SweetSpot: New York Yankees

And we're off! Spring training is here, pitchers and catchers will be doing pitching and catching kind of activities, and we're all breathlessly waiting to see who has reported in the best shape of his life.

One of my favorite things to do on the first day of spring training is see which players not on a 40-man roster have been invited to spring training. This includes a team's top prospects, some extra catchers to help with the catching activities, veterans on their last gasp, guys returning from injuries, and maybe another player or two who actually has a chance at making the team.

Let's look at some of the interesting non-roster names, starting with the American League East.

OriolesBaltimore Orioles

Mark Hendrickson is 40 years old, last pitched in the majors in 2011, and has a 5.03 career ERA. So why is here? He's become a sidearmer and posted a 1.54 ERA in 52.2 innings in the Atlantic League in 2014. ... J.P. Arencibia hit .189 over the past two seasons and draws a walk about once every full moon. Even if Matt Wieters can't catch at the start of the season, the O's have Caleb Joseph and Steve Clevenger, so Arencibia probably won't make the team (O's fans should hope not). But he'll probably pop up somewhere in the majors at some point because that's what catchers do. ... Nolan Reimold and Chris Parmelee were once prospects, or prospects who were once supposed to be something. I don't see room for them on the 25-man roster, but they could be good Triple-A fodder.

Red SoxBoston Red Sox

Some fun names here. Remember Bryan LaHair, an All-Star for the Cubs in 2012 when he hit a few home runs in April? He played in Japan in 2013 and in the minors last year. ... Jemile Weeks hit .303 as a rookie for the A's in 2011 and then stopped hitting. He did post a .392 OBP in Triple-A last year, but there's already a crowded picture here for position players. ... Mitchell Boggs had some decent seasons in relief for the Cardinals before getting injured, but he's way down the bullpen depth chart. ... The two to watch closely are minor league lefties Henry Owens and Brian Johnson; each has a good chance of surfacing in the majors at some point.

YankeesNew York Yankees

The Yankees primarily stayed away from the retread veteran route, although Scott Baker (5.47 ERA for the Rangers) provides some insurance rotation. ... Lefty reliever Jacob Lindgren, a second-round pick last June out of Mississippi State, could crack the bullpen -- thanks to his power stuff, which produced 48 strikeouts in 24.2 minor league innings. ... Andrew Bailey was a two-time All-Star. We last saw him in the majors with Boston in 2013.

RaysTampa Bay Rays

Juan Francisco hit 16 home runs with the Blue Jays in a part-time role in 2014, but his best position is DH and the Rays traded for John Jaso to fill the left-handed platoon side there. ... Outfielder Boog Powell -- no relation to the former Oriole -- is worth mentioning just to get his name listed here. He came over from the A's and hit .343/.451/.435 in Class A but has no power and was just 16-for-31 as a base stealer, so I'm not sure if he's fast either. ... Brandon Gomes or Ronald Belisario could earn a spot in the bullpen.

Blue JaysToronto Blue Jays

Ramon Santiago, Andy Dirks, Ezequiel Carrera: It's like a Detroit Tigers reunion. Dirks or Carrera could make the squad, as the Jays list just four outfielders on their 40-man roster and there's always the chance they could send Dalton Pompey to Triple-A to start the season. ... Fan favorite Munenori Kawasaki is back to battle for the utility infielder slot. ... Daric Barton will always have that year (2010) when he led the AL in walks. ... Devon Travis came over from the Tigers and could be the regular second baseman by midseason. ... Veteran lefty Jeff Francis keeps getting chances but hasn't had an ERA under 4.80 since 2007.
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I know, I know. With Jason Giambi it's hard to ignore the guy once looked like this and then, a few years later, looked like this.

That Sports Illustrated cover was dated July 17, 2000, and heralded "The New Face of Baseball: How the Home Run Has Changed the Game."

Ahh, more innocent times.

Five years later, in the same magazine, Gary Smith was writing less nostalgic about an era we were still trying to understand.
"When that magical summer of '98 ended I went home, put all these photographs into an album, etched captions beneath them so that one day someone else would understand the significance of what I'd seen and felt ... then sealed my moments beneath protective plastic so they'd never be smudged. ...

"My eyes shift to the other faces in the snapshot. Another summer full of moments will soon begin, the biggest home run record of all ripe to fall. What will we do, each of us, now that we know?"


What do we do? Here's what baseball did. It forgave. Maybe not Barry Bonds. He was unable to find a job after posting a .480 OBP in his final season. Nobody wanted to give work to a guy with a .480 OBP? But the others? Mark McGwire has coached for the Cardinals and now the Dodgers. Jason Giambi, the new face of baseball, was so beloved and admired in clubhouses that he found work until he was 43 years old and hitting under .200. The Colorado Rockies interviewed him for their managerial opening two offseasons ago, when he was still an active player. After Giambi announced his retirement on Monday, Indians president Mark Shapiro tweeted, "An honor to have had G in the Tribe. A generous, wise spirit with so much to offer. True pro."

Many of the writers, of course, haven't moved on. Bonds, McGwire, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa have been voted down on their Hall of Fame candidacies.

Giambi isn't a Hall of Fame candidate on their level (50.8 career WAR, similar to guys like Fred McGriff and Lance Berkman), but he sort of stands alongside that group as the face of a generation. From 1999 to 2002, he had a four-year run that rivaled that of just about any first baseman in baseball history, hitting .326/.452/.612 while averaging 39 home runs, 126 RBIs and 120 walks per season. He won the 2000 MVP Award -- that was the year he hit .396 in September with 13 home runs and 32 RBIs as he carried the A's to the AL West division title. The next year, he finished second in the MVP voting.

He signed with the Yankees in 2002, testified before the BALCO grand jury in December 2003, admitting to using steroids, and then had some more good years -- although his 2004 season was derailed by a mysterious intestinal parasite and you wonder if he'd been healthy that year and played in the postseason whether Boston's magic ride to a World Series title would have happened.

When he testified before the grand jury, he was asked whether he'd still be using steroids if not for the investigation. "I didn't actually notice a huge difference, to be honest with you," Giambi said. "I, of course, got injured this year. So that's not a fair assessment, either. Maybe, yes, no, I don’t know."

The truth is that Giambi's numbers did decline once baseball starting testing for PEDs, whether it was due to the fact he quit using or the natural decline of age. In 2003, he hit 41 home runs and led the American League in walks for the third time, but hit just .250. Then came the lost 2004 season. In 2005, he hit .271 with 32 home runs, but again led the AL in walks and on-base percentage. Giambi was a smart hitter. He never seemed to get enough credit for that. That's why the Rockies and Indians kept him around at the end of his career, as a mentor for younger players. Even when he was no longer hitting .300, he was still producing runs with his power and on-base ability. He hit 37 home runs and drove in 113 runs in 2006. He played two more years in New York after that; the Yankees never won a World Series with him -- they won the year after he left -- and I don't think they'll be retiring his uniform number.

I view Giambi as a product of his generation. He was allowed to get away with it. The road down from my house is a two-lane back road that winds through trees. There are no sidewalks, not much room on the sides. People walk their dogs or ride bikes along it. The speed limit is 35, but nobody drives 35. They go 50, 60 mph -- there are no speed bumps, no policing. They can get away with it, so they do.

That was the Giambi generation. You can choose to hate and throw the memories away and pretend it never existed. I'm sure A's fans will choose to remember that wet, greased hair that we'd see whenever he removed his helmet after a home run, the high fives in the dugout, that monster September in 2000. The good memories.
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It's the second day of our pre-spring training power rankings. Did I mention that parity makes it really difficult to do these rankings with a high degree of confidence? I did? OK, let's move on and say this about this group of teams: All of these teams have playoff potential; I think they're all significantly stronger than Monday's six teams (Nos. 30-25). But all of them have what I believe will be a fatal flaw.

So read on, debate, argue and be glad you're not shoveling snow at the moment.

Team rankings: Nos. 30-25

Reds24. Cincinnati Reds

Big offseason moves: Acquired OF Marlon Byrd from the Phillies for RHP Ben Lively; traded RHP Mat Latos to the Marlins for RHP Anthony DeSclafani; traded RHP Alfredo Simon to the Tigers for SS Eugenio Suarez and RHP Jonathan Crawford; signed LHP Paul Maholm; signed RHP Burke Badenhop; signed C Devin Mesoraco to a four-year, $28 million extension.

Most intriguing player: Johnny Cueto had a monster 2014, going 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA while leading the National League in innings and strikeouts and the majors in lowest opponents' batting average. But the right-hander, 29 later this month, is a free agent after 2015 and if the Reds don't sign him he becomes possible trade bait during the season depending on the Reds' status in the pennant race.

Due for a better year: Jay Bruce had knee surgery in early May, returned less than three weeks later and proceeded to hit .217/.281/.373. His value declined from 4.9 WAR to minus-1.1 WAR. The knee was presumably a factor as his fly ball rate dropped 10 percent from the year before, resulting in a big power decline. But keep in mind that the 2013 WAR figure was a career high, propped up by a high defensive rating that he has otherwise not matched in recent seasons.

Due for a worse year: The Reds traded Simon, the converted reliever who had a big first half and made the All-Star team and then predictably declined in the second half. He would have been the easy choice here, but let's go with catcher Mesoraco, who had a breakout season as he slugged .534. The list of catchers who have had a season at the plate at his level is short and odds are we see some regression.

SportsNation

How many games do the Reds win?

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    18%
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    32%
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    28%
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    14%
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    8%

Discuss (Total votes: 11,961)

I'm just the messenger: It's easy to envision how the Reds climb back into the NL Central race: Bruce bounces back, Joey Votto stays healthy and returns to being one of baseball's premier hitters, Byrd adds better production to left field, Billy Hamilton improves at the plate, Cueto comes close to his 2014 numbers and Homer Bailey makes 34 starts instead of 23. That could all happen and maybe we see a fun season in Cincy as the Reds host the All-Star Game and then make it to the postseason. But that's a lot of ifs. For every guy who may improve, there's a Cueto, Mesoraco or Todd Frazier who may decline a bit. And while trading Simon was a good idea, you still have to replace the 15 wins and 196 innings he provided last season.

The final word: The Reds have two major issues: rotation depth and getting on base. Only the two biggest keys to winning baseball games. Outside of Votto, nobody on this team draws many walks; the Reds were 13th in the NL in walks and 14th in on-base percentage. Certainly, getting 150 games from Votto will help but they still have too many low-OBP guys such as Hamilton, Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart to run out a consistent offense. If Mesoraco and Frazier decline, the offense will still be one of the worst in the league. The rotation is now reliant on a comeback season from Tony Cingrani and a fifth starter to emerge from a group of mediocre candidates -- and that's aside from Cueto and Bailey both staying healthy.

Prediction: 75-87


White Sox23. Chicago White Sox

Big offseason moves: Acquired RHP Jeff Samardzija from the A's for IF Marcus Semien, C Josh Phegley and two others; signed OF Melky Cabrera; signed 1B/DH Adam LaRoche; signed RHP David Robertson; signed LHP Zach Duke; released OF Dayan Viciedo; signed 2B Gordon Beckham.

Most intriguing player: Jose Abreu exceeded expectations by hitting .317 with 36 home runs, leading the AL in slugging percentage and finishing fourth in the MVP voting. What will he do for an encore? The ZiPS projection has him at .292/.371/.544.

Due for a better year: Right fielder Avisail Garcia played just 46 games with the White Sox after he tore his labrum early in the season. I'm not sure he's much better than the .244/.305/.413 line from 2014, but he'll get a chance to play every day and, considering he doesn't turn 24 until June, is young enough to make a leap forward.

Due for a worse year: Abreu is an obvious candidate, especially after his power declined dramatically in the second half, but some of that was a fatigue factor in his first season in the majors. I wouldn't bet against him. LaRoche is coming off a good season with the Nationals, hitting 26 home runs and drawing 82 walks, but he's 35, moving to a new league and wasn't as good in 2013.

I'm just the messenger: I feel like I'm raining a bit on the parade here as the White Sox had an intriguing offseason in making five major acquisitions without giving up any significant contributors from the 2014 squad. They've fortified a shaky bullpen with Robertson and Duke, who changed his slot and had a big season with the Brewers. Samardzija gives them a strong 1-2-3 with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. Still ... there are holes at catcher, third base, second base and the back of the rotation with John Danks and Hector Noesi; I see OBP issues in the lineup and rotation issues unless rookie Carlos Rodon, the third pick in last June's draft, is ready for a quick rise to the majors.

The final word: There are a lot of things to like here, especially if Sale can stay healthy and post another Cy Young-caliber season. Maybe somebody emerges from the second base candidates to have a good season. Maybe Tyler Flowers surprises and has a good season. Maybe Noesi puts everything together and wins 14 games. I'm taking the under .500 due to what I perceive as a lack of quality depth on the back end of the roster. But it wouldn't shock me if everything came together and the White Sox won 90 games.

Prediction: 77-85

Brewers22. Milwaukee Brewers

Big offseason moves: Traded RHP Yovani Gallardo to the Rangers for SS Luis Sardinas, RHP Corey Knebel and RHP Marcos Diplan; acquired 1B Adam Lind from the Blue Jays for RHP Marco Estrada; signed LHP Neal Cotts; lost LHP Zach Duke, RHP Francisco Rodriguez and 1B/3B Mark Reynolds to free agency; Bernie Brewer engaged in offseason fight with Los Angeles Kings mascot Bailey to see who could get the most Twitter followers. Yes, it was a slow offseason for the most part.

Most intriguing player: After battling a thumb injury in 2013 and 2014, plus a PED suspension in 2013, Ryan Braun had surgery in late September to help deaden the nerves around his thumb, which should help him grip the bat without pain. The Brewers are hopeful the surgery worked but until Braun starts playing every day in spring training, we won't know for sure.

Due for a better year: Besides Braun, shortstop Jean Segura has too much ability to hit .246/.289/.326 again, a line that included just 25 extra-base hits in 513 at-bats. If Segura doesn't return to his first-half form of 2013, Sardinas is a defensive whiz who could end up stealing playing time as the Brewers await for the arrival of top prospect Orlando Arcia.

Due for a worse year: If the Brewers had hung on to win the NL Central, Jonathan Lucroy may have won MVP honors. He finished fourth in the voting after hitting .301 with a league-leading 53 doubles, nearly as many walks as strikeouts, all while playing 153 games, 133 as the starting catcher. His OPS fell from .879 in the first half to .780, which you can credit to a hot first half or second-half fatigue. Either way, it's asking a lot for him to put up another 6.7-WAR season.

I'm just the messenger: The Brewers led the division for 150 days in 2014 before collapsing in September with a 9-17 record and finishing eight games behind the Cardinals. Overall, the Brewers faded to 29-37 in the second half primarily due to the cratering of the offense, which scored just 3.4 runs per game. But the Brewers addressed that in the offseason only by bringing in Lind, and will instead rely on Braun's comeback, Segura's improvement and Aramis Ramirez, who turns 37 in June.

The final word: The Brewers look like a classic .500 team to me -- no glaring holes but no outstanding strengths. Lucroy joined Carlos Gomez as a star and maybe Braun returns to being one, but the rotation clearly lacks a No. 1 or 2-type ace unless Mike Fiers can somehow replicate that 2.13 ERA he put up in 71 innings. Minus Gallardo there is now little depth behind No. 5 starter Jimmy Nelson and that's a concern. Like the Reds, it's easy to envision how things can go Milwaukee's way but I don't think the rotation is strong enough to get them into the postseason.

Prediction: 78-84



Yankees21. New York Yankees

Big offseason moves: Signed LHP Andrew Miller; re-signed free agent 3B Chase Headley and 2B/SS Stephen Drew; acquired SS Didi Gregorius from the Diamondbacks in a three-way trade for RHP Shane Greene; acquired RHP Nathan Eovaldi and 1B/OF Garrett Jones from the Marlins for IF Martin Prado and RHP David Phelps; acquired RHP David Carpenter from the Braves; acquired LHP Justin Wilson from the Pirates for C Francisco Cervelli; re-signed OF Chris Young; re-signed LHP Chris Capuano; lost RHPs David Robertson and Brandon McCarthy via free agency; traded RHP Shawn Kelley; RHP Hiroki Kuroda signed with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp; Derek Jeter retired; Alex Rodriguez was reinstated. Whew.

Most intriguing player: You won't hear me say too often that a relief pitcher is a team's most intriguing player, but I'm fascinated to see what happens with Dellin Betances in 2015. Major league hitters are the best in the world and he treated them like that Little Leaguer who is already shaving pitching against kids who haven't hit a growth spurt. Batters hit .149 against him and he struck out 135 in 90 innings. Does he take over from Robertson as closer and, maybe more important, does Joe Girardi run him out there for 90 innings again in an era when relievers usually top out around 70?

Due for a better year: Rodriguez? CC Sabathia? Carlos Beltran? Take your old, injured veteran and project better numbers. And then go buy a lottery ticket.

Due for a worse year: Did Miller turn the corner in 2014? After averaging 5.3 walks per nine innings over his career, he lowered that to 2.5 while striking out a dominant 14.9 per nine. The Yankees forked over a lot of money to get the big lefty and now he and Betances could make for the best one-two relief punch in the majors if Miller replicates his 2014 success.

SportsNation

Do the Yankees have their first losing record since 1992?

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    51%
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    49%

Discuss (Total votes: 23,123)

I'm just the messenger: Can the Yankees get 90 starts from Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda? Those three combined for just 41 last season, although Tanaka and Pineda pitched some sweet baseball when healthy. All are major health risks, of course, but keep this in mind as well: The Yankees are losing some quality starts from 2014. Kuroda, McCarthy, Greene and Phelps combined for 77 starts and a solid 3.68 ERA. Even if those guys stay healthy they may not be any better than that rate of production.

The final word: The Yankees have been outscored each of the past two years, although they managed to finish over .500 both seasons. While a lot of people are pointing to a healthier rotation and better seasons from some of the veterans as reasons the Yankees will contend this year, I turn that around and say: Who's a good bet to improve? The only thing I'm sure of is the Yankees will have better defense at shortstop. I'm taking the under .500 -- for the first time since 1992.

Prediction: 78-84


Marlins20. Miami Marlins

Big offseason moves: Signed Giancarlo Stanton to a $325 million extension that is heavily backloaded and allows Stanton to opt out after six seasons; acquired 3B Martin Prado and RHP David Phelps from the Yankees for RHP Nathan Eovaldi and 1B/OF Garrett Jones; acquired 2B Dee Gordon, RHP Dan Haren and SS Miguel Rojas from the Dodgers for LHP Andrew Heaney, RHP Chris Hatcher, 2B Enrique Hernandez and C Austin Barnes; acquired RHP Mat Latos from the Reds for RHP Anthony DeSclafani and C Chad Wallach; signed 1B Mike Morse; traded 3B Casey McGehee to the Giants for two minor leaguers; acquired RHP Aaron Crow from the Royals; signed OF Ichiro Suzuki.

Most intriguing player: Stanton. The contract. The power. The comeback from his late-season beaning.

Due for a better year: Christian Yelich. In 2014, he showed the ability to hit for average and take his walks. This year he adds some power.

Due for a worse year: Henderson Alvarez drives analysts crazy because he went 12-7 with a 2.65 ERA despite a strikeout rate that ranked 83rd among 88 qualified starters. Alvarez does get ground balls -- eighth in ground ball rate -- but he also held batters to a .209 average and just one home run with runners in scoring position. Here's betting that ERA climbs over 3.00.

SportsNation

Your prediction for the Marlins?

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    7%
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    25%
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    47%
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    21%

Discuss (Total votes: 11,712)

I'm just the messenger: The Marlins made a lot of moves and acquired some big names ... but did they really do anything but reshuffle the deck chairs? Gordon led the NL in steals and triples but also struggled to get on base in the second half. Haren has stated his preference to pitch for a California team and he hasn't had an ERA under 4.00 since 2011, so is he really an upgrade over Eovaldi? Latos had bone chips removed after 2013, had knee surgery in spring training, had a strained flexor mass in his elbow, eventually made 16 starts but his strikeout rate and velocity were down and then was scratched down the stretch with a bone bruise in his elbow. Going out on a limb, but he's not a good bet to give the Marlins 30 starts.

The final word: OK, I love the outfield: Stanton, Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. Stanton is the oldest of the trio at 25 and all three have All-Star potential. I love Jose Fernandez, but he's not going to be back until late June or so and we don't if he'll be back at full throttle. I think there's a good chance they get very little out of Latos and Haren. The middle infield defense is more flash than substance, at least according to the metrics. The depth is worrisome. Young teams can take big leaps in a hurry but I wonder if the Marlins need another year to consolidate the talent.

Prediction: 79-83


Rays19. Tampa Bay Rays

Big offseason moves: Lost manager Joe Maddon to the Cubs, named Kevin Cash manager; lost general manager Andrew Friedman to the Dodgers, promoted Matthew Silverman to president of baseball operations; traded 2B Ben Zobrist and SS Yunel Escobar to the A's for C/DH John Jaso, minor league SS Daniel Robertson and minor league OF Boog Powell; signed SS Asdrubal Cabrera; acquired OF Steven Souza, C Rene Rivera, RHP Burch Smith and 1B Jake Bauers in a three-way trade for OF Wil Myers, C Ryan Hanigan and two minor leaguers; acquired RHP Kevin Jepsen from the Angels for OF Matt Joyce; acquired RHP Greg Harris and RHP Jose Dominguez from the Dodgers for LHP Adam Liberatore and RHP Joel Peralta; did not get a new ballpark.

Most intriguing player: Drew Smyly came over from the Tigers in the David Price trade and posted a 1.70 ERA in seven starts, allowing just 25 hits in 47.2 innings. He's certainly not that good; that's Clayton Kershaw kind of good. But he did make one minor change after the trade: He threw more fastballs up in the zone. The Rays love high fastballs. So maybe there's something going on here. It certainly makes him intriguing.

Due for a better year: Evan Longoria. He hit .253/.320/.404. Steamer projects .256/.334/.446. ZiPS projects .255/.330/.441. So better. But not a whole lot, top-10 MVP kind of better.

Due for a worse year: Rivera was acquired from the Padres because the Rays emphasize pitch framing in their catchers (see Jose Molina) and Rivera is a very good framer. But he also hit well in 2014, which he had never done before on the major league level. Then again, he'd never played regularly in the majors before, so you never know.

I'm just the messenger: The Rays scored 88 fewer runs than in 2013 ... and traded away their two players with the highest OBPs, Zobrist and Joyce. So ... umm ... that's my message.

The final word: I'll be honest. I wanted to pick the Rays as my surprise team of 2015. Everyone is down on them after their first losing season since 2007. They'd won 90-plus games in five of the previous six seasons, traded David Price, lost Joe Maddon and their big addition on offense is a 26-year-old rookie outfielder (granted, Souza did have monster numbers in Triple-A). The reason I wanted to pick them is the rotation has huge, huge potential. We talked about Smyly. Alex Cobb is close to a No. 1 if he can pitch 200 innings. Chris Archer had a solid first full season and I love his arm. Jake Odorizzi had a 4.13 ERA as a rookie but showed potential with 174 K's in 167 innings. Maybe they get Matt Moore back at some point. So the rotation could be terrific. In the end, though, I'm going with the more boring prediction. I may be wrong.

Prediction: 79-83

Who's better: Yankees or Mets?

February, 3, 2015
Feb 3
10:40
AM ET
We're going to continue our little series of positional comparisons by looking at another crosstown rivalry. The Mets were 79-83 in 2014, but they outscored their opponents by 11 runs. They added Michael Cuddyer as a free agent and did not add a shortstop, much to the consternation of Mets fans. The Yankees were 84-78, but they were outscored by their opponents by 31 runs. They did acquire Didi Gregorius from the Diamondbacks to replace Derek Jeter, but for the most part they're relying on the same cast of veterans.

Of course, Alex Rodriguez returns ... much to the consternation of Yankees fans.

Let's go position by position in the battle for the hearts of Big Apple baseball fans.

Catcher: Brian McCann versus Travis d'Arnaud

McCann had a disappointing season in 2014 after signing with the Yankees, hitting 23 home runs but posting a crummy .286 OBP. McCann used to have more variance to his offensive game, twice hitting .300 with the Braves, drawing as many 74 walks and hitting as many as 42 doubles. Now it's pretty much homer or nothing as he rarely hits doubles and had the lowest walk rate of his career. He hit just .215 against fastballs in 2014, a sign of a guy with a slow bat who can still pop a long one when he guesses correctly. I like d'Arnaud's potential with the bat although he needs to improve all facets of his defensive game.

Edge: Mets. McCann's veteran leadership and pitch framing are important, but I don't see much hope for a turnaround at the plate from him.

First base: Mark Teixeira versus Lucas Duda

Teixeira is 35 and has been getting worse for years. There's no reason to expect better numbers in 2015. Duda got to play regularly for the first time in his career last season and popped 30 home runs. He's still useless against lefties (.180/.264/.252) and if the Mets are smart they'll platoon Cuddyer with him, which also helps the club by getting Cuddyer out of the outfield.

Edge: Mets. I don't know if Duda hits 30 homers again, but I think Duda plus Cuddyer is an edge over the fading Tex.

Second base: Stephen Drew versus Daniel Murphy

Murphy isn't as good as Mets fans seem to think -- he's averaged 1.7 WAR the past three seasons, hardly a star even if he did make the All-Star team in 2014 -- as he lacks range and doesn't get on base as much as you'd like from a guy who hits close to .300. Drew had a good season playing shortstop for the Red Sox in 2013, but got jilted in the free-agent market last year. He limped back to Boston in June and proceeded to hit .162, the fifth-lowest average ever for a player with 300 plate appearances. For some reason, the Yankees wanted him back. He'll do better, but he's 32 and I have no idea how much better.

Edge: Mets.

Third base: Chase Headley versus David Wright

As with Drew, the Yankees re-signed Headley after trading for him during the 2014 season. He had the big season in 2012 with the Padres when he led the National League in RBIs but that looks more and more like a fluke after he's averaged .246/.338/.387 the past two seasons. Getting out of Petco Park could help his power numbers but some of his value is tied to his above-average defense and, at 31, you wonder how long he'll remain a plus defender.

SportsNation

Who has the better 2015?

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    23%
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    77%

Discuss (Total votes: 7,082)

Wright is one of the key guys in the entire league. He played through a shoulder injury last year before finally shutting it down in early September and hit .269 with just eight home runs in 134 games. The injury clearly affected him, especially his ability to turn with authority on fastballs. Check out his numbers through the years against fastballs:

2010: .316/.396/.565
2011: .309/.414/.521
2012: .343/.424/.541
2013: .329/.413/.603
2014: .281/.337/.363

Assuming good health, Wright should bounce back. He was worth 5.8 WAR in 2013 and 7.0 in 2012 and could get back to that level as one of the best third basemen in the game.

Edge: Mets.

Shortstop: Didi Gregorius versus Wilmer Flores

Mets fans treat Flores as if he's the Ebola virus. Look, the Mets weren't going to get Troy Tulowitzki and there wasn't much else out there. Flores projects as a slightly below-average shortstop -- Steamer has him at 1.7 WAR, as a shortstop with a little pop, mediocre defense and a sub-.300 OBP. I liked Gregorius when he first came up with Arizona in 2013, but he struggled at the plate last year and can't hit left-handers, so he probably works in a platoon with Brendan Ryan. At the minimum, the pair will be a big defensive upgrade on Jeter.

Edge: Do I have to pick?

Left field: Brett Gardner versus Curtis Granderson

Gardner added some power to his game in 2014, hitting 17 home runs, but you wonder if he got a little homer-happy in the second half because his average dropped to .217. His walk rate has also dropped 5 percent from his 2010 breakout. He would be better served working the count a little more and sacrificing a few home runs to get on base more. Anyway, not counting 2012, when he was injured, Gardner's WAR totals since 2010: 7.3, 4.1, 4.0, 4.5. He's a good player, if not quite the elite defender of a few years ago, a solid, all-around contributor. He's a better player now than his former teammate.

Edge: Yankees.

Center field: Jacoby Ellsbury versus Juan Lagares

Numbers from 2014:

Ellsbury: .271/.328/.419, 39 SB, -5 defensive runs saved, 3.0 WAR
Lagares: .281/.321/.382, 13 SB, +28 defensive runs saved, 5.2 WAR

Projections for 2015:

Ellsbury: .271/.329/.418, 32 SB, 3.7 WAR
Lagares: .249/.291/.352, 12 SB, 2.5 WAR

Lagares had an otherworldly year on defense and his bat played better than expected, with an OBP that nearly matched Ellsbury's. You probably should expect both players to regress a little and that gives the edge to the more predictable player.

Edge: Yankees.

Right field: Carlos Beltran versus Michael Cuddyer

One old, sort of broken-down right fielder versus ... an old, sort of broken-down right fielder. Beltran hit .233/.301/.402 in 109 games after signing as a free agent last year and you can attribute that line to a bone spur in his elbow or to the fact that he was 37. Or a little of both. Now he's 38 and says he has to prove himself all over again. Cuddyer was a controversial free-agent signing as the Mets sacrificed their first-round pick to sign him to a two-year, $21 million contract. He's a defensive liability, especially now at 36, and while he hit a combined .331 the past two seasons with the Rockies, he also played just 49 games last year and he never hit higher than .284 before going to Colorado.

Edge: Yankees. Betting on a comeback of sorts from Beltran.

Bench

The Yankees have Rodriguez and Garrett Jones to serve as DHs and backups at third and first while Chris Young will give Beltran some off days in right field. The Mets' bench will include John Mayberry Jr., Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Ruben Tejada and Anthony Recker, but keep an eye on second baseman Dilson Herrera. He doesn't have a job right now with Murphy, but he can hit.

Edge: Looks pretty even, barring a miraculous comeback from A-Rod.

No. 1 starter: Masahiro Tanaka versus Matt Harvey

SportsNation

Which pitcher would you rather have for 2015?

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    59%
  •  
    41%

Discuss (Total votes: 8,009)

It's a little unfair to expect Harvey to come back from Tommy John surgery and pitch as well he did in 2013. Plus, the Mets will monitor his workload, saying they'll skip a start here and there. But the expectations seem to be that Harvey won't skip a beat. There's no guarantee Tanaka will stay healthy as well after missing time with his own elbow issues last season. If healthy, both are Cy Young contenders, but both will enter 2015 as big question marks.

Edge: Assuming both are healthy and make 30 starts, who do you like? Based on his 2013 numbers -- 2.27 ERA/2.01 FIP, 191 strikeouts and 31 walks in 178.1 innings -- I give the edge to Harvey.

No. 2 starter: CC Sabathia versus Jacob deGrom

DeGrom came out of nowhere to win Rookie of the Year honors. There's nothing in his numbers that screams fluke and his stuff is legit with a four-seam fastball that touches 95 mph, a good sinker plus a changeup, slider and curveball. Among 127 pitchers who threw at least 125 innings last season, he ranked 12th in strikeout rate. Even accounting for some regression, he's the better bet at this point than Sabathia, who made just eight starts before undergoing season-ending knee surgery in 2014.

Edge: Mets.

No. 3 starter: Michael Pineda versus Zack Wheeler

This is a fun one. Can Pineda stay healthy? Can Wheeler cut down on his walks and make The Leap with his great stuff?

Edge: It's all about risk. I like Pineda a little better but remember: He missed time in the minors, he had the shoulder surgery in 2012 that wiped out two seasons and then he missed nearly four months with a muscle strain in his back in 2014 (but posted a 1.89 ERA in the 13 starts he did make). Wheeler's stuff is ace-like, but his control isn't. I still see him as a solid No. 3 as opposed to a breakout performer.

No. 4/5 starters: Nathan Eovaldi/Chris Capuano versus Jonathon Niese/Bartolo Colon/Dillon Gee

Eovaldi, acquired from the Marlins, is a potential breakout candidate as well with his great arm, but the Mets have more depth here with top prospect Noah Syndergaard waiting for an opportunity to pitch as well.

Edge: Mets.

Bullpen

The Yankees lost closer David Robertson but replaced him with lefty Andrew Miller, giving them an imposing 1-2 combo with Miller and Dellin Betances, the most valuable reliever in baseball last year. Assuming Betances takes over as the closer, it will be interesting to see how Joe Girardi uses him. He pitched 90 innings last year as the setup guy to Robertson, but closers usually top out around 70. The Yankees also picked up Justin Wilson and David Carpenter in the offseason. The Mets had the eighth-best bullpen ERA last season, but had the 24th-best strikeout-to-walk ratio (they were 28th in walk rate). It's a mediocre pen at best and potentially a bad one.

Edge: Yankees.

SportsNation

Which team wins more games in 2015?

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    56%
  •  
    44%

Discuss (Total votes: 14,953)

Where does that leave us? I see the Yankees as having as wide a range of possible outcomes as any team in the majors, owing to the age of the lineup and the health of Tanaka, Sabathia and Pineda. They could win 90; they could lose 90. Yes, everything could work out: The old guys play well, McCann and Ellsbury are better in their second year in the Bronx, Gregorius and Headley make the defense better, the rotation stays intact and Betances and Miller are the best bullpen duo in the majors.

That's a lot of ifs. The Mets maybe don't have the same upside, but I do love their depth in the starting rotation. If Wright bounces back and Duda produces close to what he did last year, the offense should be at least league average and maybe better. They're in a weak division with the Phillies and Braves and that will help.

Mets general manager Sandy Alderson believes the club has the potential to improve by 10 wins. I'm not going quite that high, but I think the Mets will be in the wild-card race with 85 to 87 wins ... about seven more than the Yankees, who will suffer their first losing season since 1992.
In honor of Pete Carroll's decision in the Super Bowl -- you know the one, already cemented in history as the worst play call in Super Bowl history (although maybe it wasn't a horrible call) -- let's have a little fun with a list of the worst decisions in World Series history.

Dave Cameron reports that the Seahawks had an 88 percent chance of winning when facing second-and-goal from the 1-yard line. He tried to find a similar equivalent in baseball, although a similar scenario is difficult to match in baseball. Even a team with the tying run on third and winning run on second with no outs would have a win expectancy of only 71 percent, aside from the strengths of the hitters and pitchers involved.

We can increase the odds by instead focusing on the defensive team. When the Red Sox led the Mets 5-3 in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the 10th, their win expectancy was 99 percent -- maybe a little less if you factor in that Calvin Schiraldi was pitching. When Mariano Rivera took the mound in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 in 2001 with a 2-1 lead, the Yankees' win expectancy was 86 percent -- and a little higher with Rivera pitching.

Anyway, this list isn't based on mathematical probability but simply looks at some managerial decisions in key moments of the World Series that didn't work out.

1986, Game 6: Buckner stays in the game

Speaking of the Red Sox and Mets, John McNamara left in Bill Buckner in that fateful 10th inning even though he had used Dave Stapleton as a defensive substitute in all seven of Boston's previous postseason wins. Mookie Wilson's grounder went through Buckner's legs and the Mets won the game -- although keep in mind the Mets had already tied it before Buckner's error ... and the Red Sox still had a chance to win the series in Game 7.

1986, Game 7: Too much Schiraldi

Less remembered but worthy of its own criticism is McNamara's decision to bring in Schiraldi in the seventh inning of Game 7 with the score tied 3-3. Ray Knight, the first batter he faced, hit a go-ahead home run, and the next two batters singled and eventually scored. The Red Sox did have a thin bullpen that year, but Schiraldi was a rookie coming off a horrific loss in Game 6 who had also faced 16 batters in that game. Although there was a rainout between Games 6 and 7, he had probably thrown 60 to 70 pitches in Game 6. On the other hand, McNamara didn't have a lot of good choices after starter Bruce Hurst. Roger Clemens had started Game 6, and "Oil Can" Boyd, his No. 3 starter, wasn't exactly available since he was drunk and strung out on crack.

1925, Game 7: The Big Train goes the distance

Game 7 between the Senators and Pirates was played on a cold and rainy day in Pittsburgh, and it would grow colder and wetter as the game went along. Hall of Famer Walter Johnson started for Washington. He was 37 years old and on his last legs as a pitcher, but still had enough zip on his fastball to go 20-7 with a 3.07 ERA in the regular season. He already had won twice in the series, and Senators manager Bucky Harris was determined to ride his star. Washington scored four runs in the top of the first, but the Pirates chipped away, getting to within 4-3, then 6-4 and then tying the score at 6-6. Johnson stayed in the game, as the grounds crew spread sawdust on the mud-slick mound. The Senators took the lead in the eighth, but the Pirates scored three runs in the bottom of the inning -- all with two outs -- to win 9-7. Johnson went the distance and allowed 15 hits. Yes, it was Walter Johnson and his defense let him down with two errors, including a crucial one in the eighth. Still ... who gets left in to allow 15 hits in Game 7?

2003, Game 4: Where's Rivera?

The Yankees were a game up on the Marlins and had tied Game 4 on Ruben Sierra's two-run triple in the ninth inning with two outs. The game rolled along. Jose Contreras pitched the ninth and 10th innings for the Yankees. Jeff Weaver then pitched a scoreless 11th. Joe Torre sent him back out for the bottom of the 12th, but Weaver gave up a leadoff home run to Alex Gonzalez. The series was tied, and the Marlins took the next two games to upset the Yankees.

How do you lose a crucial game without using the best closer of all time? Torre said he couldn't use Rivera because it was a tie game on the road. "I had no options," he said. "People say bring in Mariano. I had no options. It was an extra-inning game on the road. There was never consideration of other options." By choosing to wait for a save situation and limit Rivera to one inning, however, Torre ignored what he had done throughout Rivera's postseason career, which was to often use him for more than one inning and, at times, in tie games. Rivera had pitched two innings the day before -- throwing 23 pitches -- but that shouldn't have been reason to use Weaver without first getting Rivera into the game.

2009, Game 4: Manuel sticks with Lidge

Closer Brad Lidge had been one of the heroes of the Phillies' 2008 World Series champions -- converting all 41 of his save chances in the regular season and all seven in the postseason. But 2009 was a nightmare season for Lidge: 0-8, 7.21 ERA, with a lot of hits, home runs and walks allowed. The Phillies were able to overcome his ineffectiveness to win 93 games, but manager Charlie Manuel stubbornly stuck with Lidge as his closer. You knew it would eventually blow up in a big way in the postseason, and it did in Game 4 when Lidge entered in a 4-4 tie in the ninth inning and coughed up three runs. The Yankees won the series in six games.

1958, Game 7: Frank Torre hits third

The Milwaukee Braves of the late '50s and early '60s were an enormously talented team. They won one World Series title in 1957 and reached Game 7 in 1958, but they should have dominated the National League for a longer stretch. Fred Haney managed the club from 1956 through 1959, and, in '58, he platooned Frank Torre (Joe's brother) with Joe Adcock at first base. Torre was a better glove and did hit .309 in 1958 that year, but he hit just six home runs in 372 at-bats. Eddie Mathews didn't have a great year in '58, hitting .251/.349/.458, but he did hit 31 home runs. And Wes Covington hit .330/.380/.622 in 324 plate appearances.

In Game 7, Haney hit Red Schoendienst (.313 OBP) leadoff, Bill Bruton (.336 OBP) second, Torre third, Henry Aaron cleanup, Covington fifth and Mathews sixth. Imagine if a manager rolled out a lineup like that today. In the first inning, after Schoendienst and Bruton reached on a single and a walk against a shaky Don Larsen, Haney had his No. 3 hitter ... bunt. You're not bunting there with Mathews or Covington. Mathews was later intentionally walked in the inning as Del Crandall left the bases loaded. Instead of playing for a big inning, the Braves scored just one run. The score was tied 2-2 in the eighth when the Yankees scored four runs with two outs.

2001, Game 5: Brenly turns to Kim ... again

After Byung-hyun Kim served up home runs to Tino Martinez and Derek Jeter in Game 4 -- throwing 61 pitches -- for some reason Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly thought it was a good idea to have him close out Game 5. I was in the auxiliary press box for that one and remember all the writers criticizing the move before seeing what happened next -- Scott Brosius hit the tying home run (and who can forget Kim crouched on the mound in despair) and the Yankees won in 12 innings. Brenly survived the blunder as the Diamondbacks won Games 6 and 7.

1947, Game 4: Almost a no-hitter

Yankees right-hander Bill Bevens threw hard, but he also had no idea where the ball was going. In Game 4 of the '47 World Series against Brooklyn, he took a 2-1 lead and a no-hitter into the bottom of the ninth. But he'd also walked eight batters. He walked Carl Furillo with one out in the ninth, then pinch runner Al Gionfriddo stole second with two outs. Yankees manager Bucky Harris -- yes, the same guy from 1925 -- then ordered Pete Reiser intentionally walked, going against convention that you don't put the go-ahead run on base. Pinch hitter Cookie Lavagetto then hit a game-winning two-run double. That tied the series up at two games apiece, although Harris and the Yankees went on to win Game 7.

Those are just a few, and I didn't even get to Ron Washington's performance in the 2011 World Series (let alone some of the decisions from other rounds of the playoffs). Next time...
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.


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After the San Francisco Giants won the World Series, I wrote a post titled "Baseball's imperfect dynasty." Within that post, I asked readers if they considered the Giants a dynasty and 84 percent said yes.

So if the Giants are a dynasty, where do they rank among baseball's other dynasties? They became just the ninth team to win three World Series in a five-year span. Many of baseball's greatest franchises never accomplished that feat: The Big Red Machine of Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Pete Rose won back-to-back titles but not three in five years; the great Orioles teams of the late '60s and early '70s won in 1966 and 1970 but lost World Series in 1969 and 1971; the Sandy Koufax-Don Drysdale Dodgers won two titles in the '60s (and another in 1959, before Koufax became KOUFAX); the Braves of the '90s and early 2000s appeared in 14 consecutive postseasons but won just one World Series. Those teams certainly qualify as dynasties in my book, but we'll leave them to another discussion.

Let's compare the Giants to the other eight three-in-five dynasties. The table below lists each franchise's overall record during that five-year span, World Series titles, their place in the standings compared to all teams in the majors over those five years, their postseason record, cumulative pitching and position player WAR over five years via FanGraphs (with overall MLB rank in parenthesis) and wRC+, an offense-only measure that is park-adjusted.



Notice how these dynasties tend to be built more around the position players than the pitchers. Even the Giants, regarded as a team with a strong pitching staff, rank only 19th in pitching WAR in the majors over these past five years. That total is dragged down a bit by a poor 2013 season when the team finished under .500, but while the 2010 champions were built around a stellar rotation, the Giants have had a solid offense and excellent defense through the years, with some of that offense masked due to playing in a pitcher-friendly AT&T Park.

The Giants are 20 wins behind the best team in baseball over the past five seasons (the Yankees have the most wins) and certainly have the worst winning percentage by a large margin, but note that they aren't the only dynasty not to have the most wins. The 1996-2000 Yankees were 14 wins behind the Braves and the 1971-75 A's were three wins behind the Reds. Even the 1949-53 Yankees were just three wins ahead of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Yes, the Giants' overall winning percentage is well behind the others', but we're also in an age of parity. It's much more difficult to win 100 games than it was even in the late '90s.

Anyway, let's take a quick look at each dynasty and then we'll rank them at the end.

Giants2010-2014 Giants
Potential Hall of Famers: Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner
Other key players: Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Pablo Sandoval, Hunter Pence, Brandon Crawford
Best player: Posey (23.3 WAR)
Best pitcher: Bumgarner (15.0 WAR)
Seasons with 5+ WAR: Six position players, zero pitchers
Manager: Bruce Bochy

The most impressive thing about the Giants is their postseason record of 34-14 -- that's a 115-win pace over 162 games. And they've done it with a significant amount of roster turnover through the years. Really, only Posey, Bumgarner, Sandoval and some of the relievers were key contributors on all three teams.

The postseason grind of modern baseball works two ways: You have to win more series but you also can benefit from playing a weaker opponent if playoff upsets occur. That's certainly been the case with the Giants in the World Series, as they defeated the 2010 Rangers (90-72), 2012 Tigers (88-74) and 2014 Royals (89-73). Hey, you can only play the hand you're dealt.

The secret weapon for the Giants in the postseason has been their bullpen, which has gone 13-2 with a 2.42 ERA. You may remember Bumgarner's Game 7 performance a couple months ago.



Yankees1996-2000 Yankees
Hall of Famers: Wade Boggs
Potential Hall of Famers: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Tim Raines
Other key players: David Cone, Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, Orlando Hernandez, Jorge Posada, Scott Brosius
Best player: Jeter (28.3 WAR), Williams (25.3)
Best pitcher: Pettitte (22.3 WAR), Cone (17.7), Rivera (17.5)
Seasons with 5+ WAR: 10 position players, five pitchers
Manager: Joe Torre

Like the Giants, the Yankees had a remarkable postseason winning percentage in their five years -- a 122-win pace over 162 games. The only postseason series they lost was to the Indians in the 1997 Division Series.

The Yankees ranked third in pitching and sixth in position players. Some of the rotation changed -- Jimmy Key was replaced by David Wells in 1997 and then Clemens replaced Wells in 1999; El Duque joined in 1998 -- but the Yankees always had solid pitching in an era when few teams did. Jeter, Williams, O'Neill and Martinez were the stalwarts in the offense. The Yankees didn't win a single MVP or Cy Young Award in these five years, a testament to the depth of the entire roster.



A's1971-75 A's
Hall of Famers: Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers
Other key players: Vida Blue, Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Bert Campaneris, Ken Holtzman, Gene Tenace, Bill North
Best player: Jackson (32.2 WAR), Bando (27.0), Campaneris (21.7)
Best pitcher: Blue (18.5), Hunter (17.0)
Seasons with 5+ WAR: 15 position players, three pitchers
Manager: Dick Williams (1971-73), Alvin Dark (1974-75)

The A's won five straight division titles and went 4-0 in ultimate games in the 1972 and '73 ALCS and World Series. Like the Giants, they played in a pitcher-friendly park that helped mask that this was really a team built around its offense more than its pitching staff.

Reggie won the 1973 MVP award but in many ways the hard-nosed Bando was the heart and soul of this team. He's not remembered much these days but he was a borderline Hall of Famer and finished second, fourth and third in the MVP voting in '71, '73 and '74.

The Oakland dynasty could have rolled on even longer if Charlie Finley hadn't let the team break up. Hunter signed with the Yankees as a free agent after 1974, Reggie was traded to the Orioles in 1976 and then Bando, Rudi, Tenace and Campaneris all left as free agents after 1976. Blue was the last star to leave, traded to the Giants in 1978.


Yankees1958-62 Yankees
Hall of Famers: Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford
Other key players: Roger Maris, Elston Howard, Hank Bauer, Bill Skowron, Bob Turley, Ralph Terry, Bobby Richardson
Best player: Mantle (38.0 WAR)
Best pitcher: Ford (17.8)
Seasons with 5+ WAR: Eight position players, one pitcher
Manager: Casey Stengel (1958-60), Ralph Houk (1961-62)

The Yankees took advantage of the lack of a consistent rival in this time. The powerful Indians teams of the '50s had faded, the Dodgers were between the Brooklyn Bums and Koufax/Drysdale era, the Mays/Marichal/McCovey Giants were just getting going in 1962 and the White Sox (1959 AL pennant winners) couldn't quite get past the Yankees after that. The Milwaukee Braves, who had faced the Yankees in the 1957 and '58 World Series should have been the NL's dominant team in these years but were always messing things up. The Yankees also took advantage of the 1961 expansion to win 109 games.

So even though Ford was the only pitcher to accumulate even 10.0 WAR over these five years, the Yankees won four pennants in five years and it could have been four World Series titles instead of three if not for Bill Mazeroski's Game 7 home run in 1960. Maris won MVP awards in 1960 and '61, although Mantle was clearly the team's superstar (he was the 1962 MVP and Howard won in 1963).


Yankees1949-53 Yankees
Hall of Famers: Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Phil Rizzuto, Johnny Mize
Other key players: Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat, Allie Reynolds, Gene Woodling, Hank Bauer, Billy Martin
Best player: Berra (23.2 WAR), Rizzuto (22.4)
Best pitcher: Lopat (15.1),
Seasons with 5+ WAR: Seven position players, zero pitchers
Manager: Casey Stengel

The only team to win five World Series titles in a row, the Yankees did it with lots of depth more than anything and a lot of platooning and matching up from Stengel, who took over in 1949 after a third-place finish in 1948. DiMaggio largely battled injuries in 1949 and 1951 and then retired. Mantle joined the team in 1951 and became a star in 1952 but not a huge star until 1954 or 1955. Rizzuto and Yogi won MVP awards in 1950 and '51.

The pitching was solid if unspectacular with junk-throwing lefty Lopat leading the staff in WAR over these five years. Raschi won 21 games each year from 1949 to 1951 while Reynolds was Casey's go-to big-game starter in the World Series, starting Game 1 in 1949, 1951, 1952 and 1953.


Cardinals1942-46 Cardinals
Hall of Famers: Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Red Schoendienst
Other key players: Walker Cooper, Mort Cooper, Marty Marion, Whitey Kurowski, Max Lanier, Harry Brecheen
Best player: Musial (32.1 WAR), Marion (20.6)
Best pitcher: Mort Cooper (20.2), Brecheen (15.9)
Seasons with 5+ WAR: Seven position players, six pitchers
Manager: Billy Southworth

This team gets forgotten because much of its success came during the war years, but they won the World Series in 1942, when most players were still in the majors instead of the military, and then won again in 1946, when everyone had returned.

As you can see from the table, they had great balance between pitching and position players. Marion was a superb shortstop and the 1944 MVP, who actually drew some very good Hall of Fame support when he was on the ballot. The Cooper brothers were a terrific battery and Mort was the 1942 MVP when he went 22-7 with a 1.78 ERA and 10 shutouts. Musial, of course, was the big star and he missed just the 1945 season. Slaughter missed 1943-45. That does make it more difficult to evaluate this team but it was a legitimate powerhouse, war or no war.


Yankees1935-39 Yankees
Hall of Famers: Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Red Ruffing, Tony Lazzeri, Joe Gordon, Lefty Gomez
Other key players: Red Rolfe, George Selkirk, Frank Crosetti, Charlie Keller, Tommy Henrich, Monte Pearson
Best player: Gehrig (29.5 WAR), DiMaggio (26.3), Dickey (24.3)
Best pitcher: Ruffing (23.8), Gomez (22.6)
Seasons with 5+ WAR: 13 position players, three pitchers
Manager: Joe McCarthy

No team had a four-year run like the Yankees from 1936 to 1939 and many consider the 1939 club that went 106-45 the greatest team in major league history. Remarkably, they won 106 games even though that was the year Lou Gehrig got sick. Imagine if he'd still been productive. They crushed their opposition in the World Series, going 16-3, and were loaded with big stars and Hall of Famers.

They were so strong that they replaced Hall of Famer Lazzeri at second base in 1938 with another Hall of Famer in Gordon. DiMaggio joined the club in 1936 and from 1936-39 hit .341 while averaging 34 home runs and 140 RBIs. Gehrig was the 1936 MVP when he hit .354 with 49 home runs. Dickey hit .326 from 1936-39.

While the more flamboyant and quotable Gomez probably got more attention, Ruffing was the staff ace, winning 20 games all four of the World Series seasons. Pearson came over in 1936 and would won all four his World Series starts (one per Series), allowing a total of five runs in 35.2 innings.


Red Sox1914-18 Red Sox
Hall of Famers: Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, Harry Hooper
Other key players: Carl Mays, Ernie Shore, Rube Foster, Dutch Leonard, Duffy Lewis, Larry Gardner, Everett Scott
Best player: Hooper (18.6 WAR)
Best pitcher: Leonard (23.1), Ruth (20.0)
Seasons with 5+ WAR: Three position players, seven pitchers
Manager: Bill Carrigan (1914-16), Jack Barry (1917), Ed Barrow (1918)

Yes, a Babe Ruth team makes our list -- but not the Ruth-led Yankees. This team featured a great rotation -- Ruth joined it in 1915 -- and won World Series in 1915, 1916 and 1918 while finishing in second place in 1914 and 1917. Speaker was the team's best player but he was traded to Cleveland after the 1915 season in a contract dispute -- club president Joe Lannin wanted to cut Speaker's salary from $18,000 to $9,000 because his batting average had declined three seasons in a row. Speaker held out and was traded. Boston won the World Series anyway.

The strength of this team was arguably its defense. Hooper is a marginal Hall of Famer, a decent hitter but known as a great outfielder. Speaker was one of the great center fielders in the game's history. Shortstop Scott probably would have won Gold Gloves had they had them back then.

And then there was Ruth. He won 18 games in 1915, 23 in 1916 while leading the AL in ERA and then 24 in 1917 while throwing 35 complete games. In 1918, he split his time between pitching and hitting, leading the AL with 11 home runs and a .555 slugging percentage and going 13-7 on the mound.



1910-14 Athletics
Hall of Famers: Eddie Collins, Home Run Baker, Eddie Plank, Chief Bender
Other key players: Stuffy McInnis, Jack Barry, Rube Oldring, Amos Strunk, Jack Coombs, Danny Murphy
Best player: Collins (43.8), Baker (36.2)
Best pitcher: Bender (21.5), Plank (17.6)
Seasons with 5+ WAR: 12 position players, four pitchers
Manager: Connie Mack

The Athletics won titles in 1910, 1911 and 1913 before getting upset in the 1914 World Series by the Miracle Boston Braves. Mack, upset by the sweep and perhaps believing his team didn't give its all (some have suggested they possibly threw the Series), broke up his team, selling off most of his stars and the A's went 43-109 in 1915.

Anyway, this was certainly a great team, an offensive powerhouse led by Collins, one of the game's great early starts, and Baker, a slugging third baseman. The infield of McInnis, Collins, Barry and Baker was so impressive it earned the nickname "The $100,00 infield." Yes, times have changed.

Bender was Mack's ace (he started Game 1 of the World Series all four years), although Plank, who won 326 games, beat him into the Hall of Fame.

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OK. Your turn. Which is the best team to win three titles in five years?

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How to rank these nine dynasties? I'd go like this:

1. 1949-1953 Yankees -- Hey, five titles is five titles.
2. 1996-2000 Yankees -- Dominant postseason winning percentage, star power, hitting and pitching balance.
3. 1935-1939 Yankees -- Statistically, better than the 1949-53 teams.
4. 1910-1914 A's -- If only Mack hadn't broken them up.
5. 1971-1975 A's -- Only team with three straight titles in 1960s, '70s or '80s.
6. 1942-1946 Cardinals -- History's most underrated dynasty.
7. 2010-2014 Giants -- Unbeatable in the postseason.
8. 1958-1962 Yankees -- Lack of pitching depth downgrades them.
9. 1914-1918 Red Sox -- Let's make a time machine and go watch Ruth pitch.
During my chats this offseason, one question that always comes up: Who do you like as a breakout performer? There are certainly obvious candidates to that question. The harder part is coming up with guys like Josh Donaldson or Josh Harrison or Dallas Keuchel or Collin McHugh.

I'm not even sure what a breakout candidate means. Do you consider Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich breakout candidates? I certainly think they'll be better in 2015, but the young Marlins outfielders were already pretty good in 2014. So I'm not sure I'd include them here. Maybe a general rule of thumb would be a player capable of improving his WAR by at least 2.5 wins.

So here's a list of breakout candidates, broken into three categories, with 2014 WAR listed. Rookies were not considered.

Obvious young players

These are essentially the players everyone should have on their list of breakout candidates, so it's mostly a confirmation that I like these guys as well.

Mookie Betts, Red Sox (2.0 WAR) -- This isn't so much a prediction as an endorsement that Betts will, at the minimum, sustain his 2014 performance when he hit .291/.368/.444 in 213 plate appearances with the Red Sox. Considering he's just 22 with outstanding contact skills -- he had more walks than whiffs in the minors -- I suspect he'll improve. The home run power is the only question mark, but he did hit 16 between the minors and majors so I believe he can be a 15-homer guy.

Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox (0.1 WAR) -- A highly touted rookie last year, Bogaerts hit well in April and May and then collapsed for three months, right about the time the Red Sox moved him from shortstop to third base. That's probably too easy an explanation for his struggles, but he'll be back at shortstop and a good September (.313, four home runs) at least meant he ended the season on a positive note. Like Betts, he's just 22, young enough to make a big leap forward.

Gerrit Cole, Pirates (1.2 WAR) -- He has 41 big league starts now with a 3.45 ERA, but there's ace potential in the former No. 1 overall pick. Armed with one of the best fastballs in the business, it's a matter of mastering his other pitches as his fastball can be a little straight at times. If his changeup develops -- he threw it just 111 times last year -- watch out. He also needs to remain healthy, missing time last year with a lat strain.

Kevin Gausman, Orioles (1.2 WAR) -- We saw his arm strength in the postseason, when he looked so good pitching out of the bullpen. After bouncing back and forth last year between the Orioles and Triple-A, making 20 starts in the majors, Gausman is ready to spend the entire year in Baltimore. He has developed into primarily a fastball/splitter guy, mixing in his slider and a few changeups, so while he may not rack up the strikeouts like Cole, he should do a good job keeping the ball in the park, which of course is essential for success in Camden Yards.

James Paxton, Mariners (1.5 WAR) -- For Paxton, a lefty with electric stuff (his four-seamer averaged 94.7 mph last season), it's all about staying healthy. He made just 13 starts in 2014 (posting a 3.04 ERA), missing a large chunk of time with a strained lat and then shoulder inflammation that developed while rehabbing the first injury. But he returned in August and made 11 starts down the stretch. Paxton also missed time while in the minors, so the injury history goes back several years.

George Springer, Astros (2.3 WAR) -- The strikeout rates are cringe-worthy (114 in 345 PAs), but when the University of Connecticut product connects, the ball goes far. Even with all the strikeouts, he hit .231/.336/.468 as a rookie with 20 home run in 78 games. He has 40-homer potential and while he didn't run much last year (five steals), he swiped 45 in the minors in 2013, giving him 30-30 potential. Or 40-30 potential. Or lots of potential, no matter how you slice it.

Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays (1.8 WAR) -- Everybody says the Blue Jays lack an ace, but maybe they don't. The short right-hander may not have the physical presence of your typical No. 1 starter, but he has the stuff and went 11-6 with a 3.65 ERA as a rookie. Those numbers included two terrible relief appearances in his first month in the majors (nine runs in three innings), but Stroman didn't let those outings get to him and when moved to the rotation.

Kolten Wong, Cardinals (2.1 WAR) -- He had a solid rookie season, showing a broad range of skills with some power, speed, solid defense and then a big postseason. He needs to improve his .249 average and .292 OBP. If he does that, he could be an All-Star second baseman.

Wild cards

This group has a few more flaws in their game and thus are less likely to emerge than the first group, but all have talent and several were once regarded as top prospects.

Trevor Bauer, Indians (1.1 WAR) -- The Diamondbacks didn't like Bauer's idiosyncratic approach to pitching and quickly traded him away. The third pick overall pick by Arizona in 2011 has had his ups and downs in his two years in Cleveland, but he's just 24 and still has a good arm. He needs to cut down on his walks -- some have suggested that backing off his six- or seven-pitch repertoire would help -- to lower his 4.18 ERA, but he's ready for his first full season in the majors and could make a big leap.

Brandon Belt, Giants (0.9 WAR) -- Belt was pretty good back in 2013 but battled a broken thumb and concussion in 2014, playing in just 61 games. He'll be 27 so I think he's primed for a big season, even better than 2013 when he hit .289 with 17 home runs.

Travis d'Arnaud, Mets (0.2 WAR) -- He gets lost with all the attention given the Mets' young starters and their search for a shortstop, but the young catcher had a solid rookie season, rebounding to hit .242 after scuffling to a .205 mark through June. He needs to improve his defense (just a 19 percent caught stealing rate and a league-leading 12 passed balls) and he was injury-prone in the minors, but there's All-Star potential in the bat.

Nathan Eovaldi, Yankees (0.7 WAR) -- He's got a big fastball and walked just 1.9 batters per nine with the Marlins, but he also led the National League in hits allowed. You worry about that short right-field porch and what it can do to a right-handed pitcher (see Phil Hughes). I wouldn't bet on a big season, but if Eovaldi can learn a new trick or two, he has the talent to make the Yankees look very smart.

Shane Greene, Tigers (0.6 WAR) -- Never regarded as much of a prospect coming up with the Yankees, Greene added a cutter and looked good in 14 starts (3.78 ERA, good strikeout rate) before getting traded to the Tigers in the offseason. He'll have to win a rotation spot and he's not Max Scherzer, but he's a guy I like.

Drew Hutchison, Blue Jays (1.3 WAR) -- He came back from Tommy John surgery and made 32 starts with a 4.48 ERA and even better peripherals. Hutchison needs to improve against left-handers, who slugged .477 against him.

Carlos Martinez, Cardinals (0.2 WAR) -- I'm not actually a big fan since he hasn't dominated in relief, so I'm not exactly sure why people think he can transition to the rotation. But he has that explosive heater and many do like his potential as a starter.

Brad Miller, Mariners (1.5 WAR) -- He's athletic with some pop in his bat but frustratingly inconsistent, botching routine plays at shortstop and hitting just .204 in the first half last year. There's a lot of upside here if he puts it all together, and he's just 25 with two seasons of experience now.

Rougned Odor, Rangers (0.1 WAR) -- Rushed to the majors at 20 when the entire Texas lineup landed on the DL, he held his own. It may be a year early for a breakout season, but there's a lot of potential in the bat.

Danny Salazar, Indians (0.5 WAR) -- He had 120 strikeouts and 35 walks in 110 innings but also posted a mediocre 4.25 ERA and was sent to the minors for a spell. Oddly, he's struggled more against right-handers than lefties. That seems like a fixable solution if he can tighten up his slider.

Jonathan Schoop, Orioles (1.5 WAR) -- He's already a Gold Glove-caliber second baseman with a tremendous double-play pivot thanks to his strong arm. But will there be value in the bat? He has power but had a horrific 122 strikeout/walk ratio, leading to a .209 average and unacceptable .244 OBP. He could improve or the poor approach could end up sending him back to the minors or to the bench.

Guys I'll call long shots
How do you even go about predicting the next Donaldson or Keuchel? You can't. Luckily, some things in the sport remain unpredictable.

Tony Cingrani, Reds (-0.1 WAR) -- He was impressive as a rookie in 2013 with his unique arsenal of high fastballs from the left side but battled a sore shoulder in 2014. I'm not sure the delivery and lack of secondary pitches will play out in the long run, but you never know.

Khris Davis, Brewers (2.7 WAR) -- He hit 22 home runs and 37 doubles in his first full season and his defense was better than advertised, but he also posted a .299 OBP. If he can add 50 points of OBP -- good luck -- he's a star.

Rubby De La Rosa, Diamondbacks (0.8 WAR) -- Acquired from Boston in the Wade Miley trade, he's had Tommy John surgery but has a live arm; he averaged 93.9 mph on his fastball while touching 99. Sometimes these guys put it together, and moving to the National League will help as well.

Avisail Garcia, White Sox (-0.3 WAR) -- I've always felt he's been overhyped since coming up with Detroit. He's never walked and that poor approach will likely limit his numbers, but scouts have always liked his swing and power potential.

Eric Hosmer, Royals (0.7 WAR) -- Wait, hasn't he been around too long for this? Well, he wasn't that good last year except for October and he's still just 25, so maybe he finally learns to tap into his power. He's a much better bet than teammate Mike Moustakas to turn into a star.

Brandon Maurer, Padres (-0.4 WAR) -- He got hammered as a starter in Seattle in 2013 and 2014 but moved to the bullpen and was suddenly throwing in the upper 90s and posted a 2.17 ERA with a 38/5 SO/BB ratio. I'd keep him in relief, but the Padres may try to give him one more chance at starting.

Brad Peacock, Astros (-0.3 WAR) -- He has a 4.90 ERA in two seasons with Houston with way too many walks (4.8 per nine innings last year). But hey, Keuchel looked like this a year ago.

Eugenio Suarez, Reds (0.3 WAR) -- He came up with Detroit last year and I liked the swing and approach and think there's a little power there for a middle infielder. He may not have a regular gig with the Reds, but if they tire of Zack Cozart's lack of offense then Suarez could get a chance to play.
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).

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Which is the best baseball city?

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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?
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.
Yes, nothing much is going on in baseball unless you want to complain about the Yankees' payroll, but that's an old topic.

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

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

Let's see who we get ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So there you go. Just in case you want to impress your friends with obscure baseball knowledge.
Ichiro Suzuki Ron Vesely/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesIchiro Suzuki won 10 Gold Gloves during his days with the Mariners.


I wrote a post on Wednesday tied into our Hall of 100 list, touching on whether Derek Jeter was ranked too high at No. 31. I argued that in order to get Jeter somewhere close to No. 31 you have to believe the defensive metrics are wrong about Jeter's defense.

At the end of the post, I mentioned Ichiro was ineligible to be voted on by the ESPN panel but certainly warranted consideration for the top 100 given his career Wins Above Replacement total in a major league career that didn't begin until he was 27 -- in other words, he entered in the middle of his peak, with many of his best seasons already used up in Japan.

I received this email from a reader: "Not sure you can fiddle with Jeter's defensive numbers and then take Ichiro's WAR at face value in the same piece. Both are extreme, in their own way."

Ichiro's career WAR of 58.9 at Baseball-Reference.com ranks him 190th all time and 125th among position players, higher if you don't include the 19th century guys, but not that far from the top 100 -- Gary Carter is No. 100 at 69.9 WAR, so Ichiro would have been about two prime Ichiro seasons from cracking the top 100.

What the reader was suggesting is that Ichiro, a hitter who played in a high-offense era and neither walked much nor hit with much power, is propped up by the same defensive metrics that drag down Jeter -- defensive metrics that aren't necessarily completely reliable, especially at the very top and very bottom of the ratings.

Well, let's dig into that; it's a legitimate issue/concern. There have been, I would suggest, seven great long-term defensive right fielders since 1950 -- Ichiro Suzuki, Larry Walker, Tony Gwynn, Jesse Barfield, Dwight Evans, Al Kaline and Roberto Clemente. Each won at least five Gold Gloves in right field. Jason Heyward will likely become the eighth guy on this list. (Dave Winfield won seven Gold Gloves, four as a right fielder and three as a left fielder, but he doesn't really compare to this group, Gold Gloves notwithstanding, his strong arm overshadowing his mediocre range. He was kind of a lumbering guy out there due to his size and the defensive metrics say he wasn't very good.)

The following table includes data used at Baseball-Reference: Career fielding runs above average, runs above average per 1,200 innings, the cumulative total of the player's five best seasons, their best single season and the number of seasons with 20 or more runs saved.

Two notes. We have different systems in play. For Ichiro, since 2003 (he debuted with the Mariners in 2001), B-R uses Defensive Runs Saved from Baseball Info Solutions, which you often see cited here, a measurement based on video review of every play; prior to that, the site uses Sean Smith's Total Zone rating, a historical estimate of defense based on various statistics and factors. Also, the numbers include all games in the outfield as all these guys played at least a little center field as well.

Anyway, the table ...



I don't see anything out of line with Ichiro. He rates about even with Walker on a per-inning basis but below Barfield -- look at his rating! -- Clemente and Kaline. I'd suggest that Ichiro fairly rates better than Evans, who had a great arm but not the same the speed. Gwynn rates far below the others but only because he got fat in his 30s and turned from a terrific right fielder into a lousy one. At his best, his top five seasons actually rank better than Ichiro's. As for Barfield, if you're too young to remember him, he had the greatest throwing arm I ever saw. His rating is also helped by the fact that he didn't have a decline phase to his career as his last full season came when he was 30.

Overall, I would say Ichiro's career WAR is not propped up by some out-of-line defensive metrics. His single-season high of 30 runs saved in 2004 does rate as the second-highest for any right fielder on Baseball-Reference -- behind Heyward's 32 in 2014 -- but that's also the only season he rated higher than 15 runs saved. Now, you may want to argue that he's nowhere in the class of these other right fielders, but I don't think you can find many people willing to make that argument.

One more important note about Ichiro. WAR and Fielding Runs are cumulative stats; the more you play, the more you accumulate. From 2001 to 2012, he averaged 159 games and 727 plate appearances per season. When you never miss a game and hit leadoff that adds up to a lot of extra PAs compared to a less durable player or even one who hits lower in the lineup. That durability has played a big factor in Ichiro's career WAR.

By the way, as I looked into this, I found at least one more great right fielder, even though he never won a Gold Glove and never got the hype while active: Brian Jordan. His defensive metrics are outstanding. Remember, he was fast enough to play safety in the NFL. Check out his year-by-year fielding runs from 1994 to 2002: +8 (in just 53 games), +20, +28, +12 (injured), +25, +17, +15, +21, +8 (35 years old). Over his career he averaged 16.5 runs saved above average per 1,200 innings.

Defensive storylines of the offseason: AL

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

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

 

AL EAST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

AL CENTRAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

AL WEST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elvis Andrus hit an odd bump in the road last season, as his defensive numbers, which had been top-10 caliber at shortstop from 2011 to 2013 fell to bottom-5 (-13 Runs Saved) in 2014. That was probably just a fluke, but 2015 will go a ways in determining if Andrus has slipped.

As if the Hall of Fame vote isn't fun and controversial enough, ESPN.com unveiled its annual Hall of 100 list -- the 100 best players of all time. And for this list, it doesn't matter if you used steroids, greenies, extract from sheep testicles or elixir of Brown-Sequard. No judgments here! The only thing that matters is what you did between the lines. We don't even care if you snorted a few lines between innings.

Anyway, I'm here to offer some expert commentary on a few issues regarding this year's update. I offer only my assessment of the truth. If you can't handle the truth, well, I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to somebody who questions the manner in which I provide it!

Wait, sorry, I just finished watching "A Few Good Men." OK, four questions:

No. 1: Is Derek Jeter's final placement (No. 31) too high, too low or just right?

This question is more complicated than defending freedom. Or not. We can go the easy route. Jeter's career WAR on Baseball-Reference is 71.8, which ranks 88th, just below Larry Walker and Harry Heilmann and just above Rafael Palmeiro and Ted Lyons. None of those guys are ranked close to 31. Or even in the top 100.

But we can play with Jeter's ranking a bit. For example, let's leave out the 19th century guys. Frankly, I wouldn't put any 19th century guys in my top 100, no offense to the 19th century. That eliminates 12 players ahead of Jeter and gets him up to No. 76. Then there are players who are just ahead of him in career WAR that I feel comfortable in saying that I'd rather have Jeter over without digging too deep: Walker, Heilmann, Luke Appling, Jim Thome, Frank Thomas, Lou Whitaker, Paul Molitor. I love Thome and Thomas, awesome hitters, feared, all that, but shortstops are hard to find. Bobby Wallace, an obscure turn-of-the-century shortstop. Reggie Jackson. Yes, even Reggie, career WAR of 73.8. I think I'd take Jeter's career over his. So that's nine more slots. He's up to 67th.

OK. What if WAR is penalizing Jeter a little too much for his defense? The defensive metrics used at Baseball-Reference hate Jeter's defense; they treat him as if he played shortstop wearing cement cleats. Maybe he did. They value him at 246 runs below average on defense. That's bad. That's all-time bad. It's the worst career total in history -- 51 runs worse than the No. 2 awful defender, Gary Sheffield. Are the metrics wrong here? I'm not saying they are; I generally believe in the metrics and different systems all have evaluated Jeter as a bad defender. But they could be wrong, or at least a little wrong. Let's say Jeter wasn't 246 runs below average but 146 runs. That still would make him the fourth-worst defender of all time. One hundred runs is worth about 10 additional wins (every 10 runs is worth about a win). Now we've bumped him further, to about No. 45.

Then we have the postseason stuff. I believe Jeter won a few rings. How much extra credit do you give him for that? He also hit .308/.375/.464 in his postseason career with 111 runs in 158 games, facing better pitching than in the regular season. If you want to give him a lot of extra credit, maybe you can justify moving him to No. 31 overall.

Now, I don't think Jeter is the 31st-best player of all time. That's Albert Pujols territory -- he's No. 29 on the Hall of 100 and 33rd on the career WAR -- and I'd easily take Pujols over Jeter. So to answer the question: too high.

No. 2: Should Alex Rodriguez (No. 23) be higher considering his numbers?

Our beloved A-Rod slipped four spots from last year, no surprise considering he didn't play. Again, steroids don't matter. Wall art doesn't matter. Fashion photo shoots don't matter. Enjoying popcorn doesn't matter.

I'd say No. 23 is a little low. A-Rod is 17th all time in WAR and nine of those ahead of him were born in the 1800s. The overall caliber of play in the early 1900s wasn't as strong as it is now -- there was more variation between the best players and worst players -- so it was easier back then for the best players to exceed the level of their peers and thus compile a huge WAR. If you don't believe in this concept then you have to believe that nine of the top 20 players of all time were born in the 1800s, which is pretty silly.

I'd comfortably rank A-Rod in the top 15 and maybe as high as No. 10.

No. 3: Will Felix Hernandez (No. 114) eventually crack the top 100?

I'm surprised he moved into the top 125 considering he has just 125 career victories. Of course, we have a smart panel of voters here at ESPN who understand that Felix has been victimized through the years by some horrible offenses in Seattle. His career WAR of 45.4 puts him 124th ... among pitchers. So 114th overall seems a little high. But he's certainly on a top-100 path. He turns 29 in April and has averaged 5.5 WAR over the past five seasons. If he can average 5.0 WAR over the next five seasons that gets him to 70.4 career WAR and easy top-100 status. And if he remains healthy into his late 30s, he has inner-circle Hall of Fame potential.

No. 4: Where's Ichiro Suzuki?

What's with all these Mariners? I promise you that my editor selected these questions, not me. Anyway, Ichiro wasn't even included on the ballot due to failing to meet our qualifying standard -- he wasn't one of the top 150 position players according to Dan Szymborski's metric called GAR (greatness above replacement). Not named after Edgar Martinez (another cheap Mariners reference).

I asked about Ichiro's exclusion but rules are rules and what Ichiro accomplished in Japan doesn't factor in here. Even though his MLB career didn't start until he was 27, Ichiro ranks 190th in career WAR at 58.8. Obviously, that's not going to climb much -- if any -- higher, but Miguel Cabrera's career WAR is 59.4 and he ranks 47th on the Hall of 100. In his first 10 seasons, before he started slipping, Ichiro averaged 5.5 WAR per season. I'd say that peak value alone probably warrants him top-100 merit.

So send in your protests and let's get Ichiro on the ballot next year.

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