Posts Tagged ‘Baseball’

2013 World Series Game 6: St. Louis Cardinals v. Boston Red Sox

I have said it for the last decade at least, and maintain it to this day: there is no division in professional sports that is better than the American League East. When a 74 win team finishes in last place in a division, it means that the internal gauntlet is about as severe as it can get. In its current incarnation, it has dominated the postseason landscape of the junior circuit since the Wild Card era came into play, and for the 18 years since the four-team (and now five) team playoff alignment began, it has produced 15 Wild Card candidates. And in that same span, 11 AL East clubs have gone to the Fall Classic, and eight have gone on to win it, including last year’s Boston Red Sox

2013 Finish

1. Boston Red Sox

2. Tampa Bay Rays

3. New York Yankees

4. Baltimore Orioles

5. Toronto Blue Jays

So all things considered, it should be no surprise that picking through the East is akin to picking a favorite in the League as a whole. And the competition never dies down between the five clubs either, as this winter the one-up game was in full effect to catch up to the Champs. The Orioles slow played their hand before making a couple of late winter pickups as they look to breakthrough the glass ceiling that has hovered above them in the division, while the Blue Jays have been mostly quiet, choosing instead to call last year a spade and carry the same potent, yet oft-injured ammo into this spring.

The Rays and Red Sox took similar routes, resigning their own and putting faith in youngsters to replace the few lost parts they sustained. And the Yankees…well the Yankees spent nearly half a billion dollars to make sure that fourth place is not an option again. Regardless of how each team’s route plays out, one thing is for certain, one of the five clubs will inevitably be a big player in the much larger picture eight months from now—as long as they can survive themselves first.

All-Division Lineup

1. Jose ReyesShortstop, Blue Jays

2. Dustin PedroiaSecond Base, Red Sox

3. Evan LongoriaThird Base, Rays

4. David OrtizDesignated Hitter, Red Sox

5. Chris DavisFirst Base, Orioles

6. Jose BautistaRight Field, Blue Jays

7. Adam JonesCenter Field, Orioles

8. Brian McCannCatcher, Yankees

9. Brett GardnerLeft Field, Yankees

 

Starting Pitcher: David Price—Rays

Starting Pitcher: Jon Lester—Red Sox

Starting Pitcher: CC Sabathia—Yankees

Starting Pitcher: Clay Buchholz—Red Sox

Right Handed Reliever: Joel Peralta—Rays

Lefty Handed Reliever: Jake McGee—Rays

Closer: Koji Uehara—Red Sox

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Jeter finds himself amid a fresh collection of well compensated talent for his final go around, but even at the end, the team will need him on hand if it is to maximize its potential.

Lineup

1. Yankees

2. Red Sox

3. Rays

4. Orioles

5. Blue Jays

 

The Yankees spent top dollar to overhaul their lineup, which was basically Cano and pray for rain last year, and their mission was successful. They will bring out five new starters of a high enough quality that solid comebacks from Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira would merely be bonuses. The Sox return the majority of the core that produced some of the timeliest hitting any October has witnessed in years, while the Orioles have an impressive power core of Chris Davis, Nelson Cruz and Adam Jones.

Heart of the Lineup

1. Orioles

2. Red Sox

3. Yankees

4. Blue Jays

5. Rays

The addition of Cruz providing protection behind Davis…who is the ultimate protection for Adam Jones makes the middle of the Orioles’ lineup as bad of a grind as the AL will run out this year. In Boston, Dustin Pedroia (193 2013 hits) is the perfect on-base threat to put in front of the duo of David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, who combined for 53 homers a year ago. In Toronto, if Jose Bautista is healthy again, there’s a chance that he could combine with Edwin Encarnacion for 80 homers this summer.

Table Setters

1. Red Sox

2. Yankees

3. Rays

4. Blue Jays

5. Orioles

Shane Victorino (21 steals, .294 average) and Daniel Nava (.385 on-base%, 5th best in AL) could wreak havoc yet again to start things off for the Sox, while down in Tampa, the combo of David Dejesus and Ben Zobrist have a chance to set up the table nicely for Evan Longoria and Wil Myers to both chase 100 RBI.

Depth

1. Rays

2. Red Sox

3. Yankees

4. Blue Jays

5. Orioles

Strength is always in the numbers for the Rays, and Joe Maddon uses his full roster better than anybody else in the game. The Jays have four starting-caliber outfielders, and the duo of Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina is a very strong backstop duo. With Jonny Gomes, David Ross and Mike Carp in the mix, the Sox are not far behind however. The option to rotate Ichiro, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran in the Bronx is a necessary depth move for the aging, yet talented Yankee outfield as well.

After an injury hindered first half, Price went 7-3 with a 2.87 ERA and a .236 average against in the second half.

After an injury hindered first half, Price went 7-3 with a 2.87 ERA and a .236 average against in the second half.

Rotation

1. Rays

2. Red Sox

3. Yankees

4. Orioles

5. Blue Jays

Tampa keeps churning out more and more arms without ceasing it seems. David Price is the headline, but Matt Moore won 17 games in his second year and both Alex Cobb and Chris Archer have plenty of immediate promise. The Yankees are putting a lot of faith in a few commodities with much to prove in CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka, while the Blue Jays have to hope R.A. Dickey can once again led an underdog staff as he did two years ago.

1-2 Punch

1. Red Sox

2. Yankees

3. Rays

4. Blue Jays

5. Orioles

This is a tight call to that narrowly goes in the Sox favor, due to the big game experience of Jon Lester and John Lackey. Hiroki Kuroda has silently been the most consistent arm in the Yankee arsenal the past two seasons, and Price (30-13 record the past two years) by himself makes the Rays a favorite in most head-to-head matchups he takes the ball in.

Bullpen

1. Rays

2. Red Sox

3. Blue Jays

4. Yankees

5. Orioles

There’s no true powerhouse pen in the division, but the return of Grant Balfour to a Tampa group that features plus arms in Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and former closers in Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo is hard to deny. It would be impossible for Koji Uehara to have a better year than he did last time around, but his presence assures that Boston must be beat early. The Blue Jays have an underrated late inning group, while how (and if) David Robertson can transition to the ninth is beyond simply crucial for the Yankees.

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Machado led all AL defenders in dWAR last year, with a 4.3 games above replacement level wtih the glove. All while being 20 years old and playing out of position.

Defense

1. Orioles

2. Rays

3. Red Sox

4. Blue Jays

5. Yankees

Baltimore has FIVE current or immediately past holders of Gold Gloves in their everyday lineup, and their defensive abilities allow for their pitchers to not have to be as sharp as other rotations in the league. The Rays are no slouches either, with Longoria, Escobar, Loney and their entire outfield having plus range. In Boston, Pedroia and Victorino are the best gloves at their respective positions in the AL.

Manager

1. Joe Maddon—Rays

2. Buck Showalter—Orioles

3. Joe Girardi—Yankees

4. John Farrell—Red Sox

5. John Gibbons—Blue Jays

There’s nobody better at motivating and knowing his players than Maddon is, and it allows him to continuing pull more out of his rosters than their on-paper talent shows. Showalter’s veteran savvy is the best in the league, and Joe Girardi is regularly underappreciated due to the talent at his command.

Finances

1. Yankees

2. Red Sox

3. Blue Jays

4. Orioles

5. Rays

The Yankees can spend at will, and despite the rumors that they want to be luxury tax conscious, in the end, the wins will always take priority over the cost of chasing them. The Blue Jays look for the value deal, but have the dollars to add what they need to stay in the race if they get close to it.

Impact Additions

1. Jacoby Ellsbury (Yankees via Free Agency)

2. Carlos Beltran (Yankees via Free Agency)

3. Masahiro Tanaka (Yankees via Free Agency)

4. Brian McCann (Yankees via Free Agency)

5. Ubaldo Jimenez (Orioles via Free Agency)

Yankees, Yankees and more Yankees here, with each playing a major role in the team’s immediate success. Outside of NY, the Orioles played their free agent hand slow, but played it well in adding a new staff ace in Jimenez and All-Star caliber outfielder in Nelson Cruz. The Sox addition of Edward Mujica gives them another experienced presence that has succeeded in every role in the pen previously.

B_Lawrie

The whole package is there with Lawrie, but its going to take health and maturity meeting up to help him make the leap to fill out his sizable potential at age 24.

Leap Forward

1. Wil Myers—Rays

2. Alex Cobb—Rays

3. Brett Lawrie—Blue Jays

4. Chris Archer—Rays

5. Will Middlebrooks—Red Sox

Myer is an odd candidate to think will have a major jump forward considering he is coming off of a Rookie of the Year debut, but considering he did so in barely a half of a season, what he could do over a full year could be in the 30 home run/40 double rate. Lawrie has been on the verge for the past two years, but he is an elite defender and has all the tools at the plate to contribute anywhere from 2-5.

Rookies/Propects To Watch

1. Xander Bogaerts—Red Sox

2. Kevin Gausman—Orioles

3. Johnathan Schoop—Orioles

4. Jake Odorizzi—Rays

5. Allen Webster—Red Sox

Bogaerts is that rare mix of both talent and acumen that makes a young player immediately acclimated to the Majors. He proved this by moving to third base and playing a big part of the Sox run through October. Gausman has a plus arm, but just needs to find a place to showcase it in the rotation. His organization make in Schoop should get a fair chance to get the second base job in Baltimore at some point this summer.

PREDICTIONS

1. Boston Red Sox

2. Tampa Bay Rays

3. New York Yankees

4. Baltimore Orioles

5. Toronto Blue Jays

It is never an easy road, and it surely will not be again. A year ago, the Red Sox pulled up from the cellar to the ultimate penthouse by using an overhauled roster, the motivation of a new manager, a recovering city as a rally point and a team that lived for, and thrived in, the moment. But this year, they are targeted by a group of teams that made very smart adjustments, in addition to the various chips on their shoulders.

The Rays are as talented as they have been in years, and whereas finding runs was a problem last season, it should be the least of their concerns this year. Coupled with a strong pitching staff, the only thing that could get in their way this year is if their young starting staff doesn’t hold up over a full year as well as it did in limited time in 2013. On their heels are the Yankees, who have more than enough firepower, and could have the best offense in all of baseball. However, their pitching staff being a success would be slightly an upset of sorts, as they enter the season needing all of their arms to either overachieve, overcome or live up to some lofty expectations—and in some cases, some of each element.

The Orioles and Jays seem to be a step behind each of these teams now, but also have rosters that could would make it no shock at all if they crack into the upper reaches of the division. The O’s need Manny Machado to be healthy and for their pitching staff as a whole to be a bit better than they profile. Meanwhile, the Jays just need to stay healthy and put up tons of runs, because they will need them if this is the pitching staff they tackle most of the year with.

Yet in the end, the balance of the Red Sox and the shared chemistry they have now makes them a very formidable club. They have the veterans in their primes along with the youngsters that have room to grow while playing major parts, yet not have the weight of carrying the club on their shoulders. I see the Sox winning the East again, albeit in a close race, with the Rays being in one of the Wild Card spots and the Yankees perhaps joining them.

Come back to the Cheap Seats over the next two weeks for each divisional breakdown and preview, and for more info from here in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

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This week, I will begin my annual preview of each division around Major League Baseball. And before I move on to this year, let’s take a look back at last year’s predictions, including how they panned out, what went right and what went wrong with the logic that went into them.

National League West—Preview Prediction

1. San Francisco Giants

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

4. Colorado Rockies

5. San Diego Padres

NL West—2013 Outcome

1. Dodgers (92-70)

2. Diamondbacks (81-81)

3. Giants (76-86)

4. San Diego (74-86)

5. Colorado (74-88)

The logic on choosing the Giants was based in a carryover of the chemistry that the mostly intact world champions were bringing back. They resigned Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro, while their strong pitching staff stayed intact. However, in the end the Dodgers additions of Yasiel Puig, Zack Greinke and Hanley Ramirez, along with a mostly healthy Carl Crawford made the difference. The combinations of rampant injuries in San Francisco, along with the Diamondbacks playing strong ball as well made all of the difference.

National League East—Preview Prediction

1. Washington Nationals

2. Atlanta Braves

3. Philadelphia Phillies

4. New York Mets

5. Miami Marlins

NL East Preview—2013 Outcome

1. Braves (96-66)

2. Nationals (86-76)

3. Mets (74-88)

4. Phillies (73-89)

5. Marlins (62-100)

I wasn’t alone in this one at least, because the Nationals seemed to be the most complete team in the league and were coming off of a very strong season. But it never came together for them for one reason or another, and when combined with the Braves playing very consistent baseball (at one point opening up a 15 game lead), they were never in it until the end of the season. The Mets and Phillies traded blows in the middle, but ultimate treaded water out in a contest of interchangeable seasons.

National League Central—Preview Prediction

1. Cincinnati Reds

2. St. Louis Cardinals

3. Milwaukee Brewers

4. Pittsburgh Pirates

5. Chicago Cubs

NL Central —2013 Outcome

1. Cardinals (97-65)

2. Pirates (94-68)

3. Reds (90-72)

4. Brewers (74-88)

5. Cubs (66-96)

The Central was a knuckle to knuckle fight throughout the entire season and ultimately produced the team that tied for the best record in baseball (Cardinals), along with the two Wild Card clubs as well in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Where I went wrong was considering the Pirates to be the team that ended 2012 in a downward spiral, as opposed to the one that had started that previous season—which was the one they played like completely through 2013. The Reds pitching staff was not as strong as I anticipated, and the rookie immediate impact in St. Louis was greater than I thought, and made the difference for them. The Brewers fell out of the picture when the rash of injuries they sustained and the loss of Ryan Braun.

American League West—Preview Prediction

1. Los Angeles Angels

2. Oakland A’s

3. Texas Rangers

4. Seattle Mariners

5. Houston Astros

AL West—2013 Outcome

1. A’s (96-66)

2. Rangers (91-72)

3. Angels (78-84)

4. Mariners (71-91)

5. Astros (51-111)

The pick was made on the assumption that a) the Angels 2012 effort had been a fluke, and b) that the addition of Josh Hamilton and another year of Mike Trout would take them to the postseason. Yet again, it was the A’s that held their ground in the West. The Rangers pitching played better baseball, and the Mariners fit into the mix between the predictably bad Astros.

American League Central—Preview Prediction

1. Detroit Tigers

2. Kansas City Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

AL Central—2013 Outcome

1. Tigers (93-69)

2. Indians (92-70)

3. Royals (86-76)

4. Twins (66-96)

5. White Sox (63-99)

The easiest division to choose held its serve for the most part. The Tigers took the division (albeit not as easily as I thought they may), while the Royals and Indians played much better baseball than they had the season prior. The White Sox however had a much more severe downturn than I saw coming, which was more the reason why the Twins didn’t find the cellar once again than them playing any better.

American League East—Preview Prediction

1. Baltimore Orioles

2. Toronto Blue Jays

3. New York Yankees

4. Tampa Bay Rays

5. Boston Red Sox

AL East—2013 Outcome

1. Red Sox (97-65)

2. Rays (92-71)

3. Orioles (85-77)

4. Yankees (85-77)

5. Blue Jays (74-88)

And finally, my greatest failure of the winter: the AL East. Admittedly, it was the closest of all the divisional choices, with the Rays, who despite being predicted to finish in fourth place were only 2.5 prediction points (the average place of the ranks of each category previewed) back of first place.

However, also admittedly, I was all in on the Orioles taking the next step as well after their showing in 2012. Add in the additions that the Blue Jays made and the terrible shipwreck the Red Sox 2012 ended as and it seemed that it could be legit. But the Red Sox pulled off a preview bottom-to-real life top outcome and ended up being the best team in baseball and the World Series champs.

And that is why the greatest crap shoot of all is a season preview on an outcome that’s eight months removed—and I’ll be rolling the dice again starting tomorrow.

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The position that Babe Ruth first defined, and Hank Aaron later rewrote the record book from is always a home of some of the most potent bats in any era of the game. Today’s offering features that traditional grouping of power conduits, but has also been influenced by a defensive presence that has also been more aligned with center field traditionally, as well as more overall skilled contributors that left fielders have been.

Yet when looking at what is at the position now, there is a mixture of everything at the spot—and that is all before accounting for a new addition to role that has been one of the game’s most all-around talented (and recently controversial) players in the game. All things considered, it’s one of the toughest positions to pull one factor apart from the others, due to offering of skills across the board.

But that’s what I’m here to do, so that’s what we’ll do. Here is the final of this winter’s positional ranks (as well move into pitchers next). As well as one of the toughest to pull apart, between the new additions, the one-year sensations and the standard bearers—both young and established.

 

10. Jayson Werth, Nationals: Year three in DC was much better for The Beard as he delivered what was paid for finally. He delivered a .318 average, along with a .398 on-base percentage via 147 hits, 25 home runs and 82 RBI in 129 games.

9. Hunter Pence, Giants: He put his awkward looking, yet very complete game on full display last season. He topped 90 RBI for the fourth straight year, stole 22 bases and covered more ground in right by the numbers than any other player in baseball.

8. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins: The potential is brimming to break over the top, but he just needs to stay on the field to fully deliver on it. Still, he has hit 107 home runs before his 24th birthday, many of the “no doubt” variety—his 2013 average was 413 feet.

Allen_Craig21

7. Allen Craig, Cardinals: He is moving back to the outfield on a more full-time basis this summer, but he’ll be taking the game’s best everyday clutch bat along with him. In addition to his overall .315 average and 97 RBI in 2013, he hit a staggering 59-for-130 (.454 average) and 83 of those RBI with runners in scoring position.

6. Shane Victorino, Red Sox: He found his way again in the Red Sox ensemble and was a memorable part of the push that took the club to a third World Series in 10 years. In the process he also became the best defensive right fielder in the American League by a fair margin, being responsible for a 2.2 wins with his glove alone.

5. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: Injuries have clipped his production some over the past two years, but he remains among the elite power threats in the game. He hit 97 home runs between 2010-11, and despite his injury-related decline, he has stayed in the top 10 in the MLB home runs per at-bat the past two years.

4. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers: The enigmatic Puig’s approach can be questioned, but the results are beyond reproach. A testament to the value that WAR showcases, in 104 games (hitting .319), he turned around the entire direction of the Dodger season, and consequently, the direction of the franchise as well. He’s a natural—even if it gets clouded in perception.

3. Carlos Beltran, Yankees: His late career resurgence has kept him moved him to the elite class of corner outfielders, as well as becoming the centerpiece of which the Yankee offensive rebuilding effort is based. In his two years in St. Louis, his average season was a .282/.343/.493 with 28 home runs and 90 RBI.

Ryan_Braun

2. Jay Bruce, Reds: He’s 26 years old has never had a season under 20 home runs in his first six seasons. Over the past three, he’s turned it up to 30+. In 2013, he produced a 30 homer, 43 double, 109 RBI effort, but arguably his greater impact continues to be in the field. He had the second best fielding percentage, range rating and outfield assist totals a year ago as well.

1. Ryan Braun, Brewers: The move across the outfield doesn’t change anything about his standing amongst his new peers, and until further notice, neither does the post PED edition either. Braun is simply one of the best hitters of his era; three times in the last five years his season total has seen a .300 average, 30 home runs, 30 doubles, 100 RBI, 20 stolen bases and over 330 total bases.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Jason Heyward, Wil Myers, Torii Hunter

For more on the upcoming season and the ranks here, follow me in real-time on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

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When you traditionally think of a leftfielder, the first though is most likely overwhelming power. The names of Bonds, Williams and more recently, Belle jump ahead of the pack, however, the today’s game features a more overall balance of producers at the position, more in the vein of Musial or Ramirez from days past. It is a position with some elite line drive hitters, and run creators that do so not just by hitting the ball over the fence, but by destroying outfield alleys as just as much as giving souvenirs away.

The grouping in left is also undergoing a change as well, with two perennials at the position in Ryan Braun and Carlos Gonzalez manning new positions for the upcoming season. Also, there is a new addition to the Rangers lineup that will impact the rankings as well. Regardless, it is a unique mix of producers, that is so balanced across the board that the same ten players could be picked again next season and for the most part, come across in a completely different order, yet still be justified in their standing.

Here are the top 10 players of the day in the outfield corner on the left corner of the field…

10. Mark Trumbo, Diamondbacks: GM Kevin Towers made it a point to add more non-Goldschmidt based pop to his lineup, and he made a solid choice. Trumbo has hit 29, 32 and 34 home runs his first three seasons, while continually climbing his RBI total each campaign as well.

9. Brett Gardner, Yankees: An elite defender and presence on the basepaths, he led the AL in triples a year ago and has stolen 40 bases in two of his last three full seasons. Another centerfielder playing left, he routinely makes the difficult look easy in the outfield.

8. Josh Hamilton, Angels: He had his worst season last summer, seeing his full-season numbers drop across the board. However, he hit 43 home runs just two years ago and in September of last year, the ice finally cracked, as he finished the year with a .323 average.

7. Starling Marte, Pirates: He’s a centerfielder forced into a left fielder’s role due to his MVP counterpart to the side of him. However, the rangy and athletic 25-year-old ran up 41 stolen bases and 10 triples in his first year as a full-time starter.

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6. Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics: He took the Home Run Derby by storm, rapping moonshot after moonshot out of Citi Field, showing the elite power that he uses to make even the massive o.Co Coliseum look small.

5. Justin Upton, Braves: He shot out of a cannon in 2013 like a ‘bat’ out of hell (literally). And while he slowed down considerably, he still finished with 27 home runs and 70 RBI in his Atlanta debut. The talent package keeps coming in flashes, but few are capable of more than he is.

4. Bryce Harper, Nationals: While he has to continue to reel in his effort some to preserve himself, when he’s is all the way there, few are more exciting than Harper. The 21-year-old already has  42 career homers and has topped 20 doubles, 20 home runs and 10 stolen bases in each of his first two seasons—and at ages when most players are in Single or Double A.

3. Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers: He will play his third outfield spot in as many years in his third home in just as many as well. In his one season visit to the National League, he finished second in on-base percentage, where he reached .423% of the time. He versatile Korean has career averages over the past two seasons of 38 doubles, 18 homers, 20 steals and 98 runs scored.

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2. Alex Gordon, Royals: He is by and far the best defensive left-fielder in the game, winner of the past two Gold Gloves for his field exploits, and sporting a gaudy 34 outfield assists since 2012. He is one year removed from an AL-best 51 doubles season and has topped 20 homers and 80 RBI two of the last three seasons.

1. Matt Holliday, Cardinals: He’s been one of the most consistent hitters in the game over his career, and is the hammer in the Cardinals balanced offering. While his defense is taking some noticeable steps back, he makes up for it has a line drive, run producing regular. 2013 marked the eighth straight year he offered at least a .295 average, 30 plus doubles and 20 plus home runs.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Domonic Brown, Curtis Granderson, Daniel Nava

 

For more on the upcoming season, follow me in real time on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more content, head to The Sports Fan Journal and I-70 Baseball.

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It does not get spoken to very often, but the lay of the land in baseball right now at the hot corner is perhaps the best the position has ever been. There is a deep collection of dual threat bat/glove performers, with many in the middle of their primes right now. There are the perennial great performers that are getting pushed by the up-and-comers….who are in turn getting pushed by a prodigy or two at the spot.

The game’s silent, but deadly collection annually factors in the MVP race, and 2012 was no exception. With the exclusion of Miguel Cabrera, who has collected the last two AL MVPs, but has since moved back to first base, the current collection of third basemen has three members who finished in the top 5 of their league last season, with another who rightfully should have—but will get more than his due at the top of this list later (and no, that is not an excuse to jump ahead. Patience.)

Yet, with that let’s get into it—the top third basemen in the game today (even if a few are just coming and another could be going soon enough)

10. Pedro Alvarez, Pirates: There’s nothing wrong with being a one trick pony if you can do that trick really, really good. Alvarez’s thing is home runs, and he tied for NL-led with 36 last year, albeit while topping strikeouts by himself with 186.

9. Martin Prado, Diamondbacks: He drove in a career-best 82 runs in his first season in the desert, and 36 doubles as well. While he continued to be a slight utility man (notching 25+ starts in left field and second base, respectively), he committed only six errors in 113 games at third.

8. Aramis Ramirez, Brewers: Injuries limited him last year, but he just a season removed from a 50 double/27 homer/105 RBI campaign. He’s been one of the most quietly consistent performers in baseball over the past 10 years and his return to full health plays as big a part of the Milwaukee revival as the Ryan Braun’s comeback could.

Ryan Zimmerman

7. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals: Coming off shoulder surgery, he continued to be a steady producer in DC, despite being a part of the across-the-board Nats downturn last year. He’s topped 25 homers in four of the past five years, and a three-homer game in July.

6. Josh Donaldson, Athletics: He became the backbone of Oakland’s second consecutive run to the top of the AL West. After driving in 93 runs, hitting 24 homers and a .301 average, he won the AL Player of the Month in the A’s clinching effort in September—for a fourth place finish in the AL MVP vote.

5. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals: He returns to his native third base for 2014 after slugging his way to a second base Silver Slugger a year ago. He led the NL in hits (199), runs scored (126) and doubles (55) in his first full season as a starter, while hitting .318 overall.

4. David Wright, Mets: The man the Mets have rightfully built their empire around continues to prove why he’s among the faces of the game. Despite missing over a month to injury, he hit .307, hit 18 home runs, stole 17 bases and made his seventh All-Star Game in 10 years.

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3. Manny Machado, Orioles: The lifetime shortstop became a phenom last year, all while playing out of position. While the 20-year-old’s 51 doubles led the AL, it was with the glove where he truly showed some jaw dropping excellence. His defensive WAR reads to a level that says he won nearly 4.5 games with his glove alone for the O’s. And all with the type of ease that has not been seen in B-More since Brooks Robinson.

2. Evan Longoria, Rays: Tampa’s franchise player played in a career-best 160 games a year ago, and knocked out 32 homers, drove in 88 runs and 39 doubles. A perennially good defender as well, he committed the least errors of any full-time AL third baseman, while having the third best range rating.

1. Adrian Beltre, Rangers: He’s been the most productive hitter at the position over the last four years, finishing in the top 10 of the AL MVP three times. Across that span he’s at least .315 three and drove in 100 runs, respectively three times as well. He has the best arm from the hot corner in the game as well, and is among the most underrated all-around talents today—as well as a growing dark horse Hall of Fame candidate.

Just A Bit Outside: Kyle Seager, Pablo Sandoval, Nolan Arenado

For more on this list and the march to Spring in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more content, head to The Sports Fan Journal and I-70 Baseball.

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A few years ago, first base was clearly a class system. There were the handful of elites, and then just the rest of the guys, many of which were young up and comers. But the cows have come home to the barn and how the first base spot is the deepest of any in the game, due in part to many of those young talents panning out in a major way.

Of the the top 4 finishers in both league’s Most Valuable Player voting in 2013, the three will man first this summer. Of current starting first basemen, nine have won the league’s MVP at one point or another in their career, and of that group only three will even qualify for this Top 10 list.

That’s the type of depth that is at work right now around the game, and that is why even a surefire Hall of Famer couldn’t crack this list. Here’s what’s in store at a position that is sure to create some frustrated almost All-Star by mid-summer…

10. Eric Hosmer, Royals: He kicked his sophomore slump out of a moving car, hitting over .300, with 188 hits and 34 doubles to boot. He won his first Gold Glove in the process, with his 122 assists being far and away the best total of AL first basemen.

9. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers: One of the most consistent run creators in the game, he’s topped 100 RBI for four straight years, while keeping his average over .293 over the course as well. He has owned the alleys, hitting 124 doubles since 2011 started.

8. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays: He’s hit 78 home runs over the past two seasons, due in part to the discipline he has developed at the plate. He cut his strikeouts by 32 and walked 20 more times than he whiffed.

7. Freddie Freeman, Braves: The axis of the Atlanta lineup raised his average 70 points while keeping his power numbers steady and driving in 100 runs for the first time. Also a superb fielder, he’ll challenge for his share of Gold Gloves moving ahead.

6. Prince Fielder, Rangers: He will move to the perfect ballpark for his prodigious power in Arlington. Until last season he owned a streak of six years of at least 30 home runs, and has driven in 100 RBI in six of the last seven seasons.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Minnesota Twins

5. Joe Mauer, Twins: The move to first could very well extend, and improve, the career and quality of Mauer’s performance. He won the Silver Slugger at catcher a year ago, hitting just a point higher than his career average at .324.

4. Chris Davis, Orioles: Crush was making an assault on history early in the year, cranking out 30 first half homers. He led the Major Leagues with 55 long balls and 138 RBI, and added 42 doubles as well, joining Babe Ruth and Albert Belle as the only players to reach those marks in a single season.

3. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks: It all came together for the first time for Goldy a year ago, and he’s only getting started. He led the NL in RBI, and tied in home runs as well. He finished second in the MVP and won his first Gold Glove as well. He is becoming one of the best all around players in the game, and the type of talent that a winner could be built around.

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2. Joey Votto, Reds: The criticism is that he does not drive in enough runs and is overly obsessed with getting on base at the cost of taking more swings. However, he chooses his shots often enough to hit .317 average and to lead couple that by leading the NL on on-base for four consecutive years. So the game’s best line drive hitter continues to make his impact in one way or another.

1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: The move back to first changes nothing about the productivity. One of the great hitters all-time in the middle of his prime. The winner of the of consecutive MVP awards, he has a .338/.417/.620 average split over the last two years, while averaging 44 home runs, 138 RBI and 199 hits per year over the stretch as well.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Albert Pujols, Mike Napoli, Brandon Moss

For more on the game in the real time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For further content, find me at I70 Baseball and The Sports Fan Journal.

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One of the most interesting projects of the MLB offseason is hosted, rather appropriately, on the MLB Network via their “Top 10 Right Now” program. Each player by position (or projected 2014 position) is fed through ‘The Shredder’ which dices up stats and metrics on each player’s recent performance, and then feeds out a ranked top 10 list for each position. This is debated and offset by personal lists from hosts, commentators and even the original stats and context guru himself, Bill James.

The end result is a highly interesting, yet constantly debatable rundown of the game and the best in it today. And, as usual, providing my own take on what this process is, and what goes into answering the always-debatable question of “who’s best?”

The outline: This will be an 11-part entry over the next month on the best at each position (outfield is sorted by alignment, pitchers divided into right/left handers and relievers). Decisions on ranking are made by a mixture of two-year performance (right now) and projection going ahead—with a dash of reputation. This differs in the ‘Top 100 Players’ countdown that will be coming in March, where skill and talent are worked in as well—in addition to a larger window of performance being considered.

Today, the position under the magnifying glass is one that can be defined variously, because determining the value of a catcher is a very complex job. Their ability at calling a game and leading a pitching staff is just as important as bringing their bat and glove to the dish. It is also a position that is under change, most noticeably, the absence of Joe Mauer, who is one of the most productive catchers of all-time, but is moving to first base full-time this year. There are also a handful of young up and comers, that are beginning to put the push on the upper rung backstops in the game as well.

Picking the apart the pack is tough, but of course its doable. And its time to get to the doing for 2014 here in the CHEAP SEATS…

10. Russell Martin, Pirates: Martin showing up and the Pirates holding it together down the stretch is far from a coincidence. While not the offensive performer he was at the beginning of his career, he was superb behind the dish. His .998 fielding percentage and 40% caught stealing figure were among the best in baseball.

9. Wilin Rosario, Rockies: The perfect catcher for Coors, Rosario has become the premier power hitting catcher in baseball. The 24-year-old has hit 49 in the past two years, and raised his average to .292, despite a brutal 15-109 strikeout-to-walk number.

8. Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks: 2013 saw a six-year low in average for the D’Back backstop, and he failed to drive in 80+ for the first time in two years, but injuries curtailed his time and an upswing should be expected.

7. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers: He assumed the role of lineup axis amid Ryan Braun’s suspension and Aramis Ramirez’s injuries a year ago. The result was career-bests in seven different categories including home runs, hits and doubles.

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6. Jason Castro, Astros: He made the most of his first full-time season as a starter, making his first All-Star appearance and turned it on in a major way in September, hitting .338 and .290 overall in the second half. The arrow is pointing up for him in Houston.

5. Matt Wieters, Orioles: He topped 20 home runs for the third consecutive year and continued his strong defensive presence, throwing out 35% of would be base thieves, as well as committing only 3 errors on the year.

4. Salvador Perez, Royals: He is the owner of a .301 career average, and made his All-Star debut while winning his first Gold Glove as well. He is the core of the emergent Royals club, and the most important piece of their growing puzzle.

3. Brian McCann, Yankees: He continues to swing a big bat behind the plate, topping 20 home runs for the sixth consecutive year during his final run in Atlanta. Moving over to Yankee Stadium could do wonders for the 29-year-old, but already seven-time All-Star.

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2. Buster Posey, Giants: The 2012 MVP didn’t swing the bat at quite the same clip, but remains one of the most indispensable players in the game. He hit over .290 for the third consecutive season, and in addition to the MVP has two World Series titles, a Rookie of the Year, a batting title and has caught both a no-hitter and a Perfect Game in his first four years.

1. Yadier Molina, Cardinals: Arguably the best defensive game-changer in all of baseball, he has won six consecutive Gold and two consecutive Platinum Gloves. He threw out over 40% of stolen base attempts for the fourth time in five years last summer. Molina has rounded out his game at the plate as well, hitting over .300 for the third straight year, including a .373 clip with runners in scoring position.

Just a bit outside: Carlos Ruiz, Yan Gomes, A.J. Pierzynski

For more on the Top 10 Today and the game as it is developing, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan