New Deal

Rick Porcello inked a 4 year, $82.5m extension with the Red Sox yesterday.  Good for him.  But why are the Red Sox paying him so much?  Aren’t teams supposed to reserve such high annual salaries for the very best?  Porcello has a career 4.30 ERA and a low strikeout rate.  That isn’t the very best.

I see this as Ben Cherington wanting pitchers only in their primes, Porcello is 26 and this carries through his age 30 season.  Cherington’s idea is to pay for the prime years, even if it means a bit more.  But really, $20m a year?  I think Porcello is a fine pitcher, but he has a ton of innings under his belt for such a young age and while he is entering his most productive age, he has a lack of track record.  Ugh.  I see this deal and just think why did the Red Sox bid against themselves here?  I also think this is the Red Sox trying to convince either themselves or their fans, that they have an ace in Porcello while I don’t believe they do.

The Crystal Ball

It’s time for baseball, which also means it is also time for me to take a stab at predicting the upcoming baseball season. As always, believe these at your own risk!

Let’s start with the most confounding division in the game, and my personal favorite, the AL East. (I know that’s a shock)  I honestly believe you could pick the teams out of a hat and have a better chance of picking their order of finish than actually trying to handicap it. But, fortune favors the bold, so this is how I see it unfolding.

1- Baltimore

2- Toronto

3- Boston

4- New York

5- Tampa

One other note before I delve into the individual teams and my thinking. None of these clubs is winning more than 90 games, barring a big trade at the deadline, and I would bet they all finish within 10-games of each other.

I know the Orioles lost Cruz, but they have Machado and Wieters returning. Yes, they will regress from last season, but remember they won 95 last year, so they have room to decline and still win the division.

Toronto has done a lot of nice things, but losing Stroman for the season will prevent them from climbing to the top.

Boston will hit, though I don’t think Sandoval will, the question is the pitching and I don’t think it will be good. I don’t like the rotation or the bullpen and I think that puts them in third with fans getting treated to a lot of four-plus hours, 12-10 games. It’s worth remembering that they are coming off a 90-loss season, so finishing 3rd may make them the most-improved team in the league.

As for the Yankees so many questions and so many ways to see things unfold. Let me paint two pictures:

The good:

1- Pineda and Tanaka make 60 starts between them.

2- Ellsbury, McCann and Beltran hit like the back of their baseball cards say they should and Teixeira and A-Rod do enough.

3- Eovaldi is the pitcher he has the potential to be.

That team could easily win the division.

The bad:

1- Tanaka and Pineda make much fewer than 60 starts.

2- Teixeira, A-Rod and Beltran are done as productive big leaguers.

3- The injury bug hits again.

That team could easily lose 90 games.

That’s the challenge with the Yankees, perhaps the hardest team to handicap because of all the questions. The only seemingly certainties are that they will play good defense and have a good bullpen. I feel good about both of those, but in this era betting on older players to contribute is a foolish move. I will say the rotation is a strength, but the lineup is a bust and it leaves them in 4th place at 82-80.

Tampa lost their manager, a huge blow, but they will still be dangerous. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them finish at .500, but in 5th-place.

 

And now a briefer look at the other divisions.

AL Central

1- Cleveland- I think they take the Central crown easily.

2- Kansas City- They won’t sneak up on teams this year, but the strengths that got them to the World Series are still there.

3- Chicago- Call me unconvinced that they are ready to seriously contend, but they are improved.

4- Detroit- I don’t think it will be a disaster, but considering the recent run this season will be a disappointment.

5- Minnesota- One day soon they will be good again. Just not yet.

 

AL West

1- Angels- Best player in the game and plenty of talent around him. Seattle may be the trendy pick, but I think the Angels are better over the 162- game season.

2- Seattle- Right there all year on the Angels’ heels.

3- Houston- This will be a fun team to watch. They will hit home runs in bunches and probably set the record for strikeouts.

4- Oakland- A step back, but probably not for long.

5- Texas- They have fallen far and fast.

WILD CARDS- KC and Seattle

NL East

1- Washington- Is this the year Harper lives up to the hype? I don’t know, but the rotation will lead them to the NL East crown and beyond.

2- Mets- Harvey is back and the rotation looks good even without Wheeler. I didn’t get the Cuddyer signing, but I bet Tulowitzki is playing at Citi Field before the year is out.

3- Florida- I think they will battle the Mets all season for second and fall just short.

4- Atlanta- Building for the new ballpark, but the disaster in Philadelphia keeps them out of the basement.

5- Philadelphia- Ugh, this team is going to be bad even if Cliff Lee gets healthy.

 

NL Central

1- Pittsburgh- The class of the division for now.

2- Chicago- Big things happening on the North Side, but not enough to beat Pittsburgh

3- St. Louis- Always hard to count them out, but I don’t think it is their year.

4- Milwaukee- Nothing much to get excited about here.

5- Cincinnati- I think their window has closed and what happened to Phillips and Votto?

 

NL West

1- Los Angeles- They have it all and talent coming up.

2- San Diego- They have really rebuilt quickly, but not enough to catch LA.

3- San Francisco- They only win in even years.

4- Colorado- When do they trade Tulo to the Mets?

5- Arizona- Outgunned in this division.

WILD CARDS- Chicago and San Diego

Playoffs

Seattle over KC

Angels over Seattle

Cleveland over Baltimore

Angels over Cleveland

Cubs over Padres (1984 revenge play)

Nationals over Cubs

Dodgers over Pittsburgh

Nationals over Dodgers

And….

Nationals over Angels in the World Series

Enjoy the season!

Happy Birthday to a Classic

30-years ago today, Sports Illustrated published “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch” If you have never read it, enjoy it now. If you have, re-read it.  George Plimpton was one of the greats and this ranks right up there with “Paper Lion”.

Enjoy!

Is This The Lineup?

With Jacoby Ellsbury back from injury, the Yankees are only short Didi Gregorious today. Today’s lineup is:

Gardner- LF

Ellsbury- CF

Beltran- RF

Teixeira- 1B

McCann- C

Headley- 3B

Rodriguez- DH

Drew- 2B

Ryan- SS

Put Didi in for Ryan and I suspect you have the regular lineup, but I hope I am wrong.

The Yankees are going to have a lefty problem no matter what. Gardner, Ellsbury, McCann, Drew, and Gregorious are all lefty bats, but bunching them up like this makes little sense to me. If you start the lineup with Gardner and Ellsbury and end it with Drew and Didi, you allow opposing teams the chance to bring in a lefty reliever for four-straight batters. Sure, the Yankees could counter with a pinch-hitter for Drew or Didi, but considering Ryan’s lack of hitting skills, that would probably necessitate a two-for-one swap where Young hits and Ryan comes in to field. I would prefer to see a lineup more like this:

Gardner- LF

Headley- 3B

Ellsbury- CF

Beltran- RF

McCann- C

Teixeira- 1B

Drew- 2B

Rodriguez- DH

Gregorious- SS

This breaks up the lefties as best you can, putting forth a lineup of L-S-L-S-L-S in the first six spots and then L-R-L in the bottom three. Yes, Rodriguez shouldn’t be hitting 8th behind Drew, but Torre did it almost ten years ago when he could really hit, so I don’t see the harm in it now.

The Final Stretch

Today is a weather day where I can believe Opening Day is right around the corner. In eleven days, the Yankees open their season on what will probably be a 25-degree and snowy day in the Bronx. But let’s put aside our discussion of the weather and look at the decisions left for the Yankees to make roster-wise

1- Who is the fifth starter? When camp opened it seemed that Chris Capuano would win by default. His injury opened up a competition and it looks like Adam Warren has won it. I expect he will be given the job in the next few days.

2- What does the rest of the bullpen look like? We knew Betances, Miller, Carpenter and Wilson were locks coming into camp, but the last three spots were up in the air. Based on spring numbers, Esmil Rogers and Chase Whitley, both stretched out as starters, would seem to have an edge. Beyond that, the seventh spot seems up in the air. Chris Martin has been up and down. Chasen Shreve has too. Too close to call.

3- Who is the backup catcher? Austin Romine hasn’t hit, either has John Ryan Murphy. Romine has to either make the team, or be exposed to waivers, so I think he might make it.

4- What about the bench? With A-Rod looking like the probable DH the bench has four spots left. One goes to Murphy or Romine. Garret Jones and Chris Young were locks from the start. The only intrigue was the potential for Jose Pirela to sneak onto the roster, and that seems to have ended with his concussion. Brendan Ryan should make the team in his place.

That’s it, barring injury we know 24-out-of-25 Yankees who will break camp in 11 days.

The End of an Era

While I freely admit to not caring about the All-Star Game for years, and hating the home field advantage component of it, the news that MLB is getting rid of paper All-Star ballots makes me nostalgic.

I get it, we don’t need them. We can vote online and save trees. (Though no one ever seems to account for the electricity we use to get online in that statement.) It’s less messy, etc.. But there was something remarkably simple and satisfying about walking into a ballpark in May or June and in-between innings punching some holes next to your favorite players’ names. Even better, if you were at the game with a buddy, you could have an informal debate right there about why player x was a much better choice than player y.

I will adjust, but there are limits to how much technology I am willing to accept in baseball.

Why Not Try It?

The Yankees had been expected to try Alex Rodriguez at first base this spring, but apparently have backed off that idea. I don’t get it.Yes, the only way Alex Rodriguez makes this team is if he hits. And yes, the Yankees don’t want to use him at first, but isn’t positional flexibility a good thing?

The Yankees keep trying to find a guy who can play every position on the field. Don’t get me wrong, that person would be a bonus, but that person isn’t easy to find. But with a four-man bench, and if you carry 13 pitchers that’s what you have, you need guys who can cover more than one spot.

For the Yankees, that is even more important as Mark Teixeira last played 150 games in 2011. And while his wrist injury caused him to miss most of 2013, he is also prone to smaller, non-DL type injuries that leave him out of the lineup for five to seven days. Now the Yankees brought in Garrett Jones for those eventualities, but wouldn’t it be nice to have more backup?

Again, Alex’s place on this team is as a hitter, anything his glove does is a bonus. But if (when?) Teixeira gets hurt, the Yankees will want options. Spring training is the perfect time to give Alex a bunch of games at first and see what happens. Maybe he can handle it, maybe he can’t. What’s the harm in finding out?

Loud Panda

Newest Red Sox, Pablo Sandoval, has been in a war of words with the San Francisco Giants and frankly I’d like him to shut his gob.

For some reason he felt the need to make his criticisms personal by basically telling all his former teammates and his coaches, save for Bruce Bochy and Hunter Pence, that he missed none of them.  Nice Pablo, nice.  You really seem like a good guy.

When someone calls out 23 other players, and however many coaches, well that worries me.  The Red Sox signed him up for how many years?

Sandoval’s former teammate, Aubrey Huff, he of the suspiciously timed boffo seasons (seriously, take a look), fired back at him, kinda like I am now.   Naturally, Sandoval didn’t appreciate the feedback and went off on another juvenile rant.  It’s spring training Pablo, take it easy man.  It’s a long season and don’t forget you are really rich and play baseball for a living.  You should be happy.

All of this makes me really worried about the 2015 team dynamics.  I thought Hanley Ramirez was going to be the problem child given his reputation, but it turns out Pablo might be instead. I’d like to think veteran players like David Ortiz or Dustin Pedroia could talk to Pablo and have him cool his act, but given the rhetoric of the past few days, I’m not sure what to expect.  If Pablo really is this immature and this big a clubhouse problem then the Red Sox might have a major problem on their hands.

Oh, and here’s a prediction, Christian Vasquez will be the best catcher at stopping stolen bases this year, percentage-wise.

Hamels?

Here’s a rumor that has me scratching my head, the Yankees have apparently come closest to meeting the Phillies’ asking price for Cole Hamels. Nothing against Cole Hamels, but I don’t get it. Yes, he is a wonderful pitcher, but he is 31, and costs about $100-million for the next four seasons. If the Yankees were a clear playoff contender, I would get it, but at this point it seems like a foolish move.

I’m not saying the season is lost, but there are a lot of things that need to go well for the Yankees to make the playoffs. In no particular order- Tanaka’s elbow must hold up, Ellsbury and McCann have to live up to their paychecks, Beltran and Teixeira need to contribute more than they did in 2014, Nova needs to make it back, Pineda needs to continue to develop, and Gregorius must prove to be a regular shortstop. I think a lot of those things could happen, but I am not willing to mortgage a significant part of the future for Hamels until I know for sure. And if most of them don’t happen, the Yankees are going to be in trouble.

Maybe this is simply a case of the Yankees checking in with Philadelphia and making sure that they don’t trade Hamels to Boston for a low price. That would make more sense. But for now, Hamels in pinstripes shouldn’t happen.

There Should Be Another Captain

Brian Cashman said on the radio today that Derek Jeter should be the last caption of the Yankees. Jeter was a wonderful Yankee, but the idea of ending the captaincy with him perversely taints the legacy of two other wonderful Yankees- Lou Gehrig and Thurman Munson.

If ever there was a time to end the idea of a Yankee captaincy, it was with the death of either of those two players. In fact, Munson, was the first captain of the Yankees named after Gehrig’s death in 1941. When Munson subsequently died in 1979, the Yankees waited a few years before naming Greg Nettles captain. Willie Randolph and Ron Guidry followed and then Don Mattingly. When Mattingly retired at the end of 1995, the Yankees waited until 2000 to tab Jeter.

The fact that the captaincy went on and thrived after both Gehrig and Munson’s shows that there should be another captain. Not today, maybe not in five years, but at some point. Some day another player will come along who is worthy of the title and the Yankees should bestow it on him.