BLOG #16: Does Perfect Mean Nothing Anymore?

A lot has happened so far in the first week of the 2022 season. Steven Kwan forgot what it’s like to swing and miss at a baseball, Alyssa Nakken of the San Francisco Giants became the first woman to be an on-field coach in MLB history, and Clayton Kershaw threw seven perfect innings with 13 Ks before being pulled by Dave Roberts. Let me rephrase that, Clayton Kershaw threw seven perfect innings with 13 Ks before being pulled by Dave Roberts at 80 PITCHES!?!? As much as I want answers as to why Clayton was pulled, I want more answers as to why the hell the game of baseball has come to this.

Courtesy of Jeff Passan, there have been over 220,000 games played in the entirety of the MLB’s history – only 23 of them have ended “perfectly”. I may be more of a numbers fiend than some of you, but since we’re talking in the less than 0.01% range of something I can assure you, it’s rare. Since 1901, there have been two instances where a pitcher has been perfect through seven innings before the manager prematurely decided to end his night. There was Clayton Kershaw last week, and there was Rich Hill on September 10, 2016… where he was a member of? None other than the Los Angeles Dodgers coached by Dave Roberts. You have got to be kidding me.

Looking into that story, there were some points by Roberts that had made sense:

  • Rich Hill was dealing with blister issues
  • Hill was (and still is) old, even at 89 pitches getting six more outs is a big ask for the vet especially late into the season
  • The Dodgers were 4 weeks away from playoffs, is it worth that risk?

Alright, sure. I see Robert’s angle in the sense that one game is not as important as the team’s postseason run (fun fact Dodgers didn’t win that year). Say the newly-acquired Hill injures his blister even more and is unavailable come playoffs, I am sure Dodger fans would bash Roberts more than what he actually received by pulling Hill. After the game, Roberts did admit he felt “sick to his stomach”, and hearing the thought process behind his reasoning made me a little less bothered. But what about Kershaw? What were the reasons as to why he was pulled:

  • Shortened spring training (thanks Manfred), leaving Kershaw not as conditioned as he would have liked
  • First start of the season coming off a year with elbow issues

Does Roberts know something that I or other people don’t? I do not consider what is listed above as enough reasoning to pull arguably one of the best pitchers of all time from a game in which he is six outs away from perfection. Postgame, Kershaw kept it simple and said he agreed with Roberts and that his outing should have come to an end, but the competitor in me feels the competitor in Kershaw had to have wanted to finish that out. No matter how I look at it, I struggle with which side is the “correct” one.

Looking at it from Robert’s angle, no injury came out of it, Kershaw threw seven perfect innings and made Minnesota look foolish, and he and the Dodgers can go forward with their stacked roster heading into week 2 of the 162 game marathon. Seems like a win-win. Yet, on the other side, I can’t help but wonder if Roberts prevented Kershaw from making history and adding to his already ungodly resume just one start into his 2022 season. Is what it is… we shall never know.

Kershaw’s outing aside, however, I will admit this notion of limiting pitchers’ innings to preserve arm health is aggravating. I won’t say today’s pitchers are “coddled” like other analysts, but the game today is not at all what it once was and I am lost on where it is headed. In the last 30 seasons, we have seen significant drops in innings pitched by individual pitchers, and getting over 250 innings is considered above and beyond. Back in the 70s, teams had 4-man rotations and the league leader was consistently around the 300 inning threshold. Even closers were given the task of getting more than three outs, and now we live in an era so focused on matchups and analytics that teams’ relievers have become starting and closing pitcher’s saving grace.

One of the main arguments I can muster up as to why things have changed in recent seasons has to do with the amount of money some pitchers are making. With all that is invested into a team and its players, overthrowing your star pitchers can lead to issues both short and long-term. This leaves coaches like Dave Roberts in a tough position by making sure all of his arms are healthy, happy, and on a strict routine.

So is that the issue? Financially (and strategically) it doesn’t make sense to go out and “overwork” players that are paid insane amounts of money to throw a baseball? While I do not know that answer, I will say from a fan’s perspective it is frustrating to not see Kershaw adamant about going out there in the eighth and at least trying to see what magic he had left in the tank. With so much concern over the popularity of baseball, I think this was an instance where Kershaw has to buck up and go after history, but that’s just me.

Not many things in this world are considered perfect, and to cough the ball up to your manager when you’re six outs away from something that is, I think it is fair to be a little underwhelmed as fans of the game. Let me know what you guys think? Was Kershaw’s night over and Roberts made the right decision by saving him for the long run, or was this an unnecessary precaution that ruined what could have been the 24th perfect game of all time? I am all ears, and as always hope you all enjoyed the read. Til next time.

BLOG #15: Power Rankings 1-10

10 Philadelphia Phillies

This team will most likely finish third in the N.L. East this year, although with the injury to deGrom, Mets fans can begin to worry. Third place in this division is not a bad thing, however, as the Mets, Braves, and Phillies could all potentially make the playoffs. Harper and Castellanos will do their thing, and then you have “question mark” guys like Schwarber, Hoskins, Realmuto, Gregorius, Bohm, and Segura who are all very capable of having solid years, but could struggle just as easily. Zack Wheeler will shove and be in the Cy Young conversation, and I really liked Suarez last season, but if this team wants to be successful Aaron Nola will need to find his groove. If he can find his rhythm (and stop walking people), along with the Phillies finally securing a respectable bullpen, this team will surpass a lot of expectations by the end of the season and make things interesting come crunch time.

9 San Francisco Giants

So long Buster Posey, but hello yet another season in which the Giants find a way to play competitive baseball. No one expected this team to do that well last year, and they ended up with the best record and stealing a division in which everyone thought was a lock for L.A. Offensively, I looked at this team last year and was not impressed with their lineup (this year too). As a man who prides himself on numbers, however, it is hard to argue against a team that was second in home runs and fourth in total bases and OPS. As for pitching, the Giants gave up the least amount of walks and home runs, and were top 5 in almost every other category. This team might not have the high number of all star players other teams have, but they sure can compete with them. Expect the Giants to just beat out the Padres for second in the N.L. West and hopefully snag a wild card spot come October.

8 Boston Red Sox

A lot of people have the Red Sox as fourth in the division behind the Yankees, so maybe my bias for them pushes them up the rankings. It is hard for me, however, to not look at this lineup and wonder if they might surprise everyone and lead the league in runs scored (5th last year). My thought process for that comes with their addition of Trevor Story, which has to be extremely exciting for fans at Fenway. Between him, Martinez, Devers, and the rest of the squad, this team is also my favorite for most home runs this season (10th last year). On the opposite side of the field, it is clear the pitching staff in Boston could use a little help, and if they were to have a downfall this year that would be the reason. If this team is in contention for the division or a wild card spot come the deadline, I am hopeful they will go after an arm or two to make things interesting in the loaded A.L. East. Nathan Eovaldi and the Sox take on Gerrit Cole and the Yanks in the Bronx for Opening Day tomorrow. Gotta say Sox steal that one!

7 Houston Astros

While Houston may have lost their all-star caliber SS Carlos Correa, things are business as usual for the Astros coming into this season. They will miss Lance McCullers Jr. for the start of the year with an elbow injury, but Justin Verlander gets to return to his rightfully owned top rotation spot after missing two seasons following Tommy John. This will be a very interesting year for the Astros, as JV is a wild card and expectations will remain high after the success they’ve had as of late. Kyle Tucker was an animal in 2021 and looks to continue his success this year, along with fellow rakers Yordan Alvarez, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Michael Brantley. Oh, and I can’t forget the reigning 2021 A.L. batting champ Yuli Gurriel, who put up a .319 average and secured his first gold glove of his career. Long story short, this team will be an offensive powerhouse (again) hoping their pitching staff can fight off the Angels and Mariners from stealing the division title in 2022.

6 New York Mets

Steve A Cohen! The guy is everything I would want in an owner, but for now I am stuck with a family who I will refrain from mentioning (yeah, I know, I make everything about the Cubs). The Mets were clear favorites for the division in my eyes until the Mets curse went into effect, but a division title is still very obtainable. Jacob deGrom will be out for awhile, Taijuan Walker is having knee issues, and there were also some question marks on the health of Max Scherzer. Ouch, literally. Without deGrom, the Mets still have a top-notch rotation and their lineup is very respectable as well. For things to go right this year, the Mets must stay healthy and rely on their all stars to step up; and I think Francisco Lindor, Pete Alonso, and new addition Starling Marte will do just that. I know I have the Braves ahead of the Mets in my rankings, and I admit the Braves will most likely win the division this year, but if this Mets team has a healthy roster going into October I am at a loss on how the N.L. postseason plays out this year.

5 Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay just gets things done. They have made the postseason three years in a row and this year does not look like that will be any different. Built around their young core, this team will rally behind stars Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena and look to fight for the division title yet again (with everyone in their division excluding Baltimore). Their depth is among the best in baseball and their “opener” concept has kept their pitchers healthy and fresh for the playoffs. This team is always ready to play a full 162 and with the addition of veteran Corey Kluber I expect nothing different in 2022. Will this be the year the Rays finally lift the Commissioner’s Trophy? Only time will tell. But if they do I am calling it now, Tyler Glasnow will be the reason why.

4 Defending World Champion Atlanta Braves

After an insane 2021 season, the Braves lost the face of their franchise in Freddie Freeman along with WS MVP Jorge Soler. Fret not Braves fans! Atlanta went out and snagged Matt Olson and Kenley Jansen to make up for it. Add in an eventual return from Mike Soroka (achilles), along with Ronald Acuña Jr. and Marcell Ozuna and we have a serious threat for back-to-back titles. Their starting rotation is nasty, headlined by lefty Max Fried followed by Charlie Morton, Ian Anderson, and Huascar Ynoa. The bullpen is arguably one of the best in baseball, and past the seventh inning teams will struggle mightily to score runs. It really is as simple as there are no weaknesses for Atlanta, and I highly expect a strong performance from their entire roster this season. Let’s just hope either them or the Mets can take down that hall of fame team out west.

3 Toronto Blue Jays

It is pretty clear that Toronto has put themselves on the map as of late. With young stars Vladdy Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio people knew this team was going to be special. Add in George Springer, Matt Chapman, Kevin Gausman, and Jose Berrios to the roster within the last two seasons and we are talking about potential World Champs. This team is most likely the favorite to win the A.L. East at the moment, but even if they don’t, this team will be very much favorites to go all the way. The depth is there, the offense is there, the rotation is there, and the bullpen is one arm away from me giving them “there” status. I was in Toronto a couple seasons ago when things were starting to stir yet the record said otherwise, and talking to fans I could feel the same energy I felt with my Cubs back in 2015. They were patient and they might just be right. Watch out America, baseball is taking its talents to Canada.

2 Chicago White Sox

This is going to be a tough one for me to write, but it is clear the White Sox are going to do significant damage this year and I have to give credit where it is due. Lance Lynn is still recovering from knee surgery, so there may be a slow start at first, but if he’s healthy and ready to go sooner rather than later… I think the White Sox finish with the best record in baseball. Hear me out. The A.L. Central is simply not good enough to compete with the Sox, and while I believe they aren’t the best team in the A.L., I don’t see what stops them from just abusing their division opponents. The A.L. East will be too busy beating each other up, leaving the White Sox with a cake walk to the postseason which could very well help their chances to be fresh come October. The lineup top-down is scary, the rotation is everything a contending team would want (when healthy), and the addition of Kendall Graveman and Joe Kelly (along with the subtraction of Craig Kimbrel) to the bullpen makes this team legit. On a side note, I am getting the sense someone on this roster will be near the top of the MVP conversation and his name might be Luis Robert. Yeah, and that’s in a league with Shohei, Trout, and Vladdy. Keep your head up Southside, this year could be the year that makes you forget about the previous two.

1 Los Angeles Dodgers

RF    Mookie Betts (R)
1B    Freddie Freeman (L)
SS    Trea Turner (R)
DH  Max Muncy (L)
C     Will Smith (R)
3B    Justin Turner (R)
CF    Cody Bellinger (L)
LF    Chris Taylor (R)
2B    Gavin Lux (L)

Need I say anything more? These are the guys to beat in 2022, and they have a three-headed horsemen of Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, and Julio Urias (don’t forget about Trevor Bauer and Dustin May either). The bullpen is solid and if Craig Kimbrel can turn around and show he still has some gas left in the tank, that makes this staff very respectable. And by the way, they also have Treinen and Graterol in case the Kimbrel experiment doesn’t work out. What a year 2022 is going to be! Catch you guys soon and hope you enjoyed!

Side note: Bobby Miller with the cool story of the day

BLOG #14: Power Rankings 11-30

Opening Day is right around the corner! With tons of moves, some minor rule changes, and the announcement that Geovany Soto is back swinging a bat I think we are all ready for baseball. I will hopefully be lucky enough to avoid watching my Cubs lose at Wrigley on Thursday, but there are 29 other teams to talk about so that’s what I’m focusing on. That being said, I have done plenty of research to give you guys my thoughts on each team and their expectations for 2022. Lets get right into it!

#30 Baltimore Orioles

Another year, another lost cause for the O’s. While we love some of the guys on the roster in Adley Rutschman, Cedric Mullins, and Trey Mancini, the pitching staff is abysmal. Add in the fact they are in the deepest division in baseball? The ceiling for this team is 65 wins and that is being generous, expect a lot of runs for opposing teams against Baltimore this year and hammer the oppositions spreads responsibly.

#29 Pittsburgh Pirates

The same thing can be said about Pittsburgh as Baltimore, however, they at least have the luxury of being in the worst division in baseball. Not much excitement for the Pirates outside of Ke’Bryan Hayes, Oneil Cruz, and Roansy Contreras, but this is a young team that will take a couple years to develop. With not much to lose, their ceiling is around 70 wins and surprisingly highest of the bottom 5 teams, I just do not see that coming to fruition.

#28 Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati cleaned house, not much more to say. Reds fans can enjoy Joey Votto and Jonathan India, but outside of that they will be banking on average talent performing at unattainable expectations. I see them dealing Castillo and some of their bats at the deadline, leaving the second half of the season for development of their younger prospects going into 2023.

#27 Oakland Athletics

With the all-star corner infield duo of Matt Olson and Matt Chapman departing Oakland, the lineup is pretty weak. I love Cristian Pache and think by the end of the first month he will be an everyday starter. Outside of the starting rotation I don’t think the A’s will be very successful this year, leaving for a developmental second half of the season for up and coming prospects. Expect a 60-70 win season and Montas and Manaea to be gone by the deadline or sooner.

#26 Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks are just mediocre all around. Not enough depth to compete in their division, and not enough swagger to have a surprise season. They locked up Ketel which is good for the long run, but the addition of lockdown closer Mark Melancon won’t mean much if he isn’t given any leads going into the ninth. This will be a battle for fourth with Colorado.

#25 Colorado Rockies

Like the Diamondbacks, the Rockies are just average. The 2-5 in their lineup will generate the majority of their runs this year, and their starters do not seem to be enough for them to succeed outside of a battle for fourth with Arizona. And they took away Kris Bryant from me, not a fan.

#24 Cleveland Guardians

The only noise Cleveland will generate this year is their name change, as this team has zero depth and will struggle mightily in the Central now that Minnesota decided to put forth a competitive team. The 1-4 in their lineup is actually really good, and I can’t complain with their rotation and bullpen. Out of the bottom ten teams, I actually like them as a sleeper to have a couple streaky runs throughout the year, but nothing involving a postseason berth. I can see them dealing away JRam and Bieber at the deadline if things go south fast. A battle for fourth with Kansas City looks inevitable.

#23 Washington Nationals

After a WS title in 2019, change has come at the Nationals fast as 2022 looks like a full rebuild year. Soto and Cruz could each put up 50 homers this year and I would still have the Nats no higher than fourth in the N.L. East. Strasburg will probably have “injury problems” to keep him from having to waste his arm, and Cruz will be dealt to a contender by the deadline. Enjoy Soto this year Nats fans, it’s about all you got.

#22 Kansas City Royals

Writing this out now, I think the Royals might have a worse record than the Guardians this season, but I truly think they are the better team. Salvy will most likely return to Earth after that insane 2021 season, Mondesi will look to stay healthy, and the Royals will try their best this year to make things difficult for the contenders in their division. And hey, Greinke is back!

#21 Miami Marlins

Put this team in the N.L. Central and they could contend for the division. Leave them where they are at and it’s a fight for fourth with the Nats. I like this team a lot, and their energy is unmatched. The addition of Soler will make him a candidate for 100 RBIs this year, and their first three starters are nasty. Sucks to be in the N.L. East, otherwise this team would have a completely different outlook.

#20 Texas Rangers

A lot of people are hyping up this team, and while I agree Rangers fans should be excited, I do not think this is the year. Seager and Semien will do exactly what they came there to do, and Adolis Garcia will be an RBI machine if he has the season he had last year in 2022. Why I am so hesitant on this team? Pitching. Jon Gray is not an ace for a contending baseball team. I do not see them beating out the Astros or Mariners and with no hopes of playing postseason baseball, this team will die down in the second half.

#19 Chicago Cubs

These guys could easily be a bottom 5 team if I wasn’t biased, but as a man that bleeds blue I must remain hopeful. I am still delusional and think the Cubs could perform at their best and steal a division in which no one wants to win, but we will save that talk for another time. As it stands, Stroman and Hendricks are gonna be the guys, and our lineup will be as average as it gets. Look for a big year from Clint Frazier and Wade Miley, and hopefully a good enough season that doesn’t involve selling Contreras and Stroman at the deadline. Also welcome Seiya!!!

#18 Los Angeles Angels

Will Thor stay healthy? Can we get the best player in baseball into the playoffs? Am I talking about Trout or Shohei? So many questions, and not too many firm answers for Angels fans. I do think this will be one of their more competitive seasons in recent seasons, but there’s something about the energy in Seattle that makes me think the Angels are ready to disappoint again and fall into the third slot. This is definitely a team that can win the A.L. West, but Houston always finds a way to get the job done and the Angels always find ways to have their players injured. Really hoping things change for the sake of baseball because Trout and Ohtani are special and only have so much time.

#17 Detroit Tigers

I am all aboard the Detroit hype train! Their lineup should be exciting and something about Baez getting his well-deserved paycheck makes me want to think he will excel in his new home. I think Casey Mize will exceed expectations this season and boost a rotation that could sneak into top 10 in the league. I think this is a young team that will make a second place finish very tough for Minnesota, and seeing Correa not make the postseason could be very nice since he didn’t want to be a Cub.

#16 Minnesota Twins

I may be out of line for assuming the lineup the Twins have will generate more runs than their unproven pitching staff will allow, but I like the Twins this year. Adding Gary Sanchez, Gio Urshela, and Carlos Correa make the departure of Josh Donaldson forgettable. Losing Berrios, Pineda, and Maeda, however, is where things can get a little tricky for the Twins. They went from first in 2020 to last in 2021, but I remain optimistic for a team with that much talent at the plate and in the field. A battle for second with Detroit should be intriguing, but postseason hopes are a little iffy with their current pitching staff.

#15 St. Louis Cardinals

The Redbirds always find a way to get things done, and with the end of the road for at least 2 of their 3 franchise favorites I could see some magic in St. Louis if everything goes right. Their lineup is probably the best in the weak N.L. Central, but their lack of quality starters could lead to some tough losses in games the offense puts up runs. If Flaherty can stay healthy, Uncle Charlie pitches like he’s 30 (again), and they can keep Jordan Hicks on the field I think their ceiling is division champs. Outside of their 17 game winning streak last season I thought the Cards were very average, but it goes to show they can turn it up at any time. If this team struggles to stay healthy, things will go south very quickly and any shot of a postseason run is out of the question.

#14 Milwaukee Brewers

I hate Milwaukee. Outside of some of their pitchers and Christian Yelich everything about the Brewers organization irks me. Will I give them the highest chance of a division title? Sure. But I will not sit here and type out a projection in which I think they are a top ten team like other people do. The only thing they benefit from is being in a terrible division, and adding in Renfroe and Cutch does nothing but remind me how BAD their lineup will be. Burnes and Woodruff would normally be the best duo in baseball if it weren’t for Steve Cohen and the Mets going all in, but despite having a top 5 pitching staff again this year, their offense will hold them back in October and this team will be another division-winner flop come playoff time.

#13 San Diego Padres

I am going to be careful how I approach this projection, unlike Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. was on his motorcycle. Wait, I think I did that wrong. Anyway the Padres weren’t going to be division favorites this year even with a healthy Tatis since Los Angeles decided to put together the greatest lineup ever made. Not having their star shortstop for three months, however, severely impacts their chance at a division title; or at the very least stealing a wild card spot in a competitive N.L.. The Padres have depth, star power, a new coach, and everything a team would want for the full 162. Being without Tatis just makes it more difficult. Expect this team to be hungry and battle hard for second with San Francisco, especially after how 2021 went down.

#12 Seattle Mariners

Ah Seattle. After an amazing second half stretch in 2021, this team looks to capitalize and go after their first postseason berth since 2001. The additions of Winker and Suarez from the Reds, along with Robbie Ray from the Jays, makes this team significantly better. Mariner fans can enjoy an exciting season and should remain very optimistic to snag a wild card spot, or if they’re good enough a division title. Also Kelenic redemption season incoming.

#11 New York Yankees

I am not giving in and saying this Yankees team is top 10 in baseball. Sure they have everything a top ten team would have, but with how competitive the A.L. East is I just do not see them beating out the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Rays. Their lineup is pretty deep and should do damage in terms of generating runs, but their pitchers don’t strike me as a playoff contending staff. Could this team perform at their best and win the division? Absolutely. Will that happen? Absolutely not. Look for the Yanks to contend for the wild card and maybe buy at the deadline to add some proven arms to help down the stretch.

Hope you guys enjoyed my rankings, will look to get the final ten teams prior to opening day. Would you guys be interested if I started doing baseball betting suggestions? Lmk in the comments or in my dms. Have a good day y’all and go Cubs!

BLOG #13: 2022 Unleashed

Manfraud went to Wanfred in a span of 72 hours

After the 99 day hell storm of a lockout, baseball fans around the world can finally exhale and envision game play in the near future. The MLB and MLB Players Union reached a new deal on its collective bargaining agreement, and the labor dispute that I thought would hold baseball off until early May has now allowed for a targeted April 7th start. Before Opening Day, however, I anticipate quick movement among the 200 or so free agents, immediate reports to Spring Training by all teams, and exhibition games to begin on Thursday, March 17.

Who Cares About Rules?
Rule changes reached in the agreement allow for the MLB to enforce new rules within a 45 day period, which will go into effect in 2023. As for this year, we can expect a Universal DH and an expansion of the playoff team total from 10 to 12. The league has also decided to get rid of single game eliminations, and has implemented a three game series for the wild card going forward. Playoff formatting and seeding is listed below:

New MLB Playoff Format
1 seed: Best overall record*
2 seed: Second best record (division winners)*
3 seed: Third best record (division winners)
Seeds 4-6: Three next best teams
* bye in divisional round

First Round
3 v 6
4 v 5
Second Round
1 v Winner of 4 v 5
2 v Winner of 3 v 6

One of the sneaky changes that people aren’t talking about is the elimination of game 163 which was always a favorite for me. The league has decided to produce a predetermined formula to resolve any tiebreakers, so any moments like these are now gone forever. Predetermined BS if you ask me.

Free Agency Frenzy…. or lack thereof
With names such as Freddie Freeman, Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Trevor Story, and Nicholas Castellanos still available and most teams fully reported to their respective Spring Trainings, it is only a matter of time before these guys are signed and ready to go. Clayton Kershaw stayed put in LA, Carlos Rodon went out west to San Francisco, and Nelson Cruz went out east to the Nationals. Outside of that, the top 30 free agents have been relatively quiet with little to no rumors on potential suitors. Speculation is all over the place, but with so little time between now and teams’ first exhibition games, things are bound to develop. I recognize why reporters are jumpy, as their normal schedule of winter meetings and months of work have left them with a week of pure avidity to be reporting anything they can, but it hurts to see all these rumors of a guy like Correa to the Cubs when you know damn well the guy will stay in Houston. Listed below are the notable free agency and trade transactions that have taken place after the resolution of the lockout.

Notable free agency moves include:
Andrelton Simmons (SS) – CHC
Steve Cishek (RP) – WSH
Yusei Kikuchi (SP) – TOR
Jeurys Familia (RP) – PHI
Kurt Suzuki (C) – LAA
Justin Verlander (SP) – HOU
Nico Goodrum (OF) – HOU
Alex Colome (RP) – COL
Josh Harrison (IF) – CHW
Joe Kelly (RP) – CHW
Jordan Lyles (SP) – BAL
Tim Locastro (OF) – NYY
Adam Ottavino (RP) – NYM
Hanser Alberto (IF) – LAD
Ian Kennedy (SP) – ARI
Brad Hand (RP) – PHI

Notable trade moves include:
Mitch Garver (C) – MIN -> TEX
Josh Donaldson (3B) – MIN -> NYY
Isiah Kiner-Falefa (SS) – TEX -> MIN -> NYY
Gary Sanchez (C) – NYY -> MIN
Gio Urshela (IF) – NYY -> MIN
Sonny Gray (SP) – CIN -> MIN
Chris Bassitt (SP) – OAK -> NYM

Key Takeaways
With the Yankees getting Kiner-Falefa, they are out on the Correa and Story sweepstakes. Latest rumors also have them “pessimistic” on Freddie Freeman, leaving them with Anthony Rizzo or initiating a trade with Oakland for Matt Olson. The Twins are making noise and have swapped Donaldson for a younger Urshela and snagged Gary Sanchez in hopes that a change of scenery and leaving behind his every day catching days could help ignite the offensive prowess he is capable of. I think everyone should keep their eyes on Gerrit Cole and Josh Donaldson if the Yankees struggle this year, as the two had the whole spider tack beef last year. A bad Yankees is a good year for baseball though am I right.

On the other side of New York, going after another arm in Bassitt shows that owner Steve Cohen and his Mets are not messing around. They boast two annual Cy Young candidates in DeGrom and Scherzer along with Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker, and now Chris Bassitt filling out the rest of the rotation. I start seasons like this wondering what a highly projected Mets team can do to throw their season away, but if this team can stay healthy they are clear favorites in a fight for the N.L. East title that should only involve them and the defending champion Atlanta Braves. (side note: Phillies could be sneaky)

As for my Cubs, they are making it really hard to throw in the towel just yet. Put us in the East or West and I’d call this season over, but the N.L. Central is yet again not the strongest in terms of across the board talent. The Cardinals have the best lineup but lack pitching, the Brewers have the best pitching staff but lack a lineup, the Reds look to be in sell mode after unloading almost their entire rotation and not having scooped up Castellanos, and then there’s that team from Pittsburgh. With the Cubs playing cheap ball so far, I will say I do like the additions of Miley, Frazier, Gomes, and Simmons. This team looks to be in the mindset of holding off on contending and going through the first half of the season to see where we lie. As much as I would love to grab Correa, if his ask price is a deal north of 6-7 years I understand the hesitancy (thank Jason Heyward for that one). On the flip side, we have A LOT of money to spend. If they want to be cheap so be it, as there are guys out there who are not $20M+ AAV that I think would be great additions to this team.

Michael Conforto (OF)
Kyle Schwarber (DH)
Anthony Rizzo (1B)
Kenley Jansen (RP)
Andrew Chafin (RP)
Eddie Rosario (OF)
Jonathan Villar (IF)
Ryan Tepera (RP)
Kevin Pillar (OF)
Tommy Pham (OF)

Any of the guys listed above would make an immediate impact for our team, keep the bank account steady since it is clear we aren’t going to spend, and since I am never against a reunion with an ex, 4 of the 10 guys mentioned above have already worn the blue pinstripes and damn it everyone knows Rizzo and Schwarbs belong here.

This team also needs some outfield and bullpen depth, and for the sake of my mental health I won’t mention our starting rotation (big shoutout Stro and Hendo for keeping me somewhat content). My guess is we have room for one big move: Freeman at first, Correa or Story at short, and then Castellanos or Bryant for the outfield (or 3B where he belongs). Unless Jed decides to maneuver some trades, I expect us to coast into this season aiming to try and stay within 5-10 games of the division and waiting it out to see where we are. The truth hurts Cubs fans, and this years truth is most likely a third place seat behind Milwaukee and St. Louis. Please Lord give me hope, and give me Carlos Correa.

As for the rest of the MLB, expect some big news this week as it is only a matter of time before this star studded 2022 class of free agents find their new homes. As I was writing this Brad Hand signed with Philadelphia, so my best guess is by the time you have read this Kris Bryant has broken my heart and signed with the Phillies too.

BLOG #12: The Rundown

8 min read

Yes, I still exist. Yes, I have given t̶o̶o̶ ̶m̶a̶n̶y̶ countless hours of attention towards what has been happening in baseball this year. Yes, I apologize for failing to keep you all up to date with what is going on in the baseball world since March. And last but certainly not least, yes… Kris Bryant is an elite third baseman (or whatever the hell Rossy and the rest of us want him to be) and I couldn’t be happier. Now, let’s jump on board the recap train because this season has been full of storylines that I have been anticipating catching everyone up on for awhile now. So sit back, relax, and enjoy my attempt at cramming in two months of baseball into one post. As always, if there was anything I missed feel free to leave a question/comment/concern below and I can always create a part two to further explain anything extra you all might be interested in.

The Unexpected Rise of the Yerminator
With the tragic loss of star outfielder Eloy Jimenez to start the season, the division favorite White Sox lost a power bat and were in deep need for someone to step up. While there are plenty of names that come to mind, I bet few and far between thought that a man by the name of Yermin Mercedes would be the Sox’s savior. Beginning the season in Anaheim against a Los Angeles Angels team with Trout, Rendon, and Ohtani, it was none other than Mercedes that stole the spotlight that series. With a historical 8-8 start to his season followed by a 485 bomb against the Royals in his next series (and his first at home), he became an instant fan favorite amongst the Southsiders. Flashing forward to the present, Mercedes is slashing .289/.348/.441 and while he hasn’t been as remarkable as he was in April, he is still a large contributor to a Sox team that is currently 4.5 games ahead in the Central. Even as a Cubs fan, his story is incredible and to stick with baseball and believe in himself for as long as he did I give the guy my utmost respect. Click here for a deeper read into Yermin and his improbable but electric rise to stardom.

Side Note: The 3-0 Drama and my take

From Jeff Passan: “In the last 20 years there has been 557 times a team has been up by 10 or more runs with a 3-0 count… not once has someone swung.”

Then Mercedes happened. (enjoy the Jomboy breakdown)

While the home run itself was disrespectful enough, homers are exciting and if you want to try and save your pitchers’ arms by throwing a non-pitcher then expect to get embarrassed like the Twins did that night. I had no problem with the swing, but had a huge problem with TLR’s lack of support behind his player. You can have your own conversation with him about it but let’s keep that out of the media before you make yourself look even worse than you know what.

Jacob DeGrom
Where do I even start? The guy is filthy and is further proof why hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports. In nine starts this season, he hasn’t allowed more than one earned run and boasts a K/9 of 14.48. While advanced metrics wants to eliminate ERA, his is at 0.56 which is absolutely mind-boggling and certainly deserves the recognition it is receiving. The 32 year-old and 2x Cy Young winner is pitching the best he or anyone else ever has, and with an average fastball velocity at 99.1 MPH matched with a slider sitting around 91-93 MPH it’s no wonder hitters are lost at the dish. DeGrom is also carrying a league-leading WAR of 3.7 despite missing two start opportunities and we aren’t even out of the second week of June. Oh and the notion that pitchers can’t win MVP? I know it’s a long season but at this pace hand him every award there is because he is putting up numbers people would have trouble accomplishing in a video game. Seriously though, if you are hesitant on whether or not you find baseball exciting, watch a Mets game where this guy is on the mound, it is must-see action every time.

Side Note: DeGrom is also 10/25 this season at the plate (.400 for those not so good at math) and has driven in more runs than he has allowed earned… yeah MVP worthy stuff right there.

Kris MF Bryant
Ah, to be a Cubs fan and watch this guy take at-bats every day is truly a cure for any type of pain I experienced in the last four years of watching Chicago Cubs baseball. And to you fans that wanted to trade him or felt he was washed, wake up dammit! This guy is playing phenomenal baseball, and while it is still early there is no doubt in my mind that if the boys play well going forward and steal the division he can be a legit candidate for MVP. He is fifth in the majors in WAR, SLG, OPS and WOBA and fourth in WRC+. The third baseman turned position player has been everything we have asked for and more, and has helped lead us to a half game lead in the NL Central when just a month ago we sat in last place behind that AAA team from Pittsburgh. Watching this guy every day, I definitely won’t be the first to say it is clear he worked his tail off to get where is he right now. He regained his confidence at the plate jumping on fastballs that previously ate him up last year and is swinging early in the count to prevent falling into the opposing pitcher’s hands. His approach is remarkable, his plate vision even better than that, and while he said in the past baseball was becoming demanding, I cannot imagine Bryant is not enjoying himself with how well he is performing this 2021 season. That being said, let’s hope this Cubs’ front office/ownership/or whoever is deciding to be cheap wakes the f*** up (yeah I’m talking to you Ricketts) and chooses to buy at the deadline to make that extra push for October this team is capable of doing.

Showtime Shohei
A player that can hit 470 ft bombs and throw 100mph?!?! Introducing the Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani, who is pretty much carrying the Angels at the moment with co-star Mike Trout on the IL. While he may not be an obvious option for AL MVP, Ohtani is easily having one of the most impressive seasons of baseball in Major League history. We as fans have obviously watched some power hitting and pitching the last couple years, but a player that can do both? Never happened (sorry Babe), and certainly not at this rate. In 47.1 IP, Shohei has struck out 68 batters and has a WHIP of 1.18 and an ERA of 2.85. His K/9 is a whopping 12.93 and despite his walk rate being on the high end, Ohtani is able to safely get out of innings and help keep his team in games – as bad as they are. At the plate, he’s one of the best hitters in the league as he has 17 homers, 42 runs, and 45 RBIs. No disrespect to the preseason projections, but he’s pretty damn close to reaching his and we aren’t even halfway through the season. He is slugging .610 which is fourth in all of baseball and carries a WOBA of .401 and a WRC+ of 160 (avg is 100). Did I also forget to mention this dude can absolutely fly around the bases? He turns singles into doubles and has already amassed nine stolen bases this season which is just shy of the top ten in the league. The dude is as all-around as you can get, and is certainly entertaining to watch on a daily basis. It’ll be interesting to see how he performs the rest of the season as we have yet to see Ohtani play a full ~162 since his arrival back in 2018.

Side Note: Personally a tie for favorite swing in baseball with Vladdy Jr.

Like Father, Like Son
Speaking of Vladdy Jr, talk about breakout. My actual AL MVP pick so far this season has to go to the guy who is pissing on baseballs left and right and leads the league in pretty much every hitting stat category that comes to mind. He is doing what everyone including his father said he was capable of and more. I knew Vladdy had crazy power as he showcased in the 2019 HR Derby, but he is also third in all of baseball in batting average and has shown that he is not a one dimensional hitter at the plate. He leads the league in home runs (19), RBIs (50), OBP (.442), SLG (.664), WOBA (.460), WRC+ (197), and last but certainly not least WAR (3.7). Usually guys that start a season this hot begin to cool off at some point around late June to the All Star break strictly because pitchers throw around them, but with the plate discipline he has and the ability to hit pitches everywhere around the zone I have a hunch my man Vladdy will be just fine.

Reds’ Bash Bros
The Reds might not have much to like about this season despite being only five games out, but they do have something to enjoy with two of their star hitters. Both Jesse Winker and Nicholas Castellanos are absolutely lethal in the batter’s box this season, combining for a WAR of 5.6, 90 runs, 30 homers, and 75 RBIs. The two have the highest batting averages in all of baseball and have been nothing short of magical through the first third of the season. They also are each top 5 in OBP, SLG, OPS, WRC+, and WOBA. If the Reds were to fall behind in the standings coming close to the deadline, it could be in play for one of the two to be moved to get some legit prospects in return. The two are both under Reds control through 2024, however, so if they are happy in Cincy maybe they wait it out and see if the Reds can make some noise in the near future. As of now, the Reds aren’t giving me any signs that 2021 will be that year, but the fans can certainly appreciate watching these two take the field in the meantime.

MLB Umpires and Replay
No one said being an umpire was an easy job, but this season it seems like it has reached a new level of unacceptable. It all started with that awful call during the Sunday Night Baseball game between the Braves and Phillies back in April and has carried over into this past weekend between the Red Sox and Yankees. Strike zones are all over the place and replays take an absurdly long time for a game that is supposedly trying to speed up play (thanks Manfraud for the extra innings change). Yet, with no consequences in place umpires can and will continue to get away with bad calls/games. Suggestions? Maybe we need a rule change for the replay process or robotic umps to call balls and strikes… or even implement consequences for umpires who consistently make the wrong call or on the flip side incentivize umpires who call good games? I don’t know. What I do know is, it’s extremely frustrating and something needs to change.

Side Note: In the meantime, I will continue to watch players get called out by pitches two ball lengths outside. Then again, I would call strike three on a guy like Odor whose entire career is known for hitting another player instead of a baseball.

Yeah, that was called a strike

More Cheating?
Whether it’s people arguing the sudden increase in spin rate, the disastrous interview with Gerrit Cole, or a Josh Donaldson tweet saying he has proof of cheating, if you have watched any baseball as of late you are probably familiar with the foreign substance dilemma and spider tack. A number of pitchers (probably more than even I would guess) are finding ways to throw pitches with a higher spin rate using an illegal substance that long story short makes it more difficult as a hitter to succeed. This also easily answers the question as to why strikeouts are becoming so commonplace in today’s game. While it is nowhere near as abysmal as what the Trashtros did, it is still frustrating that we have hit yet another drama filled issue within the MLB. As much as I would like to go in depth, there is just too much information to unpack and this most definitely deserves its own blog in itself. If you would like to get a basic understanding of what is going on and why this whole thing blew up in the first place, Jomboy Media does a really good job at hitting the major points and origin of the foreign substance issue here.

Side Note: Trevor Bauer pisses me off.

Who’s This Wisdom Guy?
Every time the Cubs seem to lose a guy to the IL this season, they call someone up from Iowa who basically comes with a superpower of their choice and a cape along with it. This time around with Patrick Wisdom, he chose power with a side of violence because he is absolutely raking since his arrival to the big leagues. The 29 year old has had major league experience in the past with the Texas Rangers and rival St. Louis Cardinals, but nothing as exciting as he has showcased so far in this 2021 campaign. In his 48 at bats, Wisdom has 16 hits (eight of which are homers), 12 runs, and 11 RBIs. The righty carries some inflated stats that will return to normal as his season progresses, but at the moment Wisdom has an OPS of 1.250, SLG of .875, WRC+ of 233, and a WAR of 1.1 in just 17 games. While everyone is caught up in the power he has showcased, I found something worth noting in an article from Cubs Insider. Patrick Wisdom is doing damage on all types of pitches, as he has hit homers on four fastballs, two changeups, a sinker, and a slider. As I stated earlier in Vladdy’s Jr.’s case, when a player starts to get hot, pitchers start to throw around them and adjust to what pitches a hitter is succeeding on. If Wisdom is hitting all types of pitches, that makes the adjustment period a little more difficult for opposing arms. Nevertheless, I hopped on the Wisdom train very quickly, especially after knocking him in his first at bat complaining the Cubs have too many AAA players. Thanks for proving me wrong Patrick! Go Cubs!

BLOG #11: NL Central Projections

The first two weeks of Spring Training is under way, and fans have finally gotten an initial glimpse of live baseball in 2021. There is always this “extra buzz” during the March portion of a baseball season, and while some fans aren’t exactly impressed with the talent and effort on display, Spring Training undeniably provides that well-needed “baseball is back” sensation. Watching high-level players enjoy their craft without the stress of high-leverage situations, as well as watching young players prove why they are deserving of a roster spot is what baseball is all about. As of late, some players are even mic’d up (click here for some 2020 Bryzzo action) and provide witty commentary ranging from their approach at the plate to funny stories that have taken place during the spring. Listening to these interviews enhances the viewing experience and gives fans a small glance of the players’ personalities – which is exceedingly important in a sport that many claim is “too slow” or “too boring.” It may not be everyone’s preference, but Spring Training provides a nice break for both the players and fans to relax just enjoy the purity of the sport.

With the season just three weeks away and teams’ rosters finally beginning to take shape, the decision to do another set of projections felt right. Not only do I get the pleasure of updating myself on what to expect this season now that free agency is over, but I also give myself the opportunity to see how accurate my projections are when the season comes to a close.

I begin my first set of six projections (one for each division) with the one I am most passionate and familiar with: the NL Central. While I may be biased, I truly see a season in which the Cubs are repeat division champs… shocking. I will explain why I believe in my Cubbies and why I can say with certainty the division will be a four team race. Sorry Pittsburgh.

N.L Central 2021 Projection
1st: Chicago Cubs (84-78) —
2nd: Milwaukee Brewers (83-79) 1.0 GB*
3rd: St. Louis Cardinals (80-82) 4.0 GB
4th: Cincinnati Reds (71-91) 13.0 GB
5th: Pittsburgh Pirates (52-110) 32.0 GB
* = games back

1st: Chicago Cubs (84-78)
Manager: David Ross
MVP: Anthony Rizzo
Additions: Jake Arrieta, Zach Davies, Jake Marisnick, Shelby Miller, Joc Pederson, Austin Romine, Eric Sogard, Trevor Williams, Brandon Workman
Departures: Albert Almora Jr., Victor Caratini, Tyler Chatwood, Yu Darvish, Jason Kipnis, Jeremy Jeffress, Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, Kyle Schwarber
Projected Starters:
Rotation:
1) Kyle Hendricks
2) Zach Davies
3) Jake Arrieta
4) Alec Mills
5) Trevor Williams
Bullpen:
Adbert Alzolay (potential starter)
Andrew Chafin
Jonathan Holder
Craig Kimbrel (closer)
Shelby Miller (potential starter)
Kyle Ryan
Ryan Tepera
Rowan Wick
Brad Wieck
Brandon Workman
Lineup:
1) Ian Happ (CF)
2) Anthony Rizzo (1B)
3) Kris Bryant (3B)
4) Javier Baez (SS)
5) Joc Pederson (LF)
6) Willson Contreras (C)
7) Jason Heyward (RF)
8) Nico Hoerner (2B)
9) –
Bench:
David Bote IF/OF
Jake Marisnick OF
Cameron Maybin OF
Austin Romine C
Eric Sogard IF

What do the North Siders have in store for the 2021 campaign? This team’s ceiling is winning the division. Only two starters remain on the rotation from last season with the departures of Yu Darvish (SD), Jon Lester (WSH), and Jose Quintana (LAA), so most projections don’t like the Cubs’ chances. Looking at the updated roster, it is also hard to ignore the harsh reality that A LOT of changes took place. The Cubs lost the most players out of any team in the division, and there is a lot that can go wrong in terms of team chemistry when something like that takes place. The focal point, however, needs to be that we still have our core and the starting lineup remains unchanged, which is enough to keep myself optimistic.

What’s the real reason the Cubs strike me as division favorites despite losing so many players? Because the NL Central is the worst division in baseball and none of the other teams got that much better! The Cubs started the offseason with the Darvish trade, and then went silent. Fans like myself worried about the trajectory of the franchise, especially with the news of our President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein stepping down just months before. Along with the decision to “limit” spending and endless trade rumors swirling about involving high-profile names such as Bryant, Hendricks, and Contreras, the team looked like it was on pace for a rebuild and a fourth place finish. Luckily, none of those outrageous trade rumors came into fruition and we even managed to sign a couple guys in the last couple weeks of free agency.

I won’t lie, losing Darvish hurts. That was our ace and he got better as his tenure with the Cubs progressed. Aside from Darvish and Jeffress, the Cubs didn’t lose anyone else that would have helped win a significant amount of baseball games in 2021. Pederson was a clean exchange for Schwarber, the bench/depth players we gained are similar to the guys we lost, and we added lots of “low-risk, high-reward” arms to a rotation and bullpen that was already on the downswing. This team has the potential to be a top 10 offense and defense in the league, including six guys who have the potential to reach 30 HR and 4 players capable of a gold glove. The issue, however, looms with our pitching staff. The average velocity of our starters is dangerously low and there are tons of question marks in the bullpen that will most likely arise throughout the season. This leads us with the unfortunate possibility of possessing a bottom 10 staff in the league.

In simpler terms: If the Cubs rotation and bullpen is a train wreck it would take one hell of an offense to put together a division title, and a playoff chance is pretty much out the window. If we manage to avoid being a complete train wreck and our pitchers perform somewhere near “average”, I don’t see how any of the other teams beat us this season when our offense figures it out. In the shortened 2020 season, the Cubs found a way to win the division while heavily underperforming; let’s just hope that underperformance was left behind in 2020.

2nd: Milwaukee Brewers (83-79)
Manager: Craig Counsell
MVP: Christian Yelich
Additions: Jackie Bradley Jr., Kolten Wong, Travis Shaw, Jordan Zimmermann
Departures: Ryan Braun, Ben Gamel, Jedd Gyorko, Corey Knebel
Projected Starters:
Rotation:
1) Brandon Woodruff
2) Corbin Burnes
3) Josh Lindblom
4) Adrian Houser
5) Brett Anderson
Bullpen:

Brad Boxberger
Josh Hader (closer)
Eric Lauer (potential starter)
Freddy Peralta
Drew Rasmussen
Brent Suter
Justin Topa
Devin Williams
Jordan Zimmermann
Lineup:

1) Kolten Wong (2B)
2) Lorenzo Cain (LF)
3) Christian Yelich (RF)
4) Keston Hiura (1B)
5) Jackie Bradley Jr. (CF)
6) Travis Shaw (3B)
7) Orlando Arcia (SS)
8) Omar Narvaez (C)
9) –
Bench:

Avisail Garcia OF
Manny Pina C
Billy McKinney OF
Daniel Robertson IF
Luis Urias IF
Daniel Vogelbach 1B

The Milwaukee Brewers had a disappointing 2020, placing fourth in the division and their worst finish since 2016. Players like Corbin Burnes and Devin Williams had exceptional years, while others like Christian Yelich, Josh Hader, Brandon Woodruff, and Keston Hiura showed flashes of success but ultimately struggled with their consistency. The additions of Kolten Wong and Jackie Bradley Jr. via free agency as well as adding Lorenzo Cain back into the mix from injury, gives the Brewers a very high chance to win the division. Milwaukee boasts the best outfield in the Central with four real options in Garcia, Cain, Bradley Jr., and Yelich; add McKinney into the mix and it can certainly help Cain stay healthy and fresh throughout his 12th season in the majors.

In terms of pitching, both the bullpen and rotation have a nasty 1-2 punch with Williams/Hader and Woodruff/Burnes. The remainder of Milwaukee’s arms are relatively solid, and makes a case for the best pitching staff in the division and a top 10 staff in the league. Similar to the Cubs, the Brewers look to play to their potential and rely heavily on their defense. Unlike the Cubs, the Brewers are relying more on their pitching rather than their bats.

While this team still has an offense that can put up runs, it most likely will not be a team that does so via home runs. The Brewers have always been amongst the top teams in the MLB in home run totals each year, given they play in a very hitter-friendly ballpark. This year, however, the Brewers’ lineup strikes me as a team that will finish more in the middle of the pack. After finishing second in strikeouts in 2020, Milwaukee’s main concern at the plate has shifted to putting the ball in play rather than focusing on power (the power will come eventually). Players like Yelich look to improve after a horrendous 2020, and a bounce back campaign for the former MVP seems very likely now that he has a full season to work with. If the Cubs weren’t the division winner in 2021, Milwaukee is my next best guess. They have all the tools to do so with a good manager, rotation, bullpen, and an improved defense. The only thing stopping the Brew Crew this season will be their offensive performance, or hopefully lack thereof.

3rd: St. Louis Cardinals (80-82)
Manager: Mike Schildt
MVP: Paul Goldschmidt
Additions: Nolan Arenado, Matt Szczur
Departures: Dexter Fowler, Austin Gomber, Brad Miller, Matt Wieters, Kolten Wong
Projected Starters:
Rotation:
1) Jack Flaherty
2) Kwang-Hyun Kim
3) Adam Wainwright
4) Miles Mikolas
5) * (potential fifth starter)
Bullpen:
Genesis Cabrera
Giovanny Gallegos
John Gant*
Ryan Helsley
Jordan Hicks (closer)
Dakota Hudson*
Carlos Martinez*
Andrew Miller
Daniel Ponce de Leon*
Alex Reyes*
Tyler Webb
Lineup:
1) Tommy Edman (2B)
2) Paul DeJong (SS)
3) Paul Goldschmidt (1B)
4) Nolan Arenado (3B)
5) Dylan Carlson (RF)
6) Yadier Molina (C)
7) Tyler O’Neill (LF)
8) Harrison Bader (CF)
9) –
Bench:
Matt Carpenter 3B
Andrew Knizner C
Lane Thomas OF
Edmundo Sosa IF

The St. Louis Cardinals made a statement this offseason when they announced a trade with the Colorado Rockies for 3B Nolan Arenado. The 8x gold glove winner and 5x all star makes this team substantially better, and will undoubtedly provide significant improvement on both sides of the diamond. After losing their best defensive infielder in Kolten Wong, the Cardinals managed to at least bolster the left side of their infield with Arenado, while sliding Edman over to second base. The Cards also desperately needed an impact bat, and Arenado looks to form a lethal duo with Paul Goldschmidt that can potentially combine for 65+ HR and 200+ RBIs. Unfortunately, the bottom of the lineup looks awful, and I don’t see the 6-9 hitters really contributing all that much on the offensive side of things. In order for the Cardinals to win the division, the bottom of the lineup will need to step up in high-leverage situations or at the very least work counts in their plate appearances. Aside from that, the young talent of Edman and Carlson along with the veteran presence of DeJong and Carpenter hope to assist “Goldenado” and improve an offense that ranked last in the MLB in home runs in 2020.

The rotation centers around Flaherty and Kim, with the rest of their arms as questionable as they come. Adam Wainwright performed well the last two seasons, and will definitely show flashes of brilliance on the mound in 2021. The chance the 39 year old maintains that level of play for a full 162 is slim, and the Cardinals may look to become buyers at the deadline for another starter to share his workload heading into the second half. Miles Mikolas could be a dark horse this season, as it was only two years ago the former all star went 18-4 and finished 6th in Cy Young voting. The fifth spot remains the big question mark as it is still up for grabs, with as many as 5-6 names that could potentially fill that role.

Similar to Chicago and Milwaukee, St. Louis has that 1-2 punch in their rotation, but unlike the Brewers (and just like my Cubs) the rest of the pitchers don’t impress me. The bullpen has a lot of potential, however, and with a closer like Jordan Hicks back in the picture the Cardinals can be hard to score on in late-inning games. Injuries have been tough for St. Louis in the past, particularly in their bullpen, and because of that it is hard to gauge what to expect with any of their pitchers this season.

Why do I think the Cardinals are in line for a third place finish after just two posts ago I had them as division winners? Besides Nolan, the Cardinals had a very quiet offseason. I understand they are trying to stay within their roster and rely on their minor league talent, but they were truly one MLB-ready starter away from being the clear favorites for the division; and they didn’t so a single thing! How much of that had to do with focusing on the long-term vs. just this upcoming season? My guess is a lot.

With how stacked the NL already is, the Cardinals might be settling for competing for the division, seeing how things play out, and then pushing hard in next year’s free agency. The Cardinals won the division in 2019 and never really got the chance to compete in 2020 with all of their COVID issues, so it’s hard to have any idea what is in store for them in 2021 (for all I know they feel confident with the team they have). One thing is for sure, the St. Louis Cardinals have positioned themselves very well for years to come, while also still possessing a favorable shot at success this upcoming season.

Side note: I hope Yadi and Waino have good seasons, it’ll be sad to see them go…

4th: Cincinnati Reds (71-91)
Manager: David Bell
MVP: Luis Castillo
Arrivals: Sean Doolittle, Edgar Garcia, Jeff Hoffman, Tyler Naquin, Josh Osich, Noe Ramirez, Dee Strange-Gordon
Departures: Trevor Bauer, Archie Bradley, Curt Casali, Anthony Desclafani, Freddy Galvis, Brian Goodwin, Raisel Iglesias
Projected Starters:
Rotation:
1) Luis Castillo
2) Sonny Gray
3) Tyler Mahle
4) Wade Miley
5) Michael Lorenzen
Bullpen:

Tejay Antone
Cam Bedrosian
Jose De Leon
Sean Doolittle
Amir Garrett (closer)
Jeff Hoffman
Noe Ramirez
Sal Romano
Lucas Sims
Lineup:

1) Jesse Winker (LF)
2) Nicholas Castellanos (RF)
3) Joey Votto (1B)
4) Eugenio Suarez (3B)
5) Mike Moustakas (2B)
6) Nick Senzel (CF)
7) Kyle Farmer (SS)
8) Tucker Barnhart (C)
9) –
Bench:

Shogo Akiyama OF
Aristides Aquino OF
Jose Garcia IF
Kyle Holder IF
Tyler Naquin OF
Tyler Stephenson C
Dee Strange-Gordon IF/OF

After finishing fourth in the division and 12 games under .500 in 2019, the Reds were a team that carried a lot of excitement heading into the start of the 2020 season. They brought in Trevor Bauer, Mike Moustakas, Nicholas Castellanos, Shogo Akiyama, and Wade Miley – which ultimately led to a postseason birth for the first time since 2013. Yet, just as quickly as their success began, it came to a disastrous end. They were shutout in both games of their wild card series against the Braves last year and similar to 2019, will most likely finish in fourth again this season. Bauer may have represented the Reds last year with a Cy Young, but when a team is unable to score 1 run in 13 innings of a playoff game in which he pitched, no one can blame him for wanting to take his talents elsewhere.

Cincinnati may not be the most intriguing team heading into this 2021 season, but a couple bounces go their way and you never know. With a lineup that boasts names such as Votto, Suarez, Castellanos, Moustakas, and Winker – the potential is clearly there. Along with depth players such as Aquino, Akiyama, and Strange-Gordon, if the Reds were to play their best baseball and the rest of the division were to underperform, it is not out of the equation for the Reds to finesse a division title. How likely is that to actually happen? The same as a team in this division winning more than 95 games this season… so not very probable.

Aside from their lineup, the Reds center their rotation around Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray while also adding quality names such as Sean Doolittle and Noe Ramirez to their bullpen. I don’t want to completely bash the Reds, but they’re fighting an uphill battle this season and their pitching staff isn’t all too exciting. But hey, they are at least better than Pittsburgh.

With that being said, the chances that Castillo and/or Gray is moved before the trade deadline next year is highly likely. Castillo’s tenure in Cincinnati has been prolonged, and if the Reds aren’t in contention the organization owes him a trade to a contending team. On the defensive side of things, this team is average at best aside from 2020 gold glove winner and catcher Tucker Barnhart. The last two seasons the Reds have been in the top half of the MLB in DRS, or defensive runs saved (a metric that compiles all of the defensive ratings into a single number that equals the number of actual runs saved or allowed), and with most players returning I do not see that changing. This team can be an underdog this season, and since no one in this division is going to win by more than 10 games, if the Reds stay in the hunt and become buyers at the deadline, anything can happen. Being realistic though, even Joey Votto knows this season won’t lead to a division title. Right Joey?

5th: Pittsburgh Pirates (52-110)
Manager: Derek Shelton
MVP: Ke’Bryan Hayes
Additions: Tyler Anderson, Todd Frazier, Brian Goodwin
Departures: Chris Archer, Josh Bell, Derek Holland, Keone Kela, Joe Musgrove, Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams
Projected Starters:
Rotation:
1) Steven Brault
2) Mitch Keller
3) Tyler Anderson
4) Chad Kuhl
5) JT Brubaker
Bullpen:
David Bednar
Kyle Crick
Wil Crowe (potential starter)
Michael Feliz
Geoff Hartleb
Sam Howard
Luis Oveido
Richard Rodriguez (closer)
Chasen Shreve
Chris Stratton
Lineup:
1) Adam Frazier (2B)
2) Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B)
3) Colin Moran (1B)
4) Bryan Reynolds (LF)
5) Gregory Polanco (RF)
6) Anthony Alford (CF)
7) Jacob Stallings (C)
8) Kevin Newman (SS)
9) –
Bench:
Phillip Evans (IF)
Dustin Fowler (OF)
Todd Frazier (3B)
Erik Gonzalez (IF)
Brian Goodwin (OF)
Cole Tucker (IF/OF)
Tony Wolters (C)

“Anything is possible” unfortunately does not apply to Pittsburgh this year, or frankly any year for that matter. The Pirates will again finish as a bottom tier team in the league this season, contending with the Rockies, Orioles, and Rangers as baseball’s worst team. For a team that went 19-41 in the shortened 60 game season last year, they managed to get even worse and their record will surely reflect that in 2021. The Pirates completely wiped their starting rotation this offseason losing Chris Archer, Joe Musgrove, Jameson Taillon, and Trevor Williams. This leaves the five starters on the rotation for next season with 17 years of combined experience, posting a pathetic combined WAR (wins above replacement) of 13.1 in that span. The only thing Pirates’ fans should keep an eye on this year in terms of pitching would be the development of starter Mitch Keller, and the expectation that how he plays now can help him prepare for meaningful baseball later on down the road (if that time ever comes).

The lineup for the Pirates this year is without their best hitter the last couple seasons in first basemen Josh Bell, who took his talents to D.C. I expect below-average years for everyone on their roster except Ke’Bryan Hayes, who is the only bright spot in all of Pittsburgh. In just 24 games last season, Hayes posted the highest WAR on the team despite playing in half as many games. Expect the Bucs to finish bottom five in the league in terms of offensive stats for 2021.

Transitioning over to their bullpen, there is not much excitement for that group of guys either. The closing role is Richard Rodriguez’s for now, after posting his highest strikeout percentage and lowest walk rate last year. Unfortunately, if he performs well this season the odds of him being dealt at the trade deadline is highly likely; good news for him, bad news for the Pirates. The rest of the pen is average at best, with most of them just prospects in the early stages of their MLB career. The defense looks to be a little better this season, as it’s hard to do any worse than accumulating the most errors and owning the second lowest fielding percentage amongst all teams in the majors the season prior. Hayes may have been the only player on the roster with the potential to win a gold glove, but doing so at third base is almost impossible when you have a guy like Nolan Arenado standing in your way.

Long story short Pirates fans: your offense is Ke’Bryan Hayes, your defense is Ke’Bryan Hayes, and your team? You guessed it… Ke’Bryan Hayes. That is pretty much all the Pirates have to offer after exploding their roster AGAIN and shedding payroll to $45M in 2021. Expect a sub-55 win season this year. Ouch.

BLOG #10: Are Mega-Contracts Worth It?

There is no question that MLB contracts are reaching an outrageous level of expensive. Due to revenues skyrocketing the past couple decades both within Major League Baseball and its teams, money has never been more plentiful. Teams all around the league are making billion-dollar television and broadcast deals, and with no salary cap in the near future, mega-contracts are not going anywhere.

This past week, another deal took place between the San Diego Padres and Fernando Tatis Jr. The flashy 22 year-old SS agreed to a 14 year $340 million dollar deal, further proving that MLB teams are doing whatever they can to lock up their stars for the future. I find myself conflicted on how to approach these mega-contracts, as paying for a player for their whole career is a ridiculously high-risk investment. I do have to commend organizations, however, for realizing how valuable certain players can be to their team and their fan base.

In terms of evaluating mega-contracts, I am sure most franchises start with asking themselves these three basic questions:

  • Will this player stay with the organization throughout the entirety of the contract?
  • Will older players who have proven they are worth the mega-contract play up to that standard in the future?
  • Will young players who have yet to prove their worth live up to their expectations and expense of their new contract?

The first question is a very important one. Time and time again players sign a massive deal and things don’t work out, so they get shipped out to a big-market team that can afford the contract and the risk. Listed below are six notable players who received their mega-contract, and finished it or currently are finishing it in another uniform.

Get Paid and Get Traded
** WAR: Wins Above Replacement; it measures a player’s value in all aspects of his game by deciphering how many more wins he’s worth than a replacement-level player at his same position (the higher the better).

PlayerContractPrior TeamNew TeamWAR**Years Completed
Nolan Arenado8 yrs/$260MColorado RockiesSt. Louis Cardinals6.92/8
Robinson Cano10 yrs/$240MSeattle MarinersNew York Mets22.78/10
Zack Greinke6 yrs/$207MArizona DiamondbacksHouston Astros17.65/6
David Price6 yrs/$185MBoston Red SoxLos Angeles Dodgers10.74/6
Alex Rodriguez10yrs/$252M*Texas RangersNew York Yankees56.17/10
Giancarlo Stanton13 yrs/$325MMiami MarlinsNew York Yankees18.16/13
*opted out in 2008, only played 7 years of the 10

Nolan Arenado:
Arenado, who many thought would forever be a Rockie after his extension back in 2019, was finally traded to the Cardinals after countless years of rumors before its eventual completion. After a successful first two years of his deal with the Rockies, I expect the same going forward with no eye-popping discrepancies looking at his numbers up to this point in his career. People can argue his numbers may decrease by leaving Colorado and the Coors effect, but Nolan has a high chance to improve his game in a currently weak N.L. Central for the remaining six years of his contract.

Robinson Cano:
Cano, who had six seasons with a WAR of 3.7 or higher prior to his deal, has had only two such seasons since signing his mega-contract in 2014. How much of that had to do with playing less-meaningful baseball in Seattle over New York? Who knows. There were rumors of him being unhappy in Seattle and he was no longer enjoying a hitter friendly ballpark in Yankee Stadium. Nevertheless, he did not live up to his contract and got caught cheating with performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) twice! For someone who had a very high chance at a hall of fame induction, his suspensions and underwhelming performance as of late has made that chance impractical.

Zack Greinke:
Greinke, who signed his contract at age 32, pitched relatively well over the course of the last five seasons. In that stretch, he won a total of 70 games, received 4 gold gloves, earned three all star selections, and a silver slugger (got to love pitchers who rake). He also won 13 or more starts in each season and carried an average WHIP of 1.108. Despite a 2017 campaign in which he finished fourth in Cy Young voting, no other season Greinke really stood out as a top pitcher in the league. Since 2016, however, Greinke’s consistency helped rank him tenth amongst all pitchers in WAR while also pitching the fourth most innings in that span. That being said, it would be unfair to categorize his contract as a complete failure, but I do not think it should be categorized as a very successful one either.

David Price:
Price, who helped Boston win a World Series in 2018, was 46-24 with Boston before getting packaged in a blockbuster trade that sent him and Mookie Betts to Los Angeles prior to the 2020 season. The former 2012 Cy Young winner is set to be the seventh-highest paid pitcher in the league next season, despite potentially being the fourth best starter on his team! After sitting out the 2020 campaign due to COVID, it will be interesting to see how he performs with the change of scenery. During 2016-2019, Price ranked 29th in WAR and 49th in innings pitched amongst all pitchers. It is safe to say, although he was a solid starter for Boston, he can be added to the list of players who have not earned their share of their mega-contract.

Giancarlo Stanton:
Stanton, after posting a 2014 campaign with a 6.8 WAR, earned a massive deal with the Marlins and went on to have a combined 5.7 WAR for the next two seasons. In 2017, after posting 59 homers and a 7.3 WAR, Stanton was rewarded with a trade to the Yankees the following offseason. His first year in New York was commendable – compiling 38 home runs with a 4.3 WAR. Unfortunately he also had 211 strikeouts that year, which tied him sixth all time for most strikeouts in a season. To make matters worse, he has only played 41 games the last two seasons due to injuries. Regardless, injuries are something teams have to take into account when dealing with mega-contracts, as all money in the MLB is guaranteed. With seven seasons remaining on his deal, Stanton looks to return to his former self and more importantly stay healthy.

Alex Rodriguez:
Of these six players, Rodriguez is the only one who lived up to his contract, but who knows how much of that was due to PEDs. From 2001-2007, he ranked first among all active hitters in HRs, Rs, RBIs, and WAR. He was also a 3x MVP, 7x all star, and 2x gold glove winner. Not only did Rodriguez perform in the games he played in, but Rodriguez played A LOT. In six seasons, he totaled 1,114 games – ranking him behind only Ichiro and Juan Pierre during that span. Near the end of his first contract in 2008, Rodriguez opted out to sign another mega-contract (making him the only player to have two in MLB history), signing a deal with the Yankees for 10 years $275M at age 33. While I praise Rodriguez and use him as an example for being one of the few players to live up to a sizable deal, I will also use his second deal as an example of the downsides on mega-contracts.

What exactly are the negatives? Here is a question for thought. What about the players who underperform on their contract that aren’t lucky enough to be traded? Do these players just get paid like an all star without playing like one? Well, the short answer is yes. Some have their contracts bought out, others retire before their legacies are ruined, and the rest cash each check and tread on. Listed below are those players, and while a lot of these names are very good baseball players – some even future hall of famers – there is no debating that these mega-contracts were nothing short of disastrous.

“Get Paid and Please, Just Get Out”
WAR A: WAR the season before signing deal
WAR B: Total WAR during entire duration of contract

PlayerDate Signed (Age)WAR AContractWAR BYears Completed
Homer Bailey (CIN)2014 (28)4.16yrs/$105M5.96/6
Miguel Cabrera (DET)2016 (33)4.68yrs/$248M5.25/8
Yoenis Cespedes (NYM)2017 (31)3.74yrs/$110M6.04/4
Carl Crawford (BOS)2011 (30)7.77yrs/$142M4.66/7*
Chris Davis (BAL)2016 (30)5.47yrs/$161M-2.94/7
Jacoby Ellsbury (NYY)2013 (31)4.67yrs/$153M8.14/7*
Prince Fielder (DET)2012 (28)4.79yrs/$215M7.55/9*
Josh Hamilton (LAA)2013 (32)4.95yrs/$125M2.83/5*
Jason Heyward (CHC)2015 (27)5.68yrs/$184M8.05/8
Eric Hosmer (SD)2018 (29)4.08yrs/$144M0.53/8
Ryan Howard (PHI)2010 (33)4.45yrs/$125M-1.75/5
Albert Pujols (LAA)2011 (32)3.910yrs/$240M5.99/10
Vernon Wells (TOR)2006 (29)5.87yrs/$126M6.77/7
David Wright (NYM)2013 (31)6.68 yrs/$138M8.95/8*
Jordan Zimmerman (DET)2015 (29)3.15 yrs/$110M5.25/5
Barry Zito (SF)2007 (29)2.28 yrs/$126M6.08/8
*retired before completing contract
Albert Pujols (left) and Miguel Cabrera (right)

It is hard to disrespect a list of players when they boast names such as Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera – I know. I just question what motivated teams to offer these contracts listed above in the first place. Some players just didn’t pan out, others dealt with injuries, and a couple contracts were given to thank the player for their prior service to the league. What contributed to these players having high WAR seasons before landing these deals? My guess involves the appeal to play well before hitting free agency and increasing the chance at a lucrative deal. Considering the probability to reciprocate one’s prime near the end of a career is few and far between, these deals were all a product of two things:

  • Misconception that the player will continue to perform at that level
  • Raising the player’s value by trying to outbid other interested teams

Do I blame the players for underperforming? No.

Do I blame teams for wasting money on some of the aforementioned players who had no chance of living up to their contract? 100%.

On the flip side, there are only two players that come to mind who have thrived under their mega-contract up to date while managing to stay with the same team throughout the process. Listed below are the rare ones – the ones who stayed and delivered what their contracts asked of them.

“Get Paid and Prosper”

PlayerDate Signed (Age)ContractWARYears Completed
Max Scherzer (WSH)2015 (29)7yrs/$210M34.46/7
Clayton Kershaw (LAD)2014 (26)7yrs/$215M33.87/7

Max Scherzer:
Ah, Mad Max. Where do I even begin? Since signing his contract in 2015, Scherzer has secured five all star appearances, two Cy Young awards, and a World Series. In that span, he ranks first in WAR (34.4), strikeouts (1,463), innings pitched (1,118.0), and batting average against (.201) amongst all starting pitchers. As if that wasn’t enough, in 2015 he threw two no-hitters in the same season, an achievement only four others in MLB history have reached. Then in 2016, he made history again by throwing a 20 strikeout game, a feat that (in 9 innings) has only been completed by the likes of Roger Clemens (twice), Kerry Wood, and Randy Johnson. It is a no-brainer Scherzer lived up to his contract, and when he hangs up the cleats I expect a first-ballot HOF is almost a given at this point. 2021 was the only season in which he wasn’t a top pitcher, so at 36 years old with one season left on this mega-contract, I wonder what the future holds for one of the greatest pitchers of my lifetime.

Clayton Kershaw:
When you hear the name Clayton Kershaw, no doubt the first thing that comes to mind is greatness. After singing his mega-contract in 2014 to remain in Los Angeles, Kershaw has only further proved he is one of the greatest starting pitchers of all time. Since finalizing his deal, he ranks first in WHIP (0.91), ERA- (58), ERA (2.27), and shutouts (8). Further, he also made five all star appearances, won an MVP, Cy Young, and World Series, and earned two ERA titles in that span. It is clear that along with Scherzer, Kershaw will be a first ballot hall of famer and without a doubt will be talked about for many years to come. So, safe to say he lived up to his contract as well.

For many others, however, there is still plenty of time for things to unfold and determine where they rank amongst those who have also received mega-contracts. Listed below are the notable players who are at the beginning stages of their contracts, and hope to be remembered for their play rather than their contract.

Get Paid and TBD

PlayerDate Signed (Age)ContractWAR*Years Completed
Fernando Tatis Jr.2021 (22)14yrs/$340MN/A0/14
Trevor Bauer2021 (30)3yrs/$102MN/A0/3
J.T. Realmuto (PHI)2021 (30)5yrs/$115MN/A0/5
George Springer (TOR)2021 (31)6yrs/$150MN/A0/6
Mookie Betts (LAD)2021 (28)12yrs/$365MN/A0/12
Stephen Strasburg (WSH)2020 (31)7yrs/$245MN/A1/7
Gerrit Cole (NYY)2020 (30)9yrs/$324M1.51/9
Anthony Rendon (LAA)2020 (29)7yrs/$245M2.71/7
Mike Trout (LAA)2019 (28)12yrs/$426M11.02/12
Bryce Harper (PHI)2019 (27)13yrs/$330M6.22/13
Manny Machado (SD)2019 (27)10yrs/$300M5.72/10
Jose Altuve (HOU)2018 (28)7yrs/$165M8.73/7
*during contract

So where does that leave us? With more high-priced deals being finalized the past couple seasons, all the data above exhibit these mega-contracts are excruciatingly unpredictable. Some players last a season, others too many; some players perform, others disappear. One thing is for certain, major leaguers all get guaranteed money as long as they play. So with future 2022 free agents like Trevor Story, Freddie Freeman, Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor, Gleyber Torres, and Javier Baez on the table, I anticipate more shocking and high-priced mega-contracts to develop in the future.


Interesting Notes:

High-Paid DuosTotal Length of DealsTeamTotal Money Due
Mike Trout
Anthony Rendon
19 yearsLos Angeles Angels$671,000,000M
Fernando Tatis Jr.
Manny Machado
24 yearsSan Diego Padres$640,000,000M
Bryce Harper
Zack Wheeler
18 yearsPhiladelphia Phillies$448,000,000M
Giancarlo Stanton
D.J. Lemahieu
19 yearsNew York Yankees$415,000,000M
Ronald Acuna Jr.
Ozzie Albies
15 yearsAtlanta Braves$135,000,000M
Ronald Acuna Jr. (left) and Ozzie Albies (right)

Ozzie Albies may not be as high-profile as the rest of the list, but what the Braves pulled off in locking up two young stars for that amount of money deserves recognition. This allows flexibility to sign other stars in the future, and eliminates having to cut payroll going forward because of mega-contracts. Ronald Acuna Jr., who ranked 7th in the recent release of MLB’s Top 100 players (and has an MVP caliber ceiling), easily deserves to be paid like his fellow stars listed in the table above. While I am against him missing out on the massive deal he deserves, I hope that his pay cut leads to other star players coming to Atlanta to help lead them to a World Series win sometime in his career.

Oh, and before I forget, the San Diego Padres still owe their infield $705M going forward.

  • Tatis: $340M
  • Machado: $256M
  • Hosmer: $81M
  • Kim: $28M

And that isn’t even mentioning their rotation. Makes me wonder how good my Cubs could be if they spent their money like that. Let’s just hope for good things in 2022 FA.

BLOG #9: Joc and Nolan

The N.L. Central woke up on Friday morning and finally realized $4M spent in free agency between its five teams was a bad look. The Cubs finally made a move and signed outfielder and former Dodger Joc Pederson to a 1 year/$7M contract. A year removed from hitting 36 home runs, Joc struggled significantly to find his swing in the shortened 2020 campaign. Despite winning the World Series and performing extremely well in the postseason (.382/.432/.559), some may have forgotten he spent the regular season slashing .190/.285/.397 in 43 games and 138 plate appearances. Pederson, not known to hit for average, still has a higher ceiling in the Cubs lineup than that of his predecessor and former Cubs power hitter Kyle Schwarber – although neither has hit higher than .250 in a season. The pressing matter at hand, however, isn’t average – its team slugging. The Cubs have finished in the top half of the league in team slugging each season since 2016, which ultimately raised many question marks when they finished 24th last season. This move at first glance is an attempt to try and improve the Cubs’ power numbers, or lack thereof, so I am interested to see if this move leads to any noteworthy change.

Similar to most power hitters in today’s era, Joc sacrifices contact for power. While his role will continue to be focused on hitting for power, I hope the Cubs’ hitting coaches work on having Pederson expand his approach to working to the opposite field. In 2020, opposing teams shifted on Joc 81.2% of the time, diminishing his numbers in all of his advanced batting statistics last season from years past. Pederson, with the shift in play had a weighted on base average (wOBA) of .260. With no shift in play, he carried a wOBA of .430! Furthermore, because opposing teams shifted so frequently with Joc for the first time in his career, it is no wonder he had a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .200 (league average was .292). Another important measure to mention is that Joc never really had the opportunity to play against left handed pitching the last three seasons with the Dodgers. L.A. always had the depth in their roster to let Joc focus on right handed pitching, so I’m not sure whether the Cubs attempt to do the same or if they have him as an everyday starter.

With the expectation that 2021 will not be anywhere near as short as 60 games, I project Joc to make the well needed adjustments to his game that he wasn’t fortunate enough to have last season. If he manages to stay healthy, we are talking about a player who can easily return to his 2019 form and potentially make a huge impact in the Cubs’ lineup. People can say whatever they’d like about the Cubs, but as of right now the lineup has potential to do serious damage.

Cubs 2021 Projected Lineup:

1) Ian Happ (OF)
2) Anthony Rizzo (1B)
3) Kris Bryant (3B)
4) Javier Baez (SS)
5) Joc Pederson (OF)
6) Willson Contreras (C)
7) Jason Heyward (OF)
8) Nico Hoerner (2B)

Even though the team lacks pitching, I am intrigued nonetheless to see Joc in a Cubs uniform after having viewed him as a rival for so long during his tenure in L.A. Unfortunately for him and the Cubs, the chance of the phrase “Joctober” coming into fruition next season is low unless the Cubs go out and make more moves. Despite the MLB looking into having an expanded playoff, it is still a long shot to see the Cubs playing in the postseason with how stacked the N.L. is.

Why do I believe the Cubs aren’t heading to the postseason? On the same day the Cubs make the first “big” move for the division, the St. Louis Cardinals made an even bigger one. The Colorado Rockies traded their star and future HOF 3B Nolan Arenado and $50M in cash to the Cardinals. There is still uncertainty amongst all the details, but for now, Ken Rosenthal suggests that the Cardinals are sending in return P Austin Gomber along with some prospects. Regardless, the trade as a whole is extremely lopsided and a complete steal for St. Louis. Arenado not only improves the lineup offensively (no, Nolan Arenado will not struggle being away from Coors Field) but he also improves an infield that already has Paul Goldschmidt. This move makes them immediate favorites for the division, and with the talent in the N.L., I do not envision a scenario in which two N.L. Central teams make the postseason.

The trade, however, could change the dynamic of the entire MLB going forward more than most would imagine. With St. Louis delivering a gut punch to the other teams in the division, I am interested to see how those teams respond to the news. It was a long shot anyone in the Central was going to win the pennant in the first place, and now that the division seems all but the Cardinals to lose, non-Cardinal players may have a higher chance of being moved before becoming free agents in 2022. That includes notable players such as:

  • Brewers: Avisail Garcia, Josh Hader (not FA, arbitration elgible)
  • Cubs: Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Zach Davies, Anthony Rizzo
  • Pirates: Gregory Polanco, Felipe Vazquez
  • Reds: Nicholas Castellanos, Michael Lorenzen

With how many rumors have been circulating around the Cubs and players such as Bryant, I have accepted the notion of the Cubs throwing in the towel and getting some return for KB over letting him walk. I will mention, however, I believe he is someone who should be resigned in 2022. But after how everything has unfolded, it seems almost inevitable for him to be playing for another ball club in 2021, let alone 2022. Maybe it’s my pessimism that believes the division is already over, but frankly if the Cubs are going to sell, they might as well sell everything they got and look to compete again in 2-3 seasons.

BLOG #8: “Project North Side”

It’s October 27, 2009. You’re a Cubs fan. You are the laughing stock of baseball, the franchise with the longest championship drought in all of sports, and you ended the season finishing second behind the division rival Cardinals. The two years before, you won back-to-back division titles under new manager Lou Piniella, just to get swept in the playoffs by the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers. The night before, you watched the Phillies play the Yankees in the World Series, half of your attention on the game and the other half dreaming that one day your team eventually makes it there. On the business side of things, the sale of your franchise is all but coming to a close. Back in January, you hoped Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban wouldn’t have dropped out of the bidding, but he did, and you are left with the children of billionaire and TD Ameritrade chairman Joe Ricketts.

From left to right: Todd, Pete, Laura, and Tom Ricketts

But not all is lost, you tell yourself. You read an article stating Tom Ricketts “once lived across the street from Wrigley Field and met his wife in the bleachers.” It’s like it was meant to be. “My family and I are Cubs fans,” says Ricketts. “We share the goal of Cubs fans everywhere to win a World Series and build the consistent championship tradition that the fans deserve.” The Ricketts family then finalize a deal to purchase the Chicago Cubs valuing at $845 million; they call it “Project North Side”. It includes 95-percent interest in the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field, and the Tribune Company’s approximately 25-percent interest in Comcast SportsNet. You convince yourself things are going to get better, you just have to believe.

Fast forward to 2015 – the Cubs make it to their first NLCS since you know when. Then, in 2016, the Cubs do the unimaginable and go on to win the World Series for the first time in 108 years! The city of Chicago is ecstatic, you are the happiest you’ve ever been, and the Cubs drought is over. It’s the fairytale ending. The end.

Simpler times.

Yeah, it was the end alright. Now that us fans got what we wanted, it was time for the Ricketts to get what they wanted. This sparked a transition to venture off into focusing on the family’s profit margins over anything remotely close to involving baseball.

It’s not the end of the world, however, because you still got to watch your Cubs make the NLCS in 2017 and play competitively the following three seasons. But unlike the Cubs, teams like the Dodgers, made impactful moves every offseason to create “the consistent championship tradition that the fans deserve” – I think that’s how Ricketts phrased it. Don’t believe me? Think I am being an ungrateful fan? Since 2017, the Cubs’ notable signings are:

  • 2017: Brett Anderson, Wade Davis (trade), Jon Jay, Jose Quintana (trade), Koji Uehara
  • 2018: Tyler Chatwood, Steve Cishek, Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow
  • 2019: Brad Brach, Nicholas Castellanos (trade) Daniel Descalso, Craig Kimbrel*
  • 2020 (current): Jonathan Holder, Austin Romine, Kohl Stewart

Sure, some of those names are legit acquisitions. But, when only one of those names is still on the current roster*, what exactly was the point. Of course I will always be grateful for 2016; I was able to witness something that some fans spent their whole lives waiting for and never had the chance to experience. I draw the line on complacency, however, which is exactly what the Ricketts did in terms of handcuffing Theo Epstein and the rest of the Cubs’ front office from going out and building a better team. And yes, I believe some of the blame goes to the players and coaching staff as well. Underperformance was clearly contagious in that dugout, but after 2016, we never had a team that was built to win it all. And the icing on the cake, after signing Darvish, the spending suddenly disappeared – leaving the last two offseasons being nothing short of disappointing, stingy, and embarrassing.

Disappointing:

When I first heard the news about the Yu Darvish trade, I honestly saw the angle the Cubs were trying to take. Clearly the team is not competing for this upcoming season, so it makes sense to sell an older pitcher like Yu and get young prospects in return – they even got a quality arm like Zach Davies. But when you get ZERO of the Padres top ten prospects (and no pitchers) in return, there is clearly an issue. It means you made a trade the front office didn’t want to make, but rather was forced to because of money restraints. Furthermore, the Cubs have had crucial players in the past such as Aroldis Chapman, Nicholas Castellanos, and Wade Davis that they bring in and then decide to move on from. I understand some players are rentals, but when they have the impact that they do when they’re here, why wouldn’t you pay them to stay. But we are talking about a team that clearly made it known to their former MVP that he isn’t worth the money he’s getting so… what do I expect?

Blame: Ricketts – for throwing their money on turning Wrigley into a financial empire for themselves instead of on the team that plays there.

Stingy:

Where do I even begin? Too cheap to pay Jon Lester $2 million. Too cheap to spend any money in the 2021 free agency after shedding north of $45 million in outgoing free agents and $59 million in total from Yu Darvish. Too cheap to pay 100 front office employees – some making less than six figures – so the next best option is laying them off. But, wait a second. Not too cheap to agree to a billion-dollar deal with Turner Sports to broadcast the playoffs? Interesting. Considering this is the same family who, when purchasing the Cubs, tried in every way possible to avoid the taxes involved in the sale, and had Todd Ricketts under fire for a property tax issue, it doesn’t surprise me. I get that this is a business, but good luck trying to get fans like myself to have any sympathy for your “biblical” losses when you are only trying to save yourselves.

Blame: Ricketts – for being exactly the type of owner I despise; glad the well-being of people that work for you mean nothing.

Embarrassing:

COVID-19 was tough for everyone, baseball teams included. David Kaplan reported the Cubs are in around $1 billion of debt between the team and the Ricketts’ real-estate company. The problem I have with the whole situation is the Ricketts knew the risk of owning a big-market team. When you own the Chicago Cubs, you cannot pretend you own a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates when money gets tight. For a team that increases the prices for fans in every aspect, it is mind-boggling to see the inverse relationship in payroll and the desire to put a winning team on the field. It was strikingly obvious that all this ever was to the Ricketts was a gold mine. Their plan: buy the Cubs, buy all the property around Wrigley, renovate, build a winning team, win, cut back spending on team, and continue to increase prices knowing a loyal fanbase like the Cubs will be willing to keep paying. And the worst part – Ricketts’ lack of spending on the team has led to a transition of Chicago baseball belonging back on the south side. But hey, I know one thing is for sure, the Ricketts’ pockets will be just fine.

Blame: Myself – for believing that billionaires with the prior history like the Ricketts would actually care about the team over their financial situation.

BLOG #7: Hammerin’ Hank

Hank Aaron was bigger than baseball. For someone I never had the pleasure of watching play live, I am fortunate to have learned his story and substantial impact on all generations of the baseball community. Born in Mobile, Alabama, Aaron idolized Jackie Robinson – the Brooklyn Dodgers first basemen who broke the MLB color barrier in 1947 (and obviously achieved so much more). Robinson came to Mobile the following summer, in 1948, to speak out against segregation and racial injustice. He ultimately helped reveal the life of baseball and the life of activism to a young Hank Aaron, who at the time wanted nothing more than to be just like Jackie. Growing up in an underprivileged household, Aaron lived with his seven siblings and was unable to afford luxury items, such as baseball equipment. As a child, he was forced to use sticks and bottle caps as a substitute for a bat and baseball, a perfect testament of his love for the game. Upon all the stories and interviews involving Hank that I have read or watched throughout my life, he came off as honest, hardworking, and humble to everyone around him. That was the case with most players of that era – Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks – they were not just exceptional at their craft, but they did it during a time where some felt they didn’t belong. On top of hateful mail towards himself, his family, and his friends, Aaron received death threats for being near (and then ultimately surpassing) Babe Ruth’s home run record of 714. I have trouble conceptualizing the difficulty of trying to step into a batter’s box every day focusing on hitting a baseball, when he and other black players were still having to deal with issues away from the game.

“I got millions and millions of pieces of mail from people that were resentful simply because of the fact of who I was and they were just not ready for a black man to break that record.”

In another interview, Aaron stated that “all of these things have put a bad taste in [his] mouth, and it won’t go away. They carved a piece of [his] heart away.” For someone who was so essential for the sport of baseball – bringing the same light to young black children around the world that Jackie gave to him as a child – Aaron deserved better than how he was treated.

It’s true. At the end of the day, baseball really is just a game. I get it. But while the events that transpire between the foul lines might be of little importance to some, for others like Aaron it meant much more. His childhood may not have been ideal, but as with most athletes and demanding backgrounds, baseball was his escape. His resiliency and determination defined the type of person he was, and the numbers prove it. Despite winning both the MVP and World Series only once, Aaron was an all star in 21 straight seasons and has a legitimate case for one of the greatest careers in all of sports. The hall of famer is second all time in home runs (755), most in total bases (6,856), RBIs (2,297), and extra base-hits (1,477), and had 10 seasons of 30+ HR with fewer than 65 Ks. Aaron totaled 3,771 hits in his career – which makes him the only player with 500+ HRs who would have reached 3,000 hits without tallying the homers. So, to put it bluntly, he was good at what he did.

As I stated earlier, however, Hank Aaron’s legacy goes way beyond baseball. Aaron was a civil rights advocate for those who didn’t have the platform to fight against racism and discrimination, both during his playing career and after. He cared considerably for those around him and never was one to shy away from voicing his opinion. Baseball has now lost quite a few legends this past year – Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Whitey Ford, Lou Brock, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, Tommy Lasorda, and now Hank Aaron. This one significantly hurts the baseball community, and fans of all ages mourn the loss and cherish the life of the true home run king, Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron.

“My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging.” – Hank Aaron

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