Posts Tagged ‘Cliff Lee’

Clayton_Kershaw

The point of a good countdown is to both acknowledge achievement of those featured in it, while also provoking some good debate on how it is ordered. Sometimes this can even create some suspense on the way towards the conclusion, during that wait to see if it works out like it “should” in the end.

Well, I’ve got a bit of bad news—this is not one of those times. If you’ve been following baseball even loosely over the past few years, there’s no question about who the best left-hander (or pitcher at all) is right now, that’s a done deal. There is no great challenge in figuring that out, however that is only half the story, because there is a phenomenal set of southpaws around the Majors right now.

In fact, it is a group so good that even a 17-game winner from just last year couldn’t crack the list, and that’s saying something. So, enjoy the countdown to #2, because it is both a very close call…and well as a testament to how great #1 is, already.

10. Francisco Liriano, Pirates: One of the most fascinating things to watch last summer was how Liriano reinvented himself from washed up power hurler to crafty and precise out machine. Using his slider primarily, he allowed 31% of his runs on the year in only two of his 26 starts and had a 2.14 ERA in the other 24.

9. CC Sabathia, Yankees: It’s easy to say that CC is on the verge of being washed up and that the innings have finally taken their toll, but he’s a gamer that’s never failed to reach double digit wins and will show up to camp as what looks to be 30-40 pounds lighter for the rebuilt Yanks. Something tells me that 2013 will be the aberration over the rule.

8. Jon Lester, Red Sox: He would have been the World Series MVP on any other, non-Ortiz team, winning two games in the Fall Classic, and had an impressive 4-1 postseason record. On the year, he topped 15 wins for the fifth time in six years.

7. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals: He didn’t turn in another 21-win effort for the sulking Nats, but Gonzalez was still turned in over 190 strikeouts for the third straight year and is primed to be a big part of a 2014 turnaround that started late in DC last fall.

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6. Cole Hamels, Phillies: He seemed to be cursed to just not be able to pull out a win for most of last year, but pitched better than his 14 losses would lead one to believe. Otherwise, his final effort stays close to the level that is accustomed of him, topping both 200 strikeouts and innings, while keeping his ERA at a solid 3.60.

5. Madison Bumgarner, Giants: One of the most underrated, but consistently superb hurlers in the game. He has risen to the top of the Giants staff at just age 24, and has already won 50 games and topped 200 innings each of the last three years, while posting a career-low 2.77 ERA in 2013.

4. Chris Sale, White Sox: He proved his 2012 was no fluke, has he turned in yet an even more impressive effort in his sophomore starting season, despite a decrease in wins on a much worse club. His 226 strikeout were third best in the AL, and the soon-to-be 25 year old hasn’t approached his ceiling yet.

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3. David Price, Rays: He had a slow start coming off his Cy Young 2012 effort, due to a triceps injury that sidelined him to the disabled list for the first time. But he returned to his regular form in the second half, going 7-3 with a 2.87 ERA, and winning a gutsy tie-breaker playoff start to push Tampa into the playoffs.

2. Cliff Lee, Phillies: The game’s preeminent control artist was is back at his old tricks. Over the past two seasons, he has struck out 429 batters, while walking only 60 in return. Over that span, he has not pitched less than 211 innings in a season and won 37 games.

1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: Like I said, there’s no drama here—he’s the best pitcher in the world regardless of arm. A winner of two of the last three NL Cy Young Awards (and had a very strong case for the one he finished runner-up for), he’s as dominant of a 25 year old as there has been since Roger Clemens.  Over his past near-700 innings pitched, his ERA is a miniscule 2.21, a stretch that he has won three consecutive ERA titles, including an insane 1.83 a summer ago. Kershaw is $30 million per year well spent.

Just A Bit Outside: C.J. Wilson, Matt Moore, Patrick Corbin

For more in real-time about this and the rest of the Top 10’s across the board, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

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2013 set out as the year of the pitcher, especially in the National League. There were a series of dominant performances in the first half of the season that made picking the All-Star Game starter tougher than making it through the Golden Corral buffet with just one plate. But in the long run, it sorted itself out, in what is becoming a most predictable fashion. Because the cream always does rise to the top, and it is who that is, not only in the NL, but in baseball as a whole.

The Walter Johnson Award for best pitcher of the year was without a doubt the easiest award to select, as for the third straight season; my vote has stayed with the same man. One that made it abundantly clear that the conversation regarding the best pitcher in baseball now starts after him…

2013 National League Walter Johnson Pitcher of the Year: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

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The Numbers: 16-9, 1.83 ERA, 236 IP, 232 Ks/52 BB, 3 CG/2 SHO, 0.92 WHIP, .195 BAA

The dominance of Clayton Kershaw has become a standard part of the summer at this point. Yet, despite authoring the pitcher’s Triple Crown two years ago, and then returning in even better form albeit with slightly lesser numbers in 2012, he put together his finest campaign this time around. It started with a foretelling Opening Day complete game, four-hit shutout and continued on to see him reach some impressive historical marks.

For the third consecutive season, he finished with the lowest ERA in the MLB, a feat that had only been accomplished twice before by Lefty Grove and Greg Maddux. His 1.83 mark was 0.36 runs lower than any other pitcher in the NL, and the lowest number since Pedro Martinez’s 1.74 in 2000. His 0.92 WHIP led the NL for the third consecutive year, and allowed only 48 earned runs across a career-high 236 innings. For the second time in three years, he topped the NL in strikeouts with 232, topping the 200 K mile marker for the fourth consecutive year.

But the precocious start to Kershaw’s career has put him in truly rare air. His 2.70 career ERA was the lowest of the live ball era ever for a starter that has topped 1,000 career innings. At 25 years old, he has never pitched a full season and had an ERA over 3.00 or struck out less than 185 batters. What’s more is that even in defeat, he often should have won. In the 14 games the Dodgers lost that he started, the team scored only 23 runs total, and in games he was the losing pitcher of record, he surrendered more than three runs only once.

Excellence is the regular order of the day for Kershaw, and the beginning of an all-time great career is well under way.

The Rest:

2. Adam Wainwright-Cardinals: 19-9, 2.94 ERA, 241.2 IP, 223 Ks/35 BB, 5 CG/2 SHO, 1.07 WHIP, .248 BAA

A year removed from his Tommy John comeback season, Wainwright returned to the form that has made him the winningest pitcher of the past five years. The workhorse led the NL in innings pitched, complete games, shutouts and starts.

3. Matt Harvey-Mets: 9-5, 2.27 ERA, 178 IP, 191 Ks/31 BB, 1 CG/1 SHO, 0.93 WHIP, .182 BAA

Harvey was on pace to be the foil to Kershaw’s run atop NL pitchers this season, and authored one of the most dominant season’s in recent history before his year (and the next one) were brought to an end by a torn UCL in his elbow. He struck out more batters than innings pitched 11 times.

4. Jose Fernandez-Marlins: 12-6, 2.19 ERA, 172.2 IP, 187 K’s/58 BB’s, 0 CG/SHO, 0.98 WHIP, .182 BAA

The dominant rookie’s run at 20 years old was something to behold, and saw him finish with the second best ERA in the NL and the lowest batting average against….as well as the Willie Mays ROY Award here.

5. Cliff Lee-Phillies: 14-8, 2.87 ERA, 222.2 IP, 222 Ks/32 BB, 2 CG/1 SHO, 1.01 WHIP, .232 BAA

The always steady Lee was a rare bright spot in the bleak Phllies season. He closed out 2013 with a 3-2 record in September on a 1.85 ERA and giving up only three runs across his two losses.

6. Francisco Liriano-Pirates: 16-8, 3.02 ERA, 161 IP, 163 Ks/63 BB, 2 CG/0 SHO, 1.22 WHIP, .224 BAA

7. Jordan Zimmermann-Nationals: 19-9, 3.25 ERA, 213.1 IP, 161 Ks/40 BB, 4 CG/2 SHO, 1.09 WHIP, .238 BA

8. Zack Greinke-Dodgers: 15-4, 2.63 ERA, 177 IP, 148 Ks/46 BB, 1 CG/1 SHO, 1.11 WHIP, .234 BAA

9. Madison Bumgarner-Giants: 13-9, 2.77 ERA, 201.1 IP, 199 Ks/62 BB, 0 CG/0 ShO, 1.03 WHIP, .203 BAA

10. Mat Latos-Reds: 14-7, 3.16 ERA, 210.2 IP, 187 Ks/58 BBs, 1 CG/0 SHO, 1.21 WHIP, .247 BAA

 

There has been a slight audible to the Awards revealing mix, as the schedule below will show

November 6: NL/AL Goose Gossage Relief Pitcher of the YearKoji Uehara and Craig Kimbrel

November 7: NL/AL Willie Mays Rookies of the YearWil Myers and Jose Fernandez

November 8: AL Walter Johnson Pitcher of the YearMax Scherzer

November 12: AL/NL Connie Mack Manager of the Year

November 12: AL Stan Musial Most Valuable Player

November 13: NL Stan Musial Most Valuable Player

There’s a world of nasty pitches in Major League Baseball. Unlike getting dunked on or getting ran over trying to make a tackle, one of the most embarrassing moments in all of sports doesn’t require any contact at all. However, the struggle to make it with a bat can be just as funny-awkward as either of those first two go downs.

The right pitch can be the ultimate humbler for even the most professional hitter (if you think back to the All-Star game two years ago, the #2 pitch on this list broke Albert Pujols down to his knees almost….but don’t skip ahead, wait for it). The type that is so nasty that you can see the quit in a guy’s eyes when it’s halfway there. Something that so disgusting that if a swing is raised against it, it more closely resembles what the receiving half of a Mike Tyson hook looked like in ’87.

The rule in baseball is to set up your pitches, take them out strategically and go for the kill. While nobody is exempt from that rule, these 10 pitches below could be thrown every time out and would still have guys not knowing exactly what to do (and one of them actually is). The scariest thing in sports is when you know exactly what’s coming, yet still can’t do anything about it. Here are 10 perfect examples of that (with a bit a video to prove it as well).

 

10. Johan Santana’s change-up: When he was younger, his fastball was snapping in the mid 90’s and he didn’t need much else to be a major problem. However, when he added this hopping slow ball that he threw with the same motion and look, but around 10 mph slower, folks might as well had two strikes when they came to bat already.

Before injuries slowed him, this change was the primary weapon in racking up five consecutive 200 strikeout years.

9. Cliff Lee’s cutter: It breaks in on the hands on left handers, and gives them fits trying to put it in play. However it may be nastier to face from the other side of the plate, where either gets them reaching to hit it straight into the ground, or just looking at it because it breaks outside late and keeps them looking at it like an art museum exhibit, like Cameron from Ferris Bueller.

8. Clayton Kershaw’s curveball: Kershaw has two main things working for him. He’s a rare truly hard throwing lefty and he has a pitch that hitters are worried about seeing before he unleashes it in this curve. His fastball is so good that he can usually save this as his knockout pitch, but the scariest thing about it is still developing…yet already this nasty.

7. Justin Verlander’s fastball: This is a simple one, but can also raise questions too. “How can a guy’s fastball be considered a great pitch? Everybody has one.” Well, I can count on one hand how many guys have one that is still as deadly in the 8th inning as the first, and is still checking in at 100 mph then as well. Verlander dabbles in other pitches time to time, but has fastballed his way to two no-hitters in his first six years.

6. Tim Lincecum’s curveball: This could be basically anything he let’s go from his hand, but let’s list the curveball just because of how it’s almost comical how it frustrates Major League hitters into taking tee ball-style swings at it. His twisting delivery hides the pitch until the last second, and it comes in looking just like his fastball or change-up until the last few seconds when it flashes across the whole plate. It’s what he usually goes to for strikeouts, and considering he’s led the National League in those the last three years, this will do for standing as his signature offering.

Few pitchers can dominate with one pitch the way Verlander does. But few can throw 100 mph for 100 pitches either.

5. Adam Wainwright’s curveball: You won’t be seeing this one this season with Waino out getting his arm worked on all summer, but don’t forget about how he’s hooked his way into two top 2 finishes in the Cy Young race the last two years with it. With his 6’6 frame and ridiculous accuracy, he drops this hammer down from what looks like about 60 feet in the air, and by the time it breaks guys are usually already stepping out the box pissed at themselves.

4. Zack Greinke’s slider: He throws his fastball in the mid 90’s, and then breaks out this “off speed” option only about 5 mph slower, so peace to any hitter who’s trying to decide what to wait on or what to take their hacks at here. No wonder several American League hitters called this baseball’s best pitch a few years ago while he used it to land the ’09 Cy Young. No doubt National Leaguers are now considering joining with that opinion as well.

3. Felix Hernandez’s fastball: Both his curve and change-up could easily be listed in this top 10 separately as well; however it’s his fastball, or balls, that take the lead simply because he throws both with equal ease and location. His primary heat touches 100 mph and can own the top of the strike zone, while his next second “slower” fastball stays in the mid 90’s and owns the bottom of the zone. He can win on some days just throwing two essentially basic pitches, but they are anything but that when coming from him.

With a two fastballs he can throw with pinpoint precision, that never stay straight, it's almost wrong he has any other tricks in his bag.

2. Roy Halladay’s sinker: I’m not exactly sure what to call this pitch. It looks like a slider sometimes, but falls off the Earth like a split-finger fastball. So for the purpose of listing it, I’ll call it a sinker, which is what it does with more heft than any other pitchers offering in the game. It stays dead straight before darting down towards the hitters knees at the last second, all while staying a strike the whole time. And what’s most deadly about it is that Doc somehow makes it move in and out with the same movement on both sides of the plate. But at least I’m not alone in being lost on figuring this thing out, his no-hitter followed by a Playoff perfect game, Cy Young National League debut proves that his opponents can’t either.

1. Mariano Rivera’s cutter: This isn’t just the best pitch in baseball now, it can make claim to being the best ever due to the fact it’s really all Mo has ever thrown, yet nobody can figure it out after 17 years. In career that has seen 10 seasons his ERA finishing under 2.00 and that is approaching 600 saves, he has thrown this brutally deceptive, smooth breaking fastball all the way to a certain place in Cooperstown. It works on both sides of the plate, and even right down the mid of it. It’s so good that it actually breaks the basic rule of left-handed batters hitting better against righties: lefties hit points lower against him for his career.

Mariano's one pitch is so good that it's made him an All-Star 11 times and sealed 5 World Titles on it's own. Nuff said.

For more on this, base to base and strike to strike, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

The National League East has been, to put it plainly, predictable over the last few years. Everything basically starts in Philadelphia, and ends in D.C. The space between is left to be filled in by some order of the other three squads. For the fourth consecutive summer, the Phillies took home the NL East title, and nearly took landed the NL Pennant for the third year in a row as well. In a totally opposite showing, the Nationals lived in the cellar again….for the third year in a row as well. The prime suspects in the “others” of the division were the Atlanta Braves, who landed a surprising Wild Card nod and returned to the postseason for the first time since 2002. The seasons in the Florida and New York were marred by internal issues and managerial/executive strife, and neither could rally together enough to crack .500 for the year.

2010 Final Standings

1. Philadelphia Phillies (97-65)
2. Atlanta Braves (91-71)
3. Florida Marlins (80-82)
4. New York Mets (79-83)
5. Washington Nationals (69-93)

So, is there to be more of the same in the East? The Phillies are the talk of baseball, after adding another former Cy Young winner to their pitching staff for the second year in a row, in Cliff Lee. His joining a staff that features Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and 2010 Cy Young winner Roy Halladay has the Phils pitchers being hailed as one of the greatest collections of arms in the history of the game. However, last year’s Phillies were supposed to be foolproof as well, but struggled early and only came together late to seal another division title. Will this year’s team be able to deliver from start to finish, even with their best everyday player’s health a complete mystery? We’ll see. The Braves and Nationals reloaded with big bats designed to push their lineups to the next level, but will they be enough for a legit run at the division? The Marlins redesigned their club, and the Mets are just hoping to have more of their players of the field instead of the disabled list, finally. But in the end, is anything really enough to even mount a legit shot at the throne? We’ll see….

Halladay was completely dominant, even perfect once, in his NL debut. What does his encore hold?

ALL DIVISION TEAM

Catcher: Brian McCann-Atlanta Braves

First Base: Ryan Howard-Philadelphia Phillies

Second Base: Chase Utley-Philadelphia Phillies

Third Base: Ryan Zimmerman-Washington Nationals

Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez-Florida Marlins

Left Field: Jason Bay-New York Mets

Center Field: Shane Victorino-Philadelphia Phillies

Right Field: Jason Werth-Washington Nationals

More time on the field will lead to a lot more impact from Bay in the Big Apple.

Starting Pitcher: Roy Halladay-Philadelphia Phillies

Starting Pitcher: Cliff Lee-Philadelphia Phillies

Starting Pitcher: Josh Johnson-Florida Marlins

Starting Pitcher: Tim Hudson-Atlanta Braves

 

Bullpen Righty: Ryan Madson-Philadelphia Phillies

Bullpen Lefty: Sean Burnett-Washington Nationals

Closer: Francisco Rodriguez-New York Mets

 

BEST PLAYERS

1. Roy Halladay-Phillies
2. Hanley Ramirez-Marlins
3. Cliff Lee-Phillies
4. Chase Utley-Phillies
5. Ryan Zimmerman-Nationals
6. Ryan Howard-Phillies
7. David Wright-Mets
8. Josh Johnson-Marlins
9. Jason Werth-Nationals
10. Jason Heyward-Braves

Halladay is at the head of the class of pitchers in baseball. His NL debut featured a perfect game, a no-hitter in his career playoff debut and a Cy Young to cap it off with. Ramirez is annually a threat to toss in 30 home runs to go with his 30 steals, and maybe another batting title as well. Utley and Howard had down years in 2010, but they are the featured acts in the NL’s best lineup. Zimmerman and Wright are among the top three at the hot corner in all of baseball. Youngsters Heyward and Johnson will be among the best talents in baseball for a long time.

LINEUP

1. Phillies
2. Braves
3. Mets
4. Marlins
5. Nationals

Chase Utley’s knee injury has kept him off the field all spring, and Jason Werth left for Washington, but the Phillies lineup is still the best in the NL. Ryan Howard may have more raw power than any hitter in baseball and Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco, Jimmy Rollins and Raul Ibanez have all made All-Star appearances. The Braves addition of Dan Uggla and the continual growth of Jason Heyward make them a viable contender for best lineup as well however, and they have far less question marks currently. The differential is all on shoulders, and knee, of Utley.

Heyward should eclipse the 30 home run mark for the first of many times this year.

ROTATION

  1. Phillies
  2. Braves
  3. Marlins
  4. Nationals
  5. Mets

Three of baseball’s best rotations are here. While it is too early to declare the Phillies rotation as among the best of all-time, the evidence for such a claim is there. Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, Hamels and Joe Blanton have won 128 games combined over the past two years.It is the first time since the Braves 90’s dynasty that a team has a pitcher that makes them the favorite on his own six days a week. The Braves and Marlins both boast rotations with a clear ace (Hudson and Johnson, respectively) and a mixture of young power arms and proven vets behind them.

The addition of Lee on the heels of Oswalt makes the Phils armory the best by far.

1-2 PUNCH

1. Phillies (Halladay & Lee)
2. Marlins (Johnson & Nolasco)
3. Braves (Hudson & Lowe)
4. Mets (Pelfrey & Dickey)
5. Nationals (Hernandez & Marquis)

In Halladay & Lee, the Phillies have two of the annual favorites for the Cy Young award, regardless of league they play in. Matter of fact, their 3-4 punch of Oswalt and Hamels would also be number one on this list. The two biggest injuries in the division make their presence felt here, as both Johan Santana of the Mets and Stephen Strasberg of the Nationals would greatly boost the impact of their team’s bottom feeding rotations.

BULLPEN

1. Phillies
2. Marlins
3. Braves
4. Nationals
5. Mets

The Phillies have veteran power arms in Ryan Madson, Brad Lidge and Danys Baez, in addition to highly effective lefty J.C. Romero, in what could be a consistently well-rested bullpen. The Marlins have quietly built up a nice pen as well, adding Clay Hensley and Randy Choate to the mix in front of Leo Nunez. Francisco Rodriguez is the division’s best closer, but there isn’t a lot to get excited about in front of him in NY.

3-4-5 HITTERS

1. Phillies (Utley?/Howard/Ibanez)
2. Braves (Jones/Uggla/McCann)
3. Nationals (Zimmerman/Werth/LaRoche)
4. Mets (Wright/Bay/Beltran)
5. Marlins (Ramirez/Stanton/Sanchez)

If Utley is not in the mix, the Phillies group takes a huge hit. In Atlanta however, this isn’t the case with their #3 hitter, has if (or when) Chipper Jones struggles to stay healthy; they have Jason Heyward to drop down from the #2 spot. Jason Werth and Adam LaRoche give Zimmerman some much needed protection to replace the departed Adam Dunn. The heart of the Mets order could be huge, but as usual, it’s all about how often they actually are healthy and play together.

TABLESETTERS

1. Mets
2. Braves
3. Phillies
4. Marlins
5. Nationals

The Mets order led the NL in steals last year, which put crucial runners in scoring position to make it in without the long ball, since the majority of their power hitters spent more time on the disabled list than the actual lineup. The Braves have hit machine Martin Prado leading off, and follow it with Heyward’s prodigious power, so they are capable of scoring early before the heart of their lineup ever reaches the plate.

The return of Reyes, perhaps the game's fastest player, returned a needed spark to the Mets attack.

BENCH

1. Phillies
2. Braves
3. Mets
4. Nationals
5. Marlins

Russ Gload, Ben Francisco and Wilson Valdez give the Phils solid depth off the bench, although Francisco will be starting to lead off the season. Eric Hinske is one of the best pinch hitters in baseball, and gives the Braves needed depth in both the infield and outfield. David Murphy is a versatile hitter for the Mets, which could start in many other situations around the league.

DEFENSE

1. Mets
2. Phillies
3. Marlins
4. Braves
5. Nationals

David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Angel Pagan and Jose Reyes are all plus gloves who can cover a lot of ground for the Mets (who need all the help they can get considering their pitcher’s performances last year). On the flipside, the Braves have a lot of questions on defense, with a mixture of players on injury rebound and some guys that are just plain there for offense only.

SPEED

1. Mets
2. Phillies
3. Marlins
4. Nationals
5. Braves

Jose Reyes and Angel Pagan were the only set of NL teammates to each steal at least 30 bases a year ago and David Wright added in 19. Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins can both move around the bases and Domonic Brown will be yet another boost to the Philly speed around the diamond.

Ramirez's speed, in addition to his power and average, make him one of the game's most diverse talents.

MANAGER

1. Charlie Manuel (Phillies)
2. Freddi Gonzalez (Braves)
3. Jack McKeon (Marlins)
4. Jim Riggleman (Nationals)
5. Terry Collins (Mets)

Manuel has been to two of the last three World Series, bringing home the title in 2008. Now he is armed with his most talented team to date and will be able to attack opponents in a variety of different ways. Gonzalez is taking over for a future Hall of Famer in Bobby Cox in Atlanta, but he is user of talent, and he inherits his most talented roster to date in his new gig. Terry Collins first year on the job in New York will be ripe with expectations, but his no-nonsense approach could be just what the Mets need.

The cupboard has some nice ingredients, and huge shoes to fill, for Gonzalez in the A.

ROOKIES/*PROSPECTS TO WATCH

1. Domonic Brown (Right fielder, Phillies)
2. Craig Kimbrel (Pitcher, Braves)
3. Freddie Freeman (First baseman, Braves)
4. Mike Minor (Pitcher, Braves)
5. *Julio Teheran (Pitcher, Braves)

The Braves feature more major league ready talent than any other team in baseball, and they will each be counted on in major roles to the club’s 2011 success. Kimbrel will be taking over for retired All-Star closer Billy Wagner, and will be expected to shut the door from Opening Day on. Brown will take over for Jason Werth in right field once he returns from a wrist injury that will sideline him for the first month of the season. He is a top 10 prospect in the game, and is the best all-around rookie talent in the Show this year.

FINANCES

1. Nationals
2. Phillies
3. Braves
4. Marlins
5. Mets

The Nats are looking to spend money anywhere they can to improve this core, and even after luring Werth and LaRoche to the rebuilding project in D.C.; they still have funds to spare. The Marlins have the least to work with in the division, but spend wisely. The Mets take the cellar here due to the fact their owner Fred Wilpon is in a serious financial trouble right now (even looking to sell part of the club), and the club had to take a loan from Major League baseball this winter while things are straightened out.

IMPACT ADDITIONS

1. Cliff Lee (Phillies from Rangers)
2. Dan Uggla (Braves from Marlins)
3. Jason Werth (Nationals from Phillies)
4. Javier Vazquez (Marlins from Yankees)
5. John Buck (Marlins from Blue Jays)

Lee shocked the baseball world when he spurned both the Yankees and the Rangers to return to Philly and form the most potent rotation in baseball. The addition of Werth to the Nationals inspired similar shock, albeit for a different reason, with his massive 7 year/$126 million contract raising some eyebrows as to if he was worth it (I feel if you agree to suffer in DC all summer, you deserve that much at least). The Marlins made several smart, low payout/high return signings to add veteran, All-Star caliber players to their young club.

Back-to-back All-Star spots landed Werth a massive contract, and expectations, in D.C.

PREDICTION

1. PHILLIES
2. BRAVES
3. METS
4. MARLINS
5. NATIONALS

This should once again be the biggest margin of divisional victory in the NL. While they have some crucial health issues in their everyday lineup, the Phillies simply have fewer concerns than nearly any team in baseball, and definitely the National League. Their pitching staff has two legit aces that could be in a race to 20 wins all summer, and the lineup, even without Utley to start the year, is a top 3 group in the league. As for Atlanta, if their youngsters learn on the job quickly and their vets stay healthy, another run towards the Wild Card is definitely in play. The Marlins didn’t get worse, but I think this is the year where the Mets work it, a bit, and show some progress (unless they trade off their big contracts mid-season, a real possibility). As for the Nats…well, they future looks bright with phenom top pick Bryce Harper starting his path towards Washington and Strasberg rehabbing his post Tommy John elbow, but the day for them to thrive is still far off.

 

Major League executives have been very busy the last few weeks, and more than a few teams have radically reshaped their structure as a result, for better or for worse. A few stories have played out as they were predicted too, but a few other big pictures took some very surprising turns. Lets cut the setup short and get straight into it here with the Top 5 December stories so far.

1. CLIFF LEE TO PHILADELPHIA: This deal speaks for itself in terms of shock, surprise and impact. Cliff Lee was all but sold off to either Texas and to the Yankees, as one week he was rumored to be weighing offers from both clubs of around $23 million per year over seven years. However, Lee threw a change at the  entire market and returned to Philadelphia, who he pushed into the 2009 World Series,  for “only” $14 million per year. This move gives Philly the most dominant pitching staff in the game with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, and potentially the most dominant rotation since the Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz/Neagle Atlanta rotation of the mid 90’s. However, the domino effect of Lee’s signing on made arguably just as big of an impact as his actual rejoining of the Phillies….

 

Lee's return to Philly set the fates of three teams in motion at once, the of which being his own perhaps.

 

2. CLIFF LEE NOT GOING TO THE BRONX: The Yanks were shallow in pitching all year, and crippled them in the end. So they made it no secret that landing Lee was by far their top priority headed into the winter, and usually when the Yanks take aim, it’s just a matter of time before  they hit their target and drapes him in pinstripes. However, Lee’s denial of the lure and riches of Yankee membership shattered the plans, and maybe immediate future, of the “Evil Empire”. When the Red Sox landed both Carl Crawford AND Adrian Gonzalez, it became even more imperative that they land Lee. However, now the Yanks are clearly at least a notch or two behind the Sox, and since they bet the house on landing Cliff, they have next to nothing left available to counter the Sox new guns. For once, the Yanks crapped out in the free agent rat race.

3. JUSTICE LEAGUE OF MASSACHUSETTS: Lets be clear, within the last two weeks, the Boston Red Sox became the best team in baseball. They aggressive eliminated every weakness (hitting, depth and speed) with two blockbuster moves. By signing and trading for, respectively, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, they not only solved their weakness by landing two of the premier players on the market, but they also boosted one of their strengths: defense. Both are Gold Glove winners in addition to terrors at the plate. Their presence gives the Sox the most versatile lineup in either league. Add in the presence of Bobby Jenks as an 8th inning bridge (and potential closer in the wings) to Jonathan Papelbon, and you’ve got a club that is a solid bet to add another World Series trophy to their resume.

 

The additions of Crawford's speed and Gonzalez's power make Boston the leaders out the gate in 2011.

 

4. GREINKE TO BEER TOWN: The Royals moved their franchise cornerstone to the Brewers in a not some surprising move, but to a surprising location. Zack Grienke had stated a desire to get out of Kansas City for a while now, as he didn’t want to sit through the rest of their rebuilding process, and the 2009 AL Cy Young winner got his wish and was shipped out-of-town. However, his desired destination was a surprise, as he lands in Milwaukee, a club who has struggled with consistency in recent years and is on the verge of having to move one of their best players already in Prince Fielder. However, Grienke’s presence alone could fix some woes in Milwaukee, as he will switch to the lighter hitting NL and be paired with another All-Star caliber arm in Yovani Gallardo. The Royals received a package of prospects in return for their ace, including promising shortstop Alcides Escobar. Now that KC has finally moved their biggest value, they have to hope they got enough in return to ensure that their impending youth movement got the rest of what it needs to pay off.

 

The Royals traded their prize possession in Greinke and now have to hope it fueled the drive for the push they need.

 

5. STEADY SOUTHSIDE: The White Sox’s aggressiveness in both adding to their core and retaining their key pieces, and were wildly successful in both areas. Adding Adam Dunn to the heart of the lineup grabbed the biggest headlines, but retaining both Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski were huge moves too for this club and keeps their depth in intact. These moves may finally be what it takes for them to overtake the Twins in the AL Central, especially if they can get a full strength Jake Peavy at some point next summer. Between the retooled Tigers and the always tough Twins, the top of the AL Central may be the completed harder than any other division in the game.

Other moves of note: Dodgers retooling, Washington’s fortune to Jason Werth, Yanks retain icons, Rockies big outs, Padres rebuild and retool.

BEST AVAILABLE

1. Adrian Beltre-3B: Athletics, Rangers

2. Rafael Soriano-RHP: Angels, Nationals, Rays, Orioles, Yankees

3. Carl Pavano-RHP: Twins, Nationals, Pirates, Rangers

4. Vladimir Guerrero-DH/OF: Rangers

5. Manny Ramirez-DH/OF: Mars maybe???, Jupiter?, China

 

HOT NAMES CURRENTLY

– Adrian Beltre-3B: Maybe it’s just me (but I’m sure it isn’t), but doesn’t it seem like Adrian Beltre is shooting himself in the foot right now? It doesn’t seem like he had any plan in place except returning to Boston, and playing open market offers against them. Jokes on him for that. He should have just taken the Angels offer, rumored to be around 5 years and $70 million, & joined a solid club, now he’ll probably land in a much tougher spot with less money. Oakland is seeming like the only spot that’s really able to pay him now that he hasn’t rejected totally. Nobody else with 3B need has the money, but Texas could make a play is Michael Young is willing to move to DH and they don’t prefer to bring Vladimir Guerrero back.

 

Beltre's refusal to join the Angels may have played him into too hot of a corner.

 

– Brandon Webb-RHP: As he continues his relocation from Arizona after missing most of the last two years with multiple shoulder surgeries, the 2006 NL Cy Young winner has found his health again, but is still high risk due to his numerous setbacks. However currently the Rangers and Cubs are believed to be in pursuit of him for what will probably be a low base salary/high incentive deal. There’s another NL Central team in the bidding, which could be Pittsburgh who is in need of a few arms to round out their rotation. The Cardinals could be a dark horse, but they have $10 million dollars tied up in their #5 pitcher Kyle Lohse already.

– Adam LaRoche & Derrek Lee-1B: Both are mentioned in every remaining first base opening, which seems to be a cause and effect market at this point. Baltimore, Washington, Arizona, San Diego and Atlanta have openings, and either of the two could land in these spots. Lee will cost more per year, so he may be limited to Baltimore or Washington as realistic landing spots. The D’Backs won’t bring LaRoche back most likely, due to their desire to reduce strikeouts, so San Diego, who needs some more power in the post-Adrian Gonzalez days, could be a possibility.

– Andy Pettitte-LHP: This one’s pretty clear-cut: he’s either going back to the Yankees or going home for good. Since they missed out on Lee, the Yanks may make a big one year play to bring back Pettitte just for some security for their thin rotation, but it’s all on if he even wants to suit up. It seems that retirement is most likely here, as he has stated this desire several times over the last few years and reportedly isn’t even doing conditioning yet.

It’s only two weeks into Major League Baseball’s free agent pageant and rumor bonanza, but there has been no shortage of activity around the market. Thus far, none of the top 3 guys on the market have signed, as they are taking their time and waiting out the usual triple threat showdowns between GM’s, agents and owners to best setup the market for them. Some guys are guaranteed to move on, while other notable local legends are at war to reach an inevitable ending with their clubs.

 

The drama with Jeter and the Yankees is not new, but never before has it pitted one versus the other. Something's gotta give.

 

 

The trade market, arbitration showdowns and even a few signings have been moving along full speed. Some big names, such as Zach Grienke and Justin Upton are rumored to be fully available for competitors with a few extra prospects that are either losers in the free agent race or ready to make a definite move to add a young, proven player to their mix.

At any rate some signings are in play already and I be updating my November 17th Top 50 Free Agent list by pulling out those who have signed and showing their new homes and terms, while updating the original list and condensing it into a top 30 with a few clubs the are in the chase for them. Today is the deadline for teams to offer arbitration to their incumbent players, so the free agent market can potentially reshape itself by tomorrow, so the top 50 list will be updated tomorrow with the full list of available guys.

In the mean time, here’s the current movers and shakers (with their original Top 50 rank in parentheses).

6. Victor Martinez-C/1B: Signed-DETROIT TIGERS: 4 yrs/$50 million

The Tigers have been one of the most active teams early on in the FA market, and bring in Martinez who can not only be an offensive upgrade at catcher, but a DH candidate and can spell Miguel Cabrera at first base as well. Versatile signing.

 

Martinez jumped ship from Boston to form one of the best 1-2 punches in the AL with Miguel Tejada in Detroit.

 

11. Jorge De La Roaa-LHP: Re-signed-COLORADO ROCKIES: 3 yrs/$32.5 million

Surprise that he returned to Colorado so when he did, as he was regarded as one of the top starter options on the market after Cliff Lee and potentially could have inked a longer deal on the open market with a team in need of a top of the rotation starter. However, his return to Colorado shows the Rockies dedication to locking down their core this offseason.

13. Juan Uribe-SS/3B: LOS ANGELES DODGERS: 3 yrs/$21 million

Uribe had one of the largest markets any player available due to his ability to play 3 positions in a thin infield market and his reasonable price tag. In the end, LA snags him from a in-division foe to help even out the West and he will settle in at second base regularly, but can also be available to fill in for the oft-injured Rafeal Furcal.

 

Uribe was one of the hottest prospects on the market, and chose to stay in the NL West in LA, his former club's long time rivals.

 

15. Javier Vazquez-RHP: Signed FLORIDA MARLINS: 1 yr/$7 million

I still feel Vazquez is a big sleeper and a steal for Marlins here. He’s proven to be a dominant National League pitcher and he rounds out the Marlins rotation with a veteran presence that should easily make his $7 million dollar price tag a bargain if his shoulder is healed sufficiently.

20. Aubrey Huff-1B/LF: Re-signed SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS: 2 yr/$22 million

Huff played his cards right and cashed in on his postseason hero status in San Francisco. He’s a fine player that fits in well with the Giants mix, but he’s not worth $11 million per season either at bat or as a first baseman.

31. Jon Garland-RHP: Signed LOS ANGELES DODGERS: 1 yr/$5 million

The Dodgers rounded out a great rotation by landing Garland, who is a near guarantee to throw 200 innings and 30 starts. He’s a good buy at $5 million per season, and becomes one of the best fifth starters in the league in very good Dodgers rotation.

32. Pat Burrell-LF: Re-signed SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS: 1 yr/Undisclosed amount

The Giants bring back Burrell at what seems to be a bargain price, due to his solid play after coming over from Tampa Bay in mid 2009, but damaged stock in a 11 strikeout World Series “performance”. Despite this, Burrell still has a solid bat and can be nice power threat in the middle of a Giants lineup that needs it, at an apparent low risk price and contract length.

49. Miguel Tejada-SS/3B: Signed SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS: 1 yr/$6.5 million

The Giants wheeling and dealing continues by bringing in Miguel Tejada to take the place of both Juan Uribe and perhaps Edgar Renteria. Despite being on his decline overall, Tejada is another great veteran bat on a team whose identity is piecing together low-demand journeymen while high ceilings. Tejada fits that role perfectly.

 

Tejada becomes a full-time shortstop again in San Francisco, while adding another well-traveled presence to the World Champions lineup.

 

 

Current Top 30 Free Agents

– Updated list with already signed players removed and rumored teams in pursuit

Cliff Lee is rumored to be guaranteed at least $23 million per season, regardless of whether he suits up in Texas or New York.

 

  1. Cliff Lee-LHP: Yankees, Rangers, Nationals
  2. Carl Crawford-LF: Red Sox, Angels, Yankees, Tigers, Nationals, Phillies
  3. Jason Werth-RF/CF: Red Sox, Phillies, Angels
  4. Adrian Beltre-3B: Red Sox, Athletics, Orioles, Angels, Pirates
  5. Rafeal Soriano-RHP: Angels, Diamondbacks
  6. Adam Dunn-1B/DH: White Sox, Athletics, Rangers, Cubs, Nationals
  7. Paul Konerko-1B: Orioles, White Sox, Diamondbacks, Rangers
  8. Derek Jeter-SS:Yankees
  9. Mariano Rivera-RHP: Yankees
  10. Carl Pavano-RHP: Twins, Rockies, Nationals, Rangers, Pirates
  11. Carlos Pena-1B: Cubs, Nationals, Braves, Rays
  12. Vladimir Guerrero-DH: Rangers, Rays
  13. Magglio Ordonez-OF/DH: Blue Jays, Tigers, Angels, Rays, Rangers
  14. Bengie Molina-C: Red Sox, Rangers, Dodgers
  15. Manny Ramirez-DH: Blue Jays, ??? (Mars maybe)
  16. Orlando Hudson-2B: Twins, Cardinals, Padres
  17. A.J. Pierzynski-C: White Sox, Padres, Red Sox, Rays, Rangers, Dodgers
  18. Brian Fuentes-LHP: Diamondbacks, Pirates
  19. Andy Pettitte-LHP: Yankees, Rangers
  20. Jim Thome-DH: Rays, Athletics, Rangers, Tigers
  21. Derrek Lee-1B: Orioles, Brewers, Red Sox
  22. Kevin Gregg-RHP: Blue Jays, Pirates, Braves
  23. Lance Berkman-1B/DH: Athletics, Rockies
  24. Ty Wigginton-3B/2B/1B: Orioles, Rockies
  25. Kevin Millwood-RHP: Rockies, Pirates
  26. Matt Guerrier-RHP: Dodgers, Blue Jays
  27. Miguel Olivo-C: Blue Jays, Rangers, White Sox, Red Sox
  28. Scott Downs-LHP: Yankees, Blue Jays, Phillies
  29. Arthur Rhodes-LHP: Reds, Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Twins
  30. JJ Putz-RHP: Tigers, Diamondbacks

 

With awards season underway now and the winter meetings looming, it means that the free agent courting season is also underway. This season’s crop isn’t as deep with top-tier talent as many other years have been, but to say that this is a thin group is slight to what’s out there, in my opinion.

 

Cliff Lee is clearly on top of the list, and it seems the Yankees are ready to break the bank for him.

 

This is a big season for both quick fixes and role players being on the market, and if any season proved the value of such acquisitions, it was this year, with the San Francisco Giants strategically piecing together the right mix and adding some hardware because of it. While the mega rich will be chasing a very small handful of players this year, the pitching crop for #3 and #4 starters is tremendous. For the AL side, there are one to two-year DH candidates everywhere. The first base position is loaded and there’s a fine chance to upgrade at catcher as well.

This list is based on both the talent and value projection of the current market. It doesn’t factor in potential trades or foregone conclusions of some guys staying put. For now it is just a ranking of what’s out there, but soon a second edition will be coming with some projections and info on potential landing spots and best fit scenarios. Take a look and see what your club needs and could land.

1. Cliff Lee-LHP-2009: Seattle Mariners/Texas Rangers

2. Carl Crawford-LF-2009: Tampa Bay Rays

 

The game's greatest speedster is just entering his prime, and will have the world bidding for his services.

 

3. Jason Werth-RF/CF-2009: Philadelphia Phillies

4. Adrian Beltre-3B-2009: Boston Red Sox

5. Rafeal Soriano-RHP-2009: Tampa Bay Rays

6. Victor Martinez-C/1B-2009: Boston Red Sox

7. Adam Dunn-1B/DH-2009: Washington Nationals

8. Paul Konerko-1B-2009: Chicago White Sox

9. Derek Jeter-SS-2009: New York Yankees

10. Mariano Rivera-RHP-2009: New York Yankees

11. Jorge De La Rosa-RHP-2009: Colorado Rockies

12. Carl Pavano-RHP-2009: Minnesota Twins

13. Juan Uribe-SS/3B-2009: San Francisco Giants

14. Carlos Pena-1B/DH-2009: Tampa Bay Rays

15. Javier Vazquez-RHP-2009: New York Yankees

16. Jake Westbrook-RHP-2009: Cleveland Indians/St. Louis Cardinals (RESIGNED-ST. LOUIS, 2 yrs/ $16.5 million. Option on 3rd year)

Locking up Westbrook solidifies the Cardinals rotation and justifies trading Ryan Ludwick this past summer.

 

17. Vladimir Guerrero-DH-2009: Texas Rangers

18. Magglio Ordonez-OF-2009: Detroit Tigers

19. Bengie Molina-C-2009: San Francisco Giants/Texas Rangers

20. Aubrey Huff-1B/LF-2009: San Francisco Giants

21. Manny Ramirez-DH-2009: Los Angeles Dodgers/Chicago White Sox

22. Orlando Hudson-2B-2009: Minnesota Twins

23. A.J. Pierzynski-C-2009: Chicago White Sox

24. Brian Fuentes-LHP-2009: Los Angeles Angels/Minnesota Twins

25. Andy Pettitte-LHP-2009: New York Yankees

26. Jim Thome-DH-2009: Minnesota Twins

27. Derrek Lee-1B-2009: Chicago Cubs/Atlanta Braves

28. Kevin Gregg-RHP-2009: Toronto Blue Jays

29. Lance Berkman-1B/DH-2009: Houston Astros/New York Yankees

30. John Buck-C-2009: Toronto Blue Jays (SIGNED FLORIDA 3 yrs/$18 million)

 

The Marlins made a smart buy on an affordable All-Star talent in Buck that fits their price range perfectly.

 

31. Jon Garland-RHP-2009: San Diego Padres

32. Pat Burrell-LF/DH-2009: Tampa Bay Rays/San Francisco Giants

33. Ty Wigginton-3B/2B/1B-2009: Baltimore Orioles

34. Kevin Millwood-RHP-2009: Baltimore Orioles

35. Matt Guerrier-RHP-2009: Minnesota Twins

36. Miguel Olivo-C-2009: Colorado Rockies

37. Joaquin Benoit-RHP-2009: Tampa Bay Rays (SIGNED-DETROIT, 3 yrs/$16.5 million)

38. Arthur Rhodes-LHP-2009: Cincinnati Reds

39. JJ Putz-RHP-2009: Chicago White Sox

40. Adam LaRoche-1B-2009: Arizona Diamondbacks

41. Scott Downs-LHP-2009: Toronto Blue Jays

42. Scott Podsednik-OF-2009: Kansas City Royals/Los Angeles Dodgers

43. Hideki Matsui-DH/LF-2009: Los Angeles Angels

44. Kerry Wood-RHP-2009: Cleveland Indians/New York Yankees

45. Jon Rauch-RHP-2009: Minnesota Twins

46. Johnny Damon-LF-2009: Detroit Tigers

47. Kevin Correira-RHP-2009: San Diego Padres

48. Brandon Webb-RHP-2009: Arizona Diamondbacks

49. Miguel Tejada-3B/SS-2009: Baltimore Orioles/San Diego Padres

50. Hiroki Kuroda-RHP-2009: Los Angeles Dodgers (SIGNED DODGERS, 1 yr/$12 million)