Posts Tagged ‘Russell Martin’

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Spring Training is coming around again, and thus means that all is preparing to be well in the world. The best of the best in the game are dusting off the tools of their trade and preparing to get back to business around the diamonds of Major League Baseball.

And in what has become an annual tradition here in the CHEAP SEATS, it is prime time to take stock of the best of the best in the game today at each of those roles around the field. Over the next month, the top 10 players at each position in the game will be pitted against each other and ranked to determine who the best is today.

Where else better than to start such a countdown than at the nucleus of any baseball team: with the catcher? In recent years, there has been an ebb and flow at the top of the catching mountain between the defensive mastery of Yadier Molina and the comprehensiveness of Buster Posey. While a few others have jockeyed for position, they have proven to be an air-tight duo.

 

10. Stephen Vogt, Athletics (Not ranked in ’15)

2015: .261/.341/.443, 18 HR, 71 RBI, 21 doubles; 32% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .265/.327/.432, 10 HR, 41 RBI, 12 doubles

It was a tale of two halves for Vogt during his breakout 2015 year. After swinging his way into an All-Star birth during a first half that saw him post 14 home runs and a .287 average, Vogt plummeted in the second half. Perhaps it was the wear and tear of playing a full slate of games behind the plate for the first time, but his numbers dipped to a .217/.280/.349 split in 51 post-ASG games and he managed only four home runs and 15 RBI in that run.

Vogt’s first half showed what he is capable of at full capacity, but it remains to be seen if he is built for the life of a dual-threat catcher.

 

9. Yasmani Grandal, Dodgers (Not ranked in ’15)

2015: .234/.353/.403, 16 HR, 47 RBI, 12 doubles; 29% caught stealing, 3.34 CERA

Last Three Years: .228/.341/.395, 11 HR, 35 RBI, 13 doubles

Grandal splits some time with A.J. Ellis still behind the plate, but he is the vastly superior offensive option between the two and should see more and more time as he continues to mature as a backstop. Grandal at age 27 has battled some health issues in the past, including a shoulder injury that slowed his second half in 2015. But in being liberation of Petco Park, he predictably produced his strongest offensive year during his first full year away from it.

His eye at the plate improved last season (an increase in walks combined with a steep decline in strikeouts), which produced a career-best .353 on-base percentage. He profiles to produce plus power from behind the plate, although his switch hitting future is likely as a first baseman.

 

8.Francisco Cervelli, Pirates (Not ranked in ’15)

2015: .295/.370/.401, 7 HR, 43 RBI, 17 doubles; 22% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .294/.370/.401, 4 HR, 21 RBI, 10 doubles

Cervelli followed in the footsteps of Russell Martin in becoming a former Yankee catcher who made the most of a full-time opportunity in Pittsburgh. In his first season as a frontline backstop, Cervelli proved that he could maintain his career trend of producing high on-base and extra base hit totals in a full-time role as well.

Of NL catchers that qualified for the batting title, Cervelli’s .370 on-base percentage was second behind only Buster Posey –and by a slim .009 margin. He also added in an eye-raising total of five triples, which shows a rare athleticism for the position as well. Cervelli profiles to continue to rise further and further up the power ranks of MLB catchers in the immediate sense.

 

7.Derek Norris, Padres (#10 in ’15)

2015: .250/.305/.404, 14 HR, 62 RBI, 33 doubles; 34% caught stealing

Last Three Years: .256/.333/.405, 11 HR, 49 RBI, 23 doubles

While he did not make a return to the All-Star Game again in 2015, Norris still produced a strong season amid his transition to the National League. He set career-highs in games played (147), hits (129), runs (65), home runs (14) and RBI (62). Albeit, these counting stat totals are dampened by an extreme fall off in his on-base percentage and a huge jump in strikeouts.

Yet this is all balanced out by the fact that he has become a much more mature backstop in the process. He threw out 17% more would be base stealers last year and guided the talented Padres staff well. Further NL familiarity could provide for his most balanced season to date this upcoming year.

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6. Brian McCann, Yankees (#7 in ’15)

2015: .232/.320/.437, 26 HR, 94 RBI, 15 doubles; 36% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .239/.312/.432, 23 HR, 75 RBI, 14 doubles

McCann remains the most reliable and consistent power conduit at the position in the game. 2015 marked the eighth consecutive year that he hit at least 20 home runs. This should be given due deference, especially considering that the only other catchers to do this in the history of the game are Hall of Famers Mike Piazza and Yogi Berra.

Furthering the point, it was the ninth season overall that McCann reached 20 long balls, which joins him with Johnny Bench and Gary Carter as well as the only catchers to reach that level.

His consistency is shown in the fact that he also played in 275 of the Yankees’ 324 games since he joined the club before the 2014 season, with 234 of them coming behind the plate. He’s a silently, consistent soldier amid baseball’s most spotlighted team.

 

5. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers (#3 in ’15)

2015: .264/.326/.391, 7 HR, 43 RBI, 20 doubles; 28% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .284/.349/.443, 13 HR, 65 RBI, 33 doubles

Injuries kept Lucroy out of the lineup for a little over a month last season and also slowed his production at the plate from hitting full mass until late in the year….just in time for a concussion to end his year prematurely. However that should not erase the memory what he was capable of doing at full speed just two years ago. The master pitch framing technician finished in the top 5 in NL MVP voting, after producing a .301 average to go along with 66 extra base hits.

With his health abiding, as well as a stated desire to play for a contender (something that he will not be a part of in Milwaukee) this year should an audition year of sorts for the 29-year-old backstop, as he either vies for a trade or simply proves that he still is who we (or perhaps “I”, based on this ranking) think he is.

 

4. Salvador Perez, Royals (#4 in ’15)

2015: .260/.280/.426, 21 HR, 70 RBI, 25 doubles; 31% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .270/.297/.420, 17 HR, 73 RBI, 26 doubles

The most constant presence amid the Royals’ rise to the top of the baseball world, Perez is by and far the game’s top young backstop and has continued to affirm that position. He will enter the season at only 25 years old, but has taken home the past three AL Gold Gloves at his spot and has been an All-Star thrice in as many seasons as well. During this run, he has topped 70 RBI and 25 doubles in each year, and has reached a new career-best in home runs in each season thus far, with 21 representing his new peak.

Considering the high volume of innings he logs (he has logged 2,440 innings behind the plate in the past two years) he could stand to do much better with his patience at the plate (he walked 13 times in 553 appearances last year –Buster Posey walked that many times in the month of September last year). However, he is a big, tough, formidable two-way threat, who’s best days are still ahead of him.

 

3. Russell Martin, Blue Jays (#5 in ’15)

2015: .240/.329/.351, 23 HR, 77 RBI, 23 doubles; 44% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .250/.351/.421, 16 HR, 66 RBI, 21 doubles

Martin took well to his new surroundings in Toronto last season, and was a major catalyst in breaking the Blue Jays’ 20+ year drought. He turned a career-year offensively, with new personal bests in home runs (23) and RBI (77), well as a six year best in slugging percentage. It was the fifth straight year he topped 60 RBI, and also marked the 4th time in five years that he hit 15 or more homers while posting an OPS of greater than .700.

But where Martin makes his biggest impact is between the lines via intangibles. He makes a pitching staff better when it is throwing to him, as well as limits the ability to take the extra base. The soon to be 33-year-old cut down an AL-best 44% of would-be base thieves, while working the Jays staff to a 3.88 ERA as well.

Jul 14, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Edward Mujica (44) is congratulated by catcher Yadier Molina (4) for a victory against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Cardinals beat the Cubs 10-6. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Jul 14, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Edward Mujica (44) is congratulated by catcher Yadier Molina (4) for a victory against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Cardinals beat the Cubs 10-6. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

2. Yadier Molina, Cardinals (#2 in ’15)

2015: .270/.310/.350, 4 HR, 61 RBI, 23 doubles; 41% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .291/.334/.407, 8 HR, 60 RBI, 29 doubles

2015 was probably the most difficult season that Molina has had to endure in his career. A ligament injury in his thumb shortened both his regular season, as well as his postseason (and one that has carried into his 2016 start as well). This was after struggling through the season with lingering issues from a knee injury suffered the year before. The result was a five year low in offensive output across the board nearly, albeit still producing a respectable 61 runs batted in, 23 doubles and working his way to seventh consecutive All-Star Game.

However, what did not diminish was his perennially unparalleled defensive impact. Molina won his eight consecutive Gold Globe by catching 41% of would be base stealers (only 37 runners attempted to steal on him all year), converting 9 double plays and allowing only four passed balls. Add in the fact that Cardinal pitching worked a MLB-best 2.80 ERA when he was behind the plate in route to a 100-win season, and it goes to prove that impact comes from far more than just the clearest parts of a box score.

 

1. Buster Posey, Giants (#1 in ’15)

2015: .318/.379/.470, 19 HR, 95 RBI, 28 doubles; 36% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .308/.371/.470, 19 HR, 85 RBI, 30 doubles

The class of the position by far, few players combine more raw talent with inherent leadership and intangible presence than Gerald Posey does. His perennial standard has reached such a clip that they are better compared to those already in Cooperstown than most of his peers, and he still yet to reach his 30th birthday. Buster led all MLB catchers in hits (177), batting average (.319, 4th in the National League), RBI (95) and OPS (.849). All of this combined saw him produce just over six Wins Above Replacement –three more than any other catcher.

Already the owner of three World Championships, an MVP, a batting title, three All-Star appearances, three Silver Sluggers and a .310 career average (the 4th highest of all-time for a player that has been primarily a catcher), it would seem that Posey has it all. And that’s because he does, but he is only halfway through the race and is just now approaching his prime.

 

Just a bit outside: Travis d’Arnaud, Mets; Yan Gomes, Indians; Matt Wieters, Orioles; Miguel Montero, Cubs

To catch up on last year’s picks for top catcher, click here.

 

Catcher is a position that is tough to define in terms of what makes one particular player more valuable than the next, simply because so much goes into making up a great catcher. Is it how he handles a bat or how he handles his pitching staff? Is it the impact he makes on cutting down base runners or his glove work? Do inherent leadership intangibles play into it or is it just raw production?

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There is much to be considered when checking the stock of the position around the game, but for certain there is a plethora of types of catchers making their impact around the game currently. The best of which make an elite contribution in at least two different areas, followed by a group that may be elite in one and then another that specializes in doing one better than the others.

Headed into 2015, there are seven players that appeared on this list a year ago, which shows the fact that it is a cornerstone position. Basically, when a team gets a good catcher, it is smart to hang on to them. Of the three debuting backstops, each is coming out of his third full season and is on the heels of a breakout season.

Here are the top 10 players behind the dish headed into 2015 for CSP, with their rank from the previous year included:

 

1. Buster Posey, Giants (#2 in 2014): It has been and ebb and flow for who is the top backstop in the game between Posey and Yadier Molina over the past few years, but Buster inched forward to the top again in 2014. The glue to game’s most cohesive unit in San Francisco, when Posey turned it on, his team rode the momentum all the way to a third World Series in his six year career. He hit .354 after the All-Star break and finished fourth overall in the National League with a .311 mark.

2-year average: .303 average/.838 OPS/18 HR/80 RBI/162 hits/.993 Fld%/30% CS

2. Yadier Molina, Cardinals (#1 in ’14): His defensive capabilities at this point have hit legendary levels. Yadi won his seventh consecutive Gold Glove and second Platinum Glove awards in 2014, when he cut down an MLB-best 48% of would-be base stealers. Only Ivan Rodriguez and Johnny Bench have taken home more of the honors than him at this point. Since 2007 with his presence in tow, the Cardinals have experienced 50% less stolen base attempts than the MLB average. That is the mark of an elite game-changing presence.

2-year average: .303 average/.784 OPS/10 HR/59 RBI/138 hits/.997 Fld%/45.5% CS

3. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers (#7 in ’14): He broke out in a major way last summer and firmly entrenched himself as arguably the best offensive catcher in baseball. He led the MLB in doubles with 53, and in the process set a single-season record for catchers, with the 46 that came while he was behind the plate. Overall he hit .301 on the year and finished fourth in the NL MVP vote.

2-year average: .291 average/.817 OPS/16 HR/76 RBI/161 hits/.993 Fld%/23.5% CS

4. Salvador Perez, Royals (Same in ’14): His walk-off single that started the Royals record run through the postseason was his highlight moment of the year, but Perez was the most important mainstay for the Royals in 2014. He led all catchers in games started behind the plate with 143, and won his second Gold Glove in as many years in the process. He also drove in 70 runs for the second straight year and hit .333 in the World Series.

2-year average: .275 average/.722 OPS/15 HR/74 RBI/148 hits/.992 Fld%/33% CS

5. Russell Martin, Blue Jays (#10 in ’14): He was one of the most sought after properties on the free agent market this year simply for the fact that he is the quintessential multi purpose catcher. He does a bit of everything well: he makes a staff better, plays at a Gold Glove-level with the glove, provides clubhouse leadership and swings a dependable bat. If he can work the same magic in Toronto that he did in Pittsburgh, the Jays will have finally found their elusive missing piece to get into the American League East race.

2-year average: .256 average/.764 OBP/13 HR/61 RBI/104 hits/.996 Fld%/28% CS

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6. Matt Wieters, Orioles (#5 in ’14): He was off to his best year as a pro before elbow surgery shortcut his 2014, hitting .308 over 26 games. Now he faces a return behind the plate on the mend from Tommy John surgery, but with a pedigree that includes three-All-Star appearances and two Gold Gloves by the age of 28, it is not a bad bet to make that Wieters will be able to rediscover his way.

2-year average (’12-’13): .247 average/.726 OPS/22 HR/81 RBI/127 hits/.995 Fld%/37% CS

7. Brian McCann, Yankees (#3 in ’14): It would be fair to say that he had a down year in first season in pinstripes due to the fact that he posted a career-lows in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS, but in reality he still had a solid season. He led all American League catchers in home runs (23) and RBI (75) and an upswing is reasonable to expect in 2015.

2-year average: .242 average/.735 OPS/22 HR/66 RBI/103 hits/.996 Fld%/30.5% CS

8. Yan Gomes, Indians (Not Ranked): Probably the member of this list that flies the furthest under the radar, Gomes is credited as calling one of the best games behind the plate in the American League and was a major reason for the success of the understated Indian rotation. In addition, he led all AL catchers in WAR at 4.4 and was second in both home runs (21) and RBI (74) at the spot as well.

2-year average: .284 average/.801 OPS/16 HR/56 RBI/110 hits/.993 Fld%/36.5% CS

9. Devin Mesoraco, Reds (Not Ranked): He had been touted as their catcher of the future for a few years now, and Mesoraco came into his own in 2014. The 26-year-old connected for 25 home runs and worked a .359 on-base percentage in his first year as a full-time starter, despite missing time in early in the year due to injury. He also made his All-Star debut and recently notched a $28 million dollar extension as incentive to keep it up.

2-year average: .257 average/.782 OPS/17 HR/61 RBI/91 hits/.995 Fld%/27% CS

10. Derek Norris, Padres (Not ranked): Although he was a part of a time share with John Jaso a year ago, Norris turned in some very respectable figures in his third year. He reached All-Star status while sporting a .270 average and connecting for 10 home runs in just over 442 plate appearances. He also carried the lowest catcher’s ERA in the AL at 3.14, and will inherit a talented new staff in San Diego to work with as well.

2-year average: .260 average/.760 OPS/10 HR/42 RBI/84 hits/.993 Fld%/21.5% CS

 

Just Outside: Miguel Montero, Cubs. Carlos Ruiz, Phillies. Kurt Suzuki, Twins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The days of the West being the laughing stock of the NFC have been turned in for what it represents now; perhaps the most talented division in the NFL with two legit Super Bowl contenders. Yet outside of those two popular contenders in San Francisco and Seattle, there are two teams on the other half of the division that are growing as well.

The Rams beat the Niners and Seahawks last season, and have undergone an aggressive expansion to their offensive capabilities. In Arizona, they had added a signal caller with some experience for the first time since they last made their Super Bowl appearance, and the osmosis of that should change the ceiling of their capabilities.

Yet, it is tough to grow as team when the two most complete teams in football are scraping it out atop the league. With two of the most exciting young signal callers in the game, coupled by the two best defensive units in the game, the Niner-Seahawk showdown this season is one that will meet twice in the first 16 games of the year….and could ultimately meet a third time to see who heads to New York in February for the NFC.

ALL-DIVISION TEAM

QB: Colin Kaepernick RB: Marshawn Lynch, Frank Gore WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Golden Tate TE: Vernon Davis OT: Jake Long, Russell Okung OG: Mike Iupati, Paul McQuistan C: Max Unger

DE: Chris Clemons, Chris Long DT/NT: Justin Smith, Brandon Mebrane OLB: Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks MLB: Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman CB: Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson FS: Earl Thomas, SS: Donte Whitner

K: Phil Dawson, P: Andy Lee, KR: Tavon Austin PR: Patrick Peterson

 

 

After five consecutive years of at least 80 catches and 1,000 yards, Fitzgerald was held to career-lows across the board in 2012 due to lame duck QB play.

After five consecutive years of at least 80 catches and 1,000 yards, Fitzgerald was held to career-lows across the board in 2012 due to lame duck QB play. A major bounce back could be in store with his new QB on hand.

ARIZONA CARDINALS (5-11 in 2012)

The Good: There are some exciting elements to the defense. Between Calais Campbell, Dan Williams and Darnell Docket, there’s plenty of push up front and Darryl Washington proved to be one of the emerging young linebackers in the game a year ago. The secondary is headlined by one the best playmakers in the league in Patrick Peterson, and the addition of Tyrann Mathieu could provide one of the most unique sparks on any unit in the West.

The Bad: There still is no dependable option out the backfield. Ryan Williams’ health still is not clear, nor is how much he can offer. The reach to see what Rashard Mendenhall has left in the tank hasn’t been encouraging either, as he has been sidelined through much of the preseason with continuing knee issues. Add in the fact that first round pick, offensive guard, Jonathan Cooper is out for the the season already as well with a broken leg, and the offense as a whole is still missing crucial parts of the balance that is needed to compete.

X-Factor—Carson Palmer: Smartly, instead of prolonging the development of the offense via another leap for a backup or waiting for a rookie to develop, Palmer was brought in to be an instant fix. He’s steady, with the type of downfield arm that can find Larry Fitzgerald consistently, as well as help 2012 first round pick Michael Floyd round into form.

Record: @STL (L), DET (W), @NO (L), @TB (L), CAR (W), @SF (L), SEA (L), ATL (L), HOU (L), @JAX (W), IND (W), @PHI (L), STL (W), @TEN (W), @SEA (L), SF (L)

Prediction: Wrong place at the wrong time for the Cards. While they have a talented defense, as well as some producers on O, they are in the toughest division in the league, and they aren’t better on either side of the ball than any of their division mates. They won’t be an easy date on the schedule by any means, and are a prime pick to spring an upset victory that shakes up the standings. But until they get an answer in the backfield and some more experience for the defense, they’ll be relegated to the bottom of the West. Record: 6-10

 

With Richard Sherman and company looming over the top, the Seahawks allowed the fewest points per game in 2012...(and led the league in most trashed talked per QB as well).

With Richard Sherman and company looming over the top, the Seahawks allowed the fewest points per game in 2012…(and led the league in most trashed talked per QB as well).

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (11-5 in 2012)

The Good: The most unpredictable offense in the league has had a full offseason to develop together, and it has no shortage of ways to get the job done. There’s the vertigo that Russell Wilson can put a defense into, while trying to see where he comes out of the pistol, whether its downfield 25 yards himself, or to Golden Tate or Sidney Rice, there’s no easy way to call it. Oh, and then there’s the issue of the league’s most brutal back as well, Marshawn Lynch. Pick your poison.

The Bad: Like many quickly emergent teams, they are an injury away at a few positions from being in trouble. Russell Okung has to stay healthy, as does Lynch. The team’s biggest addition, Percy Harvin, is already out for the majority of the season and if Wilson goes down, the season could very well do the same thing, as Tavaris Jackson is his support. Chris Clemons rebound is also crucial to the balance and depth of the defense.

X-Factor—Bruce Irvin: Irvin never quite picked up the nuances of defenses outside of what he was drafted to do: bum rush the passer. If he can begin to be more of a factor in coverage and run support, he’ll be able to stay on the field more, which means the Hawks could have a 15 sack-potential player in waiting.

Record: @CAR (W), SF (W), JAX (W), @HOU (L), @IND (W), TEN (W), @ARI (W), @STL (L), TB (W), @ATL (L), MIN (W), NO (L), @SF (L), @NYG (W), @ARI (W), STL (W)

Prediction: This is one of the most complete teams in football, if not the most complete. The experience of playing, and winning, together last season will do wonders for them. They have the best secondary in football in Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, as well as a brutal front line on both sides of the ball. They may not have an amazing record in the regular season, but this is a team to build to go a long way. 11-5

 

With their longtime franchise runner gone, the responsibility for the Rams leap forward year falls squarely on the shoulders of Bradford, who will have more assistance than ever.

With their longtime franchise runner gone, the responsibility for the Rams leap forward year falls squarely on the shoulders of Bradford, who will have more assistance than ever.

ST. LOUIS RAMS (7-8-1 in 2012)

The Good: There are finally both options and time to utilize them for Sam Bradford. The additions of Jared Cook and Tavon Austin put wrinkles into the St. Louis attack that have been gone for nearly a decade. The team went all in to land All-Pro tackle Jake Long and succeeded, which should provide Bradford with the breathing room to finally be able to stretch the field some.

The Bad: Will they be able to move the ball on the ground consistently enough? When Steven Jackson moved this winter, the club decided to stay young, with second year backs Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead. The addition of Zac Stacy will give them a third leg in the young backfield, but it remains to be seen if they add enough to both relieve pressure on Bradford or keep defenses honest.

X-Factor—Alec Ogletree: For a long time, the Rams have not had an athlete at outside linebacker that can both cover and be released on blitz as well, but Ogletree has shown the potential to do that and more thus far. With the PED-related release of Jo-Lonn Dunbar, the rookie will be counted on to expand the defense in a similar fashion as the offense.

Record: ARI (W), @ATL (L), @DAL (L), SF (W), JAX (W), @HOU (L), @CAR (W), SEA (W), TEN (W), @IND (L), CHI (L), @SF (L), @ARI (L), NO (L), TB (W), @SEA (L)

Prediction: Much has changed for the Rams in the year that Jeff Fisher has been in control, and the roster that comes into the season is much more talented one than they have fielded in some time. There is reasonable excitement for their potential, and they should show more than just flashes of their potential by hanging with the Seahawks and 49ers. But the young team will need to mold together some still, and they are likely a year away from a breakthrough. 7-9

 

Kaepernick went 7-3 as a starter in his breakout season, and now returns with a chance to be the most diverse offensive threat at QB since Michael Vick's prime.

Kaepernick went 7-3 as a starter in his breakout season, and now returns with a chance to be the most diverse offensive threat at QB since Michael Vick’s prime.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ers (11-4-1 in 2012)

The Good: The gang has gotten even deeper on defense. While the mainstays of Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman, Justin Smith and Aldon Smith are back to hold the fort down in their particular fashions, the team took a gamble on former Pro Bowl corner Nnamdi Asomugha to tighten up the club’s slot coverage. Add in the presence of Eric Reid, who was an All-SEC safety a year ago and this year’s unit has the ability to be even better than than 2012’s, which finished third in fewest yards yielded.

The Bad: How will the receiving group rally without Michael Crabtree. After the emergence of Colin Kaerpernick, Crabtree played the best football of his career, averaging seven catches per game in route to his first 1,000 yard season. Kaepernick had a bad habit of locking on his first read a year ago, which often was Crab. How he progress both through his reads and in comfort with other options is important.

X-Factor—Anquan Boldin: After defeating the Niners in the Super Bowl, where he had 104 yards and a touchdown, he crossed over to join them this year. An offense that highlights quick reads and short passes could bring out the best in the physical first down machine.

Record: GB (W), @SEA (L), IND (W), @STL (L), HOU (W), ARI (W), @TEN (W), @JAX (W), CAR (W), @NO (W), @WSH (L), STL (W), SEA (W), @TB (W), ATL (L), @ARI (W)

Prediction: Kaerpernick has been one of the most visible players in the NFL during the offseason, and now gets a full season to prove why. The defense will be stout and they have the tools between Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Kaepernick to lead the NFL in rushing. They’ll have to emerge from a tough NFC West slate, as well as matchups with the three other division champions from 2012, but they as talent as it gets and are in line to return back to where their year ended last. 12-4

 

 

I am 100% sure there will be a Festivus-style air of grievances over this one (as there always is). All I ask is that you direct them to the comments section….or to me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

 

Business has begun to pickup since the last entry into the CHEAP SEATS MLB free agent gauge, with multiple contenders re-upping with a few of their lingering formality returns. The New York Yankees have begun to put their foot into the mix, as if that’s a surprise this time of the year. But so far, they’ve only brought back guys that would never consider anywhere else, in Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. They actually lost out on their incumbent catcher in Russell Martin, who inked the first Bizarro World deal of the winter, jumping from the Bronx to Pittsburgh via his own free will (some please check the last time that happened).

The first major team swap also came down, with BJ Upton taking his talents to Atlanta. Otherwise, the calm is still in play and all of the biggest names are still attached to big rumors as opposed to big dollars so far. In this second entry, we’ll take a look at the rumors and list a few of the hottest contenders for each player’s services that are dwelling so far. As usual, the bold players have deals, and will be featured in the next Cut The Check entry on Monday for analysis on the deal.

 

Yankees handled their exclusive business first in resigning Rivera and Pettitte for 2013 deals.

Yankees handled their exclusive business first in resigning Rivera and Pettitte for 2013 deals.

  1. Zack Grienke (RHP): Dodgers, Angels, Rangers, Orioles, Red Sox
  2. Josh Hamilton (OF): Rangers, Braves, Brewers, Orioles, Mariners, Red Sox
  3. Michael Bourn (CF): Reds, Phillies, Giants
  4. BJ Upton (CF)—Signed w/ Atlanta Braves: 5 yrs/$75 Million
  5. Anibal Sanchez (RHP): Dodgers, Red Sox
  6. Nick Swisher (RF/1B): Red Sox, Rangers, Orioles, Phillies, Giants
  7. Adam LaRoche (1B): Red Sox, Rangers
  8. Kyle Lohse (RHP): Dodgers, Angels, Brewers, Blue Jays, Orioles
  9. Dan Haren (RHP): Padres
  10. Rafael Soriano (RHR): Tigers
  11. Mike Napoli (C/1B): Red Sox, Mariners, Yankees
  12. Edwin Jackson (RHP): Angels, Brewers, Royals, Orioles
  13. Mariano Rivera (RHR) –Resigned w/ New York Yankees: 1 yr/$10 Million
  14. Kevin Youkilis (3B/1B): Dodgers, White Sox, Indians
  15. Stephen Drew (SS): Tigers, Red Sox, Yankees
  16. Angel Pagan (OF): Giants, Phillies, Reds
  17. AJ Pierzynski (C): White Sox, Yankees
  18. Ryan Dempster (RHP): Brewers, Angels, Red Sox
  19. Cody Ross (LF/RF): Red Sox, Yankees
  20. Ryan Ludwick (LF/RF): Reds, Red Sox, Yankees
  21. Joakim Soria (RHR): Yankees, Reds, Brewers,
  22. Marco Scutaro (2B): Giants, Phillies
  23. Shane Victorino (LF/CF): Reds, Indians, Yankees, Rangers, Giants, Rays, Red Sox
  24. Brandon McCarthy (RHP): Twins
  25. Andy Pettitte (LHP)—Resigned w/ New York Yankees: 1 yr/$12 Million
  26. Russell Martin (C) –Signed w/ Pittsburgh Pirates: 2 yrs/$17 Million
  27. Carlos Zambrano (RHP):
  28. Ichiro (CF): Yankees
  29. Sean Burnett (LHR): Cardinals
  30. Kelly Johnson (2B):
  31. Scott Hairston (CF):
  32. Brett Myers (RHP): Twins, Indians, Angels, Padres, Brewers
  33. Mike Adams (RHP): Angels, Red Sox, Phillies, Rangers, White Sox
  34. Kyle Farnsworth (RHR): Tigers
  35. Lance Berkman (1B/DH): Astros, Phillies, Rays, Red Sox
  36. Shaun Marcum (RHP):
  37. Luke Scott (1B/DH):
  38. Delmon Young (LF/DH):
  39. Colin Ballester (RHP):
  40. Casey Kotchman (1B):
  41. Randy Choate (LHR):
  42. Carl Pavano (RHP):
  43. Francisco Liriano (LHP):
  44. Andruw Jones (OF):
  45. Eric Chavez (3B):
  46. Matt Capps (RHR):
  47. Jeff Keppinger (SS/2B): D’Backs, Yankees, Cardinals
  48. Nate McLouth (CF): Orioles
  49. Joe Saunders (LHP):
  50. Joe Blanton (RHP):
  51. James Loney (1B):
  52. Francisco Rodriguez (RHR):
  53. Ryan Theriot (2B/SS):
  54. Dallas Braden (LHP):
  55. Casey McGehee (3B):
  56. Scott Feldman (RHP):
  57. Derek Lowe (RHP):
  58. Jason Bartlett (SS): Cardinals
  59. Carlos Lee (1B):
  60. Jose Valverde (RHR):

On Deck: Ty Wigginton, Yuniesky Betancourt, Aubrey Huff, Juan Carlos Oviedo, Jason Bay

 

Off The Board

8. Hiroki Kuroda (RHP), New York Yankees: 1 yr/$15 million

13. Torii Hunter (RF), Detroit Tigers: 2 yrs/$13 million

21. Melky Cabrera (LF), Toronto Blue Jays: 2 yrs/$16 million

28. Jeremy Guthrie (RHP), Kansas City Royals: 3 yrs/$25 million

29. Hisashi Iwakuma (RHP), Seattle Mariners: 2 yrs/$14 million

31. Jonathan Broxton (RHP), Cincinnati Reds: 3 yrs/$21 million

32. Jeremy Affeldt (LHP), San Francisco Giants: 3 yrs/$18 million

36. Ryan Madson (RHP), Los Angeles Angels: 3 yrs/$3.25 million

46. Scott Baker (RHP), Chicago Cubs: 1 yr/$5 million

53. Jonny Gomes (LF), Boston Red Sox: 2 yrs/$10 million

 

For more on the quickly developing MLB offseason, in real time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. Also, head over to The Cheap Seats at The Sports Fan Journal as well for my column entries.

After yesterday’s post there was a lot of afternoon action around the league and more than a few signings took place, including several of the my top 10 available free agents. A few teams brought back a few established stars, while one big bat switched both teams and leagues. Here’s a quick update on those moves, in addition to a few players that became complete free agents after not being offer arbitration from their previous club.

The Tigers started off the offseason making same big waves with the Victor Martinez signing, and now the spotlight is back on the AL Central with the White Sox making several moves to make a push to close the gap on the Twins and make a push to move to the top of the division. With both a big new addition and bringing back a mainstay yesterday, they are the most aggressive team in the market right now outside of the usual Yankee moving and shaking. Here’s how both the South Side of the Chi and the Bronx spent their recent time and money.

NEW MOVES

6. Adam Dunn-1B/DH: Signed-CHICAGO WHITE SOX: 4 yrs/$56 million

The Sox had been in pursuit of Dunn since the trade deadline, and now they grab him without giving up anything except a draft pick. This is a great signing because it boosts a rather bland DH spot for the Chi Sox, and gives a potential replacement at first base if they fail to bring Paul Konerko back. This gives them a legit high impact bat that is both one of the most durable players and most consistent power bats in the game. For as big of a win as this is for Chicago, it is that big of a loss for the Nationals, who fail to get anything in return for their one the best players. Not exactly the type of management that helps rebuilding franchises help their foundation.

The Sox add one of the most consistent power threats in the game in Dunn, who has surpassed 38 home runs seven consecutive years.

9. Mariano Rivera-RHP: Re-signed-NEW YORK YANKEES: 2yrs/$30 million

While there never seemed to be a real threat to Rivera leaving the Bronx, apparently this deal gained some quick momentum when a few other teams made some legit offers to the greatest closer of all-time, rumored to be the LA Angels and, more critically, the Boston Red Sox. In the end, Mo returns for his 16th year in pinstripes with what is most likely his last contract and Championship push.

17. A.J. Pierzynski-C: Re-signed-CHICAGO WHITE SOX: 2 yrs/$8 million

While he had offers from a few different clubs while some catcher needs, as a few of those spots closed up in Boston and with the Dodgers among others, it became more and more apparent he end up back in Chicago. This steadies what could have been another potential radical change to the Sox structure and sets them up with both a catcher familiar with their staff and an attitude that boosts Ozzie Guillen’s style of play.

Other Recent Business and Chatter

A few notable players hit the free agent market last night after not being extended arbitration to return to their clubs. Chief among these players are Bobby Jenks and Russell Martin, formerly of the White Sox and Dodgers respectively. Both add value to the free agent market, but more so for Jenks, who becomes the best closer available after Rafeal Soriano. He is good enough to alter the value of Soriano on the market, as he will come at a cheaper rate. The Diamondbacks, Brewers, Reds and Braves could have some interest in him for the ninth inning role, while the Cardinals and Rockies could be interested in him as setup man.

 

Jenks addition to the market adds a second legit closer, who could shake up the previously uncontested saves market for Rafeal Soriano

For Russell Martin the market will be a bit different. A few years ago he was a regular at All-Star games and one of the game’s most athletic catchers, but a series of injuries slowed him down and even ended his 2009 in August. While many of the starting catching positions being filled currently, Martin may be looking at a rotation gig with whoever he signs with. His upside still has several suitors interested in him, including a return to the Dodgers, albeit at much lower price tag. The Yankees, Rangers, Marlins, Blue Jays and Pirates could have some usage for him as well.

Others that have entered the market now are Edwin Encarnacion from the Athletics, David Eckstein from the Padres. Their releases are more interesting for what it could mean for their former employers intentions for the future. With Encarnacion moved out, the A’s could be setting themselves up for a big push at Adrian Beltre, which could mean a huge offer being sent his way, despite the fact he has stated he would like to return to Boston. Oakland could be about to make him an offer he can’t refuse.

As far as the Padres go after moving Eckstein out the mix, this could make room for a serious push for Jason Bartlett from Tampa Bay to fill in at shortstop. They have been one of the most consistent club in the pursuit of him and this opens up a middle infield spot to make the move a reality. It could also bring a move for Orlando Hudson into the picture.

As for the Derek Jeter situation, the Yankees have made a concession in their showdown with their local icon, and have said that they are willing to add more money to the deal, but not more years. This seems to be a pointless gesture, because more years would still be offered if Jeter decides he wants to play past the age of 39, which is how old the shortstop would be at the end of the current 3 year offer on the table.

Give him four, or even five years and make him “a Yankee for life” (as if there is any doubt about that), front load the contract to concede to him now and move on so this situation doesn’t re-emerge again.