Cuban INF Yulieski Gourriel Available For Hire

According to MLB.com, Cuban infielder Yulieski Gourriel has been cleared to become a free agent and could sign with a team as early as this season. The 32-year-old has primarily played third base over his career (13 in the CNS and two in the JPL). He has also played at second base and short stop.

Gourriel has repeatedly expressed a desire to leave Cuba with permission of the Cuban government. He and his younger brother Lourdes (22-years-old) left Cuba’s Ciego de Avila team following its Caribbean Series back in February of this year in search of MLB contracts (per Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com).

Gourriel is regarded as the best baseball player in Cuba and it’s easy to see why when you look at his numbers.

Last year with the Industriales, Gourriel slashed a ridiculous .500/.589/.874 with 15 home runs and 51 RBI in just 49 games. Throughout his professional career Gourriel has a slash line of .335/.417/.580 with 1,585 hits, 250 HR, 1,018 RBI, and 611 BB.

Given that Gourriel is considered by many to be Major League-ready right now, I thought I would provide a look at one team from each division who could potentially sign him.

 

National League East: New York Mets

According to ESPN, the Mets may pursue Gourriel aggressively (and understandably so).

With perennial third baseman David Wright likely sidelined for the remainder of the season due to a herniated disk, the Mets could use someone with Gourriel’s experience who’s ready to make an impact.

Gourriel would also have a clubhouse friend in countryman Yoenis Cespedes, so this would seem like a match made in heaven on paper for both sides.

 

National League Central: Pittsburgh Pirates

Sitting at third place in the NL Central and two-and-a-half games back for one of the two NL Wild Card spots, the Bucs could use a potential offensive boost and change of pace in their infield.

Currently Pittsburgh is comfortable at third base with David Freese and Jung Ho Kang. They also seem comfortable at second base with Josh Harrison, but Gourriel could possibly platoon at short stop with Jordy Mercer.

If nothing else, Gourriel would be welcomed infield depth and could add some needed pop into the Pirates’ lineup.

 

National League West: San Francisco Giants

I’ll admit, the Gigantes are a bit of a stretch here when you consider their more than serviceable starting infield comprised of Matt Duffy (3B), Brandon Crawford (SS), Joe Panik (2B), and Brandon Belt (1B).

However, it wouldn’t hurt to have Gourriel behind any of those guys or allowing them to rest come the dog days of August.

With Hunter Pence possibly out of the everyday lineup until after the All-Star break with a torn hamstring, San-Fran could use a batter of Gourriel’s caliber.

 

 

(Photo Credit: Nati Harnik, AP Photo)

(Photo Credit: Nati Harnik, AP Photo)

 

 

American League East: Baltimore Orioles

The O’s aren’t exactly in dire need for an infielder either (see Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Jonathon Schoop, and JJ Hardy).

Nevertheless, with JJ Hardy still out and rehabbing a fractured left foot and the flexibility of the DH position, Baltimore could use Gourriel as infield depth in a platoon with Alvarez. The O’s could also put him at the hot corner over current starter Ryan Flaherty (while Machado covers at SS in Hardy’s absence).

As you can see, Baltimore would have options by signing Gourriel. And when you are trying to stay atop the AL East, having options is quite the luxury.

 

American League Central: Cleveland Indians

The Tribe, in my opinion, is the AL team who would benefit most by signing Gourriel now. Cleveland currently has a solid middle-infield with short stop sensation Francisco Lindor and veteran second baseman Jason Kipnis. However, the corners of their infield are getting a bit old (Mike Napoli, 34) and worn out (Juan Uribe, 37).

At 32 with 15 seasons under his belt, Gourriel isn’t young either but would seem more serviceable than Uribe at third. Though the Indians do have another promising young talent in Jose Ramirez (currently starting in left field but a third baseman by trade), the addition of Gourriel would give the Tribe more flexibility.

Cleveland is on top of the AL Central by a thin margin and Gourriel could offer assistance in helping distance that lead (you’re probably sensing an AL pattern by now).

 

American League West: Texas Rangers

The Rangers have been red hot lately and have a seven-and-a-half game first place lead in the AL West over the Seattle Mariners. A large part of that success stems from one of the more crowded infields in the majors (see Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Rougned Odor, and Jurickson Profar).

However, they could make room for Gourriel at first base by rotating with Mitch Moreland.

At the very least, Gourriel could share DH responsibilities with Prince Fielder while also acting as infield insurance.

 

Honorable Mention: Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees

 

Final Thoughts:

While I feel the Mets or Indians will make the most aggressive run at Gourriel, you never know who might throw their hat in the ring.

This development will be one to keep an eye on in the coming weeks. It would be surprising not to see Gourriel on a Major League roster by the All-Star break.

Power Rankings: American League East

The AL East has been heating up and here is how I see the division shaping out at this point of the season. Most of the teams have been playing well and here is where they land on my list.

5. Tampa Bay Rays

The way the Rays have been playing has not been great and their record has been telling that story. Right now they are 27-31 but they have been fighting to get back to .500.

They were recently swept by the Kansas City Royals and that was a tough series for them on defense. They did find a way to bounce back by winning their next 2 series against the Minnesota Twins and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Through 61 games there is still room for this team to work their way back into a good spot in the standings. They are capable of going on a hot streak and if they do they will be right back in contention.

4. Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays could be playing better, but right now they are in a good position. They are 3rd place in the division and 6th place in the American League standings.

The offensive fire power of this team is something special, but they have been struggling lately. They lost a series to the Tigers and now they are playing against their division rivals in the Orioles. They should be able to win the series and keep their winning ways going.

Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion have been carrying the load for their team with their hot hitting. They all have help from each other and that’s what makes them a championship caliber team.

3. New York Yankees

The Yankees are still trying to figure out what works for them and they are making different things work. They have arrived back to the .500 area after sweeping the Los Angeles Angels, but they are still fighting through injuries.

A big help in that effort has been Carlos Beltran. Beltran has been on fire recently and he was the driving force behind the sweep of the Angels. By getting on base and driving runs in he made a difference in that series.

They will need to win the next series to stay in reach of the rest of the division, but the way they have been producing runs makes it likely that they will continue their success.

2. Boston Red Sox

Boston has been playing like one of the best teams in baseball this season. They have a great record through 59 games and they are just playing great.

Recently they have not been showing how great they are. In their last four series they split two of them and lost the other two. It looks like the Blue Jays have their number this season although their records say otherwise.

Toronto could be a matchup problem for them later on in the season, but Boston will have time to adjust and fix what has been hurting them in those series against Toronto.

1. Baltimore Orioles

The top spot in the AL East power rankings goes to the Baltimore Orioles. This team has been the best team not only in their division, but in their league as well. They have a record of 36-23 and that can be attributed to great hitting.

This team loves to put big numbers on the board and they have been doing just that. In their last 5 games they have averaged 5 runs per game. The Orioles are good at exploiting bad pitching matchups against their lineup.

They recently lost third baseman Manny Machado for 4 games due to a brawl between him and Yordano Ventura of the Kansas City Royals. Hopefully that does not derail the hot streak the team has been on.

http://SportsRants.com

Potential Landing Spots For Lincecum

There was a time when current free-agent pitcher Tim Lincecum was referred to as “The Freak”. From 2008 to 2011 Lincecum won two Cy Young awards while posting a 62-36 win loss record, 977 strikeouts, and an average ERA of 2.81.

Since then, Lincecum’s numbers have significantly declined as his 2012-2015 win loss record was 39-42 with an average ERA of 4.60. After undergoing hip surgery in September of 2015 and no longer a member of the San Francisco Giants (as his contract expired in 2015), Lincecum is looking for a new home in 2016.

The regular season is fast approaching,  but a showcase date to see what the right hander can still offer has yet to be announced. Lincecum though, has reportedly been pitching in private sessions out west and his agent, Rick Thurman, claims that 20 MLB teams have asked for the 31-year-olds medical information (per Yahoo Sports Israel Fehr).

So, despite a declining stat sheet and injury concerns, it sounds like more than a few teams may be interested in the nine year veteran.  But, instead of guessing who those 20 teams might be, I thought it better to provide a list of ballclubs that are most likely to sign “Big Time Timmy Jim”. Let’s get to it then.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Bucs already have a more than capable starting rotation of Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Jon Neise, Jeff Locke, and Ryan Vogelsong entering this season. However, with the National League Central likely being extremely competitive again this year, it wouldn’t hurt the Pirates to take out a flier on Lincecum.

Lincecum could add depth to either the bullpen or rotation, and when the calendar hits August, a playoff hopeful team like Pittsburgh would relish being able to rest a starter or reliever and send Lincecum to the hill instead.

Also, Lincecum would be re-united with his former Giants teammate in Vogelsong. The two pitched together for San Francisco from 2011 to 2015.

 

Miami Marlins

Since former Marlins closer Steve Cishek’s self-destruction in 2015, Miami is left with only A.J. Ramos to take over in the ninth this year. Factor in losing expected set-up man Carter Capps to season ending Tommy John surgery, and the Fins might want to consider adding Lincecum as bullpen insurance.

Like the Pirates above, Lincecum could also be used as a change of pace for the Marlins pitching staff, or even earn the fifth and final starting rotation spot.

 

San Diego Padres

According to MLBTradeRumors.com and the San Diego Tribune’s Dennis Lin, the Padres have been “aggressively pursuing” the right hander for his services. It makes sense for San Diego to be targeting Lincecum, seeing as he is very familiar with the National League West division.

Lincecum could be used not only for pitching depth, but also as someone in the clubhouse who can provide guidance for Padres pitchers like Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross.

 

(Photo courtesy of Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

(Photo courtesy of Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

 

Kansas City Royals

You may be wondering why the Kansas City Royals are being mentioned in this post. Remember those private pitching sessions I mentioned earlier? Well, according to MLB.com’ Jon Heyman, the reigning World Series champions discovered Lincecum’s secret throwing spot recently, and were politely escorted out.

So, why would a team with a solid pitching staff and one of the MLB’s best bullpens be looking at Lincecum you ask?

For starters, the Royals have lost reliever Greg Holland for most if not the entire 2016 season, as he underwent Tommy John surgery late last season. Add the departure of short-term starter Johnny Cueto in free agency this off-season, and Kansas City could use an experienced arm for good measure.

Granted, the team still has a great pen in-tact with Wade Davis & Co. and their rotation can no doubt get the job done in 2016. Still, the fact that team scouts are sneaking to see what Lincecum looks like is stimulating enough.

 

Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore certainly had an interesting off-season that included signing veteran pitcher Yovani Gallardo, thinking they signed and then losing out on free agent Dexter Fowler, and most recently inking former Pittsburgh Pirate Pedro Alvarez to a deal .

Those moves, would lead me to believe the Orioles are still trying to figure out their 40-man roster, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Lincecum become their next target.

If the O’s were to add Lincecum, he could provide Baltimore some breathing room in the event Gallardo doesn’t pan out, or if the Zach Britton lead bullpen suffers a setback.

Also, since the O’s and Giants share a similar uniform color scheme, we already know Tim looks good in orange and black.

 

Los Angeles Angels

Los Angeles currently has two of their starting pitchers dealing with injuries this spring, and it could have a significant impact on the regular season rotation. Veterans Jered Weaver (neck) and C.J. Wilson (left shoulder) are listed as questionable to begin pitching by April.

Wilson and Weaver are currently shown as the second and third starters behind Garrett Richards on the depth chart (per MLB.com). In the event either of their injuries linger longer than expected, or should the ailments resurface this season, the Angels could do a lot worse than Tim Lincecum in trying to stabilize the pitching staff.

 

Honorable Mention: The Oakland Athletics, Cincinnati Reds, Texas Rangers, and Colorado Rockies.

 

Final Thought:

Tim Lincecum is far from “The Freak “on the mound that he once was. But after watching the resurgance of Scott Kazmir and Bartolo Colon in 2015, I don’t see why Lincecum can’t be next in line for a comeback.

http://SportsRants.com

Orioles Sign Former Pirates Slugger Pedro Alvarez

The Baltimore Orioles just added some more depth, despite Spring Training being in full swing. Last Tuesday, the team reached an agreement with former Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman/first baseman Pedro Alvarez.

Alvarez and the Orioles agreed on a one-year, $5.75 million deal. Signing a contract in March is obviously pretty late. However, Alvarez still has enough time to get acquainted with his new team. It’s unclear right now what his role will be with Baltimore. A good left-handed power bat, the Orioles are going to want to fit him in somewhere in the lineup.

The only positions Alvarez has played in his career are third base and first base. He has also served as the designated hitter when the Pirates faced AL opponents. There’s no way he’s going to play first base, as that’s where Chris Davis plays. Davis is one of the Orioles’ most dangerous hitters. Alvarez won’t play much of third base either. Manny Machado occupies that position for the Orioles. Machado played in all 162 games in 2015. Another reason he probably won’t be playing much of the field is the fact that Alvarez isn’t really a good fielder. He made 27 errors at third base in 2013, and 25 the following year. The Pirates decided to turn him into a full-time first baseman for the 2015 season. The move didn’t really help, as he still committed 23 errors at his new position.

If he’s not going to play the field, then the only other option will be to have Alvarez be the Orioles designated hitter. That is, unless they decide to use him as a bench player. Mark Trumbo was originally going to be the DH for Baltimore this year. However, he can also play the outfield. It’s now much more likely that the Orioles start Trumbo in right field so Alvarez can be the DH. Both players have a lot of power, so it wouldn’t make sense to put one of them on the bench.

The Orioles’ outfield situation then becomes more complicated. Trumbo would most likely start in right field. Adam Jones is the team’s starting center fielder. Nolan Reimold is probably going to be the starting left fielder. That leaves Dariel Alvarez and Hyun Soo Kim as backup outfielders. Kim played in the KBO League in South Korea until the Orioles signed him to a two-year, $7 million contract back in December. Alvarez was set to be the starting right fielder this year for Baltimore, but that all now changes because of the signing of Pedro Alvarez. Both outfielders will most likely still see some playing time, but not as much as they would if Trumbo was still the team’s DH.

There’s a reason the Orioles need to get Alvarez in the lineup. The 29-year old has put up good power numbers in his career. His best year came in 2013 when he hit 36 home runs, which was tied for the most in the National League that season. That year, he also collected a career-high 100 RBIs and was named an All-Star for the first time. Last season, he hit 27 homers and drove in 77 runs. The Pirates are definitely going to miss his bat. He was one of the biggest power threats in their lineup.

Pedro Alvarez is going to have a major impact on the Orioles. Something that brought them down in 2015 was not having enough left-handed hitters. They were too dependent on righties to carry their lineup. With Davis, Reimold, and now Alvarez, they now have a more balanced lineup. Not only is Alvarez a left-handed bat, he’s also a great power hitter. This was a very smart signing. The Orioles are now a better team than they were at the start of Spring Training.

Spring Training Storylines

Spring Training games are being played this week, meaning the regular season is right around the corner. While games in the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues don’t actually count, it’s still important for teams to make assessments and players to prepare for the upcoming 162 games that do matter. With that being said and without further adieu, here’s a quick rundown of a some players and team situations worth monitoring this month.

 

Leading Off

The Baltimore Orioles were recent recipients of bad news before entering Spring Training this year. Just when the O’s thought they had a true lead-off hitter for the first time since Brian Roberts’ last full MLB season in 2009, Dexter Fowler switched gears last minute and decided to return to the Chicago Cubs. With Fowler out of picture, Baltimore will have to use these Spring games wisely to determine who is best suited to be their lead guy.

Possible lead-off candidates include O’s third baseman Manny Machado (.359 OBP in 2015), outfielder Nolan Reimold (.327 OBP in 2015), and Hyun-Soo Kim (who boasts an average OBP of .406 in 10 seasons of Korean Baseball Organization play). While Machado can certainly be a top of the order batter for Baltimore, if Kim can impress in these Grapefruit league games, it would be more ideal to have Machado hitting second or fifth.

In theory, Kim and Machado could get on base with Adam Jones and Chris Davis bringing them in to score (or Machado could be used as an RBI machine if he bats fifth, he had 86RBI in 2015).

 

Maeda in America (see what I did there)

Speaking of international players like Hyun-Soo Kim above, former Japan Central League ace Kenta Maeda, now with the Los Angeles Dodgers, should be a lot of fun to watch this Spring. Maeda spent eight seasons with the Hiroshima Carp compiling a total win loss record of 97-67 with a 2.39 ERA, over 1,500 innings pitched, over 1,200 strikeouts, and a 1.04 WHIP.

Maeda is currently listed as fourth on LA’s depth chart behind seasoned veterans Brett Anderson (listed as third) and Scott Kazmir (listed as second). If his transition to major league play  mirrors that of his JPCL performances, I believe Maeda could become the Dodgers number two man in the rotation by the second half of the season.

 

Debut with Detroit

Making his debut with the Tigers, Detroit’s new left fielder Justin Upton has gone oh-for-four in the teams first two Spring Training contests. This is to be expected, though, as it will take Upton time to get acclimated to American League pitchers and Motown fans needn’t worry. Upton has hit 25 or more home runs in five of his nine major league seasons, including last year when he hit 26 to go along with 81 RBI and a sustainable .250/.336/.454 slash line.

Given that Upton  had to deal with the notoriously deep dimensions of  Petco Park in San Diego for most of 2015, I look for him to improve his stats and add some more power to Detroit’s lineup this season.

 

Who’s on First?

After seeing Hanley Ramirez struggle mightily in left field last season, the Boston Red Sox made the decision this off-season to move the former star shortstop to first base. The switch to first makes this the fourth position Ramirez has played in his 11 year career (he has also played third base). Whether or not Ramirez will have success at the position remains to be seen, and this will definitely be something to keep an eye on as Grapefruit League play continues.

Ramirez will likely also split time this year with David Ortiz at designated hitter, as this will be Ortiz’ final season. In the event Ramirez underperforms defensively at first base this season, the Sox may choose him as a short-term replacement at DH in 2017, since he is under contract with Boston until 2020.

 

Out in Left Field

The Texas Rangers recent signing of free agent and former Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, was somewhat surprising considering the Rangers already have an everyday SS in Elvis Andrus. Texas, however, will not be shifting the infield around in 2016 to make room for Desmond. Instead, the Rangers have decided to play him in the outfield according to multiple reports. Similarly to the aforementioned Ramirez, Desmond has primarily played at shortstop in his seven year MLB career.

The Rangers current depth chart shows Desmond starting in left field, with Josh Hamilton right behind him. Hamilton is also shown as being second on the DH depth chart, behind Prince Fielder. This will no doubt be an interesting development to watch as the season progresses for Texas.

 

(All depth chart information is per MLB.com, while all players statistics are from either ESPN.com or BaseballReference.com. Contractual info is from Spotrac.com)

 

Final Thoughts:

 

Spring Training, much like the Pre-Season in the NFL, is a time for all 30 MLB teams to make evaluations, get a clearer picture of what the 40-man roster will look like, and experiment with different lineups or rotations.

For fans, it’s a perfectly good excuse to take a paid vacation and enjoy all of the festivities it has to offer.

Welcome back baseball, we have missed you.

Top Ten Current MLB Droughts

It’s been said time and again that “Good things come to those who wait.” and “Patience is a virtue”. While those statements can certainly prove themselves to be true for most people, fans of the teams listed in this post may have a bone to pick with those proverbs. Heck for some fans, their patience has been stretched so thin, you could use it as fishing line.

WARNING: Astros, Brewers, Cubs, Indians, Mariners, Nationals, Orioles, Padres, Pirates, and Rangers fans may not wish to continue reading (and nobody would blame you). For everyone else still reading, I won’t keep you waiting. Lets dive into the top ten MLB droughts:

 

10. Baltimore Orioles

While the O’s were able to end a post-season appearance drought of 17 years back in 2014 (previous appearance was in 1997), they are still enduring a World Series title drought dating back to 1983 (32 years). Couple that with the string of last and fourth place finishes throughout their previous 17 year playoff drought, and the fans of Camden Yards are left clamoring for a championship. If nothing else to finally have some bragging rights over the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, who have won four of the last 10 World Series.

Finishing last year at 81-81 (.500 on the dot) and in third place in the AL East, Baltimore’s chances of ending that 32 year drought, in my opinion, is much like last years finish, 50/50.

 

9. Pittsburgh Pirates

Much like the Orioles, the Bucs ended their previous playoff drought of 20 years back in 2013, and just this past season had fans thinking they’d be raising the jolly roger flag in the World Series for the first time since 1979. Pittsburgh won 98 games in 2015, but saw their impressive season end abruptly after a 4-0 loss to the Cubs in the National League Wild Card game. This caused a 35 year old World Series drought to turn 36.

Despite being cellar dwellers in the National League Central during the majority of that previous 20 year playoff drought, the Bucs are now making the playoffs consistently. So maybe, just maybe, their World Series drought is close to being quenched.

 

8. Seattle Mariners

While the Mariners may have recently had another former star enter the Baseball Hall of Fame in Ken Griffey Jr., something  you won’t find in Cooperstown is a Mariners World Series trophy. That’s because since entering the league in 1977 (39 years ago), Seattle has never won the fall classic.

The Mariners 2001 season in which they won an MLB record 116 wins, along with the National League West division, is by far the franchises one shining moment amongst a collection of otherwise forgettable seasons. With 2001 being the last time the M’s made the playoffs, they currently have the longest post-season drought at 14 years. Despite some nice off-season acquisitions over past few seasons, and a solid pitching rotation headed by “King” Felix Hernandez, Seattle fans will likely remain sleepless for years to come.

 

(Todd Warshaw/Allsport)

(Todd Warshaw/Allsport)

 

7. San Diego Padres

Padres fans share a similar pain with Seattle in that they too have never experienced their team winning a World Series. Fans of the Fathers have suffered a bit longer though than the folks in Seattle. With the Padres entering the league back in 1969, San Diego’ drought stands at 47 years. To make matters worse, unless the Padres can pull of their best season since 2006 in 2016, it will be 10 years since San Diego last won the NL West.

San Diego can take some solace in knowing that they aren’t the only team to have a 47 year old championship drought. The next two teams on this list also have never won the big one in their franchises existence either.

 

6. Milwaukee Brewers

Like San Diego, Milwaukee has also never won a World Series since entering the MLB in 1969 (47 years). Additionally, the Brewers have never won a National League Pennant since joining the NL in 1998. The last time the Brewers did win a Pennant (1982), they were still in the American League. Bringing the total pennant drought for Milwaukee to 33 years.

As if those stats aren’t sad enough for fans of the Brew Crew, Milwaukee finished last years tumultuous, injury riddled 2015 season at 68-95 in fourth place of the NL Central. What’s ahead for 2016?

All signs point to them battling for who gets top bunk at the bottom of the division, with the Cincinnati Reds this year. My prediction, more of the same pain for the foreseeable future.

 

(Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

(Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

5. Washington Nationals

Entering last year, the Nationals were odds on favorites to win their first World Series in franchise history. As you’ve probably caught on to the theme of this post by now, things went sour for Washington in 2015. By the time the post-season arrived, the Nationals were on the outside looking in.

Like the aforementioned Brewers,  Washington has also never won a National League Pennant. Bringing their drought total to 47 years for both a pennant and a title. Fans of this franchise are used to waiting however.

This is because there was a 33 year absence of the teams existence in our nations capital from 1972-2005 (In 72′ the Washington Senators left DC for Fort Worth to become the Texas Rangers).

2015 aside, I feel that Bryce Harper & Co. can certainly rebound in 2016 and vie for the franchises first championship.

 

4. Houston Astros

After losing to the Chicago White Sox in the 2005 World Series, the Astros started to slip in the standings steadily from 2006-2010. Then from 2011-2013 they managed to finish last in both the NL Central (2011-2012) and American League West divisions (2013, switching from the NL to the AL). In 2014 they avoided a fourth straight last place finish by placing fourth a few games ahead of the Rangers.

When you add that slump to a 54 year World Series drought, it doesn’t exactly cause your fan base to believe it will end anytime soon. However, finishing in last place year after year doesn’t have to be all bad.

The Astros have used their top draft picks and made a few savvy free agent signings over those years, to build a playoff caliber team that surprised many last year. Houston bowed out, however, in the American League Divisional Series to the Kansas City Royals (The Royals would go on to win it all and end their 30 year title drought) .

Only time will tell if the Astros can continue their 2015 success story and possibly put an end to their Texas sized title drought.

 

3. Texas Rangers

The Rangers surged last year on their way to edging the Astros in the AL west to claim the division for the third time in five years. Coincidently, they also edge Houston on this list by one year as their drought for a World Series title stands at 55 years.

Although fans have been experiencing a yo-yo affect with Texas’ seasonal outcomes of late (Nearly winning it all in 2011, then finishing last in 2014), the Rangers seem to be only a few pieces of the puzzle away from putting together a championship team.

It will certainly be interesting to see if these Texas teams continue to shine in 2016, as both fan bases could use some reassurance that things are looking up.

(Photo Courtesy of ESPN)

(Photo Courtesy of ESPN)

2. Cleveland Indians

There’s no denying the state of Texas has suffered over the years when it comes to professional baseball, but no sports city in the country has suffered more than Cleveland. Enter the Cleveland Indians, whose fans are apart of a Tribe that’s endured a 67 year long World Series drought. The last time the Indians won a World Series, was way back in 1948.

Despite multiple fall classic appearances in the late 90’s, the Tribe tripped and stumbled each time leading them to an 18 year AL Pennant drought as well. The closest Cleveland has come recently to ending both droughts was in 2007, when they lost a seven game ALCS to the Boston Red Sox.

Hope, however, may be on the horizon for Chief Wahoo and the city of Cleveland. According to another Sports Rants contributor, the Indians  are the AL’s sleeper team in 2016.

 

1. Chicago Cubs

If I had a dollar for every year a Chicago Cubs fan said “This is the year, we’re winning the World Series” I would have $107. When you have to go back farther than an entire century to find your teams last World Series title (1908), superstitions, curses, even supernatural events start to become believable.

To put this into perspective, the last time the Cubs won a title the president was Theodore Roosevelt, gas was 20 cents a gallon, and the number one song was “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer (per the Huffington Post).

Chicago like Cleveland, has also suffered playoff collapses and heartache during their drought (see the Steve Bartman Incident from 2003). To make matters worse, as if the drought and playoff fiascos haven’t been enough, the city of Chicago has already seen a drought end. The Cubs longtime rival Chicago White Sox  (mentioned earlier in this post) defeated the Astros in 2005 to end their title drought of 87 years.

Despite all of this, the 2016 Cubs actually appear to be in a position to finally put that old Billy goat to bed. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see, but at least fans of this franchise have some hope again.

 

Final Thought:

While these droughts have no doubt been daunting for each respective franchise, we’ve seen a number of teams end their  post-season and World Series woes over the last 15 seasons. So, whether it’s been a few decades or over a century, just remember, there’s always next year.

 

The All-Free Agent Team

It’s now late January. We are about three weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting and 68 days from Opening Day. There are still quite a few good free agents on the market. There are so many, in fact, that you can make a roster of them and likely have a team that would contend. Just for fun, I made that roster. You are welcome.

Pitchers

Starting Rotation

1. Yovani Gallardo

Gallardo will be 30 next month and is coming off of one of the best seasons of his 9 year career. In his only year with the Texas Rangers, he went 13-11 with a 3.42 ERA in 184 innings in 2015. He might not have “ace” stuff but he will take the hill every 5th day and give you his best. He has started at least 30 games in each season since 2009. He brings experience (6 appearances in playoff games over 3 postseasons) and if you like the National League, he is not too shabby with the bat (12 career home runs, 83 hits).

Rumored destinations: Rockies, Orioles, Astros

2. Doug Fister

Fister had a rough 2015 after a 16-win 2014 season. He fought injuries all year and logged just 103 innings. Before that, he had three straight double-digit win seasons. He was supposed to be a huge part in the mega-rotation the Nationals thought they had last year. He was 5th in WHIP in 2014, finishing ahead of the likes of Madison Bumgarner and his former teammate Stephen Strasburg.

Rumored destinations: Astros, Marlins, Rockies

3. Mat Latos

Latos did not do himself any favors in 2015. With rumored locker room issues combined with an ERA near 5 with three separate teams, it’s no secret why he is still on the market in late January. There must be some team willing to take a risk when they look at his previous seasons. He had an ERA under 3.50 in every season between 2010 and 2014. He was in the Cy Young discussion in 2010 with the San Diego Padres. Some teams are scared to sign Latos but the talent is there. He may just need the right locker room. If he can stay healthy, he makes any rotation better.

Rumored destinations: Orioles and Royals

4. Cliff Lee

Lee will be 38 before this upcoming season is over. He’s had a really tough two seasons, battling through injuries and didn’t pitch at all in 2015. His last full season was 2013 when he was an All-Star for the Phillies, winning 14 games, striking out 222 batters and a 2.87 ERA. He has some left in the tank. He’s rumored to not be 100% healthy yet but there will be a team willing to risk it. He has logged 82 innings of playoff baseball and has 143 wins. Veterans are always needed on a rotation.

Rumored destinations: Yankees

5. Tim Lincecum

Lincecum won two straight Cy Youngs in 2008 and 2009. He has battled some injuries and struggles on the mound in the last few seasons. Perhaps a change of scenery would do him well. He only logged 76 innings in 2015. His WHIP was the highest of his career. He is only 31 so it’s not to say he can’t turn things around. He could start at the back of this rotation and be a solid plug-in guy for now. Before 2015, he logged  7 straight seasons of double-digit wins and he also boasts three World Series rings. Any staff could use that experience.

Rumored destinations: Padres and Marlins

Bullpen

Franklin Morales

In Morales’ only year with the Royals in 2015, he was a vital part to their World Series run. In 67 appearances, he had a 3.18 ERA. He struggled a bit in the playoffs but he has a track record as a solid late-innings guy. He is a lefty, which ups his value. He has experience in many ballparks in both leagues, having pitched 6 seasons in the NL and 4 in the AL. A team could always use a veteran lefty out of the ‘pen. Morales can be that guy.

Rumored destinations: Twins, Red Sox and Royals

Burke Badenhop, Middle Relief

Badenhop has appeared in at least 63 games in four straight seasons, including 68 last year. He posted a 3.93 ERA and finished 17 games for the Reds last season. He has pitched for 5 different teams and held an ERA under four for all but one of them. He won’t blow you away or become the next Trevor Hoffman but he is a steady hand that any shaky bullpen would love to have.

Rumored destinations: Tigers

Neal Cotts, Middle Relief

Cotts finished last season with the Twins. He had a 3.41 ERA in 68 games for the Twins and Brewers. He has pitched 141 games in the last two seasons. He is a lefty that has pitched for 10 seasons. He is a 2005 World Series champion and has pitched for both Chicago teams in the playoffs.

Rumored destinations: Twins and Cubs

Tommy Hunter, Setup Man

Hunter finished the season as apart of the Cubs after being dealt from the Orioles. He can get you a save every now and then but is mostly a 7th or 8th inning guy. He posted a 4.18 ERA in 58 total appearances in 2015 with a 4-2 record.

Rumored destinations: Mets and Orioles

Ryan Webb, Setup Man

Webb appeared in just 40 games for the Indians in 2015 but pitched well. He had a 3.20 ERA and when healthy, can be a viable setup guy for a depleted bullpen. He’s not a big strikeout guy but he will get the job done.

Rumored Destinations: Tigers and Indians

Tyler Clippard, Closer

Clippard is the only legitimate closer left on the market. He notched 19 saves last year as he bounced around from the Washington Nationals in 2014 to the Oakland A’s to start 2015 only to be dealt to the Mets at the deadline to aid their playoff run. He was an All-Star in 2014, posting a 2.18 ERA in 75 games. He had a 2.92 ERA in 2015 with both teams. He has appeared in at least 69 games in every season since 2010. For a team looking for a closer, the 30 year-old Clippard is likely the best option available.

Rumored destinations: Yankees

Starting Lineup

1. Dexter Fowler, CF

Fowler has gotten better and better in recent years. He has played at least 100 games every season of his career, which started in 2008. You can pencil him in for at least 7 triples, 15 home runs and right around 20 stolen bases. He is an excellent defender patrolling center field. He would serve as a good leadoff hitter, as that it what he has done for most of his 8-year career. He hasn’t had an on-base  percentage lower than .346 since his rookie year. He is also coming off of a career high in home runs with 17.

Rumored destinations: White Sox and Angels

2. Howie Kendrick, 2B

Fighting through injury last season for the Dodgers, Kendrick put together a good season at age 31. He hit .295 with 22 doubles and 9 home runs in 117 games. He is just a year removed from his best season in 2014, when he had a career high 181 hits. He gets the job done with the glove and will be a veteran presence towards the top of the order. Good hitting second baseman are always needed.

Rumored destinations: Diamondbacks

3. Justin Morneau, 1B

Morneau had a tough 2015 with injuries ending it early. He did finish with a .310 average in 49 games. Going back to his 2014 season, he led the league with a .319 clip and added 17 home runs and 82 RBI. The 2006 AL MVP has played 13 seasons in the bigs and has 241 career home runs. Granted, one could say he has had good numbers because he plays at Coors Field but that has been disproved before. He was a great hitter in Minnesota too. At age 34, he still has got some pop in that bat.

Rumored destinations: Rockies and Rays

4. Marlon Byrd, LF

Byrd might be 38 years old, but that hasn’t stopped him from totaling 48 home runs in the last two seasons. He finished 2015 with the Giants and combined with his numbers with the Reds, he hit .247 with 23 home runs and a .743 OPS. The guy can still slug it and could definitely be put in the cleanup spot. He was an All-Star in 2010 and hasn’t slowed down much since. In fact, his four career 20+ home run seasons have all come after the age of 30.

Rumored destinations: Rays

5. David Freese, 3B

Freese is mostly known for his clutch 2011 postseason for the Cardinals when he was NLCS and World Series MVP. Since then, he has quietly been a consistent presence at the hot corner. He hit 14 home runs last year while hitting a vanilla .257. However, he also racked up 27 doubles and had a .743 OPS. He still can provide a steady bat. He won’t blow you away with numbers but he will be there if you need him.

Rumored destinations: Pirates and Red Sox

6. Ian Desmond, SS

Desmond has been a constant in the rumors flying around many teams seeking a shortstop. And for good reason. Over the past four seasons, he has been one of the best offensive shortstops in the game. He has hit at least 19 home runs every season since 2012, when he was an All-Star. His numbers dipped a bit after a dreadful first half to 2015. He has hit 88 home runs in the last four seasons and is young enough to still be in his peak. He also has only missed 18 games in the last three seasons.

Rumored destinations: Rays and White Sox

7. Alex Rios, RF

Rios’ power has declined significantly in the past two seasons. In his last 236 games, he has hit 8 home runs. He can still hit, however, posting a .280 average in 2014 and .255 last season. He is likely a bottom of the order hitter now in his mid-30’s with no power. Now a World Series champion, there will be a clubhouse that will seek his experience in the outfield.

Rumored destination: Royals

8. Pedro Alvarez, DH

Alvarez is nothing short of a liability at first base, with 23 errors last season. That being said, his bat is worth putting in the lineup. He smacked 27 home runs last season and is just two seasons removed from a 36 home run, 100 RBI campaign in 2013. His average is usually below .250 but that power threat is tantalizing. As a full time DH, he could do some serious damage.

Rumored destinations: Brewers and Rays

Catcher: none

Bench

Austin Jackson, OF

Jackson started the year as the centerfielder for the Seattle Mariners. He was then dealt to the Cubs to aid their playoff run. He played 136 games, hitting 9 home runs, stealing 17 bases and hitting .267. He’s a guy with plus defenses and speed that can get hot with the bat. He also will stay pretty healthy, as he has played at least 129 games in every season since he came to the league in 2010.

Rumored destinations: Cubs and Rangers

Will Venable, OF

Venable was traded from the Padres to the Rangers after the deadline. He’s a plus fielder that gives you the occasional pop (22 home runs in 2013). However, he’s only hit 14 dingers in the two seasons since then. He’s been a consistent .245 to .260 hitter most of his career. If you are looking for a cheap good fielder who is competent with the stick, Venable is the guy.

Rumored destinations: Orioles and Padres

Jimmy Rollins, SS

There is some doubt as to whether the 37 year-old Rollins can still play a good shortstop. His defensive numbers have actually been pretty steady in his mid 30’s. There will be a team that will take a chance on Rollins. He has 2,422 career hits along with 229 home runs. He won the 2007 MVP. Last year he struggled a bit with the bat, hitting just .224 with 13 home runs. He did score 71 runs (he is 4th on the active runs scored list). Teams will value his playoff experience (.673 OPS in 50 games).

Rumored destination: Angels

Ryan Raburn, DH, OF

Raburn has not played a full season since 2011. However, he did hit .301 in 82 games in 2015. He has a bit of pop (16 home runs in 2013, 82 in his career). He usually puts the ball in play (.936 OPS with just 44 strikeouts in 2015). He is a nice bat to have come off the bench and maybe fill in a spot every so often in the outfield.

Rumored destinations: Tigers and Indians

 

Juan Uribe, INF

Uribe is getting up there in age (will be 37 during Spring Training), but he still hit 14 home runs and helped the Mets reach the World Series after he was dealt from the Dodgers to the Braves and then to the Mets. He still scares pitchers enough to make a difference in a lineup.

Rumored destinations: Dodgers and Indians

Clint Barmes: SS, 2B

Barmes is getting up there in age but he still can serve as a veteran presence that can play everyday in a pinch. He hit just .232 for the Padres last year but had his highest slugging percentage (.353) since 2011. He’s a clubhouse guy and any young team would do well to have Barmes on the roster.

 

So there it is. The all-free agent team. It maybe could contend, depending on the division its in. There are plenty of good arms available and a few good bats. Expect signings to flurry in before Spring Training hits later next month.

 

 

 

 

Yoenis Céspedes Market Heating Up, Deal Possibly Coming Soon

It appears the market for free agent outfielder Yoenis Céspedes is intensifying, according to numerous reports. If a deal comes to fruition, it means that one team is going to be getting a late Christmas gift.

ESPN’s Jim Bowden reports that Cespedes may be close to signing a contract for 2016, but the question remains which team is in the hunt? Teams like the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox have all been linked to the slugger. Cespedes is hoping get paid based off his excellent 2015 campaign, but teams are evaluating Cespedes based on his career totals which is likely driving down his offer prices.

The Mets remain a likely destination and there has been talk of a 1-2 year short term contract, which may be appealing to Cespedes since the market has not played out the way he would have imagined. Signing such a deal would allow Cespedes to build on his terrific finish to 2015 and prove that his performance is more of his “norm” as opposed to a fluke.

Reports indicate that the White Sox  have capped their offer at three years and the Baltimore Orioles reportedly had an offer of $90 million in play for Cespedes, but their re-signing of Chris Davis likely takes the O’s out of the race.

One team to watch is the Houston Astros, who many are speculating could swoop in an snatch up Cespedes. The Astros being in play is a bit odd, since they are rather rich in the outfield and don’t have a glaring need for another.

Jon Heyman reports that a short-term deal is not likely for Cespedes, which adds another layer of intrigue in how the market is shaping up.

Then there is always the New York Yankees, who have been trying to unload outfielder Brett Gardner and could use an outfielder to replace his possible departure. Signing Cespedes would also mean the Yankees could sit aging, oft-injured Carlos Beltran who has been streaky at best during his stint in the Bronx.

Regardless of where Cespedes lands, it appears that a resolution is on the horizon but that a clear-cut destination is still a mystery.

 

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Why the Orioles Cannot Keep Waiting For Chris Davis

While the MLB offseason continues, the Baltimore Orioles continue to negotiate with slugging first baseman/outfielder Chris Davis. Now it appears as though Davis is willing to sign a one-year contract with a team. However, the Orioles cannot continue to let the negotiations with him hinder them from making other moves this offseason.

The Orioles have to realize that at this point, paying Davis might not be worth it. Even if they brought him back on a one-year deal, the team would still have the same problem next offseason. They know that he eventually wants to sign a lucrative, long-term contract. Signing Davis to a one-year deal would just mean delaying the inevitable.

Davis, 29, has been with the Orioles since late 2011. He was traded to them along with pitcher Tommy Hunter from the Texas Rangers in exchange reliever Koji Uehara. Davis had immediate success in Baltimore, taking advantage of the shorter dimensions of Camden Yards. His best season came in 2013 when he belted 53 home runs and drove in 138 runs. He led the AL in both categories that year. He led the AL in homers again last season when he hit 47. Davis has one of the best power bats in all of baseball. If the Orioles do not sign him, another team certainly will.

No matter how good Davis has been for Baltimore, the team cannot let him control their entire offseason. They’ve already made a couple of good moves, but talks with him have prevented them from doing anything else. Back in early December, the Orioles acquired first baseman/outfielder Mark Trumbo and relief pitcher C. J. Riefenhauser from the Seattle Mariners for catcher Steve Clevenger. Like Davis, Trumbo is a power-hitting first baseman that can also play the outfield. Although doesn’t put up quite the same power numbers as Davis, he has hit over 30 home runs in a season twice in his career. In addition to trading for Trumbo, the Orioles also signed Korean outfielder Hyun soo Kim to a two-year, $7 million contract. Kim will most start in left field for Baltimore next season.

Ultimately, the discussions with Chris Davis are preventing the Orioles from seriously getting involved with two major free-agent outfielders. These two players are Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton. It appears as though the market is finally starting to take shape for both of these free-agents. The Orioles have been linked to both, but are being held back by negotiations with Davis. Cespedes especially would be a really good fit for the Orioles. He’s a good defensive outfielder with a great arm who is also a tremendous offensive player. As he showed with the New York Mets in August and September of last year, his bat can help completely transform an offense. He could be the type of impact power-hitting outfielder that Nelson Cruz was for the Orioles in 2014. Along with Adam Jones and Hyun soo Kim, Baltimore would have three very good offensive outfielders. Upton is a good player, but wouldn’t have quite the impact that Cespedes would. No matter what though, they cannot seriously talk to Cespedes or Upton until they decide to move on from Davis.

The Orioles need to decide what they’re going to do about the Chris Davis situation sooner rather than later. If they really feel that he’s worth it, then they should go all in on him and offer him a long term contract. It wouldn’t make sense for them to offer Davis a on-year deal and then go through this again next offseason. If he continues to keep them waiting, they need to realize that it’s time to move on. Trumbo could basically be his replacement. Cespedes and Upton won’t be free-agents forever. Eventually, they will be signed. If the Orioles continue to let Davis control their offseason negotiations, they’ll risk missing out on both players entirely.

 

Are the Mariners Contending?

The Seattle Mariners are actually contending, I know, the 66-71 Mariners are just going to do what they always do, drop a vital series and this article becomes useless. I probably would agree with you if you thought that, but something is different about this team, maybe it’s the September call ups and this is just a good ride for a short time. Maybe it’s the hot bats of Trumbo, Seager, and Cano combined with a solid closer taking over in Tom Wilhelmsen. Whatever it is; they need to ride what it is that is making them win and take it all the way to October.

They will be opening up a 4 game series against the second place (Wild Card and A.L. West) Texas Ranger tonight, and with the Rangers coming off a series lost in LA, they look to bounce back from that so they can regain some of the ground they just lost. What gives them the sense that they will be fine is just how poor Seattle plays in Safeco Field (29-36) in contrast to just how well Texas plays on the road this year (39-32).

In a recent 13 game stretch, the Mariners have gone 9-4 in that stretch, improving their record to 66-71. The Mariners have not been over .500 since May 26th. With less then a month of baseball left; Seattle doesn’t have any room to lose, but they have the biggest and most unsuspecting chance ahead of them; Seattle will face Texas 7 times, Anaheim 6 times, Oakland and Houston 3 times. Currently, Seattle is 9 games behind Houston, and just beat them in Houston, which is really hard to do, let alone was the first team to take Dallas Keuchel yard in Houston(Mark Trumbo). I’m not saying they are going to money ball their way into 1st place in the A.L. West, but they have a great opportunity to make the post season via the wild card.

It’ the strength of schedule for the remaining wild card teams that start to make you think; Seattle might have the best chance to do something here.

Texas faces Houston and Seattle 14 times between the two, and play two series against Oakland and one against Detroit and finish the season against Anaheim.

Anaheim faces Houston and Seattle 6 times and will open a series against the Dodgers tonight; they will also play against fellow wild card contenders Minnesota for a 4-game series. They will then finish the season against Texas.

Baltimore who is sliding and sliding fast, will have two series against New York, one four game series against Toronto, 2 against Boston, one against Washington and a four game series against Tampa Bay.

Chicago, Cleveland and Minnesota will face off against each other 5 times for the rest of the season, making the change of positions between the three in the wild card race so fluctuating that unless one of them run the table they will just keep beating each other up and remaining where they stand. They also will play Kansas City and Detroit 5 times between the three as well.

When you balance the schedule’s of all the remaining wild card teams, and look at the Mariners, who haven’t lost in September so far, you can’t help but think, something special could really happen if the Mariners don’t cool down.

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