Here's Tuesday's chat wrap. Two hours of baseball talk!
video James Shields is the third of the big three free-agent starting pitchers available this winter, ranked behind Max Scherzer and Jon Lester.

After seven years in Tampa Bay, he spent the past two with Kansas City, who acquired him to become the top guy in the rotation. Shields delivered, going 27-17 with a 3.18 ERA over two seasons and helping the Royals reach the World Series.

MLB Free Agency: Half-Full, Half-Empty Logo
Shields won't command the same money as Scherzer and Lester, as he's older and not considered to be quite in their class, but Jim Bowden still predicts a five-year, $100 million for the soon-to-be 33-year-old right-hander.

Let's look at the half-full, half-empty sides of Shields.


If you're going to spend $100 million on a pitcher, one thing you want above all else is durability, and that's what Shields provides. He's pitched 200-plus innings eight consecutive seasons, including at least 227 the past four seasons. Shields leads the majors with 932.2 innings over those four seasons -- only two other pitchers have reached 900. He takes the ball every fifth day and pitches deep into games. This exactly why he's considered a staff leader.

He turns 33 in December, but this is a guy who takes care of himself and has never missed a start in the majors. All pitchers carry the risk of breaking down, of course, but Shields seems like a safe bet to continue rolling out 30-start seasons.

But it's about much more than his durability. Since 2011, he ranks 14th in the majors among pitchers with at least 600 innings with a 3.17 ERA -- a better figure, by the way, than Scherzer (3.52) or Lester (3.61). Only four of those 13 with a better ERA pitched that entire time in the American League, so Shields has put up good numbers in the league with more offense.

While he gets a lot of recognition for his excellent changeup, Shields' cutter has become a bigger weapon for him the past two seasons, especially against left-handers.

James ShieldsESPN Stats & Info

Shields' fastball velocity is a tick above average for a right-handed starter -- 92.4 mph in 2014 -- but neither his four-seamer nor his two-seamer is an especially effective pitch against left-handed batters, who slugged .451 against his fastball. The cutter gives him another pitch he can use, either to get ahead in the count, or when behind. Over the past two seasons, lefties have slugged .337 against his cutter. Shields used the pitch more in 2014 than the year before, and he could ramp up its use even more in future seasons.

It's all part of Shields' deep arsenal of pitches, as he also throws a very good curveball to go with his changeup. That points to a pitcher who should age well, even if he loses a little velocity off his four-seam fastball.

Shields also lowered his walk rate in 2014, giving him the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career. He has a ton of postseason experience. He's very good at holding runners -- he allowed six stolen bases in 2014 with four caught stealing and four others picked off. (Yes, some of that credit goes to Salvador Perez but Shields has always been tough to run on and one year picked off 12 runners.) All things that front offices will consider.

Baseball-Reference valued Shields at 3.3 Wins Above Replacement in 2014, and he's averaged 3.8 WAR over the past four seasons. Even accounting for some regression down the road, if he averaged 3 WAR per season, at the going rate of about $6.5 million per win on the free agent market, you're looking at $97.5 million of value. So that $100 million contract looks about right, and there's a good chance that Shields will earn that kind of money.


Good luck betting on a pitcher for his age 33 through 37 seasons. Know who else was durable? CC Sabathia. Or Cliff Lee. Or Roy Halladay, who finished second in the Cy Young voting when he was 34 and retired at 36. With pitchers, you just never know, and while Shields' durability has been commendable, he's also thrown the second-most pitches in the majors in the past five seasons behind Justin Verlander.

And look what's happened to Verlander.

But maybe the biggest concern regarding Shields is how he'll do in a different park with a different defense behind him. Both Tampa and Kansas City played in good pitchers' parks, and Shields has spent the past eight years pitching with good defenses behind him. Heck, you saw in the postseason how good the Royals' defense was in helping that staff.


What's your view on James Shields as a free agent?


Discuss (Total votes: 425)

A couple of numbers that could scare teams off:

--In 2014, Shields allowed 16 home runs on the road, just seven at home; over his career, he's allowed 129 home runs on the road, 98 at home. While he's middle of the pack in his fly ball rate, he has clearly benefited from his home parks.

--Yes, Shields has a lot of postseason experience, but he also has a 5.46 ERA in 11 career playoff starts, perhaps confirming the belief that he doesn't have the raw stuff to beat the better teams. For example, the past two seasons he went 2-5 with a 4.50 ERA in 10 starts against the Tigers. Does that sound like a $100 million pitcher?

What do you think? Half-full or half-empty?

SweetSpot TV: Red Sox deals

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24

Eric and I discuss the Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval signings. Others have analyzed the moves here on (and here's Eric's fantasy impact for the two), but I'm a little more skeptical on how all this plays out for the Red Sox.

If Ramirez moves to left field, isn't it possible his defense will be just as bad there as at shortstop? And Sandoval, while a nice player, has made his name more in the postseason than the regular season.

Beyond that, let's remember that the Red Sox are starting from a bad place: They were 71-91, and that included 42 starts from Jon Lester and John Lackey, two starters not currently on the team. Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly are your top two guys right now, which means the Red Sox don't have an above-average major league starter on the roster. Yes, they have offensive depth to deal from, but are Yoenis Cespedes or Mike Napoli really going to bring an elite starter back in return? Shane Victorino? Jackie Bradley Jr.? I don't think so; the Mariners, for example, aren't going to trade Hisashi Iwakuma for Cespedes, one rumor that's been that out there.

Anyway, this is just the beginning of Boston's offseason. The Cole Hamels rumors will certainly heat up and the Red Sox may still bring Lester back as a free agent. We'll see how it all plays out over the next few weeks.

We continue our half-full, half-empty series on free agents with a look at Andrew Miller. He might actually be the most-sought-after free agent this offseason because every team would like to add a hard-throwing lefty reliever who held opponents to a .153 average in 2014. Not every team can afford Max Scherzer or Jon Lester, but every team could conceivably afford Miller. Reports last week indicated that at least 22 clubs had contacted Miller's agent.

MLB Free Agency: Half-Full, Half-Empty Logo

Jim Bowden predicted a three-year, $25.5 million deal for Miller, but with so many teams interested, I could see the average annual salary being closer to $9 million or maybe the length getting extended to four years. No matter what, Miller will have his pick from several suitors.


Nobody has ever doubted Miller's arm. The Tigers drafted him sixth overall out of the University of North Carolina in 2006, and he was regarded by many as the best talent in that draft, falling only because of his bonus demands. The Tigers rushed him to the majors, where he struggled in 2007; then he was traded to the Marlins as part of the Miguel Cabrera deal.

Miller finally put everything together in 2014, a season split between the Red Sox and Orioles. Mixing his mid-90s fastball (average velocity: 93.8 mph) with his sweeping slider, Miller struck out 102 batters in 62.1 innings, giving him an opponents' batting line that resembled a more-heralded lefty reliever's:

Miller: .153/.229/.227
Aroldis Chapman: .121/.234/.172

OK, maybe not quite Chapman; but if you live on the same planet as Chapman, that's impressive. Miller's strikeout percentage was second among all relievers in 2014.

The key for Miller was throwing more strikes. In 2012 and 2013 with the Red Sox, he was used mostly as a LOOGY -- he appeared in 90 games but pitched just 71 innings (he missed the second half of 2013 with a foot injury as well) -- as his walk rates remained high. In 2014, however, he was more effective spotting his fastball against right-handed batters:

Andrew Miller heat mapESPN Stats & Info

That allowed him to set up his deadly slider, and he held righties to a .145 average with just one home run in 144 plate appearances. As you saw in the playoffs with the Orioles, this ability to dominate hitters from both sides of the plate means he can be used as a multiple-inning weapon in the postseason, making him even more attractive to a playoff team.

Miller doesn't have a lot of wear and tear on his arm, so a three- or four-year contract should lock up his prime years. For those who don't think teams should spend big money on a bullpen, just look at your 2014 World Series winners. The Giants had a veteran bullpen with Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez all making at least $4 million. The days of relying solely on a bargain-basement-priced bullpen might be over.


Entering 2014, Miller had a career ERA of 5.33 ERA. Do you want to make him one of the game's highest-paid relievers -- including closers -- on the basis of one great season?


What's your view on Andrew Miller as a free agent?


Discuss (Total votes: 955)

Miller always had trouble throwing strikes, but he cut his walk rate from 4.7 per nine innings in 2012 and '13 to 2.5 in 2014. So he's turned the corner? I wouldn't be so sure. In 2012-13, 61.9 percent of the pitches he threw were strikes; in 2014, that number was 65 percent. But ESPN Stats & Information actually has him throwing almost the exact same percentage of pitches in the strike zone -- 50.8 percent in 2014 compared to 51 percent in 2012-13.

As mentioned above, Miller did throw more fastballs in the zone -- 55 percent in 2014 compared to 51.3 percent the previous two seasons -- which allowed him to get ahead in the count more and throw the slider. But it's a fine line here. Miller threw 565 fastballs in 2014; the difference between 55 percent and 51.3 percent is 21 pitches out of 565.

If those 21 pitches are balls in 2015, it's likely Miller regresses to being a good-but-not-great reliever, and that $8-9 million per season will look like an overpay.

What do you think? Half-full or half-empty?

Back in the 2009 draft, the Seattle Mariners drafted University of North Carolina star Dustin Ackley with the No. 2 pick. He was supposed to develop into a franchise-type player, the kind of guy who would compete for batting titles.

That hasn't happened, but in that draft the Mariners also selected Ackley's less-heralded teammate in the third round. Kyle Seager has become the star and has agreed to a seven-year, $100 million contract that includes an eight-year option.

You might not view Seager as a $100 million player, but he's one of the most underrated players in the game, putting up good offensive numbers in a tough park and improving each season he's been in the majors. He's worth this kind of contract, which takes him through three seasons of arbitration eligibility and buys out four years of post-free-agency years. Compare Seager's past three seasons with those of Pablo Sandoval, who reportedly has agreed to a five-year, $90 million contract with the Boston Red Sox as one of the most sought-after free agents this offseason:

Seager: .262/.329/.434, 118 OPS+, 12.3 WAR
Sandoval: .280/.335/.424, 116 OPS+, 8.2 WAR

Yes, Seager lacks Panda's October heroics, but he's been the more valuable regular-season performer. Seager is also coming off his best season, hitting .268/.334/.454 with 25 home runs. His improved defense led to his surprise Gold Glove win (he had plus-10 defensive runs saved) and was valued at 5.8 WAR via, 10th among American League position players. He's been durable in his first three seasons, averaging 158 games per year. The only nitpick is that there's room for improvement against left-handed pitchers; he hit .242/.291/.370 against them in 2014.

The contract starts with Seager's age-27 season and takes him through his age-33 season, so the Mariners shouldn't be overpaying for a past-his-prime player in the latter years of the deal. Importantly for the Mariners, Seager is one of the few guys who has proved he can hit in Safeco Field. Along with Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano, he becomes the third long-term core piece for Seattle.

Looks like a good deal for the Mariners.

And I don't think Seager will have a problem with a $100 million contract.

* * * *

What's next for the Mariners? They had been rumored to be in on Hanley Ramirez; they could have signed him to play shortstop and then traded Brad Miller or Chris Taylor. They're desperate for a big right-handed bat for outfield or 1B/DH, which leaves a few options if they want to go "big":

(A) Free agent Nelson Cruz;
(B) Free agent Melky Cabrera (a switch-hitter);
(C) A Justin Upton trade;
(D) A Red Sox trade -- Yoenis Cespedes or Mike Napoli;
(E) Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas.

You'll hear names like Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma thrown out t here. Trouble is, right now the Mariners don't have rotation depth to deal from. The rotation would line up as Hernandez, Iwakuma, James Paxton, Walker and Roenis Elias. Paxton and Walker both had injury issues last year and Elias missed a start late in the season with a sore elbow. Walker is unproven. Elias had a so-so rookie year. I just don't see them trading Iwakuma with so much uncertainly in the 3 through 5 spots, so that leaves Walker as the most likely trade bait; but the Mariners aren't giving him up for one year of Upton, Cespedes or Napoli (all impending free agents), so those deals would have to be expanded in some form.

Anyway, it's nice to lock up Seager, but Jack Zduriencik still has a lot of work ahead of him.

Randy JohnsonRich Pilling/Getty ImagesRandy Johnson should be a unanimous selection in his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Hall of Fame season is kind of like Christmas season: It brings gifts and memories but also a lot of acrimony and stress, and it lasts way too long. Hall of Fame ballots were mailed out Monday to eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, which means the next six weeks will feature many Hall of Fame columns, debates, analyses and other assorted name-calling and belligerence.

Here are 10 main questions of conversation this Hall of Fame season:

1. Who are the new names on the ballot?

Last year's star-studded ballot that featured the election of first-timers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas is followed by another long list of intriguing newcomers: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield and Carlos Delgado are the top names.

2. How many of those guys get in?

Johnson should be a unanimous selection with his 303 career wins, five Cy Young Awards, four ERA titles, nine strikeout titles and six 300-strikeout seasons, but 16 of the 571 voters last year failed to vote for Maddux, so Johnson likely awaits the same slight and will get 95-plus percent of the vote but not 100 percent.

Martinez would certainly appear to be a lock to get the required 75 percent, but Hall voters tend to emphasize wins at the expense of everything else for starting pitchers and Martinez has just 219, so you never know. The BBWAA hasn't elected a starter with that few wins since Don Drysdale, who had 209, in 1984. Still, with the second-best winning percentage since 1900 of any pitcher with at least 150 wins (behind only Whitey Ford), three Cy Young Awards, five ERA titles and the best adjusted ERA for any starting pitcher in history, Pedro should cruise to Cooperstown at well above the 75 percent line. Really, like the Unit, there is no reason not to vote for him.

Smoltz has a little more complicated case and may suffer in comparison to being on the same ballot with Johnson and Martinez. While Pedro was 219-100 with a 2.93 ERA, Smoltz was 213-155 with a 3.33 ERA. He did pick up 154 saves while serving as a closer for three-plus seasons and maybe that will resonate with voters. Smoltz also has a great postseason record -- 15-4, 2.67 ERA -- but similar postseason dominance didn't help Curt Schilling last year when he received just 29 percent of the votes. I believe Smoltz does much better than that, but I don't see why Schilling -- 216-146, 3.46 in his career with 79.9 WAR compared to Smoltz's 69.5 -- would receive just 29 percent and Smoltz 75 percent.

Sheffield, with the PED allegations, has no chance despite 509 career home runs and over 1,600 RBIs and runs. Delgado put up big numbers in an era when a lot of guys were putting up big numbers, and his 473 career home runs with 1,512 RBIs may not be enough to even keep him on the ballot (you need to receive 5 percent to remain on).

3. Does Craig Biggio get in this year?

He fell just two votes short last year on his second time on the ballot, so you have to think at least two voters will add him, assuming some of the holdovers don't change their minds. Biggio's Hall of Fame case is kind of ironic in that he was probably one of the more underrated players in the league while active. He finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting three times (10th, fifth, fourth), but the same writers who once dismissed him as an MVP candidate will now be putting him in the Hall of Fame. He's a deserving candidate, but if he hadn't played that final season when he was terrible and cleared 3,000 career hits, you wonder if he'd be even this close. Voters love their round numbers.

4. What's the new 10-year rule?

Candidates will now be allowed to remain on the ballot for only 10 years instead of 15. Three current candidates -- Don Mattingly (in his 15th season), Alan Trammell (14th) and Lee Smith (13th) were allowed to remain on the ballot.

For the first time, the names of all voters will also be made public, although neither the Hall of Fame nor BBWAA will not reveal an individual's ballot.

5. Who will be most affected by this?

Well, all the steroids guys, obviously. Mark McGwire, for example, is on the ballot for his ninth year, not enough time in case voter attitudes toward PEDs starts reversing course. Aside from that group, Tim Raines is on the ballot for the eighth year. He received 46 percent of the vote last year; that was actually a drop from the 52 percent he had in 2013. Historically, nearly every player who received 50 percent of the vote from the BBWAA eventually got elected, but now Raines has just three years left and was affected by the crowded ballot last year.

6. But the ballot is still crowded, right?

Yep. Remember, voters are allowed to vote for up to 10 players -- although most ballots don't get to 10, so the "crowded" ballot is somewhat of an overrated issue. Still, it's there, and several players saw their vote totals decrease last year. Anyway, I would argue there are as many as 22 or 23 players who have some semblance of a Hall of Fame case based on historical precedent. In order of career Baseball-Reference WAR: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Schilling, Jeff Bagwell, Larry Walker, Trammell, Smoltz, Raines, Edgar Martinez, Biggio, McGwire, Sheffield, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Jeff Kent, Fred McGriff, Delgado, Lee Smith. Plus arguably Nomar Garciaparra and Mattingly, who had high peak levels of performance but short careers.

Anyway, those who believe in a big ballot will once again have to make some tough choices on whom to leave off.

7. For which players is this an important year?

Raines needs a big increase this year, but it's starting to look slim for him. That makes Bagwell and Piazza two of the more interesting names. Piazza was at 62 percent last year on his second year, a 4.4 percent increase from 2013. If he sees another vote increase, we can assume he's on his way to election; but if he holds at the same percentage, we can probably assume there are enough voters who put him in the PED category and are thus keeping him permanently under that 75 percent threshold. Similar issue with Bagwell; he was 54 percent last year, actually down from 59.6 percent in 2013. If he gets back up over 60 percent, he may be back on a Cooperstown trek.

8. Hey, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling look like pretty good candidates.

That's not a question, but, yes, yes they are. Mussina (270 wins, 82.6 WAR) and Schilling are overwhelmingly qualified by Hall of Fame standards, even by BBWAA-only standards, especially when factoring in Schilling's postseason success. That both received fewer than 30 percent of the vote in their first year on the ballot was a little shocking and definitely disappointing.

9. What about the steroids guys?

No changes -- or progress, if you prefer -- here. Clemens (35.4 percent) and Bonds (34.7 percent) both received fewer votes than the year before. Rafael Palmeiro already fell off the ballot, and I suspect Sosa (7.2 percent) falls off this time.

10. What about Jack Morris?

Mercifully, Morris is no longer on the ballot so we don't have to spend all December arguing his case yet again. His candidacy goes over to the Expansion Era committee, which will next vote in 2016. I suspect Morris gets in then.
Don't you love stuff like this: Stan Musial was born Nov. 21, 1920 in Donora, Pa.; Ken Griffey Jr. was born Nov. 21, 1969 ... in Donora, Pa.

As Bill James once wrote, Griffey Jr. is the second-best left-handed-hitting outfielder ever from Donora, Pa. (Griffey Sr. was also born in Donora, alas, on April 10.)

Of course, for those of us of a certain age, it's even more shocking that Griffey is 45 years old. It seems not that long ago I was driving home from college in 1989 and rushing out to a Mariners game to see the 19-year-old phenom in person for the first time. He didn't start that game I went to, but he pinch-hit in the eighth inning of a tie game against the Brewers ... and hit a two-run home run off Bill Wegman. Here's the box score.

Back in August, Jayson Stark wrote a "What if" piece on Griffey, asking how home runs he would hit had he stayed healthy. He hit 630; Jayson estimated he probably gets to 730-755. In retrospect, it's amazing and sad that Griffey received MVP votes just once after turning 30 -- and that was a 24th-place finish in 2005.

Because of that lack of production in his 30s, it's hard to argue that Griffey had the more valuable career than Musial, who hit .325/.415/.560 while averaging 26 home runs per season in his 30s. Musial played 150 games six times in his 30s, Griffey topped out at 145. Their career WAR isn't close, Musial at 128.1, Griffey at 83.6.

Still, there's no shame in being the second-best player ever from the small town 20 miles south of Pittsburgh. Happy birthday, Junior.

I love transactions tree. Last week, I tweeted a link from our Indians blog that traced Cy Young winner Corey Kluber back to former Indians infielder Jerry Dybzinski through a series of transactions.

Ben Lindbergh of Grantland wrestled up the "oldest" roster spot for each team. Awesome idea and execution. For two teams, that was merely a draft pick: Matt Cain for the Giants in 2002 and Jimmy Rollins for the Phillies in 1996. For other teams, you had go back to the 1990s and 1980s.

In some ways, this shows the constant and ongoing fluidity of baseball, especially compared to the other sports where you don't see as many trades and draft picks. Moves that go back several generations of general managers can still affect a team's fortunes years and years later.

As it turns out, the "oldest" roster is, indeed, Corey Kluber. Dybzinski was originally drafted in 1977 and traded to the White Sox for Pat Tabler in 1983. Six players later, Tabler had become Jake Westbrook, who was traded to St. Louis as part of a three-way trade that saw the Padres send Kluber, then a minor leaguer, to the Indians on July 31, 2010.

Anyway, check out Ben's piece for the cool graphical representation of the oldest trees for all 30 teams.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Andrew Friedman just acquired his old Tampa Bay reliever, Joel Peralta, for hard-throwing righty Juan Dominguez. ... Peralta is coming off a 4.41 ERA as his hit rate increased. He's always been homer-prone as he's an extreme flyball pitcher. Considering he's 39, this looks like a minor upgrade for bullpen depth at best. ... The key to the deal may actually be the second reliever acquired, Triple-A lefty Adam Liberatore, who struck out 86 in 65 innings and allowed just one home run. ... We all saw what happened last October to the Dodgers lefty relievers. ... The Dodgers lost hard-throwing but injury-prone lefty Onelki Garcia on waivers to the White Sox. Garcia made just one appearance in the minors in 2014. ... Still don't see how Andre Ethier gets traded unless the Dodgers eat pretty much the entire contract. He's still owed at least $56 million with a possible $17.5 million vesting option in 2018. ... Catcher? Shortstop? Dodgers have an estimated $222.6 payroll right now according to Baseball-Reference and still have no sure thing at catcher and shortstop behind A.J. Ellis and Justin Turner/Mel Rojas/Erisbel Arruebarrena. ... Which explains why Ned Colletti was fired (err, moved to another position). ... But, hey, at least they have Brian Wilson and Brandon League around for a combined $17 million to provide top-grade relief work. ... Going after Alexei Ramirez makes a lot of sense, as you'd get him for two years at $10 million per. But he's not going to be cheap. ... I wonder if Clayton Kershaw has watched either of those postseason starts. ... Wouldn't shock me if Alex Guerrero ends up seeing more time at second in 2015 than Dee Gordon.

San Francisco Giants: As each day passes, it seems less likely that Pablo Sandoval returns to the Giants, no? ... As good as he's been in October, I just don't see him as a $100 million player. But with the way money is flying around these days like leaves in a Kansas windstorm, I guess it will probably happen. ... The Giants are reportedly one of the teams in on Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, having seen him four times, according to Yahoo's Jeff Passan. ... The Giants' website currently lists Tim Lincecum as a reliever, not a starter on its depth chart. Which may be his 2015 role. ... May have a little Joe Panik blog coming up later today. ... Things I miss in the offseason: Brandon Crawford's defense. ... Justin Masterson is a good buy-low candidate for a team like the Giants. He shouldn't cost much after a terrible season. He's always struggled against left-handers, but that wouldn't hurt him so much at AT&T Park. ... Not sure Torii Hunter would switch leagues but he'd be a nice platoon partner for Gregor Blanco in left field. ... How much money did Madison Bumgarner leave on the table with that contract he signed a few years ago? It's hard for young players to turn down that lifetime security but the teams are definitely benefiting from these long-term extensions.

San Diego Padres: Surprisingly, the Padres are also one of the teams rumored to be hot after Tomas. Certainly makes sense for the Padres to look for some power. Jesse Sanchez of reports the Braves and Padres are now the favorites to land Tomas. ... Do Padres fans even remember what a power hitter looks like? ... What will Jedd Gyorko do in 2015? No idea. Steamer projects him at .242/.303/.399, 1.9 WAR. ... If Rene Rivera can come close to hitting .252/.319/.432 again, he's a very valuable player given his terrific pitch-framing behind the plate. ... Tyson Ross allowed two runs or fewer in 19 of his 31 starts. Padres got him a couple years ago for Andy Parrino and Andrew Werner. Memo to Billy Beane: Ouch. ... Pablo Sandoval to the Padres? Outspending the Giants to steal him away would certainly be a coup. Or a big mistake in three years when Sandoval shows up to camp at 270 pounds. ... Fantasy sleeper for 2015: Jesse Hahn. In fact, the Ross-Andrew Cashner-Ian Kennedy-Hahn-Odrisamer Despaigne rotation is pretty decent. ... Rumors are out there that Ross and Cashner could be traded, but I think the Padres have to keep both and figure out how to improve the offense.

Colorado Rockies: It's all about whether new GM Jeff Bridich will be shopping Troy Tulowitzki. ... Look for the Tulo rumors to heat up during the winter meetings, or once Hanley Ramirez signs somewhere. ... Tulo's contract isn't bad, but teams don't like to pay big salaries AND have to give up elite prospects for a player. I think it's going to be difficult to extract a massive return for him. ... The Rockies designated Juan Nicasio for assignment. A little surprising but he hasn't been that effective after suffering a broken neck late in his 2011 rookie season. ... Man, that rotation just looks awful. ... It's not all Coors Field, either. The Rockies had the worst road rotation ERA in the majors (4.97). ... I'd say the Rockies are further from contending than any other team right now. ... Will the Rockies ever learn to properly evaluate their players? Charlie Blackmon had a .269 OBP on the road. Even given the "Rockies hitter struggle when they go on the road because of the Coors Field" effect, that's unacceptable. He's really a fourth outfielder. ... Rockies may have most underrated fan base in the game: Finished fifth in the NL attendance for the second year in a row despite another terrible season. They actually drew more fans than the playoff seasons of 2007 and 2009, so kudos to the Rockies' marketing and ticketing departments.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Just a couple years ago it seemed the Diamondbacks were loaded with young pitchers and pitching prospects. Now they're hoping Jeremy Hellickson can re-discover some of the luck he had his first couple of years in Tampa. ... Wouldn't bank on that happening. ... The good news: The Diamondbacks hired a guy to head their analytics department! ... The weird news: Dr. Ed Lewis is a 66-year-old former veterinarian, not that 66-year-old former veterinarians can't be good at baseball analysis (Lewis was also a stock market analyst). ... Shockingly, he's a longtime friend of Tony La Russa. Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic has the story of their longtime friendship. ... Hey, who knows. It's easy to poke fun at the the hire when other teams are hiring computer whiz kids and MIT grads for their analytics departments. It's really about asking the right kinds of questions, which presumably La Russa has the knowledge and experience to ask. ... Or he could be so grounded in what he believes that he won't ask the right question. ... All that said, I'm rooting for Dave Stewart to succeed as a GM. As a minority GM and ex-player, he's one of a kind now that Kenny Williams has moved out of that position for the White Sox.

When Mariano Rivera called it a career after the 2013 season, David Robertson graduated from eighth-inning reliever to closer. In 2014, he went 4-5 with 39 saves and a 3.08 ERA while allowing a .192 batting average. This fall, he turned down the Yankees' $15.3 million qualifying offer -- which would have been the largest single-season salary ever paid to a relief pitcher – and decided instead to seek a multiyear contract on the free-agent market.

MLB Free Agency: Half-Full, Half-Empty Logo
Robertson probably won't get $15 million per season, but Jim Bowden predicted a three-year, $39 million contract for Robertson. ESPN's Andrew Marchand reported earlier this offseason that Robertson is looking to match or exceed the four-year, $50 million contract Jonathan Papelbon received from the Phillies a few years ago.

Is Robertson worth it? Let's do another half-full, half-empty.


This year's World Series teams showed the importance of a deep, dominant late-inning bullpen crew, as both the Royals and Giants (with the exception of Madison Bumgarner) had mediocre rotations but terrific bullpens. Just ask the Nationals or Tigers about the importance of a shutdown reliever. The Nationals might have won two World Series titles by now if Drew Storen hadn't blown crucial save opportunities in the 2012 and 2014 postseasons, and the Tigers have struggled with their bullpen for years. Both teams could be interested in Robertson.

There's no denying Robertson's late-inning dominance. Over the past four seasons, his 2.20 ERA is sixth in the majors among pitchers with at least 200 innings in that time span -- and that's come in Yankee Stadium, where routine fly balls to right field land three rows deep in the stands. He's allowed a .201 batting average over those four years with a strikeout rate of 34 percent -- again, sixth overall in the majors. Not bad for a onetime 17th-round draft pick.

He's showing no signs of slowing down; indeed, his 2014 strikeout rate of 37.1 percent was the highest of his career. Robertson throws a cutter and a curveball (and a very occasional changeup). It's that curveball, one of the best in the game, that has made him an elite reliever:

David Robertson heat mapESPN Stats & Info

The curveball is a swing-and-miss pitch and generates a lot of ground balls, owing to that sharp 12-to-6 break and location down in the zone. Obviously, it's Robertson's go-to pitch when he's ahead in the count. Since 2011, batters have hit .161 against it with one home run, 140 strikeouts and just seven walks.

Robertson has had two minor DL stints in recent seasons, but neither was an arm-related injury. He repeats his delivery well, and considering he's entering his age-30 season, he's a good bet to remain healthy over a three- or four-year contract.

Importantly, he's pitched in New York. If he ends up leaving the Yankees, there should be no concerns about how he will handle the pressure of closing elsewhere.


There's a reason the Papelbon contract was much derided at the time: Relievers, even good ones, just don't create enough value to be worth huge, multiyear contracts. Plus, it's not that hard to come up with good ones. Look at the Phillies; They have Ken Giles ready to take over as closer but are stuck with Papelbon's big contract.

Even if a team is desperate for a closer, where's the guarantee that Robertson does the job in October if you get there? He has one season of closing under his belt and has never had to save a postseason game. There are a lot of great regular-season closers who haven't done the job in October.


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Plus, Robertson is coming off a 3.08 ERA -- that's nothing special these days for a reliever. Sixty-nine relievers who threw at least 50 innings had a lower ERA in 2014. He saved 39 games in 44 opportunities. That's a save percentage of 88.6. Sounds good, but again, it's nothing special; 13 closers with at least 20 opportunities had a higher percentage in 2014. Robertson also allowed seven home runs in 2014, six to right-handed batters. Whoever signs him has to hope that number was either an aberration or Yankee Stadium inflation.

Yes, there has been consistency in his performances over the past four seasons. But relievers tend to burn out quickly. Do you want to gamble $40 million that Robertson will remain healthy and productive in a role that's fairly easy to fill?

What do you think? Will he return to the Yankees or will the Tigers be desperate and give him a Papelbon-like deal?
St. Louis Cardinals: With the trade of Shelby Miller, will they go after another starting pitcher? Right now, they're relying on Adam Wainwright, who will be coming off minor elbow surgery; Michael Wacha, coming off an injury; Lance Lynn; veteran John Lackey; Jaime Garcia, who hasn't made it through a full season since 2011; plus youngsters Marco Gonzalez and perhaps Carlos Martinez, who made some spot starts in the rotation but may be best suited for relief work. ... Basically, outside of Lynn, all come with potential question marks. ... They've been rumored to be in on Jon Lester. ... Right now, their estimated payroll is right at 2011-2014 levels, so maybe there's room for to add him to the payroll, especially if it's backloaded past 2017 after Matt Holliday comes off the payroll. ... Will be interesting to see how Mike Matheny views the lineup; there's been talk of moving Matt Carpenter out of the leadoff spot. Maybe Jason Heyward goes there, or maybe Kolten Wong, but he'll have to improve that .292 OBP. ... Steamer projects Wong at .263/.312/.387. I like his chances to do a little better than that. ... Did Lynn have one of the most under-appreciated 2014 seasons? He was the same 15-10 as in 2013, but with an ERA more than a run lower. ... Heyward doesn't necessarily solve the team's power issues (last in the NL in home runs), but the Cardinals being the Cardinals, it wouldn't be a surprise if they unlock that 27-homer season he had in 2012.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Losing Russell Martin is a huge blow, but the Pirates will at least be strong defensively behind the plate with some combination of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart and Tony Sanchez. ... Still, Martin's .404 OBP was a major reason the Pirates scored 48 more runs than in 2013. ... Is it just me, or is the Pirates' rotation rather unimpressive right now? Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, Vance Worley and Jeff Locke? Charlie Morton will miss some portion of the regular season after hip surgery in late September. ... The Pirates' rotation ranked last in FanGraphs WAR in 2014, and Burnett is really just a replacement for Francisco Liriano or Edinson Volquez, not an upgrade. ... Josh Harrison is listed as an outfielder on the Pirates' website, but I'll guess he ends up starting at third base with Pedro Alvarez moving to first base. ... Can't wait for a full season of that Starling Marte-Andrew McCutchen-Gregory Polanco outfield. ... Let's be honest: Marte probably should be the center fielder. ... Can Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Jared Hughes all post ERAs under 2.00 again? ... McCutchen, early favorite for 2015 MVP? I'd say yes.

Milwaukee Brewers: Jonathan Lucroy versus Buster Posey versus Yadier Molina: Who ya got? ... Even lacking a No. 1 or even No. 2-type starter, Brewers aren't that far away; need much bigger seasons from Ryan Braun and Jean Segura. ... Bullpen is now down Zach Duke, who was terrific and signed with the White Sox, and possibly Francisco Rodriguez. ... Hard to know whether Jonathan Broxton would be a reliable closer; good ERA in 2014, but pitched just 58 innings and his K rate is nowhere what it once was with the Dodgers. ... Braun still has at least six more years on his contract; wonder how that's going to look in a few years? He was valued at 1.0 WAR in 2014. ... Scooter Gennett, the new Jim Gantner. ... Adam Lind should be a solid addition, and the Brewers definitely needed another left-handed bat in the lineup. ... Brewers fans, are you going to miss Marco Estrada's home runs? ... No idea if Mike Fiers is for real, but he's defied predictions all along. ... Braun's Steamer prediction for 2015: .278/.345/.480, 21 home runs. OK, but a 150 points of OPS lower than his 2011-12 MVP peak.

Cincinnati Reds: Reports out of Cincinnati say Reds owner Bob Castellini is not going to have a fire sale, even though starters Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon and Mike Leake are all free agents after the season. ... And why should he? Try to win. Imagine that. ... Anyway, if you get bounce-back seasons from Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, both reasonable expectations, the Reds will score more runs. Add in improvement from Billy Hamilton and a new left fielder (Marlon Byrd?) and the Reds should get back in the playoff hunt in what could be a wide-open division. ... Of course, potentially replacing four-fifths of a rotation doesn't sound like much fun. ... J.J. Hoover went 1-10 in relief. I was surprised to find that 23 pitchers since 1980 have lost at least 10 games while wining one or fewer. Only Hoover, Bobby Ayala (1998 Mariners) and Gary Lucas (1982 Padres) spent the entire season in relief, however. ... That's a long way of saying Hoover won't go 1-10 again. ... I'll take the over on Votto.

Chicago Cubs: Does Anthony Rizzo have more growth in him after hitting .286/.386/.527 with 32 home runs? I think he does, which would make him an MVP candidate on a contending team. ... I'll still predict that Starlin Castro doesn't get traded this offseason. ... MLB Trade Rumors lists Travis Wood as a possible non-tender (deadline is Dec. 2), but with a projected salary of $5.5 and an otherwise low payroll, I think the Cubs bring him back and hope for a happy medium between that 3.11 ERA of 2013 and 2014's 5.03. ... Steamer projection for Javier Baez is a fun one: .226/.280/.420, 29 home runs, 1.7 WAR. ... It has him cutting his strikeout rate from 41.5 percent to 29.3 percent, which puts him in B.J. Upton territory, still near the worst in the league (although not quite at the Chris Davis/Chris Carter level). ... Definitely believe Jake Arrieta is the real deal; next step is simply to see if he can handle 200 innings. ... Jorge Soler will be a beast if he stays healthy. ... Here's a question: Who would you rather have, Soler or Baez? Tough call in my book. ... Everybody seems to think the Cubs will get Jon Lester or Max Scherzer, but I'm not so sure. ... Could just save their money for David Price next offseason. ... Can't wait to see Kris Bryant get 500 at-bats.
Let's try this this today and Friday ... just whatever pops into my head for each team or a chance to look at some of the minor transactions. We'll do one division per post. We'll start with the NL East ...

Washington Nationals: Considering Ryan Zimmerman has been injury-prone and Anthony Rendon has been injury-prone in his college and minor league days, the Nationals may need a strong bench. I guess Kevin Frandsen is the backup at third and Tyler Moore the backup at first, neither of whom is too inspiring. ... Without Adam LaRoche, who hit cleanup in 134 games, it will be interesting how your National League manager of the year constructs his lineup. ... Will Bryce Harper be old enough yet to bat higher than sixth? ... Are you willing to trust Drew Storen in a save situation in the postseason? Wonder if the Nats could be in on David Robertson. ... How about Steven Souza Jr. to the Mariners for Brad Miller, with Miller playing second base? Mariners need right-handed outfield bats and are reportedly very interested in Hanley Ramirez. ... They released Matt Purke. He was left-hander the Rangers drafted 14th overall in 2009, didn't sign, went to TCU and the Nationals gave him a huge bonus in 2011 as a draft-eligible sophomore they took in the third round. He has a career 5.00 ERA in the minors. ...

New York Mets: It looks like the Mets will do with Matt Harvey what the Nationals should have done with Stephen Strasburg in 2012: limit his innings by skipping an occasional start but keeping him in the rotation all season. ... I'm not sure Dilson Herrera gets enough prospect love. ... Speaking of Miller, Jim Bowden predicts a Mariners-Mets trade involving Miller or Chris Taylor, with one of New York's back-end starters going to Seattle. Makes sense. ... You know what the Mets really need more than anything? David Wright to hit. He's only season removed from a .307/.390/.514 line. ... The fences are moving in again, the second time since Citi Field opened in 2009. Citi Field ranked 18th in home run park factor in 2014, although it did rank 28th in runs factor. Home runs are just one reason it's difficult to hit there; the park also seems to suppress singles and doubles (much like Shea, where the lighting was never great). ... Ruben Tejada had a .342 OBP last year, second on the Mets. ...

Atlanta Braves: Braves keep saying they need pitching. They were fourth in the NL in rotation ERA in 2014 and third in strikeout percentage, so I don't quite get it. ... Yes, I realize Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang are free agents, but those are the kind of veterans you can get in free agency. ... It's not that the Jason Heyward trade was bad (since the Braves had apparently given up on re-signing him), but it doesn't help the offense and makes the outfield defense a lot worse if Evan Gattis ends up there regularly. ... Still think Justin Upton gets traded, but maybe John Hart has some sort of secret sauce plan brewing. ... Jonny Venters designated for assignment. Many will say he was abused in 2010 and 2011 when he pitched 79 and 85 games and topped 80 innings both years, but that would be speculation. ... Jose Peraza was added to the 40-man roster. He's considered the second baseman of the future after hitting .339 in Class A and Double-A. With two home runs. And 17 walks. Yes, he's young (21 in April) and stole 60 bases, but call me skeptical that's he going to be an impact player. ... Steamer projection system has Freddie Freeman hitting .285/.376/.481 in 2015, very good but not MVP-level production for a first baseman. If Braves lose Upton after 2015, not sure all the pitching in the world will cover up for the offense. ...

Miami Marlins: Whether you think the Giancarlo Stanton contract made perfect sense for the Marlins or whether Marlins ownership still can't be trusted, I'm just glad to see a small-revenue team lock up their star player. ... Reports have the Marlins offering two years and $20 million for LaRoche; I think it will take more like two and $28 to get him. ... Relievers A.J. Ramos and Mike Dunn went a combined 17-6 in 2014. Read between the lines. ... The Marlins say they will increase payroll to $60 million. Baseball-Reference estimates they're already at $52 with estimated arbitration raises; MLB Trade Rumors estimates they're at $42 million with arbitration players. ... Not sure that leaves money for both LaRoche and James Shields, although it's possibly a long-term Shields deal could be heavily backloaded. ... Still think third base is going to be a problem in 2015. Just don't trust Casey McGehee, who wasn't really that good in 2014 anyway. You need more than four home runs from your third baseman and cleanup hitter. ... Can't wait for Jose Fernandez to return. ...

Philadelphia Phillies: Reports have the Phillies checking out the makeup of Red Sox prospects like second baseman/outfielder Mookie Betts, catcher Christian Vazquez and pitcher Matt Barnes. ... Sorry, Phillies, you're not getting Betts for Cole Hamels, even straight up. ... Hamels' salary PLUS a future star like Betts isn't worth the price for the Red Sox. ... Vazquez, a defense-first catcher, certainly makes sense as the Red Sox have a better prospect in Blake Swihart. ... Phillies fans will be surprised that if/when Hamels is traded, the haul is nearly what they think it will be. ... I still think the Phillies' cream jerseys are the best in the game. ... Can't wait to see why Kenny Giles can do over a full season in the bullpen. ... You know, Mike Schmidt is kind of underrated as an all-time great. You can make a case he's a top-10 position player. ... Steve Carlton's 1972 season (27-10 for a team that went 59-97) was one for the ages, but his 1980 season when the Phillies won the World Series was nearly as great. ... Jeff Francoeur signed to a minor league contract. Hey, he drove in 100 runs back in 2006 and 2007! ... Marlon Byrd to the Reds or Mariners could happen. ... Imagine what Schmidt and Carlton would make today. ... Whatever happened to Jeff Stone and Len Matuszek? ...

How do we think of Hanley Ramirez these days? After winning National League Rookie of the Year honors with the Marlins in 2006, he was one of the best players in the game from 2007 to 2009, hitting .325 while averaging 29 home runs and 38 steals per season. He finished second in the MVP voting in 2009, carrying an undermanned Marlins team to 87 wins. According to Baseball-Reference WAR, he trailed only Albert Pujols, Chase Utley and Alex Rodriguez in value over those three seasons. He was, at the time, on a Hall of Fame track, a power-hitting shortstop with speed.

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After that came injuries and some attitude problems and a trade to the Dodgers in 2012. We see bursts of the young Ramirez: In 2013, he played just 86 games but hit .345 with 20 home runs and finished eighth in the MVP voting. In 2014, he battled several nagging injuries and played 128 games, hitting .283/.369/.449 with 13 home runs.

Ramirez turns 31 in December. Jim Bowden predicted a four-year, $76 million contract for Ramirez. Others have estimated that he'll get something closer to $100 million.

Let's take a closer look.


In this era of declining offense, having a shortstop who can hit in the middle of the lineup is a rare luxury, and Ramirez can still hit. His wOBA ranked 25th in the majors in 2014 among qualified hitters and his park-adjusted metric wRC+ ranked 21st. When you focus just on shortstops, Ramirez's numbers are even more impressive. Only Troy Tulowitzki had a better triple-slash line, and only Tulowitzki, Jhonny Peralta and Ian Desmond topped Ramirez in isolated power.

Ramirez has a good approach as a hitter -- he draws some walks, doesn't strike out excessively, sprays the ball around the field and punishes pitches labeled as "soft" by ESPN Stats & Info. Here's his heat map against soft pitches in 2014:

Hanley Ramirez ESPN Stats & Info

Ramirez hit .331 against soft stuff, the second-best mark in the majors among qualified hitters behind Jose Altuve. Only seven batters hit .300. Only Mike Trout had a higher wOBA. This is a smart hitter, a guy who has the ability to adjust at the plate. To me, it all adds up to a hitter who should age well. A four-year contract takes Ramirez from his age-31 season through age-34. Indeed, the Steamer projection system predicts a .277/.352/.450 line in 2015, a nearly identical match to his 2014 numbers. Get him away from Dodger Stadium and it's possible that line jumps even higher as he hit .303 on the road in 2014 and .352 in 2013.

As for Ramirez's defense, he's never been a Gold Glove candidate. He was credited with minus-9 defensive runs saved in 2014, or minus-12 per 1,200 innings. That's admittedly near the bottom of the league, but it's not Derek Jeter-level or Yuniesky Betancourt-level bad. Plus, he makes up for it with his bat, and in this age of increasing strikeouts there are fewer balls in play anyway. He ranked sixth among shortstops in WAR in 2014 and second in 2013.

Ramirez should be able to handle shortstop for at least a couple of more seasons without completely wrecking his value or inflating a pitching staff's BABIP to unacceptable levels. Or, if a team doesn't want him for shortstop, he can move to third base, where his bat still plays.


Well, this is pretty obvious. The defense is terrible, bordering on brutal. Despite his athleticism, Ramirez has never had the range you want from a shortstop, and now that he's on the other side of 30, he's certainly not getting any quicker. Factor in the injuries and his defense could really crater over the next few seasons.

Speaking of injuries ... do you really want to pay $20 million a season for a guy who misses so many games? He missed 34 games in 2014, 76 in 2013, 70 in 2011. He has played at least 145 games just once in the past five seasons. If you sign him, you better have a good backup on hand.


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There has been talk that maybe Ramirez could move to the outfield. That sounds nice, but that kind of move rarely happens. I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago: Since 1960 no player has played 400 games at both shortstop and left or right field (Robin Yount did make the transition to center field). The only player who really moved from shortstop to a corner outfield at this stage of his career was Hubie Brooks.

So the idea that Ramirez will move to the outfield in his 30s is rather unprecedented. More likely, if he moves, it will be to third base. Yes, his bat is OK there, but it's not as valuable as shortstop -- and there's also the possibility that Ramirez can't handle the position.

Teams interested in Ramirez may include the Mariners, Astros, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Giants, Padres and White Sox, with a return to the Dodgers a possibility as well.

What do you think? Is Ramirez worth the investment as run-producing shortstop or is his defense too shaky and the injury risk too high?

Buster Olney listed his top 10 second basemen, with Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia and Jose Altuve ranked 1-2-3.

One thing you hear a lot these days is that teams are having trouble finding shortstops who can hit. But the same can be said of second base: In Buster's piece, a chart shows the OPS of all four infield positions in 2013 and 2014. In 2014, second basemen barely outhit shortstops, with a .686 OPS versus .678. That's the smallest difference since 2006; the last time shortstops outhit second basemen was 2002, back in the heyday of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada and Nomar Garciaparra. Here, the difference in OPS between second basemen and shortstops since 2000:

2014: +.008
2013: +.029
2012: +.013
2011: +.012
2010: +.026
2009: +.030
2008: +.029
2007: +.019
2006: +.003
2005: +.029
2004: +.013
2003: +.020
2002: -.002
2001: +.015
2000: +.017

But here's the other thing about Buster's list: Four of the top five guys are older than 30 (Cano, Pedroia, Ian Kinsler and Ben Zobrist); No. 7 Chase Utley and No. 9 Howie Kendrick are also past 30. Those guys aren't getting any better.

Factor in that a lot of the shortstops who can't hit are at least plus defenders, I'd say second base is arguably a bigger problem across the majors right now. Second basemen should outhit shortstop; that's why they're second basemen and not shortstops.

When I did my list a couple of weeks ago looking at the weakest position for each team in 2014, there were six teams for which second base was the biggest problem -- Padres, Diamondbacks, A's, Nationals, Orioles and Rockies. And those weren't necessarily the worst second-base spots in 2014. The Braves tied the Padres at 2.8 wins below average; the Marlins and White Sox were also in the bottom five. Eleven teams hit under .240 at second base and only four hit more than 15 home runs. In 2009, 15 teams received at least 15 home runs from second base.

Is there a new crop of second basemen to replace the aging core of stars still leading the way? Possibly. Altuve, the American League leader in average, steals and hits, doesn't turn 25 until May. Kolten Wong had a good second half for the Cardinals as a rookie and we saw his upside in the postseason when he hit three home runs in eight games. Brian Dozier, No. 10 on Buster's list, is 27 but had a breakout season with 23 home runs, 86 walks and solid defense. Rougned Odor of the Rangers held his own at age 20 and could develop into a star. Jason Kipnis had a bad year for the Indians as he played through injuries, but he should rebound.

But after that? Jedd Gyorko was a disaster for the Padres. Dee Gordon of the Dodgers led the National League in steals, but he had a poor second half when he drew just four walks and posted a .300 OBP. Baltimore's Jonathan Schoop plays an excellent second base and popped 16 home runs, but he also hit .209 with 122 strikeouts and just 13 walks. He was just 22, however, so maybe the bat develops. Same thing with Javier Baez of the Cubs.

So there are some intriguing young guys out there. But they're a long way from turning into the next generation of Cano/Pedroia/Kinsler/Utley/Zobrist/Brandon Phillips.

We've looked at Jon Lester and Nelson Cruz in our half-full/half-empty series. Now let's examine the pitcher everyone views as the prize of the 2014-15 free agents, right-hander Max Scherzer.

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Scherzer hits free agency at age 30, coming off a great two-year run with the Detroit Tigers in which he went 39-8 with a 3.02 ERA. The 2013 Cy Young winner, Scherzer really pitched just as well in 2014 and finished fifth in the voting.

Scherzer reportedly turned a six-year, $144 million extension from the Tigers last offseason. Colleague Jim Bowden predicts that Scherzer will receive a seven-year, $189 million contract, an average annual value of $27 million. If that contract materializes, it would be the second-largest total ever given to a pitcher, behind the $215 million deal Clayton Kershaw signed with the Dodgers.

Scherzer is a Scott Boras client, so don't expect him to sign anytime soon. Obviously, all the big-market teams will be rumored to have interest. Will Scherzer be a good investment?


With Scherzer, you start with the stuff. Few pitchers have the raw arsenal that Scherzer possesses, with four plus pitches: four-seam fastball, slider, changeup and curveball. He added the curveball during the 2012 season, and the addition of that pitch is one reason Scherzer took his game to a new level.

Good pitching starts with a good fastball and fastball command. Scherzer's four-seamer has a natural tail to it and some sinking action. While its average velocity of 92.8 mph doesn't blow you away, he cranked it up as high as 98 mph in 2014, so he keeps a little in reserve when needed.

For the most part, however, he lets that natural movement work. He does tend to throw the pitch up in the zone, but it's still an effective pitch: It sets up the off-speed stuff, and he generates a good share of strikeouts with it. Look at how he pitches with his fastball to left-handed batters:

Scherzer Heat Map ESPN Stats & Info

Lefties have hit .226/.292/.380 against Scherzer's fastball the past two seasons. When you limit damage against your fastball, it makes your other pitches that much tougher. Scherzer has 143 strikeouts the past two seasons against left-handers with his fastball, most in the majors. (Felix Hernandez is second with 124, but only four other pitchers have 100.) As a comparison, Stephen Strasburg struggles somewhat against lefties because his fastball isn't a great strikeout weapon against them, with just 59 K's over the past two years.

With pitchers, you always worry about injuries, but Scherzer has made 30-plus starts in each of his six seasons in the majors. He's also a student of the game. As Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports wrote last offseason:
Max Scherzer is meticulous, the sort of person who sees baseball as a game of centimeters, because inches are too big. Every so often, in the middle of a long season, Scherzer will pore over video of his last start, pause it mid-delivery and vow to change things. A centimeter can mean that much.

His right arm is his gift and his treasure, and if ever he notices his elbow above his shoulder line -- even a hint of the dreaded Inverted W, which is correlated with though not scientifically proven to cause arm injuries -- he corrects it. Little gets past Scherzer.

"You've seen in history guys blow out that way," he told Yahoo! Sports last September. "I've never been a guy who does it, but every now and again, it'll creep higher than that plane, and I'm very cognizant of it."

Seven years is a long time. A lot can happen. But his health history is a big plus.

Then there's this: Scherzer has put up good numbers while pitching in front of some lousy defenses in Detroit. The Tigers were 28th in MLB in defensive runs saved in 2014, 28th in 2013, 25th in 2012. Imagine him pitching in front of a good defense, or in the National League, where he'd get to mow through the bottom of the lineups.


You want to make Scherzer the second-highest-paid pitcher in the game? A guy with one career complete game? A guy who has had an ERA under 3.00 exactly once in his career, and even then it was barely under, at 2.90? A guy who has been just OK in the postseason with a 3.73 ERA? A guy who has pitched 220 innings just once in a season? Hernandez, by comparison, has topped 230 innings five times.

There's no denying Scherzer's stuff or strikeout rates, but he's had the luxury of being the No. 2 guy behind Justin Verlander in the Detroit rotation. Can he handle the pressure of a megadeal? Is he the guy who will take the ball in a big game and give you eight innings? Pitch efficiency has never been Scherzer's strength, which is why he's been more of seven-inning starter than an eight- or nine-inning guy.

You also have to factor in leaving Comerica Park, or the AL Central. Scherzer does pitch up in the zone, so he will give up fly balls. Comerica isn't the supreme pitchers' park everyone thinks, but it's been about average in giving up home runs, and more than a few balls hit to that deep area in center and right-center would have left other parks. Pitching in Wrigley Field might not be as enjoyable as pitching in Comerica. Plus, Scherzer has faced a lot of weak offenses through the years in that division.


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As for Detroit's defense, it doesn't necessarily explain why the only season Scherzer has had a below-average batting average on balls in play was his Cy Young season (.260 that year, but above .300 every other season). For example, in hitter's counts in 2014, Scherzer allowed a .380 average -- 74th among 88 qualified starters. His OPS allowed in hitter's counts ranked 86th. Basically, when he was behind, he got hammered; only Jason Hammel allowed a higher slugging percentage. It appears that Scherzer just grooves too many pitches when he's behind in the count, and that explains why his hit rate is high given his strikeout rate.

And, of course, you simply can't ignore this: Seven years for a pitcher in his 30s ... how often does that work out? Maybe you reap the rewards of two or three great seasons, but we've seen seemingly durable pitchers like CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee go down with injuries. Pitchers get hurt.

What do you think? Half-full or half-empty?