SweetSpot: Jason Bay

Throughout July, we're presenting 30 deals in 30 days: the best trade-deadline deal ever made by each team. We wrap up with the NL West.

THE TEAM: Los Angeles Dodgers

THE YEAR: 2008

THE SITUATION: Tired of Manny Ramirez complaining about wanting a new contract and his lack of hustle, the Red Sox were shopping the outfielder as the trade deadline approached, even though they were just a couple of games out in the AL East. They reportedly came close to a deal with the Marlins, who decided not to give up Class A outfielder Mike Stanton.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, were a game out of first place after winning on July 30 but were looking to upgrade their outfield, where Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre were in a center-/left-field platoon but were not producing (Jones would hit .158 on the season). After the Marlins deal didn't work out, the Red Sox, Pirates and Dodgers engineered a three-team deal on July 31.


THE TRADE: The Dodgers acquired Ramirez from the Red Sox, trading prospects Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris to the Pirates. The Pirates sent Jason Bay to the Red Sox for Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen.

THE AFTERMATH: Ramirez went on a tear after joining the Dodgers, hitting .396/.489/.743 with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs in 53 games. Ramirez was worth 3.5 WAR for the Dodgers, who ended up winning the NL West by just two games over the Diamondbacks. His two-month stint was so impressive that he finished fourth in the NL MVP voting. Considering the prospects the Dodgers gave up haven't done much -- although Morris is finally a member of the Pirates' bullpen this year -- it's exactly what you want out of a deadline trade, a guy who made the difference in making the playoffs, without giving up much in return.

The Dodgers would beat the Cubs in the division series before losing to the Phillies in the NLCS. Ramirez hit .520 with four home runs and 10 RBIs in eight postseason games. The next year, Ramirez again helped the Dodgers reach the NLCS.

Bay helped the Red Sox reach the playoffs in 2008 and 2009.


The game survives. It always survives.

A routine Wednesday afternoon game on a gorgeous June day in Seattle between two teams rapidly going nowhere can slog along for 13 uneventful innings -- so uneventful that it was 0-0 heading to the 14th, with nary a hit with runners in scoring position.

Then the White Sox score five runs in the top of the 14th. Mariners fans began filing out into the concourses of Safeco Field. The Mariners score a run and load the bases with two out. White Sox closer Addison Reed has Kyle Seager in a 1-2 hole when Seager dramatically turns the routine into the remarkable, hitting a game-tying grand slam out to right-center.

The game heads to the 15th inning and the camera pans to fans heading back to their seats.

This is what baseball does to us. For 24 hours, the talk had been about Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez and Biogenesis instead of Yasiel Puig and Domonic Brown. Instead of discussing scores, everyone was discussing suspensions. And then Kyle Seager hits a grand slam and the fans return.

Maybe Bud Selig cares more about penalizing players who used performance-enhancing drugs than publicizing up-and-coming stars. Maybe he cares more about increasing owner profits than creating a playoff system that makes sense. Maybe he cares more about limiting bonuses to amateur players instead of trying to attract the best athletes to his sport.

There are many problems with the business of baseball.

There are not problems with the game. We do go back.

* * * *
The White Sox won 7-5 in 16 innings, snapping an eight-game losing streak. It's probably fair to say that they needed this one. Reed blew the five-run lead but, out of pitchers, manager Robin Ventura left Reed in to go three innings, which these days is like asking your closer to climb Mount Everest without oxygen and carrying Pablo Sandoval on his back.

[+] EnlargeKyle Seager
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonKyle Seager, center, became the first player to hit a game-tying grand slam in extra innings.
Needless to say, the game contained a few "first-evers" and other oddities. Seager became the first player in major league history to hit a game-tying grand slam in extra innings. It was the first time both teams scored 5-plus runs in extra innings after the game had been 0-0 through nine. The 12 total runs in extra innings tied an American League record. (All nuggets courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information.) Mariners catcher Kelly Shoppach became the 13th player since 2010 to strike out five times in a game -- although the only one to also register two hits. Mariners manager Eric Wedge didn't use a single position player off his bench. The White Sox turned six double plays.

But the game also exposed the weaknesses of these two clubs. If they don't hit home runs, they don't score. The five runs the White Sox scored in the 14th were more than they had scored in any game during their eight-game losing streak, a stretch in which they hit .197 with one home run and a .486 OPS. With a 25-32 record, the White Sox appear to be a dysfunctional unit, hoping unproductive veterans Adam Dunn (.162 average, .261 OBP) and Paul Konerko (.233 average, .296 OBP) find a fountain of youth, with no youth to build a lineup around. The entire offense is a wreck outside of Alex Rios, last in the AL in runs, average, walks, OBP and 13th in home runs. The White Sox are likely going to be sellers at the deadline, but outside of Rios and Chris Sale (who isn't going anywhere) there aren't many assets here of much value.

The Mariners hit Endy Chavez and Jason Bay 1-2 on Wednesday, which also tells you the state of a team that's in Year 5 of general manager Jack Zduriencik's attempt to clean up the mess left behind by the Bill Bavasi. The Mariners are 26-34, and that's with two of the best starters in the league. Hisashi Iwakuma was terrific once again, pitching eight scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 1.94. He's 6-1 in 13 starts but has allowed more than three runs just once; with a little run support he could easily have 10 wins.

I don't know if this was the game of the year, but I'm pretty sure it will end up on the short list. For 5 hours and 42 minutes, two bad baseball teams gave us baseball to talk about.

Thank goodness for that.
Spring Training is awesome! The weather in Arizona and Florida (usually) rocks, the next generation of stars are on display, we get to see baseball being played after snowy months without it and ... what am I saying? By the end of March I can’t wait for the games to finally, mercifully, eventually count in real standings -- sorry, Kansas City Royals fans -- and now that day is nigh. The big Texas rivalry officially starts the 2013 season on Sunday night baseball on ESPN, so let’s go! It’s Friday, so here are five things you have to know for this weekend in baseball!

Bud Norris versus Matt Harrison!: Hope springs eternal, even in Houston where the goals are to build for 2019 (hopefully sooner) and avoid losing 100 games this year, just a bit different than that of the contender-ish Texas Rangers. Perhaps this isn’t an outstanding rivalry yet, but there’s certainly room for growth! Anyway, Norris has faced only two current Rangers, but current Astros are 0-for-18 against Harrison. Anyone else smell a no-hitter watch on Opening Day? Bob Feller (1940) would welcome Harrison to the club!

We’re not Joshing: Meanwhile, Josh Hamilton spent five seasons as a Ranger, making five All-Star teams, hitting many home runs and burning bridges when he departed. The new center field arrangement is a likely speedster platoon of Cuban Leonys Martin and Arkansas native Craig Gentry. It won’t provide power, but certainly intrigue at the bottom of a deep lineup. Hamilton’s power will be replaced -- as Ron Washington crosses his fingers -- by Lance Berkman. Sure, last season he was an injured mess. In 2011 when nobody expected it, Berkman finished sixth in the majors in OPS. Hamilton was 10th in OPS last year.

San Antonio, here we come!: Meanwhile, all teams are technically in action this weekend, even if their low-level Class A players will be doing the heavy pitching and hitting lifting. The Rangers host the San Diego Padres in Tim Duncan’s lovely city Friday and Saturday. San Jose is a lovely place, too, but the Oakland Athletics are going to end up somewhere, someday, so remember the Alamo, or at least the attendance figures this weekend when the A's and Giants host each other. The skeleton of the New York Yankees -- oh wait, that’s their actual April lineup? -- will take on Army at West Point, N.Y. An entire Army? And you thought the Yankees taking on the rest of baseball was a challenge.

Roster roulette: Fantasy owners might be wondering why the heck Christian Garcia is on the disabled list -- or who he is -- or when the Yankees will officially send Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson as teams finagle 25 men onto their active rosters. Longer-term injured players will get their procedural asterisks for DL placement, but in some of the cases the moves will be short-term. Baltimore Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman, for example, had his DL stint performed retroactively, and could still pitch later in the week, so don’t give up on the potential fantasy windfall of players like Tillman just yet. What’s more interesting is ...

Unemployment line: The healthy players who do end up with jobs -- because there are some big names on the proverbial fence. Check out SweetSpot blogger Dave Schoenfield’s beloved Seattle Mariners, for example, where four-time 30-100 guy Jason Bay should make the team, but only to sell tickets. Seriously, can he be an integral contributor after years of unfortunate injury and insult to New York Mets fans? Prospects like Jackie Bradley Jr. in Boston won’t be out of work, but it’s undecided where that work will be on display. Don’t be surprised by a trade or two as well, as teams look for upgrades even at the last minute. Casper Wells starting in left field for Philly for their Opening Day? Alfredo Aceves in another team’s rotation? Jose Valverde closing for his pal Jim Leyland in Detroit? Well, maybe not.

Regardless, enjoy your weekend and remember, the games count starting Sunday night!
Spring stats mean nothing! But they're fun to look at. A few highlights ... and lowlights (stats from major league games only):
  • Some people haven't bought in on Paul Goldschmidt as they worry about the strikeouts, but one reason I do like him is he'll draw some walks to go with the power: He's hitting .265 with three homers, but with 12 walks (and 13 strikeouts).
  • Josh Collmenter hasn't pitched well for Arizona: Five walks and just four strikeouts in 12 innings. He'll start in the rotation but you wonder how soon before we see Trevor Bauer.
  • Braves prospect Julio Teheran has somehow allowed nine home runs in 13 innings.
  • Jeff Samardzija earned a spot in the Cubs' rotation by showing good stuff but just as impressively has walked just one batter in 20 innings. This from a guy who averaged 5.1 walks per nine innings in relief in 2011.
  • Not good news for the Cubs: First baseman Bryan LaHair has 16 strikeouts and one walk. Is the 29-year-old Triple-A vet pressing now that he's been given a chance to start after hitting .331 at Iowa? His SO/BB ratio at Triple-A was 111/60.
  • Joey Votto is hitting .214 without a home run. I like how people will make a big deal when somebody does well ... but not a big deal when a star player doesn't do well. Again, spring stats ... for entertainment purposes only!
  • Dexter Fowler has had a miserable spring for the Rockies, hitting .118 in 51 at-bats with 16 strikeouts.
  • Clemens has pitched five scoreless innings for the Astros. Paul Clemens, that is.
  • Matt Kemp says he wants to go 50-50. He's not going to do it swinging like this: 21 strikeouts and one walk. Ouch.
  • Carlos Zambrano has 14 walks in 17.2 innings. But 18 strikeouts. So ... I think it's safe to say nobody knows what to expect from Big Z.
  • Zack Greinke has perhaps been the most impressive pitcher this spring with a 28/2 strikeout/walk ratio and no home runs allowed. That's pretty tough to do in Arizona, where the ball flies.
  • Sticking with the Brewers, Jonathan Lucroy is hitting .513 (20-for-39). This has nothing to do with that .513 average, but I like Lucroy as a breakout candidate.
  • Jason Bay hasn't homered or driven in a run for the Mets and has petitioned to move in the spring training fences.
  • Roy Halladay has allowed six home runs in 20 innings. He gave up 10 in 233.2 innings last season.
  • Is this the year Pedro Alvarez breaks out? Umm ... well, with 20 K's and one walk I guess we can be positive and make a Matt Kemp comparison.
  • One of my sleeper relievers of the year is Brad Brach of the Padres; he's looked good with a 14/2 K/BB ratio.
  • What will the Giants do with Brandon Belt? He's hitting .407 with seven doubles and three homers in 59 at-bats.
  • Adam Wainwright has a 1.45 ERA for the Cardinals but just nine strikeouts (and six walks) in 18.2 innings.
  • Davey Johnson says he wants to bat Ian Desmond leadoff. He has 18 strikeouts and two walks while hitting .299.

Over/under: Wins for Mets

March, 13, 2012
3/13/12
10:54
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Could it be that the New York Mets won't be as bad as everyone thinks?

SportsNation

Over/under prediction: 74.5 wins for Mets

  •  
    29%
  •  
    71%

Discuss (Total votes: 914)

After all, they did win 77 games in 2011. And, yes, they will be without Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, their two best hitters last season. On the other hand ... OK, I'm trying to come up with an other hand.

No, there are reasons the Mets could conceivably chase .500 in 2012. Here are five:

1. A full season from Ike Davis. Remember, Davis was tearing it up (.302/.383/.543) in 36 games before his injury.
2. Improved production from David Wright and Jason Bay with the Citi Field fences moved in.
3. The return of Johan Santana.
4. A better bullpen -- Mets were 15th in the NL with a 4.33 relief ERA.
5. Lucas Duda can hit -- .322/.411/.546 in the second half.

OK, that's the positive spin. What do you think? Oddsmakers have the Mets at 74.5 wins.
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:

Defining who's Mr. Average

January, 29, 2012
1/29/12
12:35
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With all of this talking about production up the middle or at the four corners over the past 25 years, it might also be helpful to put this into perspective by asking: Who’s average?

Here again, I’m indebted to Clay Davenport’s work in creating Equivalent Average, as useful a tool for all-time performance on offense today as it was in the ’90s. Sticking with the 2011 and following Clay’s advice to cheat up a couple of points -- to avoid the impact of the real scrubs -- let’s look at who set the bar for mediocrity at all eight regular positions in the field:

Catcher: Rod Barajas, .258 Equivalent Average (EqA). Sure, he struggles to get on base, but Barajas’ modest pop at the plate -- delivering a .200 ISO last season -- and solid receiving skills makes him the acme of average from the backstop bin. In Pittsburgh, he might help propel their latest bid for a .500 season.
Runner-up: The Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy, .254 EqA.

First Base: Freddie Freeman, .286 EqA. This might seem like an indictment of the Atlanta Braves’ prodigy, but the standards for offense at first base are higher than at any position, and this isn’t a shabby place to start for a kid in his age-21 season.
Runner-up: The Marlins’ Gaby Sanchez, .284 EqA.

Second Base: Orlando Hudson, .268 EqA. Hudson’s power has taken a hit the last two years since going to slugger-sapping Target Field and now the Padres’ Petco Park, but he still provides average offense for the position and above-average glove work, so he’ll keep landing gigs.
Runner-up: The Mets’ Justin Turner, .263 EqA, and an excellent example of how GMs can still find plug-in players on the waiver wire.

Third Base: One of the funny things about the field is that you’d be hard-pressed to find a truly average regular at third, but the closest might be Casey Blake with the Dodgers (.268 EqA) or Jack Hannahan with the Indians (.263), so let’s call it a platoon and punt on picking a runner-up.

Shortstop: Clint Barmes, .257 EqA. Here we have another Pirates offseason acquisition, which might be taken as proof that average is the new up, or that it takes a certain kind of player to choose to go to Pittsburgh. But more fundamentally, Barmes reflects today’s higher standard for adequacy on offense at short, because beyond premium defense he ripped a dozen homers for the Astros.
Runner-up: The White Sox’s Alexei Ramirez, .256 EqA, and another example after knocking 15 homers of his own.

Left Field: Cody Ross, .273 EqA. In contrast, here’s a great example of the declining standard for what gets by in left. The hero of the postseason in 2010 went back to his more mortal form at the plate with the Giants, and looks like he’ll be shunted into a part-time role with the Red Sox, splitting time in right field or spotting for the injured Carl Crawford in left early on.
Runner-up: Jason Bay, .270 EqA, and a symbol of the Mets’ bang-less bucks at work.

Center Field: Adam Jones, .273 EqA. Here’s a reflection on what a difference a position makes. Cody Ross? Not in high demand. Adam Jones of the Orioles? He’s a star, and somebody many teams would love to trade for.
Runner-up: The Diamondbacks’ Chris Young, .270 EqA. Keep in mind, Equivalent Average is park-adjusted, so all that slugging the Snakes get from their center fielder at home -- including 14 of his 20 homers, with a 131-point difference between his home and road SLG.

Right Field: Seth Smith, .283 EqA. Right’s the premium offensive position in the outfield these days, so the standard for average is going to be a bit higher. It says something about the Athletics’ lot on offense that they traded for Smith and fell he’ll provide a big boost with his bat from either corner.
Runner-up: Jeff Francoeur, .279 EqA. His comeback with the Royals was nice to see, but it’s a reflection of the depths he plummeted to during his three years in the wilderness that he’s gone from awful to average, not awesome.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
Here are some links to check out in Internet land. We'll begin with reaction to the big signing from Tuesday.
  • ESPN Insider Buster Olney has an excellent breakdown of all the ramifications of the Fielder signing — from Detroit's future payroll obligations to what this could mean for Joey Votto. Over the past three seasons, Votto's hit .318/.418/.565 compared to Fielder's .287/.409/.547. Fielder has more power, but Votto makes up for it by hitting .300. Votto, of course, is superior with the glove and on the bases. Over those three seasons, Baseball Info Solutions rates Votto as plus-6 runs saved on defense compared to Fielder's minus-15. On the bases, Votto is minus-4 runs but Fielder is minus-17. That's about a 10-run advantage per season with the glove and feet that Votto provides — or one extra win. There is another difference, however: Votto will be two years older when he hits free agency, so I don't think that necessarily means Votto will get the same kind of contract as Fielder.
  • Miguel Cabrera has apparently said he's moving to third base. Cabrera last played third in 2008, when he started 14 games there for the Tigers at the start of the season, fielded .900, and was quickly moved to first. With the Marlins in 2007 he fielded .941 and BIS rated him as 16 runs worse than an average third baseman. I'm skeptical about Cabrera playing regularly there, but I suppose it's possible Cabrera could play third when Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer pitch — two strikeout/flyball pitchers — and Brandon Inge or Don Kelly play third when Rick Porcello or Doug Fister start.
  • Curt Schilling offers his thoughts on the signing.
  • Brewers closer John Axford talks about Prince and Milwaukee's offseason.
  • Walkoff Woodward — coming soon as an official SweetSpot Tigers blog — offers up a bunch of thoughts on Prince coming to Detroit.
  • What this means for the Nationals.
  • Jayson Stark lists his best 3-4 combos in the majors.
  • Crashburn Alley's Bill Baer breaks down the contracts of Fielder and Ryan Howard.

And some stuff from the non-Prince area ...
Mike Stanton/Hunter Pence/Jason HeywardGetty Images/US PresswireThe best right fielder in the NL East? Mike Stanton, Hunter Pence and Jason Heyward have their fans.
This is back-of-the-napkin stuff ... but fun back-of-the-napkin stuff. As we wait to see if Prince Fielder does land in Washington, let's check out the state of the NL East. We'll go position by position and rank the players. Then we'll come up with a final tally (five points for first, four for second, etc.)

Catcher
1. Brian McCann, Braves
2. Wilson Ramos, Nationals
3. Carlos Ruiz, Phillies
4. Josh Thole, Mets
5. John Buck, Marlins

Phillies fans will storm the bastille over this one and say I'm underestimating Ruiz's ability to call a game, but I think Wilson Ramos has a chance to be something special. He hit .267/.334/.445 as a rookie, spending most of the season at just 23 years old. The thing that bodes well is that his walk rate improved from 4 percent in Triple-A in 2010 to 8.7 percent last season. And to think they got him from the Twins for Matt Capps. Ruiz is an underrated player -- he's posted a .376 OBP the past three seasons -- but Ramos' power and potential for improvement put him at No. 2 behind McCann.

First base
1. Freddie Freeman, Braves
2. Ryan Howard/Jim Thome, Phillies
3. Ike Davis, Mets
4. Gaby Sanchez, Marlins
5. Adam LaRoche, Nationals

Yes, there's huge value for the Nationals in signing Prince Fielder. With Davis and LaRoche coming off serious injuries and Howard out for at least a couple months, I have to give the top nod to Freeman. Sure, maybe he'll succumb to the dreaded sophomore jinx, but baseball history also tells us that players often make a huge leap from age 21 to age 22. If Davis hits like he did in the 36 games he played last year (.302/.383/.543) then he's an All-Star candidate, but while he says he's "good to go" for spring training, we'll have to wait to see how his ankle responds. As for Sanchez, he's a lukewarm cup of coffee on a 32-degree day.

Second base
1. Chase Utley, Phillies
2. Danny Espinosa, Nationals
3. Dan Uggla, Braves
4. Daniel Murphy, Mets
5. Omar Infante, Marlins

I put Utley first with some hesitation: His OPS totals since 2007 read .976, .915, .905, .832 and .769. Still, that .769 figure is better than Uggla or Espinosa produced in 2011, and Utley still carries a good glove. It's defense and predicted second-season improvement that pushes Espinosa over Uggla. Murphy doesn't hit many home runs or draw many walks, so most of his offensive value resides in his batting average. If he hits .320 again, he's a good player. If he hits .290, then he's still better than Infante.

Third base
1. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
2. David Wright, Mets
3. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
4. Chipper Jones, Braves
5. Placido Polanco, Phillies

If healthy, Zimmerman is one of the best players in the league. Ramirez and Wright were once part of that discussion, but no longer. Both players had the worst years of their careers in 2011. Will Wright rebound with the fences moved in at Citi Field? Will Ramirez bounce back and handle the transition to third base? Your guess is as good as mine. Chipper is aging gracefully, playing through injuries but still putting up respectable numbers. If this is his last season, I hope he goes out in style.

Shortstop
1. Jose Reyes, Marlins
2. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
3. Ruben Tejada, Mets
4. Ian Desmond, Nationals
5. Tyler Pastornicky, Braves

Not much debate here. Tejada posted a .360 OBP in 2011 as a 21-year-old. He doesn't have any power, but I believe the Mets are in good hands at shortstop. The same can't be said about Desmond, who must improve his defense (23 errors) and approach at the plate (139/35 SO/BB ratio). Pastornicky hit .314 in the minors last year, including .365 in 27 games in Triple-A. He puts the ball in play and has some speed, but won't hit for much power or draw many walks, so he'll need to hit for a good average to hold the job.

Left field
1. Michael Morse, Nationals
2. Martin Prado, Braves
3. Logan Morrison, Marlins
4. Domonic Brown/John Mayberry, Phillies
5. Jason Bay, Mets

We have to consider Morse the real deal by now, don't we? Although he comes with a few caveats: That 126/36 SO/BB ratio is a concern; so is his .344 average on balls in play, which ranked 15th in the majors (can he repeat that figure?); and finally, he plays left field a bit like a fire hydrant. By the way, how bad is this group defensively? Morrison may have even less range than Morse, Brown looked terrible in right field with the Phillies last year and Bay isn't getting paid $16 million because he's adept at running down balls in the gap. Actually, I'm not sure what he's getting paid for.

Center field
1. Shane Victorino, Phillies
2. Michael Bourn, Braves
3. Emilio Bonifacio, Marlins
4. Andres Torres, Mets
5. Roger Bernadina, Nationals

This seems pretty straightforward other than the ongoing raging debate between Andres Torres fans and Roger Bernadina fans.

Right field
1. Mike Stanton, Marlins
2. Hunter Pence, Phillies
3. Jason Heyward, Braves
4. Jayson Werth, Nationals
5. Lucas Duda, Mets

Mike Stanton ... 2012 National League MVP? Too soon? I'm just saying don't be surprised if it happens.

No. 1 starter
1. Roy Halladay, Phillies
2. Josh Johnson, Marlins
3. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
4. Tim Hudson, Braves
5. Johan Santana, Mets

Is there a more important player in the majors in 2012 than Johnson? The Marlins fancy themselves contenders but they need a healthy Johnson headlining the rotation. After leading the NL with a 2.30 ERA in 2010, he had posted a 1.64 ERA through 10 starts in 2011 before shoulder tendinitis shelved him for the season. He's been throwing and long tossing and is expected to be 100 percent for spring training. Strasburg has the ability to be just as dominant as Halladay and Johnson, but the Nationals will likely monitor his innings in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery.

No. 2 starter
1. Cliff Lee, Phillies
2. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals
3. Mark Buehrle, Marlins
4. Tommy Hanson, Braves
5. R.A. Dickey, Mets

This is a terrific group of No. 2 starters, as even the knuckleballer Dickey posted a 3.28 ERA in 2011 (and 3.08 ERA over the past two seasons). Hanson has Cy Young ability, but his own shoulder issues from late last season raise a red flag.

No. 3 starter
1. Cole Hamels, Phillies
2. Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals
3. Anibal Sanchez, Marlins
4. Jair Jurrjens, Braves
5. Mike Pelfrey, Mets

Zimmermann is the sleeping giant in the Nationals rotation. His strikeout/walk ratio of 4.0 ranked 11th-best among starters in 2011 and another year beyond his own TJ surgery should help him develop the stamina to improve on his second-half numbers (2.66 ERA before the All-Star break, 4.47 after). I'm not a big Jurrjens fan; he's a good pitcher, but he's now battled injuries two seasons in a row and his strikeout rate took a big dip last season.

No. 4 starter
1. Brandon Beachy, Braves
2. Vance Worley, Phillies
3. John Lannan, Nationals
4. Jonathon Niese, Mets
5. Ricky Nolasco, Marlins

You could draw this list out of a hat. Beachy and Worley surprised many with their exceptional rookie seasons; I believe both are for real, as both seemed to deliver better-than-advertised fastballs. Now they just have to prove they can become seven-inning pitchers instead of five or six. Niese is an excellent breakout candidate in 2012: He throws hard enough for a lefty (90-91), gets strikeouts, doesn't walk too many, gets groundballs. In fact, his FIP (fielding independent pitching) was 3.36 compared to his actual ERA of 4.40. It wouldn't surprise me to see him win 15 games with a 3.40 ERA. It would surprise me if Nolasco does that; 2008 is starting to look further and further in the rear-view mirror.

No. 5 starter
1. Mike Minor, Braves
2. Carlos Zambrano, Marlins
3. Dillon Gee, Mets
4. Chien-Ming Wang, Nationals
5. Joe Blanton/Kyle Kendrick, Phillies

If you're talking depth, the big edge here goes to the Braves, who also have prospects Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado and Arodys Vizcaino ready to step in. Big Z is a nice gamble by the Marlins as a No. 5 starter, you could do worse.

Closer
1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves
2. Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies
3. Drew Storen, Nationals
4. Heath Bell, Marlins
5. Frank Francisco, Mets

As dominant as Kimbrel was in winning Rookie of the Year honors (14.8 K's per nine), he did blow eight saves. But Papelbon is just one season removed from his own season of eight blown saves. Factor in Kimbrel's K rate and slightly heavier workload, and I'll give him the slight nod. Bell will have to prove himself away from the friendly confines of Petco Park, so Storen rates the clear No. 3 here.

Bullpen
1. Braves -- Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty, Kris Medlen, Cristhian Martinez, Anthony Varvaro
2. Marlins -- Steve Cishek, Edward Mujica, Mike Dunn, Ryan Webb, Randy Choate
3. Nationals -- Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Henry Rodriguez, Ryan Perry, Tom Gorzelanny
4. Phillies -- Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes, Dontrelle Willis, David Herndon, Jose Contreras
5. Mets -- Bobby Parnell, Jon Rauch, Pedro Beato, Tim Byrdak, Manny Acosta

The top four teams all project to have solid-to-excellent pens. Venters and Clippard are arguably the two best set-up guys in baseball. Cishek is the rare sidearmer who can get lefties out as well as righties and he allowed just one home run in 54 innings as a rookie. The Phillies don't need many innings from their pen and while Willis could be a terrific lefty killer (lefties hit .127 off him in 2011), Bastardo must rebound from his late-season fatigue.

Intangibles
1. Marlins
2. Phillies
3. Braves
4. Nationals
5. Mets

New stadium, new free agents, new manager, new uniforms -- I view all of that as a plus for the Marlins. The playoffs left a sour taste for the Phillies' veteran-heavy squad and those guys will want nothing more than to win a sixth straight division title. The Braves have plenty of incentive after their late-season collapse. The Nationals are young but have no chip on their shoulder. But if they sign Prince ...

The final tally
1. Phillies, 58 points
2. Braves, 56 points
3. Marlins, 49 points
4. Nationals, 48 points
5. Mets, 29 points

And the napkin says the Phillies are still the division favorite. What, you want to bet against Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels?
Fifty-four different players have batted at least 100 times in the cleanup spot this season. Seattle's Miguel Olivo has been the worst, hitting .187/.224/.287 in 150 at-bats. The Mets' Jason Bay hasn't been much better, posting a .528 OPS in 86 at-bats (he hasn't homered). Adam LaRoche hit .186 for the Nationals. Jack Cust hit .205 for the Mariners. Justin Morneau has one home run in 182 at-bats while batting cleanup.

How do those compare to the worst cleanup hitters ever? As it turns out, Olivo and Bay are among the worst ever (or at least since 1974). Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info, here are the five worst OPS totals while hitting cleanup since 1974 (minimum of 100 plate appearances).

5. Greg Vaughn, 1995 Brewers: 181 PAs, .177/.276/.266 (.542 OPS)

At least it made sense that Vaughn was hitting cleanup. He'd hit 30 home runs in 1993, 19 in the strike-shortened 1994 season and would hit 41 in 1996. He started the season in the four-hole but was hitting .229 with two home runs by mid-May and moved temporarily out of the cleanup spot. He hit .224/.317/.408 overall, he just never hit when batting fourth.

4. Dave Hostetler, 1983 Rangers: 160 PAs, .163/.288/.252 (.538 OPS)

Hostetler had showed promise as a rookie in 1983, hitting 22 home runs in 418 at-bats. Entrusted with the cleanup spot in '83, he flopped and his major league career was over by 1984 other than a brief appearance in 1988.

3. Joe Rudi, 1978 Angels: 182 PAs, .202/.254/.280 (.534 OPS)

Rudi was a good player, a guy who twice finished second in the MVP vote. Part of the first free-agency class in 1977, he signed with the Angels but spent much of the season on the DL. He began 1978 as the team's No. 4 hitter, didn't hit, and spent most of the season hitting fifth. He finished the year .256/.295/.416.

2. Pat Putnam, 1984 Mariners/Twins: 153 PAs, .177/.229/.227 (.456 OPS)

I remember this one. Putnam had been the Mariners' team MVP in 1983, which wasn't saying much since that team lost 102 games. It was his last bit of glory, as 1984 would be his final season in the majors.

1. Glenn Adams, 1981 Twins: 105 PAs, .126/.200/.179 (.379 OPS)

Adams was a career .292 hitter, albeit with little power, entering the 1981 season. Adams was never the regular cleanup for any period of time as manager John Goryl and Billy Gardner struggled to find any offense on a team that finished the season hitting just .240 with 47 home runs in 110 games.

By the way, of the 25 lowest OPS totals from cleanup hitters since 1974, only one accumulated at least 300 plate appearances -- Jose Lopez, of the 2010 Mariners.

Yes, it's been a rough couple of seasons for Seattle fans.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
So your team is offering up a star? Sometimes the prospect you get in return turns to gold. And sometimes (more often?) deals like these 10 happen.

1. Fred McGriff for Melvin Nieves, Donnie Elliott and Vince Moore. (Braves/Padres, 1993.)

2. Rickey Henderson for Steve Karsay and Jose Herrera. (A's/Blue Jays, 1993.)

3. David Cone for Marty Janzen, Jason Jarvis and Mike Gordon. (Yankees/Blue Jays, 1995.)

4. Mark McGwire for T.J. Mathews, Eric Ludwick and Blake Stein. (Cardinals/A's, 1997.)

5. Curt Schilling for Vicente Padilla, Travis Lee, Omar Daal and Nelson Figueroa. (Diamondbacks/Phillies, 2001.)

6. Jason Schmidt for Ryan Vogelsong and Armando Rios. (Giants/Pirates, 2001.)

7. Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton for Bobby Hill, Jose Hernandez and Matt Brubeck. (Cubs/Pirates, 2003.)

8. Carlos Beltran for Mark Teahen, John Buck and Mike Wood. (Astros/Royals/A's, three-way trade, 2004.)

9. Jason Bay for Andy LaRoche, Bryan Morris, Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss. (Pirates/Dodgers/Red Sox three-way trade, 2008.)

10. Matt Holliday for Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen and Shane Peterson. (Cardinals/A's, 2009.)

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
So, Thomas Neumann of Page 2 sent me this picture of a Sports Illustrated cover, listing all the millionaire players from 1985. I think Thomas was working on a career retrospective of John Denny or something, I'm not sure. (OK, he actually interviewed Mike Schmidt.) Anyway, it got me thinking: What if we compare the highest-paid players from 1985 to the highest-paid players of 2011 ... and find out if teams are smarter than they were in 1985. After all, front offices know much more than they used to, right? With all the advanced metrics out there, all the Ivy League dudes making the decisions and so on, you'd expect smarter moves being made by front offices.

Let's take the top 25 players from that 1985 cover, the top 25 highest-paid players of 2011 and check their Wins Above Replacement level (WAR) from Baseball-Reference.com. For 2011, we'll using their current WAR prorated to the entire season.

1985 Top 25 Highest-Paid Players
1. Mike Schmidt ($2.1M): 5.3 WAR
2. Jim Rice ($2.1M): 1.1 WAR
3. George Foster ($1.9M): 1.5 WAR
4. Dave Winfield ($1.7M): 2.8 WAR
5. Gary Carter ($1.7M): 6.7 WAR
6. Dale Murphy ($1.6M): 5.3 WAR
7. Bob Horner ($1.5M): 1.8 WAR
8. Rickey Henderson ($1.5M): 10.0 WAR
9. Eddie Murray ($1.4M): 6.0 WAR
10. Bruce Sutter ($1.3M): -0.1 WAR
11. Ozzie Smith ($1.3M): 5.7 WAR
12. Jack Clark ($1.3M): 3.3 WAR
13. Robin Yount ($1.3M): 1.7 WAR
14. Pedro Guerrero ($1.3M): 7.8 WAR
15. Rick Sucliffe ($1.3M): 2.8 WAR
16. Fernando Valenzuela ($1.2M): 5.6 WAR
17. Goose Gossage ($1.2M): 2.6 WAR
18. Tim Raines ($1.2M): 7.5 WAR
19. Steve Kemp ($1.2M): -0.2 WAR
20. Steve Carlton ($1.2M): 1.2 WAR
21. Andre Dawson ($1.1M): 2.0 WAR
22. Keith Hernandez ($1.1M): 4.9 WAR
23. Mario Soto ($1.1M): 3.6 WAR
24. Andre Thornton ($1.1M): 0.0 WAR
25. Fred Lynn ($1.1M): 2.0 WAR

Total salary: $34.8 million.
Total major payroll in 1985: About $264.7 million.
Percentage of total payroll: 13.1 percent.
Total WAR: 90.9.

2011 Top 25 Highest-Paid Players
1. Alex Rodriguez ($32.0M): 5.3 WAR
2. Vernon Wells ($26.2M): -1.4 WAR
3. CC Sabathia ($24.3M): 4.6 WAR
4. Mark Teixeira ($23.1M): 3.9 WAR
5. Joe Mauer ($23.0M): -0.5 WAR
6. Johan Santana ($21.6M): Injured
7. Todd Helton ($20.3M): 3.9 WAR
8. Miguel Cabrera ($20.0M): 6.7 WAR
9. Roy Halladay ($20.0M): 9.2 WAR
10. Ryan Howard ($20.0M): 2.5 WAR
11. Carlos Beltran ($19.3M): 5.1 WAR
12. Carlos Lee ($19.0M): 3.0 WAR
13. Alfonso Soriano ($19.0M): 1.2 WAR
14. Carlos Zambrano ($18.9M): 2.8 WAR
15. Torii Hunter ($18.5M): -0.7 WAR
16. Barry Zito ($18.5M): -0.5 WAR
17. Jason Bay ($18.1M): 0.0 WAR
18. Ichiro Suzuki ($18.0M): 0.5 WAR
19. Josh Beckett ($17.0M): 9.2 WAR
20. A.J. Burnett ($16.5M): 2.3 WAR
21. Matt Holliday ($16.3M): 5.1 WAR
22. Michael Young ($16.1M): 1.8 WAR
23. Roy Oswalt ($16.0M): 3.7 WAR
24. Jake Peavy ($16.0M): 0.7 WAR
25. John Lackey ($15.9M): -2.5 WAR

Total salary: $493.6 million.
Total major payroll in 2011: About $2.786 billion.
Percentage of total payroll: 17.7 percent.
Total prorated WAR: 65.9.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Major league owners in 2011 are paying a higher percentage of their total payroll to the top 25 players and receiving far less production. Even if you account for better seasons the rest of the way from the likes of Joe Mauer and Ichiro Suzuki and Torii Hunter and John Lackey, the 2011 group wouldn't come close to matching the 1985 group in total WAR.

What's amazing is to look at the 2011 list and realize how many of those guys were never superstar players: Vernon Wells? Carlos Lee? Torii Hunter? Michael Young? A.J. Burnett? Barry Zito? Please. Good players at one point, never superstars.

Another way to look at it: Of the top 25 position players in B-R's WAR in 2011, only ONE (Miguel Cabrera) is one of the top-25 highest-paid players. In 1985, nine of the top 25 position players were among the 25 highest-paid players.

Also, in 2011, 10 of the top-25 highest-paid players are pitchers -- who inherently are more risky. Of those 11, five have spent time on the DL this season.

So, nice job major league owners and general managers! You're collectively, umm ... well, let's just say that Vernon Wells isn't worth $26.2 million.

Follow Dave on Twitter @dschoenfield and check out the SweetSpot Facebook page.

Podcast: How many playoff teams?

April, 22, 2011
4/22/11
1:56
PM ET
Top five reasons why you should listen to Friday's Baseball Today podcast, with myself and researcher/writer/Mets fan extraordinaire Mark Simon:


1. The commish wouldn't discuss baseball's newest-owned franchise, but he did drop a bomb about more teams entering the playoff party in future seasons. What is the perfect number of qualifiers, and could this be a poor precedent?


2. What did Mets outfielder Jason Bay do on Thursday that was so rare? Mark and I each have answers, one about what he did on the field, the other the fact he was actually on the field at all!


3. More ace discussion: Should there be official criteria for "ace-hood" or not? And, have we essentially milked more than humanly possible from this poor topic already?


4. Big weekend ahead, with Reds-Cardinals featured on ESPN's Sunday night baseball, but does this matchup actually need buildup, or is it already there?


5. A certain pitcher-umpire matchup could create history on Sunday, and which unknown NL outfielder is finally getting a shot to play, and should impact himself and others?


Plus: Excellent emails discussing the excellent Kyle Farnsworth, a bold statement comparing future Hall of Famers Scott Kazmir and Brad Emaus and a comprehensive weekend preview with an NL postseason rematch. Enjoy and have a safe weekend, and we'll be back with myself and Mr. Simon to recap it all Monday!

Displeasure doubled in latest Mets sweep

April, 17, 2011
4/17/11
1:43
AM ET

The more things change for the Mets, the more they stay the same. After a complete overhaul of their front office, the hiring of a new manager and coaching staff, a rebuilt bullpen, two new additions to the starting rotation, and an Opening Day lineup that carried over only one player from the 2010 opener, the Mets continue to struggle.

Making sure things stayed familiar, on Saturday an old foe applied the damage to their dreams: Chipper Jones. Jones had 44 home runs and a .973 OPS in 215 career games versus the Mets coming into the game. He went 3-for-6 with two walks, two runs, and two RBIs, including his 45th career homer against the Mets, as the Braves took both games of Saturday's doubleheader.

It was only the latest development in a storyline that gets worse every day for the Flushing faithful. After losing seven straight games including two consecutive doubleheaders, the New York Mets have sunk to 4-11 overall. Do Mets fans have reason to be optimistic? Consider this: that 4-11 record is only one game ahead of the pace of the 1962 Mets, who began their year 3-12 en route to a 40-120 season. Losing two doubleheaders in a week was also historic. It has only happened five times since 2000 -- although the Mets did it once before, in June 2003.

To add injury to insult, Jason Bay lingers in Port St. Lucie with a ribcage strain, and their most effective starting pitcher -- Chris Young -- has been placed on the DL with biceps tendonitis after only two starts. Opening Day starter Mike Pelfrey, the pitcher who is supposed to be their de facto ace, has completed only 16 innings in four starts, and sports a whopping 2.34 WHIP and 9.72 ERA. The bullpen has been similarly ineffective, with three blown saves, a 1.70 WHIP and 4.79 ERA through 47 innings.

Now the bad news: Pitching may be the Mets' strength.

Offensively, the Mets have scored 63 runs, which isn't awful -- it's good enough for sixth in the NL. But their .237 average and .661 OPS with runners in scoring position suggests they could have scored many more, and that they just aren't getting the big hits when they have the opposition on the ropes. Mets hitters managed only two hits in seven innings on Saturday against Jair Jurrjens, then struck out five times against the Braves bullpen. Their lone baserunner came with two outs in the ninth, when Jose Reyes struck out on a wild pitch and reached first base safely as the ball trickled away from catcher David Ross.

On defense, Mets outfielders have lost balls both in the sun and the lights, and haven't yet figured out the quirky confines of Citi Field. Second baseman Brad Emaus misplayed an easy double-play ball during a key moment in Thursday's loss against the Rockies, and has looked tentative -- which more or less describes the Mets defense in general. The catchers have allowed 16 stolen bases and have credit for only one caught stealing, which came on Saturday afternoon when the Braves' Nate McLouth beat the throw by a few feet, but was tagged out when his foot slipped off the base.

Perhaps most disappointing has been the Mets inability to execute "the little things" -- especially annoying since new manager Terry Collins made fundamentals a focus from the day he came on board. Failed sacrifice-bunt attempts, mysterious pitch selections, and bone-headed baserunning has marked the club's ineptitude. The players look nervous and confused, except when they try to do too much -- such as when Daniel Murphy channeled Marv Throneberry and inexplicably attempted to steal third base in the sixth inning of their most recent loss, with none out and down by three. Murphy was thrown out by 15 feet, killing the Mets' only potential of a rally in the ballgame. Collins subsequently described it as "an error of enthusiasm." Casey Stengel, manager of the original edition of the Mets back in 1962, might have a more scathing description of what's happening with the Mets right now by asking again, "Can't anybody here play this game?"

Despite his club's recent woes, Collins remains upbeat. Immediately after getting swept in the Atlanta doubleheader, he said, "We're gonna go get 'em tomorrow and then we're gonna go home and win six straight and this will all be forgotten."

Though Collins remains positive, his words fall on increasingly deaf ears among Mets fans. After all, when the Mets began the season 4-7, Collins' response was, "We're one pitch away, and we're one swing away, from being 9-2, and we're not. But the next 11, we need to be 9-2."

Collins is correct in the broad strokes: If the Mets rip off a six- or seven-game winning streak, this 4-11 start is likely to be forgotten. But that's a big "if," particularly when a team is struggling to pitch, hit, field, and run. What's more concerning is that if the Mets don't turn things around dramatically, and right away, the season likely will get even worse before it gets better. Why? Because if you put any stock into strength of schedule analysis, the Mets are currently in their easiest month, with two of their toughest two coming in May and June. In July, they play 13 games against 2010 playoff teams.

The best chance for optimism is the hope that maybe the Mets will play up to their competition as the schedule gets tougher. But if the first fifteen games are any indication, it's going to be a long, long, long season for Mets fans.

PHOTO OF THE DAY

Vernon WellsJerry Lai/US PresswireA.J. Pierzynski's missed tag was just the beginning of a seven-run night for the Angels.

Podcast: Belt, Bay, Bonds

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
6:38
PM ET
Eric Karabell and Keith Law discussed the last-minute news before the games began on Thursday's Baseball Today podcast :

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