SweetSpot: Eric Karabell

Charlie Manuel’s Philadelphia Phillies are off to a poor start, for various reasons, and while it’s certainly too early to panic that the only team to win the NL East since 2007 is in real danger, it has been interesting to watch the manager work with lesser talent so far. Let’s face it: Most managers of winning teams have good players performing at a high level. When the talent gets hurt, gets old or struggles, the manager hits the hot seat.

Manuel is far from being at risk of losing his job; he has won a lot of games, including a World Series, and he’s going nowhere unless he wants to, but it’s not just his players underperforming after four games. Manuel is struggling as well. Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley delved further into Manuel’s strange bullpen usage so far, focusing on the leverage index.

Hey, I’ve been thinking it as well! It’s ridiculous that old-time managers refuse to summon their closers, in many cases their top relief pitcher, in a tie game in the ninth inning on the road. They’re waiting for save chances, but there are few statistics as meaningless as the save. Sending the likes of Joe Blanton and David Herndon to the mound to extend tie games, while the $50 million closer spits sunflower seeds in the bullpen, is a waste. Blanton and Herndon, the team’s worst starting pitcher and relief pitcher, respectively, predictably lost their games, combining to allow four hits and two runs, while facing nine batters, and earning four outs. Jonathan Papelbon faced three batters all weekend.

However, on Monday afternoon while down 5-2 in the top of the ninth inning at home against the Miami Marlins, here comes Papelbon to get some work. Papelbon permitted an Austin Kearns home run, but there’s no way to tell if that would have happened Saturday or Sunday in a tie game. There was no leverage in using Papelbon Monday.

As Baer points out, Manuel doesn’t seem to get it. Luckily for him, he has another 158 games to figure things out and still catch ... ahem ... the New York Mets for first place. Unfortunately, his offense is a mess without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, and his bullpen after Papelbon appears to be in bad shape as well. Is Manuel really a great manager or has he simply benefited from an abundance of talent over the years? It’s a reasonable question.

I like Manuel. And it’s only four games. But asking the likes of Laynce Nix to lay down ninth-inning sacrifice bunts -- he has a grand total of four in more than 1,800 career plate appearances -- is foolish. Nix did not get the job done. Most bunts, for that matter, are a bad idea, as giving away free outs is counterproductive; misplaced No. 3 hitter Jimmy Rollins, whether on his own or by instruction, sacrificed in the first inning with runners on first and second over the weekend. He moved the runners, the Phillies scored one run. It was their lone run of the game. Juan Pierre and Ty Wigginton, each incapable of getting on base or defending properly, are playing too much, but there appears no end in sight there. The starting pitchers need to be allowed to go deeper into games (Vance Worley threw only 78 pitches Sunday before being removed). At least Manuel can’t really be blamed for stunting Domonic Brown’s growth ... well, on second thought.

Manuel sure is lucky to have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. When he wins his sixth consecutive division title, nobody will -- or should -- remember what happened in the first week. But it’s still worth debating.

Now, about New York Yankees leader Joe Girardi ...

Be sure to check out Eric's fantasy baseball blog on ESPN Insider.

Podcast: Beltran, Gio & more

December, 23, 2011
I know we said the final Baseball Today podcast of 2011 came on Tuesday, but when your producer wakes you up on a Friday morning and says we’ve got important news to discuss and the time to discuss it, you do it! So it was that Mark Simon and I recorded another final Baseball Today podcast for 2011, Friday’s edition!

1. Carlos Beltran is a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, and one of us thinks the defending champs are clearly the team to beat in 2012. Can one of us convince the other?

2. The Washington Nationals go all-in for Gio Gonzalez, but can this team really contend in the NL East this soon? Check out an on-the-fly NL Power Rankings and see!

3. How good is Sean Marshall? The Cincinnati Reds acquired the lefty from the Chicago Cubs, but is their search for a closer over? Should it be?

4. We talk uniforms, but in a really fun way, at least I think.

5. So that is all – officially, this time – for the Baseball Today podcast in 2011. We bid farewell for a few short weeks, likely returning with me and Keith Law on Tuesday, Jan. 3.

Happy holidays to all!

Podcast: Dodgers sale, GGs, Hot Stove

November, 2, 2011
Enjoying the baseball offseason? Keith Law and I joined up for Wednesday’s Baseball Today podcast , as there’s still plenty to discuss and look forward to!

1. There seems to be light at the end of the Los Angeles Dodgers' ownership tunnel, and we take a bunch of different angles on what should be good news.

2. Hooray to the Gold Glove winners, and also to a few of the losers that perhaps deserved a better fate.

3. Keith gives us a glimpse into free agency, from the top-end fellows like Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to potential Japanese import Yu Darvish and former big leaguer Matt Murton.

4. Well, we won’t have Tony La Russa to pick on anymore, but KLaw does send him on his way with a few more controversial comments about his Cardinals legacy.

5. Continued thanks for the many emails you send (we talk Darvish and more Cardinals today) and we talk about my pending visit to the Arizona Fall League this week!

Look for the next edition of the Baseball Today podcast sometime next week, and thanks for downloading Wednesday’s show! Special thanks to producers Frank Dale and Jacqueline Purdy, and to you for listening. Send emails to baseballtoday@espnradio.com!

Podcast: Bullpengate and more

October, 25, 2011
It was a fun Baseball Today podcast on Tuesday as Keith Law and I discussed bullpen phones, intentional walks and a whole lot more!

1. Sorry, but we really don't buy the bullpen phone being culpable in a World Series game being lost. And we tell you why.

2. Mike Napoli is a pretty good baseball player, ya know. And we tell you why.

3. Oh, those intentional walks. A manager will win the World Series, but the degree to which mismanagement has reigned in this series is somewhat historic.

4. Do the Cardinals share a similar fate with the Miami Heat? You know, the NBA, back when it existed. An emailer explains.

5. We also talk more Theo Epstein, Bud Selig and replay, the Mets farm system, women in baseball and a lot more on a packed podcast!

So tune in for Tuesday's show. And guess what: We're back on Wednesday to preview Game 6!

We closed another fine week on the Baseball Today podcast as Mark Simon and I discussed many interesting and fun stats and topics, including these:

1. The Phillies topped the Brewers, but the names will probably be different if they meet in October. Does this series have more significance than most?

2. On an otherwise slow Thursday, Ian Kennedy continued his winning ways... so why isn’t he getting more Cy Young consideration?

3. Juan Pierre picks up hit No. 2,000, but how should the speedy outfielder’s career -- and season -- be interpreted?

4. We discuss the baseball term “golden sombrero” and its potential relevance to a recent Baltimore Orioles game.

5. Two notable weekend series could make the pennant races a lot more interesting, but only if the Rays and Cardinals simply don’t lose.

Plus: Excellent emails, more on Jerome Williams, Justin Verlander and misunderstood closer Jose Valverde, one-out victories and other wild stats and much more -- including Super Bowl picks! -- on a fun and packed Friday edition of Baseball Today. Enjoy your weekend!

A good ol’ time was had by all on Thursday’s Baseball Today podcast, as Keith Law and I went into extra innings on many subjects, including these:

1. Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Nyjer Morgan made news Wednesday night for some interesting reasons. Is he justified or is he the next Milton Bradley?

2. In the last relevant race, the Los Angeles Angels win and the Texas Rangers lose, and former prospect Jerome Williams played a big role. We reminisce on the right-hander.

3. Similarly, good for Oakland Athletics right-hander Guillermo Moscoso, who was nearly perfect against the Kansas City Royals. Who is this guy?

4. Let’s talk Tigers! Justin Verlander and the many wins, Jose Valverde and the many saves … what does it all mean?

5. The Philadelphia Phillies and the Brewers begin a big series Thursday, but is it really big at all? Do you believe in October calling cards?

Plus: Excellent e-mails, Chase Utley’s head, identifying bat speed, Davey Johnson in D.C. long term and so much more on a packed Thursday Baseball Today podcast. Download now!
Mark TrumboKelvin Kuo/US PresswireAngels first baseman Mark Trumbo is hitting .259 and leads the club with 23 HRs and 68 RBIs.
If there is anything to be learned from last Friday’s exercise when I ranked my top 10 choices for each respective league MVPs, it was that plenty of fans just aren’t interested in non-traditional stats like Wins Above Replacement. Some just want home runs and RBIs. And that’s OK. Stats like WAR aren’t the most important thing to me, either, but certainly a basis for discussion. Perhaps defense shouldn’t count a great deal in MVP voting. Oh, and Yankees fans love their Yankees and nobody else, Red Sox fans love their Red Sox, Phillies fans ... well, you get the picture. You can’t please everyone!

This week I’m taking a deeper look at the top rookies, because I think it’s definitely fun and always a good conversation starter. For example, some people will look only at home runs for this award. Others will look at wins. I judge the rookie of the year candidates similar to the MVP leaders from a week ago: Myriad factors are relevant and essential, from traditional stats to otherwise.

In the National League, it appears to be a runaway for Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel, based on his dominance along with the fact no reliever has more saves and he’ll soon break the rookie record in the category -- Neftali Feliz of the Texas Rangers had 40 last season. Yes, Kimbrel’s teammate Freddie Freeman has had a nice season after a slow start, and in other years he would have won it all, but Kimbrel is on pace for 47 saves and a reliever-high 123 strikeouts, to go along with his 1.81 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. It’s over, people. It’s not just rookies or closers, he’s been baseball’s top relief pitcher. I just hope he doesn’t go all Marmol on us in September to make the race close.

As for the rest of the NL top 10 -- and remember, things can change -- I hadn’t realized just how poor a defender and baserunner Freeman had been. Still, he’s got the counting stats, and I can’t put a guy hitting .223 second, even if he leads all big league rookies in WAR. Danny Espinosa could be a terrific player if he hits .270, and I hope he eventually will. After that, we’re pitching heavy. I don’t think any of the NL rookie starting pitchers have distanced themselves, or even pitched enough. If Brandon Beachy could have made 30 starts, he could have been second on my list. Vance Worley will get a bit too much attention because of a flashy win-loss record. Fernando Salas has not been Kimbrel, so don’t go there. And while I find it hard to believe Darwin Barney will play this well every season, hey, give him a break. He really hasn’t been bad at all.

My choice for now: Kimbrel.
The numbers say: Kimbrel.
The voters would say: Kimbrel. Though Freeman and perhaps Worley, if he goes something like 13-3, will get (too much) support, too.

* * * *

In the American League, the race is considerably closer with a number of worthy candidates. First of all, Alexi Ogando of the Texas Rangers is not a rookie, even though his 2010 season fell short of the 50 innings minimum. Based on service-time requirement he lost rookie status. If Ogando was eligible, however, he would get my vote. Hey, no rookie hitter or pitcher -- Kimbrel included -- has a better WAR than Ogando. Alas, Seattle Mariners right-hander Michael Pineda certainly is a rookie, and he gets my vote today, despite struggling with a 6.69 ERA since July. Pineda’s ERA has spiked, but he still has more strikeouts than innings, more innings than any rookie and a cool 1.11 WHIP. Back in March I predicted Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Jeremy Hellickson would earn the award, but Pineda has been better. Plus, if I had chosen Hellickson over Pineda, not only would I have been wrong, but SweetSpot writer/editor Dave Schoenfield loves the M’s and wouldn’t talk to me for a month. Hmm, on second thought ...

I admit Mark Trumbo is an interesting case. Surely there have been other sluggers to win top rookie honors with fewer home runs. Trumbo stepped in when Kendrys Morales couldn’t play and leads the Angels in home runs and RBIs. But he doesn’t lead in on-base percentage; I can’t get past that .295 mark. Wow. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Trumbo earns the award if he hits 30 home runs. I barely ranked Toronto Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia, despite his 19 home runs and demanding position. He hasn’t been a good catcher though and the .210 batting average and .274 OBP hurt the team more than the power helps it.

By the way, the No. 2 rookie hitter in WAR according to Fangraphs.com is Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley, a future star. Ackley hasn’t played enough yet for real award consideration, but he’s going to be very, very good. As for other random AL rookie thoughts, sorry, Ivan Nova has not been on par with Pineda, despite the 12 victories; the case for him against Hellickson, a pair of low-K right-handers, is closer. As for Jordan Walden, nobody in baseball has more blown saves. It’s been a good year otherwise, but not a great one, and again, he’s not Kimbrel in terms of the WHIP and strikeouts.

My choice for now: Pineda.
The numbers say: Pineda and Ackley lead AL rookies in WAR.
The voters would say: If Trumbo whacks 30 home runs, and Pineda barely pitches in September, the slugger will probably win it going away.

Follow Eric Karabell on Twitter @karabellespn.
Ryan Braun/Shane Vicotrino/Justin UptonUS PresswireRyan Braun, Shane Victorino and Justin Upton are three of the NL's top MVP candidates.
Note: Each Friday until the end of the season, the SweetSpot blog will offer its take on the MVP and Cy Young races. We start with Eric Karabell's take on the MVP awards.

What matters to you when choosing whom to honor with an MVP award? I analyze many factors in choosing the best player for each league whether as part of discussion for the daily Baseball Today podcast or just when hanging out with friends or in the hallways of ESPN. Fair or not, I look at the standings as part of the process. Sure, it’s not Troy Tulowitzki’s fault that the Colorado Rockies likely will miss the playoffs, but I can’t vote for him when there are so many other deserving candidates.

Tulowitzki leads NL hitters in wins above replacement, according to the mighty FanGraphs.com, and his standout defense certainly plays a role in that, but as of this lovely Friday, I’m voting for someone else. To the right you’ll see my current top 10 for the NL MVP award, and lower in this blog we focus on the AL MVP. There’s still a long way to go in the season, but it’s always fun to debate MVPs.

Meanwhile, way to go, J-Up! Look, the Arizona Diamondbacks were not expected to be in first place this season, certainly not as late as mid-August. Justin Upton is among the leaders in home runs and runs created, is batting .302 and plays a terrific right field. Plus, the fact that his team wouldn’t be there without him matters. Tulowitzki’s team might be the Houston Astros without him, but focus on the positive: Upton’s having a great season as well, as he’s posting a 5.5 WAR, just a bit behind Tulowitzki’s 6.0.

Nine of the top 10 players in NL WAR made my top 10, with only Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto absent. Lance Berkman replaces him. For a while, he and Matt Holliday carried the Cardinals. You’ll see no sign of Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, the NL's RBI leader, because RBIs are a misleading statistic. Howard is having the worst season of his career, and not only defensively. It’s notable that his Phillies teammate John Mayberry Jr. has almost the same WAR. Perhaps the Phillies can’t afford to lose him, but let’s not call it an MVP season. Half the Phillies' lineup has been more valuable to their team, believe it or not.

My choice for now: Upton.

The numbers say: Tulowitzki.

The voters would say: Probably Ryan Howard! OK, they’d say Prince Fielder.

* * * *

Meanwhile, in the American League it seems the top teams -- or make that top team -- have the top MVP choices. Certainly the Boston Red Sox have enjoyed the work of Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez, among others. We’ve discussed this on recent podcasts, and while colleague and SweetSpot writer/editor David Schoenfield might choose the second baseman, I’m going with the center fielder. Gonzalez is not Ryan Howard, though he leads the AL in RBIs. He’s having a terrific season, but he’s been Boston’s third-best player.

There’s a great debate when it comes to Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista. He doesn’t bring much defensive value, and his team is certainly not looking like it will play meaningful October games. If Joey Bats had kept on pace and topped 50 home runs for the second consecutive year, with a dozen or so more than anybody else, he’d probably get my vote. But Bautista has slowed down; after starting July with seven home runs in the first nine games, he went the rest of the month without hitting one. So far in August he’s hitting .156. Plus, Bautista leads the home run race by only one over Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson.

As for my top 10 choices, Teixeira is actually outside the top 20 when it comes to AL WAR, so that he made my top 10 at all is a bit surprising. I couldn’t vote for Ian Kinsler and his .240 batting average even though he’s seventh in AL WAR, thanks in part to terrific second-base defense. I couldn’t go with Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon, who's producing big for a last-place team. Middle infielders Yunel Escobar and Howie Kendrick also have a higher WAR than either of the AL Central Cabreras, thanks to defense. Look, Asdrubal Cabrera makes a lot of highlight plays, but overall he is not having a strong season defensively, according to the metrics. Not even close. He has the same WAR as the Tigers’ Jhonny Peralta. But I have to give him credit for a surprising offensive campaign. The Indians might be in fourth place without him.

My choice for now: Ellsbury.

The numbers say: Bautista.

The voters would say: Probably Adrian Gonzalez or, if the Yankees catch the Sox, Granderson.

Be sure to check out Eric's blog on fantasy baseball. Follow him on Twitter @karabellespn.
The jokes were flying as Keith Law and I executed another successful Baseball Today podcast for Thursday, with many important topics, led by:

1.That silly Alex Rodriguez just can’t stay out of the news, can he? Of course, is his off-field issue a bigger deal than A.J. Burnett's on-field problem?

2. Meanwhile, that other AL East behemoth is getting MVP production from numerous fellows, including the walk-off hero from the past few days.

3. In NL Central news, an unlikely Milwaukee Brewer hit a few home runs, a manager we’ve discussed all week continues to amaze and, sadly, it appears to be a two-team race, with America’s Team still reeling from an umpire’s poor … no, you can’t make me say it!

4. We’ve been talking about the bad Astros, but they weren’t bad Wednesday, and could a certain minor league rotation top what they have?

5. A big NL series starts late Thursday night, but is it only big for one of the teams?

Plus: Excellent emails, another umpire draws KLaw’s considerable ire, Stephen Strasburg is getting close, we tell a guy in Missouri he has to move and so much more on a packed – I say packed! – Baseball Today podcast for Thursday! Download now!

There are no breaks for the Baseball Today podcast, as there is plenty to discuss on Monday’s show with Mark Simon and I, including these hot topics:

1.The Captain gets to 3,000 hits in memorable fashion, and while only one of us was at the stadium to see it, we each celebrated in different ways.

2. Of course, since this is the Yankees, not all the news was positive. The guy that makes his living to Derek Jeter’s right won’t be doing so for awhile. Are the Yankees in trouble?

3. Does anyone really want to play in the All-Star Game? At times, like over the past week or so, it’s been difficult to tell. We debate a player’s obligation to perform and anxiously await our invites!

4. It’s Power Rankings day! We stack ‘em up 1-through-10 in different ways, and discuss how strength of schedule plays a role.

5. Who’s going to win the home run derby? We preview the event!

Plus: Excellent emails, beanballs and beanbrawls, birthdays and so much more all on Monday’s Baseball Today podcast! Check out all the podcasts at the podcenter!

We close the week of Baseball Today podcasts as Mark Simon and I discuss many matters of fun and importance , both on and off the diamond, including these:

1. Both New York shortstops are obviously in the news, and we clarify our opinions on each of them moving ahead, one toward history and another to a potentially lengthy absence.

2. There's a new Angel in the outfield, as baseball's top prospect has been summoned to the big leagues. We discuss his impact, if any, and also run through the all-fish team. Corny? Eh, what else did you expect from us?

3. From Shane Victorino to Joel Hanrahan and who closes for the American League next week, we continue with our All-Star coverage.

4. Travis Hafner's memorable blast sent the Indians to an improbable victory … and I loved every minute of it.

5. Braves-Phillies might be the signature series in baseball this weekend, but it's not the only one to watch. I'm keeping my eye out in Cali for what the Seattle Mariners do.

Plus: Excellent emails, All-Star Game intentional walks, the most effective strikeout pitches -- not pitchers -- in the game, some ridiculous questions and so much more on Friday's Baseball Today podcast. Check out all the podcasts at the podcenter!
Here are some excellent reasons to check out Thursday’s Baseball Today podcast with me and Keith Law discussing everything but the Roger Clemens trial (for a reason), including …

1. Derek Jeter got a hit, and we applaud him for that, but what the starting pitchers did in the Yankees-Tribe game was far more interesting in the big picture.

2. Jair Jurrjens continues to amaze, but just how sustainable are his numbers? Also, we discuss why wins are not what pitchers should be judged on. Oddly enough, these conversations go hand in hand.

3. Aroldis Chapman saved Wednesday’s game for the Reds, but how should his very formidable left arm be handled moving forward? Keith states his case.

4. In a surprising development, a debate about the worthiness of relief pitchers on the All-Star team suddenly occurred. Is Joel Hanrahan All-Star-worthy or not?

5. Is there such a thing as being a clutch baseball player? Keith explains why it’s different between hitters and pitchers.

Plus: Excellent emails, mound maturity, a potential Padres-Phillies trade and cementing a World Series, old-time rappers, more of America’s Team (Pirates) on TV and a look at Thursday’s schedule, all on the latest Baseball Today podcast. Check out all the podcasts at the podcenter.

It was quite the dust storm of a show on Wednesday's Baseball Today podcast as Keith Law and I gathered from many miles apart to discuss important matters, with plenty of happy, upbeat topics such as …

1. The Roger Clemens trial is about to begin … oh wait, we said happy topics. Why, Roger, why?

2. Wednesday is a huge day for the New York Yankees, but we doubt a certain shortstop will be a part of it. It's about the right-handed pitcher.

3. Similarly, the St. Louis Cardinals officially get Albert Pujols back Wednesday … well, they did on Tuesday but they kind of didn't, too.

4. Jon Lester and Scott Baker each left their outings early Tuesday … both are obviously important to their "contending" teams, but … wait, did I say contending?

5. Arizona radio hosts are up in arms over something, and people outside of Arizona demand to know why. For the love of Gerardo Parra we explain.

Plus: Excellent emails, why Mike Cameron will save the Marlins, what it means to be the player to be named later, Indians versus Pirates, Upstairs versus Downstairs, Matt Kemp's MVP case and a look at Wednesday's slate of pitching matchups, all on a packed Baseball Today for Wednesday! Check out all the podcasts at ESPNRadio.com/podcenter.
Here are five reasons to check out Tuesday's Baseball Today podcast with myself and … well … it was just me, but for half of the show -- the good half! -- I was joined by special guest Jim Bowden!

1. We discuss the return of Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and the pending reactivation of Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols. Hey, some players are simply fast healers!

2. I floated the idea that certain teams seem to be coasting along, assuming their October tickets are punched, and Jim quickly puts me in my place!

3. The process of choosing the All-Stars is an interesting and much-debated one, and Jim shares his strong thoughts on ignoring Andrew McCutchen and other matters.

4. We get the general manager perspective on when a big-league team knows when to throw in the towel and be sellers at or before the trade deadline.

5. I reveal my top 10 in the Power Rankings, but Jim has a different team in the top spot and explains why.

Plus: Excellent emails discussing Madison Bumgarner's one awful outing, the large middle class in baseball, pros and cons of next week's Home Run Derby and so much more on Tuesday's Baseball Today podcast! Check out all the podcasts at ESPNRadio.com/podcenter.
Looking around baseball it’s not too difficult to figure out the faces of each franchise. It's not necessarily the best player, as is the case with the, um, New York Yankees and shortstop Derek Jeter. In some cases it's not an everyday player at all, but a pitcher, as with Tim Lincecum of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants. What, you thought the face of the Giants was Nate Schierholtz?

Anyway, you must recall the very popular franchise draft from two weeks ago, as well as the very successful second-round follow-up with myself and David Schoenfield. But what will the major league baseball franchises look like in five years? Let's take a look -- fun yet serious -- at faces of the franchise, circa 2016!

National League

Atlanta Braves: Jason Heyward, outfield. Hopefully by then Chipper Jones will not only have stepped aside, but also will have stopped ripping the team's future stud.

Florida Marlins: Hanley Ramirez, outfield. What, you thought he'd still be a shortstop? He's barely one now. I thought about Scott Cousins, but the Giants wouldn't allow it.

New York Mets: David Einhorn, owner. OK, so that's probably not a good idea, but consider the Dallas Mavericks. Is their face Dirk Nowitzki or is it Mark Cuban? Plus, how many current "star" Mets will be gone before August? Will any current Mets be around in three years? Enough. I'm picking the Mets' face to be ... shortstop Wilmer Flores. He's 19 and not tainted yet.

Philadelphia Phillies: Domonic Brown, outfield. Some of the team's core will be retired in five years. The rest ... will be retired in three years. Yeah, it's not a young team. Brown will be good, though.

Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper, outfield. You might not realize it now, but in five years, this franchise should be extremely competitive. I'll take Harper over Stephen Strasburg, but both should be among the best in the game.

[+] EnlargeFelix Hernandez
AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziWill Felix Hernandez be pitching for the Cubs in 2016?
Chicago Cubs: Felix Hernandez, starting pitcher. Most people would say Starlin Castro, and I do like him, but when the Cubs trade the farm for King Felix late in 2012, he'll become The Man. Sorry, Seattle.

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto, first base. He's already won one MVP. Wouldn't shock me if Jay Bruce gets one soon, as well. Aroldis Chapman finishes a distant eighth in the conversation here.

Houston Astros: Delino DeShields Jr., second base. Last year's top draft pick should be a joy to watch and, let's face it, unless the Astros trade for their next face, there's not much here. Who is the face now? Hunter Pence could be a Yankee by November, let alone by 2016.

Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun, outfield. He'll be there forever, their 21st century version of Robin Yount.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen, outfield. A year ago I might have gone with Pedro Alvarez, but not anymore. McCutchen is special, and he can actually hit.

St. Louis Cardinals: Albert Pujols, first base. I nearly put Pujols in a Cubs uniform, but public pressure to keep him in St. Louis will be too great. Then again, look at A-Rod with the Yankees right now; in five years Pujols won't be such a statistical guarantee.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Justin Upton, outfield. Not only that, this Upton, the one with monster power, should be one of the top players in the game and earn MVP awards.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Rizzo
Denis Poroy/Getty ImagesAnthony Rizzo may make Padres fans forget about Adrian Gonzalez.
Colorado Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki, shortstop. Kind of hard to see him elsewhere, or a teammate more important. He has more staying power than CarGo.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Trayvon Robinson, outfield. Matt Kemp is only 26, but Robinson profiles as the center fielder down the road, an exciting athlete who won’t be looking to run from this Dodgers mess as soon as his contract ends. Sorry, sidebar. Plus, who knows if the Dodgers will be able to afford free agents by 2016?

San Diego Padres: Anthony Rizzo, first base. Has one game under his belt, and by 2016 he should be better than 35-year-old Red Sox DH Adrian Gonzalez.

San Francisco Giants: Buster Posey, first base. Hey, a lot of collisions can happen in five years.

American League

Baltimore Orioles: Manny Machado, shortstop. Looks like he'll be a middle-of-the-order presence at a middle-of-the-diamond spot, kind of like A-Rod used to be. Perhaps Matt Wieters will be hitting cleanup when Machado bats third. Or seventh.

Boston Red Sox: Carl Crawford, outfield. He's not going anywhere, and the production should be just fine. And that’s not sarcasm.

New York Yankees: Derek Jeter, manager. C'mon, that seems outrageous to you? You don't want him playing shortstop even next year, so this is a better deal. By the way, Alex Rodriguez will still be under contract, and clogging the DH spot full-time. Wait until Jeter tries to bench him.

[+] EnlargeCarl Crawford
AP Photo/Mark DuncanBy 2016, Red Sox fans will have long forgotten about Carl Crawford's slow start in 2011.
Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria, third base. Perhaps one of the 1,453 amateur draft picks from this past week will become a stud, but Longoria will still be a Ray, and only 30.

Toronto Blue Jays: Brett Lawrie, outfield. Yeah, I think the kid will hit, and hit a lot. And by 2016 the Jose Bautista contract signed this February will have run out, but the franchise's future No. 2 all-time home run hitter (behind only Carlos Delgado) will sign a new one-year deal as the DH.

Chicago White Sox: David Wright, third base. The Mets clean house this winter and the star third baseman ends up in another large metropolis, in a deal centered around reliever Chris Sale and Brent Morel. He finds the Chicago media to be a breath of fresh air.

Cleveland Indians: Lonnie Chisenhall, third base. Pure hitter should be one of the league's top options at the hot corner by 2013. The Tribe will lock him and Jason Kipnis up much like Rockies did with Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez.

Detroit Tigers: Jacob Turner, starting pitcher. Former first-round pick should be a future ace, and he and Justin Verlander will get the franchise to numerous playoff appearances. Oh, and Miguel Cabrera will help, too.

Kansas City Royals: Eric Hosmer, first base. He'll win his first AL MVP award in 2014, and the Joey Votto clone will still be a stud years later. Like the Nationals, put your money on the Royals in five years.

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer, outfield. This will not end like Jeter in New York, because Mauer will switch positions and will be only 33 in five years. And he'll have added two more batting titles to his ledger.

[+] EnlargeMike Trout
John Cordes/Icon SMIMike Trout is a center fielder with power and speed.
Los Angeles Angels: Mike Trout, outfield. You know everything we've been saying about how good Bryce Harper is supposed to be? A lot of people think Trout will be even better. And in five years he'll be only 24.

San Jose Athletics: Grant Green, second base. Team's top prospect will need to move from shortstop, but his bat will play quite nicely. As for the San Jose part, sorry to be negative, but without a stadium ... just blame Al Davis.

Seattle Mariners: Yu Darvish, starting pitcher. One of Ichiro Suzuki's final contributions in his Hall of Fame Mariners career is to convince the overpowering Japanese right-hander to come to the U.S. He accomplishes this a few months after King Felix is dealt to the Cubs.

Texas Rangers: Prince Fielder, first base. I can't see Josh Hamilton, currently 30, still doing this in five years. I can see Fielder with roughly 400 home runs by then.

I’m sure you have thoughts, so share them and remember, this is just an exercise. The commissioner’s office has yet to approve it.