Rookie Watch 2016

In 2015 Major League Baseball saw a surplus of young talent emerge that included Kris Bryant (NL ROY), Carlos Correa (AL ROY), Francisco Lindor, Matt Duffy, Roberto Osuna, and that’s just to name a few.

Now that those young stars are entering their sophomore season, lets turn our attention to this years rookie class. Listed below are my top five new guys to keep an eye on in 2016.

 

Young Guns:

 

5. Trea Turner (Washington Nationals)

 

With only 40-at-bats with the Nationals last season, Turner and Washington had a very small sample of what he can do at the next level. In those at bats Turner slashed for .225/.295/.325 with a solo shot home run. While those numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, his Triple-A stats from 2015 sure do.

Last season in 116 minor league games Turner had a slash line of .322/.370/.458 with eight home runs, 56 RBI, and 29 steals. Those numbers were good enough to give Turner a chance to compete for playing time this year in Spring Training.

Danny Espinosa is currently slated to start the season at shortstop for Washington, with Turner listed as second on the depth chart ahead of  MLB journeyman Stephen Drew (per MLB.com).

Espinosa, however, is being pulled from his usual position of second base to cover at shortstop for Washington.  This could lead team manager Dusty Baker to try Turner out at shortstop this season, to sure up the infield and shake up the batting order. It will of course be entirely up to Turner what happens next, if given such an opportunity.

 

4. Joey Gallo (Texas Rangers)

 

For a brief moment in 2015 it appeared that the Texas Rangers top prospect, Gallo, was going to be another rookie sensation vying for a ROY award at seasons end. But, while Gallo displayed his power hitting potential with six home runs in just 36 games for Texas, his .204 batting average ultimately led to him being sent back down to the minors (where he polished off  his minor league stats: a .240AVG, 23HR, 41R, and 63 RBI).

Gallo is currently stuck behind both Josh Hamilton in left field, Adrian Beltre at third (Gallo’s more natural position), and even Shin-Soo Choo in right field. But, if he can improve his batting average by making solid contact to go with his power ability, I don’t see why he couldn’t earn a few reps at any of those previously mentioned positions.

Especially when you consider the age of Hamilton (34), Beltre (36), and Choo (33), Gallo (22) can try to capitalize during those starters periods of rest. Much like Turner, Gallo will have to make the most of any opportunities given in 2016.

 

3.  Steven Matz (New York Mets)

 

The New York Mets had a  successful pitching staff last year, that was quite young in terms of major league mound time. A small portion of that success can be credited to Steven Matz. The lefty went 4-0 in his six regular season starts in 2015, posting a  2.27 ERA with 34 strikeouts over a total of 35 innings.

Matz notched three post-season starts as well, and despite an 0-1 post-season pitching record with a 3.64 ERA and 13 strikeouts, the 24-year-old has earned himself the number four spot in the Metz 2016 rotation.

With more chances to start on a regular basis, we should see Matz improve upon last years stats. Making the Mets’ rotation potentially one of baseball’s best in 2016, and possibly for years to come.

 

2. Byron Buxton (Minnesota Twins)

 

Before his call-up by Minnesota in late August last season, Buxton slashed a successful .305/.367/.500 line with 22 stolen bases and 45 RBI in 72 minor league games.  Those numbers didn’t exactly transfer over for the remainder of the Twins 2015 schedule, however.

Buxton closed out the 2015 season with a .205/.250/.326 line in 129 major league at bats (just under the at bat requirements to still be considered a rookie this year).

Nonetheless, the Twins believe heavily in Buxton and have named him as the teams starting centerfielder for 2016.  Since Buxton gets a second chance at first impressions with Minnesota, barring a major setback, I think he has the tools, talent, and potential to become the 2016 rookie of the year in the American League.

 

1. Corey Seager (Los Angeles Dodgers)

 

After putting up solid minor league stats in 2015 (.293/.344/.487 with 18HR and 76RBI) , the Dodgers dialed up their top prospect late last season. Seager made the most of his September call-up with Los Angeles , slashing for .337/.425/.561 (also posting an impressive .986 OPS) with four home runs and  17 RBI in just 27 games (98-total-at-bats).

Seager was so impressive, the Dodgers decided to include him on their post-season roster as well. Despite struggling similarly to the way Matz did with the Mets in the playoffs, Seager’s September showing was enough to earn him the starting job at shortstop entering 2016.

Given his short success from last year, it seems only logical to slot Seager as the National League rookie of the year favorite for 2016. With a full season in the majors ahead, it will be interesting to see what his final stat line looks like.

 

While the players listed above made their MLB debut in 2015, they are still rookies entering 2016 per the following MLB rule which states:

“A player will be considered a rookie unless A) he has exceeded 130 at bats, or pitched more than 50 innings in the majors; or B) accumulated more than 45 days on an active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the period of 25-player limit.”

Because they all fall below the aforementioned statistics, they are all eligible as ROY candidates this season.

 

Final Thoughts:

It’s possible Turner and Gallo may begin the season back in the minors, but baseball is a marathon not a sprint. Meaning over the course of 2016, either may be called upon to fill in for the guy playing just above them. As to whether or not they will make it count when given the opportunity, only time will tell.

Meanwhile for Matz, Buxton, and Seager, the mission is to prove they belong in the big leagues.

Here’s hoping the 2016 rookie race, is an exciting one to watch.

Matt Harvey’s Future With the Mets Remains Murky

It’s been almost three years since Matt Harvey burst onto the scene in New York City. Now, his future in the Big Apple is becoming a major topic.

Pitchers and catchers for the majority of MLB teams reported to Spring Training this week. Harvey reported to Port St. Lucie on Monday, three days earlier than the New York Mets required. Reporters immediately questioned him about his future with the organization. Harvey expressed his willingness to eventually sign a long-term extension with the Mets. This offseason, he was arbitration-eligible for the first time and is due to make $4.325 million in 2016. He is under contract with the team through the 2018 season.

Even though it seems as though Harvey wants to stay in New York past 2018, that doesn’t necessarily mean he will. He and the organization haven’t exactly been on the best terms in the past year. In September, his agent Scott Boras came out and expressed concern about the amount of innings he had already thrown in 2015. Boras knew the Mets were planning on pitching Harvey in the playoffs, which would certainly put him over 180 innings for the year. This was apparently the amount of innings that Dr. James Andrews suggested that he be capped at, considering this was his first year coming off Tommy John surgery. Although initially hesitant to defy Boras and potentially risk his future health, Harvey came out and stated to the Met fans that the innings limit only applied to the regular season. He would be ready to pitch in the playoffs.

This whole episode left Met fans were left questioning Harvey’s commitment to the team. This was a guy who wanted to make his return to the team in September of 2014, just eleven months after the surgery. The Mets obviously did not let him do this. So why was he now concerned about the amount of innings he threw? The answer of course is because of concern over his own health. Harvey is expecting to get a big contract when he is a free agent in 2019. Another injury would certainly hinder this from happening. It’s very understandable that he would be worried about this. However, fans don’t necessarily care about such things. When their team is in the heat of a pennant race, they want the best players out on the field. Harvey appeased the team and the fans for the time being when he made it clear that he would be available for the playoffs. Had he decided to sit out the postseason, he would have been labeled selfish by the fans and possibly even by teammates.

The Mets got all the way to the World Series, and Harvey was a big reason why. In four postseason starts, he went 2-0 with a 3.04 ERA and 27 strikeouts. His most memorable moment in the playoffs came in Game 5 of the World Series when he carried a complete-game shutout into the ninth inning. He had convinced Mets manager Terry Collins to leave him in for ninth inning, despite a high pitch count. The decision ended up backfiring on Collins, as Harvey allowed a walk followed by an RBI double. He was pulled from the game after this, and the Kansas City Royals went on to win the game in extra innings, capturing their first World Series Championship. This was a situation where Harvey was trying to prove his commitment and determination.

When healthy, there’s no question that Harvey is one of the better pitchers in all of baseball. He finished fourth in the NL Cy Young Award voting in 2013, and also started the All-Star Game for the National League. That year, he went 9-5 with an ERA of 2.27. After missing all of 2014, he was very impressive last season. Most pitchers struggle the first year after having Tommy John surgery. Harvey did not. In 29 starts, he went 13-8 and posted a 2.71 ERA. Because he’ll be fully healthy in 2016, Harvey will probably put up even better numbers.

There’s been much speculation over the last few months about Harvey’s future in New York. Considering the fact that he and the organization aren’t in the best place, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the Mets might try and trade him before 2019. That way, they’d get something in return for him as opposed to losing him in free agency. If they don’t trade him, they have to be willing to sign him to lucrative a long-term contract. Considering Harvey’s talent level, that’s what it’s going to take to re-sign him.

Since Harvey has recently said he is open to signing a long-term contract extension with the Mets, they should really consider negotiating with him. If they don’t, then that should be taken as a sign that the team isn’t interested in having him around past the 2018 season. If everyone in the organization feels as if he’s really worth it, then should start negotiating right now. After all, when Harvey becomes a free agent, he’ll have more than a few suitors. The Mets need decide where they stand on this issue, and soon.

 

 

Looking at the New York Mets Bullpen

The bullpen was a known issue for the 2015 New York Mets. It was good enough to get the Mets to their first World Series since 2000, but faltered in the World Series, as the Mets lost multiple late game leads on their way to a series loss against the Royals.

 

It was an obvious need going into Spring Training, but did General Manager Sandy Alderson fix this need, especially in the seventh and eighth innings?

 

The back of the bullpen is very sure going into the season. Jeurys Familia had a coming out party last season and established himself as one of the premier closers in the MLB. His 43 saves were good for third in the MLB, and he partnered that with a 1.85 ERA, a 2.55 xFIP (for reference, a 3.80 xFIP is considered average), and a 1.9 WAR. He also had a very good pairing of a 9.92 K/9 ratio and 2.19 BB/9 ratio; he made a lot of bats miss and he did not let batters get on freely. More than half of the total balls hit against him were groundballs (58.3%), and he left a lot of runners on base (89.4%). He was excellent last year, and there is no reason to think anything otherwise will happen in 2016. He was not a part of the problem.

 

Addison Reed, who was acquired at the deadline last year and tendered a contract this offseason, was excellent for the Mets in his half season in Queens. While the sample size was somewhat small, only 17 games and 15.1 IP, he was much better in Queens than he was in Arizona. In New York he had a superb 9.98 K/9 ratio, with 2.93 BB/9, and a (totally unsustainable) 95.9% LOB (left on base percentage), along with a 1.17 ERA and an xFIP of 3.15. Many of these are close to his career averages, especially the xFIP, K/9 ratio and BB/9 ratio; it is a safe bet that he can be a similar pitcher this season. He also has closing experience, saving 29, 40 and 32 games in 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively, which is valuable, in case Familia gets injured, or needs a rest.

 

One very good addition to the pen is Antonio Bastardo. Recently signed to a two year, $12m deal , he will become an immediate impact player in the bullpen. He has made a career out of striking people out (11.04 K/9 rate for his career) and shutting down lefties (.176 BAA, 11.49 K/9 rate); although righties hit him better, they are still only hitting .207 against him for his career, so he is definitely a full inning lefty who can be counted on to get tough hitters out. He does have his issues, however. He walks a ton of people (4.30 per 9 for his career), and he has a very average xFIP of 3.87. He is still a very good pitcher, especially for a lefty specialist/seventh-inning man.

 

The rest of the bullpen should be solid as well. Jerry Blevins was perfect in his 7 appearances last season before various injuries ended his season very prematurely. He has held lefties to a .200 BAA in his career; he is going to be a solid lefty specialist. Other pitchers like Sean Gilmartin, Hansel Robles, a returning Josh Edgin, as well as younger pitchers such as Josh Smoker and Dario Alvarez will all compete for spots, and Bartolo Colon will be moved there too after Zack Wheeler comes back, hopefully in July.

 

Besides Familia and Reed (once he arrived) the Mets bullpen had problems in the seventh and eighth innings. This year, however, it should be much improved, which will go a long way in getting back to the Fall Classic and trying to change the ending.

All stats taken from fangraphs.com

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.

Opening Day 2016: What To Watch For

Ah, Opening Day. The field grass is trimmed up just right, fans from all over the country pack stadiums to see the MLB’s best perform, and another season of America’s favorite past time is underway.

With just over 40 days left until the MLB regular seasons first pitch is thrown on Sunday April 3rd, 2016, anticipation is mounting for baseball fans everywhere. A total of eight teams will start the season off on that Sunday, 20 more teams will begin play on Monday April 4th. 2016, and the Miami Marlins host the Detroit Tigers in their home opener on Tuesday April 5th.

That’s three days set to be chock-full of home runs, outstanding pitching, “web gems”, and will feature all 10 of last years playoff teams. So, with the regular season right around the corner, I’ll provide you with a rundown of five must see matchups, and some key players to keep an eye on:

 

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (PNC Park on Sunday April 3rd at 1:05 p.m. EST on ESPN)

Probable Pitchers- Adam Wainwright (STL) vs. Gerrit Cole (PIT)

Players to Watch: Andrew McCutchen (PIT), Matt Carpenter (STL), Josh Harrison (PIT), and Matt Holiday (STL)

Chicago Cubs vs. Los Angeles Angels (Angel Stadium of Anaheim on Sunday April 3rd at 3:05 p.m. EST on FSW)

Probable Pitchers- Jon Lester (CHC) vs. Garrett Richards (LAA)

Players to Watch: Mike Trout (LAA), Anthony Rizzo (CHC), Andrelton Simmons (LAA), and Kris Bryant (CHC)

New York Mets vs. Kansas City Royals (Kaufmann Stadium on Sunday April 3rd at 8:37 p.m. EST on ESPN)

Probable Pitchers- Jacob DeGrom (NYM) vs. Edison Volquez (KC)

Players to Watch: Yoenis Cespedes (NYM), Alex Gordon (KC), Neil Walker (NYM), and Lorenzo Cain (KC)

Houston Astros vs. New York Yankees (Yankee Stadium on Monday April 4th at 1:05 p.m. on ESPN)

Probable Pitchers- Dallas Kuechel (HOU) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (NYY)

Players to Watch: Jose Altuve (HOU), Jacoby Ellsbury (NYY), Carlos Correa (HOU), and Starlin Castro (NYY)

Boston Red Sox vs. Cleveland Indians (Progressive Field on Monday April 4th at 4:10 p.m. on Sports Time Ohio)

Probable Pitchers- David Price (BOS) vs. Corey Kluber (CLE)

Players to Watch: Michael Brantley* (CLE), Xander Bogaerts (BOS), Francisco Lindor (CLE), Mookie Betts (BOS)

 

Honorable Mention: Philadelphia Phillies vs. Cincinnati Reds (Great American Ball Park on Monday April 4th at 4:10 p.m. EST)

The Phils and Red Legs game may not be a “must watch”, but growing up 30 miles east of Cincinnati, I felt compelled to recognize the rich history of Opening Day in Cincy.

 

Other Opening Series Players to Watch:

Jason Heyward- After switching National League Central teams this off-season from the Cards to the Cubs, posting a .293/.359./.797 slash line in 2015 with 79 runs, 13 home runs, and 60 RBI, Chicago will hope to see Heyward improve on those stats for 2016 in pursuit of the teams first World Series title since 1908.

Zack Greinke- Posting a 19-3 record, a 1.66 ERA, and 200 strikeouts with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015, Greinke begins 2016 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Greinke will likely be the D-Backs Opening Day starter against the Colorado Rockies on Monday April 4th.

Daniel Murphy- Despite losing his post-season magic in last years Fall Classic with the Mets, Daniel Murphy still posted a solid .288/.322/.770 slash line with 56 runs, 14 home runs, and 73 RBI  for 2015. Murphy begins 2016 anew with the Washington Nationals, and it will certainly be interesting to see how he affects a clubhouse that could use his positive attitude.

Johnny Cueto- The reunion of former Reds pitchers Johnny Cueto and Edison Volquez in last years post-season and World Series with KC was only temporary. After an 11-13 record with 176 strikeouts and a 3.44 ERA in 2015 (split between the Reds and Royals), Cueto will try to better those numbers with his new team, the San Francisco Giants in 2016.

 

(All probable pitchers are based solely off of team depth charts as of February 22nd,2016, and may be subject to change after Spring Training results)

(* Brantley may not be available to the Indians until April or May, as he is still recovering from a right shoulder injury)

(For a complete 2016 regular season schedule, visit MLB.com)

Final Thought:

I’ll simply end with a fitting quote from one of the games all-time greats:

You always get a special kick on Opening Day, no matter how many you go through. You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.- Joe DiMaggio

 

 

What Zack Wheeler’s Return Will Mean for the Mets

In 2015, the New York Mets surprised many people when they won the NL East and were able to reach the World Series. This stellar season came just one after the team won only 79 games. One of the main reasons the Mets got as far as they did last year was because of their stellar starting pitching. Between the young talented hurlers Matt Harvey, Jacob deGromNoah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz, as well as the veteran Bartolo Colon, the team boasted one of the best rotations in all of baseball. Because of how well this rotation did in 2015, there’s one young Met pitcher that everyone’s forgotten about. His name is Zack Wheeler.

You might not remember Wheeler. That is, unless you’re a Mets fan. The 25-year old right-hander was called-up by the team in June of 2013. At the time, Matt Harvey had already been in the big leagues for almost a year. Syndergaard, deGrom, and Matz were still in the minor leagues. Wheeler immediately made a good impression. He showed right away that he could blow hitters away with his fastball, a pitch he consistently threw in the mid-to-high-nineties. In 17 starts in 2013, he went 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA.

Wheeler had a full season’s work in 2014. He built on his success in 2013, going 11-11 with an ERA of 3.54. In the 185.1 innings pitched, he recorded 187 strikeouts. Because Harvey missed all of 2014 due to a torn UCL, Wheeler was basically the Mets ace.

Many were optimistic that Wheeler was going to be even better in 2015. He had spent 2014 offseason working on his control, the one part of his game that really needed improvement. However, the young power pitcher hit a major snag in Spring Training when he tore the UCL in his right elbow. Wheeler underwent Tommy John surgery on March 25.

He missed the entire 2015 season because of the surgery. The most eventful moment for Wheeler during this recovery time came in late July when he was practically traded to the Milwaukee Brewers along with Wilmer Flores in exchange for Carlos Gomez. The Mets pulled out the deal at the last minute because of an injury concern regarding Gomez. It was reported that Wheeler called Mets general manager Sandy Alderson during this time and asked not to be traded. He wanted to remain with the team. Two days later, they acquired Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers, and Wheeler was not in the deal.

Right now, Wheeler’s primary focus is to get back to full strength. The Mets are eying July 1 as his return. When he finally takes the mound again, there’s a chance that he’ll be better than he was pre-surgery. Many pitchers come back from Tommy John surgery stronger than before. Some change their arm angles, something that Wheeler is working on now. This decreases the risk of having to have the surgery again in the future. His velocity might be slightly down, but it’ll still be higher than most pitchers.

When Wheeler returns in July, the Mets will have an even more dynamic starting rotation. Right now, it’s arguably the best rotation in all of baseball. Wheeler will just give it more depth and make it even better. If the Mets do make the playoffs in 2016, they’ll have a tough time figuring out which four pitchers will make up their postseason rotation. It’ll be tough to pick the best four out of this exciting bunch.

Every Met fan should be very excited for Zack Wheeler’s return. Remember, there was a time when many people in the organization thought he was going to better than Matt Harvey. We haven’t seen enough of Wheeler yet to truly make this comparison. Soon enough, we’ll be seeing a lot more of him.

David Wright: Looking at His Past and His Future

David Wright, since his arrival in Queens in 2004, was billed as the new face of the franchise, the man who will usher the team into unprecedented success. While the plans of that very good mid-2000s team went awry, David Wright stayed throughout the really deep bottoms, and persevered as the face of the franchise.

His career thus far has been very successful. He has a career average of .298, with an 11% walk rate. He has a career WAR of 52.9, with a 134 wRC+. He also has a very solid .377 OBP and .492 SLG. His 235 HRs and 931 RBIs are also very solid numbers. While these are not MLB Hall of Fame numbers, these are definitely indicative of a good career, and one Mets fans will remember fondly.

However, since 2011, injuries have begun to creep on the now 33 year old 3rd baseman. He suffered a stress fracture in his back in 2011, in 2013 he dealt with hamstring injuries, in 2014 he dealt with shoulder injuries and in 2015 he only played in 38 games due to spinal stenosis (which, if we’re being honest, is a miracle he even came back from).  He’s only played 130 games or more twice since 2011.

While David Wright can still be productive, as evidenced by his .289 average, 5 home runs, 24 RBIs, and 133 wRC+ in only 38 games last season. When he is healthy, he is still a very good hitter, albeit a different kind of hitter.

Due to his extremely severe back injury, his days of being a 30 home run threat are gone. In the early stages of his career, he was a virtual lock for a .300 avg, 27-30 HR, 100 RBI, 3+ WAR and a 125+ wRC+. From 2005-2010 his numbers support that:

2005: .306 avg, 27 HRs, 102 RBIs, 5.8 WAR, 142 wRC+

2006: .311 avg, 26 HRs, 116 RBIs, 4.7 WAR, 132 wRC+

2007: .325 avg, 30 HRs, 107 RBIs, 8.4 WAR, 151 wRC+

2008: .302 avg, 33 HRs, 124 RBIs, 7.0 WAR, 143 wRC+

2009: .307 avg, 10 HRs, 88 RBIs, 3.3 WAR, 125 wRC+ (Citi Field’s inaugural season)

2010: .283 avg, 29 HRs, 103 RBIs, 3.5 WAR, 129 wRC+

He was an incredibly consistent middle of the order threat, outside of 2009, but that is more of an indictment of how hard it was to hit with the original Citi Field dimensions. However, due to his health, that is not going to come back; his power numbers since 2012 have gone from 21, to 18, to 8, to 5.

This does not mean he will not, or cannot be productive, though. When Terry Collins revealed his first choice lineup for the 2016 season, he had David Wright slotted in the number two hole. That is perfect for today’s David Wright. He does not have the power to bat lower in the lineup, but he still has good plate discipline, as shown by the 11.0% walk rate for his career, and he is still capable of hitting 25-30 doubles, and around the .270 mark. The biggest issue going forward is if he can stay on the field, but having a more than capable backup in Wilmer Flores will allow Wright to take days off when need be. He probably will not play 150 games again, but he can play 110-120 and be very productive.

David Wright is playing with a serious back injury; it is a career-threatening one, and by all accounts a career shortening one. Ex-Met Lenny Dykstra had his career pre-maturely end in 1998 from the same injury . While medicine has advanced since then, the injury is still a severe one.

His contract, which ends in 2021, will almost certainly not be seen to its completion; I would be shocked if he plays more than three more years. His once (possibly) Hall of Fame bound career has been derailed by injuries, but that does not mean he cannot still produce in a different way while he continues to be the captain of the Amazin’s as they go into one of the most exciting times in the franchise’s history.

What Yoenis Cespedes Will Bring to the Mets

Mere hours before this writing, the surprising, shocking, news that the Mets signed Yoenis Cespedes to a three year deal (with an opt out after the first) was broken . Yoenis Cespedes became a folk hero in New York this season, after his excellent post trade deadline run. In August, he hit .275 with 8 home runs, 23 RBIs, and an incredibly impressive 139 wRC+.

In September/October, he got even better, hitting .300, with 9 home runs, 21 RBIs, and a downright gaudy 176 wRC+. He was a dominant force for the New York Mets, and they simply do not win the division without him. He was not as successful in the playoffs, but he was playing injured so that absolutely plays a part.

While it is plainly obvious what Cespedes does for the Mets himself, a power hitter with speed and a cannon for an arm, he also does a lot for the players around him.

First of all, he deepens the lineup considerably. He fits right in the middle of the lineup, giving the Mets something similar to:

Granderson RF

Walker 2B

Cespedes CF

Duda 1B

Wright 3B

Conforto LF

d’Arnaud C

Cabrera SS

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That is a very deep lineup. With his insertion in it, he allows quality hitters like Michael Conforto, Travis d’Arnaud and Asdrubal Cabrera to round out the bottom of the order, instead of being directly in the middle of it. This lineup has home run potential in every spot, and is a lot more intimidating than the alternative of platooning Juan Lagares and Alejandro De Aza in center field, which was the Mets plan prior to Cespedes’ price falling.

Not only does the everyday lineup improve, it allows the bench to improve as well. Juan Lagares now becomes the fourth outfielder, and Alejandro De Aza becomes the fifth outfielder, and pinch hitter, which is a role he is much more suited for. De Aza is a clear upgrade over ex-Met Kirk Nieuwenhuis and recent retiree Michael Cuddyer in that role. Lagares, who can hit lefties very well, and (as long as he reverts back to his 2014 form) provide Gold Glove defense, allows Terry Collins to put Cespedes in left field so Conforto does not have to face particularly tough lefties, and also put the Cespedes in left field for late inning defense, where he won an American League Gold Glove for his time in Detroit.

The only issue with Cespedes is his center field defense; he has a career -17 DRS (defensive runs saved) at the position. He is slightly better, in terms of DRS, than the alternative for the Mets, Alejandro De Aza (-18 DRS).

While Steamer (a baseball statistic projection system) does not have Cespedes repeating his career year, he is projected to hit .266 with 26 home runs, 86 RBIs, a 111 wRC+ and a 9.1 Off value (which is above average, average being zero); that is very solid, and because he will be surrounded by solid talent up and down the lineup, that very solid stat line will fit in nicely as the Mets attempt to defend their National League crown, and win the World Series.

Which Team Will Finally Decide to Sign Yoenis Cespedes?

When Justin Upton signed a six-year, $132.75 contract with the Detroit Tigers on Monday, many people were stunned about how much money he got. The deal also got everyone around baseball wondering about which team will eventually sign Yoenis Cespedes and how much money they’re willing to pay him.

Realistically at this point, the Cespedes sweepstakes is down to five teams. The Baltimore Orioles recently took themselves out of the hunt for the slugging outfielder when they re-signed power-hitting first baseman/outfielder Chris Davis. Baltimore had been interested in Cespedes, but only as a backup option in case Davis decided to go elsewhere.

Here are the five teams that still have a chance to sign Cespedes.

1. New York Mets

The New York Mets are still one of the teams interested in signing Cespedes. It’s no secret that he had a lot of success in New York during the latter portion of last season. He was the team’s offensive catalyst, and one of the main reasons that they overtook the Washington Nationals in the NL East. Since the Mets are currently lacking a dynamic hitter in the middle of their lineup, re-signing Cespedes would appear to be a smart move. However, they’re not interested in giving him the six-year deal he desires. If no team is willing to give him this type of long-term contract, the Mets could be a fallback option. Cespedes himself has stated that he loves New York and would like to return to the Mets. He’s not going to give the Mets a discount though. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to whether or not Cespedes is willing to accept a short-term contract with the Mets. After the Upton deal however, it’s unlikely that no team decides to give him a long-term, lucrative contract.

2. Washington Nationals 

Another team that has recently expressed interest in Cespedes is the Washington Nationals. The team has already signed a former Met this offseason, second baseman Daniel Murphy. It isn’t really that surprising that it looks like they’ve decided to go all-in on Cespedes. The team has reportedly offered him a five-year, $100 million contract. Ben Revere is currently the Nationals’ starting center fielder. Revere was traded to them from the Toronto Blue Jays just a few weeks ago in exchange for Drew Storen. If they were to sign Cespedes, he would start  in center field over Revere. The reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper is the team’s starting right fielder, while Jason Werth is the starting left fielder. Signing Cespedes would give the Nationals three good outfield power bats. Not to mention that it would really irk the Mets and their fans.

3. Houston Astros 

The Houston Astros are also reportedly interested in Cespedes. Like the Mets, Houston is probably a long shot to sign him. It’s not that they’re not willing to spend money, it’s that the team really doesn’t have room for him. Between Colby RasmusCarlos Gomez, and George Springer, they already have three talented outfielders. Rasmus accepted the Astros’ one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer back in November. Clearly, they think very highly of him. Gomez was acquired by the team back in July. He still has another year left on his contract. Springer is one of the better up-and-coming young outfielders in all of baseball. The only way it would make sense for the Astros to sign Cespedes would be if they traded one of these three players shortly after signing him. However, the team doesn’t really need him. They have three good outfielders, and Cespedes would surely cost them a lot of money. For them, he’s just not worth it.

4. Chicago White Sox 

Another team that has been linked to the Cuban-born slugger is the Chicago White Sox. They’ve been active this offseason, and evidently have interest in Cespedes. The team already traded for power-hitting third baseman and two-time All-Star Todd Frazier back in December. They also acquired second baseman Brett Lawrie from the Oakland Athletics. The White Sox don’t exactly have the outfield that the Astros have. Melky Cabrera is really their best offensive outfielder. They could definitely use Cespedes. The team’s first baseman Jose Abreu is also Cuban-born, and is reportedly very excited over the possibility of the White Sox signing him.

5. Los Angeles Angels 

The Los Angeles Angels are the final team in the Cespedes sweepstakes. For a team that is known for spending a lot of money, they’ve been surprisingly quiet this offseason. The team’s made a few small trades, but haven’t made any big splashes in free-agency. Cespedes would certainly be a major splash. If the Angels had him to go along with Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun, they’d have one very talented outfield, offensively and defensively. Although the Angels have yet to express serious interest in signing Cespedes to a long-term deal, that doesn’t that they won’t. There’s still plenty of time until Spring Training. We don’t know how long the talks with him will drag on for. A lot can change.

Whichever team ends up signing Yoenis Cespedes, they’re getting a very talented player who has a lot of power and a great arm. Eventually, someone’s going to give in and give him the contract he wants. In all likelihood, that team will probably be either the Nationals or the White Sox. Let’s see what happens.

 

 

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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