The Hot Stove Has Caught On Fire

It certainly hasn’t taken long for teams to begin dishing out large contracts that they’ll probably regret in a couple of years with free agency well under way. However, the last 24 to 48 hours have supplied the greatest number of gifts, with a lot of examples of “huh”, “why”, “seriously”, and “come again” worthy reactions.

The Trades

The Doug Fister Trade

Detroit Tigers get: 2B Steve Lombardozzi, LHP Ian Krol, and LHP Robbie Ray

Washington Nationals get: RHP Doug Fister

FisterIt has to be called the Doug Fister trade because no one really cares about any of the players that the Tigers got back, right? If this wasn’t a total salary dump, I don’t know what it was, as the “prize” return for the Tigers is Ray, who was a 10th round pick in 2010 and had a 6.56 ERA in 2012 in his first attempt at High-A Potomac before bouncing back and having a solid season between High-A and Double-A in 2013, really doesn’t seem like a tremendous prospect; though, we have been proven wrong by Dave Dombrowski before. After the Tampa Bay Rays received one of the top young prospects in baseball, Wil Myers, in return for two controllable seasons of James Shields, you would think that the Tigers could have received more for Fister, who had managed to post an impressive 32-20 record to go along with a 3.29 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 440.2 innings with Detroit. Fister now joins Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, and Gio Gonzalez within the Washington rotation, making the Nationals strong contenders for first-year manager Matt Williams in 2014.

Winner: Washington Nationals.

Smelling Fowler

Houston Astros get: CF Dexter Fowler

Colorado Rockies get: RHP Jordan Lyles and OF Brandon Barnes

Fowler1Fowler seemed to be on the trading block for some time, but he was finally dealt on Tuesday. The Astros get two affordable seasons (two-years, $11.6 million) of Fowler while they wait for George Springer to prove himself ready, or…they just acquired a nicer trade chip than what they gave up. Jordan Lyles may still be just 23 years old, but he hasn’t put it together in 377 major league innings, posting a 5.35 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and a 6.2 K/9, and it seems very unlikely that shifting to Coor’s Field is going to assist his progression to sudden success. Brandon Barnes has some ability, but it isn’t as an everyday player, as his atrocious 127:21 K:BB and .635 OPS over 445 plate appearances goes to show. Barnes could be a fourth outfielder for the Rockies, with Carlos Gonzalez sliding over to center and Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson battling it out for the left field job, or Colorado could look to free agency to upgrade in center. This deal didn’t make a whole lot of sense for the Rockies unless they saw something in Lyles and didn’t feel that Fowler would ever live up to his hot start from 2013, when he posted a 1.032 OPS and then fell off of the face of the earth. Even if Fowler doesn’t live up to those numbers, he is the most valuable piece in the deal.

Winner: Houston Astros.

The Unimpressive Three-Way

Cincinnati Reds get: LHP David Holmberg.

Tampa Bay Rays get: RHP Heath Bell and cash from Arizona, and C Ryan Hanigan from Cincinnati.

Arizona Diamondbacks get: RHP Justin Choate and a PTBNL

The Rays are always viewed as a smart club and they were able to land another potential closer after losing Fernando Rodney to free agency, leaving the club with Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo to battle it out for the gig. On top of that, they received an excellent framing catcher in Hanigan, who has proved to be quite valuable to Cincinnati over the last several years in game-calling, while inking the backstop to a three-year extension upon the completion of the deal. The bad part, though, is that both Bell and Hanigan weren’t very good last season, with Hanigan, in particular, looking like a nightmare offensively, posting a .198/.306/.261 line over 260 plate appearances, leading to the Reds leaning on Brayan Pena, who was signed to a two-year deal earlier this winter, and Devin Mesoraco, the young, power-hitting catcher who will finally get a full-time look in Cincinnati. The Diamondbacks dumped some salary while dealing Bell for a young, breathing body. Choate pitched in the New York-Penn League in 2013 at the age of 22 and he isn’t much of a prospect. The Reds dumped Hanigan, who was arbitration-eligible, while getting a 22-year-old left-handed starter, who posted a 2.75 ERA in 26 Double-A starts in 2013 with a 116:50 K:BB in 157.1 innings. While Holmberg wasn’t as sexy as Tyler Skaggs or Archie Bradley within the Diamondbacks system, he could become a solid back of the rotation arm or a Sean Marshall-like relief pitcher for the Reds. The good news for Cincinnati is that Mesoraco gets his shot and Holmberg adds some near-ready pitching depth after the likely departure of Bronson Arroyo via free agency.

Winner: Everyone looks like a winner here, as the deal worked well for all three teams, but the Rays received the most help in assisting the team win in 2013.

Why Did Beane Make That (Michael) Choice?

Texas Rangers get: OF Michael Choice and 2B Chris Bostick

Oakland A’s get: OF Craig Gentry and RHP Josh Lindblom

ChoiceThis seemed like an odd deal for Oakland and GM Billy Beane, as Gentry is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter and Lindblom has been pretty terrible since being traded from the Dodgers to the Phillies in the 2012 Shane Victorino deal, as he has posted a 5.10 ERA and 1.50 WHIP over 54.2 innings since leaving Los Angeles (2.91 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 77.1 innings prior to the trade). Maybe a return to the west coast is what Lindblom needs to be a useful reliever, but by getting the elite defensive skills and increasing salary of the light-hitting (.280/.355/.366 in 763 plate appearances), 29-year-old Gentry, and giving up the potential that still exists in the bat of Michael Choice, who is 24 and isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2017, Beane showed that he may be looking beyond three years from now and that he could be putting the A’s in win-now mode. Bostick is a nice second base prospect, having posted a .282/.354/.452 line over 555 plate appearances as a 20-year-old in Low-A in 2013, but the Rangers have quite a few young, up-the-middle prospects (Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar, and Luis Sardinas) and they don’t seem to have a need there, while the A’s have run Jemile Weeks out of town in a trade with Baltimore and Eric Sogard was very…meh…in 2013 at the major league level. Winning now is important, but it doesn’t seem like the A’s really acquired anyone who can really help them in 2014 to get over the hump.

Winner: Texas Rangers.

The Free Agent Splashes

The Yankees Spend Like Crazy…Again.

Who They Signed: C Brian McCann (five-years, $85 million); OF Jacoby Ellsbury (seven-years, $153 million);

McCannWhy It Matters: Notice that the Yankees have committed nearly $240 million after having been rumored to be on a mission to avoid the $189 million threshold of the payroll luxury tax, while not having signed their All-Star second baseman, Robinson Cano, just yet. And, don’t forget, the team is rumored to be interested in signing Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who could be had at a lesser amount after the posting fee was limited to a maximum $20 million bid on Wednesday. McCann is a huge upgrade over the combined .213/.289/.298 triple slash that Yankees’ catchers posted in 2013, while Ellsbury provides great defense and speed as the Yankees try to move on from all of the injuries that suffocated their success this past season. Even if the Yankees are done with the big name signings, including Cano, they should be a better team in 2014.

Twinkies Filled Their Rotation

Who Minnesota Signed: RHP Phil Hughes (three-year, $24 million); RHP Ricky Nolasco (four-year, $49 million);

Why It Matters: The Twins starting pitchers posted a 5.26 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP in 2013, worst in the majors, and the ERA was a whopping 0.45 points higher than the Toronto Blue Jays’ starters (4.81), who finished 29th. Hughes still has youth and potential, but he needs to start tapping into that potential after posting a horrific 5.19 ERA over 29 starts and 145.2 innings. Shockingly, Hughes’ numbers would have made him a solid number three starter for the Twins in 2013…they were that bad. Adding Nolasco was special, but he isn’t an ace. He will likely be the Twins’ Opening Day starter in 2014 by default and he should make the rotation slightly better; although, it couldn’t get much worse.

Kazmir Rejuvenates and Cashes In Athletically

Who Oakland Signed: LHP Scott Kazmir (two-year, $22 million)

Why It Matters: Signing Kazmir to a lucrative contract could lead to another movie about the Oakland A’s after the success of Moneyball. While Kazmir’s resurgence was quite surprising, an eight-figure deal, after making all of one total appearance in the majors in 2011 and 2012 due to severe shoulder woes, was even more surprising. Possessing a mid-90’s fastball and a left arm appears to be all that it took to find a big deal. Kazmir’s story is worthy of attention and praise, but it is a story that needs to be monitored to see if he can maintain the same success in Oakland over the next two seasons. His presence will allow the A’s and Beane to shop LHP Brett Anderson at the winter meetings next week, which could net the club some additional win-now resources.

The Tigers No Longer on the Prowl for a Closer

Who Detroit Signed: RHP Joe Nathan (two-year, $20 million)

Why It Matters: Detroit needed a lockdown closer after shuffling through Jose Valverde, Phil Coke, Jose Veras, and Bruce Rondon at closer before Joaquin Benoit took over and did a nice job over the rest of the season. They got their man after signing Joe Nathan away from the Texas Rangers. Nathan closed 80 games out the last two seasons, while posting a 2.09 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, and at 38 years of age, he doesn’t look to be slowing down after missing the 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery. After dealing Prince Fielder to improve at second base with Ian Kinsler, moving Miguel Cabrera back to first, and plugging Drew Smyly into the rotation (after dealing Fister), the Tigers will have a completely new look in 2014. With their strong rotation, Nathan’s shutdown ability makes them quite dangerous.

Fish Hook Their Catcher and the Red Sox Snag Another

Who Miami Signed: C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (three-year, $21 million)

Who Boston Signed: C A.J. Pierzynski (one-year, $8.25 million)

Why It Matters: With a lot of focus heading towards catcher defense and framing, highlighted by the Rays commitments to Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan this winter, other clubs continue to look towards offensive-minded catchers, and the Miami Marlins and Boston Red Sox locked down their backstops this week. The Marlins seem to have very little hope for a quick turnaround and Saltalamacchia isn’t going to be the other piece to help Giancarlo Stanton and Miami to an NL East title, but it is a start…as long as they don’t trade him before the 2014 season starts. Pierzynski will be on his fifth organization and, despite being hated by some of his competition, he could be a tremendous asset to the character and chemistry that existed within the Boston World Series clubhouse. I guess he is better to have on your team than to play against him.

 

 

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2013 Predictions and Useless Guesses

I did this last year and it was interesting, as they were mostly useless guesses as opposed to valuable predictions. However, with days until real games begin, I figured that I would join in the fun of putting this out there so that we can all look back and see just how wrong I was when October rolls around. Let the incorrectness begin!

AL East Champion

Jays

Toronto Blue Jays

I’m buying the upgrades to the Jays roster. A great improvement to the pitching staff, and just in time to pounce on an AL East division where the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox don’t look like major factors. While the Rays and Orioles look to maintain success without a huge payroll increase, the Jays will utilize their awesome blend of speed, power, and rotation depth to take the crown in the East.

AL Central Champion

Tigers

Detroit Tigers

Like the Jays, the Tigers will impress with their strong rotation, and while the club plays scetchy, at best, defense, the presence of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera is enough to make them strong contenders in a weak, yet improving, AL Central. The signing of Torii Hunter and the return of Victor Martinez will only improve the offense, while the club will hope that Austin Jackson continues his tremendous improvement and that Andy Dirks can hold down left until Nick Castellanos or Avisail Garcia prove themselves ready. The bullpen issues are something to be concerned about, but someone out of Bruce Rondon, Phil Coke, and Joaquin Benoit will step up.

AL West Champion

Angels

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

How do you improve a lineup that had Albert Pujols and Mike Trout in it a season ago? Well, by signing Josh Hamilton, of course! The Angels could be the best offensive team in baseball, but they’ll need to be, after seemingly taking the “we-will-outscore-your-team-because-we-don’t-have-pitching” way of building a roster. After losing out of Zack Greinke, the club traded for Tommy “my shoulder is gonna rip off of my body at any moment” Hanson, signing Joe Blanton, and trading for Jason Vargas, who could benefit from continuing his career in another pitcher-friendly ballpark. The Halos have enough offense to overcome their pitching shortcomings, though, and could easily manage to score about 6-8 runs per game.

AL Wild Cards

Rangers Rays

Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays

The Rangers may have lost Josh Hamilton, but they still have a dynamic offense, led by Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre. While it is highly unlikely that Lance Berkman can truly fill the shoes of Hamilton, he is just a season removed from revitalizing his career in St. Louis. Can he do it again? Well, if he can’t, the club will need more from their rotation, which is solid, but not nearly a lock to be great as others in the AL. Yu Darvish is the anchor, but with Matt Harrison‘s low strikeout rates, one has to wonder if he can maintain the 32 wins and 3.34 ERA that he has put up the last two seasons. Derek Holland needs to bounce back, as well, if Texas is to be taken seriously. If they don’t get the right breaks, this could easily be the Oakland Athletics, once again.

The Rays gambled on cashing in two seasons of James Shields for more young talent, acquiring a great haul from the Royals. While the rotation will miss the strength and innings that Shields brought, David Price, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, and Alex Cobb will be solid, while Roberto Hernandez and Jeff Niemann fight over the No.5 spot. The Rays have to get some production from Desmond Jennings and Yunel Escobar up the middle, while hoping that Evan Longoria stays healthy until Wil Myers can get called up. They need power in the lineup and on Opening Day, Longoria and Ben Zobrist seem like their only hope. Pitching and defense has worked for the last several years, and it will again in 2013.

AL MVP

jose-bautista-toronto-blue-jays-mlb

Jose Bautista, OF, Toronto Blue Jays

While everyone will focus on the huge trades that brought the club Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, R.A. Dickey, and others, Bautista will be the spark plug to the offense due to his tremendous power and ability to get on base. With his wrist fully recovered and a dynamic lineup around him, opposing clubs will be forced to pitch to the slugger, which will result is a season that should resemble his 2010 and 2011 seasons, with overwhelming power and run producing statistics.

AL Cy Young

Courtesy: dcobb1621.blogspot.com
Courtesy: dcobb1621.blogspot.com

Justin Verlander, RHP, Detroit Tigers

To say that Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball would be an understatement. He turned 30 years old in February and since 2008, he has gone 89-48 with a 3.28 ERA over 1,154.2 innings, and while those numbers have been outmatched by only CC Sabathia in the American League (91-39 with a 3.11 ERA), Verlander seems to have a pretty tight grip on the best pitcher in MLB title for the moment. While Yu Darvish and David Price begin to catch up to him, Verlander will hold control it for another season, with another 20-win season and an ERA under 3.00 for the Tigers.

AL Manager of the Year

Francona

Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians

While he actually has very little to do with the drastic changes that the Indians have undergone this offseason (that honor belongs to GM Chris Antonetti), Terry Francona will get a lot of credit for the Indians posting their first winning season since their 2007 ALCS  appearance. Manny Acta never seemed capable of keeping successful starts going over the 162-game season, but Francona’s resume proves that he is capable of that, regardless of the 2011 Boston Red Sox collapse. While the Tribe won’t make the playoffs, they will be very competitive and, possibly, be a nuisance to the Tigers in the AL Central for most of the season. For that, Francona will deserve the honor for making a Cleveland sports franchise matter again.

AL Rookie of the Year

myers

Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay Rays

He won’t start the season with the major league club, but Myers will be up in June, once the Rays can guarantee that he won’t gain Super Two arbitration eligibility, taking over the left field job from Matt Joyce, while manning right field when Ben Zobrist goes to second or short. Myers exploded in the minors last season, hitting an absurd .314/.387/.600 with 37 home runs between the Royals’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. While he could work on his contact rate (he struck out 140 times in 522 at-bats), Myers is a much needed offensive force for the Rays, who need someone besides Evan Longoria and Zobrist to produce consistently. Expect a .260/.320/.460 line with nearly 20 home runs if Myers gets the call in June, which should be good enough to win the AL ROY with Jurickson Profar waiting for a shot in Triple-A for the Rangers and so few players getting an opportunity early in the 2013 season.

NL East Champion

Nationals

Washington Nationals

Bryce Harper will be better than he was in 2012 and Stephen Strasburg won’t have an innings limit. Really, this is all that you need to know, but with the addition of a leadoff hitter in Denard Span and another fantastic arm in Rafael Soriano to add to Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, the Nationals are about as good as it gets in MLB for a lock to go to the playoffs. Add in Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Ryan Zimmerman, and Adam LaRoche, and you have a team capable of winning 95-100 games. Yes…they’re that good.

NL Central Champion

Reds

Cincinnati Reds

What do you get when you take an outstanding team without a leadoff hitter and you add a guy with a lifetime .386 on-base percentage in that spot? You get a team with a very bad defensive outfield that plays in a hitters paradise and the 2013 version of the Cincinnati Reds. Shin-Soo Choo could be a liability in center, but his offensive skills fit perfectly into the Reds lineup. Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto will need some help from Choo and Ryan Ludwick, but with a very good starting rotation and great depth in the bullpen with the move of Aroldis Chapman back to closer, the Reds will battle the Nationals for the best record in MLB in 2013.

NL West Champion

Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers

Like the Dodgers, I’m buying. The addition of Zack Greinke was huge, but the trade with the Boston Red Sox that brought Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez, along with their massive contracts, to the Dodgers will begin paying dividends this season. While the Hanley Ramirez thumb injury is a slight issue to start the season, Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw are the right kind of awesome to overcome any issues like that. The Dodgers have great pitching depth, unless they make a trade in the next few days, to overcome any further arm issues for Chad Billingsley, and their bullpen is lights out, with flame-thrower Kenley Jansen sharing end-game duties with Brandon League…until Don Mattingley sees what everyone else does and puts Jansen there full-time. This team is dangerous if they stay healthy. The pitching is deep, but an injury to Crawford, Kemp, or Andre Ethier will cost them the division to the San Francisco Giants.

NL Wild Cards

Braves

cardinals

Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals

The Atlanta Braves have an incredible roster. If Chipper Jones had hung around one more season, they may have had a chance at another World Series title for the old man. Unfortunately, Jones finally retired and third could be the clubs only weak spot, as Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson will share the job in 2013. The addition of B.J. Upton and Justin Upton will make the offense even more dangerous, as Jason Heyward continues to become one of the best players in baseball. Freddie Freeman got his eye issues worked out, so he will also improve in 2013, while the club will rely on a deep rotation, that will only get better when Brandon Beachy returns in June or July. By then, the Braves could have a very difficult choice, especially after seeing Julio Teheran thrive this spring, as someone will have to be removed from the rotation if the club is healthy. As far as the bullpen goes, one name is all you need: Craig Kimbrel.

The Cardinals continue to stick around and be contenders, even after losing Albert Pujols a season ago and, potentially, losing Chris Carpenter for the entire 2013 season. Adam Wainwright should re-establish himself as an ace this season, while Allen Craig will show that he is an MVP-caliber player if he would just stay healthy. Speaking of health, could fantasy baseball nerds be any more excited for the first of Carlos Beltran‘s injuries in 2013? If you don’t know why, you need to look up super-prospect Oscar Taveras. The Cards seem to have an endless supply of young arms, as well, as Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Michael Wacha, and Carlos Martinez arrive and establish themselves in the majors.

NL MVP

votto

Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds

Votto will do one of two things: 1) Post an on-base percentage approaching .500 (.474 in 2012) while never seeing a pitch worth hitting, or 2) Post numbers close to his 2010 MVP season (.324/.424/.600, 37 home runs) while earning his 2nd MVP. The Reds are going to have Votto hitting No.3 again, and with Shin-Soo Choo and Brandon Phillips hitting in front of him, Votto will easily exceed his career-high 113 RBI this season. With his knee healthy and a tremendous lineup and hitter’s paradise as a home ballpark, Joey Votto will win the NL MVP in 2013.

NL Cy Young

bumgarner

Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants

You can take Stephen Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw, while I go off the board (or rocker) to choose Madison Bumgarner for NL Cy Young. After tiring at the end of the 2012 season, Bumgarner knows that he has a lot to prove. Add on the fact that his WHIP fell from 1.21 in 2011 to 1.11 in 2012, and you can see that the 23-year-old left-hander can not only miss bats (191 K’s in each of the last two seasons), but he isn’t allowing many hits or walks. With a pitcher-friendly ballpark and loads of expectations on him due to his fall-off late last season, Bumgarner will show that he shouldn’t be overlooked due to Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum being on the same roster.

NL Manager of the Year

black

Bud Black, San Diego Padres

There isn’t a whole lot to like about the Padres roster. They don’t have a superstar on the front of a video game, they don’t have a player that shows up to the MLB Fan Cave with an infamous twitter account, but they have an interesting team and a better manager. Bud Black can get a lot out of the club that he has. While the team will continue to struggle to score runs, at times, Chase Headley could provide enough power to get runs in bunches, and Yonder Alonso could thrive with the fences being moved in at Petco. Solid speed and gap power throughout the lineup will make the Padres a surprise team in 2013, and while the rotation is more patchwork than well thought out, the bullpen is tremendous, as it always seems to be. If the Friars can get anything out of Andrew Cashner, Clayton Richard, and Eric Stults, they’ll be a team capable of 82-85 wins, which isn’t playoff worthy, but worth giving Bud Black an award for.

NL Rookie of the Year

Courtesy: stlouiscardinalsbaseball.com
Courtesy: stlouiscardinalsbaseball.com

Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals

You don’t get called a left-handed version of Vladimir Guerrero and get overlooked, and Taveras is that special of a talent. Like I mentioned above, once Carlos Beltran gets hurt (as in it IS going to happen), Taveras would, more than likely, get the call. Not only a Beltran injury, but an under performing Jon Jay could even be replaced by the super-prospect, as Taveras played 93 games in center for the Cards Double-A affiliate in 2012. Taveras will get enough at-bats to be valuable and he could do that as a fourth outfielder once June rolls around, but once he is in St. Louis, he won’t be leaving town for several years. A pure hitter in every sense of the label.

World Series Prediction

Washington Nationals defeat Los Angeles Angels, 4-2

Random, Bold Predictions

There is no rhyme or reason here, just as the title says:

  1. Bryce Harper will hit over 30 home runs in 2013, while posting an OPS near .940.
  2. Mike Trout won’t hit 30 home runs again, but he will steal 50 bases.
  3. Jose Reyes will stay healthy, even while playing on turf, and terrorize the AL East while stealing over 50 bases.
  4. Ike Davis will hit over 40 home runs after hitting 32 in 2012 while hitting just .227.
  5. Mat Latos will become the ace of the Cincinnati Reds, posting better overall numbers than Johnny Cueto and winning 20 games in 2013.
  6. Mike Minor proves that his second half from 2012 (6-4, 2.16 ERA, 0.87 WHIP over 87.1 IP) wasn’ a fluke, as he becomes the Braves best starting pitcher in 2013.
  7. Jordan Zimmerman has a more impressive 2013 season than Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez and he will no longer be overlooked in a fantastic Washington rotation.
  8. Brandon Belt continues hitting like he has all spring, ripping 25 home runs after having a power outage in the earlier stages of his career (16 in 598 at-bats).
  9. Troy Tulowitzki stays healthy and benefits from Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler having All Star seasons to hit 40 home runs, making all of those fantasy baseball players that took him in the first round feel like the smartest men alive.
  10. Allen Craig becomes an All Star and hits over .300 with 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI.
  11. Carlos Santana hits 30+ home runs and will have the kind of hype that Buster Posey has right now during the 2013-2014 offseason.
  12. Jason Heyward finishes 2nd in NL MVP voting to Joey Votto, posting his first 30 HR/30 SB season for Atlanta.
  13. Domonic Brown keeps the Phillies left field job all season and posts a .270/.380/.450 line with solid production across the board. Philly fans hit Ruben Amaro, Jr. with batteries for not trusting in him sooner.
  14. Zack Greinke can’t handle the Los Angeles pressure and spotlight and misses time due to his anxiety disorder.
  15. Chris Sale pitches 200 innings and proves doubters about his bony frame and drastic innings increase in 2012 wrong.
  16. Drew Stubbs (remember him?) hits 20 home runs and steals 50 bases, revitalizing his career.
  17. Rick Porcello wins 17 games with a 3.20 ERA while striking out 180 batters…all because he began using his four-seam fastball for the first time in his career.

Breakout Stars

These guys are about to go bonkers in 2013. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…(obvious names not listed, i.e. Harper, Brown, Braun, Ike Davis)

Alex Cobb, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays

Matt Moore, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays

Brett Anderson, LHP, Oakland Athletics

Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta Braves

Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Oakland Athletics

Greg Holland, RHP, Kansas City Royals

Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City Royals

Chris Parmelee, OF, Minnesota Twins

Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs

Dayan Viciedo, OF, Chicago White Sox

Dan Straily, RHP, Oakland Athletics (Bartolo Colon won’t last forever)

Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals

Michael Saunders, OF, Seattle Mariners

Prospects to Watch

This has nothing to do with the Top 100 Prospects that I put out in December, 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.

Jonathan Schoop, INF, Baltimore Orioles

Dorssys Paulino, INF, Cleveland Indians

J.R. Graham, RHP, Atlanta Braves

Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals

Chris Archer, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays

Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas City Royals

Yasel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros

Xander Bogaerts, INF, Boston Red Sox

Austin Hedges, C, San Diego Padres

Joey Gallo, INF, Texas Rangers

Should MLB Allow PEDs?

Braun BALCO and Biogenesis have changed how players have tried to manipulate the game through the use of synthetic hormones to gain advantages over their counterparts; however, as more names come out in reports, including those of Alex Rodriguez, Gio Gonzalez, and Ryan Braun, should Major League Baseball look into the actual advantages that come from the use of performance-enhancing drugs?

Bonds1As football overlooked head injuries for nearly 85 years of the NFL, baseball turned a blind eye to the testosterone-infused, giant-headed record breakers in Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa, watching the revenue flow and the turnstiles rotate as attendance rebounded from the 1994 strike.

Once things retuned to normal, then, and only then, was it considered a crime in Major League Baseball to use steroids. After riding on the coat tails of their superstars, they then made them villains, not showing any support for the stars as they reached retirement and, now, eligibility for the Hall of Fame.

Certainly, possessing steroids without medical need or a prescription is a crime in the real world, so it shouldn’t have been overlooked, and the Mitchell Report changed the game and has made the attack of doping dopes in baseball a journalistic norm, as The Miami New Times joined The San Francisco Chronicle in the scooping business.

But…are performance-enhancing drugs bad for the game?

According to Livestrong.com, side effects from Human Growth Hormone (HGH)research states:

Several studies have tried to determine the efficacy of HGH and any potential side effects, with one of the most important being the 2002 JAMA study, conducted jointly by researchers from the National Institute on Aging and Johns Hopkins University over a period of 26 weeks. There were several common milder side effects from HGH supplements that included joint pain, swelling and carpal tunnel syndrome. The more serious side effects included an increase in glucose intolerance and diabetes among male subjects. None of the women developed those conditions, although they were more likely to suffer edema, a type of fluid retention that causes swelling. All side effects, even including diabetes, disappeared two to six weeks after treatment was discontinued.

As far as long-term effects of steroid use, Livestrong.com reports that growth inhibition, weight gain, behavioral changes, diabetes, liver and heart damage, and sexual and reproductive disorders.
williemaysObviously, HGH and steroids have extreme risk, but drugs have been a part of the game for decades to enhance player performance. Brett Bush wrote a great story, referencing Joe Posnanski and Jerry Crasnick, detailing amphetamine use by Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Jim Bunning, while also including Pete Rose in the discussion.
So, why would steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs be such a huge, damning character flaw today? Are they that much more potent than what previous generations used, or can Bud Selig and Major League Baseball not take the public being fully aware of the statistical-embellishments by “cheaters” to their precious record books?
In today’s day and age, Americans have a sense of entitlement, even in their entertainment, demanding the highest quality product. Could the best product be athletes who are genetically and chemically-enhanced?
For baseball, especially with the ever-growing popularity of football, could the increase in performance that could come along with “juicing” be what it takes to get back into the America’s pastime conversation?
If the players are willing to take the risks needed to chemically altar their bodies for the sake of entertainment and production, should the fans and Major League Baseball be the judges in their long-term health?
I say no. Let baseball go crazy. Let players cheat because that is what they have always done. Why should we judge character now when it was never the case before, even for the game’s squeeky-clean.

Did the Nationals Need Soriano?

Bryce HarperThe Washington Nationals won 98-games in 2012, winning the NL East and solidifying themselves as, potential, perennial contenders in coming seasons. They got to where they are through fantastic drafts, taking advantage of their  miserable seasons to take on generational talents by adding Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper as No. 1 overall picks.

General Manager Mike Rizzo has also gambled on talented players like Anthony Rendon, Matt Purke, and Alex Meyer in more recent drafts, accruing valuable commodities to trade or plug into the major league roster.

Pitching was the name of the game for the Nats in 2012, though, regardless of the arrival of Harper, as Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Ross Detwiler, and Strasburg all posted ERAs lower than 3.40, while the bullpen posted a 3.23 ERA, good for 7th in MLB.

Drew Storen returned from an elbow injury in mid-July and solidified the back-end of the bullpen, posting a 2.37 ERA over 37 appearances, while Tyler Clippard was solid as the closer most of the season, saving 32 games.

The bullpen was deep in 2012, with Tom Gorzelanny, Sean Burnett, and Mike Gonzalez providing great left-handed options, while Craig Stammen and Ryan Mattheus posted great numbers as set-up men.

The only issue is that the Nationals have lost Gorzelanny, Burnett, and Gonzalez to free agency, while adding Zach Duke, Sean West, and Bill Bray to take their place.

Courtesy: bronxpinstripes.com
Courtesy: bronxpinstripes.com

With such weak options on the left-handed side, the Nationals needed to spend the reported two-years, $28 million on Rafael Soriano…or did they?

Soriano is a great relief pitcher, having closed out 42 games with a 2.26 ERA in 2012 for the New York Yankees; however, the Nationals didn’t need a closer.

Drew Storen closed 43 games in 2011, posting a 2.75 ERA. He has been the “closer of the future” since being drafted 10th overall in the 2009 MLB draft out of Stanford.

Courtesy: kffl.com
Courtesy: kffl.com

I wrote in July of 2011 about the young, cost efficient closers who were coming up through the majors, including Neftali Feliz, Craig Kimbrel, Storen, John Axford, Jordan Walden, and Sergio Santos. With Jim Johnson and his $2.625 million salary in 2012 closing 51 games, Fernando Rodney and his $1.75 million salary in 2012 closing 48 games, Kimbrel and his $580,000 salary in 2012 closing 42 games, and Jason Motte and his $1.95 million salary in 2012 closing 42 games, why would the Nationals spend the money that they did on Soriano instead of signing a free agent like lefties Rich Hill, Will Ohman, or J.C. Romero, or right-handers like LaTroy Hawkins, Brandon Lyon, or Juan Carlos Oviedo?

With the lack of solid left-handed free agents, the Nationals have been rumored to be interested in Javier Vazquez, who will be pitching for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic after taking the 2012 season off. By adding Vasquez to the rotation, the Nationals could move Detwiler to the bullpen to become the dominant, left-handed reliever in the group, while still having a great starting five.

Regardless of who the Nationals add or have added this offseason, they may have needed Soriano to solidify a bullpen that has been decimated by free agency, questionable or not.

2012 MLB Awards

The Second Annual Baseball Haven “I’m Always Right Before the Media Figures It Out” Awards are officially ready, just one day after the season.  These guys may not win the awards below, but they certainly SHOULD.

AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers

.330/.393/.606, 109 R, 40 2B, 44 HR, 139 RBI, 4 SB

Cabrera gets the award because he won the first Triple Crown in MLB since Carl Yastrzemski won it in 1967, AND because he carried the Tigers into the postseason in September and early October, blasting 11 home runs, driving in 30 runs and posting a 1.071 OPS in 31 games. He moved to a position, third base, to accommodate the acquisition of Prince Fielder. No one ever said that he would make a difference there defensively, but his .966 fielding percentage was still better than the league average for third baseman, .952. Sure, his WAR was lower than Mike Trout, but Mike Trout is at home and Cabrera proved his worth in 2012.

Honorable Mention: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels; Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers; Robinson Cano, New York Yankees; Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers;

NL MVP: Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants

.336/.408/.549, 78 R, 39 2B, 1 3B, 24 HR, 103 RBI, 1 SB

Posey led MLB in batting average and OPS+, handling catching duties and occasionally playing first base to give his reconfigured knee together after a devastating injury in 2011. Posey’s absence from the Giants 2011 season may have had a lot to do with their inability to make the playoffs after winning the 2010 World Series over the Texas Rangers. Posey’s transformation from a collegiate shortstop to a top-level offensive catcher has gone about as smoothly as anyone could have anticipated. Even while playing in an extreme pitcher’s park, AT&T Park, Posey is one of the most dangerous hitters in the game.

Honorable Mention:Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers; Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates; Allen Craig, St. Louis Cardinals; Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves;

AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, RHP, Detroit Tigers

17-8, 2.64 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 238.1 IP, 239:60 K:BB

Verlander’s statistics in 2012 were not as impressive as his totals in 2011, but that doesn’t make him any less impressive. Verlander was the lone consistent starter for most of the 2012 season for the AL Central champion Tigers, and he scored a relationship with Kate Upton on top of that. The man is just a winner. The filth that he possesses rivals only Larry Flynt.

Honorable Mention:Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels; Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners; Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays; David Price, Tampa Bay Rays;

NL Cy Young: Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

19-9, 2.78 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 217 IP, 170:49 K:BB

He pitches in an awful park for pitchers, he is on one of the best teams in the National League, and he has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last two seasons, so Cueto deserves this award. While he doesn’t pitch in a major market and he did have a few stretches where he seemed to “lose it”, Cueto finally tossed over 200 innings, and, after suffering through a rough spot, he dominated late in the season. If you put the ballpark factor into play here, Cueto would garner many more votes. He should win, but it is unlikely thanks to the New York bias and the cool story that comes along with R.A. Dickey.

Honorable Mention:R.A. Dickey, New York Mets; Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals; Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers; Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds;

AL Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin, Oakland Athletics and Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles

Who says you can’t share an award? These two managers deserve some sort of plaque and a key from their respective city’s mayors for the work that they did this season. With the high spending Angels and Rangers out west for the A’s and the Red Sox and Yankees in the east with the O’s, the teams found creative ways to maintain a solid group of players on their rosters through trading and drafting well over the last several seasons. As both teams head into the ALDS, thanks to Friday’s victory over Texas for Baltimore, this could only be the beginning for one of these teams.

Honorable Mention:Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays; Robin Ventura, Chicago White Sox;

NL Manager of the Year: Bruce Bochy, San Francisco Giants

With his All-Star outfielder banned 50-games for a positive drug test, his one-time ace, Tim Lincecum, posting a 5.18 ERA over 33 starts, and injuries to Pablo Sandoval throughout the season, Bochy managed to lead the Giants over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West. While you can question him for his lack of faith in Brandon Belt during most of the season, he seemed to make the right decision more often than not with his club.

Honorable Mention:Dusty Baker, Cincinnati Reds; Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals; Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates; Davey Johnson, Washington Nationals;

AL Rookie of the Year: Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels

.326/.399/.564, 129 R, 27 2B, 8 3B, 30 HR, 83 RBI, 49 SB

A WAR of 10.7 in his rookie season, which led the league, shows just how special Trout is going to continue to be. Having just turned 21 years old in early August, the future is as bright as a supernova, as Trout’s power, speed, on-base skills, and fielding ability will continue to make him a perennial MVP candidate. You can certainly argue that he should win the award this season over Miguel Cabrera, but due to the Tigers landing in the playoffs and the first Triple Crown in 45 years, it has to go with the Tigers chubby third baseman.

Honorable Mention:Yeonis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics; Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers; Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles;

NL Rookie of the Year: Todd Frazier, INF/OF, Cincinnati Reds

Frazier was a monster while the Cincinnati Reds went two months without their best player, Joey Votto. He finished the 2012 season with an .829 OPS was second to Colorado catcher Wilin Rosario amongst NL rookies…I see you thought I was going to say Bryce Harper there, but he posted an .817 OPS. While Harper energized his club upon his callup and had one of the best quotes of the year (“That’s a clown question, bro), it was Frazier’s bat and versatility that helped the Cincinnati Reds win the NL Central.

Honorable Mention:Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals; Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies; Wade Miley, Arizona Diamondbacks; Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs;

Comeback Player of the Year: Chase Headley, 3B, San Diego Padres

2011: .289/.374/.399, 43 R, 28 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 44 RBI, 13 SB

2012: .286/.376/.498, 95 R, 31 2B, 2 3B, 31 HR, 115 RBI, 17 SB

Petco can put bats to sleep like the vets that work out of the back of actual Petco stores can do to your pet; however, Headley was one of the few bright spots for the rebuilding San Diego Padres, delivering MVP-like numbers for the Friars. At the age of 28 and with two years of arbitration eligibility, you have to wonder if the Padres are going to trade him this offseason for more prospects, especially after his surprising season and how often Headley’s name came up at the trade deadline.

Honorable Mention: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees;

Golly Gio…That’s a Big Trade!

The Washington Nationals acquired LHP Gio Gonzalez from the Oakland A’s on Thursday, sending four prospects to Oakland in return for the 26-year-old starter.  Gonzalez has been a pretty solid starter for the A’s, compiling a 38-32 record and 3.93 ERA in 89 starts since 2008, including a 31-21 record and 3.17 ERA over his last 55 starts (2010-2011).  Gonzalez can still be wild, posting a league-leading 91 walks in 2011, but he makes up for it with solid strikeout rate, including 197 in 202 IP last season.  You may wonder if he’ll be a superstar outside of pitcher-friendly Overstock.com Stadium (where Oakland plays for those of you who don’t follow terrible marketing ploys).  The last two seasons, these are his home/road splits:

Home: 18-8 record, 212 IP, 2.63 ERA, 189/95 K/BB

Road: 13-13 record, 190 2/3 IP, 3.78 ERA, 179/88 K/BB

Gonzalez is moving to what has been a pitcher’s park in Washington and it’s not like a 3.78 ERA isn’t solid, but he had a much better split at home in Oakland.

In return, the A’s received these four Minor Leaguers, with career stats shown:

Brad Peacock

Year League W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO
2007 GCL 1 1 3.89 13 7 39.1 38 17 1 15 34
2007 1 1 3.89 13 7 39.1 38 17 1 15 34
2008 NYP 4 7 3.12 14 14 75 67 26 3 27 54
2008 SAL 0 5 9.09 8 8 33.2 38 34 8 21 23
2008 4 12 4.97 22 22 108.2 105 60 11 48 77
2009 SAL 5 8 4.05 19 17 100 104 45 10 32 77
2009 CAR 3 3 4.34 8 7 47.2 46 23 4 10 27
2009 8 11 4.14 27 24 147.2 150 68 14 42 104
2010 CAR 4 9 4.44 19 18 103.1 109 51 11 25 118
2010 EAS 2 2 4.66 7 7 38.2 33 20 5 22 30
2010 6 11 4.5 26 25 142 142 71 16 47 148
2011 EAS 10 2 2.01 16 14 98.2 62 22 4 23 129
2011 INT 5 1 3.19 9 9 48 36 17 5 24 48
2011 15 3 2.39 25 23 146.2 98 39 9 47 177
2011 2 0 0.75 3 2 12 7 1 0 6 4

Derek Norris

Year League AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OBP SLG OPS
2007 GCL 0.203 123 16 25 6 2 4 15 25 38 2 0.344 0.382 0.726
2007 0.203 123 16 25 6 2 4 15 25 38 2 0.344 0.382 0.726
2008 NYP 0.278 227 42 63 12 0 10 38 63 56 11 0.444 0.463 0.906
2008 0.278 227 42 63 12 0 10 38 63 56 11 0.444 0.463 0.906
2009 SAL 0.286 437 78 125 30 0 23 84 90 116 6 0.413 0.513 0.926
2009 0.286 437 78 125 30 0 23 84 90 116 6 0.413 0.513 0.926
2010 CAR 0.235 298 67 70 19 0 12 49 89 94 6 0.419 0.419 0.838
2010 0.235 298 67 70 19 0 12 49 89 94 6 0.419 0.419 0.838
2011 EAS 0.21 334 75 70 17 1 20 46 77 117 13 0.367 0.446 0.813
2011 0.21 334 75 70 17 1 20 46 77 117 13 0.367 0.446 0.813

Tom Milone

Year League W L ERA G GS IP H ER BB SO
2008 NYP 1 3 4.57 6 3 21.2 27 11 3 22
2008 SAL 0 3 2.89 7 7 37.1 36 12 6 27
2008 1 6 3.51 13 10 59 63 23 9 49
2009 CAR 12 5 2.91 27 25 151.1 144 49 36 106
2009 12 5 2.91 27 25 151.1 144 49 36 106
2010 EAS 12 5 2.85 27 27 158 161 50 23 155
2010 12 5 2.85 27 27 158 161 50 23 155
2011 INT 12 6 3.22 24 24 148.1 137 53 16 155
2011 12 6 3.22 24 24 148.1 137 53 16 155
2011 1 0 3.81 5 5 26 28 11 4 15

A.J. Cole

Year League W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO
2010 NYP 0 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 0 1 1
2010 0 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 0 1 1
2011 SAL 4 7 4.04 20 18 89 87 40 6 24 108
2011 4 7 4.04 20 18 89 87 40 6 24 108

These four are truly a great return on Gonzalez by A’s GM Billy Beane.  Peacock (#2), Cole (#4) and Norris (#10) were all ranked in the top 10 prospects list of the Nationals organization by Baseball America.  Peacock and Milone both saw some starts in D.C. last year and are Major League ready.  Norris is an intriguing prospect at catcher, looking like a Mike Napoli-lite with his big powerful swing and low average (pre-2011 Napoli, of course).  Cole is very young but he has a huge ceiling.  His K-rate last year was very good and he’ll probably be tested by the A’s to see what they have.  At 6’4″, 180, he has a nice frame and his already solid results and ability could continue to improve.  It’s a lot to give up, as these four are truly tremendous prospects, but after the Mat Latos deal, it looks like this will be the cost of cost-controlled, young starting pitchers this offseason.

This deal solidifies the Nationals rotation, creating three aces at the top in Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez.  With John Lannon and Chien-Ming Wang rounding out the rotation and Matt Purke and Alex Meyer on the way still in the prospect wing, the Nationals are suddenly a team to be reckoned with.  It will be interesting to see if this acquisition will lead to a push to sign Prince Fielder, which would put the Nats into a contending role in a suddenly exciting NL East, with the Nats, Phillies, Braves and Marlins developing nice rosters to compete.  They still have the Mets to point and laugh at, though.