Joe Mauer Wishes the Best for Albert Pujols in His Contract Negotations

Twins catcher Joe Mauer became a full-fledged hero in Minnesota, and across baseball for that matter, when he signed an eight-year, $184 million contract extension with his hometown club before the 2010 season.

“It was where I was happy,” said Mauer, who was recently in New York City to promote MLB 11 The Show, a video game on which he graces the cover for the second straight year. “Another big thing was the chance of winning. I feel like we have a great chance of winning in Minnesota. I’m definitely comfortable there. I have my family and my friends’ support there, and I really couldn’t see myself in another uniform.”

Mauer is a Minnesotan through and through. He was born in St. Paul and became a three-sport star at the city’s Cretin-Derham Hall High School. Twins fans were ecstatic when the club drafted the local boy first overall in 2001 and even more thrilled when he passed up the chance to hit the open market in order to remain committed to the Twins through ’18.

Albert Pujols doesn’t have the same sort of connection to St. Louis. While he has spent all of his 10 major league seasons with the Cardinals, he was born and raised in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and didn’t immigrate to the United States until he was 16.

Nevertheless, Pujols is an icon in Redbirds country, which has made his recent contract negotiations so unsettling for fans. A preseason deadline came and went last month without a deal, and the slugger’s agent has said that further contract talks have been suspended until after this season.

After LeBron James’ free agency drama last summer, some sports fans are simply fed up with athletes selling their skills to the highest bidder or the team that can give them the best chance of winning an easy championship, but Mauer said every guy has to do what’s best for him.

“I probably would’ve handled things a lot different than some of those other guys, but it’s their life and you just wish them the best,” he said. “I know Albert, and I know he’s a good person and a good guy, and you just wish the best for him.”

Some are criticizing Pujols for how he is handling these negotiations, but he didn’t have to give his current team a chance to sign him to an extension before the season starts. He could have just waited until he becomes a free agent in November and is available to talk to any organization he wants.

Whether the three-time MVP is asking for too much is another issue, but the best player in the game should probably make the most money.

Twins fans are just happy they didn’t have to experience similar drama this winter with their prized catcher, but there was some uncertainly surrounding one of their pitchers recently.

Francisco Liriano avoided arbitration when he inked a one-year, $4.3 million deal with Minnesota last month. The southpaw requested $5 million, but was offered $3.6 million, so the two sides split the difference.

Mauer said the rest of the team wasn’t affected too much by the negotiations.

“We know what type of guy Franky is,” he said. “You have to understand it’s between him and the club. It’s not that he doesn’t like his teammates or anything like that. We’re going to support him and we know that he can help us out a lot. We want to see him take the ball every fifth day.

“Those things won’t distract you unless you let it distract you. You understand that it’s a group of 25 guys and you try to pull for each other and keep everything within the clubhouse. We’ve been able to do that over the years.”


Follow me on Twitter at @    JordanHarrison.

Jordan Schwartz is one of Bleacher Report’s New York Yankees and College Basketball Featured Columnists. His book Memoirs of the Unaccomplished Man is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and authorhouse.com.

Jordan can be reached at jordanschwartz2003@yahoo.com

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2011 Fantasy Baseball Preview: Why Austin Jackson’s 2010 Season Was a Fluke

Every year, a handful of MLB players get really, really lucky.

A few extra seeing-eye ground balls get through the infield, and a hitter best suited to benchwarming looks like a legitimate big-league starter. A good-not-great pitcher benefits from an unusually skilled backing defense and suddenly finds his name popping up in the same sentence as “Cy Young.”

One of the greatest innovations of sabermetrics is the ability to measure and isolate the element of luck in players’ performances (at least, to some extent).

As we count down the days until the start of the 2011 MLB season, we can use these new techniques to identify who amongst last season’s stars is unlikely to maintain a high level of performance this year.

So who was the luckiest player in the game last season?

There’s no way to know for sure, but there is no doubt that one of the flukiest hitters in baseball last year was a rookie center fielder named Austin Jackson

The Detroit Tigers got a lot of flack when they traded Curtis Granderson last winter, but they seemingly redeemed themselves when Jackson, the prospect they traded for to replace Granderson, finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting and made a name for himself as a player to watch for years to come.

In his debut season, Jackson hit .293 with 103 runs, 27 steals, and 3.8 WAR—solid numbers for any player, let alone a 23-year-old with zero previous big-league experience.

The problem is, Jackson doesn’t profile as a strong contact hitter. His 7.0 percent walk rate indicates below-average plate discipline, and his unsightly 27.5 percent strikeout rate puts him at the 10th-percentile for MLB hitters.

How did Jackson pull it off?

His saving grace was his .396 batting average on balls in play, the highest in the game, and 99 points above the league average of .297.

Batters have some control over their hit rates, and Jackson is the kind of player who could sustain a high BABIP. He makes good contact (24.2-percent line-drive rate, tied for the best in the league) and speedy ground-ball hitters collect more hits than their slower-footed peers.

But there’s a difference between a high hit rate and an absurd one. His .355 expected-BABIP reflects his impressive batted-ball profile and wheels, suggesting he will continue to leg out more than his fair share of hits.

But .355 is still a long way from .396. Plug his xBABIP in for his BABIP and, making the simplifying yet generous assumption that every hit he’d lose would be a single, his 2010 slash line falls to .264/.311/.370.

With a below-average OBP, he would have fewer chances to steal bases and score runs, which would drag his value down even further.

Accounting for the extra-base hits he would have lost by looking at the proportions of his hits that went for doubles and triples, his slugging percentage drops to just .337. Yes, that puts his slash line at .264/.311/.337. 

A guy with a .648 OPS isn’t a Rookie of the Year candidate. With that kind of production, he’d have trouble just finding a job.

Moreover, his high xBABIP is based largely on his exceptional line-drive rate. If he can’t keep that up, things could get really ugly.

That’s not to say Jackson is a worthless player. His good defense still gives him value (at least, in the real world—not so much in fantasy). Plus, he’s only 24, and has plenty of time to continue to improve.

Still, even if he takes a step forward as a player in 2011, you should expect a big regression in his back-of-the-baseball card stats.

For more of Lewie’s work, visit WahooBlues.com. Follow him on Twitter  @LewsOnFirst or  @WahooBlues. 

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Zach Britton Could Make Case to Be in Baltimore Earlier Than Expected

In yesterday’s spring training game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Philadelphia Phillies, Orioles’ pitching prospect Zach Britton made his major league spring training debut in the bottom of the third, relieving starter and fellow pitching prospect Chris Tillman with his team up 2-1. He then proceeded to throw two scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball, Ryan Howard.

Granted, that could mean he’s got great stuff and could transfer such success over to the majors, and it could mean absolutely nothing, as some things in spring training tend to do, but one thing is for sure: That’s a pretty impressive spring debut for any pitcher.

Britton, one of the five starting pitching prospects that Orioles’ President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail likes to group into what he calls “The Cavalry,” is viewed by many to have a bright future ahead of him once he makes it up to the bigs.

The case for his future success was made just a little bit stronger after viewing what he did to a Phillies’ lineup that featured six of their nine projected Opening Day starters.

A lefty who isn’t known for one single awesome pitch, but a variety of very good pitches such as his fastball and slider, Britton has spent five years in the Orioles’ minor league system, making it up to AAA Norfolk during the second half of last year, where he went 3-4 with a 2.98 ERA. His minor league numbers are a 37-28 record while sporting an ERA of 3.09.

Between AA Bowie and the AAA level last year, Britton combined to go 10-7 with a 2.70 ERA while amassing a career-high 153.1 innings pitched. That’s the second straight year the young hurler has had an ERA of 2.70, when in 2009 he went 9-6 over 140.0 innings pitched.

Many experts see him with the potential to be a No. 2 or 3 starter in the majors, while also making the prediction he will be in the big leagues by September, when rosters expand to 40 players per team.

Though it is universally agreed that, barring anything unforeseen in spring training, Britton definitely needs more time at the AAA level to develop, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see him in the majors as early as June, maybe even May.

Utility player Jake Fox caught for the O’s in their game against the Phillies, and after the game told reporters that the prized young pitcher making his spring training debut was “nervous as hell.”

“So I went out there to talk to him,” Fox explained to reporters, “and I was going to say something important and serious, but then I saw the look on his face and I knew that nothing was going to register because he was all jittery. I just told him a joke to see if it would loosen him up a little bit.”

It didn’t. But despite his nerves, Fox was very impressed with the way Britton pitched. He described the youngsters’ approach as “he came right after the guys,” and even went as far as saying he could pitch in the major leagues today and handle. He admitted that there’s room for improvement, but also added that everyone has room for improvement, and said the kid’s got great stuff.

True, that’s just the opinion of a utility infielder battling for a backup job, but no matter his status in the major leagues, he knows baseball. He has to in order to have made it this far in his career. So that opinion, coming from anyone involved in major league baseball, is a refreshing and supportive argument for the player. And he’s not the only one who sees the kid that way, as many experts and even O’s manager Buck Showalter do as well.

Don’t be surprised if you see Britton throwing out the first pitch of the ballgame at Camden Yards before the public schools let out for the summer. And don’t be surprised if he is successful this year as well. The kid’s got a sky-high ceiling. All he needs to do is reach his potential the best he can, and let the rest work itself out, because if he does that, it’ll work itself out in his favor.

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MLB Predictions: Strengths and Weaknesses for Every MLB Team

As baseball’s opening day approaches teams are sizing up their division chances. Spring brings excitement to every team. Even those teams whose chances look bleak have the potential to catch lightning in a bottle and make this season memorable.

For every team, it will take more than dumb luck to reach the postseason. They’ll need to play from their strengths and hope that there weaknesses can be covered or muted by breakout stars or exceptional play. So here’s a look at each teams strengths and their glaring weaknesses and what it means to each team. 

Begin Slideshow

2011 Fantasy Projections No 56: How Is Justin Verlander Like Wandy Rodriguez?

Our 2011 fantasy baseball projections will be released one-by-one until the top 100 players have been revealed. These rankings consider past achievements, current performance and expected future results based on standard 5×5 H2H settings.

Much like Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander has given us three very different looks in the last three seasons.

In 2008, Verlander posted ugly strikeout (7.30) and walk (3.90) rates, and an even uglier ERA (4.84) on his way to losing 17 games.

In 2009, Verlander flipped the switch, setting career bests in K/9 (10.09), BB/9 (2.36), ERA (3.45) and wins (19). His FIP (2.80) and xFIP (3.26) suggested he was (and would continue to be) even better.

2010 brought a more realistic, yet still very good version of Verlander. In his fourth consecutive season logging 200-plus innings, Verlander settled in with 18 wins, a 3.37 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 8.79 K/9 and 2.85 BB/9. His FIP (2.97) and xFIP (3.68) didn’t suggest anything out of the ordinary.

Last season also marked the third consecutive year in which Verlander improved in these important areas:

  • HR/9: 0.81 (‘08), 0.75 (‘09), 0.56 (‘10)
  • Batting average against: .250 (‘08), .240 (‘09), .224 (‘10)
  • WHIP: 1.40 (‘08), 1.18 (‘09), 1.16 (‘10)
  • ERA: 4.48 (‘08), 3.45 (‘09), 3.37 (‘10)

The key to Verlander’s evolution appears to be his changeup, which has also shown vast improvements over the last three seasons:

  • 2008: 3.2 runs above average
  • 2009: 7.6 runs above average
  • 2010: 12.3 runs above average

Further (as if you didn’t already know), Verlander boasts one of the most overpowering heaters in the majors. Last year his average fastball velocity was 95.4 MPH, second only to Ubaldo Jimenez.

If there are any red flags, they lie in Verlander’s recent Wandy Rodriguez-like home/road splits:

  • 2009: Home (2.81 ERA, 1.08 WHIP), Road: (4.04 ERA, 1.26 WHIP)
  • 2010: Home (2.31 ERA, 1.04 WHIP), Road: (4.45 ERA, 1.28 WHIP)

I hate to rank a player with such uneven splits this high, but his home (and overall numbers, in fact) are tough to ignore. Verlander owners might want to consider benching him for tough road starts early in the season, particularly his Opening Day matchup at Yankee Stadium.

Projecting Verlander for 2011, we now (hopefully) know what to expect from him. I foresee totals very similar to what he posted in 2010, a prediction I rarely make. The 28-year-old checks in as the 12th pitcher on our 2011 big board, No. 56 overall.

2010 stats 224.1 18 8.79 2.85 3.37 1.16
3-year average 221.2 16 8.81 2.99 3.84 1.24
2011 FBI Forecast 224 18 9.00 2.60 3.35 1.17



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Washington Nationals’ Jordan Zimmermann: Poised for a Comeback Year?

We have already covered a bunch of fantasy player projections for the upcoming 2011 season, and now I want to talk about one guy who I am a big fan of—Jordan Zimmermann.

(Yes, that’s TWO N’s at the end of his last name. Get it right, guys!)

Even though JZ is coming off a season where he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, the success stories of Josh JohnsonFrancisco LirianoChris Carpenter and Tim Hudson make me feel confident that he can return at full strength.

It is becoming more common for pitchers to undergo this procedure earlier in their careers if problems start to arise because they can come back stronger once their confidence returns.

In the ESPN mock draft, JZ was drafted in the 21st round (pick 202) by Jason Grey, who I think is the most knowledgeable expert in Bristol, and he also made the top 50 in both Brandon Funston (48) and Brad Evans’ (46) SP rankings over at Yahoo!.

It’s fair to say they are believers as well.

JZ hasn’t posted the greatest numbers in his stint as a pitcher in the big leagues. In 23 career starts, he has a 4.71 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. His real value, though, is in his strikeouts (career 8.79 K/9).

Let me point out the obvious first. JZ’s career numbers are a bit inflated because of his struggles with health and his struggle with his control after his year-long hiatus.

His return in 2010 wasn’t an indication on what type of pitcher he can be, because he was limited to five innings most of the time. Those seven starts were more used to get JZ comfortable pitching again and getting confidence back in all of his pitches.

Excuses aside, JZ is someone who possesses the skills to strikeout more than eight batters per nine, and given that he is over a year removed from his surgery, you can expect him to flash the potential he showed in 2009.

There is value in a pitcher who can strikeout over 150 batters, but don’t expect more than 175 innings because the Nationals will be protective given his health issues.

Like my colleague Bryan Curley pointed out in his Jhoulys Chacin fantasy projection, it’s better to take chances on pitchers with high strikeout upside later in your draft.

The Nationals drafted JZ with the intentions of plugging him into the top of their rotation, and without Stephen Strasburg this year, they will lean on him to deliver.


2011 Fantasy Projection

11-9 | 3.52 ERA | 1.26 WHIP | 157 K | 170 IP

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