SweetSpot: Boston Red Sox

Somebody will sign James Shields. We know that's guaranteed to happen because Shields is a very good pitcher who has been extremely durable throughout his career -- and he hasn't suggested he wants to retire and start an olive oil farm in Tuscany. In fact, he has never missed a start in his career. He was shut down with a couple of weeks to go back in 2007, his first full season, and he once went eight days between starts in 2008, but otherwise he takes the ball every fifth day and churns out quality innings.

[+] EnlargeJames Shields
Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports

James Shields has been extremely durable throughout his career. But is he worth a five-year contract in the $90-100 million range?

Over the past three seasons, he has gone 42-27 with a 3.29 ERA. He has pitched the most innings in the majors over that span and ranks 15th in wins, 20th in ERA among those with at least 500 innings, 16th in adjusted ERA and 21st in Baseball-Reference WAR (13th in FanGraphs WAR).

So he's good. Maybe not quite an ace if you're strictly applying the term, especially when you consider that he has pitched in pitchers' parks in front of good defenses with Tampa Bay and Kansas City. But he's worth three or four wins above replacement level.

No, the problem with Shields is the contract he might require. Ervin Santana signed with the Twins for four years and $54 million, and although he's a year younger than Shields, who just turned 33, he's not as good. Using that contract as a guideline, Shields could command a five-year contract for $90 to $100 million, similar to the projections forecast for him at the start of free agency.

I wouldn't give it to him. For starters, a five-year contract takes him through age 37. It goes without saying that he has a lot of mileage on his arm, and, even if he has been the game's most durable starter, he's a pitcher -- which means he comes with risk, in terms of injury and decline in performance.

I looked at comparable pitchers from the past 25 years. I sorted all pitchers who had between 10.5 and 14 FanGraphs WAR from ages 30 to 32 and checked how they did from ages 33 to 37. I then used Baseball-Reference.com WAR for those next five years. No particular reason, other than I had two screens going and wasn't paying attention. Anyway, FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com would have generated different lists of original pitchers, but it doesn't really matter which players we're looking at. The list is presented to show the risk in signing a pitcher of this age to a long-term contract. All of the pitchers below, had they been eligible for free agency at 33, would have received a very nice contract based on their recent performance.

The table lists the pitcher's total WAR and average innings from ages 30 to 32, then his average WAR and average innings over the next five seasons after that.



Only four of the pitchers continued to average 200 innings over those five years -- Roger Clemens and three left-handers, which may or may not be a coincidence. And it's not looking good for CC Sabathia and C.J. Wilson, two pitchers who suffered through bad 2014 seasons. Some on the list, such as David Cone and Jimmy Key, remained effective while healthy -- but couldn't stay healthy. Look at a guy like Roy Oswalt. At age 32, he looked similar to Shields: a 200-inning workhorse. At 32, he had one of his best seasons, posting a 2.76 ERA and leading the NL in WHIP. He won just 13 games the rest of his career.

So health is a major risk for a pitcher like Shields.

But there's another reason not to sign him. Next year three pitchers even better than Shields will hit free agency: David Price, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann. Plus, Zack Greinke may also opt out of his deal with the Dodgers.

Price, Cueto and Zimmermann will all be younger than Shields when they hit the market. Yes, they'll cost more than Shields, but you can argue that making a bigger investment in a younger, better pitcher is wiser, even if it's going to cost an extra 50-plus million dollars. I'd rather get any of those three with a Jon Lester-type deal than Shields at $100 million.

Again, this doesn't mean Shields isn't a good pitcher. But any team that's willing to make a big investment in him would have to view him as a difference-maker in 2015 and 2016, a guy it needs to push it over the top. I'm just not sure there's a team that applies to. Depending on the ballpark and the quality of defense behind him, his numbers might drop a little, and his new team might be getting more of a No. 3 starter than a No. 2.

Jim Bowden rates the Giants as the team most likely to sign Shields. That makes some sense, as Matt Cain is a question mark coming back from elbow surgery and Shields would bump Tim Lincecum from the rotation. But wouldn't it make even more sense for the Giants to wait a year and go after one of those young aces, when Lincecum's $18 million comes off the books? Do you want to build a rotation around Madison Bumgarner, a guy coming off an injury and three starters (Shields, Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy) in their mid-to-late 30s?

Sure, Shields could help in 2015. But it's not as if the Giants are going to have trouble selling tickets if they don't sign him. They have a little goodwill to play with after winning the World Series. They have a strong team, with or without Shields, and play in a weak division. I'd pass on Shields, go with Lincecum and/or Yusmeiro Petit in the fifth slot, then go all-in next year on Price or Zimmermann.

Same thing with the Red Sox. If they're going to win, it's because Clay Buchholz is healthy, Wade Miley steps up, the new free agents make an impact and young hitters Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts develop into stars. If that happens, they don't really need Shields and can go after the big guns next offseason.

That's just my take. Somebody will give Shields a lot of money. And maybe he'll prove to be as valuable to his new team as he was to the Royals.
MLB Network Radio has a fan vote going on to select the top five games of 2014, with the winning games re-aired during the holiday season. Some of the choices are more about the individual performance involved -- Lonnie Chisenhall's nine-RBI game, for example, or Clayton Kershaw no-hitter/near-perfect game -- and four are games from the postseason.

Of those four, it's pretty clear to me which was the best game of the year: Kansas City's 9-8 win over Oakland in the wild-card game, as the Royals rallied from a 7-3 deficit and won 9-8 in 12 innings with two runs in the bottom of the 12th. It had everything you want from a great game: Comebacks, great plays, clutch hits, controversial managerial moves and postseason pressure.

After the game, I wrote that it was arguably the fifth-most exciting postseason game ever played, using a metric called Win Probability Added (via Baseball-Reference.com).

Using WPA skews towards higher-scoring games or big comebacks, especially late in games. Still, we can use the method to determine which team had the most exciting victory in the 2014 regular season. The top five:

5. Boston Red Sox, Sept. 5 versus Blue Jays: 1.116 WPA

The Red Sox scored three times in the bottom of the eighth to tie it up 6-6, but the Jays scored twice in the top of the 10th for an 8-6 lead. Boston then scored three runs off Toronto closer Casey Janssen, with Yoenis Cespedes singling in the winning run.

4. Cleveland Indians, May 21 versus Tigers: 1.127 WPA

A wild back-and-forth game, David Murphy tied it 9-9 with a two-run, one-out homer off Joe Nathan in the ninth. The Tigers scored on Alex Avila's homer in the top of the 13th but the Indians scored twice to win 11-10 -- the winning run scoring on Al Alburquerque's bases-loaded balk with two outs.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks, June 4 versus Rockies: 1.139 WPA

The final score was 16-8 but the Rockies led 8-5 entering the eighth. Arizona then scored six runs in the eighth and five more in the ninth. Paul Goldschmidt's bases-clearing double in the eighth was the go-ahead hit.

2. Minnesota Twins, April 3 versus White Sox: 1.174 WPA

This was Minnesota's first win of the season; it was pretty much downhill from here. Minnesota led 5-1, the White Sox took an 8-5 lead but Minnesota scored twice in the top of the seventh to make it 8-7. Both teams scored a run in the eighth and then the Twins scored twice in the ninth with two outs, Oswaldo Arcia's triple plating the go-ahead run.

1. Colorado Rockies, May 3 versus Mets: 1.366 WPA

Our second Coors Field game. The Mets led 6-0 early on before the Rockies scored eight runs in the fifth. The Mets tied it, the Rockies took a lead, the Mets tied it again and then took a 10-9 lead in the ninth. In the bottom of the ninth, Charlie Culberson hit a pinch-hit two-run homer for the dramatic walk-off.

It wasn't a great season for the Rockies or Culberson (who hit .195 with three home runs), but they'll always have May 3, 2014.



Third-base options for the Giants

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
12:30
PM ET
video
The Giants need a third baseman. Right now, the team's website lists Joaquin Arias as the starting third baseman, and that's not a good depth chart if you're counting on Joaquin Arias to be your starting third baseman. You know this, the Giants know this and I suspect even Joaquin Arias knows this.

So who can the Giants get to play third base? Some possibilities:

1. Asdrubal Cabrera, free agent. Everyone seems to agree that Cabrera's days as a shortstop are behind him, but he reportedly wants to play second base, not third. Also, he hasn't been all that good the past two seasons, posting a .303 on-base percentage. He does bring some pop -- 14 home runs and 30-plus doubles both years, meaning he's averaged more extra-base hits than the departed Pablo Sandoval -- but should be viewed as a down-the-lineup hitter.

2. Will Middlebrooks, Red Sox. The signing of Sandoval means there's no room for Middlebrooks in Boston. This would be a flier on a guy who now has over 800 plate appearances in the majors with an unimpressive .237/.284/.411 career line. He teased as a rookie in 2012 when he slugged over .500, but his poor plate discipline has hammered him the past two seasons. Maybe a change of scenery will help.

3. Trevor Plouffe, Twins. With prospect Miguel Sano eventually reaching Minnesota -- maybe at midseason -- Plouffe could be available. He hit .258/.328/.423 with 14 home runs and 40 doubles last season.

4. Jake Lamb, Diamondbacks. General manager Dave Stewart has said the Diamondbacks intend to try Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas at third base, which could make Lamb available. He struggled in his initial brief MLB trial, but hit .327/.407/.566 in the minors (mostly at Double-A Mobile).

5. Luis Valbuena, Cubs. Valbuena hit .249/.341/.435 with 16 home runs and 33 doubles. Hey, another third baseman with more isolated power than Sandoval. With Kris Bryant about to take over third base, Valbuena turns into a utility guy or trade bait.

6. Zach Walters, Indians. Cleveland has an excess of infielders with Francisco Lindor on the way to take over shortstop. Walters hit 29 home runs in Triple-A for the Nationals in 2013 and hit .310/.369/.619 there in 2014, and then added 10 home runs in 127 at-bats in the majors (although he hit just .181). He's played primarily shortstop in the minors, but should be able to handle third base.

7. Adrian Beltre, Rangers. Beltre has two years remaining on his contract, but the Rangers also have Joey Gallo -- he of the 42 home runs between Class A and Double-A -- knocking on the door. If the Rangers decide they're not contenders in 2015, maybe they deal the future Hall of Famer.

8. Matt Dominguez, Astros. He's an excellent defensive third baseman, but his on-base skills are beyond horrible. The Astros just signed Jed Lowrie, who likely moves to third base once Carlos Correa is ready to take over shortstop in a year.

9. Ryan Flaherty, Orioles. The Orioles likely need to keep him as Manny Machado injury insurance, but Flaherty is another good-glove, low-OBP guy with a little pop who would at least be an upgrade over Arias.

10. Alex Rodriguez. Just kidding.

The easy option here is Cabrera, if the Giants can convince him to play third base. But there a couple of teams potentially looking for a second baseman -- Blue Jays, Nationals, Angels. The Giants also don't have a highly rated farm system or excess value on the major league roster, so acquiring a guy like Beltre is really just a pipe dream.

If I had to bet, Cabrera ends up here.
Interesting article from Eno Sarris of FanGraphs/Fox asking, "Is the market for Cuban players out of control?"

Following the success of Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu, the Red Sox signed Rusney Castillo last summer for seven years and $72.5 million and the Diamondbacks just signed Yasmany Tomas to a six-year, $68.5 million contract. The Braves made a smaller investment in outfielder Dian Toscano, at four years and $7.5 million, and the Angels just signed an infielder named Roberto Baldoquin for $8 million. While Castillo has speed and defense elements his game, Tomas projects as a bat-first corner outfielder or third baseman (where the D-backs will initially give him a shot to play).

The potential problem here, as Eno points out, is that neither Castillo nor Tomas projects to be in the same class of hitter as Abreu, Puig or Cespedes:
Clay Davenport has publicly available translations of Cuban statistics. By looking at players who have come from Cuba before, and looking at their numbers in both countries, his system hopes to create a Major League Baseball equivalent for Cuban statistics. He adds in age information to create a peak projection to account for further growth among the youngest players.


The projections?

Castillo: .232/.267/.377
Tomas: .233/.269/.421

Players with sub-.300 OBPs are essentially unplayable, no matter their defensive skills or power production. Granted, projections for Cuban players are imperfect and based on a small sample size of 30 or so players who have come over here. But the numbers suggest Castillo and Tomas could turn into busts.

Eno writes:
Could that bust change the market? Will the market shift completely the other way if there is a high-profile, big-money bust? A few team officials thought that could happen, and soon. You could say that the same has happened to the Japanese position-player market after a few high-profile misses.

It's easy to see why teams have spent the money so far. Even with about a half-billion spent on initial contracts to Cuban players since 2000, the return has been better than the free-agent market. While a win above replacement costs about six to seven million among Major League Baseball's free agents, Cuban players on rookie contracts have produced a win for every $2.8 million dollars in this century.


The next big Cuban import is 19-year-old infielder Yoan Moncada, who projects as a power-hitting second or third baseman. While MLB has declared him a free agent, he has yet to receive the licensing required from OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) that allows him to sign. It's possible that won't come until after the July 2, 2015 international signing date (and thus pushing his bonus to the 2015-2016 international bonus period).

Moncada would be projected as a top-five pick in the draft, maybe the No. 1 overall pick. He may be eligible to sign before we learn more about Castillo and Tomas, so their performance may not end up influencing the enthusiasm to sign him.

The great thing about baseball is we know more than ever but so much remains unknown. We can't predict with any certainty how good Castillo or Tomas will be; maybe the translations will prove correct, maybe they'll be vastly incorrect and the Red Sox and Diamondbacks will have two big stars in their lineups. I'll be watching with great interest.
Looking for a Christmas gift for the baseball fan in your life? Or maybe a little something for yourself? I recommend "The Bill James Handbook" from Baseball Info Solutions (available here).

Yes, you can get all the basic stats you need and many more at sites like Baseball-Reference.com, but sometimes it's much easier to flip through a book than to type in "Adeiny Hechavarria" or "Jarrod Saltalamacchia." Plus, the book includes much more than a player's basic year-by-year stats. It's loaded with fun stuff like Bill James' starting pitching rankings for each month (Clayton Kershaw started the season at No. 1 and remained there all season), average velocity through the years for pitchers, individual and team baserunning data, pitchers' repertoires, manager tendencies, leaderboards, left/right data, 2015 projections, Bill James specialties like Win Shares and his Hall of Fame monitor, and much more.

Here are 10 random things I learned from flipping through the book:

1. The Kansas City Royals were only the 10th-best baserunning team in the majors.

BIS uses extra bases taken (such as first to third on a single), outs made while advancing, times doubled off, double plays grounded into and stolen base gain to arrive at an overall "net gain" of bases. The Nationals were No. 1 at +113 while the Royals were +52. Kansas City did rank No. 1 in stolen base gain at +81, but were -29 on the bases otherwise, thanks in large part to Billy Butler. At -31 bases, he ranked tied with Alex Avila as the worst baserunner in the majors. (Butler went first to third on a single once all season.) The best? Ben Revere of the Phillies had a net gain of +54, followed by Leonys Martin of the Rangers at +42.

2. Two starting pitchers didn't allow a single stolen base: Hisashi Iwakuma and Doug Fister.

Baserunners were 0-for-8 stealing Iwakuma and just 0-for-1 against Fister. Scott Feldman of the Astros allowed the most stolen bases with 35. He allowed 30 the year before when he was with the Cubs and Orioles, so it wasn't just an Astros catchers couldn't throw out runners type of deal.

3. There were 33 home run robberies in 2014.

Jay Bruce and J.D. Martinez each had two. Johnny Cueto and Bartolo Colon both benefited from two robberies. And poor Rene Rivera was the only hitter to lose two would-be home runs.

4. Brock Holt led the American League with a .349 average in "close and late" situations.

And Munenori Kawasaki was second at .346.


5. Josh Tomlin had the AL's best start of the year.

Against Seattle on June 28, the Cleveland right-hander allowed one hit with 11 K's and no walks for a Game Score of 96. Clayton Kershaw's 15-strikeout no-hitter scored 102 (the second-best nine-inning Game Score ever, behind Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout one-hitter).

6. Nathan Eovaldi led the NL in hits allowed .. and percentage of pitches in the strike zone.

Related? Perhaps.

7. Nolan Arenado hit 18 home runs -- 16 at home.

That's certainly one of the biggest home/road splits I've ever seen.

8. The Nationals went 15-4 against the Mets.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers did the same against the Diamondbacks, for the most wins one team had over another.

9. Giancarlo Stanton is projected to hit 40 home runs.

Jose Abreu is projected to lead the AL with 38 ... along with George Springer.

10. Terry Francona led the majors in intentional walks that backfired.

BIS kept track of all intentional walks and labeled them as good and not good, with the "not goods" further broken down into "bombs" -- when multiple runs scored after the IW. Francona led the majors with 51 intentional walks, 22 not goods and 13 bombs. Compare that to Ned Yost, who issued just 14 intentional walks.

Anyway, that's the kind of fun stuff you can find in the book. Check it out.
Jimmy RollinsMitchell Layton/Getty Images

It was quite the exciting winter meetings. A few thoughts on some of those recent transactions ...

1. Dodgers trade Matt Kemp and Dee Gordon, acquire Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins and Yasmani Grandal.

It's risky blowing up a 94-win team, and although trading Kemp certainly helps clear some of the logjam in the outfield and gives the Dodgers additional money to play with, this series of transactions doesn't have as much to do with improving clubhouse chemistry or making manager Don Mattingly's life any easier as it does with something far less complicated: improving the team's defense.

New team president Andrew Friedman came from Tampa Bay, where the Rays turned their franchise around in 2008 by improving the team's defense and emphasizing it ever since. General manager Farhan Zaidi came from Oakland, where the A's had also made defense a bigger priority in recent seasons.

The Dodgers arguably ended up improving their defense at five positions:

Shortstop: Rollins > Hanley Ramirez
Second base: Kendrick > Gordon
Center field: Pederson > Yasiel Puig
Right field: Puig > Kemp
Catcher: Grandal > A.J. Ellis

Look at the upgrades, based on 2014 defensive runs saved per 1,200 innings:

SS: +16 runs
2B: +11 runs
CF: Puig rated as average here; Pederson projects as average or slightly above.
RF: +10 runs
C: Friedman loves pitch framing, and Grandal rates very well here while Ellis rates as one of the worst in the majors. Grandal isn't a great overall defensive catcher -- he had trouble throwing out runners -- but you have to believe the Dodgers' internal metrics rate Grandal has a sizable upgrade.

Yes, the Dodgers have lost two guys from the middle of the order, but Rollins (17 home runs in 2014) could replace much of Ramirez's power, Pederson projects as a 20-homer guy if he plays every day, and Kendrick is an offensive upgrade over Gordon. The Dodgers also replaced two injury-prone players in Ramirez and Kemp.

Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke predictably ripped the Kemp trade, but when you view the big picture, it looks like a terrific series of moves to me (not even factoring in the Brandon McCarthy signing).

2. Padres acquire Kemp.

My friend Ted the Mariners fan emailed me after hearing about this trade, saying, "We couldn't beat this?"

It may look like a low return for Kemp, but Kemp's reputation exceeds his actual value by a large factor. You're not just trading for Kemp; you're also getting his contract. He's a 30-year-old outfielder who played below-average defense even in right field and had injury issues the past three seasons. FanGraphs valued him at just 4.6 WAR total over the past three seasons and just 1.8 in 2014 despite hitting .287/.346/.506. If Kemp can stay healthy and match his second-half production over the next several years, the Padres won't regret the deal. But Kemp isn't the superstar some fans think he is.

3. Tigers acquire Yoenis Cespedes and Alfredo Simon, trade away Rick Porcello and Eugenio Suarez.

Overall, I'd say the Tigers are just spinning their wheels in the mud so far if you factor in the loss of Torii Hunter and the assumed departure of Max Scherzer. (GM Dave Dombrowski said the club will no longer negotiate with Scherzer and agent Scott Boras.) Cespedes is certainly a defensive upgrade over Hunter, and if he can spike his OBP back over .300, the Tigers will certainly roll out what should be one of the better offenses in the league:

2B Ian Kinsler
RF J.D. Martinez
1B Miguel Cabrera
DH Victor Martinez
LF Cespedes
3B Nick Castellanos
C Alex Avila
CF Anthony Gose/Rajai Davis
SS Jose Iglesias

Even then, the lineup could have OBP issues once you get past Cabrera and Victor Martinez, especially if J.D. Martinez doesn't maintain his 2014 level of play.

I don't like the Simon trade, in which Detroit gave up Suarez for one year of a pitcher who has had half of a good season in the rotation ... and that half was fueled by a low BABIP. The downgrade from Porcello to Simon could be significant, and I think Suarez is going to be the better player than Iglesias.

4. Red Sox add Porcello, Justin Masterson and Wade Miley (trade pending) to the rotation.

Boston had better have good infield defense with this group. Throw in Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly and the Red Sox should have the staff that will throw the most ground balls in the majors, probably by a large margin. (Paul Swydan of FanGraphs has a piece on Boston's ground ball fetish.)

How good is it, however? The Steamer projection system actually projects Boston to have the sixth-best rotation in the majors via WAR -- but the fifth-worst ERA. Seems like there's a wide range of potential outcomes here based on those figures and some park adjustments going on that help those WAR numbers. Everyone seems to think the Red Sox will still make another move, either signing James Shields or trading for Cole Hamels. I'm not as sure about that. Considering the lack of top starters across the AL East, the Red Sox may just stick with this group, keep all those young starters they have and see if Henry Owens, Matt Barnes or Eduardo Rodriguez develop enough to help out later in the season.

5. Marlins acquire Gordon, Mat Latos and Dan Haren -- if he doesn't retire.

The Marlins' second basemen hit .236/.303/.334 in 2014, compared with Gordon's .289/.326/.378, so it looks like a small offensive upgrade, especially when you factor in Gordon's speed. But Gordon had just a .300 OBP in the second half (when he drew only four walks). He does, however, provide dynamic speed -- an element the Marlins lacked -- and if Gordon can learn to draw a few more walks, the top of the lineup has potential:

SportsNation

Which moves from the winter meetings did you like best?

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Discuss (Total votes: 1,719)

2B Gordon
LF Christian Yelich
RF Giancarlo Stanton
3B Casey McGehee
CF Marcell Ozuna
1B To be acquired?
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
SS Adeiny Hechavarria

OK, the Marlins need a better cleanup hitter. Latos is a big gamble coming off a season during which his velocity declined nearly 2 mph as he battled bone chips in his elbow and eventually had surgery. A rotation of Latos, Henderson Alvarez, Nathan Eovaldi, Jarred Cosart, Tom Koehler, Haren and eventually Jose Fernandez, who is expected to return at midseason, has potential -- especially if youngsters Eovaldi and Cosart develop consistency. But it could also feature a bunch of No. 4s. Call me lukewarm on the Marlins' moves so far.

6. Angels acquire Andrew Heaney for Kendrick.

It's hard to fault the Angels for making this move, in which they picked up Heaney and his potential, plus six years of team control for Kendrick, who hits free agency after the season. But losing Kendrick without a clear replacement on hand could be a huge blow. Kendrick was the club's second-most-valuable player last season behind Mike Trout. I'll be curious to see what happens at second base, as Josh Rutledge, acquired from the Rockies, projects as about a one-win player, if that. That's a four-win decline from what Kendrick provided in 2014, and if Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker regress, the Angels will face in a tough battle for the playoffs a year after racking up the most wins in the majors in 2014.

7. White Sox acquire Jeff Samardzija, sign David Robertson and Adam LaRoche.

You have to love the job Rick Hahn has done the past two offseasons, signing Jose Abreu and stealing Adam Eaton from the Diamondbacks last year, and now landing Samardzija, Robertson and LaRoche. I'd still pick the White Sox to finish fourth in the AL Central, but if they add another starter or outfielder it could be a great four-team race.

8. Cubs sign Jon Lester, trade for Miguel Montero.

Did you know Doug Fister has a lower career ERA (3.34) than Lester (3.58) and roughly the same postseason ERA (2.57 for Lester vs. 2.60 for Fister)?

9. Twins sign Ervin Santana.

Hey, he could be the new Ricky Nolasco! (Sorry, Twins fans.) OK, Santana is probably better than Nolasco, but $54 million seems like a lot for a guy who just posted a 3.95 ERA in the National League and whose best season of the past three came in Kansas City, where he played in a good pitcher's park in front of a terrific defense that complemented his fly ball tendencies.

10. Pirates re-sign Francisco Liriano.

At three years and $39 million, this was a good deal for Pittsburgh, which got a solid starter who didn't break the payroll. You always worry about his health and the potential that he'll lose his command at any time, but he's had two good seasons now -- and pitching coach Ray Searage seems to get the most out of his starters.

11. Cardinals sign Mark Reynolds.

St. Louis definitely needed a right-handed power bat, either to platoon with Matt Adams or to come off the bench. We saw the Giants' lefty relievers exploit the Cardinals in the NLCS. Reynolds can fill in at first and third, and for $2 million, he's an inexpensive pickup who could pay small dividends.

12. A's do a bunch of stuff.

More to come on this in a separate post later today.

13. Royals sign Kendrys Morales for two years, $17 million.

What?!?!?!?
A quick follow-up to that last post. Phillies fans seem to think they can get Mookie Betts in a potential trade with the Red Sox for Cole Hamels.

It's not going to happen. Dave Cameron has been beating this drum over at FanGraphs and I agree. First off, Betts is going to be a really good. The Steamer projection system has him hitting .291/.368/.444 in 2015, worth 2.5 WAR in just 89games. Prorate that 140 games and you get 3.9 WAR. The "Bill James Handbook" is even more optimistic, projecting Betts to hit .321/.405/.493. It's possible that Betts could be as valuable as Hamels in 2015, and that's before even factoring in the salaries.

But there's another more practical reason why the Red Sox can't trade him: While they have a lot of outfielders, they have a lot of outfielders with question marks. Consider:

--Hanley Ramirez. Who knows how the transition to left field will actually work; as I've written, it's almost unprecedented for a shortstop at Ramirez's age to transition into a full-time outfielder and have a second half of his career there (Robin Yount did it, but he's the exception). It's possible he'll be just as bad defensively in the outfield as he is at shortstop. Plus he's injury-prone. It's highly likely that in 2016, Ramirez or Pablo Sandoval will be playing first base or Ramirez eventually succeeds David Ortiz as the DH.

--Yoenis Cespedes. Only signed for one more year. Likely trade bait. If not, could depart as a free agent after the season.

--Rusney Castillo. He could be good. He could be mediocre. He could be less than mediocre. There's no guarantee he's a long-term starter in center field.

--Jackie Bradley Jr. Gold Glove-quality center fielder but huge questions at this point about his bat.

--Shane Victorino. Old and broken. Only signed for one more year as is.

--Allen Craig. Not sure what happened to him. Even if the bat bounces back, he's best suited for first base anyway.

--Daniel Nava. Solid, underrated performer but turns 32 in February.

The Red Sox will keep Mookie Betts because he's going to be an All-Star but they also need to keep him because they'll need him in the outfield.

Is Jon Lester really an ace?

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
2:26
PM ET
The consensus is in: The Chicago Cubs are the big winners after signing Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million contract that makes him the second-highest-paid pitcher on an annual average basis behind only Clayton Kershaw.

And the Boston Red Sox are the big losers, still left without a top-of-the-rotation starter among a group that includes Clay Buchholz (coming off a 5.34 ERA), Joe Kelly (coming off a 4.20 ERA), Rubby De La Rosa (coming off a 4.43 ERA) and not much else. Ruben Amaro's asking price for Cole Hamels just went up.

The consensus is the Red Sox blew it this past spring by offering Lester a mere $70 million over four years, when pitchers such as Hamels, Matt Cain and even Homer Bailey were receiving $100 million contracts. To be fair to the Red Sox, although Lester had a dominant postseason run in 2013 to lead Boston to a World Series title, he had been somewhat less than spectacular in 2012 and 2013 in the regular season, ranking 79th and 52nd in the majors in ERA among qualified starters those two seasons.

Here, Lester's ranks in various categories since he became a full-time starter in 2008 (including Baseball-Reference WAR and FanGraphs WAR):



You can understand Boston's reluctance to give Lester a Hamels-like $144 million contract. He wasn't one of the top 10 starters in the game at the time, and there was no indication that he deserved to be paid as the second-best starter in the game. Still, $70 million was a low offer, as Lester's peripherals suggested he was better than his raw ERA totals.

In 2014, Lester began throwing his cutter more often, which allowed him to pitch inside more to right-handed batters and made him much more effective against right-handers (he actually posted a reverse platoon split). He posted an ERA under 3.00 for the first time in his career (although that was helped by 16 unearned runs).

Lester heat map ESPN Stats & Info


Lester was arguably a top-10 starter in the game from 2008 to 2010, although he never finished in the top 10 in ERA or in innings until ranking eighth in ERA in 2014. He wasn't a top-10 starter from 2011 to 2013. Yes, you can give him bonus points for his postseason history, but you might want to ask the A's whether past performance in October is a guarantee of future performance. For Lester to be worth $155 million, he has to not only stay healthy but maintain a level close to his 2014 performance.

Of course, it's not our money and, with so many low-paid youngsters in the lineup or ready to join the lineup, the Cubs had plenty of room in their payroll to invest in Lester. Even if the contract is an overpay in the end, if Lester continues churning out 200-inning seasons, the Cubs will be happy.

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The Cubs are betting on continued good health and on the cutter pushing Lester to a new level as legit ace. With the cutter and the move to the National League and the easier lineups, I suspect Lester will reel off several outstanding seasons. Still, $155 million is a lot for a pitcher who hasn't necessarily proved himself to be a consistent No. 1 starter, let alone the second-best starter in the game.

The Cubs look like the big winners here, but there is another group of winners to consider: David Price, Jordan Zimmermann and Johnny Cueto -- free agents after 2015 and arguably better than Lester -- just saw their asking prices go way up.

SweetSpot TV: Red Sox deals

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
3:20
PM ET


Eric and I discuss the Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval signings. Others have analyzed the moves here on ESPN.com (and here's Eric's fantasy impact for the two), but I'm a little more skeptical on how all this plays out for the Red Sox.

If Ramirez moves to left field, isn't it possible his defense will be just as bad there as at shortstop? And Sandoval, while a nice player, has made his name more in the postseason than the regular season.

Beyond that, let's remember that the Red Sox are starting from a bad place: They were 71-91, and that included 42 starts from Jon Lester and John Lackey, two starters not currently on the team. Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly are your top two guys right now, which means the Red Sox don't have an above-average major league starter on the roster. Yes, they have offensive depth to deal from, but are Yoenis Cespedes or Mike Napoli really going to bring an elite starter back in return? Shane Victorino? Jackie Bradley Jr.? I don't think so; the Mariners, for example, aren't going to trade Hisashi Iwakuma for Cespedes, one rumor that's been that out there.

Anyway, this is just the beginning of Boston's offseason. The Cole Hamels rumors will certainly heat up and the Red Sox may still bring Lester back as a free agent. We'll see how it all plays out over the next few weeks.
Randy JohnsonRich Pilling/Getty ImagesRandy Johnson should be a unanimous selection in his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Hall of Fame season is kind of like Christmas season: It brings gifts and memories but also a lot of acrimony and stress, and it lasts way too long. Hall of Fame ballots were mailed out Monday to eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, which means the next six weeks will feature many Hall of Fame columns, debates, analyses and other assorted name-calling and belligerence.

Here are 10 main questions of conversation this Hall of Fame season:

1. Who are the new names on the ballot?

Last year's star-studded ballot that featured the election of first-timers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas is followed by another long list of intriguing newcomers: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield and Carlos Delgado are the top names.

2. How many of those guys get in?

Johnson should be a unanimous selection with his 303 career wins, five Cy Young Awards, four ERA titles, nine strikeout titles and six 300-strikeout seasons, but 16 of the 571 voters last year failed to vote for Maddux, so Johnson likely awaits the same slight and will get 95-plus percent of the vote but not 100 percent.

Martinez would certainly appear to be a lock to get the required 75 percent, but Hall voters tend to emphasize wins at the expense of everything else for starting pitchers and Martinez has just 219, so you never know. The BBWAA hasn't elected a starter with that few wins since Don Drysdale, who had 209, in 1984. Still, with the second-best winning percentage since 1900 of any pitcher with at least 150 wins (behind only Whitey Ford), three Cy Young Awards, five ERA titles and the best adjusted ERA for any starting pitcher in history, Pedro should cruise to Cooperstown at well above the 75 percent line. Really, like the Unit, there is no reason not to vote for him.

Smoltz has a little more complicated case and may suffer in comparison to being on the same ballot with Johnson and Martinez. While Pedro was 219-100 with a 2.93 ERA, Smoltz was 213-155 with a 3.33 ERA. He did pick up 154 saves while serving as a closer for three-plus seasons and maybe that will resonate with voters. Smoltz also has a great postseason record -- 15-4, 2.67 ERA -- but similar postseason dominance didn't help Curt Schilling last year when he received just 29 percent of the votes. I believe Smoltz does much better than that, but I don't see why Schilling -- 216-146, 3.46 in his career with 79.9 WAR compared to Smoltz's 69.5 -- would receive just 29 percent and Smoltz 75 percent.

Sheffield, with the PED allegations, has no chance despite 509 career home runs and over 1,600 RBIs and runs. Delgado put up big numbers in an era when a lot of guys were putting up big numbers, and his 473 career home runs with 1,512 RBIs may not be enough to even keep him on the ballot (you need to receive 5 percent to remain on).

3. Does Craig Biggio get in this year?

He fell just two votes short last year on his second time on the ballot, so you have to think at least two voters will add him, assuming some of the holdovers don't change their minds. Biggio's Hall of Fame case is kind of ironic in that he was probably one of the more underrated players in the league while active. He finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting three times (10th, fifth, fourth), but the same writers who once dismissed him as an MVP candidate will now be putting him in the Hall of Fame. He's a deserving candidate, but if he hadn't played that final season when he was terrible and cleared 3,000 career hits, you wonder if he'd be even this close. Voters love their round numbers.

4. What's the new 10-year rule?

Candidates will now be allowed to remain on the ballot for only 10 years instead of 15. Three current candidates -- Don Mattingly (in his 15th season), Alan Trammell (14th) and Lee Smith (13th) were allowed to remain on the ballot.

For the first time, the names of all voters will also be made public, although neither the Hall of Fame nor BBWAA will not reveal an individual's ballot.

5. Who will be most affected by this?

Well, all the steroids guys, obviously. Mark McGwire, for example, is on the ballot for his ninth year, not enough time in case voter attitudes toward PEDs starts reversing course. Aside from that group, Tim Raines is on the ballot for the eighth year. He received 46 percent of the vote last year; that was actually a drop from the 52 percent he had in 2013. Historically, nearly every player who received 50 percent of the vote from the BBWAA eventually got elected, but now Raines has just three years left and was affected by the crowded ballot last year.

6. But the ballot is still crowded, right?

Yep. Remember, voters are allowed to vote for up to 10 players -- although most ballots don't get to 10, so the "crowded" ballot is somewhat of an overrated issue. Still, it's there, and several players saw their vote totals decrease last year. Anyway, I would argue there are as many as 22 or 23 players who have some semblance of a Hall of Fame case based on historical precedent. In order of career Baseball-Reference WAR: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Schilling, Jeff Bagwell, Larry Walker, Trammell, Smoltz, Raines, Edgar Martinez, Biggio, McGwire, Sheffield, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Jeff Kent, Fred McGriff, Delgado, Lee Smith. Plus arguably Nomar Garciaparra and Mattingly, who had high peak levels of performance but short careers.

Anyway, those who believe in a big ballot will once again have to make some tough choices on whom to leave off.

7. For which players is this an important year?

Raines needs a big increase this year, but it's starting to look slim for him. That makes Bagwell and Piazza two of the more interesting names. Piazza was at 62 percent last year on his second year, a 4.4 percent increase from 2013. If he sees another vote increase, we can assume he's on his way to election; but if he holds at the same percentage, we can probably assume there are enough voters who put him in the PED category and are thus keeping him permanently under that 75 percent threshold. Similar issue with Bagwell; he was 54 percent last year, actually down from 59.6 percent in 2013. If he gets back up over 60 percent, he may be back on a Cooperstown trek.

8. Hey, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling look like pretty good candidates.

That's not a question, but, yes, yes they are. Mussina (270 wins, 82.6 WAR) and Schilling are overwhelmingly qualified by Hall of Fame standards, even by BBWAA-only standards, especially when factoring in Schilling's postseason success. That both received fewer than 30 percent of the vote in their first year on the ballot was a little shocking and definitely disappointing.

9. What about the steroids guys?

No changes -- or progress, if you prefer -- here. Clemens (35.4 percent) and Bonds (34.7 percent) both received fewer votes than the year before. Rafael Palmeiro already fell off the ballot, and I suspect Sosa (7.2 percent) falls off this time.

10. What about Jack Morris?

Mercifully, Morris is no longer on the ballot so we don't have to spend all December arguing his case yet again. His candidacy goes over to the Expansion Era committee, which will next vote in 2016. I suspect Morris gets in then.


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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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?





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.

MLB Free Agency: Half-Full, Half-Empty Logo
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?

End-of-season Haiku for every team

November, 7, 2014
Nov 7
10:35
AM ET
Congrats to the Giants on their World Series victory. Let's look back at the year on the diamond for all 30 teams, in regular season win total order, through traditional Japanese verse:

ANGELS
Trout league's best player?
Shoemaker pleasant surprise
Yet steamrolled by Royals

ORIOLES
Stoic Showalter
Lost Manny, Matt, Chris but still
Ran away with East

NATIONALS
Fateful decision
In playoffs shouldn't dampen
League's best rotation

DODGERS
The Bison is back
But Clayton couldn't kill Cards
Donnie gets last chance?

CARDINALS
Death of Taveras
Casts pall on terrific year
Still class of Central

TIGERS
Flammable bullpen
Undermined starting pitching
Now replace V-Mart

ROYALS
Who needs walks, homers?
An "abundance" of bunting
Outfield defense ... whoa!

ATHLETICS
Cespedes got dealt
Team's offense dried up with it
Beane's "stuff" didn’t work

GIANTS
Three titles -- five years
Bumgarner otherworldly
Can they keep Panda?

PIRATES
Burning Cole last game
Trying for division tie
Might have cost Play-In

MARINERS
Cano did his thing
Felix, Hisashi duo
Not quite good enough

INDIANS
Kluber conquered all
But rest of staff slogged through year
Michael Brantley ... star!

YANKEES
Jeter’s farewell tour
Now A-Rod longest-tenured
Not your dad's Yankees

BLUE JAYS
All five starters had
Double-digit wins, but four
Had ten-plus losses

BREWERS
Led till late August
Won nine all of September
Lucroy's framing tops

BRAVES
Shutout 16 times
NL's next to last runs scored
Let's just watch Kimbrel

METS
DeGrom great story
Wheeler looked good, stayed healthy
Harvey's back, Big 3!

PADRES
Last in all slash stats
No-hit by Timmy ... again
Front office rebuilt

MARLINS
Stayed competitive
Despite losing Fernandez
Can they sign Stanton?

RAYS
Friedman, Maddon gone
Price dealt for cheaper prospects
Has their window closed?

REDS
Votto hardly seen
But Mesoraco burst out
Cueto stayed healthy

WHITE SOX
Abreu? Real deal
Chris Sale's elbow still attached?
Thank you, Konerko!

CUBS
Top prospects galore
Renteria won't see them
Maddon works magic?

PHILLIES
Vets went untraded
Amaro kept job somehow
Get used to last place

RED SOX
Bradley, Bogaerts ... meh
Buckholz saw ERA triple
Lester will be missed

ASTROS
Altuve a star
If only they could have signed
1st rounder Aiken

TWINS
Hughes K'd 1-8-6
Is that allowed on their staff?
Mauer's bat slumping

RANGERS
Pro-Obamacare
Given multitude of hurts
Washington bowed out

ROCKIES
League-worst ERA
Tulo missed 70 games
Fast start, then crash, burn

DIAMONDBACKS
Gibson, Towers done
Can Hale, Stewart make team rise
Like a phoenix? Eh!

Diane Firstman runs the Value Over Replacement Grit blog and is a regular contributor to the SweetSpot blog.
As the offseason speeds ahead into full rumor mill hysteria, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to look at each team’s biggest weakness in 2014 (excluding pitchers). This gives us a start on which positions teams might be most desperate to fill or should be desperate to fill in the upcoming months, although it doesn't include potential holes such as the Giants needing a third baseman if Pablo Sandoval doesn't re-sign or the Dodgers needing a shortstop if Hanley Ramirez departs.

For a quick assessment of value at each position, I used wins below average, via Baseball-Reference.com, which includes both offense and defensive value at the position.

1. Detroit Tigers 3B: 3.7 wins below average

This might surprise you since Nick Castellanos had a solid rookie season at the plate, hitting .259 with 46 extra-base hits. But solid isn't the same as good, as the Tigers ranked 18th in the majors in wOBA at third base. But the biggest liability here was Castellanos' defense: His -30 defensive runs saved ranked worst in the majors -- at any position.

Fix for 2015: It's still Castellanos' job. The Tigers have to hope for improvement in all areas.


2. Houston Astros 3B: 3.5 wins below average

Matt Dominguez started 147 games here, but the Astros ranked last in the majors with a .255 OBP and .252 wOBA at third base as Dominguez hit just .215 with 29 walks. He comes with a better defensive reputation than Castellanos, but grades out about average with the glove. First base wasn't much better for the Astros -- 3.4 wins below average as their first basemen hit .168 (!).

Fix for 2015: Dominguez is just 25, but his sophomore season showed decline instead of improvement. There is no obvious internal fix other than giving Dominguez one more shot. Could the Astros be a dark horse to sign Pablo Sandoval or Chase Headley? If only they had drafted Kris Bryant in 2013 instead of Mark Appel.

[+] EnlargeRyan Howard
AP Photo/Alex BrandonLooks like the Phillies might be stuck with Ryan Howard again in 2015.
3. Philadelphia Phillies 1B: 3.3 wins below average

No surprise here: Ryan Howard is awful, even if he did drive in 95 runs. He had a .302 wOBA -- the same as Alcides Escobar. The Phillies slugged .392 at first base -- 22nd in the majors -- and backed that up with Howard's poor defense and baserunning.

Fix for 2015: Howard will make $50 million the next two years. No, I can't see a scenario where he gets traded.


4. Cincinnati Reds RF: 3.3 wins below average

If there's an award for Most Disappointing Player of 2014, it probably goes to Jay Bruce, who hit .217 with a .281 OBP and 18 home runs. Bruce had knee surgery in early May, came back quickly and simply never got going. The knee might have played a role as he actually homered just as often on fly balls as in 2013, but his fly ball rate dropped 10 percent.

Fix for 2015: Bruce turns 28 in April, so he's certainly a good bet to bounce back.


5. Tampa Bay Rays C: 3.1 wins below average

The Rays love the defense Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan provide, but it's hard to overcome a .191/.274/.250 batting line.

Fix for 2015: Both are under contract for 2015, and Curt Casali is the only other catcher on the 40-man roster. Molina looks done as a hitter so the Rays are going to need Hanigan to catch more.


6. Atlanta Braves 3B: 3.1 wins below average

Chris Johnson and his .292 OBP and below-average defense helped this position score worst overall, but the Braves also scored lowest in the majors at center field (-2.6 wins) and second base (-2.8 wins).

Fix for 2015: The Braves foolishly signed Johnson to a long-term deal after his BABIP-driven .321 season in 2013. While the salaries aren't prohibitive, the deal also means Johnson probably returns in 2015. Phil Gosselin, who hit .344 without power at Triple-A, might get an opportunity, although he hasn't played much third in his career.


7. St. Louis Cardinals RF: 3.1 wins below average

Cardinals right fielders ranked last in the majors in wOBA.

Fix for 2015: The death of Oscar Taveras means the Cardinals will probably look for a right fielder, as Randal Grichuk isn't primed for full-time duty. They could move Jon Jay back there and give Peter Bourjos more time in center; but considering the Cardinals' lack of power in 2014, look for them to seek a right fielder with some ability to hit the ball over the fence -- maybe Nelson Cruz, if they're willing to take the hit on defense, or maybe Carlos Gonzalez in a trade with the Rockies.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
AP Photo/David GoldmanWhat were the Braves thinking with that long-term deal for Chris Johnson?
8. Cleveland Indians RF: 3.0 wins below average

This was mostly David Murphy, who put up lukewarm numbers at the plate while seeing his defensive metrics slide (-16 defensive runs saved). The Indians also had -2.2 wins from DH (Nick Swisher had the most PAs there with 143), so if they can improve these two positions, they're a good sleeper playoff pick for 2015.

Fix for 2015: Murphy is still under contract, but he's 33; I wouldn't bet on a better year. The DH problem can be solved by just putting Carlos Santana there and maybe there's room in the budget for a first baseman like Adam LaRoche, leaving Swisher to share time in right, first base and DH.


9. Chicago Cubs LF: 2.9 wins below average

Cubs left fielders -- Chris Coghlan had the most playing time out there with 394 PAs -- actually ranked 11th in the majors in wOBA, but they were a collective -19 defensive runs saved.

Fix for 2015: Outfield prospects Billy McKinney and Albert Almora are still two to three years away from the majors, so it could be more Coghlan and Junior Lake unless the Cubs make a trade or sign a veteran free agent.


10. Miami Marlins 1B: 2.9 wins below average

Their first basemen (mostly Garrett Jones) hit .258/.313/.403, putting them 19th in the majors in wOBA, and mixed in below-average defense and a lack of speed.

Fix for 2015: Jeff Baker is still around as a potential platoon mate against LHP. Jones is signed for $5 million; so while LaRoche would also make a nice fit here, that contract might mean the Marlins stick with Jones.


11. Texas Rangers 1B: 2.8 wins below average

Obviously, Prince Fielder's neck injury was the story here as Texas first basemen hit just .216 with 16 home runs.

Fix for 2015: Hope for Fielder's return to health.


12. Chicago White Sox RF: 2.8 wins below average

Avisail Garcia was supposed to be the solution here, but he hurt his shoulder in early April and Dayan Viciedo ended up getting most of the time in right. He combined a below-average OBP with terrible defense.

Fix for 2015: Garcia returned in August and hit .244/.305/.413; he’ll get another shot. He should be an upgrade, but he's another guy who might struggle to post a league-average OBP.


13. San Diego Padres 2B: 2.8 wins below average

Jedd Gyorko would rate right behind Bruce in that most disappointing category. After signing a six-year, $35 million extension in April following his 23-homer rookie season in 2013, Gyorko collapsed and hit .210 with 11 home runs in 111 games, missing time with plantar fasciitis. He went on the DL in early June with reports saying he injured his foot in late May. He wasn't hitting before then, so it's possible he tried to play through the injury or maybe the pressure of the contract got to him or maybe he just didn't hit. Anyway, when he returned in late July, he hit .260/.347/.398 the rest of the way. (Just three home runs, however.)

Fix for 2015: Like Bruce, Gyorko is a good bounce-back candidate.

[+] EnlargeWill Middlebrooks
AP Photo/Chris BernacchiHow much longer can the Red Sox afford to wait on Will Middlebrooks?
14. Los Angeles Dodgers C: 2.7 wins below average

Dodgers catchers hit .181/.283/.261 as A.J. Ellis got on base (.322) but didn't hit otherwise, and the backups were even worse. Dodgers pitchers like throwing to Ellis, but the defensive metrics have never rated him as a good pitch-framer.

Fix for 2015: Speculation suggests the Dodgers could go after free agent Russell Martin.


15. Boston Red Sox 3B: 2.7 wins below average

Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts and Brock Holt got the majority of playing time here and Holt was the best of the three. He isn’t the 2015 solution, however. Overall, Boston's third basemen hit .211 with just 10 home runs.

Fix for 2015: With Bogaerts likely moving back to shortstop and Middlebrooks just about out of chances, the Red Sox could give Garin Cecchini, a career .298 hitter in the minors, a shot, although he has just 21 home runs in four minor league seasons. There are several third basemen out there in free agency: Sandoval, Headley, Hanley Ramirez (if you want to move him off shortstop) and Jed Lowrie (ditto). Seems Boston is likely to go after one of those guys.

OK, we'll do Part 2 of the list on Thursday.
Last week, with little fanfare and virtually no attention, the Hall of Fame announced the 10 candidates placed on its Golden Era ballot, where the 16-member committee will consider candidates from the 1947-1972 period (whether this was actually baseball's golden era is a subject for another debate).

This year's candidates include nine players and one executive: Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Bob Howsam, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills.

In the previous Golden Era ballot in 2011, Ron Santo was the lone inductee, a long controversial Hall of Fame candidate whose election may have been helped by his death a year earlier. Twelve of 16 votes are required for election, and Kaat (10), Hodges (9), Minoso (9), Oliva (8), Boyer and Tiant (both with fewer than three) appeared on the previous ballot.

This year's committee consists of Hall of Famers Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton; baseball executives Pat Gillick (a Hall of Famer), Jim Frey, David Glass, Roland Hemond and Bob Watson; and veteran media members Steve Hirdt, Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe and Tracy Ringolsby.

In my opinion, there is one clear Hall of Famer in this group and maybe a second strong candidate, but let's review each candidate.

Dick Allen
Career WAR: 58.7
10-year peak (1963-1974): 54.5
Top percentage from BBWAA: 18.9
Similar players: Lance Berkman, Reggie Smith

Allen was one of the most feared hitters of his day, three times leading his league in slugging percentage and hitting .292/.378/.534 in a pitcher's era and winning the AL MVP Award with the White Sox in 1972. His career adjusted OPS of 156 is 19th all-time -- the same as Willie Mays and Frank Thomas, just ahead of Henry Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Miguel Cabrera and Manny Ramirez. So the dude could hit. The knocks against him are that he had a relatively short career (354 home runs, 1,119 RBIs), and he was blamed for a lot of the failures of his teams.

One of things I like to consider for a borderline candidate: Is he the best player at his position not in the Hall of Fame? Allen played mostly first base but a lot of third early in his career, which complicated the question for him, but I'm not sure he's a better candidate than guys such as Keith Hernandez or John Olerud, let alone guys still on the ballot such as Jeff Bagwell and Mark McGwire.

My call: No.

Ken Boyer
Career WAR: 62.8
10-year peak (1956-1965): 56.8
Top percentage from BBWAA: 25.5
Similar players: Robin Ventura, Ron Cey, Ron Santo

A consistent 90-RBI guy for the Cardinals, Boyer was also an outstanding third baseman and the 1964 NL MVP when he led the league with 119 RBIs. Like Allen, Boyer suffers from not doing much outside of his 10-year peak. In Boyer's case, he didn't reach the majors until he was 24 -- but that was in large part due to missing the 1952 and 1953 seasons while serving in the army. What if he had reached the majors two years sooner and added 30 home runs and 150 RBIs to his career totals of 282 and 1,141?

My call: Just outside. I'm surprised he didn't fare better in the BBWAA, as he was well-liked and a respected player. There are a lot of third baseman in this area -- Boyer, Darrell Evans, Sal Bando, Cey. Santo was certainly a notch above them. Scott Rolen is similar, and he'll be on the ballot in a few years.

Gil Hodges
Career WAR: 44.9
10-year peak (1956-1965): 42.2
Top percentage from BBWAA: 63.4
Similar players: Norm Cash, Boog Powell

The much-beloved first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Hodges has, I believe, the highest vote total from the BBWAA for a player who never eventually made it into the Hall of Fame. He also earns bonus points for managing the 1969 Mets to a World Series title.

Bill James just wrote this on his site about Hodges:
You mentioned an eight-year run for Hodges ... he posted an OPS+ of 132 over that period, with the good defense and team success. Is that kind of success particularly rare? It doesn't seem that it is. Actually, you can find a guy like that in almost every era. Starting with Garvey ... Steve Garvey had an eight year run with an OPS+ of 129 (1973-80) ... he was a good defender. His teams won. Keith Hernandez had eight years at a 139 OPS+ (1979-86). He was a good defender who played on good teams, too. Will Clark had a ten-year run at a 143 OPS+ ... 1986-95. John Olerud has a ten-year run with an OPS+ of 137, 1993-02. Mark Teixeira picks up after Olerud ... he clocks a 136 OPS+ for eight years, from 2004-2011. Don't know about his defense, but he was on a lot of winners. Just taking a quick look, I was able to find a player like Hodges active from 1973 to 2010.


My call: No.

Bob Howsam
Howsam's claim to fame was building the Cincinnati Reds' Big Red Machine dynasty of the 1970s. He was the Reds' general manager from 1967 to 1977. He hired Sparky Anderson as manager and made two major trades in acquiring Joe Morgan and George Foster, although guys such as Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez were already in the organization when he came over from the Cardinals (where he had acquired Orlando Cepeda and Roger Maris, who helped the Cardinals win the 1967 World Series). Howsam was, interestingly, also one of the founding owners of the Denver Broncos, along with his brother and father, although they sold the franchise after its first season.

My call: No. Is he the most deserving executive not in the Hall of Fame? He certainly built a powerhouse in the Reds, but he was also extremely disliked by players in both St. Louis and Cincinnati (although you can argue his job wasn't to be liked by the players). He was a hard-liner against the Players Association, but then again most execs from that period were. In the end, we probably have enough executives and managers in for now. Let's get more deserving players in there before worrying about GMs.

Jim Kaat
Career WAR: 45.4
10-year peak (1966-1975): 36.7
Top percentage from BBWAA: 29.6
Similar players: Tommy John, Jamie Moyer, Bert Blyleven

Kaat won 283 games, including 20 games three times. He finished fifth in the MVP voting the year he won 25 games and finished fourth once in the Cy Young. He was a good pitcher, but not really in the same class as Blyleven, who has a career WAR of 96.5. Kaat ranked in the top 10 in his league in WAR for pitchers just five times.

My call: No. Kaat, of course, has hung on in the game forever as a broadcaster, still doing games for MLB Network at 75 years old. Considering he had 10 votes last time, it wouldn't surprise me if he gets in.

[+] EnlargeMinnie Minoso
Robert Riger Collection/Getty ImagesMinnie Minoso was a seven-time All-Star.
Minnie Minoso
Career WAR: 50.1
10-year peak (1951-1960): 50.1
Top percentage from BBWAA: 21.1
Similar players: Carl Furillo, Enos Slaughter, Tony Oliva

Here's what I wrote three years ago:

Minoso's first full season in the majors came in 1951, when he was 25 years old. He hit .326, scored 112 runs, led the league in triples and stolen bases and finished fourth in the MVP vote. From 1951 until 1962 (when he fractured his skull and wrist running into a wall, and later fractured his forearm when hit by a pitch) Minoso had the seventh-highest WAR among all major league position players, trailing only Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Eddie Mathews, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks. In other words, for an 11-year span, he was one of the best players in baseball.

Minoso did everything well: He hit for average, drew walks, had speed, hit for some power, was durable and was regarded as a good outfielder (the Gold Glove award wasn't created until he was 31, but he won three). The writers of his time knew he was an excellent player -- he finished fourth in the MVP voting four times, an impressive achievement considering he never played for a pennant winner.

Of course, his career numbers may not look impressive, but remember: His career didn't start until he was 25 because of the color barrier. He was the first black player for the White Sox. Considering he was already a star as a rookie, what if he had reached the majors when he was 21? Now you're adding another 700 hits or so, 400 runs and 350 RBIs to his career totals and 15 seasons as one of the best players in baseball. It seems to me more than unfair to discount Minoso's totals simply because he got a late start in the major leagues due to racial circumstances.

Minoso is 85 years old and still going strong. Put the man in Cooperstown. He deserves it.


My call: He's now 88 years old and still deserving of Cooperstown.

Tony Oliva
Career WAR: 43.0
10-year peak (1964-1973): 42.8
Top percentage from BBWAA: 47.3
Similar players: Carl Furillo, Pedro Guerrero, George Bell

I got an email from Jessica Petrie, communications director for the VoteTonyO campaign, a grassroots organization trying to help get Oliva elected to the Hall of Fame. Oliva was a terrific pure hitter who won three batting titles with the Twins but had his last good season at age 32 because of knee problems. In some ways, Oliva's career is similar to another former Twins outfielder:

Oliva: .304/.353/.476, 222 HR, 947 RBI
Kirby Puckett: .318/.360/.477, 207 HR, 1,075 RBI

Puckett sailed into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. He had some advantages over Oliva: He played center field and led his team to two World Series titles. But as hitters, they were similar. But Puckett is a weak Hall of Famer, not a strong one, so that one comparison shouldn't help Oliva's case too much.

My call: No.

Billy Pierce
Career WAR: 53.1
10-year peak (1950-1959): 43.7
Top percentage from BBWAA: 1.9
Similar players: Vida Blue, Luis Tiant, Catfish Hunter

I'm glad to see Pierce's case get some consideration. An underrated star of the 1950s, Pierce had a career record of 211-169. The left-hander wasn't big (5-foot-10) but had a good fastball. The White Sox were overshadowed in the '50s by the Yankees but had a winning record every season from 1951 through 1967, and Pierce was one of the mainstays, helping the White Sox win the pennant in 1959. From 1951 to 1958 he had a 2.89 ERA, good for an ERA+ of 134, an eight-year peak better than many Hall of Famers. (Kaat, by comparison, never had an ERA+ that high in one season where he pitched at least 162 innings.)

My call: No. A stronger candidate than Kaat, however, despite the fewer career wins. (Pierce, by the way, is 87 and still alive, as well.)

Luis Tiant
Career WAR: 66.1
10-year peak (1967-1976): 45.8
Top percentage from BBWAA: 30.9
Similar players: Catfish Hunter, Jim Bunning, Don Drysdale

I wrote about Tiant's case back in July, when he was elected to the Hall of Very Good. He had a career record of 229-172, similar to Hunter and Drysdale. I think he was every bit the pitcher whom Drysdale was and better than Hunter -- trouble is, Tiant's best years were separated by a 20-loss season and two years of arm problems, which makes his timeline look a little odd (and he didn't play on World Series winners like those two).

My call: Three years ago I said "no" on Tiant. Again, he was a better pitcher than Kaat, even though he received much less support from the committee last time. I'm torn here, but would lean to "yes" now. Not that I have a vote.

Maury Wills
Career WAR: 39.5
10-year peak (1960-1969): 36.5
Top percentage from BBWAA: 40.6
Similar players: Luis Castillo (hey, that's his No. 1 comp on Baseball-Reference), Larry Bowa, Steve Sax

Hey, Bruce Sutter made the Hall of Fame for revolutionizing the game with his split-fingered fastball, so maybe Wills can make it for helping return the stolen base to the game in the early '50s. He stole 104 bases in 1962, which got him the MVP Award ahead of Willie Mays. That looks silly in retrospect. Anyway, Wills was a good player for a decade after not reaching the majors until he was 26, but he's not a serious Hall of Fame candidate.

My call: No.

It's a good ballot. I'd love to see Minoso get elected. My guess is that Kaat gets those extra two votes, however, and is the only guy who gets in. Which opens the door for Tommy John. ...

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