SweetSpot: Los Angeles Dodgers

You made it to the final division of our non-roster camp invitees previews. Congrats! And, remember, some of these guys may play an important role at some point during the season. In case you missed 'em, here are the AL East, AL Central, AL West, NL East and NL Central.

DiamondbacksArizona Diamondbacks

Considering that the catching situation is a mess, with only Tuffy Gosewisch and Rule 5 pick Oscar Hernandez on the 40-man roster, the D-backs invited a bunch of veteran catchers to camp, including Gerald Laird, Matt Pagnozzi and Jordan Pacheco. None of them are good solutions. ... You can't be surprised that Tony La Russa would extend an invite to Nick Punto. ... Ben Francisco was a decent platoon outfielder at one point, but now he's 33 and coming off a .693 OPS in the Atlantic League. Even for non-roster material, that looks pretty desperate. ... Yoan Lopez is the 22-year-old Cuban right-hander the Diamondbacks signed for $8.25 million. ... Archie Bradley, Braden Shipley and Aaron Blair give Arizona fans hope for the future. All three ranked in Keith Law's top 100 prospects -- Shipley at No. 19, Bradley at No. 21 and Blair at No. 37 -- and could reach the majors this year.


RockiesColorado Rockies

Reliever John Axford has the best shot to make the club, although he's never rediscovered the magic of 2011, when he saved 46 games for the Brewers. ... Rafael Betancourt has a career 3.08 ERA with the Rockies over five seasons, which is pretty impressive. He had Tommy John surgery in 2013 and pitched a few games in the minors in 2014. ... Jair Jurrjens was an All-Star in 2011, but he's been injured and ineffective since. ... According to Baseball-Reference, John Lannan has made over $12 million in his big league career. ... Lefty Yohan Flande started 10 games for Colorado in 2014 and went 0-6. Considering the Rockies have used 26 different starters over the past two seasons, Colorado fans probably haven't seen the last of him. ... Jon Gray was the third overall pick in 2013 and shot up the prospect lists after a dominant professional debut. But 2014 was less sterling; he had a 3.91 ERA at Double-A Tulsa. ... Omar Quintanilla spent parts of five seasons (2005-09) with the Rockies, but it's not exactly like bringing back Larry Walker or Todd Helton.


DodgersLos Angeles Dodgers

Corey Seager ranked fifth on Keith Law's top 100 prospects and will get a long look in spring training; he's a possible midseason call-up. A shortstop in the minors, Seager will probably play some third base in camp. ... Erik Bedard is Triple-A insurance if Brett Anderson or Brandon McCarthy get injured, which they often do. ... The injury to Kenley Jansen may open up a spot for David Aardsma or Sergio Santos, former closers who haven't been able to stay healthy. ... Julio Urias is just 18, but the left-hander is so advanced it's not out of the question that he'll pitch in the majors this season. ... Shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena signed out of Cuba last year and appeared in 22 games for the Dodgers, hitting .195. He's actually set to make $22 million over the next four seasons, but the Dodgers removed him from the 40-man roster, knowing no team would claim him because of the contract.



PadresSan Diego Padres

Good to see that Jose Valverde will be in camp somewhere. ... Right-hander Matt Wisler is in line to be one of the first starters called up from Triple-A. ... Last we saw Scott Elbert was when Don Mattingly brought him in during a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning of Game 3 of the NLDS, even though he'd pitched only 4.1 innings during the regular season. The series was tied 1-1. Elbert promptly gave up a double, a sacrifice and then a two-run home run to Kolten Wong. Only one of the key moments of the entire season. ... Former outfielder Jason Lane is now a pitcher. He actually started one game for the Padres last season and allowed one run in six innings. ... Brett Wallace was once the key component (who went to Oakland) in the Matt Holliday trade with St. Louis. He spent parts of four seasons with the Astros, the last in 2013.


GiantsSan Francisco Giants

Brandon Hicks played a lot of second base last year and hit .162. He did, however, hit a big home run off Clayton Kershaw. ... Justin Maxwell is Triple-A outfield insurance, a guy who would fill in against left-handed pitching. ... Kyle Crick is allegedly the team's top prospect, but he walked 61 batters in 90 innings in Double-A and looks like a future reliever to me. ... Clayton Blackburn, on the other hand, lacks Crick's raw stuff but posted excellent numbers in Double-A. ... Brett Bochy is the son of the manager. He did appear in three games for the Giants but is your typical nondescript right-handed Triple-A reliever.

Pitchers helped by new catchers

February, 18, 2015
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Everybody's talking about pitch framing these days. Last week on Grantland, Ben Lindbergh had an interesting piece on the art of framing that detailed his internship with the Yankees several years ago and the internal discussion of catching Jorge Posada versus Jose Molina. Posada was a poor receiver, Molina a superb one. Ben also discussed framing with Tigers manager Brad Ausmus -- one of the best in his days -- and pointed out that while statistical analysts at the time criticized Ausmus for continuing to get playing time despite his poor bat, we now have tools that can better estimate the value of a good pitch-framing catcher.

Those studies examine pitch data and location to arrive at a runs saved value. For example, the researchers will assign a value for framing a 1-1 pitch that would normally be called a ball. Hitters have dramatically different expected results based on a 2-1 count versus a 1-2 count. Multiply those various scenarios times thousands of pitches received over a full season for a full-time catcher and you can arrive at an estimated total of runs saved.

There is some disagreement on how many runs are actually saved, with the high being about 40 runs over a season for the best framers. Others argue that it's not that high. Certainly, major league teams aren't paying huge dollars yet for catchers who can frame at that level, otherwise Russell Martin may have received a $164 million contract instead of $82 million and Jonathan Lucroy would be in line to become the game's highest-paid player.

But teams with an analytical bent are certainly making decisions based on a catcher's ability to frame pitchers. Look at the offseason moves from some of the teams most recognized for front offices that emphasize analytics:

Dodgers: Acquired Yasmani Grandal, a better framer than A.J. Ellis.

Cubs: Acquired Miguel Montero, who led the majors in runs saved in 2014 via framing, according to StatCorner.com, which has the only publicly available rating of framing that I'm aware of. He replaces Welington Castillo, who rated second worst in the majors. Signed David Ross as well.

Astros: Acquired Hank Conger, who rated the best on a per-game basis.

Rays: With Molina out of the picture, they traded Ryan Hanigan (generally regarded as an above-average framer) but acquired Rene Rivera, who ranked fifth overall on StatCorner's list for 2014.

Pirates: They lost Martin as a free agent but quickly traded for Francisco Cervelli, who has rated well.

It's no coincidence these teams went after these catchers. They regard framing as an important skill. (This isn't anything new, of course; there's a reason a guy like Ausmus played forever. Teams have always emphasized good defensive catchers, much more than the analysts did. In a sense, the analysts are only now catching up to the old-school beliefs, albeit with an attempt to accurately assess the value of framing.)

With that in mind, let's look at some pitchers who may benefit from a new catcher.

Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays: Martin replaces Dioner Navarro, who did not rate well in 2014, as the Jays' starter. Hutchison tends to throw his fastball up in the zone, but Martin could really help his slider on that low outside corner against right-handed batter. Stroman already displayed pretty good command as a rookie; he's a good bet to have a good sophomore season as Martin gets him a few more called strikes.

Jon Lester, Cubs: Well, all Cubs pitchers. Lester changed his approach a bit last year -- more cutters, fewer changeups -- but also wasn't pitching to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who usually rates poorly as a framer. Expect another strong season from him with help from Montero. Ditto for Jake Arrieta.

Zack Greinke, Dodgers: Greinke doesn't walk many batters, but his rate of called strikes on takes was actually less than the MLB average -- which is a little surprising given his command. That could be by design but Grandal should be an asset here for Greinke and ... well, it's scary to think Clayton Kershaw can get much better.

Rick Porcello, Tigers: He goes from Alex Avila, who didn't rate well in 2014 (although was better in 2013), to Christian Vazquez, who rated well in a smaller sample size as a rookie, and Hanigan.

Brad Peacock, Astros: Jason Castro actually rated decently last year, although not as well in the past. If Conger ends up catching regularly, it could help Peacock curb some of his control issues (4.8 walks per nine), as well as help Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh maintain their 2014 breakout performances.

J.A. Happ, Mariners: He moves from Navarro to Mike Zunino, No. 2 on StatCorner's list for 2014.

Mind you, these gains may not be huge. If a good catching tandem saves 40 runs at the max level, a 200-inning pitcher may only be getting five or six runs "saved" per year. But every little bit counts and maybe there are ripple effects (more confidence to throw a particular pitch, for example) that can't be measured.

Ranking the teams: 6 through 1

February, 13, 2015
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video

It's Day 5, and we're down to the top six teams. I've written nearly 15,000 words on these pre-spring training power rankings, about one-tenth the length of a decent novel. Thanks for reading.

Team rankings: Nos. 30-25
Team rankings: Nos. 24-19
Team rankings: Nos. 18-13
Team rankings: Nos. 12-7

Mariners6. Seattle Mariners

Big offseason moves: Signed DH/OF Nelson Cruz; acquired OF Seth Smith from the Padres for RHP Brandon Maurer; acquired OF Justin Ruggiano from the Cubs for RHP Matt Brazis; traded OF Michael Saunders to the Blue Jays for LHP J.A. Happ; signed DH/2B Rickie Weeks; lost 1B Justin Smoak and RHP Chris Young to free agency.

Most intriguing player: The spotlight is on Cruz, coming off a big 40-homer season with the Orioles. The Mariners were tied for 28th in the majors in home runs by right-handed batters and next-to-last in the majors in wOBA against left-handed pitchers, so they were desperate for right-handed power. Cruz spent a lot of time at Safeco Field while with the Rangers and his career OPS there is .749 (.234/.309/.440). Uh-oh.

Due for a better year: I have an ongoing debate with some fellow Mariners fans about Brad Miller. I think he's going to be better. They believe he can't hit or field. In reality, Miller and Chris Taylor make for a perfect platoon (although Taylor has hit righties better throughout his minor league career). However it shakes out, I expect the Mariners to get better results from shortstop, although I wonder: Has a team ever won a pennant platooning shortstops?

Due for a worse year: Cruz. Or Fernando Rodney. The arrow is fun, but everything leading up to the arrow makes Mariners fans very nervous.

I'm just the messenger: OK, center field. Austin Jackson came over from the Tigers at the trade deadline and was immediately infected with a severe case of Safecoitis and suddenly lost the ability to hit. Jackson hit .256/.308/.347 with the Tigers and slumped to .229/.267/.260 with the Mariners, with only six extra-base hits in 223 at-bats. Even though he's only 28, Jackson's problem may not be fixable; in a league with more hard-throwers than ever, he struggles against fastballs. His isolated power against fastballs has declined to a nonexistent .073 from .103 in 2013 and .220 in 2012. And it's not as if his defense makes up for the lack of offense. His defensive runs saved totals have dropped from plus-29 in 2011 to plus-5 in 2012 to plus-3 in 2013 to zero last season. The backup plan? The familiar names of Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez have been invited to spring training.

SportsNation

Which team wins the AL West?

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Discuss (Total votes: 23,885)

The final word: The Mariners fare very favorably in the projection systems. FanGraphs has them as the best team in the American League and third in baseball behind the Nationals and Dodgers. Baseball Prospectus has them as the No. 3 team in the AL. These aren't strong predictions -- 89 and 87 wins, respectively -- but there is talent here and the Mariners are coming off a strong 87-win season. They've addressed the right-handed issue with Cruz, Ruggiano and Weeks, giving manager Lloyd McClendon more flexibility with his lineup and platoons. The team is heavily dependent on Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, so an injury to any of the three would be devastating. The bullpen, wonderfully handled a season ago by McClendon, should be a strength once again. It has been 14 years since the Mariners made the postseason. It's time.

Prediction: 88-74


Cardinals5. St. Louis Cardinals

Big offseason moves: Acquired RF Jason Heyward and RHP Jordan Walden from the Braves for RHP Shelby Miller and RHP Tyrell Jenkins; signed 1B Mark Reynolds and RHP Matt Belisle; lost RHPs Pat Neshek and Justin Masterson to free agency.

Most intriguing player: Heyward was one of my favorite transactions of the winter, a Gold Glove right fielder -- and Gold Glove in the Roberto Clemente sense, not Jay Buhner. Heyward will bring improved production to right field, where the Cardinals had the worst wOBA in the majors. Maybe Heyward's not the 30-homer guy once projected of him, but he has hit 27 before and should hit more than the 11 he totaled in 2014.

Due for a better year: Closer Trevor Rosenthal fought his control all season, walking 5.4 batters per nine innings compared to 2.4 in 2013. He went 45-for-51 in save chances but also had a 2-6 record. The fastball is still top shelf and he should provide more consistent ninth-inning work.

Due for a worse year: Adam Wainwright went 20-9 with a career-best 2.38 ERA but had minor elbow surgery to trim some cartilage. He's expected to be fine, but you never know.

I'm just the messenger: The Cardinals have done a nice job of blending in some youth with the likes of Heyward, Matt Adams and Kolten Wong, but they're still relying on 30-somethings Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta, not to mention Wainwright. Molina and Holliday slipped a bit last year, and Peralta will be hard-pressed to repeat his season. There's enough age here that the potential for a collapse is possible. We're so used to the Cardinals winning that we just expect them to keep winning.

The final word: Of course, I'm not predicting that to happen. The addition of Heyward gives them a solid lineup from one through eight with the potential for a better bench than they've had the past two years. Yes, you have to worry a little bit about the health of Wainwright and a lot about the health of Michael Wacha, but the rotation is deep enough to counter the loss of either guy. The Cardinals should return to the postseason for a fifth straight season.

Prediction: 88-74



Indians4. Cleveland Indians

Big offseason moves: Acquired 1B/OF Brandon Moss from the A's for 2B Joe Wendle; signed RHP Gavin Floyd.

Most intriguing player: Corey Kluber beat out Felix Hernandez for the American League Cy Young Award, becoming one of the least likely winners in the award's history. Simple question: Can he do it again?

Due for a better year: Jason Kipnis was an All-Star in 2013 and finished 11th in the MVP voting but suffered an oblique injury in April and played through it all season. He also hurt his finger working out in December and had surgery but is expected to be ready for spring training. After creating about 101 runs in 2013 he slipped to 53 in 2014. Expect a nice bounce back.

Due for a worse year: Michael Brantley hit .317/.385/.506 and finished third in the MVP voting. While I'm believing in most of the power uptick, he was a .277 hitter entering the season. He should be good again, but I would expect something closer to a 5-WAR season than a 7-WAR one.

I'm just the messenger: The Indians did not have a good defensive outfield in 2014, ranking 29th in the majors in defensive runs saved at minus-37. They ranked last in ultimate zone rating at minus-39.9 runs, so different metrics agree that they were lousy in the outfield. Have they fixed the problem? Not necessarily. The biggest culprit was David Murphy at minus-17 DRS; Michael Bourn was rated at minus-6 and Brantley at minus-3. Of the various subs, all rated below average except Tyler Holt. Bourn and Brantley are slated to start again in center and left, but right field is open. Considering Murphy didn't hit either, it seems unlikely he wins the job on a regular basis. Brandon Moss can play out there and he's rated at plus-3 runs over the past three seasons, but he's also coming off hip surgery. Cleveland's best bet is for better performances from Bourn and Brantley but don't be surprised if Holt ends up getting a lot of time in the outfield.

The final word: Picking the Indians to win the Central isn't really a radical pick -- they won 85 games last season and 92 in 2013. The offense should be above average, especially if Kipnis and Moss are healthy. And while the defense is questionable (last in the majors in overall DRS), the young rotation has come together. Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar and T.J. House should be an excellent five-man group, with depth from Floyd and Zach McAllister. Second-half stats aren't always predictive, but the Indians had the best rotation ERA in the AL after the All-Star break. Jose Ramirez or rookie Francisco Lindor will be an upgrade defensively at shortstop. Brantley, Carlos Santana, Kipnis and Yan Gomes are right in their peak years. Go support your team, Cleveland.

Prediction: 90-72



Pirates3. Pittsburgh Pirates

Big offseason moves: Lost C Russell Martin and RHP Edinson Volquez to free agency; re-signed LHP Francisco Liriano; signed RHP A.J. Burnett; traded 1B Ike Davis to the A's; acquired C Francisco Cervelli from the Yankees for LHP Justin Wilson; acquired LHP Antonio Bastardo from the Phillies; signed Korean SS Jung Ho Kang; traded OF Travis Snider to the Orioles; acquired INF Sean Rodriguez from the Rays.

Most intriguing player: Gerrit Cole now has 41 major league starts with a 3.45 ERA. It's time for the former No. 1 overall pick to make the leap from mid-rotation starter to a No. 2 guy -- and maybe an ace who throws 200-plus innings with a sub-3.00 ERA. The stuff is there, the fastball is there and I think he'll have a breakout season.

SportsNation

Which team wins the NL Central?

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Due for a better year: After tying for the NL lead in home runs in 2013, not much went right for Pedro Alvarez in 2014. He had throwing problems at third base and dropped off to 18 home runs before his season ended in late August because of a stress reaction in his foot. He moves to first base and should challenge 30-plus home runs.

Due for a worse year: Relievers Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Jared Hughes all posted ERAs under 2.00. Melancon's peripherals support his ERA, but Watson (2.69 FIP) and Hughes (3.99 FIP) -- who went a combined 17-7 -- may have difficulty preventing runs at the same level again. Expect at least a little regression from this trio. The Pirates will have to replace 122 innings in the bullpen from Wilson and Jeanmar Gomez as well. Maybe late-season callup John Holdzkom and his upper-90s fastball plays a prominent role.

I'm just the messenger: The Pirates ranked last in FanGraphs WAR for starting pitchers in 2014. Was the rotation really that bad? Well, the Pirates ranked 10th in strikeout percentage and 14th in walk percentage. But there is some method to all of this. The Pirates' starters did lead the majors in ground ball percentage; of course, the Pirates also shift a lot and do a good job pitching to the shift. Not surprisingly, they allowed a .222 average on grounders, third best in the NL. Sure, an ace would be nice, but the Pirates also have done just fine the past two seasons without one.

The final word: The Pirates have played the Cardinals tough the past two seasons -- three wins behind in 2013, two last year. Pittsburgh scored 682 runs last season (48 more than 2013), and it wouldn't surprise me if they score even more in 2015. They've got a deep lineup. The loss of Martin is a big blow, not only for his .400 OBP in 2014 but his defense, though Cervelli is regarded as a strong defensive catcher. The outfield of MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco may be the best all-around group in the game, Neil Walker is an underrated second baseman and Kang could challenge Jordy Mercer for the starting job. They have talent, depth, defense, a smart front office and a smart field staff. They finally leap over St. Louis.

Prediction: 91-71



Dodgers2. Los Angeles Dodgers

Big offseason moves: Hired Andrew Friedman as president of baseball operations and Farhan Zaidi as general manager; traded OF Matt Kemp and C Tim Federowicz to the Padres for C Yasmani Grandal, RHP Joe Wieland and RHP Zach Eflin; lost SS Hanley Ramirez to free agency; signed RHP Brandon McCarthy and LHP Brett Anderson; traded 2B Dee Gordon, RHP Dan Haren and SS Miguel Rojas to the Marlins for LHP Andrew Heaney, RHP Chris Hatcher, 2B Enrique Hernandez and C Austin Barnes; traded Heaney to the Angels for 2B Howie Kendrick; acquired SS Jimmy Rollins from the Phillies; acquired RHP Joel Peralta and LHP Adam Liberatore from the Rays for RHPs Juan Dominguez and Greg Harris.

Most intriguing player: Yasiel Puig, Year 3. Is this the year he remains consistent, cleans up the mistakes, keeps the power going and becomes an MVP candidate? Or does he settle in as a very good player? Either way, we'll all be watching.

Due for a better year: Clayton Kershaw ... in the postseason. Hard to top 21-3, 1.77 with Cy Young and MVP trophies. In just 27 starts.

Due for a worse year: Juan Uribe hit .300 for the first time since he was a rookie with the Rockies in 2001 and posted a career-high .337 OBP.

I'm just the messenger: The Dodgers spent a lot of money to bring in McCarthy and Anderson as their fourth and fifth starters. They're convinced McCarthy is capable of another 30-start, 200-inning season even though that was the first time he has reached either mark in his career (previous highs: 25 starts, 170 innings). Anderson is still a talented lefty when he gets out on the mound, but he has made only 32 starts the past four seasons. There isn't a lot of depth here. Joe Wieland and Juan Nicasio could be next in line. Erik Bedard has been invited to spring training. If Kershaw or Zack Greinke suffer a long-term injury, the rotation could have issues.

The final word: It's not often you see a 94-win team get such a big makeover, but the new regime is rebuilding on the fly. The Dodgers had to clear space in the outfield for rookie center fielder Joc Pederson and they had to get better defensively up the middle. They'll have a new middle infield -- a much better defensive one with Rollins and Kendrick. In fact, all of the Dodgers' moves were done in part to improve the defense, including catcher, where Grandal is rated as a good framer. A better pitcher than analyst, Greinke didn't give rave reviews to the moves. This is a good team, one that should coast to a division title.

Prediction: 93-69


Nationals1. Washington Nationals

Big offseason moves: Signed RHP Max Scherzer for a lot of money; lost 1B Adam LaRoche, RHP Rafael Soriano and 2B Asdrubal Cabrera to free agency; traded OF Steven Souza to the Rays in a three-way deal that netted RHP Joe Ross and SS Trea Turner; acquired INF Yunel Escobar from the A's for RHP Tyler Clippard; signed RHP Casey Janssen.

Most intriguing player: Bryce Harper. He's a grizzled veteran of 22 now. We saw in the postseason what he can do when he's healthy and everything is clicking. I think it clicks this year.

Due for a better year: Ryan Zimmerman played only 61 games and hit five home runs. He moves over to first base and hopefully stays on the field for 140 games.

Due for a worse year: Tanner Roark went 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA and actually edged Jordan Zimmermann for the team lead in WAR among pitchers. His reward? A likely trip to the bullpen with the signing of Scherzer. He was a good bet to regress a bit anyway (3.49 FIP).

SportsNation

Which team wins the AL West?

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Discuss (Total votes: 23,885)

I'm just the messenger: The one area of concern is the bullpen. I didn't like the Clippard trade on the heels of letting Soriano walk as a free agent, even if they did need a second baseman. Clippard has been a hugely vital setup guy the past five years and now you worry about the depth behind closer Drew Storen. And then in the postseason, you worry about Storen.

The final word: No surprise here. The Nationals have the potential for a historically dominant rotation. The lineup has no holes and one clear MVP candidate in Anthony Rendon and possibly another in Harper if he matures. Scherzer gets to go to the league where pitchers hit and with a better defense behind him than he had in Detroit; he could see his ERA drop half a run or more. A 100-win season is possible.

Prediction: 98-64
There seems to be a split decision on the San Diego Padres. While just about everyone is giving a thumbs-up to the James Shields signing, there isn't a consensus view on how good the Padres will be in 2015. The analytical community is worried about the team's defense and infield while the other viewpoint sees the big names added to a lineup that failed to score runs last year and projects the Padres as a contender for the NL West crown. Everybody agrees that the Padres are certainly more interesting than they've been in years.

Just remember this: You don't win anything in the offseason. Remember when the Marlins signed Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell and won the offseason? Remember when the Blue Jays traded for Reyes, Buehrle, R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson and won the offseason? Wasn't everybody excited about the Rangers last offseason, when they acquired Prince Fielder and signed Shin-Soo Choo?

Here's what they're saying ...

Dan Szymborski, ESPN Insider:
Shields is 33, but people shouldn't consider pitcher age the same way they do with a hitter. While hitters tend to have a definable aging curve, pitcher aging generally looks like long, fairly consistent slope down from when they first have success in the majors, peppered with the possible cliffs due to the higher injury rate. Until a pitcher starts pushing 40, a good pitcher on the wrong side of 30 isn't inherently any riskier than a good pitcher on the right side.

The ZiPS projection system, which factors in this inherent risk, values Shields at $84 million in San Diego over the next four seasons, with his projected WAR only barely dipping below three in his final guaranteed season. Even in the possible fifth -- the team reportedly has a club option -- Shields still projects as a safely above-average starter who can fit in as a No. 2 or 3 in the rotation, something that has significant value.
Joe Sheehan, from his newsletter:
Assuming they don't find a way to play Maybin or Venable, the Padres' defense projects to be awful. Matt Kemp hasn't been a plus defender in five years, and he was terrible as a center fielder the last three. He moves to left in San Diego. Justin Upton is an average right fielder who is a bit error-prone. Wil Myers was a below-average right fielder across one full season of playing time in Tampa Bay. He's athletic and he's just 24 years old, but nothing in his track record suggests he has the speed to be an asset in center. It's not impossible to have success with a bad defensive outfield, but you have to strike out a lot of batters to do it. The 2014 Tigers had the second-worst defensive outfield in the game by UZR, but they struck out everyone and scored a bunch of runs. They were also the exception in a group that included the White Sox, Astros, Twins and Indians.

The infield isn't much better; Jedd Gyorko is a bad second baseman, Middlebrooks is a below-average third baseman and Solarte is no better. The outfield at least brings some pop; it's hard to see what this group of players, which also includes Barmes or Amarista and perennial disappointment Yonder Alonso, is contributing. Even new addition Derek Norris is more bat than glove behind the plate. The Padres outfield might be the worst defensive unit in the game, but the Padres infield might well be the worst overall unit. They need Gyorko to bounce back at least to his 2013 line (113 OPS+, 23 HR) and to get some kind of improvement from the players at the corners.

The Padres have generated headlines, added payroll and certainly added hitters with upside. Despite all this, they will have serious problems fielding a good team on Opening Day because of their talent alignment.
Craig Calcaterra, Hardball Talk:
Is it a better team? Almost certainly. Even if Matt Kemp continues to have injury issues and Justin Upton remains the good-but-not-as-good-as-people-thought-he’d-one-day-be player from his early days in Arizona, the offense is improved. If Kemp looks like he did in the second half last year and Wil Myers rebounds to his rookie form, all bets are off. Shields provides them with a near-certain 200+ above average and, occasionally, excellent innings. The team is much stronger than it’s been.

That doesn’t mean Padres fans should start setting aside money for playoff ticket deposits yet, of course. There are a lot of uncertainties here. The new hitters conquering Petco Park is not a given, even if they are healthy. Shields has a lot of miles on the odometer. The Padres were just a 77-win team last year and, as history has shown, making 15-20 game improvements in a single season is not an easy trick. Ask the 2013 Blue Jays and 2012 Marlins how adding a bunch of big pieces in a single offseason can go.

But there is definitely reason for excitement in San Diego. For one thing, all of these additions came at a relatively limited cost. The Padres did not give up any of their top prospects to acquire the talent they got and, even if you include Shields’ deal, none of the financial outlays for the new players are particularly crazy.
Jeff Sanders, San Diego Union-Tribune:
Need a reason to pinch yourself this morning?

A skeptic could give you 27,469 reasons to approach the Padres’ James Shields deal with pessimism. We’re focusing, instead, on five reasons to get on board with General Manager A.J. Preller’s jaw-dropping offseason.

Matt Kemp. Justin Upton. Wil Myers. Derek Norris.

And now Shields?

In adding to a strength, the Padres have not only fortified their rotation for Preller’s all-in push for 2015, they’ve put an exclamation point on ownership’s statement this offseason:

These aren’t your father’s Padres.

Really, these Padres are wholly unrecognizable to anyone who’s followed this beleaguered franchise through a history of salary dumping, skimping and bad deals.
Phil Rogers, MLB.com:
Well, that settles it. If there was any question about the most improved team of the Hot Stove season, it was answered when James Shields agreed to his deal with the Padres.

That A.J. Preller knows how to throw a party. San Diego's new general manager started one when he acquired a whole new outfield at the Winter Meetings, and he just kept going and going, and take a look at the National League West now.
No longer is the conversation about the Giants and the Dodgers. The question is whether the vastly improved Padres can rush past both of them. Talent in, talent out, there's no question that San Diego is the most improved team in baseball.
Dave Cameron, FanGraphs:
Like with the Royals acquisition of Shields, I think there was probably a better path forward for the Padres than taking Kemp’s contract, trading for a rent-an-Upton, and hoping that outfield defense doesn’t matter before signing an aging pitcher whose strikeout rate is quickly going the wrong way. But the 2014 Padres were completely irrelevant in a way that the 2015 Padres have little chance to be, and we can’t ignore that side of the equation either. I think this experiment is likely to fail, but we have to capture the magnitude of the value of success to fully evaluate the decision to go for it.

Even if it’s 80-85 percent likely that the Padres don’t make the playoffs this year, the rewards from simply being relevant are perhaps high enough to justify the risks. This is baseball’s equivalent of throwing a 50 yard bomb in football; you don’t expect it to work that often, but you still run high risk/high reward plays, since the value of one or two catches outweighs the cost of seven or eight incompletions.
Buster Olney, ESPN Insider:
The Padres’ tidal wave of moves has advanced them from unwatchable to a team that we’ll all be paying attention to in 2015, because of the stature of the players involved. Matt Kemp, MVP runner-up. Two-time All-Star Justin Upton. All-Star catcher Derek Norris. And now All-Star James Shields, who started games in the World Series a few months ago.

In comparison to all of that, the moves made by the Dodgers -- the defending NL West champions, a team the Padres are chasing -- have been unsexy, about functionality. It’s as if the Padres have rolled out the swimsuit issue of MLB’s offseason, while L.A. has been improving the printing process.

The Dodgers have invested in roster infrastructure, in depth. L.A. won 94 games last season, overcoming problems with their defense and production in some corners of their roster. The Dodgers were a dynamic offensive team in the second half of last season, leading the NL in runs after the All-Star break, and it’s very possible that with Kemp and Hanley Ramirez gone, Don Mattingly’s lineup won’t generate as many homers.

But L.A. has a chance for improvement in many other ways. As written here before, the Dodgers appear to have upgraded significantly at shortstop and second base with Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick, and whatever combination Mattingly uses in center field and right field on a daily basis will likely be better than the defensive duo of Yasiel Puig in center and Kemp in right field, whether it be Joc Pederson in center and Puig in right or Chris Heisey and Puig.


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

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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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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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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.
So last week Yasiel Puig said he considered the Cardinals to be the Dodgers' primary rival, not the Giants. That got some attention. This led Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow to call Puig "young and dumb." Krukow added that this will help the Giants refocus in 2015.

I mean ... OK. I would hope the Giants don't need to get motivated by some random quote from Yasiel Puig. Wouldn't you expect more from the defending World Series champs?

Anyway, as Craig Calcaterra pointed out in that link above, remember that Puig has played two seasons in the majors, and both of them ended in the playoffs against the Cardinals. Isn't it kind of natural for Puig to look at the Cardinals as the team the Dodgers have to beat?

After all, the Dodgers finished six games ahead of the Giants in 2014. They finished 16 games ahead of the Giants in 2013. There's no reason for Puig to assume the Giants are actually a threat to the Dodgers' winning the NL West ... because they haven't been a threat.

As for the Giants-Dodgers history, Puig grew up in Cuba, not California. I doubt he knows much about the history of the rivalry. Heck, you think Buster Posey can give you a lecture on the history of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry? Plus, Puig has had two major brawls in his career (that I remember), both with the Diamondbacks, so isn't it also natural that he may have more antagonistic feelings toward them than the Giants? (He has had a couple of incidents with Madison Bumgarner, one last September after Bumgarner hit him in the foot and one earlier in the season when Bumgarner barked at Puig after Puig flipped his bat on a home run.)

Anyway, piling on Puig is easy. Calling him young and dumb, however, doesn't seem fair.

But here's the larger picture: I can't wait for things to get going, especially that first Giants-Dodgers showdown. Even if Puig doesn't think they're rivals.
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.



Fine print, my friends, read the fine print. I only considered teams that won three World Series in a five-year span, so the 1975-76 Reds weren't included.

Obviously, the three-in-five scenario was used to include the Giants and also to limit the number of teams in the discussion. By doing that, we eliminated some teams that certainly deserve the label of dynasty:
  • 1991-2005 Braves: They won 14 consecutive division titles -- not including the 1994 strike year, when the Expos led when the season was canceled -- and reached five World Series in a nine-year span. They also played in nine of the 10 NLCS between 1991 and 2001, an absolutely remarkable run. But they won just one World Series, in 1995.
  • 1989-1993 Blue Jays: Toronto won four division titles in five years and then back-to-back World Series title in 1992 and 1993.
  • 1988-1992 A's: Oakland won four division titles in five years and won 103 and 104 games in 1988 and 1990 -- but lost the World Series both those years, sandwiched around a championship in 1989.
  • 1970-1976 Reds: The Reds won five division titles in seven years (and won 98 games one year they didn't win the division). They lost World Series in 1970 and 1972 before winning back-to-back in 1975 and 1976. The '76 squad had the most balanced offense of all time, leading the NL in runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, steals and walks (and also in strikeouts, interestingly enough).
  • 1966-1971 Orioles: The O's won the World Series in 1966 and 1970 but lost in 1969 and 1971. Really, the Orioles' dominance stretched even longer. From 1964-83, they won 90-plus games 16 times in 20 seasons and two of the seasons they didn't win 90 were strike-shortened seasons.
  • 1964-1968 Cardinals: Appeared in three World Series in five years but lost the third one in 1968.
  • 1959-1966 Dodgers: Advanced to four World Series in eight years and won three, but not three in five years. These were the Koufax/Drysdale Dodgers. Before that, of course, the Dodgers had a long run of success in the late '40s and '50s (the 1959 club was kind of a hangover from that dynasty; it was actually one of the weakest World Series winners ever).
  • 1928-1932 A's: The 1929-31 A's were among baseball's great teams, winning three straight AL pennants with records of 104-46, 102-52 and 107-45. They won two World Series but lost in 1931 in seven games.
  • 1921-1928 Yankees: The Bronx Bombers of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig won back-to-back World Series in 1927 and 1928 -- sweeping both times -- but lost in 1926. Before Gehrig arrived, they played in three in a row from 1921-23, winning the third one.
  • 1921-1924 Giants: Won four consecutive NL pennants and two World Series.
  • 1906-1910 Cubs: Captured four NL pennants in five years and won two World Series. The 1906 team went 116-36 but lost to the "Hitless Wonder" White Sox in one of the biggest upsets in World Series history.


All these franchises had great runs of five years (or longer). And there's no doubt that, at their best, these teams arguably were better within their era than any of the recent Giants squads. But they didn't win three titles in five years.

It's all on how you want to weigh things. Do World Series titles trump all? The sport is different now than when pennant winners advanced directly to the World Series. Does having to go through three rounds (plus a wild-card game in 2014) make the Giants' titles more impressive? Maybe. You certainly have to give them credit for that 34-14 record in the postseason. On the other hand, maybe not. The Giants also have benefited from the new system; they were a wild-card team this year and they've also played weaker World Series opponents since the best team from the other league doesn't always advance.

Keep in mind that we also have more parity now. It's more difficult to build those 100-win teams that were more frequent in decades past -- let alone to sustain them.

The great thing about this: There's no "correct" answer. So we can keep arguing. All I know, as Giants fans like to point out, is that they have three rings to wear.
Bud Selig thinks so. Sunday evening he spoke at the St. Louis chapter of the Baseball Writers Association and said "I visit all 30 cities and you are the best baseball city."

Talk about going out with a bang. Now, proclaiming St. Louis as the best baseball city isn't exactly a reach, although it will certainly tweak those who like to mock the whole "best fans in baseball" idea that Cardinals fans love to proclaim about themselves.

But Cardinals fans are pretty justified in that proclamation:
  • The Cardinals ranked second in the majors in attendance in 2014 behind only the Dodgers, averaging 43,712 fans per game.
  • They had the highest local TV ratings in 2014, edging out the Tigers and Pirates.
  • They've averaged 40,000-plus fans every year except one since 2005 and have ranked in the top four in attendance in the National League every year except one since 1996. (Oddly, that one year was 2004, when the team won 105 games and finished sixth in the NL in attendance.
  • All that despite playing in a metro market with a smaller population than San Diego or Tampa Bay.


Of course, the Cardinals have a lot going to keep up fan interest. They've had one losing season in the past 15 years and have made the playoffs 11 times in that span, winning two World Series. The franchise has a long and successful history that has bred generations of baseball fans. That tends to keep the fans coming back to the ballpark, as long as you keep winning.

That doesn't necessarily mean Cardinals fans will blindly support a loser. In the mid-'90s, after a several-season playoff drought and seeing mediocre clubs on the field, the Cardinals ranked sixth, eighth and seventh in the NL in attendance from 1993 to 1995. In the 1970s, a decade without a playoff trip, the Cardinals cracked the top three NL attendance just once.

It's kind of fun to go through the attendance histories of different clubs. The truth is, most clubs see the support for the team ebb and flow with its success. A few notes:

Red Sox: Fenway Park's small size makes direct attendance comparisons problematic as the Red Sox haven't led the AL in attendance since 1975. But they've averaged 30,000-plus every year since 1999 and 20,000-plus every year since 1975 (and nearly every year since 1967). That was really the year Red Sox fandom grew to a new level, when the Impossible Dream team won the AL pennant: In 1966, the team had averaged barely 10,000 fans per game. Of course, like the Cardinals they have put out consistently strong teams ever since 1967, with just eight losing seasons in 48 years.

Yankees: The Yankees have led the AL in attendance the past 12 seasons, although it will be interesting to see if that happens again in the post-Derek Jeter era. What's remarkable is the Yankees never led the AL in attendance from 1996 to 2002, even though they won four World Series titles. In their first title run in that span in 1996 they ranked just seventh in the AL. In 1991 and 1992, when the team was under .500, it ranked 11th in the AL. In the 1980s, the Mets often outdrew the Yankees.

Dodgers: The Dodgers have had the highest NL figure seven times since 2004 and led the majors many times since moving to Los Angeles. In 1978, they become the first team to draw 3 million fans in a season.

Cubs: The idea that the Cubs are the lovable losers and draw no matter what isn't historically true. The Cubs have essentially drawn well ever since the 1984 team came out of nowhere to win the NL East. Prior to that, the Cubs were usually near the bottom in attendance and even finished last in the NL in 1962 and 1966. Still, attendance has fallen about 8,000 per game since 2008 after a string of losing seasons.

Indians: Despite good teams in recent years, including a wild card in 2013, the Indians just haven't drawn well. Coming off that playoff appearance and winning 85 games, Cleveland still finished last in the majors in attendance in 2014. But that wasn't always the case. When they were a powerhouse team in the late '90s, they drew over 39,000-plus every year from 1994 to 2001, leading the majors in 2000.

Orioles: A similar story to Cleveland. The O's ranked first in the AL in attendance each year from 1995 to 1998 but haven't cracked the top five since 2005. Again, a string of losing seasons depleted the fan base and the recent success hasn't yet brought them back (and they may have lost some fans to the Nationals).

Giants: You can't get a Giants ticket these days as the Giants claim a 327-game sellout streak. Baseball wasn't always so successful in San Francisco, however. From 1970 to 1986, they ranked 10th, 10th, 12th (last), 10th, 12th, 12th, 12th, 12th, 4th, 9th, 11th, 8th, 11th, 9th, 11th, 11th and 9th in NL attendance. Yes, Candlestick was often cold and windy but so was the club: It made the playoffs just once (1971) in those years. No wonder the club nearly moved to Toronto in 1976 and to Tampa in 1992 (owner Bob Lurie had agreed to sell the team but the other NL owners vetoed the sale).

SportsNation

Which is the best baseball city?

  •  
    12%
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    3%
  •  
    11%
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    13%
  •  
    61%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,128)

Tigers: Detroit had the second-highest local TV ratings in 2014 and I believe own the longest streak of drawing 1 million fans -- every year since 1965. They've never had the lowest attendance in the AL, even in 2003 when they went 43-119.

Angels: You never hear about the Angels having great fans and yes they play in a big market but they also share it with the popular Dodgers. But they've drawn over 3 million fans the past 12 seasons. Again: They've been a consistent winner/playoff threat.

Brewers: My vote for most underrated fans/baseball city. They've drawn over 31,000-plus each year since 2008, including three seasons over 3 million fans, despite just two playoff trips in that span and a small market.

Anyway, is St. Louis the best baseball city? I'd say St. Louis or Boston. But again, those two clubs and the Yankees have been the most consistently successful franchises over the past 50 years and you can't underestimate how that keeps the fan base coming to the park or watching on TV year after year.

What do you think? Do you agree with Bud?
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?



Buster Olney ranked his top 10 team defenses in his blog post Thursday, which got me thinking about bad defense. I checked Baseball-Reference.com for their list of worst individual fielding seasons and thought it would be fun to look at the bottom 10. Defensive metrics aren't as foolproof as some other numbers, so let's dig deeper into what may have caused these poor ratings. Plus, don't you want to read about the worst defender ever? Make a guess now ...

(Note: Baseball-Reference uses fielding runs below average, which can be drawn from two different sources depending on the year. Since 2002, the site uses defensive runs saved; prior to that, it uses total zone. A third defensive metric that I'll mention in the piece below is ultimate zone rating, available at FanGraphs. It's also interesting that all 10 seasons here occurred since 1990, which is a reflection of more data available to grade defense.)

10. Kirby Puckett, CF, 1993 Twins (minus-29 runs)
This one seems a little odd considering Puckett had won a Gold Glove the previous season. Puckett's defensive metrics don't match up to his reputation -- he won six Gold Gloves -- as Baseball-Reference grades him out as 14 runs below average for his career. By 1993, Puckett was 33 and had put on some weight; it's perhaps instructive that the Twins moved him from center field to right field after the All-Star break. Twenty-eight of those 29 runs below average came as a center fielder, where he made 2.50 plays per nine innings compared to the MLB average of 2.76. The Twins walked the fewest batters in the AL and were in the middle of the pack in strikeouts and home runs allowed but were 13th in hits allowed, so the team defense was pretty bad overall, with Puckett apparently playing a big role. (My recollection of Kirby, as well: He played a deep center field, which allowed him to make those famous leaping catches at the wall; he also may have played deeper as a way to play the high bounces off the Metrodome turf.)

9. Rickie Weeks, 2B, 2012 Brewers (minus-30)
Weeks has never had a good defensive reputation and in 2012 he started 152 games at second base and made just 4.08 plays per nine innings compared to the league-average range factor of 4.77. I'm not sure if he played through an injury or if they used quicksand for infield dirt that year at Miller Park, but in the past five years, the second-lowest range factor for a regular-season second baseman was 4.31 plays per nine innings -- by Weeks in 2011.

8. Nick Castellanos, 3B, 2014 Tigers (minus-30)
Castellanos' range factor was 2.10 per nine innings compared to the MLB average of 2.56, but of course he played on a staff that racked up a lot of strikeouts. Still, that's nearly one fewer play every two games. Baseball Info Solutions categorizes plays as good fielding plays and defensive misplays and Castellanos' total of GFP minus DM + errors ranked second worst among third basemen in 2014. As for his range, BIS graded him particularly weak going to his right. The hope for the Tigers is that Castellanos is young enough to improve, but he needs a lot of improvement just to become league average.

7. Gary Sheffield, 3B, 1993 Padres/Marlins (minus-31)
Nobody will dispute this rating. This was Sheffield's final season as a third baseman and he made 34 errors while fielding .899.

6. Michael Young, SS, 2005 Rangers (minus-32)
This one may be a bit surprising as Young was regarded as a solid shortstop and even won a Gold Glove in 2008. You know what the Rangers thought of that Gold Glove? They moved him to third base the following season. Anyway, Young had come up as a second baseman and moved to shortstop in 2004 and in 2005 he made 4.41 plays per nine innings versus the MLB average of 4.60 (his fielding percentage was about league average). Baseball Info Solutions tracked him with 30 good plays and 39 misplays and it's worth noting that ultimate zone rating had him at minus-23 runs and total zone at minus-31 runs. So all the metrics agreed that he just didn't have much range in this year. Young did seem to improve after that, perhaps with better positioning.

5. Ryan Braun, 3B, 2007 Brewers (minus-32)
This was Braun's rookie season when he came up as a third baseman and he was such a disaster there the Brewers moved him to left field in 2008. Braun fielded just .895, making 26 errors in 112 games, and made .57 fewer plays per nine innings than the average third baseman.

4. Chris Gomez, SS, 1997 Padres (minus-33)
I never thought of Gomez as a bad fielder, but I guess I never really gave all that much thought to Gomez in the first place. Gomez's range factor was actually higher than the MLB average, 4.63 to 4.58, and his fielding percentage was fine, so I'm not quite sure why he rates so poorly. The Padres were third-to-last in the majors in defensive efficiency (percentage of balls in play turned into outs), so a lot of Padres defenders ended up with poor ratings in 1997. The Padres made the playoffs with Gomez playing shortstop in 1996 and 1998, so they apparently didn't think he was awful there.

3. Dante Bichette, LF, 1999 Rockies (minus-34)
This one makes a lot of sense: An old outfielder trying to play in Coors Field. Bichette was fast enough to play a little center field early in his career, but by 1999 was 35 and lumbering. He had poor range -- 1.77 plays per nine innings compared to the 2.00 MLB average -- and also tossed in 13 errors. Even though Bichette hit 34 home runs and knocked in 133 runs, the Rockies traded him after the season.

2. Matt Kemp, CF, 2010 Dodgers (minus-37)
Much like Derek Jeter, there has been a lot of divisiveness over the years about Kemp's defense. Sandwiched around this all-time bad season are two Gold Glove honors in 2009 and 2011.

Let's look at his range factors per nine innings:


Year Kemp MLB
2009 2.53 2.60
2010 2.23 2.59
2011 2.32 2.55


In raw numbers, Kemp played nine fewer innings in 2010, but made 37 fewer putouts. Kemp also had just three assists in 2010 compared to 14 in 2009 and 11 in 2011. Did he deserve those Gold Glove Awards? Probably not. In 2009, he did make a high number of good fielding plays (48), according to Baseball Info Solutions, although that was countered by 33 misplays. Undoubtedly, voters remembered the spectacular plays, but there was nothing in the numbers that suggested Kemp had above-average range and he was making a large number of miscues at the same time. In 2010, his ratio of good fielding plays to misplays fell to 26-28, which combined with poor range gave him minus-37 defensive runs saved. UZR had Kemp at minus-26 runs that year, the worst total it has ever given a center fielder going back to 2002, so by all accounts Kemp was awful.

1. Adam Dunn, 1B/LF/RF, 2009 Nationals (minus-43)
I don't think anyone is going to defend Dunn's defense. He was a huge dude and while his outfield defense wasn't terrible in his first few years, he soon became huge and slow. In 2009 while playing for an awful Nationals team that lost 103 games, Dunn started 83 games in the outfield and 66 at first base. It's no surprise that he rated poorly in the outfield -- minus-20 runs -- but he also rated minus-23 runs at first base in just 540 innings. Was he really that bad? Well, he hadn't played the position much before that and isn't exactly quick to begin with, so it's easy to assume he combined a lack of range with a lack of experience. In left field, he made 1.80 plays per game while teammate Josh Willingham -- hardly known as a plus fielder himself -- made 2.17. Dunn recently confirmed his retirement and I'll miss a guy who had a unique career in major league history. But I probably won't miss his defense.

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.
The recent Hall of Fame elections serve two important purposes. One, it's a chance to recognize the superstars of the recent past and how many memories Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio provided us. But the elections also serve as a reminder to remember those underappreciated players of the past, those who deserved better support in Hall of Fame voting.

So here's my all-time all-underrated team. It skews toward more recent decades, but these are the decades that players have failed to fairly represent in Cooperstown.

C: Ted Simmons (1968-1988)
Stats: .285/.348/.437, 248 HR, 1,389 RBI, 2,472 H
Career WAR: 50.1
Higher WAR than ... Ernie Lombardi, Roy Campanella, Ray Schalk

The Hall of Fame voters and Veterans Committee has drawn its line at Simmons. He ranks 10th in WAR among catchers; seven of the guys ahead of him are Hall of Famers and the other two are Ivan Rodriguez and Mike Piazza. Only Yogi Berra drove in more runs. Simmons was a big name when he played -- he was an eight-time All-Star -- but a couple of factors worked against his historical standing: Johnny Bench was his contemporary and Simmons loses that comparison; he wasn't regarded as a strong defensive catcher while active although his career caught stealing rate of 34 percent is actually league average.

Runner-up: Bill Freehan. Perennial All-Star for the Tigers in the '60s.

1B: John Olerud (1989-2005)
Stats: .295/.398/.465, 255 HR, 1,230 RBI, 2,239 H
Career WAR: 58.0
Higher WAR than ... Bill Terry, Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda

For all the talk this past week about Fred McGriff and Carlos Delgado, Olerud was a better all-around player than either of those two, at least according to the advanced metrics. But first basemen are judged by power, and Olerud's 20 home runs per season and 255 career home runs didn't match up to the power numbers some of his contemporaries in the steroids era put up.

He made up for that with consistently high on-base percentages (six times over .400) and excellent defense (Baseball-Reference has him with the third-most fielding runs ever at first base, behind only Albert Pujols and Keith Hernandez). Olerud also had two monster MVP-caliber seasons with the Blue Jays in 1993 when he hit .363 and won the batting title and with the Mets in 1998 when he hit .354.

Runner-up: Will Clark. He could have hung around a few more years to build a stronger Hall of Fame case -- he hit .319/.418/.546 in his final season -- but instead retired. Of course, he was a pretty big star while active. But, like Olerud, he got booted off the Hall of Fame ballot after one year.

2B: Lou Whitaker (1977-1995)
Stats: .276/.363/.426, 244 HR, 1,084 RBI, 2,369 H
Career WAR: 74.9
Higher WAR than ... Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio

Whitaker's one-and-done status on the Hall of Fame ballot was pretty surprising considering his career numbers are very similar to Sandberg's, his 1980s National League counterpart who was elected on his third try. Whitaker didn't hit quite as many home runs as Sandberg but had a higher on-base percentage and was no slouch on defense, winning three Gold Gloves.

Whitaker has the highest career WAR of any player not in the Hall of Fame who isn't still on the ballot, not yet eligible, didn't bet on baseball and didn't play in the 1800s. So why the lack of respect? Well, the things Whitaker did are those things that make most of these players underrated: He drew walks, he played good defense, he had medium-range power (although pretty good for a second baseman).

Sandberg, by comparison, was certainly flashier than Whitaker -- more home runs, more steals, a better defensive reputation. And to be fair, Sandberg at his peak was better than Whitaker at his peak. Whitaker then had some very strong seasons at the end of his career when he was used as a platoon player, but nobody realized how good he still was because (A) he was being platooned, which held down some of his counting numbers; (B) the Tigers were terrible by then; and (C) Alomar had arrived and was the widely acclaimed new best second baseman in baseball.

Whitaker has yet to appear on a Veterans Committee ballot. I suspect he'll remain a hard sell even then, since his consistent excellence is easy to overlook.

Runner-up: Bobby Grich. Put up excellent offensive numbers in the 1970s and early '80s -- walks, medium-range power -- when most middle infielders were inept at the plate. While not completely overlooked while active -- he made six All-Star teams and had two top-10 MVP finishes -- the fact that he didn't hit for a higher average in an era when that's what people paid attention to certainly made him underrated at the time.

3B: Graig Nettles (1967-1988)
Stats: .248/.329/.421, 390 HR, 1,314 RBI, 2,225 H
Career WAR: 68.0
Higher WAR than ... Home Run Baker, Pie Traynor, George Kell

As with Simmons, Nettles ranks 10th all time at his position in career WAR. Nettles was a superb defensive third baseman who played a long time and hit some home runs. Voters have always had trouble figuring out what to do with third basemen. Ron Santo had to get in the Hall of Fame through the back door. It will be interesting what happens with Adrian Beltre and Scott Rolen, both in the top 10 in career WAR among third basemen, when they become eligible.

Nettles never had a chance at the Hall of Fame. Brooks Robinson had already secured the legacy of best defensive third baseman of all time, so it didn't matter how good Nettles was. He was actually Robinson's equal as an offensive player, just with a different scope: more power but a lower average. I'm not sure I'd advocate Nettles as a Hall of Famer -- he'd have lined up behind Rolen, Beltre and maybe Ken Boyer -- but he certainly had some Hall of Fame-caliber seasons.

Runner-up: Boyer. He peaked at 25 percent on the BBWAA ballot. He was on the recent Veterans Committee ballot but received fewer than three of the 16 votes -- fewer than Jim Kaat or Maury Wills, even though Boyer was a better player than either one.

[+] EnlargeAlan Trammell
USA TODAY Sports Alan Trammell played 20 years in the majors and had a career .352 on base percentage.
SS: Alan Trammell (1977-1996)
Stats: .285/.352/.415, 185 HR, 1,003 RBI, 2,365 H
Career WAR: 70.4
Higher WAR than ... Barry Larkin, Joe Cronin, Luis Aparicio

Whitaker's long-time teammate is probably the stronger Hall of Fame candidate due to a higher peak level of play. I touched a bit on Trammell here. Trammell is eighth all time in WAR among shortstops, sandwiched between Derek Jeter and Larkin. The comparison to Larkin explains why Trammell is underrated: He had nearly exact career numbers but Larkin was elected to the Hall of Fame his third time on the ballot while Trammell has languished for 14 years. The weird thing is while Cal Ripken was certainly the star American League shortstop of the 1980s, it's not like Trammell wasn't recognized as one of the best players in the game at the time. But as soon as he retired, people forgot about him.

Runner-up: Arky Vaughan. He's actually in the Hall of Fame but this 1930s star remains one of the most unknown great players in the game's history.

LF: Jose Cruz Sr. (1970-1988)
Stats: .284/.354/.420, 165 HR, 1,077 RBI, 2,251 H
Career WAR: 54.2
Higher WAR than ... Ralph Kiner, Jim Rice, Lou Brock

Yes, Tim Raines could go here as well, but it wouldn't surprise me to see him finally get elected to Cooperstown in his final two years on the ballot. As for Cruz, it took a while for his career to get going -- he didn't have his breakout season until he was 28 -- but he was a tremendous player for a long time with the Astros. It was impossible to hit home runs in the Astrodome back then -- one year, Cruz hit 12 home runs on the road and none at home -- so Cruz didn't have big power numbers. But he hit .300 six times, drew walks and stole as many as 44 bases in a season (1977). He had three top-eight MVP votes, but if he'd come up in the 1990s instead of the '70s and played in a different park, he could have been a 3,000-hit guy.

Runner-up: Minnie Minoso. He should be in the Hall of Fame.

CF: Kenny Lofton (1991-2007)
Stats: .299/.372/.423, 622 SB, 1,528 R, 2,428 H
Career WAR: 68.2
Higher WAR than ... Duke Snider, Richie Ashburn, Kirby Puckett

Here's something that may shock you: Among players who played at least 50 percent of their career games in center field since 1901, Lofton ranks seventh in all-time WAR, behind only the legends -- Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr. and Joe DiMaggio. But he was one-and-done on the Hall of Fame ballot. I'd say that makes him underrated.

Runner-up: Bernie Williams? Hard for a Yankee to be underrated, but the crowded ballot bumped him off on his second try in 2013. Borderline Hall of Famer at best, but usually players on great teams have a better shot at getting elected.

RF: Dwight Evans (1972-1991)
Stats: .272/.370/.470, 385 HR, 1,384 RBI, 2,446 H
Career WAR: 66.9
Higher WAR than ... Andre Dawson, Dave Winfield, Vladimir Guerrero

And certainly higher than Rice, his Red Sox teammate. He was better in his 30s than in his 20s and, like others here, was good at some of the unrecognized things like getting on base and drawing walks. He hit more home runs than Rice and his OBP is 18 points higher even though Rice hit .298 versus Evans' .272. Would love to see him get on a Veterans Committee ballot one of these years.

Runner-up: Bobby Bonds. Not as good as his son, Barry, and not quite a Hall of Famer, but his career WAR is in the top 20 all time among right fielders.

P: Kevin Brown (1986-2005)
Stats: 211-144, 3.28 ERA, 3,256 IP, 3,079 H, 2,397 SO
Career WAR: 68.5
Higher WAR than ... Jim Palmer, Carl Hubbell, John Smoltz

But he didn't spend three years as a closer! From 1996 through 2001, in the midst of the steroid era, Brown posted a 2.53 ERA. And he had a 2.39 ERA in 2003. And a 21-win season in 1992. He certainly deserved to get more of a hearing from the voters than one ballot.

Runner-up: Rick Reuschel. Played for a lot of bad and mediocre Cubs teams in the '70s, otherwise would have won more than 214 games.
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.

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