Tagged: Josh Hamilton

The Glorious Future

So much time and energy is spent talking about the mistakes teams make when drafting with the first overall pick in sports. The players who never turn into the superstars that many envisioned. The bulk of the time is spent in commiserating about such mistakes because it is rare for teams to use the top pick to select the best player in the draft when all is said and done. The Seattle Mariners with Ken Griffey Jr. and Atlanta Braves with Chipper Jones built a franchise around their top picks. The Houston Astros are doing the same with multiple top picks. The Washington Nationals had the first overall pick twice and have been successful both times with drafting Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. No team will feel sorry for the Nationals’ success. However Washington is quickly approaching the difficult part of drafting well, paying to retain the talent.

Bryce Harper has found a spot few athletes find, people either love him or hate him. There are few people who feel ambivalent about him. Harper’s intensity on the field, chasing every ball hit to him in the outfield, crashing into walls, diving to make a catch, crushing home runs is the textbook definition of playing the game hard and, for many, the right way. That intensity seems to laugh at the notion of getting injured, Harper just wants to win and will do anything to help his team do it. What fan or team would not want a player who brings this sort of intensity to the game, along with elite skills? However, despite his great play on the field, plenty of people do not love Harper. He rubs people the wrong way. Harper brings his own flair to the game and the national media loves him. He has not been bashful in talking about the need for baseball to reenergize, nor is he afraid to tell reporters that their question is “a clown question bro.” The most recent incident was his ejection for arguing balls and strikes from the dugout. He then ran back on the field to celebrate a Nationals walk off victory. Simply coming back onto the field after his ejection was a violation of the rules, which got him a one game suspension and a fine. Yet Harper went even further by getting the umpire’s attention by yelling, “HEY, DUCK YOU!” (edited for the family audience). Every player, coach, announcer, umpire, and fan knows you cannot argue balls and strikes. Regardless whether the umpire was right or wrong, Harper knew arguing would get him ejected. Plenty of players and coaches are ejected for arguing, but once the argument is over, it is over. There is no reason to continue the argument. The umpire was not even paying attention to Harper when he ran back out on to the field, rather it was Harper who got the attention of the umpire to continue the argument. There is plenty to love and hate about Bryce Harper.

Stephen Strasburg
The Nationals paid Stephen Strasburg, which sets the table for Washington to pay Bryce Harper. (www.washingtonpost.com)

Clearly the Nationals and Washington fans love Bryce Harper. The franchise wants to keep him in Washington for as long as they can. Harper does not reach free agency until 2019. This gives the Nationals a little time to figure out how they will retain his services for what will be a mammoth contract. Harper’s current contract runs through 2017, and is for two years, $7.5 million; clearly a bargain for his skills. Entering the 2016 season Bryce Harper is 23 years old, yet this is his 5th season in the Majors. In his first four seasons, Harper has been impressive. Offensively his stats look like this:

G
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
510
2143
1830
328
528
98
15
97
248
37
279
449
.289
.384
.517
.902

Defensively, Harper has a career .976 Fielding %, with 39 Assists, and 24 Errors in 1,039 chances. He is not a one trick pony, he is an all-around great player.

His skills on the diamond and the stats he has amassed during his young career have garnered Bryce Harper plenty of accolades. He is a three time All-Star (2012, 2013, 2015), the 2012 National League Rookie of the Year, the 2015 National League Hank Aaron Award winner, he won a Silver Slugger in 2015, and was voted the 2015 National League MVP. Not bad for the first four years of a career, regardless of age.

Bryce Harper Blood
Bryce Harper’s desire to win can lead to him injuring himself, but even then Harper will not let up his intensity on the field. (www.nydailynews.com)

The sky seems to be the limit for Bryce Harper on the diamond. His name is already being compared to some of the greatest players who have ever played the game: Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda, among others. A player like Harper does not come around often, but the Washington Nationals now have the daunting task of outbidding the rest of Major League Baseball to retain his services. The Nationals put major money down on Stephen Strasburg with his seven year, $175 million contract, the highest ever for a pitcher who has undergone Tommy John surgery. Scott Boras, agent for both Strasburg and Harper, does not give discounts and will potentially use the Strasburg negotiations as a warm up for the Harper negotiations.

Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals have roughly six options as Harper approaches and reaches free agency in 2019. Two of these possible options can be tossed out without much discussion: the Nationals allowing allow Harper to simply walk away as a free agent or signing Harper to a two or three year contract. Allowing Harper to walk away without getting anything in return will not happen for obvious reasons, he is the most valuable commodity in baseball, the Front Office’s’ job is to get a return on its investment. Second, the Nationals will also not sign Harper to a short term deal, because they do not want to simply kick the can down the road a few years into Harper’s prime, ultimately costing themselves even more money. The third option is to trade Harper. This is unlikely but injuries, internal issues between Harper and the organization, and/or a decline in production could see Harper traded away for multiple players in return. The Nationals could also trade Harper if they realize they will not be able to re-sign him. If the latter happens, Washington can almost name its price for Harper.

Mike Trout Smile
Mike Trout is poised to become a free agent in his prime, that contract could make anyone smile. (www.usatoday.com)

The final three options are the most likely. Bryce Harper could sign a contract similar to Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, or Alex Rodriguez. The Angels signed Mike Trout to a six year, $144.5 million contract; averaging $24 million per season. Trout will be 28 years old when the contract ends, meaning he will hit free agency in his prime. This medium length contract gives Trout the assurance that he is not stuck with the Angels if they continue to not progress towards winning a World Series. It also gives Trout another opportunity to sign a huge contract as the value of contracts continue to grow, hard to blame a player for making as much money as they can during their playing career.

The second type of contract Harper could sign would be similar to Giancarlo Stanton’s contract with the Marlins. Stanton signed for 13 years and $325 million. However, Stanton has a player opt out clause after year six (2020) that could make him a free agent entering his age 31 season. This style of contract gives Stanton, or Harper, the security of a long term contract regardless of production or injury, yet also allows them to reenter the free agent market should they believe their skills are or soon will be under paid. This also keeps teams accountable to continue building a contender, one that is competing for a World Series. The Marlins are not known for building and maintaining a winning team, if Miami goes through yet another fire sale and only Stanton is left he has the ability get out of town instead of spending his best years on a team perpetually rebuilding.

Giancarlo Stanton
Giamcarlo Stanton gives the Marlins a foundation to build around, but he can leave Miami if  the team is not winning. (www.bleacherreport.com)

The final option for the Nationals is to sign Harper to a contract similar to the contract Alex Rodriguez signed with both the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees; specifically Rodriguez’s contract for 10 years, $252.87 million with the Yankees. The contract was for the peak of Rodriguez’s career and guaranteed him a long career regardless of injury, lack of production, or in Rodriguez’s case PED suspension. The Yankees were never going to tear the team down and rebuild, it is not how they do baseball in the Bronx, instead they went after big free agents. However nearly every other team does or will rebuild at some point, signing a long contract can tie a player to a team for the peak years of their careers will no options for getting away from a team going nowhere.

Currently the best contract for Bryce Harper to sign would be one similar to Giancarlo Stanton. It protects Harper should he injure himself, such as Alex Rodriguez and his hips, or his production flames out for some non-injury reason. The contract would also enable Harper to pressure the Nationals to build and maintain a World Series contending team. No player, especially one as fiery as Harper wants to spend their career continually coming into Spring Training knowing that their team has no chance to make the playoffs, much less win a World Series. Ensuring there is an opt out clause in the contract would mean hitting free agency in his prime, and netting Harper yet another monster contract; if he so chooses.  

ARod
Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees have seen the good times and bad together. (www.newyork.cbslocal.com)

We can only speculate what the money will be for Harper and who will be paying him. The Strasburg contract signals to Harper that Washington is serious about winning and retaining homegrown talent. While the Nationals probably overpaid for Strasburg, primarily due to injury concerns, it shows the team is willing to pay for what it wants. The Nationals’ current front office is not the Yankees of George Steinbrenner or the Dodgers of a few years ago, they do not have an endless supply of money. Paying Harper will require the team to reallocate money from expiring contracts to pay Harper what will most likely be the largest contract in history both in terms of pay per season and overall. Harper signing a Giancarlo Stanton-like contract in 2019, or slightly before, will raise the bar for the second contract that he could sign if he opts out in his prime. It’s hard to conceive a situation where he doesn’t. If Harper were to sign a 10 year, $400 million contract in 2019 when he is 26 years old and then opt out after five or six seasons, he would return to the free agent market at 31 or 32 years old. This dramatically increases the importance of the first contract Harper signs because it will set the table for the second. There would be teams willing to give a 31 year old a long-term deal. Josh Hamilton, with all his personal struggles got five years, $114 million at 32 years old. Albert Pujols got 10 years, $240 million at 32 years old. Robinson Cano also got 10 years, $240 million at 31 years old. Harper should easily be able to sign a new contract for another 10 years and $400 million, if not more money. While Hamilton, Pujols, and Cano all signed with American League teams, thus enabling them to DH later in their careers, Harper could choose to remain in the National League and not use the DH like Barry Bonds, minus the PEDs. The competitor in Harper would most likely want to see if he could beat the legends of the game like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams using the same rules they played under; not padding his stats as a DH late in his career.

Assuming Harper wants to stay in Washington, how would the Nationals afford to pay Harper the largest contract in baseball history? The money would come from three current Nationals players who will reach free agency before Harper: Jayson Werth, Daniel Murphy, and Gio Gonzalez. Jayson Werth’s seven year, $126 million contract with the Nationals ends after 2017. Werth will be paid $21 million per year in the final three seasons of the deal. He will be a free agent entering his age 39 season, doubtful Werth will see another large contract. Daniel Murphy will reach free agency at the end of the 2018 season. There is usually not a ton of demand for a 34 year old second basemen, especially one making $17.5 million in the final year of his contract. The Nationals should be able to develop a respectable outfielder and second basemen between now and 2019. Gio Gonzalez will enter free agency after the 2018 season, when he is 32 years old. Gonzalez could be the price Washington has to pay to re-sign Harper. He is an excellent pitcher, but a player like Harper is a rarity and a team ought to do everything it can to retain such a special player. $12 million a year will be a discount for a pitcher like Gonzalez, who can get more as a free agent assuming he is healthy.

Bryce Harper Catch
Bryce Harper will run through a wall if it means helping his team win. (www.si.com)

The Nationals can lay the foundation for a deal with Harper by simply shifting the $21 million from Werth, $17.5 million from Murphy, and $12 million from Gonzalez to pay Harper. Letting two aging players go in Werth and Murphy would free up $38.5 million a season. The increasing salaries could make the $38.5 million a season within a reasonable jump in pay for an elite player. The Scott Boras factor could require a little more money, thus forcing the Nationals to choose between Harper and Gio Gonzalez, which should not be difficult. $50.5 million per season should be plenty for Washington to retain Bryce Harper, if Harper wants to remain with the Nationals.

$40 million per season ought to entice Harper, and any other baseball player, to remain in Washington. The Nationals would give up three players for one, which would be the smart move for the franchise. The Nationals will also be paying Harper somewhere between $5 and $10 million in his final season before free agency. Washington should be able to develop at least one of the three pieces it will lose to sign Harper. A young outfielder or a young starting pitcher or second baseman should develop in their farm system. The homegrown player should cost no more than $3 million per season, and even this is at the extreme. This would leave between $14 and $19 million for the Nationals to go out and sign a free agent starting pitcher and position player, both of which are possible.

The money will follow Harper wherever he chooses to continue his career once he reaches free agency. Despite all the things so many people hate about Harper, the Nationals love him and want to keep him in Washington at least through the peak of his career. Few players are compared to Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr., and a slew of other Hall of Fame players at any point in their careers. Harper is 23 years old and is entering his fifth season in the Majors. He is truly a special player, one that the Nationals should do everything within their power to re-sign as he approaches free agency.

DJ

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2016 New Year’s Resolutions for the AL West

In our second installment, we are staying out west but flipping over to the AL. It’s like an earthquake hit the western divisions in MLB with the moves and uncertainty in the aftermath. For the AL West though, only one of the moves appeared to fall in line with the problems we think the teams need to address.

Ken Giles.jpg

Ken Giles could push the Astros over the edge towards a World Series. (www.todaysknuckleball.com)

The Moves

The Astros took some huge strides in the second half of the 2015 season to become playoff contenders. The ALDS series against the Royals would have been a much different affair if Houston could have shortened the game with a lights out bullpen. The addition of Ken Giles gives them, with Luke Gregerson, the setup man and closer combination to do just that in crucial moments.

Andrelton Simmons is the best defensive SS in MLB and grabbing Yunel Escobar and Ji-Man Choi to round out the infield might seem like a big deal for the Angels. However, the Halos struggled in generating offense last season and none of these guys seem to address that problem. Mike Trout needs a lineup that can keep opposing pitchers honest with him. Maybe the Angels lost out to some other teams for getting the hitting and outfielding talent they need.

Andrelton Simmons1.jpg
Andrelton Simmons and his glove could be the solution to the Angels problems. (www.rantsports.com)

The Advice

The 2015 AL playoff picture was a bit of a mess with the Yankees stumbling backwards and just managing to hold onto a Wild Card spot. Otherwise, we could have seen both Wild Cards come out of the AL West; the only division that couldn’t produce a team with 90+ wins. Really though, the AL West was a promising division that collectively opened an umbrella indoors then walked outside under a ladder to find a black cat crossing their path only to step and trip on a crack in the sidewalk then break a mirror while trying to catch their balance.

Texas Rangers

BL – So what do the Rangers need to do? Recover. Make a sacrifice to the baseball gods that Yu Darvish comes back and has a 2016 season like Matt Harvey did in 2015. Will Josh Hamilton’s knee be okay? Will Cole Hamels make it through the entire 2016 season?  The Rangers won the division despite being pummeled with injuries. If they can stay healthy, they’ll be in the playoff discussion in 2016.

Yu Darvish pitching.jpg
The Rangers need to see plenty of this and not Yu Darvish sitting on the bench. (www.bleacherreport.com)

DJ – The Rangers need someone to help Prince Fielder. He led the Rangers in hits, Batting Average, HR, RBI, OBP, was second in games played, and fourth in doubles. Texas cannot be a one man show. Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland had solid years, but without solid pitching it is doubtful the Rangers can repeat what they did in 2015. Success in 2016 comes down to having a healthy pitching staff. The health and success on the mound of Yu Darvish (Tommy John), Cole Hamels, Derek Holland (shoulder), and Martin Perez (Tommy John) will decide the Rangers fate.

Seattle Mariners

BL – The Mariners played a little Jekyll and Hyde last season. When they signed Robinson Cano before the 2014 season, it seemed like Seattle was moving towards becoming a big hit sort of team. More characteristically AL than NL. But the acquisitions of big hitting talent seemed to stall after getting Mark Trumbo, and then the focus shifted to pitching but that didn’t pan out well. It’s more apparent than ever that successful playoff teams can’t be made overnight. If GM Jerry Dipoto is really committed to creating a contender, then the Mariners need to establish an identity to build from. I suggest putting an intimidating rotation around Felix Hernandez and shoring up the defense. Mariners fans, if they’re like Seahawks fans, will learn quickly that stifling defense can be a joy to watch.

Taijuan Walker

Taijuan Walker’s development should be on full display in 2016. (www.bleacherreport.com)

DJ – The King needs a Prince or two. Felix Hernandez is the undisputed ace in Seattle. While it is difficult to have two aces on a pitching staff, the Mariners would be smart to seek out pitchers who can be true #2 and #3 starters. Saving the bullpen early in the season can pay huge dividends  beginning in August and carrying over deep into the playoffs. Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma could be those starters. The continued development of Walker along with Iwakuma having something to prove after a failed physical with the Dodgers could mean low scoring, NL style games in the Pacific Northwest. The Mariners have the pitching staff built for the playoffs, they just need Hernandez, Walker, and Iwakuma to all stay healthy and make at least 30 starts each in 2016.

Oakland Athletics

BL – I’m a big fan of Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball. I’ve read pretty much everything he’s written and subscribe to Vanity Fair mostly because he’s a regular contributor. Billy Beane did something revolutionary with Sabermetrics in that he and Paul DePodesta reexamined the statistical analysis of the game and saw what the larger baseball community was missing. This was the only way to win on a budget, which was a necessity demanded from ownership. But now everyone is savvy to the Moneyball method of Sabermetrics. Moneyball worked because there was information asymmetry, like being able to count cards in a casino. Beane and Co. need find that new information asymmetry to get back on top or start spending the money necessary to become contenders.

Billy Burns.jpg
Billy Burns is the model for how the Athletics can return to their winning ways. (www.athleticsnation.com)

DJ-

“Singles hitters drive Fords, home run hitters drive Cadillacs.” ~ Ralph Kiner

The players’ parking lot in Oakland needs to look like a Ford dealership. Oakland’s big ballpark and low budget forces it to play NL style baseball. The Athletics need players who get on base early and often. A team on a budget needs a few players to hit above .300. Billy Burns led the A’s  with a  .294 batting average, and stole plenty of bases. However, only three players stole 10 or more bases (Burns was the only player to have more than 11 steals). Oakland has to get inventive to create sustainable offense. The rest of baseball has caught up to Moneyball, but Oakland must show that the original is still the best.  Putting the ball in play, taking the extra base, and forcing the opposing pitchers to pitch in high stress situations is key for Oakland to manufacture a successful 2016 season.  

BL & DJ

Predictions Sure To Go Wrong 2.0

Last season The Winning Run attempted to predict the outcome of the 2014 Major League Baseball season.  We were not highly successful in our first attempt.  Not to be deterred by our lack of success, we are back to try again.  Once again, let us apologize in advance for jinxing everyone’s favorite team, whether it is by dooming your team before it had a chance to do much better or by sending it spiraling down in flames as it does much worse than expected.  Either way in which we have ruined the chances of your team this season, we are sorry.

mlb_a_giantswinwar_668x376

The Giants are still recovering from winning the World Series last October. (www.espn.go.com)

Let us begin with the Senior Circuit.

National League

East  
1 Washington Nationals Division Winner/ 1st Seed
2 Miami Marlins
3 New York Mets
4 Atlanta Braves
5 Philadelphia Phillies

The National League East could be one of the weakest Divisions in all of baseball.  Beyond the Nationals, the rest of the division could struggle.  The Marlins and Mets could threaten for a Wild Card spot, but each have deficiencies that could prevent it from reaching the playoffs.  The Braves could surprise people if the bats and pitchers keep up with one another and hover around .500.  The Phillies will be the worst team in all of baseball.  A successful season would be to avoid 100 games, but even this could be out of reach in Philadelphia.

It will be a long season in Philadelphia, with or without Cole Hamels. (www.hardballtalk.nbcsports.com)

It will be a long season in Philadelphia, with or without Cole Hamels. (www.hardballtalk.nbcsports.com)

Central
1 St. Louis Cardinals Division Winner/ 3rd Seed
2 Pittsburgh Pirates Wild Card
3 Chicago Cubs
4 Milwaukee Brewers
5 Cincinnati Reds

Every team in the National League Central could win the Division or finish last.  The Cardinals should continue to be the class of the Central, as they have the pitching and the bats to match up against any team in baseball.  The Pirates could pace with the Cardinals all season, but they may fall a few games short of the division based upon a few miscues throughout the season.  The Cubs are dramatically improved, but playing in the Central will keep them out of the playoffs in addition to their young stars not all fully rising to their potential this season.  The Brewers are dependent upon their lineup supplying the offense that the pitchers need, but there are too many chances for the bats to go quiet throughout the season.  The Reds are recovering from losing several keys pitchers from last season.  The Reds could rise out of the cellar, but only if Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, and Brandon Phillips all have productive and healthy seasons.

West
1 Los Angeles Dodgers Division Winner/ 2nd Seed
2 San Francisco Giants Wild Card
3 San Diego Padres
4 Colorado Rockies
5 Arizona Diamondbacks
Wil Myers and the new look Padres are not going quietly. (www.sports.yahoo.com)

Wil Myers and the new look Padres are not going quietly. (www.sports.yahoo.com)

The Dodgers are the clear class of the National League West; they have the arms and bats to compete with any team in baseball.  Ultimately, the Dodgers will chase the Nationals for the best record in the National League.  The Giants will recover from their October success last season, breaking the cycle of boom and bust that they have experienced the last four seasons.  They will make the playoffs as a Wild Card, but they will not win another World Series this season.  The Padres like the Marlins and Cubs are greatly improved, but will not be able to put it together this season to reach the playoffs in the first season of their new reality.  The Rockies will continue to be successful offensively, but their pitching staff is not ready to take the team to the next level and compete for a playoff spot.  The Diamondbacks are in full rebuild, and will be searching for answers in every phase of the game.  The trade of Trevor Cahill was the clearest sign of Arizona looking to the future beyond the 2015 season.

Now let us examine the Junior Circuit.

American League

East
1 Toronto Blue Jays Division Winner/ 3rd Seed
2 Baltimore Orioles
3 Boston Red Sox
4 New York Yankees
5 Tampa Bay Rays
2015 could be painful in the Bronx. (www.nydailynews.com)

2015 could be painful in the Bronx. (www.nydailynews.com)

The Blue Jays finally have all the players they need to win the American League East.  Even with the loss of Marcus Stroman for the season, Toronto has the arms and bats to win the Division.  The Orioles will return with another strong team.  If Chris Davis or Manny Machado can return to half of their 2013 form Baltimore will stay in the hunt for the playoffs into the final days of the season, but could ultimately fall short.  The Red Sox are better than last season, but their pitching leaves too many questions for the bats to make up.  Boston should finish above .500, but they will not play in October.  The Yankees are a mixture of old talent and youthful ignorance.  New York may face more injury worries as the season progresses, which could derail any dreams of reaching the playoffs, or even .500.  The Rays are in full rebuild mode.  Tampa has to rediscover the magic of over performing if it hopes to avoid finishing last in the East.

Central
1 Detroit Tigers Division Winner/ 1st Seed
2 Cleveland Indians Wild Card
3 Kansas City Royals
4 Chicago White Sox
5 Minnesota Twins
Nick Swisher and the Indians will have a reason to smile this year. (www.en.wikipedia.org)

Nick Swisher and the Indians will have a reason to smile this year. (www.en.wikipedia.org)

The American League Central could be the best Division in all of baseball.  The Tigers should be the class of the Division so long as David Price, Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, and Victor Martinez are able to stay healthy.  The Indians will finally get over the hump and make the playoffs as a Wild Card.  Corey Kluber needs another good season, not necessarily another Cy Young season, and young stars like Michael Brantley need to emerge to power Cleveland back to October.  The Royals are still recovering from their World Series hangover.  While they will be competitive until late in the season, they will not make a return trip to the playoffs, as the loss of James Shields and Billy Butler will be the difference this season.  The White Sox should be much improved but in the Central, it could be difficult to crack the top three in the division even with the addition of Jeff Samardzija to the rotation and David Robertson to the bullpen.  The Twins need their bats and arms to light up the box score this season.  The continued worry about the health of Joe Mauer and the suspension of Ervin Santana could prevent Minnesota from reaching .500.

West
1 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Division Winner (won 1 game playoff)/ 2nd Seed
2 Oakland Athletics Wild Card (lost 1 game playoff)
3 Seattle Mariners
4 Houston Astros
5 Texas Rangers

The American League West has three potential Division winners.  The Angels once again have a tremendous offense led by the best player in the game, Mike Trout, a star looking to rediscover his old form, Albert Pujols, and a declining star, Josh Hamilton.  If the Angels pitchers can stay healthy, they could win the Division.  The Athletics will once again work their magic and surprise everyone to finish the season tied with the Angels.  Another star will emerge in Oakland, a player who another club gave up on and let go.  The Athletics and Angels will have to play a one game playoff to determine who wins the Division and who is the Wild Card.  Ultimately, the Angels will win the Division and send Oakland to the Wild Card.  The Mariners will unfortunately fall just short once again and miss the playoffs.  They need a bit more offense in Seattle if they are to reach to playoffs, but that will have to wait until 2016.  The Astros are once again going to take a huge step forward.  Houston should finish .500 or better thanks to the continued development of its young stars in Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Collin McHugh.  The Rangers should be able to avoid the injury plague they suffered from last season; however, they still lack the pitching to compete, especially after losing Yu Darvish for the season due to Tommy John surgery.

The laughable Astros are only a memory now. (www.diehardsport.com)

The laughable Astros are only a memory now. (www.diehardsport.com)

Playoffs

October will once again give us some great moments to remember, beginning with the Wild Card games.

Wild Card

American League National League
Oakland Athletics Pittsburgh Pirates
Cleveland Indians San Francisco Giants

In the American League Wild Card game, the Athletics will have spent too much energy getting to the Wild Card game to overcome the Indians.  Cleveland will continue on their excellent season into the Divisional Series.  In the National League Wild Card game, the Pirates will finally give Pittsburgh the full playoff series it has been waiting for since 1992.  The Giants will finally run out of gas after back-to-back seasons of hard-fought competition to reach October.

Divisional Series

American League
ALDS
Toronto Blue Jays Cleveland Indians
ALDS
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Detroit Tigers
National League
NLDS
St. Louis Cardinals Los Angeles Dodgers
NLDS
Washington Nationals Pittsburgh Pirates
Albert Pujols and the Angels will come up short again. (www.monkeywithahalo.com)

Albert Pujols and the Angels will come up short again. (www.monkeywithahalo.com)

In the American League Division Series, the Blue Jays will run through the Indians after Cleveland runs out of gas fighting through the Wild Card.  Pitching should be fairly even, but offensively Toronto should have an advantage with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.  The Angels will once again come up short due to a lack of pitching to match up against the rotation of the Tigers.  Detroit has the best hitters in baseball in Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, who can make up for any problems the pitching staff encounters.  In the National League Division Series, the Cardinals will fall to the arms of the Dodgers, as Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke finally translate their dominance to October.  The Nationals will continue their dominance as they fight past the Pirates.  While the series could be tight, Washington has the pitching staff to quiet the bats of Andrew McCutchen, Josh Harrison, and the rest of the Pirates.

Championship Series

American League
Toronto Blue Jays Detroit Tigers
National League
Washington Nationals Los Angeles Dodgers

The Championship Series will pair off great offenses in the American League as the power bats of the Blue Jays match up against the all-around hitting ability of the Tigers.  The experience and rotation will be the difference for Detroit, even if Justin Verlander and David Price are not in vintage form.  In the National League, the Championship Series will see the matchup of two great pitching staffs.  Los Angeles will send Kershaw and Greinke to the mound to face off against Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, and Stephen Strasburg.  The Nationals will stop the Dodgers as Washington has a deeper roster and the ability to recover if any of its starters faulted.

World Series

The 2015 World Series will pit the Washington Nationals against the Detroit Tigers.  Both have excellent pitching staffs and line-ups.  Detroit has the better lineup, while Washington has the better pitching staff.  The biggest advantage exists in the lineup for the Tigers, which will propel Detroit to another World Series victory in six games.

Detroit Tigers 4 games
Washington Nationals 2 games
The Detroit Tigers will be celebrating again in October. (www.blog.detroitathletic.com)

The Detroit Tigers will be celebrating again in October. (www.blog.detroitathletic.com)

These are our predictions for the 2015 Major League Baseball season.  Love it?  Hate it?  Time will tell if we are right or wrong.  We never claim to know what will happen, but this is what we are predicting to happen.  Now it is time to watch how bad our predictions turn out to be once they meet reality, while enjoying another great season of baseball.

D, J, and B

Fighting the Good Fight

Josh Hamilton’s fight against his addiction has unfortunately become news again, but not for a good reason.  Hamilton has admitted he has suffered a relapse in his fight against his alcohol and cocaine addiction.  Every day is a battle to stay sober, and Hamilton unfortunately lost that battle for at least one day this off-season.  When he is winning his battle against his addiction, Hamilton has the ability to be one of the best hitters in the world.  However, this latest relapse reminds us all of how unimportant baseball is in terms of leading a heathy and productive life.

When I first heard Hamilton had relapsed, I did not think of what it meant for him or the Angels on the field, rather I was simply sad for the man.  I do not fully understand the power of addiction to substances like alcohol and cocaine.  I do not have to fight those demons.  We all have our own struggles to wrestle with, often on a daily basis.  The last thing I would do is judge Hamilton for the ongoing battle he is going through.  Everyone is far from perfect, so all those who are casting aspersions on him should take the time to look within their own lives to recognize their own faults.  It is easy to sit behind a keyboard and teardown a man for losing his fight against his addiction.  However, would it not be better for Hamilton and society if instead these same people offered their support and encouragement to him?

The man is more important that the ball player. (www.shoutitforlife.com)

The man is more important that the ball player. (www.shoutitforlife.com)

Hamilton has already lost so much to his fight against his addiction.  He was suspended from all baseball for three years due to multiple failed drug tests.  He has fought to stay sober and to resurrect his career.  I believe Hamilton has the power to stay sober, but the constant fight to do just that has worn on him, as it would everyone.  It only takes a moment to give into that urge and revert to those demons that have been kept in check for years.  Unfortunately, for at least one day and one moment, Hamilton was unable to summon the strength to fight his addiction.

Addiction is a disease.  The desire to regain the high, whether it is drug inducted or gambling or some other addiction has the power to make rational people do something, which they know is not beneficial to them.  Addictions are powerful and do not go away.  The urge to fulfill that addiction will always be there, whether you have been sober a day, a year, or 30 years.  It only takes a moment for all the hard work to go away and to have to start over.  I do not look down upon people who are fighting addictions.  We all have our own personal battle to fight, some more destructive than others.  It has taken an extraordinary amount of strength and courage for Hamilton to speak publicly about his fight with addiction.  Speaking public has meant showing the world the worst part of his private life and letting people know that he has been vulnerable in ways many of us are not even willing to share with those closest to us.

I do not care about Josh Hamilton the baseball player.  I do not care if he ever steps on a baseball field ever again.  I care about Josh Hamilton the man.  I care about all those Josh Hamilton’s that do not have the gift to hit a baseball with a bat better than 99.99% of the world.  Hamilton has become the face of addiction and recovery in baseball, and most likely beyond.  He has shown that having millions of dollars does not change how they fight addiction.  Everyone fights their addiction one day, one hour, one moment at a time.  Hamilton has a family who need him, they need their husband and their dad to be there for them and they want him there to walk with them through this life.  Hamilton has fallen down, but I hope he gets back up and starts again and keeps fighting for his sobriety and his life one day, one hour, one moment at a time.  For all the Josh Hamilton’s out there, keep up the fight, you can make it.  You may not be perfect, but neither is anyone else.  Keep fighting the good fight.

D

Matthew 24:13 KJV

And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Matthew 24:31 KJV

May the Lord have mercy on the pitchers of the American League.  The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have now assembled the scariest lineup since the New York Yankees had Murderers’ Row in the late 1920s.   The signing of Josh Hamilton creates potentially the most dangerous 1 through 5 batting order most people have ever seen, arguably the most lethal since the 1940s.  The Murderers’’ Row lineups had four future Hall of Famers (Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, and Tony Lazzeri).  The Angels now have two future Hall of Famers, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, in their lineup, Hamilton needs a few more years to be a lock but his production in only six seasons makes him a candidate already.  The other two members, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo, are still young, but look like super stars in the making. 

Every baseball fan knows the danger of Pujols and Hamilton, but Trout and Trumbo are equally dangerous.  Statistically if these four players have their average season in 2013, the Angels can expect to amass a combined .298 batting average, hit 141 homeruns, 436 RBI, 139 doubles, 727 hits, walk 145 times, 72 stolen bases, .307 OBP, .542 SLG, .849 OPS.  This assumes that all four players play in every game, which is unlikely, but numbers anywhere close to these would be devastating for the rest of the American League. 

This is how the numbers break down over an average 162 game schedule:

Albert Pujols has a .325 batting average, hits 41 homeruns, 125 RBI, 44 doubles, 196 hits, walk 89 times, 8 stolen bases, .414 OBP, .608 SLG, and 1.022 OPS.

Josh Hamilton has a .304 batting average, hits 35 homeruns, 122 RBI, 38 doubles, 189 hits, walk 58 times, 9 stolen bases, .363 OBP, .549 SLG, and .913 OPS.

Mike Trout has a .306 batting average, hits 32 homeruns, 90 RBI, 30 doubles, 189 hits, walk 69 times, 48 stolen bases, .379 OBP, .532 SLG, and .911 OPS

Mark Trumbo has a .259 batting average, hits 33 homeruns, 99 RBI, 27 doubles, 153 hits, walk 33 times 7 stolen bases, .302 OBP, .478 SLG, and .780 OPS.

Impressive numbers for an average combined season.  Trout and Trumbo still need several years of consistency before they can cement their places among the elite players in baseball, but Pujols and Hamilton are without a doubt in that elite club.  Trout has drawn comparisons to Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle during his young career, both on offense and defense.  Trumbo raised his batting average by .014 between 2011 and 2012; he is a slugger who is becoming a hitter.  Trumbo is comparable to Cecil Fielder and George Bell at this point in their respective careers, as he hits for average like Cecil Fielder and hits for power like George Bell.  As is, Trumbo can hit a baseball into the next county when he makes contact, as evident during the Home Run Derby last season in Kansas City. 

The problems will be numerous for opposing pitchers next season.  If Trout gets on, then the pitcher has a choice to make.  If he pays attention to Trout and his speed, the pitches to Hamilton, Pujols, or Trumbo could land in the parking lot.  If the pitchers pay attention to the hitters with Trout on base, then a single or walk could easily lead to Trout standing on second or third after a stolen base or two.  The sluggers behind Trout are excellent hitters and can be used for a hit and run, which prevents the Angels from relying on the homerun, as they can manufacture runs.  If you want to pitch around Trout, which is a mistake, you would get to face only one batter before you had to face the triple threat of Hamilton, Pujols, and Trumbo. 

If Trout is kept in check then you have three more dangerous hitters to deal with.  Hamilton and Pujols can both bat third, so if you want to pitch around one of them then you get face the other one.  You want to get around both of them, go ahead now you get to face Trumbo with at least two runners on.  One bad pitch and it could mean at least three runs.  The other option is to pitch around all three of them, and then you have to face Howie Kendrick and his .428 SLG or Erick Aybar and his .706 OPS as a Shortstop.  Good luck to every pitcher who has to face the Angels in 2013. 

The Angels new foursome of offense should more than make up for any mistakes they make on defense.  However, their defense is not a liability as is often the case for great hitters.  Pujols won two Gold Gloves during his time with the St. Louis Cardinals (2006 and 2010).  Hamilton has proved to be an average or better fielder during his career, playing all three outfield positions.  The move to the Angels should move Hamilton to leftfield where he should settle in quite nicely.  Trout’s comparison to Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle during his young career was not made by casual fans, but by two men who know and understand baseball, Tim Kurkjian and Hall of Famer Al Kaline.  Trumbo led the American League in putouts and was third among American League first basemen in assists during 2011.  Solid defense by all four of these players makes the Angels that much more dangerous. 

Statistically the Angels should be the team to beat in the American League in 2013 and for several years to come.  However, the one thing the Angels cannot buy is chemistry.  Regardless of the players on their roster in 2013, the Angels and Manager Mike Scioscia have to make all these impressive parts work together.  Across town, the Dodgers have shown the Angels that big names and accusations do not necessarily mean wins and a trip to the playoffs.  The foundation is there for the Angels, not it is up to them to do what they are capable of on the field.

D

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

Bets You Should Have Made

The baseball season is already a quarter of the way done.  There have been some things that have surprised us and things that have not.  First, the things that have not been a surprised:

  • The Rangers are dominating the AL West.
  • The Twins are terrible.
  • Ryan Braun getting booed during every road game.
  • Adam Dunn is the clear favorite to lead MLB in strikeouts.
  • The Cubs are already looking towards next year as the year.
  • Jamie Moyer sets some sort of record every time he pitches.
  • Bud Selig is trying to change baseball to make a little more money even though the system works perfectly fine. 5 playoff team? Waiting for the playoffs to be like the NBA and NHL where half the teams get in.
  • Roger Clemens won’t go away.

Now for the surprises:

  • The Yankees and Red Sox are at the bottom of the AL East. Not a complete shock for the Red Sox but definitely the Yankees.
  • The Orioles leading the AL East.
  • The Angels and Albert Pujols have struggled from the beginning.
  • Carlos Ruiz having a break out year for the last place Phillies.
  • Derek Lowe’s resurgence for the Indians. Trailing only Justin Verlander by 0.01 (Verlander 2.14, Lowe 2.15) for the AL lead in ERA.
  • Josh Hamiliton hitting as many homeruns in a single game as Albert Pujols has all season.
  • The Mariners have just as many wins as the Tigers and more wins than the Angels.
  • The Nationals are leading the NL East by 0.5 games despite Jayson Werth being gone for the next couple of months, Bryce Harper learning a tough physics less after hitting himself in the face with his bat, and Brad Lidge being on the DL.

There is still plenty of baseball to be played.  Plenty can change between now and the All-Star Break, much less the end of the season.  What will happen remains a mystery, no one know.  Your guess is as good as mine.

D