SweetSpot: Josh Johnson

Padres take a chance on Josh Johnson

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
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Josh Johnson is a smart man. Coming off a season in which he made just 16 starts for the Blue Jays and posted a 6.20 ERA, Johnson saw his free-agent value crater. What better way to potentially secure a bigger payday in the future than to sign a one-year, $8 million deal with the Padres to pitch in pitcher-friendly Petco Park?

This plan worked for Aaron Harang. After a 5.32 ERA with the Reds in 2010, he signed with the Padres in 2011 and had a 3.64 ERA. That earned him a two-year, $12 million contract from the Dodgers. Jon Garland signed a one-year deal with the Padres in 2010 and posted a 3.47 ERA, the best of his career. He signed a $5 million deal with the Dodgers with an $8 million club option. Kevin Correia had never made more than 19 starts before going to the Padres in 2009. He won 22 games with a 4.54 ERA in two seasons in San Diego, enough to earn him a two-year, $8 million contract from the Pirates.

Those are modest contracts but those were modest players, replacement-level pitchers who earned security after getting their ERAs propped up in San Diego.

Johnson has much more upside than any of those guys but the idea is the same: Go to San Diego, throw strikes, watch fly balls die on the warning track and hope to make 30 starts. In his final four seasons with the Marlins from 2009 to 2012, Johnson posted a 2.99 ERA in 101 starts (he missed much of 2011), leading the National League with a 2.30 ERA in 2010. When he's healthy, he has the stuff to lead a rotation.

But what are the odds he bounces back?

I did a quick study via Baseball-Reference.com. I looked at pitchers from the 10-year-span from 2003 to 2012, with the following criteria: 28 to 30 years old (Johnson was 29 in 2012), at least 10 games started but fewer than 120 innings pitched, ERA+ of 80 or less. So basically a list of pitchers at Johnson's age who had really bad seasons (although not necessarily due to an injury).

It's a list of 28 pitches. It's a bad list, but with a few big names: Jonathan Sanchez, Nick Blackburn, Justin Germano, Dontrelle Willis (twice), Rich Harden, Rich Hill, Dave Bush, Chris Young, Brad Penny, Adam Eaton, Freddy Garcia, Cliff Lee, Byung-Hyun Kim, Jason Jennings, Jae Weong So, Joe Mays, Josh Towers, Victor Santos, Runelvys Hernandez, Shawn Chacon, Mark Mulder, Sidney Ponson, Luke Hudson, Jaret Wright, Eric DuBose, Tony Mounce, Jimmy Haynes.

Those are Johnson's comparables, at least from a statistical view. Let's isolate the pitchers who were more comparable to Johnson with stuff and previous success.

Dontrelle Willis: Won 22 games with the Marlins at age 23, but essentially developed a case of Steve Blass Disease (unable to throw strikes) and was never the same.

Rich Harden: Like Johnson, he had ace-level stuff when healthy but could never stay off the disabled list, and shoulder problems finally ended his career. In 2010, he had 5.58 ERA with the Rangers in 18 starts and in 2011 a 5.12 ERA with the A's in 15 starts.

Brad Penny: After making the All-Star team in 2006 and 2007, Penny had a 6.27 ERA with the Dodgers in 2008, hobbled by a sore shoulder. He was never as good again, posting a 4.92 ERA over his final four seasons.

Freddy Garcia: Garcia averaged over 200 innings per season from 1999 through 2006 before a shoulder injury led to him making just 23 starts over the next three seasons. He eventually returned as a junk-balling finesse guy but never topped 157 innings again.

Cliff Lee: He'd won 46 games for the Indians from 2004 to 2006 but fell apart in 2007 and had a 6.29 ERA. His problems were mental and mechanical, however, not injury-related.

Mark Mulder: He made 17 starts with the Cardinals in 2006 with a 7.14, finally undergoing rotator-cuff surgery. He'd make just four more starts in his career.

Jaret Wright: After going 15-8 with a 3.28 ERA with the Braves in 2004 he signed a big free-agent deal with the Yankees, but had a 6.08 ERA in 13 starts after shoulder issues resurfaced (he had missed nearly three seasons of action earlier in his career).

Lee is the exception here, but all the others never recovered. Other than Willis, they all had shoulder issues. Johnson had Tommy John surgery early in his career, but missed most of 2011 with shoulder inflammation. His injuries last year included soreness in his right triceps, forearm tightness and finally surgery in October to remove bone chips in his elbow.

This is a short list of comparable players but the history of shoulder problems with Johnson is obviously the big concern. I certainly wouldn't bet on Johnson making 30 starts, but for $8 million it's a good gamble for the Padres.

The biggest positive about Johnson is that his strikeout rate in 2013 was right in line with his career percentage (21.6 percent versus 21.9 percent) and maybe the Padres saw something in his mechanics that led to Johnson allowing a .240 average with the bases empty but .392 with runners on base. His fastball velocity didn't drop from the stretch so something else was going on there.

A rotation with full seasons from Johnson, Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross and Eric Stults could certainly make the Padres interesting.
In the offseason, Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos sensed an opportunity to seize control of the AL East. The Yankees were a year older and refusing to make any big moves in order to, gulp, save money; the Red Sox were coming off a 93-loss season; the Orioles were a good bet to regress after going an all-time best 29-9 in one-run games; the Rays were once again trying to patch together an offense.

So in an attempt to make the Jays relevant for the first time in years and bring the baseball fans in Toronto back to the Rogers Centre, he made the plunge few GMs are willing to take: He dealt from his wealth of prospects and acquired NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets and high-priced veterans Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson from the Marlins. He dipped into the free-agent market and signed the PED-tainted Melky Cabrera to a two-year contract.

The moves were widely praised. The computer projections were positive -- Dan Szymborski's ZiPS system predicted Toronto would go 94-68 and win the AL East, making the playoffs in 68 percent of his simulations and finishing last just 6 percent of the time. Twenty of 43 of ESPN's baseball contributors picked the Blue Jays to win the division.

So what happened? The Blue Jays head into the stretch run at 64-76 and the announcement on Wednesday that Jose Bautista will miss the rest of the season with a bone bruise in his femur was sort of the exclamation point on the team's disappointing season. (The one piece of good news: The fans did respond to the acquisitions, as attendance is up over 30,000 per game for the first time since 1998.)

The obvious answer: The pitching has been terrible. Only the Astros have allowed more runs in the AL. The offense has been OK, but not the powerhouse lineup you would have projected with Reyes, Cabrera, Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.

Look at what happened to the projected rotation. Could it have been expected to fall apart?

R.A. Dickey: 11-12, 4.30 ERA. A predictable result. He was coming off a career season and was likely due for some regression, even before switching to the tougher league and a tougher park. His road ERA is 3.34, not far off the 2.90 mark he had with the Mets in 2012, but he's allowed 20 home runs at home with a 5.21 ERA.

Josh Johnson: 2-8, 6.20 ERA. He made just 16 starts and was terrible, so while the health issues were a risk the poor performance was certainly a surprise. Was he bad or unlucky? His xFIP -- expected fielding independent pitching with a normalized home run-to-flyball rate -- is 3.59, right at his career mark of 3.57. But he allowed 105 hits in 81.1 innings (a .361 BABIP) with 15 home runs. He may have been striking guys out, and while the BABIP was high he also got creamed when falling behind in the count (.387 average after 1-0, .487 after 2-0).

Brandon Morrow: 2-3, 5.63 ERA. Ten starts. He's been unable to stay healthy at any point in his career, so it was no surprise he went down again.

Ricky Romero: 0-2, 12.46 ERA. Spent most of the season in the minors, unable to throw strikes. He was a wild card heading into spring training considering his bad season in 2012 and it all fell apart.

Of the projected five starters, only Buehrle panned out, doing his usual solid work. But it was pretty clearly a high-risk rotation heading into the season, Johnson and Morrow with their injury histories, Romero with his control, and Dickey with his regression.

The bullpen was supposed to be the big concern coming of a league-worst 4.33 ERA in 2012, but it's been very good with a 3.41 ERA (second-best in the East behind the Yankees), although the rotation was so bad the bullpen has had to pitch the most innings in the AL -- 30 more than the Astros, and 100 more than Tigers. That the relievers have held together with such a heavy workload is a big plus and the only thing separating this staff from Houston's.

Anyway, once those starters got hurt/struggled, the Jays had no depth, resorting to replacement-level starters like Esmil Rogers, J.A. Happ and Todd Redmond.

Offensively, Encarnacion had a big year, Adam Lind had his best season since 2009 and Colby Rasmus has been solid, but Cabrera has been awful (.906 OPS to .682), J.P. Arencibia has been all-power, no-OBP once again, Reyes missed 50 games, Brett Lawrie hasn't developed into a big run producer and their second basemen have been the worst in the majors (.546 OPS). I was worried about the bottom of the lineup heading into the season, and there was always the chance that Reyes wouldn't stay healthy and Cabrera wouldn't come close to matching his big numbers with the Giants. Yes, the offense had upside, but the holes loomed large.

What's happened isn't really that surprising. It was a high-risk team, maybe higher risk than most anticipated. This doesn't mean Anthopoulos had a bad offseason; it just didn't work out like it could have.

Sizzling Blue Jays won't just streak and fade

June, 23, 2013
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Now that the Blue Jays have rattled off a 10-game win streak, we’re almost back to what I think we all expected in the American League East when the season started: a five-team race where nobody -- nobody -- should be considered the automatic favorite. After all, isn’t that what the Baltimore Orioles taught us last year, after months of confident, thoughtful assertions that they would regress, retreat or recoil short of the postseason?

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Which team will win the AL East?

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    7%
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What’s interesting about the Jays clambering past .500 to get back into the thick of things in baseball’s drama division isn’t that they’ve done it; more than a few people pegged this team to win as confidently as they did the Nationals before Opening Day, after all. What’s interesting is how they’re doing it, and who they’re doing it with.

  • After years of disappointment as a homegrown, big-ticket investment, Adam Lind is delivering for the first time in years, slugging almost .700 for the month of June. Spotted with care, he’s even hitting those lefties he remains in the lineup to face (OPS 1.030) after years of having problems hitting against them (.626 career).
  • Lind is far from the only surprise hero in the lineup. Colby Rasmus has put up an .861 OPS over the past 30 days, providing a nice reminder that it wasn’t very long ago that he was considered one of the best prospects in the game (including third overall before the 2009 season on Baseball America’s top prospect list). He’s still just 26 years old this season, and after a two-year hiccup, it isn’t inconceivable that his year is for real. An even bigger surprise has been Munenori Kawasaki going from scrap-heap sub at shortstop -- stepping in for Jose Reyes, no less -- to someone providing a .347 OBP.
  • The rotation has been made a shambles by ineffectiveness (R.A. Dickey has just one quality start in the past month), injuries (fragile young gun Josh Johnson has already missed nine starts) or, in the case of the maddeningly promising Brandon Morrow, both. But setbacks for some create opportunities for others. Chien-Ming Wang has provided innings and winnable games and converted shortstop Esmil Rogers has had a couple of good starts. More significantly, Johnson is back in action and Mark Buehrle is already turned around after a slow start, rattling off quality starts in six of his last eight turns.
  • [+] EnlargeMark Buehrle
    AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Frank GunnMark Buehrle, part of the Jays' big offseason deal with Miami, has come on after a bumpy start.
    But perhaps the most impressive element of the Blue Jays’ run back to relevance has been their bullpen. On the year, its numbers aren’t amazing, allowing 3.5 runs scored per nine and a decidedly average 32 percent of inherited runners to score. But over the past 30 days, the Toronto relievers have gotten tremendous work from a no-name crew fronted by closer Casey Janssen. In that time, skipper John Gibbons’ most frequently used quintet (Janssen, Steve Delabar and Neil Wagner, plus lefties Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup) have pitched 52 times, tossing 58.1 innings while giving up just 1.4 runs per nine. They’ve delivered a 65:16 strikeout:walk ratio in that time. Cecil’s been especially effective, allowing just four baserunners in 16 innings against 20 whiffs. And as much trouble as the Jays’ rotation has been, the bullpen has had to pitch an MLB-leading 267.1 innings, so while its overall RA/9 or Fair Run Average (4.41 according to Baseball Prospectus) hasn’t been earth-shattering, it’s the volume of useful innings plus the pen's recent performance that has been crucial to the Jays' success. As much as any bullpen can be a crapshoot in terms of making too much of small sample sizes, it would be fair to say the Jays’ pen has been a lovely surprise in a moment of need for innings, and Gibbons seems to be getting a lot more mileage out of his unit than other, more famous skippers are getting out of other, more famous (or expensive) assemblages of relief talent.

All of which might lead you to make assertions every bit as confident as last year’s about the Orioles, that surely the Jays can’t keep this up. It would be easy to infer that these are all just the symptoms of victory. And that’s sensible: Keeping your expectations low for guys like Rogers or Wang or Kawasaki is entirely reasonable, and based on an awful lot of direct observation. Is Lind going to slug .700 from here on out? Of course not; who do you think he is -- Chris Davis? These are the guys the regression fairy is liable to clobber with a two-by-four.

But what has helped get the Jays this far doesn’t have to be what leverages the Jays even further into the AL East race. Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista are bashing -- and they should. In the rotation, Johnson is already back, and Morrow might be before the All-Star break; that could lighten the load on the pen, while keeping more games in reach for the Jays’ homer-happy lineup. The feeble production the Jays have gotten from most of their infield slots will almost certainly improve once Reyes and Brett Lawrie come back in a week or so.

In short, what has gotten the Blue Jays this far doesn’t have to be what they win with in the second half. They can thank their surprise heroes for helping get them back into this thing, but the Jays have a tremendous opportunity to build off this run once they’re back at full strength. In many respects, you can look at the Jays’ slow 13-24 start this year as being very much like what happened to them in 1989, when they started out 12-24 -- and nevertheless came back to win the AL East with 89 wins. In a division where it looks like everybody is going to knock everyone else down, keeping all five teams in the race, that sounds very familiar indeed.

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

 
If you're younger than 28 or so, you don't remember when the Toronto Blue Jays were the preeminent franchise in Major League Baseball, unless you're Canadian and weaned on sports history other than Paul Henderson. They won American League East titles in 1985, 1989, 1991, 1992 and 1993 and World Series titles in '92 and '93. They had a gleaming new modern stadium that was the envy of other teams, packed every night (the Jays drew more than 4 million fans each season from 1991-93, averaging better than 50,000 per game in 1993), and had a team of stars -- Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter and Jack Morris and Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield and homegrown talent like John Olerud, Juan Guzman and Pat Hentgen, and were bold enough to pick up rental players like David Cone and Rickey Henderson during their championship runs.

After 20 years, the Blue Jays are back. Baseball hasn't died in Toronto -- the Jays have certainly been competitive -- but it has been dormant. But watching R.A. Dickey pitch the team's opener before a sold-out Rogers Centre -- backed by the likes of Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista and last year's 42-homer man, Edwin Encarnacion -- is a reminder of those halcyon days when Toronto was the baseball capital of the world.

The game didn't go Toronto's way, as Dickey struggled a bit with commanding the knuckleball, walking four (give credit to Cleveland's hitters for showing a lot of patience) as the Indians won, 4-1. Dickey walked four in a game just twice during his 2012 Cy Young campaign with the Mets, but if there's consolation for Jays fans, one of those came in the season opener. Let's not read too much into Dickey's outing and overanalyze things like pitching indoors or moving to the American League or whatever. It just wasn't his night and I'm chalking it up as nothing more.

[+] EnlargeR.A. Dickey
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesR.A. Dickey, left, allowed four walks in his Blue Jays debut -- something he did in his 2012 opener, too.
Asdrubal Cabrera golfed out what looked like a pretty good low tumbler for a two-run homer in the fifth and also made the key play of the game, stopping Adam Lind's hard smash with the bases loaded and none out in the third to start a nifty double play. Justin Masterson settled down after that and survived his own four-walk opener.

The main thing I liked about Toronto's offseason is that -- like Pat Gillick back in the day when he traded Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff for Alomar and Carter or acquired Cone and Henderson -- general manager Alex Anthopoulos made the bold moves to acquire Dickey, sign Melky Cabrera and pull off the blockbuster deal with the Marlins. Considering the Tommy John surgeries handed out to young starters Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison, and the struggles of Ricky Romero, it could have been easy to say 2013 would be a holding pattern as the Jays waited for the next wave of youngsters to arrive.

After all, isn't that what you're supposed to do these days? Develop your own talent, and if you're lucky enough to have them turn into Justin Verlander or Buster Posey, break the bank to sign them to long-term deals. But the Jays seized advantage of a market opportunity to acquire proven big league stars! Imagine that.

It's just one night, so let's not overreact here, but as much as I like the top four of the Jays' lineup -- Reyes, Cabrera, Bautista and Encarnacion -- I do see potential on-base issues in the bottom of the lineup. Brett Lawrie is out another couple weeks and he'll hold down the five-hole when he returns, but it's not like he tore it up in 2012 (.273/.324/.405). Though, he's only 23 and a good bet to improve. With him sidelined, the Jays had Lind (.314 OBP in 2012), J.P. Arencibia (.275 OBP) and Colby Rasmus (.289 OBP) hitting fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively. That's simply just not a championship-quality 5-6-7 trio unless they improve.

But I'll still buy into Toronto's potential to run away with the AL East if everything breaks right. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson could be as good as any top four in the league, and Bautista and Encarnacion could combine for 85 home runs with Reyes easily leading the league in runs. Opening Day is a day to believe, and one loss doesn't change that. I suspect we'll see a few more sellouts at the Rogers Centre.

Offseason report card: Blue Jays

February, 7, 2013
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2012 in review
Record: 73-89 (74-88 Pythagorean)
716 runs scored (7th in AL)
784 runs allowed (11th in AL)

Big Offseason Moves
Traded Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar, Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jeff Mathis and Anthony DeSclafani to the Marlins for Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck. Traded Buck, Travis d'Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard and Wuilmer Becerra to the Mets for R.A. Dickey, Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas. Signed free agents Melky Cabrera and Maicer Izturis. Picked up option on Darren Oliver. Lost free agent Kelly Johnson. Acquired Mike Aviles from the Red Sox (for manager John Farrell and David Carpenter) and traded Aviles and Yan Gomes to the Indians for Esmil Rogers. Signed Dickey to a two-year extension with 2016 club option. Named John Gibbons manager.

That's what I call an exciting offseason. It may even have pushed the Maple Leafs off the front page of the sports section for a few days. GM Alex Anthopoulos picked up the NL Cy Young winner, a guy who has pitched 200-plus innings 12 seasons in a row, a guy coming off a season in which he hit .346 (and, yes, got suspended for a positive PED test), a shortstop who has compiled the third-most wins above replacement at the position over the past two seasons (or most, depending which version of WAR you prefer), a starter who led the NL in ERA in 2010, and a solid utility guy who has swiped 73 bases the past two years.

What did he give up? Of the prospects traded, d'Arnaud (14), Nicolino (62), Marisnick (82) and Syndergaard (97) ranked in Keith Law's top 100 prospects Insider. The Blue Jays' farm system, which would have been ranked in the top five, now ranks 24th. In this era when general managers don't want to make that fatal mistake, kudos to AA for pulling off the deals (and ownership for approving the salary influx, which should increase Toronto's payroll by an estimated $30 million or so).

Position Players

Despite Edwin Encarnacion's monster 42-homer breakout season, the Blue Jays' offense was a big disappointment in 2012, and not just because Jose Bautista played only 92 games. Brett Lawrie was OK in his first full season but underperformed expectations. Adam Lind had another underwhelming season. Overall, the main problem was getting on base -- the Blue Jays' .309 OBP ranked 13th of 14 teams in the AL. Some of those guys are gone, but Colby Rasmus (.289), J.P. Arencibia (.275) and Lind (.314) are still projected as regulars.

How many more runs can we expect the Jays to score? Here are some quick back-of-the-napkins numbers for the new guys in the lineup:

Cabrera replaces Rajai Davis/others: 85 runs created versus 65; +20 runs.
Reyes replaces Escobar: 86 runs created versus 53; +33 runs.
Izturis/Bonifacio replaces Johnson/others: 70 runs created versus 68; +2 runs.


Total: +55 runs.

That's about five wins, not factoring in defense. Defensive runs saved rated Escobar at plus-14 runs in 2012, Reyes at minus-16 (he hasn't had a positive DRS since 2007). So it's possible the Jays are giving back a couple of those wins on defense at shortstop. Of course, the Jays are hoping for a full season from Bautista, improvement from Lawrie and Rasmus, and another big year from Encarnacion.

I think it's a good lineup but not a great one. I still see some OBP holes, and Cabrera and Encarnacion will be hard-pressed to repeat their 2012 numbers. If Lawrie and Rasmus take a leap -- much more likely in Lawrie's case -- it could be a great offense, but I'm holding back for now.


Pitching Staff

I expect the Jays to make bigger gains on the pitching end of things. After a 2012 season that saw Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison all miss time (Tommy John surgery in the cases of Drabek and Hutchison) and staff ace Ricky Romero struggle through a miserable 5.77 ERA, the Jays could end up with the best rotation in the majors after posting a 4.82 team ERA last year.

Although there is A-plus upside to this group, there are obvious reservations, primarily in the health and durability of Morrow and Johnson. Morrow had a 2.96 ERA in 21 starts -- after years of underperforming his peripherals -- but he never has pitched 180 innings in a season. Johnson did make 31 starts for the Marlins after missing most of 2011, although he wasn't quite the dominant pitcher he had been in 2010. Dickey takes his knuckleball back to the American League, and, although he might have had his career season, maybe he hasn't. Romero will get another shot, but J.A. Happ pitched well after coming over from the Astros and is a solid No. 6 guy.

Toronto's bullpen had the worst ERA in the AL last year. It won't be the worst this year. Casey Janssen has a solid track, and Sergio Santos returns from his injury to compete for the closer role. Rookie Aaron Loup (21-2 SO-BB ratio) looked very good late in the season, and Anthopoulos might have stolen hard-throwing Steve Delabar from the Mariners. He curbed his home run problems after coming over and struck out 46 in 29 1/3 innings with the Jays. He could emerge as an important late-inning weapon.

Heat Map to Watch
Was Encarnacion's season a fluke? At age 29, he hit 42 home runs and 110 RBIs, after never having hit more than 26 before. But the Jays apparently did a couple of things with Encarnacion's approach, most notably having him keep both hands on the bat throughout the swing. As this article points out, he also did a better job laying off pitches out of the strike zone. And he did a better job attacking fastballs, hitting .315/.411/.633 against them after hitting .289/.370/.482 in 2011. As the heat map shows, he likes those high fastballs.

Edwin EncarnacionESPN Stats & InformationWarning to pitchers: Edwin Encarnacion likes those high fastballs.
Overall Grade

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How many games will the Blue Jays win?

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There's no doubting the upside of this club. Should the Jays be the World Series favorites, as one Vegas book has them? I don't know about that. Still, if Bautista and Encarnacion become the first pair of teammates to hit 40 home runs since Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome with the 2006 White Sox, and if Gibbons gets 60 starts from Morrow and Johnson, I can see a 95-win club.

What we don't know is how tough the AL East will be. On paper, it could be five teams all beating the snot out of each other. Or maybe one will rise above the rest. What do you think?

Power rankings: All 30 teams!

December, 22, 2012
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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.

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

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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.
Wait, who let Karabell take a vacation during trade deadline week? Mark Simon and myself hosted Monday's Baseball Today podcast as we discussed Power Rankings, the trade deadline and more!

1. We review the Zack Greinke trade from Friday and his performance on Sunday. It was a good debut but it proved to be an even bigger weekend for the Rays.

2. We discuss the rumors with the Phillies and why Hunter Pence to the Giants may not make sense and why Josh Johnson to anywhere may not happen.

3. Everybody wants to trade Mike Olt, it seems. Except the Rangers. Maybe they should just call him up and put him in the lineup.

4. Power Rankings: We agree pretty much on the top five but then it gets messy. One of us believes more in the A's.

5. Emails include the biggest one-season increases and decreases in WAR, the Phillies' rotation and which major leaguers would make great Olympic athletes.

Plus we preview Monday's action. Check it all out on Monday's Baseball Today podcast.

Kenny Williams never seems to get a lot of respect.

During his tenure as Chicago White Sox general manager, which began after the 2000 season, he's built two division winners, including the 2005 World Series champions. Maybe the most impressive aspect of his reign is that the White Sox are always competitive. They've been under .500 just three times, but two of those were 79-83. He's done this despite lacking the monster payrolls of teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies; despite only once having a pick better than 12th in the first round of the draft; despite never having a franchise superstar like Barry Bonds to build around or pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, like Brian Sabean has had with the Giants; despite a farm system -- in part because of ownership's unwillingness to spend in the draft and because of that lack of high picks -- that usually ranks near the bottom (Keith Law and Baseball America both ranked the White Sox system 30th heading into the season).

What I like about Williams is he never gives up. He's always trying to win, to build the best team he can given his resources. He never craters, never commits to a complete teardown and embarrassing on-field product, such as the one you're seeing from the Astros, Williams' 2005 World Series opponents.

This is why trading for Francisco Liriano is a typical Kenny Williams move -- high risk, perhaps mocked, but one with a potential nice payoff. Liriano's season numbers with the Twins look terrible -- 3-10, 5.31 ERA -- and his last start (against the White Sox, of all teams) was a rough, seven-run blowup. But after an awful April and temporary trip to the bullpen, Liriano pitched very well in a 10-start stint from May 30 though July 18, posting a 2.84 ERA with 77 strikeouts, 28 walks and 38 hits in 63.1 innings (a .171 average allowed). That stretch included back-to-back starts of 15 strikeouts and 10 strikeouts against the A's and Orioles on July 13 and 18, respectively.

In other words, there's a good chance Liriano will outpitch Zack Greinke the rest of the way, even though this trade will receive much less fanfare and required much less in prospect value: light-hitting infielder Eduardo Escobar and left-handed pitcher Pedro Hernandez.

In fact, despite the much-maligned farm system, the White Sox have received contributions from several rookies, most notably on the pitching staff with Jose Quintana, closer Addison Reed, and relievers Nate Jones and Hector Santiago. With Quintana still the big surprise in the rotation, Liriano presumably takes the place of Philip Humber, who did pitch well in a 5-2 victory over the Rangers on Saturday, but that strong start barely got his ERA under 6.00. With the hope that John Danks might return from his shoulder issues, the White Sox now have rotation depth and options in case of injury or if they want to conserve Chris Sale's innings.

The White Sox also have a lot to gain from a deal such as this; with a 2.5-game lead over the Tigers, winning the division title is obviously huge. There is a reason you're seeing teams contending for a division title making moves, while teams further back in the playoff chase -- such as the American League East wild-card contenders -- are more conservative. The reward for winning one of the two wild cards is essentially half as valuable as last season, with the one-game playoff plus the possibility that you've burned your best pitcher. But the payoff for the White Sox winning the division is worth taking a chance on Liriano.

As for the Rangers, they don't need to be as desperate as their division rival Angels, who gave up three good prospects to acquire Greinke. Yes, acquiring Greinke would have helped, but the Rangers have to ask: Do any of the other available pitchers make the team that much better? I agree with Jim Bowden: Probably not Insider.

The top three starters in a playoff series right now probably would be Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish and Derek Holland (who has had a disappointing season but lately has looked more like the pitcher who threw so well in the second half and postseason a year ago). The fourth spot might be open as Neftali Feliz rehabs, but among Feliz, Scott Feldman, Roy Oswalt and maybe even Alexi Ogando, the Rangers have options. Do you want to give up Mike Olt or another top prospect for what might be just a minor upgrade in Josh Johnson (having his worst statistical season and would be expensive to acquire) or Ryan Dempster (who is unlikely to approve a trade to Texas anyway)?

Plus, Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli are impending free agents, and there's no guarantee they'll be back, even though the Rangers have entered the upper echelon of payrolls. Maybe the Rangers will let one of those guys walk, spend some of that money elsewhere and give a starting position next season to Olt (with super prospect Jurickson Profar waiting in the wings).

The Rangers have options, but their best chance at holding off the Angels and surging A's might lie within: Namely, Hamilton and Michael Young finding their strokes. Hamilton was given a mental day off Saturday to clear his head. Since June 1, he's been one of the worst hitters in the league, batting .190 with a .274 on-base percentage. He's hitting .145 in July with 21 strikeouts in 19 games. Young is eating up at-bats at designated hitter and first base despite an empty .270 batting average. His OBP is less than .300, and he hasn't homered since May 7.

For all the talk of needing a starter, Young is a gigantic hole in the lineup right now. Kenny Williams filled one of his holes. We'll see whether Rangers GM Jon Daniels plugs his.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Chase UtleyDale Zanine/US PresswireAs quick as Chase Utley is to the ball, he's not so quick he'll beat the ball to first base.
With the non-waiver trade deadline quickly approaching, Keith Law and I talked about all the potential action ahead as well as numerous interesting prospects to highlight on Thursday’s Baseball Today podcast!

1. With Zack Greinke, Josh Johnson, a few Cubs and more on the market, which pitcher should be most in demand? And which teams need those pitchers?

2. Any trade rumor involving the Rangers seems to involve prospect Mike Olt. So who would we compare him to?

3. Things keep getting worse for the Blue Jays, but do they have any obligation to stop using a struggling pitcher like Ricky Romero?

4. Our emailers want to know about franchise contraction, the MVP award, the Twins’ future and more!

5. Thursday’s limited schedule is noteworthy for the likely big league debuts for Matt Harvey and Starling Marte. Who are these guys?

So download and listen to Thursday’s Baseball Today podcast and have a great day!


Which best describes the Miami Marlins?

(A) Train wreck
(B) Artistic disaster
(C) Something to watch until the Miami Heat's season begins
(D) Should have seen this coming

And the correct answer ... (D). There's nothing that surprising about the Marlins being 45-51 with the fifth-worst run differential in the majors.

After all, the Marlins weren't a good team in 2011, finishing 72-90 and getting outscored by 77 runs. Their three big free-agent signings have resulted in mixed yet predictable results: Mark Buehrle has been solid as ever, Jose Reyes has been unable to repeat his career 2011 season and Heath Bell hasn't been as good removed from PetCo Park (OK, didn't think he'd be this bad). Throw in trade acquisition Carlos Zambrano -- guess what, he's just as mediocre and wild as last year -- and there just wasn't enough new talent to ensure this would be a playoff team.

No, the one guy the Marlins were most counting on was ace starter Josh Johnson. On Monday, he pitched like the guy who began 2011 in dominating fashion before getting injured. He allowed one hit in six innings in the Marlins' 2-1 victory over the Braves, striking out nine and walking zero. Seven of the K's came on breaking pitches. It was vintage Johnson, his first scoreless start of the season, after delivering eight such games in 2010-11 over 37 starts.

On the heels of Anibal Sanchez's trade to the Tigers, Johnson's outing will only serve to fuel trade rumors. He's signed through next season ($13.75 million salary in both 2012 and 2013) and that extra year means he conceivably could bring more in return than Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke. His 4.14 ERA is mediocre but his peripheral numbers are still solid: 105 strikeouts, 35 walks and seven home runs in 119.2 innings. As he showed Monday, Johnson can still bring ace-caliber stuff.

So should the Marlins trade him? Even though the Sanchez trade signals a punt on 2012, I don't think they should deal Johnson. Think about where that puts the Marlins for 2013:

1. A rotation of Buehrle, the inconsistent Ricky Nolasco, the unproven Jacob Turner ... and, well, I guess whatever you get for Johnson. Jose Fernandez, their top prospect, recently got promoted to high Class A, so he's likely looking at a 2014 arrival.

2. A very unhappy Ozzie Guillen, although I guess that headache could be resolved easily enough.

3. The possibility of losing a portion of the new fan base created this season. The Marlins have already suffered through two sell-offs in franchise history. A third, on the heels of the new park, would serve only to further alienate fans.

Anyway, can you imagine the uproar in South Florida if Johnson is traded? New ballpark, free agents ... and you give up on this group of players after four months? Can't wait to see Ozzie's reaction if it happens.

Hey, it's possible Johnson could bring in a big haul -- a left fielder that would allow Logan Morrison to move to first base, a major league-ready pitching prospect, maybe a bullpen arm. But that also leaves you without a guy who has the potential to headline a rotation. At this point, that's not Turner, whose stuff has regressed from high school, as Keith Law wrote Insider earlier Monday.

But maybe the Marlins see Johnson as a health risk who has only pitched 200 innings once in his career. Cash in now while you can get something good for him.

Do that, and you can begin that cycle again -- hoping, I guess, to be competitive before Giancarlo Stanton reaches free agency.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Carlos SantanaDavid Richard/US PresswireJust call Carlos Santana Mr. Helper when he's behind the dish.

Thank you for showing up, Boston Red Sox.

There are mini tests throughout a baseball season -- a series that maybe in the big picture is just another three games of 162, but hold revelations about a ballclub.

The Red Sox entered their weekend showdown with the Washington Nationals facing a challenging test against the three best starters on the best pitching staff in the National League. They were 29-28 and while they were in fifth place in the AL East, they were just three games out of first place. Despite the slew of injuries to hit their lineup, the Red Sox had scored the third-most runs in the majors.

Behind Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, the Nationals left Fenway with a sweep as the Red Sox hit .208, struck out 30 times and went 3-for-26 with runners in scoring position. The frustrating weekend concluded with Bobby Valentine getting ejected in the top of the ninth inning after Roger Bernadina had doubled home Bryce Harper with two outs for the winning run. (Harper, in case you haven't noticed, goes first-to-home like a lightning bolt.) Valentine felt Bernadina should have been called out on a 2-2 pitch.

"Good umpires had a real bad series this series -- a real bad series -- and it went one way," Valentine said after the game. "There should be a review."

Valentine is staring at a fine after those comments. Even worse, he's now staring at a six-game deficit as the first-place Tampa Bay Rays swept the Miami Marlins in the battle of Florida.

The Marlins failed in their own test in front of their home fans, as the Rays outscored them 22-7 in the sweep, hitting .302 and drawing 14 walks. This is not the way to get more fans out to the new park. After clawing back from 8-14 to start to reach 31-23, the Marlins have now lost six in a row, are five games behind the Nationals and have a season run differential of minus-28 that is tied for fourth-worst in the National League.

It makes the series starting on Monday between the Red Sox and Marlins the most intriguing series of the week. It's time for the Red Sox to stop blaming the umps and start pitching better; it's time for the Marlins to start hitting and playing with more consistency.

A few things to watch in the series:

1. Boston's defensive alignments.

David Ortiz played first base in two games in Boston's only previous road interleague series this year in Philadelphia, so presumably he'll be back there. But a defense with Ortiz at first, Adrian Gonzalez in right, Kevin Youkilis and third and Scott Podsednik or Ryan Sweeney in center is a liability, especially with all the space in Miami's outfield. The Red Sox entered Sunday ranked second in the American League in defensive runs saved at plus-35 (second in the majors to the Blue Jays), although they rank just 19th in defensive efficiency (percentage of balls in play turned into outs). Either way, a Ortiz/Gonzalez alignment makes them a much worse defensive team.

2. Marlins at the plate.

The Marlins are 12th in the NL in runs scored and 12th in OPS -- and it's not all because their new park is a difficult place to hit. In fact, that has nothing to do with it. The Marlins are last in the NL in road OPS. The main culprits? Marlins catchers are hitting .188, their first basemen (Gaby Sanchez returned Sunday after a 19-game demotion to the minors) are hitting .197, their center fielders have a .346 OBP but a .312 slugging percentage. Sanchez needs to hit but the other middle-of-the-order bat struggling is Logan Morrison, with a .227/.315/.349 line. Benched Friday and Saturday for a mental break, Morrison returned to the lineup on Sunday and went 3-for-4 with two doubles. He has battled a bad knee all season, but the Marlins may have to make a decision soon on Sanchez and Morrison. You can't afford to keep punting offense at first base and left field.

3. Josh Johnson.

The Marlins' ace draws the start in Monday's ESPN telecast against Josh Beckett. After getting knocked out in the third inning on May 4 against the San Diego Padres, Johnson's ERA stood at 6.61 and opponents were batting .359 against him. In six starts since, he has 2.95 ERA and .252 average allowed, with his BABIP dropping from an extreme .448 to a more normalized .302. It wasn't just bad luck early on, however; he was getting hit. His season line-drive percentage is still 26 percent, which ranks second-worst among major league starters to Mike Leake.

Anyway, key for Johnson is his fastball location versus left-handed batters. Check out 2012 versus 2011, when he dominated for nine starts before landing on the disabled list.

Josh Johnson heat mapESPN Stats & InformationJohnson has been hit hard by left-handed batters in 2012. The heat map shows why.
There's a reason he has been hit hard this year: He's not hitting that outside corner like he did previously. He held lefties to a .209 average in 2011 (.258 BABIP) but they're hitting .331 off him in 2012 (.405 BABIP). Johnson's stuff is close to what it was; he overpowered the Braves at times in his most recent start with some high heat. But what do they say? Location, location, location. It's been better lately; let's see how he does against the Boston left-handed hitters on Monday night.

4. Is Clay Buchholz back?

Buchholz starts Tuesday versus Mark Buehrle and he has been terrific his past three starts, giving up four runs in 24 innings, including a four-hit shutout against Baltimore in his most recent start. He has a 19/4 strikeout/walk ratio after struggling with a 27/27 ratio through his first nine starts. The key to Buchholz's resurgence has been his changeup. "My grip was a little off," he told the media after his win over the Baltimore Orioles. "I was able to free that up a little bit. It’s been a pitch that we tried to work on for a long time and I noticed it wasn’t the same grip I had in past years and it’s coming back."

Indeed, over his first nine starts, batters hit .375 off his changeup; in the three starts since, he has thrown the pitch 69 times and batters are 1-for-10 with five strikeouts.

So watch Buchholz's changeup and watch this crucial mid-June series. Maybe it's just another three games. Maybe it's a big three games.

My bet? The Red Sox don't have to face Strasburg, Gonzalez and Zimmermann in this series. Beckett and Buchholz, who can be prone to the home run, should enjoy Marlins Park. The Red Sox take two of three as the AL East continues to show its superiority over the NL East (it went 9-6 this past weekend without any help from the Red Sox) and the Marlins will have to head to Tampa Bay next weekend with another big test to face.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Martin MaldonadoBenny Sieu/US PresswireMartin Maldonado thoughts on called K's? Where there's a whiff, there's a win.
OK, the first round of the second annual Franchise Player Draft is in the books.

Like last year, we thought it would be to conduct a second round, where we make the picks for a distinguished panel. Eric starts with pick No. 31 and makes all the odd-numbered choices and Dave makes the even-numbered ones, which means we get to select for each other.

We used a snake-draft format with each participant's first-round pick in parenthesis. Remember, these picks are from Karabell and Schoenfield, so yell at us if you disagree!

31. Jonah Keri (Jason Heyward): Jose Bautista. Hey, Jonah took him last year.

32. Mark Simon (Miguel Cabrera): Mark already has Cabrera, but we're moving him to first base and giving him David Wright of his beloved New York Mets.

33. Jerry Crasnick (Yu Darvish): Dylan Bundy. You can never have enough young pitching, and really, Darvish isn't all that young.

34. Amanda Rykoff (Carlos Gonzalez): Matt Moore may win two or three Cy Youngs in the next 10 years. I'll take him to headline a pitching staff.

35. Rick Sutcliffe (Jeff Samardzija): Josh Hamilton should still be hitting for major power the next few seasons.

36. Chris Singleton (David Price): Adam Jones. If the power surge is for real, we have an MVP candidate. And Jones is still just 26 years old. He'll be running down fly balls for years to come.

37. Jorge Arangure (Jurickson Profar): Terrific first-rounder, and Carlos Santana could be the best catcher in the game for years, so lock up the up-the-middle spots.

38. Jim Bowden (Buster Posey): Nice pick with Santana. He was next on my board, except Bowden already has a catcher. Let's go with Posey's Giants teammate Matt Cain, still just 27 years old and he's never missed a start in the big leagues.

39. Enrique Rojas (Neftali Feliz): Well, as if anyone was really concerned, Albert Pujols is hitting now and we know he'll be around another what, eight years.

40. Jayson Stark (Robinson Cano): Cano is a little older, so with this team we may be thinking of the next five years as opposed to 10. So let's go with Cole Hamels, arguably the best pitcher in baseball right now.

41. Mark Mulder (Ryan Zimmerman): Ah! How did Hamels not go in the first round? Well, I think Madison Bumgarner has a pretty bright future himself, so let's go there.

42. Doug Glanville (Matt Wieters): Austin Jackson is maybe the best defensive center fielder in baseball and he looks much improved at the plate this year. Potential stud leadoff hitter for a long time.

43. David Schoenfield (Eric Hosmer): I think Emmanuel Burriss is a terrific pick for Dave here. Whatta ya think, Dave? OK, we'll give you Jay Bruce. First-rounder last season and he hasn't exactly regressed.

44. Keith Law (Andrew McCutchen): #freetrevorbauer

45. Molly Knight (Prince Fielder): Elvis Andrus. A Gold Glove-caliber shortstop showing improving on-base skills? Thank you very much. Plus, we need some defense on this team.

46. Steve Berthiaume (Brett Lawrie): Steve is a closet Red Sox fan. Give him Dustin Pedroia, although we hear he's very high on this Scott Podsednik kid.

47. Christina Kahrl (Giancarlo Stanton): What, I thought it was Marlon Byrd. OK, Christina can't pass up Adrian Gonzalez. Tremendous value here; what a start for her offense.

48. Jim Caple (Mike Trout): We know Caple would definitely take a West Coast player. And definitely not a closer. Let's a big risk here and go with Dustin Ackley and hope he learns to hit left-handed pitching.

49. Tim Kurkjian (Bryce Harper): He's closing these days, but Aroldis Chapman is a future ace, and Tim will love the numbers he'll put up.

50. Mike Golic (Ryan Braun): Chapman! Ehh, who wants a guy who throws 100 mph. Joining Braun will be up-and-coming third baseman/masher Mike Moustakas.

51. Mike Greenberg (Felix Hernandez): Curtis Granderson has some flaws, but had a terrific 2011 and should be good for years.

52. Aaron Boone (Starlin Castro): Continuing the up-the-middle theme, we'll give Boone 25-year-old catcher Alex Avila. If he can come close to 2011's .895 OPS the next seven years, he's an extremely valuable player.

53. Dave Cameron (Joey Votto): Zack Greinke is nearing a monster contract. An ace slips deep into round 2.

54. Barry Larkin (Justin Upton): Speaking of aces, Gio Gonzalez's improved command has turned him into one. And at 26, he's two years younger than Greinke.

55. Karl Ravech (Stephen Strasburg): We're not expecting Gold Gloves from Jesus Montero, but man, can the guy hit. Decent building block.

56. Eric Karabell (Evan Longoria): Let's see, tough call here: Do we go Utley, Howard, Rollins or Wigginton? OK, we know Karabell loves hitters ... Jason Kipnis will look good in that infield with Longoria.

57. Orel Hershiser (Justin Verlander): Former ace already has added an ace, and another ace is sitting there in Jered Weaver. Can't pass that up.

58. Kevin Goldstein (Clayton Kershaw): We have to give Goldstein a prospect so let's go with Royals outfielder Wil Myers, who has bashed his way through Double-A and just got promoted to Triple-A, and may be in Kansas City before long.

59. Buster Olney (Troy Tulowitzki): Pretty strong middle infield if we give him Ian Kinsler as well, so let's do exactly that.

60. Terry Francona (Matt Kemp): We need a pitcher. So many good ones left to choose from. He's a health risk, but if he's on he's as good anybody in the game: Josh Johnson.

Wow ... no Hanley Ramirez or Jose Reyes. Tim Lincecum's slow start scares us off. Joe Mauer and Brian McCann left on the board. Jordan Zimmermann, Brandon Morrow, not to mention top prospects like Manny Machado or Taijuan Walker. What do you think?
It was another eventful chat session as we discussed Albert Pujols' homerless April and asked readers to project his final numbers. We discussed many things about the Minnesota Twins, gave a shout-out to the awesome Jose Altuve, tried to figure out what the Angels should do with Mark Trumbo, wondered who the first manager to be fired will be (yes, once we again Dusty Baker's name came up!), wondered how much bad defense has to do with the poor starts by Max Scherzer and Josh Johnson, wondered how much good defense is helping Jeremy Hellickson, debated the Nationals' attendance issues and pointed out that Pujols' slow start is stealing attention away from Jose Bautista's slow start. All that and more! Check out the transcript here.
Keith Law and I gathered for Tuesday’s Baseball Today podcast in which we took a closer look at Monday’s games and previewed what should be an exciting Tuesday night as well!

1. Chicago White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy shut out the Athletics on Monday, and he used a different repertoire than we’re used to.

2. The Los Angeles Dodgers are off to a seemingly great start, but remove Matt Kemp from this offense and it’s not special. We discuss outfielder Andre Ethier and prospect Alex Castellanos.

3. Jair Jurrjens pitched badly against the Dodgers on Monday and got demoted to Triple-A. What’s his future, and how do the Braves compensate?

4. Our emailers have questions about Diamondbacks prospect Trevor Bauer and how the Mets, Padres and Nationals seek their first no-hitters!

5. Our look at Tuesday’s pitchers centers on Josh Johnson, Yu Darvish and Adam Wainwright.

So download and listen to Tuesday’s Baseball Today podcast, because Aubrey Huff played second base the other day and we think it’s funny.

The season is young, but never too young to raise a few issues we've seen so far. Here are 10:

1. Yu Darvish's control
In Japan, Darvish was known not only for his terrific stuff but his ability to throw it with precision. In 2011, he walked just 36 batters in 232 innings. Through three starts with the Rangers he's walked 13 in 17.2 innings. I've watched all three of those starts and there's no denying his ability, with good movement on his fastball and a sharp-breaking curve. The command hasn't been there, however, and I do see some Dice-K syndrome: Nibbling at the corners, not pitching inside, not trusting the quality of his stuff. It's early and I do think he'll be fine in the long run, but there is at least a little reason to doubt he'll be the No. 1 many projected.

2. Adam Wainwright
Wainwright has had a tough start this season as he dropped to 0-3, 9.88 after a five-inning outing against the Reds on Thursday. He gave up fourth-inning home runs to Brandon Phillips and Ryan Ludwick, giving him five home runs allowed in just 13.2 innings. One positive sign is that he has 14 strikeouts, an indication that the stuff is still there. From the heat map below, we have his curveball location in 2012 on the left versus 2010, when batters hit just .170 against it. He's only thrown it 45 times so far, but it appears the command in that lower quadrant of the strike zone isn't quite there yet.

Adam Wainwright heat mapESPN Stats & InformationAdam Wainwright's curveball location in 2012 (left) compared to 2010.
3. Marlins' defense
I was worried about Miami's defense before the season and so far that's a legitimate concern, as entering Thursday the Marlins ranked 29th in Defensive Runs Saved at minus-13 runs (only the Rockies ranked worse). The biggest holes so far? Jose Reyes is at minus-6 runs and Hanley Ramirez is at minus-2. Factor in Logan Morrison's plodding defense in left, Emilio Bonifacio's inexperience in center and Giancarlo Stanton's testy knee and this could be a season-long issue.

4. Angels' plate discipline
Entering Thursday's games, the Angels ranked 27th in the majors in walk percentage, ahead of just the Pirates, Royals and Phillies. The Angels also ranked second behind in the Phillies in percentage of pitches outside the strike zone they've swung at (33.1 percent). No matter how many home runs you hit, it's difficult to string together some rallies without drawing a few walks. The major culprits: Kendrys Morales (no walks in 42 plate appearances), Peter Bourjos (no walks in 32 PAs) and Vernon Wells (one walk in 47 PAs).

5. Tampa Bay's bullpen
As bad as Boston's bullpen has been (6.63 ERA), Tampa's has struggled even more with an 8.64 ERA. The Rays pieced together a decent pen a year ago from the likes of Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Juan Cruz and others. That pen benefited from having to throw the fewest innings in the majors. With Farnsworth on the DL, Fernando Rodney has been getting the save opportunities and he's done the job, but the rest of the pen has been shaky. Of concern: While Boston's relievers have 31 strikeouts and 12 walks, Tampa's have 26 strikeouts against 20 walks.

6. Josh Johnson
For all the concern over Tim Lincecum's drop in velocity and unsightly 10.54 ERA, the ace pitcher I'd be most worried about is Johnson. While Lincecum has 16 strikeouts and four walks in 13.2 innings, Johnson doesn't have any positives on his ledger: 16.2 IP, 28 H, 6 BB, 8 SO. Both have been burned by high BABIPs (.444 for Johnson) and Johnson hasn't allowed a home run, but the low strikeout rate is a big concern and his fastball velocity is also. Like Wainwright, Johnson is coming off an injury, but you have to hope the shoulder is OK.

7. Phillies' lineup
No surprise here with the absence of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, but it doesn't help that Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino have combined for just one home run. Even when Howard and Utley return, the Phillies will need a lot more production from Rollins and Victorino.

8. Scott Rolen
The Reds were counting on Rolen to hit cleanup, but Dusty Baker has already moved him out of that spot after his .171 start through 13 games. Considering his long injury history and struggles in 2011, the end of the line may be approaching for the 37-year-old third baseman. The Reds may eventually have to turn to Todd Frazier, but his minor league track record suggests bench player, not starting third baseman on a playoff team.

9. Brent Morel and Gordon Beckham
The White Sox have a solid rotation, a solid bullpen and ... well, they'll need offense and they were counting on these two infielders to improve from 2011. But Morel is hitting .103 with 18 strikeouts in 39 at-bats and Beckham is hitting .152 with 12 strikeouts in 33 at-bats. Neither has homered.

10. Kids running out on the field
What kind of example is this for the adults?

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Curtis GrandersonChris Trotman/Getty ImagesCurtis Granderson strikes one of his three home runs, part of a 5-for-5 night.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.

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