Each MLB Team’s Most Encouraging Sign for the Future

With the exception of the American League Central, where the Kansas City Royals are boat-racing the field, the rest of MLB‘s division titles and wild-card chases are up for grabs as the stretch drive ramps up.

With 17 teams within six games of a postseason trip, the future is now for more than half of baseball. Looking around the league, there are all sorts of encouraging signs for those October hopefuls.

The San Francisco Giants aren’t in playoff position right now, but they still have seven games left against the Los Angeles Dodgers, whom San Francisco has made a habit of beating up. Even for the reeling Washington Nationals, the future is looking up, as they could soon get their spark plug back.

For squads such as the Oakland Athletics and the Boston Red Sox, who have already toppled out of the postseason hunt, finding those encouraging signs requires more digging. The key is to look out to the horizon and to focus on rising stars like Sonny Gray, Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts.

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What Is Victor Martinez Worth on Free-Agent Market After Career 2014 Season?

First, the bad news for Victor Martinez: He’ll be 36 in December and is a defensive nonentity. The good news? He’s coming off the best offensive season of his career.

That second part should outweigh the first if Martinez becomes a free agent, as he’s expected to. The Detroit Tigers extended Martinez the qualifying offer of $15.3 million Friday, per Jason Beck of MLB.com. But, as CBSSports.com‘s Jon Heyman reports, he will almost surely reject it and test the open market.

How much will he get? The answer may hinge less on dollars and more on years.

Martinez was unequivocally one of the best hitters in baseball last season, hitting .335 with 32 home runs and 103 RBI. His .409 on-base percentage led the American League, and his .974 OPS led all of baseball. Those are middle-of-the-order numbers any team would drool over. And how about this, from Ace of MLB Stats:

But again, Martinez is entering his age-36 season. And other than the odd inning at first base or behind the plate, he’s almost exclusively a designated hitter, which wipes half the prospective suitors off the board.

According to Heyman, Martinez is seeking a four-year deal. That’s the same contract length he got from Detroit prior to the 2011 season, when he was 31. Martinez posted a .330/.380/.470 slash line in the first year of that deal, but he missed all of 2012 with a knee injury.

His 2013 campaign started slowly, but he hit .361 after the All-Star break and carried that performance into 2014—when he helped carry the Tigers to the postseason, with visions of a title run. 

“This team’s been built for something bigger,” Martinez told Tony Paul of The Detroit News before Detroit was swept out of the American League Division Series by the Baltimore Orioles.

Now, Martinez is arguably the biggest bat on the market, assuming he goes that route. By extending him the qualifying offer, the Tigers haven’t taken themselves out of the mix for the switch-hitting slugger; they just ensured they’ll net a draft pick if he walks away.

In fact, Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe reports, Martinez “prefers to work something out with the Tigers, so they will get first crack at him.” 

One complication for Detroit is the status of Miguel Cabrera, who underwent offseason ankle surgery. As Kurt Mensching notes in The Detroit News:

Finding a way to keep Cabrera healthy and contributing at his highest level should be a priority for the club at this point.

It’s too early to talk about making Cabrera a full-time designated hitter; besides that, he really wouldn’t like it. Somewhere along the way, though, you have to find a way to preserve Cabrera’s body for the long haul.

So maybe it’s time to stop having a full-time DH and open the door for Cabrera to take more days off from the field.

Where does that leave Martinez? Possibly on another team. Last offseason, the New York Yankees gave three years and $45 million to a 36-year-old Carlos Beltran. And New York’s designated hitters posted an anemic .230/.290/.372 slash line in 2014.

So there’s one possible suitor. Then there are the Orioles, who are looking to stay atop the AL East and could look to Martinez if they lose DH Nelson Cruz to free agency, as Ray Frager of CSN Baltimore speculated. In August, Bruce Levine of 670 The Score in Chicago predicted the White Sox would be offseason players for Martinez as well.

Heck, expect nearly every AL contender with cash to burn to at least kick the tires on V-Mart. 

All of which points toward Martinez getting the deal he wants. Is there risk involved in signing a guy with an injury history through his age-40 season? Of course.

But every risk has to be balanced against the reward…and Martinez offers plenty of reward.


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MLB Trade Ideas: Possible Moves to Fill Each Team’s Most Exposed Problem

As the MLB season creeps toward the end of April, all 30 teams have now played approximately 20 games each, and while there were certainly some surprises at the start, the expected cream is starting to rise to the top, while the expected bottom feeders, with some exceptions, are trending toward the bottom of the pack.

The Cleveland Indians, one of the early surprises, were swept in a shortened two-game series over the weekend by the Minnesota Twins, and their starting pitching, which carried them through the first three weeks of the season, is starting to show signs of struggles, as Carlos Carrasco was forced to leave Sunday’s game after experiencing tightness in his right elbow. Carrasco joins Mitch Talbot, who was placed on the disabled list last week with right elbow issues as well.

The Kansas City Royals, who had surprisingly joined the Indians atop the American League Central standings, were also swept over the weekend by the surging Texas Rangers. The Rangers, despite missing Josh Hamilton, scored 22 runs and have been led by Michael Young with a 14-game hitting streak, and new acquisition Adrian Beltre, who now has seven home runs and 20 runs batted in on the young season.

The Boston Red Sox, who got off to their worst start since 1945, have suddenly turned things around, sweeping their four-games series with the Los Angeles Angels, the first time the Sox swept a four-game series in Anaheim since June 1980.

Sox starting pitchers have now gone nine games in which starters have gone at least five innings while giving up less than three runs, the longest such streak since 1946. Sox starters have logged a 0.88 ERA during the current span.

In the National League, the Phillies, despite the absence of second baseman Chase Utley and closer Brad Lidge, have rallied to the top of the National League East riding a five-game winning streak, and largely on the strength of their vaunted starting rotation. The Phillies recently received bad news once again however, as current closer Jose Contreras was placed on the 15-day DL with a right elbow injury following Sunday’s win over the San Diego Padres.

The Florida Marlins are once again hanging around the top of the NL East despite payroll challenges, and also based largely on the strength of their starting rotation. Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez are doing their level best to keep the Marlins in the hunt.

So, after approximately 13 percent of games have been played, teams now can get a feel of where their strengths are, and where potential gaps may need to be addressed.

We will take a look at each team’s biggest weakness, and which particular problem needs to be addressed above all else.

For continuing coverage of Major League Baseball, follow Doug on Twitter @Sports_A_Holic.

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Seattle Mariners’ First Loss Comes as a Reality Check

This afternoon, to our dismay, we saw the Mariners revert back to last year’s style of play: low run production, a shaky bullpen and carelessness at the plate.

We should probably admit to ourselves that this is the way the season will progress, but it’s easier just to make legitimate excuses that could possibly explain the woes of the Mariners.

We can attribute today’s loss to a couple of things. One, an unfavorable pitching matchup. Two, an improvement in the A’s’ play.

As opposed to the first two pitching matchups, this one heavily favored Oakland.

In the opener, we saw the Cy Young-winning Felix Hernandez against the relatively young, but talented Trevor Cahill. Felix’s complete game versus Cahill’s early exit demonstrated the lopsidedness of that matchup.

The second game had the potential to be a lot closer, but Jason Vargas looked great, like he did at the end of last season, and while Brett Anderson pitched well, the A’s bullpen threw it away.

Today, the Athletics put forth their promising young lefty, Gio Gonzalez, to pitch against Doug Fister of the Mariners. Fister had a rough year last year, winning just six out of 28 games, allowing an average of 4.11 runs per nine innings and striking out just 93 in 171 innings.

This mismatch was quite apparent when Gonzalez went through seven, allowing just one run, and Fister left after 5 and 2/3 innings, giving up three runs on eight hits.

Additionally, Gonzalez was luckier than his fellow starters in that the A’s defense picked it up. No more slipshod throws or unwise decisions, and fewer errors.

Without these advantages, the Mariners had more trouble finding ways to score runs; they had already become accustomed to scoring runs off walks and errors. Without run support, Fister was a lost cause, and the Athletics made quick work.

Seattle’s bullpen didn’t hold up well either. Some of the new younger guys didn’t perform up to their expectations, but let’s hope they just need a few appearances to get settled in.

Overall, this was a rough experience for the Mariners, but a necessary one. They need to move on and prepare for a tough series in Texas against the undefeated Rangers.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

2011 MLB Opening Day: 8 Reasons Why It Should Be Declared a National Holiday

The blessed event is here once again. It is that one day of the year that baseball fans across the land have been pining for since early November, waiting with breathless anticipation for Opening Day.

In the city of Cincinnati, the unofficial birthplace of professional baseball in 1869, Opening Day is treated as an unofficial holiday. In fact, Michael Schuster, a local architect and devout Reds fan, is putting together a petition, to be passed around on Opening Day at Great American Ballpark, to put an initiative on the November ballot to make Opening Day an official holiday in the city of Cincinnati.

Makes sense to me.

I have been to several Opening Day games over the years, first in Boston, and then in South Florida for the Marlins. On each occasion, I was forced to take a day off, or use up sick time.

In Schuster’s comments, he told Cincinnati.com, “We don’t want to have problems with the unions, the schools or parents, but it’s time to give this longstanding tradition of our great city the respect it deserves.”

For decades, the official Opening Day game was played in Cincinnati, so obviously the fans there are passionate when it comes to this particular subject. However, wouldn’t it make sense to declare Opening Day a national holiday throughout the country?

Here are eight reasons why Opening Day should be declared a national holiday.

For continuing coverage of Major League Baseball, follow Doug on Twitter @Sports_A_Holic.

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MLB Rumors: Luis Castillo Might Return to the Florida Marlins

According to the Palm Beach Post‘s Joe Capozzi, the Marlins have begun discussions on bringing back former Marlin great Luis Castillo, who was recently released by the New York Mets

Castillo, 35, won three Gold Gloves with the Marlins and was a three-time All-Star while winning World Series rings in 1997 (though he didn’t play in the postseason) and 2003. Currently Castillo holds the franchise records in games played (1,128), runs scored (675), hits (1,273), stolen bases (281), walks (533) and triples (42).

A Castillo return to Miami wouldn’t be a response to reuniting the former Marlin to finish his career where it all began but, in part, due to the recent struggles of Matt Dominguez. A week and a half ago, his average was at .353 but that has dipped to near the Mendoza Line as more of the seasoned pitchers have been out there, as opposed to the invitees and minor leaguers with the season nearing.  

However, Castillo would be far cry from his Marlin days, which also included a team record 35-game hitting streak in 2002. Last season, the 35-year-old hit .235 in 86 games with 17 RBI, no home runs and eight stolen bases with the Mets as he was plagued with injuries. 

Other viable candidates for a bench spot would be Emilio Bonifacio, Donnie Murphy, Wes Helms and Ozzie Martinez. 

Yet there is no denying that Castillo has outstanding plate discipline and brings with him a switch-hitting bat, qualities that neither of the aforementioned bring combined. In the past three seasons, despite shaky numbers, he has drawn 158 walks versus 118 strikeouts in 315 games. 

In a strikeout-happy Marlins lineup, Castillo would bring balance, and if he stays healthy throughout the season would bring an advantage over the younger alternatives. It would seem as though Castillo’s return to the Marlins is a no-brainer to say the least. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Derek Jeter or Brett Gardner: Who Belongs in New York Yankees’ Leadoff Spot?

One of the latest rumors coming out of New York Yankees spring training is who will be the leadoff hitter in the batting order. Will it be veteran shortstop and captain Derek Jeter or up-and-coming outfielder Brett Gardner? 

At the beginning of spring training, Yankees manager Joe Girardi maintained that the No. 1 spot is Jeter’s.

“We signed him to be our shortstop and we signed him to be our leadoff hitter. He had a couple of rough months last year [but by] September he was back to being Derek, I thought. So I’m not really too concerned about him as our leadoff hitter.”  

It seems that many Yankees fans, according to a CBS New York online poll, believe that Gardner deserves the leadoff spot. At last check today, Gardner had just over 70 percent of voters listing him as the one who deserves the leadoff spot.

Here is a look at who should bat in the leadoff spot.

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MLB’s Smokin’ Aces: The Best No. 1 Pitcher in Each Team’s History

Who is the best starting pitcher in each franchise’s history? 

Is the player from 80 years ago or is he pitching today?

Is there a clear choice or is there a choice to make between two or three pitchers?

The only rules I have as criteria are:

  • The pitcher must have pitched in a minimum of four seasons for the team (unless there wasn’t a very good choice, then any pitcher qualifies)
  • Any starting pitcher in the franchise’s history can be considered, from any city the team played in (for example, any pitcher that was on the Washington Senators that became the Minnesota Twins will be eligible for the Twins)
  • Only stats for that team can be considered, and
  • Any pitcher with ties to PEDs cannot be considered.

We’ll tackle each franchise in alphabetical order.

Please feel free to suggest a different option.  State your case well enough and I just might change my mind! 

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MLB Predictions: Predicting the Records of the Teams in the NL Central

Spring Training is in full force now, and we now have some insight into the teams of the MLB.

This piece is second in a series of seven, each predicting the records of teams in each division and then predicting the entire postseason (the schedule for which can be found on the last slide).

During the offseason, the Brew Crew did come winter cleaning of their roster, the Cards lost their two aces, and all four other teams in the Central made some interesting moves.  Now that the chips have fallen from the offseason, it is time to start predicting how the teams will do in 2011.

So, with no further ado, let’s get this started.

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Boston Red Sox: Daisuke Matsuzaka Pitching Himself out of Rotation

It’s been a horrific spring training so far for Daisuke (Dice-K) Matsuzaka. 

He’s pitched just one clean inning in nine chances this spring. Matsuzaka was hit hard again on Thursday by the Florida Marlins, giving up five hits, five earned runs and two walks in 3.2 innings. 

In his three spring training starts, he’s allowed 11 earned runs on 12 hits, five base on balls and three home runs in 8.2 innings. 

But the Boston Red Sox aren’t going to panic yet, claims Terry Francona. Matsuzaka’s their fifth starter for a reason. 

Still, his performances have been troublesome to watch.

The Red Sox won negotiation rights to Matsuzaka by posting a $51.1 million bid back in November 2006, which led to his six-year, $52 million contract through 2012. He is now in the fifth season of the deal and will make an estimated $10 million in 2011.  

Sure, it’s only spring training, but am I the only one losing confidence in Dice-K’s ability to pitch? 

It’s been 600 innings of ups and downs for the Japanese sensation. He still has a tendency to try to make that perfect pitch, which helps his strikeout rate but not his walk rate or WHIP.

Matsuzaka was quoted as saying, “At this point, I need to think why I didn’t perform as I expected.” He went on: “I’m not too worried about it.”

Well I’m glad he’s not worried about it, but I know I am.

In 2008, Matsuzaka posted his best statistical season in a Red Sox uniform, going 18-3 with an ERA of 2.90 and a .211 batting average against. Great, we may have gotten our money’s worth that season, but what has Matsuzaka done since?

Matsuzaka has some work to do after underperforming over the last two seasons.

Injuries and control issues have been at the root of his problems. Over the last two years, Matsuzaka has gone 13-12 with a 5.22 ERA.

A downward trend, to say the least, and his performance this spring only adds additional support to what’s probable for 2011. But let’s hope for the best, right?

The Red Sox probably won’t take his rotation spot away from him; he’s being paid too much money for that. However, they might find an excuse to put him on the DL this season if his recent performance continues.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

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