Don't you love stuff like this: Stan Musial was born Nov. 21, 1920 in Donora, Pa.; Ken Griffey Jr. was born Nov. 21, 1969 ... in Donora, Pa.

As Bill James once wrote, Griffey Jr. is the second-best left-handed-hitting outfielder ever from Donora, Pa. (Griffey Sr. was also born in Donora, alas, on April 10.)

Of course, for those of us of a certain age, it's even more shocking that Griffey is 45 years old. It seems not that long ago I was driving home from college in 1989 and rushing out to a Mariners game to see the 19-year-old phenom in person for the first time. He didn't start that game I went to, but he pinch-hit in the eighth inning of a tie game against the Brewers ... and hit a two-run home run off Bill Wegman. Here's the box score.

Back in August, Jayson Stark wrote a "What if" piece on Griffey, asking how home runs he would hit had he stayed healthy. He hit 630; Jayson estimated he probably gets to 730-755. In retrospect, it's amazing and sad that Griffey received MVP votes just once after turning 30 -- and that was a 24th-place finish in 2005.

Because of that lack of production in his 30s, it's hard to argue that Griffey had the more valuable career than Musial, who hit .325/.415/.560 while averaging 26 home runs per season in his 30s. Musial played 150 games six times in his 30s, Griffey topped out at 145. Their career WAR isn't close, Musial at 128.1, Griffey at 83.6.

Still, there's no shame in being the second-best player ever from the small town 20 miles south of Pittsburgh. Happy birthday, Junior.



I love transactions tree. Last week, I tweeted a link from our Indians blog that traced Cy Young winner Corey Kluber back to former Indians infielder Jerry Dybzinski through a series of transactions.

Ben Lindbergh of Grantland wrestled up the "oldest" roster spot for each team. Awesome idea and execution. For two teams, that was merely a draft pick: Matt Cain for the Giants in 2002 and Jimmy Rollins for the Phillies in 1996. For other teams, you had go back to the 1990s and 1980s.

In some ways, this shows the constant and ongoing fluidity of baseball, especially compared to the other sports where you don't see as many trades and draft picks. Moves that go back several generations of general managers can still affect a team's fortunes years and years later.

As it turns out, the "oldest" roster is, indeed, Corey Kluber. Dybzinski was originally drafted in 1977 and traded to the White Sox for Pat Tabler in 1983. Six players later, Tabler had become Jake Westbrook, who was traded to St. Louis as part of a three-way trade that saw the Padres send Kluber, then a minor leaguer, to the Indians on July 31, 2010.

Anyway, check out Ben's piece for the cool graphical representation of the oldest trees for all 30 teams.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Andrew Friedman just acquired his old Tampa Bay reliever, Joel Peralta, for hard-throwing righty Juan Dominguez. ... Peralta is coming off a 4.41 ERA as his hit rate increased. He's always been homer-prone as he's an extreme flyball pitcher. Considering he's 39, this looks like a minor upgrade for bullpen depth at best. ... The key to the deal may actually be the second reliever acquired, Triple-A lefty Adam Liberatore, who struck out 86 in 65 innings and allowed just one home run. ... We all saw what happened last October to the Dodgers lefty relievers. ... The Dodgers lost hard-throwing but injury-prone lefty Onelki Garcia on waivers to the White Sox. Garcia made just one appearance in the minors in 2014. ... Still don't see how Andre Ethier gets traded unless the Dodgers eat pretty much the entire contract. He's still owed at least $56 million with a possible $17.5 million vesting option in 2018. ... Catcher? Shortstop? Dodgers have an estimated $222.6 payroll right now according to Baseball-Reference and still have no sure thing at catcher and shortstop behind A.J. Ellis and Justin Turner/Mel Rojas/Erisbel Arruebarrena. ... Which explains why Ned Colletti was fired (err, moved to another position). ... But, hey, at least they have Brian Wilson and Brandon League around for a combined $17 million to provide top-grade relief work. ... Going after Alexei Ramirez makes a lot of sense, as you'd get him for two years at $10 million per. But he's not going to be cheap. ... I wonder if Clayton Kershaw has watched either of those postseason starts. ... Wouldn't shock me if Alex Guerrero ends up seeing more time at second in 2015 than Dee Gordon.

San Francisco Giants: As each day passes, it seems less likely that Pablo Sandoval returns to the Giants, no? ... As good as he's been in October, I just don't see him as a $100 million player. But with the way money is flying around these days like leaves in a Kansas windstorm, I guess it will probably happen. ... The Giants are reportedly one of the teams in on Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, having seen him four times, according to Yahoo's Jeff Passan. ... The Giants' website currently lists Tim Lincecum as a reliever, not a starter on its depth chart. Which may be his 2015 role. ... May have a little Joe Panik blog coming up later today. ... Things I miss in the offseason: Brandon Crawford's defense. ... Justin Masterson is a good buy-low candidate for a team like the Giants. He shouldn't cost much after a terrible season. He's always struggled against left-handers, but that wouldn't hurt him so much at AT&T Park. ... Not sure Torii Hunter would switch leagues but he'd be a nice platoon partner for Gregor Blanco in left field. ... How much money did Madison Bumgarner leave on the table with that contract he signed a few years ago? It's hard for young players to turn down that lifetime security but the teams are definitely benefiting from these long-term extensions.

San Diego Padres: Surprisingly, the Padres are also one of the teams rumored to be hot after Tomas. Certainly makes sense for the Padres to look for some power. Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com reports the Braves and Padres are now the favorites to land Tomas. ... Do Padres fans even remember what a power hitter looks like? ... What will Jedd Gyorko do in 2015? No idea. Steamer projects him at .242/.303/.399, 1.9 WAR. ... If Rene Rivera can come close to hitting .252/.319/.432 again, he's a very valuable player given his terrific pitch-framing behind the plate. ... Tyson Ross allowed two runs or fewer in 19 of his 31 starts. Padres got him a couple years ago for Andy Parrino and Andrew Werner. Memo to Billy Beane: Ouch. ... Pablo Sandoval to the Padres? Outspending the Giants to steal him away would certainly be a coup. Or a big mistake in three years when Sandoval shows up to camp at 270 pounds. ... Fantasy sleeper for 2015: Jesse Hahn. In fact, the Ross-Andrew Cashner-Ian Kennedy-Hahn-Odrisamer Despaigne rotation is pretty decent. ... Rumors are out there that Ross and Cashner could be traded, but I think the Padres have to keep both and figure out how to improve the offense.

Colorado Rockies: It's all about whether new GM Jeff Bridich will be shopping Troy Tulowitzki. ... Look for the Tulo rumors to heat up during the winter meetings, or once Hanley Ramirez signs somewhere. ... Tulo's contract isn't bad, but teams don't like to pay big salaries AND have to give up elite prospects for a player. I think it's going to be difficult to extract a massive return for him. ... The Rockies designated Juan Nicasio for assignment. A little surprising but he hasn't been that effective after suffering a broken neck late in his 2011 rookie season. ... Man, that rotation just looks awful. ... It's not all Coors Field, either. The Rockies had the worst road rotation ERA in the majors (4.97). ... I'd say the Rockies are further from contending than any other team right now. ... Will the Rockies ever learn to properly evaluate their players? Charlie Blackmon had a .269 OBP on the road. Even given the "Rockies hitter struggle when they go on the road because of the Coors Field" effect, that's unacceptable. He's really a fourth outfielder. ... Rockies may have most underrated fan base in the game: Finished fifth in the NL attendance for the second year in a row despite another terrible season. They actually drew more fans than the playoff seasons of 2007 and 2009, so kudos to the Rockies' marketing and ticketing departments.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Just a couple years ago it seemed the Diamondbacks were loaded with young pitchers and pitching prospects. Now they're hoping Jeremy Hellickson can re-discover some of the luck he had his first couple of years in Tampa. ... Wouldn't bank on that happening. ... The good news: The Diamondbacks hired a guy to head their analytics department! ... The weird news: Dr. Ed Lewis is a 66-year-old former veterinarian, not that 66-year-old former veterinarians can't be good at baseball analysis (Lewis was also a stock market analyst). ... Shockingly, he's a longtime friend of Tony La Russa. Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic has the story of their longtime friendship. ... Hey, who knows. It's easy to poke fun at the the hire when other teams are hiring computer whiz kids and MIT grads for their analytics departments. It's really about asking the right kinds of questions, which presumably La Russa has the knowledge and experience to ask. ... Or he could be so grounded in what he believes that he won't ask the right question. ... All that said, I'm rooting for Dave Stewart to succeed as a GM. As a minority GM and ex-player, he's one of a kind now that Kenny Williams has moved out of that position for the White Sox.
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When Mariano Rivera called it a career after the 2013 season, David Robertson graduated from eighth-inning reliever to closer. In 2014, he went 4-5 with 39 saves and a 3.08 ERA while allowing a .192 batting average. This fall, he turned down the Yankees' $15.3 million qualifying offer -- which would have been the largest single-season salary ever paid to a relief pitcher – and decided instead to seek a multiyear contract on the free-agent market.

MLB Free Agency: Half-Full, Half-Empty Logo
Robertson probably won't get $15 million per season, but Jim Bowden predicted a three-year, $39 million contract for Robertson. ESPN's Andrew Marchand reported earlier this offseason that Robertson is looking to match or exceed the four-year, $50 million contract Jonathan Papelbon received from the Phillies a few years ago.

Is Robertson worth it? Let's do another half-full, half-empty.

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This year's World Series teams showed the importance of a deep, dominant late-inning bullpen crew, as both the Royals and Giants (with the exception of Madison Bumgarner) had mediocre rotations but terrific bullpens. Just ask the Nationals or Tigers about the importance of a shutdown reliever. The Nationals might have won two World Series titles by now if Drew Storen hadn't blown crucial save opportunities in the 2012 and 2014 postseasons, and the Tigers have struggled with their bullpen for years. Both teams could be interested in Robertson.

There's no denying Robertson's late-inning dominance. Over the past four seasons, his 2.20 ERA is sixth in the majors among pitchers with at least 200 innings in that time span -- and that's come in Yankee Stadium, where routine fly balls to right field land three rows deep in the stands. He's allowed a .201 batting average over those four years with a strikeout rate of 34 percent -- again, sixth overall in the majors. Not bad for a onetime 17th-round draft pick.

He's showing no signs of slowing down; indeed, his 2014 strikeout rate of 37.1 percent was the highest of his career. Robertson throws a cutter and a curveball (and a very occasional changeup). It's that curveball, one of the best in the game, that has made him an elite reliever:

David Robertson heat mapESPN Stats & Info


The curveball is a swing-and-miss pitch and generates a lot of ground balls, owing to that sharp 12-to-6 break and location down in the zone. Obviously, it's Robertson's go-to pitch when he's ahead in the count. Since 2011, batters have hit .161 against it with one home run, 140 strikeouts and just seven walks.

Robertson has had two minor DL stints in recent seasons, but neither was an arm-related injury. He repeats his delivery well, and considering he's entering his age-30 season, he's a good bet to remain healthy over a three- or four-year contract.

Importantly, he's pitched in New York. If he ends up leaving the Yankees, there should be no concerns about how he will handle the pressure of closing elsewhere.

HALF-EMPTY

There's a reason the Papelbon contract was much derided at the time: Relievers, even good ones, just don't create enough value to be worth huge, multiyear contracts. Plus, it's not that hard to come up with good ones. Look at the Phillies; They have Ken Giles ready to take over as closer but are stuck with Papelbon's big contract.

Even if a team is desperate for a closer, where's the guarantee that Robertson does the job in October if you get there? He has one season of closing under his belt and has never had to save a postseason game. There are a lot of great regular-season closers who haven't done the job in October.

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What's your view on David Robertson as a free agent?

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    43%
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    57%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,931)

Plus, Robertson is coming off a 3.08 ERA -- that's nothing special these days for a reliever. Sixty-nine relievers who threw at least 50 innings had a lower ERA in 2014. He saved 39 games in 44 opportunities. That's a save percentage of 88.6. Sounds good, but again, it's nothing special; 13 closers with at least 20 opportunities had a higher percentage in 2014. Robertson also allowed seven home runs in 2014, six to right-handed batters. Whoever signs him has to hope that number was either an aberration or Yankee Stadium inflation.

Yes, there has been consistency in his performances over the past four seasons. But relievers tend to burn out quickly. Do you want to gamble $40 million that Robertson will remain healthy and productive in a role that's fairly easy to fill?

What do you think? Will he return to the Yankees or will the Tigers be desperate and give him a Papelbon-like deal?
St. Louis Cardinals: With the trade of Shelby Miller, will they go after another starting pitcher? Right now, they're relying on Adam Wainwright, who will be coming off minor elbow surgery; Michael Wacha, coming off an injury; Lance Lynn; veteran John Lackey; Jaime Garcia, who hasn't made it through a full season since 2011; plus youngsters Marco Gonzalez and perhaps Carlos Martinez, who made some spot starts in the rotation but may be best suited for relief work. ... Basically, outside of Lynn, all come with potential question marks. ... They've been rumored to be in on Jon Lester. ... Right now, their estimated payroll is right at 2011-2014 levels, so maybe there's room for to add him to the payroll, especially if it's backloaded past 2017 after Matt Holliday comes off the payroll. ... Will be interesting to see how Mike Matheny views the lineup; there's been talk of moving Matt Carpenter out of the leadoff spot. Maybe Jason Heyward goes there, or maybe Kolten Wong, but he'll have to improve that .292 OBP. ... Steamer projects Wong at .263/.312/.387. I like his chances to do a little better than that. ... Did Lynn have one of the most under-appreciated 2014 seasons? He was the same 15-10 as in 2013, but with an ERA more than a run lower. ... Heyward doesn't necessarily solve the team's power issues (last in the NL in home runs), but the Cardinals being the Cardinals, it wouldn't be a surprise if they unlock that 27-homer season he had in 2012.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Losing Russell Martin is a huge blow, but the Pirates will at least be strong defensively behind the plate with some combination of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart and Tony Sanchez. ... Still, Martin's .404 OBP was a major reason the Pirates scored 48 more runs than in 2013. ... Is it just me, or is the Pirates' rotation rather unimpressive right now? Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, Vance Worley and Jeff Locke? Charlie Morton will miss some portion of the regular season after hip surgery in late September. ... The Pirates' rotation ranked last in FanGraphs WAR in 2014, and Burnett is really just a replacement for Francisco Liriano or Edinson Volquez, not an upgrade. ... Josh Harrison is listed as an outfielder on the Pirates' website, but I'll guess he ends up starting at third base with Pedro Alvarez moving to first base. ... Can't wait for a full season of that Starling Marte-Andrew McCutchen-Gregory Polanco outfield. ... Let's be honest: Marte probably should be the center fielder. ... Can Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Jared Hughes all post ERAs under 2.00 again? ... McCutchen, early favorite for 2015 MVP? I'd say yes.

Milwaukee Brewers: Jonathan Lucroy versus Buster Posey versus Yadier Molina: Who ya got? ... Even lacking a No. 1 or even No. 2-type starter, Brewers aren't that far away; need much bigger seasons from Ryan Braun and Jean Segura. ... Bullpen is now down Zach Duke, who was terrific and signed with the White Sox, and possibly Francisco Rodriguez. ... Hard to know whether Jonathan Broxton would be a reliable closer; good ERA in 2014, but pitched just 58 innings and his K rate is nowhere what it once was with the Dodgers. ... Braun still has at least six more years on his contract; wonder how that's going to look in a few years? He was valued at 1.0 WAR in 2014. ... Scooter Gennett, the new Jim Gantner. ... Adam Lind should be a solid addition, and the Brewers definitely needed another left-handed bat in the lineup. ... Brewers fans, are you going to miss Marco Estrada's home runs? ... No idea if Mike Fiers is for real, but he's defied predictions all along. ... Braun's Steamer prediction for 2015: .278/.345/.480, 21 home runs. OK, but a 150 points of OPS lower than his 2011-12 MVP peak.

Cincinnati Reds: Reports out of Cincinnati say Reds owner Bob Castellini is not going to have a fire sale, even though starters Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon and Mike Leake are all free agents after the season. ... And why should he? Try to win. Imagine that. ... Anyway, if you get bounce-back seasons from Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, both reasonable expectations, the Reds will score more runs. Add in improvement from Billy Hamilton and a new left fielder (Marlon Byrd?) and the Reds should get back in the playoff hunt in what could be a wide-open division. ... Of course, potentially replacing four-fifths of a rotation doesn't sound like much fun. ... J.J. Hoover went 1-10 in relief. I was surprised to find that 23 pitchers since 1980 have lost at least 10 games while wining one or fewer. Only Hoover, Bobby Ayala (1998 Mariners) and Gary Lucas (1982 Padres) spent the entire season in relief, however. ... That's a long way of saying Hoover won't go 1-10 again. ... I'll take the over on Votto.

Chicago Cubs: Does Anthony Rizzo have more growth in him after hitting .286/.386/.527 with 32 home runs? I think he does, which would make him an MVP candidate on a contending team. ... I'll still predict that Starlin Castro doesn't get traded this offseason. ... MLB Trade Rumors lists Travis Wood as a possible non-tender (deadline is Dec. 2), but with a projected salary of $5.5 and an otherwise low payroll, I think the Cubs bring him back and hope for a happy medium between that 3.11 ERA of 2013 and 2014's 5.03. ... Steamer projection for Javier Baez is a fun one: .226/.280/.420, 29 home runs, 1.7 WAR. ... It has him cutting his strikeout rate from 41.5 percent to 29.3 percent, which puts him in B.J. Upton territory, still near the worst in the league (although not quite at the Chris Davis/Chris Carter level). ... Definitely believe Jake Arrieta is the real deal; next step is simply to see if he can handle 200 innings. ... Jorge Soler will be a beast if he stays healthy. ... Here's a question: Who would you rather have, Soler or Baez? Tough call in my book. ... Everybody seems to think the Cubs will get Jon Lester or Max Scherzer, but I'm not so sure. ... Could just save their money for David Price next offseason. ... Can't wait to see Kris Bryant get 500 at-bats.
Let's try this this today and Friday ... just whatever pops into my head for each team or a chance to look at some of the minor transactions. We'll do one division per post. We'll start with the NL East ...

Washington Nationals: Considering Ryan Zimmerman has been injury-prone and Anthony Rendon has been injury-prone in his college and minor league days, the Nationals may need a strong bench. I guess Kevin Frandsen is the backup at third and Tyler Moore the backup at first, neither of whom is too inspiring. ... Without Adam LaRoche, who hit cleanup in 134 games, it will be interesting how your National League manager of the year constructs his lineup. ... Will Bryce Harper be old enough yet to bat higher than sixth? ... Are you willing to trust Drew Storen in a save situation in the postseason? Wonder if the Nats could be in on David Robertson. ... How about Steven Souza Jr. to the Mariners for Brad Miller, with Miller playing second base? Mariners need right-handed outfield bats and are reportedly very interested in Hanley Ramirez. ... They released Matt Purke. He was left-hander the Rangers drafted 14th overall in 2009, didn't sign, went to TCU and the Nationals gave him a huge bonus in 2011 as a draft-eligible sophomore they took in the third round. He has a career 5.00 ERA in the minors. ...

New York Mets: It looks like the Mets will do with Matt Harvey what the Nationals should have done with Stephen Strasburg in 2012: limit his innings by skipping an occasional start but keeping him in the rotation all season. ... I'm not sure Dilson Herrera gets enough prospect love. ... Speaking of Miller, Jim Bowden predicts a Mariners-Mets trade involving Miller or Chris Taylor, with one of New York's back-end starters going to Seattle. Makes sense. ... You know what the Mets really need more than anything? David Wright to hit. He's only season removed from a .307/.390/.514 line. ... The fences are moving in again, the second time since Citi Field opened in 2009. Citi Field ranked 18th in home run park factor in 2014, although it did rank 28th in runs factor. Home runs are just one reason it's difficult to hit there; the park also seems to suppress singles and doubles (much like Shea, where the lighting was never great). ... Ruben Tejada had a .342 OBP last year, second on the Mets. ...

Atlanta Braves: Braves keep saying they need pitching. They were fourth in the NL in rotation ERA in 2014 and third in strikeout percentage, so I don't quite get it. ... Yes, I realize Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang are free agents, but those are the kind of veterans you can get in free agency. ... It's not that the Jason Heyward trade was bad (since the Braves had apparently given up on re-signing him), but it doesn't help the offense and makes the outfield defense a lot worse if Evan Gattis ends up there regularly. ... Still think Justin Upton gets traded, but maybe John Hart has some sort of secret sauce plan brewing. ... Jonny Venters designated for assignment. Many will say he was abused in 2010 and 2011 when he pitched 79 and 85 games and topped 80 innings both years, but that would be speculation. ... Jose Peraza was added to the 40-man roster. He's considered the second baseman of the future after hitting .339 in Class A and Double-A. With two home runs. And 17 walks. Yes, he's young (21 in April) and stole 60 bases, but call me skeptical that's he going to be an impact player. ... Steamer projection system has Freddie Freeman hitting .285/.376/.481 in 2015, very good but not MVP-level production for a first baseman. If Braves lose Upton after 2015, not sure all the pitching in the world will cover up for the offense. ...


Miami Marlins: Whether you think the Giancarlo Stanton contract made perfect sense for the Marlins or whether Marlins ownership still can't be trusted, I'm just glad to see a small-revenue team lock up their star player. ... Reports have the Marlins offering two years and $20 million for LaRoche; I think it will take more like two and $28 to get him. ... Relievers A.J. Ramos and Mike Dunn went a combined 17-6 in 2014. Read between the lines. ... The Marlins say they will increase payroll to $60 million. Baseball-Reference estimates they're already at $52 with estimated arbitration raises; MLB Trade Rumors estimates they're at $42 million with arbitration players. ... Not sure that leaves money for both LaRoche and James Shields, although it's possibly a long-term Shields deal could be heavily backloaded. ... Still think third base is going to be a problem in 2015. Just don't trust Casey McGehee, who wasn't really that good in 2014 anyway. You need more than four home runs from your third baseman and cleanup hitter. ... Can't wait for Jose Fernandez to return. ...

Philadelphia Phillies: Reports have the Phillies checking out the makeup of Red Sox prospects like second baseman/outfielder Mookie Betts, catcher Christian Vazquez and pitcher Matt Barnes. ... Sorry, Phillies, you're not getting Betts for Cole Hamels, even straight up. ... Hamels' salary PLUS a future star like Betts isn't worth the price for the Red Sox. ... Vazquez, a defense-first catcher, certainly makes sense as the Red Sox have a better prospect in Blake Swihart. ... Phillies fans will be surprised that if/when Hamels is traded, the haul is nearly what they think it will be. ... I still think the Phillies' cream jerseys are the best in the game. ... Can't wait to see why Kenny Giles can do over a full season in the bullpen. ... You know, Mike Schmidt is kind of underrated as an all-time great. You can make a case he's a top-10 position player. ... Steve Carlton's 1972 season (27-10 for a team that went 59-97) was one for the ages, but his 1980 season when the Phillies won the World Series was nearly as great. ... Jeff Francoeur signed to a minor league contract. Hey, he drove in 100 runs back in 2006 and 2007! ... Marlon Byrd to the Reds or Mariners could happen. ... Imagine what Schmidt and Carlton would make today. ... Whatever happened to Jeff Stone and Len Matuszek? ...
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How do we think of Hanley Ramirez these days? After winning National League Rookie of the Year honors with the Marlins in 2006, he was one of the best players in the game from 2007 to 2009, hitting .325 while averaging 29 home runs and 38 steals per season. He finished second in the MVP voting in 2009, carrying an undermanned Marlins team to 87 wins. According to Baseball-Reference WAR, he trailed only Albert Pujols, Chase Utley and Alex Rodriguez in value over those three seasons. He was, at the time, on a Hall of Fame track, a power-hitting shortstop with speed.

MLB Free Agency: Half-Full, Half-Empty Logo
After that came injuries and some attitude problems and a trade to the Dodgers in 2012. We see bursts of the young Ramirez: In 2013, he played just 86 games but hit .345 with 20 home runs and finished eighth in the MVP voting. In 2014, he battled several nagging injuries and played 128 games, hitting .283/.369/.449 with 13 home runs.

Ramirez turns 31 in December. Jim Bowden predicted a four-year, $76 million contract for Ramirez. Others have estimated that he'll get something closer to $100 million.

Let's take a closer look.

HALF-FULL

In this era of declining offense, having a shortstop who can hit in the middle of the lineup is a rare luxury, and Ramirez can still hit. His wOBA ranked 25th in the majors in 2014 among qualified hitters and his park-adjusted metric wRC+ ranked 21st. When you focus just on shortstops, Ramirez's numbers are even more impressive. Only Troy Tulowitzki had a better triple-slash line, and only Tulowitzki, Jhonny Peralta and Ian Desmond topped Ramirez in isolated power.

Ramirez has a good approach as a hitter -- he draws some walks, doesn't strike out excessively, sprays the ball around the field and punishes pitches labeled as "soft" by ESPN Stats & Info. Here's his heat map against soft pitches in 2014:

Hanley Ramirez ESPN Stats & Info


Ramirez hit .331 against soft stuff, the second-best mark in the majors among qualified hitters behind Jose Altuve. Only seven batters hit .300. Only Mike Trout had a higher wOBA. This is a smart hitter, a guy who has the ability to adjust at the plate. To me, it all adds up to a hitter who should age well. A four-year contract takes Ramirez from his age-31 season through age-34. Indeed, the Steamer projection system predicts a .277/.352/.450 line in 2015, a nearly identical match to his 2014 numbers. Get him away from Dodger Stadium and it's possible that line jumps even higher as he hit .303 on the road in 2014 and .352 in 2013.

As for Ramirez's defense, he's never been a Gold Glove candidate. He was credited with minus-9 defensive runs saved in 2014, or minus-12 per 1,200 innings. That's admittedly near the bottom of the league, but it's not Derek Jeter-level or Yuniesky Betancourt-level bad. Plus, he makes up for it with his bat, and in this age of increasing strikeouts there are fewer balls in play anyway. He ranked sixth among shortstops in WAR in 2014 and second in 2013.

Ramirez should be able to handle shortstop for at least a couple of more seasons without completely wrecking his value or inflating a pitching staff's BABIP to unacceptable levels. Or, if a team doesn't want him for shortstop, he can move to third base, where his bat still plays.

HALF-EMPTY

Well, this is pretty obvious. The defense is terrible, bordering on brutal. Despite his athleticism, Ramirez has never had the range you want from a shortstop, and now that he's on the other side of 30, he's certainly not getting any quicker. Factor in the injuries and his defense could really crater over the next few seasons.

Speaking of injuries ... do you really want to pay $20 million a season for a guy who misses so many games? He missed 34 games in 2014, 76 in 2013, 70 in 2011. He has played at least 145 games just once in the past five seasons. If you sign him, you better have a good backup on hand.

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What's your view on Hanley Ramirez as a free agent?

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    37%
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    63%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,600)

There has been talk that maybe Ramirez could move to the outfield. That sounds nice, but that kind of move rarely happens. I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago: Since 1960 no player has played 400 games at both shortstop and left or right field (Robin Yount did make the transition to center field). The only player who really moved from shortstop to a corner outfield at this stage of his career was Hubie Brooks.

So the idea that Ramirez will move to the outfield in his 30s is rather unprecedented. More likely, if he moves, it will be to third base. Yes, his bat is OK there, but it's not as valuable as shortstop -- and there's also the possibility that Ramirez can't handle the position.

Teams interested in Ramirez may include the Mariners, Astros, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Giants, Padres and White Sox, with a return to the Dodgers a possibility as well.

What do you think? Is Ramirez worth the investment as run-producing shortstop or is his defense too shaky and the injury risk too high?



Buster Olney listed his top 10 second basemen, with Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia and Jose Altuve ranked 1-2-3.

One thing you hear a lot these days is that teams are having trouble finding shortstops who can hit. But the same can be said of second base: In Buster's piece, a chart shows the OPS of all four infield positions in 2013 and 2014. In 2014, second basemen barely outhit shortstops, with a .686 OPS versus .678. That's the smallest difference since 2006; the last time shortstops outhit second basemen was 2002, back in the heyday of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada and Nomar Garciaparra. Here, the difference in OPS between second basemen and shortstops since 2000:

2014: +.008
2013: +.029
2012: +.013
2011: +.012
2010: +.026
2009: +.030
2008: +.029
2007: +.019
2006: +.003
2005: +.029
2004: +.013
2003: +.020
2002: -.002
2001: +.015
2000: +.017

But here's the other thing about Buster's list: Four of the top five guys are older than 30 (Cano, Pedroia, Ian Kinsler and Ben Zobrist); No. 7 Chase Utley and No. 9 Howie Kendrick are also past 30. Those guys aren't getting any better.

Factor in that a lot of the shortstops who can't hit are at least plus defenders, I'd say second base is arguably a bigger problem across the majors right now. Second basemen should outhit shortstop; that's why they're second basemen and not shortstops.

When I did my list a couple of weeks ago looking at the weakest position for each team in 2014, there were six teams for which second base was the biggest problem -- Padres, Diamondbacks, A's, Nationals, Orioles and Rockies. And those weren't necessarily the worst second-base spots in 2014. The Braves tied the Padres at 2.8 wins below average; the Marlins and White Sox were also in the bottom five. Eleven teams hit under .240 at second base and only four hit more than 15 home runs. In 2009, 15 teams received at least 15 home runs from second base.

Is there a new crop of second basemen to replace the aging core of stars still leading the way? Possibly. Altuve, the American League leader in average, steals and hits, doesn't turn 25 until May. Kolten Wong had a good second half for the Cardinals as a rookie and we saw his upside in the postseason when he hit three home runs in eight games. Brian Dozier, No. 10 on Buster's list, is 27 but had a breakout season with 23 home runs, 86 walks and solid defense. Rougned Odor of the Rangers held his own at age 20 and could develop into a star. Jason Kipnis had a bad year for the Indians as he played through injuries, but he should rebound.

But after that? Jedd Gyorko was a disaster for the Padres. Dee Gordon of the Dodgers led the National League in steals, but he had a poor second half when he drew just four walks and posted a .300 OBP. Baltimore's Jonathan Schoop plays an excellent second base and popped 16 home runs, but he also hit .209 with 122 strikeouts and just 13 walks. He was just 22, however, so maybe the bat develops. Same thing with Javier Baez of the Cubs.

So there are some intriguing young guys out there. But they're a long way from turning into the next generation of Cano/Pedroia/Kinsler/Utley/Zobrist/Brandon Phillips.
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We've looked at Jon Lester and Nelson Cruz in our half-full/half-empty series. Now let's examine the pitcher everyone views as the prize of the 2014-15 free agents, right-hander Max Scherzer.

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Scherzer hits free agency at age 30, coming off a great two-year run with the Detroit Tigers in which he went 39-8 with a 3.02 ERA. The 2013 Cy Young winner, Scherzer really pitched just as well in 2014 and finished fifth in the voting.

Scherzer reportedly turned a six-year, $144 million extension from the Tigers last offseason. Colleague Jim Bowden predicts that Scherzer will receive a seven-year, $189 million contract, an average annual value of $27 million. If that contract materializes, it would be the second-largest total ever given to a pitcher, behind the $215 million deal Clayton Kershaw signed with the Dodgers.

Scherzer is a Scott Boras client, so don't expect him to sign anytime soon. Obviously, all the big-market teams will be rumored to have interest. Will Scherzer be a good investment?

HALF-FULL

With Scherzer, you start with the stuff. Few pitchers have the raw arsenal that Scherzer possesses, with four plus pitches: four-seam fastball, slider, changeup and curveball. He added the curveball during the 2012 season, and the addition of that pitch is one reason Scherzer took his game to a new level.

Good pitching starts with a good fastball and fastball command. Scherzer's four-seamer has a natural tail to it and some sinking action. While its average velocity of 92.8 mph doesn't blow you away, he cranked it up as high as 98 mph in 2014, so he keeps a little in reserve when needed.

For the most part, however, he lets that natural movement work. He does tend to throw the pitch up in the zone, but it's still an effective pitch: It sets up the off-speed stuff, and he generates a good share of strikeouts with it. Look at how he pitches with his fastball to left-handed batters:

Scherzer Heat Map ESPN Stats & Info


Lefties have hit .226/.292/.380 against Scherzer's fastball the past two seasons. When you limit damage against your fastball, it makes your other pitches that much tougher. Scherzer has 143 strikeouts the past two seasons against left-handers with his fastball, most in the majors. (Felix Hernandez is second with 124, but only four other pitchers have 100.) As a comparison, Stephen Strasburg struggles somewhat against lefties because his fastball isn't a great strikeout weapon against them, with just 59 K's over the past two years.

With pitchers, you always worry about injuries, but Scherzer has made 30-plus starts in each of his six seasons in the majors. He's also a student of the game. As Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports wrote last offseason:
Max Scherzer is meticulous, the sort of person who sees baseball as a game of centimeters, because inches are too big. Every so often, in the middle of a long season, Scherzer will pore over video of his last start, pause it mid-delivery and vow to change things. A centimeter can mean that much.

His right arm is his gift and his treasure, and if ever he notices his elbow above his shoulder line -- even a hint of the dreaded Inverted W, which is correlated with though not scientifically proven to cause arm injuries -- he corrects it. Little gets past Scherzer.

"You've seen in history guys blow out that way," he told Yahoo! Sports last September. "I've never been a guy who does it, but every now and again, it'll creep higher than that plane, and I'm very cognizant of it."


Seven years is a long time. A lot can happen. But his health history is a big plus.

Then there's this: Scherzer has put up good numbers while pitching in front of some lousy defenses in Detroit. The Tigers were 28th in MLB in defensive runs saved in 2014, 28th in 2013, 25th in 2012. Imagine him pitching in front of a good defense, or in the National League, where he'd get to mow through the bottom of the lineups.

HALF-EMPTY

You want to make Scherzer the second-highest-paid pitcher in the game? A guy with one career complete game? A guy who has had an ERA under 3.00 exactly once in his career, and even then it was barely under, at 2.90? A guy who has been just OK in the postseason with a 3.73 ERA? A guy who has pitched 220 innings just once in a season? Hernandez, by comparison, has topped 230 innings five times.

There's no denying Scherzer's stuff or strikeout rates, but he's had the luxury of being the No. 2 guy behind Justin Verlander in the Detroit rotation. Can he handle the pressure of a megadeal? Is he the guy who will take the ball in a big game and give you eight innings? Pitch efficiency has never been Scherzer's strength, which is why he's been more of seven-inning starter than an eight- or nine-inning guy.

You also have to factor in leaving Comerica Park, or the AL Central. Scherzer does pitch up in the zone, so he will give up fly balls. Comerica isn't the supreme pitchers' park everyone thinks, but it's been about average in giving up home runs, and more than a few balls hit to that deep area in center and right-center would have left other parks. Pitching in Wrigley Field might not be as enjoyable as pitching in Comerica. Plus, Scherzer has faced a lot of weak offenses through the years in that division.

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As for Detroit's defense, it doesn't necessarily explain why the only season Scherzer has had a below-average batting average on balls in play was his Cy Young season (.260 that year, but above .300 every other season). For example, in hitter's counts in 2014, Scherzer allowed a .380 average -- 74th among 88 qualified starters. His OPS allowed in hitter's counts ranked 86th. Basically, when he was behind, he got hammered; only Jason Hammel allowed a higher slugging percentage. It appears that Scherzer just grooves too many pitches when he's behind in the count, and that explains why his hit rate is high given his strikeout rate.

And, of course, you simply can't ignore this: Seven years for a pitcher in his 30s ... how often does that work out? Maybe you reap the rewards of two or three great seasons, but we've seen seemingly durable pitchers like CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee go down with injuries. Pitchers get hurt.

What do you think? Half-full or half-empty?

Billy Butler appears to be a hitter in severe deterioration, so why would the Oakland Athletics sign the designated hitter to a three-year, $30 million contract?

1. Yes, Butler's wOBA has slid from a career-high .377 in 2012, when he mashed 29 home runs, to .345 in 2013 to .311 in 2014, when he hit .271/.323/.379 with just nine home runs. But Butler turns 29 in April, so he's young enough to turn things around. The Steamer projection system has him hitting .277/.347/.426 with 17 home runs in 2015.

2. Oakland DHs -- there were 13 of them in 2014 -- hit a combined .215/.288/.344, the second-worst wOBA among DHs in the American League, ahead of only Seattle.

3. The A's hit just .239 against left-handers, the lowest in the AL, and ranked 13th in wOBA. Butler still hit .321/.387/.460 against lefties in 2014, so he's a middle-of-the-order bat against southpaws.

4. With Butler at DH, the A's can now mix and match at first base with Brandon Moss, Stephen Vogt, Kyle Blanks and Nate Freiman, or, more likely, make Moss the regular left fielder alongside Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick in the outfield, with Craig Gentry serving as the backup.

5. The price was right at $10 million per season. I was a little surprised Butler got a three-year deal, but he's not old and despite the bad body, he's been durable, playing 150-plus games every full season of his career. The A's have made a point to try to find players in that peak 26-30 age range. Butler fits into that range.

6. None of the other possible DH guys out there were good fits: Nelson Cruz will be too expensive, Kendrys Morales isn't good from the right side, Michael Morse is injury-prone, Torii Hunter is old.

7. It's a small factor, but you keep Butler away from a division rival in Seattle, which also needs a DH and right-handed hitter.

There's no guarantee this works out and you hate to pay even $10 million for a player who may not be much better than replacement level. Butler's power may be a thing of the past, he's slow, he grounds into too many double plays and while he can fill in at first base, he's mostly limited to DH. But if his bat rebounds just a bit he can help the A's.
So, Giancarlo Stanton's contract has me wondering: What would Babe Ruth be worth today?

In his piece for ESPN Insider, Dan Szymborski projected Stanton will be worth $316 million from ages 25 to 37, just shy of the $325 million he'll be getting.

Jeff Sullivan conducted a related study on FanGraphs, comparing Stanton to similar hitters through age 24 and then asking: How would a 13-year contract for those players have worked out in today's dollars?

Jeff looked at the value of the deals under the cost of $6 million per WAR and $7 million per WAR. Henry Aaron was the best comparable player and was valued at $776 million from ages 25 to 37 under the $6 million context. Alex Rodriguez, Frank Robinson, Miguel Cabrera, Mickey Mantle and Albert Pujols also topped $500 million of value. Heck, even Will Clark came in at $308 million. Boog Powell topped $200 million. BOOG POWELL! Who never made an All-Star team in his 30s and was basically done at 33.

Hmm.

OK ... if Will Clark was worth $300 million, what about Babe Ruth? I mean, no offense to Will Clark. Ruth wasn't in Jeff's study. What would the Bambino be worth today?

I combined Dan's system with Jeff's system. I assumed each win above replacement was worth $6 million with 5 percent annual growth. I then plugged in Ruth's year-by-year WAR from Baseball-Reference to get a value for each season. Here's what we get at each age:

25: 11.9 WAR ($71.4 million)
26: 12.9 WAR ($81.3 million)
27: 6.3 WAR ($41.7 million)
28: 14.1 WAR ($97.9 million)
29: 11.7 WAR ($85.3 million)
30: 3.5 WAR ($26.8 million)
31: 11.5 WAR ($92.5 million)
32: 12.4 WAR ($104.7 million)
33: 10.1 WAR ($89.5 million)
34: 8.0 WAR ($74.5 million)
35: 10.3 WAR (100.7 million)
36: 10.3 WAR ($105.7 million)
37: 8.3 WAR ($89.4 million)

Holy ... that's $1.06 billion of value. Babe Ruth, the billion-dollar ballplayer.

Let's do two more all-time greats.

Willie Mays comes in at $931 million, topping out at $104.2 million at age 34 when he was worth 11.2 WAR.

Barry Bonds comes in $916 million, topping out at a whopping $127.1 million at age 37. (Our theoretical contract doesn't even cover Bonds' age 38 and 39 seasons, when he was worth 9.2 and 10.6 WAR.)

Of course, I'd suggest this methodology breaks down at the extremes. It's one thing to pay a one-WAR player $6 million on a one-year contract but something different to pay a 5-WAR player $30 million over many seasons. In fact, you can argue that teams have limited their contracts on the upper end. Clayton Kershaw's AAV is $31 million even though he's averaged 7.0 WAR of value the past four seasons, suggesting he should have at least topped at $42 million, or even higher given inflation.

Stanton's AAV comes out to a mere $25 million -- although much of that is backloaded in the final seven years of the deal, so this does look like a short-term play by the Marlins. Maybe Stanton will be worth $25 million a season.

But if he is ... well, just imagine a contract for a reincarnated Babe.





People smarter than me have written that Giancarlo Stanton is worth the 13-year, $325 million contract he'll sign with the Miami Marlins. (As expected, Jayson Stark reports that the contract is heavily backloaded. Stanton will make $30 million over the first three seasons and $218 million over the final seven seasons.)

Dan Szymborski on ESPN Insider writes:
Assuming each win above replacement costs $6 million in the free-agent market this offseason, and with 5 percent yearly overall salary growth, plus taking into account that Stanton would have been arbitration-eligible the first two seasons, ZiPS values a 13-year contract for Stanton at $316 million on the open market, not too much below that $325 million figure.


Grantland's Ben Lindbergh writes that Stanton's age separates this contract from some of the other mega-deals:
Stanton turned 25 earlier this month. If, against the odds, he plays out the contract as it's currently structured, he'll be 37 when it ends. Compare that to other mega-contract ending ages: Alex Rodriguez will have turned 42 by the close of his current 10-year contract. The Angels will be paying Albert Pujols through his age-41 season. Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera will be 40 in the final guaranteed seasons of their deals, and Joey Votto will have turned 40 before the Reds' obligation is up. Stanton signed the longest contract ever, and he'll still be significantly younger when it's over than the players you probably thought of when you mentally compared Stanton's contract with others of a certain size.


Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs/Fox Sports didn't have a problem with the Marlins topping $300 million:
So Stanton's worth a big average annual value, and he's young enough to be worth a long commitment. Put those together, and factor in that there's more money in the game than ever, and reaching the $300 million mark isn't a challenge.


Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus writes on the Stanton signing under the headline "When $325 million is an easy decision."

So the sabermetric community, from what I can tell, is united. The contract makes sense. Yes, the analytical community just agreed with Jeffrey Loria.

There is the other side. Jerry Crasnick presents one angle that I agree with: The Marlins' window to win is probably three years, maybe four, because once guys like Jose Fernandez, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich start getting expensive, they'll probably hold a fire sale, one that may or may not include Stanton.

Joe Posnanski, while not necessarily criticizing the contract, points out that Jason Heyward -- the much-maligned Heyward, at least in some circles -- has produced a higher WAR than Stanton. Along the same line, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs estimates Heyward's next contract (he's a free agent after 2015) will be in the $200 million range -- with his 2015 performance dictating which side of $200 million he'll fall on. Will a team pay for Heyward's defense the way the Marlins just paid for Stanton's offense? We'll see, but I'll take the under on the $200 million.

Here's a question: Would Stanton get a $325 million contract in free agency right now? I'm not sure that he would. What's interesting about many of the highest total value contracts given out is many of those players never tested free agency. The Yankees extended Alex Rodriguez for $275 million after 2007 after he opted out of his 10-year, $252 million deal, but he never really tested the free-agent waters (and wouldn't have received $275 million). The Tigers extended Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander before they hit free agency. Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez never became free agents. The Reds gave Joey Votto $225 million.

From the list of the 20 highest total value contracts on Cot's Baseball Contracts, only seven were given to true free agents: The first A-Rod deal, Albert Pujols to the Angels, Robinson Cano to the Mariners, Prince Fielder to the Tigers, Mark Teixeira to the Yankees, Manny Ramirez to the Red Sox and Masahiro Tanaka to the Yankees.

So A-Rod's $252 million deal with the Rangers, way back in 2001, remains the highest total value given to a free agent. Sam Miller's piece included a tweet that said in today's dollars, that $252 million would be worth more than $400 million. (I'm not sure what that figure comes from; I put $252 million from 2001 into an inflation calculator, I get $336 million in today's dollars.) Anyway, whatever the numbers, I do know this: Giancarlo Stanton, as great as he's been, is no Alex Rodriguez (which, in many ways, is a good thing).

Age 20: Rodriguez 9.4 WAR, Stanton 2.8 WAR
Age 21: Rodriguez 5.6 WAR, Stanton 4.1 WAR
Age 22: Rodriguez 8.5 WAR, Stanton 5.5 WAR
Age 23: Rodriguez 4.7 WAR, Stanton 2.3 WAR
Age 24: Rodriguez 10.4 WAR, Stanton 6.5 WAR

Maybe Stanton will be "worth" $325 million. But that doesn't mean it will be a great contract for the Marlins.
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Let's continue our half-full, half-empty series with Nelson Cruz. The outfielder/designated hitter is in the same position as he was last offseason, when he got a qualifying offer from his team, turned it down and hit free agency. The difference is, last year nobody wanted him. After he rejected the Rangers' $14.1 million offer last November, Cruz -- then 33 and coming off a 50-game PED suspension -- didn't sign until spring training. He finally accepted a one-year, $8 million deal with the Orioles on Feb. 24.

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Cruz then went out and led the majors with 40 home runs, drove in 108 runs, and finished seventh in the MVP voting. He's a year older, but he's going to get a lot more than $8 million this time around.

Will he be worth Jim Bowden's projected three-year, $48 million contract? Let's look at both sides.

HALF-FULL

In 2014, the average major league team hit 140 home runs. In 2009, the average was 168. A decade ago, it was 182. In other words: Power is scarcer these days, every team wants more of it, and Cruz has it.

Yes, those 40 home runs were a career high -- and 13 more than he had in 2013. But his 2014 total wasn't as much of an outlier performance as the raw number suggests. From 2009, when Cruz became a regular with the Rangers, through 2013, he averaged 35 home runs per 162 games while hitting .272/.331/.511. In 2014, he played 159 games and hit 40 home runs while hitting .271/.333/.525. He was the same hitter in 2014 that he's always been; he just played a full slate and hit a few more homers.

Cruz had battled nagging injuries earlier in his career, but he played 159 games in 2012, 109 games (because of the 50-game suspension) in 2013, and 159 games in 2014. And before you attribute his 2014 power surge to the advantage of hitting in cozy Camden Yards, note that 25 of his homers last season came on the road.

When a player reaches Cruz's age, you worry about his bat slowing down. But he can still punish a fastball. He hit .324/.389/.644 against fastballs in 2014 -- good for the fifth-best wOBA in the majors -- with 23 home runs. As the heat map below indicates, Cruz was particularly adept at jumping on low fastballs. In this era, when pitchers like to pound the ball at the knees, being able to consistently drive that low pitch is a particularly valuable skill.

Nelson Cruz heat mapESPN Stats & Info


As for concerns about Cruz's defense, those might be a little overstated. He split his time between the outfield and designated hitter with the Orioles, but his 2014 defensive metrics were actually positive: he was plus-3 in defensive runs saved (DRS). In 2013 he was minus-3 in DRS. Yes, he did rate poorly in 2012 with a minus-12 DRS, but that season stands out as a bit of an aberration.

As for the PED suspension in 2013, remember that it was for violating the MLB drug policy during the 2011-12 offseason. Cruz's explanation was that he had lost 40 pounds because of a stomach virus and wanted to get his strength back for the season. While you never know what a player is doing or not doing, there's nothing in his statistical record that suggests Cruz received a sustained performance boost from PEDs. I view that as a nonfactor now.

HALF-EMPTY

There's a reason Cruz wasn't in big demand last offseason -- and it wasn't just because of the suspension. He's largely a one-dimensional player, a guy with some power who has a mediocre on-base percentage (save for that fluke 2010 season, when he hit .318) and plays below-average defense. Considering that he'll turn 35 next July, his defense is only going to become more of a liability. With that in mind, he probably has value only to an American League team that can play him at DH at least part of the time.

And the truth is that his 2014 season was a bit of an outlier. His 4.7 WAR was a career high; from 2011 through 2013, his average WAR was 1.4. Are you going to trust a one-season sample size or a three-season track record? Cruz will likely revert back to being a 1.5-win player, which makes him worth about $9-10 million per season instead of $16 million.

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Plus, there's the possibility that he'll collapse and have even less value. Maybe not in 2015, but the history of players of his ilk doesn't suggest a positive aging curve.

Among outfielders/DHs since 1980 who started the season at 33 years old, Cruz's 4.7 WAR actually ranked 17th. Almost all the players ahead of him were superior athletes or plus defenders, with the exception of Edgar Martinez (a much more valuable hitter than Cruz) and Jim Rice. Rice was worth 5.6 WAR in 1986, at age 33. It was his last good season. From ages 34 to 36, he was worth 0.0 WAR.

For a more recent example, I'd point to Josh Willingham. In 2012, at age 33, Willingham hit 35 home runs for the Twins, with an adjusted OPS a hair higher than Cruz's. Like Cruz, he had little defensive value. Then Willingham hit .211 with 28 home runs over the past two seasons -- and retired at the end of last season at age 35.

Cruz may have more good seasons in him. But do you want to bet $16 million per season on that?

What do you think? Half-full or half-empty on Cruz?

Now that the Atlanta Braves have sent the message that they're rebuilding, they'll probably trade Justin Upton, who is a free agent after the 2015 season.

Two offseasons ago, the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks had agreed to a trade built around Upton and pitching prospect Taijuan Walker, only to have Upton veto the trade when he invoked his limited no-trade clause.

[+] EnlargeJustin Upton
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesJustin Upton hit 29 home runs and drove in 102 runs for the Braves last season.

Well, two years later, the Mariners still need a right-handed-hitting outfielder and Upton has reportedly removed the Mariners from his no-trade list.

So maybe general manager Jack Zduriencik re-kindles the Walker-for-Upton idea. Clearly, the Braves are looking for cost-controlled young players, as evidenced by the Jason Heyward trade. The Mariners wouldn't trade Walker for Upton at this point, considering Walker is under team control for six seasons versus one for Upton, so the trade would have to be expanded.

The Braves need a second baseman. The Mariners happen to have two shortstops in Brad Miller and Chris Taylor but are rumored to be interested in Hanley Ramirez. So here's an idea: Walker and one of the shortstops for Upton and Evan Gattis (the Mariners also need a designated hitter). The Mariners then sign Ramirez to play shortstop. With a hole in the rotation, they sign a second-tier starter like Chris Young or Jason Hammel, or splurge a little more on Ervin Santana.

Seattle's lineup would then look something like this:

CF Austin Jackson
3B Kyle Seager
2B Robinson Cano
RF Justin Upton
SS Hanley Ramirez
1B Logan Morrison
DH Evan Gattis
C Mike Zunino
LF Dustin Ackley

That's a pretty deep lineup in this era and the Mariners fix their righty-lefty imbalance that plagued them last year by bringing in three good right-handed hitters.

The rotation would have Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Roenis Elias and the veteran starter. The bullpen, one of the best and deepest in the majors in 2014, returns everybody except free agent Joe Beimel (who could re-sign). That rotation is a little thin, so the Mariners could shop Michael Saunders -- a solid-if-injury-prone outfielder and not a favorite of Zduriencik or manager Lloyd McClendon -- for another back-of-the-rotation type.

Does all that fit into Seattle's payroll? Baseball-Reference estimates the Mariners' payroll right now at $100.5 million (almost half of that for Cano and Hernandez), including estimates for arbitration-eligible players. Upton makes $14.5 million. Ramirez may require an average annual salary of $18 million or so, but the Mariners could backload that and pay him, say, $14 million in 2015. A pitcher like Young or Hammel would cost about $6 million to $8 million on a one-year deal. Gattis isn't even arbitration-eligible until 2016, so he's still making less than a million.

You'd be looking at a $135 million payroll or so, after sitting at about $90 million in 2014. That's a big hike but considering Cano and Hernandez aren't going to get any better, and considering the American League hasn't been so wide open in years, the Mariners' window to strike may be right now.

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