Tagged: BJ Upton

That Doesn’t Look Right

Spring Training and the first few weeks of the regular season are always a time of double takes for baseball fans. Every off season players change teams, by trade or free agency, and it takes some getting use to. This season is no different.

There are three types of reactions to players in a new uniform in the early weeks and months of baseball. First is the big free agent signings. Second are the forgotten players that moved teams. Third are the players who will forever be linked to their old team.

There are the big names that changed teams, and while you know it happened it is still strange when you see it in real life. We all know Giancarlo Stanton was traded to the Yankees, yet it will take some time getting use to seeing him in pinstripes instead of the bright orange of Miami. The buzz around the damage he and Aaron Judge can do together is about all Yankee fans have talked about since the trade happened. Likewise, the signing of Yu Darvish was a major victory for the Cubs. His arrival in Chicago will help the Cubs remain the team to beat in the National League Central and in contention for the World Series for years to come. However, seeing Darvish in a Cubs uniform is weird.

Stanton
Giancarlo Stanton in Yankee pinstripes still looks odd. (Newsday/ Thomas A. Ferrara)

The forgotten free agents and traded players are often the difference makers for their new team. The Marlins trading Stanton meant many people stopped watching Miami and all but forgot Christian Yelich begged to leave South Florida and was traded to the Brewers. So much drama in Miami means the Marlins trading Dee Gordon to the Mariners early in the off season was forgotten by most. The Brewers have relatively quietly built one of the great outfields in baseball when they signed free agent Lorenzo Cain. The breakup of the Royals seemed to grab the headlines instead of where the majority of those players went. The Phillies signing Carlos Santana away from the Indians could be the jump start that franchise needs to return to relevancy, much in the way the Nationals began their rise after signing Jayson Werth. In Queens, the Mets signing Todd Frazier away from the Yankees gives the Mets flexibility at first and third, by protecting the team if David Wright and Adrian Gonzalez are unable to return to form. The Twins, like the Brewers, have quietly amassed talent and look to be ready to be serious threats in 2018. Minnesota signed Michael Pineda, who when healthy will be a major asset to the Twins pitching staff.

The final group of players forever linked to their old team. Andrew McCutchen will forever wear the black and gold of the Pirates. His arrival in San Francisco was the logical choice for a rebuilding Pittsburgh team and for the Giants who want to win now. McCutchen is 31 years old and should have several good years left. Evan Longoria is the first Rays player to have a lasting impact in franchise history. Yes David Price, Melvin (B.J.) Upton, and Carl Crawford were tremendous players for Tampa, but there should be no argument that Longoria is the player the Rays build their team around for years. Trading him to the Giants does not change the fact that he will forever be thought of as a Tampa Bay Rays.

Giants
Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria in a Giants uniform is, in a word, weird. (Ben Margot, Associated Press)

Eric Hosmer and Adrian Gonzalez leaving the Royals and Dodgers respectively will forever be linked to those franchises because they led the charge in their revivals. Hosmer signing with the Padres mean Kansas City lost their leader, among others, and it is time to rebuild. When the Dodgers traded Adrian Gonzalez to Atlanta, only for the Braves to release him two days later, marked the end of a chapter in Dodgers history. Los Angeles traded for Gonzalez from Boston when they were rebuilding after the disaster that was the Frank McCourt ownership. Gonzalez helped bring the fans back and show the team was serious about winning. Gonzalez gave Los Angeles most of his best baseball, his arrival in Queens should help the Mets, however he will be remembered for his time in Dodger blue.

Certain players should only wear certain uniforms. The early stages of each baseball season are when we all adjust to seeing players in new uniforms. Like seeing Babe Ruth in a Boston Braves uniform or Willie Mays in a Mets uniform, players are remembered with certain uniforms on. Every off season players change cities and uniforms. It always takes some getting use to, but eventually we adjust and return our focus to the game instead of the player in an odd uniform.

DJ

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The Next Generation

Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, and the other men and women who worked tirelessly to not only create a space for African-Americans to play baseball, but also to successfully integrate Major League Baseball, are critical to the sports success.  African-American players have never made up a majority of the players in Major League Baseball; topping out at 19% according to SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) member and researcher Mark Armour.  However, only 8.5% of the players on Major League rosters were African-American on Opening Day in 2013.  The dwindling numbers were a call to action for baseball to stop the loss of interest in the game by the African-American community.

Major League Baseball has taken action.  The creation of Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and MLB Urban Youth Academy have been instrumental in bringing baseball to kids who might otherwise be prevented from playing due to a host of obstacles.  John Young, a former Major League Baseball player and scout, started RBI in 1989 in Los Angeles.  RBI aims to give disadvantaged youth an opportunity to learn and enjoy the game of baseball.  Initially RBI was directed at 13 to 16 year olds, with the aim of both expanding the baseball talent pool in urban areas and creating a positive place for kids to learn and grow both mentally and physically away from the streets.  Today, RBI has expanded to include all kids from age 5 to 19 and the organization operates in more than 200 cities, reaching more than 200,000 urban boys and girls.

Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities is developing the next generation as both players and people. (www.sportsbusinessdaily.com)

Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities is developing the next generation as both players and people. (Peter Newcomb/ MLB Photos)

The MLB Urban Youth Academy (UYA) began in 2006 in Compton, California.  UYA seeks to instruct and groom baseball and softball players through open workouts.  Participants are taught fundamentals, theories in baseball, and their education in the classroom that extend beyond baseball.  UYA seeks to prepare urban students for playing beyond high school, either in college or professionally.  Like RBI, UYA focuses on opening up the game of baseball to urban youth, and those who might otherwise not have the opportunity to play the game.

The efforts of Major League Baseball to increase the participation of African-Americans in baseball are paying dividends.  In the 26 years since its founding, RBI has sent several players to the Majors.  RBI alumni include CC Sabathia, Jimmy Rollins, Coco Crisp, James Loney, Carl Crawford, BJ (Melvin Jr.) Upton, Justin Upton, Julio Borbon, Efren Navarro, Rickey Romero, Yovani Gallardo, Chris Young, and James McDonald.  While this list of RBI alumni who have played in the Majors is not pages long, it does speak to the success of the program.  These 13 Major League players are only a part of the success.  It is not out of the question that for each player who makes the Majors there is another who played in the Minors, bringing the total to 26.  Easily more than 100 alumni could be current or former collegiate baseball or softball players, and countless more could have stayed in school throughout high school so they could play baseball or softball.  RBI and UYA have positively influenced countless young men and women.  The proof of RBI and UYA’s success has gone beyond the baseball or softball diamond, and into the lives of the alumni.  The alumni have gained self-confidence, physical fitness, life skills, and an education that can propel them to greater heights.

MLB Urban Youth Academy has developed talented both on and off the field. (www.minors.mlblogs.com)

MLB Urban Youth Academy has developed talented both on and off the field. (www.minors.mlblogs.com)

Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates is one among many African-American players that RBI and UYA participants can see themselves in and aspire to emulate.  RBI and UYA are addressing the problems that traditionally create obstacles to African-Americans.  McCutchen wrote in The Players Tribune about the biggest hurdle he faced, money.  Youth baseball has become expensive, as travel teams have become how players garner attention.  The expenses to be a member of the team, the travel costs, and so on prevent players who come from families who are not financially well off.  In McCutchen’s case, he was able to gain the assistance of people who put him in the right place at the right time.  However, not everyone will be as lucky as McCutchen.  How many great players is baseball losing due to the financial barrier that disadvantaged youth cannot overcome?

Major League Baseball is addressing the decline in African-American participation in baseball.  While it will take time to reverse, RBI and UYA are producing results on and off the field.  Efforts must continue to open up the game of baseball to disadvantaged youth and to provide role models in and around the game to these kids.  The next generation of African-American baseball fans and players is dependent upon everyone involved with baseball continuing the legacy of Jackie Robinson in which everyone has the opportunity to play baseball regardless of their ethnic, economic, or social background.

D

The Four Corners of Frank Wren’s Braves

The Playoffs began yesterday for ten teams, but for the other 20 teams today is the first day of the off-season.  It is time for some teams to make changes, while others stay the course.  The Astros, Rangers, Twins, and Diamondbacks have said good-bye to their managers.  The Diamondbacks and Braves have fired their General Managers.  Firing season has begun.  One firing in particular stands out; the firing of Braves General Manager Frank Wren.

Wren’s dismissal did not come as a surprise to anyone considering his track record.  Wren took over as GM with John Schuerholz promoted to Team President in October 2007.  Following in the steps of a legendary figure is never easy, but this was Wren’s task.  During Wren’s tenure as GM for the Braves the team compiled a 604-523 record, a .535 winning percentage.  The Braves won the National League East in 2013 and were Wild Card teams twice, in 2010 and 2012.  The team never advanced beyond the Divisional Series in the play offs.  The lack of post season success however was not Wren’s undoing.  Rather his track record with signing or trading for free agents.  The four major moves during Wren’s reign were, all individually to say the least, disappointing.  Collectively they were disastrous, and eventually cost him his job.

Frank Wren never made it to the promised land. (http://losthatsportsblog.com/)

Frank Wren never made it to the promised land. (http://losthatsportsblog.com/)

On the mound, Wren signed Japanese pitcher Kenshin Kawakami to a three year, $23 million contract before the 2009 season.  During Kawakami’s two seasons in Atlanta he posted the following line:

W-L INNINGS H R ER HR BB SO WHIP ERA
8-22 243.2 251 130 117 25 89 164 1.395 4.32

Kawakami spent his final season of his contract in the minors pitching in Rookie ball, for the Gulf Coast League Braves, and in AA, for the Mississippi Braves.  Kawakami never lived up the expectations Wren set after signing him from the Chunichi Dragons of the Nippon Professional Baseball league.  After his contract ended, Kawakami returned to Japan and to the Chunichi Dragons.

Kenshin Kawakawi never found success in Atlanta. (nj.com)

Kenshin Kawakawi never found success in Atlanta. (nj.com)

Wren also signed Derek Lowe to a four year, $60 million contract prior to the 2009 season.  Lowe lasted three seasons in Atlanta and posted this uninspiring line:

W-L INNINGS H R ER HR BB SO WHIP ERA
40-39 575.1 648 307 292 48 194 384 1.463 4.57

After the third year of the contract, Lowe was traded to the Cleveland Indians with cash for minor leaguer Chris Jones, who is currently pitching at AAA Norfolk Tides in the Baltimore Orioles system.  While a serviceable starter in Atlanta, Lowe was unable to sustain the success he had had with the Red Sox and the Dodgers.  Lowe had become an overpriced luxury the Braves could not afford.  The Braves were willing to pay for Lowe to leave and took Jones to get something as a return on their investment in Lowe.

Derek Lowe was not worth the money. (nj.com)

Derek Lowe was not worth the money. (nj.com)

Starting in the 2010 offseason Wren attempted to bolster the Braves offense through trade and signings.  Wren pulled off a trade with the Florida Marlins which sent Mike Dunn and Omar Infante to Florida in exchange for Second Baseman Dan Uggla.  Uggla and the Braves then agreed to a five year, $62 million contract.  The trade and contract were a disaster.  Uggla spent three and a half seasons with the Braves, seeing his production and playing time dwindled to almost nothing before he was released.  He was able to post a line of:

G R H 2B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
499 247 356 64 79 225 7 243 535 .209 .317 .391 .708

One of the few bright spots during his tenure with the Braves was his 33 game hitting streak in 2011.  Despite the hitting streak Uggla hit .233, which would be his highest batting average as a Brave.  His play at second was not much better; he posted a Defensive WAR of -2.1 with the Braves.  In 2014, the Braves released Uggla and were willing to pay the remainder of the contract, which was at least $ 15 million.  Uggla was reducing the Braves to a 24 man roster, and had to be moved if the Braves were to compete on any level, which ended one of the worst experiences in Braves history.

OH NO UGGLA!!! (http://rotoprofessor.com/)

OH NO UGGLA!!! (http://rotoprofessor.com/)

In November 2012, B.J. Upton landed in Atlanta as a free agent after eight seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays.  Upton signed a five year, $75.25 million contract.  The Braves made a major splash with the signing, but they had almost immediate buyer’s remorse.  Upton is closing out the second year of his contract and has amassed this line:

G R H 2B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
267 97 180 33 21 61 32 101 324 .198 .279 .314 .593

Upton has been better on defense than Uggla, but it has not been enough to counteract his offensive struggles.  Upton has a Definsive WAR of -0.4 with the Braves.  As improbable as it might seem, Braves fans are already beginning to wish Dan Uggla would come back in place of Upton.  The rumor mill has already begun about how Atlanta can get out of the contract without having to pay out all the remaining money of the contract.  It does not look promising for Upton to finish the contract as a member of the Braves.

BJ Upton just can't get it together in Atlanta. (bit.ly)

BJ Upton just can’t get it together in Atlanta. (bit.ly)

Frank Wren gave seven years and $83 million to Kawakami and Lowe.  In return, during five seasons the Braves received:

W-L INNINGS H R ER HR BB SO WHIP ERA
48-21 819 899 437 409 73 283 548 1.443 4.49

Neither pitcher lasted the full length of their contract with the Atlanta Braves.  Wren also gave ten years and $134.25 million to Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton.  In return, the Braves received:

G R H 2B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
766 344 536 97 100 286 39 344 859 .205 .303 .364 .667

In five and a half combined seasons, Uggla and Upton have not produced a single season worthy of an average Major League player.  Kawakami and Lowe were serviceable on the mound but not respectable based upon their salary and expectations.  Kawakami finished his Braves career in the minors, Lowe was traded away with cash for a minor leaguer who at the time was in High A ball, and Dan Uggla was released because the Braves could not find another team to take him nor were they willing to take away playing time from their minor leaguers. Three of the four major acquisitions made by Frank Wren did not finish their contracts as a member of the Atlanta Braves.  The fourth, B.J Upton, seems destined to be the worst signing of the bunch, and at the present it does not seem too difficult to imagine a situation where the Braves get rid of him either through trade, demotion, or release.

Ultimately Frank Wren sealed his own fate through his inability to successfully acquire players who could remotely live up to their large contracts.  While not entirely his fault, Wren was highly involved in altering how the Braves play on the field.  He sought out the pricey talent from other teams.  The Braves have been highly successful in developing talent through the draft or through trades for minor leaguers or young players.  The Braves continue to have excellent pitching; it is the offense which is lacking.  While Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz were all Hall of Fame caliper players, the offense was balanced.  Atlanta had the power from Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, Ryan Klesko, and Brian McCann.  The team also had the players who could get on base ahead of these power hitters, like Otis Nixon, Jeff Blauser, Mark Lemke, and Marquis Grissom.  The Braves forgot how to play same ball.

Braves fans were left scratching their heads after many of Frank Wren's moves.(www.mbird.com)

Braves fans were left scratching their heads after many of Frank Wren’s moves.(www.mbird.com)

Times change, but in baseball generally the winning formula stays the same.  Good pitching, which the Braves generally had during Wren’s tenure despite the signing of Kawakami and Lowe, and a balanced offense, which seemed to be forgotten.  Atlanta has plenty of offense to be competitive; however with a lineup full of high strikeout batters who are swinging for the fences, the difference between success and failure becomes razor thin.  Success in baseball is about scoring runs and preventing runs.  Atlanta forgot what brought them success and appeared to value highlight reel worthy home runs more than fielding a balanced team which could compete on a yearly basis.

The Braves lost their way and fell in love with both the long ball and with making a splash with high profile free agent signings or big trades.  The long term ramifications for these ill-advised signings by Frank Wren are still being felt.  B.J. Upton needs to return to hitting .240 before fans can at least say the Uggla trade was worse than the Upton signing.  The situation in Atlanta with Derek Lowe was not good.  A mediocre to serviceable pitcher at best, being paid based upon past performance and hopes.  The situation with Kawakami was sad.  He seemingly never got the run support from the Braves offense, before he began to struggle, and eventually disappeared into the minors for his final season of baseball in America.  The situation with Dan Uggla was ugly.  A guy who worked hard but most likely should have never made it beyond AA except for the Marlins thrusting him to the Majors and then the Braves believing his power was worth the lack of hitting ability.  Uggla eventually got into a standoff with Manager Fredi Gonzalez and the Front Office as he saw his playing time dwindle to nothing.  The Uggla situation became so bad the Braves, who do not have a big market payroll, were willing to pay Uggla at least $15 million to leave.

The beginning of Frank Wren's last mistake. (http://www.gazettenet.com/)

The beginning of Frank Wren’s last mistake. (http://www.gazettenet.com/)

The situation with B.J. Upton looks like it could be worse than it ever was with Uggla.  Less than two years into his contract the Braves sought to trade him to the Chicago Cubs for Edwin Jackson at this year’s trading deadline.  Jackson has a worse career ERA and WHIP than Kawakami and Lowe during their time with Atlanta, and is still owed $24 million through the 2016 season.  The trade however was rejected by the Cubs.  Try as they might Atlanta will have a tough time moving Upton through a combination of poor play and over $45 million due to him during the final three seasons of this contract.  Do not be surprised if the Braves have to eat more money, this time from B.J. Upton to get out from under the last of Frank Wren’s disastrous major moves.

Frank Wren understands baseball.  You do not become the General Manager of two teams by accident.  Nor do you last seven years in a place which is used to winning and expect to win.  What went wrong for Wren is not the day to day operations of the Braves, rather it was his attempt to go out and sign priced talented players.  The signing of Kawakami, Lowe, Uggla (after trading for him), and Upton have not helped the Braves to continue winning.  It is fair to argue these signings actually hurt the team both based on their on-field performance and the money they tied up, which could not be used to go out and sign other players.  These four moves eventually caught up with Frank Wren and cost him his job.  The Braves should return to the formula which led them to over a decade of success, while integrating advances in scouting and sabermetrics to get the best out of their players and to fully understand the capabilities of the players they are looking to add to their roster.

The Braves in some ways lost their way when they fell in love with the home run and over looked the high number of strikeouts they deemed acceptable by their lineup.  The men who led the way to the Braves success, John Scherholtz and Bobby Cox, have been tasked with leading the Braves back to their winning ways and steady baseball.  Along with John Hart, Scherholtz and Cox are not trying to rediscover “The Braves Way”; rather they should aim to return to playing sound baseball.  The Frank Wren tenure is over.  B.J. Upton has some major work to do if he wants to avoid being one of the worst, if not the worst, free agents signings by the Braves ever.  Time with tell with B.J. Upton.  It is time for the Braves to return to what they know and for a long time did so well, winning through great pitching and a balanced offense, while on a budget.

D

Tony Gwynn- Gone Too Soon

Arguably the best hitter of the last 30 years has left us far too soon.  Tony Gwynn passed away at 54 from cancer.  For 20 seasons, Tony Gwynn put on a clinic for what it meant to be a professional hitter.  He always had the ear-to-ear smile that many, including myself, fell in love with from the first time you saw him play.  Gwynn hit .289 in 1982, after he was called up from AAA in July.  This was the only season in which he would bat below .300 in his 20 year career.  A career .338 hitter, Gwynn won the National League Batting Title eight times.  He flirted with .400 in 1994, when he finished the strike shortened season with a .394 average.  Gwynn collected 200 or more hits five times.  It would have been seven if not for the 1994 players strike.  He has 165 hits through 110 games in 1994 and finished the shortened 1995 season with 197 hits in 135 games.  There could have been more if not for injuries which reduced his playing time during his 30’s.

Mr. Padre at work (http://thunderbird37.com/)

Mr. Padre at work (http://thunderbird37.com/)

What Gwynn lacked in power he made up with always being on base.  He hit 135 career home runs, topping out at 17 in 1997.  He walked 790 times against 434 strike outs in his career.  His career 1.82 walks per strike out is unimaginable today.  In 1987, Gwynn struck out a career high 82 times; both Upton brothers, BJ and Justin, of the Atlanta Braves have already surpassed this make this season.  This “high number of strike outs” for Gwynn was an aberration, he would not strike out more than 59 times in any other season in his career.  Despite his “high” strike out total, the 1987 season was not a down year for Gwynn, he still hit .370.  during his career, Gwynn won seven Silver Slugger Awards, five Gold Gloves, elected to 15 All Star games, was the recipient of the 1995 Branch Rickey Award (in recognition for his exceptional community service), the 1998 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award (awarded to the player who best exhibits the character of Lou Gehrig both on and off the field), the 1999 Roberto Clemente Award (player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement, and the individual’s contribution to his team), and was elected by the BBWAA to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, with the seventh highest vote total ever (97.61%) in his first year of eligibility.

Captain Video at his finest. (latimesblogs.latimes.com)

Captain Video at his finest.
(latimesblogs.latimes.com)

Michael Young, who holds the record for most hits for the Texas Rangers, reacted to the sudden and sad news of Tony Gwynn’s death simply, “Ted Williams gets to talk hitting again.”  This sums up the relationship between Williams and Gwynn perfectly.  Listening to both men discuss their approach to and the science of hitting are both legendary and a fascinating listen.  Both possessed the skills which went well beyond simply see the ball, hit the ball.  They were students of the game who worked hard at their craft.  The 1999 All Star Game at Fenway Park was a showcase for Ted Williams, and through the entire memorable evening Tony Gwynn was his trusty sidekick.  When the rest of the All Stars crowded around the golf cart Williams rode around Fenway in, the camera seemed to always have both Williams and Gwynn in the frame together.  The ceremonial first pitch left these two Hall of Fame hitters and friends in front of the pitcher’s mound together and alone.  When Ted Williams asked “where’s he at?” referring to the catcher, Gwynn pointed and showed his friend and mentor the way while flashing his famous boyish smile.

Forever a San Diego man, Tony Gwynn returned to his alma mater San Diego State in 2002 as a volunteer coach and in 2003 as the Head Baseball Coach for the Aztecs.  Gwynn remained the Head Coach of the Aztecs until his death.  Even when his playing career was over, Gwynn was not through with baseball.  Under Gwynn the Aztecs won one regular season Mountain West title, two Mountain West Tournament Championships, and made three appearances in the NCAA Tournament.  The transition from playing to coaching is often difficult for the greats, but Gwynn seemed to thrive on the challenge and was building a successful program.  Unfortunately we will never see what he could have built with more seasons as a Head Coach either at San Diego State or even with the Padres.

Gwynn with his friend and mentor Ted Williams at the 1999 All Star Game. (www.nytimes.com)

Gwynn with his friend and mentor Ted Williams at the 1999 All Star Game. (www.nytimes.com)

Tony Gwynn lived a full baseball life.  He was and always will be Mr. Padre and Captain Video.  Despite the hours of hard work looking to get every last once of talent out of his body, Gwynn never stopped smiling.  That smile we all fell in love with, the smile that exuded the boyish pleasure Gwynn got from playing the game.  That smile is gone too soon due to cancer.  Cancer which Gwynn himself admits was caused by decades of using chewing tobacco, usually more than a can a day.  All the smiles and laughter that made Tony Gwynn also had a protruding lip stuffed with dip.

Gone too soon.  Thank you Tony Gwynn for reminding us all that you can be a contact hitter, trying to go through the 5.5 hole, one of the true legends in the history of the game all without the power to hit 500 foot home runs which became so common place during his career.  Tony Gwynn was a great hitter, a great all around baseball player, but he was an even better person.  Mr. Padre will be missed in San Diego and anywhere people play baseball.

D

Predictions Which Are Sure To Go Wrong

Let me begin by apologizing to everyone for jinxing their favorite time. I have the ability to ruin a good thing in baseball when I suggest the individual or team will be successful. Don’t believe me, ask the people I play fantasy baseball with. In the last two years I have drafted Roy Halladay, Kris Medlen, Jurkson Profar, Mike Minor, Matt Kemp, Albert Pujols, ect. Understand now? So in keeping with this tradition I thought The Winning Run might offer up our own predictions for every team heading into this season. I am sure that we, myself and two contributors, either are completely wrong or just ruined the season for someone by believing in them. If this happens, we are sorry, but nevertheless here are our predictions.

The American League East

  1. Tampa Bay Rays

  2. Boston Red Sox (1st Wild Card)

  3. New York Yankees

  4. Baltimore Orioles

  5. Toronto Blue Jays

Not every bounce may go David Ortiz and the Red Sox way this season.

Not every bounce may go David Ortiz and the Red Sox way this season.

The Rays, Red Sox, Yankees, and Orioles could finish in any order 1 through 4. The Blue Jays are the clear favorite to finish fifth in the East. The Rays have the youth to stay healthy which the Yankees lack and the pitching which the Orioles lack. Repeating as World Series Champions is a difficult task. Nearly all the breaks when Boston’s way last year. It is time for the Rays to harness their young talent and win the American League East.

The American League Central

  1. Detroit Tigers

  2. Cleveland Indians (2nd Wild Card)

  3. Kansas City Royals

  4. Minnesota Twins

  5. Chicago White Sox

Nick Swisher and the Indians are a very good team, too bad the Tigers are in the way.

Nick Swisher and the Indians are a very good team, too bad the Tigers are in the way.

The Tigers may well be the best team in baseball. Miguel Cabrera and the rest of the offense will put up plenty of offense while the pitching staff led by Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer could make short work of the opposition. The Twins and White Sox are both in full rebuilding mode and are fighting to stay out of the basement. The Indians are putting it together and could win the division if it was not for the Tigers and their dominance. The Royals will remain in the hunt for the post season well into September, however the youth which will make the Royals winners for years to come will fall just short this year.

The American League West

  1. Oakland Athletics

  2. Los Angels Angels of Anaheim

  3. Texas Rangers

  4. Seattle Mariners

  5. Houston Astros

Moneyball has reinvented itself and Oakland will find new ways to continue winning. Their pitching will carry them while they will over power the rest of the West by doing all the little things. The Angels will be healthier and have better pitching, but the pitching still is not quite there, and the offense relies too much on power, so when the bats go quiet the Angels will lose ground. The Rangers have had too many injuries this Spring to dig put of an early hole. Texas should be back in the race next year. Robinson Cano is now the man and he will be enjoying an extra month of vacation as the Mariners will be out of the hunt by mid summer. The Astros will be a major threat. Not now, in the future. 2014 is about not losing 100+ games again.

Every team is playing to win this trophy.

Every team is playing to win this trophy.

The National League East

  1. Atlanta Braves

  2. Washington Nationals (1st Wild Card)

  3. New York Mets

  4. Philadelphia Phillies

  5. Miami Marlins

Will Bryce Harper be his own worst enemy again and get hurt?

Will Bryce Harper be his own worst enemy again and get hurt?

The Atlanta Braves will get more production from B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla, things could not have gone worse for these two in 2013. A rebound by two of the regular line up and the signing of Ervin Santana should pick up what was lost when Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy went down for the season. Washington Nationals have the tools but should fall just short. Injuries remain a constant worry for Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. Both the offense and defense are among the best in baseball, but they still have not bridged the gap to the elite even with signing Doug Fister. The Mets will pass the Phillies as New York is building towards the future while Philadelphia is still dreaming that it is 2008. The Marlins will be better, but they need more time before the can get out of the basement.

The National League Central

  1. St. Louis Cardinals

  2. Cincinnati Reds

  3. Pittsburgh Pirates

  4. Chicago Cubs

  5. Milwaukee Brewers

Speed could kill.

Speed could kill.

The Cardinals will once again be the class of the National League Central. The Cardinal way should have an easier time winning the division this season, as they are among the best in all of baseball. The Reds lost Shin Shoo Choo and Bronson Arroyo but they will have a full season of Billy Hamilton tearing up the base paths. The Pirates, like the Red Sox, had nearly every bounce go their way last season. Pittsburgh should see I slight step back this season, but not like in their two decade absence from the playoffs. The Cubs and Brewers are both a mess. Neither is in a quick rebuilding cycle and both should be out of the race fairly quickly. Look for a fight to stay out of the basement of the Central.

The National League West

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers

  2. San Francisco Giants (2nd Wild Card)

  3. Arizona Diamondbacks

  4. Colorado Rockies

  5. San Diego Padres

The Dodgers, and their highest payroll in Major League Baseball, should keep the momentum of 2013 going as they should have the West won easily in time to align their rotation for the playoffs. The Giants should stay with the Dodgers for a while this year, but ultimately their season comes down to how healthy Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson, and company can stay. If healthy San Francisco could do some damage. The Diamondbacks cannot keep pace with the Dodgers and Giants and will be a strong 3rd place team all season that could dictate who does and does not make the playoffs. The Rockies and Padres are full of young talent. Colorado has Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki to lead their revival. San Diego is still seasoning their young talent at the Major League level. Look for San Diego to be the best last place team in baseball.

World Series

Once the playoffs go through their paces the Cardinals will play the Athletic’s in the World Series. Oakland will win the World Series over the Cardinals 4 games to 2 as the Cardinals finally tire out due to late post season runs the last several seasons and the Athletic’s and their intangibles finally win a World Series in the Moneyball era.

A's win the World Series

A’s win the World Series

Love our picks? Hate our picks? Regardless this is what we think will happen in 2014. If we are correct in our picks it will be by luck, because anyone who knows baseball knows it is never predictable. We have had Opening Day now lets get going and see how the season works out.

D, J, and B

The Plight of the Non-Tendered Player

In the past week numerous players in Major League Baseball and in the minor leagues have not been offered a contract for the 2013 season.  While not being tendered a contract can seem like riding through a desert for some players, for others it can create new opportunities.  These players are usually not the Josh Hamilton’s or the Prince Fielder’s of the world, but they can be the key pieces of a team which help lead them to the playoffs.  The blockbuster trades and the big free agent signings grab the headlines, but it is the lesser publicized signings that often play a major role in the success or failure of a Major league team. 

The list of non-tendered players has plenty of solid Major League veterans on it, all of who are capable of helping teams win in 2013.  Every player takes a different path once they reach the end of their contract.  Let’s look at three: Wil Nieves, Peter Moylan, and Mark Reynolds. 

Wil Nieves, C- Age: 35; 2012 with Rockies and Diamondbacks: BA .301, OBP .330, SLG .410; Career Average BA .229, OBP .274, SLG .301

Wil Nieves played for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondback in 2012.  In 32 games he hit .301 and had a .987 Fielding Percentage; both respectable numbers in limited action.  Nieves has been a backup catcher for the Padres, Yankees, Nationals, Brewers, Rockies, and Diamondbacks during his nine year career.  His playing time has decreased as he has gotten into his thirties, but this does not mean his value to a team has decreased with it.  His knowledge of the game and his ability to work with pitchers should enable him to remain on a Major League roster for a few more years.  The number of catchers who have gone on to become Major League managers, 11 current managers were catchers, gives Nieves a blueprint to follow if he wants to manage. 

Peter Moylan, RHP- Age: 33; 2012 with Braves: Innings 5.0, ERA 1.80; Career Average: Innings 260 2/3, ERA 2.59

Australian Peter Moylan established himself as an excellent relief pitcher for the Atlanta Braves since he signed with them after the 2006 World Baseball Classic.  In his three full seasons Moylan averaged 84 games, 75 1/3 innings pitched, 61 hits allowed, 59 strikeouts, 34 walks, and a 2.46 ERA.  The numbers and his effectiveness for the Braves have never been questioned.  The battles for Moylan have been with his own body.  In 2008, he appeared in only seven games before having to have season ending Tommy John Surgery.  In early 2011 Moylan underwent back surgery.  After recovering, he pitched well in 13 games before needing to have rotator cuff and labrum surgery.  So long as Moylan can remain healthy he will continue to provide tremendous relief for a Major League team.  Most likely Moylan will sign a minor league contract with the Braves and report to the AAA Gwinnett Braves to begin the season.  This would enable Atlanta to keep a deep bullpen if injuries arise during the season and to bolster it once rosters expand in September.  Every team wants a Mariano Riveria, however closers would not get as many opportunities to save games if it was not for the middle relievers like Moylan bridging the gap between the starting pitcher and the closer.  These pitchers as critical to every teams’ ability to win games.

Mark Reynolds, 1B- Age: 29; 2012 with Orioles: BA .221, OBP .335, SLG.429; Career Average: BA .235, OBP .332, SLG .475

Mark Reynolds was non-tendered by the Baltimore Orioles after he hit .221 with 23 home runs and 69 RBI in 2012.  The problem which the Orioles, and many other teams, have with Reynolds is his strikeout total.  In 2012, he struck out 159 times which is his lowest total since his rookie season in 2007.  Reynolds led the National League in strikeouts in 2008, 2009, and 2010, and the American League in 2011.  In the four year time span between 2008 and 2011, Mark Reynolds had more strikeouts (834) than Barry Larkin (817), Lou Gehrig (790), Ralph Kiner (749), and Wade Boggs (745) did in each of their entire careers.  Power hitters sell seats, but few people want to pay their money to see a hitter strike out during nearly a third of his at bats.  As he ages, Reynolds needs to work on making more contact with the ball instead of swinging for the fences every time.  Power hitters rarely grow old gracefully in the post steroid era, thus the one year contract Reynolds has signed with the Cleveland Indians should serve as a wake up call to work on building himself into an all-around hitter, not just a power hitter.

The plight of the non-tendered player is different for every player.  Wil Nieves, Peter Moylan, and Mark Reynolds should all be on a Major League roster in 2013.  Mark Reynolds is the only one of the three to have been signed by a team this off season.  He has found his way out of the desert, although his one year contract may only serve as a brief oasis.  Nieves and Moylan will each be an important part of the team they play for in 2013.  Their signings will likely not elicit the media coverage that Josh Hamilton and BJ Upton did, but Nieves and Moylan will help their team win in 2013.

D