The Price Isn’t Right In Boston Right Now

The Boston Red Sox needed to get an ace this past offseason, so they signed lefty David Price. He didn’t come cheap. Price inked a seven-year, $217 million deal with Boston. So far however, he hasn’t lived up to his big contract.

One of the main reasons that the Red Sox signed Price was because of how mediocre their pitching staff was in 2015. The team lacked a true ace. Clay Buchholz was really Boston’s best pitcher last season. He went 7-7 with a 3.26 ERA, but only made 18 starts due to injuries. Buchholz has always been a decent pitcher, but he’s never consistently put up ace-like numbers. Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski knew that his team needed a true ace going into the 2016 season. Price was supposed to be that guy.

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, he has not been the pitcher they expected him to be. Overall, he has a record of 8-5. However, this isn’t a good indicator of how Price has actually pitched. His ERA is up to 4.74. He’s allowed 109 hits and 57 earned runs in 102 innings pitched. Price just hasn’t looked like the dominant pitcher he’s always been.

His season got off to a rough start when he posted a 5.76 ERA in April, a month that included a start in which he allowed eight earned runs against  his former team, the Tampa Bay Ray. May wasn’t much better, as Price had a 4.62 ERA in the six starts he had in the month. He pitched somewhat better in June, as his ERA was only 4.08 for the month. He pitched better earlier in June, but he’s struggled over his last few starts. Last Friday against the Texas Rangers, Price only lasted 2.1 innings and let up six earned earned runs on 12 hits and had just one strikeout. His start on Wednesday on the road against the Rays was somewhat better, as he gave up four runs over 6.1 innings while collecting ten strikeouts. However, Price took the loss in the game.      

Given that we’re now into July, the MLB season is basically halfway over. Price’s stats at the halfway point aren’t all that flattering. He still has time to pick it up, but so far his adjustment to Boston hasn’t gone smoothly. Part of the problem could be pitching at Fenway Park. It’s never exactly been known as a pitcher’s ballpark. Given the short dimensions in left field, it’s hard for a lefty to have success pitching at Fenway. Still however, Price has always been a strikeout pitcher. In 2012 when he won the AL Cy Young Award while with the Rays, he struck out 205 batters. Two seasons later, he had a league-leading 271 strikeouts combined with the Rays and Detroit Tigers. In the 16 starts he’s made so far in 2016, he’s struck out 120 batter. His stats in this department have decline. The problem is that he’s allowing more hits and home runs. Price has already surrendered 15 homers this year. The most he’s ever given up in a single season is 25. That might change the way things are going.

David Price needs to turn things around quickly. He still has half the season to go, but he has yet to show any signs of turning the corner. Boston needs him to be the ace he’s been throughout his career. Right now, David’s definitely not worth the price that the Red Sox paid for him.

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2016 All-Star Preview

In the coming weeks baseballs brightest stars will descend upon Petco Park in San Diego for this year’s All-Star Week.

So, here’s an update of the top All-Star Game vote leaders and possible Home Run Derby candidates.

(All voting information is accurate per MLB.com as of June,27th,2016.)

American League All-Star Ballot Leaders by Position:

Catcher

  1. Salvador Perez (KC): 3,754,594
  2. Matt Wieters (BAL): 1,033,217
  3. Russell Martin (TOR) 981,618
  4. Brian McCann (NYY) 578,013
  5. Robinson Chirinos (TEX) 511,308

First Base

  1. Eric Hosmer (KC): 2,638,022
  2. Miguel Cabrera (DET): 2,088,920
  3. Chris Davis (BAL): 952,053
  4. Justin Smoak (TOR): 772,948
  5. Hanley Ramirez (BOS): 769,385

Second Base

  1. Jose Altuve (HOU): 2,186,949
  2. Robinson Cano (SEA): 1,276,010
  3. Dustin Pedroia (BOS): 1,081,667
  4. Omar Infante (KC): 949,308
  5. Ryan Goins (TOR): 757,923

Third Base

  1. Manny Machado (BAL): 2,196,732
  2. Josh Donaldson (TOR): 1,590,183
  3. Mike Moustakas (KC): 1,135,431
  4. Adrian Beltre (TEX): 1,099,086
  5. Nick Castellanos (DET): 789,144

Short Stop

  1. Xander Bogaerts (BOS): 2,825,025
  2. Alcides Escobar (KC): 1,478.645
  3. Troy Tulowitzki (TOR): 1,136,479
  4. Elvis Andrus (TEX): 917,112
  5. Carlos Correa (HOU): 694,103

Outfield

  1. Mike Trout (LAA): 2,972,582
  2. Jackie Bradley Jr. (BOS): 2,184,884
  3. Mookie Betts (BOS): 1,915,637
  4. Lorenzo Cain (KC): 1,821,746
  5. Mark Trumbo (BAL): 1,801,969
  6. Jose Bautista (TOR): 1,707,134
  7. Alex Gordon (KC): 1,165,980
  8. Ian Desmond (TEX): 1,133,422
  9. Paulo Orlando (KC): 1,065,647
  10. Carlos Beltran (NYY): 964,473
  11. Kevin Pillar (TOR): 934,982
  12. Michael Saunders (TOR): 903,050
  13. Adam Jones (BAL): 726,916
  14. Melky Cabrera (CWS): 518,476
  15. J.D. Martinez (DET): 497,102

Designated Hitter

  1. David Ortiz (BOS): 3,400,200
  2. Edwin Encarnacion (TOR): 1,131,827
  3. Kendrys Morales (KC): 1,102,349
  4. Victor Martinez (DET): 865,194
  5. Nelson Cruz (SEA): 799,967

As you can see above, certain AL starting positons like catcher (Perez), second (Altuve), and designated hitter (Ortiz) appear to be locked in. But, first base and the last outfield spot could see tight finishes when the final votes are tallied this Thursday.

Betts currently has a slight edge over Cain and Trumbo, meanwhile Cabrera could see his current (tied for the majors longest active streak with Bautista) six game All-Star selection come to end should Hosmer hold his lead.

(Starting pitching, bullpen, and backups will be chosen by AL All-Star manager Ned Yost of the Kansas City Royals)

 

(Photo Courtesy of SportsLogos.net)

(Photo Courtesy of SportsLogos.net)

 

National League All-Star Ballot Leaders by Position:

Catcher

  1. Yadier Molina (STL): 1,568,930
  2. Buster Posey (SF): 1,563,800
  3. Wilson Ramos (WSH): 1,282,287
  4. Miguel Montero (CHC): 854,629
  5. Jonathan Lucroy (MIL): 846,380

First Base

  1. Anthony Rizzo (CHC): 2,630,049
  2. Brandon Belt (SF): 1,233,499
  3. Paul Goldschmidt (ARI): 977,889
  4. Adrian Gonzalez (LAD): 734,448
  5. Brandon Moss (STL): 522,808

Second Base

  1. Ben Zobrist (CHC): 2,474,852
  2. Daniel Murphy (WSH): 2,167,918
  3. Joe Panik (SF): 768,312
  4. Neil Walker (NYM): 500,384
  5. Chase Utley (LAD): 488,170

Third Base

  1. Kris Bryant (CHC): 2,459,852
  2. Nolan Arenado (COL): 2,108,503
  3. Matt Carpenter (STL): 882,135
  4. Matt Duffy (SF): 665,802
  5. Martin Prado (MIA): 396,859

Short Stop

  1. Addison Russell (CHC): 1,741,182
  2. Trevor Story (COL): 1,423,547
  3. Corey Seager (LAD): 1,082,434
  4. Brandon Crawford (SF): 1,002,201
  5. Zack Cozart (CIN): 528,785

Outfield

  1. 1. Dexter Fowler (CHC): 2,230,877
  2. Bryce Harper (WSH): 2,253,083
  3. Yoenis Cespedes (NYM): 2,249,489
  4. Jason Heyward (CHC): 1,485,679
  5. Ryan Braun (MIL): 1,327,209
  6. Carlos Gonzalez (COL): 1,155,982
  7. Jorge Soler (CHC): 992,174
  8. Starling Marte (PIT): 893,952
  9. Andrew McCutchen (PIT): 816,079
  10. Stephen Piscotty (STL): 793,912
  11. Hunter Pence (SF): 764,004
  12. Matt Holiday (STL): 680,416
  13. Charlie Blackmon (COL): 644,191
  14. Marcell Ozuna (MIA): 578,015
  15. Angel Pagan (SF): 561,677

 

(Starting pitching, bullpen, and backups will be chosen by NL All-Star manager Terry Collins of the New York Mets)

 

You might have noticed a slew of Cubs players are currently projected to be All-Star starters this year. Granted at a few of those positions the vote separation margin is thin. As it stands today, though, fans could see Chicago accounting for more than half of NL-All-Stars starters (which would include the ENTIRE infield).

Fans will also want to keep an eye on who is chosen at catcher as it’s neck and neck between Molina and Posey. Meanwhile, those aforementioned cubbies infielders, Rizzo aside, could all be replaced (see Murphy, Arenado, Story/Seager) by the time it’s all said and done.

 

Home Run Derby Contestants (based on current HR leaders in the majors)

The derby has no doubt seen its share of rules and total contestant numbers change since 2013. Nevertheless, the 2016 Home Run Derby should feature eight players competing in a bracketed format with the NL and AL winner squaring off for the championship crown.

Rounds are likely to be timed rather than allotting players “x” number of outs as in years past. For a further history on the derby, and to see past winners, you can check out this link .

Below is a list of likely candidates for this year’s contest:

Mark Trumbo (BAL)-22HR**

Nolan Arendado (COL)-21HR**

Kris Bryant (CHC)-21HR**

Edwin Encarnacion (TOR)-21HR**

Adam Duvall (CIN)-21HR**

Todd Frazier (CWS)-21HR**

Robinson Cano (SEA)-19-HR**

Carlos Beltran (NYY)-19-HR

Nelson Cruz (SEA)-19HR

Trevor Story (COL)-19HR**

Chris Carter (MIL)-19HR

David Ortiz (BOS)-18HR**

Manny Machado (BAL)-18HR

Yoenis Cespedes (NYM)-18HR

Anthony Rizzo (CHC)-18HR**

Evan Longoria (TB)-18HR

Khris Davis (OAK)-18HR

Chris Davis (BAL)-18HR

Carlos Gonzalez (COL)-17HR

Mike Trout (LAA)-17HR

Josh Donaldson (TOR)-17HR

(** indicates a player I believe will likely be selected as a HR Derby participant)

 

Final Thoughts:

In the event you missed it above at any point, All-Star voting will conclude at midnight this Thursday June 30th. Fans can vote at MLB.com or anyone of the 30 MLB team websites and can do so up to 35 times.

This year’s All-Star game could be one of the more memorable ones, it’s Ortiz’s 10th and final outing, Story or Seager might be making a first time appearance, and getting to see Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale pitch on the same night is about as good as it gets.

Also, and this is an understatement, the Home Run Derby (July 11th) will be nothing short of a fireworks show, but with baseballs instead of roman candles.

The All-Star game will be played on July 12 at 8:00pm (EST).

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.

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Cubs Lose Jake Arrieta’s Start

The Chicago Cubs finished their series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 2nd. The Cubs won three out of the four games against the Dodgers, but failed to take advantage of a Jake Arietta start in their one loss. Arrieta went seven innings giving up no runs.

The Cubs lost the game in the last two innings. After seven innings, the game was scoreless, but two runs were scored off pitcher Clayton Richard in the eighth and three runs were scored off pitcher Adam Warren in the ninth.  The Cubs lost 5-0.

The last time the Cubs lost a game when Jake Arrieta started a game was in July of 2015. The game was officially a no-decision for Arrieta so it didn’t affect his win-loss record.

On June 5th, however, The Arizona Diamondbacks managed to put up three runs on Arrieta. The Cubs offense only managed to put up two runs in that game. The final score was 3-2, giving Arrieta his first loss in eleven months.

Best Rotation in the MLB?

As of June 4th, the five starters of the Cubs rotation all have an ERA under three. John Lackey has a 2.88 ERA, which is the best among starters. The average ERA of the five starters is 2.55, the best statistically in the MLB as of June 4th.

Hot Streak

The Cubs have won ten of their last twelve games as of June 5th. This comes after the Cubs had lost eight of twelve at one point in May. The Cubs are hitting especially well in their current stretch.

The home run ball has especially helped the Cubs. Anthony Rizzo hit one out to right field on the on June 4th and Kris Bryant has hit 400-foot home runs on consecutive days this past week. Dexter Fowler recently hit his 3rd leadoff home run.

Fowler has been especially good against opposing fastballs. According to an infographic posted on Inside Edge’s twitter account, Fowler has a .405 batting average when a fastball is thrown to him. Five of his home runs have also come off fastballs.

Looking for Relievers?

According an article published by ESPN’s MLB Rumor Central, the Cubs are possibly looking for a lefty reliever on the trade market. The news come in the wake of Clayton Richard’s struggles. Richard has an 8.00 ERA in sixteen appearances as of June 3rd.

The article specifically mentions Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller of the New York Yankees as trade targets for the Cubs. The Cubs have recently done business with the Yankees, trading Starlin Castro this past winter. The Cubs got Adam Warren in return, who has a 2.75 ERA as of June 5th.

Will the Yankees will be willing to trade one of their relievers? It is not guaranteed. The Yankees are currently six games back of the Boston Red Sox in the American League East, but could improve their standing as the summer goes on. It is too early in the year for the Yankees to give up hope on the postseason.

Throwback Thursday: DiMaggio’s Hitting Streak

Some say records, like rules, are meant to be broken.

However, Pete Rose’ 4,256 career hits, Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2,632 consecutive games played, Ricky Henderson’s career 1,406 stolen bases, and Cy Young’s 511 career wins as a pitcher, are all records deemed to be “unbreakable” by many.

Another record to include in the above list of legendary accomplishments, is Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak.

This past Sunday (May 15th) marked the 75th anniversary date on which DiMaggio’s 56-game tear began. His streak would end on July 15th, 1941. That’s two months straight of getting at least one hit per game. The average MLB player today is lucky to hit consecutively for a week, let alone for two months.

To put this feat into perspective, the 14 MLB teams in existence during the time of the streak played roughly 154 games a season. Meaning DiMaggio hit consecutively for an entire third of that 41’season, posting an insane batting average of .408 to go along with 15 home runs and 55 RBI for the streak.

This event also occurred when arguably the games greatest hitter of all-time, Ted Williams, still graced the field with his presence. In case you were wondering, Williams’ longest hit streak, was 23 games in 1941, the same year DiMaggio made history.

What makes the feat of getting a hit in 56 consecutive games so remarkable, is how stacked the odds are against a player to do so. In theory the act seems rather simple. A player needs just one hit, in an average of four at bats a game, over 56 straight games. In reality, however, consistently attaining that one hit is where the difficulty begins.

Any number of factors can bring a players multi-hitting streak to an end. The player could be on the losing side of an opposing pitchers no-hitter, the stadium being played in that night could be one of the less hitter friendly parks, inevitable player fatigue, the list goes on and on. Essentially all it takes is one off or bad night, and just like that the streak is over.

 

(Photo Credit: Mark Bloom/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo Credit: Mark Bloom/Icon Sportswire)

 

In all of MLB history there have been only 55 occurrences in which a player earned a hitting streak of at least 30 games. Of those 55, the closest player on the list to DiMaggio’s 56-games is the very player he surpassed in 1941, Willie Keeler, who had a streak of 45 games between 1896-1897. Simple math shows us that DiMaggio buried the previous record by 11 games.

Other notable hitting streaks include Pete Rose’ 44 games in 1978, George Sisler with 41 games in 1922 and 35 in 1924-25, and Ty Cobb with 40 games in 1911 and 35 in 1917. Sisler and Cobb are the only players to make the list twice.

In regards to more current baseball stars on the list, Jimmy Rollins had a 38-game hit streak which he strung between 2005 and 2006, followed by former teammate Chase Utley’s streak of 35 (2006) . The last MLB player to reach a 30-game hit streak was Andre Ethier in 2011. That same year, the last longest current player streak ended with Dan Uggla’s 33-game stint.

This exclusive club of 55 could possibly see member 56 join this year. Boston Red Sox Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is currently enjoying his teams day off as the proud owner of a 25-game hit streak, which leads the majors.

Bradley Jr. will have the chance to extend his streak when the Sox return to action this Friday (May 20th), beginning a three game series against the Cleveland Indians. “JBJ” would notch his 30th consecutive game on May 25th at Fenway Park, against the Colorado Rockies.

 

Final Thoughts:

What really makes DiMaggio’s record hit streak so special, is that he most likely wasn’t trying to break Keeler’s previous mark of 45. DiMaggio, like many of the greats from baseball’s Golden Era, was simply doing what all great players do, getting on base and producing runs.

For DiMaggio in 1941, something magical, almost other worldly took place during that 56-game span, that he probably didn’t even realize until it was all over. Now that record stands, as it has for the past 75 years, unmatched and unbroken.

As to whether Jackie Bradley Jr. can re-write the history books this season, only time will tell. With pitchers topping out anywhere between 100-105MPH and other increased factors playing against today’s hitters, we may never see someone come close again.

Of Course, people said the same thing about Babe Ruth’s career home run record, enter Hank Aaron, and then said no one could ever pass “Hammer’n Hank”, enter Barry Bonds with an asterisk.

Who knows, maybe you can beat DiMaggio’s legendary streak, yes YOU.

Since 2001, MLB.com and it’s affiliates have offered fans a chance to “Beat The Streak”. Fans can pick one or two players a day whom they think will get a hit, to try and build a 57-game streak. The current grand prize pay out for doing so is $5.6 million.

A word of caution though, the closest a fan has come to DiMaggio is 49 (impressive in its own right) by Michael Karatazia of New Jersey in 2007. (Fan Information courtesy of MLB.com)

(All statistical information courtesy of BaseballReference.com)

 

 

 

 

 

Pablo Sandoval Needs Shoulder Surgery

According to multiple reports yesterday, Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval will undergo shoulder surgery and could miss the remainder of this season. This news only adds to what has been a pitiful 2016 for “Kung Fu Panda”. Allow me to provide a quick recap.

Earlier this year during Spring Training Boston showed concern over Sandoval’s weight, which resulted in the circulation of some less than flattering photos on the web.

Sandoval went on to lose his starting job, as Sox skipper John Farrell decided to go with up-and-comer Travis Shaw in Boston’s Opening Series. Shortly after that on April 11th, Sandoval was placed on the disabled list with a strain in his left shoulder, which brings us back to the shoulder surgery and his indefinite absence from the team.

Not to add insult to injury, but Sandoval, who signed a five-year-deal with Boston back in 2015, is looking more like a $95million mistake and less of a marquee third baseman.

 

(Photo Credit: Anthony Gruppuso, USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo Credit: Anthony Gruppuso, USA TODAY Sports)

 

Sandoval, was ultimately signed by Boston for his solid bat (slashing for .294/346/.465 with 106 home runs and 462 RBI in seven seasons with San Francisco) and the clutch post-season performances he had with the Giants.

Panda though, has underperformed since his arrival to Beantown, as he struggled to slash .245/.292/.366 with just 10 home runs and 47 RBI in 2015. Add the season ending shoulder surgery, and Sandoval might be caught between a Brock and a Shaw place next season (that pun read better in my head originally, sorry).

Boston currently appears comfortable with Travis Shaw as their everyday third baseman, with ultra-utility man Brock Holt backing him up. Presuming Shaw continues to hold down the hot corner in 2016, and if Sandoval comes into next years Spring Training with more questions than answers, the Sox may end up eating a good portion of his contract when the 2017 trade deadline arrives.

 

Final Thoughts:

Behind closed front office doors, the Pablo Sandoval situation could become quite frustrating for Boston. Unless Sandoval can bounce back in a big way in 2017, I foresee him playing elsewhere in the not so distant future.

Sandoval’s contract currently runs through the 2020 season, but 2020 is a club option year and Boston could buyout the contract for $5million (per Spotrac.com) after the 2019 season.

Of course, given the Red Sox infield depth and the retirement of long-time designated hitter David Ortiz this year, it wouldn’t be farfetched to say that Sandoval may be used to temporarily fill the vacancy at DH.  Until then, the Fenway Faithful can only watch, wait, and see what happens.

 

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New York Bans Smokeless Tobacco at Yankees Stadium & Citi Field

When the Houston Astros and New York Yankees took the field on Wednesday night they were the first players to be prohibited by law from using smokeless tobacco for a regular-season game, a ban covers every person (not just players) in the ballpark as well. New York mayor Bill de Blasio signed the ban into law just before 5:00 pm, a ban that immediately went into effect as soon as the ink was dried.

The new law applies to all sports and recreational areas that issue tickets. New York joins San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles in enacting such laws but the Yankees became the first team to exercise it as they were the first team to have a home game among the group.

“We don’t want our young people to think smokeless tobacco is a cool thing,” de Blasio said.

A ban approved by Chicago’s City Council is expected to take effect by midseason while California has enacted a ban effective in 2017. By that time, 10 of 30 MLB stadiums and teams will have the bans in place. Legislators in Washington and Toronto are also considering the same.

“The bill sends a clear message: Tobacco has no place in New York City professional sports” said New York bill’s sponsor, Councilman Corey Johnson.

The MLB Players Association has resisted a league-wide ban despite an estimated 30% of MLB players using, an issue that will certainly be a major debate topic during negotiations with owners over a new collective bargaining agreement.

Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids,  said his expectation is that MLB players and others will voluntarily comply with the regulations, as have most people when smoking bans have become law at athletic venues.

Johnson, who chairs the New York City Council’s Committee on Health, cited the late Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and former All-Star pitcher Curt Schilling as prime examples of the dangers of smokeless tobacco and the long-term effects it can have. Gwynn and Schilling attributed their cases of oral cancer to smokeless tobacco.

Major League Baseball and the teams in cities with the new laws have expressed support for the legislation.

 

Can The Red Sox Reclaim The East?

Apart from a miraculous 2013 season that saw the Boston Red Sox once again as World Series champions, the team has spent the majority of the last five seasons in the American League East’ cellar.

In fact, the Red Sox finished at last place in consecutive seasons, 2014-2015, for the first time since the 1920’s (Boston finished in eighth place out of eight teams from 1922-1923 and 1925-1930 *they finished the 1924 season in seventh place*).

Nevertheless, the Sox managed to find success in the second half of last season by way of their younger players like Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Blake Swihart.

Add the off-season signing of David Price to the mix, giving Boston its first true Ace on the mound since Jon Lester’s departure, and the Red Sox are certainly in a position to manufacture more wins in 2016.

 

But can they go from worst to first again like they did in 2013 and reclaim the AL East division?

 

BaseballProspectus.com and their yearly PECOTA seem to think so:

 

Projected American League Final Standings for 2016

    Boston Red Sox                  87-75

Tampa Bay Rays               87-75

Toronto Blue Jays            86-76

New York Yankees          84-78

Baltimore Orioles           74-88

Ok, so technically they have the Red Sox tied with the Tampa Bay Rays at the end of 2016, which would result in one game playoff for the AL East title. And while tie-breakers are rare in baseball, only 14 have occurred in MLB history, you don’t have to look too far back to find the most recent example.

In 2009 the Minnesota Twins were tied with the Detroit Tigers both having a record of 86-76. The Twins defeated the Tigers in extra innings of their one game playoff contest, to capture the American League Central crown.

So, it’s possible (though highly unlikely) for a scenario like this to occur in the AL East for 2016.

Designated hitter David Ortiz is set to begin his 20th and final season in 2016. The Boston Red Sox will no doubt try to give “Big Papi” a retirement season to remember.(Chris O’Meara/Associated Press Photo)

 

 

The Red Sox will undoubtedly have the offense this year to earn them a championship in the east. With a lineup that includes David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia, Bogaerts, Betts, Rusney Castillo, etc. (as well as utility guys like Brock Holt and Chris Young), providing the Sox pitchers run support should not be an issue.

Speaking of pitching, Boston’s staff will ultimately be the difference between them taking home the hardware, and just barely making the post-season via the AL Wild Card this season. After Price, the rotation shakes down like this:

Sox Starters (Excluding David Price)

Clay Buchholz

Rick Porcello

Joe Kelly

Steven Wright

(Eduardo Rodriguez will eventually rejoin the rotation. He is currently recovering from a knee injury as he dislocated his knee cap. Rodriguez will begin the season on the disabled list.)

At first glance, Boston’s rotation appears capable of having success throughout the season. However, Buchholz (73-51 career win-loss record with a 3.85 career ERA), Porcello (85-78 total win-loss record and a 4.39 career ERA), and Kelly (31-22 career win-loss record with a 3.82 career ERA) have all been consistently inconsistent during their respective major league campaigns . Hence my reasoning for the rotation ultimately determining the teams 2016 outcome.

Steven Wright could be a “silver lining” though, as the knuckleballer has been impressive this spring and could become a key contributor in the end. The eventual return of Eduardo Rodriguez, should also help provide some re-assurance if it’s needed.

Final Thoughts:

The AL East has become one of baseballs toughest divisions from top to bottom of late. I could easily see four of the five teams in the division (the Sox, Jays, Rays, and Yankees) winning 85 or more games this season, and the race for first place will be closely contested.

If David Price can notch a 18-20 win season, with the rest of the rotation winning 10-12 games, and the everyday lineup stays healthy, I believe Boston can win its eighth AL East division title in 2016.

 

 

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.

Looking Ahead: 2018 MLB Free Agents

Picture this…

It’s the winter of 2018. A few months earlier, the Chicago Cubs win their first World Series in 110 years by defeating the Houston Astros (hey it could happen). After jubilant Cubs fans everywhere calm themselves from a long overdue celebration, Chicago and the other 29 MLB teams turn their attention to the off-season.

The Free agency pool looks like the 1992 Olympics “Dream Team”. It features a host of all-stars, gold glovers, silver sluggers, Cy Young and MVP award winners. One major leaguer from this group will become baseballs first half-a-billion dollar man, others will strike deals that far surpass previous contract figures at their respective positions.

Reality Check

Ok, so the bit about the Cubs winning the World Series was purely for fun (though it’s not out of the realm of possibility), however, the rest could actually happen in 2018.

In what promises to be one of the best free agent classes we’ve seen in a long time, the 2018 off-season will be nothing short of astounding. Below are just some of the top names that could be available for hire:

Starting Pitchers

David Price*

Clayton Kershaw*

Matt Harvey

Jose Fernandez

Shelby Miller

Dallas Kuechel

Garrett Richards

Jose Quintana

Jake Arrieta

Closers/Relievers

Craig Kimbrel

Wade Davis

Trevor Rosenthal

Andrew Miller

Luke Gregerson

Jake McGee

Steve Cishek (pending he hasn’t completely combusted by 2018)

Infielders

Josh Donaldson

Manny Machado

Dee Gordon

Eric Hosmer

Mike Moustakas

Jose Iglesias

Outfielders

Bryce Harper

Andrew McCutchen

Jason Heyward*

Michael Brantley

Adam Jones

Lorenzo Cain

A.J. Pollock

(* indicates players who can opt-out of their current contracts in 2018)

Depending upon who ends up where, there could be a tremendous shift of power in both the American and National League. Of, course there are still three seasons to be played between now and the winter of 2018.

This means a number of the individuals listed above could very well be re-signed by way of contract extensions, or stick out their current contracts. Also, a few of these players could decline significantly in performance, suffer career altering injuries, or even become part of a blockbuster trade before 2018 arrives.

Nevertheless, the level of talent available by then will still be plentiful. While it’s difficult to say where these and other free agents will wind up, I will take a shot at projecting where four of the above free agents might land in 2018.

 

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

 

Fantastic Four

 

1. Bryce Harper (NYY,WSH,LAD)

Harper will be the most coveted free agent prize in 2018 for a plethora of reasons. At 27-years-old, he’ll be in his prime as a player and will likely command a record setting contract. Per ESPN.com, the gifted outfielder was interviewed recently by 106.7 FM The Fan, and was asked about his thoughts regarding his next contract possibly exceeding the $400 million mark, to which Harper replied

“Yeah, I mean, I don’t really think about that stuff” Harper said. “I just try to play the years out and do everything I can to help my team win. But don’t sell  me short. That’s what you’re doing right now to me, so don’t do that.”(quote per 106.7 FM The Fan interview)

Given that Harper himself expects a big payday, there are only a few teams I feel that can cash his potentially historic check. It’s no secret, or surprise, that the New York Yankees (notorious for big off-season spending sprees) are a likely destination for Harper in 2018.

Many MLB experts believe the Bronx Bombers have been inactive in the off-season recently, in order to cash in on the likes of Harper and others once 2018 arrives.

While there could be some risk involved with the Yankees playing the waiting game, being able to unload hefty contracts such as Alex Rodriguez (free agent in 2018, C.C. Sabathia (free agent in 2018), and Mark Teixeira’ (free agent in 2017) will allow New York to spend freely in the 2018 Free Agency.

Imagine a NYY outfield composed of Bryce Harper, Jacoby Ellsbury, and a still effective Brett Gardner entering the 2019 season. Harper’s home run power coupled with the hitter friendly dimensions of the New Yankee Stadium would be a match made in heaven for New York.

Furthermore, it would be fitting for the Yanks to yet again break the contract record books (as they did with A-Rod before, 10 years at $275 million) by signing Harper to say a 12-year $450 million deal.

Of course, just because the Yankees will have money to spend in 2018, doesn’t mean everyone else is out of the running for Bryce Harper. His current team, the Washington Nationals, could go all-in and up the contract ante to a whopping 15-year $500 million mega deal.

Then again, they could structure the deal to guarantee “x amount” of dollars in a 10-year $400 million deal ($40 million annually) that might appeal more to Harper.

The Nats, however, may not be able to best New York in a bidding war in 2018. Over the next three seasons they will have other key players looking to cash in for their time and services to the team (Stephen Strasburg, Jayson Werth, Danny Espinosa, etc).

Meaning, even if they manage to keep some of those players around by 2018, there simply may not be enough money in the bank to convince number 34 to stay in D.C.

Finally, another big market team (like the Yanks) that could potentially court Harper…the Los Angeles Dodgers. LA hasn’t been shy in seasons past when it comes to spending big money on top talent, though they have yet to see the desired results from said investments. Nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say the Dodgers pursuing Harper would surprise no one, and is highly probable.

Imagine for a second a Dodgers outfield consisting of Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, and Harper. This would give LA one of the scariest 3-4-and-5 hitter combinations in the league, for years to come. Combine that offensive output with a Clayton Kershaw led pitching staff, and the Dodgers would be heavily favored champions entering the 2019 season.

 

(Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports)

(Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports)

 

2. Clayton Kershaw (LAD,ATL,PHI)

Speaking of Kershaw, and as previously mentioned in this post, he could very well opt-out of his current contract and seek an even bigger pay-day in 2018. While I think Kershaw will ultimately stay with LA, it is becoming more commonplace to see players using the opt-out clause of their contracts to seek larger contracts elsewhere, rather than stay with a franchise for their career.

Kershaw has been with the Dodgers since 2008, which would bring his tenure with the team to a decade in 2018. By todays standards, that’s a long time playing in one uniform. Given the post-season struggles LA has faced in Kershaw’ time out west, he very well could be ready for a change of scenery.

For the sake of this post at least, lets pretend Kershaw tires of being on the hill in Hollywood and opts out of his contract. One of the teams who I feel will be interested, is the Atlanta Braves. While they may not look like much entering the 2016 season, the Braves can certainly turn things around in 2018 by adding some top tier pitching and other pieces to go along with franchise player and first baseman Freddie Freeman.

Should Kershaw become available, Atlanta would likely try and persuade the three time Cy Young award winner to come to tomahawk chop country. As far as being able to afford Kershaw or outbid the Dodgers, the Arizona Diamondbacks signing of Zack Greinke in 2016 is proof that a deal can always be made.

Lastly, and this team comes in as a total dark-horse for Kershaw, the Philadelphia Phillies could shock the baseball world and strike a deal. The Phillies would not only have the salary cap space to sign Kershaw, but could also add another top-tier free agent like a Josh Donaldson, or Jason Heyward (should he also opt-out). This is because in 2018, the Phils have virtually no money going towards major contractual commitments (per MLB.com writer Anthony Castrovince).

Again, Philly may be a bit of a stretch, but like Atlanta, they’ll be rebuilding over the next few seasons. No better way to do so, than going after one of the best arms on the open market.

 

3. Josh Donaldson (TOR,BOS,NYM)

The reigning AL’s most valued player could bring in another MVP award between now and 2018, and will likely convince Toronto to keep him in Canada. The Blue Jays have certainly shown the other large market teams of the AL East that they too can splurge of talent. Of course, like the Dodgers, those dollars spent haven’t yet translated into gold rings.

Nevertheless, Toronto should be in a good position by 2018 to not only keep their multi-talented third baseman, but also compete for a championship. The Jays, will not be alone, however, in trying to talk money with the “Bringer of Rain”.

Another team that may be in need of Donaldson’ services could be the division rival Boston Red Sox. Sure the Sox have current third baseman Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval under contract until the year 2021. But, considering that the Panda hasn’t exactly panned out the way Boston originally hoped, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Sox trade Sandoval away before the 2018 free agency, thus allowing the pursuit of Donaldson.

Of course, by trading Pablo away, the Bo Sox would have to eat a chunk of his contract. Throw in possibly having to re-bid or restructure a contract for David Price (should he opt-out in 2018) and the Sox might think twice about splurging the way they did back in 2011 (and we all know how that worked out, see 2012 Sox Collapse).

One last possible destination for Donaldson, could be the revamped New York Mets. Seeing as David Wright (who will turn 36 in 2018) could possibly hang up his cleats after an illustrious 14-year MLB career by 2018, Donaldson’ availability could be perfect timing for the Mets. Add Donaldson to an already potent lineup, with a rising, young,  and talented pitching rotation, and the Mets have a championship caliber team for years to come.

 

(Pat Sullivan/AP Photo)

(Pat Sullivan/AP Photo)

 

4. Dallas Kuechel (HOU,TEX,PHI)

Last but certainly not least on my brief list of possible 2018 free agents is Dallas Kuechel, currently with the Houston Astros. While Houston standouts such as second baseman Jose Altuve, outfielder George Springer, and short stop Carlos Correa all sound like future Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, and St. Louis Cardinals members, Kuechel may be one guy that the Astros can hang onto for a while.

Granted those other Astros listed above won’t hit the free agency until a few season after 2018, so Houston may still be able to keep a solid core together out West. If Keuchel plays his cards right, he could command a high dollar contract that rivals other top arms in this class. Whether or not Houston will be willing or able to pay up to keep their ace, will depend on who else throws their hat into ring for the talented lefty.

The in-state and AL West rival Texas Rangers could be one team that challenges Houston for Kuechel’s arm. The Rangers will still have the majority of their current 2016 pitching staff under contract through 2019 and beyond (Yu Darvish 2019, Derek Holland 2019, Cole Hamels 2020, Martin Perez 2021). When you add Dallas Kuechel to the mix, Texas’ rotation could rival other top staffs around the majors.

While multiple other teams could be in need of this lefties pitching power, I feel like no other team will need a left hander to build a team around more than Philadelphia. As previously mentioned about the Phillies in this post, the team will have the capital needed to bring in talent.

Quick Question: What if the Phils pulled off a major off-season sweep and sign Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel, and say Manny Machado?

Answer: That would be a great start to rebuilding a franchise that has suffered multiple sub .500 seasons since 2012.

(All contractual information and statistics for this post is courtesy of http://spotrac.com )

 

Final Thoughts:

While the majority of this post is pure speculation, a good number of these players will become free agents in 2018. Contracts will no doubt reach all-time highs, and depending upon how the upcoming collective bargaining agreement goes, teams will likely crush 2016′ $2 billion spending spree by a significant margin.

It will be a class to remember, and could be an off-season that leaves a decade long impact on the majors. Until then, we can only watch, wait, and wonder.