That’s right, we are finally there. The warm weather is upon us (well, at least in Florida and Arizona) and Spring Training is in full swing. Teams around the league welcomed the arrivals of their pitchers and catchers on Monday as well as many early arriving position players.
Spring camp brings a rejuvenated energy for all 30 teams, as everyone starts fresh with high expectations. Teams such as the Toronto Blue Jays and the Atlanta Braves get to boast their new acquisitions while teams like the Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants aim to prove they are worthy of last year’s success.
Spring Training always brings the best out of the game as it marks the first time that players ands fans are able to reunite in preparation for the 8 month journey that waits ahead. The fields are full with green grass and fresh smiles. First-time rookies join the clubhouse with the veterans that they grew up watching. Managers and coaches join forces with ex-players and alumni to size up this year’s team. And yeah, maybe there’s a little golf sprinkled on top.
It’s the best time of the year for what it is and what it means. It’s the jolt that wakes us from the winter doldrums and the push that gets us through the last bit of cold that mother nature has to offer. It’s Spring Training and there is nothing is nothing more pure. It’s baseball and it’s back.
Tonight we’re highlighting the few that often go unnoticed. The bridge between the big-name starters and the always coveted “W”. Tonight we break down the top bullpens as they are projected for 2013.
5- Washington Nationals- Much like their lineup, the Nationals bullpen is comprised mostly of guys that have yet to have their big break in the big leagues. One look at this pen and you might feel sorry for Washington’s starters at the thought of all those wins slipping from the grasp. But as they proved in 2012, Washington’s bullpen is more than serviceable. In fact, they are downright dominating. Closer Drew Storen heads up the pen that maintains strong options from both the left side (Zach Duke) and the right (Tyler Clippard, Ryan Mattheus).
4- San Francisco Giants- The Giants bullpen proved their mettle in 2012 during their impressive run, and seeing that the door is still open for the return of their eccentric closer Brian Wilson, San Francisco will continue to dominate at the end of the game. Sergio Romo, regardless of his role, established himself as a guy that can be given the ball in any situation. Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez give the Giants great options from the left side, while Santiago Casilla stands as the most prominent RHP behind Romo and Wilson.
3- Detroit Tigers- Again, pulling from the success they enjoyed in 2012, the Tigers pen is mostly in tact and should continue to nail down games for Justin Verlander and Co. Phil Coke emerged in 2012 as one of the best LHP’s in any pen, while Joaquin Benoit and Al Alburqurque proved that they are worthy of getting those valuable outs in the 6th 7th and 8th. Octavio Dotel provides this pen with the veteran stability that every staff needs, and there is no doubt that Detroit is battle tested, after running the gauntlet in 2012.
2- St. Louis Cardinals- The Cardinals pen is absolutely loaded with power arms that can blow fastballs by any hitter in the league. From Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs to Trevor Rosenthal and Edward Mujica, there isn’t a point in any game where St. Louis doesn’t have a 95+ MPH fastball to turn to. That can’t be a bad feeling as a starter to turn a lead over to these guys.
1. Atlanta Braves. Craig Kimbrel, Johnny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty. Enough said. But it doesn’t stop there. Atlanta added the flame-throwing Jordan Walden this offseason to top off its already impressive bullpen. The Braves have a rare luxury in their pen in 2013 in that they can stagger four of the leagues best relief men based on a left-handed or right-handed situation. Don’t forget about Cory Gearrin for Atlanta, who provides the Braves with a side-arm option in his first full year in the majors. The Braves should be able to enjoy quite a few low stress 9th innings as this bullpen compliments Atlanta’s stellar staff well.
As we move closer to the New Year, we are counting down the best of the season to come in 2013. Tonight, we look at the top offenses in the league as they are projected today.
5. Atlanta Braves- We ranked them fifth Wednesday night in our Top 5 rotation countdown because of their potential to be great, but also because of the question marks that loom. The same can be said of their offense, which has the talent to out-slug anybody on any given night. But with the inconsistencies of Dan Uggla and company and the health issue of Brian McCann, this lineup could easily be a bust. As it stands now, Atlanta looks loaded, likely sandwiching B.J. Upton between two of their three left handed power threats (Heyward, Freeman, McCann), but there are definitely holes to fill. The Braves lack a true lead off hitter, and don’t seem primed to find one before opening day. That likely leaves Martin Prado to fill the role while also platooning between LF and 3B. If Atlanta can solve their lead off question and keep most of its lineup healthy, this team could definitely make some noise in the NL East.
4. Toronto Blue Jays- Again, like their pitching, Toronto’s offense is hard to ignore. It seems like they have made all the right moves to this point to make a move in the AL East and bring the division crown a little farther north. With the powerful Jose Bautista again plugged in the middle of their lineup, all the Jays have to do is get guys on in front of him. They certainly received the right names for that. With Jose Reyes leading off, and Emilio Bonifacio likely filling the nine-hole as a double lead off type, Toronto should have no issue keeping speed on the bases. Throw in the newly acquired Melky Cabrera who, like it or not, can flat out hit, and Edwin Encarnacion and you’ve got a true middle of the order taking shape. Colby Rasmus and Brett Lowrie should both expect to put up similar numbers from last season, providing Toronto with solid bottom-of-the-lineup options.
3- Washington Nationals- It seems as if the Nationals offense is the exact opposite of their starting rotation in that, other than Bryce Harper, everyone in their lineup flies under the radar and without much recognition. With names like Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Michael Morse filling the order, it’s easy to sleep on this offense as a bunch of one-hit wonders. Don’t make that mistake. All three guys are primed to improve on their impressive 2012 campaigns and aid in the attack alongside the likes of Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Jason Werth. Also, don’t forget the newly acquired Denard Span. This lineup is rock solid and could easily provide Washington’s stellar staff with comfortable leads night in and night out.
2. Detroit Tigers- The addition of Torii Hunter to this lineup seems to be the perfect move. Hunter, who at age 37 is getting up in years, seems to have a few more productive seasons left in him. Plugging him in either the 2 or 5 hole around Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera will give this order an added dimension of speed and power that it lacked in 2012. Austin Jackson is as a sold a lead off man as you will find, and Victor Martinez and Andy Dirks both provide the Tigers with steady power deep into the lineup. Bottom line is that there really isn’t a spot in this order when a pitcher can feel comfortable. Alex Avila and Omar Infante will both provide timely hitting and help turn the lineup over without any hiccups. Look for Detroit’s offense to carry this team deep into the postseason once again.
1- Los Angeles Angels- Only time will tell how this star-filled order will play out, but for now, there’s no ignoring a lineup that holds arguably three of game’s best hitters. Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton could easily form our generations Murderer’s Row if they are slotted together in the order. But the beauty about this lineup is that that doesn’t have to be the case. Trout is versatile enough to hit for power in the 3 hole or hit for contact as the lead off. It’s just a matter of where you want to use him. And beyond the three-headed monster are the likes of Howie Kendrick and Mark Trumbo, paired nicely around Eric Aybar or Alberto Callaspo. There is no going wrong with this lineup, and their is no mistaking that L.A. has the ability to hang a crooked number on you in any given inning.
In honor of the New Year, we’re counting down some of the top things to look for in the 2013 season. Our first countdown looks at our projections for the top starting rotations in 2013.
5. Atlanta Braves- While the Braves might not start 2013 as one of the top staffs in the league, you can bet that they will finish that way. Atlanta returns most of its rotation (after trading Tommy Hanson and non-tendering Jair Jurrjens) from a 2012 season that saw them win 94 games with a 3.42 era. The Braves will surely build on last year’s success with the addition of Kris Medlen to the rotation for a full season. Alongside Medlen will be veteran Tim Hudson, who will again look to be the bulldog of the staff. The third spot in Atlanta’s rotation will be a real turning point in the success of their 2013 campaign. With Brandon Beachy set to return from Tommy John surgery sometime in mid June, the Braves hope to enjoy the type of league-leading statistics (2.00 ERA through 12 starts) that Beachy boasted early in 2012. Paul Maholm and Mike Minor give the Braves two strong options from the left side and round out a staff that can expect 7 innings from their starter every night. Throw in two of baseball’s most promising pitching prospects in Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran for added depth and you’re looking at a rotation that could strongly resemble the strong Braves staffs of the 90’s.
4. Detroit Tigers- It’s no secret that Justin Verlander is the most dominating pitcher in the league. Every time he touches the mound, Verlander expects to go the distance. That’s a mentality that every pitching coach dreams of. Beyond Verlander though, the Tigers sport four of the most underrated arms in the league. Look for Anibal Sanchez to live up to the gaudy $80 million deal that he recently signed with Detroit, and put his mark on this rotation in his first full year with the team. Max Scherzer and Doug Fister both provide Detroit with live arms with the ability to rack up big time strikeout numbers in 2012. Rick Porcello rounds out the rotation with more potential than achievement. Still, Porcello should benefit from a sustained role in the rotation and has the ability to be a frontline starter after 2013. A year after suffering a devastating trip to the World Series, expect these young arms to bounce back with something to prove.
3. Toronto Blue Jays- The Blue Jays might be the only team on this list that could easily underwhelm our prediction. But for now, this rotation is just too strong to ignore. Anchored by 2012’s National League Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey, Toronto will look to ride its pitching out of the cellar in the AL East. Look for Dickey to thrive even more in 2013, enjoying a bulk of his starts in the controlled climate of the Rogers Centre. With fireballer Josh Johnson and veteran Mark Buehrle behind Dickey, Toronto could hold the most impressive 3-man rotation in all of baseball. If Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero can live up to the promising flashes shown in 2012, both could be strong arms in the 4 and 5 slot of this rotation. Don’t hold your breath on the Jay in 2013 after seeing the Marlin collapse of last season, but as it stands now, this rotation looks to be very promising.
2. New York Yankees- Everybody knows that the Yankees are old. The Yankees know that the Yankees are old. But in this case of starting pitching, age will prove to be key. Anchored by veterans C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, New York’s rotation will hinge on their ability to succeed on the field and lead off of it. With arms like Ivan Nova and a healthy Michael Pineda filling the middle of their staff, New York will only be as good as its young stars. Expect one or both of these guys to break out in 2013, but don’t forget about Hiroki Kuroda, who won 16 games last season. If Pettitte can stay healthy and either Pineda or Nova can have the break out season that they are both capable of, it could be a memorable season for the Yankees and a great farewell for closer Mariano Rivera.
1. Washington Nationals- If Justin Verlander is the most dominant pitcher in the big leagues, then consider Stephen Strasburg 1a. Pair him with Gio Gonzalez and the newly acquired Dan Haren and you’ve got a club that could reel off win streaks of 5 or more with regularity. Jordan Zimmermann will likely fill the 4 spot in the rotation and looks to improve on his 12 wins from 2012. With almost 200 innings thrown last season, though, Zimmermann has shown that he has what it takes to be a horse. Ross Detwiler should round out the rotation and continue to grow into one of the league’s most consistent second-line starters. If Detwiler doesn’t pan out, though, Washington has the always steady Zach Duke waiting in line and the electric Matt Purke ready to make a name for himself. Look for Washington’s pitching to carry them well into the postseason and beyond.
Almost a month after the announcement of the highly controversial 2013 Hall of Fame ballot, the debate for what is right lingers. Baseball writers and fans alike are stuck reliving some of baseball’s darkest years and the left to decide whether or not to honor many of the key faces of the steroid era. For most, it’s a question of fairness to the game and what the HoF represents. For others, though, the 2013 ballot is about approaching the steroid era head on, acknowledging it as a part of baseball’s history, and recognizing the players that excelled during such an unfortunate time. WIthout a vote or a say in the ballot’s outcome, it’s easy for me to approach the issue lightly, knowing that my opinion holds very little consequence. WIth that being said, here is my take on the Great Debate of 2013.
The issue at hand applies to a select few of the 37 players on the 2013 ballot. For some there is a shade of gray surrounding their name, but for four, it is ironclad and set in stone. While I’m not here to throw accusations out about who cheated and who didn’t, it is important to take into account the many allegations and accusations that surround this handful of players. In the group that will forever be marked as users of performance enhancers are Mark McGwire (7th Year on ballot), Barry Bonds (1st Year), Roger Clemens (1st year), and Sammy Sosa (1st year).
It seems unfair to look at each individual case and determine whether one guy cheated “more” than the other, or whether one benefitted more from the use of steroids. Many analysts want to look at each players raw ability before their alleged use, to determine how much they themselves could have done naturally. For me, though, it’s a uniform issue and should be dealt with equally.
To ignore career home run totals like 585 (McGwire), 609 (Sosa), or 762 (Bonds) seems not only unfair to the guys that hit them, but unfair to the game itself. To pass over a combined 1,956 home runs, and ignore the game’s all time home run leader, just doesn’t seem right. Sure they had help. And yes they had a leg up on the players that they competed with. But those home runs still happened. They still won games and they still filled the stadiums with fans every night. Baseball failed to stop the issue before it started, and for that, I think those numbers should stand. It’s too late to go back and cover up. It’s too late to ignore or forget. In 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa fought night in and night out to one up each other in the home run tally, Major League Baseball wasn’t shielding the fans from a race of cheats. They were welcoming the ungodly power that both men possessed. They welcomed the 40,000 fans that packed Busch Stadium and Wrigley Field. They relished in the millions that followed nightly on national T.V. Like it or not, that race changed baseball for the better, and there’s no going back on that now.
Baseball, just like every other sport, thrives on the entertainment value that it provides fans. Everybody in New York wanted to see Roger Clemens take the mound because on any given night, he had a chance at 15+ strikeouts. Every fan in American was glued to their T.V. in 2006 as Barry Bonds approached and then passed Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron‘s career home run totals. These guys put baseball back on the map, and because Major League Baseball allowed it to happen for so many years, they deserve to be rewarded.
I’m not saying it’s right or fair to the guys that played the game clean. But it happened, and there’s no way to change it. McGwire, Sosa, Clemens, and Bonds will forever be known as steroid users, elected to the Hall or not. Their names will forever to attached to not only the records that that they broke, but also to the way that they got there. The Hall of Fame is a place where baseball greats are honored eternally. These four guys are nothing short of legends on the field, and should be enshrined for what they did, not banished because of how they got there.
With one day complete in the annual Baseball Winter Meetings, one thing has become clear amongst all of the frenzy: The Dodgers want to win regardless of what it costs them (or the league).
Los Angeles has had its named mentioned in just about every trade and free agent rumor that has surfaced this offseason. Its not a surprise that they are feeling good about themselves and their bank account, Magic Johnson recently bought the team for a stout $2 billion, marking the highest price ever paid for a sports franchise. Add to that the payday that awaits the Dodgers when their new television contract kicks in. The estimated $6 billion deal with Fox Sports, which would be nearly 20 times larger than their current contract, would certainly make life easier for all those sporting Dodger blue. Sprinkle in just a few 90-win seasons and you’re looking at a winner.
But what can an organization do with all of that money to put a better product on the field? The Yankees have created a nice model.
The first step is to target the big time free agents. In this year’s case, its Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke (possibly Michael Bourn, but don’t hold your breath). In doing so, the Dodgers get the word out—they mean business.
Much like the Yankees of recent, the rest of the formula for success will be simple for L.A.: Scratch the entire farm system and focus all efforts on the free agent market. Every offseason, a new crop of players in the “prime” of their game will enter the free agent market, seeking the next big contract to show off their worth. The Dodgers don’t have to sign all of these players—good luck if they did. What they have to do is merely show interest. Show they have the wallet to handle a big contract and then let the process play out as it may. Pursuing the big catch of each offseason does wonders for a fan base, but more than that, it provides players with a starting point for their hunt. When Bryce Harper reaches his first trip on the market, he’s not going to look to Washington to pony up the big bucks. He’s gonna look out west. And with that he will find his payday. It’s a simple concept, really. The best players want to be paid. The richest teams want to win. Harry meet Sally.
Their problems aren’t completely solved, though, when they sign the dotted line. The Dodgers will need some role players. Some guys that have been around the league and know how to keep the clubhouse clean. Sure, these guys might be pushing 40, and only give you 80 games a season. Who cares? Give ‘em a two-year deal in the neighborhood of $20 million, and make ‘em feel good. After all, they are the backbone of the team, right?
For the first few months L.A. can let their team play. Just enjoy the the show. But if a slump does incur, they must make it known that they have to protect the best interest of the team. Ship in a new crop via trade in April. And if they must, do the same in July. Repeat as necessary, just make to make sure their guys are fresh.
When October arrives, Hollywood will be all smiles—real one’s this time. Dodgers execs will say all the right things and the media will praise the team that “had the guts to put it all on the table.” But when all is said and done, and the World Series trophy is returned to Chavez Ravine, can L.A. look at itself and say “We earned this”?
The real question is, does it matter?
After one of the busier weeks in the MLB offseason, it’s time to take a look back and recap this week’s awards and accolades.
Monday night kicked off the week’s ceremonies as the AL and NL rookies of the year were announced. To no one’s surprise, baseball’s two best young stars ran away with the awards. Mike Trout of the Angels became the AL’s rookie of the year after hitting .326 on the year and leading the league in both steals (49) and runs scored (129). Bryce Harper capped of the night by taking home with NL’s award with a .270 batting average and 22 home runs. Harper became a cornerstone in Washington’s lineup and ultimately led the Nats to its first playoff since moving to the nation’s capital. Check out this post to see what this year’s rookie of the year awards could mean for Major League Baseball’s future.
The managers took the stage Tuesday night as each league honored its respective Manager of the Year. After completely rejuvenating baseball in the Bay Area for anyone not wearing black and orange, Bob Melvin was honored as the AL’s Manager of the Year. In just his first full year as A’s skipper, Melvin led Oakland to a 94-win season that captivated baseball fans around the nation. Melvin won the award by a slim margin over the Orioles’ Buck Showalter. In the NL, Davey Johnson was tabbed as the leagues’ best manager. Johnson led a talented Washington team to its first playoff appearance since moving to D.C. despite the controversial move to shutdown ace Steven Strasburg.
Wednesday night was reserved for the game’s best arms, and ultimately became the biggest surprise of any other awards. Rays RHP David Price out dueled Justin Verlander to become the AL’s Cy Young Award winner. Price racked up 20 wins and 205 strikeouts in just 211 innings. It was Price’s first Cy Young award after finishing second in 2010. In the NL, R.A. Dickey took home the award in a victory for not only him and the Mets organization, but for all knuckleballers around the world. Dickey became the first knuckleballer to ever win the award. Dickey finished 2012 with 20 wins and a 2.73 ERA.
The grand finale was held Thursday night, as both leagues announced their MVP. In what was supposed to be a close race between two of the game’s biggest stars, Miguel Cabrera ran away with the AL’s MVP award. After capturing the first Triple Crown since 1967, Cabrera added to his hardware and capped of a year that saw him hit .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBIs. Buster Posey took home the award for the NL, adding to his second career World Series ring. Posey hit .338 in 2012 and blasted 24 home runs for the world champion Giants.
When Mike Trout and Bryce Harper were honored with their respective Rookie of the Year awards on Monday night, they were given a lot more than just a trophy. In Trout and Harper, already two of the league’s best players at the ages of 20 and 21, rests the future of the league, and the long-term bridge from the Steroid Era to much brighter days.
Harper and Trout have been compared by many analysts this year as the Michael Jordan and Larry Bird of the MLB, and even that comparison could be an understatement. What is special about these two is not necessarily what they do on the field, but how they do it. Trout and Harper bring a youthful energy to every game they play. It’s the energy and the hustle that both players display on a nightly basis that separate them from the rest, in a league that has increasingly acknowledged the long season as an excuse to “leave some in the tank for the rest of the year.” Fans have grown accustomed to seeing players jog down the line on sure double play or ground out, or even stroll into first base on a ball down the line instead of pushing for the hustle double. The league has slipped into an ugly habit of sliding around bases to avoid a collision, or pulling up short to protect from an injury. It’s all about players that do enough to be successful without doing too much to put themselves at risk. Trout and Harper shatter that mold.
I featured Harper in a post early in the season, highlighting his old-school hustle and enthusiasm. But, Trout, just a year older than Harper, may be even more electric and energizing. Trout led all MLB players in 2012 in both stolen bases (49) and runs scored (129), arguably too of the most hustle-based statistics in baseball. On top of that, Trout hit .326, second in the AL behind Triple Crown Winner Miguel Cabrera.
Harper’s year was a bit more realistic for a rookie, hitting .270 with 22 home runs and 59 RBI’s, but Harper shines as much at the intangibles as he does statistically. In just his first major league season, Harper led the Nationals to its first NL East title since moving to Washington. Anchoring a strong outfield and filling the middle of their lineup for most of the year, Harper undoubtedly gave the Nationals the last piece of the puzzle it needed to make a postseason appearance.
While it would be unfair to expect that same gaudy numbers from Trout year in and year out as he plays out his career, it is fair to assume that with he and Harper heading up the face of the MLB’s youth movement, baseball can expect to thrive for years to come. With national interest and fan attendance being analyzed and scrutinized constantly, it is time that the MLB got a breath of fresh air. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper will be the stars of the game for the rest of their careers, but when all is said and done, we the fans could be thanking them for much more than just their statistical accomplishments.
The 2012 Silver Slugger award winners were announced Thursday night during a one-hour special aired on MLB Network. Among this winners were the expected few, including Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, Josh Hamilton, Derek Jeter, and Ryan Braun. Also crowned in this year’s winners were first-time winners Buster Posey and Mike Trout.
See the full list of 2012 Silver Slugger Award winners below:
P. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals DH. Billy Butler, Royals
C. Buster Posey, Giants C. A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox
1B. Adam LaRoche, Nationals 1B. Prince Fielder, Tigers
2B. Aaron Hill, DBacks 2B. Robinson Cano, Yankees
3B. Chase Headly, Padres 3B. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
SS. Ian Desmond, Nationals SS. Derek Jeter, Yankees
LF. Ryan Braun, Brewers LF. Josh Willingham, Twins
CF. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates CF. Mike Trout, Angels
RF. Jay Bruce, Reds RF. Josh Hamilton
There is no arguing that Aroldis Chapman may hold the game’s best “stuff.” His fastball is electric, floating above 98 in most appearances and regularly ranging above 100 MPH. His breaking ball is among the best in the league, often sweeping across the plate at similar velocities to that of average MLB fastballs. What the Red’s must decide this winter is whether or not they are willing to turn the ball over to Chapman every fifth day, confident that he can give them 7 plus innings every start.
Chapman solidified Cincinnati’s pen in 2012, giving them a great chance at a long playoff run, and accumulating a lot of attention for the CY Young Award, which is virtually unheard of for relievers. The Reds could play the safe card and rely on Chapman to give them 70-80 innings as a closer every year, likely blowing away 3 hitters in route to a 9th inning save. But they could also be holding a key that could unlock their recent woes, and push them over the edge as a World Series contender for years to come.
An average starter is generally expected to accumulate around 175 innings in a given year, assuming no injury is suffered, and the rotation sticks to the five-man mold for most of the year. This means that Chapman’s workload could see an increase of as much as 100 innings in 2013, exposing him to a greater possibility of injury and fatigue.
Were Chapman to earn and embrace the role, though, Major League Baseball could be looking at the new face of its front line starters, at a talent with the potential to be a dominant and game changing as Justin Verlander.
If Chapman could learn to harness his energy and exertion, spacing it out over the course of a game, leaving enough in the tank to rear back for an upper 90′s fastball in the ninth, Verlander could become second-rate. An afterthought even.
Yes, I realize that a lot of what Justin Verlander does when he takes the mound is god-given talent and ability, but also realize that much of it is credited to Verlander’s unique offseason regimen, which allows his body to reach its peak level of exertion and effort in the late innings of a game. Chapman could adopt the same makeup. Vowing the be a guy that eats up 8 innings every time he takes the ball, and not only eat them up, but dominates them. Chapman shares a similar frame with Verlander, and there’s no denying that Chapman’s ability is every bit as high as Verlander’s. It’s just a matter of taking the leap on the Red’s part, and buying into the role as a horse on the part of Chapman. After those two things line up, it will be our job to sit back and enjoy one of the best starting pitchers that this game has ever seen.