I can still hear legendary Yankee Public Address Announcer Bob Sheppard introducing Derek Jeter for his first at bat on Sunday, September 21, 2008. Jeter walked to the plate while Sheppard’s voice echoed around Yankee Stadium. Jesse, John, and I had flown to New York solely to watch the Yankees play the Orioles in the final game at Yankee Stadium. The House That Ruth Built was closing.
Baseball brought me to New York City for the first time. I would later live and work in New York for five years, but that first visit was about baseball. Knowing we only had one game to explore one of the greatest ballparks in baseball we arrived at 161st Street Station in the Bronx around 9:30 am, 11 hours before first pitch. We were greeted by a sea of fans who, like us, we eager to spend the day inside the House That Ruth Built before it closed.
We made it to The House That Ruth Built. (The Winning Run/ JJ)
The crowd outside the Stadium was chaotic, joyous, and a bit solemn all at once. The new Yankee Stadium stood just across the street, and except for a few glances I had little interest in the building. I had come to see THE Stadium, not its replacement. After slowly making our way through the line we finally entered the hallowed stadium. We soon learned our first stop would not happen. Monument Park was at capacity and the Yankees were closing it early. We scrapped our other plans and began exploring every nooks and cranny of the stadium that was accessible. We walked around the cheap seats, the foul lines, behind home plate, everywhere but our seats. Our seats were in the right field bleachers, with the Bleacher Creatures. Once you entered the bleacher area, security would not permit you to return to the rest of the stadium. We explored until our feet ached from the concrete. Once you join the Bleacher Creatures, there is no coming back.
Our first glimpse of the field was from behind home plate. Seeing the most famous baseball field in the world, where so much of the game’s history was made, where so many legends played, felt spiritual. I remember silently standing with Jesse and John gazing at the field, soaking it in. Three baseball fanatics in awe of their surroundings.
The field is beautiful from the cheap seats (The Winning Run/JJ)
Warming up before the game. (The Winning Run/JJ)
Breathtaking. (The Winning Run/JJ)
Our day touring Yankee Stadium went by in a flash before we joined the Bleacher Creatures. The pregame festivities included Yankee legends returning to the field one last time. Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, and other living legends were joined by the ghosts of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, among others. Fittingly Babe Ruth’s daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, threw out the final first pitch in the House That Ruth Built.
Once the actual game began, it was like every Yankee game I would attend while living in New York. The nationally televised game between two teams who would finish the season a combined 36.5 games behind first place began at 8:36 p.m. There were plenty of people, like us, who were not the regulars among the Bleacher Creatures. It was easy to identify the Bleacher Creatures. They are loud, obnoxious, generally know their baseball, and above all are die hard Yankee fans. The chants began in the top of the first, roll call. Every Yankee, except the pitcher and catcher, had their name chanted until they acknowledged the Bleacher Creatures. Some players, like Bobby Abreu, waved quickly, others, like Johnny Damon, made us work for a few minutes before waving. The loudest chant was for the Captain, Derek Jeter. Jeter was the man; no one on the field commanded more respect than #2.
Our seats with the Bleacher Creatures. (The Winning Run/JJ)
I remember only pieces of the actual game. We went to the game for the experience, not necessarily the actual game. The Bleacher Creatures did what they do best, being loud. I have clear memories of a chant regarding Hall of Fame player and then ESPN Sunday Night Baseball announcer Joe Morgan, who was broadcasting the game. The chant was simple, “Joe Morgan Sucks! Joe Morgan Sucks! Joe Morgan Sucks!” Over and over and over. I was never a fan of Morgan’s broadcasting, but the Bleacher Creatures were less bashful in voicing their opinion. Another memory is a different chant “Box Seats Suck! Box Seats Suck!” The metal bleachers in right field were anything but leisurious. They reminded me of the bench at a little league game. The most memorable moment sitting among the Bleacher Creatures happened when people sitting several rows in front of us attempting to start the wave. Yes the wave. Every time they tried to start the wave they were booed and told to “Take That Sh@$ Back To Shea!” Eventually stadium security and the New York Police Department stepped in. This was late in the game after beer could lower people’s inhibitions. Obviously the people threatening those trying to start the wave were removed by security. Wrong. Attempting to start the wave gets you removed to the cheers of the Bleacher Creatures. I might have missed something someone said or did, but I like to think they were arrested for attempting to start the wave at Yankee Stadium.
On the field, Jose Molina hit the final home run in Yankee Stadium with a fourth inning two run shot off Chris Waters to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead. The Yankees would stretch out their lead in the sixth inning with a Jason Giambi RBI single and a sacrifice fly by Robinson Cano to score Brett Gardner. The tension was palpable in an otherwise meaningless game. Everyone wanted one last Yankee victory inside the House That Ruth Built. The Yankees led 7-3 heading into the ninth inning.
The guitar riff blasted through the speakers. Metallica’s Enter Sandman filled the stadium. The greatest closer of all time was trotting in from the bullpen. 11 pitches and three groundouts later, Mariano Rivera closed Yankee Stadium.
Mariano Rivera coming in to close out Yankee Stadium. (The Winning Run/JJ)
The final out. (The Winning Run/JJ)
Jesse and me after the game. (The Winning Run/JJ)
John and me after the game. Note the mounted police on the field to keep people off.(The Winning Run/JJ)
The celebration was not the World Series many envisioned to close Yankee Stadium, it was still special. Derek Jeter spoke to the crowd, thanking the fans and creating a bridge between the two stadiums. He was brief and to the point before leading the Yankees around the field to say goodbye. Yankee Stadium was the House That Ruth Built and the House That Jeter Closed.
The game ended just before midnight. An era in baseball history was closed. No one wanted to leave. Grown men were tossing empty water bottles to the player’s kids on the warning track, begging them to fill the bottles with dirt before tossing them back. Every nook and cranny inside Yankee Stadium was filled with memories and the thought of never coming back was almost too much for some to bear. Normally at the end of a Major League game the ushers and security are quick to push you out of your seats. This was different, we stayed in our seats for an hour after the final out. The crowd was slow to disperse and the stadium staff did not have the usual urgency to clear the stadium. It was after 1 a.m. when we left Yankee Stadium. No one was in a hurry to leave the ghosts of baseball history alone in a now closed Yankee Stadium.
A new season is here and despite a lukewarm stove during the offseason, there are some interesting changes that should make our predictions even more misguided than before. Here’s a breakdown of how we see the final standings and playoffs going down. Bernie’s providing a “scouting report” based on our averaged predictions this time around.
|NL East||Derek||Jesse||John||Bernie||Kevin||The Winning Run|
1st Place- Washington Nationals
The Nationals seem to be suffering from the curse of most Washington sports teams with their inability to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs. After last season, this led to a hasty change in management. Any moron with a working foot and hands can drive a Ferrari fast. That’s what this team is and why they’ll win the division.
2nd Place- Philadelphia Phillies
We rag on them a lot. It’s been ten head-scratching years since they won the World Series looking like they could have been contenders for several years. So it’s well-deserved. This time, they cleaned house a bit with a lot of cash-in-hand to build a team on the fly.
3rd Place- Atlanta Braves
They’re rebuilding too but the rebuild has had some setbacks. Shelby Miller and Alex Wood floundered. Wood may not have been comfortable in Atlanta but Miller was left out to dry without run support far too often. The front office traded away the pitching staff (giving up Kimbrel for what!?) to get hitters but also gave up one of the best defensive shortstops in the Majors – Andrelton Simmons. Nothing has worked yet but they’re still not the head case that are the Mets.
4th Place- New York Mets
They still have formidable pitching if they can stay healthy. Their lineup isn’t drastically different than the one that made a World Series appearance in 2015. In some ways, this lineup has some serious slugging potential. But they’re the Mets. As long as there’s a lurking sideshow like Tim Tebow, you can bet these guys can’t stay out of their own heads long enough to hold it together for a season.
5th Place- Miami Marlins
Part of me would like to call this karmic retribution for ruining perfectly good World Series championship teams from the past. That part is because I don’t want to disparage Jeter but, to be fair, this also feels like certain teams flexing some influence to manufacture winners and losers. Or this could be a genius move to truly build from the ground up…I’m not holding my breath.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Bernie||Kevin||The Winning Run|
1st Place- Chicago Cubs
Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana are in. Jake Arrieta is out. Kyle Schwarber looks like he was stranded on a desert island during the off-season but in a good way. There’s far too much young hitting and defensive talent on this roster to think that turnover in the rotation is going to do much of anything. Heck, if Schwarber can run down a fly ball better, Cubs fans should be rejoicing because he showed in Spring Training that he can hit for power just from his shoulder rotation.
2nd Place- Milwaukee Brewers
3rd Place- St. Louis Cardinals
These guys are like the San Antonio Spurs. They capitalize on their experience and reload. However, the reloading hasn’t quite been adapting to the rapid changes going on in other places. Molina is still a machine but that’s relative to his age. Same goes for Carpenter, Fowler, and Wainwright (who’s currently hurt). Tommy Pham has a lot of hustle and if Wacha, Gyorko, Wong, and DeJong can find an extra gear to raise their game, third place is going to be off.
4th Place- Cincinnati Reds
One guy north of 30 on the top of their depth chart for fielding but a whole lot of questions about their rotation. If this team could gel together this season, the NL Central will probably be the most exciting division to watch this season.
5th Place- Pittsburgh Pirates
Heart doesn’t win games if you can’t keep them close. There isn’t enough depth here to contend with the rest of the division. Doubt they’ll come in last in the National League but they rest of the Central provides a big obstacle to move forward.
|NL West||Derek||Jesse||John||Bernie||Kevin||The Winning Run|
1st Place- Los Angeles Dodgers
Let’s give the 2017 National League Pennant winners their due. There’s little else to that’s necessary to mention.
2nd Place- Arizona Diamondbacks
I think Zack Greinke is ready to crush it this season. Taijuan Walker is a solid pick up to round out the rotation. Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb are a powerful one-two punch in a pretty formidable lineup. A healthy A.J. Pollock and an added bat with Steven Souza Jr. gives them a credible threat to unseat the Dodgers this year.
3rd Place- Colorado Rockies
The Rockies didn’t do a whole lot to solidify the impressive season they had last year. Blackmon has been on a steady increase over the last four seasons so he may regress this season. Their rotation is really well balanced without an elite ace.
4th Place- San Francisco Giants
The Giants added Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria to the lineup. Two guys whom many would have expected to be one-team guys for their HoF contending careers. Not sure if that’s a solution or snake oil for their woes that now include an injured (again) Madison Bumgarner.
5th Place- San Diego Padres
Paul Goldschmidt and the Diamondbacks have been waiting in the wings, could 2018 be there time to win the National League West. (Justin K. Aller/ Getty Images)
|AL East||Derek||Jesse||John||Bernie||Kevin||The Winning Run|
|2||Yankees*||Jays*||Blue Jays||Red Sox*||Red Sox*||Red Sox*|
|3||Blue Jays||Orioles||Red Sox||Orioles||Jays||Blue Jays|
1st Place- New York Yankees
Luis Severino made the case for being an elite ace to lead the Yankees’ rotation. They had one of most formidable bullpens in the Majors and they didn’t lose it. They dropped a Todd Frazier and picked up a Giancarlo Stanton. Can Aaron Boone lose with this team? It’s New York and odd things happen when you have that kind of pressure.
2nd Place- Boston Red Sox
Chris Sale is probably grinding his teeth a little bit about Corey Kluber getting the Cy Young. There’s also a healthy David Price. Rick Porcello is an enviable 3rd man in the rotation. Mookie Betts might be the most athletically gifted player in the Majors. They won the division last year and lost to the eventual World Series Champs.
3rd Place- Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays retooled their lineup a bit but they’ll have to do a lot in order to take any attention away from the Yankees or the Red Sox.
4th Place- Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles are losing depth on both sides of the ball as Chris Davis and Adam Jones have become the elder statesmen of the team. Having one of the best closers in the game being stuck on the DL again shouldn’t be a concern if they’re going to struggle to keep games close going into the later innings. Manager Buck Showalter is a crafty guy though and somehow gets his teams through a lot more than expected. But this is a pretty stacked division.
5th Place- Tampa Bay Rays
Carlos Gomez was a surprisingly good pickup to replace Steven Souza Jr (especially since Souza’s starting the season on the DL). The Rays have a solid rotation with Archer, Snell, Faria, and Eovaldi but there’s an extreme of old journeyman and hopeful prospect talent on the other side that doesn’t bode well for a good season.
|AL Central||Derek||Jesse||John||Bernie||Kevin||The Winning Run|
|3||White Sox||White Sox||Royals||Royals||White Sox||Royals|
|4||Royals||Tigers||Tigers||White Sox||Royals||White Sox|
1st Place- Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Indians were a game and a series away from being right back in the action everyone thought they were going to coast into. They were stopped a team on an ascendant run while battling some tough late season injuries. 2017 Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber, leads a strong rotation that should hold things down for a bevy of young talent in Francisco Lindor, Tyler Naquin, and Bradley Zimmer to really break out while hustlers like Jason Kipnis and Yonder Alonso keep the wheels on track.
2nd Place- Minnesota Twins
Paul Molitor managed the Minnesota Twins like a Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn shore up a strong rotation with Ervin Santana looking more like he did eight years ago and a young firestarter in Jose Berrios who just needs to bring his home game focus on the road. Brian Dozier, Byron Buxton, and Miguel Sano have some devastating bats that will keep the pressure on opposing pitchers.
3rd Place- Kansas City Royals
This team is rebuilding and it seems like they’ve got a plan. They’ve got some cash to pull in some talent later but only if they think they can make a run. It’s unlikely so third is an optimistic place that’s based more on their divisional opponents’ savvy and struggle.
4th Place- Chicago White Sox
5th Place- Detroit Tigers
The Detroit Tigers are at least trying to hold it together and present some semblance of a team. I’m still sore about the way they let go of Dave Dombrowski and I hope they’re kicking themselves repeatedly for it.
The Winning Run
1st Place- Houston Astros
They’re the champs. Let’s give them their due. They reloaded this offseason because there really wasn’t anything to rebuild.
2nd Place- Los Angeles Angels
The Angels probably aren’t putting all of their eggs into the Shohei Ohtani basket. They got Zack Cozart and Ian Kinsler to add some firepower to the lineup. The rotation looks awful to me but maybe they think Garrett Richards is finally due to bounce back into his 2014 form. They’ll still need to tweak that bullpen.
3rd Place- Seattle Mariners
The Seattle Mariners resigned Ichiro Suzuki. I really hope he can mentor some of their young talent. What I would love to see is that they ask him to start hitting for the fences instead of leading off so we can see some of his fabled home run hitting ability. There are some solid elements in Jean Segura and Robinson Cano, speed in the outfield with Dee Gordon, and if they can keep things close an excited closer in Edwin Diaz.
4th Place- Oakland Athletics
Moneyball doesn’t work when everyone else has the analytics you have now.
5th Place- Texas Rangers
The Rangers sold the farm and now they’re using some of their prize bulls to till the field for the next team to come in.
Will one of the best right handed hitters of all time, Miguel Cabrera, play for a last place Tigers team in 2018? (AP Photo/ Carlos Osorio)
|NL WC Winner||Rockies||Cubbies||Rockies||Dodgers||Dbacks||Brewers|
|NL WC Loser||Brewers||D-backs||Cardinals||Brewers||Marlins||D-backs|
|AL WC Winner||Yankees||Royals||Twins||Red Sox||Red Sox||Angels|
|AL WC Loser||Angels||Jays||Angels||Indians||Twins||Red Sox|
|NLDS 1-4 Winner||Dodgers||Dodgers||Dodgers||Dodgers||Dodgers||Dodgers|
|NLDS 1-4 Loser||Rockies||Cubbies||Rockies||Nationals||Dbacks||Brewers|
|NLDS 2-3 Winner||Nationals||Follies||Cubs||D-backs||Cubs||Cubs|
|NLDS 2-3 Loser||Cubs||Reds||Nationals||Cardinals||Nats||Nationals|
|ALDS 1-4 Winner||Indians||Indians||Astros||Astros||Red Sox||Astros|
|ALDS 1-4 Loser||Yankees||Royals||Twins||Red Sox||Astros||Angels|
|ALDS 2-3 Winner||Astros||Astros||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees|
|ALDS 2-3 Winner||Red Sox||Yankees||Indians||Twins||Cleveland||Indians|
|ALCS Loser||Indians||Indians||Astros||Astros||Red Sox||Astros|
Red Sox fans should be excited. The Winning Run picked the Yankees to win the World Series. We all know that means the Yankees have no chance for another ring. (AP Photo)
|World Series Champ||Nationals||Astros||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees|
|World Series Runner Up||Astros||Dodgers||Cubs||Dodgers||Dodgers||Dodgers|
Sorry in advance to the New York Yankees because this means they’re probably not going to win the World Series this year.
BL, DJ, JJ, & JB
Let’s try this again. For the fourth year in a row The Winning Run will try in vain to accurately predict what will happen during the 2017 Major League Baseball season. We do this knowing that we are terrible at this, yet it is still fun to try. The only thing that we can guarantee about our predictions are that they are wrong and the actual season will be better than the season we predicted. Thanks to Bernie for his commentary on each team.
We realize that the season has already begun and that we are late to the party. There is a good reason for this. We were all attending Derek’s wedding with Jesse as the Best Man, Bernie as a groomsman, and John as an usher. Sorry about the delay, life got busy. And so, here are our predictions for the 2017 season.
|1st||Washington Nationals||New York Muttz||Washington Nationals||Washington Nationals|
|2nd||New York Mets*||Washington Gnats||Atlanta Braves||New York Mets|
|3rd||Miami Marlins||Atlanta Bravos||New York Mets||Miami Marlins|
|4th||Atlanta Braves||Miami Fish||Miami Marlins||Atlanta Braves|
|5th||Philadelphia Phillies||Philadelphia Follies||Philadelphia Phillies||Philadelphia Phillies|
Washington Nationals – These guys are like Peyton Manning. Great in the regular season but can’t seem to navigate the playoffs. Will they capture hardware this year? I won’t hold my breath. Bryce Harper is pretty much a force of nature in the game but more like a tornado in that the damage is only done if you get in the way.
New York Mets – I’m torn about putting them further down the list. Why? Because of another f-ing football player – Tim Tebow. With arguably the best rotation in the league and young bats that are finding their stride, these guys only get in their own way. If they could borrow some of the “No F@#$s Given” attitude of their crosstown rivals, I’d put them in the NLCS without hesitation. If there’s even a whisper of Tebow getting called up after the All-Star Break, write these guys off.
Miami Marlins – Stanton looked good in the WBC. The team met with considerable tragedies last season. Even if they get it together and settled this year, they’re a couple seasons away from elbowing out the Mets and the Nationals.
Atlanta Braves – The Braves are rebuilding with some interesting young talent. Dansby Swanson is really just the icing on the cake. Big Sexy, Bartolo Colon, is just fun to watch as he continues trucking along as if he were decades younger. Hopefully, he’ll share his experience in a way that keeps the young guys on track and out of trouble. It’s still a long way from seeing them place higher in the division.
Philadelphia Phillies – There are few franchises that I can think of that are more poorly managed from the front office on down. Did I bother to look up anything on their off-season? Why bother?
Bartolo Colon brings his power bat and arm to Atlanta, can Big Sexy hit career home run #2 for the Braves. (www.mlb.com)
|1st||Chicago Cubs||Chicago Harry Caray’s||Chicago Cubs||Chicago Cubs|
|2nd||Pittsburgh Pirates||Pittsburgh Buckos*||St. Louis Cardinals*||St. Louis Cardinals*|
|3rd||St. Louis Cardinals||Cincinnati Fighting Vottos||Pittsburgh Pirates||Milwaukee Brewers|
|4th||Milwaukee Brewers||St. Louis Dreadbirds||Milwaukee Brewers||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|5th||Cincinnati Reds||Milwaukee Brewniversity||Cincinnati Reds||Cincinnati Reds|
Chicago Cubs – The Cubs have to get the nod for being the World Series Champs but especially so because the win came on the backs of a core group of young talent in Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Addison Russell. Javier Baez continues to amaze with his acrobatic defense and it’s getting more refined. Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks are the only guys on the rotation I’d trust to finish the season strong but that may be all they need to go deep in the playoffs.
St. Louis Cardinals – I’m now more convinced than ever that Yadier Molina is a cyborg. I keep thinking they’re too old to keep up and I’m looking like a fool as they pull out wins. What’s also got me intrigued this season is the new roster of incoming talent with guys like Alex Reyes (before he needed Tommy John surgery) and Luke Weaver. They’re rebuilding while still competing for the playoffs. That deserves a lot of respect.
Milwaukee Brewers – I think they’re trying to follow the Cardinals’ example of rebuilding without demolishing. For some odd reason, I have a feeling Junior Guerra will have a great season. I don’t put a lot of stock into spring training except to see how individuals spent their offseason getting ready but they’re looking pretty good.
Pittsburgh Pirates – I’ve been high on them in the past. I think I need to sober up. Aside from their all-star outfield, I’m not sure there’s a lot else to be hopeful about.
Cincinnati Reds – They’re rebuilding. I don’t think they’ll be the worst but this division may be the overall best division in all of MLB. Finishing last in the Central but maybe 10th in the National League.
|1st||Los Angeles Dodgers||Colorado Silver Bullets||Los Angeles Dodgers||San Francisco Giants|
|2nd||San Francisco Giants*||Los Angeles Vin Scullys*||Colorado Rockies*||Los Angeles Dodgers*|
|3rd||Colorado Rockies||San Padres Big Macs||San Francisco Giants||Colorado Rockies|
|4th||Arizona Diamondbacks||Arizona Trouser Snakes||Arizona Diamondbacks||Arizona Diamondbacks|
|5th||San Diego Padres||San Francisco Gigantors||San Diego Padres||San Diego Padres|
San Francisco Giants – Cueto and Samardzija still have enough in the tank which makes this the best rotation in this division. Melancon is a solid closer addition to anchor a bullpen. The talent on this roster is well-experienced but not fighting the twilight of their careers.
Los Angeles Dodgers – These guys caught lightning in a bottle. Seager is my pick to take MVP this season. But there’s some age on this team that’s probably going to show. It’s not just tarnish, it might be rust. I’m not sold on Joc Pederson. Though he’s shown some moments of pure brilliance, it’s too streaky.
Colorado Rockies – If Trevor Story stays healthy this team may be knocking on the Dodgers door…wait, no pitching. Nevermind. Arizona might catch them by surprise.
San Diego Padres – This team may have better luck if they spent some time with the real life versions of their mascot.
The Diamondbacks and Paul Goldschmidt could be a surprise in the NL West. (Ezra Shaw)
|1st||Boston Red Sox||Toronto Canucks||Boston Red Sox||Boston Red Sox|
|2nd||Toronto Blue Jays*||New York Spankees||New York Yankees*||New York Yankees*|
|3rd||New York Yankees||Baltimore Riots||Toronto Blue Jays||Baltimore Orioles*|
|4th||Baltimore Orioles||Steve Irwin Killers||Tampa Bay Rays||Toronto Blue Jays|
|5th||Tampa Bay Rays||Boston Dead Sux||Baltimore Orioles||Tampa Bay Rays|
Boston Red Sox – Getting Chris Sale indicates the Boston Red Sox want to win now. With Price in the pipeline, they might have a slow start to the season but this is probably the most formidable American League rotation this season. There’s plenty of hitting available in the lineup without Benintendi. So he’s just icing on the cake. Blech.
New York Yankees – I think it’s safe to say that Tanaka is a bonafide ace. I’ve heard that Sabathia may have finally perfected another pitch and developed the sort of patience necessary for an arm that’s lost some heat. They got some bats to hopefully keep them in games late so that they can show off what may be one of the top 5 bullpens in the league.
Baltimore Orioles – Manny Machado is a man amongst boys and it’s often forgotten how young he is. Adam Jones is still a force to be reckoned with. This is a roster that’s really good up and down but what I think puts them in third place is that there’s more potential firepower in the rotation and lineup than…
Toronto Blue Jays – Probably the most balanced team in all of major league baseball. Yet, the underachieving in the playoffs is problematic for me. I think this is the year where it’s going to catch up to them this season.
Chris Sale changed his sox and could make Boston untouchable in the East. (www.si.com)
|1st||Cleveland Indians||Kansas City Monarchs||Cleveland Indians||Cleveland Indians|
|2nd||Detroit Tigers||Cleveland Up Three Games To None*||Detroit Tigers||Kansas City Royals|
|3rd||Kansas City Royals||Chicago Black Sox||Minnesota Twins||Detroit Tigers|
|4th||Minnesota Twins||Minnesota Twinkies||Kansas City Royals||Minnesota Twins|
|5th||Chicago White Sox||Detroit Militarized Zone||Chicago White Sox||Chicago White Sox|
Cleveland Indians – These guys didn’t get into the World Series because they were built on foundation of well-experienced and stalwart veteran stars. This is a dynamic team with a creative manager. 2017 is a reloading, not refurbishing, year.
Kansas City Royals – Something didn’t click in 2016 but this is a well-balanced team. The departure of Wade Davis and Edinson Volquez is troublesome but they added some bats to increase their hitting production. Danny Duffy is an exciting talent that is screaming elite ace but let’s hold judgement until we see how he navigates the season.
Detroit Tigers – A veteran team with the closest thing to Murderers’ Row in the AL. If Verlander bounces back quickly they should be considered higher but, aside from Zimmermann, the rotation is unexciting. K-Rod had a great 2016 season but this doesn’t seem to be a bullpen that can truly shorten games. It’s feast or famine with the Tigers this year.
Minnesota Twins – They circled the wagons a bit with their lineup but it’s a solid core group. There’s an interesting variety in the rotation but that’s all that can be said about their pitching.
Chicago White Sox – New manager and a great prospect. But at what cost? Sorry, but the departure of Sale and Eaton leaves a lot to be desired.
|1st||Houston Astros||The Acute Angles of Anaheim||Seattle Mariners||Houston Astros|
|2nd||Seattle Mariners*||Houston Colt 45s*||Houston Astros*||Seattle Mariners|
|3rd||Texas Rangers||Oakland White Elephants||Texas Rangers||Texas Rangers|
|4th||Los Angeles Angels||Texas Dangers||Los Angeles Angels||Los Angeles Angels|
|5th||Oakland Athletics||Seattle Seamen||Oakland Athletics||Oakland Athletics|
Houston Astros – Reddick, Aoki, and Beltran…the Astros built up one of the more enviable lineups in the American League. This should take the pressure off an ERA heavy rotation that can usually pitch deep into games. Gregerson and Giles is a great 1-2 punch in the bullpen.
Seattle Mariners – This remodeling seems to be going along well. Edwin Diaz looked good in the World Baseball Classic with some nasty late movement in his off-speed pitches. But still not sure the Mariners pitching can consistently give the lineup 8 innings to get to him. This lineup looks good though so opposing pitchers may have trouble getting around Cruz and Cano.
Texas Rangers – These guys finished first last season and are getting what should be a healthy Yu Darvish. But I’m not sold that the departure of Desmond, Beltran, and Moreland was properly accounted for in their hitting lineup.
Los Angeles Angels – Having the best player in baseball shouldn’t make a team complacent. But that’s what we have here. The addition of Cameron Maybin brings some good lumber to the yard but the rotation is iffy and the bullpen is in shambles.
Oakland Athletics – These guys may need a new training staff. To say the pitching staff is a stone’s throw away from triage belies the fact that it’s a stone thrown by my four year-old godson.
Robinson Cano and the Mariners should be tough to handle with solid pitching and hitting. (Troy Taormina- USA TODAY Sports)
My season picks were more serious than these. This is more about what I would like to see happen and what I think would make a great storyline for the game. (The number following indicates games won in the series)
NL Wild Card (previously indicated by a * in the season ranking predictions)
|Winner||San Francisco Giants||Pittsburgh Buckos||Colorado Rockies||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|Loser||New York Mets||Los Angeles Vin Scullys||St. Louis Cardinals||St. Louis Cardinals|
Al Wild Card (previously indicated by a * in the season ranking predictions)
|Winner||Seattle Mariners||Cleveland Up Three Games To None||Houston Astros||New York Yankees|
|Loser||Toronto Blue Jays||Houston Colt 45s||New York Yankees||Baltimore Orioles|
|Winner (1-4)||Washington Nationals||Colorado Silver Bullets||Washington Nationals||Los Angeles Dodgers – 3|
|Loser (1-4)||San Francisco Giants||Pittsburgh Buckos||Colorado Rockies||Chicago Cubs – 2|
|Winner (2-3)||Chicago Cubs||New York Muttz||Chicago Cubs||San Francisco Giants – 3|
|Loser (2-3)||Los Angeles Dodgers||Chicago Harry Caray’s||Los Angeles Dodgers||Washington Nationals – 1|
|Winner (1-4)||Boston Red Sox||Kansas City Monarchs||Cleveland Indians||New York Yankees – 3|
|Loser (1-4)||Seattle Mariners||Cleveland Up Three Games To None||Houston Astros||Cleveland Indians – 2|
|Winner (2-3)||Cleveland Indians||The Acute Angles of Anaheim||Seattle Marines||Boston Red Sox – 3|
|Loser (2-3)||Houston Astros||Toronto Canucks||Boston Red Sox||Houston Astros – 2|
|Winner||Washington Nationals||Colorado Silver Bullets||Washington Nationals||San Francisco Giants – 4|
|Loser||Chicago Cubs||New York Muttz||Chicago Cubs||Los Angeles Dodgers – 3|
|Winner||Cleveland Indians||Kansas City Monarchs||Seattle Mariners||New York Yankees – 4|
|Loser||Boston Red Sox||The Acute Angles of Anaheim||Boston Red Sox||Boston Red Sox – 2|
Who will celebrate in October in 2017? (Brian Cassella/ Chicago Tribune)
|Winner||Washington Nationals – 4||Colorado Silver Bullets – 4||Seattle Mariners – 4||New York Yankees – 4|
|Loser||Boston Red Sox – 3||Kansas City Monarchs – 2||Washington Nationals – 2||San Francisco Giants – 3|
Time will tell if any of our predictions are correct. This is our fourth year doing this and we still are horrible at making predictions. So don’t blame us if we are wrong, we warned you. Just remember, baseball makes it better.
DJ, JJ, JB, and BL
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.
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:
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’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 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.
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.
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 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.
Every time a major free agent signs with a new team the fans celebrate and begin dreaming about the future possibilities of the team. If you read the newspapers or internet after every blockbuster free agency signing, it would be difficult to believe anything other than that team is now destined to at least reach the World Series, if not win it all. This is especially true when starting pitchers sign major deals. While the debate over what the future holds for the player and their new team should ignite the passions of the fans and media, this offseason feels as though there is an additional layer to the hype and excitement.
The fans buying tickets, jerseys, hats, television packages, etc. are the driving force for the business of baseball. If fans were not willing to spend $10 for the cheap seats or hundreds of dollars for premium seats, not to mention food, clothing, and media, the players and owners would not see the financial benefits they do. Every free agent dreams of cashing in on their years of hard work for a contract like the one David Price has with the Red Sox. Price signed for seven years, $217 million contract. He does not have to worry about working another day in his life. The same is true for Jason Heyward with the Cubs (eight years, $184 million), Johnny Cueto with the Giants (six years, $130 million), and Justin Upton with the Tigers (six years, $132.75 million). Their talent on the diamond has more than secured each of their financial future.
Justin Upton looks to turn the Tigers around quickly. (www.rollingstone.com)
Financial security also exists for those players not in the upper echelon of free agents. Non-ace starting pitchers can often dictate whether a team contends for a World Series, or even for the playoffs, as much as an ace like Felix Hernandez can. Excellent pitchers like Scott Kazmir can dictate how a team plays throughout the season. This reality has resulted in Scott Kazmir signing with the Dodgers (three years, $48 million). Fans in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, and the north side of Chicago should all rejoice in the talent their teams’ have signed during this offseason.
Before those dreams of World Series championships and parades permanently ingrain themselves into their minds, it would be best to temper those dreams. This offseason has shown that both the teams and the players want to win and win now. Owners are using deferred money to soften the burden of paying large contracts. Consider Chris Davis’ contract with the Orioles. He signed a seven-year, $161 million contract, with $42 million of the contract deferred. The Orioles will continue paying Davis until 2037. The financial deferment will enable the Orioles to spend money elsewhere in the hopes of winning more games and hopefully a World Series.
Scott Kazmir proves the opt-out clause is not reserved strictly for top free agents. (Colin E. Braley/ AP)
Ownership is not alone in this win now mentality. Players understand they only have a small window to win at least one World Series during their career and they prefer not to waste valuable years playing for teams that have no chance of making the playoffs, much less winning a World Series. The no trade clause has long been the means by which players protected themselves against a trade to a terrible team. However, what if the team they are playing is that terrible team?
Not every player will want to opt out of their contract. Even some elite players may decide it is best to remain with a team despite not consistently contending for the playoffs. If Todd Helton had an opt-out clause in the nine year, $141.5 million contract that he signed in 2001, few would have blamed him if he had left the Rockies before the end of the contract. During Helton’s 17-year career, Colorado had five winning season, made the playoffs twice, getting swept by the Red Sox in the 2007 World Series and losing to the Phillies in the 2009 NLDS. Helton remained an elite player throughout his career, but he rarely played for a team that had a hope of making the playoffs. While Helton is a Rockies legend, having spent his entire career playing in Colorado, he could have moved on from the Rockies later in his career if he felt a better situation for winning was available. Given the option to leave the Rockies does not mean Helton would have left, but it could have pushed management to field a more competitive team in the short term instead of waiting for the team to rebuild through homegrown talent.
Would Todd Helton’s career be remembered differently if he could have opted out of Colorado? (www.beforeitwasnews.com)
Opt-out clauses seems to have gained enormous steam this offseason. Players will nearly always accept the large contracts from teams for their services, as they should. There does come a point for every player, when their financial future is secure, that enables them to prioritize winning and extending their careers. The opt-out clause empowers players to have more control regarding their career arc. They are no longer stuck with a team if the team’s plan for winning does not materialize. Players also gain time as they do not have to spend prime playing years waiting to become a free agent and lose interest from contending teams.
We may not see Johnny Cueto, Jason Heyward, Scott Kazmir, David Price, or Justin Upton fulfill the full length of their new contracts from free agency. Each player has an opt-out clause, enabling them to return to free agency in pursuit of a larger payday or joining another team they see as a better fit. All the big free agent signings of this offseason could be back on the market following the 2018 season.
|Team||Years||Contract Amount (Millions)||Opt Out After||Pre Opt-Out Seasons||
Pre Opt-Out Salary (Millions)
|David Price||Red Sox||
The excitement from these free agent signings may only last a few seasons. The opt-out clause in these contracts could act as a player friendly way to rent their services to a new team, much like teams trading away soon-to-be free agents to contenders. Players are in a win-win situation with these contracts, as they can now maximize their potential to earn money, play for winning teams, and have longer careers. The focus has long been on the downside for the team when they sign players like Albert Pujols or Robinson Cano to long and expensive contracts. The final years of these contracts result in players receiving higher annual salaries than their abilities would garner them if they were up for a new contract. Such long contracts also handcuff most teams in their efforts to field a contending team. The Texas Rangers would have remained irrelevant had they not traded Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees. The Rodriguez contract (10 years, $252 million) was too large for the team to handle financially. Beyond the financial aspects, the rise in opt-out clauses means players have the opportunity to leave a team if they believe a better contract and situation exists for them elsewhere.
The contract signed by Giancarlo Stanton last offseason quietly signaled the shift away from gigantic contracts to shorter contracts that are more player friendly. The Marlins, aside from needing to regain some credibility with baseball fans in south Florida, solidified Stanton as the foundation they would use to build a contender. Stanton’s contract blended the old and new approaches to signing big free agent talent. Miami wanted to prevent Stanton from ever reaching free agency and signed him to a 13 year, $325 million contract. This means Stanton should be playing in South Florida until he is 37, maybe 38 if the Marlins exercise a team option for the 2028 season. The years and the money are comparable to the contracts for Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano, and Alex Rodriguez. These 10+ year contracts lock down a player well beyond their productive seasons. While this contract may not seem like a move away from those other massive contracts, the inclusion of an opt-out clause was striking. However, Stanton received an opt-out clause following year six, the 2020 season. At the age of 30, Stanton could still command an enormous contract on the free agent market. The opt-out also prevents Stanton from playing the vast majority of his career for the Marlins, if ownership is not willing or able to put a winning product on the field. The Giancarlo Stanton contract gave the Marlins, and their fans, the stability of having their player signed long term yet it gave the player the ability to hold the team accountable.
Giancarlo Stanton’s contract ushered in a new era of mega contracts but with an opt-out clause. (www.grantland.com)
The ability to opt out of a contract may transform the way free agency operates. Players now have the ability to hold their team accountable. Opting out means a team cannot place all of its faith in building a winning team in a single player, or simply building for the future. Baseball is a team sport and players expect and demand that management works to build a winning team. This new approach to signing players to contracts allows successful teams to sign premium players for the long-term, while giving players the ability to leave a team for a better situation or payday if they desire. No player wants to make less than they are worth or languish with a team going nowhere for their entire career. Fans must understand until a player decides not to opt out of the contract the new free agent has in reality signed for only a few years. Opt-out clauses create two contracts out of one. The player holds all the cards in deciding if the second contract comes into effect. Fans can dream, but their dreams need to focus more on short-term results instead of building a dynasty with their newly signed free agent.
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 could push the Astros over the edge towards a World Series. (www.todaysknuckleball.com)
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 Simmons and his glove could be the solution to the Angels problems. (www.rantsports.com)
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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 is the model for how the Athletics can return to their winning ways. (www.athleticsnation.com)
“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
As we come down the home stretch of the Major League Baseball season, the playoff picture is coming more in focus. While some races are no longer even a race, see the American League East, others have not sorted themselves out just yet. The National Central and West have their top two teams separated by 3.5 and 4 games respectively. The Dodgers and Cardinals are one bad series away from letting the Giants and Pirates back into the race; ultimately Los Angeles and St. Louis control their own destinies.
While the race for the division does not have the nail-biting, down to the wire action which we have seen in past years, the Wild Card race is full of life. The American League Wild Card race has plenty of intrigue. The Athletics continue with their late season swoon, yet remain on top of the Wild Card race. This shows how well the Athletics were playing before this extended rough patch. The Royals are clinging to a two game lead over the Mariners for the second Wild Card spot. The Royals have not played a playoff game since the 1985 World Series. Kansas City is ready to host a playoff game, and reenergize their long suffering fan base. The Mariners have turned things around quickly in the Pacific Northwest. Few people expected Seattle to be right back in the playoff hunt, even after signing Robinson Cano. The Mariners keep winning despite the apparent holes in their team. The American League Wild Card race is coming down to the wire with one team trying to capitalize on the success it has built through a reinvention of baseball scouting, while the other two teams look to return to the playoffs after rebuilding and reenergizing their fan base.
The National League Wild Card race has San Francisco leading, while it is also desperately trying to chase down the Dodgers to avoid the Wild Card game. The Pirates are holding the second Wild Card slot after a second half surge, made all the more impressive with Andrew McCutchen missing time due to injury and the brilliant play of Josh Harrison. Lurking just 1.5 games behind Pittsburgh is Milwaukee. The Brewers have gone from leading the National League Central to fighting for their playoff lives. Milwaukee surprised everyone with their success through two-thirds of the season, but it appears the season is going to be a little too long for the Brewers. The Braves have all but played themselves out of the playoffs with a woefully inconsistent offense. Atlanta has fallen back to the .500 mark and is not showing signs of reviving this season. National League Central foes look to fight it out for the final playoff spot this season.
Looking around baseball it would be easy to simply say the World Series will be a freeway series between the Dodgers and the Angels. However, baseball is funny in that you can be red hot one week and then it can all fall apart. The Nationals or Cardinals could beat the Dodgers in a series. All it takes is some timely hitting and for the Dodgers rotation to have a bad start or two. San Francisco could go on a tear. While they look destined to host the Wild Card game, they could have just as easily won the division if they were not in the National League West. The Angels are also not a lock to make the World Series. The Athletics could start clicking again and go on a crazy winning streak in the playoffs and knock anyone out. The Orioles and Tigers are no push overs either. While there does seem to be a possibility of a Dodgers-Angels World Series there is plenty of baseball left in the regular season and in the playoffs to ruin the all Los Angeles World Series. It is time to enjoy the hunt for October.