SweetSpot: Kendrys Morales

ICYMI: SweetSpot hits, Week 11

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
10:21
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If we discuss nothing else, can we just sit back and rejoice in the gloriousness of the arm accuracy and strength of Yoenis Cespedes? I mean, first we had this one (and check out the science side of it) and he backed it up the next day with another. It's almost like he's letting the ball get by him just so he can hose down the runner. Almost. Dave Schoenfield weighed in on the whole thing here, too. On to the week that was around The SweetSpot Network, where the crew will get into all things draft-related, Machado-related, Kendrys-related and other good stuff.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
Getting Lucky By Design: Entering 2013, A.J. Pollock was sixth on the outfield depth chart -- yet he's proven to be one of the most valuable outfielders in the game. Ryan P. Morrison examines several ways in which MLB teams can put themselves in a position to get lucky. Follow on Twitter: @InsidetheZona.

Atlanta Braves: Chop County
Braves 2014 draft picks 1-2
Braves 2014 draft picks 3-10
Braves 2014 draft picks 11-20

Read all about the Braves top-20 picks in the 2014 draft. Follow on Twitter: @gondeee.

Baltimore Orioles: Camden Depot
Manny Machado's tough season and even tougher weekend: Matt Perez looks into the troubles Manny Machado has faced. Much attention has been placed upon his bat-throwing tantrum, but more probably should be given to his troubles in the batter's box. Follow on Twitter: @CamdenDepot.

Boston Red Sox: Fire Brand of the American League
On the Red Sox’s power outage: Oh where, oh where has the Red Sox’s power gone? Oh where, oh where could it be? Follow on Twitter: @AlexSkillin.

Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
Ventura's blunders cost the White Sox again: Nick Schaefer says Robin Ventura's mistakes in Anaheim go beyond bad strategy, and indicate a disregard for the larger goals of the franchise. Follow on Twitter: @TheCatbird_Seat.

Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
Rockies revamp rotation, bolstered by Bergman: Scott Fults profiles the minor league past and major league debut of Christian Bergman, who gave the injury-riddled rotation a much needed shot in the arm. Follow on Twitter: @RockiesZingers.

Minnesota Twins: Twins Daily
Morales signing signals shift in Twins' mind-set: The addition of Kendrys Morales certainly improves Minnesota's lineup, but Nick Nelson writes that the implications run deeper than that. Follow on Twitter: @TwinsDaily.

New York Yankees: It's About The Money
Appreciating Brian McCann's defense: Brian McCann isn't doing much offensively but Katie Sharp takes a look at his defensive numbers and it turns out, he's doing pretty well. Follow on Twitter: @ktsharp.

Kelley's return a very welcome one: Shawn Kelley is finally back in the bullpen after being injured over a month. Brad Vietrogoski tells us why this is a good thing for the rest of the pen. Follow on Twitter: @IIATMS.

San Francisco Giants: West Coast Bias
Instant Replay -- A different human element: Connor Grossman dissects the newly installed instant replay system in Major League Baseball and discusses its downfalls. In addition, a slightly revised system is proposed. Follow on Twitter: @GiantsBaseball.

St. Louis Cardinals: Fungoes
Shutouts a recipe for Cardinals’ success: The Cardinals pitching staff (and defense) have shut out opponents an amazing and league-leading 13 times already. How are they doing it? Follow on Twitter: @fungoes.

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

Will Kendrys Morales power Twins' bid?

June, 7, 2014
Jun 7
4:47
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Kendrys Morales reportedly signed with the Minnesota Twins, which can lead to a few quick takeaways. First, of course, it’s just further proof that not everybody wants to put on pinstripes, and that’s a glorious thing. But why, after so many months, does a guy pick the Twins?

Keeping in mind that terms have not yet been disclosed, so we don’t know how long he’s signed to be a Twin -- four months, or for 2015, too? We’ll see, but the better question is why not the Twins? They may be just below .500, but they’re just 2.5 games out in the pack of ballclubs crowding the AL wild-card field. They’re also just five games behind the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central, who are in the middle of a 7-13 tumble that puts the division title back in play. So yes, as midseason moves go, suffice to say the Twins are taking themselves seriously -- and they should.

And why not? Morales is almost exactly what the Twins need. This is a lineup that is already proving effective at creating baserunners, ranking third in the AL in walk rate (9.6 percent) and tied for third in the AL in walks drawn. That’s not all Joe Mauer, who you might have expected -- Mauer has walked 27 times before Saturday’s action, but burgeoning second-base star Brian Dozier led the team with 35 freebies before action started. Heck, even struggling part-time center fielder Aaron Hicks has at least walked 27 times. The Twins are walking despite their not having reliable walker Josh Willingham active for most of the early going; now that he’s back in action and back in left field, they could already anticipate those good team-wide numbers to get even better.

Getting Morales helps them that much more, though, because he helps address what has been a weak spot: Slugging, where the Twins rank just 10th in the league in Isolated Power (or ISO). The Twins were already plating a league-average 14 percent of their baserunners, but with Willingham as well as Oswaldo Arcia both back in action to provide corner outfielder-grade offense and Morales joining the party at the DH slot, that number should improve. Morales comes in with a career ISO of .200, as well as greater effectiveness against right-handed pitching (.286/.340/.499) as a switch-hitter, making him a superb fit for the middle of the order, where he can start cashing in all those Twins baserunners. At the very least, they can dispense with Jason Kubel’s slugless comeback.

The other thing this probably helps address is what Joe Mauer has not been this season, the franchise-grade force on offense the Twins signed him to be. Plating just 9 percent of baserunners while slugging 50 points below league average (.395), this is rapidly turning into the worst season of Mauer’s career. Maybe Morales helps with that, and maybe this lets Mauer just focus on contributing OBP from the second slot for the rest of the season.

So far, so good, but can the Twins really win, when this shored-up lineup still has to outscore a rotation struggling to generate quality starts whenever Phil Hughes isn’t on the mound? Hughes has thrown eight in his 12 turns, while the rest of the starters have combined for just 17 in 47 starts, a 36 percent clip that’s hard to sustain win streaks with if you’re going to keep up in the hunt for a playoff slot. As much as signing Kendrys Morales is a good thing, the shored-up Twins lineup is going to have to seriously crank to beat that sort of near-daily handicap. And there, there may not be a good answer, beyond the expectation that former first-rounder Kyle Gibson is supposed to get better, and that the same expectations that led to signing Ricky Nolasco and Kevin Correia as free agents should fuel the expectation they’ll be better in the second half. If they’re not, the Twins won’t go anywhere, even if they manage to hang around .500.

Which brings us to why signing with the Twins might especially make sense for Morales, without knowing about how much money was in play. Say the Twins fall entirely out of the race -- if that happens, they’re an obvious seller at the deadline, and Morales could look forward to being dealt to a team in a stronger position in the standings. Rather than pick a contender and hope for the best, signing with the longshot team provides him with a chance there, and potentially a chance to be dealt to an even better opportunity to return to the postseason in two months. Considering Morales hasn’t played any October baseball since 2009, it’s not the worst gambit for a guy who has already lost so much of this season to taking a bad risk on his value on the open market as a free agent.

Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.
If you want to take a break from the MLB draft or actual baseball games, some stuff to check out:
  • Fun list from the Baseball Prospectus staff: 11 draft-day what-ifs. Of course, there is no end to the what-ifs, but these are some good ones that could have happened.
  • Matt Kremnitzer with an interesting idea if the Orioles fall out of the playoff race: Could Nelson Cruz be a trade chip? At 30-27, I'm not sure the Orioles will fall out of the everyone's-in-it AL wild-card race, but if they do, it's a plausible scenario.
  • David Laurila of FanGraphs interviews Pedro Martinez on the art -- and science -- of pitching. Love this quote: “My fastball was my best pitch. I was a power pitcher for most of my career. My fastball had a natural tail. I threw four-seams and two-seams, but predominately fours. My four was a power fastball that I could ramp up when I needed to. I could spot it." Note: Ramp up when I needed to. Relates to one of the issues we've been talking about with all these Tommy John surgeries: Pitchers don't have to -- and probably shouldn't -- air out every fastball at max velocity.
  • Joe Posnanski has a little fun with a scouting report on Derek Jeter.
  • Michael Eder of It's About the Money is a little more blunt: Jeter is hurting the Yankees.
  • More Posnanski: How the A's continue to thrive, a decade after "Moneyball." Money quote: "Moneyball II is not about being smart. Everybody in baseball can be smart. Moneyball II is about doing smart things. There's a big difference. The A's face the same pressures, the same groupthink, the same visual cues as everyone else. They have the same gut reactions to events, and they initially want to respond in the same way as everyone else. To say that they are smarter than everyone else misses the biggest point.

     



    "The biggest point is this: Nobody's that smart -- not even the A's. They have to work just as hard as anybody to avoid the traps, address their weaknesses, overcome the silly flaws in their System One thinking. They have to call up Josh Donaldson when brains tell them not to call him up. They have to pitch Tommy Milone even though they see that nothing fastball and can't figure out how he can get anyone out."
  • You may have read Tim Kurkjian's piece last week on the unwritten rules of baseball. Former major league reliever and book author Dirk Hayhurst had a pointed response on Deadspin: "None of the players passing along their wisdom seemed to realize that it was all completely arbitrary. No one came close to acknowledging, 'You know, it's stupid and none of us know where it came from, and before we go fracturing some poor rookie's wrist because he looked too happy about going yard on a vet, we should really sit down and ask ourselves if the punishment fits the crime.'"
  • Jonathan Judge says Kendrys Morales is more valuable to the Brewers than he would be to other teams.
  • Fire Brand of the AL with their latest podcast on the Red Sox.
  • Here's the It's Pronounced "Lajaway" podcast on all things Indians.
  • Maybe it's time the Rangers admit that Mitch Moreland just isn't that good.
  • Ryan P. Morrison with a look at the Diamondbacks' defense. Last year, Arizona's defense was excellent; this year, it's been mediocre -- or unlucky. Either way, maybe the pitchers have been as awful as everyone thinks.
  • This may be of more interesting to baseball fans in Connecticut than to Twins fans, but the New Britain Rock Cats, Minnesota's Double-A affiliate, is relocating to Hartford for 2016, as the city is building a new downtown stadium.
  • Finally, this is pretty awesome: Harry Caray, when he was a broadcaster for the White Sox in 1972, kept a diary that year. It was a pretty simple diary: Caray kept track of the bars he visited and the bar tabs. The first date is Jan. 1 and it lists four bars. At one point, he goes 288 consecutive days visiting a bar. Now that is a legendary streak.


Once the amateur draft begins on Thursday, expect free agent Kendrys Morales to sign a deal soon after. That's when Morales will no longer be tied to draft-pick compensation, thus making his services more attractive. Morales should expect a deal less than what Stephen Drew received from the Boston Red Sox -- one year, $14 million, prorated to about $10 million for missing most of the two months -- since Morales isn't as valuable as Drew, as he's largely limited to DH duties and playing first base in a pinch and is one of the slowest players in the majors.

Still, he's a switch-hitter who hit .277/.336/.449 for the Seattle Mariners last year, which makes him a viable middle-of-the-order bat in a lot of lineups these days. So where does he go? Here are the likely choices:

Texas Rangers -- Since Prince Fielder went down for the season, the Rangers have primarily used Shin-Soo Choo and Michael Choice as their designated hitters, with Choo playing left field when he's not DHing and Mitch Moreland taking over at first base. Choice is hitting .208/.287/.308 so Morales would appear to be a major upgrade. The Rangers could use the lefty part of Morales' switch-hitting as well (they have a .770 OPS versus lefties, .694 versus righties). Despite all their injuries, the Rangers are 29-28; it's a question of whether GM Jon Daniels thinks the pitching staff can get healthy enough to contend.

Seattle Mariners -- Mariners' DHs are hitting .189/.274/.308 with six home runs, so Morales clearly fills a hole. He'd likely slot in behind Robinson Cano as the team's cleanup hitter and would boost an offense that is tied for ninth in the AL in runs per game but last in batting average and on-base percentage. In fact, the Mariners aren't getting much from first base, either, with Justin Smoak hitting .217/.290/.377 and just about out of chances as an everyday player. Considering their gaping holes at both positions, the Mariners are probably the one club in position to offer Morales a two-year contract. The Mariners are a game over .500 and have allowed the second-fewest runs per game in the league, so they're desperate to add some offense.

Cleveland Indians -- With Nick Swisher struggling, Indians first basemen are hitting .226/.333/.358 with five home runs. They've used a revolving door at DH and have received a .233 batting average and five home runs there, although Lonnie Chisenhall's hot hitting of late has earned him regular playing time, which could push Carlos Santana to DH duties once he returns from his concussion. With Cleveland, the big question is whether spending the money is worth an upgrade that would impact its lineup as much as Texas or Seattle.

New York Yankees -- The Yankees have reportedly reached out to Morales, even though their roster is filled with DH types or guys who need to play there on occasion in Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Beltran and Derek Jeter. But Yankees DHs are hitting .203/.259/.372, so you can see the interest in Morales, who would also provide insurance for Mark Teixeira at first. Soriano, with 55 strikeouts, six walks and a .230 batting average, hasn't been the same dangerous hitter he was last summer, so the Yankees may just decide to move on from him.

Kansas City Royals -- The Royals seemingly have first base and DH filled with Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler, but those two have combined for two home runs -- one apiece. Not exactly what you want from your projected No. 3 and 4 hitters. Still, it's hard to imagine the Royals spending the money on Morales. They need to hope Hosmer and Butler get it going.

The Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates are two more possibilities, but with Aramis Ramirez returning the Brewers will likely slide Mark Reynolds back to first base and live with his low average and strikeouts. Ike Davis has a .380 OBP for the Pirates and their biggest problem has been the starting rotation, not first-base production.

What do you think? Where does Morales end up?

No surprises in qualifying offers

November, 4, 2013
11/04/13
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Thirteen free agents received one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offers from their previous team, meaning those players will have now a choice: See what the market bears or return to their team for that one-year offer (or negotiate a new contract with that club).

Those 13 players:

Stephen Drew, Red Sox
Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
Mike Napoli, Red Sox
Robinson Cano, Yankees
Curtis Granderson, Yankees
Hiroki Kuroda, Yankees
Ubaldo Jimenez, Indians
Ervin Santana, Royals
Nelson Cruz, Rangers
Kendrys Morales, Mariners
Brian McCann, Braves
Carlos Beltran, Cardinals
Shin-Soo Choo, Reds


These players are now tied to first-round compensation picks if the team that signs them doesn't own one of the top 10 picks (Astros, Marlins, White Sox, Cubs, Twins, Mariners, Phillies, Rockies, Blue Jays, Mets). Those 10 teams would have to sacrifice a second-round pick for signing one of those 13 guys.

In the case of a highly sought free agent suc as Cano, Ellsbury or Choo, this will likely have little effect on contract offers they receive. However, for several of the players on the list this could drastically reduce their demand. We saw this happen last year with several players, most notably Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn (who both ended up signing with Cleveland, which owned a protected top-10 pick), Kyle Lohse (who didn't sign with the Brewers until spring training was under way), and Adam LaRoche (who declined the Nationals' $13.3 million qualifying offer before eventually returning to Washington on a two-year, $24 million deal).

For example, considering Beltran's age, he was probably looking at a two-year contract. Would a contending team be willing to give up a first-round pick for two seasons of him? Perhaps. With Cruz coming off his PED suspension and given that he'll turn 34 next July, he's another guy who will now see limited demand. In both cases, it wouldn't surprise me if it pushes both players back to their original team, unless one of the bottom 10 teams come calling in hot pursuit (such as the Phillies). Coming off an injury, Curtis Granderson also could be headed back to the Yankees.

For Morales, this almost guarantees he returns to Seattle. The market for designated hitters has been slow in recent seasons and it's unlikely any team will give him $14.1 million, even on a one-year deal, and certainly not at the cost of a first-round pick. He'll probably go back to Seattle, maybe negotiating a deal similar to what LaRoche signed with the Nationals last year.

The most interesting guy could be Drew. He was a free agent a year ago and signed a one-year deal with Boston that paid him $9.5 million. After missing time in 2011 and 2012 with injuries, he had his best season at the plate since 2010. Considering he's the only top shortstop on the market, interest in him was expected to be high. But if you're, say, the Cardinals and wishing to replace Pete Kozma, do you want to give Drew a multi-year contract for tens of millions and lose that first-round pick? That's a tougher call.
The good news for the Philadelphia Phillies: They're still in second place! Or at least tied for second place. In fact, they've gone 14-16 since June 19 … and haven't lost a game in the standings, still sitting eight games behind the Braves in the NL Least.

The bad news: Pretty much everything else.

Pretty much everything much else means this: The Phillies aren't a good team. They lost 3-1 to the Cardinals on Thursday night, mustering six singles and a double and drawing four walks but going 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position. Delmon Young hit cleanup against a right-handed pitcher for the second game in a row, and if that sounds like a cleanup hitter on a playoff team then I've got some nice oceanfront property in Saskatchewan to sell you. The Phillies are 49-53 and have been outscored by 59 runs, a total exceeded in the wrong direction by just four other teams in the majors. The schedule isn't necessarily kind the rest of the way either as they've played the Marlins and Mets 25 times so far, but the Braves and Nationals just 16 times.

Still … second place is second place and the Braves have basically played .500 baseball since the first two weeks, plus Tim Hudson is out for the season now after breaking his ankle Wednesday. If you're Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., it's pretty easy to delude yourself into thinking your team is a contender and with a few breaks, Cole Hamels shutdown performances the rest of the way and a big deal at the trade deadline, the Phillies could turn into one of those miracle teams that surge out of nowhere, like the 2007 Rockies or 2011 Cardinals and Rays.

The key word, however, is delude: Those teams didn't have a minus-59 run differential after 102 games. As mediocre as the Braves have been, mediocre is much better than what the Phillies are right now.

So, sure, the Phillies should be looking to sell, but it's not that easy. For one thing, Amaro really has only one valuable asset that would bring much in return, second baseman Chase Utley, who has been worth 3.2 WAR and would certainly look nice in an A's or Dodgers uniform. Plus, as Buster Olney wrote Thursday, there are other factors to consider besides on-field performance. Teams are also businesses, and it can be bad business to admit defeat before August. "The chief officers of those franchises must assess what surrendering in July would signal to the fan bases," Buster wrote, "because once the Royals trade Ervin Santana, or the Mariners trade Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales, that means they're telling their fans that they're willing to give up any chance of a comeback, and they'll see the evidence in the attendance."

The Phillies' situation with impending free agent Utley is further complicated by his standing with the club. While he has battled injuries in recent seasons, he's still aging much better than one-time franchise cornerstones Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard. Nonetheless, he turns 35 in December and would be a risky investment, no matter his 2013 WAR. The Phillies aren't going to win with a lineup built around those three players and other patchwork pieces such as Delmon Young and Michael Young. There's also the sense that Phillies fans understand this; this group of players had their run, and some sort of semi-rebuild is in order. Utley would be one of the most valuable players available on the market and while most trades at the deadline never amount to much, Utley could bring a legitimate prospect in return.

Amaro probably doesn't want to admit the Phillies can't rally and win the East, but it's time to trade Utley.

For other pseudo-contenders, however, the decisions aren't quite as obvious.

Kansas City Royals
Record: 48-51, 7 games behind Detroit, 7 games out of the wild card, minus-8 run differential
Top trade assets: Ervin Santana, Greg Holland, James Shields

The Royals sold themselves as contenders after the Wil Myers-Shields and Santana trades over the winter, but Wade Davis (5.92 ERA) has been brutal as the No. 4 starter, Luis Mendoza (5.21 ERA) wasn't much better until he recently got the boot and the offense has one player (Eric Hosmer) with at least 10 home runs, and he has 11. Attendance is up only about 500 fans per game over last season, although that's still below 2009 levels, but there is the feeling the Royals are gaining some positive vibes in the community. Shields would bring a nice return because he has another year left on his contract before free agency, but when they acquired him the Royals basically made a two-year commitment; he's not going anywhere. And considering the lack of depth in this rotation, trading him for younger guys would just push the timeline back another couple of years. Santana has pitched well and would bring a couple of midlevel prospects. But for a team that hasn't finished above .500 since 2003, achieving that goal isn't completely meaningless.

The guy they should trade is Holland, who has a 1.89 ERA, 25 saves and 62 strikeouts in 38 innings. But relievers are fungible assets and very few have long, dominant runs as closers. As Joe Sheehan recently wrote, closers have a high burnout rate:
Relief pitchers are overvalued as a class because the skills they possess are, as baseball skills go, fairly common. The subset of those relievers dubbed "closers" are even more overrated because of the practice of assuming that the role they fill requires special talent. And within that class, young, hard-throwing closers are perhaps the most overrated of all, because we get blinded by their dominance and project a future for them that, history shows, simply doesn't exist.


The Royals have other potential options in the bullpen; heck, failed starter Luke Hochevar has a 1.95 ERA and even Davis was dominant in relief last year with Tampa Bay. Holland is exactly the type of player a team like the Royals should be flipping.

Seattle Mariners
Record: 48-53, 11 games behind Oakland, 8 games out of the wild card, minus-50 run differential.
Top trade assets: Hisashi Iwakuma, Kendrys Morales, Oliver Perez, Raul Ibanez

The Mariners just reeled off an eight-game winning streak to suddenly look respectable. They have some interesting players who could be had as they try to build around Felix Hernandez and a young infield of Kyle Seager, Nick Franklin and Brad Miller (plus catcher Mike Zunino) that looks promising. They need outfielders and starting pitchers -- precisely why they're unlikely to trade Iwakuma, who is signed to a team-friendly deal that includes a 2015 club option. The rotation isn't good beyond Hernandez and Iwakuma and while Taijuan Walker may be ready next year, that still leaves some holes. They're unlikely to trade fan favorite Ibanez, but Perez is the kind of reliever riding a hot streak who should be dealt.

The tough guy to decide on is Morales. Jesus Montero's failure to develop means the team does need Morales' bat next year (although Ibanez could be a DH option, not that you want to count on him doing this again). Morales is a free agent, but the Mariners could make him a qualifying offer and bring him back on a one-year deal or take the compensation pick if he signs elsewhere. Verdict: I'd keep him. Considering there hasn't been much of a market for DH types in recent years, there is a good chance Morales has little choice but to accept the qualifying offer and sign a team-friendly two- or three-year contract.

Los Angeles Angels
Record: 47-52, 11 games behind Oakland, 8 games out of the wild card, minus-12 run differential
Top trade assets: Mike Trout (kidding)

Other than a seven-game winning streak in late June, it has been continued mediocrity for the Angels. They aren't going anywhere, but nothing they have is going to bring much in return. It's pretty much play out the string and hope Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton rebound next year. (And find somebody better than Joe Blanton.)

San Francisco Giants
Record: 46-55, 7.5 games behind Los Angeles, 11.5 games out of the wild card, minus-59 run differential
Top trade assets: Hunter Pence, Sergio Romo

Wait … Jeff Francoeur wasn't the fix?!?

The Giants are in the same position as the Phillies: Because of the weakness of their division, they're still "in" the race, but you look at the run differential and realize they're just not a good team. The Giants have built up enough goodwill with their fans that they don't face the same pressures the Royals and Mariners do to win as many games as possible. And giving up two months of Pence isn't exactly punting a lot of wins anyway. Unless they're willing to make Pence a qualifying offer to potentially bring him back next year, the Giants should look to trade him. Romo has another year before free agency, but again … relievers. Trade 'em while you can.

Offseason report card: Angels

February, 13, 2013
2/13/13
11:00
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2012 in review
Record: 89-73 (88-74 Pythagorean)
767 runs scored (3rd in American League)
699 runs allowed (7th in AL)

Big Offseason Moves
Signed free agent Josh Hamilton to five-year, $125 million contract. Traded Kendrys Morales to Mariners for Jason Vargas. Traded Jordan Walden to Braves for Tommy Hanson. Signed free agents Ryan Madson, Sean Burnett and Joe Blanton. Traded Ervin Santana to Royals. Lost Torii Hunter, Zack Greinke, Dan Haren, Maicer Izturis, LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen.

What to make of general manager Jerry Dipoto's busy offseason? In some ways, it's just a reshuffling of the deck chairs.

Hunter: 5.5 WAR, 88 runs created in 584 PAs
Hamilton: 3.4 WAR, 115 runs created in 636 PAs

At quick glance, Hamilton looks like the far superior hitter in 2012, creating 27 more runs in a few more plate appearances. Once you adjust for home-park environment, Hunter edges a little closer, then when you factor in Hunter's superior defense (Hunter plus-15 defense runs saved, Hamilton minus-9 DRS), you can see why Hunter moves ahead in wins above replacement. That doesn't mean Hamilton was a bad signing; Hunter was unlikely to repeat his season -- at the plate or in the field -- and Hamilton might have a better year. In terms of 2012 value versus 2013 value, however, this looks pretty even.

Vargas and Hanson: 2.8 WAR and minus-0.9 WAR (392 IP)
Haren and Santana: minus-0.6 WAR and minus-1.6 WAR (354.2 IP)

Haren and Santana were pretty bad last year, posting high ERAs despite playing in a pitchers' park and with a good defense behind them. Hanson remains an injury risk, but Vargas has developed into a solid innings-eater and should put up good numbers in Angel Stadium with Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos running down fly balls behind him. This should be an upgrade of a few wins over 2012 performance. However, some of that is given back with the Blanton signing, given that he's unlikely to replicate the Greinke/Jerome Williams rotation slot. So unless Hanson is healthy and pitches better than last year, this looks like a minor upgrade -- maybe a win or two.

Morales out, Bourjos in.

Bourjos won't produce as much offense as Morales, but adding his elite glove back to the outfield on a regular basis is a big plus. Still, if Morales is 20 runs better at the plate than Bourjos and Bourjos is 20 runs better than Mark Trumbo in the outfield, that's another equal tradeoff.

The bullpen should be better, although Madson -- returning from Tommy John surgery -- has already been shut down with a sore elbow.

In the end, I can't give the Angels' offseason that high of a grade, especially given that they didn't get the guy they really wanted: Greinke. But at least give Dipoto credit for adjusting to not getting Greinke by signing Hamilton and trading for Vargas.

Position Players

The Angels have the best player in baseball, a 40-homer guy, one of the greatest players of all time who is still pretty good even if he's in decline, a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder, a 32-homer designated hitter and two middle infielders who hit pretty well for middle infielders. The catcher hits OK for a catcher, and the third baseman at least puts up a decent OBP.

That's a lineup without a glaring weakness. It's a lineup that will be as fun to watch as any in the game. Is it a great lineup, however, or just very good?

Aside from Trout's sophomore campaign and Hamilton's transition across the AL West, Albert Pujols is the guy to pay attention to. Take away his homerless April and he hit .297/.357/.553. His days as a .400 OBP machine are long gone thanks to the continued deterioration in his walk rate, but a lot of teams would still like Pujols anchoring their lineup.

The one problem area? Depth. There is none (no, Vernon Wells doesn't count). The Angels do have some players with injury histories, so we'll see whether that comes into play.

Pitching Staff

A year ago, we were talking about the possibility of the Angels having four 220-inning starters. Instead, C.J. Wilson led the staff with 202.1 innings.

Jered Weaver, Wilson and Vargas should be a solid top three, although Wilson had his elbow cleaned out in the offseason. His first season with the Angels was a bit of disappointment -- 3.83 ERA after a 3.14 ERA with the Rangers over the previous two seasons -- and if his walk rate remains at 4.0 per nine innings, it's going to be difficult to get that ERA under 3.50.

Blanton is a bit of wild card in the fifth spot. He's the opposite of Wilson -- a guy who basically throws strikes and hopes his defense helps him out. He had a 4.79 ERA in the National League over the past three seasons, so there's a good chance he won't last the season in the rotation.

The Angels' bullpen had a 3.97 ERA last year, ranking ahead of only Cleveland and Toronto in the AL. But it was arguably even more problematic than that. Only the Yankees' pen threw fewer innings, so Mike Scioscia was able to concentrate his innings in his best relievers. Although Ernesto Frieri did an excellent job as the closer after coming over from the Padres, it was the middle relief that hurt the club. The Angels lost 12 games when they led heading into the seventh inning -- 3.5 more than the major league average. Madson was supposed to help out there (or assume closer duties, with Frieri sliding to the seventh and eighth) but is a big question mark. The one thing the Angels do have is three good lefties in Burnett, Scott Downs and rookie Nick Maronde, if he's kept on the big league roster as a reliever instead of starting in the minors.

Heat Map to Watch
With a quick glance at Trout's heat map, you can see he punished low pitches. On pitches in the lower half of the zone, he hit .360/.396/.608 -- the best OPS in the majors against pitches down in the zone. Does that mean pitchers should attack Trout up high this year? Possibly. But if you attack up in the zone, that means doing it with the fastball. Trout hit .297/.397/.509 in plate appearances ending in fastballs. Which is actually kind of scary: He already has shown he can cream the off-speed stuff. Good luck, pitchers.

Mike Trout heat mapESPN Stats & InformationWhere do you pitch Mike Trout? Working him low in the zone didn't pay off in 2012.
Overall Grade

SportsNation

How many games will the Angels win?

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The Angels might be the best team in the American League. With Trout, Pujols and Hamilton, they might have the best offensive trio of any team in baseball. In Weaver, they have a legitimate No. 1. That makes them one of the top World Series favorites, at least according to the latest odds in Vegas.

But they were in that position last year and failed to make the playoffs despite Trout's monster rookie season. I worry about the lack of depth behind the starting nine and the back end of the rotation. I don't think Pujols will put up better numbers than last year, and I don't think Hamilton will hit 43 home runs again. The Angels will surely be in the playoff chase, but I don't expect them to run away with the division -- and they might not win it.

What do you think?
Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse USA TODAY SportsKendrys Morales and Michael Morse should provide the pop that Seattle has been recently lacking.
In the fantasy baseball world, everyone wants to know if Mike Trout can repeat his amazing 2012 performance. It's not likely, certainly not to that level, in part because there's basically no precedent for what he did at his age. But when it comes to surprising teams, it's more common to see accomplishments like what the Orioles and A's achieved last year. We're not talking about actually winning the World Series, but going from out of consideration to, well, relevance. With Felix Hernandez now officially under contract for seven more years, I think Seattle Mariners fans would jump at more good news for 2013 besides Felix's new deal.

Sounds outrageous, right? Well, it needs to be in February. Did you think the Orioles and Athletics could contend a year ago? Look at the 13 teams that lost more games than they won a year ago, remove the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox, for they have the financial means -- and frankly wouldn't be much of a surprise -- and find a contender. The 2012 Orioles didn't win their 93 games with MVP hitters and Cy Young contenders; it was mainly bullpen, which is impossible to predict from year to year, and a ridiculous 29-9 mark in one-run games and 16-2 record in extra innings. The Orioles barely outscored their opponents. The Athletics were considerably better in run differential, though they won only one more game than Baltimore and scored only one more run. The Athletics certainly didn't succeed by getting on base or avoiding strikeouts, but they prevented runs. A rotation full of rookies posted the third-best ERA for AL starting staffs.

In the Mariners' case, I don’t think it's far-fetched to see them in a one-game playoff if these reasonable things happen:

1. Bring the power: It's unfathomable to post a sub-.300 OBP three consecutive seasons, but the M's have done it. This year they'll raise the mark to .310, which still stinks, but it's all the Athletics did in 2012. Expect improvement from Dustin Ackley at the top of the order, and hopefully Nick Franklin soon, but watch for an Oakland-like improvement in the power department. Yes, the fences have been moved in at Safeco Field, but there's also more power now.

Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse aren't stars, but they don't have to be. That duo should be able to hit 45 home runs with regular playing time. Jesus Montero might be a poor catcher, but he's a power-hitting one. He will improve at the plate, too. The 2011 Athletics had one guy (Josh Willingham) hit more than 15 home runs. Last year five Athletics did so, in Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss, Jonny Gomes and Chris Carter. Their team OBP actually went down, but they won 20 more games. I love OBP, but this year's Mariners could reasonably add 50 home runs to their 2012 total, enough to rank in the middle of the pack in runs, just like the Athletics and Orioles a year ago. Sure, it would have been nice had the Mariners addressed OBP -- Michael Bourn, anyone? -- but a team can somewhat overcome this, on a short-term basis, with power.

2. Miss more bats: Orioles starting pitchers lowered their incredibly awful 5.39 ERA of 2011 to a palatable, and again middle of the pack, 4.42 mark in 2012. They also relied on defense. The Mariners have several excellent defenders, notably at shortstop with Brendan Ryan and center field with Franklin Gutierrez, but unlike those Orioles shouldn't have to make their defense work as hard. The Mariners were only 22nd in pitcher strikeouts in 2012, but look at the underrated work Hisashi Iwakuma and Erasmo Ramirez did as they combined for a 2.97 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 24 starts, each with a healthier K rate than what Kevin Millwood and Hector Noesi provided. Now they're expected to make 60 starts. Drop a run off that ERA, and it's still good enough.

SportsNation

Which team has the best chance to be baseball's big surprise in 2013?

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Joe Saunders and Blake Beavan are competent, especially at home, but don't expect 60 starts from them; instead, dream of the top-level prospects ready to emerge in Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Brandon Maurer. Several of these guys could help immediately, like Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone did for Oakland, but in this case they'll be striking hitters out and removing potential BABIP luck. Oh yeah, they've got an ace, too, and he's never been in a playoff game. Sounds like a team rallying cry.

3. Be fortunate: It can't be forced, but a strong relief corps can make the rest of a team look greater than its parts, even if it's mostly magic. The 2010 Arizona Diamondbacks went from last to first thanks in large part to a revamped bullpen that lowered its collective ERA from 5.74 to 3.71. It wasn't as pronounced, but the 2011 Orioles shaved more than a run off its bullpen ERA. Well, look at the current Mariners, and you can see the potential for a great 'pen. Right-hander Carter Capps hits triple digits with his fastball, and is a future closer. The Mariners bullpen was third in the AL in K rate, and it should improve as Capps, closer Tom Wilhelmsen, Stephen Pryor, Josh Kinney and even lefty Charlie Furbush each fanned more hitters than innings pitched. In short, there's no need for a Pedro Strop-type to come from nowhere. They're already here, and while performance in close games cannot be predicted, when in doubt, go with power arms, not groundballers like Jim Johnson.

Add it up and the Mariners -- whether SweetSpot editor/blogger David Schoenfield (a Mariners fan for life) believes it or not -- aren't that far from beating up on the division rival Houston Astros but also holding their own with the Angels, Rangers and Athletics and finding a way into the one-game playoff.

Of course, if something's wrong with King Felix's elbow ... all bets are off!
I hate to pile on, but a few opinions of the three-way trade that netted the Mariners Mike Morse while sending John Jaso to the division rival A's:

Keith Law, ESPN Insider Insider:
They give up three years of Jaso for one of Morse, and will pay Morse handsomely even though he missed large chunks of three of the past five seasons due to injury. Morse is a very limited player, best suited to DH duty or first base, with a poor overall approach at the plate -- he's a dead fastball hitter, and has been his whole career outside of the anomalous 2011 season, with consistently mediocre walk rates.
Joe Sheehan, from his newsletter:
You're doing it wrong. Having traded Jaso, the Mariners will now end up adding some OBP nightmare catcher, making their OBP issues that much worse. The team was much better off, given its makeup, with a high-OBP, low-SLG 350-AB catcher and assembling a left fielder from the Eric Thames/Casper Wells/Raul Ibanez group already on hand, than it is with Morse and something from the Yorvit Torrealba group of free-agent catchers. The Mariners' offense isn't improved for making this trade.

This is why (Jack) Zduriencik should and will lose his job soon enough. It's one thing to make mistakes evaluating talent. It's another to not understand why your team can't score. The Seattle Mariners trading OBP for SLG and giving away age, control, money and defensive value in the deal is a step backwards. This trade is awful for them.
Dave Cameron, U.S.S. Mariner:
John Jaso, with his inability to hit left-handers and his poor throwing arm, is still an above average Major League catcher. He’s comparable in overall value to Alex Avila, who was the starting catcher for the team that just won the American League. Because there are so few catchers in baseball who can hit, even a bad defender who can hit right-handers like Jaso can puts him in rare company.


OK, OK, almost everybody hates this trade for the Mariners. Jon Shields of Pro Ball NW does have a little different take and doesn't think the deal was so bad:
Swapping Jaso for Morse is not nearly as risky as (Bill) Bavasi's moves, but there is still a chance at a payoff. Morse struggled with hand/wrist injuries last season, dropping his batting line to .291/.321/.470. That looks great by Mariner standards but was well short of his 2011 result: .303/.360/.550 with 33 home runs.

Few expect Jaso to repeat his 2012 breakout season; fewer expect him to best it. A somewhat-healthy Morse could easily outproduce Jaso at the plate. There's more upside there. This could turn out OK in 2013 as long as the Mariners don't let Morse give all his value back on defense and are able to do a half-decent job patching up the hole left by Jaso.


I guess that's reluctant approval. Look, there's no doubt the Mariners needed a right-handed bat -- with Kyle Seager, Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley, Kendrys Morales (a switch-hitter stronger from the left side) and Raul Ibanez all their "best" hitters were left-handed. Jon mentions this as a possible lineup against right-handers:

2B: Dustin Ackley (L)
3B: Kyle Seager (L)
RF: Mike Morse (R)
1B: Kendrys Morales (L)
DH: Raul Ibanez (L)
C: Jesus Montero (R)
LF: Michael Saunders (L)
CF: Franklin Gutierrez (R)
SS: Brendan Ryan (R)

Against left-handers, you could put Casper Wells in the outfield and move Morse to first base, with Morales the DH. It's possible that catcher Mike Zunino could be ready by midseason, pushing Montero to a DH role. Justin Smoak will have to have a huge spring to get some playing time. And that's the problem with the current makeup of the Seattle roster: Too many DH/1B/LF types (don't forget Jason Bay!).

Landing Morse was probably not what the Mariners envisioned this offseason in their search for a big bat. No Justin Upton. No Josh Hamilton. Morales came at the expense of Jason Vargas, who doesn't wow anyone with his stuff but has been a reliable 200-inning guy the past three seasons.

As for Zduriencik, this is starting to look like a make-or-break type of year for him, even if he has done a nice job rebuilding the farm system into one of the game's best. But his moves at the big-league level have been a mixed bag: He got Cliff Lee for nothing, but then traded him for Smoak, who hasn't developed; the Brandon Morrow/Brandon League deal was a bad one at the time, a starting pitcher with big upside for a relief pitcher; the Doug Fister trade has proven to be a bargain for Detroit (a rotation with Felix Hernandez, Morrow and Fister would look pretty good right now); he had Morse a few years ago and traded him for Ryan Langerhans; the Chone Figgins contract didn't quite pan out.

On the other hand, he got Jaso for a relief prospect; he acquired Vargas as a throw-in the J.J. Putz/Franklin Gutierrez three-way deal; he got Brendan Ryan from the Cardinals for another relief prospect; he found guys like Tom Wilhelmsen and Steve Delabar on the scrap heap.

If I had to read the tea leaves, I would guess those above Zduriencik put pressure on him to build a more "exciting" club in the wake of declining attendance, especially with the Safeco Field fences moving in. In 2008, the final year of the disastrous Bavasi regime, the Mariners went 61-101 but drew 2.33 million. Since then, attendance has dropped to 2.20 million, 2.09 million, 1.90 million and 1.72 million. The Mariners led the AL in attendance in 2001 and 2002, but ranked 11th in 2012. Yes, a boring, low-scoring club is part of the reason for that decline.

But you won't increase attendance by hitting more home runs; you increase attendance by winning more games. Maybe that will happen if Ackley improves and Seager and Saunders continue developing and Zunino turns into a star and some of the young pitching prospects hit the majors running. But it won't happen because of Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez and, most likely, Mike Morse.

Power rankings: All 30 teams!

December, 22, 2012
12/22/12
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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.

SportsNation

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.
In a rare intradivision trade, the Los Angeles Angels traded Kendrys Morales to the Seattle Mariners for Jason Vargas, and while I like the upside a little better for the Mariners, it looks like a trade that should work for both teams.

Morales gives the Mariners a much-needed power bat as he hit 22 home runs in his first year back after missing nearly two full seasons after that horrific ankle injury in 2010. A switch-hitter, he's much better from the left side of the plate, with a career OPS 157 points higher from that side. A first baseman in the past, he's probably limited to DH duties at this point.

The trickle effect for the Mariners: What does this mean for Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero? It could be the end of Smoak, with Montero being given the chance to learn first base; or maybe Morales slides in at first with Montero assuming regular DH duties. It could also mean Montero remains behind the plate, at least platooning with John Jaso to start the year. But with catching prospect Mike Zunino not that far away, Montero's catching days aren't going to last long anyway.

The Mariners also give up a pitcher who was a bad risk for them in 2013, with the fences moving in at Safeco Field. Even though Safeco was one of the toughest home-run parks in the majors in 2012, Vargas allowed the second-most home runs in the American League with 35. His home-road splits have been sizable since joining Seattle and in 2012 he had a 2.74 ERA at home, 4.78 on the road. While we don't know how Safeco will play, it was a good bet Vargas' ERA was going to balloon.

That doesn't mean he's a bad pickup for the Angels. Their home ballpark is also one of the toughest home run parks around and the Angels aren't moving in their fences. They get a durable left-hander who has averaged 204 innings the past three seasons (one of just 20 pitchers to throw at least 600 innings over the past three years). With Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and Peter Bourjos playing behind him (with Mark Trumbo moving to DH), many of Vargas' fly balls will be hauled on by that outfield; Trout and Bourjos alone may make it the best defensive outfield in the majors, even with Hamilton having lost range out there.

Vargas has to be viewed as a better pitcher than Joe Blanton and gives them more probability than injury-risk Tommy Hanson. A solid pickup by the Angels and they didn't have to surrender the younger and cheaper Bourjos or Trumbo.
On Tuesday’s Baseball Today podcast I’m joined by Keith Law, and starting pitching is clearly on our minds from Monday night.

1. Tim Lincecum is not off to a very good start, but is there truly cause for concern? And what does Lincecum’s future have to do with Madison Bumgarner’s new contract?

2. Justin Verlander tossed a whole lotta pitches to win Monday’s game, but at least he earned his first win! Keith talks pitch counts and what they mean.

3. An emailer asks about pitch counts for younger fellows like Stephen Strasburg, and whether they are necessary. Also, why were the stands so empty for Strasburg’s Monday outing?

4. Speaking of the fans, which teams have the best ones? Our answer might surprise you.

5. We take a closer look at Tuesday’s schedule, including the real reason why people should be watching the Miami Marlins, plus the old guy in Coors Field and why is Tyson Ross a starter?

So download and listen to Tuesday’s Baseball Today podcast. There was bias, but no bias cat. Meow.
First base: Matt the bat. Yes, that's right, the Baltimore Orioles are back in first place and Matt Wieters is a big reason why. The Orioles scored once in the eighth against the White Sox (Wieters homered), twice in the ninth (Nolan Reimold homered after he could have been rung up on strikes and then Adam Jones also homered off Hector Santiago) and then six times in the 10th (Wieters with the final blow, a grand slam off Zach Stewart, Baltimore's first extra-inning grand slam since Harold Baines in 1999). The two-homer, five-RBI game increased Wieters' numbers to .344/.462/.750. Look, it's a small sample size, but Wieters improved with the bat in 2011 and maybe he's taking another step forward. He has seven walks and just four strikeouts and if he continues controlling the strike zone like that you may see him improve on the 22 home runs he hit last year. Tough loss for the White Sox, one strike away from winning.

Second base: Lincecum roughed up again. I watched the first inning of the Phillies-Giants game as Tim Lincecum struggled again, allowing four runs. After Placido Polanco doubled and Jimmy Rollins walked, Hunter Pence lined a hanging slider into center for an RBI single. Shane Victorino than flared a ball into center that Angel Pagan had no chance on since he started the play from the Golden Gate Bridge. He was playing so deep it prompted the Phillies' announcers to comment on it and wonder if he played that deep with the Mets. It's worth nothing that Pagan graded out as minus-8 runs below average in Defensive Runs Saved in 2011 (after grading plus-16 and plus-21 in 2009 and 2010). Something for Giants fans to keep an eye on. Anyway, Laynce Nix then lined a curveball down the right-field for a two-run double. Lincecum has now allowed nine first-inning runs in three starts, after allowing just eight all last season. He did settle down after the first and went six innings with five runs ... lowering his season ERA to 10.54.

Third base: Morales of the story. Kendrys Morales hit his first home run since May of 2010, a three-run shot in the first inning off Brandon McCarthy. Congrats to him as he continues his comeback from two years of injuries. Albert Pujols went 2-for-4 and scored two runs in the Angels' 6-0 victory but remained homerless. The A's were shut out for the third time in six games. In other good news for the Angels, Vernon Wells drew his first walk of the season! (Although Morales has yet to draw a freebie.)

Home plate: Tweet of the day.

From Orioles outfielder Adam Jones:
For all the consternation and criticism dished out over the Boston Red Sox's 1-5 start, another expected American League power is off to a sluggish opening week as well: The Los Angeles Angels are 2-4 after coughing up 20 hits and an eighth-inning lead in losing 10-9 to the Minnesota Twins on Thursday.

There is one obvious difference between the two starts: The Red Sox have been outscored 38 to 22 while the Angels are even-up 30 and 30. On the other hand, the Red Sox have played the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays while the Angels have faced Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, Jonathan Sanchez, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano. Not exactly Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz there.

Actually, based on ESPN.com's preseason predictions, maybe it's not fair to label the Red Sox an "expected power." After all, 34 of 50 voters predicted the Red Sox to miss the playoffs. Only one -- fantasy expert Matthew Berry -- picked the Red Sox to win the American League East. Meanwhile, 25 of the 50 picked the Angels to win the AL West and 46 of 50 picked them to make the playoffs.

The Angels were easily the most popular World Series pick as well, with 18 of the 50 selecting them to win it all -- 36 percent, a pretty amazing total since last time I checked there are some other pretty good teams around. Only one voter (Karl Ravech) picked the Red Sox to win the World Series.

OK, those are just predictions and as our SweetSpot network blog affiliate says, you can't predict baseball. Still, since ESPN's panel of experts did essentially declare the Angels the World Series favorite, it seems like a fair time to ask: What's wrong with the Angels and why aren't their fans ready to fire the manager, whine about overpaid left fielders and complain about the bullpen?

Well, it's Los Angeles, for one thing. No less enthusiastic, but perhaps slightly less pessimistic. Still, we can't get all crazy about the Red Sox and just ignore the Angels getting bulldozed by a mediocre Twins lineup.

True fact: In 2011, the Red Sox had a run differential of plus-138. The Angels had a run differential of just plus-34. As good as Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson are, and as good Kendrys Morales may prove to be, that's still a lot of ground for the Angels to make up.

So, in the spirit of early-season panic, here are some things that could go wrong with the Angels.

1. Jered Weaver doesn't repeat his career season.

Weaver is a terrific pitcher. He has increased his innings each season he has been in the big leagues, peaking at 235.2 last season, when he ranked fifth in the league. It's not a knock against him to say he might not be quite as stingy with the runs as in 2011. But check his basic numbers in 2010 and 2011:



In some regards, he actually pitched better in 2010, most notably in strikeout rate. His walk rate, home run rate and hit rate were all pretty similar, thus his Fielding Independent Pitching runs per nine was basically identical. So why did he allow 18 fewer runs in 2011? A couple primary reasons: 15 of his 20 home runs were solo shots as opposed to 15 of 23 in 2010; he allowed a .195 average with men on base in 2011 versus .236 in 2010. In other words, if you consider hits to be randomly distributed, they worked in his favor last season. Also note: After a hot start in 2011, his second-half ERA rose from 1.86 to 3.21 as he surrendered 15 home runs in 95.1 innings. He's off to a great start in 2012 in one regard: 17 strikeouts and just one walk. But he's allowed five runs for a 3.21 ERA. Random distribution, my friends.

2. Potential bullpen issues.

Mike Scioscia left Rich Thompson in to allow four runs in the eighth inning on Thursday, the first two on Justin Morneau's go-ahead two-run homer and then two more that proved costly when the Angels scored twice in the ninth. Now, Scioscia would have loved to have had lefty Scott Downs face Joe Mauer and Morneau, but Downs had rolled his ankle the previous inning in a collision with Denard Span. Fellow lefty Hisanori Takahashi had already been used since starter Dan Haren lasted only five innings.

But put of the reason Thompson was in there was that ancient relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen were apparently unavailable to pitch since both had thrown the night before, Hawkins for 16 pitches, Isringhausen for 10. Seems odd, since neither had pitched on Tuesday. But why not extend closer Jordan Walden for five outs? Thompson is a guy who is homer-prone, so why let him face the meat of the Twins' order? Plus, isn't it a bad sign if two-sevenths of your bullpen can't pitch two days in a row? "We're going to need to get our starters maybe over that little hump and then try to get our roles in the bullpen a little more nailed down," Scioscia said. "Our guys tried. We just couldn't shut the door when we needed it."

3. Vernon Wells.

It's early, but he's hitting .217 with no walks and five strikeouts. Stay tuned.

4. Will we get good Ervin or mediocre Ervin?

Ervin Santana had a career-low 3.38 ERA last season. He has been pretty consistent the past two seasons, but he has been plagued by minor injuries in the past, a reason his ERA rocketed up to 5.03 in 2009 and 5.76 in 2007. Just something to keep in mind.

5. Is Peter Bourjos' bat for real?

Bourjos is a supreme defender in center and he exceeded expectations last year with a .271/.327/.438 batting line. Scouts had doubts about his bat coming up through the minors and he did strike out 124 times against just 32 walks in 2011. While his .338 BABIP may be repeatable -- he is one of the fastest players in the majors, after all -- Dan Szymborski's ZiPS system projects a .261/.309/.412 line, with some regression due to a lower BABIP.

6. Mark Trumbo's defense at third.

I've written about this before. The early returns aren't good; yes, it's early, I realize that. It's also true that since 1950 only Enos Cabell has successfully converted from first base to third base at the major league level. We don't know yet how determined Scioscia will be to keep Trumbo's bat in the lineup, but playing him at third is likely to be a liability, especially since Trumbo's low OBP means he isn't really much -- if any -- of an offensive upgrade over Alberto Callaspo.

7. Howie Kendrick also coming off his best season.

Kendrick posted a career-high .802 OPS in 2011, 50 points above his career mark, fueled by a career-high 18 home runs. It's possible that power growth was real, as he appeared to sacrifice a few more strikeouts -- a career-high 20.4 percent K rate -- for a little more power while maintaining his usual .285 or so batting average. But there's also a chance it was simply his best season and he's not quite as good.

8. Maybe Albert Pujols won't be better than he was in 2011.

Hey, that's still pretty awesome, if also somewhat more mortal compared to his previous decade of production.

Look, it's only a week. The Angels should still have one of the best, and maybe the best, rotations in the league. They have a lot of depth and versatility in the lineup, although it remains to be seen who will be a second and third big bat behind Pujols.

The larger point is this: This isn't a perfect team in my book, certainly one that shouldn't rate as such a landslide favorite to make the playoffs and win the World Series.

So, yes, I just managed to slam 49 of my ESPN colleagues. This is what the first week does to us.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Denard Span and Scott DownsHannah Foslien/Getty ImagesAngels pitcher Scott Downs collides with Minnesota's Denard Span, injuring his ankle in the process.
We closed out a full week of Baseball Today podcasts with Friday’s memorable edition, as Mark Simon and I kind of made things up as we went along, but in a fun and entertaining way!

1. First we talked about poor Joba Chamberlain of the Yankees, and wondered whether he’ll ever be relevant again.

2. What about Kendrys Morales of the Angels? We think he’ll matter soon to any Angels lineup lacking a bit.

3. More about movies and their occasional sports inaccuracy in our email segment!

4. What off-the-wall storyline would we like to see this season, something that has never happened before? And no, we don’t mean the Cubs winning the World Series.

5. And finally our ridiculous question of the day (which Mark again sung -- an appearance on "American Idol" is next for Mark!) deals with older players hitting as many home runs as their age. Fun!

So have a seat, put your feet up and download and listen to Friday’s cool Baseball Today podcast, because let’s face it, I was sitting with my feet up when we recorded it. Have a great weekend and we’ll still be daily next week!

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