SweetSpot: San Francisco Giants

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

DiamondbacksArizona Diamondbacks

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


RockiesColorado Rockies

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


DodgersLos Angeles Dodgers

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



PadresSan Diego Padres

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


GiantsSan Francisco Giants

Brandon Hicks played a lot of second base last year and hit .162. He did, however, hit a big home run off Clayton Kershaw. ... Justin Maxwell is Triple-A outfield insurance, a guy who would fill in against left-handed pitching. ... Kyle Crick is allegedly the team's top prospect, but he walked 61 batters in 90 innings in Double-A and looks like a future reliever to me. ... Clayton Blackburn, on the other hand, lacks Crick's raw stuff but posted excellent numbers in Double-A. ... Brett Bochy is the son of the manager. He did appear in three games for the Giants but is your typical nondescript right-handed Triple-A reliever.
Only three pitchers have recorded the final out of Game 7 of a World Series with the tying run on third base. Harry Brecheen did it for the Cardinals in 1946. Ralph Terry of the Yankees famously induced Willie McCovey's line drive in 1962. Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner became the third when he got Salvador Perez of the Royals to pop out in 2014 -- the final, legend-capping moment in arguably the greatest postseason pitching performance of all time.

Bumgarner retired more batters this past October than any other pitcher in a single postseason. His run started with San Francisco's wild-card game on Oct. 1, when he pitched a shutout -- and 10 strikeouts -- against the Pirates. He threw another shutout in Game 5 of the World Series, then returned on two days of rest to pitch five more scoreless innings of relief in the Giants' 3-2 win, getting credit for the save. All told, he threw 52 2/3 innings in October and allowed seven runs (six earned) for a 1.03 ERA. Opponents hit just .153 against him.

The last pitcher to throw 50 innings in one calendar month was Cliff Lee in June 2010. The last pitcher to throw more than Bumgarner's 52 2/3 October innings in a calendar month was Livan Hernandez in May 2004. The last pitcher to throw 50 innings in a month and have a lower ERA than Bumgarner was Roger Clemens in August 1998.

Bumgarner only did it in the biggest games of the season. Legendary? Absolutely.

So how did he actually do this? He's certainly been a very good pitcher in the regular season, if not necessarily a pitcher anyone outside of San Francisco would refer to as the best in the game. He went 18-10 with a 2.98 ERA in 2014, and, although he finished fourth in the Cy Young voting, that ERA ranked just 14th in the National League. He's been consistent and reliable since he reached the majors, topping 200 innings all four of his full seasons. His reputation was enhanced by his World Series performances in 2010, 2012 and 2014. He also pitches his home games in a park that helps pitchers; the advanced metrics factor that in, so he's never been rated as one of the top 10 pitchers in the game by Baseball-Reference WAR or FanGraphs WAR:

2014: 21st (Baseball-Reference), 20th (FanGraphs)
2013: 26th, 28th
2012: 71st, 34th
2011: 67th, 16th

That might seem surprising. Bumgarner is probably underrated to some degree by the numbers. If major league general managers conducted a draft of starting pitchers today, I'd guess Bumgarner would go in the top 10.

Anyway, the point is: Bumgarner raised his game in October. The Giants like to talk about how nobody wants to win more than Bumgarner. But, again, that doesn't explain how he allowed a .153 average in the postseason. So let's dig into some of the numbers -- even if Bumgarner himself isn't into analytics. Tim Hudson joked during the World Series that he'd been unsuccessful just trying to get Bumgarner watch a little video.

Below is a breakdown of the percentage of each type of pitch Bumgarner threw in the regular season compared with the postseason. I've labeled one pitch a cutter because that's what Bumgarner calls it. Some refer to it as a slider. "He throws it a couple of different ways, so it goes both ways," catcher Buster Posey said during the World Series. Bumgarner says he merely changes speeds with it. "I call it a cutter, but I feel like it’s in between the two," he told FanGraphs' Eno Sarris late last season. "I think people call it different things because I change speeds with it. But I throw it the same."


Obviously, we see a different pattern here: Bumgarner threw more fastballs (he throws a four-seamer) in October and largely ditched his changeup. This approach actually stretched back into the regular season; he threw more than 50 percent fastballs in August and in September, as well.

Here are the results in plate appearances ending against each type of pitch, using wOBA (weighted on-base average):


As you might have expected, hitters fared more poorly against all of his pitches (that .000 against the changeup is just one plate appearance) in the postseason. Really, however, it all stems from the success of Bumgarner's fastball. Our ESPN colleague Curt Schilling likes to point out that everything else plays off a pitcher's fastball and fastball location. Bumgarner throws his four-seamer up in the zone, but check his location in the regular season compared with the postseason:

Bumgarner Heat Map 1ESPN Stats & Info
Bumgarner Heat Map 2ESPN Stats & Info


His fastball velocity was up a little bit -- 92.8 mph in the postseason versus 92.0 in the regular season -- but his location was more precise. More often in October, he got the ball up and in to right-handed batters, territory where they have more difficulty extending their arms. In the regular season, right-handed batters hit .231/.282/.410 against his fastball; in the postseason, they hit .115 (7-for-61).

That final at-bat against Perez to end the World Series? Six fastballs … even though Perez had homered off a fastball earlier in the World Series. Bumgarner wasn't going to deviate from his new best weapon.

The improved location might have been simply a product of better focus and concentration -- or not. As Sarris reported, Bumgarner moved closer to the third-base side of the rubber in July. That helped him get his fastball inside to right-handed batters -- and explains, perhaps, why he also started throwing it more often down the stretch.

And that's the scary news for Giants opponents. It's possible that Bumgarner didn't simply raise his game in October. He might have developed an approach that raises his game from April through September.

video
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The San Francisco Giants have a lot of ammunition at their disposal if they want to resort to cheap motivational ploys and haul out the "no respect" card.

When Bovada LV recently posted the new odds for the 30 MLB teams to win the World Series, the Giants came in at 18-to-1. That number placed them in a tie with the Toronto Blue Jays for ninth in the majors -- one spot behind the Seattle Mariners.

When ESPN.com's Jayson Stark polled 35 executives for their take on the baseball offseason, the Giants ranked as the National League's fourth least improved team of the winter.

And even when the Giants' recent run of three titles in five years is being placed in a big-picture context, they seem to come up short. In January, when respected baseball historians Mark Armour and Dan Levitt released their list of the 25 best general managers in baseball history, San Francisco's Brian Sabean was highly regarded at No. 14 -- and three spots behind his Bay Area counterpart, Oakland's Billy Beane.

Objectively speaking, it's hard to make the case that the Giants are a juggernaut. After winning 88 regular-season games and defeating Pittsburgh, Washington, St. Louis and Kansas City in October, they lost Pablo Sandoval to Boston through free agency, fell short in a bid to sign Jon Lester and made a series of relatively modest moves to fill in the blanks on the roster. Sabean's offseason activity consisted of adding third baseman Casey McGehee and outfielder Nori Aoki to the lineup and bringing back pitchers Jake Peavy, Ryan Vogelsong and Sergio Romo.

Continuity helps bolster the Giants' faith in themselves, amid the realization that a lot of things change between February and July or August. That long-range mindset is evident at their spring camp in Scottsdale, where you could never tell if they're coming off a clunker of a season or their third championship parade since 2010.

"Honestly, it feels the same now as it did last spring when I walked in here," said pitcher Tim Hudson. "It's remarkable how these guys keep the same even-keeled mindset. It's just calm and confident, regardless of what other people think about this team.

"I think the guys in here embrace the underdog role. It's like they say, 'OK, everybody is picking us to finish mid-pack again. We're gonna show 'em.' I think it's great. I would rather be the underdog than the favorite. The pressure is on the favorite all the time."

As perceived middle-of-packers, the Giants face a passel of questions in their attempt to repeat. Will Madison Bumgarner be unaffected by his 270-inning workload in 2014? Can Matt Cain come back strong from elbow surgery? Will Hudson continue to be effective at age 39, and can Tim Lincecum rediscover the Freak within now that he's rekindled ties with his father and mechanics guru, Chris? Pitching has always fueled the Giants' success, and it will be at the forefront of everything they do again this year, even as they address questions about the offense on the fly.

Togetherness, acceptance of roles and the pursuit of a common purpose will never be issues in Giants camp.

"When you look at our numbers last year, 88 wins isn't a dominating season by any stretch of the imagination," said reliever Javier Lopez. "But it's what you do when you get the opportunity, and we've been able to do that three times in the last five years. We believe in each other with the collection we have here. That's what drives us. That cohesiveness is what a lot of clubs look for, and we have it here."

Contrary to the popular narrative, it's not ordained from above that the Giants have to be bad in odd-numbered years. True, they stunk it up with a 76-86 record in 2013. But after their 2010 World Series victory over Texas, they survived a gruesome ankle injury to catcher Buster Posey to win 86 games and finish second in the NL West in 2011. That's the year Sabean went for it and traded top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler to the Mets for Carlos Beltran at the deadline, only to see the Giants go 25-29 in August and September to fade from contention.

For fans who might be wondering, the San Francisco players and staff are keenly aware of the whole even-year, odd-year dialogue surrounding the team.

"We'd love to have some fun in an odd-numbered year," manager Bruce Bochy told reporters at Scottsdale Stadium on Thursday. "Trust me, we'll do all we can."

As pitchers and catchers held their first workout, the usual air of calm was evident in Scottsdale. The Giants will hand out the championship rings early in the regular season, and they'll yield no ground to the favored Dodgers and those trendy Padres in the NL West. Some things never change.

Ranking the teams: 12 through 7

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

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

Red Sox12. Boston Red Sox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Total with Red Sox and Athletics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: 84-78


Giants11. San Francisco Giants

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

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

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

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

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

SportsNation

How many games do the Giants win?

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    13%
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    33%
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    41%
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    13%

Discuss (Total votes: 13,852)

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

Prediction: 85-77



Mets10. New York Mets

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

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

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

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

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

SportsNation

How many games do the Mets win?

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    10%
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    20%
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    28%
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    33%
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    9%

Discuss (Total votes: 19,643)

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

Prediction: 86-76


Orioles9. Baltimore Orioles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: 86-76


Angels8. Los Angeles Angels

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

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

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

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

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

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


Prediction: 87-75



Blue Jays7. Toronto Blue Jays

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

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

SportsNation

Who wins the AL East?

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    31%
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    25%
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    2%
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    33%
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    9%

Discuss (Total votes: 23,714)

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

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

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

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

Prediction: 87-75
One team won 88 games and had a colossal disaster of a season. The other team won 88 games and became a dynasty.

There is no love lost between the rich-kid Giants and their ballpark on the cove and the poor A's from the wrong side of the tracks with their stadium that smells of sewage.

But which club will be better in 2015?

Catcher: Josh Phegley/Stephen Vogt versus Buster Posey

Let's move on.

Edge: Giants

First base: Ike Davis versus Brandon Belt

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I've remained a believer in Belt and I think we need to dismiss his injury-riddled 2014. He hit .289/.360/.481 in 2013 and I think he'll do that again, with maybe a slight uptick. Davis was an interesting buy-low acquisition for the A's, although it seems most people have lost interest in him by now. At worst, he'll at least post a respectable OBP in a platoon role and maybe he finds some of that power from 2012, when he hit 32 home runs for the Mets.

Edge: Giants.

Second base: Ben Zobrist versus Joe Panik

Let's pencil Zobrist in here, although he'll likely play some shortstop and outfield as needed. Look, I know Panik had a nice rookie debut, hitting .305 and making some key defensive plays in the postseason. But he has to hit .305 to be a useful player. He doesn't have any power. He didn't steal a base in 73 games. He didn't walk much. The Steamer projection system has him hitting .255; ZiPS projects .264. Maybe the projection systems are wrong and he can come close to a .343 BABIP again.

Edge: A's.

Third base: Brett Lawrie versus Casey McGehee

Both teams have new third basemen and I know which one I don't like. McGehee drove in 76 runs for the Marlins and drew a lot of praise for that because too much attention is still given to RBIs. He started 127 games of his 160 games in the cleanup spot; of course he knocked in 76 runs. It's not that hard to do hitting cleanup. He still hit just four home runs. He grounded into 31 double plays. He doesn't have much range at third. Look, Pablo Sandoval wasn't exactly Mike Schmidt -- well, at least in the regular season -- but McGehee hit .223 in 2011 and .217 in 2012. There's a good chance the Giants are looking for a new third baseman by July.

Edge: A's.

Shortstop: Marcus Semien versus Brandon Crawford

Watch This, or this.

Edge: Giants.

Left field: Sam Fuld/Craig Gentry versus Gregor Blanco/Norichika Aoki

Whatever happened to the classic left fielder? You know, statue-like defense, 30-homer power, growls at reporters and complains when he gets moved down to fifth in the order? Both teams have defense-first left fielders. The A's have a natural left/right platoon while the Giants have two lefties who actually hit lefties pretty well last year. The Giants had Mike Morse sharing time with Blanco in left field in 2014, but his defense was so bad I don't think the Giants will miss all that much.

Edge: Giants. Although I can't say I'd be willing to argue anyone over this.

Center field: Coco Crisp versus Angel Pagan

This is all about Pagan's back surgery and if he'll be good to go. When he rejoined the Giants as a spectator during the World Series following surgery, he said he wasn't in pain and would be ready to go for spring training. But he's also 33 and you have to wonder how he'll hold up and if he'll still have the range to play center. But Crisp had his own health issues last season, playing through a neck injury (and also hurting his hamstring in the wild-card game). He's 35. They're similar players with near identical projections.

Edge: Athletics. Only because Pagan seems a little more of an unknown.

Right field: Josh Reddick versus Hunter Pence

It's Hunter Pence's world and we all just live in it.

Edge: Giants.

Bench

Of course, we've listed a lot of the Oakland bench players already. Really, it's the depth that Billy Beane is counting on more than anything to give his club a good offense, sort of a sum greater than its parts. Zobrist, Lawrie and Reddick and designated hitter Billy Butler are the four guys you can pencil in every day; the other five will be a rotating cast of platoons.

The Giants' bench has been an issue in recent years, although Travis Ishikawa and Blanco stepped up in the 2014 playoffs. This could be their best bench in years. Andrew Susac projects as a solid backup catcher, allowing Posey to take some days off from catching and play first base or DH in games in American League parks. Aoki will play some left, allowing Blanco to move over to center for Pagan from time to time. Infielder Matt Duffy doesn't have any power, but he hit .332 in Double-A.

Edge: Athletics.

No. 1 starter: Sonny Gray versus Madison Bumgarner

Just throwing this out there*:

Baseball-Reference WAR: Bumgarner 3.6, Gray 3.5
FanGraphs WAR: Bumgarner 3.6, Gray 3.3

* Does not include postseason.

Edge: Giants.

No. 2 starter: Scott Kazmir versus Matt Cain

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These two guys will be huge keys for both teams. Cain made 15 starts last year before getting his elbow cleaned up. He's a combined 10-17 with a 4.06 ERA the past two seasons and while he's just 30, he's logged a lot of major league innings at a young age and you wonder if his best days are behind him.

The good news for Kazmir is that he made his most starts (32) and pitched his most innings (190.1) since 2007 last year. He certainly appeared to tire as the season wore on: 11-3, 2.38 in the first half with 108 strikeouts and 27 walks versus second-half numbers of 4-6, 5.42, 56/23.

When evaluating the Giants' rotation, you have to keep in mind the big benefits their pitchers get from AT&T Park. Check out the home/road splits of their rotation over the past five years:

Home: 3.38
Road: 4.09

Of course, Oakland is also a pitcher's park, although not as extreme.

Anyway, I'll take Kazmir for 2015.

Edge: Athletics.

No. 3 starter: Jesse Chavez versus Tim Hudson

I'll pencil in Chavez as the No. 3 guy for Oakland right now, although it wouldn't surprise if ends up back in the pen or in a hybrid role. He started off strong last year, but tired and was eventually moved to a relief role after the club acquired Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija. He has a five-pitch arsenal and while none of his pitches rates as a big plus by themselves, he's learned to move the ball around and his cutter and changeup actually made him more effective against left-handers in 2014.

Hudson turns 40 in July, but the active career leader with 214 wins keeps rolling along, posting a 3.57 ERA last year. Like Kazmir, he hit the wall in September (0-4, 8.72) although he did have a good start against the Nationals in the Division Series. The Giants would probably be wise to limit him to 25 starts instead of 30-plus -- and having Yusmeiro Petit provides them that luxury.

Edge: Giants.

No. 4/5 starters: Drew Pomeranz/Jesse Hahn/others versus Jake Peavy/Tim Lincecum/Ryan Vogelsong

I have no idea who ends up here for the A's, but they have depth to get excellent production from the back end of the rotation. Pomeranz had a 2.35 ERA in 69 innings last year, although he had a 3.77 FIP, so the ERA was a little lucky. But he was a good find for Oakland, a young lefty with a good arm who just needed to get out of Colorado. I liked the Hahn pickup from San Diego for Derek Norris; he's a big righty with mid-rotation stuff but is a wild card as he was often injured in the minors. Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin, acquired in the Josh Donaldson trade with the Blue Jays, could also get starts here and Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin could be ready by midseason from their Tommy John surgeries.

The Giants re-signed Peavy and Vogelsong, which tells me that Lincecum isn't a lock for the rotation. And he shouldn't be, not with a 4.76 ERA the past three seasons -- 5.55 on the road.

Edge: Athletics.

Bullpen

This is pretty even: The A's had a 2.91 ERA last year and added Tyler Clippard from the Nationals (while losing Luke Gregerson); the Giants had a 3.01 ERA and bring everyone back. Considering the rapid turnover of most bullpens, it's amazing how long Bruce Bochy has been able to stick with his core group of Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez. Petit and Jean Machi provide depth.

Edge: Giants. If only because A's closer Sean Doolittle is questionable for Opening Day with a rotator cuff injury.

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The projection system at FanGraphs likes the A's at 84 wins, the Giants at 83. Beane has built a team that lacks star power on paper but makes up for it with 25-man roster depth. Maybe that will be enough, but there are a lot of moving parts here and I think they're going to miss Donaldson's bat and glove and I don't see the outfield providing enough offense. Gray, if not already an ace is close to one, and the rotation has a chance to be sneaky good, but it could also collapse if Kazmir doesn't produce and the young guys don't come through.

The Giants have the big names: MadBum, Posey, Pence. Losing Sandoval will hurt, not so much that he was a big star but that I didn't like the McGehee acquisition. There's no power beyond Posey, Pence and perhaps Belt and while they've proven they can win without home runs, it certainly makes things more difficult. In the end, I see a team that won 88 games last year, but didn't improve itself in the offseason.

The A's are in a tough division. While I wouldn't be shocked to see them win it, I'm not quite as optimistic as the projection system and see them finishing with 79 wins. I have the Giants dropping a few wins to 85 ... and missing the playoffs.
So last week Yasiel Puig said he considered the Cardinals to be the Dodgers' primary rival, not the Giants. That got some attention. This led Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow to call Puig "young and dumb." Krukow added that this will help the Giants refocus in 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

But here's the larger picture: I can't wait for things to get going, especially that first Giants-Dodgers showdown. Even if Puig doesn't think they're rivals.
With Keith Law unveiling his top 100 prospects this week, I thought it would be fun to look back at the top prospects from 2005. Has it already been 10 years since 2005? Yes it has! We'll use Baseball America's list and, as always, we're not criticizing the list. Evaluating prospects is part art, part science and a lot of unknown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

The great thing about this: There's no "correct" answer. So we can keep arguing. All I know, as Giants fans like to point out, is that they have three rings to wear.
video

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).

SportsNation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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.

Defensive storylines of the offseason: NL

January, 8, 2015
Jan 8
10:15
AM ET
Getty ImagesJason Heyward, Miguel Montero and Howie Kendrick are notable defense-minded acquisitions.

The major league baseball offseason still has a way to go, but I thought I'd take a look at how teams have changed defensively heading into 2015.

Here's a look at the National League:

 

NL East

Atlanta Braves
Every move the Braves made this offseason weakened them considerably defensively.

First they traded the best defensive right fielder in baseball in Jason Heyward to the Cardinals (for fear of losing him in free agency next offseason) and signed Nick Markakis (now recovering from neck surgery) to replace him. The difference defensively may be a couple of wins alone (just for all the balls that Heyward chased down in the right-field corner that others don't reach).

They also traded Justin Upton with the intent of plugging the hole in left field with Evan Gattis. That could be dicey, given that Gattis chalked up -10 runs saved in 48 games in left field in 2013.

They signed Alberto Callaspo to play second base. He's accumulated -28 defensive runs saved there in the past six seasons.

And lastly, to mentor Christian Bethancourt, they signed A.J. Pierzynski. All Pierzynski did was rank 34th in defensive runs saved among the 35 catchers with the most innings played last season (-11).

Miami Marlins
The Marlins remade their infield, though not in a great way with Michael Morse penned in at first base (-5 career runs saved there) and Dee Gordon at second (-5 runs saved). Gordon at least looked comfortable at the position and there's potential for improvement there. Martin Prado was a good get from the Yankees. He has 24 runs saved at third base dating back to the start of the 2010 season and is definitely an improvement over Casey McGehee.

New York Mets
The Mets don't necessarily have their shortstop yet, and who that is could go a long way in determining their level of offseason success. It could end up being Wilmer Flores by default. Flores had minimal range in a tryout there last season, but proved skilled at converting outs on balls hit at him and at turning double plays.

The corner outfield also could be a bit shaky. Michael Cuddyer typically rates among the worst defensive outfielders in baseball and his and Curtis Granderson's aging legs in right and left field respectively could create a lot of extra ground for amazing center fielder Juan Lagares to cover.

Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies need to find some defensive skill among their young players, as they traded two of the few players on their roster who were decent defensively in Marlon Byrd and Jimmy Rollins. Looks like we'll find out if Freddy Galvis can play shortstop full-time. In 41 games there, he's at -4 defensive runs saved.

Washington Nationals
The much anticipated move of Ryan Zimmerman to first base will finally come to fruition now that Adam LaRoche has signed with the White Sox. Zimmerman, a former Web Gem champ at third, hasn't been the same since he hurt his right shoulder, limiting his throwing ability.

The Nationals also signed Dan Uggla to a minor league deal. His usage should anything happen to Danny Espinosa could be problematic. Twice in the past four seasons, Uggla has ranked last among second basemen in defensive runs saved. Perhaps he could get a look at first base as well.

 

NL Central

Chicago Cubs
The Cubs' most visible defensive overhaul comes behind the plate, where Miguel Montero and David Ross, both excellent in the pitch-framing department, replace Welington Castillo, who ranked among the worst in that area.

"Framing is something [Montero] does well, especially in the low part of the zone which is important for us," said Cubs president Theo Epstein. "We have a lot of guys that pitch down there. He had outstanding framing numbers last season which jibes with the narrative of Henry Blanco working with him [in Arizona]. They really focused on that. It's a nice thing to have. He can steal a couple strikes here and there for your pitching staff."

Cincinnati Reds
The Reds had done little this offseason that tinkered with their defense until trading for Marlon Byrd.

Byrd should be a nice fit in left field for a year, though he's played only two games there in the past five seasons. He's been credited with 18 defensive runs saved the past two seasons in right field, which is currently occupied by Jay Bruce.

Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers finally found a first baseman to replace Prince Fielder by trading for Adam Lind, but he's a shaky defender there (-13 career runs saved). There is an addition by subtraction element with the departure of second baseman Rickie Weeks, but Scooter Gennett needs to improve, lest he'll give the team below average production at that position. In short, this could be a very shaky infield. But at least the Brewers have Carlos Gomez and (at least sometimes) Gerardo Parra in the outfield to make up for it.

Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates couldn't afford Russell Martin, so they went back to the well that yielded him and Chris Stewart by trading for another good pitch framer (though one likely not in Martin's class) in Francisco Cervelli. The Stewart/Cervelli platoon will make for an interesting experiment.

Pittsburgh also will have a new first baseman with the move of Pedro Alvarez there and Corey Hart as his backup. Sean Rodriguez, in his jack-of-all-trades role, could also see time there, as he's someone capable of filling in defensively just about anywhere.

St. Louis Cardinals
The team with the most defensive runs saved in baseball last season just got better with the outstanding Jason Heyward patrolling right field. His defense could add a couple of wins by itself, considering Cardinals outfielders combined for -4 runs saved there last season.

 

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks face two questions regarding their defense heading into spring training.

Can Yasmany Tomas handle third base?

Who is going to catch with the trade of Miguel Montero to the Cubs?

The answer to each is unknown. What is known is that Mark Trumbo is not a great fit in such a spacious outfield (to his credit, he is a good first baseman), but he'll be given another shot in left field.

Colorado Rockies
It sounds like the Rockies are going to try to see if former Gold Glove winner Carlos Gonzalez can shift to right field full-time, with Corey Dickerson now in left. The sample size on Gonzalez is less than 1,000 career innings there, but the results are decent (9 runs saved).

Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers will look very different on the defensive side with a new double-play combination in Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick (described by team president Andrew Friedman as "dynamic players on both sides of the ball"), rookie Joc Pederson in center and a stellar pitch framer in Yasmani Grandal behind the plate.

"There's no question we're going to be significantly better defensively. I think it's going to help on the run-prevention side quite a bit," Friedman said earlier this offseason.

San Diego Padres
The Padres have an all-new outfield with some combination of Matt Kemp (most likely in right), Wil Myers (most likely in center) and Justin Upton (most likely in left).

The hope will have to be that they hit more than they let in. Kemp doesn't rate well at any of the three outfield spots, so it's a matter of finding where he'll do the least damage. Myers is basically stuck playing center by default, but given that he was at -11 runs saved over two seasons in right field, who knows how that will go.

Upton is great at getting to balls, but there's only so far he can go playing left field, and his throwing arm tends to spray balls all over the place.

The one thing the Padres do have going for them is that they can put a better defensive team on the field late in games, with Cameron Maybin and newly acquired infielder Clint Barmes serving a useful role on the bench.

San Francisco Giants
The big thing to watch will be how much the Giants miss the presence of Pablo Sandoval, who was actually a very good defensive third baseman when he was in good shape (such as last season). Casey McGehee has never rated particularly well at the position and we'll see how big a drop-off he represents.

Joe Panik rated about average at second base in a 70-game look in 2014, though he looked better than that in the postseason. He should get a full-time look there in 2015.
I don't have a Hall of Fame vote since I've been a BBWAA member for only one year. Will there even be a Hall of Fame in nine years when I'll be eligible to vote?

Anyway, if I did have a vote, I've come around to using "wins above average" as a good starting point for examining Hall of Fame candidates. I'm a little more interested in peak performance than pure longevity. Obviously, the easy Hall of Fame choices such as Randy Johnson had both. Sometimes, a guy such as Pedro Martinez had such a dominant peak that he's an easy choice, as well.

By looking at wins above average instead of wins above replacement, we focus more on Hall of Fame-level seasons and give less credit or no credit to seasons where the player was more or less just compiling counting statistics. An average player is worth about 2.0 WAR per season, so we're looking at value above that level. Some guys -- such as Mike Mussina or Fred McGriff -- seem to be dismissed for being judged as "compilers" rather than big stars. But is that perception or reality?

Here are the wins above average totals for the 20 strong Hall of Fame candidates on this year's ballot, via Baseball-Reference.com. (Doesn't include Lee Smith, as relievers need to be judged differently.) I also included each player's career WAR, the difference between WAR and WAA, and then the percentage of each player's career value that could labeled "peak" value.


(In some ways, this is similar to Jay Jaffe's JAWS system, which combines two aspects of a player's career to arrive at a JAWS score: his best seven seasons and his career value.)

Anyway, what can we learn from this chart? The biggest compiler here is Craig Biggio, with only 44 percent of his career value coming from wins above average. Mussina did have a lot of "non-peak" value, but his career wins above average still ranks in the top 10. In fact, he should be viewed as less of a compiler than John Smoltz, who may get elected this year while Mussina struggles to get even one-third of the votes.

McGriff, on the other hand, rates low across the board, both in wins above average and percentage peak value. McGriff's proponents like to argue that he hit 493 home runs and did it clean. That's the difficult part of judging this era if you're going to factor in PEDs: Do you give McGriff extra credit because there are no steroid rumors attached to him, and thus he compares favorably to Hall of Famers like Willie Stargell and Willie McCovey?

The player perhaps most helped by this method is Larry Walker, which makes sense. He had a relatively short career, in part due to myriad injuries, but his career WAR is high, with 66 percent of that value coming from wins above average. I'm still skeptical about Walker due to the short career and the Coors Field boost. Yes, WAR makes park adjustments, but I don't believe it accurately accounts for how much a good hitter is boosted by playing in Coors. Edgar Martinez may have hit .400 if he'd played there.

So if I had a ballot, which 10 guys would I vote for? I would vote for PED guys and I'd vote for my top 10 players, regardless of trying to rig the ballot to help certain players: Bonds, Clemens, Johnson, Pedro, Bagwell, Schilling, Piazza, Mussina, Trammell, Edgar.

Others I'd classify as Hall of Famers: Smoltz, Biggio, Raines, McGwire.

On the fence: Kent, Walker, Sheffield, Sosa, McGriff.

Not a Hall of Famer: Delgado, Smith.

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