SweetSpot: Toronto Blue Jays
(By the way, if the win totals seem low, they're not. There are 2,430 major league games ... the win totals actually add up to 2,443; so if anything, they're a tiny bit too high.)
29. Cubs: 69.5
28. Marlins: 69.5
27. Twins: 70.5
26. Mets: 73.5
I'm going with the Marlins here. The infield is a bit of train wreck on offense, but I think the young rotation with Jose Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez and Jacob Turner could be very good. A full season from Christian Yelich and a healthier season from Giancarlo Stanton will help, and they've added a couple of bats in Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Garrett Jones, who aren't great but are better than what they had last season.
24. Rockies: 76.5
23. Phillies: 76.5
22. Padres: 78.5
21. Brewers: 79.5
I'll reluctantly go with the Padres here. They don't have individual star power, but I think their 25-man depth should push them over .500. The White Sox could certainly be interesting if Jose Abreu proves to be the real deal, but 75.5 wins is still 12.5 more than 2013. The Brewers are tempting with the return of Ryan Braun and the addition of Matt Garza, but Jean Segura's second-half fade is a concern and I don't like the righty-heavy nature of the lineup.
19. Diamondbacks: 80.5
18. Orioles: 80.5
17. Indians: 80.5
16. Mariners: 81.5
You can make pretty good arguments for four of these teams. The Mariners? Not so much. I'm going with the Diamondbacks -- hey, maybe they can go 81-81 for the third season in a row! Arizona has a star in Paul Goldschmidt, two elite defenders in the outfield in Gerardo Parra and A.J. Pollock, a guy in Mark Trumbo who could hit 40 home runs and some players returning from injury. Rookie Archie Bradley could provide a nice midseason lift to the rotation, as well, and the bullpen looks deeper with the addition of Addison Reed.
14. Pirates: 83.5
13. Reds: 84.5
12. Giants: 86.5
11. Angels: 86.5
The oddsmakers are projecting some regression from the Royals, Pirates and Reds. One note on the Royals: From June 1 on, they had the second-best record in the majors behind the Dodgers. They've made some minor additions with the likes of Omar Infante and Norichika Aoki to help improve an offense that ranked 11th in the AL in runs scored. The concern: They allowed just 601 runs last year, the second-lowest total in the AL in the past two decades. They will likely allow more than that in 2014. Can the offense make up for it? I think so. I'll take the over for the Royals.
9. Rangers: 86.5
8. Braves: 87.5
7. Red Sox: 87.5
6. Nationals: 88.5
Hmm ... considering I have the Nationals winning the NL East, I'll go with them. They did win 86 games last season, so I can certainly see a three-win improvement (and more). On the other hand, it's not like any of the regulars had a terrible season, or that we should expect obvious improvement from somebody. But the bench was horrible last year and will be better. Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon should play and are solid bets to improve. Doug Fister adds another quality arm to the rotation. I like them to win 90-plus games.
4. A's: 88.5
3. Tigers: 89.5
2. Cardinals: 90.5
1. Dodgers: 92.5
Five playoff teams from last year. So we're essentially asking: Which team is the best bet to return to the playoffs? I'm going with the Cardinals here, since I do have them as my No. 1 overall team heading into the season. I like their depth across the board: Position players, rotation and bullpen. I like their youth. I think the Pirates and Reds are a little weaker than last season. St. Louis won 97 games last year and I wouldn't be shocked to see the Cardinals do it again.
Boston Red Sox
Key question: Who replaces Jacoby Ellsbury in the leadoff spot? The Red Sox scored 56 more runs than the Tigers to easily lead the majors in runs scored. With Ellsbury having a solid season, the Red Sox ranked fourth in leadoff on-base percentage. Who fills his shoes? For now, manager John Farrell has indicated Daniel Nava will lead off against right-handers (.390 career OBP versus righties) and Shane Victorino versus left-handers (.373 career OBP versus lefties).
Daniel Nava, LF
Shane Victorino, RF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
David Ortiz, DH
Mike Napoli, 1B
A.J. Pierzynski, C
Xander Bogaerts, SS
Will Middlebrooks, 3B
Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
Jonny Gomes is back to platoon with Nava in left field, and David Ross forms a perfect platoon partner for Pierzynski at catcher. Bogaerts has the ability to move up in the order if he shows the same patience and discipline he displayed in the playoffs. Don't be surprised if he's hitting second at some point in the season.
Suggestion: The switch-hitting Victorino has always been better from the right side. Last year, he was forced to hit exclusively from the right side down the stretch due to hamstring and back issues. And guess what? He hit .300/.386/.510 in 115 plate appearances hitting right-on-right. His grand slam in Game 6 of the ALCS came against a right-hander. His three-run double in Game 6 of the World Series came off righty Michael Wacha. Yes, it's only 100 at-bats, but it's much better than what Victorino has done from the left side in his career. He says he won't get away from switch-hitting, but maybe he should.
Tampa Bay Rays
Key question: Where does Wil Myers hit? Joe Maddon moved his prized rookie all around the lineup in 2013 -- 25 times in the cleanup spot, 20 times in the fifth spot, 21 times batting sixth, plus 19 times batting second or third. In the postseason, he hit second, third and fourth. So your guess is as good as mine. Considering Maddon used 147 different lineups last year, we can probably expect a lot of moving around again.
David DeJesus, LF
Ben Zobrist, 2B
Evan Longoria, 3B
Wil Myers, RF
Matt Joyce, DH
James Loney, 1B
Desmond Jennings, CF
Yunel Escobar, SS
Ryan Hanigan, C
I suspect the only guarantees here are that Zobrist, Longoria and Myers will fill three of the first four spots. DeJesus could lead off against right-handers, with Jennings or Zobrist moving up to the leadoff spot when DeJesus is benched against lefties. Hanigan and Jose Molina will share time behind the plate, but both hit right-handed, so it won't be a strict platoon (although Hanigan has a career .393 OBP against left-handers).
Suggestion: I don't think Maddon needs any suggestions.
Key question: Who takes over the leadoff spot? Nate McLouth started there 108 times last year, but he left as a free agent. Nick Markakis seems to be the likely choice, but that points to some issues with the Baltimore lineup: Only Chris Davis had an OBP higher than .335 last season and McLouth (30 steals) and Adam Jones (14) were the only two with double-digit stolen base totals.
Nick Markakis, RF
Manny Machado, 3B
Adam Jones, CF
Chris Davis, 1B
Matt Wieters, C
J.J. Hardy, SS
David Lough, LF
The Orioles hit home runs -- 212 of them last year, 24 more than any other team. But they ranked just 10th in the AL in OBP and were thus fourth in the league in runs scored. Davis actually spent most of last season hitting fifth (101 starts there) before Buck Showalter finally realized you shouldn't have your best hitter batting fifth. He and Jones will hit third and fourth in some order (they could switch back and forth depending on the starting pitcher). The big problem is the fifth spot, as neither Wieters (.287 OBP) nor Hardy (.306 OBP) get on base much.
Suggestion: Take a few pitches. The Orioles were 14th in walks last season. Maybe that's not a surprise considering hitting coach Jim Presley wasn't exactly known for his patient approach at the plate during his big league days. Jones and Machado each drew fewer than 30 walks in 700 plate appearances, ranking third and ninth in lowest walk percentage among regulars. Jones is probably what he’s going to be at this point, but at least Machado is young enough to improve.
New York Yankees
Key question: How many more runs can this lineup be expected to score? The Yankees scored 650 runs last year -- their lowest total since scoring 603 in 1990 (where have you gone, Oscar Azocar?). Baseball Prospectus projects the Yankees to score 716 runs, a total that would have ranked eighth in the AL in 2013.
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Derek Jeter, SS
Carlos Beltran, RF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Brian McCann, C
Alfonso Soriano, DH
Brett Gardner, LF
Kelly Johnson, 3B
Brian Roberts, 2B
That looks a lot better than Lyle Overbay, Chris Stewart and Vernon Wells. But they're also missing one of the best hitters in the league with the departure of Robinson Cano. I suspect we'll see Gardner hitting first or second quite often -- when Ellsbury or Jeter gets a day, when Ellsbury gets hurt or if Jeter struggles. You'll see Beltran getting time at DH with Soriano playing a little outfield. With so many old guys and injury risks, the bench -- Brendan Ryan, Eduardo Nunez, Ichiro Suzuki -- will get plenty of playing time.
Suggestion: Jeter was great in 2012 -- he lead the league with 216 hits -- but in 2011 and 2010 he was pretty worthless against right-handed pitchers, hitting .261/.322/.326. Joe Giradi needs to manage the player and not the legend. If Jeter hits like that again -- and that's a more likely result than the .294/.346/.377 he put up against righties in 2012 -- Girardi shouldn't hesitate to move Jeter down against right-handers and move up Gardner or Beltran to the 2-hole.
Toronto Blue Jays
Key question: Will they stay healthy? Only three guys played at least 120 games last year: Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind and J.P. Arencibia. Thankfully, Arencibia and his .227 OBP are gone (it was the second-lowest OBP since 1901 for a player with at least 475 plate appearances). With better health, you can expect the Jays to score more than 712 runs.
Jose Reyes, SS
Melky Cabrera, LF
Jose Bautista, RF
Edwin Encarnacion, 1B
Adam Lind, DH
Colby Rasmus, CF
Brett Lawrie, 3B
Dioner Navarro, C
Ryan Goins, 2B
It will be interesting to see what John Gibbons does with the second slot. Cabrera started there last year but was moved down when he didn't hit. For most of May through late July, he hit Bautista second and Encarnacion third. Even though Lind was having a good year, Gibbons later went back to hitting those three guys 3-4-5 (at least until Bautista went down for the year in late August) and sort of punting the No. 2 spot.
Suggestion: If Cabrera doesn't hit closer to what he did in 2011 and 2012, how about Rasmus for the second spot? Yes, he strikes out a lot, but his .276/.338/.501 line would be nice higher up in the order.
2013 Final Record
- Boston: 97-65
- Toronto: 74-88
- Boston: 89-73
- Toronto: 80-82
- Boston: A.J. Pierzynski, Grady Sizemore, Edward Mujica, Burke Badenhop
- Toronto: Dioner Navarro
- Boston: Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew, Jarrod Saltalamacchia
- Toronto: J.P. Arencibia, Rajai Davis, Josh Johnson, Mark DeRosa, Darren Oliver
Boston decided to move on from Saltalamacchia and replaced him with Pierzynski (.312 wOBA). Pierzynski and David Ross (.288 wOBA) give the club a very experienced as well as aged duo at the position. Pierzysnki has played at least 125 games for 12 consecutive seasons and is coming off his best two-year run at the plate of his career. When he has been catching, opposing baserunners have converted 71 percent of their stolen base attempts, going 125 of 176.
Toronto decided to not tender Arencibia a contract and replaced him with Navarro (.319 wOBA). After Navarro's All-Star appearance in 2008, he has been granted free agency by Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and the Cubs, and released by the Dodgers. Navarro maximized his opportunities in limited playing time last season hitting 13 home runs in just 240 at-bats. That surprising total was a result of a career-best 18 percent home run-to-fly ball ratio and hitting nine of his 13 home runs at Wrigley Field. Navarro has not played more than 100 games at catcher since 2009. Josh Thole (.296 wOBA) remains to receive R.A. Dickey’s offerings every fifth day.
Advantage -- Boston
The strength of the Boston infield is on its right side. Mike Napoli (.350 wOBA) and Dustin Pedroia (.340 wOBA) combined for 25 runs saved defensively while providing above league-average production at their respective positions. The left side of the infield is a larger question mark as Boston let Stephen Drew leave via free agency and is entrusting the shortstop position to the talented yet inexperienced Xander Bogaerts (.333 wOBA). Bogaerts earned that role with an impressive showing late in the season and throughout the postseason. Will Middlebrooks (.312 wOBA) showed excellent power but struggled to get on base and cost the team eight runs defensively at third base.
Toronto returns most of its infield from last season that combined to save 20 runs on defense, most of which were by rookie second baseman Ryan Goins (.266 wOBA). The Jays are banking on his glove for his value, believing they have enough offense from other positions. Edwin Encarnacion (.377 wOBA) ended his season with wrist surgery in late September and updates on his recovery from it have been non-existent. Jose Reyes (.333 wOBA) hopes to avoid a serious injury in 2014 as last year's ankle injury prohibited him from exceeding 130 games played for the third time in the past five seasons. Brett Lawrie (.333 wOBA) played some of his best baseball in the second half.
Advantage -- even
Boston is asking a lot from Jackie Bradley Jr. (.308 wOBA) to fill Jacoby Ellsbury's shoes in center. Ellsbury, who was worth 9.1 and 5.8 wins above replacement in his two most recent full seasons, also saved 13 runs defensively last season. Manager John Farrell platooned Jonny Gomes (.327 wOBA) and Daniel Nava (.322 wOBA) as they managed the intricacies of playing left field in Fenway Park. Shane Victorino was everything the club expected and more in right field, fighting through injuries to save 24 runs in right field while providing above-average offensive production over 122 games. Reclamation project Grady Sizemore and Mike Carp offer depth from the bench.
The Toronto outfielders combined to save 15 runs, with Colby Rasmus (.334 wOBA) doing most of the work from center. Rasmus had his best offensive season since 2010 despite playing just 118 games. Like Rasmus, slugger Jose Bautista (.385 wOBA) was limited to 118 games, marking the fourth time in the past six seasons he has failed to play in at least 130 games. Melky Cabrera (.327 wOBA) returns from a myriad of health issues last season, including the removal of a benign tumor near his spine in September. Anthony Gose (.292 wOBA), Kevin Pillar (.289 wOBA), and Moises Sierra (.302 wOBA) round out the potential outfield depth chart that has been tested heavily in recent seasons.
Advantage -- Toronto
Boston enjoys the rare luxury of being able to return its entire starting rotation a season after winning it all. Jon Lester (197.2 IP, 3.77 FIP), John Lackey (166 IP, 4.10 FIP), Clay Buchholz (128.2 IP, 3.89 FIP) and Jake Peavy (149.1 IP, 3.67 FIP) give the club a formidable foursome. There are a few names in play for the final spot such as Ryan Dempster (149 IP, 4.44 FIP), Felix Doubront (137.1 IP, 4.15 FIP) Brandon Workman (124 IP, 4.49 FIP) and Drake Britton (3.77 in the minors) in play. Boston enjoys depth at this position in the upper levels of the organization.
Toronto expects a better season from R.A. Dickey (195.2 IP, 4.28 FIP). Last season, he was dogged by an upper back issue that reduced the effectiveness of the knuckleball. A return to health in the second half saw his strikeout rate jump 5 percent. Mark Buehrle (168.2 IP, 4.37 FIP) was the only other starter who made more than 20 starts. The club needs Brandon Morrow (125.2 IP, 3.79 FIP) to make 30 starts, something that he has done just once in the past four seasons. JA Happ (125 IP, 4.52 FIP) should own the fourth spot in the rotation while the likes of Esmil Rogers (112 IP, 4.57 FIP), Todd Redmond (119.2 IP, 5.46 FIP) and Drew Hutchison (59.1 IP, 4.61 FIP in 2012) compete for the final spot.
Advantage -- Boston
The bullpen is anchored by Koji Uehara (52.1 IP, 2.10 FIP), who has had a 1.93 ERA over the past four seasons and has struck out 35 percent of the batters he has faced. The only concern with him is that he has yet to throw more than 50 innings in consecutive seasons. Perhaps that is why Boston signed Edward Mujica (63 IP, 3.54 FIP) to give them a strong insurance policy a season after watching both Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan go down with injuries. Junichi Tazawa (73.1 IP, 3.41 FIP) should again play an effective role out. Craig Breslow (57 IP, 4.01 FIP) and Burke Badenhop (63.2 IP, 3.63 FIP) give the club a strong left/right combination to use in matchup situations to help get the ball to Tazawa, Mujica and Uehara.
The bullpen was the one area in Toronto that excelled in 2013. Closer Casey Janssen (53.1 IP, 3.12 FIP) was quietly fantastic in the role while Brett Cecil (66 IP, 3.32 FIP) had a breakout year. He and Steve Delabar (62.1 IP, 4.12 FIP) each saw their efforts rewarded with a trip to the All-Star Game. Sergio Santos (32 IP, 3.02 FIP) made a successful return from injury and looked like his former dominating self in holding batters to a .131 average with a 28:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Jeremy Jeffress (52.2 IP, 4.54 FIP), Aaron Loup (72.2 IP, 3.61 FIP), Dustin McGowan (35.2 IP, 4.46 FIP), Chad Jenkins and Kyle Drabek are other potential options in the pen.
Advantage -- Boston
Toronto has been rather quiet this offseason as it lacked the flexibility on their 40-man roster and payroll to be a big player on the free agent market. They have been rumored to be in on the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, either of whom would be a welcome addition to a starting staff that has struggled with injuries in recent seasons. Boston has retooled their roster, and while it lacks the shine it had as the 2013 season closed, it is still a strong team on paper and will likely not be threatened by the Blue Jays in 2014.
• Team rankings: Nos. 30-25 »
24. New York Mets
How they can get to 90 wins: Score 73 more runs, allow 72 fewer. Of course, allowing 72 fewer runs will be much more difficult without Matt Harvey.
Big offseason moves: Signed P Bartolo Colon, OF Curtis Granderson and OF Chris Young.
Most intriguing player: Zack Wheeler showcased electric stuff in his 17 starts as a rookie, although the command was shaky at times and the offspeed stuff inconsistent. With Harvey sidelined for the season, the spotlight turns to Wheeler. He has to keep his composure and not try to do too much, improve his curveball or changeup and throw more first-pitch strikes. He has ace potential, although his control may never reach the level needed to get there. The Mets will be happy if he develops into a No. 2 who can give you 200 innings.
Due for a better year: I'd say Ike Davis but he's always due for a better year and Lucas Duda is probably the better bet to win the first-base job with Davis dealt at the end of spring training. Ruben Tejada is the shortstop by default, barring a last-minute Stephen Drew signing and he should bounce back from a miserable .202/.259/.260 line. How quickly Mets fans forget that he hit .289/.333/.351 in 2012.
Due for a worse year: The Mets signed Colon to help chew up innings in the absence of Harvey, but no way will he repeat the 2.65 ERA he had with Oakland last season. He'll be 41 in May and doesn't appear to be keen on eating green leafy vegetables and protein shakes. Colon pumps fastball after fastball, getting just enough late movement to induce weak contact. Still, his peripherals didn't match the ERA -- he had a 3.43 ERA the year before with similar numbers -- so I expect a decline in both results and workload (he pitched his most innings -- 190.1 -- since 2005).
Marlon Byrd, who hit .285/.330/.518. Granderson did hit 41 home runs in 2011 and 43 in 2012 and he's only 33, so it's not so much that I'm knocking him as pointing out that Byrd had a very good season going when he was traded to the Pirates in late August.
The final word: It's not so much that the Mets are horrible, but that I have trouble seeing a lot of upside here. You're relying on a fat, 41-year-old starter, a guy coming off an injury-riddled year in Granderson, a guy in Young who hit .200, a shortstop who hit .202 last season, a catcher in Travis d'Arnaud who has never been able to stay healthy and a bullpen that doesn't look that deep. Maybe things come together, but I just don't see enough star-level talent here to crack .500.
23. Colorado Rockies
How they can get to 90 wins: Score 72 more runs, allow 71 fewer. The Rockies were second in the NL in runs scored, so they just need to improve the pitching, right? No, no and no. They need to score more runs as well, especially on the road, where the Rockies went 29-52. Colorado's problem has never been winning at Coors Field; it's been winning away from Coors Field.
Big offseason moves: 1B Todd Helton retired, signed 1B Justin Morneau, traded CF Dexter Fowler to the Astros for SP Jordan Lyles and OF Brandon Barnes, acquired SP Brett Anderson from the A's for P Drew Pomeranz, signed RP Boone Logan, acquired OF Drew Stubbs from the Indians for P Josh Outman.
Most intriguing players: Is this the year shortstop Troy Tulowitzki or outfielder Carlos Gonzalez win an MVP award? Tulo is entering his age-29 season and CarGo his age-28 season. You get the feeling it's now or never for these two to lead the Rockies back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Of course, you have to stay on the field to win an MVP trophy and the two combined to miss 88 games in 2013. And that was a good year for them.
Due for a better season: The back end of the rotation. If there's reason for optimism in Colorado, this is it. The Rockies gave 26 starts to Chad Bettis, Roy Oswalt, Jeff Manship, Collin McHugh and Pomeranz and they went a combined 0-19. They also gave 24 combined starts to Jon Garland (5.82 ERA) and Jeff Francis (6.27 ERA). So they just need the back of the rotation to be respectable.
Due for a worse season: Michael Cuddyer hit .331 to win the NL batting title at the age of 34. Considering he'd never hit .300 before and hit just .260 his first year with the Rockies, he became one of the unlikeliest players to ever win a batting championship.
I'm just the messenger: The Rockies shuffled a lot of deck chairs, but still failed to make two obvious moves. They need to upgrade second base, where DJ LeMahieu hit an empty .280. And with Helton retiring, they should have moved Cuddyer to first base and out of right field, where his range is a liability. Instead, they signed Morneau for two years and $12.5 million and traded Fowler for Lyles, a guy likely to struggle in Coors. Fowler doesn't make that much more than Morneau ($7.85 million in 2014 and then arbitration in 2015), so that transaction didn't make any sense.
Final word: LaTroy Hawkins is the closer. Need I say more? OK, I will. I can certainly envision a scenario where things work out considering how bad the fourth and fifth starters were a year ago. If Tulo and CarGo actually remain healthy for 145 games apiece, Nolan Arenado improves at the plate and Cuddyer repeats his monster season, the offense could be fine. But I just see too many ifs here with guys like Morneau and Anderson to see a playoff team.
22. Seattle Mariners
How they can get to 90 wins: Score 99 more runs, allow 114 fewer. Robinson Cano ain't doing that all by himself.
Big offseason moves: Signed 2B Robinson Cano, 1B Corey Hart, acquired 1B/OF Logan Morrison from the Marlins for RP Carter Capps, re-signed OF Franklin Gutierrez, signed SP Scott Baker, lost OF Raul Ibanez. DH Kendrys Morales is still a free agent.
Most intriguing player: Cano. So many questions. How will he do away from the limelight of New York? Now that he has his huge contract, will he press? Will he give max effort when he's playing in front of 14,000 fans on a cold night in Seattle in April? Will he hit as well away from Yankee Stadium? Does he have the drive to prove himself as one of the game's greatest second baseman ever? Will he cry when he sees the rest of the lineup around him? Will Jay Z come to Mariners games? Will Cano buy a house next to Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos?
Due for a better year: Justin Smoak? Just kidding. The bullpen ranked 29th in the majors with a 4.58 ERA even though it ranked fourth in strikeout percentage. Strikeouts usually lead to success, so expect better results (the Mariners lost six games they led heading into the ninth inning and went 6-15 in extra innings).
Due for a worse year: Hisashi Iwakuma was a revelation, performing better than Felix Hernandez and finishing third in the AL Cy Young voting. He was as good as Hernandez, but there was some luck involved. Nineteen of the 25 home runs he allowed were solo home runs and he'll be hard-pressed to repeat the .184 average he allowed with runners in scoring position. In Japan, he also had a history of following up good years with years in which he battled injuries. His innings from 2008 through 2011 were 201, 169, 201 and 119. He threw 219.2 in 2013.
I'm just the messenger: According to Defensive Runs Saved, the Mariners were the second-worst defensive team in the majors at 99 runs below average (only the Phillies were worse). The eye test confirms this was the case. The major culprit was an outfield that was predictably horrid at minus-70 runs. Yes, that was what happens when you play Raul Ibanez and Mike Morse out there on a regular basis and move a second baseman to center field midseason. So what did the Mariners do in the offseason? They acquired two first basemen/outfielders with bad knees and are rumored to be interested in the slow-footed Nelson Cruz. Talk about not learning from your mistakes.
Final word: Yes, signing Cano will make the Mariners interesting at the start of the season. But ... well, what else is there? The Mariners are desperately counting on their young players -- Mike Zunino, Brad Miller, Dustin Ackley (is he still a young player?), Justin Smoak (ditto) and Michael Saunders (ditto) to improve -- and all have huge question marks. They're counting on two rookies in Taijuan Walker and James Paxton for the rotation. They hope Hart and Morrison are healthy, but even then they're basically replacing the production Morales provided last year. Cano should be great, but I'm having trouble seeing where the improvement is going to come from unless Walker and Paxton are much better than anticipated.
21. Milwaukee Brewers
How they can get to 90 wins: Score 75 more runs, allow 54 fewer. Playing in Miller Park, which helps hitters, the Brewers have to score more than 640 runs. They scored 721 when they made the playoffs in 2011 and even scored 776 in 2012 when the bullpen imploded.
Big offseason moves: Signed SP Matt Garza, acquired P Will Smith from the Royals for RF Norichika Aoki, signed 1B Mark Reynolds, Lyle Overbay, Cecil Cooper, Franklin Stubbs and Greg Brock to minor league contracts.
Most intriguing player: Ryan Braun. No offense to Scooter Gennett.
Due for a better year: Braun. What to expect? I think he'll return to being one of the best players in the game, maybe even the 30-30 guy he was in 2011 and 2012 when he finished first and then second in the MVP voting.
Due for a worse year: Carlos Gomez. A revelation last year when he hit 24 home runs, stole 40 bases, hit a career-high .284 while winning a Gold Glove, it's hard to improve on a season in which you led all NL position players in Baseball-Reference WAR (at 8.4, just ahead of Andrew McCutchen's 8.2). But much of that value was tied up in his defense in center field, which by all accounts was tremendous. Gomez was credited with 38 Defensive Runs Saved, the most since Baseball Info Solutions began tracking DRS in 2003. Gomez's offense also tailed off a bit in the second half. He's a good player; I'm just not sure he's one of the top three or four players in the league.
I'm just the messenger: Brewers first basemen ranked last in the majors in OPS with a disgraceful .630 mark -- a figure so low that only three full-time position players were worse in 2013. So how do they attempt to fix this issue? Well, they signed the first baseman from the team with the 28th-worst OPS (Overbay).
Final word: I've been burned by the Brewers the past two seasons so I'm officially off the bandwagon. I see the same kind of team as last year -- top heavy with Braun, Gomez, Jean Segura and Jonathan Lucroy, too right-handed and one that has serious depth issues. Now that I'm picking against them, they'll probably win 90 games.
20. San Francisco Giants
How they can get to 90 wins: Score 60 more runs, allow 81 fewer.
Big offseason moves: Re-signed RF Hunter Pence, SP Tim Lincecum and RP Javier Lopez, signed SP Tim Hudson, signed OF Mike Morse.
Most intriguing player: Buster Posey. Will 2012 be Posey's career year? After hitting .336/.408/.549 in 2012, he dropped to .294/.371/.450, not that there's anything wrong with that from a catcher. After playing 148 games two years in a row, Posey looked tired in the second half and hit just .244 with two home runs. He did start 16 games at first and five at DH, so Bruce Bochy did give him rest from squatting, but playing him at first also means sitting Brandon Belt, who had slightly better numbers than Posey.
Due for a better year: Matt Cain went 8-10, 4.00, a big drop from the 2.93 ERA over the previous four years. Cain struggled early on with the long ball, three times allowing three home runs in a game through his first nine starts. From June 7 on, however, he looked more like the old Matt Cain, with a 3.03 ERA. His days as a 220-inning workhorse may be over, but look for his ERA to decrease this season.
I'm just the messenger: People talk about all that went wrong with the Giants in 2013 -- Angel Pagan's injury, Vogelsong's injury, Barry Zito's general awfulness. But you know what? A lot actually went right. Six regulars played 140 or more games, three starters made 30 starts, Marco Scutaro played well at 37, Belt increased his power and the bullpen was pretty solid.
The final word: Nobody likes veterans more than Giants general manager Brian Sabean. He proved that again by signing free agents Hudson and Morse and bringing Lincecum back on a two-year, $35 million deal even though he's been worth -2.3 WAR over the past two seasons. The deals could work out, but the Giants are betting Hudson recovers from his broken ankle, Cain bounces back, Lincecum pitches like it's 2011 and Vogelsong staying healthy and pitching well. That's too many ifs for me.
19. Toronto Blue Jays
How they can get to 90 wins: Score 51 more runs, allow 81 fewer runs.
Big offseason moves: None. Yet. Many expect the Blue Jays to sign one of the remaining free-agent pitchers. Signed C Dioner Navarro.
Most intriguing player: Jose Bautista. Does the slugger who finished fourth in the 2010 MVP vote and third in 2011 have another big season left in him? Bautista has played just 92 and 118 games the past two seasons, although he still swatted 55 home runs in that time. He still has 40-homer power in his bat but needs to stay healthy. And needs to quit his constant bickering with the umpires.
Due for a better season: The team medical staff. Compare that to what we just said about the Giants. The Blue Jays had just three players reach 120 games played, and unfortunately one of those was J.P. Arencibia, who had a .227 OBP.
Due for a worse season: Relievers Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar both made the All-Star team but struggled with injury issues and results in the second half, Cecil pitching 19 games with a 5.65 ERA, Delabar in 17 games with a 7.02 ERA. The Blue Jays may need some of the other bullpen arms -- like Sergio Santos -- to step up in case the All-Stars don't return to their first-half form.
Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez aren't the perfect solutions, but Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has painted himself into a corner. With a win-now lineup of veterans like Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes and Adam Lind, the Jays need to build a rotation that can win now. And that means taking a chance on at least one free agent ... and not counting on Brandon Morrow to actually make 30 starts again.
The final word: It was just one year ago that the Blue Jays were World Series favorites (oh, how everyone got suckered by that deal with the Marlins), so there is clearly some level of talent here. But the Jays have a wide swing of possibilities considering all the injury issues of 2013 and a rotation that remains a mess behind Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey. I'm taking the under but wouldn't be surprised on the over.
With that in mind, let's take a quick scroll through the American League and check out some of the interesting non-roster invitees to spring training.
Boston Red Sox -- Tommy Layne.
The Red Sox list only two non-roster players as of now. Layne is a lefty reliever who used to be with the Padres, and is more of an insurance kind of arm behind Craig Breslow and Andrew Miller.
Tampa Bay Rays -- Jerry Sands, Jayson Nix, Mark Lowe.
Sands is a guy I used to like a bit. He came up with the Dodgers and was traded to the Pirates, and doesn't really have a position although he can be spotted in the outfield and at first base. He has a chance to stick as a right-handed bat off the bench, spelling Matt Joyce and David DeJesus against lefties. Lowe is the kind of arm the Rays always take a chance on.
Baltimore Orioles -- Alexi Casilla, Quintin Berry.
Either could make the team as a bench player.
New York Yankees -- Scott Sizemore.
They have a bunch of pitchers invited and the bullpen is pretty thin so one or two may actually make the team, but Sizemore is the interesting guy here. He missed all of 2012 and nearly all of 2013 after twice tearing his ACL. He hit .245/.342/.399 with the Tigers and A's in 2011, so he's a viable option at third if he can get rid of the rust. Here's more on the Yankees' other non-roster invites from It's About the Money.
Toronto Blue Jays -- Chris Getz, Munenori Kawasaki, Dan Johnson, Andy LaRoche, Tomo Ohka, Juan Perez.
Yes, that Tomo Ohka, who last pitched in the majors in 2009.
Detroit Tigers -- Robbie Ray, Danny Worth, Trevor Crowe.
Ray is the left-hander the Tigers acquired from the Nationals in the Doug Fister trade. He won't break camp with the team but a strong spring could put him in line in case one of the starters goes down.
Cleveland Indians -- Shaun Marcum, David Aardsma, Matt Capps, Scott Atchison, Tyler Cloyd, Jason Giambi, Jeff Francoeur, Elliot Johnson, Nyjer Morgan, Matt Carson, Matt Treanor, Francisco Lindor.
Hands down, the most interesting list of invites. I assume Giambi makes the team again, with Marcum maybe having a shot at the fifth starter slot. Francoeur, Carson and Morgan are possibly in a battle to be a fifth outfielder (edge to Francoeur, who could end up platooning with David Murphy).
Minnesota Twins -- Jason Kubel, Matt Guerrier, Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton.
Sano and Buxton? Catch them early in spring training if you can.
Chicago White Sox -- Dylan Axelrod.
Axelrod lost his spot on the 40-man roster after struggling in the rotation in 2013. He'll get another shot and could stick as a long reliever/spot starter.
Oakland Athletics -- No announcements yet on non-roster players.
Texas Rangers -- Colby Lewis, Jose Contreras, Rafael Perez, Brent Lillibridge, Josh Wilson.
Lewis made seven starts in the minor leagues last year but never made it back to the Rangers. Derek Holland's injury opens up a slot in the rotation, with Lewis and Nick Tepesch the front-runners.
Los Angeles Angels -- Mark Mulder, Clay Rapada, Carlos Pena, Taylor Lindsey, Ian Stewart, Chad Tracy, Brennan Boesch.
The big name here is Mulder, the ESPN analyst who last pitched in the majors in 2008, making his the most intriguing comeback story of the season. Mulder had retired after two shoulder surgeries but decided to try a comeback after watching the delivery of Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez. He auditioned for several teams, was clocked at 89-90 mph and eventually signed with the Angels.
Seattle Mariners -- Scott Baker, Ramon Ramirez, Endy Chavez, Dominic Leone, Carson Smith.
After missing all of 2012 with Tommy John surgery, Baker was able to make just three starts last year with the Cubs. He'll try again with the Mariners. Leone and Smith are right-handed relievers who could break camp with the big team.
Houston Astros -- Mark Appel, Peter Moylan, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Delino DeShields Jr., J.D. Martinez
The Astros have invited some of their top prospects. Springer is the guy to watch. Will he make the team out of spring training or will the Astros send him down to Triple-A for a few weeks to save on his service time?
But we know not all teams are created equally in terms of payroll, a point further hammered home when the Yankees outbid the likes of the Astros and Diamondbacks for the services of pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. I thought I'd look back at the past five seasons and review each franchise. We'll rank them from last to first based on total wins -- but also list their total payrolls in that span. (All payroll information is taken from Cot's Baseball Contracts and are drawn from estimated Opening Day payrolls each season.)
30. Houston Astros: 312 wins, $359.5 million in payroll (23rd)
The Astros and Mets were the only teams not to have at least one winning season in our five-year study. The Astros' $26.1 million Opening Day payroll in 2013 was also the lowest in the past five years. They've gone through the worst three-year span -- 106, 107 and 111 losses -- since the expansion Mets lost 120, 111 and 109 games. Of course, the recent struggles are the result of general manager Jeff Luhnow's complete tearing down of the organization and basically starting over.
They'll have the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft for the third year in a row, helping to reload a now highly rated farm system. And the payroll, after stripped to the bare minimum in 2013, will increase to an estimated $48 million after signing Scott Feldman and trading for Dexter Fowler. But when will they start winning and how difficult will it be to win the fans back?
An aside here on competitive balance. Let's get this out of the way. You still hear a lot of fans arguing that a salary cap -- a hard cap, I presume, and not a luxury tax threshold -- would make things "more fair." I guess by "fair" they usually mean "so the Yankees and now the Dodgers can't sign all of the best free agents."
A salary cap, however, doesn't necessarily create more competitive balance. Just look at the NFL. In the past five NFL seasons, six teams never made the playoffs or had a winning record. Two others haven't made the playoffs. That doesn't even include the Detroit Lions, who have had one winning season and playoff appearance in 13 years.
Baseball's system may not be fair, but there isn't evidence that another system would create more parity.
29. Chicago Cubs: 356 wins, $629.3 million (7th)
The Cubs certainly win honors for most mismanaged franchise of the past half-decade, at least in terms of dollars spent per win. From 2009 to 2011, they had payrolls of at least $134 million and topped out at 83 wins in 2009 (after winning division titles in 2007 and 2008). Don't blame Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer completely for the past two years, as they inherited bloated contracts like the ones of Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano. The payroll this year should sit at about $78 million, with a slew of top-rated prospects -- Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, C.J. Edwards -- starting to arrive perhaps by the end of the season.
28. Seattle Mariners: 359 wins, $453.7 million (15th)
The Mariners have stumbled and bumbled their way through a decade's worth of bad, boring teams and awful free-agent signings like Carlos Silva and Chone Figgins. Despite owning five top-five picks since 2005 (Jeff Clement, Brandon Morrow, Dustin Ackley, Danny Hultzen, Mike Zunino) the Mariners' farm system has yielded little in the way of top-line talent since Felix Hernandez arrived in the big leagues. They signed Robinson Cano to the monster contract this offseason, but haven't done much else to provide him help other than to acquire Corey Hart and Logan Morrison, two guys with bad knees. The once fervent fan base has deteriorated and the entire city is wearing Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman jerseys. This is Jack Zduriencik's last gasp; a crushing exposé in the Seattle Times in December painted a picture of an organization without a clue.
27. Kansas City Royals: 361 wins, $329.7 million (25th)
They finally broke through in 2013 with their first winning season since 2003 and second since 1994. In 2011, the Royals had stripped the roster of veterans, and payroll was down to $38.2 million. As the young talent has started to mature, the payroll increased to $82 million in 2013 and looks to be another $10 million higher for 2014.
26. Pittsburgh Pirates: 364 wins, $248.5 million (30th)
After winning 94 games, Pirates fans are understandably frustrated at the club's offseason. While waiting for A.J. Burnett to retire or not retire, the Pirates have basically stood pat and done nothing. The future should be bright. Like the Astros and Cubs, they have a highly rated farm system oozing in talent. The advantage the Pirates have is the big league roster already includes an MVP in Andrew McCutchen and a potential future Cy Young Award winner in Gerrit Cole.
25. Miami Marlins: 370 wins, $294 million (28th)
The Marlins tried that whole fancy free-agent thing in 2012 and look what happened: 93 losses. Don't think we'll be seeing owner Jeffrey Loria going down that road again. The Marlins dropped from a $100 million payroll in 2012 to $50 million in 2013. Despite the influx of $26 million in additional national TV revenue for 2014, Miami's payroll may be even lower. Enjoy Jose Fernandez while you can, Marlins fans.
23. New York Mets: 374 wins (tie), $606.9 million (8th)
Matt Harvey's injury has allowed the Mets to sell 2014 as another rebuilding year, although they did sign free-agent outfielders Curtis Granderson and Chris Young and starter Bartolo Colon. The Mets have one playoff appearance in the past 13 years. I'm guessing it will be one in 14.
23. Cleveland Indians: 374 wins (tie), $338.5 million (24th)
Right now, the Indians' payroll sits right about where it was last season ($82 million), making you wonder if they're hedging on Ubaldo Jimenez not finding a suitor and returning to Cleveland. In 2001, the Indians' payroll was ... $93 million. That was the year after Larry Dolan bought the team and the Indians made the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years. Within three years, the payroll had been slashed to $34 million, attendance had fallen by 1.3 million and the Indians have been trying to build a consistent winner ever since. They won last year but the fans still haven't returned, as attendance was actually lower than the 94-loss team of 2012.
22. Minnesota Twins: 376 wins, $458.6 million (13th)
The Twins won six division titles from 2002 to 2010 -- a weak division in that era helped -- but fell apart overnight and have now lost 90-plus games three years in a row, despite three of the four highest payrolls in franchise history. Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are two of the top-10 position players in the minors and could arrive sometime this season to help turn things around.
21. Baltimore Orioles: 377 wins, $404.1 million (20th)
Peter Angelos bought the Orioles for $173 million in 1993. For the first several years of his ownership, Camden Yards was packed, the Orioles were competitive (making the playoffs in 1996 and 1997) and they spent freely on payroll, topping $80 million in 1999 and 2000. But as the losing seasons mounted and attendance dwindled, the Orioles seemed unsure of what approach to take. They never committed to a rebuild, but also never committed more resources to payroll. The success of the past two seasons has brought more fans to the ballpark, although they're still well below the figures of the late '90s. Still, Angelos and his son John are reluctant to take a big plunge in free agency and increase payroll much beyond what the club was spending more than a decade ago. The Orioles are now valued at somewhere between $618 million (Forbes) and $1.1 billion (Bloomberg).
20. Colorado Rockies: 386 wins, $396.8 million (21st)
The Rockies made the playoffs in 2009, but have now suffered three straight losing seasons. Their payroll and attendance figures have remained about as consistent as any team in baseball in the past five years, which alludes to a business plan that the front office sticks to. Unfortunately, a solid business plan doesn't mean a solid team on the field. The big moves this offseason were taking chances on Justin Morneau and Brett Anderson and signing reliever Boone Logan to a three-year contract. Those three players likely will have little impact. General manager Dan O'Dowd has been in charge since 2000 and presided over four winning seasons in 14 years. Why does he still have a job?
18. Toronto Blue Jays: 388 wins (tie), $432.8 million (17th)
Hey, the Blue Jays tried to go big last year. While everything went right for the Red Sox, everything went wrong for the Blue Jays. Still, in the end, the Jays haven't made the playoffs now since winning the 1993 World Series. Only the Royals (1985) have gone longer without a postseason appearance.
18. San Diego Padres: 388 wins (tie), $251.3 million (29th)
Perhaps no team is ultimately limited by its geographic location more than the Padres -- blocked to the north by the Dodgers and Angels, to the west by the Pacific Ocean, to the east by a desert and to the south by Mexico. San Diego is still a bigger metro market than Tampa, St. Louis, Cincinnati or Cleveland, but even if they started winning, it's not like baseball fans in Pasadena are going to suddenly dump the Dodgers for the Padres. So the Padres are always operating within a tight budget, although that budget hasn't really grown in a decade.
You know what else has hurt the Padres? They've never really hit rock bottom. There is a potential long-term advantage to doing what the Astros have done -- sorry, I'll call it tanking, even if it was the smart thing to do. By getting those No. 1 picks, the Astros secured premium, sure-thing talent. The Padres have had five top-10 picks in the past decade, but only two in the top five. OK, they blew the first overall pick on Matt Bush in 2004, taking him over Justin Verlander. No excuse there, as Bush turned into the worst No. 1 pick ever. They took outfielder Donavan Tate third in 2009 in what proved to be a pretty weak draft and he hasn't developed. Until the Padres develop a hitter or two to build a lineup around, this team is going to stick to about a 76-86 record every season.
17. Arizona Diamondbacks: 391 wins, $367.2 million (22nd)
We've apparently entered the NL West portion of our rankings. They've finished 81-81 the past two years. Has any team ever finished .500 three years in a row? It doesn't appear so. The Padres won 81 games in 1982 and 1983 ... and then reached the World Series in 1984. So there you go, Diamondbacks fans.
16. Washington Nationals: 392 wins, $405.7 million (19th)
Case in point to my Astros/Padres argument: Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. The Indians came very close from 1979 to 1981, going 81-80, 79-81 and 52-51. The Nationals dropped from 98 to 86 wins, and those 86 wins resulted only after an 18-9 record in September. With the price of success has come an increased payroll: $92.5 million in 2012, $118.3 million last year and about $130 million this year.
Later today: The top 15 teams.
The Hall of Famers
14. Tim Raines (69.1 career WAR, 52.2 percent of the vote last year) -- I’m a big supporter of Raines although it’s possible that the sabermetric crowd has overstated his case just a bit. Raines had a high peak from 1983 to 1987 while with the Expos -- his combined WAR ranks fourth among position players, behind Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson and Cal Ripken, meaning he was arguably the best player in the National League over that span. He was also an outstanding player in the 1981 strike season and again in 1992 with the White Sox. Other than those seven seasons, however, he was merely good instead of great and spent his late 30s as a part-time player.
Still, as others have written, as he’s a very close statistical comp to Tony Gwynn -- Raines just happened to replace Gwynn’s hits with walks. He’s one of the best basestealers in history and the WAR is right in line with recent Hall of Fame selections. The good news is that Raines’ case is building, from 22.6 percent to 30.4 to 37.5 to 48.7 to 52.2. If he can avoid a collapse this year because of the crowded ballot, his momentum appears strong enough to eventually see election.
13. Craig Biggio (64.9 WAR, 68.2 percent) -- Results from public ballots have Biggio just crossing over the 75 percent mark. Biggio reached the magical 3,000-hit barrier, meaning the only surprise was he didn’t get elected in his first year on the ballot. In the past, 3,000 hits meant you were a mortal lock for Cooperstown. Of the 28 players to reach 3,000 hits, only Biggio, Paul Waner and Rafael Palmeiro failed to get elected on the first ballot (not including Pete Rose and Derek Jeter).
Of course, to get there, Biggio wasn’t helping his club at the end. He picked up 265 hits his final two seasons while being valued at minus-1.7 WAR. He posted poor on-base percentages and had poor range at second base, not surprising considering he played in his age-40 and age-41 seasons. That's the flaw in focusing on round numbers. Biggio only got there by hanging on.
At his peak, however, Biggio was a tremendous offensive player as a second baseman, with power, speed, on-base skills and the ability to steal bases. From 1994 to 1998 he ranked third, third, second, 12th, third and second, in the NL in offensive WAR and was right up there with the best all-around players in the game.
12. Alan Trammell (70.3 WAR, 33.6 percent) -- To me, it’s clear that the BBWAA threw its support behind the wrong Detroit Tiger. Trammell is basically the same player as Barry Larkin (70.2 WAR), except he played in the same league as Cal Ripken and Larkin played in the same league as Shawon Dunston.
The weird thing about this is that I'm pretty sure Trammell was more famous while active than Larkin, at least on a national level. Larkin did win an MVP Award but Trammell's teams were in the playoff race for most of his career while the Reds were a small-market club that was up and down during Larkin's career. I think what happened is basically this: Say the 33 percent who vote for Trammell also voted for Larkin. That leaves the other two-thirds of the voting pool. Say one-third were NL beat guys and columnists and the other third were AL beat guys and columnists. All the NL guys voted for Larkin because he was the best shortstop in his league but didn't vote for Trammell. But the AL guys didn't vote for Trammell either because he wasn't Ripken -- and then after Trammell retired, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada and Nomar Garciaparra came along. Larkin gets the easy label -- best in his league -- that Trammell doesn't. Which is too bad. Trammell was a beautiful ballplayer who did everything well.
11. Mark McGwire (62.0 WAR, 16.9 percent) -- One of the things I’ll never forget as a baseball fan is watching McGwire take batting practice while covering a Cardinals-Tigers game at Tiger Stadium in 1999. Standing behind the batting cage as he launched ball after ball onto the roof or over the roof made me re-think the laws of physics (not that I know the laws of physics).
Why McGwire and not Sammy Sosa, when their career WAR isn't that dissimilar? Maybe it is a feel thing, a feeling that McGwire is one of the game's historic figures. I think that counts for something. He also has the best home run rate in history (higher than Babe Ruth).
10. Edgar Martinez (68.3 WAR, 35.9 percent) -- Bias alert! I wrote about Martinez back in 2009 and then again the other day. I rate him a little higher than the guys above because he had more high peak seasons -- five with 6-plus WAR, eight with 5.5-plus WAR and two more at 4.9 and 4.8. Simply, one of the best hitters the game has ever seen. Sadly, if the Mariners didn't waste three years of his career letting him unnecessarily rot in the minors, his case would be much stronger.
9. Mike Piazza (59.2 WAR, 57.8 percent) -- We'll learn a lot about Piazza's future Hall of Fame hopes this year. He achieved a strong showing in his first year. If that grows this year, it's a good sign. If it falls or remains the same, it could be that he's maxed out already due to PED concerns. About that WAR total: It's difficult for catchers to compile the same WAR as other positions, as they play fewer games and often have shortened careers. Piazza ranks sixth all time among catchers, behind Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, Ivan Rodriguez and Yogi Berra.
8. Mike Mussina (83.0 WAR, first year) -- As I wrote back in November, Mussina is eminently qualified for the Hall of Fame.
7. Frank Thomas (73.6 WAR, first year) -- I wrote about Thomas the other day. It looks like he'll get in on his first year on the ballot. Will Thomas' election help Martinez? Once Thomas is in, doesn't it mean you can't use the "but he was a DH" argument against Martinez? Probably not. That suggests a consistent and logical line of thinking from the BBWAA, which ... well, that's like expecting a Cardinals fan to be treated with kindness and respect while sitting in the Wrigley Field bleachers wearing a Matt Holliday jersey.
6. Tom Glavine (81.4 WAR, first year) -- Not much to add about Glavine that you don't already know. Durable, consistent, got the most out of his ability. Like Greg Maddux, an absolute joy to watch (unless you were a Mets fan). He owned the outside corner of the plate -- and maybe a few inches beyond -- with that changeup. I think Glavine and Maddux have a bit of an unfair reputation of not showing up in the postseason. Compare their results to those of Andy Pettitte, who does have a reputation as being extra-special clutch in October:
Glavine: 14-16, 3.30 ERA, 35 GS, 218 1/3 IP, 1.27 WHIP
Maddux: 11-14, 3.27 ERA, 30 GS, 198 IP, 1.24 WHIP
Pettitte: 19-11, 3.81 ERA, 44 GS, 276 2/3 IP, 1.30 WHIP
Their records aren't as good because they didn't get the same run support, not because they didn't pitch well.
5. Jeff Bagwell (79.5 WAR, 59.6 percent) -- Other than not playing an up-the-middle position, the perfect ballplayer: power, speed, on-base ability, terrific baserunner, durable (at least until a shoulder injury cut his career a few years short), excellent defender. Here's something I wrote on Bagwell last January.
There are those who refuse to vote for Bagwell under the assumption he used PEDs; Bagwell has strongly denied using PEDs, telling ESPN's Jerry Crasnick in 2010:
I never used [steroids], and I'll tell you exactly why: If I could hit between 30 and 40 home runs every year and drive in 120 runs, why did I need to do anything else? I was pretty happy with what I was doing, and that's the God's honest truth. All of a sudden guys were starting to hit 60 or 70 home runs and people were like, 'Dude, if you took [PEDs], you could do it too.' And I was like, 'I'm good where I'm at. I just want to do what I can do.'
There's nothing abnormal about Bagwell's career curve, other than his freakishly awesome 1994 MVP season when he hit .368. He didn't suddenly start posting career-best numbers in his mid-30s like McGwire or Barry Bonds. He was good as a rookie, got better, remained great and then slowly declined in his 30s.
4. Curt Schilling (79.7 WAR, 38.8 percent) -- Why Schilling over Glavine, even though Glavine won 305 games while Schilling won just 216 games? OK, here's why:
1. Wins are overrated.
2. More career pitching WAR (80.7 to 74.0).
3. Schilling had more high peak seasons -- eight 5-plus WAR seasons with three at 7.9 or higher compared to Glavine's four and one.
4. Postseason dominance.
In the end, I just feel Schilling had the bigger impact on the game's history -- the 2001 World Series triumph for the Diamondbacks, ending the Red Sox curse in 2004 and winning another title in 2007.
Glavine was more durable and lasted longer and maybe you prefer that type of career arc. But I'll take Schilling and his big seasons and go to war with him in October.
3. Greg Maddux (106.8, first year) -- The smartest pitcher who ever lived. At his 1994 and 1995 peak, maybe the best pitcher who ever lived.
2. Roger Clemens (140.3 WAR, 37.6 percent) -- Let's say Clemens started using PEDs in 1997, the year he went to Toronto and went 21-7 with a 2.05 ERA. The popular mythology is that Clemens was fat and washed up in Boston. Actually, he had ranked second among AL pitchers in WAR and led the league in strikeouts in 1996. But whatever. Anyway, through 1996 he was 192-111 with a 3.06 ERA, three Cy Young Awards and 81.3 career pitching WAR. That's more career WAR than Glavine or Schilling. After two big Cy Young seasons with the Blue Jays, he went to the Yankees. And you know what? He wasn't that great with them -- 77-36 but with a 3.99 ERA. He won a sixth Cy Young Award because he went 20-3, not because he was the best pitcher in the league. He won a seventh with the Astros because he went 18-4 (he was seventh among NL pitchers in WAR). Other than the 1.87 ERA in 2005 -- thanks to an absurdly low BABIP -- his late career basically matches what Nolan Ryan did in his 40s.
1. Barry Bonds (162.5 WAR, 36.2 percent) -- Somebody tweeted this on Tuesday night, Bonds hitting a mammoth home run at Yankee Stadium in 2002 -- a blast so impressive that even Yankees fans cheered in awe.
On a basic level, I understand the no votes: Cheaters shouldn't be honored. My colleague Christina Kahrl made a great point about how we view the PED guys: It's a litmus test that tells us what we want from the game. As she told me, we have to remember the past is plenty grimy, full of stories and people every bit as wonderful as we want them to be -- people who also happen to be human.
From 1988 to 1994, Bonds was second in the majors in home runs (to Fred McGriff) and first in OPS and sixth in stolen bases. His WAR was 13 wins higher than the No. 2 position player (Rickey Henderson). From 1988 to 1995, he was 14.5 wins better than the No. 2 guy (Cal Ripken). Ken Griffey Jr. joined the league in 1989. From '89 to '98, Bonds' WAR was 84.1, Griffey's 65.6 (and the No. 3 guy, Barry Larkin, way back at 51.1). Bonds was the most devastating force in the game before he allegedly started using PEDs sometime after McGwire and Sosa went all crazy in 1998.
Ray Ratto just wrote a brilliant Hall of Fame column and he had two great points about Bonds (and Clemens): "1. The player did things on the baseball field that few others did. ... 6. I DON’T WORK FOR BASEBALL, AND I DON’T CARE WHAT IT PURPORTS TO BE. I CARE WHAT IT IS, AND THIS IS PART OF IT."
Bonds is arguably the greatest player of all time, and, yes, a man with many flaws.
What do you want out of the game?
Close, but not quite Hall of Famers
19. Fred McGriff (52.6 WAR, 20.7 percent) -- Here's a question: Do you think the Tom Emanski commercial has hurt McGriff's legacy? I mean, instead of remembering all those home runs or that beautiful left-handed tomahawk of a swing, we just keep seeing him in that goofy hat trying to sell a video on defensive drills, which is kind of ironic considering McGriff was hardly known for his defense.
Here's another question: Assuming McGriff was clean and didn't use PEDs, how much was he hurt by the offensive explosion in the mid-1990s? For example, compare his career numbers to Tony Perez and Eddie Murray, two Hall of Fame first basemen elected by the BBWAA:
McGriff: 493 HRs, 1,550 RBIs, .284/.377/.509, 134 OPS+
Perez: 379 HRs, 1,652 RBIs, .279/.341/.463, 122 OPS+
Murray: 504 HRs, 1,917 RBIs, .287/.359/.476, 129 OPS+
McGriff didn't quite match those two in RBIs, but he had the better career on-base and slugging percentages. Even while factoring in the high offense of McGriff's era, his adjusted OPS is higher than those two. Is McGriff being penalized by the monster numbers other first basemen put up later in his career? He led the AL with 36 home runs in 1989 and led the NL with 35 in 1992, but when he hit 32 for the Rays in 1999 he ranked just 17th in the league. McGriff's prime years -- 1988 to 1994, when he led all major leaguers in home runs (24 more than Barry Bonds) and ranked second to Bonds in OPS -- are now 20-plus years in the rearview mirror. McGriff had a seven-year run as one of the best hitters in the game. And then still hit 231 home runs after that. So, yes, I think the voters have short-changed McGriff's early dominance.
However, in career WAR, McGriff ranks just behind Perez (53.9) and significantly behind Murray (68.2). Much of that is due to defense. Baseball-Reference credits McGriff with -18.1 dWAR due to positional adjustments and defensive metrics. Perez, who spent several years at third base, is at -6.9 dWAR and Murray at -12.8. Murray, who won four Gold Gloves, is credited with +61 runs saved on defense, McGriff with -34. In the end, the difference between Murray and McGriff is almost all defensive. I think that's a fair assessment.
18. Sammy Sosa (58.4 WAR, 12.5 percent) -- If we remove the PED cloud, how clear would Sosa's path have been to Cooperstown? He's a complicated case. The 609 home runs (eighth all-time) scream pretty loudly, as do the 1,667 RBIs (27th), a total that includes four straight years with at least 138. His peak was fairly short for a Hall of Famer: From 1995 to 2002 he compiled 46.2 WAR, including a monster 10.3 season in 2001, one of just 10 10-win seasons since the divisional era began in 1969 (but overshadowed that year by Barry Bonds' 11.9 WAR). But outside of that eight-year period, he didn't do a whole lot else. Sosa had flaws in his game -- early in his career he didn't walk much so he posted poor-to-mediocre OBPs; later in his career, his once outstanding defense suffered as he bulked up and slowed down; his .273 batting average isn't anything special for an outfielder. Statistically, his 58.4 WAR is well below that 68-to-70 level that makes him a strong candidate.
Still, for a period of time Sosa was one of the biggest names in the sport, a guy who graced magazine covers, and fans paid just to watch him take batting practice. But those guys don't always get to Cooperstown. Steve Garvey didn't make it; Dale Murphy, who won two MVP awards, didn't make it; Dave Parker didn't make it. With those 609 home runs, however, I think Sosa clears the 75 percent hurdle, minus PEDs. With those allegations, however, he drew little support last year and is a good bet to fall off the ballot this year. That may not be fair, but I won't be too heartbroken about it.
17. Larry Walker (72.4 WAR, 21.6 percent) -- Speaking of fair, I do feel like I'm possibly treating Walker unfairly by putting him short of the Hall of Fame. His career WAR is well above 70, he was an outstanding two-way player, he won three batting titles and an MVP award and hit .313 in his career. In his case, it's the Coors Field cloud I can't escape. His career road batting line of .278/.370/.495 pales in comparison to what he did in Colorado (.381/.462/.710). He did have some good seasons on the road. In his 1997 MVP year, he hit 29 of his 49 home runs on the road, with a .346 average. But in 1998 he hit .418 at Coors with 17 of his 23 home runs; in 1999, he hit .461 versus .286 with 28 of 39 home runs; in 2000 he hit 100 points higher at Coors; in 2001, the split was .406 and .293.
But doesn't WAR account for the home park factor? Yes, it does. But Walker was so much better at home -- even compared to the average Rockies hitter -- that even park adjustments may not completely explain what was going on. The biggest problem I have with Walker's case is that he had teammates putting up all sorts of similar numbers at the same time: In 1996, Ellis Burks hit .344 with 40 home runs and Andres Galarraga hit 47 home runs with 150 RBIs; Vinny Castilla had three 40-homer, .300 seasons; Dante Bichette hit .340 and led the league in homers and RBIs in 1995 and hit .330 another year; Todd Helton hit as high as .372 and as many as 49 home runs. Coors Field was such an extreme hitters' park that even hitters like Castilla and Bichette were able to take unique advantage of it. If Walker had been a little more durable (he played 140 games just four times), I'd like his case a little more. He's just short for me.
So borderline I can't make a decision
16. Rafael Palmeiro (71.8 WAR, 8.8 percent) -- At one point, I wrote that I'd vote for Palmeiro if I had a ballot (that was before the ballot got so crowded). His career numbers are hard to ignore -- 569 home runs (12th), 1,835 RBIs (18th), 1,663 runs (32nd), 3,020 hits (25th), 5,388 total bases (11th), 71.8 WAR (87th). The durability and consistency were amazing, and I've said PEDs aren't an issue for me; of course, Palmeiro does fall into a different category there since he tested positive after testing began. The other issue: Isn't he kind of the Don Sutton of position players? Sutton did eventually make the Hall of Fame for being very good for a very long time. Like Palmeiro, he crossed one of those magic barriers (300 wins). But according to Baseball-Reference, Palmeiro ranked as one of the top 10 players in his league just once (eighth in 1993) and as a top-10 position player five times (topping out at fourth in '93). Here are his annual rankings among all MLB first basemen:
He was a top-three first baseman just three times. I'm not sure that's enough for me. He had five seasons of 5+ WAR, not a big total for a Hall of Famer. For now, I'd be inclined not to vote for Palmeiro. Like Sosa, he's also a good bet to fall off the ballot.
15. Jeff Kent (55.2 WAR, first year) -- I thought Nick from Clovis, Calif., made an interesting point in my Tuesday chat: "As a lifelong Giants fan, I was very surprised at how great Kent's stats ended up being; I don't believe there is one Giants fan that can honestly say that they felt like they were watching one of the greatest offensive 2B of all time or even a potential future Hall of Famer when he was playing and that is probably what hurts Kent most."
I mean, if your hometown fans are having trouble drumming up enthusiasm for you ...
Kent is an unusual Hall of Fame candidate -- most of his career value came after he turned 30: 40.7 of his 55.2 career WAR. He had his first 100-RBI season when he was 29 and followed that up with seven more, making him one of the best "RBI men" ever for a second baseman. He finished with 377 home runs, 357 of those as a second baseman (the most ever). He drove in more than 1,500 runs. He won an MVP award. He played in seven different postseasons. Those are a lot of positives. On the negative side: Only twice was he top-10 position player (2000 and 2002); his career WAR is well below our 68-to-70 level; his range, especially in his later years, wasn't great; his speed wasn't a factor.
Tough call. Matt Wilks on Twitter asked me to compare Ryne Sandberg to Kent. Here goes:
Sandberg: 2,164 G, 282 HR, 1,061 RBI, .285/.344/.452, 114 OPS+, 1,318 R, +60 fielding runs
Kent: 2,298 G, 377 HR, 1,518 RBI, .290/.356/.500, 123 OPS+, 1,320 R, -42 fielding runs
Sandberg also won an MVP award. Kent was a little better offensive player, Sandberg -- both by reputation and metrics -- was the superior defensive player. Sandberg could run, Kent couldn't. And the RBI total is a little misleading. Sandberg spent most of his career batting second in the National League, a terrible RBI slot. Kent spent his prime years with the Giants batting after Barry Bonds, meaning a ton of baserunners on in front of him. Sandberg had six seasons of 5+ WAR, four with 7+ (Kent had four and two). I think Sandberg was pretty clearly the more valuable all-around player. Put him behind Bonds and he, too, drives in a ton of runs. Take Bonds away from Kent and are we even having a Hall of Fame discussion?
As with Palmeiro, I'm on the fence with him. For now, I guess I say no, as focusing too much on RBIs is the easiest way to overrate a player. But I reserve the right to change my opinion.
Of course, Schilling was also one of the greatest postseason pitchers ever, going 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 starts. His October legacy includes his iconic Bloody Sock Game in Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series against the Yankees, a win in the World Series that year that helped end the long suffering of Red Sox fans, plus his dominant performance throughout the 2001 postseason when he allowed six runs in six starts as the Diamondbacks won the World Series. He helped the Red Sox win another title in 2007. His career 3.46 ERA in a hitters’ era gives him an adjusted ERA equal to Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson and higher than Hall of Famers like Jim Palmer, Juan Marichal and Bob Feller.
Schilling was great, he has the advanced metrics that scream Hall of Famer, and he was an iconic figure in the game while active. What more do you need to get elected to Cooperstown?
More than 60 percent of voters didn’t check Schilling’s name on their ballot.
Then there’s the pitcher who finished with the same career adjusted ERA as Schilling. His best ERAs, all in seasons where he pitched more than 210 innings, were 1.89, 2.38, 2.39, 2.58 and 2.69, all coming when offensive totals were exploding. The worst of those seasons had an adjusted ERA+ of 150. Since 1920, only five other starters had five or more seasons with at least 200 innings and an ERA+ of 150 or higher: Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Lefty Grove, Randy Johnson and Roy Halladay. This pitcher had another season where he went 18-9 with a 3.00 ERA and another where he went 21-11 with a 3.32 ERA while leading his league in innings pitched. He won more than 200 games. He had a 16-strikeout game in the postseason. His career pitching WAR of 68.5 is higher than Palmer, Carl Hubbell or Don Drysdale.
Kevin Brown got 12 votes in his one year on the ballot, not close to the 5 percent needed to remain on the ballot, and he was kicked to the curb alongside Raul Mondesi, Bobby Higginson and Lenny Harris. Thank you for your nice career, but your case has no merit. Heck, Willie McGee received twice as many votes. I mean, Willie McGee was a nice player, and even a great one the season he won the MVP Award, but he had about half the career value of Brown.
The Baseball Writers' Association of America treats starting pitchers like they’re infected with the plague. They’ve elected one in the past 14 years: Bert Blyleven in 2011. And Blyleven, despite winning 287 games and ranking 11th all-time in WAR among pitchers, took 14 years to finally get in. Meanwhile, the BBWAA has elected three relief pitchers in those 14 years, so it’s not an anti-pitcher bias; it’s an anti-starting pitcher bias.
What’s happened here? How come no starting pitcher who began his career after 1970 is in the Hall of Fame? Leaving aside the case of Clemens, who would have been elected if not for his ties to PEDs, there are several issues going on.
1. The 1980s were barren of strong, obvious Hall of Fame pitchers. The BBWAA ignored the cases of borderline candidates like David Cone, Dave Stieb, Bret Saberhagen and Orel Hershiser, and instead embraced Jack Morris, a lesser pitcher than those four but a guy with more career wins.
2. Comparison to the previous generation of starters. Including Blyleven, there are 10 "1970s pitchers" in the Hall of Fame. Here they are, listed in order of election year along with each pitcher's 10-year peak period:
Bert Blyleven (2011): 1971-1980
Nolan Ryan (1999): 1972-1981
Don Sutton (1998): 1971-1980
Phil Niekro (1997): 1970-1979
Steve Carlton (1994): 1972-1981
Tom Seaver (1992): 1968-1977
Fergie Jenkins (1991): 1967-1976
Gaylord Perry (1991): 1967-1976
Jim Palmer (1990): 1969-1978
Catfish Hunter (1987): 1967-1976
These pitchers aren't merely just great pitchers but products of their generation. The late '60s and early '70s produced the lowest-scoring seasons in the major leagues since the dead ball era. The average team in 1968 scored 3.42 runs per game, the lowest total since 1908. That was the notorious pitchers' year, but 1972 didn't see much more offense at 3.69 runs per game. This was also the period when pitchers were worked harder than they had been in decades, making more starts and pitching more innings. The 15-year period from 1963 to 1977 saw 62 different seasons where a pitcher threw 300 innings. The previous 15 seasons saw it happen just 13 times (six by Robin Roberts); the ensuing 15 seasons saw it happen just three times, two of those by knuckleballer Niekro.
This period was the perfect time to ferment long careers with lots of wins. More starts and more innings gave pitchers the opportunity to get more wins. It's no coincidence that the peak seasons of the above pitchers all occurred in roughly the same time span.
3. Speaking of wins ... Hall of Fame voters love wins like Yasiel Puig loves driving fast. Morris has 254, a main reason he earned 67.7 percent of the vote last year despite his 3.90 career ERA. Schilling has 216 and Brown 211. The fixation on career wins -- and 300 in particular -- is the result of a unique generation of pitchers; it's a standard previous pitchers weren't held to. Bob Gibson won 251 games, Juan Marichal 243, Whitey Ford 236, Don Drysdale 209 and Sandy Koufax 165. Focus on the entire résumé, not just the win total. Schilling didn't win 254 games, let alone 300, but he's a far superior Hall of Fame candidate to Morris.
Let's compare Tom Glavine to Mike Mussina, both appearing on the ballot for the first time. With 305 wins, Glavine appears to be the much stronger candidate than Mussina, who won 270 games. Here's what one voter, Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe, wrote:
Glavine and Maddux were 300-game winners. Those are magic plateaus ... unless you cheated.
The rest of the list of players I reject are good old-fashioned baseball arguments. (Craig) Biggio got 68.2 percent of the vote last year, but I don’t think of him as Hall-worthy (only one 200-hit season). Same for Mussina and his 270 wins (he always pitched for good teams) and (Lee) Smith and his 478 saves (saves are overrated and often artificial).
There you go. Glavine won 305 games, Mussina won 270, so Glavine is the easy choice. As an aside: I love the bit about Mussina pitching for good teams. As if Glavine didn't pitch for good teams? Since when is pitching for good teams considered a demerit? Plus, as Jason Collette pointed out, "Mussina pitched for Baltimore for 10 years -- and Baltimore had losing records in five of those ten seasons. Yet, Mussina had a .645 winning percentage and won 147 of his 270 starts with the Orioles. The Yankees never had a losing record when Mussina pitched there and he had a .631 winning percentage with them. Mussina’s .645 winning percentage as an Oriole dwarfed the team’s .510 winning percentage in that same time."
(Also, Shaughnessy is apparently voting for Morris because he won 254 games, which I believe is less than 270.)
Anyway, when you examine the numbers a little deeper, Glavine and Mussina compare favorably:
Glavine: 118 (3.54 career ERA in the National League with great defense behind him)
Mussina: 123 (3.68 career ERA in the American League with often bad defenses behind him)
5+ WAR seasons
Glavine: 14-16, 3.30 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
Mussina: 7-8, 3.42 ERA, 1.10 WHIP
The point here isn't to detract from Glavine, but that Mussina has every bit the case Glavine does -- or 95 percent of it, giving Glavine some extra credit if you wish for his two Cy Youngs. Glavine hung on and won 35 more games; Mussina retired after winning 20. That doesn't make Glavine a superior pitcher.
4. Stingy voters. To a certain extent, the BBWAA voters have become tough on all candidates -- not just starting pitchers and PED users. As Joe Sheehan wrote recently:
Consider the recent history of Hall voting. The average number of players named per ballot declined steadily up until just last year. In 1966, which was the first vote in the modern era of BBWAA balloting (that is, in which there have been no years in which the BBWAA did not vote), there were 7.2 names listed per ballot. Ten years later, that figure was 7.6. By 2000, a year that featured two players voted in and a ballot with five others who would eventually be voted in (plus Jack Morris, still kicking around), the number was down to 5.6. There were more baseball players than ever before becoming eligible for the Hall, but the voters were becoming much more difficult to impress. That would remain the case for most of this century:
Remember, that downward trend is occurring despite an increasingly crowded ballot due to the split opinions on what do about the PED candidates. With as many as 15 to 20 legitimate Hall of Fame candidates on this year's ballot it will be interesting to see if that 6.6 players per ballot increases further.
5. Timing. The starting pitching problem will be abated somewhat in upcoming elections. Maddux will get in this year, Glavine this year or next. Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz then join the ballot next year. Johnson is a lock, and Martinez has the Koufax-esque peak value thing going for him, although with 219 wins he's not a first-year lock. Smoltz is similar to Schilling in many ways, down to the career win total (213) and postseason heroics, so odds are he'll face the same uphill climb.
I believe most Hall of Fame voters have the same goal: Elect the best players to the Hall of Fame, or at least the best ones they believe to be clean from PEDs. That issue is still stuck in the mud, the Hall itself refusing to give guidance to the voters. But electing Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina is simply an issue of understanding their greatness. They are among the very best pitchers in the history of the game. They deserve to be elected this year, alongside Maddux and Glavine.
Blue Jays: The transition from J.P. Arencibia to Dioner Navarro behind the plate is likely a wash and there hasn’t been much of an overhaul to this team other than the departure of Rajai Davis (who did have a decent amount of defensive value).
Orioles: The biggest issue on defense for the Orioles will be dealing with the loss of Manny Machado’s major-league leading Runs Saved, at least until he returns from injury. Baltimore did make one positive move that should upgrade its outfield defense, getting David Lough from the Royals for utilityman Danny Valencia.
Rays: The Rays made a long-term commitment to James Loney, which bodes well from a defensive perspective, and also made one to catcher Ryan Hanigan, who is considered one of the best base-stealing deterrents and pitch-framers in the sport. He’ll give them a solid alternative to Jose Molina.
Red Sox: Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts will likely step into everyday roles and fill the shoes of Jacoby Ellsbury and Stephen Drew. The Red Sox will also have a new catcher, though there isn’t much of a defensive difference between A.J. Pierzynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Both rate below-average statistically.
Yankees:There have been some pretty notable changes on the defensive side. Brian McCann’s pitch-framing rates well, but he’s not the baserunning deterrent that Chris Stewart was. Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts could split time at second base but neither is the Gold-Glove-caliber glove that Robinson Cano was. Johnson could also wind up full-time at third base, a position at which he’s barely played more than 100 innings, if Alex Rodriguez gets suspended.
The Yankees should be great in center and left with an Ellsbury/Brett Gardner combo. Carlos Beltran has less ground to cover in the Bronx than he did in Busch. That could benefit his achy knees and help his defensive rating.
One smart thing the Yankees did: Hire Brendan Ryan to be their “shortstop closer” for the next two seasons and as much as it will pain Derek Jeter to leave games, it will be for the good of the team to let Ryan finish close games.
Indians: The Indians tried to make a right fielder out of center fielder Drew Stubbs in 2013 and it didn’t work. They got themselves an upgrade in free agent David Murphy who rates adequate enough (5 Runs Saved in about a season’s worth of innings in right field) that his D could be a one-win upgrade by itself.
Royals: The best team in baseball, as it comes to Defensive Runs Saved, tinkered a little bit, swapping out Lough for Norichika Aoki in the outfield, which probably rates as a push (they’re both good … fair warning to Royals fans, Aoki likes to play a deep right field), and making an offensive upgrade by getting Omar Infante to fill the hole that was second base.
The one thing the Royals got from their second basemen last season was good defense (18 Runs Saved from the collection of Elliot Johnson, Chris Getz and others). Infante isn’t at that level, but he rates above average more often than not (he did by UZR, but not Runs Saved in 2013) and his offensive work should make up for any drop-off.
Tigers: The Tigers' defensive overhaul has been the biggest of the offseason as the team’s opening-day infield will be entirely different from 2013. Ian Kinsler is a definite upgrade at second base and we’ll see if Jose Iglesias’ wow plays add up over a full season (he has seven Runs Saved in just under 800 career innings at short).
Going from Prince Fielder back to Miguel Cabrera should actually be a slight upgrade.
The big question will be third base where the scouting reports on Nick Castellanos’ defense don’t inspire confidence. But even so, conservatively, the Tigers should be about 25 Runs Saved better in 2014, which takes them from being a lousy defensive infield to an average one.
Twins: The Twins made the career-preserving move of shifting Joe Mauer from behind the plate to first base and signed Kurt Suzuki, who has a good statistical history at the position. Suzuki has rated better than Mauer over the course of his career in Runs Saved, though he’s not as good at throwing out basestealers.
I asked Doug Glanville to assess what Mauer’s challenge will be in making the move to first:
“He is a super athlete and I am sure he will be fine. It will be tough to not be as involved with the game in every single moment. No one can compete with catchers in the leadership it requires to play that position and the need for constant vigilance. He has to sharpen his focus to deal with new lulls in time. I am sure he will.”
White Sox: The White Sox had the third-worst Defensive Runs Saved total in the majors in 2013 and they’ve been overhauled all over the place. Their worst position last season was center field (-19 Defensive Runs Saved in 2013) and they’ll have a new look there with Adam Eaton.
They’ll also be much different at first base with Jose Abreu, whose hitting has been compared to Ryan Howard's (but if his defense is, that’s not good) and third base with adequately-rated Matt Davidson, whom they got for Addison Reed. Will different equal better? They better hope so.
Angels: The aging of Albert Pujols will continue to be an issue both on offense and defense. Last season broke a run of eight straight seasons in which Pujols ranked in the top five among first basemen in Runs Saved.
Pujols will have a familiar teammate working at the opposite corner with the addition of third baseman David Freese, who had a dreadful season in 2013 per both Runs Saved and UZR, ranking third-worst in the former and second-worst in the latter. That’s something that will need to be dealt with.
Astros: The Astros traded away their second-best defender stats-wise from 2013 in Brandon Barnes to get Dexter Fowler from the Colorado Rockies. Fowler has less ground to cover in the gaps of Minute Maid Park, but has a deeper center field (and Tal’s Hill) to worry about. Fowler has posted a negative Runs Saved rating in four of his six seasons, but has fared well at handling balls hit to the deepest parts of the park.
Athletics: The Athletics made two moves that should definitely help their defense in 2014.
The Athletics also added a valuable utility piece in Nick Punto, who could start at second base (ahead of Eric Sogard) or close games at shortstop (replacing Jed Lowrie, who rates as a poor defender). Either way, he’s a big upgrade over what they had.
Mariners:The Mariners now have a Gold Glove-caliber defender at second in Cano. He’ll need to cover more ground to his left than he did in New York, because the Mariners’ first-base options (Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison and Corey Hart) do not rate well. Morrison is going to present an issue wherever they put him. He’s not quite at the level of Michael Morse, but his ratings historically have been poor.
Rangers: The difference between Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland at first base is a sizable one, potentially 15 runs over the course of a season, so if the Rangers do decide to hang on to Moreland, they'd be best off playing him at first base and having Fielder DH. The Rangers could use a good defender at first, since Jurickson Profar is basically going to learn on the job at second base. Texas will also have some outfield concerns with Shin-Soo Choo having limited experience in left field and the team no longer having the security blanket of Gentry (traded to Athletics).
Baltimore Orioles -- A healthy Manny Machado for Opening Day. A repeat season from Chris Davis. The old Nick Markakis. A closer. An ace. Production from designated hitter. At least one more hitter with an on-base percentage above .330. Wait, is that more than one wish?
Boston Red Sox –- That Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. become this generation’s Jim Rice and Fred Lynn -- you know, an overrated Hall of Famer and a guy who had two great seasons. I kid, Red Sox fans, I kid! But these two guys could form the core of the next run of playoff teams in Boston.
New York Yankees -- A time machine.
Tampa Bay Rays -- How about not trading David Price. Instead, he remains in Tampa for one more season, wins 20 games and another Cy Young Award and the Rays win the AL East. Remember: They didn’t trade Carl Crawford or B.J. Upton before free agency, so they won’t necessarily trade their ace.
Toronto Blue Jays -- Brett Lawrie and Melky Cabrera combining for more than 14 home runs and 195 games played. In fact, the Jays would just like good health throughout the roster. Only Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion and the departed J.P. Arencibia played 120 games last season, as Lawrie, Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes all missed significant time.
Chicago White Sox -- Forty home runs from Jose Abreu. Heck, it’s Christmas: 50 home runs!
Cleveland Indians -- The same clutch hitting that allowed the team to go 30-17 in one-run games in 2013, with 11 walk-off wins.
Detroit Tigers -- Angry Angels fans after Miguel Cabrera edges out Mike Trout for another MVP.
Kansas City Royals -- Important games in October. Many important games in October.
Minnesota Twins -- A September lineup with Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario.
Houston Astros –- A time machine.
Los Angeles Angels –- An MVP season from Mike Trout. (Well, you know what I mean.) And less Joe Blanton. Much less Joe Blanton. In 2013, he was kind of like the fruitcake of Christmas desserts -- completely inedible and bad for the stomach.
Oakland A’s -- Not having to face Justin Verlander twice in the Division Series.
Seattle Mariners –- A World Series title to follow the Seahawks’ Super Bowl win. Too much?
Texas Rangers –- More walks. OK, maybe that doesn’t sound like an exciting wish, but that’s what the additions of Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo are all about: Improving the team’s on-base percentage, especially against right-handed pitching. The Rangers were eighth in the AL in OBP against righties with a .317 mark. Playing in Texas, that’s not good enough. Two years ago, the Rangers scored 855 runs; last season, 730. They need to get back closer to 800 to wrestle the division title back from the A’s.
Atlanta Braves –- More smiles and high-fives from Freddie Freeman -- especially delivered to B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla. Or, conversely: A one-way ticket for Uggla to the North Pole. Or maybe this: A playoff trip that goes past the NLDS. The Braves haven’t made it past the Division Series their past seven postseason appearances.
Miami Marlins –- A sophomore season for the ages from Jose Fernandez.
New York Mets –- Juan Lagares and Chris Young running everything down in the outfield, Curtis Granderson hitting 35 home runs, Bartolo Colon winning 20 games, Travis d’Arnaud staying healthy and hitting .280 with 20 home runs, Lucas Duda getting on base, David Wright having an MVP-caliber season and Fred Wilpon selling the team. OK, maybe that last one is wishful thinking.
Philadelphia Phillies -- Ryan Howard hits 52 home runs, Chase Utley hits .315, Jimmy Rollins scores 120 runs, new Cuban starter Miguel Gonzalez wins 18 games and Ruben Amaro wins executive of the year honors.
Washington Nationals -- A .300/40/120 season from Bryce Harper. And, yes, he could do it. Yes, he could be the National League MVP.
Cincinnati Reds -- More RBIs from that bum Joey Votto.
Chicago Cubs –- For Starlin Castro to stop swinging at everything. Is that too much to hope for? OK, OK, how about a little better luck for Anthony Rizzo.
Milwaukee Brewers –- A better supporting cast for Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura and Jonathan Lucroy.
Pittsburgh Pirates -- A season that smacks regression to the mean on the backside and taunts all those so-called experts: 95 wins and a division championship.
St. Louis Cardinals -- Michael Wacha doing his thing for 30-plus starts.
Los Angeles Dodgers –- Not to be greedy or anything, but how about another Cy Young season from Clayton Kershaw plus a $250 million contract, a Cy Young-caliber season from Zack Greinke, a return to health and dominance for Matt Kemp, MVP-caliber seasons from Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez, more unhittable ninth innings from Kenley Jansen, lights-out eighth innings from Brian Wilson, a repeat performance from Juan Uribe, Hyun-jin Ryu pitching even better ... and Don Mattingly not screwing anything up.
Arizona Diamondbacks –- All the grit and hustle a front office could ever ask for. Of course, 85 home runs combined from Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo would be nice as well.
San Francisco Giants –- That the two-year, $35 million investment in Tim Lincecum doesn’t turn out to be a two-year, $35 million folly.
San Diego Padres –- Some California dreams: The Chase Headley of 2012 and not 2013, an even better Jedd Gyorko, Andrew Cashner making the Leap, no positive PED tests.
Colorado Rockies -- A plan? I joke! Imagine if the Rockies get better production from the back end of the rotation and 150 games from both Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, a surprise season from Justin Morneau, improved offense from Nolan Arenado to go with his masterful defense, a stellar bullpen and maybe a little luck ... and well, you never know.
Which is the point at this time of year. Every general manager and every fan can still wish for the improbable.
Whenever a great player such as Halladay retires, the Hall of Fame discussion immediately follows. But what makes a Hall of Fame pitcher? Do you prefer Halladay's short but brilliant career or the consistency and longevity of Glavine?
Halladay finished with 203 wins -- a low total for a Hall of Fame starting pitcher. Only Sandy Koufax since World War II has been elected with fewer wins among starters. On the other hand, Halladay won two Cy Young Awards and finished second in two other votes (he probably should have won in 2011, when he had a much higher wins above replacement total than winner Clayton Kershaw). Over his 10-year peak from 2002 to 2011, he went 170-75 (a .694 winning percentage) with a 2.97 ERA while averaging 219 innings per season. He had seven top-five Cy Young finishes.
That's a remarkable run of dominance. But again: What makes a Hall of Fame pitcher?
Let's see how Halladay -- not to mention Mussina, Schilling, Glavine or also-retired Andy Pettitte -- compare with Hall of Fame pitchers and other recent starters. Warning: Big chart to follow. I've included all post-1960 Hall of Fame starters, plus a bunch of other guys of interest. The chart includes each pitcher's career WAR from Baseball-Reference.com plus his 10-year peak WAR. Since we're using Halladay as our base comparison, we're using the best 10 years in a row, not the 10 best overall seasons. I also listed each pitcher's percentage of total career value earned in that 10-year period. (WAR includes only value earned as a pitcher; Glavine, for example, also earned 7.5 WAR from his hitting in his career.)
For those looking for excellence over individual seasons, we've listed the number of 7-WAR seasons (Cy Young-type year) and 5-WAR seasons (All-Star caliber).
OK, some random comments...
Roy Halladay: As you can see, he is unique in that most of his career value is wrapped up in that 10-year stretch, with 95 percent (his career value is also hurt by his two awful seasons in 2000 and 2013, worth minus-3.9 WAR). Only Koufax had a higher percentage of his career value from his 10-year peak (of course, his peak was really only five or six seasons). The impressive thing is how high Halladay ranks: Among 31 pitchers listed in the chart, he's 10th in peak value.
I tend to weigh peak value heavily, especially when it's as high as Halladay's was ... and 10 years is a pretty long period of dominance for a pitcher. Compare Halladay with Glavine, who is new to this year's ballot. Glavine, playing most of his career for much better teams, won 305 games. He was very good -- he won two Cy Young Awards -- and durable, never missing a start for 20 years. In his 10-year peak, he earned 47.7 WAR; in his other 12 seasons, he earned 26.3 WAR, barely 2 per season ... but also earned credit for another 130 wins. You can win a lot of games simply by being average for a long period, especially when you have Andruw Jones playing center field behind you.
Does that average period of pitching make Glavine that much stronger of a Hall of Fame candidate than Halladay? History suggests it will.
As for Halladay, the most similar pitcher to him is probably Juan Marichal, who wrapped up most of his value in a 10-year stretch, as well. Marichal pitched in an era when starters made more starts and pitched more innings, so he won more games, but their careers map pretty closely. In fact, Halladay has more career WAR and the higher peak. Marichal won 243 games and was inducted in his third year on the ballot.
Curt Schilling: Based on career value, peak value and postseason results, Schilling should be a slam dunk Hall of Famer. Instead, voters looked at his 216 wins and gave him only 39 percent of the vote last year, his first time on the ballot.
Mike Mussina: Mussina is middle-of-the-pack in peak value and higher in career value. He also has 10 seasons of 5-plus WAR, topped by only six starters. The view might be that Mussina's peak wasn't good enough (he never won a Cy Young Award), but this chart says that's just not the case. If you combine career WAR and peak WAR, he should be an easy Hall of Famer. Yet I still fear he will fail to get 5 percent of the vote and will get booted from the ballot.
Andy Pettitte: Pettitte won 256 games, which might make his Hall of Fame case pick up steam, much as Jack Morris' eventually did. Factor in his World Series rings, and he might fare better than Mussina (although he also admitted to using PEDs). My view is Pettitte's case is much weaker than Halladay's or Schilling's or Mussina's, as he lacks peak value while being borderline in career value.
Don Sutton: Sutton's case was a bitter Hall of Fame dispute for several seasons, until he finally got elected in his fifth year thanks to 324 career wins. The view of the naysayers was that he was merely a compiler -- a guy who was very good and lasted a long time but was never elite. That looks like an accurate assessment. His 10-year peak is low, and he had no 7-WAR seasons. He's similar in many ways to Glavine, although Glavine was a little better. Still, 324 wins is 324 wins ...
David Cone, Dave Stieb, Bret Saberhagen, Orel Hershiser: I listed these guys, all of whom fell off the ballot right away, to see how they stack up. It's hard to argue with the Hall of Fame voters here: These guys don't quite compare to the Hall of Fame pitchers in career or peak value. Cone probably has the best case of the group, kind of a poor man's Halladay. He went 194-126 in his career, won a Cy Young and started for five World Series winners (although he was in the bullpen in the playoffs for the 2000 Yankees). Cone received 4 percent of the vote his one year on the ballot, with his case to be reviewed at some point by the veterans committee.
Jack Morris: Morris was never as good as the four pitchers above at his peak, whether it's one-year peak, three-year peak or 10-year peak. His case boils down to 254 wins, Game 7 of the 1991 World Series and a nebulous title as "Pitcher of the '80s," which is just another way of saying he won the most games in the decade. OK, you want to give credit to Morris for the postseason? Why did Hershiser and Cone and even Saberhagen -- who threw his own Game 7 shutout -- get no credit for theirs? Anyway, this is Morris' last shot. It will be interesting to see, once he clears the ballot -- in or out -- how voters will start evaluating wins. Hey, Pedro Martinez won only 219 games.
Nolan Ryan: You know what? Nolan Ryan was a compiler. He compiled strikeouts, walks and longevity. He was one-of-a-kind and I'd certainly classify him as a clear-cut Hall of Famer, but he was never the pitcher Halladay or Schilling was. (I mean, at his best, on those days he was throwing a little harder and with a little better control, sure, he was more dominant than anyone, but for one season or period of seasons, I'd take Halladay or Schilling.)
As for Halladay, I'd vote for him without a second thought. Voters need to realize that they shouldn't overemphasize wins -- plus, look at the chart. The period of the late '60s and '70s was conducive to a lot of wins for several reasons. Three of the pitchers had the exact same peak years, with others just a year or two off. Just because many from that generation won 300 games doesn't mean that should continue to be the Hall of Fame standard.
Roy Halladay, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina and Tom Glavine are all Hall worthy.
Buster listed seven teams that could still have a big move left -- the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers, Tigers, Mariners and Diamondbacks. With that in mind, here are 10 predictions on what will happen the rest of the offseason.
1. The Rangers sign Shin-Soo Choo.
Nelson Cruz without forfeiting the first-round pick they'd lose for signing Choo, but Texas had a mediocre offense last year with Cruz. Why go down that road again? Choo gets on base more and would give the team another table-setter in front of Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder.
The Tigers signed Rajai Davis and appear willing to move forward with a Davis-Andy Dirks platoon in left field. Don't count out the Mariners -- the outfield is still a mess with the likes of Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley and possibly Corey Hart or Logan Morrison, although the latter two are best suited for first base or DH duties.
2. The Rays trade David Price to the Mariners.
Robinson Cano and two guys coming off injuries. For better or worse, general manager Jack Zduriencik is all in. Cano's best season in a Mariners uniform is likely to be 2014 and not 2016 or 2017, so there is pressure to upgrade the current roster right now.
To get Price, the Mariners will trade Taijuan Walker despite proclamations from Zduriencik that that won't happen. "I don't have intentions of trading Taijuan," he said during the winter meetings. "You listen to any opportunities that present themselves and you go into discussions with a lot of people. And his name will come up. Why wouldn't it? As do a lot of our guys, quite frankly. But Taijuan is high-profile because he's rated our top prospect."
3. The Angels sign Matt Garza.
Mark Trumbo trade gave the Angels some rotation depth with Hector Santiago from the White Sox and young lefty Tyler Skaggs from the Diamondbacks. Those two would slot in behind Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Garrett Richards, but the Angels may not be done looking for a starter. As they learned last year, you can never have enough pitching depth, plus it wouldn't hurt to give the 22-year-old Skaggs more time in the minors to help rediscover the form that made him one of the top prospects in the game in 2012.
Can Garza fit in the payroll? Right now, Baseball-Reference estimates it at about $144 million, up from last year's $129 million. The new national TV money is coming in, but signing Garza means the Angels may need to clear some payroll. Leading to this ...
4. The Angels trade Howie Kendrick to the Braves.
Brian McCann and Tim Hudson via free agency. No, signing Gavin Floyd -- he's not expected back until at least May after Tommy John surgery -- doesn't qualify as a major move.
Remember, despite winning 96 games, this team still batted Evan Gattis cleanup in a playoff game and started Freddy Garcia with its season on the line. The obvious position to upgrade is second base, where Dan Uggla posted a minus-1.3 WAR and was left off the postseason roster in favor of Elliot Johnson. Uggla is due $13 million each of the next two seasons, but the Braves have to decide whether they want to count on a guy who may be washed up or whether they want to pay $22 million for two second basemen.
Kendrick is signed for two more years and would cost a couple of prospects, but maybe the Braves could toss in Uggla while picking up the majority of his salary.
5. The Reds re-sign Bronson Arroyo.
Homer Bailey to a long-term extension, but that hasn't happened. So they may shift their priorities back to Arroyo, who has been with them since 2006.
Even though the Twins have signed Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey, they reportedly still want to sign one more guy as they revamp their rotation. Arroyo is a classic Twins-type pitcher: control over velocity. He's looking for a three-year contract, which may price out the Pirates, but Arroyo would be a nice fit to replace A.J. Burnett if he doesn't return to Pittsburgh.
6. The Dodgers do not trade Matt Kemp.
Dave Cameron wrote this week that we shouldn't assume Kemp's days as an elite-level player are over:
There's some good news for Kemp and the Dodgers, however; age-28 regressions are actually pretty common, even for good young players who had established themselves as high-quality players at a young age. In most of the cases, the guys who took a year off from hitting well bounced back to perform at a high level again.
Selling now on Kemp means selling low. Yes, he has that monster contract, but the Dodgers would be wiser to hold on to Kemp and hope he rebounds and gives them a huge middle of the order with Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez. There is the concern that he shouldn't be playing center field, but it's not like Andre Ethier is that all much better out there. Puig is probably the best option for center if the Dodgers want to move him.
As for Ethier, maybe a trade market develops for him once Choo and Cruz sign. The Dodgers can afford to be patient.
7. The Mariners sign Nelson Cruz.
What would the Mariners look like with Cruz and Price? Something like this:
SS Brad Miller
LF/1B Corey Hart
2B Robinson Cano
RF Nelson Cruz
3B Kyle Seager
DH Logan Morrison
1B Justin Smoak
C Mike Zunino
CF Michael Saunders/Dustin Ackley
SP Felix Hernandez
SP David Price
SP Hisashi Iwakuma
SP James Paxton
SP Erasmo Ramirez
8. The Orioles sign Grant Balfour.
Jim Johnson, a hole in left field after losing Nate McLouth, and no obvious candidate to take most of the DH at-bats. It appears they are most concerned with finding a closer.
Several teams still need (or desire) a closer, but it could come to AL East rivals. While the Yankees can ultimately just put David Robertson in the ninth-inning role, the Orioles' top relievers (Darren O'Day, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz) all have platoon issues. Balfour will turn 36 later this month but is seeking a three-year contract. My bet is the Orioles give it to him.
9. The Dodgers sign Ervin Santana.
just decide to keep Tanaka.
Even if the Eagles do post Tanaka -- he's an unrestricted free agent in two years, so they may just decide to cash in regardless -- the Dodgers also have to sign Clayton Kershaw to a long-term contract. With Zack Greinke and eventually Kershaw, do they want three starters being paid mega-millions? Probably not. So look for them to seek a cheaper alternative like Santana, who would fill out the rotation as a durable No. 4-type starter.
10.The Cubs will keep Jeff Samardzija.
So maybe he just remains with the Cubs because of the high asking price. And then the Cubs will hopefully sign him to a 10-year extension so we don't have to go listen to all these rumors again in July.
Boston Red Sox
What do they need? They filled their biggest hole at first base when they re-signed Mike Napoli on Friday night. The Red Sox also have to decide if they want to hand center field over to Jackie Bradley Jr., a plus defender with a good eye at the plate but who is still working on developing his hit tool. They could slide Shane Victorino over to center field and sign another outfielder, but Victorino was so good defensively in right that he provided excellent value with his glove there.
What will they do at the winter meetings? They could end up being pretty quiet. They've signed Edward Mujica but could be looking for more bullpen help.
Will they trade a starting pitcher? The current five-man rotation wouldn't include Ryan Dempster or Brandon Workman, but you need more than five starters to get through a season and Dempster's contract makes him difficult to trade unless the Red Sox picked up a chunk of his $13.25 million salary.
Tampa Bay Rays
What do they need? The right return for Price. Andrew Friedman will probably talk with 25 other general managers at some point (sorry, he's not going to an AL East rival) to see what he can get for the former Cy Young winner. The Rays will want a major-league ready prospect like they got last year in Wil Myers. That may have been a once-in-a-lifetime kind of deal, however, so the Rays may have to weigh taking lower-level prospects -- but more of them -- this time around.
What about first base? James Loney gave them a good one-year return last year, so now they need to find the next Loney. Trouble is, the first-base market isn't good other than Loney. They could move Matt Joyce there or look to acquire somebody like Ike Davis from the Mets. A Joyce-Davis trade seems like a perfect match of needs.
Who's in the rotation if they trade Price? Without Price, it shapes up as Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Jeremy Hellickson and Jake Odorizzi. That's why any trade involving Price may require a starting pitcher as part of the bounty (say, Taijuan Walker from the Mariners).
What do they need? The Orioles were 12th in the AL in rotation ERA, so that's an obvious place to upgrade. The top five on paper isn't horrible -- Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris and Kevin Gausman -- but that's mostly a group of No. 3s. They need an ace, but good luck getting one.
What about left field and DH? Nate McLouth just signed with the Nationals, so they need to do something there. A big hole was DH, where the Orioles hit .234 with a .289 OBP. Orioles second basemen weren't great either, hitting .236 with a .300 OBP, but they'll likely let Jemile Weeks and Ryan Flaherty battle it out. Nelson Cruz is a free-agent possibility for left field or DH, but the Orioles may not want to lose their draft pick to sign a guy with a mediocre OBP and durability issues. A gamble and somebody like Franklin Gutierrez may make sense.
Do they go after a closer? Possibly. Trading Jim Johnson leaves a void in the ninth -- although not a big void considering Johnson blew nine saves in 2013. They have options in Tommy Hunter and Darren O'Day, but both have sizable platoon splits. They're both best in setup roles where Buck Showalter can get matchups, so don't be surprised if the O's sign Fernando Rodney or Joaquin Benoit (they also signed Ryan Webb on Friday).
New York Yankees
What do they need? How about an MVP-caliber second baseman who hit .300 with power and never misses a game? Anybody like that available? OK, the Yankees have to move on from Robinson Cano and they did that by signing Carlos Beltran and re-signing Hiroki Kuroda. They may still have a little money left over to go after one more veteran starter like Bronson Arroyo or, better yet, Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (if he gets posted).
What about third base? At some point, they'll need a backup plan if Alex Rodriguez's suspension is upheld. Stone-gloved Eduardo Nunez is not the answer, but the free-agent market is weak. Juan Uribe? Maybe. Michael Young is a defensive liability. They tried the Kevin Youkilis experiment last year. You have to think the Yankees will be discussing third-base options with other teams. They could possibly shop Brett Gardner or Ichiro Suzuki, although Ichiro wouldn't bring a quality starter in return.
Who replaces Mariano Rivera? The Yankees could slide David Robertson into the role. He's been a dominant eighth-inning guy with a 1.91 ERA over the past three seasons. But that just opens up another hole. Free agent Grant Balfour has been rumored.
Toronto Blue Jays
What do they need? Starting pitching and more starting pitching. The Blue Jays entered last season as World Series favorites, expecting to have two aces in R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson. But Dickey couldn't repeat his Cy Young season, Johnson imploded, Brandon Morrow got hurt, and Ricky Romero spent most of the season in the minors. The Jays ended up with a 4.81 rotation ERA, worse even than the Astros.
Who could they go after? The Jays' estimated 2014 payroll is already above what it was in 2013, so there doesn't appear to be room to do much here. So it looks quantity over quality, with the likes of Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison and J.A. Happ battling for spots behind Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Morrow.
Could they trade Jose Bautista? Sure, they could trade Bautista, signed for two more years at the now-bargain rate of $14 million, and use that money to sign a pitcher. Do they trust Anthony Gose or Moses Sierra to deliver on an everyday basis?
This is Morris' final year on the BBWAA's Hall ballot. He's received 66.7 percent of the vote each of the past two elections, so in order to get to the 75 percent needed for election he'll have to pick up an additional 42 votes if the same 569 ballots are cast again. That's not unreasonable -- players often receive a spike in their final year -- but it's complicated this year by the crowded ballot and the new eligibility of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina, three pitchers with much stronger résumés than Morris.
Joe Posnanski is in the anti-Morris crowd. He admits he's a little obsessed by Morris (he's written many columns on Morris over the years), maybe too obsessed. He wrote the other day:
If someone wanted to make a Hall of Fame case for Jack Morris, they could say this:
1. He was an extremely durable pitcher who never missed a start and completed 175 games in his career.
2. He pitched one of the greatest World Series games.
3. He compiled borderline Hall of Fame caliber stats with his 254 wins and 2,478 strikeouts and his durability, the respect he built from teammates and opponents alike and his Game 7 push him over the border.
4. He was probably better than a handful of starters already in the Hall.
This isn't necessarily the most compelling argument, but this is what you have to work with. The trouble is, many people seem ABSOLUTELY SURE there is more to Morris' case. They just know -- absolutely know -- that Morris had to be better than that relatively tepid argument. And so they go searching.
More from the anti-Morris side. Recently on Twitter, ESPN Insider contributor Dan Szymborski compared Morris to some other pitchers via a series of tweets:
The case against Morris is simple: Relative to Hall of Famers, he wasn't very good at preventing the other team from scoring runs.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 27, 2013
To match Morris's career ERA+/IP, Kevin Appier needs 1228.2 IP of 6.23 ERA. Would 6 horrific seasons make Appier better candidate?— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 27, 2013
To get to Jack Morris's IP/ERA+, Kevin Brown would need 567.2 IP of a 7.92 ERA.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 27, 2013
By request, to match Morris's career IP/ERA+, Dave Stieb would need 928.2 IP of 8.07 ERA.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 27, 2013
To catch Morris IP/ERA+, Rick Reuschel would need to come back and throw 275.2 IP of a 7.31 ERA.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 27, 2013
Morris finished with a 3.90 career ERA. Over his final seven seasons, it was 4.48, despite which he managed to go 92-81.
In his piece, Posnanski cited this pro-Morris column from Joel Sherman of the New York Post:
I think there has been retroactive cherry-picking of Morris' career. In his era, he was valued as an unquestioned ace, a workhorse No. 1, the kind of starter who prided himself on working deep into games, saving bullpens, etc. My friend, Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, noted last year the righty pitched at least eight innings in 248 starts, which is the most by an AL pitcher in the DH era and represented 52 percent of his starts.
Here is one I note: Sparky Anderson, Tom Kelly and Cito Gaston combined to manage 8,146 regular-season games and each won two World Series. Every time Morris was available to start Game 1, those experienced managers started him. That was six times in seven series. The only time he didn't was the 1987 ALCS for Anderson's Tigers. He had thrown nine innings in Game 161 against Toronto to help Detroit clinch at least an AL East tie with the Blue Jays and so wasn't available until ALCS Game 2.
I guess the sabermetric crowd could know more today about Morris than those three managers knew then, but I am going with the managers.
Posnanski goes on to refute Sherman's arguments, so I won't do that here.
I do think there's something else going on that elevated Morris from a Hall of Fame afterthought -- he received less than 25 percent of the vote his first four years on the ballot -- to viable inductee.
Morris' first full season in the majors was 1979. His last good one was 1992. He's not really part of the Tom Seaver-Nolan Ryan-Steve Carlton-Phil Niekro-Don Sutton generation that pitched in the late '60s and early '70s, when offense was down, and racked up big innings, often in four-man rotations, and all won 300 games. (Bert Blyleven didn't win 300 but is part of that generation, as well.) Morris isn't really part of the Maddux-Glavine-Mussina-Randy Johnson-Pedro Martinez-Curt Schilling generation that kicked into high gear right as Morris was departing.
No, Morris is kind of a man on an island. Think of all the great pitchers who followed Morris in the '80s:
- Fernando Valenzuela: Burned out after six seasons, won 173 games.
- Dave Stieb: Developed shoulder problems, won 176 games.
- Dwight Gooden: Drug issues, but career ultimately derailed by shoulder issues. Won 194 games.
- Bret Saberhagen: Couldn't stay healthy. Won 167 games.
- Orel Hershiser: Tore his rotator cuff, although managed a comeback. Won 204 games.
- Frank Viola: Tommy John surgery. Won 176 games.
Then you have flickering rays like Mario Soto and Jose Rijo. Only Roger Clemens, who debuted in 1984, and Jamie Moyer, who debuted in 1986, began their careers in the 1980s and won more games than Morris' 254. The Hall of Fame has elected one starting pitcher since 1999 -- Blyleven in 2011, and he began his career in 1970.
Those guys above were all better than Morris at their peaks. With the exception of Valenzuela, they all had a higher career WAR. But they didn't win 254 games. They didn't win more games than Bob Gibson or Juan Marichal or Whitey Ford.
In the end, that is what Morris' case is all about -- 254 wins and that Game 7 shutout. It's not about how he was viewed as an ace or that his managers trusted him or other such arguments. It's about survival. And now Morris may have survived long enough on the Hall of Fame ballot to finally get elected to Cooperstown.