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Predicting San Francisco Giants Depth Charts a Month Ahead of Spring Training

After finally running out of even-year magic in 2016, the San Francisco Giants don’t have many questions to answer before they try to conjure some odd-year magic in 2017.

After filling their closer need by signing Mark Melancon, the Giants should only have a couple roster spots up for grabs when they arrive for spring training next month. That makes it easy to spell out their depth charts on paper, which is what we aim to do.

Ahead, we’ll run through the favorites for San Francisco’s 25-man roster and the players who have first dibs should any spots open up. At the end, we’ll look at the next wave of players who will be in camp looking for work this spring.

That’s all there is to it, so let’s get to it.

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Predicting Boston Red Sox Depth Charts a Month Ahead of Spring Training

The Boston Red Sox will roll into spring training with one of the best rosters in the league.

That was assured when they went on a shopping spree during the winter meetings. They added lefty ace Chris Sale, slick-fielding first baseman Mitch Moreland and shutdown reliever Tyler Thornburg to a roster that produced 93 wins and an American League East title in 2016. 

Before the Red Sox can get going on 2017, they need to narrow down the favorites for their 25-man roster and which players will be on the waiting list to get on it should any spots open up.

With that in mind, let’s run through the names Red Sox fans should really know and which ones they should also know.

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What Carlos Correa Must Do to Reach Superstar Offensive Potential in 2017

The Houston Astros may have disappointed in 2016 after their big coming-out party in 2015, but don’t worry. They could be a juggernaut in 2017 if everything goes right.

That entails a lot of things, of course. But perhaps the most pressing matter at hand is Carlos Correa living up to his potential with the stick.

That might read like a segue into a finger-wagging segment in which Correa is derided for having a bad sophomore year after winning the American League Rookie of the Year in 2015. But the thing is, he was mostly quite good in 2016.

Correa played in 153 games and put up an .811 OPS with 20 home runs and 13 stolen bases. Per FanGraphs‘ WAR stat, he was a top-five shortstop. Per’s WAR stat, he only narrowly missed being the best shortstop in the league:

  1. Corey Seager: 6.1
  2. Carlos Correa: 5.9

By this measure, the 22-year-old already owns 10.1 career WAR. That’s the fourth-most in history for a shortstop in his first two seasons. This is all happening just a few years after Correa was the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft. Nobody can say the dude’s been a bust.

But if you feel like you still need to see more from Correa going into 2017, know this: You’re not alone.

While his 2016 season was a success on the whole, it did fall short of expectations in the one area where Correa showed the most potential as a rookie. After posting an .857 OPS with 22 home runs in only 99 games in 2015, it was a letdown to watch him hit two fewer home runs with an OPS 46 points lower despite playing in 54 more games.

The bright side is that Correa didn’t get reality checks across the board.

His batting average stayed roughly the same, and his on-base percentage actually got better. Two related stories involve him sticking with an advanced approach and making even harder contact. According to Baseball Savant, Correa‘s average exit velocity went from 90.8 to 91.8 mph.

In light of that, it raises one’s eyebrows that power is where Correa took the biggest step backward in 2016. He went from a .512 slugging percentage to a .451 slugging percentage, a 61-point downturn.

Some of that was caused by circumstances beyond Correa‘s control. Although he played in all but nine of Houston’s games, he hinted in September that he wasn’t a picture of health throughout 2016.

“Some of those things people don’t know,” Correa told Eno Sarris of FanGraphs. “Some parts of the body are hurting so you have to lay off some things and deal with some things. It’s something that people don’t know, but obviously you know.”

Sarris compared the timing of Correa‘s two most notable injuries—a rolled ankle in June and a sprained left shoulder in September—with how well he was driving the ball. He found that Correa‘s injuries correlated not just with downturns in his exit velocity but also with downturns in his launch angle. Put simply: His injuries made it difficult for him to drive the ball.

Knowing this, Correa reversing the power decline that marred an otherwise successful season in 2016 could be a simple matter of staying healthy in 2017. So there’s that, anyway.

But since suggesting a ballplayer not get hurt in a 162-game season is like suggesting a rock star not get wasted while on tour, let’s look at some real-world solutions to Correa‘s power conundrum.

It’s a good sign that Correa upped his overall exit velocity in 2016 despite occasional injury-related downturns. However, he couldn’t do the same with his average launch angle. It was 6.5 degrees in 2015 and 6.5 degrees in 2016.

For perspective, Rob Arthur of FiveThirtyEight found the sweet spot for power hitting to be around 25 degrees. Some power hitters (i.e., Kris Bryant, Brandon Belt and Chris Carter) averaged fairly close to that mark in 2016. Correa, however, was on the opposite side of the spectrum.

One of the effects of Correa‘s low launch angle is that much of his hard contact is wasted on the ground. Correa hit ground balls 50.1 percent of the time he put the ball in play in 2016. That’s not an ideal rate for such a powerful hitter.

Fixing this won’t be simple, as this actually points to the true nature of Correa‘s swing. Even in praising him for having plus raw power back in 2015, Baseball America‘s Vince Lara-Cinisomo also noted his swing lacked loft and could potentially struggle to produce consistent power from season to season.

Still, never say never.

It’s not unheard of for a hitter to make changes that improve his launch angle. Jose Altuve, Correa‘s double-play partner in Houston, did it last year. Ditto Mark Trumbo, who led baseball in home runs. And Freddie Freeman, who had a long-awaited power breakout.

If Correa makes an effort to alter his swing mechanics in a way that would make it easier to get under the ball, he could follow in those guys’ footsteps in 2017. 

Failing that, he could always go back to what worked in 2015.

While Correa‘s overall swing rates basically remained static from 2015 to 2016, there was a noticeable change in his plan of attack. Courtesy of Brooks Baseball, these were his swings in 2015:

And these were his swings in 2016:

The difference isn’t subtle. As a rookie, Correa covered the whole strike zone. Last season, he went hunting on the zone’s inner half.

Not surprisingly, this made Correa vulnerable to whiffs on pitches away. That would have been an acceptable trade-off if his new approach brought the expected benefit of more pull power. But it didn’t. While he did pull the ball more, upping his pull percentage from 35.5 to 39.0, his slugging percentage to his pull side decreased from .721 to .587.

This wasn’t an exit-velocity problem. Correa‘s average exit velocity on the zone’s inner two-thirds and beyond shot up from 91.0 to 93.0 mph. But since his launch angle in these areas didn’t budge, that didn’t translate into more slugging in those areas.

Going into pull-power mode also resulted in Correa neglecting one of his primary strengths at the plate: his opposite-field power. 

The Baseball America report mentioned above noted Correa earned comparisons to Albert Pujols for his “ability to hammer the ball to the opposite field.” That ability remained alive and well in 2016 but was used sparingly:

Bottom line: Correa didn’t necessarily have the wrong idea in chasing more pull power in 2016, but it did more harm than good. If he’s not going to drive more balls by upping his launch angle, he should at least recalibrate his power approach to all fields rather than just one.

Of course, Correa could change nothing from 2016 and still be a well above average hitter. His .811 OPS from this past season equated to an adjusted OPS+ of 123, meaning he was 23 points better than the average hitter.

And yet there’s also no question Correa can be significantly better than that. He’s proved he’s an advanced hitter capable of working good at-bats and making consistent hard contact. All he needs to do is make his power show up more consistently. There are a number of avenues to that end available to him.

If he finds any one of them in 2017, just watch his numbers rise.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.comFanGraphs and Baseball Savant unless otherwise noted/linked. 

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Would Bonds, Clemens Entry Open Up Hall of Fame Floodgates?

How much juice can the National Baseball Hall of Fame hold? We’re going to find out.

The sea change in the voting for the Hall of Fame can’t be ignored. It first became apparent when Mike Piazza, long suspected of needing performance-enhancing drugs to slug more homers than any other catcher, got into Cooperstown with 83 percent of the vote in 2016.

Now the revolution is projected to continue in 2017.

The latest Hall of Fame class won’t be revealed until January 18, but all the votes were in on December 31. And thanks to Ryan Thibodaux, the tireless Samaritan who aggregates Hall of Fame ballots, we already know how the votes are trending:

With the cutoff for induction set at 75 percent, Vladimir Guerrero is too close to call. Otherwise, it looks like congratulations will soon be in order for Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez.

This trio’s induction would draw applause from plenty but also raise eyebrows from others. Bags, Rock and Pudge come with big numbers but also with suspicion and/or baggage.

Bagwell was a muscly steroid-era slugger who admitted to using androstenedione to the Houston Chronicle (via Sports Illustrated‘s William Nack and Kostya Kennedy)—the stuff Mark McGwire was on.

Rodriguez, another steroid-era star, once gave a curiously vague response when he was asked about PEDs, per the Associated Press (via Raines was in the back end of his career during the steroid era, but he did use cocaine during his prime with the Montreal Expos in the 1980s.

This is neither here nor there for those of us (hi there!) who see the scuzzier portions of baseball’s past not as parts to be shunned but as those to be discussed and examined. But all should be prepared for the rabble about to be raised by a small army of handwringers. They’ll echo the Hall of Fame’s insistence on integrity and character and wonder if nothing is sacred anymore.

A word to the hand-wringers: If you don’t like how those three are trending, you’d better not look at how Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are doing.

Bonds, baseball’s all-time home run king, and Clemens, its only seven-time Cy Young winner, debuted with just 36.2 and 37.6 percent of the vote in 2013. By last year, they had only climbed into the 40s.

Never mind the argument that Bonds and Clemens may be the greatest hitter and pitcher ever, respectively. This seemed to clarify that their status as poster boy 1A and 1B for the steroid era weighed more heavily.

But look! Now they’re tracking at darn near 70 percent. “How about that?” says Mel Allen’s ghost.

Although Bonds and Clemens will likely fall short of their current marks in the end, this is still writing on the wall that says their support is in for a major boost. With five years left on the ballot after this one, they finally have a light museum at the end of their tunnels.

Some things are random. Like lottery numbers. Or Bryce Harper’s year-to-year performance.

But Bonds and Clemens’ push to Cooperstown? That’s not random.

This is an effect of the Hall of Fame’s purging inactive baseball writers from the Baseball Writers Association of America voting bloc in 2015. That did away with a lot of older and out-of-touch voters, giving younger and more progressive voters more influence.

This is also an unintended consequence of the Hall of Fame’s welcoming legendary manager Tony La Russa in 2014 and former MLB Commissioner Bud Selig this year. Juiced players (McGwire included) helped the former win 2,728 games and three World Series. Juiced players did the latter a huge favor by putting on a show that erased the 1994-1995 strike from memory and ushered in an era of unfathomable prosperity.

Selig’s induction seems to be the real kicker for many voters. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports recently offered a sampling of their thoughts, with the consensus being it’s no longer fair to scorn the juiced-up labor of the steroid era while the beneficiaries of said juiced-up labor are going scot-free.

“When Bud was put in two weeks ago, my mindset changed,” veteran Philadelphia sportswriter Kevin Cooney wrote to Passan in an email. “If the commissioner of the steroid era was put into the HOF by a secret committee, then I couldn’t in good faith keep those two out any longer.”

Clearly, the line in the sand has been redrawn. That doesn’t just spell hope for Bonds and Clemens, but it also does so for other steroid-era stars gunning for Cooperstown. That’s you, Gary Sheffield and Sammy Sosa. 

As for you, Manny Ramirez…uh…hmmm…

OK, you’re a tough one.

It’s easy to miss Ramirez on this year’s ballot, but he’s there. And his numbers loom large. He hit 555 dingers in a 19-year career and is one of only 13 players to accumulate more than 9,000 plate appearances and post a slash line better than .300/.400/.500.

The only number that matters, though, is the 26.7 percent Ramirez is polling at.

There’s no big secret for why he’s struggling. Ramirez enjoyed success during and after the steroid era but missed the memo when the era ended. Michael S. Schmidt of the New York Times reported in 2009 that Ramirez tested positive for PEDs in 2003. He was then busted and suspended for PEDs later that year. When he was caught again in 2011, he ducked the consequences by retiring.

Ramirez is the first superstar to have been caught riding dirty to appear on the ballot since Rafael Palmeiro in 2011. That doomed him to 11 percent of the vote that year and an early exit in his fourth year. Ramirez might last longer, but it looks like his fate will be the same.

Certainly, more players would have been caught and punished had there been rules and punishments during the steroid era. But it was a different time.

“There were no rules before 2004,” wrote Bob Nightengale of USA Today. “No signs in clubhouses banning PEDs. You were free to take whatever you desired with no testing, no penalties, nothing.”

The shorthand: There’s a difference between breaking “rules” and breaking rules. As MassLive’s Nick O’Malley‘s helpful compilation makes clear, this is a common refrain for voters regarding Ramirez.

Earth to Alex Rodriguez: This concerns you.

After retiring in 2016, Rodriguez isn’t due on the ballot until 2022. Like Ramirez, he’s an all-time great producer who had success during and after the steroid era. Also like Ramirez, he was on the 2003 list and later busted and suspended in 2014. 

For now, he’s screwed. As much as the Hall of Fame voters are loosening their standards for PED guys, they still have some standards. They came for Palmeiro and Ramirez. They’ll come for Rodriguez, too.

Unless, of course, another unexpected sea change comes along.

Before long, the effect of the Hall of Fame voting bloc’s getting younger and more progressive will go from minor to major. As Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated pointed out after A-Rod’s retirement, there will be an influx of analytically minded baseball writers starting in 2018.

If for no other reason than to reverse the effect of “small hall” thinking—’s Mike Petriello has a good article out on that—these voters could be more inclined to vote for Ramirez and Rodriguez. Modern times need more representation in Cooperstown. Like it or not, they’re two of the biggest stars of modern times.

They also still have time to repair their images. Ramirez has already begun with his work with the Chicago Cubs. Rodriguez, meanwhile, played the good soldier on the field following his suspension and has since emerged as an extremely likable television analyst.

The other thing time can do is thin out the competition. In contrast to the tidal wave of superstars of recent years, the future should see only a slow drip of superstars onto the ballot. In the meantime, the 10-year limit will push some off the ballot. Others will get squeezed by the annual 10-player voting limit. Others still, such as Bonds and Clemens, will get voted in, leaving fewer titans to contend with.

This is better news for someone like David Ortiz, who was flagged for PEDs in 2003 but was never busted in 13 fruitful years after that, than it is for Ramirez and Rodriguez. But if nothing else, this is all basically Lloyd Christmas telling them there’s a chance.

For good or ill, the Hall of Fame’s days of just saying no to PED guys are over. We’re in new territory, and the task of charting it is just beginning.


Stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked. 

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Ranking the 2016-17 MLB Offseason’s 15 Largest Contracts from Worst to Best

OK, so the 2016-2017 MLB offseason hasn’t been the wild spending bonanza that last winter’s offseason was. But as evidence that it hasn’t been all bad, I submit 15 contracts worth at least $20 million.

How about we pass the time by ranking them?

Let’s go from the worst to the best. Or, put another way, from the biggest bust to the biggest steal. This is going to require weighing a multitude of factors, but they can be boiled down to a couple of basic questions:

  • How much did each player cost relative to his apparent value?
  • How does each player fit into his new team’s plans?

We’re not about to begrudge any players for accepting too much or too little. We’re looking at things from a team-building perspective. The ideal contract is a low cost for a good player who fills a need and propels the signing team toward contention. 

Fairly unscientific, but it’s an easy gist to get. So, let’s get to it.

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Manny Machado vs. Bryce Harper: Who Really Deserves MLB’s First $400M Deal?

Major League Baseball already has a $300 million contract. Its first $400 million contract could come soon.

Call it a hunch based on where Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are in their careers.

The Baltimore Orioles’ third baseman and the Washington Nationals’ right fielder have much in common. Both were elite prospects before they hit the ground running in the majors in 2012. Both have been among the best at their respective positions since then. Both are just 24 years old. And both are slated to hit free agency after the 2018 season.

Thus, the occasional buzz about one of them being baseball’s first $400 million man. Bob Nightengale of USA Today was the latest to float that figure over Harper’s head. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports (h/t’s Kyle Brasseur) hung the figure over Machado’s head last summer.

The ideal scenario is for both of them to get $400 million, as Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs highlighted in 2015 how players weren’t getting their fair share of baseball’s revenue pie. Two $400 million contracts would go a longer way toward fixing that than just one.

But we must be practical. It’s likely that only one of them will break the $400 million barrier. Assuming that’s a matter of who’s more deserving, we must pit Machado and Harper against each other in relevant categories.



Upside, eh? Well, only one of the players in this discussion has authored one of baseball’s all-time greatest seasons.

Remember Harper’s 2015 season? Yup, that’s the one.

He led MLB in on-base percentage (.460) and slugging percentage (.649) and co-led the National League with 42 home runs. By OPS+, his offensive performance was the best since Barry Bonds in 2004. put Harper’s wins above replacement at 9.9—a mark that’s been reached only 61 other times among hitters.

Harper’s defining characteristics in 2015 were his advanced approach and his booming power. The former has roots in the 13.5 walk percentage he posted in the minors. The latter had scouts drooling even before he was the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft. Baseball America rated Harper’s power as a true 80-grade tool.

As such, Harper’s 2015 was less of a random flare-up and more of an inevitability. That was the player he was supposed to be—and, thus, could be again.

For his part, Machado is no slouch. He was worth 6.7 WAR in 2013 and found that same neighborhood in 2015 (7.1) and 2016 (6.7). The first time he did it, he was an otherworldly defender with a decent bat. He’s enjoyed the best of both worlds since 2015, averaging a 130 OPS+ and 36 homers while playing defense that, while short of otherworldly, is still great. Either way, we’re talking superstar-level stuff.

However, whether Machado can get any better is a good question.

Baseball America figured he would be only a 20-homers-per-year guy, so he’s already way ahead of those early power projections. His power did tick upward after first exploding in 2015, but not to a degree that suggests he has a bunch more in the tank.

The jury’s also out on whether Machado can amplify his hitting talent with increased patience. He took a big step forward in that department in 2015, lowering his swing and chase rates and drawing more walks. But that didn’t last, as his improvements regressed in 2016.

This is not to say Machado’s game can’t evolve. It’s just to say he seems to be what he is: a superstar for sure, but one without Harper’s upside.

Advantage: Harper



Upside is well and good, but what would a team with a $400 million contract offer in hand rather have: a guy who can be great, or a guy who it can count on being great?

Given the size of the bet being made, probably the latter, right?

So let’s confront the elephant that was stampeding through the room marked “Upside.”

Harper owns the best individual season of these two, but Machado is having the better career. He’s been worth 3.2 more WAR than Harper despite playing in 49 fewer games. He’s also topped six WAR thrice to Harper’s once.

There haven’t been wild fluctuations in Machado’s performance like there have been in Harper’s. If we line up their yearly OPS+ numbers, for example, we see a squiggly line and a relatively straight one:

On the whole, Harper’s career 137 OPS+ trumps Machado’s 117 OPS+. But based on the early portion of his career, how consistently Harper’s going to live up to his career mark is anyone’s guess. There’s nothing in Machado’s track record, meanwhile, that suggests similar peaks and valleys are imminent.

On the other side of the ball, Machado’s defense peaked in 2013, when he put up a 31.2 ultimate zone rating and 35 defensive runs saved. But on either side of that are well-above-average performances. In total, he’s been an elite defender through the lens of either UZR or DRS.

Harper’s defensive performance is tougher to pin down due to how much he’s moved around the outfield. He’s mostly been good, compiling a 17.4 ultimate zone rating and 24 defensive runs saved. But rather than maintaining a baseline of above-average defense like Machado has, Harper has had years when his defense has been rated negatively by UZR or DRS.

Bottom line: Based on their performances to this point, only one of these guys is a safe bet to be a great player in any given year.

Advantage: Machado



And now for the fundamental reason why Harper’s performances have fluctuated so wildly: The dude can’t stay healthy.

We got an inkling of that in 2013 and 2014, when Harper was limited to 218 games due to major injuries to his knee and thumb that were accompanied by a handful of nagging injuries.

The bright side at the time seemed to be that he could avoid further trouble by looking after himself on the field, which he vowed to do ahead of 2015.

“It’s more impact stuff. Hitting the wall, blowing the bursa. Sliding into third base on a triple and tearing my tendon,” he said of his injury troubles that spring, via Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post. “So, this year, I’ll just play a little smarter.”

This paid off, as Harper played in 153 games in 2015. Nonetheless, it turned out his problems weren’t solved for good. Although he played in 147 games in 2016, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated reported Harper was plagued by a shoulder issue that hindered him at the plate and in the field.

The black marks on Machado’s record are the knee issues he ran into in 2013 and 2014. A ligament tear in his left knee ended his ’13 season early. A year later, an injury to the same ligament in his right knee ended his ’14 season early. But then he came back and played in all 162 games in 2015 and in 157 games in 2016. In all, he’s played in more games over the last two seasons than just one player.

This is a comparison between one guy who’s not past his injury troubles and one who is. Neither is Cal Ripken Jr., but one is more Cal Ripken-y than the other.

Looking forward, Machado is no more likely to be beat up by third base than Harper is by right field. The list of guys who played regularly at third base after 30 and the list of guys who played regularly in right field after 30 look awfully similar.

Advantage: Machado


Survey Says: Machado

There are other factors that could be weighed here. Marketability, for example. Blockbuster movies need lead actors who look good on posters. All other things being equal, baseball teams prefer to operate similarly.

But that may be a moot point in this case because all other things aren’t equal.

Harper has the talent to be worth a $400 million contract. And while he’s only put that talent on full display just once so far, that could obviously change in 2017 or 2018. He has the ability and the time to shift the nature of the conversation.

But if things stay the way they are now, Machado is the safer bet for a $400 million contract. Even if he never gets any better, he’s good enough now and should remain good enough from both a talent and durability perspective.

Again, here’s hoping both land $400 million contracts. But if only one of them can, right now it’s clear who that one should be.


Stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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Boston Red Sox’s Top Free-Agent, Trade Targets Post-New Year

With 2017 officially here and spring training just around the corner, the Boston Red Sox have the luxury of already having checked the big boxes on their offseason to-do list.

They didn’t need much to begin with but made a splash anyway by adding Chris Sale, Mitch Moreland and Tyler Thornburg and jettisoning Clay Buchholz. A Red Sox team that won the AL East in 2016 is now projected by FanGraphs to be the American League‘s best in 2017.

“If we started spring training right now, we would be content where we are,” Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said after Buchholz was traded, via Tim Britton of the Providence Journal.

However, we should stop short of seeing the 2017 Red Sox as a finished product. They do have lingering questions to answer, so let’s look at five free-agent and trade targets who could answer them.


1. Trevor Plouffe

As of now, the Red Sox have Pablo Sandoval penciled in at third base. It’s an upside play in light of his improved conditioning, but also a risky play in light of his disastrous 2015 and injury-shortened 2016.

Mark Polishuk of MLB Trade Rumors is right in thinking that third base insurance tops Boston’s remaining needs. The free-agent market has just the guy for it: Trevor Plouffe.

The Red Sox seem to already know this. Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald reported in late December that they have their eye on Plouffe, who spent his first seven seasons with the Minnesota Twins.

Beyond the fact he can likely be had on a cheap one-year contract, Plouffe’s appeal is his solid track record. The 30-year-old has been a league-average hitter in 723 major league games. He’s also played mostly passable defense at the hot corner.

If Sandoval were to prove up to the challenge he’s facing, Plouffe could also serve the Red Sox as a platoon bat. He’s a right-handed hitter with an .809 OPS against left-handed pitching. He also has experience at first base, left field, right field, second base and shortstop in addition to third base. 

Of course, Plouffe may prefer a more direct opportunity to be an everyday player on another team. That’s why the Red Sox need a Plan B, such as…


2. Adam Rosales

Plouffe isn’t the only right-handed utility type the Red Sox have on their radar. According to Rob Bradford of WEEI, Adam Rosales is on there as well.

As well he should be. Rosales isn’t so much a utility man as he is the utility man. He’s played at least 80 games at all four infield positions and also has some experience in left field and right field.

What Plouffe has that Rosales doesn’t is an offensive track record. Rosales is only a .227 career hitter with a .665 OPS, making him an easily below-average hitter.

However, Rosales is coming off a breakthrough in his age-33 season in 2016. He put up a career-high .814 OPS with 13 home runs for the San Diego Padres. He backed all this up with a 36.9 hard-hit percentage, a career best by plenty.

Rosales is certainly more appealing as a platoon player than as a possible everyday third baseman. But if he were to pick up where he left off on offense, he would have more than just a steady glove to offer while playing the hot corner.

The Red Sox need a Plan C in their search for a third base/utility type. He might be a long shot, but there’s one guy on the trade market who sticks out…


3. Hernan Perez

The Red Sox may have missed their shot at acquiring Hernan Perez. If they really wanted him, they may have found a way to include him in the trade that brought Thornburg from the Milwaukee Brewers for Travis Shaw.

But never say never.

Perez quietly found his stride in 2016. The 25-year-old played in 123 games and posted a .730 OPS with 13 homers and 34 stolen bases. He mostly played third base but also some right field, second base and first base.

Perez’s 2016 breakout didn’t end when the MLB season ended. He also starred (h/t Jim Goulart of, via Brew Crew Ball) in the Venezuelan winter league, winning the batting title and the Gold Glove at third base.

Perez’s rising star could make the Brewers want to hold on to him. But it also gives him trade value that could only go down in 2017. With Shaw locked in at third base and the other three positions on the infield also spoken for, Perez is only projected to be a utility guy.

The Red Sox would have to give up something (or somethings) of value to get Perez. But if they got him, they would get a younger, more controllable version of what Plouffe and Rosales could be for them—and with more upside, to boot.

Elsewhere, the Red Sox’s list of needs comes down to some low-risk starting pitching depth. That makes them a fit for…


4. Scott Feldman

The Red Sox traded Buchholz in part because it didn’t make sense to pay $13.5 million to a guy who wasn’t guaranteed a rotation spot.

With Buchholz gone, however, the Red Sox do have a slight depth issue in their rotation. Sale, Rick Porcello and David Price are an elite trio at the front. After them will be some combination of Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright or Drew Pomeranz, each of whom has durability questions.

It wouldn’t hurt for the Red Sox to add another body to the mix. But their options are limited. They can only target guys who are in a position to accept an opportunity rather than a clearly defined role. And ideally, whoever they pick up could also be used in relief.

Hence, Scott Feldman.

The 33-year-old has been effective when healthy over the last four seasons, posting a 3.85 ERA. But he’s also no longer a lock to stay in anyone’s rotation anymore. He made just 18 starts in 2015 and found himself pitching mostly in relief in 2016.

This makes Feldman just the kind of guy the Red Sox are looking for: a veteran who could be signed for cheap as rotation insurance and could be stashed in the bullpen if no starting role materializes.

There’s one other free agent who matches this description…


5. Bud Norris

Bud Norris is a lot like Feldman. Once a semireliable starter, he’s fallen on hard times as he’s gotten older and is now in a position to try to latch on wherever he can.

Unlike Feldman, Norris hasn’t been effective when he’s been healthy in recent seasons. The 31-year-old has put up a 5.79 ERA since 2015, in which he’s started 30 games and appeared in relief in 43 others.

Norris still has some of the qualities that once made him a decent back-end starter, however. He’s maintaining his fastball velocity well, sitting in the 93-94 mph range. In a related story, he’s still a solid strikeout artist.

Norris is also a better bet than Feldman to stay healthy. Beyond being younger, Norris doesn’t have anything as serious as Feldman’s Tommy John surgery or microfracture knee surgery in his injury history.

These last two aren’t exactly sexy names, to be sure. But when a team’s to-do list is down to names like Feldman and Norris, that’s how you know that team is in good shape.


Stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked. 

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Will High Demand for Controllable Pitching Lead to More Early Extensions?

Got a talented homegrown pitcher? Might want to hold on to that. Could be valuable someday.

Sound advice under any circumstances. And possibly growing sounder by the day.

Seemingly everyone wants controllable pitching this winter, and the asking prices reflect as much. You’ve probably heard the Chris Archer and Jose Quintana rumors. You certainly heard about the Chris Sale trade.

That was a big one, all right. The Chicago White Sox sent the remainder of the lefty ace’s five-year contract to the Boston Red Sox for a four-player package headlined by’s No. 1 prospect, Yoan Moncada.

Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs calculated that Sale has $84.5 million in surplus value on top of his remaining contract. Craig Edwards, also of FanGraphs, calculated that the White Sox actually got “something like” $100 million in surplus value.

Sale thus went for even more than his sticker price. It wouldn’t be surprising if the same thing happened in trades of Quintana and Archer.

According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the White Sox want “something similar” to what they got for Sale in a Quintana trade. That’s not too big an ask given that he’s one of baseball’s best left-handers. And while Sale’s contract controls him through 2019, Quintana’s controls him through 2020.

Meanwhile, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported that the Tampa Bay Rays want even more for Archer than the White Sox got for Sale. Understandable, given that he’s an elite strikeout artist with a contract that controls him through 2021.

Certainly, it’s not just ability and controllability that netted a huge trade package for Sale and which could do the same for Quintana and Archer. 

Including guaranteed years and options, Sale’s, Quintana’s and Archer’s contracts owe them less than $40 million. Fair market value for elite starters (see Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, David Price and Zack Greinke) is something like $30 million per year. You could say Sale, Quintana and Archer are making chump change, but even that’s a stretch.

Of course, they can’t be blamed for agreeing to their contracts in the first place.

They signed after they had established themselves as rising stars but before they were eligible for arbitration. They cashed in on their early success rather than risk their earning power disappearing on the road to free agency. Them being pitchers, said risk was real.

The impulse on the part of young starters to cash in ASAP isn’t going away. Neither is the willingness on the part of teams to offer them the chance to do so.

For them, early extensions are a means to cost-control arbitration years and buy out free-agent years, which typically cover prime seasons in a pitcher’s late 20s, at way-below-market rates. That’s all the incentive teams need to pursue early extensions. Just within the last four years, this is how Sale, Quintana, Archer, Julio Teheran, Yordano Ventura and Corey Kluber got locked up.

The way things are now, though, teams must ask if they suddenly have an extra incentive to pursue early extensions for their homegrown arms. Are they worth it not just for controllability and cost-control purposes, but as a means to a major trade chip in the long term as well?

This depends on the huge demand for controllable starters having lasting power beyond the present, which is admittedly less than 100 percent guaranteed.

For one thing, there has indeed only been one major trade this winter. The asking prices for Quintana and Archer may be fair relative to that one trade, but for now, asking prices is all they are.

For another thing, there are special circumstances that contributed to the demand for Sale and which are now contributing to the demand for Quintana and Archer. Teams are always in search of top-of-the-rotation starters during the offseason, and it’s never been a secret that this offseason offered none of those on the free-agent market.

The next two winters look less grim on this front. Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Danny Duffy and Chris Tillman are slated for free agency after 2017. Kershaw, Price, Matt Harvey, Dallas Keuchel and Garrett Richards could all be free agents after 2018.

However, it’s also not 100 percent guaranteed that the huge demand for controllable starters will dry up as soon as the free-agent market is stocked with arms again.

The presence of Price, Greinke and Johnny Cueto on last winter’s market didn’t stop the Atlanta Braves from making a killing in the Shelby Miller trade. He didn’t even have a pre-arbitration extension, and yet the Braves still got a No. 1 pick (Dansby Swanson), a top pitching prospect (Aaron Blair) and a controllable outfielder (Ender Inciarte) for Miller’s final four years of club control.

Without that trade to point to, the San Diego Padres might not have been able to swap two-and-a-half years of Drew Pomeranz for elite pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza over the summer. The Miller trade also looks like a prototype for the Sale trade.

Perhaps the Miller trade shifted the market for young, controllable starters on accident. Or, perhaps something like it was inevitable. Perhaps there’s now an attitude that trading for cheap pitchers in their 20s is a better use of assets than signing expensive pitchers in their 30s.

Oh, there just might be. If we use fielding independent pitching—the most basic of the popular ERA estimators—as a measuring stick, we see that the performance gap between under-30 starters and over-30 starters has shifted in favor of the former since 2013:


The same effect appears when comparing xFIP and SIERA. Young pitchers have a clear edge these days.

And since it’s been going on for four years, it looks more like a trend than a fluke. This could keep the demand for controllable starters cranked to 11, which could indeed be an extra excuse for teams to want to do early extensions.

The list of pitchers who could benefit is equal parts extensive and impressive. Set to qualify for arbitration in 2018 are Noah Syndergaard, Kyle Hendricks, Aaron Sanchez, Carlos Rodon and Robbie Ray. After 2019, Michael Fulmer, Lance McCullers, Steven Matz, Jon Gray and Vince Velasquez will be ready for their shots. After 2020, it will be Julio Urias, Alex Reyes, Blake Snell and Jameson Taillon.

That’s a lot of candidates for pre-arbitration extensions. If for no other reasons than controllability and cost control, their teams should want to get them done.

The possibility of these contracts one day being worth a fortune on the trade market could now be the proverbial cherry on top.


Stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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The Jaw-Dropping 2016-17 MLB Free-Agent Class That Might’ve Been

So, here it is. We’ve come to it at last. The point in the MLB offseason where the baseball news cycle is emptier than our holiday cookie jars.

This winter more than most, it was bound to come sooner rather than later. Trades are all well and good, but they’re the side dishes of the hot-stove season. The main course is free agency, and it was never a secret that it wouldn’t have much to offer this winter.

To wit, the best pitcher was a 36-year-old who was recently seen pitching in independent ball. Arguably the best position player was a 31-year-old outfielder who’s had only two great seasons. “This year’s free-agent class might be the worst I’ve ever seen,” wrote’s Keith Law. I can’t refute that.

I will say this, though: In the parlance of our times, the 2016-17 free-agent class could have been yuuuuuuuuuuuuge.

Officially, it takes six major league seasons to qualify for free agency. Realistically, it’s more like six and change. Subtract six and change from 2016, and you’re looking at players who broke into the majors in 2010.

As Matt Eddy wrote in introducing Baseball America‘s all-rookie team, 2010 was “a banner class” for rookies. Among those who made the team were San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey and starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner, as well as Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. 

Already a pretty good list! And it’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Bumgarner wasn’t the only future ace who first broke through in 2010. That was also the year Chris Sale debuted with the Chicago White Sox, and when Stephen Strasburg made his (quite memorable) debut with the Washington Nationals.

Those are three legit No. 1s who would have been ticketed for free agency this winter. That beats the number actually available, which was zero. 

Meanwhile, Posey and Stanton weren’t the only star hitters to establish themselves in 2010. Freddie Freeman joined the Atlanta Braves late in the year. Jonathan Lucroy joined the Milwaukee Brewers. Carlos Santana joined the Cleveland Indians. Although he wouldn’t find his footing until 2012, 2010 was also the year the Indians gave Michael Brantley his first big taste of the majors.

Santana would have been yet another slugger for a free-agent pile that also included Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Mark Trumbo. Lucroy would have been a better catching option than Wilson Ramos or Matt Wieters. Even after his injury-shortened 2016, Brantley would have been the kind of consistent and athletic hitter this winter’s market sorely lacked. 

As for Posey, Stanton and Freeman, they’re true superstars when healthy. That’s debatable with Yoenis Cespedes and a discussion that can’t really be had about Justin Turner, Encarnacion and others.

And while nobody began the winter lamenting the lack of free-agent closers—Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon had that market covered—there could have been yet another elite relief ace for the taking. Craig Kimbrel made his Braves debut even before Freeman did.

This isn’t even counting the more established veterans who were ticketed to become free agents after 2016 until, all of a sudden, they weren’t. That list is headlined by three third basemen: Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria and Martin Prado.

Add it all up, and this winter could have had enough free-agent talent to match even last winter’s class. That’s saying something, as David Price, Zack Greinke, Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Chris Davis, Johnny Cueto and others made that arguably the best free-agent class in history.

The historic quality of this winter’s free-agent class is a discussion we’re not having, of course, because of extensions.

It’s easiest to remember Strasburg’s contract extension. Not just because it’s a seven-year, $175 million whopper that he signed in May with free agency mere months away, but also because of the reaction to it. Everyone saw it as a killing blow for an already thin free-agent class.

But that’s not what killed it. This was a case of death by a thousand extensions, a result of MLB’s rapidly changing landscape.

According to Maury Brown of Forbes, the nearly $10 billion MLB pulled in this year is just the latest stop in a trend that’s been going sharply upward since the early 2000s. Much of the new money is coming from new national television deals that were signed in 2012 and from local TV deals that, as FanGraphs’ Craig Edwards highlighted, have become en vogue in the 2010s.

In the meantime, there’s been a change in which players deserve this money. Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight wrote in 2014 about how MLB’s star power has shifted sharply toward younger players. Also in 2014, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs noted that teams have responded by allocating less payroll space to players in their 30s and more to players in their 20s.

It was between 2010 and 2014 that the status quo really took hold. Per MLB Trade Rumors, between 1996 and 2009, teams handed out a total of 124 contract extensions of at least four guaranteed years. Between 2010 and 2014, they doled out 100 such extensions.

The great players who arrived in and around 2010 got caught up in that. And while Stanton’s record 13-year, $325 million contract stands out, others fell prey to the essential reality of why teams became willing to hand out long-term extensions: They’re good investments that are also relatively cheap.

Nowadays, the jig may be up.

Young stars have continued to stream into the majors, but only 18 extensions of four or more years have been signed since 2015. The young stars may be getting the sense that trading free-agent years for early financial security isn’t necessarily a fair trade.

If such a feeling is indeed out there, you can’t help but wonder how much more pronounced it would be if many (or all) of the players named above had reached free agency this winter. 

While the contracts they signed established a trend of teams locking up their own talent, they weren’t needed to set the going rate for superstar talents. The max was set at roughly $25 million per year for a while, and nobody made it across the $200 million plateau without at least a nine-year contract.

But then, in 2014, Clayton Kershaw and Miguel Cabrera bumped the bar up to $30 million per year with extensions. They also needed just seven and eight years, respectively, to clear space in their bank accounts for over $200 million. 

That paved the way for Max Scherzer to follow suit in free agency after 2014 and for Price and Greinke to do the same last winter. Thus, the way was paved for even more lavish spending this winter.

Jeff Todd of MLB Trade Rumors wrote in July that “there isn’t any question whatsoever” Bumgarner would have found over $200 million in free agency. The same likely would have been true for Sale, and possibly Strasburg as well. Of the position players, Posey and Freeman would also have been in line to pull in over $200 million. Despite his recent injury woes, Stanton might also have had a shot.

Elsewhere, Kimbrel might have made like Chapman and Jansen and landed a contract worth north of $80 million. Brantley, Santana and Lucroy would have been in for nice paydays as well. And of the veterans who could have hit the market, Longoria might have had a chance at earning over $100 million.

This offseason thus could have been a continuation of last offseason, which shattered previous records with nearly $2.5 billion spent on free agents (h/t Todd), and perhaps a necessary stepping stone to even more earth-shattering contracts in the insanely loaded free-agent class of 2018-19.

Of course, we’ll never know. But in lieu of real things to think about, thinking about what might have been will have to do.


Stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked. 

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Early 2017 MLB Playoff Team Projections If the Offseason Ended Today

Next year will soon be here, but the 2017 Major League Baseball playoffs are so far off that they might as well be in a whole ‘nother year. You might be thinking it’s too soon to go there.

Or is it?

The 2016-17 offseason still has some boxes to check, including homes for free agents like Mark Trumbo and Jose Bautista. But most of the big names on the open market have already found homes. There have been some blockbuster trades as well.

We thus know where most key pieces fit, making it safe to pretend like the offseason is over and call some early shots for the 2017 postseason. Let’s cut this introduction and get on with it.


American League

AL East Champions: Boston Red Sox

With most of a 93-win team carrying over from 2016 to 2017, the Red Sox didn’t need to do anything big this offseason to be the team to beat in the 2017 AL East race.

Instead, they went all-in.

Minor moves for first baseman Mitch Moreland and reliever Tyler Thornburg rounded out the team’s depth. The blockbuster trade for lefty ace Chris Sale, meanwhile, was the Red Sox’s upside move. They now have a starting rotation headlined by him and Cy Young winners Rick Porcello and David Price. 

Of course, the Red Sox have a David Ortiz-sized hole in their lineup after Big Papi’s retirement. But Sale’s arrival should mean they won’t need as much offense in 2017.

And even if they do, their lineup should be up to the challenge. Moreland‘s arrival will keep Hanley Ramirez fresh at designated hitter, and there’s all sorts of upside in the Red Sox’s young Killer B’s: Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi.

Elsewhere in the AL East, it’s hard to tell who’s supposed to be Boston’s primary challenger. The Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles are missing key pieces from the 2016 rosters. The New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays are teams in transition.


AL Central Champions: Cleveland Indians

With the major difference being that they darn near won the World Series, the Cleveland Indians were in a similar position as the Red Sox heading into the winter. They didn’t need to do anything big to carry over as favorites in the AL Central.

Instead, they signed Edwin Encarnacion on a three-year contract last week. With a .912 OPS and 193 home runs since 2012, he’s an easy upgrade over Mike Napoli in the heart of Cleveland’s batting order.

That’s the only upgrade Cleveland needed to make. It had holes elsewhere at the end of 2016, but that was mostly due to injuries that should be healed in 2017.

Michael Brantley will be back in the outfield, and Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar will be back in the starting rotation. That’s three All-Star-caliber players returning to the fold. Having Andrew Miller, acquired at the 2016 trade deadline, back for a full year will also help.

The concern is a possible hangover after playing so deep into the 2016 postseason. Miller and Corey Kluber are most likely to feel it, as manager Terry Francona asked the world of them last October.

On paper, though, the Indians look more than capable of beating last year’s 94 wins. The same can’t be said of any other team in the AL Central. Only the Detroit Tigers can match Cleveland’s star power, and most of their stars are too long in the tooth to count on.


AL West Champions: Houston Astros

Finally, a division trophy that should change hands in 2017. 

The Texas Rangers won the AL West in 2016 but have hemorrhaged more talent than they’ve gained this winter. The Houston Astros have done the opposite, taking an 84-win roster and fitting it with the nuts and bolts it needed.

Houston needed to lengthen out a lineup that relied too heavily on Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer and Evan Gattis in 2016. So, Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran were signed on free-agent contracts, and Brian McCann was brought in on a trade.

The Astros will also have former top prospect Alex Bregman and Cuban sensation Yulieski Gurriel in their lineup for the whole year in 2017. After finishing in the middle of the pack in the AL in runs (eighth) and OPS (ninth) in 2016, there’s a good chance the Astros will have an elite offense.

Their starting pitching staff is less of a sure thing. Charlie Morton might not be much of an upgrade over Doug Fister, and the trio of Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers have performance and durability questions to answer.

However, even more of the same would be good enough. The Astros finished fifth in the AL in ERA in 2016 despite their starting rotation issues. This was in part thanks to a bullpen that was quietly elite.

There could be as many as three other contenders in the AL West in 2017, but none match the legit championship aspirations of the Astros. Sports Illustrated could be right about them after all.


AL Wild Cards: Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers

Neither of this year’s two AL wild cards, the Blue Jays and Orioles, are better now than they were before. The same goes for the Yankees and Tigers. The Kansas City Royals are geared up for a last hurrah, but their homegrown core is no longer surrounded by good depth.

This sets up the AL West to be the primary battleground for the 2017 AL wild-card race, with the main combatants being the Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners.

The Angels might seem like the odd team out after losing 88 games in 2016. But they’ve put some nice pieces alongside MVP Mike Trout this winter. Corinne Landrey of FanGraphs wrote about how the Angels targeted run prevention by going for Cameron Maybin, Danny Espinosa and Martin Maldonado. They will also be helped by Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs and Matt Shoemaker coming back healthy.

The Mariners have a star-studded offense but are lacking depth around it. The Rangers have a depth question in their starting rotation, but they have just the counterbalances for it.

Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish are an excellent one-two punch, and they’ll be backed by a multitalented lineup and a deep bullpen. The Rangers may not win 95 games again, but they won’t fall far enough to miss out on a third straight postseason.


National League

NL East Champions: Washington Nationals

The 2016 NL East race had a chance to be the National League’s best. Instead, the Washington Nationals won it handily over the New York Mets. 

Expect more of the same in 2017.

While the Mets face questions about the health of their rotation and who the heck will play center field, the Nationals have all their big bases covered. The key was acquiring Adam Eaton to play center field, which freed up young phenom Trea Turner to go back to shortstop and set the Nationals up for a dynamic top-of-the-order duo.

“You got Turner and Eaton [at the top of the lineup], fairly similar style of play,” catcher Derek Norris, another new addition, told Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post. “They’re scrappy, they get on base. They steal bags. They play great defense. That’s kind of what I envision.”

Turner and Eaton will be setting the table for Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth. That’s a scary proposition under any circumstances. It’ll be something else entirely if Harper recaptures his MVP form from 2015.

The Nationals are also returning pretty much everyone from a pitching staff that finished second in the NL in ERA in 2016, including staff aces Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. The one exception is closer Mark Melancon. But new closers pop up all the time, and the Nats have two good in-house options in Shawn Kelley and Blake Treinen.

In all, there are no big reasons to believe the Nationals won’t match or beat their 95 wins from 2016.


NL Central Champions: Chicago Cubs

Sorry to go with such an obvious pick, but…man, the Chicago Cubs are just really good.

When we last saw them, they were winning 103 games in the regular season before snapping a 108-year championship drought with a dramatic comeback in the World Series. That’ll do as far as seasons go, and there was never any real threat of the magic going away this winter.

The Cubs did lose Dexter Fowler from center field and Aroldis Chapman from their closer spot. But Fowler should be replaced in the aggregate, defensively by Albert Almora and offensively by a healthy Kyle Schwarber. To fill Chapman’s shoes, the Cubs traded for Wade Davis, who was baseball’s most dominant reliever in 2014 and 2015.

Otherwise, the gang’s all back for 2017. It’ll still be Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta atop the rotation. It’ll still be Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist in the heart of the lineup. It’ll still be Addison Russell and Javier Baez turning double plays up the middle. It’ll still be Joe Maddon in the manager’s chair.

Like with Cleveland, there is the possibility of a World Series hangover overtaking the Cubs. But the worst that might do is knock them down from 103 wins to 95 or so, which should still be plenty to win an NL Central race that doesn’t feature another elite team.


NL West Champions: Los Angeles Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers are an incomplete team. They don’t have a second baseman. Their outfield and pitching depth charts are complex math problems.

And yet they’re no worse than the team that won 91 games and a fourth straight NL West title in 2016.

There was a distinct possibility that the Dodgers would get a lot worse. They dodged that bullet by re-signing Justin Turner to play third base and Rich Hill and Kenley Jansen to help anchor their starting rotation and bullpen.

The various holes the Dodgers still have do stand out. But you can also look at them and see plenty to like.

On offense, the core of their lineup is populated by stable veterans Turner, Adrian Gonzalez and Yasmani Grandal and young guns in Corey Seager and Joc Pederson who might still have some untapped upside.

On the mound, Clayton Kershaw and Hill lead a stable of starters that’s as deep as any in the league. Not to be lost in the shuffle is Julio Urias, the 20-year-old lefty who’s ready for the next step.

The San Francisco Giants will give the Dodgers a run in 2017. But theirs is a top-heavy roster wherein the role players alongside the scrubs offer little upside.


NL Wild Cards: San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals

Picking up where we just left off, the Giants should have no trouble nabbing a wild-card berth as a consolation prize.

They’re returning basically the same team that won 87 games in 2016, led by excellent pitching performances by Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto and well-rounded performances from Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. The difference now is that they have a real closer. Melancon should keep the blown-save problem that plagued the Giants in 2016 at bay in 2017.

After the Giants, it’s the Mets who have the most upside in the 2017 NL wild-card race. But they also have too much downside to be trusted. Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Matt Harvey are all coming off surgeries, and they don’t figure to get much help from a lousy defense.

The Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals are the two teams most likely to benefit from the Mets falling short of expectations. The Cardinals don’t have as many potential pitfalls as the Pirates. While there are real questions in Pittsburgh’s pitching staff, the Cardinals answered the one big question they had by stealing Fowler from the Cubs.

At any rate, there are predictions for all 10 playoff teams for the 2017 MLB season. Now we find out if they can withstand 10 months of general baseball craziness.


Stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked. 

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