Posts Tagged ‘Arizona Diamondbacks’

tanakaweb12s-1-web

The great drama of the last few months has been when, where and who would land Masahiro Tanaka. The Japanese pitcher, who’s reputation has taken on an urban legend like feel, stood among the most widely courted players of recent memory, with list of who wouldn’t have interest coming in at much shorter count than who actually would.

In the end, the Dodgers, Cubs, White Sox and Diamondbacks all emerged as the top courters for the talented young righty, and with the game’s biggest spenders in the pool, how high the waves could go to secure his services seemed unlimited. However, this morning it became clear that the long-standing desire of the New York Yankees to cap their offseason by adding the top arm available had come true. The Steinbrenners and GM Brian Cashman closed the deal with one of the wealthiest contracts in club history to lock down his services, and in the course, round out an offseason rebuilding spree that will see the club spend $491 million dollars by all of its contracts have run its course.

The after effects of the deal will do more than just effect the outcome of the Yankees offseason; it will also end the holding pattern for the rest of the top starting pitching class of the year. Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana have all sat deathly still this winter while teams have positioned themselves for a shot at Tanaka. And now with him off the market, it shouldn’t take long for them to begin to stir up interest as the club’s that missed out decide whether they still need to add a starter, or if the pursuit of Tanaka was simply spending for the exception.

Yet, while the matter of his destination is settled, now there is the matter of looking ahead at what it all means: for the Yankees, for Tanaka and for the parties that missed the boat as well.

(Rankings are from the initial Top 75 Free Agent list—abridged ranking for Tanaka once he was officially available rose to #4.)

12. Masahiro Tanaka—Starting Pitcher—25 Years Old—2013 Team: Rakuten Golden Eagles

Signed: New York Yankees—Seven Years, $155 million

For all of their revamping of their everyday lineup, the Yankee front five remained painfully thin. They felt that Tanaka was the best option to address that issue, and paid him in a fashion that reflects it. His deal is the second largest free agent contract in club history, after CC Sabathia’s 2009 pact. The deal makes him the the fifth highest paid pitcher in baseball after Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Sabathia and Felix Hernandez. Counting the $20 million dollar posting fee required, the team will sink $175 million into an arm that has never thrown an MLB inning.

By and large, they are paying for potential, name value and proven reputation. In seven seasons in the Japanese Pacific League, starting when he was 18, Tanaka won 73% of his 175 starts, and left his home nation hot on the heels of a mind-blowing 2013 where his record stood at 24-0, with a 1.27 ERA across 212 innings, striking out 183 and surrendering only 6 home runs.

Tanaka’s style is an aggressive mix of mid-90’s fastball, which he offsets with a breakneck splitter. To get a perspective on his approach/”stuff”, he is the middle ground between Yu Darvish‘s velocity and Hisashi Iwamura’s splitter. Unlike his Pacific League predecessor and current AL strikeout king Darvish, he does not profile to run up huge numbers in the K column. He only had one season where he eclipsed 200 strikeouts in Japan, which can be a worry point in issuing such a massive contract to player that hasn’t been completely overwhelming with his fastball against a lower level of competition.

However, the high point about Tanaka is that in theory, he could strikeout more as he continues to develop a more diverse off speed offering. At his relatively young age, he is carrying a high amount of experienced professional innings (1,315, including 53 complete games), which can be a point of concern from a durability standpoint, but also shows he is ready to compete while adapting to MLB hitters and working with Yankee pitching instruction.

His role on the team is currently to be an axis in the middle of the rotation, but to eventually succeed Hiroki Kuroda as the team’s #2—as soon as next year.

For the teams that missed out, the Dodgers obviously stand to be effected the least. The addition of Tanaka was more or less a power play to round out a superstar rotation over a needed pickup. With a selection of Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett as their fifth starter, they will be fine. The Diamondbacks needed to get a top gun for their rotation, but they are solid as is. It is a tougher loss for the White Sox and Cubs, who both are in the middle of rebuilding efforts and having young, top flight potential arms is the quickest road to respectability.

As for the team, the Yankees made a necessary statement in signing Tanaka, one that says they are bent on returning the postseason, are not afraid to put the money up to do against the seemingly irresistible Dodger bankroll to succeed. It is a major risk, and the type that could be crippling going ahead if his clearly dynamic tools don’t translate into the expected elite level of results. However, if he provides nothing more than a regularly competitive, plus level arm in the vein of a Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke type, the Yankees can count themselves as the winners of the winter of 2013 down the road—if not immediately.

 

For more on this deal and the reaction to it, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Matt_Garza

The outside looking in can seem the furthest away the closer you are. And while it is impossible to build a team around just one addition, acquiring the right finishing touch can make all of the difference in the world from one year to the next. For the teams that finished either within firing range of a division title (or should have), the Winter Meetings provide a chance to go the extra mile towards winning the race.

But what’s left to do that with? Free agents have been flying off the shelf quicker than at any point in recent history. And while Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury and Joe Nathan are all gone does not mean that the opportunity to make an instant upgrade to what’s returning is. The slight move can be the right move, and here are a few options that a few competitors that finished on the brink of a title could make to close the ranks that eluded them last summer…

Washington Nationals—Omar Infante: For the Nats, it is about adding both depth and rounding out their lineup to secure it is in place for an immediate run. As they showed, in the last month of the season, they are capable of turning it on and playing as well as any team in the NL, but were caught too thin and injured to do so far too often. Infante represents an upgrade at one of their few questionable positions, and also provides depth all throughout the infield and in the outfield if needed.

Pittsburgh Pirates—Kendrys Morales: The general feel is that Morales will need to have the DH spot open to play from, but for the Pirates who have lost Justin Morneau, Marlon Byrd and Garrett Jones, adding the type of power bat that he represents in-between Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez upgrades them put them on par with the Cardinal club they are chasing. The price may be high, but the value would be worth it, and with Morales likely to last a while due to the draft pick compensation tied to him, they likely could get him at much more friendly rate within a month or so.

Arizona Diamondbacks—Jesse Crain/J.P. Howell: Shin-Soo Choo is the best fit for the club, but a bidding war with the Rangers could be looming for his services, which Arizona would surely loose. Instead, reallocating those resources towards two premier bullpen arms would both save money and support their emerging staff. The duo of Crain and Howell would give the Diamondbacks a very formidable late inning group to match the late-game units in LA and San Francisco.

Tampa Bay Rays—Corey Hart: They’ve said that they do not have interest in the rehabbing former Brewer, but revisiting him would be a smart move. He provides a power option to support Evan Longoria and Wil Myers in the heart of the order and can play both first base and right field, which gives Joe Maddon the type of lineup flexibility he loves to deploy. What’s more, he won’t be overly expensive due to injury concerns, so he fits right into the pocket where the Rays like to stay—the shallow part.

Cleveland Indians—Grant Balfour: The secret strength of the Indians last year was a deep bullpen, but with Chris Perez, Joe Smith and Matt Albers all departed, that stash is depleted. Balfour has been through the trials of the postseason the previous two seasons, and would provide a much needed (yet very ironic) calming presence to the Indians as they look to get over the hump and keep up with the Tigers.

Los Angeles Angels—Matt Garza: While the A’s and Rangers have been busy, the Angels have been waiting to find the right way to make an impact add to their starting pitching. Yesterday’s trade brought some young talent to the mix, but this is a team in need of a stragetic impact add. During the past two winters, they have only achieved half of that equation,  but bringing Garza aboard would give them one of the best #3 pitchers in baseball (finally back in the role that he made his name in with the Rays behind James Shields and David Price) and would give them a much needed boost in the match up department from the mound behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. He won’t make an 18-game difference by himself, but at this point, the Angels have to either keep adding or blow it up…and option B isn’t in play.

For more on the free agent market (and where these guys likely do end up), follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

matt-carpenter-

Every season, there is a player that blows up on the scene out of seemingly nowhere. And while the focus hits the rookie class of the year, there is always a class of players that takes the step up from “good” contributor to game changer, seemingly out of nowhere.

Here at the end of the year, most of these names have become regulars on the highlight reels and Fantasy leaderboards, but before awards season pulls some permanently to the mention among the league’s elite, here my take on those that made the farthest leap forward in the year that was.

9. Edward Mujica: While he curbed down badly at the end of the season, the fact that he was able to save the Cardinals rapidly defaulting bullpen early in the season was impressive and a huge reason the club rebounded into the race early in the first half. He finished with 37 saves in his first year anchoring the ninth inning in his career and made his first All-Star team.

8. Chris Johnson: He went from a throw in portion of the deal that brought Justin Upton to Atlanta, to the most consistent part of the deal in Atlanta. Johnson hit a career-best .321, good for second in the NL this year and added some fire to the team that could have easily gotten detached from the race while running away and hiding in their dominant NL East Championship run.

7. Justin Masterson: The up and down Masterson reached a new peak for the Tribe in their heist of the AL Wild Card upper-hand. His mastery of his sinker/fastball saw him run up 14 wins and a career-best 195 strikeouts, and more importantly, become a legit number one arm for a team in need of one.

6.  Andrelton Simmons: A sneaky WAR impacter, the Braves young shortstop stepped into his own last year, and became a force in the field. He had the large range factor (4.92) and his defensive WAR was an absurd 5.4, which breaks out to 3.2 more games saved with his glove than any other shortstop in baseball. Add in his 17 home runs and 59 RBI, all things considered, he changed 12.1 games in the Braves favor.

5.  Josh Donaldson: The A’s third baseman is the perfect presence for the perennially underrated A’s. Donaldson flew beneath the radar all year, and didn’t even get an All-Star nod, but went on to hit .301, drove in 93 and doubled 37 times in route to becoming the leader in A’s run to defend their AL West title.

4.  Matt Harvey: His 7-2, 2.35 ERA and 147 strikeout first half earned him an All-Star start in his first full season as pro. And while a torn UCL in his elbow ended his second half early and will keep him out until 2015, this year was a revelation on what could be: a top shelf arm of the highest degree.

3. Matt Carpenter: The Cardinals biggest catalyst went from utility man trying his hand at a new position, to becoming an All-Star second baseman that would go on to lead the National League in hits (199), runs scored (126) and doubles (55). And to cap off his transition story, he also led the NL in double plays turned as well.

2. Paul Goldschmidt: The next step in the career of Goldschmidt found him tied atop the National League in home runs (36) and sole leader in RBI (125). However, the third year first baseman was far from just a power conduit, as he hit .302 and stole over 15 bases for the second consecutive year. Add in leading the NL in slugging percentage, on-base + slugging percentage and total bases, and he’s on par to remain an overall force for years.

1. Chris Davis: How can it not be him? Davis did not exactly come out of nowhere; he hit 33 home runs and drove in 85 RBI in 2012, and had two other previous seasons of topping 17 long balls. But he broke out in rare air this year, topping the Majors with 55 homers this summer, becoming the first player since Jose Bautista in 2010 to do so. He also led the MLB in RBI, with 138 and ran direct interference with what was a very solid effort at a repeat Triple Crown for Miguel Cabrera.

What’s even more is how he did it. He had 37 first half home runs, and was on pace to run past 60 for over half of the year, and before hand and wrist injuries slowed his pace in August, he was creating a true debate about if he had the chance to be the “real” (read as non-Bonds) home run king.

 

For more on the postseason as it unravels and all other sorts of great things, such as what I’m thinking about eating for breakfast right now, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

St Louis Cardinals v San Francisco Giants - Game Six

The National League West was a free for all a year ago, as it was a division without a dominant team. The Arizona Diamondbacks, who pulled off a last-to-first coup to win the West in 2011, couldn’t recapture that same spark. The Los Angeles Dodgers made the most aggressive trade deadline push in history, acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford from the Red Sox in an attempt to make a late charge for the division. The San Diego Padres turned in another strong second half behind the MVP-level upturn by Chase Headley, while the Colorado Rockies looked for creative ways to manage a bad pitching staff and a wounded lineup. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Giants caught a spark inspired by the perfection of Matt Cain and the outstanding, batting championship/MVP-winning Stan Musial Most Valuable Player” href=”https://cheapseatsplease.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/the-cheap-seats-2012-nl-stan-musial-most-valuable-player/”>return of Buster Posey. A spark that ended with a Giants sweep of the World Series, and winning their second championship in three seasons.

2012 Finish

1.                   Giants (94-68)
2.                   Dodgers (86-76)
3.                   Diamondbacks (81-81)
4.                   Padres (76-86)
5.                   Rockies (64-98)

Fast forward a year later, and much has changed in the West mostly. Gone is Justin Upton from the D’Backs and back to the Rockies is Troy Tulowitzki. The Padres have continued their Motley Crew mix of young potential and select veterans, looking to maximize their potential. The Dodgers have continued their no ceilings approach to spending, fronting the big bill to add a second top tier arm in Zack Greinke to their rotation. And meanwhile, amid all of this change, set the defending champion Giants: returning intact and healthy. Is this the season that they make everyone believers? That the most slept on success in baseball gets it’s due by holding back the big bank monsters to their south, as well as the rest of the pack in one of the most balanced divisions in baseball? It’s never easy to stay on top, whether they see you coming or not.

All Division Team

Catcher: Buster Posey-Giants

First Base: Adrian Gonzalez-Dodgers

Second Base: Aaron Hill-Diamondbacks

Third Base: Chase Headley-Padres

Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki-Rockies

Left Field: Carlos Gonzalez-Rockies

Center Field: Matt Kemp-Dodgers

Right Field: Andre Ethier-Dodgers

Clayton_Kershaw

No other NL pitcher has approached Kershaw the previous two years: a 35-14 record, 477 strikeouts and a MLB-best 2.40 ERA.

Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw-Dodgers

Starting Pitcher: Matt Cain-Giants

Starting Pitcher: Zack Greinke-Dodgers

Starting Pitcher: Ian Kennedy-Diamondbacks

Righty Relief: Luke Gregersen-Padres

Lefty Relief: Jeremy Affeldt-Giants

Closer: JJ Putz-Diamondbacks

Top 10

  1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  2. Matt Kemp, Dodgers
  3. Buster Posey, Giants
  4. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
  5. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
  6. Matt Cain, Giants
  7. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers
  8. Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers
  9. Chase Headley, Padres
  10. Pablo Sandoval, Giants

Lineup

  1. Dodgers
  2. Rockies
  3. Giants
  4. Diamondbacks
  5. Padres

LA has put together (potentially) a powerhouse of an everyday lineup. But injuries are already taking a toll on its early offering, with Carl Crawford still touch and go in his attempt to make his Dodger debut, and Hanley Ramirez out for two months with a broken wrist. Colorado will always kill the ball at home, but health (especially Tulowitzki’s) and road performance limit their full output. Even with these challenges, Colorado as a team finished third in the NL in hits.

The return of Tulowitzki to the join Gonzalez puts potentially two-All Stars back-to-back in the Rockie lineup

The return of Tulowitzki to the join Gonzalez puts potentially two-All Stars back-to-back in the Rockie lineup

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Dodgers (Gonzalez/Kemp/Ramirez)
  2. Giants (Posey/Sandoval/Pence)
  3. Rockies (Gonzalez/Tulowitzki/Cuddyer)
  4. Diamondbacks (Montero/Kubel/Prado)
  5. Padres (Headley/QuentinAlonso)

The potential of Kemp and Gonzalez is staggering; both have had career-high seasons of 39 and 40 homers, respectively, and could be an gauntlet to work through for opposing pitchers. Sandoval really came into his own in the fall last season, and Posey crushed lefties to the tone of an even average a year ago. The last time CarGo and Tulo hit back-to-back for a full season in 2011, they put up a combined 56 home runs, 197 RBI and 173 runs scored.

Table Setters

  1. Giants (Pagan/Scutaro)
  2. Rockies (Fowler/Rutledge)
  3. Dodgers (Crawford/Ellis)
  4. Diamondbacks (Prado/Parra)
  5. Padres (Cabrera/Gyorko)

The strength of the Giants is being able to work timely, extra base hitting. Scutaro put up a .362 average once reaching the Bay a year ago, and Pagan led the NL with 15 triples. Dexter Fowler had a career-high .300 last season for the Rocks, while Crawford has long been one of the most dangerous players on the basepaths in baseball. He has averaged 50 steals per 162 games for his career.

Bench

  1. Diamondbacks
  2. Rockies
  3. Dodgers
  4. Giants
  5. Padres

When completely healthy, Arizona has constructed a very diverse team, which has plenty of capable contributors off the bench, such as Eric Chavez and Willie Bloomquist. The Dodgers have quietly assembled a very capable supporting cast in-between its headline signings, with Skip Schumaker, Aaron Miles and Tony Gwynn, Jr.

Kennedy (36 wins since 2011) anchors a deep Diamondbacks rotation that is needed to hang in the West.

Kennedy (36 wins since 2011) anchors a deep Diamondbacks rotation that is needed to hang in the West.

Rotation

  1. Giants
  2. Dodgers
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Padres
  5. Rockies

The long-standing strength of the Giants attack is starting pitching. Led by Matt Cain, the Giants had big game effort after big game effort from Ryan Vogelsong, Barry Zito and Madison Bumgartner in-route to winning out last season. Quietly, Arizona has assembled a deep starting five behind former 20-game winner Ian Kennedy. Brandon McCarthy and NL Rookie of the Year runner-up Wade Miley are part of a very solid group.

1-2 Punch

  1. Dodgers (Kershaw/Greinke)
  2. Giants (Cain/Bumgarner)
  3. Diamondbacks (Kennedy/McCarthy)
  4. Padres (Volquez/Richards)
  5. Rockies (De La Rosa/Chacin)

If you’ve got one Cy Young winner, why not add another if you can? That’s exact what the Dodgers paid $158 million to do when they put 2009 AL winner with 2011’s NL winner, adding Greinke to Kershaw atop their rotation. Bumgartner has increased his win total each season, reaching 16 in year three.

Bullpen

  1. Giants
  2. Dodgers
  3. Padres
  4. Diamondbacks
  5. Rockies

Despite losing closer Brian Wilson, the Giant bullpen continued to be a late game roadblock. Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla combined for 39 saves, while Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez and George Kontos all round out a great effort. The Padres have a very underrated bullpen collection; Huston Street saved 23 games on 1.85 ERA, and was one of four pitchers to average better than nine strikeouts per nine innings.

Defense

Although it was Headley's bat that made the loudest impact, he landed his first Gold Glove in rise of 2012.

Although it was Headley’s bat that made the loudest impact, he landed his first Gold Glove in rise of 2012.

Giants

  1. Padres
  2. Diamondbacks
  3. Rockies
  4. Dodgers

There is not one subpar defender on the field for the Giants, who just as much depend on pitching, also depend on strong defense to secure their victories. Posey, Scutaro, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Angel Pagan are all plus defenders. Conversely, for the Dodgers, a lack of range behind their pitching staff could cause for some prolonged woes in maximizing their potential.

Speed

  1. Padres
  2. Rockies
  3. Giants
  4. Dodgers
  5. Diamondbacks

The Padres have a huge ballpark, and have added the type of speed to capitalize on it. Cabrera lead the NL is steals with 46 a year ago, while Cameron Maybin and Will Venable both topped 20 as well. If health is their ally, the Dodgers have a chance to have an impressive speed trio in Kemp, Crawford and Ramirez, all of which have swiped at least 40 bases before in their careers.

Manager

  1. Bruce Bochy, Giants
  2. Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks
  3. Bud Black, Padres
  4. Don Mattingly, Dodgers
  5. Walt Weiss, Rockies

Black is quietly putting together a very strong coaching resume, with two World Series titles in the past four years; a stretch he hasn’t won less than 86 games during. Gibson won the NL Manager of the Year as a rookie in 2011, something that Walt Weiss will be pressed to do with the pitching hungry Rockies as a debuting manager this year.

Finances

  1. Dodgers
  2. Giants
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Rockies
  5. Padres

The Dodgers seem to have no ceilings in what they can put out to build the roster of their dreams. The combination of a new management team seeking to make its mark, as well as a $6 billion television deal gives them the capabilities to do as they please. The Giants have the ability to impact the market with the dollar, as Cain’s $127 million extension reflects, but being able to keep up with LA from a spending projects as difficult task for them and the rest of baseball.

Impact Additions

  1. Zack Greinke (Dodgers from Angels)
  2. Martin Prado (D’Backs from Braves)
  3. Cody Ross (Diamondbacks from Red Sox)
  4. Brandon McCarthy (Diamondbacks from Athletics)
  5. Hyunjin Ryu (Dodgers from Japan)

The headline deal was of course Greinke, and rightfully so, but the Diamondbacks were the team that made the most adjustments. Prado came over as the key piece in the Justin Upton to Atlanta deal, while Cody Ross was handed $26 million to solidify the outfield. Brandon McCarthy, who sported a 3.29 ERA in his two years in Oakland is potentially the steal of the winter if he can recapture his form after returning from the brain surgery due to the line drive that ended his 2012.

The addition of Greinke gave the Dodgers an arm that's struck out 200 and pitched 200 innings 3 of the last 4 years.

The addition of Greinke gave the Dodgers an arm that’s struck out 200 and pitched 200 innings 3 of the last 4 years, and devastating duo along with Kershaw.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Tim Lincecum, Giants
  2. Sergio Romo, Giants
  3. Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies
  4. Brandon Crawford, Giants
  5. Luis Cruz, Dodgers

To have two players as accomplished as Lincecum and Romo at the top of this list seems odd, but in their own particular ways they have much to accomplish this season. Lincecum is looking to prove that he can continue to be effective, despite a diminished arsenal. Romo, who became a late inning sensation in the postseason, is looking to prove he can hold the role in a more permanent fashion (18 saves in 19 overall 2012 chances).

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Jedd Gyorko (Infielder-Padres, MLB)
  2. Yaisel Puig (Outfilder-Dodgers, AAA)
  3. Tyler Skaggs (Pitcher-Diamondbacks, AAA)
  4. Nolan Arenado (Third base-Rockies, AAA)
  5. Zach Lee (Pitcher-Dodgers, AA)

Gyorko has hit everywhere he’s been, from the minors (.311 at Double/Triple A in 2012, 3 Spring MLB homers), and has hit his way into the everyday mix in San Diego as well. He will start the season at third base until Headley returns from injury, but will likely move to second base once he’s back. Yaisel Puig and Nolan Arenado have proven to have big bats that are forcing some tough decisions about keeping them in the minors for much longer by their respective clubs.

2013 PREDICTIONS

  1. Giants
  2. Dodgers
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Rockies
  5. Padres

The West will be a very competitive division. Despite their undeniable success in recent years, the Giants are not the type of team that is an outright dominant club. Mostly because it isn’t an offense that scores in bulk; rather they are a timely one that wins close games. The Diamondbacks have the potential to factor into the wild card picture, if not the division, but a few things will have to go in their favor, starting with some consistency in health. They have strong pitching, and a balanced lineup. Balance is not in favor of the Rockies, who still have a mismatched pitching staff, but could fare better than a year ago with the return of Tulowitzki. The Padres have a steadily improving everyday lineup, but are still young in many areas and don’t have the firepower to keep up with the rest of the clubs in the division.

In the end, the question comes down to either the Dodgers or the Giants. While LA has constructed a formidable club in a short amount of time, there are still shortcomings in the club. Every area of the team is facing injury issues, Matt Kemp has to prove his hamstring woes are behind him, and injuries to Greinke, Ramirez, Crawford and Chad Billingsley have already plagued the team this spring. The Giants great strength is chemistry, and this is a battle tested group that knows how to rely on each other. Until the Dodgers can get fully healthy all at once and learn to play together, that’s a distinct advantage that the Giants have, and combined with the major difference making presence of Posey and a supremely deep pitching staff, the champs keep the edge and should win the West for a third time in four years.

There’s one more preview to go and to get the details on this, that and everything in between as baseball is primed to reset itself in real time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Winter for Michael Bourn has been moving in slow motion, which is the ultimate irony for a man of his particular skill set. The four-time National League leader in stolen bases hasn’t seen his market advance very far at all, and with Spring Training looming in under two weeks, time is of the essence.

Michael Bourn

The reasons for why have been floated around, and have gained stream towards being seen as legitimate, and many have been due to the level of expectation financially and the time commitment for the deal as well. The fact that his primary skill is speed, and he’s already had his 30th birthday has been damaging. When combined with the fact that he has only managed to hit .300 once over the course of a full season, there is legitimate concern that there won’t be existing value once that goes.

These are concerns with some credence, but also the fact remains is that right now, he’s the best defensive center fielder in baseball. On that rationale alone, he makes any team substantially better. He has a plus arm, and the speed is still there right now. While he is cast as a leadoff hitter, he has the ability to fit into multiple positions in the lineup as well.

Many teams that would have been good fits chose cheaper, younger or differently skilled ways to go to solve their centerfield needs. The Cincinnati Reds, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies and even his most recent home, the Atlanta Braves, all entered the winter with a need in the middle, but found other ways of filling the need. This left Bourn looking in more obscure places to find work.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still locations that make a lot of sense for him to end up. At this point, most likely it will be a short term deal, perhaps even just a one or two year pact, which will still easily cover his prime seasons. The real question is who can, and should make the move, to get the most benefit out of one of the most uniquely skilled player s in the game.

 

New York Mets: The Mets have been the hot rumor team recently, and they make a lot of sense really. They have had a definite need in the leadoff spot since the post-Jose Reyes days began and could use the defensive upgrade in a major way. It sounds odd, but they have a legit chance to push into the middle of the pack in the NL East.

The issue is, to sign him they have to part with their first round pick as compensation, which is a major point of contention. Number one, they don’t feel they should the pick should be up for grabs, and they have a legitimate point. In a vague point in the new CBA, top 10 worse records are protected, but if any team’s top pick doesn’t sign from the year previous, they regain a pick a year later. As part of the domino effect, it moves each team that was is behind them back a spot, and potentially out of the Top 10. That’s what’s happening to the Mets, who have the 10th, but now 11th pick in the draft due to the Pirates not signing Mark Appell. And if they lose this pick, it goes to their divisional rivals in Atlanta, something they don’t seem too keen to do.

Arizona Diamondbacks: There’s a gut in the outfield in Arizona currently, even after moving Justin Upton out of town. But Bourn is an intriguing option there. He fits in to the top of the lineup right away, and keeps their defensive prowess up to par, which is needed with Jason Kubel manning left field. Not likely to happen, with rookie Adam Eaton on the verge, but there’s a place for him.

Baltimore Orioles: Another contender that would be boosted by his presence. The O’s are team with everything, except a true threat on the bases. Bourn would be yet another weapon for one of baseball’s most diverse attacks, and they could easily afford him. A hindrance would seem to be the presence of franchise cornerstone Adam Jones in center, but there are options there. If he moved to left, and Bourn was able to be placed between him and Nick Markakis, it would be one of the league’s best outfields immediately, and one that would be nearly impossible to take an extra base on as well.

Texas Rangers: The most obvious choice, but some for some reason, there hasn’t been a lot of traction there. They are taken care of as far as draft compensation goes, because they’ll be receiving extra picks in for Josh Hamilton. They have the opening, with only prospect Leoydis Martin being a viable option, and he could use more time to go.

There would be a change in approach needed however, because Ian Kinsler is better for the leadoff spot, and Elvis Andrus is a prototype #2 hitter. He would move down the order to the ninth spot, but the idea of the three of them hitting back to back, and followed by Adrian Beltre is enthralling. They have the money to take a bit more risk on the downside of the contract as well, so there could be something here. Time will tell, but it better hurry up.

So far this year in the CHEAP SEATS, the focus has been on breaking down the best units in baseball.  When we last left off, the best pitching units at the back end of games were broken down, but now it’s time to move to front end and the spotlight arms of the game. As last year’s World Series match up proved, a great starting rotation is the difference between night and day in a season. And to make this list, it takes more than just a great number one; having a great 2-4 is huge, and even a fifth arm can make all the difference.

Lee Hamels Halladay

Here is the difference between the cream, and the crop…the best starting staffs in 2013’s upcoming baseball offering. And remember, pitchers and catcher report a month from today. Spring’s saving mercy gets underway in the winter.

 

 

1. Washington Nationals: Top to bottom there’s none better, because even their bottom is better than half the team’s baseball’s top. Stephen Strasberg is on the verge of being the league’s best and is good enough to make a 20-game winner in Gio Gonzalez to second billing. Add in a potentially resurgent Dan Haren, along with two of the most underrated arms in either league in Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler, and you’ve got a problem everyday of the week in DC.

2. Detroit Tigers: There’s a lot more to the Tigers than Justin Verlander (who’s averaged 20 wins the last four seasons). None of their starters have seen their 30th birthday yet. Max Scherzer actually struck out two more batters per nine innings than Verlander. Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez are tremendous options to be 3rd and 4th arms, while Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello are only 23 years old. This will be a strong collection for years to come.

3. Philadelphia Phllies: For everything that the rotation didn’t do last year, there’s still so much potential here. Cole Hamels has become a perennial Cy Young candidate, and nobody pitched to more tough luck than Cliff Lee did last year (30 starts, 3.16 ERA, but first win on July 4th). Add back a healthy Doc Halladay to the mix and this is as devastating of a top end rotation as there is, still.

4. San Francisco Giants: The strength of the World Champions is based in just how many arms can step up to be the top dog at any time. Matt Cain came into his own as an elite hurler last year, while Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgartner both sported 3.37 ERAs, while winning a combined 30 games. Barry Zito showed a renaissance in the NLCS and World Series, and if Tim Lincecum can manage a similar effort during his contract push this summer, no reason to not at least pencil them back into another October.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers: With the Zack Greinke signing, the Dodgers locked up the toughest 1-2 punch in all of baseball. Kershaw has 35 wins and a 2.40 ERA over the last two years, and Josh Beckett should serve to be an important veteran axis in the middle of the rotation. And they currently have quality options abound for the bottom of the mix, with Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano, Ted Lilly, Chad Billingsley and Korean star Ryu Hyun-jin all options to round out a suddenly uber-talented mix.

Landing a reigning Cy Young winner is huge (and rare), but there's a lot more to the new Jays rotation than just RA's knuckler.

Landing a reigning Cy Young winner is huge (and rare), but there’s a lot more to the new Jays rotation than just RA’s knuckler.

6. Toronto Blue Jays: Of all the moves the Jays made to try to climb out of the bottom of the AL East, their aggressiveness to finally fix their horrible starting pitching should pay out the most. They put together a diverse group in finesse workhorses R.A. Dickey and Mark Buerhle, while Josh Johnson has one of the livest arms in the game, and Ricky Romero become a huge bounce back candidate as a fifth starter.

7. Oakland A’s: Billy Beane outdid himself putting together a group that came to age in a hurry last summer, and hijacked the AL West. Jarrod Parker and Tom Millone (both acquired in offseason trades) both won 13 games, and long with AJ Griffin (7-1, 3.05 ERA in 15 starts) all could make a claim to best rookie arm in the baseball, and if Brett Anderson can stay healthy to anchor the group, they’ll be a force once again.

8. Cincinnati Reds: It’s all about balance on the Reds understatedly good rotation. Cuerto has been among the NL ERA leaders the last two seasons, and Latos found recaptured his old form in his first year in Cincy. And if they hold true to their plan, and can successfully convert Arodis Chapman into a starter, this will be a very potent group.

9. Tampa Bay Rays: Not many teams could lose Matt Garza and James Shields in back to back years and stay relevant, but there’s also no other team with the young arms of the Rays. Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and the quietly good Alex Cobb make up the meat of the group, but it really doesn’t hurt to have 2012’s Cy Young winner David Price entering his prime atop it all.

10. Arizona Diamondbacks: A gut of rich young pitching gives the D’Backs is impressive. Ian Kennedy has won 35 games since the start of 2011, and Wade Miley reached All-Star level as a rookie. Add in the potential return of Daniel Hudson from Tommy John Surgery by mid-summer, and the addition of Brandon McCarthy as well, and this is a rotation that will cause a lot of trouble.

Just A Bit Outside: Yankees, Braves, White Sox

 

For more in real-time on these starters starting up their year, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

Sergio Romo

The CHEAP SEATS breakout of the best units in baseball continues today, with a look at the best bullpens in baseball. This isn’t just the best closer, with a few other guys, but the teams that can make a window of opportunity really small to a get a W. There are some really strong groups of late arms coming into the league, with potentially some of the best units not even finishing among the Top 10 coming in. With Rafael Soriano still looking for a home as well, there’s still a huge piece that could change the fortune of a few of these groups, as well as a few not mention among them yet.

But this is what it is, and the series continues with a spotlight on the pitchers that don’t stand it as often…until the pressure is on highest.

 

1. Atlanta Braves: The only bullpen that can truly turn leads into six inning wins, and it got deeper this offseason. Craig Kimbrel has been the best closer in the game for his first two season in the game, converting 89 of 100 save opportunities, while opposing hitters have a .151 average against him. Eric O’Flaherty has 1.95 ERA over the last two seasons and Jonny Venters has struck out 258 batters in 229 pro innings. Add on Jordan Walden, who saved 32 games as a rookie All-Star in 2011, and you’ve got a devastating group.

2. San Francisco Giants: You’d think they would take a step backwards losing Brian Wilson at the beginning of the year, but not a skip was missed up and down their pen. That’s a testament to the game’s most balanced pen, with Sergio Romo handing in his second consecutive sub-2.00 ERA year, with 18 total saves. Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affelt and George Kontos all handed in ERA’s below 3.00 as well.

3. Baltimore Orioles: The O’s weren’t the best late-inning team in the game just due to a knack for walk off hits. Their pen was the secret strength of the team, led by Jim Johnson, who saved 51 games while walking just 15 batters in over 60 innings. Pedro Strop, Darren O’Day, Luis Ayala and Troy Patton were the ultimate support group and 18 won total games.

4. Oakland A’s: Whether it was Ryan Cook (14 saves, 21 holds, .166 average against) or Grant Balfour (24 saves, 15 holds, .160 average against) closing games, the entire path through the late innings against the A’s was hell. With their entire pen returning, the American League’s best total pitching staff will be trouble again.

5. St. Louis Cardinals: Once again, the Cardinals’ staff stepped up big late in the season. Jason Motte tied for the NL lead in saves with 42, and Edward Mujica put up a 1.03 ERA after being acquired from the Marlins. Randy Choate (.158 average vs. left-handers) and Trevor Rosenthal (15 strikeouts in 8.5 playoff innings) could both be huge additions over the course of the full season in 2013.

6. Los Angeles Dodgers: Around their big name additions, the Dodgers have done a good job off filling in the details as well, starting with a solid bullpen. Brandon League will resume his role as a full-time closer, after saving 37 games in 2011. 2012’s closer Kenley Jansen, who struck out 13.7 batters per 9 innings, will open as setup man, and with Matt Guerrier, JP Howell and Ronald Belisario in the mix as well, there will be no shortage of situational arms available as well.

7. Boston Red Sox: There may be no team with more “what if” talent on their bullpen mix than the Bo Sox. Joel Hanahran (36 saves, 2.72 ERA in Pittsburgh) was their biggest acquisition of the winter, but if Daniel Bard, Andrew Bailey and Koji Uehara can also find their old forms (and health), this could be the group at the top of the list by next year.

Aroldis Chapman makes the Reds group a top 3 pen collection, but even without him, Cincy still has a ton of strong late inning arms.

Aroldis Chapman makes the Reds group a top 3 pen collection, but even without him, Cincy still has a ton of strong late inning arms.

8. Cincinnati Reds: Another group that has a pretty big “if” attached to it. With Aroldis Chapman, this is a top 3 unit, but since the plan is to move him to rotation currently, it slides some. Even without him available daily, it is still a strong unit led by Jonathan Broxton, Jose Arrendando and one of baseball’s best left-handed setup arms, Sean Marshall.

9. San Diego Padres: A great unit that makes a so-so club a lot better on its own. Despite losing Heath Bell and Mike Adams the last two years, the Padres still have 10 relievers that averaged better than a strikeout an inning. When he gets a chance, Huston Street was lights out, converting 96% of saves chances with a 1.85 ERA.

10. Tampa Bay Rays: Annual guarantee in baseball is the Rays will have a dynamic bullpen. It will be needed more than ever, with a rotation thinned out after trading it’s workhorse, James Shields, and setup man Wade Davis. However, Fernando Rodney (0.60 ERA and 48 saves in 74 innings), along with Jake McGee and Joel Peralta are a strong base for the next wave of certain to follow up and comers that will join the group to build off of.

 

Just Missed: Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks.