Archive for the ‘MLB’ Category

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Seattle Mariners

It has been an interesting half-season of Baseball thus far. It is one that emerges from the break today with only one divisional lead that is greater than four games. The entire National League is wide open, while the American League East and West are shaping up to fight it out for the long run on the other half. Six teams are within four or fewer games in both Leagues’ Wild Card race. Simply put, it has been a vice grip of a struggle for position this summer.

As the second half takes off this afternoon and evening, who is in the driver’s seat for the awards that will outcome as the seasons turn, the fat is trimmed and the postseason takes charge.

Most Valuable Player

American League—Mike Trout, Angels: Every year of his career thus far he has posted an MVP-caliber campaign, while each has seen him reach a higher peak day-to-day. 2014 has been no exception that either, as Trout continues to do everything possible on the diamond with exceptional skill. This year’s Trout Version 3.0 has seen him launch impossibly long home runs with stunning ease, while leading the AL in on-base + slugging% at 1.005 and total bases (209). However, what’s best is that he’s getting to do it while leading a finally successful Angels club, and the numbers always mean more when they are stacking into W’s as well.

National League—Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: After leading the NL in hits two years ago and then winning its MVP a year ago, somehow The Cutch continues to get even better. He is keeping Pirates relevant in the game’s best division via a stunning campaign that seems him in the top 10 in eleven different categories and playing his usual swarming defense as well. It’s a tight race between himself, Troy Tulowitzki and Giancarlo Stanton, but his all-around masterpiece he’s half-finished with is stunning thus far.

Cy Young

American League—Felix Hernandez, Mariners: It looks almost too easy, but the King (who is just touching his prime) has made dominance the norm. He is the owner of the AL’s top ERA, an 11-2 record and comes in second in K’s and first in WHIP as well. Along the way he has allowed more than 2 earned runs only three starts and has nine games of at least 9 strikeouts and 2 or fewer walks.

National League—Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: What is from Kershaw this year is simply awe-inspiring, as he sits in the top five in wins, ERA, strikeouts, WHIP and average against. But what’s most impressive is that he missed a full month and is still there. Imagine if he’d had that time to work? We would be looking potentially at one of the greatest seasons of all-time—not that we still couldn’t be, however.

Rookie of the Year

American League—Jose Abreu, White Sox: He has already exceeded most full-season expectations here as the second half is yet to begin. Abreu comes out the break the Major’s top home run mark, with 29 and is pushing on the door of 80 RBI already. If he keeps at this pace, he has a pretty good shot at meeting Mark McGwire’s record of 49 rookie home runs.

National League—Billy Hamilton, Reds: The Cincy speedster has delivered where expected on the base paths, with 38 first half steals and six triples to boot. But most impressively, he is putting to bed the rhetoric that he is all sizzle, but no steak at the plate, hitting .317 since the break of June.

Manager of the Year

American League—Bob Melvin, Athletics: In the midst of rapidly toughening division, Melvin has held the A’s head above all in the AL for the duration of the season. Armed with a completely all-in for ’14 Billy Beane in the front office and a full cupboard of perfect pieces in his dugout, the Oakland skipper has his club looking like they are ready to break out of the first round (at least) for the first time since 2006.

National League—Nick Price, Reds: The Reds entered the year, and spent a decent part of the beginning of it, in flux towards the bottom of the NL Central. Plagued by injuries both to the lineup and pitching staff, it was an unpredictable day-to-day situation. But their first year manager Price has done a masterful job of pulling the most of what has been available to him. This has included pulling into within ear shot of the Central lead, as well as sending five of his guys to the All-Star Game, with none of them being Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Mat Latos or Jay Bruce.

Comeback Player of the (Half) Year

American League—Albert Pujols, Angels: The reports of his death have proven to be greatly exaggerated. While he is not pumping out the .300+ batting average that used to be standard for him, Pujols has already reached 20 home runs, 19 doubles and driven in 64 runs. It is far from a one-man reason why Anaheim is looking newly minted this year.

National League—Tim Hudson, Giants: After that gruesome ankle injury ended his 2013 in Atlanta, Hudson declared himself ready to go this winter much earlier than anticipated. In turn, the Giants took a flier on him and in return he has given them an All-Star in return. That’s more than fair return on investment, I’d say.

Reliever of the Year

American League—Greg Holland, Royals: The emerging dominance he showed in his first year in the ninth in KC has carried over, and it is fair to say that he has a more than fair claim to be the AL’s premier closer. His strikeouts-per-nine rate is still absurd at 13.7 and has converted 25-of-26 save ops thus far.

National League—Craig Kimbrel, Braves: Let’s see—MLB-best 29 saves, sub 2.00 ERA, batters surviving to a .131 average against and over 20 more strikeouts than innings pitched. In other words: just another run of the mill year at the office for Kimbrel.

Injury Setback of the Year

American League—Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees: After putting to bed any and all doubts about his effectiveness translating to the America and the $120M+ the Yankees inked him to as well, Tanaka took the tumble of many a pitcher this season, by tearing his UCL. He was authoring one of the best seasons in the Majors this year, and now will join CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda as injured impact starters for a Yankee team that is suddenly out of answers off the hill again.

National League—Jose Fernandez, Marlins: The most deflating injury of the year is easily Fernandez’s, who joined the Tommy John list in May after getting off to another sensational start. While the game lost one of its most exciting young properties, the surprisingly competitive Marlins lost the biggest difference maker in what could potentially be a stunning breakthrough season for the franchise.

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As the Major League Baseball trade deadline approaches, player movement fever hits a temperature that it will not see again until December’s free agent season hits full speed. And as next week’s All-Star Game moves past and the second half of the season launches, player movement rumors will be the talk of the game nearly as much as the boxscore itself.

And while some teams have already begun the position rearrangement battle, as Saturday’s Cubs-Athletics blockbuster swap launched, the ability to make acquisitions on the trade market is not as readily simple of a move as it used to be. With the addition of the second Wild Card team, the line between ‘buyer’ and ‘seller’ is blurred simply for the fact there is an additional opportunity to stay competitive for those formerly fringe clubs. So, with less available to buy, understanding what waits ahead is most important than ever.

As always, some moves are made with the future in mind. There will be players that are sent along their way over the next few weeks simply so that the team can salvage something in return for the fact that they may not be able to retain that player. More than uncertain draft pick compensation, the lure of getting a big gain back from a team that is looking to find the final addition to make it into October is a certain way to plan for the future in the present.

In addition to that element, there are simply the players that will test their might on the market, to flex their earning ability muscle. This year’s free agent class is flush with both types of talents: those that have to be shipped and those that have already served their notice of being “ready to mingle”.

With that said, here is a very early look at the high points of the upcoming free agent class as it appears this summer. Take into mind that there are a host of other players that COULD reach the market, via either club, player or mutual options not being elected. And considering this year’s free agent crop looks to have even more long-term punch than either 2013 or 2014’s group of FA’s, even more additions to the mix could make it a chance to really change the face of more than a few franchises.

1.) Max Scherzer—Starting Pitcher, Tigers (30)

It was a calculated gamble that many understood at the time when Scherzer turned down the Tigers reported six year, $144 million deal entering the season, a decision that was roundly panned by the baseball community. But despite doing so, he still sits in a good position to demand at least the same level of compensation, or better. His former deal matches what Cole Hamels inked with Philadelphia before the 2013 season, and Scherzer (who has won over 60 games the last four years and is on pace to push for another 20 win effort this summer) clearly has the credentials to just START negotiations at that level. The entire large-to-high medium market should beckon for him—and he’s in position to name his price still.

2.) Hanley Ramirez, Shortstop, Dodgers (31)

The talent is above reproach for Ramirez, and is high enough to ward off the growing red flags around him both now and down the line. A move off of shortstop is inevitable, whether he likes it or not, and has even been rumored as being non-negotiable if he stays in LA. He is battling injuries for the second straight year and his durability may be best suited by a third base move. But he is easily the most valuable everyday commodity that will see the market and is at the right age to call for a well-paying four-to-five year pact.

3.) Jon Lester—Starting Pitcher, Red Sox (31)

Stakes are getting high between Lester and the Sox. On the heels of their World Series win, he offered to take a discount to get the deal done, but nothing materialized. So now he is a half-season away from the open market and the waters seem to have changed directions. It is rumored that he is looking for up to $140 million over the lifetime of his deal and considering he is having an All-Star follow up to his dominant October 2013 effort and is a mid-prime hard throwing lefty, he should see it.

4.) Pablo Sandoval—Third Baseman, Giants (28)

The ever enigmatic Panda has resurrected both his season and his stock this year. He is on pace hit more home runs and drive in more runs than he has since 2009. This timely rebuild could come with some questions about if he keeps the effort on after getting paid, but he is a part of the San Francisco cornerstone and they would be hard pressed to let him go. But there will be plenty of suitors coming if he sees the market.

5.) James Shields—Starting Pitcher, Royals (33)

Shields is in a precarious position: if the Royals stay in the mix, he will stay in KC until the end. But if they falter over the next few weeks, he could instantly become the biggest trade chip on market for contenders looking to make the push. Either way, he should see a substantial four year deal awaiting him this winter in the range of the $19 million per year range.

6.) Nelson Cruz—Outfield/DH, Orioles (34)

This winter’s greatest value pickup by far, he has taken a PED suspension damaged stock image and turned it into $17 million worth of value for $10 million less in Baltimore. It is a huge demo season for Cruz, who will find a welcoming AL heavy market awaiting him to give another run at a long-term deal this winter. A three year, $50 million type of deal would make perfect sense.

7.) Chase Headley—Third Baseman, Padres (31)

He has been riding the stock that he built with his monster second half of 2012 for a while (he has hit .236 over the past two, injury riddled years), but there are worst ways to invest for a team in need of solving some gaping issues at third (see the AL East specifically). In addition to the premium of being a switch hitting, power potential third baseman, he is also a former Gold Glove winner as well.

8.) Melky Cabrera—Left Fielder, Blue Jays (30)

He is another former PED suspended player that has proven his value upon return. After a sluggish first year in Toronto, he has consistently stayed among the AL leaders in hits and runs scored this summer and is proving to be an instant boost to the top of any order.

9.) Ervin Santana—Starting Pitcher, Braves (30)

His audition season with the Braves has not been as regularly dominant as his 2013 in Kansas City was, but he has been effective none the less. With a year on the open market with no draft pick compensation tied to him, he should see one of the longer deals issued to a pitcher this year land his way.

10.) Victor Martinez—Designated Hitter, Tigers (35)

He is having perhaps his best year of his career at the plate, and is seeing the market at the right time to be a veteran presence that is limited to DH duty at this point. While it cuts out half of the teams that could have interest in him, as David Ortiz has proved regularly, there will be healthy offers for him regardless. Expect Detroit to make the biggest push however, as he is essential to their structure, post dealing Prince Fielder away.

11.) JJ Hardy—Shortstop, Orioles (32)

He has been one of the biggest power presences at shortstop the last few years, but has had a sudden outage this summer of a major kind (two home runs in 309 plate appearances), which is alarming, considering he has not hit for a high average at any point in his career. However, he continues to be a sterling defender and top shortstops always get paid well, so he should be no exception.

12.) David Robertson—Relief Pitcher, Yankees (30): After establishing himself as perhaps the premier setup man in the game over the past few years, Robertson transitioned as well as could be requested to the ninth inning as well. It would reason to think that the Yankees would do anything they could to keep him from seeing free agency or at the very least blow him out of the water with their first offer. On a pitching staff in flux, he is as crucial as any arm they possess.

13.) Jason Hammel—Starting Pitcher, Athletics (32)

He is having a career year so far in and is now headed to back to the American League to see if he can hold it together as a part of a pennant chase. If he should, then he should garner solid interest for a team on the rebuild, similar to the three-year, $30 million deal Scott Feldman landed in Houston, if not slightly better.

14.) Jed Lowrie—Shortstop, A’s (31)

The versatile Lowrie can contribute regularly at any position on the infield and he should emerge as the top utility option available. He is having a bad downspin this year, with an average under .230 and OPS lingering around .650, but his 31 home runs from 2012-13 and .290 average just a year ago bode well in his favor. However, with Oakland’s move of prospect Addison Russell to Chicago, he could stay put as well.

15.) Colby Rasmus—Center Fielder, Blue Jays (28)

Since being cast off to Toronto three years ago, Rasmus has begun to find some consistency in his output, but he is in the midst of a horrible 2014 with average hovering close to .220 and an on-base % not much higher. His power along will not be enough to raise his stock to commanding a great everyday pay rate, but he could see something like Chris Young’s $7.25 million deal with the Mets off potential return alone.

16.) Koji Uehara—Relief Pitcher, Red Sox (40)

Age does not seem to be a problem for the crafty, yet dominant Boston closer. However, due to it he will not require a long-term, nor ridiculous high dollar commitment. With two stellar seasons in his pocket, he will net a solid return, but likely not a back breaking deal either. A return to Boston is most likely, but the ever changing scene for closers could open tempting doors as well.

17.) Josh Beckett—Starting Pitcher, Dodgers (35)

He has reinvented himself in an impressive fashion this year and has been one of the National League’s best. Looking at it outside of the vacuum, he does have a checkered health history and is hitting his mid-30’s, but with what he has shown this year he could be a hot, quick fix commodity this winter in the same fashion that Hiroki Kuroda carved out for himself the last few

18.) Justin Masterson—Starting Pitcher, Indians (30)

His 2014 has been the polar opposite of his breakthrough 2013, which lowered his stock some, but the promise of what Masterson brings is enough to keep him among the top options available this winter. His career has been a study in talented inconsistencies, but he certainly will be one of the more interesting cases available this winter.

19.) Mike Morse—1B/OF, Giants (33)

With a healthy wrist again, Morse has been a solid power presence in the middle of the Giants’ lineup that has seen its core be unsteady due to injury thus far. He is on pace to near 25 home runs and drive in 80 runs, which could net him a seven to eight million type of deal.

20.) Russell Martin—Catcher, Pirates (32)

Martin has been the glue for the Pirates resurgence and is having an even better offensive season that he did in his first in Pittsburgh (from .229 up to .279 thus far). He should be a hot property for teams looking to upgrade with a catcher that has not reached his decline yet and can call as good of a game as can be asked for.

21.) Luke Gregorson—Relief Pitcher, A’s (31)

22. Jake Peavy—Starting Pitcher, Red Sox (34)

23. Stephen Drew—Shortstop, Red Sox (31)

24. Asdrubal Cabrera—Shortstop, Indians (29)

25. Corey Hart—First Baseman, Mariners (33)

26. Sergio Romo—Relief Pitcher, Giants (32)

27. Francisco Liriano—Starting Pitcher, Pirates (31)

28. Kendrys Morales—Designated Hitter/First Base, Twins (31)

29. Torii Hunter—Right Fielder, Tigers (39)

30. Michael Cuddyer—OF/1B, Rockies (36)

31. Hiroki Kuroda—Starting Pitcher, Yankees (40)

32. Francisco Rodriguez—Relief Pitcher, Brewers (33)

33. Kyle Kendrick—Starting Pitcher, Phillies (30)

34. Jason Motte—Relief Pitcher, Cardinals (33)

35. Adam Dunn—Designated Hitter, White Sox (35)

36. Kurt Suzuki—Catcher, Twins (31)

37. Casey McGehee—Third Baseman, Marlins (32)

38. Nate Schierholtz—Right Fielder, Cubs (31)

39. Emilio Bonifacio—2B/OF, Cubs (30)

40. Joba Chamberlain—Relief Pitcher, Tigers (29)

 

For potential free agents to come, they are separated by contract condition:

Player Option: Dan Haren, Dodgers (if 180 innings are reached – On pace for 187.1

Club Option only: Jonny Cueto, Reds ($10M). Alex Rios, Rangers ($13.5M). Huston Street, Padres ($7M). Yovani Gallardo, Brewers ($13M). Joakim Soria, Rangers ($7M). Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays ($10M). Billy Butler, Royals ($12.5M) . Denard Span, Nationals ($9M). Adam Lind, Blue Jays ($7.5M) . Ben Zobrist, Rays ($7.5M). Mike Aviles, Indians ($3.5M). Brett Anderson, Rockies ($12M). Darren O’Day, Orioles ($4.25M).

Mutual/Vesting: Nick Markakis, Orioles ($17.5M). Adam LaRoche, Nationals ($15M), Rafael Soriano, Nationals ($14M). Ryan Ludwick, Reds ($4.5M). Rickie Weeks, Brewers ($11.5M). Jimmy Rollins, Phillies. A.J. Burnett, Phillies.

jimmy-rollins-dive

Last summer, I started an ongoing project to look at the Hall of Fame prospects of many of the contemporary stars of the game. This year we are picking that series back up again with a few more current MLBers that have some impressive long-term prospects—potentially.

To get this summer’s edition going the spotlight first will land on longtime Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. It has been a seesaw season for Rollins so far, who has run the gamut with the Phillies over his career in general, but perhaps no year has been as severe as this one. From a brief controversy over his playing time future with the team with manager Ryne Sandberg in Spring Training, all the way to surpassing the franchise’s crown jewel in Mike Schmidt atop the Phillies’ all-time hits list last month, Rollins has had quite the summer even just at the halfway point.

But now as the summer moves on (and potentially the end of his run in Philly as well) it is as good of a time as any to take a look at the surprisingly complete career of Rollins and if it has been enough to build a bridge into Cooperstown potentially for him not too far down the road.

 

The Numbers (as of July 1, 2014)

15 Seasons (age 35): .268 average, 207 home runs, 863 RBI, 2250 hits, 1284 runs scored, 470 doubles, 439 stolen bases, .327 on-base percentage, .434 slugging percentage

1. The Case For: In taking a stand for Rollins career, it is important to look at how well he has displayed every skill that is asked of a shortstop, as well as some that are borderline exceptional for the position. What jumps off the page first is his outstanding athleticism at his peak. He was one of the most dangerous speed elements in the game from his debut into well into his mid-career prime. From 2001-09, he stole at least 20 bases a season, with four seasons of 40 or better, including leading the National League with 46 as rookie and a career-best 47 in 2008. His 438 career stolen bases are the 11th best total ever for a shortstop.

This was also a tool he put to constant use as an offensive presence as well, as he led the NL in triples four times including an absurd 20 in 2007. Of shortstops whose careers began after 1950, his 109 triples is the third best total overall after Robin Yount and Jose Reyes. His athletic skills also were put to great use in the field as well. Able to cover much ground and possessing a strong throwing arm, he was a winner of three (legit) Gold Glove Awards from 2007-09 as well.

Yet what truly began to set him apart from the pack was a deceptive amount of power that he began to develop about halfway through his career. As his swing and knowledge of the game matured, he began to become a threat to go deep as well and four times in his career he has topped 20 home runs in season. Overall, he has 10 seasons of double digit home run totals, including 30 in 2007. His 207 career homers are the 9th best total for a shortstop all-time. Although he has never had a season hitting .300, he did amass a 36 game hitting streak at the end of 2005 year.

2007 is a reoccurring theme in referencing Rollins, and for good reason. It was the year that he put on one of the finest all-around displays of talent in the history of the game in route to winning the 2007 NL Most Valuable Player award. It was a year that he became the first player in MLB history to turn in a 200 hit season, with 20 triples, 30 home runs and 30 steals in one year. In addition, he became the seventh player to ever have 20 doubles, 20 triples and 20 home runs in one season, joining among others Hall of Famers Jim Bottomley (1928), George Brett (1979) and Willie Mays (1957).

2. The Case Against: While he has been steadily good, injuries began to take away from some of the range that he had early in his career in the field around 2009 and also decreased the steadiness of his offensive output as well. After 2007, he only hit over .260 once, while hitting .250 or lower three times. Despite hitting around the top of the lineup for most of his career (leadoff in 1,457 games, second in 303 and third 123 times) he has never been much of an on-base threat, owning a single-season best of .348 in 2004. In his decline years since 2009, he has only once reached base more than 33% of the time despite having over 600 plate appearances in four of his five full seasons over that run.

While All-Star Games appearances can be considered trivial, in many cases it is a fair barometer of a player’s impact in their era. And Rollins has made only three All-Star appearances in his 15 year career, which is a curiously low number for a player at position that is usually easy for elite talents to lock down a spot in (conversely, Ozzie Smith made 12 consecutive ASG appearances and Barry Larkin had two stretches of at least three appearances, only separated by one absent season). Rollins has not reached the All-Star Game since 2005, a stretch of nine seasons that is continuing.

Rollins has ranged from a great, to exceptional, to excellent, to questionable contributor over the course of his career. Can a balancing act in his final years seal his legacy as a Hall of Famer.

Rollins has ranged from a great, to exceptional, to excellent, to questionable contributor over the course of his career. Can a balancing act in his final years seal his legacy as a Hall of Famer.

3. Similar Players (through age 35)

- Edgar Renteria (.286 average, 140 home runs, 923 RBI, 2327 hits, 294 stolen bases)

- Alan Trammell (.288 average, 174 home runs, 936 RBI, 2182 hits, 224 stolen bases)

- Craig Biggio (.291 average, 180 home runs, 811 RBI, 2149 hits, 365 stolen bases)

4. Cooperstown Likelihood (what it is going to take): The case for Rollins is perplexing, because in many regards he is the class of NL shortstops for his era. While Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki all have had great runs, Rollins has had the longest sustained presence since Larkin retired. Yet the perplexing situation is just how between the lines where he currently stands is at.

Look at the players that he is most like just above. Renteria was a multiple time All-Star and champion, but not a Hall of Fame caliber player, although he did have a ‘Rich Man’s Retirement’, with plenty of more baseball he could have played. Moving along to Trammell, who he perhaps best mirrors from an impact standpoint (one-time World Series winner, same amount of Gold Gloves, 15+ year everyday presence with lower than expected All-Star total) and the brink of immortality for Rollins really is made clear. Trammell has lived on the fringe of the Hall of Fame ballot for 14 years now and is not gaining any traction to get before he is removed from it.

The final comparison is a man that is destined for the Hall of Fame in Biggio, who offers similar skill set as Rollins, but differs in the fact that he stayed more consistent for longer and therefore hit a unique spread of accomplishments that will gain him membership to Cooperstown potentially as soon as this year.

Despite all of this, there the element of “it just doesn’t feel like” he has done it all. Perhaps it is because his very best was done in a short span of years and otherwise he has just been very steady at being steady. Meaning he has done certain thing very well, but few of them have been the type of happenings that are highlight worthy. You have to look back to see that he has a Silver Slugger and as many Gold Gloves as he does. Seeing the brilliance of that 2007 season takes some prompting as well, just like the hitting streak of ’05 and the brash confidence that he guided the Phillies back to prominence in the mid-2000’s with as well.

The complex of where Rollins is at is that he has made a definite impact, but is in a purgatory of relevancy. He has to keep pushing and producing regularly to reach out of the “great in his era” range of the Renteria’s and to find the gap between Trammell and Biggio that would reach him to Cooperstown. He has all of the intangible accomplishments that can be asked for: a World Series Champion, MVP, Gold Glover, Silver Slugger and All-Star all under wraps. But to really make a more than compelling case for himself, he will need to hit a few milestone stat hurdles as well.

Mainly, he has to keep running up the hit total. With another 300 hits he would top 2,500; an impressive total for a shortstop of any era. That would give him more than Ozzie, Larkin and Trammell, which are important to pass as two are established Hall of Famers and standard bearers for the decades that preceded him and puts him over the proverbial eligibility hump that Trammell has become. One thing that he can still do is run well and run smart, and when Rollins tops 500 stolen bases he’ll have a really plus, round number to lean on as well.

A career of 200 home runs, 500 steals, 2500 hits and 1300 runs scored is awfully impressive. And what’s more, if Rollins is to meet this package of feats, he would be the only shortstop to ever do so. Only the greats Honus Wagner and Derek Jeter come close to that type of display, and when a player is close to that class, they are doing something right. And Rollins has done all lot right for a long time.

However, he will need to finish out his career strong to meet these marks and there is work to be done still. If he can do so, I think Rollins has a more than suitable case to make it in. But if he does not, he could be lost in the haze of the Hall of Very Good, and perhaps rightfully so.

So when it’s all said and done, when the question is asked: is Jimmy Rollins In, Out or In-Between the Hall of Fame, as it stands today, he is IN-BETWEEN, but closer to the rights to the keys to the Hall than it may be believed.

 

For more on the season as it unfolds, follow my columns at The Sports Fan Journal, I-70 Baseball and tune into ‘Live From The Cheap Seats’ as well. For up to the moment words, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan