The Crystal Ball

It’s time again for my annual attempt to predict the baseball season. As always, use this with caution! For fun, after I finished my attempt at this, I tabulated the ESPN “experts’ picks and added them to the bottom of each section.

AL East

1- Blue Jays-  Yes, they lost Price, but they got Stroman back at the end of last year and he went 4-0 down the stretch. The bullpen has been upgraded and the lineup is probably the best in the league. I think they could win 90-plus again easily and they will take the division.

2- Red Sox- Yes, they got Price, but he can’t start every day and that could be a problem. Lucky for them they have some nice young hitters and a revamped bullpen. They will contend for a Wild Card.

3- Yankees- I can’t see enough going right for this team to contend seriously. The bullpen has a sexier name at the top, but how much better can Chapman-Miller-Betances be than Miller-Betances-Wilson were in 2015? Betting on age is the other problem here as there are too many old players still clogging the roster. But, the Yankees are getting younger and smarter. Next year we should see over half the lineup under 30. For now, we will have to be content with another consecutive season over .500.

4- Rays- Honestly you could pick the final two spots out of a hat, but I really like Tampa’s pitching. Chris Archer looks like one of the best pitchers in the game and with Matt Moore back and healthy, that is a formidable 1-2 punch.

5- Baltimore- I’m just not feeling it, but I still love Charm City and Boog’s BBQ.

ESPN Experts picked: Blue Jays (19), Red Sox (8), Yankees (2), Rays (2)

AL Central

1- Royals- All hail the champions and I think they continue to reign in the division.

2- Cleveland- Love the pitching, worried about the hitting, but I think they have enough to get into a Wild Card game.

3- Detroit- Still can mash with the best of them, and Wilson and Rodriguez will make that a  solid bullpen.

4- Minnesota- Sano and Buxton are two of the most exciting young players in the game. I’m also really looking forward to seeing Byung Ho-Park and how his 50+-homer power in Korea translates to the states.

5- Chicago- Call it the curse of Adam LaRoche. I still don’t know why that all blew up the way it did, but it is a bad omen for the 2016 White Sox.

ESPN Experts Picked Royals (15), Cleveland (11) Detroit (3) Minnesota (2)

AL West

1- Houston- Correa is going to give the rest of the AL fits for a long time. Add in Keuchel, a better bullpen and some other young hitters and you have a really good team.

2- Texas- Remember that they were a bat flip away from winning the ALDS and they will be getting Yu Dravish back shortly.

3-Anaheim- Best player in the game, and a revitalized Pujols. They are dangerous, but not enough to make the playoffs.

4- Seattle- Did you see that Jesus Montero was released? (He is now a Blue Jay) The search for offense in the Pacific Northwest continues.

5- Oakland- The rebuild continues, but don’t bet against them being back on top very soon.

ESPN Experts Picked Houston (21), Texas (10)

NL East

1-Mets- Think of the pitching they had last year and then remember that they get Zack Wheeler back this year. Yikes. Neil Walker was an underrated pickup. They are primed to repeat atop the NL East.

2- Washington- Not sure what went wrong last year, but the manager has walked the plank and Dusty Baker, a great manager, is in charge. The second best player on the planet should headline a deep and dangerous team that could go very far.

3- Miami- This division is very top-heavy in my mind. You could have the first two teams easily win 90+ and the bottom three struggle to win 70. I picked Miami for third because I like some of their young hitters, but it wouldn’t shock me to see Atlanta here.

4- Atlanta- The new ballpark and rebuilt team are works in progress, but you can see the foundations being laid.

5- Philadelphia- They didn’t know when to quit and will have a long road back from oblivion.

ESPN Experts Picked Washington (16), Mets (15)

NL Central

1- Chicago- Dare I say it? Ok, they are the best team in baseball. The playoffs are always a crapshoot, but for the regular season they reign supreme.

2- Pittsburgh- Whenever I hear a Pirates fan complain about three-straight wild card spots and three-striaght eliminations, I want to point out a few things. First, you could only dream of that five years ago. Second, win the damn division! 162 games matters and the division champs get the advantages they have earned.

3- Cardinals- Always dangerous and always in contention, but this year I think they are outclassed.

4- Milwaukee- Another coin-flip pick for me. I could put the Reds here, or the Brewers.

5- Cincinnati- See above.

ESPN Experts Picked Chicago (27), St. Louis (3), Pittsburgh (1)

NL West

1- Giants- Remember it is an even year and that means they win. Also, they are very good.

2- Dodgers- Immensely talented, but they can’t seem to put it all together- ever.

3- Arizona- Greinke will help a lot, but they aren’t there yet. Pollock injury is devastating.

4- Padres- They are accumulating a lot of young assets and were smart to pull the 180 they did last year.

5- Colorado- Tough break trading Jose Reyes for their most popular player. They won’t threaten this year.

ESPN Experts Picked Giants (20), Arizona (7), Dodgers (4)

AL Playoffs

Wild Card- Texas over Cleveland

ALDS- Kansas City over Texas and Houston over Toronto

ALCS- Houston over Kansas City

ESPN Experts Picked Houston (9), Toronto (8), Royals (8), Boston (4), Cleveland (1), Texas (1)

NL Playoffs

Wild Card Washington over Pittsburgh

NLDS Chicago over Washington and San Francisco over Mets

NLCS Chicago over San Francisco

ESPN Experts Picked Chicago (19), Giants (6), Mets (3), Washington (3)

World Series

Get ready to head to the bunker- Cubs over Houston in six games!

ESPN Experts Picked Chicago (14), Toronto (4), Royals (4),  Houston (2), Giants (2), Mets (2), Texas (1), Washington (1)

Play Ball!

 

 

Almost Set

The Yankees have almost finished their roster construction, surprisingly the biggest question still remaining is who is the 5th starter?

We know that the competition was between Sabathia and Nova, and both have finished their springs, but we still don’t have an answer. All Girardi will say is that the Yankees are not going to use six starters.

Austin Romine is officially the backup catcher and Ronald Torreyes is the last guy on the bench. Torreyes is interesting as he has played short, second, third, and left field in his career, giving the Yankees plenty of flexibility. The Yankees traded for him, then waived him, then signed him back this offseason. I suspect his tenure in the bigs will be based in large part on what Refsnyder does in AAA at third base.

Another interesting note is that the Yankees are taking Luis Cessa and putting him in the big league pen. Cessa earned a spot with his pitching, but with Mitchell now on the DL, the starter depth at AAA is perilously thin. The bullpen, assuming Miller can pitch with his broken hand, will start the year as Betances, Miller, Shreve, Barbato, the loser of the 5th starter competition, and Cessa. Add one more player to replace Mitchell and you have the starting roster.

We know Chapman will be back May 9th, but I suspect the Yankees will be actively promoting and demoting players as needed in the bullpen. Barbato, Cessa, and Shreve all have options and could therefore ride the Scranton Shuttle frequently this year

In about 80 hours Tanaka will be delivering his first pitch of the season. I can’t wait!

Progress!

The Red Sox have announced that it will be Travis Shaw and not Pablo Sandoval taking the field as the everyday 3b.

This represents a massive change in philosophy for the Red Sox as they normally would forced the starting roll on their high-priced talent such as Hanley in left field last year or Rick Porcello staying in the rotation despite significant struggles.

It also sends a message to the other high-priced veterans that no one is above being benched.  This is a great development.  And considering how Sandoval showed up to camp this year, it means all the reports saying he was out to improve his play and show Boston fans that he is serious about baseball were just hollow words.  In other words, Sandoval got paid.

Here is the line-up: Betts – RF, Pedroia – 2b, Bogaerts – ss, Ortiz – dh, Ramirez – 1b, Shaw – 3b, Holt – lf, Swihart – c, Bradley – cf.

Your rotation is: Price, Buchholz, Porcello, Kelly and Wright with the bullpen being: Kimbrel, Uehara, Tazawa, Ross, Layne, Barnes, Ramirez and the bench consisting of: Castillo, Young, Sandoval, Hanigan.

The Red Sox are certainly better than a last place team and certainly better than last year’s last place team but they have serious issue with the rotation.  After Price, I have very little confidence, especially with Eduardo Rodriguez out with a knee injury.

Uh-Oh-UPDATED

Reports are that Andrew Miller got hit by a comebacker on his right wrist and left today’s game in pain.  I will update this post as details become available.

UPDATE(12pm)- Strangely my update from last night seems to have failed. Either way, Miller has a broken bone, but he plans on trying to pitch through it. He still needs to see a hand specialist to confirm he can do that.

The news is not so good on Bryan Mitchell.  He has a Grade 3 turf toe which basically means he will be out about three months. Mitchell had pitched really well this spring and was in line to make a lot of contributions out of the bullpen.

What A Trade That Would Have Been-UPDATED

Buried deep in this story is a nugget about Jeffrey Loria and his love of Derek Jeter. In the late 90’s he ordered his GM to get Jeter no matter what. His GM called up Brian Cashman and offered Pedro Martinez and Vlad Guerrero. Brian Cashman replied that he couldn’t trade Jeter and that was that.

It’s delightful to think about what that trade would have meant to the Yankees. Vlad was one of the best outfielders in the game for about ten years. Pedro was apart from Randy Johnson, the most dominant pitcher of his generation. From a pure talent standpoint, the Yankees would win the trade.

But would they have won so often without Jeter? Who would have been the shortstop? Would Paul O’Neill have been traded or put in left field? Who knows, but it is fun to speculate.

UPDATE(6:37pm)- Greg provided this link in the comments section which shows that this story is a bunch of baloney. Sorry for getting anyone going on this, and thanks to Greg for setting the record straight.

Not So Fast

Before Sunday’s game the Yankees sent Refsnyder down to AAA, meaning I was wrong the other day when I said he had sewn up the last bench spot.

What happened? Well I suspect that getting hit in the face by two balls in two days at third this weekend changed the Yankees mind about his ability to cover third. They will send him to AAA and probably use him at third extensively.

But for now the Yankees will have to come up with a new answer for backup third baseman. Pete Kozma is a pure glove guy. Ronald Torreyes is an unproven minor leaguer. That’s it for what remains in camp. Perhaps the answer will come from another team’s cuts, which have started in earnest. We won’t have to wait much longer to find out.

Things Are Getting Clear-ish

When the Yankees opened camp, I asked five questions that spring games would provide answers for. We are close to knowing all of them.

#1- Was the fifth starter, or the potential for six starters. Both Nova and Sabathia have been bad, so I would scratch the six-man idea, and while it seems like a race to the bottom for the last spot, Sabathia and his enormous contract would seem to be the logical choice for the job- for now.

#2- Was about the backup catcher and now that Gary Sanchez has been optioned to AAA, the job is Austin Romine’s

#3- Was about the bullpen. At this point it seems Shreve, Mitchell and Nova have spots for sure alongside Betances and Miller. Pinder is probably there, and that leaves the spot open due to Chapman’s suspension. Barbato seems like a strong possibility after mopping up Nova’s outing today.

#4- Was about the last bench spot. I think Refsnyder is going to get it. He has handled third by all accounts and his bat has never been a question.

That leaves the lineup, and I think we are close to an answer there. Ellsbury and Gardner up top, Didi and Castro 8-9, with Headley at 7. I would guess Beltran or Teixeira in the 3 spot, with the other one in the 5 spot. Alex or McCann in the 4 spot, with the other in the 6. However that shakes out you would go L

L

S

R/L

S

R/L

S

L

R

That’s a pretty good balance, apart from the top, but the Yankees are enamored like most teams with the idea of “table setters” up top.

April 4th is getting really close!

Wishful Thinking

Alex Rodriguez announced today that he will retire after he finishes his current contract which means he is going to play two more seasons. I’m trying to stop laughing.

I will be the first to admit that Alex surprised me and surpassed all of my most optimistic expectations last season. I didn’t think he would come close to hitting 25 homers, let alone 33. I also didn’t think he would behave and not cause problems. It was truly a miraculous season.

So it won’t come as a surprise that I don’t think he is going to repeat it. I disagree with the people who say he is finished and point to his second half numbers in 2015 (.216/.324/.448) but I do think those numbers are more indicative of what will happen in 2016 than his first half of .278/.382/.515. His seven homers in September lead me to believe he can still be somewhat of a force, but I suspect time will continue to wither him as it does to all of us.

But no matter what he does in 2016, there is still 2017 and the fact that he will be 42 when his contract ends. Considering all that has happened with him off the field, and that he is only a DH on it, does he really think he will be in demand when that season ends? And, considering how the Yankees have turned to a youth movement and don’t want a full-time DH, I can’t see them offering him a contract in 2018 no matter what he does between now and then. This is clearly Alex’s attempt to bow out with some dignity. That’s his right, but considering his prior behavior, it is not something he is necessarily entitled to.

A Tough Choice

There is an interesting story playing out involving the Chicago White Sox and Adam LaRoche. LaRoche retired Tuesday because the White Sox asked him to stop bringing his son around the clubhouse so much. In doing so, LaRoche walked away from a contract that would pay him $13-million this season. Things are now getting heated as the entire White Sox team apparently thought about boycotting their game yesterday in support of LaRoche.

Ken Rosenthal wrote an interesting article about this controversy and it leaves me conflicted. On one hand, baseball players are essentially working during the times most of us can see our families and allowing them to bring their kids to the clubhouse gives them a connection with their family that’s important. On the other hand, not all players probably love having kids in the clubhouse all the time. There needs to be time for a team to be a team, devoid of distractions that family and outside people bring.

I don’t agree with LaRoche’s opinion about school. In the Rosenthal article he said,  “We’re not big on school. I told my wife, ‘He’s going to learn a lot more useful information in the clubhouse than he will in the classroom, as far as life lessons.’ ” But it is certainly his right to think that way and essentially home school his son.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, if LaRoche truly retires (the paperwork hasn’t been officially submitted), and what the ramifications are for the White Sox if he does.

 

 

Pain Points

As camp progresses for the Red Sox, there are some major sources of pain, or at least potential pain.

Pablo Sandoval: No surprise here but he showed up in poor shape.  His fielding was poor last year and he had to abandon hitting from the right side.  And his hitting from the left side (.744 OPS) wasn’t worth nearly as much as he is being paid.  If Sandoval can’t figure it out, the Red Sox can use Travis Shaw at 3b.

Hanley Ramirez: After failing as an outfield last year, the Red Sox are trying to spin the idea of Hanley being a good candidate for first base.  It seems to make sense that a former shortstop could handle this roll but we are talking about Hanley Ramirez, the first baseman who showed up to camp without any first base gloves.  I know the idea here is to bridge the 2016 season and slot Ramirez into the DH spot once David Ortiz retires, but if he fails as a 1b, then that will essentially be 2 lost seasons on his 4 year deal.

Rusney Castillo: This is his 3rd season in pro ball and I sure hope he figures things out, he’s being paid to do so after all.  Castillo posted a .647 OPS in 289 plate appearances last season, not what we were hoping for but perhaps understandable for someone who was facing major league pitching for the first time aside from 10 games in 2014.  2016 is a big year for him, he needs to prove he can hit.

John Farrell:  First off, I’m very happy to learn Farrell is cancer free and his health isn’t an issue.  That said, he hasn’t done a very good job of late while managing the Red Sox.  When he took his leave of absence last year and Torey Lovullo took over, the team played much differently.  Farrell went 50-63, Lovullo 28-21.  Add to that the recent distraction of a local tv personality resigning her post when it came to light she and Farrell were involved.  Nothing against love, but if the players sense any resentment or feel there was a mole when it came to her reporting, that can’t be a good thing.  I wish them nothing but happiness but Farrell caused a major distraction for himself and his players.  He is on a very short leash, should he stumble out of the gate, he’ll get the boot from above.