SweetSpot: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The best part about the first few days of spring training is that the players are feeling good, they're happy to be back on the baseball field, they're full of confidence and optimism and many of them are in the best shape of their lives. They also forget to turn the filter on, giving us some of the best quotes of the year. For example, take San Diego Padres outfielder Matt Kemp. MLB.com columnist Lyle Spencer writes:
"Who," (Kemp) said, "do you think has the best outfield in the game now?"

The visitor gave it some thought before nominating the American League champion Royals for defensive purposes and the Pirates or Marlins for all-around excellence.

Kemp shook his head. "No," he said firmly. "It's right here. Right here in San Diego. You can write it down -- and print it."


Now, Kemp could turn out to be correct. Certainly the combination of his offensive potential, plus that of Justin Upton and Wil Myers, is as good as any in the game. Here are the top teams in outfield production in 2014, ranked by wOBA (weighted on-base average):

1. Dodgers: .354
2. Pirates: .351
3. Marlins: .347
4. Rockies: .344
5. Blue Jays: .339

After that you had the Orioles, Nationals, Angels, Brewers and Tigers. The Dodgers have lost Kemp, replacing him with rookie Joc Pederson. The Pirates will have a full season from Gregory Polanco to go with Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte. The Marlins' trio of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich remains intact; the Rockies' numbers are boosted by Coors Field (they ranked 29th in road wOBA).

The Blue Jays had a productive outfield led by Jose Bautista, but lost Melky Cabrera and Colby Rasmus, and trade acquisition Michael Saunders just hurt his knee and is likely out until the All-Star break. The Orioles lost Nick Markakis and part-time outfielder Nelson Cruz.

So yes, maybe Kemp isn't being ridiculous. In 2014, he had a .362 wOBA and Upton had a .357 wOBA, both ranking in the top 30 in the majors (keep in mind that wOBA isn't park-adjusted). Myers was hurt but as a rookie in 2013 posted a .354 wOBA. So you're looking at three guys who all have the potential to be top-25 hitters in the majors.

Of course, hitting is only part of the equation. Defensively, the Upton-Myers-Kemp trio doesn't compare to the Pirates or the Marlins, even if you're optimistic about Myers' ability to play center and Kemp's ability to reverse his declining defensive metrics. Let's turn to FanGraphs for projected WAR. Here's where it ranks each of the Padres' outfield positions (factoring in some bench time after the projected playing time for the starters):

Left field: sixth in the majors
Center field: 21st
Right field: 16th

Does that look like the best outfield in the majors? Based on overall WAR projections, the top 10 outfields:

SportsNation

Which team has the best outfield in the majors?

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Discuss (Total votes: 3,447)

1. Angels, 13.4 (includes 1.4 WAR from Josh Hamilton)
2. Marlins, 12.0
3. Pirates, 10.7
4. Cardinals, 10.3
5. Red Sox, 9.7
(tie) Nationals, 9.7
(tie) Dodgers, 9.7
8. Royals, 9.1
9. Yankees, 8.7
10. Brewers, 8.2

The Padres come in 15th, at 7.1.

What do you think? Do the Padres have the best outfield in the game? I say no. I'd probably go Marlins, Pirates and Angels as my top three (even if Hamilton gets suspended, Matt Joyce would be fine in left field and maybe better). If Bryce Harper breaks out, then the Nationals would have a superstar outfielder to go with Jayson Werth and Denard Span and they could crack the top three as well. Same with the Brewers if Ryan Braun bounces back from two years of injuries.

Not the best outfield: Braves and Phillies.
After looking at which players not on a 40-man roster have been invited to spring training in the AL East and AL Central, here's a look at the AL West. We'll do the National League on Friday.

AstrosHouston Astros

I don't quite get the hype about Mark Appel as a top prospect. As a polished, four-year college guy who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2014, he should have blown away minor leaguers. His numbers at Class A Lancaster were embarrassing (9.74 ERA), and while he pitched better after a controversial call-up to Double-A, label me a skeptic. ... Roberto Hernandez had a 4.10 ERA for the Phillies and Dodgers last year. He's battling Brett Oberholtzer, Dan Straily and Brad Peacock for the final two spots in the rotation. ... Joe Thatcher has had success as a LOOGY in the past. ... Carlos Correa, No. 3 on Keith Law's top 100 prospects, is ready for spring training after fracturing his fibula last June. He'll get a quick look in the major league camp before going back down. ... Veteran 4-A first baseman Dan Johnson is still hanging around at age 35. ... Right-hander James Hoyt struck out 77 in 59 innings in the Braves' system a year ago.

AngelsLos Angeles Angels

Not too much interest here, as the Angels already look pretty set. Mark Krauss got some time with the Astros the past two seasons but hit .200 as a left fielder/first baseman. ... Matt Lindstrom was with the White Sox last year but wasn't too effective. His fastball velocity was down to 93 mph, a far cry from the days he touched 100. ... Alex Yarbrough is supposedly a prospect -- and the Angels need a second baseman -- but he struck out 124 times while drawing just 33 walks and hitting five home runs in Double-A. ... I had no idea that outfielder Alfredo Marte had 114 plate appearances with the Diamondbacks last year. Maybe because he hit .170 with a .221 OBP.

AthleticsOakland Athletics

The A's don't yet list Barry Zito as an invitee on their website, but it was reported a couple of days ago that he signed a minor league deal. He's reportedly back up to 88 mph and has altered his mechanics a bit as well. He took all of last year off after posting a 5.74 ERA with the Giants in 2013. He's 36 and never relied on big velocity, so I guess you never know. ... Pat Venditte is listed as a left-handed pitcher but actually pitches with both arms. No, really. He had a 3.36 ERA with the Yankees' Triple-A club in 2014, so it's not impossible that he gets called up at some point. ... Billy Beane spent the offseason adding depth to his 40-man roster, so there's not much of an opportunity for non-roster guys to make the club.

MarinersSeattle Mariners

Yep, he's back: Franklin Gutierrez sat out all of 2014 after a relapse of the gastrointestinal issues that bothered him in 2013. Plus, he's had other injuries. He did hit 10 home runs in 145 at-bats in 2013. ... Yep, he's back, too: Endy Chavez actually had a non-horrible season for the Mariners last year, hitting .276/.317/.371 in 80 games. He's squeezed out for now by the acquisitions of Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano, but he'll no doubt surface at some point, especially if Austin Jackson has forgotten how to hit. ... Prospect D.J. Peterson probably gets a long look in spring training as he's a possible midseason call-up if he continues bashing in the minors. ... John Baker is around to provide catching depth.

RangersTexas Rangers

Go watch Joey Gallo take some BP. After bashing 42 home runs in the minors and reaching Double-A, he could be in line for a late-season promotion. ... I suppose veteran Ryan Ludwick has a chance to stick as a platoon left fielder/DH. ... Nate Schierholtz has been a solid fourth outfielder at times during his career but hit just .195 last season with the Cubs and Nationals. ... Jamey Wright is now 40 and is potential back-of-the-bullpen fodder after a 4.35 ERA with the Dodgers in 2014. ... Juan Carlos Oviedo is the guy who spent three years as the Marlins' closer when he was known as Leo Nunez. He pitched 31.2 innings with Tampa last year, with uninspiring results. ... Outfielder/DH Carlos Peguero has huge raw power (30 home runs at Omaha) but too much swing-and-miss. ... Kyle Blanks is also here. Looks as though a lot of agents directed their left field/DH types to the Rangers.

Pitchers hurt by new catchers

February, 18, 2015
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Here's a look at pitchers potentially helped by new catchers. Our Rockies blogger, Richard Bergstrom, points out that Colorado has signed Nick Hundley. Neither Wilin Rosario nor Michael McKenry graded out well in framing last year, but Hundley doesn't appear to be a superstar framer either: -0.6 runs below average in 2014 between the Padres and Orioles, -4.3 in 2013 and -9.3 in 2012. Yasmani Grandal, his teammate in San Diego, graded out much higher all three seasons. And Hundley doesn't have much of a bat, so I'm not sure he's anything more than a backup.

Anyway, here are some pitchers moving on to new catchers that you should consider:

Yovani Gallardo, Rangers: Aside from those coming back from injuries, no pitcher has more red flags this year than Gallardo. He moves from the NL to the deeper lineups of the AL; he moves to Texas, where the ball flies out to right field; his strikeout rates have declined each of the past two seasons; and now he goes from excellent pitch framer Jonathan Lucroy to Robinson Chirinos (doesn't rate well) and Carlos Corporan (has at least graded out above average the past two seasons).

Ervin Santana, Twins: He hasn't exactly hasn't received much help from his catchers the past few years. Salvador Perez, despite winning back to back Gold Gloves, hasn't graded out as a good pitch framer and the Braves' various catchers also rated out below average last year. Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki has consistently graded poorly according to StatCorner.com. So aside from moving back to the AL to a team with a poor defensive outfield, Santana's not going to get much help from his catcher.

Tyson Ross, Padres: Rene Rivera caught 26 of his 31 starts last year and Ross had a 2.62 ERA with Rivera catching. Derek Norris grades out at +5 runs over the past two seasons so he's OK at framing, but he did struggle throwing out base stealers last year (just 17 percent), and Ross doesn't hold runners well (he allowed 31 steals, third most in the majors).

Jarred Cosart, Marlins: Jarrod Saltalamacchia rated as StatCorner's worst pitch framer in 2014. What's interesting is that after coming over from the Astros midseason last year, the Jarred-Jarrod combo actually did well together with Cosart posting a 2.09 ERA in 51.2 innings. Cosart is a pitcher who has struggled with walks in the past; he relies more on a movement from his cut fastball than precise location. We'll see if they can repeat last year's success.

Edinson Volquez, Royals: He goes from good pitch framer Russell Martin to the not-as-good Perez. At least he replaces one great defensive outfield with another.

Garrett Richards, Angels: We've got a small sample size here so don't read too much into it, but Richards had a 1.25 ERA in nine games with Hank Conger catching and 3.46 in 17 games with Chris Iannetta. He'd be hard-pressed to repeat his 2014 performance anyway, but it won't help losing Conger.

Ranking the teams: 12 through 7

February, 12, 2015
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It's Day 4 of the pre-spring training power rankings! Read them and rejoice. Or weep. We have three AL East teams included in this edition, which shows how close that division race looks to be. We're also entering playoff territory, including one team that will be a controversial playoff pick.

Team rankings: Nos. 30-25
Team rankings: Nos. 24-19
Team rankings: Nos. 18-13

Red Sox12. Boston Red Sox

Big offseason moves: Signed 3B Pablo Sandoval; signed LF Hanley Ramirez; acquired RHP Rick Porcello from the Tigers for OF Yoenis Cespedes, RHP Alex Wilson and LHP Gabe Speier; acquired LHP Wade Miley from the Diamondbacks for RHP Rubby De La Rosa, RHP Allen Webster and SS Raymel Flores; signed RHP Justin Masterson; acquired C Ryan Hanigan from the Padres for 3B Will Middlebrooks; acquired LHP Robbie Ross from the Rangers for RHP Anthony Ranaudo; acquired RHP Anthony Varvaro from the Braves; re-signed LHP Craig Breslow.

Most intriguing player: I'm going with Mookie Betts. Great name, great game. He's going to hit for a high average and get on base and steal bases and should be Boston's regular leadoff hitter. As Gordon Edes noted, Betts has the highest projected WAR via Baseball Prospectus of any player on the team. "You would think Sox fans would be cautious about anointing a rookie a star before his time," Gordon wrote, "especially after the struggles of [Xander] Bogaerts and [Jackie] Bradley, but Betts' impressive debut last summer has folks believing that good times will continue in 2015. Few players mark progress in a straight line, but that's the expectation for Mookie -- and it's not just the fans."

Due for a better year: Bogaerts got off to a great start in his rookie season, hitting .304/.397/.438 through May but then cratered, right about the time he moved from shortstop to third base to accommodate Stephen Drew. He's back at shortstop, just 22 years old, and still projects as a future All-Star.

Due for a worse year: David Ortiz finished fifth in the AL in home runs, sixth in RBIs and ninth in slugging percentage, although his average did drop to .263 after topping .300 the previous three seasons. But it was also his most home runs and RBIs since 2007. He's 39. He's going to get old one of these years, right?

I'm just the messenger: The Red Sox don't have an ace, which everybody has pointed out a gazillion times, although Clay Buchholz has pitched like one at times. But the question most of the pundits won't answer: Do you need an ace? Let's check all the playoff teams from the past three seasons to see the pitcher with the highest WAR on the team (via Baseball-Reference).

2014
Nationals -- Tanner Roark (5.1)
Dodgers -- Clayton Kershaw (7.5)
Cardinals -- Adam Wainwright (6.1)
Pirates -- Tony Watson/Edinson Volquez (2.5)
Giants -- Madison Bumgarner (4.0)

Angels -- Garrett Richards (4.4)
Orioles -- Zach Britton (2.5)
Tigers -- Max Scherzer (6.0)
Royals -- Wade Davis (3.7)
Athletics -- Jon Lester (4.5)*

* Total with Red Sox and Athletics.

Well, pretty interesting. We had three relievers who led their teams in WAR. The Orioles and Pirates made the playoffs without a 3-WAR starter -- and the Orioles won 96 games.

2013
Cardinals -- Adam Wainwright (6.2)
Braves -- Kris Medlen/Craig Kimbrel (3.3)
Pirates -- Francisco Liriano (3.0)
Dodgers -- Clayton Kershaw (7.8)
Reds -- Mat Latos (3.8)

Red Sox -- Clay Buchholz (4.3)
A's -- Bartolo Colon (5.0)
Tigers -- Max Scherzer (6.7)
Indians -- Justin Masterson (3.4)
Rays -- Alex Cobb (3.9)

Worth noting are Johnny Cueto of the Reds and David Price of the Rays are widely considered aces, but both missed time in 2013 and didn't lead their staffs in WAR. The Pirates won 94 games without a dominant starter and Buchholz was great (1.74 ERA) but made just 16 starts.

2012
Nationals -- Gio Gonzalez (4.9)
Reds -- Johnny Cueto (5.9)
Giants -- Matt Cain (3.9)
Braves -- Kris Medlen (4.5)
Cardinals -- Kyle Lohse (4.3)

Yankees -- Hiroki Kuroda (5.5)
A's -- Jarrod Parker (3.9)
Orioles -- Miguel Gonzalez (3.1)
Rangers -- Matt Harrison (6.1)
Tigers -- Justin Verlander (7.8)

Nobody had a sub-3 WAR pitcher, but some of these guys are hardly pitchers you would classify as aces. Big picture: No rule of thumb here. An ace obviously helps but isn't necessary. Porcello is coming off of a 3.43 ERA/4.0-WAR season. Miley had a 3.5-WAR season in 2012, although his walk rate has since doubled. Buchholz has been good at times and bad times. There's potential here that the depth plays out. But there's also potential that Masterson is bad again, Buchholz can't stay healthy, Miley is mediocre and Porcello's 2014 was simply a peak season.

The final word: The projection systems like the Red Sox. FanGraphs has them as the best team in the AL East. Baseball Prospectus has them as the best team in the AL East. Mainly, the Red Sox have solid depth across the roster, and that's important. You've seen me stressing that through these articles. But I do worry about the lack of a big gun in the rotation, and I'm not completely sold on this ground ball group of starters. I worry about Ortiz's age and Dustin Pedroia's ability to stay on the field and Ramirez's ability to adjust to left and stay on the field. Sandoval is a big name but not really a big star. It's a good team. Could easily win 90 to 95 games. But I'm picking the Red Sox third in the division.

Prediction: 84-78


Giants11. San Francisco Giants

Big offseason moves: Lost 3B Pablo Sandoval to free agency; re-signed RHPs Jake Peavy, Sergio Romo and Ryan Vogelsong; acquired 3B Casey McGehee from the Marlins; lost OF Michael Morse to free agency; signed OF Norichika Aoki.

Most intriguing player: Madison Bumgarner. Can he replicate his postseason dominance over 30-something starts? Will the Giants handle him differently early in the season after pitching 270 innings between the regular season and postseason in 2014? Will he hit four home runs again?

Due for a better year: Brandon Belt played just 61 games and hit just .243. But he did crack 12 home runs in 214 at-bats, indicating he could hit 20 to 25 home runs if he stays on the field.

Due for a worse year: Joe Panik was a career .293 hitter in the minors but hit .305 with the Giants. He does put the ball in play, but don't expect another .300 season -- especially if he tries to add some power to his game.

I'm just the messenger: My least favorite acquisition of the offseason was McGehee. The Giants do love their vets. McGehee had an acceptable year with the Marlins, mainly because of an above-average OBP. But buried in that was a lack of power (four home runs), a ton of double plays hit into (31) and a lack of range at third. If he doesn't hit .287 again, his value dips to replacement level and the Giants will be looking for a different third baseman.

SportsNation

How many games do the Giants win?

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Discuss (Total votes: 13,852)

The final word: It was obviously a bit of a strange offseason for the champs, who were reportedly interested in signing Jon Lester and then James Shields, but failed to bring either guy to San Francisco, instead re-signing Peavy and Vogelsong and hoping Matt Cain returns from his elbow surgery. In analyzing the Giants, I'm left wondering: How they are going to get better? And they barely made the playoffs last year. The offense should be solid with Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and an improved Belt. Brandon Crawford is a superb defender at short and the bullpen should once again be deep and effective. But the rotation behind Bumgarner is shaky: Cain's health, Tim Hudson's age, Tim Lincecum's ineffectiveness and Peavy's age/health are all legitimate issues. I don't foresee a sub-.500 season like 2013, but I do see the Dodgers as the clear favorite in the NL West.

Prediction: 85-77



Mets10. New York Mets

Big offseason moves: Signed OF/1B Michael Cuddyer; signed OF John Mayberry Jr.; did not acquire Troy Tulowitzki, Ozzie Smith or Honus Wagner.

Most intriguing player: Matt Harvey. Back from Tommy John surgery, Harvey was as good as any pitcher in baseball in 2013 before his injury. He'll be ready Opening Day. But will he be Matt Harvey, Cy Young contender?

Due for a better year: David Wright played through a shoulder problem -- a bruised rotator cuff that sapped his power and finally forced him to shut things down in September. From 2009 to 2013, he hit .323/.412/.536 against fastballs; in 2014, he hit .281/.337/.363. A healthy Wright should be worth three to four extra wins for the Mets.

Due for a worse year: I'll take the under on Lucas Duda hitting 30 home runs again. Although I think he'll come close and be a pretty valuable contributor. It's one reason I like the Mets -- the lack of obvious decline candidates.

I'm just the messenger: The problem with the Cuddyer signing is obvious: He doesn't have much range in right field, he's coming of a season in which he played just 49 games and while he hit .332 and .331 the past two seasons, he'd never hit .300 before going to the Rockies. And he turns 36 in March. The Mets signed Cuddyer and then apparently the Wilpons ran out of money because Sandy Alderson could have gone on vacation the rest of the winter.

SportsNation

How many games do the Mets win?

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The final word: And yet ... I'm picking the Mets to win a wild card! My gut says either the Mets or the Marlins win a wild card, thanks in part to how bad the Phillies and Braves may be. I like the Mets better because of the depth in the rotation. Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom is the real deal and Zack Wheeler has the arm strength and now the experience to take a leap forward. Obviously, a lot hinges on the comeback of Harvey and return to form of Wright. Everybody's concerned about Wilmer Flores at shortstop, but he doesn't project to be as terrible as everyone thinks. Anyway, every year there's at least one team that climbs from under .500 into the postseason (actually, there were two last season and three in 2013). The Mets are my pick for 2015.

Prediction: 86-76


Orioles9. Baltimore Orioles

Big offseason moves: Lost OFs Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis and LHP Andrew Miller via free agency; re-signed DH Delmon Young; acquired OF Travis Snider from the Pirates; signed LHP Wesley Wright; and GM Dan Duquette flirted with taking over as president of the Blue Jays.

Most intriguing player: Manny Machado. He's had two knee surgeries in two seasons, one on each knee. The Orioles need his defense and his bat.

Due for a better year: Chris Davis will miss Opening Day due to the final game of his PED suspension and then settle back in at first base, where he may not hit 53 home runs and drive in 138 runs again, but should hit much better than .196/.300/.404.

Due for a worse year: Steve Pearce was a 31-year-old journeyman whom the Orioles actually released April 27 and then re-signed two days later when Davis went on the DL with an oblique injury. Pearce hit .293/.373/.556 with 21 home runs in 338 at-bats, after hitting 17 in 743 previous major league at-bats. It may not be a complete fluke; he shortened his stride, which worked to shorten his swing and tap into the power he showed early in his minor league career (33 home runs in 2007). With the departure of Cruz, Pearce will get a chance to play every day, probably shuttling between DH and the outfield.

I'm just the messenger: Orioles fans are a little sensitive about this, because they have won 96, 85 and 93 games the past three seasons: The analytics don't care much for the O's, especially the starting rotation. Basically, the metrics argue that the Orioles' collection of No. 3 and No. 4 starters isn't that good. That even though the Orioles were fifth in the AL in ERA last season, they were just 11th in strikeout percentage and 13th in strikeout-to-walk ratio. Just because the rotation was solid in 2014 doesn't mean it will be similarly effective in 2015, given the middling peripherals. FanGraphs forecasts the Orioles finishing last in the AL East, under .500. Baseball Prospectus forecasts them finishing last in the AL East, under .500. You can disagree with the computers, but that's what the computers say.

The final word: But I'm not a computer! I like the O's to finish above .500. If Machado returns and Matt Wieters gets back behind the plate on a regular basis, that will help; but even if he doesn't, Caleb Joseph threw out a league-leading 40 percent of base stealers. They lose Cruz's power but Davis will have a better year. And, like the Red Sox, maybe the rotation lacks an ace, but it has depth -- especially if Kevin Gausman can produce 30 starts in his first full season. Don't sleep on Chris Tillman, who had a 2.33 ERA in the second half with a much-improved strikeout rate. The defense and bullpen are both solid and no manager is more prepared than Buck Showalter.

Prediction: 86-76


Angels8. Los Angeles Angels

Big offseason moves: Traded 2B Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers for LHP Andrew Heaney; acquired OF Matt Joyce from the Rays for RHP Kevin Jepsen; acquired RHP Nick Tropeano and C Carlos Perez from the Astros for C Hank Conger; signed Cuban INF Roberto Baldoquin; acquired 2B Josh Rutledge from the Rockies for RHP Jairo Diaz.

Most intriguing player: Mike Trout. He won the MVP award with his worst season. Which tells you how good he is. But will he learn to adjust to all those high fastballs he'll be seeing after pitchers learned his weakness?

Due for a better year: No obvious candidate. I’d suggest Josh Hamilton but he’s already injured, out six to eight weeks after surgery on his shoulder. That puts him ready right around Opening Day. But even if he’s ready, will he hit?

Due for a worse year: Matt Shoemaker was one of the biggest surprises in the majors, a pitcher with uninspiring minor league numbers who made the team out of spring training but was sent down after three relief appearances. Called back up in May to join the rotation, Shoemaker went 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA, including a 1.87 ERA in the second half as the Angels surged past the A’s. I think he’ll be pretty good thanks to a terrific splitter/changeup that batters hit just .160 against with one home run in 173 plate appearances, but I’m not sure he’s this good.

I'm just the messenger: This is where I’m supposed to say something bad. OK, the Howie Kendrick trade made sense because they picked up young left-hander Andrew Heaney, who has potential to develop into a No. 2-type starter. The Angels needed rotation depth, preferably an inexpensive young starter, but losing Kendrick does hurt in the short term as the team lacks an obvious quality replacement; they did pick up Rutledge, although keep an eye on Cuban free agent Roberto Baldoquin. More than anything, however, we're just looking at regression: You win 98 games because a lot of things go right; not as many things will likely go right in 2015.

The final word: The Angels probably have the highest floor of any team in the American League. They’re a safe bet to finish over .500. The lineup has Trout, a still-effective Albert Pujols and solid depth with underrated players such as Kole Calhoun and Chris Iannetta. There’s a little more uncertainty in the rotation with Shoemaker, Garrett Richards coming back from his knee injury, the wear and tear on Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson’s control issues. In the end, I see the Angels returning to the postseason and battling the Mariners in a tough AL West.


Prediction: 87-75



Blue Jays7. Toronto Blue Jays

Big offseason moves: Acquired 3B Josh Donaldson from the A's for 3B Brett Lawrie, RHP Kendall Graveman, LHP Sean Nolin and SS Franklin Barreto; signed C Russell Martin; acquired OF Michael Saunders from the Mariners for LHP J.A. Happ; acquired RHP Marco Estrada from the Brewers for 1B Adam Lind; signed 1B Justin Smoak; acquired 2B Devon Travis from the Tigers for OF Anthony Gose; lost OFs Melky Cabrera and Colby Rasmus and RHPs Casey Janssen and Brandon Morrow via free agency; invited IF Munenori Kawasaki to spring training. Hey, he's a fan favorite!

Most intriguing player: Donaldson comes over in a blockbuster deal, and I can't wait to see how the middle of the order fares with Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Donaldson.

SportsNation

Who wins the AL East?

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Due for a better year: This is how much I like Marcus Stroman. After going 11-6 with a 3.65 ERA as a rookie, he's going to be even better as a sophomore.

Due for a worse year: Martin signed a five-year, $82 million contract (heavily backloaded) and while I like the acquisition, he's coming off the best offensive season of his career with a .402 OBP that was fueled by a .290 batting average after hitting .211 and .226 the previous two seasons.

I'm just the messenger: For a contending team, the Jays enter spring with some questions to answer: Is Dalton Pompey ready to take over center field after starting 2014 in Class A? Who wins the second-base job? Who's the closer? Is Smoak really going to play regularly at first base? Is Stroman ready to take over as staff ace? How much of a concern is Jose Reyes' declining defense? Usually, the team you pick to win a division doesn't come with so many unknowns.

The final word: The Jays have fooled us before. In 2013, they were a popular World Series pick but went 74-88. Last season, they went 21-9 in May and led the division by six games in early June before stumbling. But I love the Donaldson and Martin pickups, and don't sleep on Saunders. People question the rotation, but I do believe in Stroman and expect Drew Hutchison to improve as well. Maybe they sign Rafael Soriano to close or maybe they give the job to Aaron Sanchez, who came up and allowed just 14 hits in 33 innings. I get that you don't want to give up on Sanchez as a starter, but he fills a need in the bullpen right now. The Jays will score plenty of runs, maybe the most in the league. The longest playoff drought in the majors ends.

Prediction: 87-75
OK, you're on to me. We're comparing all of our two-team cities. Do the Angels and Dodgers have a rivalry? Of course they do! They're just nicer about it than Yankees and Mets fans.

Catcher: Chris Iannetta versus Yasmani Grandal

Iannetta isn't flashy and doesn't get much national recognition, but he's second behind Buster Posey in OBP for catchers over the past two seasons. (Actually, when considering games only played at catcher, he's first.) The Dodgers acquired Grandal because the metrics suggest he's a good pitch-framer and there's a chance the bat improves and lives up to the hype generated when he was drafted 12th overall by the Reds in 2010.

Edge: Angels.

First base: Albert Pujols versus Adrian Gonzalez

SportsNation

Who will have the better season in 2015?

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I just realized this: Gonzalez led the National League in RBIs last season, with 116. Gonzalez hit .276/.335/.482 and finished seventh in the MVP voting; Pujols hit .272/.324/.466 and finished 17th, picking up just a couple of down-ballot votes. By WAR, they were nearly identical in value. But it seems the perception is that Pujols is a mere shadow of his former self and Gonzalez is still at the top of his game. They're really the same player at this point.

Edge: Dodgers. Only because Gonzalez is probably the better bet to stay healthy.

Second base: Josh Rutledge versus Howie Kendrick

No contest here. The Dodgers traded away Dee Gordon to the Marlins and then quickly got Kendrick from the Angels, giving them both an offensive and defensive upgrade over Gordon. Kendrick may only be a one-year fix -- he's a free agent -- but he's about as consistent a performer as there is. Good pickup for the Dodgers. Worth noting: He had a career-high walk rate last year at 7.1 percent; that's still not great, but it will be interesting to see whether that was just an aberration or whether he can spike it even higher.

Edge: Dodgers.

Third base: David Freese versus Juan Uribe

Uribe was terrible his first two seasons in Los Angeles but has now had two straight solid seasons, defying expectations. But he's not going to hit .311 again, he's 36 and he's had trouble staying on the field, playing 103 games last year. On the other hand, Freese is a below-average defender, has had ailments throughout his career and the power he had in 2012 hasn't shown up the past two seasons.

Edge: Dodgers. Will super prospect Corey Seager be ready for a midseason call-up?

Shortstop: Erick Aybar versus Jimmy Rollins

I don't know, 36-year-old shortstops worry me. Plus this: The last season Rollins had a higher WAR than Aybar was 2008.

Edge: Angels. Maybe not a big one, but I view Aybar as the better player.

Left field: Josh Hamilton versus Carl Crawford

Hey, two left fielders making more than $20 million! And each with three years remaining on their contract! Enjoy, Southern California baseball fans.

Anyway, the breaking news: Hamilton is undergoing surgery on Wednesday to fix the shoulder that bothered him last year and is expected to resume baseball activities in three to eight weeks. So it appears he could miss the start of the season. Before the injury, FanGraphs projected Hamilton to be worth 1.7 WAR and Crawford 1.8, so it was pretty much a toss-up.

Look, both players are overpaid, have trouble staying healthy and their teams are stuck with them at this point. It's kind of sad to say considering that it was just 2012 when Hamilton hit 43 home runs and finished fifth in the MVP voting, but I'd rather have Crawford for 2015.

Edge: Dodgers.

Center field: Mike Trout versus Joc Pederson

You probably know by now about Trout's struggles against high fastballs. Using data from ESPN Stats & Info, here are Trout's numbers against fastballs in three vertical segments of the strike zone:

Down: .339/.429/.685
MLB average: .298/.397/.435

Middle: .279/.303/.468
MLB average: .314/.339/.507

Up: .097/.398/.194
MLB average: .236/.351/.376

Obviously, every pitcher in the American League probably knows this by now. Trout saw more pitches up in the zone as the season progressed and his second-half numbers weren't as good (.257/.347/.502). What's surprising is he was also below the major league average against fastballs in the middle zone of the plate. Of course, he'll work on adjustments during spring training, so I wouldn't expect him to hit .097 against high fastballs again. He also has the patience to lay off those pitches -- we're talking about just a few plate appearances (5-for-41, 11 walks). Most pitchers focus so much throwing down in the zone now that they don't have the command to throw high fastballs, so they would be pitching out of their comfort area.

So ... that's a way of saying Trout's adjustments will be one of the most interesting "inside" baseball stories of 2015.

Edge: Angels.

Right field: Kole Calhoun versus Yasiel Puig

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Who will have the better season in 2015?

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Calhoun is a fun guy to watch, kind of short and squatty, an eighth-round pick who was never a big prospect but hit his way into the majors. He had a solid first full season, hitting .272/.325/.450 with 17 home runs and I think he can improve on those numbers. But I'm in the Puig fan club and wouldn't be surprised to see him as an MVP contender -- as he was for two months last year before injuries sapped his power.

Edge: Dodgers.

Bench

The Angels have a Matt Joyce/C.J. Cron platoon penciled in at DH, but Joyce may have to play some outfield if Hamilton starts on the DL. Efren Navarro is kind of a singles-hitting first baseman/pinch-hitter type and they brought in some candidates to battle Rutledge for the second-base job. The Dodgers have an excellent bench with Justin Turner, Scott Van Slyke, Andre Ethier, glove man Darwin Barney and A.J. Ellis as backup catcher.

Edge: Dodgers.

No. 1 starter: Garrett Richards versus Clayton Kershaw

Richards was a revelation last year, with a power four-seamer, a sinker hitters had trouble elevating and a wipeout slider. He tore the patellar tendon in his left knee in August so we'll have to see how he is once spring training starts and whether he'll be ready for Opening Day. Assuming no ill effects from the knee surgery, I believe he's the real deal. But of course, Kershaw wins this comparison, as he'll be the preseason favorite to win his fourth Cy Young Award in five seasons.

Edge: Dodgers.

No. 2 starter: Jered Weaver versus Zack Greinke

Weaver has apparently added 25 pounds in order to get stronger and pitch deeper into games, although I have no idea whether that extra weight will actually help him to pitch deeper into games. He did top 200 innings last year for the first time since 2011 but also had his highest ERA since 2009 (back before the shrinking strike zone era). Greinke's numbers look better in part because he gets to pitch in the National League but he did increase his strikeout rate and lower his walk rate from 2013. He could be poised for a big year.

Edge: Dodgers.

No. 3 starter: Matt Shoemaker versus Hyun-Jin Ryu

The Angels list C.J. Wilson as their No. 3 starter on their website, but he's not No. 3 on my list. Shoemaker was one of the biggest surprises in baseball last year, going 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA after getting hit hard the previous two seasons at Salt Lake. But he showed an excellent split-change and unless hitters adjust, he looks like a guy who could have the same kind of success as Hisashi Iwakuma -- not overpowering, may give up a few home runs, but throws strikes and won't beat himself. His track record is enough of a wild card, however, that I'll give the edge to Ryu, an underrated No. 3 who doesn't get a lot of attention pitching behind Kershaw and Greinke.

Edge: Dodgers.

No. 4/5 starters: C.J. Wilson/Andrew Heaney versus Brandon McCarthy/Brett Anderson

A lot of people liked the McCarthy signing, pointing out that he resumed throwing his cutter after going to the Yankees, where he posted a 2.89 ERA in 14 starts. McCarthy himself said the Diamondbacks discouraged him from throwing it, to which Kirk Gibson responded with a terse "I wish him well." Anyway, McCarthy did throw the cutter a little more after going to the Yankees, but still nowhere near as often as he threw it in 2013 with the Diamondbacks, when he had a 4.53 ERA. What's interesting is that the cutter was about equally effective in both 2013 (.679 OPS) and 2014 (.699 OPS) but his curveball was much more effective in 2014 (.623 OPS versus .792). So it could be that the key is throwing the cutter more or throwing the curveball more ... or just getting out of Arizona.

Anyway, McCarthy's $48 million, four-year deal was still surprising considering he's 31 and 2014 was the first season he made more than 25 starts. Clearly the Dodgers' superduper metrics saw something they liked. I'll buy in.

Edge: Flip a coin. Too many unknowns here with Wilson's erratic 2014, Heaney still developing and Anderson's long injury history.

Bullpen

The Dodgers' pen was one of the biggest disappointments in the majors last year and then completely collapsed against the Cardinals in the postseason. Closer Kenley Jansen is reliable, but the rest of the pecking order from Joel Peralta, Brandon League and J.P. Howell is yet to be determined. Meanwhile, the Angels' pen was reshuffled after a slow start and was terrific in the second half while carrying the heaviest workload in the majors. You never know with bullpens, however. Last year's results aren't necessarily this year's results.

Edge: Angels.

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Which team wins more games in 2015?

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The Angels won an MLB-best 98 games last year; the Dodgers won 94. The Angels, constricted in part by some of their large contracts, did very little this offseason; the Dodgers, meanwhile, have undergone a big overhaul and will have a new shortstop, new second baseman, new catcher and new rookie center fielder. They'll be a better defensive team -- although Greinke is skeptical and voiced his concerns about breaking up a 94-win team. Of course, Greinke is being paid to pitch, not to analyze baseball, and once the season starts he may find the improved Dodgers D to his liking.

The Angels are a good bet to regress because 98-win teams almost always regress. When you go through the roster, it's difficult to pinpoint a guy who is a good bet to have a better year. While I like Richards and Shoemaker, do they go 29-8 with a combined ERA under 3.00 again? How does Pujols fare? Can pitchers exploit Trout's weakness even more? Does Hamilton rebound? Will they have a hole at second base without Kendrick?

In the end, I like the Dodgers at 92-95 wins again and the Angels to fall back under 90 in a tough AL West.
With Keith Law unveiling his top 100 prospects this week, I thought it would be fun to look back at the top prospects from 2005. Has it already been 10 years since 2005? Yes it has! We'll use Baseball America's list and, as always, we're not criticizing the list. Evaluating prospects is part art, part science and a lot of unknown.

The Top 10
1. Joe Mauer, Twins
2. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
3. Delmon Young, Devil Rays
4. Ian Stewart, Rockies
5. Joel Guzman, Dodgers
6. Casey Kotchman, Angels
7. Scott Kazmir, Devil Rays
8. Rickie Weeks, Brewers
9. Andy Marte, Braves
10. Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox

Just a reminder: Not all top-10 players become All-Stars, let alone future Hall of Famers, and many don't develop at all. Young, who rose to the No. 1 overall prospect in 2006, has had a long major league career but at barely replacement level (2.5 career WAR), making him one of the most disappointing prospects of the past decade. His aggressive approach that existed in the minors has proven to be a fatal flaw in the majors, but he's also been a poor defender and his athleticism declined rapidly.

Stewart was coming off a 30-homer season in low A ball at age 19 in which he also hit .319 with some walks and he certainly looked like a future star. He did have a 25-homer season with the Rockies in 2009 but has never been able to make enough contact or hit left-handers. Guzman was a big, 6-foot-7 shortstop who wasn't likely to stay there but had put up good numbers as a 19-year-old, albeit with a poor strikeout-to-walk rate. It was really the only season he hit like a top prospect in the minors and he made the majors for just 24 games.

Kotchman was a much different hitter than Young, Stewart or Guzman, a sweet-swinging first baseman who walked more than he struck out and projected to hit for a high average, but he never should have been a top-10 prospect. He had been injury-prone in the minors and didn't hit for much power and first basemen without power aren't top-10 overall prospects. In the majors, he was injury-prone and didn't hit for much power.

Weeks was that rare second-base prospect to crack the top 10. He's been worth 12.3 career WAR even though he has power and patience as he's only hit .249 despite his quick bat and his defense has been historically awful. At the time, Baseball America admitted he "had a lot of work to do with the glove." Ten years later, the defense never did improve and he can't find a job this offseason because of that liability.

Then there's Marte, one of the more famous prospect flops in recent years. "His potential as an all-around impact player is unquestioned," wrote Baseball America. Even though he was described as mature for his age in the BA scouting report, Marte's work ethic was later questioned and he added some weight, a concern cited even in 2005. He's hit .218 in 308 career major league games and is still scuffling around, appearing in six games for the Diamondbacks last year.

Nos. 11-25
11. Lastings Milledge, Mets
12. Dallas McPherson, Angels
13. Matt Cain, Giants
14. Jeff Francoeur, Braves
15. Prince Fielder, Brewers
16. Adam Miller, Indians
17. Jason Kubel, Twins
18. Jeremy Hermida, Marlins
19. Chad Billingsley, Dodgers
20. Jeff Niemann, Devil Rays
21. Brian Dopirak, Cubs
22. Carlos Quentin, Diamondbacks
23. Jeff Francis, Rockies
24. Nick Swisher, Athletics
25. Jose Capellan, Brewers

Three hits with Cain, Fielder and Swisher and a half-hit with Billingsley, who is trying to rebound from two years of injuries and just signed with the Phillies. Kubel was a hit-first prospect who ranked 17th on the list even though he had torn up his knee in the Arizona Fall League, after reaching the majors at the end of 2004. Already considered slow in the outfield before the injury, he had some good years at the plate in the majors but was best suited to DH, and it's possible he was never the same player after the injury. Quentin has also seen his career interrupted by various injuries through the years.

The interesting guy here is Hermida, who rose to the No. 4 overall prospect in 2006. He was supposed to be a can't-miss hitter, due to excellent plate discipline and a nice lefty stroke with medium-range power and good makeup. He had a good year for the Marlins in 2007, hitting .296/.369/.501 but the bat went downhill from there. There were some nagging injuries and a trade to Boston, a collision with Adrian Beltre and then a bunch of years as a 4-A player. He's spent all of the two past years in Triple-A.

Nos. 26-50
Best hits: No. 27 Ryan Howard, No. 28 J.J. Hardy, No. 30 Edwin Jackson, No. 35 Gavin Floyd, No. 39 Erick Aybar, No. 44 Brian McCann, No. 48 Homer Bailey, No. 49 Brandon McCarthy.

And by "best hits" I mean only hits. Well, there's Yusmeiro Petit and Zach Duke and Ryan Sweeney and Anthony Reyes had that one good start for the Cardinals in the World Series.

Nos. 51-75
Best hits: No. 51 Shin-Soo Choo, No. 54 Franklin Gutierrez, No. 56 Edwin Encarnacion, No. 57 Curtis Granderson, No. 59 John Danks, No. 62 James Loney, No. 64 Aaron Hill, No. 65 Nick Markakis, No. 71 Cole Hamels, No. 72 Brandon Moss, No. 75 Billy Butler.

Even with Mauer and Hernandez, it looks like this block of 25 has produced more value than the top 25.

Nos. 76-100
Best hits: No. 76 Kendrys Morales, No. 81 Neil Walker, No. 82 Ubaldo Jimenez, No. 91 Jonathan Papelbon, No. 97 Huston Street, No. 98 Ian Kinsler.

Kinsler had a monster year in the minors in 2004, hitting .345 with 20 home runs, 51 doubles, 23 steals and good contract rates. I'm guessing he was ranked so low because he had been just a 17th-round pick the year before and caught everyone by surprise (although Baseball America mentioned an offseason strength training program and hitting instruction from Rangers coaches that led to the breakout performance).

Ten best prospects not in the top 100
Here are the top guys by career WAR not included in the top 100

1. Robinson Cano (51.5) -- Baseball America did rate him as the Yankees' No. 2 prospect (behind Eric Duncan) but had concerns about his ability to hit left-handers, his speed and his range at second. He'd hit .283/.339/.457 between Double-A and Triple-A at age 21 and obviously continued to get better.

2. Dustin Pedroia (43.2) -- He'd been a second-round pick in June of 2004 and hit .357 in the low minors. He'd crack the top 100 the next year at No. 77.

3. Adrian Gonzalez (38.4) -- He had a cup of coffee with the Rangers in 2004 and even though the Marlins had made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2000, was left out of the top 100 after hitting .304/.364/457 at Triple-A at age 22. The power started developing more in 2005, although the Rangers traded him after that season to the Padres.

4. Ben Zobrist (36.6) -- He certainly wouldn't have been on anyone's prospect radar after being a sixth-round pick out of Dallas Baptist in June of 2004, although he'd hit .339/.438/.463 with more walks than strikeouts in the New York-Penn League. The Rays got him from the Astros in 2006 and he reached the majors that season.

5. Jon Lester (32.6) -- Lester had been a second-round pick in 2002 but had ho-hum numbers in the Florida State League, with a 4.28 ERA and 97 strikeouts and 37 walks in 90 innings. The scouting report was positive: 92-93 mph and hitting 96, with Baseball America noting his secondary stuff needed refinement. He had also missed some time with shoulder tightness. Still, considering the size and arm strength, a little surprising he didn't crack the top 100.

6. Adam Wainwright (32.5) -- This one made more sense. He made just 12 starts in Triple-A because of an elbow strain and posted a 5.37 ERA. Baseball America did note that his "curveball may be his best pitch." Yeah, maybe.

7. Shane Victorino (30.2) -- He'd actually been a Rule 5 pick by the Padres from the Dodgers in 2003 and had 73 plate appearances in the majors before the Padres returned him. The Phillies then made him a Rule 5 pick again after the 2004 season. Despite his plus speed and a solid season in Double-A in 2004, he was listed as just the 19th-best prospect for the Phillies.

8. Russell Martin (30.1) -- He'd hit .250 with 15 home runs in Class A and had been catching for just two years, although he had positive reviews for his defense. He wasn't overlooked -- No. 6 among Dodgers prospects -- and it's noteworthy that he did have a good hitting approach even then, with 72 walks against 54 strikeouts.

9. Jose Bautista (29.6) -- He was easy to miss because he'd spent 2004 as a Rule 5 pick, going from the Pirates to the Orioles to the Devil Rays (off waivers) to the Royals (sold) to the Mets (for Justin Huber) and then back to the Pirates in another trade. All told, he batted just 88 times. And that was after playing sparingly in 2003 after breaking his hand punching a garbage can. Baseball America did note his athleticism and ability to play third base or outfield in naming him Pittsburgh's No. 12 prospect.

10. James Shields (28.7) -- He was really just an organizational player at this point in the minors, a 16th-round pick who wasn't listed among Tampa Bay's top 30 prospects or even in a longer depth chart of right-handed pitchers. He'd had a 4.72 ERA between Class A and Double-A with 106 strikeouts in 135 innings.


Jordan ZimmermanEvan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsJordan Zimmerman will be a free agent following the 2015 season. Will he end up on the trade block?
We’re a month away from the official start of spring training, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some unresolved issues and potential news items still out there in baseball land. Here are 30 things to keep an eye on:

1. Now that the Nationals have signed Max Scherzer to a seven-year contract, will the Nats look to trade impending free agent Jordan Zimmermann? A rotation of Scherzer, Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez certainly has the ability to be one of the best we’ve seen in recent years, and that doesn’t even include Tanner Roark, who quietly went 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA last year.

2. If the Nationals do look to move Zimmermann (or Fister, also a free agent at season’s end), will they use that trade to help restock the farm system or acquire depth in the bullpen? The pen looks a little thin after they traded setup man extraordinaire Tyler Clippard and lost Rafael Soriano to free agency.

3. Where will James Shields go? The one difference-making free agent who is still unsigned, Shields reportedly turned down $110 million from a team he apparently didn’t want to play for. Or maybe that was just posturing to try to ramp up the offers.

4. Will the Marlins trade Dan Haren? The veteran right-hander, set to make $10 million, had threatened to retire if he wasn’t traded back to a California team. But the Dodgers just traded him to the Marlins and don’t have room in their rotation, and the Los Angels also added rotation depth in the offseason. The Dodgers gave the Marlins $10 million to offset Haren’s salary, which they keep even if Haren doesn’t play. It looks like the ball may be in Haren’s court, as you know Jeffrey Loria would be more than happy to keep the cash.

5. Is Billy Beane done wheeling and dealing? It’s been a whirlwind offseason for the Oakland A's general manager, who has traded away Josh Donaldson, Jeff Samardzija, Derek Norris, John Jaso and others, while acquiring Ben Zobrist, Brett Lawrie, Clippard and other young players and prospects. Yunel Escobar was even acquired from the Rays and quickly dealt to the Nationals for Clippard.

6. Are Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer done wheeling and dealing for the Cubs? They just picked up Dexter Fowler from the Astros, giving the club a more legitimate center fielder than converted infielder Arismendy Alcantara. With the addition of Fowler, the Cubs' lineup could look like this:

Fowler CF
Starlin Castro SS
Jorge Soler RF
Anthony Rizzo 1B
Kris Bryant 3B
Miguel Montero C
Chris Coghlan LF
Javier Baez 2B

That lineup has potential, and it's backed up with a rotation featuring Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Kyle Hendricks and Travis Wood. But with Fowler signed only through 2015, maybe the Cubs will make one more big move to draw closer on paper to the Cardinals and Pirates. Maybe Shields, to bolster the rotation even more?

[+] EnlargeJohnny Cueto
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJohnny Cueto was second in the National League in 2014 with a 2.25 ERA.
7. Will the Reds sign Johnny Cueto to a long-term contract? Cueto will be expensive to sign, and while he may not command Scherzer money due Cueto's injury history, he’s coming off a season that would have won the Cy Young Award in most years. The long-term commitments the Reds have already made to Joey Votto and Homer Bailey may mean that a third $100 million-plus player doesn’t fit into their budget.

8. Will the Reds sign Aroldis Chapman to a long-term contract? Like Cueto, Chapman is a free agent after 2015. The Reds are hosting the 2015 All-Star Game, so don’t expect them to trade either player -- at least until after the All-Star Game and only if the Reds are well out of the pennant race.

9. Are the Cardinals satisfied with their rotation? They had been rumored to be interested in signing Scherzer or maybe acquiring David Price from the Tigers, but Price is certainly unavailable now -- not that he was in the first place -- with Scherzer out of the Detroit picture. The Cardinals did sign Lance Lynn to a three-year extension. But the health concerns of Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia and the uncertainty of young arms such as Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzalez means the Cardinals have question marks within their depth.

10. Are the Braves really committed to keeping Craig Kimbrel? After trading away Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis, the Braves have all but admitted they’re building for 2017 when they open their new park. General manager John Hart insists the club can still compete in 2015, but the projection systems argue otherwise and say the Braves will be one of the worst teams in the majors. The smart move would be to cash in Kimbrel now.

11. Speaking of ... are the Tigers going to do anything about the bullpen?

12. Speaking of ... Francisco Rodriguez is still a free agent. And probably with good reason, considering he led all relievers in home runs allowed in 2014. Still, he posted a 3.04 ERA and recorded 44 saves for the Brewers, so some team may be willing to give him a shot at closing. Especially a team that had major issues up and down the bullpen last year, including in the postseason.

13. Will the Mets acquire a shortstop? I think we’re all a bit tired of this story by now. Mets fans seem to want a new shortstop. The New York media definitely believes the team needs a shortstop. Sandy Alderson would probably like a new shortstop. Troy Tulowitzki may want to become the new Mets shortstop. Meanwhile, the Wilpons are probably too busy watching old films of the Brooklyn Dodgers to care.

14. Will the Diamondbacks trade Mark Trumbo? This is probably more of a spring training decision, depending on whether Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas can handle third base. If he can’t, he'll move to left field and the D-backs have to shop Trumbo.

15. Will Dave Stewart give us more quotes about "real" baseball teams and those apparently fake teams that worry too much about analytics?

16. Will the Mariners acquire a right-handed bat? Right now, the M’s have Nelson Cruz penciled in at DH, Logan Morrison at first base, and a right-field platoon of Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano (with lefty-swinging Dustin Ackley in left field). Jesus Montero is still around, but a right-handed bat who can play first base or DH against southpaws (with Cruz moving to the outfield) would create more balance in the lineup.

17. Will the Phillies release Ryan Howard? At this point, it’s probably best for all if Ruben Amaro just puts Howard on waivers. Nobody is going to trade for Howard, but that doesn’t mean you need to create a negative distraction by inviting him to spring training. It’s a sunk cost. Let it sink and see if any team wants to give Howard a shot to DH.

18. Who will be the first columnist to point out Howard’s RBI total from last year? Like, in a good way.

19. Will the Red Sox make a move for their rotation? While the Red Sox actually project to have a decent rotation, according to some projections, it’s also difficult to buy completely into Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Joe Kelly and Justin Masterson.

[+] EnlargeCole Hamels
AP Photo/Alex BrandonCole Hamels was in the top 10 in the National League last season in ERA (2.46) and strikeouts (198).
20. Will Cole Hamels be traded? Hamels may be worth more at the trade deadline than he is now, so don’t be surprised if Hamels is starting on Opening Day for the Phillies. But if he does get traded, the Red Sox and Padres still seem likely destinations; the Red Sox have a slew of prospects and the Padres have catching prospect Austin Hedges.

21. What’s going on with Dan Duquette? The only noise the Orioles’ president has made this offseason has been with the rumors that he’s leaving Baltimore to take over the presidency of the Blue Jays. If this was going to happen, it should have been resolved by now, as Duquette’s lack of activity in Baltimore could have the appearance of a conflict of interest.

22. Will the Orioles bring in a right fielder? Colby Rasmus is the best free agent out there and would be the easiest option, if inelegant. There are also unappealing trade options such as Andre Ethier or Carlos Quentin.

23. Which young star will get locked up by a long-term extension? Small-market teams have been able to remain competitive in recent years in part by signing their young stars to team-friendly extensions -- think Andrew McCutchen in Pittsburgh or Evan Longoria in Tampa Bay -- but as premium free agents continue to get $100-million plus contracts, there’s going to be less incentive for young players to potentially leave tens of millions on the table.

24. Where will the other free-agent relievers sign? Casey Janssen and Soriano are two relievers out there with closing experience. Soriano averaged 39 saves the past three seasons but lost his closer job with the Nationals late last season, while Janssen missed time with a back injury and saw his strikeout rate decline. Besides the Tigers, the Dodgers are seeking relief help.

25. Are the World Series champs done? The Giants just signed Norichika Aoki, although he and Gregor Blanco don’t make for a traditional platoon since both hit left-handed. They struck out on signing Jon Lester and Pablo Sandoval and trading for Justin Upton. The Giants could still be in on Shields, or could bring back Ryan Vogelsong for rotation depth.

26. Back to the Nationals: Could they trade shortstop Ian Desmond? It seems unlikely, but Desmond is a free agent after 2015 and reportedly turned down a $100 million extension. And the club did trade for Yunel Escobar, although moving him to shortstop would create a hole at second base. The team perhaps most desperate for a shortstop is the Mets, but they’re a division rival.

27. Arbitration tracker: Who’s left? While a lot of players have already signed, the most interesting remaining unsigned players are those who are still several years from free agency and who could potentially negotiate multiyear deals (similar to the one Lynn signed with the Cardinals). This group includes Josh Donaldson of the Blue Jays; Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford of the Giants; Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain of the Royals; Devin Mesoraco of the Reds; and Garrett Richards of the Angels.

28. What will happen with highly touted Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada? The 19-year-old switch-hitter is projected as a power-speed combo who will likely end up at second or third base. The Giants recently held a private workout with him, and the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Nationals and Marlins are among those teams reported to have strong interest and financial means. MLB has declared Moncada a free agent, but he needs to be cleared by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control before he’s eligible to sign.

29. Who will join Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs in guaranteeing his team will win a division title?

30. Who will be the first player to report early to spring training in the best shape of his life?



The current all-underrated team

January, 13, 2015
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Ben ZobristKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsBen Zobrist has hit 99 homers over the past six seasons.
There isn't really a scientific way to determine an all-underrated team. Certainly, if you own five fantasy teams, you know all about these guys, but my perception is these players are better than widely believed or haven't yet received the kind of attention you would expect given their value. For some, maybe they have had only one big year; for others, maybe it's because they play in a small market. Regardless, I expect all these guys to be productive regulars again in 2015.

C: Rene Rivera, Rays
You can bet if Tampa Bay trades for a player that he's probably underrated. Rivera has played with the Mariners, Twins and Padres in the majors and spent time in the minors with the Dodgers, Mets and Yankees. Not surprisingly, Rivera is an excellent pitch-framer -- hence, Tampa Bay's desire to get him from the Padres in the Wil Myers trade -- and he hit .252/.319/.432 with San Diego in 2014, good numbers for Petco Park. The question is if the bat was a fluke since it was just 329 plate appearances and Rivera hadn't hit much before that. But catchers are sometimes late bloomers at the plate.

1B: Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
Rizzo is probably the biggest name here, but I would suggest that many fans don't realize how good he was in 2014. He had a higher OBP and slugging percentage than Miguel Cabrera. He had a higher FanGraphs WAR than Jose Abreu of the crosstown White Sox but certainly didn't get the same level of national attention. He finished behind Adrian Gonzalez in the MVP voting because he didn't drive in as many runs. He has more power than Freddie Freeman, a young first baseman who gets more recognition. The best part: He's just 25.

2B: Brian Dozier, Twins
Dozier came up as a shortstop in 2012 but has moved over to second base and gets lost among all the quality second basemen in the American League (playing on the Twins doesn't help), but what a season he had: 23 home runs, 57 extra-base hits, 89 walks, 21 stolen bases, solid defense and 112 runs scored, second in the majors behind Mike Trout. Dozier will continue to be underrated in part because he hit just .242, but he still had a higher OBP than Chase Utley, Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler.

3B: Kyle Seager, Mariners
Seager was never a highly rated prospect coming up through the Mariners system -- projected as a utility infielder -- so sometimes it takes a few years for everyone to buy into a player like that. Well, the Mariners have bought in, giving Seager a seven-year, $100 million contract extension. He made his first All-Star team in 2014 and won a Gold Glove, and his 25 home runs and 96 RBIs are even more impressive considering the difficult hitting environments of the AL West.

[+] EnlargeJhonny Peralta
Jeff Curry/USA TODAY SportsJhonny Peralta was second among NL shortstops last season with 21 homers.
SS: Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals
It's odd for a veteran like Peralta to make a list like this, but he has always been underappreciated -- although I did sense a little more, "Oh, yeah, that guy's pretty good," in 2014 as he even picked up some down-the-ballot MVP votes for the first time in his career. Maybe playing for the Cardinals helped. He led all major league shortstops in WAR in 2014, ranking 15th among all position players on Baseball Reference and 17th on FanGraphs. The key is that Peralta has always been viewed as a shortstop without a lot of range, but the metrics have consistently rated him about average (and a little above in 2014). He has a strong arm and makes few mistakes.

LF: Corey Dickerson, Rockies
Charlie Blackmon was the Rockies outfielder who made the All-Star team in 2014, but Dickerson is the one to watch moving forward. He hit .312/.364/.567 with 24 home runs in 478 plate appearances, and that's not just a Coors-inflated line. He is slated to play left field this year with Carlos Gonzalez moving over to right. The Rockies platooned Dickerson last year, but he deserves the chance to see if he can hold his own against left-handers.

CF: Juan Lagares, Mets
Lagares has certainly received recognition as perhaps the best defensive center fielder in the majors -- winning his first Gold Glove in 2014 -- but because he's not a big basher at the plate, he still seems undervalued overall. And he's not a zero on offense. He hit .281/.321/.382, nothing great, but that makes him about a league average hitter. Baseball Info Solutions credited him with 28 defensive runs saved in 2014, and some speculated that maybe he's not that good. Willie Mays, for example, peaked (under a different system for evaluating) at 21 runs, according to Baseball Reference. Consider this, however: Lagares made 2.85 plays per nine innings in 2014, compared to the league average of 2.48 for center fielders. That's 0.37 more plays per game, which adds up to 49 additional outs over 1,200 innings; Mays' career-best was 0.27 more plays per game.

RF: Kole Calhoun, Angels
Like others on this list, Calhoun was never a top prospect. But all he has done is hit. In his first full season, he hit .272/.325/.450 with 17 home runs and 31 doubles while scoring 90 runs in 127 games. He should have another strong year as the Angels' leadoff hitter.

UT: Ben Zobrist, A's
If there's a captain on the all-underrated team, this guy is it. He does all those things that maybe aren't flashy. He draws walks, hits for some power, plays good defense (at multiple positions) and is durable. Since his breakout season in 2009, he is third among position players in Baseball Reference WAR behind Robinson Cano and Cabrera (second behind Cabrera on FanGraphs).

SP: Doug Fister, Nationals
I've written about Fister enough that maybe he's no longer underrated. He doesn't get a lot of attention pitching in the same rotation as Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, but he's nearly their equal.

SP: Dallas Keuchel, Astros
After getting punched around his first two seasons in the majors, Keuchel looked like a lefty without enough fastball to succeed at the big league level. But he put everything together in 2014, going 12-9 with a 2.93 ERA. I don't think it was a fluke.

SP: Jose Quintana, White Sox
The White Sox rotation goes deeper than Chris Sale and now Jeff Samardzija. Quintana has been one of the best starters in the AL the past two seasons, throwing 200 innings both years with ERAs of 3.51 and 3.32 in a park where fly balls really fly. There's nothing too fancy about Quintana, but he has a complete repertoire of pitches with a curveball, changeup and slider and knows how to pitch.

[+] EnlargeRyu
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonHyun-jin Ryu is 28-15 with a 3.17 ERA in two seasons with the Dodgers.
SP: Hyun-jin Ryu, Dodgers
Similar to Quintana, Ryu is another lefty with a full arsenal of pitches. Ryu throws strikes and limits home runs -- just 23 in 344 career innings in the majors. He missed some time late last year but returned to throw a strong game in the division series. The next step for him is to get up to 200 innings and prove he can be more of a workhorse behind Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.

SP: Alex Cobb, Rays
With David Price gone, Cobb is now the undisputed ace of the Tampa Bay staff. Like Ryu, he just needs to remain healthy, as he has made 22 and 27 starts the past two seasons, although he posted a sub-3.00 ERA both years. With Cobb leading the way, Tampa Bay's young rotation is a good reason why the Rays could be the sleeper team to watch in 2015.

RP: Steve Cishek, Marlins
The sidearmer doesn't blow you away like many closers, but there's no questioning his effectiveness. In four seasons in the majors he owns a 2.65 ERA and has allowed just 10 home runs in 257 2/3 innings as he rarely throws anything above the knees.

RP: Tony Watson, Pirates
Our lefty reliever has put together back-to-back solid seasons with the Pirates, going 10-2 with a 1.63 ERA in 2014 (and making the All-Star team). Lacking command when he first reached the majors, Watson walked just 1.7 batters per nine innings last season while setting a career high in strikeout rate. With a fastball that averages 94 mph, he's a power lefty who could end up a closer someday.
Jason KipnisOtto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesJason Kipnis is posed for a big rebound -- and, barring injuries, could be an All-Star in 2015.
It's been a slow few weeks in the world of baseball. So here are some random thoughts going through my mind as we wait for Max Scherzer to sign ... and wait ... and wait ...

1. I still don't understand the lack of support that Mike Mussina has received in the Hall of Fame voting. Well, I do understand: The majority of voters aren't analyzing their ballots much beyond a certain level of gut instinct. If they did, they'd realize Mussina should be a no-brainer Hall of Famer. He isn't in the Tommy John/Jim Kaat class.

2. Heard Chris "Mad Dog" Russo arguing that Jeff Kent was clearly better than Craig Biggio. I mean, sure, if you ignore little things like defense, baserunning and getting on base.

3. That said, I expect Kent's case to start picking up momentum. Biggio's election probably helps Kent because voters can argue that Kent was the better hitter, plus he has more than 1,500 RBIs and more home runs (377) than any other second baseman.

4. I like what St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote about the Hall of Fame: "I don't like the idea that MLB and the Hall of Fame has left it up to the ball writers to serve as the police force on PEDs. Among other things, it's a conflict of interest. We're supposed to be covering the industry as an independent group of journalists. We're not supposed to be establishing the baseball industry's standards for morality."

5. Congrats to Randy Johnson on his election to the Hall. My favorite Johnson memory is Game 5 of the 1995 American League Division Series, but I'll always remember this home run he served up to Mark McGwire. Steroids or not, good lord.

6. I miss Dave Niehaus.

7. That home run gives me an excuse to link to the video of this home run that Glenallen Hill hit onto a rooftop beyond Wrigley Field. "It's gotta be the shoes!" Well, that or maybe something else.

8. I've always wondered whether the balls weren't just a bit juiced in that era. After all, how do you explain runs per game going from 4.12 in 1992 to 4.60 in 1993 to 4.92 in 1994? Yes, there was expansion in 1993, but that hardly explains that much of an increase. So unless you believe everybody started using steroids at once, there were other factors in play beyond PEDs.

9. Back to the present. Loved the Ben Zobrist/Yunel Escobar acquisition by the A's. GM Billy Beane has now given manager Bob Melvin the most flexible lineup of hitters in the league. Zobrist can move back and forth between the infield and outfield, Marcus Semien can fill in anywhere in the infield, and Oakland has several platoon options.

10. Speaking of Zobrist, I’ll write about my all-time all-underrated team on Monday and my current all-underrated team on Tuesday. Zobrist fits the classic profile of an underrated player: draws walks, is a good defender, is durable, has medium-range power. He’s been one of baseball’s best players the past six years.

11. Two keys for the A's: Brett Lawrie has to stay healthy and have a solid season at third base, and Escobar has to bounce back from 2014, when some minor injuries may have contributed to his poor defensive metrics.

12. Outfielder Josh Reddick, initially critical of the Josh Donaldson trade, has apparently jumped back on the Beane bandwagon. He can't wait for the season to start. Me, neither.

13. How about those Seahawks?!?!

14. With their win over the Panthers on Saturday, the Seahawks became the first defending Super Bowl champ since the 2005 Patriots to win a playoff game. Doesn't that seem a little weird? Does it mean that winning the Super Bowl, like winning the World Series, involves a certain amount of luck in the playoffs?

15. With all due respect to the great Kenny Easley, I don't think he was the same kind of force on defense as Kam Chancellor. Yes, that's an old Seahawks reference.

16. I'm not ready to jump on the Padres' bandwagon.

17. I mean, I love the boldness of new general manager A.J. Preller, but I don't like the idea of Wil Myers playing center; Will Middlebrooks just isn't that good. Plus, San Diego's first baseman has no power, and shortstop is an issue.

18. But the Padres are going to be interesting, which is certainly more than has been said about this team in years.

19. There's no reason not to believe in Matt Shoemaker, other than he wasn't good before 2014. But there's nothing that says "fluke" in his numbers: good strikeout rate, excellent control and that great changeup/splitter.

20. Chris Davis will have a much better season in 2015.

21. I'm not so sure about Josh Hamilton, however.

22. Signing Scherzer to a mega-contract doesn't seem like a Cardinals type of move, but they do have to be a little worried about the health of Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha.

23. I don't quite get the rumors about David Price. Shouldn't the Tigers just keep him and maybe sign Scherzer and put out their best team for 2015? How many more great years are they going to get from Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez? Detroit's window is now.

24. Of course, I get that they don't want to cash in so many chips and then turn into the Phillies. But, at age 85, does Tigers owner Mike Ilitch really care about 2019?

25. Jayson Stark wrote about Carlos Delgado getting bumped off the Hall of Fame ballot after one year. I don't see Delgado as a Hall of Famer, and while he did have some monster seasons, he's also way down my list of first basemen with possible Hall of Fame cases. You have Mark McGwire, Fred McGriff, Rafael Palmeiro, John Olerud, Keith Hernandez and Will Clark to consider before you get to Delgado.

26. Juan Lagares made 2.85 outs per nine innings in 2014; the average center fielder made 2.48. That's .37 more plays per game. Willie Mays' career best was .24 plays above the MLB average per nine innings.

27. Let's hope Matt Harvey returns as the same pitcher we saw in 2013.

28. The Braves are going to be terrible. No Jayson Heyward, no Justin Upton. Having Evan Gattis in the outfield and Alberto Callaspo at second base will severely weaken the defense.

29. It's almost like John Hart was a general manager from a different era when he didn't have defensive metrics to examine.

30. If the Braves are indeed just building for 2017 and their new ballpark, why not look to trade Craig Kimbrel?

31. Go see "Selma." It's an important American film with a lesson that still resonates in many ways today.

32. King Felix's changeup makes me smile even in the middle of winter.

33. I've been meaning to write a Mookie Betts/Javier Baez piece, but FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan beat me to it.

34. The answer: Mookie.

35. Your 2015 American League home run champ: Chris Carter.

36. Speaking of the Astros, I predict a huge breakout season for George Springer. Get him on your fantasy team if you can.

37. Your 2015 National League home run champ: Giancarlo Stanton. I know, too easy.

38. I wonder if the Giants will be conservative with Madison Bumgarner's innings, at least in the first couple of months of the season. He ended up throwing 270 innings between the regular season and playoffs, well above the 223 he threw in 2012, when the Giants also won the World Series.

39. If I were to bet on the Yankees either winning the AL East or imploding, I'd go with the implosion.

40. Still, there are enough big names on their roster, and if the rotation stays healthy, it wouldn't shock me if the Yankees did win the division.

41. A young pitcher who could make a big leap forward this year: Drew Hutchison of the Blue Jays.

42. Weren't the Rangers supposed to be in the middle of an AL West dynasty by now?

43. Wish the Indians would make one more move for a bat, but unfortunately they have a lot of bad money invested in Nick Swisher, David Murphy and Michael Bourn.

44. Yes, Corey Kluber will contend for another Cy Young Award.

45. Barry Bonds was intentionally walked 120 times in 2004. That's still maybe the most impressive stat in baseball history.

46. Brandon McCarthy, everyone's favorite smart major league pitcher, thinks PED users should be admitted to Cooperstown. Give that man a vote!

47. Still don't quite understand why the Dodgers gave McCarthy $48 million, however -- considering that he's made more than 25 starts in a season just once during his career.

48. You know, Zobrist would have been a nice acquisition for the Nationals. Maybe they can pry Chase Utley away from the Phillies.

49. I think Yasiel Puig's power will bounce back this year. He might hit 25 home runs -- which would make him a very strong MVP candidate.

50. An important man in 2015: Red Sox outfield coach Arnie Beyeler, who will work with Hanley Ramirez and our man Mookie.

51. I have the March in Paris on TV in the background. Amazing.

52. You can never watch too many videos of puppies playing in snow.

53. A quiet offseason move that could pay nice dividends: Toronto getting Michael Saunders from Seattle. I'll be curious to see how his numbers increase as he escapes the AL West.

54. Of course, he has to stay healthy.

55. A trade that still makes sense: Mark Trumbo to the Mariners. Even if Yasmany Tomas proves he can handle third base for the Diamondbacks, we know Trumbo can't really play left field. The Mariners could still use another right-handed bat, and Trumbo would give them the flexibility to sit Logan Morrison against left-handers and use Nelson Cruz in the outfield at times.

56. I love watching Jonathan Schoop play defense. He can really turn two. It wouldn't surprise me to see him win a Gold Glove this year.

57. Will Stephen Strasburg take a leap forward this year?

58. I think Bryce Harper will make The Leap.

59. If you've never read "Ball Four," why not?

60. I'm enjoying Dan Epstein's "Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of '76."

61. That was the first year I remember watching baseball, and as Epstein's book shows, although it's not remembered as a classic season -- mostly because the World Series was a four-game sweep -- it was a widely entertaining year and an important one. The reserve clause was struck, Charlie Finley fought with Bowie Kuhn, the Yankees fought with the Red Sox, and Bill Veeck had his White Sox players wear shorts.

62. Plus, Mark Fidrych.

63. Here's a good piece on how the Phillies reached this sorry state of affairs.

64. I predict that Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera will each give up at least one home run this season.

65. If you're bored, go watch some highlights of Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon and Jarrod Dyson playing defense.

66. I know everybody is down on the Reds, but if Joey Votto is healthy, Jay Bruce returns to being Jay Bruce and Billy Hamilton improves at the plate, it's not impossible to dream about them being competitive.

67. No, Tim Lincecum isn't going to be better. He's been below replacement level for three seasons now. There is no reason to expect him to turn things around. His road ERA is 5.55 over the past three years. Take him out of AT&T Park, and he's exposed.

68. Casey McGehee won't be the answer at third base for the Giants.

69. Would you take Clayton Kershaw or the field for NL Cy Young?

70. Another fun note about 1976: Joe Morgan led the NL with 1.020 OPS. No other hitter was within 100 points. And he played a key defensive position and won a Gold Glove. He also stole 60 bases in 69 attempts. You can argue that Morgan's level of play that year was as high as any position player's ever. The only knock against him is he missed 21 games.

71. I can't wait to see what Jorge Soler can do over a full season.

72. Also: Rusney Castillo.

73. Kolten Wong or Joe Panik moving forward? I'll take Wong.

74. If I'm drawing up a list of the most important players for 2015, I might start with Justin Verlander.

75. I'm going "Selma" over "Boyhood," "The Imitation Game" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel" for best picture of 2015. Haven't seen "American Sniper" yet, although that could factor in the running as well.

76. Hollywood needs to make more movies about strong and courageous women. Is there a girl version of "Boyhood"? Why not?

77. I have the Pirates even with the Cardinals right now. Not sure why it seems like St. Louis is such a consensus favorite.

78. A signing that isn't going to work out: Torii Hunter and the Twins.

79. Joe Mauer will be better. Right?

80. An interesting thing to watch: How will Mike Trout adjust to all those high fastballs?

81. As that article points out, even as Trout started seeing more high fastballs as the season progressed, he still slugged .502 in the second half. But he also hit just .257 with a .347 OBP.

82. I hope you read Mark Simon's defensive storylines to watch for the National League and American League.

83. If you like spy novels, I recommend Alan Furst's work. Just discovered him last year. He writes hyper-realistic novels set in Europe in the days before World War II. You feel like you're in Paris or Warsaw with war looming.

84. Another guy I can't wait to see: Joc Pederson.

85. A waistline I can't wait to see: Bartolo Colon's.

86. How can you not love Jose Altuve?

87. I'm up to No 87 and haven't even mentioned James Shields yet. So I just did. No idea where he's going to sign. Giants? Red Sox? Cardinals?

88. Guy who will rebound in 2015: Jason Kipnis. He played through some injuries in 2014, so if he's healthy, I wouldn't be surprised to see him back in the All-Star Game.

89. That said, he's up against a tough field of second basemen in the AL: Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Altuve, underrated Brian Dozier, Ian Kinsler, Zobrist. At least Howie Kendrick got shipped over to the NL.

90. I'd like the Marlins better if Jose Fernandez were going to be ready at the start of the season.

91. A Seahawks-Patriots Super Bowl would be the revenge of Pete Carroll. I want Bill Simmons to write a 25,000-word preview if we get this matchup.

92. I'd take Pedro in his prime over Koufax in his prime and not even hesitate about it.

93. I had the Rays as the sleeper team of 2015 before the Zobrist trade, but losing him is a big blow to the 2015 offense.

94. Chris Archer could be a breakout pitcher, however. If he can cut his walks just a bit, he's ready to become an elite starter.

95. Corey Dickerson > Charlie Blackmon.

96. Yes, the White Sox wore shorts for a game in 1976. How can you not love 1976?

97. Yes, I'll watch the final season of "Mad Men." I'm guessing Don Draper will drink a lot and not much will happen.

98. I rate the Dodgers as the favorites in the NL West, but they are relying on a lot of old players and injury-prone pitchers: Juan Uribe will be 36; Jimmy Rollins is 36; Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are 33; Howie Kendrick is 31; and McCarthy and Brett Anderson haven't been the picture of health. The Dodgers do have depth on the roster, but there's a good chance they'll need it.

99. Pirates' outfield or Marlins' outfield: Which do you like more?

100. Edgar Martinez is a deserving Hall of Famer. Come on, I've managed to work Edgar into just about everything else I've written lately! I promise this will be my last Edgar reference for ... well, OK, I don't want to make a guarantee I can't keep. Just check out his Baseball-Reference page.
Yes, nothing much is going on in baseball unless you want to complain about the Yankees' payroll, but that's an old topic.

So I was on an email chain with some friends the other day, and my friend Messina joked about when the first middle reliever will get inducted into the Hall of Fame. Which led somebody else to ask, "Who are the best middle relievers of all time?" I suggested Jeff Nelson. Somebody else suggested Kent Tekulve.

Which gets us to this post. Tekulve, the skinny, bespectacled submariner with the Pirates and Phillies in the 1970s and '80s, spent much too time as a closer to qualify for this list -- 184 career saves. I want guys who were true middle relievers their entire careers. I set these parameters: at least 80 percent of career games in relief, fewer than 50 saves and the highest career WAR.

Let's see who we get ...

10. Scot Shields (12.2 WAR) -- Shields was a rookie on the 2002 World Series champion Angels and did make 13 starts in 2003 before going on a nice run in the bullpen. From 2002 to 2008, he posted a 2.98 ERA when offense was still high, and he threw 105.1 innings in 2004 (only one reliever since has topped 100 innings, Scott Proctor in 2006).

9. Matt Thornton (12.7 WAR) -- Thornton was a first-round pick of the Mariners in 1998 but didn't reach the majors until 2004. Too wild as a starter, the hard-throwing lefty made one start as a rookie but has been in relief ever since and has just 23 career saves. He did get a chance to be the White Sox's closer at the start of 2011 but blew saves in four of his five appearances and was moved back to a setup role. He has a career 3.43 ERA and even made the 2010 All-Star team.

8. Eric Plunk (13.4 WAR) -- A big right-hander who helped set up Dennis Eckersley with the A's in 1988 and '89, Plunk had a good stretch of work from '88 through '96 with the A's, Yankees and Indians, posting a 3.19 ERA over 722 innings. Known for his thick glasses, Plunk was also involved in two different trades for Rickey Henderson (he went to the A's when the Yankees got Henderson and then went to the Yankees when the A's got Henderson back), which is at least the answer to a trivia question.

7. Larry Andersen (13.7 WAR) -- Yes, Andersen with an "e." Andersen has an even more infamous trade background: He was the guy the Astros sent to the Red Sox to acquire a minor leaguer named Jeff Bagwell. Now a broadcaster with the Phillies, Andersen had a tremendous two-year peak in '89 and '90 (when he was traded) with ERAs under 2.00 both years while pitching a combined 183.1 innings.

6. Jeff Nelson (14.8 WAR) -- So I had a good guess. A 6-foot-8 guy who came from the side with a hard, sweeping slider (maybe the biggest-breaking slider I've ever seen), Nellie was death to right-handers. I don't know how right-handed batters ever hit it. He came up with the Mariners and went to the Yankees along with Tino Martinez in a bad trade by the Mariners. He was a key guy for the Yankees as they won four titles in five years, posting a 3.24 ERA in the postseason over those five seasons in 36 appearances.

5. Joaquin Benoit (14.8 WAR) -- Benoit is up to 48 career saves, so he might get bumped off this list next year. Not that we'll run this list again next year. I forgot that the Rangers kept trying to make him a starter when he first came up; he made 55 starts early in his career before moving to the bullpen (he had a 6.06 career ERA as a starter, so that time didn't help his WAR total).

4. Arthur Rhodes (15.0 WAR) -- Rhodes was a top pitching prospect in the minors who reached the majors right at the dawn of the steroids era. Maybe if he'd come up at another time he'd have eventually settled in; the mid-'90s ruined many young pitching prospects. Rhodes lasted until he was 41, pitching for nine teams, mostly with the Orioles and Mariners. He joined the Cardinals at the end of 2011 in his final season and won a ring with them.

3. Steve Reed (17.7 WAR) -- Another sidearmer/submariner, Reed's best years came with the Rockies in the mid-'90s, so his dominant seasons look better once you factor in Coors Field. He had a 2.15 ERA in 84 innings in 1995, valued at 4.1 WAR, and a career 3.63 ERA.

2. Paul Quantrill (18.0 WAR) -- This is getting exciting! Quantrill spent his first few years starting and relieving before taking his sinker permanently to the bullpen in 1997. In the heart of the steroids era, he had a 2.81 ERA from 1997 to 2003 with the Blue Jays and Dodgers. The rubber-armed Quantrill led his league in appearances each season from 2001 to 2004. That was his last good year, as Joe Torre ran him into the ground with 86 games and 95 innings. In Game 4 of the ALCS, it was Quantrill who gave up David Ortiz's 12th-inning walk-off home run.

1. Mark Eichhorn (19.3 WAR) -- Fittingly, we end with another sidearmer. How he became a sidearmer is interesting. He reached the majors with Toronto in 1982 with a conventional style and made seven starts but hurt his shoulder, forcing him to eventually drop down with a release point below his belt. He didn't make it back to the majors until 1986, when he had one of the great relief seasons of all time with the Blue Jays. He went 14-6 with a 1.72 ERA and 10 saves while pitching 157 innings -- all in relief -- with 166 strikeouts (Eichhorn didn't have quite enough innings to qualify, but no starter averaged more strikeouts per nine in the AL that year). At 7.4, Baseball-Reference ranks it only behind Goose Gossage's 1975 season and John Hiller's 1973 season for single-season relief WAR. The next year, Eichhorn pitched 89 games and 127.2 innings. He had other fine seasons like a 1.98 ERA in 82 innings for the Angels in 1991 before finishing up his career in 1996.

So there you go. Just in case you want to impress your friends with obscure baseball knowledge.

Defensive storylines of the offseason: AL

January, 8, 2015
Jan 8
10:10
AM ET
Getty ImagesRussell Martin, Didi Gregorius and Yoenis Cespedes are notable defense-minded acquisitions.

The major-league baseball offseason still has a ways to go, but we thought we’d take a look at how teams have changed defensively heading into 2015. Here’s our look at the American League:

 

AL EAST

Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles lost Gold Glove right fielder Nick Markakis, but there have been questions as to just how effective he is defensively, as the metrics (-13 Runs Saved in right field the past three seasons) never matched the eye test.

Baltimore should be better with the return of Manny Machado at third base and Matt Wieters behind the plate, though they're already formidable in the latter spot with Caleb Joseph. Baltimore ranked first in Defensive Runs Saved as a team in 2014 and with those two back and the re-signing of J.J. Hardy, they could be just as good again in 2015.

Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox changed the look of their pitching staff such that it’s very groundball friendly. That works given what Boston has at first base, second base and third base, with Mike Napoli, Dustin Pedroia and newly signed Pablo Sandoval (four Runs Saved last season). But Boston's biggest goal should be to do what it can to develop Xander Bogaerts, who had -10 Runs Saved at shortstop last season.

Hanley Ramirez in left field will be an interesting adventure and the first few times he plays a ball off the Green Monster will be worth watching. The Red Sox still have some decisions to make with Shane Victorino, Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo and Daniel Nava among those fighting for the other two outfield spots.

Behind the plate, they expect big things from Christian Vazquez, who possesses an excellent throwing arm and showed himself to be a solid pitch framer in his 54 games behind the plate. He'll be further mentored by another solid defensive catcher in new acquisition Ryan Hanigan.

Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays significantly boosted the offense they'll get out of the catching spot with the departures of Hanigan and Jose Molina and the addition of Rene Rivera and they won't lose anything defensively because Rivera rates as Molina's equal in terms of pitch framing and is a more effective basestealing deterrent.

It's not fair to judge Steven Souza by one miraculous catch to end a no-hitter, but if he's that good in the outfield, the Rays will catch a lot of fly balls that others won't, so long as Desmond Jennings stays healthy and Kevin Kiermaier hits enough to stay in the lineup. The defense won't miss Wil Myers and his -11 Runs Saved in two seasons in right field.

New York Yankees
Didi Gregorius is no Derek Jeter, but Jeter is no Gregorius when it comes to defensive play. The Yankees finished with -12 Defensive Runs Saved last season and we'd expect them to improve by at least 10 runs there, especially given the full-time presence stellar-fielding Chase Headley, who was terrific after his acquisition from the Padres.

The big question mark will be at second base where scouts have concerns about Rob Refsnyder, the leading candidate to be the everyday guy there, which is why the Yankees agreed to a deal with Stephen Drew.

Toronto Blue Jays
So long as Russell Martin can handle R.A. Dickey's knuckleball, the Blue Jays made a huge upgrade at catcher both offensively and defensively. Martin, judged by some to be the game's best pitch framer, is the type of catcher who can lower a staff's ERA by himself (so long as he's healthy).

At third base, Josh Donaldson covers a tremendous amount of ground. Donaldson has been better than the guy he's replacing, Brett Lawrie, though at their best, there probably isn't as big of a gap as last year's numbers might indicate, given Donaldson's adventurous throwing arm.

The big question will be who plays center field. Right now, it's slated to be rookie Dalton Pompey, who had a couple of Web Gems in a brief stint. If he rates major-league average, that'll be an upgrade from what the Blue Jays got from Colby Rasmus and company last season.

 

AL CENTRAL

Chicago White Sox
The White Sox made big moves to upgrade their team, though defense wasn't their center of attention. Melky Cabrera is a below-average left fielder (-5 Runs Saved each of the last two seasons). Adam LaRoche may end up DHing, but if the White Sox want to put the best defensive team out there, they'd play him at first base and let Jose Abreu just hit. There is a considerable difference between the two.

The White Sox should also have Avisail Garcia every day in right field. He still has something to learn based on the -10 Runs Saved he accumulated in 400 innings there last season (due mostly to his failure to catch balls hit to the deepest parts of the park).

Cleveland Indians
The departure of Asdrubal Cabrera clears the way for a better shortstop (Cabrera's flash was terrific … the rest of his defensive work didn't match up statistically). Jose Ramirez already showed he's more than adequate there (four Runs Saved in just under 500 innings) but he may just be keeping the position warm for Francisco Lindor.

There may also be a surprise upgrade in the outfield if the Indians decide not to DH Brandon Moss, as he's shown a modest amount of success in past tries in right field.

Kansas City Royals
The Royals haven't done much to their lineup this offseason, other than swap out Nori Aoki for Alex Rios and there's little difference between the two stat-wise. Expect to see lots of Jarrod Dyson serving as Rios' late-game caddy.

Detroit Tigers
The Tigers should be better defensively having let Torii Hunter walk while acquiring Yoenis Cespedes in trade from the Red Sox. Austin Jackson had amazing numbers for his first two seasons, but then his defense became rather ordinary, according to the metrics. Anthony Gose figures to be the new center fielder and he rates about average from what the numbers have shown so far.

The return of Jose Iglesias could do wonders to the Tigers infield, given his penchant for Web Gem-caliber plays. This is a big one to keep an eye out for.

The Tigers have also committed to using more shifts, particularly against right-handed hitters, considering they got great value from their (not-often used) shifting in 2014.

Minnesota Twins
General manager Terry Ryan is adamant that Torii Hunter is still capable of playing a good right field. The defensive metrics (-28 Runs Saved the last two seasons) beg to differ. That could lead to some interesting decisions for new manager Paul Molitor and his staff.

 

AL WEST

Houston Astros
One of the offseason's earliest acquisitions was the Astros netting Hank Conger in trade from the Angels and there was definitely a defensive motivation behind that. By our calculations, Conger netted more called strikes above average than any other catcher in baseball last season (in other words, he's really good at framing pitches).

The acquisition of Jed Lowrie was a case of prioritizing offense over defense at shortstop. Lowrie has totaled -28 Runs Saved at shortstop the past two seasons.

Lastly, it will be interesting to see where the Astros slot Jake Marisnick, who could end up in left field, though a case could be made for moving him to center. Marisnick has 16 career Runs Saved in just over 500 innings in center field. Current Astros center fielder Dexter Fowler had -20 Defensive Runs Saved last season.

Los Angeles Angels
The Angels shipped reliable second baseman Howie Kendrick across town to the Dodgers, and could go with either Josh Rutledge or Grant Green there. Both probably won't fare as well as Kendrick did.

The acquisition of Matt Joyce from the Rays may have a positive defensive effect if it slides Josh Hamilton (-9 Runs Saved in the outfield last season) into an everyday DH spot.

Oakland Athletics
The Athletics infield underwent a major makeover this offseason, with the new look featuring Brett Lawrie at third base, Marcus Semien at shortstop and Ike Davis at first base (with holdover Eric Sogard at second).

Lawrie could be as good as Josh Donaldson if he stays healthy, which has been a challenge. Davis rated above average as a rookie but has been average to below average since then. Semien is a question mark.

Seattle Mariners
The Mariners haven't done much to alter their defense from last season, the one adjustment being the addition of Seth Smith, who rates decently (a combined six Defensive Runs Saved in 2014) but doesn't necessarily wow.

Texas Rangers
Prince Fielder returns though it's worth wondering if the Rangers would be better off making him a full-time DH since he has always rated poorly in the field and Mitch Moreland at least represents an average first baseman.

Elvis Andrus hit an odd bump in the road last season, as his defensive numbers, which had been top-10 caliber at shortstop from 2011 to 2013 fell to bottom-5 (-13 Runs Saved) in 2014. That was probably just a fluke, but 2015 will go a ways in determining if Andrus has slipped.
In any given season, there are more future Hall of Famers than you probably realize at first glance. Take 1994. Eighteen current Hall of Famers played that season, which was a strike-shortened one that didn't include any late-season call-ups. So did Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Craig Biggio, who should get elected this year. And John Smoltz, who may get in the Hall in 2015. Future locks like Ken Griffey Jr. (eligible in 2016) and Jim Thome (2018), as well as strong candidates currently on the ballot like Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina also played in 1994. So did guys not yet on the ballot, such as Vladimir Guerrero, Ivan Rodriguez and Omar Vizquel.

That's already more than 30 players, and I haven't even mentioned the steroids guys.

What about the 1984 season? Thirty-two Hall of Famers played then.

1974? Thirty-eight Hall of Famers, not including Joe Torre, who was elected as a manager.

1954? Thirty Hall of Famers.

1934? Forty-eight Hall of Famers, not including 15 Negro Leaguers.

You get the idea. And, yes, there were about half as many teams in 1934 and 1954 (16) as compared to now (30), so some quick math reveals that the 1930s are represented in the HOF way above and beyond what we see now.

As for the present ... we're in an interesting era regarding potential Hall of Famers because there are so few obvious active candidates. In 2014, we had just four no-doubt future Hall of Famers -- the now-retired Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Ichiro Suzuki.

You can probably devise an argument against Cabrera or Suzuki, but both have excelled at things that have been barometers of Hall of Fame success -- RBIs, hits, batting titles, MVP awards. Both have been transcendent figures in the game in their own way and Cabrera certainly still has good years ahead. So I'd consider them locks. Alex Rodriguez, inactive in 2014, would be another sure Hall of Famer based on his statistical résumé, but of course won't get elected unless a change occurs in current voting trends regarding steroid users.

So which active players are good Hall of Fame bets? In addition to those mentioned above, let's look at the top 15 players in career Baseball-Reference WAR. Keep this number in mind: Of the 115 players whom the Baseball Writers Association has elected, the median career WAR is around 70 -- half are above that and half are below.


1. Adrian Beltre (Career WAR: 77.8)
Beltre has been a tremendous player since he turned 31. His late-career peak has turned him into a strong Hall of Fame candidate. Over the past five seasons, Beltre has hit .316, averaging 29 home runs and 96 RBIs and ranking third among all position players in WAR (trailing only Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera). That stretch as one of the game's best, combined with his career WAR easily pushes him above typical Hall of Fame standards -- but I don't see him as a lock just yet. A large percentage of his WAR results from superb fielding metrics, and while Beltre is widely acknowledged as a good fielder (he has won four Gold Gloves), his reputation isn't in the Brooks Robinson/Ozzie Smith class that would push him right into Cooperstown.

Beltre is also approaching those career milestones that voters love. He has 395 home runs, 1,384 RBIs and 2,604 hits. He's entering his age-36 season and still playing well, giving him a good chance at 3,000 hits. If he gets there, he's a lock.

2. Carlos Beltran (Career WAR: 67.5)
Beltran's career WAR is close to what should be automatic territory -- but often isn't. Some players with a similar WAR cruise into Cooperstown, while others are quickly dismissed. Look at a list of players since 1970 with a career WAR between 65 and 70:

In: Barry Larkin, Gary Carter, Tony Gwynn, Eddie Murray, Carlton Fisk, Ryne Sandberg, Don Sutton, Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio (well, soon to be in).

Out: Alan Trammell, Tim Raines, Kevin Brown, Edgar Martinez, Kenny Lofton, Graig Nettles, Dwight Evans, Luis Tiant, Buddy Bell, Willie Randolph.

Hall of Famers with a career WAR just below 65: Andre Dawson and Dave Winfield.

Which camp does Beltran seem most similar to? It's the second one, right? The "Yeah, he was a very good player, but he was never The Guy" kind of player (except for that wondrous 2004 postseason). Each of the guys in the first group were at one time regarded as the best player at their best position (except Sutton, but he won 300 games). Has that ever been said of Beltran? The players in the second group were (A) underrated during their careers, and (B) achieved value from less-heralded components of the game like defense or walks.

Beltran fits into the all-around player category like Alomar or Sandberg or Dawson did, but has just two top-10 MVP finishes (a fourth and a ninth); a .281 career average that won't jump out at voters; won't reach 3,000 hits (he has 2,322) and is digging to get to 400 career home runs (he has 373). The Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor score has Beltran at 70 points. James says if a player is above that mark he has a realistic shot at the Hall. Like Beltre, I'd consider Beltran a Hall of Famer; I'm just not sure how he'll resonate with voters, especially the large number of voters who aren't into advanced metrics or haven't covered the game in years.


SportsNation

Which of these players in their 30s will have the best Hall of Fame case?

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    4%
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    27%
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    38%
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    4%

Discuss (Total votes: 7,603)

3. Chase Utley (Career WAR: 61.5)
Despite a high WAR score and an enormous peak value from 2005 to 2009, when he was second in the majors only to Pujols in cumulative WAR, Utley's Hall chances are very slim because of his mediocre career counting stats. He does score 63 points on the Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor and, at 36, could have a few good years left. But Utley has only 1,569 career hits and the excellent defensive metrics that boost his WAR numbers didn't translate into any Gold Gloves.

4. Mark Buehrle (Career WAR: 58.3)
He's kind of the Don Sutton of this generation -- except that pitchers of this generation don't get as many decisions, so Buehrle, who turns 36 in March, is closing in on 200 wins instead of 300. A look at both pitchers' career numbers through age 35:

Buehrle: 199-152, 3084 IP, 3.81 ERA, 117 ERA+, 58.3 WAR
Sutton: 230-175, 3729 IP, 3.07 ERA, 111 ERA+, 50.8 WAR

Sutton has the lower ERA thanks to pitching in a different era and primarily in a pitcher's ballpark, but he wasn't really any better overall (Buehrle has the better adjusted ERA). Sutton pitched until he was 43 with about a league-average ERA from age 36 on, but he was good enough to win 94 more games. Buehrle is viewed as a compiler so, like Sutton, may have to get 300 wins to get in. Bill James estimates his chances at 6 percent.

5. Tim Hudson (Career WAR: 56.9)
Hudson leads active pitchers with 214 wins, but considering that Kevin Brown got booted after one year on the ballot and Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina haven't received much support -- and all three were better than Hudson at their best -- Hudson's potential case would seem to rest on pitching several more years and getting past 250 wins.


6. CC Sabathia (Career WAR: 54.7)
He looked like a strong candidate a couple of years ago, but injuries and decline have dimmed that likelihood. Sabathia is still young enough, at 34, to bounce back and add to his 208 wins if he can get healthy. His peak performance was higher than Hudson's or Buehrle's, so he'll have a better case than those two if he can string together a few more good seasons.


7. Robinson Cano (Career WAR: 51.5)
Did you realize he's had five consecutive top-six MVP finishes? How many other players have done that? Cano is getting close. He's already at 74 points on the Bill James Monitor and is nearing the career counting stats that are needed for admission to the Hall. He's durable, has been the best player at his position at times and, assuming a normal decline phase for a player of his ability, I'd say he has the best chance of getting to the Hall of Fame of any player on this list.


8. Jason Giambi (Career WAR: 50.8)
I guess he hasn't officially retired yet. Nice career. No shot at Cooperstown.

9. Torii Hunter (Career WAR:50.3)
I'm surprised that his career WAR is that high, but he has lasted a long time, aged well and continued to contribute at the plate, in the field and on the bases. Hunter is not a strong Hall of Fame candidate -- he has only one top-10 MVP finish and only one season with a WAR above 5.0 -- but he has been a valuable player.

10. David Wright (Career WAR: 49.6)
Where have the years gone? Seems like he was a young star only a few seasons ago -- and now he has 11 years in the majors. Despite his inconsistency the past few seasons, Wright has a pretty strong résumé for his age (he's entering his age-32 season). But last year was a big red flag. He needs to bounce back.

11. Mark Teixeira (Career WAR: 48.6)
Three years ago he looked like a strong candidate to get to 500 home runs, but now he's just trying to stay in the league.

12. David Ortiz (Career WAR: 47.7)
His eventual Hall of Fame debate is going to be a fun and heated one. The Edgar Martinez supporters -- assuming Martinez hasn't been elected by then -- will point out that Ortiz's career WAR is well short of Martinez's mark. The Ortiz supporters will point to the home runs (he's at 466), RBIs, clutch hits and World Series rings. The steroid allegations will be tossed around. Others won't vote for Ortiz because he has been a DH. Based on career totals, larger-than-life personality and postseason play, you'd think he'd be a lock, but I have no idea how voters will treat the PED rumors.

13. Joe Mauer (Career WAR: 46.4)
He's in a similar place as Wright. He'll be 32 this season but coming off a 1.5-WAR season. Still, he's a catcher who won three batting titles, an MVP Award and three Gold Gloves. On the other hand, he lacks power numbers and the move to first base may lengthen his career but hurt his Hall of Fame chances.

SportsNation

Which of these players in their 20s will have the best Hall of Fame case?

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    7%
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    18%
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    43%
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Discuss (Total votes: 9,459)

14. Felix Hernandez (Career WAR: 45.7)
Playing on lousy offensive teams has hurt his win total -- he's at 125 overall and has won 15 games in a season only twice -- but he'll get in if he stays healthy. Bill James estimates Hernandez's chance at 300 wins at 26 percent, second-highest among active pitchers to Clayton Kershaw's 31 percent, not that either percentage is very high. As James writes in The 2015 Bill James Handbook, "Sportswriters were saying that 300-game winners were going extinct when this was obviously untrue, if you looked at pitchers' ages and their career wins. It isn't obviously untrue now."

15. Jimmy Rollins (Career WAR: 45.6)
Rollins will be an interesting case. His career WAR suggests that he's not really Hall of Fame-caliber, but he has done a lot of things voters like and he won an MVP Award. He's at 66 points on the Hall of Fame Monitor, which makes him a strong candidate.

(Note: Bobby Abreu played in 2014 but has since retired. He has a career WAR of 59.9 but won't get elected by the BBWAA.)

* * * *

We won't go in-depth into the other guys, but here are the top 10 remaining active candidates listed in order of their Hall of Fame Monitor points and then their career WAR. I'm going to skip relievers, because Joe Nathan and Francisco Rodriguez rate the highest and I don't think the system works for relievers.

1. Matt Holliday, 60 (43.9)
2. (tie) Victor Martinez, 56 (34.4)
Adrian Gonzalez, 56 (38.2)
4. Ryan Braun, 55 (36.0)
5. Ryan Howard, 54 (17.9)
6. (tie) Justin Verlander, 51 (41.4)
Aramis Ramirez, 51 (33.0)
8. (tie) Yadier Molina, 50 (29.4)
Hanley Ramirez, 50 (36.5)
10. Dustin Pedroia, 48 (43.2)

I'm not sure any of these guys are strong candidates right now. Maybe Molina, who will be considered in that Brooks Robinson/Ozzie Smith-category for defense.

Then we have the younger set -- Kershaw, Mike Trout, Madison Bumgarner, Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, Giancarlo Stanton and so on. It's too early to tell on these guys, although Kershaw's career WAR is already over 40. They've certainly all established Hall of Fame potential.

(Hal) McRae was the most aggressive baserunner of the 1970s, a man who left home plate thinking "double" every time he hit the ball. The rule allowing the second base umpire to call a double play if the runner from first leaves the baseline to take out the pivot man is known informally as the McRae Rule. He was probably thrown out on the bases, I would guess, 40 times a season. He took the lessons of the early days of the Big Red Machine, and transmitted them to the Kansas City Royals, becoming the unquestioned clubhouse leader of the team that dominated the division from 1976 through 1985.
-- Bill James, "The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract"


When Bill James wrote that, he didn't have to access to all the detailed historical play-by-play data -- compiled by researchers at Retrosheet and available at websites such as Baseball-Reference.com -- that we have now.

As it turns out, he was a little off on his guess about McRae. McRae did get thrown out a lot, but nothing close to 40 times a season. I don't think any manager would put up with a player who got thrown out once every four games for long. McRae's highest total came in 1978, when he made 18 outs on the bases, including nine at home plate. If you include caught stealing -- I'm not sure if James factored them in, but it doesn't sound like he did -- McRae's total was 26.

Here are McRae's year-by-year totals for outs on the bases during his prime years with the Royals, not including the times he was caught stealing:

1974: 5
1975: 10
1976: 12
1977: 10
1978: 18
1979: 12
1980: 7
1981: 4
1982: 9
1983: 9

So, is 18 a lot? I'll get to that in a moment, but I thought of James' quote about McRae this past season while watching some of Yasiel Puig's baserunning adventures. Like this one.

As it turns out, Puig led the majors with 15 outs on the bases in 2014, according to Baseball-Reference. Puig also got picked off three times, and those don't appear to be part of his outs-on-the-bases total. (He also got picked off/caught stealing a fourth time, which is already accounted for in his caught stealing total. He was just 11-for-18 stealing bases. Really, keeping track of baserunning statistics is somewhat complicated.)

Is Puig the Hal McRae of his generation? Obviously, Puig's aggressive baserunning leads to some positive results, like stretching this single into a double. But are the bases gained worth the bases lost?

* * * *

Obviously, or maybe not so obviously, the worst baserunners are the slowest ones, even if they don't get caught trying to stretch a single into a double or going from first to third on a single. They don't get caught because they never try for the extra base. Billy Butler of the Royals went first-to-third on a single just once in 31 tries in 2014 (the league average was 29 percent) and scored from second on a base hit just once in 10 opportunities. According to a measurement of baserunning from Baseball Info Solutions, Butler's net gain on the bases was minus-31 -- including double plays grounded into. (Baserunning gain is defined as "the total of all the types of extra baserunning advances minus the triple penalty for all the baserunning outs compared with what would be expected based on the MLB averages.") That tied with Alex Avila of the Tigers as the worst total in the majors.

Compare that to Ben Revere of the Phillies, who had the majors' highest net gain in 2014 at plus-54. Some of that is his stolen base value but he went first-to-third successfully eight out of 22 times and second to home 16 out of 24.

The slow guys don't really get called out that often even though they're hurting their team. According to Baseball-Reference's evaluation, Revere's baserunning was valued at 9.4 runs, topping Jose Reyes (9.1) and Dee Gordon (9.0) for most valuable baserunner of 2014. Casey McGehee, who grounded into 31 double plays, tops the worst list at minus-6.8 runs. Butler ranked 11th at minus-4.4 runs. Here is the bottom 10 for 2014:

1. McGehee, -6.8 runs
2. Victor Martinez, -6.4
3. Avila, -6.1
4. Brian McCann, -5.4
5. Alberto Callaspo, -5.1
6. Brayan Pena, -5.1
7. David Ortiz, -5.0
8. Matt Kemp, -4.9
9. Albert Pujols, -4.7
10. Adrian Gonzalez, -4.6

A bunch of slow guys plus one player, Kemp, who isn't regarded as a plodder. Kemp took the extra base 41 percent of the time, right at the league average of 40 percent, but a far cry from the 62 percent rate at which he advanced back in 2011. It's pretty clear that he's lost some of his speed, which is probably one reason his defensive metrics are also horrible. Kemp made nine outs on the bases, was picked off twice, was just 8-for-13 stealing bases and grounded into 21 double plays.

Since 1950 -- the first season for which there is complete play-by-play data -- Baseball-Reference's worst baserunning season belongs to Randy Milligan of the 1991 Orioles, who rated at minus-11.2 runs. That year, Milligan made six outs on the bases, was picked off twice, went 0-for-5 as a base stealer, grounded into 23 double plays and took the extra base just 25 percent of the time. Oddly, he had taken the extra base in 53 percent of his opportunities the year before, so he either lost his "speed" overnight or got injured.

The 10 worst baserunning seasons since 1950:

1. Randy Milligan, 1991 Orioles, -11.2 runs
2. Cecil Fielder, 1993 Tigers, -9.6 runs
3. J.T. Snow, 2000 Giants, -9.4 runs
4. Paul Konerko, 2006 White Sox, -9.3 runs
5. Dave Parker, 1985 Reds, -9.3 runs
6. Magglio Ordonez, 2008 White Sox, -8.7 runs
7. Kenji Johjima, 2007 Mariners, -8.5 runs
8. Harmon Killebrew, 1970 Twins, -8.5 runs
9. Billy Butler, 2010 Royals, -8.1 runs
10. Mike Piazza, 1996 Dodgers, -8.0 runs

No surprises on that list, which includes a bunch of big, slow guys who grounded into a lot of double plays and rarely took the extra base. Fielder took the extra base just 19 percent of the time in 1993, Snow 21 percent in 2000, Johjima just 17 percent in 2007. Parker was a little faster but was 5-for-18 stealing bases.

* * * *

That's one list. What I was really more interested in was the McRae/Puig issue. Is Puig hurting or helping his team on the bases? His net gain in 2014 was minus-12 bases, and that's despite grounding into just seven double plays. Puig was perhaps a little more cautious on the bases in 2014, as his extra-base advancement percentage fell from 58 in 2013 to 47. Now, that net gain isn't factoring in singles that were stretched into doubles, or doubles into triples, which is why measuring baserunning can be difficult (although Baseball Info Solutions does track this, as well).

McRae, for example, did hit a lot of doubles, twice leading his league and ranking in the top five six other times. How many of those were obtained by sheer hustle? Still, Baseball-Reference rates McRae as a negative baserunner for his career.

As it turns out, 18 outs on the bases is a lot ... but only the second-highest total in a season since 1950. In 2004, Chone Figgins of the Angels made 20 outs on the bases: five at first base, four at second, four at third and seven at home. He also got picked off once, which isn't included in his 13 caught stealings. Figgins did steal 34 bases that year and had an extra-base advancement rate of 62 percent; still, his overall baserunning value that year comes out to zero runs. All the good stuff was cancelled out by the additional outs.

Most outs on the bases since 1950:

1. Chone Figgins, 2004: 20
2. Hal McRae, 1978: 18
3. Carl Yastrzemski, 1963: 17
4. Yonder Alonso, 2012: 17
5. Dick Allen, 1965: 16
6. Pete Rose, 1977: 16
7. Vince Coleman, 1986: 16
8. Albert Pujols, 2012: 16

Then a bunch of guys at 15, including Puig in 2014.

That was the only year McRae led the league in outs on the bases. In a fun twist, his son Brian had the most outs on the bases in 1993.

Rose deserves special mention here. He led the majors in outs on the bases in 1977, 1980 and 1981. He was old by then, and apparently in denial that he had lost a step or three. In 1977, he was also thrown out at home plate 11 times, the highest single-season total since 1980.

And honorable mention for worst baserunner: Harold Reynolds, a player from the Mariners of my youth. Reynolds was pretty fast. He led the American League in 1987 with 60 stolen bases -- but he was caught stealing 20 times. He made 13 outs on the bases, including seven at home plate. He was also picked off 10 times, seven of which weren't included in the caught stealing total. Reynolds led the league in steals but his overall baserunning value was minus-3 runs.

He was even worse the next season, when he was just 35-for-64 stealing bases, made seven outs on the bases (four at home) and got picked off seven times. His baserunning value was minus-7 runs.

Is Puig the worst baserunner of all time? No. Does he make a few too many mental mistakes on the bases and hurt his team? Yes. But perhaps his future as a network analyst is secure.
Interesting little trade here: The Angels trade reliever Kevin Jepsen to the Rays for outfielder Matt Joyce, a trade conceived in part with the news that Tampa Bay closer Jake McGee had surgery on his elbow and will start the season on the disabled list.

For the Rays, they add Jepsen, coming off his best year, and also clear Joyce's estimated $5 million salary from their payroll. Joyce's numbers have fallen each season since he made the All-Star team in 2011 with a big first half and he hit .254/.349/.383 in 2014. Still, he posted a .365 OBP against right-handers and general manager Jerry Dipoto suggested Joyce will be the team's primary designated hitter in 2015. More likely, he makes for a good platoon with young slugger C.J. Cron.

But Joyce also serves as an insurance policy for Josh Hamilton. The team lacked another left-handed hitting outfielder behind Hamilton and Kole Calhoun, so if Hamilton is injured, Joyce can move into a left field platoon with Collin Cowgill.

It's a small deal but it adds to the Angels' depth and should help make up for some of the offense lost with the trade of Howie Kendrick.

For Tampa, the McGee injury is big news as the power lefty has posted a 2.61 ERA over the past three seasons, including a 1.89 mark in 2014 in a career-high 71 innings. He had Tommy John surgery while in the minors so while this surgery was arthroscopic, it has to make the Rays more than a little nervous. Minus Joyce, the Rays probably line up with Kevin Kiermaier, Desmond Jennings and Wil Myers in the outfield, with David DeJesus and Brandon Guyer serving as the backups and DHs.
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:

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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?!?!?!?

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