Tag: Opinion

Jose Bautista’s $18M Re-Up Keeps Blue Jays Near Top of AL East

Jose Bautista may have entered the free-agent waters thinking they would take him to a better, richer harbor. Instead, they’ve pushed him right back from where he came.

And that’s not so bad.

A move that has seemed inevitable finally came to fruition Tuesday, when Bautista re-signed with the Toronto Blue Jays on a deal that, as reported by TSN’s Steve Phillips (via MLB Network Radio), will pay him at least $18 million and perhaps as much as $60 million:

Since mutual options are rarely exercised, however, it’s likely this pact will end up costing the Blue Jays just the $18 million.

That’s only slightly more than the $17.2 million they would have paid Bautista in 2017 if he’d accepted the club’s qualifying offer in November. And to hear Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports tell it, Toronto also got Bautista back for less than what was available elsewhere.

For Bautista, who’s hit an MLB-high 249 home runs since 2010, $18 million is a nice raise over the $14 million he earned each year from 2012 to 2016. So, at least there’s that.

And thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement, the Blue Jays won’t get to make him another qualifying offer if he chooses to test the open market again after 2017. And since Bautista won’t be tied to draft-pick compensation, the big payday that eluded him this winter could come next winter.

Of course, draft-pick compensation was just one thing that limited Bautista’s marketability this winter.

Another was certainly the specter of decline hanging over Bautista’s head. He’s 36 years old and coming off a season in which he managed just an .817 OPS and 22 home runs—his worst marks since the days before his big breakout in 2010. He also rated well below average on defense in right field.

There may be no fixing his defense. Even when Bautista was an asset in right field, it had as much to do with his arm as anything else. He acknowledged early in 2016 that said arm was still compromised from a shoulder injury that cropped up at the end of 2015.

“It’s using it when you need to, having the history of the injury last year, on an unnecessary throw, there’s more of a conscious effort on my end to just make the necessary throw,” he told Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca.

In an alternate universe, the Blue Jays could ignore this question mark by hiding Bautista at designated hitter. But with newcomer Kendrys Morales locked into that position, that’s not going to happen.

The bright side for Toronto is that it could afford to take a defensive hit this winter. Per Baseball Prospectus, it had the American League‘s most efficient defense in 2016. Even if the Blue Jays do take a few steps back in 2017, they could still be very good at turning batted balls into outs.

Of course, worse defense might require them to take a step forward (or at least avoid a step backward) on offense.

For that, Bautista and Morales will have to make up for what Toronto lost with the departure of Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders. Encarnacion left a hole the size of an .886 OPS and 42 home runs. Saunders left a hole the size of an .815 OPS and 24 home runs.

Morales should replace Saunders’ production, so the pressure will be on Bautista to put 2016 behind him and be more like the guy who averaged a .945 OPS and 38 homers per year from 2010 to 2015.

Guaranteed? Not quite.

As ESPN.com’s Keith Law expressed in his free-agent rankings, the real concern is that Bautista’s 2016 drop-off was a case of his age seeping into his bat and slowing it down. Per Baseball Savant, Bautista’s modest (for him, anyway) .463 slugging percentage against fastballs lends some truth to that.

But as far as offseason gambles go, there have been far dumber bets placed than this one.

While there’s no ignoring the various concerns that popped up during Bautista’s 2016 season, his core skills remained very much intact. He continued to show a fantastic eye, keeping his walk rate right where it needed to be. He also continued hitting the snot out of the ball, finishing with a career-high 41 hard-hit percentage.

Which brings us to the ZiPS projections. According to FanGraphs, Bautista will post an .868 OPS and hit 27 home runs in 2017. Not bad. And possibly conservative, to boot.

All of the above shows the Blue Jays are a better team with Bautista than they are without him. Not drastically better, but better.

If nothing else, they’re better enough to make an AL East race that didn’t look all that interesting before Tuesday look more interesting. The Boston Red Sox should still be counted among the league’s (surprisingly large) collection of clear division favorites, but now the Blue Jays have enough weapons to give them a run for their money.

Bautista and Morales alongside Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin and Devon Travis is a good lineup. A starting rotation headed by Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada must be viewed as one of the league’s best. In the bullpen, Toronto still has the criminally underrated Roberto Osuna.

Bautista could well be playing in his third postseason with the Blue Jays come October. Once there, he’s shown he knows what to do.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.

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Vladimir Guerrero: The $2,500 Signing with Mismatched Shoes and Clemente Tools

The kid showed up unannounced, riding on the back of a motorcycle, wearing shoes that didn’t match.

“One was larger than the other,” Fred Ferreira remembered. “He had a sock stuffed into one of them so it would fit.”

It was the spring of 1993, and Ferreira was on the outskirts of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. He works for the Baltimore Orioles now, but he was with the Montreal Expos then, running a tryout camp at a field in Mendoza.

The kid with the mismatched shoes was about to become the best player he ever signed.

“I’ve had 72 guys make it up there [to the major leagues],” Ferreira said proudly.

Some were stars. Some won World Series. Ferreira thought Bernie Williams deserved Hall of Fame consideration, but he never got there.

This week, that kid with the mismatched shoes could be Ferreira’s first in Cooperstown.

Vladimir Guerrero has a chance in his first year on the ballot, although the votes publicly revealed suggest he may fall just short. Ryan Thibodaux, who runs the Hall of Fame Tracker and follows these things more closely than anyone, has Guerrero at 74.4 percent so far, with 75 percent required for election.

Numbers like that mean Guerrero will get to the Hall of Fame, even if it’s not this year. A chance like this means Ferreira will be watching closely for the Wednesday announcement.

“I certainly am waiting,” he said.

He’s not alone. Every player on the Hall of Fame ballot has a scout who first signed him, a coach who first believed in him, an instructor who helped him along the way. Everyone has a story that becomes all the more cherished when the vote goes the right way.

Houston Astros scout Tom Mooney gave Jeff Bagwell a seven (out of eight) on power potential when Bagwell was at the University of Hartford and then recommended the Astros trade for Bagwell when he was still in Double-A.

“Remember it like it was yesterday,” Mooney wrote on his Facebook page after Alex Speier of the Boston Globe wrote about scouting Bagwell.

Texas Rangers scout Doug Gassaway clocked a 16-year-old Ivan Rodriguez throwing 93 mph to second base, as Sandy Johnson remembered in an MLB.com story by Tracy Ringolsby.

And Fred Ferreira signed Vladimir Guerrero for $2,500 out of a tryout camp in the Dominican Republic.

“Jon Heyman wrote in Sports Illustrated it was the second-best deal ever, behind the Babe Ruth deal,” Ferreira said.

It’s an even better story.

Guerrero wasn’t exactly unknown that spring. His older brothers had both played baseball too, and Wilton Guerrero signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers a year and a half earlier. Vladimir spent a couple of months in the Dodgers academy, but they never signed him.

The New York Yankees worked out Guerrero too, but as a pitcher. They told him to come back a week later, but in the meantime, Guerrero showed up at Ferreira’s tryout.

“We had about 30 kids already there,” Ferreira said. “The first thing we had him do was run a 60-yard dash, and he ran like 6.5. He ran that well with shoes that didn’t match. Then we had him throw from the outfield. They were good throws, very good, exceptional.

“Running and throwing, those two tools can’t be taught.”

Ferreira was intrigued, but he had to know if Guerrero could hit. They were setting up a game, and he told his assistant to have Guerrero lead off every inning.

“The first at-bat, he hit a ground ball to short and tried to beat it out,” Ferreira said. “He was really busting it down the line and then he pulled up. He’d pulled a hamstring. I saw him go sit in the dugout with his head between his legs.”

So that was it for the day. Some running in mismatched shoes. A few throws. And one ground ball to short.

Ferreira had a flight out that afternoon, but he decided on the spot Guerrero was worth a chance. The flight home could wait.

Guerrero told the Expos he had been working out at the Dodgers academy, which would make him ineligible to sign with another team. Then he said he’d been there 60 days.

“I said that makes him a free agent,” Ferreira said.

The Dodgers hadn’t signed him because they thought he looked more like his older brother Albino, who they released because he was too slow. They preferred Wilton, who eventually played eight years in the big leagues but was never a star.

“In this business, you consider yourself a success if 5 percent of the guys you sign make it to the majors,” Dodgers scout Ralph Avila told Jeff Blair in a story for the Montreal Gazette three years later. “[Vladimir] will be part of the Expos’ 5 percent, not ours. And that’s how it works sometimes.”

Guerrero told the Expos he was 17, so they would need his parents’ permission to sign him. He was actually 18, but they wouldn’t know until 2009 that he had been lying about his age.

Ferreira canceled his flight and made plans for the 40-mile drive west to Peravia province, where Guerrero was born. But first, Guerrero told them he wanted to stop at the Dodgers academy to pick up his things.

“It turned out he had one shirt there,” Ferreira said.

The signing was straightforward, as Guerrero’s mother quickly agreed to the $2,500 bonus. It was a different era. By 2015, when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. signed with the Toronto Blue Jays, he got a $3.9 million deal.

“I signed a crude Dominican player with great tools to play ball and a good disposition,” Ferreira reported back to his superiors in Montreal.

“They sent him to the Dominican Summer League, and I told the people in the office this kid will be Player of the Month for the next six months,” Ferreira said.

He had another message for them too.

“He was swinging at everything, but I told our instructors to let him do what he does,” Ferreira said. “Leave him alone. When he got to the States, Felipe Alou told him the same thing.”

Alou would later refer to Guerrero as a “baseball machine,” according to the Blair story in the Gazette.

Alou was the Expos’ manager by then, and Guerrero would soon join him. He shot through the Montreal farm system, skipping Triple-A altogether.

“After seeing Vlad in Double-A, our scouts said the kid had tools like [Roberto] Clemente,” said Dan Duquette, the Expos general manager at the time.

He never did stop swinging at everything. And hitting everything.

“Vladimir Guerrero is the best retired Truly Bad Ball hitter of our time,” Eno Sarris declared in a post on FanGraphs this month.

It carried him through 16 big league seasons, 449 home runs, a .318 career batting average and four finishes in the top four in Most Valuable Player voting. In 2004, his first season after signing a five-year, $70 million deal with the Anaheim Angels, Guerrero won the MVP award in the American League.

He had long since justified the $2,500 Fred Ferreira spent to sign him and the canceled flight home.

And when he goes into the Hall of Fame, you can bet his shoes will match.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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Yankees Spring Training 2017 Preview: Predictions, Players to Watch and More

Pitchers and catchers with a predilection for pre-planning (say that five times fast) have already begun packing their bags for Florida and Arizona. Spring training is almost here, people, and not a moment too soon.

As we prepare for the glory of fresh-cut grass and exhibition baseball, let’s zoom a lens on the New York Yankees.

The Yanks, as you’re no doubt aware, are in the midst of a youth movement and will balance their budding rebuild with an annual mandate to compete. 

New York’s camp will feature a handful of intriguing position battles, a rising star behind the dish looking to avoid a sophomore slump and talented youngsters hoping to break through all over the roster.

Stretch out those hammies, do a little long toss and proceed when ready.

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Cubs in Prime Position to Use Checkbook to Magnify Future Dominance

The rich get richer. The good get better. It doesn’t always work that way, but sometimes it does.

Just ask the Chicago Cubs.

One year after winning their first World Series since the debut of the Model T Ford, the Cubs are positioned for another deep postseason run.

Their potent lineup remains intact. They expect a full, healthy season from Kyle Schwarber. They plugged the hole in the back of their bullpen by acquiring closer Wade Davis and signing veteran setup man Koji Uehara.

FanGraphs projects a 95-67 record for Chicago in 2017, but that feels more like the Cubs’ floor than their ceiling.

That’s this year. But here’s a blood-curdling thought for MLB‘s other 29 franchises: The Cubs are positioned to get even better in the near future.

I’m not just talking about the growth of the club’s young core, though that’s part of it. Kris Bryant (age 25), Javier Baez (age 24), Schwarber (age 23) and Addison Russell (age 22) are all climbing toward their primes. Their output up to now may have been merely the trailer for an epic blockbuster, something FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron deftly illustrated:

It’s no secret that the Cubs have some of the best young hitters in baseball, but it is exceptionally rare for teams with this many young hitters to win it all. The last World Series winner with to give at least 2,400 plate appearances to players in the 25 and under category was the 1971 Pirates; unsurprisingly, the Pirates won 57% of their games in the 1970s, finishing first or second in their division in seven of the next eight years.

In addition to that, the Cubs are about to have money to burn. While this year’s free-agent class was weak, the next two will be strong enough for Chicago to flex its checkbook and add even more star wattage.

First, let’s don our old-timey green eyeshades and crunch some numbers. Between Davis, Uehara, center fielder Jon Jay, catcher Miguel Montero, right-hander John Lackey and lefty reliever Brian Duensing, the Cubs will shed more than $56 million next winter.

Those players will create holes if they’re not re-signed, obviously, though the Cubs can fill some with cost-controlled in-house options. Willson Contreras is already at the top of the Cubs’ catching depth chart, for example, and is years away from salary arbitration.

Chicago may opt to extend Davis if he has a strong season on the North Side. If the Cubs choose, however, they can pour their remaining resources into adding top-shelf free agents, particularly in the starting rotation.

One of the biggest studs in next winter’s class could be Chicago right-hander Jake Arrieta. The Cubs avoided arbitration with the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner Friday, signing him for one year and $15.64 million.

“There is certainly a chance he could be here beyond next year, but we don’t have any ongoing talks or anything specific scheduled,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein told reporters. “I’m sure it will come up at some point.”

Arrieta is a Scott Boras client, which means you should be conjuring cartoonish cash-register sound effects.

He’s also coming off an uneven year in which his ERA rose from 1.77 in 2015 to 3.10, his innings dropped from 229 to 197.1 and his strikeouts fell from 236 to 190.

He’s still one of the NL’s top arms, though, and is in the midst of his prime at age 30. With all that payroll freed up, the Cubs can pay him and still have cash left over.

They could use it to sign another ace-level starter next offseason from a group that will be headlined by Yu Darvish and Johnny Cueto, assuming Cueto opts out of his current contract with the San Francisco Giants.

Imagine a rotation headlined by Arrieta, Cueto, Jon Lester and control artist Kyle Hendricks, backed by the Cubs offense.

Speaking of offense, here’s another route Chicago could take: Save its ducats and sink them into the mythical 2018-19 free-agent class, which is set to feature Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, among others.

Yes, the Cubs are loaded in the infield and outfield. But finding a place to put Harper or Machado is the definition of a good problem to have.

Picture a Bryant/Anthony Rizzo/Machado heart of the order, keeping in mind that Machado is 24 years old and ranked seventh in baseball with a 6.5 WAR last season by FanGraphs’ measure. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

OK, have you caught your breath? Here’s where we add a few wet-blanket caveats. While it’s undeniably true the Cubs will have money to spend after this season even if they don’t raise payroll, it’s also true their young stars will get increasingly expensive as they move toward free agency.

The Cubs’ service-time shenanigans with Bryant bought them a little wiggle room, but it only delayed the inevitable. His cost will skyrocket when he reaches arbitration. When he hits free agency? Forget about it.

The new collective bargaining agreement raises the luxury tax threshold over the next several years, from $195 million in 2017 all the way up to $210 million in 2021. It also increases the penalties for clubs that go over, however, meaning budget-busting megadeals will sting extra hard. (The Cubs were one of six teams to go over the luxury tax this season.)

Epstein deserves credit for building this team methodically, stockpiling and developing prospects rather than throwing money at the problem. He’s also pulled the trigger on some key free agents, including Lester and Ben Zobrist, who were a big part of the Cubs’ title run.

Soon, he’ll have more cash to play with and plenty of players worth giving it to. The rich could get richer. The good could get better.

Sometimes, that’s the way it goes.


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

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Wil Myers’ 6-Year Extension Cements Franchise Cornerstone for Padres’ New Era

When the San Diego Padres acquired Wil Myers in December 2014, he was a talented, injury-prone enigma. Two years and change later, he has a chance to be a franchise cornerstone.

On Friday, Myers and the Padres agreed to a six-year extension worth “more than $80 million,” per Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal

The deal buys out three of Myers’ arbitration years and three years of potential free agency and keeps him in San Diego through his 31st birthday. Essentially, the Friars just went all-in on Myers’ prime.

If you’re in a pessimistic mood, Myers has flaws. We’ll highlight them shortly. The Padres, however, haven’t had a winning season since 2010, haven’t tasted the postseason since 2006 and have defined dysfunction under general manager A.J. Preller. 

Let’s start with the positive.

Myers enjoyed his best big league season in 2016, hitting 28 home runs with 28 stolen bases and 94 RBI. He made his first National League All-Star team. He graded out as an excellent defensive first baseman who also has experience at all three outfield spots, per FanGraphs.

It was, by almost any measure, the year Myers boosters had been waiting for since 2013. That’s when Myers won American League Rookie of the Year honors with the Tampa Bay Rays after posting a .911 OPS in the minors and appeared ticketed for stardom.

Now, he belongs to the Pads for the foreseeable future. And, more good news, they appear to have gotten him for below market rate. The ZiPS projection system pegged his value considerably higher than the amount Rosenthal reported, as ESPN.com’s Dan Szymborski noted:

So there’s the glass-half-full take: The Padres inked a special player who appears to be coming into his own for a relative bargain. He can anchor a young core that figures to include top outfield prospects Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe and help usher San Diego back to contention after years in the woods.

After jettisoning veterans such as Matt Kemp, Melvin Upton Jr. and James Shields, the Padres can turn to Myers for leadership, as well.

CBS Sports’ Dayn Perry called it a “sensible” move, which counts as high praise given San Diego’s recent track record. 

Alright, now for the caveats. 

Last season was the first time in his MLB career Myers played more than 100 games. He’s made multiple trips to the disabled list in his brief big league tenure, centered around lingering left wrist issues. In his first season with San Diego, the wonky wrist landed him on the 60-day DL.

Myers played 157 games last season, so you could argue he put much of that behind him. His performance, however, tailed off significantly in the second half:

“I know I’ve been horrendous in the second half,” Myers said in September, per Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune. “This is just a learning tool. I’ve not been this bad for this long of time in any level of baseball. It’s just the way it goes sometimes.”

Myers insisted he wasn’t injured. Instead, he suggested, it was merely him getting used to the rigors of a full MLB campaign.

“Being my first full season here in the big leagues and my first full season in three years, you find out what the grind is like,” he said, per Lin.

That’s something to keep an eye on in 2017. If Myers can replicate his 2016 production, though, he’ll be worth every penny of his reported deal.

The Padres are more significant now. With the Chargers moving to Los Angeles, the Pads become San Diego’s only professional sports franchise.

With monopolistic power comes great responsibility. Perhaps Myers can shoulder the load. 

We’re talking about a guy who knocked on the door of a 30/30 season. If his injury issues are in the past and last year’s second-half slide was an issue of conditioning, it’s easy to imagine him getting MVP votes.

Nothing is guaranteed. Pads fans have every right to be skeptical based on recent history. From most angles, though, this looks like a savvy move.

Smile, Friars faithful—you’ve earned that much.


All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.  

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Is MLB Headed for Dearth of Intense Division Races Next Season?

There are things the 2017 MLB season can be counted on to deliver. Mike Trout will make highlights. Giancarlo Stanton’s bat will make loud noises. Bartolo Colon will make assorted GIFs.

But if you’re counting on some intense division races, we need to talk.

It’s a little early to be looking that far ahead, but not too early. With spring training now just a month away, we basically know what teams look like on paper. And that’s what matters for projections.

And right now, they paint a picture of a lopsided power structure. 

According to FanGraphs, there’s a clear favorite in all six divisions. And by “clear favorite,” I mean a team projected to win the title by six or more games. Like so:

This would be unusual. Last season, two of the six divisions were decided by five games or less. There were two such division races in 2015, 2014 and 2013 as well. In 2012, four divisions were decided by five games or less. And so on.

Even in the weird world of projections, never mind just unusual, this is unheard of. FanGraphsJeff Sullivan traced the history of division projections back to 2006 and found that this is the first time that not even one race has been projected to be close.

This isn’t so much a matter of there being too many bad teams in the league. There certainly are objectively terrible teams out there, but the early division favorites account for just six of 16 teams projected to finish over .500. That’s a solid amount of contenders.

Rather, this is a case of these six teams looking really good, while those other teams only look regular good. And that’s not just apparent through the eyes of computer projections.

Start in the AL East. The Boston Red Sox may have lost David Ortiz, but that’s just one missing piece from last season’s 93-win roster. More to the point, it’s only one missing piece from an MLB-best offense that still has MVP runner-up Mookie Betts and a handful of other stars.

Plus, the additions of Chris Sale, Tyler Thornburg and Mitch Moreland could make up in run prevention what the Red Sox lost in run production when Big Papi retired. Sounds like a potential superteam

In the AL Central, the Cleveland Indians handily won the division last year with 94 wins before going on to win the American League pennant. Now they have Edwin Encarnacion and should also have healthy versions of Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar.

After winning only 84 games and finishing third in the AL West last year, the Houston Astros have padded their lineup with Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick and Brian McCann. Throw in an elite bullpen and a rotation in which 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel is just one of several rebound candidates, and all the pieces for a juggernaut are there.

In the NL East, the Washington Nationals entered the winter off a largely trouble-free year highlighted by 95 wins and an easy division win. All they needed was a center fielder. By trading for Adam Eaton, they filled that need with one of the most underrated stars in the league.

In the NL Central, there are the Chicago Cubs. They won 103 games and the World Series last year. And while some pieces (namely Dexter Fowler, Aroldis Chapman and Jason Hammel) are gone now, on the whole, the band hasn’t been broken up.

Which brings us to the Los Angeles Dodgers and their place in the NL West. It could be argued that they haven’t done enough by only bringing back Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen and Rich Hill and adding nothing new to a team that won only 91 games in 2016.

However, that relatively unimpressive figure was less a talent problem and more of a health problem. Per Baseball Heat Maps, the Dodgers racked up 2,418 disabled list days last year. If their notion is that a similar roster will produce more wins as long as the injury bug stays away, well, they’re not necessarily wrong.

So, there. Just in case anyone needed to hear it from an actual human: The teams that are supposed to be great actually look great.

Underneath them, there’s a shortage of candidates that could join the club. The San Francisco Giants are the only other team projected to win more than 85 games. And with Mark Melancon in to stabilize their bullpen, they have a real shot at improving on last year’s 87 wins. The projections may be underrating them.

Otherwise, questions abound.

The AL East is the Red Sox and then a bunch of teams stuck in a weird purgatorial realm. The AL Central is the Indians and then everyone else. The Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners are relevant in the AL West but lack Houston’s upside. The New York Mets will push the Nationals in the NL East but face health and defense pitfalls. In the NL Central, the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates have the distinction of simply not being on the Cubs’ level.

Certainly, the projections reflect all of this. But now also seems like a good time to acknowledge the obvious caveat with projections.

These things were not written down by Nostradamus several hundred years ago. They’re calculated by computers based on the likely production of each team’s players. Them being human beings and all, they’re prone to being swayed by other forces.

Like, for example, the World Series hangover effect.

Yeah, yeah. It’s a cliche. But one that Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost came face-to-face with last season.

“It’s a little bit different,” the skipper said in May, via Fox Sports. “They still have that desire, because they want to do it again. But it’s more work this year.”

It’s not just you, Ned. Ever since 2006—the year MLB got serious about performance-enhancing drugs—only one of 11 World Series winners has matched or beat its regular-season winning percentage the following year. Only four World Series losers stayed the same or got better the following year.

Down has generally been the way to go for each league’s reigning champs. That could spell trouble for the Cubs and Indians.

Meanwhile, the other favorites have more specific pitfalls.

The Dodgers have so far done nothing to solve their crippling weakness against left-handed pitching. The Nationals’ overall strength could be undermined by a bullpen that’s short on shutdown arms. The Astros will be in trouble if their starting pitchers don’t rebound. And as good as the Red Sox lineup could be, WEEI’s John Tomase isn’t wrong in writing it contains “four giant mysteries.”

The disconnect between what’s on paper and what could happen on the field raises the question of the projections’ track record with alleged superteams. Sullivan looked into that too in a piece for ESPN.com. And though he didn’t find a pattern of the projections being way off, he did find: “Overall, there has been a slight amount of underperformance among the superteams.”

The superteams failing to live up to their projections in 2017 is all it would take to open the door for upsets. And while there are good reasons why they don’t project as well now, the various teams referenced above could very well see an opportunity.

The projections make it look like six teams will be holding all the cards in 2017. If that ends up being played out in reality, 2017 will be very much out of the ordinary. And not in a good way.

Or, it’ll be just another baseball season. A bunch of weird stuff will happen, and at the end, even the experts will be muttering to themselves, “Hell, I just can’t predict this game.”


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.

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Making Sense of Baseball’s Edgar Martinez, Designated Hitter HOF Debate

The Hall of Fame lists Frank Thomas as a first baseman.

Not as a first baseman/designated hitter. Not as a designated hitter/first baseman.

Thomas started 340 more games as a DH than he did at first base, but nowhere on his Cooperstown plaque or on his page on the Hall of Fame website does it even mention his time at DH. Paul Molitor is a third baseman, according to the Hall, even though he started 1,168 games as a DH and 786 at third base.

When will we put a DH in the Hall of Fame? We already have.

Just not Edgar Martinez.

He was so good at the job that baseball named the annual DH award after him. He’s so connected to the job that you get the feeling it’s the biggest thing keeping him out of Cooperstown.

He was, as ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark wrote, “one of the great hitters of his generation.”

And yet until this year, I didn’t give him a Hall of Fame vote. I’m not alone. As recently as 2014, Martinez got just 25.2 percent of the vote.

He jumped to 43.4 percent last year, and Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Tracker has him taking another jump this year. He’s gaining votes, but he’s also running out of time. It doesn’t look likely he’ll get in this year, and he’ll be on the ballot only two more times.

In other words, it’s about time we figure out what to do with him. It’s about time we figure out how to judge a guy who barely wore a glove for the final decade of his career.

It’s about time we come to grips with the DH rule, now in its 45th year in the American League.

Do we judge a guy who was almost exclusively a DH (71 percent of his career starts and 98 percent of his starts in his final 10 seasons) the way we would any other hitter? Or does he need to be even better to make up for not contributing anything on the other side of the game?

Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated, who spends as much time as anyone evaluating Hall of Fame candidates, calls Martinez one of the top 30 or 40 hitters of all time. During the best seven-year stretch of his career (1995-2001), Martinez ranked third in the majors in Baseball-Reference.com‘s OPS+, which equalizes for league and ballpark.

The only two guys ahead of him during that span? Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire.

Neither of them is in the Hall of Fame, either, but that’s another argument. It’s that other argumentthe steroid argumentthat dominates Hall of Fame debates. It’s so overwhelming that it obscures other just-as-interesting discussions, such as what to do with closers and what to do with designated hitters.

The Martinez debate is more than just a DH debate, though. He finished in the top five in MVP voting just once (1995), and his career totals (2,247 hits, 309 home runs) look a little light, in part because he didn’t become a major league regular until he was 27.

He didn’t have as many big postseason moments as David Ortiz, a DH who will likely find an easier path to Cooperstown.

But Martinez was still a great hitter, and it’s hard to believe he’d have such a hard time with voters if he’d spent the majority of his career at third base.

“I can’t believe any AL voter would discriminate against him,” Bob Ryan wrote in the Boston Globe. “Has to be those NL Luddites.”

Yeah, except that two of the guys who didn’t vote for Martinez this year (Nick Cafardo and Dan Shaughnessy) have covered the Boston Red Sox for the Globe.

“I have left off Edgar Martinez, never feeling his numbers were quite good enough,” Cafardo wrote.

I know the feeling. I looked at Martinez’s numbers every year, and every year I thought, “Not quite good enough.”

Eventually, I realized I was looking for too much. I was asking for too much, trying to make up for what Martinez didn’t do on defense. I never eliminated him because he had been a DH, but I set unrealistic standards for him because he was one.

I switched this year, and I don’t expect to switch back. I’m not alone on that, either. Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Tracker has Martinez adding 31 votes this year (while inexplicably losing one). My Bleacher Report colleague Scott Miller was also one of the switches, citing many of the same reasons I did.

Martinez finally has momentum on his side. He has plenty of numbers on his side, including those where he compares favorably to Ortiz (147-141 edge for Martinez in OPS+, .933-.931 in OPS, 68.3-55.4 in Baseball-Reference.com’s version of WAR).

And just as it ought to help Trevor Hoffman that baseball named its National League Reliever of the Year Award after him, it should help Martinez that it’s the Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award (which Ortiz won in 2016).

Cy Young is in the Hall of Fame, isn’t he?


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

2017-18 MLB Free Agents: An Early Look at Next Winter’s Best Available Players

The 2016-17 MLB free-agent class was projected to be a dud, and it hasn’t disappointed.

Or, rather, it has.

A couple of significant sluggersYoenis Cespedes and Edwin Encarnacion—have inked major deals, but far more power hitters remain unsigned as the calendar churns toward mid-January. 

What about free-agent pitchers? Fuhgeddaboudit

As we warm our hands by the waning coals of this tepid hot stove and eagerly await actual baseball action, why not gaze ahead to the 2017-18 offseason?

It’s not as loaded as the mythical 2018-19 class, but it’s a more star-studded group than this year’s, featuring ace-level arms and All-Star-caliber players at premium positions.

We’re going to focus on players who are guaranteed to hit the market unless they sign an extension, so guys with opt-out clauses or team options aren’t being counted (if they were, Johnny Cueto and Andrew McCutchen would be among the possible additions).

Tap the mud off your spikes and proceed when ready.

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Each MLB Team’s Untouchable Top Prospects Entering 2017

It’s risky these days to call any prospect untouchable, as we’ve seen too many blockbuster deals in recent years to truly believe anyone is 100 percent safe from being moved in the right deal.

After all, who would have guessed that Yoan Moncada would be dealt this winter?

That said, a handful of prospects around the league come awfully close to being untouchable, as their future upside and expected long-term role with their teams make trading them highly unlikely.

Ahead is a look at each MLB team’s most untouchable prospect, though a number of teams didn’t necessarily qualify for this exercise, as you’ll see in the first three slides.

Is this a 100 percent guarantee that none of these players will be traded in 2017? Definitely not, but it would be a shock if any of them were moved.


Note: Players who still have rookie eligibility but are expected to begin the 2017 season on a major league roster were not considered for this article. That notably includes Josh Bell (PIT), Andrew Benintendi (BOS), Jeff Hoffman (COL), Alex Reyes (STL) and Dansby Swanson (ATL).

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Predicting New York Mets Depth Charts a Month Ahead of Spring Training

“Depth” is a loaded word for the New York Mets.

The Mets won the National League pennant in 2015 on the strength of their stacked, young starting rotation. Last season, the same group was beset by injuries, and it is a question mark going into 2017.

New York is also dealing with a glut of corner outfielders and uncertainty in center field, and it is likely to lose its closer for a significant stretch due to a domestic violence suspension. Injury issues lurk in the infield as well.

All that said, this is a talented roster fully capable of competing for an NL East title and making another deep postseason run.

As we slog through the final month before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, let’s run down the Mets’ depth chart, with the obvious caveat that further trades or signings will change the calculus. We’ll also take a look at some players waiting in the wings for when holes inevitably open up.

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