Posts Tagged ‘New York Yankees’

James Shields’ run along the free agent road has begun to reach a marathon-like duration at this point. The durable righty sits as the last of the premiere open air options from a winter that is quickly turning towards spring. He has watched the other top shelf pitchers that joined him in this year’s free agent party take home a combined haul of over $360 million over the past few months, while he has remained the question without a clear answer now into February.

Shields_

At this point he is all but assured that he will not get that same caliber of contract for himself, but as Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse and Ervin Santana have proved in recent years, a late stay on the market does not mean that a worthwhile check and home cannot await still.

But at this point, the favor is in the hands of the teams that get serious in pursuit. Shields has proven that he is not a true staff ace, in form of one that carries the weight of a creating a win every fifth day in the form of a Kershaw, Hernandez or Wainwright. But he still is a very good second option for any number of rotations or being a de facto #1 in a deep rotation, such as he has in Kansas City and Tampa over the course of his career.

The 33-year-old has averaged 14 wins a year with a 3.17 ERA and just a hair over 200 strikeouts per season over the past four years. But his calling card has been his incredible durability. He has made at least 31 starts over the past eight years and has logged an average of 223 innings person, while totaling 22 complete games and nine shutouts along the way. In a world where high-volume pitcher health is a constant source of worry, Shields has proven to be a high-volume exception to that source of worry.

So for whatever the reason may be for Shields still being homeless for the time being, whether it is a refusal on his side to drop his price to an intriguing level for his suitors, or there not being any teams left that want to cut a substantial commitment at this point in the offseason, he remains a potentially pivotal acquisition for many teams.

With the clock counting down on the offseason, here are a few intriguing options that should look into Shields working out a pact to acquire one of the game’s top workhorses for the immediate future.

Boston Red Sox: Boston has been aggressive this offseason, making nine acquisitions over the winter to pull themselves out of the cellar of the American League East. Three of those additions have been Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson to their starting rotation, which is a substantial commitment to a win-now team’s shot at getting back to October, but still feels a bit short. Shields is the type of top half of the rotation presence that would pull up the potential of their current ensemble significantly and affirm their buzzing status as a fifth-to-first candidate team.

Chicago Cubs: They are the team that is carrying the most expectations out of the offseason into the spring, and while they have done exceptional work, signing Shields would be resoundingly loud finish to their shopping spree. A Lester-Shields one-two punch gives them one of the most formidable rotation in the National League and an invaluable weapon against the deep NL Central lineups.

Chicago White Sox: The Sox have been just as active as their National League neighbors to the North, but in many ways, their moves could have a more immediate impact in the weaker AL Central. Adding Shields to a rotation with Chris Sale, Jeff Samardijiza and Jose Quintana pushes them from players to perhaps favorites in their division.

New York Yankees: Anytime the Yankees say they are going to sit out the big name market in any given year, it is immediately disregarded as posturing simply because, well, they are the Yankees. They can have anything they want. But Brian Cashman and Hank Steinbrenner have been men of their frugal (by Yankee standards) word this year thus far, passing on more than a few high dollar, solid fit free agents. But if Shields price and contract length demands drop, he becomes nothing short of a must-have for a Yankee team that is short on dependable options in its starting rotation, but carrying its usual high expectations.

San Diego Padres: The Padres have been rumored to be in on checking on Shields, which is not surprising considering they have been the hungriest team in the league all winter. But despite having a very talented pitching staff as is, they still lack a pure top talent that can match wits with the likes of Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner, both of whom their tightest division rivals wield. An addition of Shields would solve a big problem, although it could present a problem in bidding for the cost conscious Pads if Shields is still in position to demand $16MM+ per year.

Seattle Mariners: The M’s have been aggressive in the open market over the past two years, and it paid off last year with them pushing for a postseason spot until the season’s final day. While they have a strong pitching staff already in tow, adding Shields gives them a clear cut powerhouse staff. Plus they would not have to surrender a first round pick as compensation, as they have already sent that to Baltimore for

St. Louis Cardinals: They have been a part of everybody’s dot connecting with big name starting pitching this year, due to the fact that they have a competition in place for the fifth starter role. Naturally Shields has been a part of that association as well, and while there is an intriguing mix of need and fit in the mending Cardinal rotation, the team has not shown much interest in involving itself in the big money free agent market.

Toronto Blue Jays: Toronto has made some smart moves in attempting to close the elusive postseason they have been aimed on for the past two years. However their pitching staff overall leaves much to be imagined in making that a reality. The addition of Shields to anchor the staff perhaps overplays his potential impact as a top of the rotation presence, but he adds a much need talent to a team that is still a few pieces away.

 

For more on the MLB race to spring training in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @cheapseatfan.

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

Derek_Jeter_ST

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.

Machado_13

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

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.

YANKEES-articleLarge-v4

There’s still a few months away til even the World Series has it’s first pitch thrown out, but it’s never too early to see how the upcoming free agent market is going to take shape. And the 2014 class is among the deepest that could touch the open market in some time. While some club’s are taking steps to keep their assets in tow already, such as the Phillies did with Chase Utley last week, and other teams still have notable names to make decisions on options with (such as Jon Lester and Ben Zobrist), the market will still have some big names hitting the fertile, yet ever-changing, lands of free agency.

The biggest name is clear in how he’ll impact the market, and the mere mention of Robinson Cano‘s name in a few months could open up the biggest Yankee/Dodger face off since they shared the same city over half a century ago. But behind the clear valedictorian of the class, there’s a string of depth and intriguing situations as well. There’s a deep, yet uncertain group of pitchers that will hit the market, with known and proven commodities such as Matt Garza and Hiroki Kuroda, but also another tier of well-known, but not quite-as-safe-recently hurlers such as Tim Lincecum and Josh Johnson. How easy will it be for teams to commit the big dollars their names could demand, against the roller coaster that is their recent performances?

Add into the mix a few high risk/high reward injury concerns such as Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson, as well as the “return” of two of bigger names in the Biogenesis fall out in Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta. Both are virtually assured they be finding new homes, but how hosipitable of market will there be? All of this will be in the mix come December, but as of now, here are the best of the best that could soon be open for the taking:

  1. Robinson Cano (Second Base, 31)
  2. Matt Garza (Starting pitcher, 30)
  3. Jacoby Ellsbury (Center field, 30)
  4. Shin-Soo Choo (Right field, 31)
  5. Nelson Cruz (Right field, 33)
  6. Brian McCann (Catcher, 30)
  7. Hunter Pence (Right field, 31)
  8. Hiroki Kuroda (Starting pitcher, 39)
  9. Ervin Santana (Starting pitcher, 31)
  10. Carlos Beltran (Right field, 37)
  11. Curtis Granderson (Left field, 33)
  12. Tim Lincecum (Starting pitcher, 30)
  13. Grant Balfour (Relief pitcher, 36)
  14. Justin Morneau (First base, 33)
  15. Paul Maholm (Starting pitcher, 32)
  16. Ricky Nolasco (Starting pitcher, 31)
  17. Mike Napoli (First base, 32)
  18. Josh Johnson (Starting pitcher, 30)
  19. Jhonny Peralta (Shortstop, 32)
  20. Bartolo Colon (Starting pitcher, 41)
  21. Stephen Drew (Shortstop, 31)
  22. Marlon Byrd (Right field, 36)
  23. Edward Mujica (Relief pitcher, 30)
  24. Jesse Crain (Relief pitcher, 32)
  25. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Catcher, 29)
  26. Koji Uehara (Relief Pitcher, 39)
  27. AJ Burnett (Starting pitcher, 37)
  28. Paul Konerko (First base, 38)
  29. Mark Reynolds (First base, 30)
  30. Carlos Ruiz (Catcher, 35)
  31. Kendrys Morales (First base, 30)
  32. Joaquin Benoit (Relief Pitcher, 36)
  33. Nate McLouth (Left field, 32)
  34. Mike Morse (Left field, 32)
  35. Eric O’Flaherty (Relief pitcher, 29)
  36. Boone Logan (Relief pitcher, 29)
  37. Fernando Rodney (Relief pitcher, 37)
  38. Joel Hanrahan (Relief pitcher, 32)
  39. Tim Hudson (Starting pitcher, 38)
  40. Kevin Gregg (Relief Pitcher, 36)
  41. Scott Downs (Relief pitcher, 38)
  42. Bronson Arroyo (Starting pitcher, 37)
  43. Andy Pettitte (Starting pitcher, 42)
  44. Dan Haren (Starting pitcher, 33)
  45. Michael Young (Third base, 38)
  46. Brendan Ryan (Shortstop, 32)
  47. Phil Hughes (Starting pitcher, 28)
  48. Roberto Hernandez (Starting pitcher, 33)
  49. Gavin Floyd (Starting pitcher, 31)
  50. Willie Bloomquist (Shortstop, 36)
  51. Corey Hart (First base, 32)
  52. Javier Lopez (Relief Pitcher, 36)
  53. Jason Vargas (Starting pitcher, 31)
  54. Raul Ibanez (Designated hitter, 42)
  55. Colby Lewis (Starting pitcher, 34)
  56. Omar Infante (Second base, 32)
  57. James Loney (First base, 30)
  58. Jason Marquis (Starting pitcher, 35)
  59. Oliver Perez (Relief Pitcher, 32)
  60. Scott Feldman (Starting pitcher, 30)
  61. Kelly Johnson (Second base, 32)
  62. Edinson Volquez (Starting pitcher, 30)
  63. Jason Hammel (Starting pitcher, 31)
  64. A.J. Pierzynski (Catcher, 37)
  65. John Buck (Catcher, 33)
  66. Travis Hafner (Designated hitter, 37)
  67. Delmon Young (Left field, 28)
  68. Kevin Youkilis (Third base, 35)
  69. Rafael Furcal (Shortstop, 36)
  70. Andres Torres (Center field, 36)

For more on me in real-time, stay in tune to me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan, and follow along at both The Sports Fan Journal and I-70 Baseball.

gehrig_goodbye500

One of the enduring allures of Major League Baseball is the timeless figures that it has created in the American story, but also the great moments that it has been responsible for stand as monuments in the American way as well. Lou Gehrig remains chief among those figures to this day, and for all of the greatness that was his career as the New York Yankees first baseman, it’s also his combination of those two timeless elements in his final moment on the field that was his most enduring memory.

In the Iron Horse’s career, he drove in 1,992 runs, hit 493 home runs, won six World Series and played in a long-standing record of 2,130 consecutive games. Yet it was shortly after that record ended that Gehrig made the speech that still rings out as one of the great public addresses in American History. See, the incomparable Gehrig had been struck down by a then unknown disease that took away all of the great assets that made him the legend that he already was, and it happened out of nowhere. He was struck by what is now known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that took his strength, energy and dexterity, but kept his mental functions completely intact.

It became clear that baseball was over for him, and for many, it seemed his life was too by association. Think about it in the vein of when Magic Johnson made his initial HIV announcement, it was terrifying and deeply saddening for a nation that loved him. But for Gehrig himself, it was far from that. On July 4, 1939, the inherent competitive nature that made him a constant for all of those games gave him the drive to let everybody know that there was to life than just the game.

So, in recognition of a great American holiday that makes observance of the initial persistence of the nation to have its own way of life, I present to you Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech from Yankee Stadium, 74 years to the day.

Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.

When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift — that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies — that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter — that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body — it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed — that’s the finest I know.

So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.

For more on the game, past, present and future, follow me on Twitter @CheapSeatFan

Robinson-Cano

The status quo was shattered in the American League East a year ago. After years of the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays fighting for supremacy, the Baltimore Orioles burst out of the cellar and took the fight to them all. By the end of the summer, the Orioles had fought their way to the playoffs for the first time since 1997, while the rest of the division was uncharacteristically met with very uncertain winters ahead of them.

The Yankees won the division, but were faced with a bumpy offseason fueled by an ugly sweep out of the American League Championship Series, new steroid allegations around Alex Rodriguez and uncertain rehabs from both Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. The Red Sox rebuild went into overdrive, with a new manager and a second restructuring the team in three years. The Rays were once again faced with cautious moves to rebuild from within, and the Blue Jays only had the most aggressive offseason in recent memory.

2012 FINISH (*Wild Card winner)

1. New York Yankees (95-67)

2. Baltimore Orioles (93-69)*

3. Tampa Bay Rays (90-72)

4. Boston Red Sox (73-89)

5. Toronto Blue Jays (69-93)

The scene that emerges from this all is what should be the most competitive division in baseball. It will be a division that features both Cy Young winners from last summer (David Price and R.A. Dickey), as well as some of the biggest prospects in the game, for each team. It will be a battle that sorts out if the cardiac Orioles can channel that same magic again from its maturing core of young stars, or if the all-in Blue Jays, at all costs winter will pay out. Meanwhile, can the Yankees push a bit more out of its roster that’s reached three of the last four ALCS?

All Division Team

Catcher: Matt Wieters, Orioles

First Base: Mark Teixeira, Yankees

Second Base: Robinson Cano, Yankees

Third Base: Evan Longoria, Rays

Shortstop: Jose Reyes, Blue Jays

Left Field: Brett Gardner, Yankees

Center Field: Adam Jones, Orioles

Right Field: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays

Designated Hitter: David Ortiz, Red Sox

Price went 20-5 and struck out 205 in route to his first Cy Young last year.

Price went 20-5 and struck out 205 in route to his first Cy Young.

Starting Pitcher: David Price, Rays

Starting Pitcher: CC Sabathia, Yankees

Starting Pitcher: RA Dickey, Blue Jays

Starting Pitcher: Josh Johnson, Blue Jays

Righty Relief: David Robertson, Yankees

Lefty Relief: Darren Oliver, Blue Jays

Closer: Mariano Rivera, Yankees

Top 10

  1. Robinson Cano, Yankees
  2. David Price, Rays
  3. Evan Longoria, Rays
  4. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
  5. CC Sabathia, Yankees
  6. Jose Reyes, Blue Jays
  7. Adam Jones, Orioles
  8. Mark Teixeira, Yankees
  9. Mariano Rivera, Yankees
  10. Curtis Granderson, Yankees

Lineup

  1. Blue Jays
  2. Yankees
  3. Orioles
  4. Red Sox
  5. Rays

The margin is close, but the Jays will take the edge over the Yankees due to both the questionable health of the Yankees in the immediate and long-term. The maturation of Brett Lawrie and the return to health of Jose Bautista makes T-Dot a gauntlet to get through. The Orioles will be greatly improved if both Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis are healthy at once, and the Rays will be a threat as well if Wil Myers makes his expected debut impact at some point.

Jones hit a career-best 32 home runs and drove in 82 for the surging O's in 2012.

Jones hit a career-best 32 home runs and drove in 82 for the surging O’s.

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Yankees (Cano/Teixeira/Granderson)
  2. Blue Jays (Bautista/Encarnacion/Rasmus)
  3. Orioles (Jones/Wieters/Davis)
  4. Rays (Zobrist/Longoria/Joyce)
  5. Red Sox (Ortiz/Napoli/Victorino)

There’s still no break going through the heart of the Yankee order. Cano, Granderson and Tex hit a total of 100 home runs and drove in 284 runs a year ago. Mike Napoli is a dead pull hitting terror that could own the Green Monster in Fenway. The support he provides alone makes the Sox far more dangerous. Chris Davis somehow hit a very quiet 33 home runs a year ago, and Adam Jones is just scratching his surface.

Table Setters

  1. Red Sox (Ellsbury/Pedroia)
  2. Blue Jays (Reyes/Cabrera)
  3. Yankees (Ichiro/Jeter)
  4. Rays (Jennings/Escobar)
  5. Orioles (McLouth/Hardy)

Health is always a reasonable concern, but the potential impact of Ellsbury and Pedroia atop the Boston order is devastating. Both could be good for 20 homers and at least 20 steals. However, in theory, both Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes are former batting champs, and that’s a tremendous duo of base runners to put on in front of the big Toronto bats. Desmond Jennings has a chance to make an in-prime Carl Crawford like impact in Tampa this year.

Bench

  1. Orioles
  2. Rays
  3. Blue Jays
  4. Red Sox
  5. Yankees

The Orioles killed teams with the numbers game a year ago, and still have the AL’s deepest positional roster. Nate McLouth, Wilson Betemit, Danny Valencia and Reimold offer a ridiculous amount of versatility that Buck Showalter will use frequently. The Rays will have a rotational option of Kelly Johnson, Sean Rodriguez and Luke Scott available to fit into their very balanced approach as well.

Rotation

  1. Rays
  2. Blue Jays
  3. Yankees
  4. Orioles
  5. Red Sox

David Price is far from on his own without James Shields. By the summer’s end, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb will have much bigger names than they enter with. The Jays biggest focus was to add starting pitching and the additions of a brand new one through three to their rotation in Dickey, Johnson and Buerhle represents the most significant change to any staff in baseball. A healthy return of John Lackey could make the Red Sox very dangerous as well.

Dickey is the fourth reigning Cy Young winner to be traded after winning the honor (Cone, Martinez, Clemens).

Dickey is the fourth reigning Cy Young winner to be traded after winning the honor (Cone, Martinez, Clemens).

1-2 Punch

  1. Blue Jays (Dickey/Johnson)
  2. Rays (Price/Hellickson)
  3. Yankees (Sabathia/Kuroda)
  4. Red Sox (Lester/Dempster)
  5. Orioles (Hammel/Chen)

Hiroki Kuroda has been one of the most underrated hurlers in baseball over the last two years. He finished eighth in the AL in ERA last year, and finally gave the Yanks a viable #2 behind Sabathia. Speaking of ERA, in Price and Hellickson, the Rays anchor their rotation with two of the top six best in the category a year ago. Price’s 2.56 was tops in the league, while Hellickson came in sixth at 3.10.

Bullpen

  1. Orioles
  2. Red Sox
  3. Rays
  4. Yankees
  5. Blue Jays

The Orioles 29-9 record in one run games was anchored by a nearly impenetrable bullpen. Jim Johnson saved 51 of 54 games, and overall the secondary arms had five ERA’s under 3.00 and three winners of five or more games. The Red Sox have a potentially overwhelming pen, with both Joel Hanahran and Andrew Bailey being former All-Star closers. The Rays Fernando Rodney will look to follow up his breakthrough season, which with finished him 5th in the Cy Young vote.

Defense

  1. Orioles
  2. Rays
  3. Yankees
  4. Red Sox
  5. Blue Jays

JJ Hardy, Wieters, Jones and Markakis are all owners of Gold Gloves for the O’s, and Manny Machado is a third baseman playing with shortstop range. The Rays aren’t far behind, with Longoria, Loney, Escobar and Zobrist comprising a formidable unit behind their strong pitching staff.

Speed

  1. Blue Jays
  2. Orioles
  3. Red Sox
  4. Rays
  5. Yankees

With Rajai Davis, Reyes, Lawrie, Rasmus and Bonafacio all on the bases for the Jays, they won’t be afraid to push for the extra base. Both Reyes and Bonaficio could push for 40+ steals, hitting back-to-back in the lineup. The Yankees have become the ultimate station to station lineup in baseball, although the return of Brett Gardner (96 steals from 2010-11) will finally provide them with a legit stolen base threat again.

Manager

  1. Joe Maddon,
  2. Buck Showalter
  3. Joe Girardi
  4. John Farrell
  5. John Gibbons

While Showalter deservedly won the AL Manager of the Year for the 24 game improvement his Orioles took on a year ago, but Maddon is still tops. He’s kept the Rays in the mix of the division every year despite a nearly annual major loss to his limited budget roster. John Farrell was traded for from the Blue Jays to steady the rebuilding effort for the Red Sox.

Farrell returns to Boston, where he was pitching coach from 2007-10, to straighten out a house in ruins.

Farrell returns to Boston, where he was pitching coach from 2007-10, to straighten out a house in ruins.

Finances

  1. Yankees
  2. Red Sox
  3. Orioles
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Rays

The Yankees are kings of baseball’s financial hill, but they are in both a push to cut payroll to avoid a pending luxury tax and to have the funds need to keep Cano in pinstripes after this season. Boston has been strategic in rebuilding their roster, while the Jays took on $146 million in salary with their trade with the Marlins.

Impact Additions

  1. RA Dickey (Blue Jays from Mets)
  2. Jose Reyes (Blue Jays from Marlins)
  3. Josh Johnson (Blue Jays from Marlins)
  4. Joel Hanahran (Red Sox from Pirates)
  5. Mike Napoli (Red Sox from Rangers)

Notice a trend? The core of the changes to the division as a whole really is due to the Jays aggressive restructuring of their roster. They sacrificed both prospects and payroll to reinvent themselves with two deals to land Dickey and the majority of the Marlins core a year ago. Boston also will open with five new everyday players and five new pitchers as well.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Matt Moore, Rays
  2. Jeremy Hellickson, Rays
  3. Will Middlebrooks, Red Sox
  4. Manny Machado, Orioles
  5. Desmond Jennings, Rays

Once again, the Rays have another function youth movement on the verge of carrying them ahead. Moore and Hellickson are the future of the team’s greatest asset, it’s pitching. The Orioles brought up Machado the third overall pick in the 2010 draft just before his 20th birthday, and he responded by hitting .262 with seven homers in his first 51 games.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Dylan Bundy (Pitcher, Orioles—AAA)
  2. Wil Myers (Right field, Rays—AAA)
  3. Xander Bogearts (Shortstop, Red Sox—AA)
  4. Gary Sanchez (Catcher, Yankees—AA)
  5. Chris Archer (Pitcher, Rays—AAA)

Prospect list in the AL East looks like a who’s who of everybody’s Top 100 list. Bundy, Myers and Bogearts are Top 5 prospects in the game that could make impacts on the MLB level this year. Bundy began the season in Single-A, but reached the Majors by September of last year. Myers was the center of one of the biggest trades of the offseason, and profiles to be a major part of the Tampa effort by mid-summer.

2013 PREDICTIONS

  1. Orioles
  2. Blue Jays
  3. Yankees
  4. Rays
  5. Red Sox

There’s a lot of reason to believe that last year was a fluke for the Orioles. If you look at their amazing results in close games, as well as the comet-like rise they took last season, it would seem that there would have to be some return to reality this year. But that’s the glass half empty approach, and there’s more to it than that. The O’s have a roster that hasn’t peaked, and has a chance to be even healthier this season. Adding experience to the resolve and talent they showed last year will make them a more formidable group this year.

Make no mistake, this doesn’t mean the Blue Jays efforts were a failure. They will be a much improved team on all fronts, and will make a push for October. However, they are still a club of peaks and valleys. For as strong as their rotation should be, the bullpen still is far from a certain proposition. And defensively, they could be very limited in support behind the staff. The “out hit em” approach is possible, but we’ve seen that not work many other places.

Overall, this was a division that had a whopping three teams win 90 games a year ago, and there’s good reason to believe it does that again. it’s going to be a very strong division, which should end up with a separation from first to last of as few as five games. Don’t count the Yankees out, as they have a lot of offensive to lean on, and they will get healthier as the year goes on. The Red Sox aren’t a prototypical last place team either, but somebody has to end up there. And as for the Rays: they’re a sleeper pick to flip this entire scenario around. If you can pitch, you always have a chance, and they can do that. The division will send two teams to the postseason as usual, and the fight for who it will be could take all summer to sort out.

For more on the previews and the men that are bringing them to reality, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

In the final entry in the CHEAP SEATS best units in baseball series, I’m turning to the biggest highlight of every day of the week; the best everyday lineups in baseball. With the DH in the mix (begrudingly), this would be an area that would most likely cater towards the American League, but there’s a lot of National League squads that have bulked up in the last few years, as well as creatively balanced squads that can win in a variety of ways. But when it comes down to it, it’s about putting up runs, and being able to do so up and down the order to reach this level of the game.

Fielder & Cabrera

Below there are teams that have shown and proved, as well as those that have potential to bust out. However, like all other things, it’s all on potential at this point in the year. And nobody has more of a chance to capitalize on it than these groups. But no more build up, get into it: the best lineups in 2013 baseball, starting with a squad that made the World Series last year….at less than full strength…

  1. Detroit Tigers: Let’s put in context how daunting of a 3-4 punch that Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder were last year: 74 homers, 247 RBI, 569 hits and a combined .322 average. What’s most frightening Is that 2012 was neither their best effort either, regardless of what honors and accomplishments they hit. Add in Austin Jackson’s leap forward, the addition of Torii Hunter, the underrated effort of Andy Dirks, a likely bounce back effort from Alex Avila and the return of Victor Martinez at DH, and you’ve got the biggest everyday issue for pitchers in business.
  2. Los Angeles Angels: Folks were ready to toss Mike Scicosia’s boys up here last year, but that was a bit premature. And it was also before Mike Trout made a legit claim to best in the world status and Josh Hamilton came over as well. Anytime Albert Pujols is just a piece of the puzzle, things are looking good. But outside of the big names, Howie Kendrick, Mike Trumbo and Erick Aybar are very solid table setters, and this should prove to be an unrelenting lineup.
  3. Washington Nationals: There are no breaks in this lineup, and it should actually improve this year. Adam LaRoche returns to be the power anchor, while Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond are among the most balanced bats in the NL. Adding Denard Span as a long-sought after legit lead off presence helps, but the continued growth of the prodigious Bryce Harper is the most exciting thing about the team, and the reason why it’s as good as the NL will see.
  4. St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals were a ridiculously balanced attack last year, with Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Allen Craig, David Freese and Jon Jay all hitting over .290, and Carlos Beltran adding in 32 homers on top of it all. Overall, five of their nine starters topped 20 homers as well, with rookie Matt Carpenter returning after a .294 average, 22 double rookie campaign as potentially an everyday presence as well.
  5. Los Angeles Dodgers: This is the year where we see if the all of the blockbuster bats can swing together. Having Matt Kemp is a damn good start to any lineup, but the last year as seen Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford be added on make the push. This isn’t a team that’s built play D; it’s about the O. And if health stays on their side, there could be no limits to the numbers it puts up.
  6. Cincinnati Reds: Being way too left-handed has been the knock on them.  Joey Votto may be the best left-handed hitter in the game, and Jay Bruce quietly one of his best power hitters. Adding Shin-Choo Soo makes them better, but doesn’t solve that issue. I mean, Brandon Phillips can’t do it all by himself on the other side of the dish. Good thing is that a full-season of Todd Frazier (19 homers, 67 RBI) and another strong effort from Ryan Ludwick (25 homers, 80 RBI), he won’t have too.
There's a lot more to the Brewers than waiting for Braun to attack; they led the NL in extra base hits last summer.

There’s a lot more to the Brewers than waiting for Braun to attack; they led the NL in extra base hits last summer.

  1. Milwaukee Brewers: Another very complete lineup, that is home to a lot of understated contributors. Norichika Aoki (37 doubles, 30 steals) and Jonathan Lucroy (.320 avg) were quietly very productive. The mid-season move of Corey Hart to first base once again gives the club one of the better offensive infields in the NL, with Aramis Ramirez and Rickie Weeks. And then on top of it all, there’s Ryan Braun, who’s been the most productive player in the NL over the last two years (.326/37 homers/112 RBI/189 hits/32 steals average for 2011-12).
  2. Texas Rangers: True, they lost Josh Hamilton and Michael Young, but there’s strength in numbers, and they have it. Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus are dynamic at the top of the order, while Adrian Beltre has become one of the best bats in the game. If Nelson Cruz and Lance Berkman can stay healthy, there’s a chance that this team doesn’t regress at all.
  3. Colorado Rockies: It’s not shocking that the Rockies were the most productive home offense in the game last year, but what’s real is they could get even better everywhere this year. Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer and Todd Helton are a solid base, while Dexter Fowler (.300 avg), Josh Rutledge (33 extra base hits in 73 games) and Wilin Rosario (28 homers as rookie) rounded out a strong lineup. All of this was done with Troy Tulowikzki only playing 47 games, yet returning at full health finally for ’13.
  4. New York Yankees: A-Rod is out indefinitely, Derek Jeter’s health is in question, and Nick Swisher and Russell Martin were lost to free agency. Despite all of that, the Yankees lineup is still potent. Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeria and Curtis Granderson are power plant in the middle of the lineup, while Ichiro and Brett Gardner could be terror on the base paths in front of them. Add in the potential return of Jeter and a bounce back effort from Kevin Youkilis, and this is still the best offense in the AL East.

Just Missed: Blue Jays, Giants, Red Sox

For more on this, and the stroll up to Spring Training, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan