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10 Big-Money MLB Stars Who Aren’t Earning Their Pennant-Race Paychecks

Salaries in baseball have risen exponentially in recent years.

While only one player, Nolan Ryan, was making $1 million per season 30 years ago, 25 players will make $17 million or more this season. Fourteen will break the $20 million threshold, and one—Alex Rodriguez—will receive $30 million from the New York Yankees.

The combined salaries of the top two highest-paid players (Rodriguez and the Angels’ Vernon Wells) will cost just $4 million less than the entire Oakland Athletics roster.

But how many are actually worth their exorbitant salaries and are contributing at the most important time of the year?

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Current Major League Baseball Storylines Nobody Is Talking About

The Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers completed one of the biggest trades in major league history, a nine-player deal which saw LA take on more than $270 million in salary.

Roger Clemens, fresh off a not guilty verdict at his perjury trial, pitched for the Sugar Land Skeeters at the age of 50. He was very good, allowing one hit in 3.1 innings in what many think could be a precursor to a major league comeback with the Houston Astros.

But what are the big stories being dwarfed by these ones, the stories no one is talking about?

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MLB Hall of Fame 2012: 10 Most Memorable Moments in Induction Day Speech History

Barry Larkin and Ron Santo will be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame this week, taking their place alongside 295 others who have a plaque hanging in Cooperstown.

The Hall of Fame is meant to showcase and preserve the game’s greatest players, moments and artifacts, but has provided moments and talking points of its own over the years. The current debate about whether to allow known steroid users into the Hall is going to rage for years to come.

Here, we take a look at the 10 greatest moments of the inductees’ speeches.

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Boston Red Sox: Starting Pitching Will Keep This Team from Winning World Series

For all their early-season struggles, the Boston Red Sox are a playoff-calibre team. With 407 runs scored, they have the second-best offense in the league, behind only the Texas Rangers. The Sox also own the league’s eighth-best bullpen ERA, and since June 1, they have the best mark in the game.

Their relief corps struggled in April and the offense has been through slumps at times but generally, both have been excellent. However, the team’s starting pitching has been terrible from start to finish. The second game of the season saw Josh Beckett destroyed to the tune of five home runs by the Detroit Tigers. Monday night saw the shortest outing of Daisuke Matsuzaka’s major league career.

Only four teams have a worse starting rotation, judging by ERA. Boston’s starters are below average in innings pitched, as they struggle to make it deep into games. The bullpen’s recent successes have mitigated some of the potential damage from unreliable starters but the rotation is still the primary reason Boston is third in the AL East and would not make the playoffs if the season ended today.

Not only have the starters struggled, but they have infuriated too, as many have shown flashes of dominance.

Aaron Cook threw a complete game, two-hit shutout last time out, but owns a 4.32 ERA on the season. Beckett has looked like the pitcher who dominated for stretches of last season but has mixed in the occasional seven-run nightmare.

Daisuke has looked like a new pitcher at times but succumbed to bad innings far too often. Daniel Bard was reasonably impressive in his new role as a starter early in the season but by the end, every opposing batter was fearing for his life.

Really, it’s a shame that Boston, whose rotation on paper is mightily impressive, is being held back by their starters. Their offense is good enough to carry them to one of the wild-card berths but from there, the Sox will need pitching. What they especially need is an ace.

Jon Lester has been the Opening Day starter each of the last two years but he has been nothing like an ace this season. Beckett and Clay Buchholz have been too unreliable and Felix Doubront, at one point their best starter, has taken a few steps back of late.

Almost every other competitor has a big-game pitcher. The New York Yankees have CC Sabathia, the Los Angeles Angels have CJ Wilson and Jered Weaver, the Tampa Bay Rays have James Shields. Boston have no one to rely upon in a big game, and not a single pitcher who has started more than three games has an ERA below 4.00.

Boston have the offense, bullpen and, by and large, the defense of a very good team. But their starting pitching, if it continues like this, will reduce the Red Sox from a World Series contender to a team struggling to stay above .500.

Adam MacDonald is a Scottish journalism student at GCU. He has been a featured columnist for the Boston Red Sox since October 2010. You can follow him on Twitter, or tell him how awesome/terrible this article was by clicking here.

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Every MLB Team’s Pitcher Who Has To Have a Huge May

We may only be a month into the season, but already we are learning things about the state of each team. Granted, not everything we learn in April is reliable.

The L.A. Angels aren’t going to finish last in the AL West with Albert Pujols not hitting a single home run. Likewise, it’s highly unlikely the Baltimore Orioles snag a wild-card berth.

However, we can still look at the state of the pitching and pinpoint one pitcher on each team who needs to have a better May.

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Boston Red Sox: Jon Lester and 10 Players Who Should Make It to the Hall of Fame

The Boston Red Sox are one of baseball’s greatest franchises. They have won more World Series championships than all but two AL teams, play in the oldest stadium, are part of the sport’s best rivalry and have seen a long line of legends don their uniform.

Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk and Carl Yastrzemski head a list of Hall of Famers who have played for the Sox, but there are many greats who have not yet had their chance at earning a plaque in Cooperstown.

Here we take a look at the current and recently retired Red Sox who could or should one day receive baseball’s greatest honour, as well as some who have been unjustly overlooked.

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Boston Red Sox: 5 Players Who Could Win MVP or Cy Young Award

The Boston Red Sox have been represented very well in award balloting in recent years. Since 2007, 10 Boston players have finished in the top 10 in the MVP race and five have done it in Cy Young voting. Few teams can boast the number of award contenders that Boston can.

Here we look at the five players who are most likely to finish 2012 with some new hardware.

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Boston Red Sox: Why the Outfield Could Be Ben Cherington’s Toughest Test

By all standard and traditional measurements, Theo Epstein brought great success to the Boston Red Sox.

In his nine seasons with the club, the Sox made the playoffs six times. They won the AL East for the first time in over a decade in 2007, reached the ALCS four times and won the World Series twice, ending an 86-year title drought. Under Epstein, Boston averaged over 93 wins a season, after averaging 86 for the previous decade (not counting the strike-shortened 1994 season).

But as we were often told under Epstein, traditional metrics are bad. He didn’t want players evaluated by their RBI and home runs; we won’t evaluate him by his rings. The casual observer would think Theo had a great run as GM in Boston and would be loved by Red Sox Nation. One need only look to Chicago Cubs fans’ euphoria when he left Fenway for Wrigley to see that’s true. But most Sox fans hesitate before singing Epstein’s praises.

Names like Edgar Renteria, John Lackey, J.D. Drew, Eric Gagne, Julio Lugo and Daisuke Matsuzaka haunt Sox fans. They still remember Theo’s gorilla suit. The revolving door at shortstop and free-agency failures came to define Theo Epstein’s tenure as Sox GM.

After the fire sale that was the 2011 offseason, Boston has a new man at the helm in Ben Cherington, but the New Hampshire native inherits a less-than-perfect team.

Starting pitching is a major worry, the team’s legendary designated hitter remains unsigned, the bullpen is full of question marks, there is still no full-time shortstop, they have a platoon in right field, the left fielder might miss the start of the season and the third baseman is a serious injury concern.

A lot of these have short-term fixes. Nick Punto and Mike Aviles could provide a decent option at short. David Ortiz has an arbitration hearing, Carl Crawford doesn’t have a serious injury and they have movable pieces in both the rotation and pen.

However, the situation in the outfield is such that, in a few years from now, it could go so spectacularly wrong it becomes the mark of failure forever attached to Cherington’s reign as GM.

Let’s go right to left. The departure of fan favourite J.D. Drew has left the cavernous right field in limbo. Cherington has no perfect in-house solution, so he has had to shop around in a bad free-agent market. The two best options in the organisation when Ben became GM, Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick, both had downsides.

Kalish is battling a right shoulder injury that forced him to miss almost the entire 2011 season and led to two surgeries. Reddick played at the major-league level a fair bit over the last few years but often struggled—the Sox traded him to Oakland for Andrew Bailey.

With their best option injured and their second-best option playing in California, the Sox have to turn to Darnell McDonald, Mike Aviles and offseason acquisitions Ryan Sweeney and Cody Ross. The latter looks to be the favourite to start in right on Opening Day, but his .240 batting average with the Giants last season is nothing to be excited about.

Theo Epstein was GM for nine years, and when he left, he still hadn’t found a regular shortstop. Right field could pose the same problem for Ben Cherington if Kalish doesn’t rebound from his injury.

In center field, the Sox are all set for the moment. Jacoby Ellsbury had a phenomenal season in 2011, rebounding from an injury-plagued 2010 to bat .321, hit 32 home runs, drive in 105 and steal 39 bases. Boston has him under control for the next two seasons; he will become a free agent in 2013. If he replicates or comes close to replicating his 2012 success, he will be one of the most valuable free agents on the market, and able to command a contract in the seven-year, $150 million range.

Boston will have four players making over $15 million and two making over $20 million when he reaches free agency. They will also have to consider that in the two seasons after that, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz will all see their contracts expire. The Red Sox can’t re-sign everyone, and there’s a good chance Ellsbury will be playing somewhere else in 2014.

The Sox at least have stability at left that they don’t have anywhere else in the outfield. Carl Crawford will be with the team until 2017 and will pocket $20 million a year for the privilege. That shouldn’t be a problem, but so dire was his 2011 campaign that it very well could be.

Crawford hit .255 with 11 home runs, 65 RBI and just 18 stolen bases. He might turn it around in 2012 as he becomes more acquainted with life in Boston, but there are worrying signs for the back end of his deal. His speed is so crucial to his game that age will catch up to his stats fast. Once he slows down a little, his numbers will fall off a lot. He spent so long on the harsh turf of Tampa, and now he has a wrist injury. It might be making a mountain out of a molehill, but there’s a good chance you won’t be getting much production from Crawford in the latter half of his contract.

What are we looking at then? This season the Sox have a questionable and injured left fielder, an MVP-calibre center fielder and a weak platoon in right. In two years time, it could look a lot worse. The smart money is on Carl Crawford not being productive by the time 2014 comes around, Jacoby Ellsbury will probably be gone, and it’s up to Ben Cherington to find someone decent to play right.

If you’re a Red Sox fan, the outfield should worry you. Any problems will be averted with finding the money for Ellsbury and a RF or by making two savvy acquisitions. Cherington may be more capable than Theo Epstein ever was of making good decisions with free agents—but until he proves it, the outfield is a source of concern.

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Boston Red Sox: Should We Be Worried About Clay Buchholz?

Clay Buchholz will take to the mound tonight against the Minnesota Twins and their lethargic offense. Last season, one would have expected him to mow down their lineup, go eight innings and allow just two hits.

This season, however, it is different.

In six starts, he is 2-3 with a 4.81 ERA. Almost every stat is worse than last year and many are the worst of his career. Despite his wonderful 2010 season—which saw him lead the league in ERA-plus, make his first All-Star team and finish sixth in Cy Young voting—there were concerns of a huge regression in 2011.

The main reason was the fact Buchholz had the greatest ERA-xFIP (expected fielding-independent pitching) differential in the majors last season.

In short, xFIP is used to calculate a pitcher’s future performance, and Clay’s was so much better, it might be difficult for him to replicate it. He is only six starts in, but so far, those fears appear to have been justified.

Unfortunately, the more one looks at Buchholz’s stats, the more worrisome it gets.

His K/9 has fallen each year of his career and is now just 4.54. That will not be helped by the fact his swing-and-miss percentage is 7.2; his previous low was 9.4.

It can be explained by the fact he is less afraid to pitch to contact now (his contact percentage is 83.5, well above the league average) but he is giving up more fly balls than groundouts. Coupled with an above-average 12.2 fly ball/home run percentage, it paints a worrisome picture.

He has already just three home runs shy of last year’s total and is on pace for around 30, which would be more than double the number he has given up in a single season. It is better to not try and strike out 27 batters a game, though, so he is doing the right thing, just not very well.

It’s not just the long ball he is giving up; his WHIP has risen from 1.20 last year to a career-high 1.78. A .313 BABIP (BA on balls in play, which always averages out at .300) indicates that it is not bad luck which is causing his poor performance.

His command is another concern. He is getting first pitch strikes on only 54.5 of batters and is on pace for a career-high in walks.

It is still very early, though, and he will almost certainly turn it around. Look at his last start and you will see a dramatic difference between that and his first five. He may have given up eight hits in 6.2 IP, but that can be chalked up to a blister which clearly bothered him all night.

The impressive thing was that his command and velocity were much improved.

Buchholz will improve. There is no chance he is going to finish the season with an ERA touching 5.00 and a WHIP approaching 2.00.

So far, though, it appears those fears of a step back were justified and perhaps he will not be in the Cy Young running again this year.

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MLB Power Rankings: Analyzing All 30 Fanbases To Find the Most Emotional One

The fans are the lifeblood of sport. Whether their team is winning or losing, they are at the games, dressed in their club’s apparel, faces painted, cheering wildly. Or there are 20,000 empty seats.

Some teams just do not have great fanbases. Others are well-supported but the fans just do not care about the team.

With that in mind, here is a rundown of the most emotional fanbases in Major League Baseball, ranked by loyalty, commitment, attitude and general fan craziness.

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