 100-win team in 2014.
American League West
1st: Los Angeles Angels
2nd: Oakland Athletics
3rd: Texas Rangers
4th: Seattle Mariners
5th: Houston Astros
Houston is brutal, but you have to trust in the processes that GM Jeff Luhnow brought with him from the St. Louis Cardinals. He has quickly turned the minor league system around for the Astros and there is tremendous talent on the way up, but Houston looks like a 95 to 100 loss team once again in 2014, though there are some pieces who will show themselves useful to the organization in Jason Castro, Dexter Fowler (likely trade bait), Brad Peacock, and Jonathan Villar (a poor man’s Everth Cabrera). Seattle improved tremendously and will field a winning team, but they don’t have the talent to overcome the class of the division. The Mariners have plenty of young talent in Taijuan Walker, Mike Zunino, James Paxton, Brad Miller, and Dustin Ackley who will be valuable, but they also have glaring weaknesses in Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders locked into starting roles. If Seattle continues to add pieces over the next couple of seasons to their strong, young core, they’ll get there. The Rangers have been very good for quite some time, and they made the Kinsler trade with Detroit to bring back the big bopper that they lost when Josh Hamilton left for Los Angeles. Prince Fielder should be tremendous in Texas, likely rebounding to the 35 to 40 home run power that we used to see in Milwaukee, while the trade opened up a spot for Jurickson Profar at second. With Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios still around and the additon of Shin-Soo Choo, the Rangers should be very tough to keep off of the scoreboard, but with injuries to Derek Holland and Matt Harrison (whose back still isn’t right), the Rangers will heavily lean on Yu Darvish and youngster Martin Perez. They’ll need a lot of help from Colby Lewis (who missed all of 2013) and Tommy Hanson (a shoulder injury away from being out of the league) to be competitive. The A’s have lost A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker to injuries (Parker is out for the season) already this spring, but they still have solid depth in their rotation with Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Dan Straily, Tommy Milone, and Jesse Chavez to be solid in the rotation, especially with their spacious home field. Yoenis Cespedes should provide a full season with 30/30 potential, Josh Donaldson can really hit a baseball and pick it in the field nearly as beautifully, and Josh Reddick has a healthy wrist and will want to prove that he is more the 2012 version (32 HR/85 RBI) than last year’s version (12 HR/56 RBI). The A’s are dangerous, and while they don’t look like much offensively in parts of the order, Billy Beane continues to do quite a bit with the talent that he and his operations staff are able to find and get the most out of. The Angels have had a rough go of things in the Albert Pujols era. Mike Trout is now the centerpiece of the team, but the club has continued to put pieces around him, adding David Freese at third, and a couple of solid young arms to a depleted rotation in Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago. The minor league system is still a hot mess, but the Halos have quite a bit of talent that, if healthy, will allow them to be a dominant team once again. I’m betting on Pujols, Trout, Josh Hamilton, Jered Weaver, and C.J. Wilson in carrying this team back to the top of the West in 2014.
American League Wild Cards
New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics
National League East
1st: Washington Nationals
2nd: Atlanta Braves
3rd: Miami Marlins
4th: Philadelphia Phillies
5th: New York Mets
I may be a bit of an optimist when it comes to the NL East, but I’m seeing things a bit differently than most. The Mets offense is horrendous and they haven’t had a full season of David Wright in two of the last three seasons – plus, Wright’s now on the wrong side of 30. The outfield is a cluster of mediocrity, featuring an aging Curtis Granderson and Chris Young, while the club seems to think that Eric Young, Jr. is an everyday corner outfielder. The rotation is also ugly after losing Matt Harvey late last year. Zack Wheeler is still a work in progress, but a team in need of a rebuild signed Bartolo Colon and Daisuke Matsuzaka to fill their rotation voids. I don’t see it working. The Phillies also feature aging players, and it’s hard to see full seasons out of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley again in 2014. The rotation is hurting a bit with Cole Hamels having shoulder issues and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez looking like garbage after signing out of Cuba, but Cliff Lee and A.J. Burnett should continue to be productive. I’d like to see Domonic Brown have another season like 2013 to make Ruben Amaro, Jr. look worse than he already makes himself look with his horrific contracts and clueless way of running the team, after letting Brown waste away for so long in the Phillies’ minor league system. I like the Marlins this year. The rotation is very good: Jose Fernandez is an ace; Henderson Alvarez may not strikeout a ton of guys, but he keeps the ball down and pounds the strike zone; Nathan Eovaldi has an upper-90’s fastball and looks promising; Jacob Turner is up and down like most young starters, but he was once a future No.1 or No.2; A.J. Ramos and Steve Cishek are good at the back-end of the bullpen, and you can’t not like Giancarlo Stanton mashing in the middle of the order. The club will get some offensive help with Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Garrett Jones (only against RHP) in the lineup. They won’t be above .500, but they should be better than the Mets and Phillies in 2014. The Braves are hurting in the rotation after losing Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen to Tommy John surgeries in the last few weeks; however, they still have Julio Teheran, Mike Minor (when he’s over his injury around the second week of April), and Alex Wood, with Gavin Floyd coming back from Tommy John surgery by mid-May. They just need to make it through the first month, and they have enough offense to do that. Jason Heyward is a monster who has struggled, but I’m expecting huge things out of him this season after injuries limited him to 104 games last season. Justin Upton and B.J. Upton will likely rebound, as well, and Freddie Freeman looks to be an MVP candidate after having a breakout season at the age of 23 in 2013. Andrelton Simmons could only build on his breakout 2013, and Atlanta is either going to get a rebound from Dan Uggla or production out of his eventual replacement, Tommy La Stella, at second. The Braves will be great, but not was good as the Nationals. This team is setup to win games and win lots of them. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Doug Fister present a top four of a rotation that can’t be matched by another club in Major League Baseball. Bryce Harper is jacked and looks primed to reach 30-plus home runs at the age of 21 and Jayson Werth will team with him in the middle of the order to cripple opposing pitchers. Ian Desmond is one of the top offensive shortstops in baseball and Anthony Rendon should establish himself as an All-Star level producer at second this season. Ryan Zimmerman is still a defensive wizard, and, if he can stay on the field, he can come close to 30 home runs and 90 RBI at the hot corner. The Nationals, like the Tigers, are capable or exceeding 100 wins.
National League Central
1st: St. Louis Cardinals
2nd: Cincinnati Reds
3rd: Pittsburgh Pirates
4th: Milwaukee Brewers
5th: Chicago Cubs
The Cubs will be difficult to deal with in 2015, when Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Mike Olt, and Arismendy Alcantara are officially within their everyday lineup; however, in 2014, Chicago will, once again, be the red-headed stepchild of the NL Central, taken out back and beaten in the wood house, or any other form of describing a team that will be laughably bad. If Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo bounce back, they could win 65 to 70 games, but if they’re both as bad as they were in 2013, this is a 100 loss team. The Brewers will be better in 2014. Management has spent money and, while the minor league system rivals the atrociousness of the Angels’ system, Milwaukee has Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, and Khris Davis in the lineup to be productive offensively. Wily Peralta should build on his late season success from 2013, and the veteran leadership in the rotation from Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, and Matt Garza should lead to an above .500 season. The Brewers just don’t have the depth to overcome injuries to the rotation or the everyday lineup, so they’ll likely run into some trouble in 2014, especially if they’re counting on 200 innings from Garza. The Pirates surprised everyone by winning 94 games in 2013, but they aren’t going to stop there. Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, and Gerrit Cole look like the core of a franchise that will be capable of winning several divisions in a row in coming seasons. With Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell, and Gregory Polanco on the way, this club should only get better. Unfortunately, the loss of A.J. Burnett could take its toll on the rotation. Cole and Charlie Morton are effective, Francisco Liriano and Wandy Rodriguez, however, haven’t shown much consistency for health or production over their careers. If things break right, the Pirates could be right where they left off, but that’s a big “if”. The Reds lost a lot of production when Shin-Soo Choo signed with Texas. Billy Hamilton will utilize his thoroughbred-like speed to steal bases and score runs, but he doesn’t have the power or on-base skills that Choo brought to the club. With Joey Votto and Jay Bruce in the middle of the order, the Reds have plenty of pop, and if Brandon Phillips rebounds a bit (hard to say with 100-plus RBI, but the average and on-base numbers were rough), the offense should still be in good shape, especially with production from Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier. The rotation is still solid. A healthy Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and Tony Cingrani will battle the Washington Nationals for a starting staff ERA title. The scary injury to Aroldis Chapman hurts the bullpen for the next six to eight weeks (his real-life health is more important considering what happened), but J.J. Hoover, Sean Marshall, and Jonathan Broxton have each closed games before. The window is closing in Cincinnati quickly, though, so they could make some moves to make a late season push. St. Louis and the “Cardinal way” is frustrating to watch as a lifelong Cincinnati native and Reds fan, but you have to appreciate their success. The team is setup to be dominant once again. Strong offensive output from Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina, and Matt Adams will carry the team, while Jhonny Peralta, Peter Bourjos, and Kolten Wong make adjustments to new leagues or life in the majors. The club has a .300 hitting, 30 home run talent waiting in the wings in Oscar Taveras if an injury strikes in the outfield or an infield corner, but the rotation depth is what makes them unbelievably good. Joe Kelly, who had a 2.28 ERA over 15 starts in 2013, may not even be in the rotation. Adam Wainwright could be joined by Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, and Carlos Martinez. Any other team would likely be starting Trevor Rosenthal, but the Cards can let him close thanks to their rotation depth, which hasn’t even included Jaime Garcia, who is, once again, battling shoulder woes…but he could be ready to pitch again soon. The Cardinals are a tremendous example of a team that can compete while consistently drafting in the last half of each round, while not having an unreasonable payroll number. They should be envied by fans and replicated by other organizations.
National League West
1st: Los Angeles Dodgers
2nd: San Francisco Giants
3rd: Arizona Diamondbacks
4th: Colorado Rockies
5th: San Diego Padres
The Padres are a solid team with a lot of good talent, but the NL West is quite competitive, and the Padres home park may continue to be their own worst enemy. They’ll have an advantage for their pitchers, but they just don’t have enough offensive talent to overcome Petco’s offensive squashing ways. Chase Headley quickly returned to form in 2013 after a breakout 2012 and Carlos Quentin, once again, showed that he is productive and very, very fragile. The Friars will have full seasons out of Yonder Alonso and Everth Cabrera, with some power production from young second baseman Jedd Gyorko, but Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, and Tyson Ross will struggle to win games due to the rest of the talent, or lack thereof, around them. The Rockies may finally have an appropriate way to attack their own offensive environment in Coor’s field, finding and developing pitchers who can pound the bottom half of the strike zone, drafting and developing pitchers like Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler in the minor league system, but they’re still a year or two away from overcoming the pitching talent that they currently are rostering at the major league level. Still, they’ll win games thanks to Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer, Wilin Rosario, and Nolan Arenado powering home runs. The Diamondbacks continue to deal away tremendous young talent to compete at the major league level, acquiring Mark Trumbo from the Angels this winter. Trumbo will add great power to a lineup already featuring NL MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, and with Martin Prado and Miguel Montero in the lineup, the D’backs should score plenty of runs. The rotation lost Patrick Corbin to Tommy John surgery, but they had Randall Delgado out of options to step into the rotation, with Archie Bradley near-ready in Triple-A. Wade Miley, Bronson Arroyo, and Trevor Cahill should provide solid innings, while Brandon McCarthy could be the wild card in the teams success due to his dominance when healthy, though he can’t always be counted on. The bullpen in Arizona is dynamite, featuring Addison Reed at closer, with J.J. Putz, Oliver Perez, and David Hernandez as setup men. The Giants have pitching for days, but still have trouble finding offense. Pablo Sandoval will be a free agent after this season and utilized that motivation to finally show up to spring training in shape. Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence should continue to produce, while they are hoping that Mike Morse can return to his powerful 2012 form rather than whatever it was that showed up last season. Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain could be Cy Young candidates, while the Giants will hope that Tim Hudson and Tim Lincecum can return to their former Cy Young candidacy days. The Dodgers…do they ever have a loaded roster! All-Stars all over the field: Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, and Matt Kemp will lead the club offensively, while manager Don Mattingly finds a creative way to rotate four very good outfielders between three spots, with a fifth, Joc Pederson, nearly ready to produce when called up from the minors. The rotation is very deep and the bullpen is the deepest in baseball. Clayton Kershaw needs no explanation, and Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren, and Paul Maholm should be very productive in a forgiving home ballpark with an electric offense supporting them. Five pitchers with closing experience in the bullpen make it nearly a guarantee for success. A payroll with no end makes the Dodgers capable of adding pieces if a need were to arise, as well.
National League Wild Cards
Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds
World Series Prediction
Washington Nationals over the Detroit Tigers in six games
American League MVP
Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
He’ll finally do enough to get the votes that went to Miguel Cabrera the last two years. He has easily been the best all-around player in the game since the start of the 2012 season. At just 22, it’s scary to think of what he will become in his prime if he, fingers crossed, stays healthy.
National League MVP
Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta Braves
There’s just something about a guy coming off of any injury plagued season who didn’t live up to expectations that makes me want to go with him here. He’s not Joey Votto, Bryce Harper, or Andrew McCutchen, but Heyward will be doing a lot of the things that made Shin-Soo Choo so valuable for the Reds in 2013: getting on base as the leadoff hitter, hitting for power, and stealing bases. I could see Heyward posting a 30/30 season out of the leadoff spot in Atlanta while driving in close to 90 runs and scoring over 100. The numbers will add up to make him one of the top players in baseball, leading Atlanta to an NL playoff matchup with the Nationals.
American League Cy Young
Justin Verlander, RHP, Detroit Tigers
Yu Darvish will be your trendy pick because of all of those strikeouts, but Verlander has shown that he still has something left, striking out nearly 11 per nine over his final six starts before striking out over 12 per nine over his three playoff starts. With negotiations with Max Scherzer being completely thrown out, Verlander is the man in Detroit, and he is going to show why once again.
National League Cy Young
Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants
Kershaw, like Darvish, would be the easy pick. I picked Bumgarner last year, and one of these years, I’m going to look smart for sticking with him. Bumgarner’s hits per nine (6.5) was the lowest of his career last year, and that number continues to fall each season, while his strikeout rate continues to increase, while he reached 8.9 in 2013. He’s just 24 and he has the home ballpark and the stuff to continue to improve his already impressive numbers.
American League Rookie of the Year
Xander Bogaerts, SS/3B, Boston Red Sox
Bogaerts showed that he is advanced beyond his years in the playoffs last season, helping Boston win another World Series with his impressive play. He hasn’t shown the power yet, but Bogaerts could be a 25 to 30 home run hitter in coming seasons, and his youth is a welcome addition to the aging Red Sox roster.
National League Rookie of the Year
Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati Reds
Vince Coleman once stole 100 bases with a .581 OPS. If Billy Hamilton is on base enough to steal 100 bases, he’s going to score enough runs to create value for himself and the Cincinnati Reds. I’ve seen him run in person and it doesn’t seem real. He’ll have more infield hits than some teams will combine for. Even if he isn’t successful, Hamilton doesn’t have any true competition for at-bats beyond Chris Heisey (who likely can’t handle center field) and Roger Bernadina (who hasn’t been able to handle a job). He’ll maintain the job and be quite productive due to his speed, but if he ever gets a leg injury and loses that tool, he has no role and no business in baseball.
Random Bold Predictions
1. Bryce Harper will hit more home runs than Miguel Cabrera.
4. Grant Balfour will have more saves than whoever closes for Baltimore, and the Orioles will look even more ridiculous for backing out of the contract that they signed with him than they already do.
5. Drew Smyly will win more games in Detroit than Doug Fister wins in Washington.
6. B.J. Upton will hit over .260 and will hit at least 15 home runs while stealing 25 or more bases.
7. Devin Mesoraco will provide more value offensively than Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina provide offensively AND defensively in Tampa…which will show just how bad Dusty Baker messed with the former top prospect in Cincinnati by not playing him daily.
8. Hector Santiago will win 14 or more games to solidify an iffy Angels rotation.
9. Yoenis Cespedes will post an OPS over .920 and will be a top 5 AL MVP candidate at seasons end.
10. Giancarlo Stanton will hit over 40 home runs while walking over 90 times.
11. Drew Hutchison will be the most valuable Toronto Blue Jays starter until they shut him down in September.
13. Someone who wasn’t on the Mets’ Opening Day roster will lead the pitching staff in wins.
14. Dan Uggla posts his typically ugly batting average and strikeouts, but rebounds to 25 or more home runs and close to 90 RBI.
Alex Cobb, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays – last year was really what he can do, now, we get a full season of it.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City Royals – 25 or more home runs, close to 20 steals, top 10 AL MVP candidate.
Hector Santiago, LHP, Los Angeles Angels
Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Danny Salazar, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Baltimore Orioles
Henderson Alvarez, RHP, Miami Marlins
Drew Hutchison, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals
Prospects to Watch
This has nothing to do with my Top 100 list, but you will find some familiar names and others that will be players to keep an eye on, especially if they’re on your favorite team or if you’re in a keeper fantasy baseball league.
Raimel Tapia, OF, Colorado Rockies
David Dahl, OF, Colorado Rockies
Robert Stephenson, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Lucas Sims, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Lucas Giolito, RHP, Washington Nationals
Nick Williams, OF, Texas Rangers
Nomar Mazara, OF, Texas Rangers
Alberto Tirado, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Victor Sanchez, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Phillip Ervin, OF, Cincinnati Reds
Hunter Harvey, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
Franchy Cordero, SS, San Diego Padres
Alexander Reyes, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
After an incredible season in 2013 that saw him reach Double-A at the age of 20, Chicago Cubs’ shortstop (or third baseman…or outfielder) prospect Javier Baez seems to have enough helium in the world of prospects to reach the moon. Certainly, ripping 34 doubles and 37 home runs while driving in 111 runs and stealing 20 bases can lead to a lot of hype, and it appears to be warranted.
Prior to the 2013 season, Baez was already a top 20 prospect, earning the No. 16 ranking at both Baseball America and MLB.com, and No. 20 at Baseball Prospectus. So far this winter, that number has climbed significantly, mainly due to his extreme ceiling, while having very little to do with major league graduations. Just a quick look at the rankings that Baez has earned from prospect sites this off-season:
The Baseball Haven: No. 8
Baseball Prospectus: No. 4
MLB.com: No. 7
MinorLeagueBall.com: No. 8 (end of 2013, 9/27/13)
FantasyAssembly.com: No. 5
Prospect361.com: No. 5
TopProspectAlert.com: No. 11
RotoAnalysis.com: No. 2
FantasySquads.com: No. 10
Scout.com: No. 13
DeepLeagues.com: No. 13
There are, obviously, some differences in opinion on his true value, but Baez has quite a few nice things being said about him, as well:
“Baez could end a 40 HR shortstop. That’s his ceiling. That’s actually a possibility. Likely? Not sure. But its possible. How many prospects in baseball can make such a claim? That’s a truly elite ceiling. That’s a generational talent. That’s why he has a case for #1.” – Jason Parks, Baseball Prospectus
“The young infielder has all the ingredients necessary to be an all-star for the Cubs, regardless of where he ends up — shortstop, third base or even the outfield.” – Marc Hulet, FanGraphs
“Otherworldy bat speed and an aggressive approach plus the tools to (maybe) stay at shortstop if he can get the errors down. If not, he’d slot great at third base. There’s some risk here due to contact but I think he can be a Giancarlo Stanton-type hitter. The commonly-used Gary Sheffield comp works in terms of bat speed, but Sheffield had a much more refined approach and I don’t think Baez will hit for a Sheffield-like average. That doesn’t mean he can’t be a star.” – John Sickels, Minor League Ball
“There is no mistaking the bat as a game changing thumper. But what places Baez at #1 (in the Cubs’ system) is the fact that he is going to remain in the infield. A move to 3B is in the cards most likely where the Cubs have a dire need to finally fill the spot. Still on target with a 30 HR type with double digit SB and sticking in the INF. With an IsoP of .200+ the strikeout rate will be digestible and his approach should mature over time. Again, 37 HR over two levels with a total of 75 XBHs with 20 SB. His numbers were outstanding and through it all he actually improved the dismal walk rate from 2012 to 6.2% in High-A and then 8.1% in Double-A. A total IsoP number of nearly .300 on the season is other worldly. But that K rate is still a major issue although not one that will limit his ability to be a Major League regular. He handled SS really well and it looks like the Cubs are giving him every shot and being that Future SS. With the draft selection of Kris Bryant, the Cubs have a lot of flexibility with their future. I see Baez as the 3B answer.” – Thomas Belmont, Baseball Instinct
“The upside that Baez holds from a fantasy perspective is likely second to only Byron Buxton—and the likely gets added in there because Baez may actually have more, given his potential eligibility. The tools are crazy and even though he doesn’t have the strongest run tool, he’s still 46-for-55 in stolen bases during his 215 minor-league games. Even if you can’t put him at shortstop (which is far from a definitive outcome), you’d take 30 homers, 15-plus steals and a .280 average from just about anywhere on the diamond. He’s a no-doubt top-five fantasy prospect in baseball.” – Brett Sayre, Baseball Prospectus
The consensus seems to be an All-Star caliber talent with some flaws, as far as contact, who can become a game changer, in real-life or fantasy baseball, due to his quick hands and raw power. With Baez, Addison Russell, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, and Xander Bogaerts coming up through various systems, it appears that the game will be taken over by offensive-minded shortstops, as the Alex Rodriguez–Derek Jeter–Nomar Garciaparra–Miguel Tejada Era of Major League Baseball was impacted.
Javier Baez seems like an athletic freak, producing power from his 6’0″, 195 pound frame. Below is a video of highlights from Baseball Instinct (via YouTube), where you can observe all of the otherwordly power and bat speed that was suggested by prospect insiders:
The term “generational talent” doesn’t get thrown around very often, although the label has been given to the likes of Mark Prior, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and Mike Trout over the last decade. Injuries can always be a deterrent for players to reach their full, long-term potential, but the types of seasons that those four players have provided, even if it is just two to four seasons of that production, would be welcomed by any club. Risks aside, Baez is worthy of the high praise, the high rankings, and the sudden discussion of his eventual rise to dominance and stardom in Chicago. With all due respect to Starlin Castro, Baez shouldn’t have to move off of shortstop once he reaches Chicago – his potential dwarfs that of Castro, who has quickly become an afterthought to the hype of the Puerto Rican slugger.
Wendy Thurm (@hangingsliders) had a post at Fangraphs discussing the National TV contracts for Major League Baseball and the value that they will provide for each team. Within the article, Thurm had several valuable bits of information:
“ESPN will pay MLB $700 million per year for the right to broadcast games exclusively on Sunday nights, other games (non-exclusively) on Monday and Wednesday nights, extended highlights for Baseball Tonight, the Home Run Derby and other All-Star activities (but not the game) and one Wild Card Game. The deal also includes national and international radio and digital rights.
MLB announced a new national TV contract with Fox and TBS, which also covered the 2014 through 2021 seasons. Under that deal, MLB will receive $800 million per year in combined revenue from the two networks, in exchange for broadcasts rights for the Saturday game of the week on Fox, the Sunday game on TBS and all of the postseason games — save for the one that will be broadcast on ESPN. Fox also retains the rights to the All-Star Game.
That’s $1.5 billion in national TV revenue per season that will go into MLB’s Central Fund, or $750 million more than under the contracts that just expired. MLB can spend money from the Central Fund in a variety of ways, but it’s been assumed in the reporting that the league will distribute the TV money to the teams. If so, each team will receive $25 million more in national TV revenue in 2014 through 2021 than they did in 2013.
Teams aren’t obligated, of course, to use all or even part of that additional $25 million on player salaries. That money can also be helpful to expanding a team’s national and international scouting operation, or its data analysis department, or marketing, or all three.”
Beyond the television money being received directly from Major League Baseball, each team has their very own local television contract, as well. The dollars being tossed towards clubs has reached absurd levels, as the Los Angeles Dodgers will bring in $340 million per season through 2032 in local television money alone, meaning roughly $390 million including the money coming from MLB. When the Dodgers have that kind of money coming in before averaging 46,216 fans per home game, ranking No.1 in 2013 MLB attendance, you can see the revenue and profitability that comes from these mega deals.
The money is huge, and when you factor in how many teams are being extra cautious with the contracts that they hand out, it makes it seem unreasonable for clubs to cry “small market” any longer. There is no “small market” when a team is streaming revenue of $43 million from television contracts like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami Marlins were in 2013, and that number will go up to $68 million with the additional $25 million in 2014. And, while so many were upset with the Marlins and their owner, Jeffrey Loria, for the club’s consistent losing, fire-sales, and sticking Miami with an expensive stadium with a Triple-A worthy roster playing each night, it can’t be as hard as it is for Houston’s fans to watch the Astros pocket $105 million in television deals in 2013, while fielding a team with a payroll of $26 million.
With international signing limits and caps on spending within drafts, it doesn’t seem fair that owners and teams are able to sit on millions of dollars of revenue while doing very little year in and year out to field a competitive team. Certainly, the Astros are utilizing the wizardry of Jeff Luhnow to develop a dynamic farm system, which is ranked in the upper-half of the league after being one of the most vacant systems in all of baseball for nearly a decade. However, if other teams decided to gut their major league rosters to build in the same manner, how could MLB and its commissioner tell fans that they were fielding a solid product?
When the Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland A’s, and Boston Red Sox publicly entrenched their baseball operations within data analysis and the sabermetric way, they also committed to spending wisely and finding value, possibly bargains, by linking players and their abilities to areas that the club needed to improve. By signing their young players to lucrative contracts early in their careers, the Rays were able to manage the long-term salary of their stars by avoiding the arbitration process, while, simultaneously, taking on a huge risk by investing in a player who may battle an injury or be unable to make adjustments when the league caught up with their skills. Evan Longoria, for example, was signed to a six-year, $17.6 million deal (with team options for 2014 through 2016), after just seven days in the majors. The A’s have been very careful with their payroll over the years as Billy Beane has utilized the Moneyball way to build success out of a spacious ballpark and on-base driven offensive players, though that has changed with players like Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick being key members of more recent teams. Boston, on the other hand, seems to have learned their lesson from the failures of mega-contracts that were given out to Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, shipping the huge deals to the Dodgers and finding payroll relief and success through finding strong character players, which landed them a championship this season behind the leadership of new additions like Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, and Shane Victorino.
When looking at teams that have created unique ways to be competitive, though, does it show a pattern or a method to success, or can spending money guide a team to a title? The Dodgers, for example, have over $190 million committed to their payroll in 2014 before free agency has even started. Add on the rumors of the club is interested in acquiring David Price via trade with the Rays and being a major player in the posting process and negotiations with Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka, and the Dodgers could have a starting rotation (that’s right, five guys) earning over $100 million in 2014. The New York Yankees tried for several years to build a contender through free agency, but the club was most successful when they were building from within with Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, and Andy Pettitte in the mid-to-late 1990’s and early 2000’s…though, they did win a title in 2009.
No team can duplicate the science that one team has perfected, but they can certainly try. As teams like the Twins and Marlins continue to try different techniques in finding success, one thing remains evident: they need to spend money to be successful. The Twins have struck gold with recent international signings and drafts, adding Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano to their system, but how will they help Joe Mauer at Target Field with the terrible pitching that they continue to produce? The Marlins tried to buy success when they signed Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle prior to the 2012 season. That experiment lasted all of one season before Miami sold off several pieces to rebuild with prospects that they received from the Blue Jays.
Every team should be active when free agency begins. There is no excuse for the “small market” teams when each team is receiving nearly $50 million dollars from MLB each season from the league’s national TV deals. Add on a minimum of $18 million for local TV deals (which the Marlins and Pirates have, lowest of all teams), and you’re looking at $68 million in revenue before the team takes the field, provides marketing space in the stadium, sells a ticket, or sells a t-shirt this season. Of course, there are operating expenses for a team and their employees, but how much exactly? Why exist if the owner is more focused on the bottom line and profitability of the club than the club’s long-term success? After all, we’re talking about billionaire owners paying millionaire players, and every time an owner complains about how much money they aren’t making, you can look at the figures that were provided above and laugh…as you make five-figures and save for months to pay $200 or more to take your family of four to a game once or twice per season.
Another major question could be: is there too much money in baseball? If a team like the Dodgers is bringing in nearly $400 million in revenue on television deals alone, how can the Pirates and Marlins compete against them? The Dodgers could sign Tanaka, trade for Price, and add Robinson Cano to play second base, and the club would still have nearly $150 million in annual salaries before reaching $400 million, over five-and-a-half times the amount that the Pirates and Marlins have in revenue. If or when Clayton Kershaw reaches free agency, if or when Mike Trout reaches free agency, and if or when Bryce Harper reaches free agency, what are the smaller revenue clubs to do? My answer to that…see the Tampa Bay Rays, who compete in the AL East with much smaller revenue numbers than the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and even the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles, by being smarter, more creative, and careful as to how they have built their roster each season.
And if there is still concern about your team and wanting to cry “small market”, remember this:
The Atlanta Braves hate fun. At least, that statement appears to be case, as the club has been a part of some of the most intense bench-clearing altercations of the 2013 Major League Baseball season. Those altercations began with a home run, a bat flip, standing too long in the batter’s box, or jawing with someone on the field. Here are exhibits A, B, and C:
Exhibit A – Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez from Wednesday night:
Exhibit B – Miami Marlins soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez from September 11:
and, finally, Exhibit C – Washington Nationals’ star Bryce Harper on August 6:
In all three cases, the Braves took exception with the antics of the opposition and to make them understand that their antics weren’t appreciated, someone took action. The club’s star catcher, Brian McCann, seems to have taken the Roger Goodell approach…you know, the commissioner of the NFL who has basically made it impossible for players to dance, celebrate, or enjoy any of their lives by turning the National Football League into the No Fun League. McCann didn’t even let Carlos Gomez cross home plate after his home run and colorful antagonizing on Wednesday night, while he was sure to stop Jose Fernandez prior to his leaving the dish to make sure he understood “how the game works.”
The Atlanta Braves are policing MLB but no one else seems to mind.
The ol’ book likely says that bat flipping and admiration of your hit is disrespectful to the opposition, but could the game use these types of colorful personalities?
It wouldn’t be a terrible thing for baseball to have a face of the game that would have passion and enthusiasm for the game, one that would allow the youth of America and around the world to actually WANT to mock while actually playing baseball with friends instead of soccer and video games.
Considering a recent piece (and poll) by ESPN’s Jayson Stark, which detailed that Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, the same guy who is suspended for 211 games for doping and was having his future livelihood threatened by MLB just over two months ago, is the current face of baseball, receiving 22-percent of the vote, followed by teammate Derek Jeter, who has played all of 17 games this season, who had 12-percent of the vote, the game needs to have SOMEONE OR SOME THING that can be considered marketable. While it is arguable as to whether cockiness and showmanship is that thing, those traits are certainly something that shouldn’t be so heavily governed…at least not by one team.
Which brings me back to the Atlanta Braves. The Braves have had a remarkable run of success. While the Pittsburgh Pirates were finishing with losing records from 1993 through 2012, the Atlanta Braves had winning seasons in all but two years since 1990 (2006 and 2008). While the front office, the manager, and the players have changed, it appears that the club is still influenced by the knowledge which was passed down from the John Schuerholz-Bobby Cox–Chipper Jones Era.
Is living and modeling “by the book” good for the game, though?
For me, the Brian McCann plate block was more embarrassing than the jawing done by Carlos Gomez. Even if Gomez was acting foolishly, why is it the right of the catcher to stop him before he could touch home plate and tell him how wrong he was? To make it even worse, Gomez was tossed from the game and McCann, who actually started the melee by halting the home run trot (and was also responsible for the benches clearing against Miami), was not, just as he wasn’t in Miami!
While the NFL has taken firm control of the American 18 to barely breathing man in America, baseball has been passed by as America’s pastime, and, similarly, as the NFL has taken a firm stance on protecting its image and brand with large fines and suspensions, MLB has done very little to enforce the protection of its players on the field, instead, focusing on fighting off-the-field legal battles with former players over performance-enhancing drug use and trying to maintain the integrity of the game that seemed to disappear after the 1994 player’s strike.
At this point, the league needs to combat pitchers throwing baseballs 90-plus miles per hour at the knees of Bryce Harper because he hit the ball too far. They need to make sure that players aren’t being attacked in bench-clearing brawls because of their colorful personalities. MLB needs to realize that colorful personalities will be valuable assets in regaining a solid public image, developing strong marketing campaigns built around the dynamic gifts of Mike Trout, the flamboyant nature of Yasiel Puig, and the fire and passion that Harper brings to the field, and, while doing so, the league needs to begin to penalize those who are willing to stop the fun in their tracks, as McCann did to Gomez.
What McCann and the Atlanta Braves are doing with their educational situations is NOT what baseball needs.
Another free agency period is ahead with another Major League Baseball offseason. With so many superstars being signed to lucrative contracts with their existing clubs, players who reach free agency can make exorbitant amounts of money due to fewer players being available and television contracts that teams are using as revenue generating machines. With that being said, is a big-time contract a smart investment for a needy team this winter?
The Yankees as a Model
With Robinson Cano heading towards free agency after the 2013 season, the New York Yankees will be faced with a decision that could alter their original plan of getting under Major League Baseball’s $189 million luxury tax threshold. With $92.4 million due to six players (Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia, Alfonso Soriano (the Cubs are covering $13 of the $18 million owed to him), Mark Teixiera, Vernon Wells (the Angels are covering $18.6 of the $21 million owed to him), Ichiro Suzuki, and Derek Jeter (who has an $8 million player option), the Yankees, on the surface, appear to have some wiggle room in an offer to their superstar second baseman; however, the players mentioned above are the only players with guaranteed contracts next season.
Adam Warren, David Phelps, and Eduardo Nunez are all pre-arbitration, so they can have their contracts renewed at the league minimum, but the club will have to deal with David Huff, Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, Jayson Nix, Shawn Kelley, Brett Gardner, and David Robertson within arbitration, and determine whether Cano, Hiroki Kuroda, Kevin Youkilis, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Mark Reynolds, Boone Logan, Travis Hafner, Joba Chamberlain, and/or Lyle Overbay are worthy of being tendered a qualifying offer prior to reaching free agency. With up to 19 spots available for next season, the remaining $96.6 million doesn’t appear to be going very far.
While relief could be on the way with a possible 2014 suspension for Alex Rodriguez, from which his $25 million contract would be forfeited, the long-term contracts that the Yankees have handed out like candy are now causing financial issues as the club’s attendance continues to decline (43,733 in 2012 vs. 40,002 in 2013) along with the talent of the aging players.
Alex Rodriguez is 37 years old and is owed $86 million over the next four years.
C.C. Sabathia is 32 years old and is owed $76 million over the next three seasons (including his 2017 buyout).
Mark Teixiera is 33 years old and is owed $67.5 million over the next three seasons.
The three have been worth a combined WAR (Fangraphs) of 2.6 in 2013 while costing the Yankees $73.5 million in salaries. For comparisons sake, San Diego third baseman Chase Headley, Atlanta third baseman Chris Johnson, San Diego outfielder Chris Denorfia, Baltimore outfielder Nate McLouth, and San Francisco shortstop Brandon Crawford have each posted a 2.6 WAR in 2013…individually. If the Yankees had all five players this season, they would have spent just under $16 million, about $6.5 million less than they spent on Teixiera alone in 2013!
Why These Contracts Don’t Make Sense
By investing large sums of money into veterans when they reach free agency in the post-steroid era, teams are taking immeasurable risks.
1) They are assuming that a high-performing player will be capable of producing into their mid-30’s, and…
2) They are assuming that the high-performing player will stay healthy enough to be worth the investment.
When a player reaches free agency, they have at least six years of major league experience. The player likely had three seasons of pre-arbitration followed by three years of arbitration prior to reaching free agency. Considering that most players make their debuts between the ages of 21 and 24, a free agent is typically between the ages of 27 and 30. The magic prime age in baseball is apparently going to happen in a player’s age-27 season, lasting roughly three to five seasons. A player has reached their physical peak at this point, which allows the player to utilize their various tools to take advantage of the opposition through the use of their experience and mental approaches gained through those experiences. When a multi-year contract is given to a player at the age of 30, say a five-year contract, and that player is then declining for nearly three-fifths of the contract, what is the value to the club? Without performance-enhancers, normal aging processes, such as shoulder fatigue for aging pitchers and chronic knee soreness for a veteran position player, become normal once again. Can teams count on a 39-year-old shortstop to play in 162 games? Ask Derek Jeter how his season went.
Unfortunate Recent Examples
Albert Pujols signed his ten-year, $240 million deal with the Angels following his age-31 season in St. Louis. To make the deal more affordable and to allow the Angels some financial flexibility, Pujols’ contract was heavily back-loaded, meaning he will be making the most money at the end of his contract when he is approaching or passing the age of 40. In fact, in Pujols’ tenth season with the Angels, he is scheduled to make $30 million, the highest annual salary within his contract. After making a combined $28 million in 2012 and 2013, Pujols’ contract will jump to $23 million in 2014 and climb $1 million each season before reaching $30 million in 2021.
However, Pujols hasn’t really lived up to the contract based on his production over the first 11 seasons in the majors, as he has posted the lowest WAR of his career in consecutive seasons (3.7 in 2012 and 0.7 in 2013). He was shutdown on August 19 due to a partial tear of his left plantar fascia and he should be ready to go next season; however, since he isn’t undergoing surgery, how well will this injury heal? Although the tear supposedly did what the surgery would have, one has to wonder if it can be aggravated, torn further (since it is still a partial tear), and debilitating enough to plague Pujols throughout the remainder of his massive contract.
And what about the contract that the “small-market” Cincinnati Reds gave to Joey Votto? The Reds handed Votto a ten-year, $225 million extension in April of 2012. The contract hasn’t even started yet, as the first year of the extension will be the 2014 season, Votto’s age-30 season. For ten years, the Reds will hope that Votto will produce numbers similar to his 2010 MVP season, something that he hasn’t seemed capable of reproducing over the last three seasons, despite leading the National League in on-base percentage the last three seasons, four including 2010. When you consider that the Reds are winning in 2013 and they still average just 31,479 in attendance (16th in MLB), how will the team be able to contend when Votto is making $25 million per season beginning in 2018, when he is 34 years old?
Even worse, the contract that the Philadelphia Phillies gave to first baseman Ryan Howard. Howard received his extension in April of 2010 and it didn’t go into effect until the 2012 season, a five-year, $125 million deal that would begin in Howard’s age-32 season. Since the start of the 2012 season, Howard has played in 151 games while posting a .244/.307/.445 line with 31 doubles, 25 home runs, 99 RBI, and a whopping 194 strikeouts in 609 plate appearances. The previous seven seasons, Howard had a .275/.368/.560 line with an average of 26 doubles, 41 home runs, and 123 RBI per season, and that was including his declining 2010 and 2011 seasons, in which Howard posted the lowest OPS of his career (.859 in 2010 and .835 in 2011)…that was, of course, until his dreadful 2012 season (.718 OPS).
The Problem With TV Deals
I was able to get a response from Baseball Prospectus’ Ben Lindbergh when I asked him via Twitter, “Do you think MLB teams are going to shy away from mega contract due to the Pujols/Howard/Hamilton deals in post steroid era?” His response:
— Ben Lindbergh (@ben_lindbergh) September 6, 2013
The TV money, which was mentioned previously, is an interesting enhancement to the revenue stream for major league teams. With the Los Angeles Dodgers getting over $6 billion over 25 years from Time Warner in their TV deal, which will give the club nearly $240 million per year in revenue, the already crazy expenditures of the boys in blue could become even more egregious this winter. The club seems capable of locking up left-hander Clayton Kershaw to a contract worth $30 million per season or more this winter, AND signing Robinson Cano to take over second base from Mark Ellis, who has a $5.75 million option for 2014 or a $1 million buyout. By taking on those types of contracts on top of the Carl Crawford ($20.25 million in 2014), Matt Kemp ($21 million in 2014), Adrian Gonzalez ($21 million in 2014), Zack Greinke ($26 million in 2014), and Andre Ethier ($15.5 million in 2014) deals, the Dodgers will be willingly entering the luxury tax threshold in an effort to win the World Series.
But what happens when money can’t buy titles? The New York Yankees seemed to always have the highest payroll in baseball and they haven’t won the title every season. Spending doesn’t quantify wins, it is, as Lindbergh referenced, the winner’s curse. This concept is outlined in Colin Wyers 2009 Baseball Prospectus piece titled The Real Curse, which Wyers states:
The market for baseball players seems to more closely resemble a sealed-bid auction than it does a market. Since the person who wins that sort of auction is typically the person with the largest bid, it stands to reason that the person who “wins” is in fact the person who overbids…
The curse is then being the winning bid on a contract that was probably more than what another team was willing to bid. By evaluating players and making smart investments, teams that break the curse are able to get production out of what they spend, while teams that suffer from the curse are those that fail to get production out of their investment, as in the suffering that the Cubs went through with Alfonso Soriano, the joint suffering of the Blue Jays and Angels over the Vernon Wells contract, and the Giants’ suffering through the Barry Zito contract.
When spending goes wrong, it can financially cripple a franchise, who is then responsible for allocating funds to an under-performing player while still trying to field a competitive team around that player. Teams seem more likely to take those types of risks, though. Due to the incoming revenue from the TV deals, teams like the Cleveland Indians, who celebrated the sale of the franchise owned SportsTime Ohio to Fox Sports this winter by signing Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, are more capable of making these potentially fatal bids.
Will the money continue to be there for clubs to take on these large, risky contracts?
Pete Kotz had an amazing story about the leagues finances, and while discussing television deals, he says:
With no one saying no, the networks see sports as a no-lose racket, with ESPN as its piper. The sports channel charges cable companies $5 a month per customer, by far the highest monthly fee in national television. While that may seem a pittance, it’s big money when spread over the 100 million U.S. households with pay TV. And it’s made the other big boys envious.
NBC and CBS have launched their own sports channels. Another from Fox is on the way. Even regional sports channels are starting to broach that $5 mark. Their bet is that viewers will always be willing to pay more. And more. And more.
…Today, the average TV bill rests at $86 per month, about half of which pays for sports programming. That’s more than double a decade ago. So it’s no coincidence that the cable and satellite industries have been jettisoning customers for nine years straight.
“I can’t tell you what will be the trigger,” says Matthew Polka, president of the American Cable Association. “But I am certain that at some point in the very near future, that balloon will burst.”
As cable and satellite customers are forced to pay more and they continue to leave those companies in an effort to save money, the money will eventually not be coming in. The cable and satellite companies will likely battle with the club’s networks to get lower rates, and there could be something drastic, like CBS being taken away from major markets. Eventually, the boom in finances and long-term contracts will go away and the inevitable crash will make it harder for clubs to make large financial commitments to star players. Imagine if the housing market was responsible for financing people’s salaries and when the market for home sales crashed how disastrous that could have been…but it did and it was miserable for the entire economy.
Major League Baseball is exempt from some things due to anti-trust laws, but nothing is too big to fail.
Who Is Worth a Mega-Contract?
It may seem easy to say that locking up players within their pre-arbitration or arbitration years to lucrative, long-term contracts seems more intelligent than waiting until free agency, as the annual salaries can slowly increase rather than starting and sitting at $25 million per year for eight straight seasons. A few examples of players who could be worth a long-term investment in this scenario:
- Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout is earning $510,000 in 2013 and he is pre-arbitration in 2014 before being eligible for arbitration in 2015, 2016, and 2017. If Trout continues his torrid pace for the next four seasons and reaches free agency in 2018 at the age of 26, what types of maniacal offers will he be receiving at that point?
- Nationals’ outfielder Bryce Harper signed a major league contract and will be arbitration eligible in 2016, 2017, and 2018 before reaching free agency at the age of 25 in 2019. Like Trout, he has posted absurd numbers, given his age, and, with Scott Boras as his current agent, could own half of a franchise based on what he will be offered in free agency.
- Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, Nationals’ right-hander Stephen Strasburg, Marlins’ right-hander Jose Fernandez, Marlins’ right-fielder Giancarlo Stanton, and Mets’ right-hander Matt Harvey (upon his return in 2015 from elbow surgery…if he is just as productive and dominant) are additional players who fit this mold.
Why are these types of players worth a long-term investment? Because they are young, producing prior to their prime years, and are more likely to continue producing towards the end of a 10 to 15 year extension than a player who turns 40 or 41 in year ten of their long-term contracts, like Joey Votto and Albert Pujols.
These are the types of mega-contracts that seem more reasonable and realistic for franchises, while being less likely to provide a curse on the investing bidder. Because the player is within the grasp of the franchise already, the team has all kinds of data available to analyze, they have coaches and front office personnel who have strong relationships with the player, and the fan-base, media, and community surrounding the player are already familiar, so it could be assumed that there are fewer outside influences that could impact player performance.
Regardless of the potential that these younger players possess, any long-term contract remains a risk for the franchise. If the clubs suddenly refuse to offer these types of contracts, however, the league and its owners would likely be accused of collusion. The mega-contract isn’t going away anytime soon. Despite future reluctance to meet the demands of players and agents to attain these large salaries, there will likely be enough money, or a few teams with large enough revenue streams, for at least one of these deals to be made each offseason. As fewer and fewer star players seem to reach free agency due to long-term commitments with their existing franchise (like Votto, Troy Tulowitzki, and Carlos Gonzalez), the stars that do reach free agency will likely continue to get the lucrative deals.
- It doesn’t matter that the Lerners are the wealthiest owners in baseball (halfstreetheartattack.com)
- Pujols’ contract rising, production declining (espn.go.com)
- Votto’s value extends way beyond plating runs (mlb.mlb.com)
- About that 12 year contract for Harper (halfstreetheartattack.com)
It’s late in the baseball season and there are a lot of things that could be distracting you, such as following up on Johnny Manziel’s battle with the NCAA, completing your 21 fantasy football drafts, and wondering who will be Ace or Gary when you attend a Halloween party as the Incredibly Gay Duo. While all of those things are important, I present to you the world of baseball that you may have missed due to your fascination of Miley twerking.
- Yankees’ left fielder Alfonso Soriano leads MLB with 42 RBI and is tied with Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera for the lead in home runs (13) since the All-Star break. The Yankees are 21-16 since Soriano returned to New York and the Yanks are 2.5 games behind Tampa for the second Wild Card spot with 23 games remaining, including seven games against Boston (a four-game series begins today in New York) and three against the Rays.
- New Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Marlon Byrd is leading the majors in total bases since the All-Star break with 101 (he is tied with teammate Andrew McCutchen and San Diego outfielder Will Venable), and he is tied with Minnesota Twins shortstop Brian Dozier for extra-base hits since the break with 26. Byrd will look to continue his torrid pace in helping lead the Pirates to the NL Central title after the Buccos have already guaranteed their fans with the club’s first winning season since 1992.
- Washington Nationals’ outfielder Jayson Werth looked like a total waste of a seven-year, $126 million deal after his horrendous first season, 2011, in the nation’s capital, but he has hit .311/.392/.487 over the last two seasons while battling various injuries. If Werth continues his production next season and the Nats get a full, healthy season out of Bryce Harper and their very good pitching staff, the letdown from 2013 will be all forgiven in 2014 with an improved season. Werth, by the way, is 8th in MLB in OPS (.920).
- Toronto outfielder Rajai Davis doesn’t receive a lot of praise or playing time, but he has 40 stolen bases in just 93 games. With his .313 OBP, Davis has made an appearance on the bases just 93 times in 301 plate appearances. When you take away the two triples and four home runs (since he hasn’t stolen home and he can’t steal a base after a home run), it means that Davis has successfully stolen a base in 46 percent of his appearances on base. With his speed, who needed to wait for Billy Hamilton for an impact base runner?
- There are only six players with 30 or more home runs (Chris Davis, Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion, Pedro Alvarez, Paul Goldschmidt, and Adam Dunn) after 22 players reached the tier in 2012 and 24 players reached in 2011. With 17 players within six homers or reaching 30, and several within that group unlikely to do so (I’m looking at you J.J. Hardy and the injured Domonic Brown), the top-tier of sluggers appears to be a very rare breed with pitching being so dominant.
Speaking of pitching…
- Max Scherzer is sitting at 19-2, but the names of other starting pitchers ranked near the top in wins is quite surprising: Jorge De La Rosa (16), Francisco Liriano (15), Chris Tillman (15), and Bartolo Colon (14) rank in the top eight in the strange statistic. While some writers will look at the win as valuable in determining who should win the Cy Young, it clearly has little use in determining who has been the best pitcher.
- It’s somewhat disappointing to see numbers fall with the drop in velocity, but that is exactly what has happened to former Cy Young favorites like Justin Verlander (12-10, 3.59 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) and C.C. Sabathia (13-11, 4.86 ERA, 1.35 WHIP). With the fall from grace, though, has come exciting young arms like Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran, and Matt Harvey (R.I.P.). Unfortunately for the aging arms, it doesn’t appear to be getting better, as Sabathia has a 6.88 ERA in the second half, while Verlander has a more respectable 3.77 ERA since the break.
- Speaking of those young arms and specifically Jose Fernandez, the young, Cuban-born right-hander has been filthy in the second half. His 0.83 WHIP is tops among all starting pitchers and the 70:13 K:BB in 54 innings is downright nasty. With the Marlins possibly looking to deal their only source of offense, Giancarlo Stanton, this winter, Fernandez will likely continue to post ridiculous numbers without wins going forward, although he has won five games since the break.
- For all of those still sitting back and waiting for Chris Sale‘s arm to explode, it hasn’t happened. The White Sox ace has been even better in 2013 than he was last season, posting a 2.97 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP while improving his strikeout rate AND his walk rate on a per nine inning basis. After being locked up for five-years, $32.5 million (with team options totalling $26 million over 2018 and 2019), the Pale Hose look very wise in their string-bean investment.
- R.A. Dickey‘s knuckleball didn’t carry over to the AL East. The veteran right-hander has a 4.30 ERA and 1.27 WHIP after posting a 2.95 ERA and 1.15 WHIP from 2010 through 2012 with the New York Mets. The small parks, the strong teams, and the patient hitters are all a factor in the decline, but when you don’t really know which way the ball is going when using a trick pitch, that kind of makes things difficult, too.
- Yu Darvish is having an absolutely stupid season. He leads MLB with his 12.0 K/9 and he has struck out 240 of the 722 batters that he has faced (33.2 percent). While some Cy Young voters will look at Scherzer’s 19 wins and look stupid years from now, it is the unhittable Darvish, who has allowed 124 hits in 179.2 innings and a .192 BAA, who deserves the award.