Who are the Yankees?

Since I have been following baseball, the Yankees have always been the most aggressive team when it comes to signing free agents. The price of the player or the total salary of the team was never a thought. The only thing that mattered was winning. Players like C.C. Sabathia, Mark Texiera, and Alex Rodriguez all took top dollar to play for the Yankees. The 2013 offseason saw the Yankees act like the Yankees of old with Steinbrenner at the helm. They signed Jacoby Ellsbury (7/153), Masahiro Tanaka (7/155), Brian McCann (5/85), and Carlos Beltran (3/45). Despite all of these signings, the Yankees missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season. I know baseball has change a little with teams worrying about having to pay the Luxury Tax, but this is the New York Yankees we are talking about. 

Many thought with a lot of big names hitting the free agent market, the Yankees would be aggressive. Names like Scherzer, Lester, Shields, Sandoval, and Ramirez (who could have replaced Jeter) all signed with different teams including their rival Boston. On Monday, the Red Sox signed Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada to a 31.5 million dollar signing bonus. Many believed the Yankees were the favorite to sign Moncada but supposedly the Yankees would not go higher than 27 million. Giving the lack of top prospects in the Yankees farm system, it was surprising to see the Yankees not get more aggressive for a player who many scouts believe has star potential. 

Heading into 2015, the Yankees have many questions marks regarding their roster. Will the Yanks regret not getting one of the big name free agents that could have helped bolster their staff or lineup? Have times changed in New York?


Boston Red Sox Preview

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be looking at each team and their biggest offseason move, their biggest question heading into the season, their prospect to watch, and their 2015 outlook. I will be starting in the American League East and because I am a Sox fan, I will start with them.

Boston Red Sox

Biggest Off-Season Move: Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez

I could not pick just one of these players because both were signed to fix the offensive woes that the Red Sox faced in 2014. In the 2013 season, the Red Sox lead the American League in runs scored with 853. In 2014, they finished in the bottom half of the American League with 634 runs. 200 + runs are a big difference and one of the reasons why the Red Sox finished in last place in the A.L. East.  One way to fix the 2014 offensive struggles is to go out and sign the two best free agent bats and that is exactly what Boston did. Sandoval, .279/.324/.415, is a consistent hitter that the Red Sox are looking for despite the fact that he appears to be a couple of pounds overweight. It will be interesting to see how Sandoval’s aggressive approach fits in with Boston’s approach to drive the opposing pitcher’s pitch count up. An argument could be made that when Hanley Ramirez is healthy and on the field, he is one of the most valuable players in the league. In 86 games in 2013 he was in MVP conversations and in 128 games last year he produced .283/.369/.448. The big question for Hanley is health but if healthy he could have a big year in his return to Fenway Park.

Biggest Question: Starting Pitching

When the Red Sox lost Jon Lester to the Cubs, there was a big gap to be filled. Did the Red Sox do enough to bolster their rotation? Adding Porcello could be huge because his ERA has dropped in each of his last five seasons, 3.43 in 2014. The Red Sox added two more pitchers in Justin Masterson and Wade Miley and both had solid 2013 seasons but subpar 2014 campaigns. Masterson had a 3.45 ERA in 29 starts in 2013 but pitched through injuries last year and his ERA showed at 5.88. Miley is moving to the American League East which can be difficult for pitchers to do. In 2013, he had a 3.55 ERA but last season he saw his ERA climb to 4.34. The biggest question mark for this rotation is Clay Buchholz. Buchholz has shown that he can be a top of the rotation pitcher but he has struggled at times where he doesn’t look like he could get outs in AA. Boston appears to be going into Spring Training content with their rotation but a move for Cole Hamels could be made if things do not go as planned.

Prospect to Watch: Rusney Castillo

I know a lot of Boston writers would pick Blake Swihart as their prospect to watch but I am very interested to see Castillo for a full 162 game season. In only 36 games, he produced .333/.400/.528. His unique skill set of speed and power could be a huge part of the Red Sox’s offense this season. One concern for every young player is if he can produce for an entire season and if he can make adjustments once pitchers make an adjustment on him. There is no question Castillo has the tools to be successful but can he produce at the major league level in the city of Boston at a high level is still a question that must be answered.

2015 Outlook:

There is no question that the 2015 Boston team will have a better season than the 2014 team but there are a lot of pieces that have to fall into place for this team to compete for a division title. The offense will be much improved from last season but Pedroia will need to stay healthy and Ortiz is entering his age 39 season. The starting pitching is definitely a cause for concern and I do feel a move must be made if this team has expectations of making the postseason. If all the pieces fall in place, this team can compete for the division but I see this team competing for a Wild Card spot rather than a division title with the roster they have right now.

Exhibit A: Allen Webster

Sure there are pitchers like Josė Fernandez and Matt Harvey who seem to have figured out big league hitters immediately after their promotion to the show. But many pitchers go through growing pains before they figure it out. Allen Webster is one of those pitchers.

If you look at the win/loss record for Webster, it doesn’t look all that bad (3-2). But look deeper into the statistics and if you watch him pitch, there is nothing easy about Webster’s starts. His 5.81 ERA is a couple of runs above league average and his 49 base runners in 31 innings shows how hard he works each and every inning.

Webster has the makeup to be a starter in the big leagues. He has 3 pitches, fastball, slider, and change up. His fastball sits between 91-95 and he has a swing and miss change up. His slider is a work in progress but has greatly improved since last season. So what’s the problem. CONTROL.

Watching Webster, you see a guy who can cruise one inning, and the next inning cannot find the zone. As a fan, it is extremely frustrating to watch but I can only imagine how frustrating it is for Webster. Webster does not have the stuff where when he is down in the count he can just blow it by hitters. Webster has to hit his spots, and by the numbers, he has not been able to do that. Big league hitters can hit a fastball, no matter how fast it is, when they know it’s coming. If Webster wants to show signs of improving, he has to throw quality pitches in the beginning of the count to get ahead.

Another aspect of Webster’s game that I have noticed is he struggles in shut down innings. Shut down innings are crucial when it comes to grabbing momentum and Webster has not been able to put up a 0 in them. For instance, back on August 2nd in a start against the Yankees, The Red Sox spotted Webster a 3 run lead in the second inning. Webster followed that by allowing 4 runs in the 3rd. These are situations for a pitcher to grab hold of the game and get your team back in the dugout to score again and Webster has not been able to do that.

There is nothing left for Webster to prove at AAA (4-4, 3.10 ERA). He has to figure out how to get big league hitters out. Luckily for him, the Sox are basically tanking the season and allowing their young players to try and prove themselves at the big league level. Webster could be one of those pitchers that never pans out as a starter, or one that never pans out at all. But Webster most likely will have the opportunity to figure things out for the remainder of the season and try and prove to the Boston organization that he could be a piece moving forward.

Can Soria be the Savior for Detroit?

There is no question that over the last couple of years the bullpen for the Detroit Tigers has been the Achilles Heel for them. Just two years ago, Jose Valverde just completed a regular season where he went 49/49 in save opportunities, but saw him struggle in the postseason has he gave up 9 runs in 2.2 innings pitched. In 2013, Detroit had the opportunity to take a commanding 2 games to none lead against the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS as their starting rotation completely dominated the Red Sox hitters. Jim Leyland without a doubt misused his bullpen as he saw his pen blow a 5-1 lead in the 8th inning. Tigers’ closer Joaquin Benoit gave up a game-tying Grand Slam to David Ortiz as Torii Hunter went flying into the Boston bullpen. The Tigers would give up a run in the 9th to allow Boston back into the series and eventually would lose the series 4-2.

It was clear that the Tigers were going to address their bullpen problem in the off-season and that is exactly what they did. Everyone knows that Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski is one of the more aggressive General Managers in baseball and he decided to go out and solve the bullpen problem by going out and acquiring the active saves leader in baseball in Joe Nathan. They signed him to a 2 yr / 20 million dollar deal with a team option for 2016. Everyone thought that this move would put Detroit over the hump but to say that the 39 year-old has struggled this season would be an understatement. This season Nathan is 20/25 in save opportunities. 5 blown saves doesn’t sound all that bad but when you look at the statistics it has been ugly. His 5.89 ERA is the highest in his 14 year big league career and his 1.527 WHIP shows how difficult each inning has been this season.

Late Wednesday night the Tigers went out and got a huge insurance piece in Joakim Soria for 2 minor league pitchers. Soria was in his 2nd season with Texas and converted 17 of his 19 save opportunities for the struggling Texas Rangers. His 2.70 ERA and .870 WHIP is an encouraging sign for Detroit fans. Soria was one of the best closers in baseball for a 3 year stretch before he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012. He has recovered nicely from TJ surgery as his average fastball velocity is 90 mph, which is only down 1.5 mph since he broke into the big leagues and still has that sharp breaking ball. Soria still has great stuff as his strikeouts per 9 innings is 11.3. Soria goes from baseball’s worst team to one of the best teams in the American league.

The concern with Soria, if there is a concern, is that he has zero postseason experience. He spent 5 years with the Royals, who we know haven’t been to the postseason in forever (1985) and with Texas the last 2 seasons, in which they have slowly been on the decline. So the question is how will Soria perform when the lights are at their brightest? That’s a question that only time will answer. It is impossible to predict how a player will perform in the postseason, especially closers who have a high pressure job in trying to secure the end of the ballgame. Detroit knows all too well how closers can struggle come postseason time as Benoit was 24/26 in save opportunities during the regular season but the postseason was no walk in the park for him. Tiger fans should be happy with this move as it provides much needed insurance to a team that has seen their dreams crushed at the end of games. If Soria can continue to be the pitcher he has been in the past, he will be closing out games soon and should be a big part of the Tigers trying to get back to the ALCS.

A Big Mistake

The Boston Red Sox have made one of their biggest mistakes probably since letting Ruth go to the Yankees in 1920. I think all Sox fans are shocked that the Red Sox have not resigned Jon Lester to keep him in Boston for the foreseeable future. Early in Spring Training a report came out that Jon Lester wanted to stay in Boston and was willing to take somewhat of a hometown discount without hurting the market for future free agents. Many thought that a deal would absolutely be done but for whatever reason Red Sox ownership only offered Lester 4 yr / 70 Million and he said no without hesitation. Lester just came off an unbelievable Postseason where he went 4-1 with a 1.56 Earned Run Average in 34.2 innings while only allowing 25 hits. Lester also performed when the lights were at their brightest in the World Series going 2-0 in 2 starts with a .59 ERA. Why the Red Sox thought they could get Lester to sign by offering him well below his actual value is baffling. The Red Sox decision to be frugal with their money, an organization that ranks 4th in payroll (162, 817,411), will either cost them millions of dollars or cost them their ace.

Lester was drafted in the 2nd round in the 2002 draft by the Red Sox and made his major league debut 4 years later. Since making his debut, he ranks 9th all-time in Sox history in wins (110) and 4th all-time in strikeouts (1379). The definition of an ace in the big leagues is every time that pitcher makes a start, his team knows he will go deep into the game and give his team a chance to win and Lester has done just that. He ranks 9th among active pitchers with a winning percentage of .6337 and has made at least 31 starts in each of his first 6 full seasons in the big leagues. Aces do not grow off trees and it would be difficult to imagine what the Sox rotation would look like if Lester were not a part of it next season.

Not counting Lester, next year’s rotation has Lackey, who only makes league minimum due to his Tommy John Surgery in 2012, Buchholz, who has been injured over each of the past 2 seasons, Ruby De La Rosa, who threw 110 innings in 2010 for his career high, and Brandon Workman, who has never thrown over 140 innings. Pitchers who can consistently throw 200 + innings every year are invaluable and John Lackey is the only Sox pitcher besides Lester who has thrown 200 + innings (once with Red Sox). If the Red Sox were to lose Lester, it would be a tremendous hit to the Sox rotation not just in 2015 but for future years. The Red Sox cannot rely on any of their starters to be a lock for 200 + innings because none of them have proven they can except for Lackey but even he hasn’t done it since his TJ surgery. The Red Sox have no choice but to sign Lester for whatever the amount will end up being and they have absolutely no leverage when it comes to discussing his contract

Right now 63 starting pitchers make more money than Lester’s 6 million dollars. Lester has been a steal for the last couple of seasons but he has performed at a level with the top starters in the game and it is time his contract agrees with that statement. Two pitchers that have deals that could be similar to Lester’s are Homer Bailey and Cole Hamels. Bailey signed a 6 yr / 105 Million dollar deal and is only 7 games above .500 for his career. Hamels signed a 7 yr / 153 Million dollar deal and has similar numbers to Lester’s. I would expect Lester’s deal to be between Bailey’s and Hamel’s deals but the more he throws this season, the more the Sox will end up paying. Through 20 starts in 2014, Lester is 10-7 with a 2.50 ERA. Sox fans need Lester to continue his domination in order to get back into playoff contention but the more he continues to dominate, the tougher it will be to resign him.

Lester will be 31 years old entering the 2015 season so he still is relatively young and he understands how to pitch. Not only does he have a good fastball, he locates his pitches well and can cut and sink the ball. Lester has also show a plus curveball this season as his pitching style should be successful as his stuff slowly begins to decline as he gets older. Lester is a fan favorite in Boston and it would be a devastating loss for the organization if he decides to go to a new club. If the Sox are unable to resign him, it will send an interesting message to the rest of the club and a message that could upset the veterans on the team. I know I am not alone in saying that this deal must get done no matter what the cost is because Lester is too valuable to the future of the Boston organization. My advice: Sign Lester now because each start will end up costing the Sox in the offseason.





Mariners Must Counter

The news broke late Friday night that the Los Angeles Angels agreed with the San Diego Padres to acquire all-star closer Huston Street and minor leaguer Trevor Gott in exchange for minor leaguers Taylor Lindsey, R.J. Alvarez, and Elliot Morris. This deal solidifies the Angeles already strong bullpen. The pressure is now put on the Seattle Mariners to make a counter move to improve their ballclub because of the moves that the Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Angles have made.

The A’s took baseball by storm by acquiring both Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to go along with Sunny Gray, Scott Kazmir, and Jessie Chavez. Many believed that this move put the Athletics as the team to beat in the American League. It was known that the A’s were looking for a starting pitcher but when they acquired both from the Cubs it put the A’s ahead of both the Angels and the Mariners. The A’s were able to add Samardzija and Hammel to baseball’s best team and now this is a team with a potent lineup, great starting pitching, and a solid bullpen. The Oakland Athletics are one of the few teams in baseball that do not have a flaw.

Now the Angels have countered the A’s move by adding a piece they desperately needed in Huston Street. Joe Smith had been the Angels closer and was doing an admirable job saving 15 out of 19 games but he has never been a closer in his career and does not have the stuff to be a dominant closer. Smith, being a submarine pitcher, has very different numbers against lefties and righties. Lefties were hitting .230 against him while righties were hitting .143. Smith can now go back into a situational role and face mainly right handed hitters, which he has solid numbers against. Huston Street comes to the Angles as one of the best closers in 2014 as he has converted 24 of his 25 save opportunities. Street has been one of the most consistent closers in the past decade as he ranks 5th among active closers in saves with 258.  The Angels appear to be a postseason contender as they have the second best record in baseball with a record of 58-37 and now they have a guy to turn to in the 9th inning that is experienced and can get the job the done. Street is now a part of a solid Angels’ bullpen with names like Jason Grilli, Joe Thatcher, and Kevin Jepsen.

Now it is Seattle’s turn to make a move in order to keep up with the A’s and Angels. I think it is safe to say that Seattle doesn’t have a chance at winning the A.L. West as they enter today 9 games back from the A’s but they are leading the second Wild Card spot by 2.5 games. They have to make a move before the July 31st deadline to improve their ballclub. The one big piece they desperately need is a right handed power bat and if you watch a lot of games it is tough to find right handed power bats. Seattle went out and shocked baseball before the Winter Meetings by signing Robinson Cano to a monster 10 yr / 240 Million dollar deal and he has had a solid season. But you had to question what the Mariners were doing when they did not go out to sign a right handed bat to compliment Cano and they still have that same problem on July 19th. I was confused when Nelson Cruz signed a 1yr / 8 million dollar deal with the Orioles as to why the Mariners did not make a run at him. Cruz has only gone out and hit .283 with 28 HR and 74 RBI. Tell me that wouldn’t look good in the middle of the Mariners lineup. If the Mariners were willing to sign Cano to that huge contract, why would they not go out and get a bat that can protect Cano. The Mariners can only second guess themselves when it comes to not signing Nelson Cruz but they still have the opportunity to pick up a bat before the deadline. There has been a lot of talk lately about the Mariners being interested in David Price and Ben Zobrist. Although Price would be a great addition to the Mariners team, they do not necessarily need another starter as they have the 3rd best team ERA (3.13) in baseball. As tempting as a rotation of Felix Hernandez, David Price, and Hisashi Iwakuma sounds, they would have to give up a lot of young talent to acquirer David Price. When looking at Ben Zobrist, he is not the power bat that is needed to help this struggling Mariners lineup that ranks 21st in runs scored.

My suggestion is go out and make a big splash and get Matt Kemp. It is well known that Kemp is unhappy in LA as he is not playing every day and when he does he is not playing center field. Kemp has shown he has recovered from the ankle injury and has shown glimpses of what he has done in the past. Kemp had a huge year in 2011 but has battled injuries in each of the last 2 seasons. This season he is hitting .266 with 8 HR and 35 RBI while not playing every day. He is still that same ballplayer and I think a change of scenery could get him back to his old self. Kemp would look really good in the middle of that Seattle lineup protecting Robinson Cano.

My advice to the Mariners: go out and get Matt Kemp because both the A’s and the Angels have gone out and improved their team. It’s time for the Mariners to do the same.


Important Days Coming for the Red Sox

If you are a Sox fan like I am, you realize that the first half was frustrating with how inconsistent this team has played. And if you are like me, you still think there is a chance that they can make a run and get back in contention for a playoff spot. The next 17 days are going to decide whether the Red Sox will play for a playoff spot or become sellers. That’s not to say that the rest of the season will not be as important if they desire to make the postseason but those games will be irrelevant if they struggle over the next two weeks. Looking at the American League East standings, the Sox find themselves tied for last place with the Tampa Bay Rays and 9.5 games back from the first place Baltimore Orioles. Luckily for the Sox, they have the ability to get back into the A.L. East with a bunch of divisional games coming up. They will play 16 games over the course of a 17 day stretch and 9 will be at home and 6 on the road. The important part about this stretch is not just who Boston plays but who the division leading Baltimore Orioles play. Let’s start by taking a look at the Red Sox schedule.

7/18-7/20: vs Kansas City Royals
7/21-7/24: at Toronto Blue Jays
7/25-7/27: at Tampa Bay Rays
8/1-8/3: vs New York Yankees

This is not an easy schedule by any means but three of these teams are ahead of them in the A.L. East. When you dig yourself a huge hole as Boston has done every game from now on out has to be treated like a playoff game if they have any desire to make the postseason. Now let’s take a look at the Orioles schedule over the same period.

7/18-7/20: at Oakland Athletics
7/21-7/24: at Los Angeles Angels
7/25-7/27: at Seattle Mariners
7/29-7/31: vs Los Angeles Angels
8/1-8/3: vs Seattle Mariners

A big factor of the Sox’s ability to get back into the American League East is Baltimore is going on a lengthy West Coast trip. East Coast teams have a tendency to struggle on the West Coast and they are playing the three best teams in a competitive A.L. West. If they take care of their schedule over the course of the next 2 weeks, they should be able to gain ground in the A.L. East.

In order to gain ground, the sox will need to do 3 things.

1. Hit: They are worst run producing team in the American league after a 2013 campaign of being the best offensive team in baseball. Dustin Pedroia is 20 points below his career average and his .729 ops is the lowest of his career by almost 60 points. David Ortiz his hitting 30 points below his career .285 average. These two are in the middle of the order and need to step up their production in order to score more. There has been a lack of power in Boston as they have only hit 68 Home Runs, which is third worst in the American league.
2. Defense: Over the home stand before the break, the Red Sox made some costly errors that lead to runs for the other team and a higher pitch count for the Sox pitchers. Xander Bogaerts and Mike Napoli really struggled on the corners and for a team that is not tearing the cover off the ball they have to defend better.
3. Playing better at home: The Red Sox have really struggled at home this season going 23-26. They have been streaky at home as they went on a 7 game home winning streak early in the year and they went 3-7 on their last home stand, which was a vital part of the season up this date. 53-28 was the Sox record at home last season. If the Sox want to get back in it, play better at home and use the crowd to their advantage.

There is no question that the Sox have dug themselves a difficult hole and have to be almost perfect in order to get back into the playoff conversation. One bad weekend could be enough for Ben Cherington and the Red Sox owners to give up on 2014 and begin thinking about 2015. Becoming sellers could see players like Uehara and Gomes be shipped out of town and the rest of the season could be difficult to watch, not that it could be much worse than it already has. The hope for Sox fans is can they really play this poorly for an entire season. Things eventually have to change and I keep wondering if these young kids can provide the spark that is needed to get this team on a run that can push them back into contention (Bradley, Vasquez, Holt, Bogaerts, and Betts). If the Sox do make a run and get back into the postseason talk, look to these next two weeks to be the time when they make their move.