SweetSpot: Brandon McCarthy

ICYMI: SweetSpot hits of the week

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
Quite a week, eh? We've seen a massive "go for it" trade that paid quick dividends for the A's, some unfortunate DL news for the Yanks' Masahiro Tanaka and the Reds' Joey Votto, and a couple of disappointing vets were DFA'd. Although Carlos Beltran's facial fractures off a BP ricochet off his own bat and the screen takes the "freak injury" award this week.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
D-backs' slap-hitter offense decent but unusual: Though good overall, the Diamondbacks offense is among the worst in the majors in walks and "hard-hit average." Ryan P. Morrison draws from a quote from Bill James in wondering whether slap hitters are an inefficiency Arizona could exploit. Follow on Twitter: @InsidetheZona.

Wade Miley is the canary in the coal mine: The D-backs are sellers, but their moves so far have been short-term oriented. Jeff Wiser looks at Miley's value as a trade chip, and makes the case that what the team decides to do with Miley will tell us a lot. Follow on Twitter: @OutfieldGrass24.

Atlanta Braves: Chop County
Mississippi Braves game report from 6/24/14: Photos and scouting reports on several of the Braves top prospects, including speedy second baseman Jose Peraza. Follow on Twitter: @gondeee.

Baltimore Orioles: Camden Depot
Examining Steve Pearce's fantastic, unexpected first half: Matt Kremnitzer dives into the play of Pearce, who has been a major reason why the Orioles currently reside in first place in the AL East. His season has been a wild ride of being designated for assignment as well as delivering outstanding play at the plate. Follow on Twitter: @CamdenDepot.

Boston Red Sox: Fire Brand of the American League
It's time for the Red Sox to sell: Alex Skillin writes that the Red Sox need to consider trading players such as Jake Peavy, Jonny Gomes and Koji Uehara to allow the team an opportunity to evaluate its younger talent, like Jackie Bradley Jr, Mookie Betts, and others who could benefit from full-time work. Follow on Twitter: @firebrandal.

Chicago Cubs: View From The Bleachers
Why you should be in favor of the big trade: Joe Aiello talks about the weekend deal that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland and why Cubs fans should be happy with the result. Follow on Twitter: @vftb.

What the Samardzija and Hammel trade means for the rebuild: Noah Eisner breaks down the deal further and looks at what it means going forward for the Cubs' farm system. Follow on Twitter: @Noah_Eisner.

Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
The White Sox are not a bullpen away from being contenders: The White Sox bullpen is terrible, yet the team floats around near .500; would they be contenders if they could get some relievers? James Fegan says no. Follow on Twitter @TheCatbird_Seat.

Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
The 2014 Colorado Rockies: What went wrong?: Eric Garcia McKinley looks at the Rockies' first-half performance so far and discusses why the Rockies are doing so badly. It turns out that they weren't that good in the first place. Follow on Twitter: @garcia_mckinley.

New York Yankees: It's About The Money
The real Brandon McCarthy: Katie Sharp gives Yankee fans on primer on their newest starting pitcher. Follow on Twitter: @ktsharp.

Power-hitting Brett Gardner: Katie examines how Gardner's game has changed and power has become a part of it. Follow on Twitter: @IIATMS.

St. Louis Cardinals: Fungoes
Matt Adams' secret: Better strike-zone discipline?: Since returning from the disabled list, Adams has been beating the shift and pretty much everything else that opposing teams have thrown at him. He credits improved strike-zone discipline. But is that really the case? Follow on Twitter: @fungoes.

Texas Rangers: One Strike Away
The case for trading Alex Rios: Brandon Land examines the possibility of the Rangers trading Rios to retool for 2015 or 2016. Follow on Twitter: @one_strike_away.

Jason Rosenberg is the founder of It's About the Money, a proud charter member of the SweetSpot Network. IIATMS can be found on Twitter here and here as well as on Facebook.

NEW YORK -- They failed to acquire Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, probably have no shot of getting David Price and would be taking a huge gamble by going after Cliff Lee. So what's left for the Yankees?

Well, in what looks like a straight swap of struggling back-of-the-rotation starters, they have acquired RHP Brandon McCarthy from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for LHP Vidal Nuno.

So? On the surface, the Yankees have acquired a tall (6-foot-7), thin (200 pounds) righty with a five-plus ERA for a short (listed 5-11, more like 5-10), stocky (195) lefthander with a five-plus ERA. They also got a little older. McCarthy turns 31 on Monday; Nuno turns 27 at the end of this month. But did they get any better?

Maybe: At first glance, this looks pretty much like a wash, one of those deals where each team is hoping that ephemeral "change of scenery" will result in a change in performance. McCarthy is 45-60 with a 4.21 ERA in 139 career starts over 10 seasons with four teams; Nuno is 3-7 with a 4.78 ERA in 17 career starts over two seasons, both with the Yankees.

You have to look pretty deep into some advanced metrics to see where and why McCarthy might be an upgrade. He throws harder than Nuno; according to measurements by BrooksBaseball.net, McCarthy's four-seam fastball has averaged 94 mph this season and his sinker 93, both up from around 89 when he broke into the majors in 2005, while Nuno loiters between 89 and 91. McCarthy has allowed 1.04 HRs per nine innings compared to Nuno's 1.56/9, which could make a noticeable difference in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, where Nuno struggled. And McCarthy's xFIP -- a measurement designed to predict how likely a pitcher is to allow a home run -- is 2.89 this season, considered excellent, while Nuno's is a whopping 5.14, which can be described only as awful.

If nothing else, it looks as if McCarthy will be better at keeping the ball in the ballpark.

Game changer? Probably not. While McCarthy likely represents an upgrade over Nuno, he is not going to carry the Yankees to the division title or pitch them through the playoffs and into the World Series. For that, they need to snag Price or a vintage Lee, neither of whom seem to be available to them. But McCarthy might represent an additional win -- or two or three -- which considering the mediocrity of the American League East could mean the difference between playing at least one game in October or going home on Sept. 28.

QUESTION: Do you like this deal?

D-backs' depth adds another extra win

April, 28, 2013
Cody Ross, bottom of the 10th, man in scoring position, tie game. You’re supposed to bank on that, right? You plan on it, because it wasn’t that long ago that Ross was a postseason hero and -- briefly, because who doesn’t have ADD nowadays? -- a household name. It’s why the Diamondbacks gave him big money, $28.5 million for three years. Ross plated A.J. Pollock with a blow that looked like it would go out, settled for the warning track, giving him his sixth career walk-off and the Snakes their sixth win in extra innings in just this one month of play.

Which is definitely not something that you plan on. While the D-backs are 14-10, very little has gone according to plan -- certainly not the one they had for themselves on Opening Day, let alone the expectations anybody else had for them. The lineup has been a work in progress all month. Slugger Jason Kubel may be out for just a few more days, but until Adam Eaton comes back sometime in late May the D-backs have yet to enjoy the benefit of their starting outfield trio in the lineup at the same time. Second baseman Aaron Hill is out for weeks to come. Miguel Montero, a key lefty OBP source in a lineup with a heavy right-wards lean, has yet to get his bat going.

But out of initial struggles opportunities are born, and here’s where you have to give some measure of credit to the organization for the benefits of some of their pickups. Martin Prado is nobody’s ideal at second base, but as a multi-positional asset he’s given manager Kirk Gibson considerable lineup flexibility. Absent Hill as an everyday answer up the middle, Gibson has been adaptable, moving Prado between second, third and left. This way, he doesn’t risk burning out a fragile old-timer and sporadic power source like Eric Chavez at the hot corner, nor does he risk going down in flames with Cliff Pennington as an everyday player. Even with all the injuries, the Diamondbacks are fifth in the league in runs scored.

Here, you can credit the right-now benefits of GM Kevin Towers’ win-now moves. While Justin Upton is going to make the Snakes look bad now and likely far into the future for dealing him, we don’t know what he would have done if he was still in Phoenix. For better and worse, Prado isn’t somebody you acquire to win next year, he’s 29 and as good as he’ll ever be and as useful as he’ll ever be right now -- and that’s very useful. But this same win-now sensibility has taken other forms, like turning to Didi Gregorius as their shortstop of the present, allowing them to move Pennington to a reserve role.

That’s something right out of the playbook Gibson ran in 2011 when the D-backs won the NL West: Trusting the kids you think are ready. Then, they won breaking in a relatively unheralded rookie slugger named Paul Goldschmidt; now, they might do the same with rookies up the middle with Gregorius at short and Eaton in center.

In large part, Gibson can afford to be creative in the lineup in the short term because his roster boasts tremendous rotation depth, and that’s the kind of talent that keeps you in ballgames with any kind of offense. Youngsters like Tyler Skaggs or Randall Delgado are marking time in Triple-A, cooling their jets because the only rotation regular struggling is Brandon McCarthy, everybody’s favorite sabermetric starter. As is, the clock’s ticking until Dan Hudson comes back from elbow surgery after the All-Star break, so even if the D-backs blow a piston or two in this engine of success, they have replacement parts here as well.

Normally, that kind of depth suggests you’re eventually make room for extra talent in the bullpen, especially one struggling as badly as Arizona’s has in the early going, having blown eight saves already after Heath Bell gave up a one-run lead in the seventh. That’s eight out of 25 opportunities if you count all save opportunities with a lead after the sixth. It’s easy to mock the decision to give Bell a multi-year deal, but that money’s spent -- how well Gibson makes it work and whether or not they have the freedom to rely on the same depth in pitching that has kept them afloat on offense remains to be seen.

This time of year, you can play the “if only” game with just about any ballclub. Pretty much everybody can plead a reasonable failure to anticipate early-season results, and suggest why things would be so much better if only the master plan had survived contact with Opening Day. It’s a broad truth, but it’s also broadly true that as much as regression is supposed to get you, there’s nothing in the rule book or the law of averages that demands that you hand back the wins you notch in April. The D-backs’ 6-0 start in extra innings is a fluke, it’s improbable, it’s the sort of thing you don’t predict and it’s certainly something you don’t count on.

But it also isn’t coming off the Diamondbacks’ permanent record, not now, not ever. And if they fix their other issues, like get Hill back in full working order, or once they see McCarthy and Montero get turned around, once they get their entire starting outfield, you better believe they can be in it to the end.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
Some reaction to Tuesday's excellent slate of games ...
  • Wanted to check out those gritty Diamondbacks so was watching their game against the Yankees. The 4-2 Yankees win ended up coming down to one pitch, Robinson Cano's three-run homer off Brandon McCarthy in the fourth. The D-backs led 2-0, there were runners at first and second with one out and McCarthy couldn't exactly intentionally walk Cano like he had in the third inning. But he didn't exactly want to give him anything to hit either. It was a great at-bat: Cut fastball inside, another cutter/sinker in the dirt, a changeup way outside, a 3-0 change for a called strike, a curveball that Cano foul tipped and then a 3-2 changeup that Cano didn't miss, sending it high into the Bronx air. "It's still such a hit-or-miss pitch," McCarthy said. "Sometimes it's there, sometimes it's not. It's very hard for me to get to a place where it can be relied on in a situation. It was coming along; I felt like it was doing what we needed it to do. It just maybe, in that count, it might have been too good a pitch."
  • The Reds-Phillies game was suspended in the bottom of the ninth inning tied 0-0, but Homer Bailey had about as dominant a performance as any pitcher this season, going eight scoreless innings and allowing just two hits with 10 strikeouts and no walks. Impressively, he threw just 89 pitches -- and that was after throwing 17 in the first inning. Aroldis Chapman pitched the top of the ninth and is due up sixth in the bottom of the inning. Hey, maybe Dusty Baker lets him throw two innings if the Reds don't score.
  • Great ending in the Rangers' 4-2 win over the Cubs. The Cubs had scored twice off Michael Kirkman and Joe Nathan and had the bases loaded with two outs. Darwin Barney fouled off three two-strike pitches and then hit a liner to center field, where Craig Gentry did this.
  • After sweeping the Mets in a doubleheader -- maybe with a little help from the freezing cold weather -- it may be time to start paying attention to the 10-4 Rockies. In the second game, the Rockies tied it with two runs in the eighth after errors by pitcher Brandon Lyon and shortstop Ruben Tejada. A hard-hit ball off David Wright's glove in the 10th helped set up Jordan Pacheco's winning hit. Carlos Gonzalez, who had had five hits and scored five runs in the doubleheader, summed it up: "Worst, best day ever."
  • Good game in Toronto, where the White Sox pulled out a 4-3 victory. Paul Konerko had tied the game at 2 in the seventh when he hit a 3-0 Josh Johnson fastball out to left. The Sox then scored twice in the ninth and held off a Blue Jays rally in the bottom of the inning.
  • Dan Haren: Not good again for the Nationals. The Marlins had scored seven runs in the previous five games but lit up Haren for seven runs in 4.1 innings. Four runs were unearned but that's three shaky/bad starts for Haren. Giancarlo Stanton missed his fifth straight game with his bruised shoulder.
  • The Angels: Not good again. Joe Mauer had four hits for the second straight day in the Twins' 8-6 victory. The Angels are 4-10 and you have to start wondering if Mike Scioscia's job is in jeopardy. Not that it's his fault, but if the Angels don't go on a winning streak, somebody will pay the price for the team's slow start.

Offseason report card: A's

February, 8, 2013
2012 in review
Record: 94-68 (92-70 Pythagorean)
713 runs scored (8th in American League)
614 runs allowed (2nd in AL)

Big Offseason Moves
Traded Cliff Pennington and Yordy Cabrera to Arizona for Chris Young. Re-signed free agent Bartolo Colon. Signed Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima. Acquired John Jaso in three-way deal that sent A.J. Cole to Washington. Traded Chris Carter, Brad Peacock and Max Stassi to Houston for Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez. Lost free agents Brandon McCarthy, Stephen Drew and Jonny Gomes.

More than anything, Billy Beane improved Oakland's athleticism and versatility. He lost two designated-hitter types in Carter and Gomes, but acquired an elite defensive center fielder in Young and picked up two infielders to go along with the return of Scott Sizemore (the team's best hitter in 2011 who missed all of 2012). Nakajima was a star player in Japan and since Lowrie's range at short is limited, the A's are counting on Nakajima to live up to his defensive reputation. The loss of McCarthy will hurt, but re-signing Colon helps maintain their rotation depth. For the tight-budgeted A's, a solid offseason that gives manager Bob Melvin multiple options around the diamond.

Position Players

As you can see from the projected lineup, there is a lot of unsettled aspect to Oakland's starting nine, but in a good way. Melvin will be able to mix and match and the depth gives the A's injury insurance.

But how good is the lineup? The A's set an all-time strikeout record last season and hit just .238. They did hit better with runners in scoring position -- .265 -- which is one reason they ranked eighth in runs despite finishing 12th in on-base percentage and ninth in slugging percentage. Three reasons to like Oakland's chances to score more runs this year, however: The second basemen hit .228 with five home runs; the third basemen had a .280 OBP, lowest in the AL; and the shortstops had a .272 OBP, again lowest in the AL.

And a fourth reason: Yoenis Cespedes surprised everyone by hitting .292/.356/.505. Very nice numbers. Those could be big numbers this year.

Pitching Staff

Either you believe in Oakland's young starters or you don't. I'm a believer. Remember that the best of the group might be Brett Anderson, and he made just seven starts in 2012 after returning from Tommy John surgery. Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone and A.J. Griffin enter their second seasons with playoff experience under their belts and Colon returns after his suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. Dan Straily and Travis Blackley provide depth.

If we're going to nitpick, it's that it's not a big strikeout rotation. The A's ranked 10th in the AL strikeout rate among starting pitchers at 16.6 percent -- more than 5 percent less than Tampa Bay's 21.9 mark. But guess which staff tied for the lowest walk rate? The A's won't beat themselves and they pitch to their big home ballpark -- where Young, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick have the speed to run down a lot of flyballs.

If you watched the A's down the stretch, you saw the hard-throwing trio of Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle dominate the late innings. Those three combined for a 2.49 ERA over 195 innings; not bad for a minor free-agent signing, a throw-in in the Trevor Cahill trade and a guy playing first base in the minors in 2011. All told, opponents hit .206 off the Oakland pen, second-lowest in the league to the Rays' .205 mark. There's depth behind those three guys as well.

Good rotation. Good pen. Some will predict regression from this group, but I expect another solid season in which the A's once again rank among the AL leaders in fewest runs allowed.

Jarrod ParkerESPN Stats & InformationJarrod Parker's 3.8 WAR ranked 10th among AL pitchers in 2012.
Heat Map to Watch
Beane acquired Parker from the Diamondbacks and the rookie right-hander showed why he was highly rated coming up through the Arizona system. His changeup made many left-handed hitters look foolish at the plate -- in 140 plate appearances ending with that pitch, they hit .163/.216/.194, with just three extra-base hits (two doubles, one triple). It's one of the best pitches in the game and the reason I expect Parker to have another solid season.

Overall Grade


How many games will the A's win?


Discuss (Total votes: 5,643)

Many won't believe in the A's simply because they were such a big surprise a year ago. But I'm trying to find reasons to expect a decline and am having trouble identifying them. OK, the offense was sort of one-dimensional last season; but the A's basically received nothing from three positions and they have likely upgrades at all three spots. I didn't even mention Jaso above; if he hits like he did with Seattle, he's another plus at the plate (though the Mariners clearly didn't like his defense behind the plate).

OK, maybe you don't believe in Reddick and Cespedes and Brandon Moss. I do. I think they return to the playoffs.

Power rankings: All 30 teams!

December, 22, 2012
Last weekend, I presented the top 10 teams in my personal power rankings. That was before the Blue Jays officially acquired R.A. Dickey, so I updated my top 10 after that trade, and, to spur on more debate, now present the rest of my rankings. Agree or disagree, but I do think this is the most parity we've seen in a long time. It's why the Orioles and A's were able to surprise this past season and why we will undoubtedly see another surprise team in 2013. It's a great time to be a baseball fan.

1. Nationals
Most talented rotation in the majors, deep lineup, depth. Re-signing Adam LaRoche to add another lefty power bat will help.

2. Reds
Superb rotation could be better if the Aroldis Chapman transition works, bullpen is deep enough to absorb his loss and Shin-Soo Choo provides a needed leadoff hitter.

3. Yankees
I think they can stretch things out more season with a deep rotation, excellent bullpen and power. Remember, they had the largest run differential in the American League last season.

4. Tigers
Deep rotation, great 1-2 punch with Miggy and Prince, and Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez should improve the lineup.

5. Braves
Left-handed power, power bullpen and a young team that could improve from last year's 94 wins.

6. Blue Jays
Addition of Dickey adds a needed No. 1 to a rotation that could be dominant if Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow remain healthy.

7. A's
Young teams that show big improvement are usually for real, and this team has a solid rotation, a strong outfield and power arms in the bullpen.

8. Dodgers
Have to love the Clayton Kershaw-Zack Greinke combo and an offense with big upside if Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez come close to 2011 levels.

9. Rangers
I think the rotation is playoff-caliber with Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Martin Perez and Colby Lewis.


Which of these five teams should be No. 1 right now?


Discuss (Total votes: 35,031)

10. Cardinals
Have to replace Kyle Lohse, but they'll score plenty of runs as long as Carlos Beltran (36 years old in April) and Matt Holliday (33 in January) keep producing.

11. Rays
Still some holes in the lineup, and replacing James Shields' 220-plus innings won't be that easy, but underestimate the Rays at your own risk.

12. Angels
Oddsmaker Bovada.lv has the Angels with the second-best odds to win the World Series (behind the Blue Jays), but I see a rotation with a lot of question marks behind Jered Weaver, and Josh Hamilton only replaces Hunter, who was terrific in 2012.

13. Giants
I discussed my issues with the Giants here. I could be wrong, although our friends at Bovada only put the Giants tied for ninth in their World Series odds.

14. Diamondbacks
Their run differential wasn't much different than the Giants last year, and they've added Brandon McCarthy, infield depth and still have Justin Upton.

15. Phillies
I want to say we're all underestimating a team that includes Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, but then I see an outfield of Darin Ruf, Ben Revere and Domonic Brown, and an infield defense that includes Michael Young and Ryan Howard and 30-somethings Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley.

16. Brewers
They can score runs -- most in the National League last season -- and if the bullpen regroups after 2012's gruesome late-inning efforts, this team could surprise.

17. Red Sox
There will be no expectations after the disaster in 2012 (the franchise's worst record since 1965), but I see a big rebound coming.

18. Royals
I'll buy -- but I'm not buying a playoff spot. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have to take huge leaps forward ... or the Royals could be headed for another rebuild.

19. Orioles
Last season's 93-win playoff team provided a beautiful ride, but the Orioles haven't added that big bat they need.

20. Padres
Young team is moving in the right direction after winning 76 games in 2012. Can rotation improve to push Pads over .500?

21. Mariners
Mariners have pursued a big bat all offseason but were only able to pick up Kendrys Morales, and he cost them Jason Vargas, opening up a 200-inning hole in the rotation. Looks like 2014 before Mariners can make a push in the tough AL West.

22. Pirates
Still no No. 1 or even No. 2 starter (sorry, A.J. Burnett is a No. 3 at best) and not enough support for Andrew McCutchen. One of these years, Pirates fans, one of these years.

23. White Sox
No A.J. Pierzynski, a declining Paul Konerko, good year/off year Alex Rios due for an off year. Then again, White Sox had a bigger run differential in 2012 than the Tigers.

24. Cubs
Rotation of Edwin Jackson, Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Scott Baker and Scott Feldman could be competitive, but offense won't be.

25. Mets
At least Mets fans can dream of a future rotation that includes Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jonathon Niese and Noah Syndergaard. Unfortunately, the 2013 version still includes Frank Francisco and a bunch of fourth outfielders.

26. Marlins
Giancarlo Stanton still makes this team worth watching on a daily basis.

27. Indians
Getting Trevor Bauer in the Choo deal added a much-needed starting pitcher prospect. Unfortunately, much of the rest of rotation remains suspect.

28. Twins
Kevin Correia, Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey ... what, Rich Robertson and Sean Bergman weren't available?

29. Rockies
At least the Twins have a direction as they wait for young position players to reach the majors. I have no clue what the Rockies are doing, intend to do, want to do, wish to do or hope to achieve.

30. Astros
Welcome to the AL West, boys.

Restocking the Angels' rotation

November, 12, 2012
Entering 2012, the Angels’ rotation looked like it would be a winning weapon. At the top, Jered Weaver was coming off a Cy Young-caliber season, and Dan Haren and Ervin Santana were poised to repeat their solid campaigns. Jerry Dipoto has inked C.J. Wilson to a long-term deal to give the Angels a very strong four-man crew. Jerome Williams or Garrett Richards would be the fifth starter, and both seemed like they would be pretty decent in such a role.

Santana imploded, came on strong, imploded again, then came on strong to finish. His final body of work was well below average, and the Angels had little interest in bringing him back at a $13 million salary. Haren struggled to stay healthy, and he wasn’t able to command the strike zone like he had in 2011. The Angels opted to decline Haren’s $15.5 million option, making him a free agent after two-plus years wearing Halo red.

Weaver had another fantastic season. Wilson was great for a while, then regressed into the mid-rotation arm that he is. Williams and Richards put together underwhelming performances, but in June the Angels turned prospects Johnny Hellweg, Ariel Pena and Jean Segura into two months of Zack Greinke. Greinke’s arrival encouraged championship expectations; the rotation was supposed to be stable and healthy down the stretch. It wasn’t.

With the end of the season came a world of uncertainty. Weaver and Wilson are the only locks to return, and the Angels have 60 percent of a rotation to fill this winter. Who are some of their better options to restock the staff?

1. Zach Greinke. Greinke is the prize of this offseason. He’s been viewed as an ace ever since his incredible 2009 season with the Royals, in which he posted a 2.33 FIP across just under 230 innings. He’s clearly the best pitcher available on the free agent market, and the Angels have a good amount of money coming off the books, with Haren, Santana and Torii Hunter all off the payroll.

However, while the Angels will aggressively pursue Greinke, but there are several other viable options on the market. Over at Halos Daily, we’ve taken a few different looks at how some of the top arms might fit in SoCal, especially how it relates to Greinke’s value this winter.

2. Anibal Sanchez. Andrew Karcher examined Sanchez, finding that “[he] and his agent will probably bide their time before signing somewhere… letting Greinke set the market and create a bidding war for [Sanchez’s] services.” Sanchez might be a good option as a fallback option if Greinke is out of reach; he isn’t Greinke, but he’s a very consistent, viable piece that any rotation would love to have. If the Angels can’t nab Greinke, Sanchez is a clear fit.

3. Hiroki Kuroda. Kuroda could also be a good fit for the Halos. He isn’t young, so it looks like he’s content with a short-term deal without a huge commitment. Regardless of whether the Angels have paid Greinke funny money, Kuroda could be a fit and could make the rotation one of the best in baseball, much like it looked like he would when he originally signed with the Yankees prior to 2012.

At Halos Daily, Jesse Crall points out that Kuroda is “someone whose xFIP is always around 3.50, someone who keeps his ground-ball rate around 50 percent, someone who strikes out just enough batters to succeed, and someone whose fastball has the same low 90’s velocity it did when he broke in with the Dodgers.” Kuroda is the same pitcher that's been above-average for several years now, and he might decide that he wants to go back to SoCal, but that he also looks better in red.

4. Brandon McCarthy. The next attractive option is McCarthy. Whispers that his personal connection is a bit too strong might be true, but money talks, and McCarthy might be willing to leave Oakland given the right situation and a mansion with the proper square footage. The A’s rotation is also pretty deep, so they may decide that getting into a bidding war for McCarthy isn’t worth their time and resources.

McCarthy hasn’t stayed healthy for a long stretch of time, and 2012 wasn't an amazing season for him. His strikeout rate took a dip and he walked a few more batters than he had in 2011. But his stuff was the same, and assuming a clean bill of health, there’s no reason to assume he can’t return to being the No. 2 starter he looked like in 2011. Halos Daily’s Nathan Aderhold thinks “McCarthy can [probably] be had for something around two years and $20 million, which would likely leave $12-$15 million or so on the table to sign another pitcher like Hiroki Kuroda or Shaun Marcum.”

5. Shaun Marcum. Another solid option, Marcum could stabilize the middle of the Angels’ rotation. He’ll probably be looking for some long-term security, and the Angels could roll the dice and give him a three-year deal.

Marcum has been consistent throughout his time in the majors, but elbow soreness sidelined him for over two months in 2012. He returned strong (at least in terms of peripherals), but he turns 31 in December, so his clock is ticking.

Marcum could wait out the offseason for the highest and last bidder, and he may end up settling for an expensive one-year deal that he can use to prove his worth for potential employers in a year. Given that Marcum had the highest strikeout rate of his career in 2012, the Angels would be well advised to jump on such a deal.

The Angels need to fill three spots. Greinke is the flashy name, and one Greinke might mean more than one Sanchez and one Marcum combined if you need him in Game 1 of the postseason, but the Angels are trying to get back to the playoffs first. Rotational depth is a need, and with the club having locked up so much talent long-term last season, they might be best to invest a lot of short-term money in guys who can fill spots for them and perform well, even if they aren’t elite.

Hudson Belinsky is a contributor to Halos Dailey, the SweetSpot network affiliate dedicated to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Proposed improvements overdue

November, 8, 2012
Could baseball be on the cusp of a wave of common sense? Keep in mind that what’s coming out of the GM meetings are just recommendations, and that when it comes to change, baseball is one of the world’s great late adopters. Nevertheless, you might be understandably optimistic.

Could baseball finally be listening to generations of fans already familiar with decades of replay in football, and be willing to adopt more? It’s clearly overdue, and if they’re talking about technical solutions, then they’re well beyond just saying that they believe in the concept, because they’re reviewing implementation and placating the umpires’ union. Given them a few decades, and they may even get it right, but the product -- baseball -- has had to suffer in the meantime.

What about talk about making sure teams play with equal numbers of players in September, after roster expansion? Again, it’s something we’ve heard about for years. I remember then-Cubs manager Jim Riggleman bringing this up 15 years ago, and noting that it was unfair. The idea that a contender that has 40 players at their disposal might play an also-ran ballclub leaving players in Triple-A for their postseason or unwilling to call people up because they’re pinching pennies is unfair, and that sort of mismatch shouldn’t be allowed to affect a pennant race. Making sure everyone’s playing the game with same-size rosters is one of those bits of obviousness that is long overdue, but competitive balance has had to suffer in the meantime.

But when it comes to protecting players, as the assets they represent and as the fellow human beings they are, there really shouldn’t any cause for baseball to once again reach for the pause button. Protective headgear for pitchers is ridiculously overdue, and there shouldn’t be another season spent risking players’ lives and livelihoods to inaction.

Unfortunately, look at how long it took the industry to adopt batting helmets. You may have heard about Indians shortstop Ray Chapman, the last major league player killed by a pitch in 1920, but catcher Roger Bresnahan -- the same player who popularized shin guards and protective gear for backstops -- was experimenting with protective headgear as early as 1907, after he’d been hospitalized and nearly killed by a beanball. Even with the introduction of protective headgear in the minors in the 1930s, and adoption for spring training in the ’40s, it wasn’t until 1953 when the Pirates adopted helmets that they arrived in the big leagues, and even though batting helmets became MLB-mandatory in 1971, because veterans didn’t have to observe the rule it wasn’t until 1979 that the last batter stepped in without wearing a helmet. (It was Bob Montgomery of the Red Sox, for the curious.)

Brandon McCarthy’s injury this past season might be the precipitating incident that gets the idea of protecting pitchers’ heads, but this isn’t some new problem afflicting the game, nor is it directly related to the maple versus ash debate. Indians ace Herb Score nearly lost an eye and saw his tremendously career derailed in 1957 after getting pegged by a line drive. Yet not even the adoption of protective batting helmets going on at the same time led the industry to take that short step to note that, as long as they were protecting hitters, maybe pitchers needed some coverage as well.

Unfortunately, Score’s tragedy didn’t directly lead to necessary change any more than Chapman’s did. And given past precedent with batting helmets there’s a good chance that, even if protective gear for pitchers gets adopted, we’ll wind up with a stretch in baseball where it will be up to the already established pitchers to decide whether or not to run the risk of head trauma, and decide whether to wear one or not. Meanwhile players in the minors -- those not covered by the union -- could be required to wear them sooner.

At best, it’s a generational solution, but looking at the game’s track record for doing the necessary, you may wonder if they may know no other kind. Given the stakes, this is one issue where the game should act now, not later.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

A's fielding their best, and just win

September, 15, 2012

A’s versus O’s in September, and there’s something major at stake? Gritty starting pitching, a stack of well-turned double plays and the winner winds up being whoever homered with somebody on base -- what is this, a "That ’70s Show" rerun? Perhaps not since the Big Green Machine of Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter had to try going through the Earl Weaver Orioles three times in four years 40 years ago has this matchup meant so much.

In the end, it was Yoenis Cespedes’ two-run home run that was the key blow, but that’s only because it was the noisiest feat in a game that reflected a few reasons these teams are here. The A's Friday starter, Tommy Milone, leads the team in turns through a combination of unhappy accidents (to Brandon McCarthy) and better living through chemistry and a suspension for Bartolo Colon. He wasn’t supposed to be “the” guy, but here he was, giving the A’s a chance at keeping the Rangers in range in the American League West while defending Oakland’s AL wild-card lead.

Cespedes’ power production has been crucial for an A’s team that could never afford a premium free agent in the outfield. General manager Billy Beane and friends reached into their bag of roster-rebuild tricks to conjure up an unexpected Cuban solution to their need for power and their inability to afford it on the free market.

But what’s remarkable about this showdown between the A’s and Orioles is that neither team was pegged to finish in the top half of their respective divisions, let alone be sparring in September for the second-best record in the league. Both clubs are huge surprises. However, that’s about all they have in common, because as surprising as they’ve been, they’re surprising in very different ways.

Plenty of people have already commented on the Orioles’ “luck” this season. Whether that’s a matter of being a record 20 games over .500 in one-run games or their being more than 10 games over in extras or their bullpen’s remarkable success despite the absence of a classic late-game flamethrower ... pick your poison, really. All of those things contribute to a Pythagorean record that was an MLB-best 12 games in the black before Friday’s contest. It’s all very fun from a stathead point of view because it’s not suppose to happen -- that’s not how we believe teams win, and the fact that the Orioles are winning this way is one of those fun exceptions to the rule. It’s the sort of piled-up stack of improbabilities that makes the game so much fun to follow from the get-go.

That isn’t the A’s. Say what you want about how surprising it is to find them in multiple races -- for the AL West, an AL wild-card slot or, perhaps most surprising of all, the second-best record in the league -- at this stage of the season, one thing is clear: The A’s aren’t lucky to be here. Going into Friday night’s game, their expected record was just one game worse than their actual record. Unlike the Orioles, they’re not a surprise on the basis of what they’re doing -- they’re an ongoing surprise because the collected wisdom of the know-it-all-ocracy was just flat-out dead wrong about them six months ago. And six weeks ago. And probably six days ago.

One key? Defense, as the A’s managed to kill the Orioles with four double plays. As a team, they’re second only to the defense-obsessed Mariners in defensive efficiency in all of baseball. That hasn’t been a function of the Coliseum’s foul territory, either. They’re fourth in the majors in park-adjusted defensive efficiency, rating behind the Padres, Mariners and the Rays -- the team that employs the man who invented that stat, James Click.

What’s incredible about that is that if defense is the product of team play, the A’s performance on D has come despite a ton of turnover at all four infield positions, five if you count catcher. Not one of their opening day starters is still playing his season-starting position regularly. Toss in the since-reversed decision to put Cespedes in center and Coco Crisp in left, and the only guy left from that March 28 opener in the Tokyo Dome is right fielder Josh Reddick.

That commitment to churning through their options until they get the best team possible is what put catcher Derek Norris on the spot Friday night. It was his throw from behind home plate that ended the game, not a closer whiffing someone at home and not some dramatic bit of walk-off drama. Norris wasn’t even on this team until June 21, and he didn’t take over as the regular receiver until after longtime regular Kurt Suzuki was dumped, casually chucking notions about the virtues of team chemistry and veteran leadership.

Which seems totally in character for this A’s team. Their approach to personnel led them to just put the better player on the team. Contend with a rookie catcher? Sure, because they think he’s the best they have. A no-name rotation? Again, not a problem, they know what they’ve got. Turn over the entire infield? Why not -- just win, baby.

 Josh ReddickEzra Shaw/Getty ImagesJosh Reddick's response to lining into a DP reflects his commitment to excellence.
First base: Mr Enigmatic. Is Max Scherzer a good pitcher? A mediocre pitcher? A potentially great pitcher? Last October, in Game 2 of the American League Division Series, we saw how good Scherzer can be when he pitched six scoreless innings, using an explosive, moving fastball to throttle the Yankees. And there he was two starts later in the American League Championship Series against the Rangers, getting knocked out in the third inning. One reason so many people predicted the Tigers to run away with the AL Central is they penciled in improvement for Scherzer and Rick Porcello. I wasn't quite so sure; both have maddeningly inconsistent in their young careers and it's been mostly bad Scherzer in 2012. The punchless Mariners roughed him up Tuesday for 10 hits and five runs in five innings, bumping his ERA to 8.24. Frankly, I can't figure him out. He has a nice 23/6 strikeout-to-walk but has allowed 30 hits in 19.2 innings. Unlucky on balls in play? Sure, probably. Mix in a little Miggy Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Jhonny Peralta as well. But it was similar last season, when he posted a 4.43 ERA: Good ratios, but too many hits and too many home runs (29). Coming on the heels of Porcello's one-inning stinker, the Detroit rotation after Justin Verlander remains a work in progress.

Second base: Narveson out for season. Tough day for pitchers, as Michael Pineda will get another opinion on his shoulder and Mike Pelfrey went on the disabled list with elbow inflammation and possibly worse. Brewers starter Chris Narveson, however, is done for the season after it was announced he'll undergo rotator cuff surgery. Narveson was a solid fifth last season, but Marco Estrada is a nice replacement -- maybe even a step up. A fastball/curve/changeup guy, the Nationals originally drafted Estrada but never quite believed in him since his fastball is 90-91, and the Brewers picked him up on waivers in 2010. He pitched well last season, including a 3.70 ERA in seven spot starts, and threw well last week with five innings of one-run ball, with nine strikeouts and no walks against the Rockies. He isn't flashy, but he throws strikes and should be solid. We talk a lot about the need for rotation depth. Estrada will end up being a key to the Brewers' season.

Third base: CarGo-es deep. The Rockies lost 5-4 to the Pirates as the bullpen blew a lead in the eighth inning but the good news was Carlos Gonzalez finally hit his first two home runs, improving his triple-slash line to .278/.328/.500 (he raised his average 38 points and his slugging percentage 140 points in one night). Nice, but the Rockies will need more ... like 2010 more, when Gonzalez led the National League with a .336 average, slugged .598 and finished third in the MVP vote. That season was built on a .384 average on balls in play, third-best in the majors. His BABIP returned to more normal levels last season and his numbers fell. Gonzalez did start out slow last April (.228, one homer) before heating up in May and June, only to come down with a wrist injury in July that he aggravated again in September. Hopefully this is a sign the wrist is completely healthy and he'll start heating up.

Tweet of the night. A's rookie lefty Tom Milone improved to 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA with eight shutout innings against the White Sox.

Mariners-A's: Running diary!

March, 28, 2012

Welcome to Opening Day! Not the official Opening Day, mind you, but the fake one from Japan, where the Mariners and A’s will be playing two games in a stadium the Japanese lovingly call the Big Egg. It’s fake Opening Day, but the games are real, although for some reason the MLB Network is showing a spring training report on the Mets (Jonathon Niese just showed Al Leiter his grip for a changeup!) rather than a game that actually matters.

But it’s available on MLB.TV so I set the alarm for 6 a.m., turned on the computer and sat down to follow along.

First inning
Brandon McCarthy starts for the A’s. McCarthy set a record for most offseason publicity ever for a pitcher who won nine games for a third-place team from a small-market West Coast team. He appeared on the cover of ESPN The Magazine. He wrote a guest column for SI.com. He tweeted clever strings of 140 characters all winter and appeared at a sabermetrics conference during spring training.
McCarthy is a great story, a pitcher who used sabermetric analysis to become a better pitcher as he returned from injuries. (“I didn’t want to suck at baseball anymore," he said.) And he is funny on Twitter. And he married a model. So you have to like the guy. He’s facing Felix Hernandez, so there’s a good chance this game could be 0-0 through nine innings.

Chone Figgins makes the first out of the 2012 season. Let’s just leave it at that. He’s too easy of a punching bag and it’s 6 o'clock in the morning. But an out later, Ichiro reaches on an infield single. His infield hits dropped from 59 in to 2010 to 38 in 2011, so this is a good sign. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure he’s the only No. 3 hitter in the majors for whom we’ll be breaking down the number of infield hits. The Seattle Mariners, everyone!

Second inning
[+] EnlargeFelix Hernandez
AP Photo/Shizuo KambayashiThere is hope ahead for Felix Hernandez after shaking off some recent injury woes.
Jesus Montero steps to the plate wearing No. 63. I’m not sure this is a good sign. Has there ever been a great player to wear No. 63? Of course not! Apparently Montero wanted No. 21 but that belongs to Franklin Gutierrez. I suggest the Mariners trade Gutierrez. Montero bounces the first pitch to third base. If there’s something that will prevent Montero from reaching his potential as a hitter, it will be his over-aggressiveness at the plate. He drew just 36 walks in 463 plate appearances in Triple-A in 2011.

Mariners announcer Mike Blowers on catcher Miguel Olivo: “They’re going to give him a few more days off this year.”

Every Mariners fan everywhere: “God, we hope so.”

In the bottom of the inning, Yoenis Cespedes steps in for his first major league at-bat: Fastball inside, curveball for a called strike, a big 12-to-6 curve that he pulls off and a 58-foot sinker in the dirt that he misses by about 2 feet. Welcome to the big leagues.

Third inning
Michael Saunders singles to lead off the inning and steals second. Brendan Ryan grounds a curveball into the hole at shortstop, but Saunders unwisely dashes for third and is thrown out. Ryan is then caught stealing. Thank goodness the Mariners just spent five weeks in spring training working on fundamentals.

The A’s have a third baseman who wears glasses. What, are they so poor their players can’t even afford Lasik surgery?

Fourth inning
Dustin Ackley crushes a 1-1 fastball over the center-field fence. Our first run of the season! Ichiro follows with another infield single. He may hit .400 this year. The Mariners broadcast just mentioned Ichiro’s batting average on balls in play in 2010 compared to 2011 (.353 versus .295). I’m telling you, this sabermetric stuff just may catch on.

Oakland counters in the bottom of the inning as Cliff Pennington doubles to lead off and then Kurt Suzuki doubles with two outs, a liner just past the diving Mike Carp in left field. Minus-one on the defensive runs saved chart for Carp.

Fifth inning
Jemile Weeks strikes out looking, unhappy with both the two-strike pitch and third-strike calls and slams his bat down on the turf. The Japanese fans yelp in shock, as in Japan players wouldn’t dishonor the umpire with such a display.

Sixth inning
Figgins and Ichiro single but the rally dies when Justin Smoak and Montero fail to come through. Is this the right time to mention that the Mariners lost two exhibition games to Japanese teams by a combined score of 14-4 while getting outhit 25-13? Outside of Ackley’s homer, they haven’t hit the ball hard. Their other five hits include two infield hits and two ground balls up the middle.

Pennington singles to start the bottom of the frame and steals second, Oakland’s second steal of the game. A little thing to watch for Hernandez: He used to do an OK job of containing the running game, allowing an average of 16 steals per year from 2006 through 2010. In 2011, that shot up to 31 steals allowed, and it’s not all because of Olivo. Frankly, I think he stopped paying attention and I think most Mariners fans will agree that Felix’s concentration lagged at times last year. It’s not easy to pitch when you know giving up one run may lose you the game. Pennington moves to third on a long fly out but Hernandez works out of the jam with an infield popout (as Ryan makes the catch, the graphic shows that he led all major league shortstops with 17 runs saved) and Josh Reddick’s hard liner that goes right to Carp.

Seventh inning
McCarthy cruises through another easy inning. Cespedes pokes a 1-1 curveball over Saunders’ head in center field for a double, a good piece of hitting off a good low-and-away pitch from Hernandez. Considering how bad Cespedes looked earlier against off-speed stuff, a nice adjustment.

Bob Melvin then asks Brandon Allen to bunt. Allen’s last sacrifice bunt came in ... 2006. He pops it up. Bob Melvin, everyone! (Why not send up a pinch-hitter to bunt there?) Eric Sogard, the third baseman with the glasses, lines out to Hernandez and Weeks grounds out. Hernandez escapes another jam.

Eighth inning
[+] EnlargeIchiro Suzuk
AP Photo/Shizuo KambayashiIchiro Suzuki had four hits, including an RBI single in the 11th inning.
McCarthy comes out after just 82 pitches. He threw a nice game -- no walks, three strikeouts, really just the one belt-high fastball mistake that Ackley didn’t miss. Ryan Cook comes in, a guy acquired in the Trevor Cahill trade with Arizona, a rookie with a big fastball. 1-2-3. Eight Mariners in a row retired. Hernandez also retires the side in order in what is probably his last inning after 104 pitches.

Ninth inning
The Mariners have their 3-4-5 guys up. A’s closer Grant Balfour comes on. Advantage: Oakland. Sorry, I hate to be cynical after just eight innings of the first game of the season, but it’s been two years of games like this for Mariners fans. Hernandez has 27 wins over the past two seasons. In 17 of those wins, he allowed no runs or one run, so he has just 10 wins in games in which he allowed more than one run. Compare that to, say, Justin Verlander; he has 19 wins over the past two seasons in games in which he allowed two runs or more. Both pitchers had 23 starts in which they allowed zero runs or one -- Verlander won all 23.

The Mariners go down in order. Tom Wilhelmsen enters for the Mariners. So there’s a chance they could lose without their best reliever entering the game. Because, you know, you have to save your closer for when you have a lead, even if it means he doesn’t get into a tie game in the ninth inning. What, too early in the season to be complaining about bullpen usage? Wilhelmsen does the job, striking out Cespedes on a big breaker for the third out. Looks like the scouting reports are already out on him: He’s going to see a steady diet of off-speed stuff, that’s for sure.

10th inning
Bonus baseball! Side-arming lefty Brian Fuentes on for the A’s. He once pitched 55 innings and recorded 48 saves! Three up, three down. Fourteen in a row for A’s pitchers. Mariners tally of hard-hit balls for the game: one. Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone on Twitter: Mariners in midseason form.

Ackley bobbles a hard-hit one-hopper and throws it way. Collin Cowgill runs for Allen. With Sogard up, let’s see if the A’s bunt, hit-and-run or swing away. Sogard takes ball one, fouls off a pitch with Cowgill running. Hit-and-run backfires when Sogard swing through a 2-1 outside fastball. If you don’t run, that pitch is outside and the count is 3-1. Sogard flies out. Weeks strikes out looking again ... and gently places his bat and helmet down on the turf. Only 17 more Mariners-A’s games to go!

11th inning
After new Oakland pitcher Andrew Carignan fires three fastballs to Ryan, Blowers makes an astute comment: “Carignan looks like he’s pretty proud of his fastball.” He throws and Ryan pounces on it for a leadoff double. Figgins bunts him over. Ackley lines a single -- off another fastball -- into center for the go-ahead run. Melvin brings in lefty Jerry Blevins. Not sure why he didn’t bring in Blevins to face Ackley. Maybe he figured Carignan had the better shot at a strikeout. Ackley steals second and Ichiro follows with a soft liner to center to score Ackley, his fourth hit of the game. I’m telling you ... Ichiro is back! (Wait, it’s only one game? I don’t care. We have to get excited about something. The Mariners just had a two-run outburst.)

Brandon League is on for the save. I told you Eric Wedge should have waited to bring in League until the Mariners got the lead. Pennington flies out. Coco Crisp strikes out looking on a 3-2 fastball. Seth Smith nearly kills League with a line drive that somehow goes between League’s glove and face. A’s still alive. The other Suzuki digs in. League puts him away with a nasty two-strike splitter.

And the first game of 2,430 is in the books. In the end, the big key was the Mariners using just two relievers while the A’s lost once Melvin went to his fourth and fifth guys out of the bullpen. Give Wedge credit for using Wilhelmsen for 25 pitches and two innings while Melvin removed Balfour after 11 pitches and Fuentes after 12. Why managers remove relievers after just one inning when their pitch count is still so low is something I still don’t understand. It’s rote managing without thinking critically about the situation.

Mariners fans are happy. The fans in Japan are happy, as their national hero gets four hits in his homecoming. And we should all be happy: Baseball is back.
Opening Day is a mere hours away! Are you ready? Keith Law and I discussed the Mariners-Athletics starting the season in Japan and a lot more on Tuesday’s fine Baseball Today podcast!

1. Felix Hernandez versus Brandon McCarthy! Well, I’ll be watching. Is opening the season in Japan good for baseball? Keith discusses.

2. Our special guest on the show was "Top Chef's" Richard Blaise, talking not only about food but also choking and pressure. It’s interesting stuff.

3. In our news segment we talked about Joba Chamberlain and Jose Iglesias, but also Mets hurler R.A. Dickey, who will be making news this week off the field. Kudos to R.A. for his honesty.

4. In our email segment we talk about potentially surprising teams like the Royals, which season was actually Mariano Rivera’s best and Shelby Miller’s ETA to the big leagues.

5. Keith talks about players to watch in 2012 and why Stephen Strasburg did not make his list! Find out why!

So download and listen to Tuesday’s Baseball Today podcast because it’s the last one before the games start to count!
The final Baseball Today podcast of February was a winning one as Mark Simon and me discussed myriad names and topics, including ...

1. Do you feel differently about Ryan Braun after the strange events of last week? Mark and I are similarly dissatisfied and explain why.

2. Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek has apparently had enough, and we discuss his Hall of Fame case, such as it is. We also deviate on a few of his teammates, and hit a nerve on David Ortiz.

3. The Missouri catchers get a lot richer after signing contract extensions, but were the Cardinals and Royals wise to make these moves with Yadier Molina and Salvador Perez?

4. In our Simon Says segment, we play the "Superstar or Shlabotnick" game (no, really, we did!) and discuss the recent ESPN The Magazine cover story about smart Oakland Athletics pitcher Brandon McCarthy.

5. Emails pose questions about last week’s memorable podcast, other books to recommend (including one from me!), the Angels third-base situation with Alberto Callaspo/Mark Trumbo and more!

So download and listen to Tuesday’s fine edition of the Baseball Today podcast! It’s the wise thing to do!
Diane over at the Value Over Replacement Grit blog needs your help: She's putting together a bracket of the 64 best names in major league history. Click here for details on submitting your suggestions to her. Great idea, Diane. Can't wait to see the bracket.

OK, some other good stuff from the network:

Retread Bartolo Colon gets a better home

January, 15, 2012
Bartolo Colon reportedly took a one-year offer Sunday from the Oakland Athletics. This is another win-win move in a down market for a team and a starting pitcher who need one another. The A’s need warm bodies, even ones as well-insulated as Colon’s, while Colon needs the gig.

Bartolo Colon
Kim Klement/US PresswireBartolo Colon should benefit from a move to Oakland.
Colon is coming off a year where he delivered his best strikeout rate since 2001, whiffing 19.5 percent of all batters faced for the Yankees as a back-end innings-muncher. Even allowing for the fact that strikeout rates are at an all-time high today, that’s pretty nifty for a comeback that initially inspired snickers or despair in the Big Apple. Colon silenced that derision despite his bulk, even while inviting some controversy over the stem cell treatments to his elbow that gave the veteran a chance to come back in the first place.

Knee problems down the stretch helped end his year on a sour note, but Yankee Stadium probably wasn’t the best fit for Colon in the first place. Lefties crushed him for an .880 OPS (against his .621 vs. right-handed batters), and he gave up 15 of his 21 home runs to lefties, including seven of the 11 he allowed at home. Yankee Stadium is the best ballpark for lefty power in the game today, and Colon is essentially a fastball pitcher who survives on changing speeds; his slider’s really just a show-me pitch, so left-handed hitters could afford to sit dead-red and hammer him.

But why should Colon go to the A’s? First, Colon really couldn’t do much better than the Coliseum as far as picking a place to pitch. While he’s been a fly ball-oriented pitcher his entire career, per Baseball Info Solutions, the A’s home park ranked 12th in the AL for three-year park factor for home runs. While everyone likes to harp on how great grounders are, in a park like the Coliseum fly balls aren’t evil -- they’re a high-percentage outcome for getting outs.

Second, the game has a time-honored tradition for retreads marking time with low-budget also-rans fielding a simulacrum of a competitive team while the prospects get readied. That’s what Livan Hernandez was good for with the Nationals the last couple of years, for example. There was no real expectation of greatness, just a hope for 30 workmanlike starts.

Some teams have made providing safe havens for low-cost veterans into a cottage industry. Perhaps the most memorable was the Montreal Expos in the 1980s. They basically spent a decade thriving as a haven for veteran retreads looking to pitch for pennies and rebuild their careers. Dennis Martinez started his second act for the Expos, going 100-72 in eight years with a 3.06 ERA after the Orioles gave up on him. Other veterans who got a new lease on life included Pascual Perez (28-21, 2.80 ERA in 65 starts), Oil Can Boyd (16-14, 3.15 ERA in 50 starts). The benefits of trawling in this end of the market was perhaps best reflected by Zane Smith: Picked up for nothing from the Braves in 1989, then dealt a year later in 1990 with a 2.79 ERA as an Expo. The payoff? Moises Alou, Willie Greene and lefty reliever Scott Ruskin.

For a veteran pitcher like Colon or Erik Bedard (who signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Pirates a month ago), one of the nice benefits of signing with a team headed nowhere is that you don’t have to worry about picking the right team if you want to pitch on a contender. The contenders have better Plan A options, at least until injuries hit. Perhaps the best way to be a Plan B alternative is pitch somewhere in the majors that’s ready to deal you at the first sign of success. Pitch well, and your grateful dumpster-diving temporary employer will agreeably flip you to a winner worried about its rotation depth at the end of July or August.

Finally, Oakland flat-out needs warm bodies to help guarantee that they won’t be piling up mileage on the Sacramento shuttle from Triple-A. With cost control being job one for Billy Beane and David Forst, the last thing they want to do is start the service-time clocks of Jarrod Parker or Brad Peacock any earlier than necessary.

That won’t be easy to do, considering the fragility of almost all of the A’s current rotation choices. Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson are both going to be trying to come back from injury-marred 2011 seasons, while Guillermo Moscoso, Josh Outman and Brandon McCarthy all have unhappy track records where the DL is concerned. The bloated Colon may be a doubtful paragon of durability, but he’ll help fill up game time and roster space for the time being.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.