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Pittsburgh Pirates Starting To Show More Life with Small Ball

Pittsburgh hired Clint Hurdle this past offseason to work with a potentially playoff caliber team in the future. They seemed to hire the right guy then, and it sure is paying off. Although it’s hard to determine how a team will do with just two weeks into the season, the fact the Pirates are being more aggressive is true.

Hope is shining for this young ballclub.

The 22-year-old Jose Tabata took the Majors by surprise, batting .299 in 102 games last year. He also stole 19 bases. 

Although these stats are great for a rookie, the Bucs expected more from the 5’11” Tabata in 2011, and they have certainly gotten some support. 

He has already stolen seven bases, after working with base running coach Luis Silverio this Spring Training. What’s even more impressive is that his stolen base-to-caught stealing ratio at this point is 7:1 in 2011, which used to be 2.7:1 in his rookie campaign.

“Now, he feels really confident that when he takes off, he’s going to make it. After a couple of steps, he maximizes his speed. He has explosive speed. He just doesn’t look like it,” Silverio said about Tabata, who told the coach that he had problems reading off pitchers. 

Speed might one day be the ultimate weapon for this team, such as it was for the Texas Rangers last year. Did you see the postseason?

Home runs might have been a big part for the Rangers, but this is a start for Pittsburgh, a team that has been struggling for years.

Do not be surprised if Clint Hurdle encourages other guys on the team as well to steal some even more bags. If a .300 hitter in Neil Walker starts stealing, it sets up a RISP for power guys like Lyle Overbay and Garrett Jones. Also, don’t forget about Andrew McCutchen, who stole 33 of them in 2010.

Is there a possibility this team starts putting down suicide squeezes? Certainly, as this tactic goes perfect with speed in the lineup that can reach third base on a single from first. Or even with a runner that can advance to third easily after stealing a bag to second after a single.

Of course, only if there are less than two outs.  

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MLB 2011: Is It Safe to Say the Baltimore Orioles Are a Legitimate Contender?

Last year in the early parts of the season, the Orioles were in a bad position. 

Kevin Millwood was brought in, but it didn’t seem like the solution for the next couple of years.

Mike Gonzalez, who was signed to close games, struggled since the first game and went down with a injury.

Nick Markakis seemed to be slowly declining, while Brian Roberts would miss around 100 games due to a foot injury.

Adam Jones was mightily struggling.

Matt Wieters looked liked a bust for fantasy owners. 

There didn’t seem to be any All-Stars at all on the 25 man roster.

Hope glimpsed when Buck Showalter came in and led Baltimore to a 34-23 record. Adding even more hope, guess what the Orioles did: add solid players.

There was Mark Reynolds, who can hit 40 home runs while giving an upgrade in defense at the hot corner. J.J. Hardy who still seems to be able to come back to his old form was added at short. Derrek Lee could still hit 20 bombs while maintaining a gold glove. Vladdy signed to DH.

It became one, much better, club—period. 

Fans hoped their beloved O’s were set in a good position for 2012 and years to come, as the starting pitching did not seem to be good enough this year.

However, if the performance of the last four starts that the Baltimore pitching staff are an indication of things to come this season, Boston and New York might have to watch out.

They might become another Tampa Bay, where much of the Rays’ roster all broke out in one specific season in 2008.

Not only are these good possibilities, Showalter’s encouragement for the entire roster seems to help. Also, ever since he came in, Wieters seems to be more relaxed and playing better.

The catcher behind the plate needs to be the key for a playoff run, and the O’s now have that.

  1. Pitching: Check (for now)
  2. Offense: Plenty
  3. Defense: Above Average
  4. Confidence: Very high

The only thing they are lacking is experience, but it was the same thing for the Rays.

With Buck still leading the way, his club has a real chance to maybe overtake the Rays, Yankees and even the Red Sox this season for the division crown. 

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Buck Showalter, Stop Complaining and Play the Game

Buck Showalter recently criticized New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter on his overly dramatic acts on the baseball field. Apparently he didn’t like seeing Jeter pretend to get hit by a pitch.

Showalter, the new Orioles manager who led Baltimore to a winning record during his short stint towards the end of the 2010 season, is just trying to catch the public’s eye, and he succeeded. It is obvious that he is showing that he cares about his team, and perhaps he’s trying to motivate them, too.  

Sure, it is upsetting that the opposing team got a free base even though they did not deserve it, but that doesn’t mean that he just start attacking another player for doing that.

However, the question that remains is: why do this? Just play the game, Buck. The O’s themselves can act too if they think it’s so not fair. I am not implying that everyone should cheat, but to play the game. 

I do see how Showalter is also trying to bring back the foundations of baseball, but did it have to be so negative? If we follow the foundation, players should go out there and give 110 percent every single game. Jeter probably doesn’t even care about the comment.

Showalter went on to criticize Boston Red Sox GM Theo Epstein that anyone can do just as well he can with the budget he has on the free-agent market. Oh goodness, thank you for stating the obvious.

Trying to send a message to your young, inexperienced team is perfectly fine. Getting the fans excited is perfectly fine. But just remember there are kids watching the game as well, and using these negative terms to do this just seems to be wrong to me.

(Note: I do have plenty of respect for Buck Showalter–in fact, he is one of my favorite baseball icons. He just happens to be off base on this particular issue.)

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Texas Rangers: Why Converting Neftali Feliz into a Starter Won’t Be Pretty

The Texas Rangers already have a strong starting rotation. However, after missing out on the Cliff Lee sweepstakes and acquiring no other strong starter such as Lee, it raised the question of whether or not Neftali Feliz should be converted to a starter.

The clear answer to that is a simple “no.”

Yes, I do understand that he posted great numbers as a starter in the minor leagues, which included a 3.49 ERA in 25 games (13 of which he started) at the Triple A level. 

But is it just me that realized that his ERA just went up slowly in his minor league career ever since the Single A level? Feliz had a 2.52 ERA in Single A, 2.98 at Double A and as I had mentioned, a 3.49 ERA at Triple A. 

Some might still argue that what he showed at the major league level in 2010, leading the Texas Rangers to the World Series with 40 saves, is enough to convince them they he can start just as well as when he closed games. 

Sorry to break it to you, but being faced by the same hitter at least three times an average per start is an effective way for hitters to see what kind of stuff the starter has. Hitters can make adjustments much quicker.

Therefore, that would lead into a higher ERA, more hits allowed and not to mention more strain than one would have closing. He also only posses two excellent pitches, and usually front of the rotation guys have three of them.

And if Feliz is already good at being a closer, keep him there.

No one wants to see another Joba Chamberlain project, and we all know how that turned out. He was great at coming in the eighth inning and getting the side out easily: one-two-three. But after being put in the starting rotation, and going back to the pen, and so on, Chamberlain just lost the mental side of pitching, and now he is working as just an average relief pitcher in the New York Yankees’ bullpen.

Besides, there’s no other certain closer-in-waiting for the Rangers and with uncertainly about how the back end of the pitching would be, that would not be a championship caliber team. 

For the best of the Texas Rangers, Neftali Feliz should stay their closer.  

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Why Freddy Garcia Is The New York Yankees’ Best Offseason Move Yet

The New York Yankees has agreed to a one-year, minor league contract with starting pitcher Freddy Garcia, according to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick.

Just after a few days of expressing interest in pitching for the Yankees, Garcia gets what he wants and Brian Cashman has made his best move this offseason by signing Garcia.

Although 36 by opening day, Freddy Garica is still durable and won 12 games with an ERA of 4.64. Fans say Garcia will allow one home run every five days at Yankee Stadium, but they also need to realize that he pitched at U.S. Cellular Field, another hitter-friendly park.

Also of note is that he pitched 157 innings, so he is certainly an innings eater—or at least better than Sergio Mitre.

Some fans may oppose the signing, as they say Mitre is actually effective as a starter. However, Garcia is much more dependable, and Mitre is only good when he pitches frequently out of the bullpen.

It seems he will fit into the Yankees starting rotation as a No. 4 or 5 guy, pending Spring Training.

And with Andy Pettitte seeming to lean towards retirement more and more with each passing day, Garcia and youngster Ivan Nova seem to be the front runners for the rotation job. As competition, there is still Bartolo Colon, Mark Prior, Andrew Brackman, and Sergio Mitre as well.

Garcia is anther option if things all fall apart for New York. However, what makes this decision such a great one is that the deal is only worth $1.5 million, with incentives only reaching to $3.6 million.

With the way he pitches, this was a steal.

Another reason why this was the best move for Cashman was because of the preceding events. For example, the signing of Rafael Soriano was an excellent addition to the bullpen, but it weakened the GM-owner relationship.

Signings of Colon, Prior, Feliciano, and Martin are all moves that are decent, but they are all risks except Feliciano, and Garcia is still more valuable as starting pitching was needing more upgrade(s).

After missing out on Cliff Lee, and recently Justin Duchscherer, this was a move Cashman had to make, and he came through.

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San Francisco Giants Add Bullpen Arm at Low Cost/Risk with Marc Kroon

Marc Kroon has agreed with the San Francisco Giants on a one-year deal, according to Tom Krasovic of AOL FanHouse. The deal includes an invitation to spring training.

For those of you who have never heard of this guy, Kroon was drafted by the New York Mets back in 1991. After short stints with the San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds and the Colorado Rockies. His career ERA in Major League Baseball was 7.43.

Following the 2004 season with the Rockies, he signed with a Japanese team called the Yokohama Bay Stars, and later signed with the Yomiuri Giants following the 2007 season.

He will turn 38 by the 2011 Opening Day, but he still has been nasty overseas. Just last year, he struck out more than one batter per inning and was a star closer for the Giants (Japan).

More notably, he had set the record for the fastest pitch thrown in Japan at 101 mph.

Kroon did make some cash playing overseas—around $13 million.

This signing comes at a low price, though, and if Kroon can bring his success to San Francisco, it might just make their pitching much scarier.

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New York Yankees to Add 4th Outfielder With Andruw Jones

The New York Yankees are getting close to an agreement on a one-year contract with Andruw Jones, according to Tim Brown via Twitter.

After just a few days being told to sign Rafael Soriano to a three-year, $35 million deal by the owners, the Steinbrenners, general manager Brian Cashman has some good news after losing their first-round pick this upcoming draft. 

With Jones, they finally get a good fourth outfielder that can play all three outfield positions and give regular starters some rests. 

But even more importantly, they get a bat that can handle left-handed pitching.

Curtis Granderson still struggled this season against left-handers, even though there has been some (small) improvement after working with hitting coach Kevin Long.

Brett Gardner can still draw walks against southpaws, but Jones still seems to be the better option. 

Jones will turn 34 this upcoming April, but still has put up decent numbers. He hit .230 with 19 home runs in only 107 games.

He still has the power, and the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium might contribute to the home run cause.

According to baseball insider Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees had a disagreement regarding money with the five-time Major League Baseball All-Star.

Well, now we know how the deal turned out, as New York is starting to sign some free agents.

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Billy Beane Makes Quiet, Effective Moves: Trying To Catch Up in the AL West?

Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane is still playing “Moneyball” to this day.

The team that used to perennially contend for the playoffs finished just exactly .500 last season, and was nine games out of first place behind the American League champion Texas Rangers.

Beane looks to compete more aggressively in 2011, as he has made quiet moves this offseason.

For example, they signed Hideki Matsui to a one-year deal to be the permanent DH. Not only is Matsui a consistent .270, 20 home run hitter, he knows what it is to be a World Champion as he won it all with the Yankees back in 2009.

The designated hitter spot was also one of the weakest spots in the lineup, so adding Matsui is already a good move. 

Another consistent hitter, Josh Willingham, will also join the lineup with his 15 home run, .260 seasons.

Grant Balfour was added to the bullpen for pitching depth. To further bolster that ‘pen, Brian Fuentes has reportedly agreed with the A’s on a two-year contract. Both of these guys had ERAs under 3 last season.

These free agents make Oakland a competitor, as they were just an average team before.

Did it take a lot to sign these guys? Yes, they aren’t minor league cheap guys, but they also aren’t big time free agents worth $15 million per year.

With the addition of a defensive outfielder in David DeJesus, who is a .300 hitter, this club is looking good.

Don’t forget about the dominant starting pitching, either, which is led by youngsters Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill.

And if some injured players regain their form from about two to five years ago, Oakland might just overpower the Rangers.

Conor Jackson had hit .300 in 2009 before taking a hit with injuries. Coco Crisp is always a threat on the base paths.

The Athletics are also set on defense, with Kevin Kouzmanoff at the hot corner and Daric Barton scooping ground balls easily at first.

Beane is up to something, and they can catch up in the AL West with the Los Angeles Angels not a great team like it used to be, and the Rangers losing Vladimir Guerrero.

“Moneyball” might just work in 2011. 

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Takashi Saito Signed by Brewers as Milwaukee Adds a Piece to Its Pen

Veteran reliever Takashi Saito has agreed to a one-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, according to the team’s spokesperson.

Saito will be 41 years old when next season arrives, which leaves fans wondering why any team would want to sign him.

It’s because of the fact that he has been very effective and a reliable pitcher out of the bullpen. For example, last year with the Atlanta Braves, he posted an ERA of 2.83 in 54 innings.

Saito was later released after the season due to the fact the Braves needed to clear some money and already had a strong bullpen. It wasn’t because of performance.

Although he isn’t the go-to guy he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers anymore, he can still get guys out. He is one of the players in the league today that just show they can be effective and show no signs of aging.

The Japanese pitcher will most likely be the setup guy for the Brewers’ closer, John Axford.

With the additions of solid shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and ace Zack Greinke already this season, and now the addition of a good reliever for the bullpen in Saito, it looks as if the Brewers are looking at a playoff run.

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MLB Free Agency: Nats or Twins—Which Team Best Suits Carl Pavano’s Services?

Carl Pavano has had his ups and downs his entire career as we all know.

He had his breakout season in 2003, collecting 12 wins with an acceptable ERA of 4.30. The very next year in 2004, he won 18 games with an ERA of 3.00.

His All-Star season earned him a 4-year, $40 million deal with the New York Yankees.

But we all know how that turned out, as he started only 26 games during the four years.

But after regaining his form with the Cleveland Indians and the Minnesota Twins in 2009, he returned to Minnesota this past season and won 17 games—earning him Twins’ Pitcher of the Year honors.

Now this offseason, he is looking for a new home.

Along with the Twins, he has drawn interests from teams including the Washington Nationals. Pavano is the best starting pitcher out there in the free-agent market, so he can earn some serious cash.

Although he had drawn interest from the Milwaukee Brewers just days ago, that possibility disappeared when they acquired ace Zack Greinke from the Kansas City Royals.

With Minnesota and Washington as the two main possible destinations left, the question remains—which team best suits Pavano’s services?

Washington is a not a bad place to go right now, as they have promising young talent along with veterans such as Rick Ankiel and Chein-Ming Wang. The Nats are a team that’s not a 100-loss team anymore, and might make a playoff run in five to ten years. The bad part is that Pavano is 35-years-old, so he probably wouldn’t stay.

Another reason why Pavano should not go to the Nationals is that they would have to overpay him (like they did with Jayson Werth), as Washington isn’t the most attractive place for the best pitcher left on the free-agent market.

If Washington does sign the right-hander, it looks like they might be onto something— perhaps a wild-card run in two years?

Minnesota better suits Pavano however, as they have something the Nats don’t. The Clubhouse.

Pavano has had no problems with the coaching staff, or with his teammates. Because he did pitch well, and rejoined the team before the 2010 season by accepting arbitration, it does hint Pavano like Minnesota.

This relates to Cliff Lee, who returned to Philadelphia largely due to the fact he loved it there.

And with Pavano being as good as he is right now with the Twins, why not return? The Twins are a playoff team, and no one wants to risk their career at a later age by underperforming for another team they have never pitched for.

The Minnesota Twins are the better option for Carl Pavano.

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