Strike One -- Chances Are Dept.
Here's a fun question to ask yourself: How many teams have a chance to win the World Series?
The great John Kincade -- who, coincidentally enough, is the host of "The John Kincade Show" on ESPN Radio -- asked me that fascinating question Sunday morning. And I found myself spending so much time thinking about it, I decided to ask five general managers -- two from the AL, three from the NL -- what they thought the answer was.
On the show, John told me he counted 11. My initial estimate was 12, but I told him I could make a case for more. Then I surveyed those five GMs.
Two of them said 16. One said 15. Another counted 14. The fifth decided it was more like 13. But here's what's interesting: When I finished tallying up all the teams that got mentioned at least once, I was up to 19 teams. That's nearly two-thirds of the sport.
Let's break them down, starting with the 12 that everyone agreed on:
- NL East: Every team but the Mets
- NL Central: Reds and Cardinals
- NL West: Diamondbacks
- AL East: Yankees and Rays
- AL Central: Tigers
- AL West: Rangers and Angels
Amazingly, the Red Sox weren't unanimous. One National League GM said he wouldn't include them as currently constituted, given all their questions. But when I mentioned that to another GM, he said: "They had the best record in baseball for five months last year, and almost nobody except [Jacoby] Ellsbury had a great year. I think people are underestimating them and probably overvaluing the Rays a little, based just on one month."
The other team I was surprised wasn't unanimous was the Giants, whose pitching staff certainly seems to be as made for October as it was in 2010. But there were enough reservations about their offense that the skeptics just wouldn't go along.
"Other than getting [Buster] Posey back, what have they done that makes their lineup better?" one GM asked, in a distinct don't-say-Melky-Cabrera tone of voice.
So with those footnotes, here are the other teams that got at least one vote:
- NL Central: Brewers
- NL West: Giants, Dodgers and Rockies
- AL East: Red Sox and Blue Jays
- AL Central: Indians
I should also mention there were many upbeat words uttered about the Royals, but "ready to win the World Series" weren't among them. Still, it wouldn't surprise a lot of people if they had a .500-ish kind of season and finished second.
So that leaves only 10 teams in the whole sport that are left in the No Chance Club, if we disqualify the Royals. Here they come:
- NL East: Mets
- NL Central: Astros, Pirates, Cubs
- NL West: Padres
- AL East: Orioles
- AL Central: White Sox and Twins
- AL West: Mariners and A's
To be honest, it seems a little strong to describe the Twins, White Sox, Pirates and Cubs as hopeless, even though they obviously have their issues. So if we're not quite willing to write them off, what do we have in this sport?
"Parity," said one AL GM. "We have as much parity now as we've ever had."
I'd be curious to know how many teams the folks reading this think have a chance -- or no chance. Feel free to tweet me at @jaysonst or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Strike Two -- Contract Watch Dept.
A few tidbits on the contractual front:
• Heard a rumor the other day that the Blue Jays could have some interest in a right-handed bat such as Vladimir Guerrero's or possibly Magglio Ordonez's. So on my visit to their camp this week, I asked Alex Anthopolous, the Blue Jays' senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager, this simple question: "Is your team done?"
Anthopoulos wouldn't discuss any specific name, but he did say this:"Right now, we don't have any talks going on with anyone. But if somebody were to fall in our lap, would we take a look at it? Yes."
He later defined "fall in our lap" this way: "If someone were to say, 'I want to come in to camp on a minor league deal,' we'd say we're open to [bringing in] pretty much anybody. But in terms of adding a free agent on a guaranteed contract, we won't be doing that."
• Cole Hamels isn't the only household name in Philadelphia who's a year away from free agency. Let's not forget Shane Victorino. According to FanGraphs, only one center fielder in the National League was worth more wins above replacement than Victorino (5.9) last season: Matt Kemp (8.7).
So Victorino could find a healthy market next offseason if he makes it to free agency. But will he? After arriving in camp last week, he told MLB.com's Todd Zolecki: "I don't plan on going anywhere."
I envisioned his agents, Seth and Sam Levinson, heading straight for the emergency room the second they read that quote. So I asked Victorino if he meant that quote the way it sounded. Was it so important to him to remain a Phillie that he'd stay at just about any price?
"What that statement was saying," he said, "was that I'm willing to give up free agency. A lot of guys won't. In the game of baseball, free agency is what every major league player dreams of. You want to maximize your value, and of course I do, too. But what's important to me is, I want to be here. I love playing here. My family loves the city. I love the city. So when I made that statement, that's what I meant."
Has an impending free agent ever let a club know he'd take a hometown discount more clearly than that? Next thing you know, he'll rent a billboard.
• Now that Yadier Molina has agreed on an extension, can Brian McCann be far behind? McCann has one guaranteed year left on the six-year deal he signed in the spring of 2007, plus a $12 million club option for 2013. So Braves GM Frank Wren said there's no sense of urgency to get McCann wrapped up now.
"He's signed for two more years -- this year and next, with the option," Wren said. "So I think it's probably premature for those discussions. But we love him. And we know he's a big part of our club. We'll just kind of take that one a year at a time and see where it goes, until we feel it's the appropriate time to address it."
Unless something unforeseen happens, it's just about impossible to envision McCann, who grew up a half-hour from Turner Field, not signing with the Braves. But until they hold the news conference, it's still a story worth watching.
Strike Three -- The Nine-Figure Club
I can't tell you how many games those Washington Nationals are going to win this season. But I can now tell you this:
They evidently have a few dollars in their checking account.
Only 14 months after committing $126 million to Jayson Werth (over seven years), the Nationals tossed another $100 million at Ryan Zimmerman over the weekend. And that makes them just the fifth team in baseball to sign at least two of its current players to nine-figure contracts.
Who are the other four? You shouldn't have too much trouble naming them:
- Yankees: Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia
- Red Sox: Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford
- Tigers: Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera
- Phillies: Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard
You could apply an asterisk to the Angels, I guess, since we know Albert Pujols qualifies and Vernon Wells is still in the middle of his seven-year, $126-million deal he signed in Toronto. But two problems: (1) He signed that contract as a Blue Jay, not an Angel; and (2) only $70 million of it was on the Angels' tab. So I'm ruling he doesn't count.
And for those of you shouting, "Derek Jeter," his current contract can't pay him more than $62 million even if he maxes out every escalator clause. And his previous contract is ancient history for the purposes of this blog.
Those provisos also eliminate Todd Helton and the Rockies, Carlos Beltran and the Cardinals, etc. So the Nationals have entered quite an exclusive club. You can't help but notice they're also the only team in that club that hasn't played a postseason game in the past three years.
Then again, no team from Washington has played a postseason game since 1933. So let's hope, for their sake, the Nationals get what they pay for.