Top Six MLB Teams That Have Surprised In 2014

Kirk Gibson, Trevor Cahill

*Note that records and stats shown are from end of day Thursday, April 17, 2014. If you click the link, you can read my full piece at Baseball Hot Corner, which is back, baby!

For every MLB season, despite our ever-thoughtful preseason predictions, there are bound to be surprises that occur which shock fans as to how teams perform. Granted, it’s only three weeks into the season, but here’s a look at some teams who are off to some pretty astounding starts, both good and bad.

Honourable mentions go to the New York Yankees, 10-6, 1st in AL East… Continue reading→

The 2014 Blue Jays and Handling Pressure

Meet your 2014 bearded Blue Jays - they're good enough for all of 'em to appear on Ducks Dynasty!

Meet your 2014 bearded Blue Jays – they’re good enough for all of ‘em to appear on Ducks Dynasty!

Here we are Blue Jays fans on the first day of the season, it’s a time of great anticipation and ever-longing hopefulness of a successful season. Many of our Jays had inspiring springs, and although we all know spring stats mean jack, the team headed north is mostly healthy and primed to rebound from last years dreadful season.

In fact, Jose Reyes recently told Brendan Kennedy of The Toronto Star, “Last year we had high expectations, we finished last. This year, we have no expectations, maybe we’ll finish first. Who knows?” Who knows indeed. What I like about his quote though is the acknowledgement that there is in fact no pressure on them this year because no body expects anything from this team.

There is cause for optimism though as Kennedy writes in the same article, “there is bona fide science behind the notion that the Jays may actually perform better this season simply because they have been around each other longer.” I too have alluded to this before and 500 Level Fan did a really nice write up on this notion as well.

I’ve also written before that the amount of fun a team or individual has, has to out-weight the pressure to perform. Intuitively, I knew this, yet couldn’t prove it until Kennedy wrote about this research in his article, which I encourage you all to read.

This leads me to two fascinating views on handling pressure in books I’ve read this offseason. The first of which is former NBA all-time great head coach Phil Jackson in his latest book, Eleven Rings, when he said,

“When a player isn’t forcing a shot or trying to impose his personality on the team, his gifts as an athlete most fully manifest. Paradoxically, by playing within his natural abilities, he activates a higher potential for the team that transcends his own limitations and helps his teammates transcend theirs. When this happens, the whole begins to add up to more than the sum of its parts.”

He later adds, “as a coach, I know that being fixated on winning (or more likely, not losing) is counterproductive, especially when it causes you to lose control of your emotions. What’s more, obsessing about winning is a loser’s game: The most we can hope for is to create the best possible conditions for success, then let go of the outcome. The ride is a lot more fun that way.”

Letting go of the outcome … that’s not easy considering the results-driven society we live in today. Interestingly though, Buzz Bissinger similarly writes in his book, Three Nights in August, as he covers the life and mind of soon to be inducted Hall of Famer, Tony LaRussa,

“…when you’re up there [to bat in a high pressure situation], focus on the process and not the result; don’t project into the future. Forget about the noble but irrational concept of going for broke [like hitting one out]. Put away the hero complex and simply try to get something started.

That, my friends, is what I’d like to see this season – for the Blue Jays to not get so anxious and try to pull everything out of the park; to not try and win every game with a home run. The ability to relax, to appreciate the moment, and to play within one’s own natural abilities may result in a better than expected run in 2014.

There’s already been evidence this spring with the likes of Adam Lind and Jose Bautista and many others hitting the ball up the middle or to the opposite field. That’s an approach that is both welcomed and refreshing to see.

And one final thought I have for the Jays before the first pitch is thrown this year is – go get those other AL East bastards!!

2014 MLB Predictions

price and rays

In looking back at last year’s predictions (A.L. here, N.L. here), it turned out that I was half correct when it came to predicting the teams (St. Louis) that reached the World Series. And I managed to accurately guess seven of the teams eventual placement in the standings, which of course means that I was wrong with 77% of the other teams.

So in continuing this futile, yet fun exercise, here’s a quick look at what I’m predicting this year.

American League East

Rays – I love their starting pitching and their bullpen will still be solid. David Price and the whole entire team are on a mission to have one last good run before Price is likely traded. This is too much of a feel good story to not pick them as division champs.

Red Sox – Still very solid, I really like the youth they’re inserting in place of Jacoby Ellsbury and Stephen Drew and they’ve got more coming in the way of pitching and positional prospects. I really hate how good an organization Boston is.

Yankees – They’ve reasserted themselves as a force to reckon with, which I completely detest. Still, there are many questions that surround this team, too many, in fact, that it’s hard to pick them as division favourites especially when there are more solid teams they’re competing against like the Rays and Red Sox.

Orioles – Baltimore has really strengthened themselves with the Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez signings. I think they’ll have a chance this year to compete for the playoffs.

Blue Jays – What can I say, their offseason has been non-existent, and while nearly the same team returns that we all picked to win a year ago, it’s hard to be more optimistic than fifth place given all the question marks that surround this team. I’d love to see them prove me wrong of course!

AL Central

Royals – I’m taking a flyer on the Royals here because they’re a solid team that should get better in the offensive department. Of course, I could be totally wrong, but they could be another feel good story.

Tigers – I know Detroit had to re-make their team by infusing more speed and better defense into their roster, but to me, they just got worse over the offseason and don’t seem as impressive. Furthermore, many large decisions loom, the first of which is what to do with Max Scherzer long term.

Indians – Are they going to match last year’s results without the success of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir? My answer is no.

Twins – More pitching depth is good for the team thanks to the signings of Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey, it’s just that I feel it’s mostly meh. An infusion of youth with the likes of Josmil Pinto and Oswaldo Arcia will help, but it’s still not a very good team, YET.

White Sox – I like the moves they made in the offseason by acquiring Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson to go along with Jose Abreu. They have a good 1-2 punch in the starting rotation with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. They’ve definitely reshaped themselves, however it doesn’t mean the team will gel right away either. I’m still guessing fifth place.

AL West

Athletics – The A’s deserve some credit for finishing first the past two seasons and 2014 is no different.  Their GM Billy Beane has accrued 25 guys that compliment each other, and besides, they easily have the best pitching staff in the division.

Rangers – They’re much improved with the additions of Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, and yet they’re faced with some holes in the rotation right now due to injuries. They’ve signed guys like Tommy Hanson and Joe Saunders to help fill the void, and while their pitching seems thin right now, if they get Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison healthy, they’ll be able to compete for the division title.

Angels – Many people are still high on the Angels here, and while they shouldn’t be as bad as they’ve been the last two years with an resurgent Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, their pitching depth still remains ultra thin.

Mariners – Ah yes, I loved their big signing of Robinson Cano, however their lineup is very lacking from the right side and Cano has no protection. Their pitching depth is razor thin right now with Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker out at the moment, so yeah, this may end up being a long season for them.

Astros – The Astros are young and building up their team with an infusion of youth and promise, which I like. By the end of the season with players like George Springer, Jonathan Singleton, Mark Appel et al., they should be much improved and maybe even challenge for fourth place.

National League East

Nationals – Washington has strengthened themselves in the Doug Fister trade and by the signing of Nate McLouth. All they have to do is perform, which is what the Jays were saying a year ago.

Braves – I don’t like how they lost Brian McCann or Tim Hudson. Those are two big veteran guys that are now gone, which I feel leaves a leadership gap. To reach the post-season again, they’ll need, like always, to rely on their young pitching and improved production from the likes of B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla. It’s really disappointing how Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy are injured again for the year. The Ervin Santana signing sure helped them, but now will it be enough?

Mets – The Metropolitans will be better in 2014 thanks to the additions of Chris Young and Curtis Granderson and hopefully further growth from the likes of Zach Wheeler, Juan Legares and Travis D’Arnaud. Their pitching staff is decent and I like what they’re building for 2015 and beyond.

Phillies – Already it seems the injuries are piling up with Cole Hamels and Jonathan Pettibone and Ethan Martin already out for a while. For me, I believe it’s too much to ask of an aging core to step up and compete like they’re three years younger. If they fail to compete this year, it really might mean the end of Ruban Amaro’s tenure as GM and the start of a rebuilding process which could take quite awhile.

Marlins – This team is just so young and inexperienced to do much of anything. I like their core of starting pitching, but still this team is too young to prevent the expected growing pains of youth.

NL Central

Cardinals – St. Louis has strengthened their already strong roster with Peter Bourjos and Jhonny Peralta. A model organization, it’s hard to expect anyone else in the division challenging them for the division lead.

Brewers – Initially I wasn’t high on the Brew Crew, but now with the Matt Garza signing, their rotation appears to be pretty decent. The main questions for me here pertain to their youthful yet promising offense in addition to their bullpen which lacks any proven commodity now that K-Rod is injured for the time being.

Reds – Still very solid in the rotation and bullpen, the question here remains on offense and whether Billy Hamilton can be that on-base spark plug. It’s too bad they’re a smaller market team that has to rely on infusions of cheap, youthful prospects to augment their core as opposed to resigning stars like Shin-Soo Choo. Still, I like the look of Tony Cingrani in the rotation and top pitching prospect Robert Stephenson who should help the team real soon.

Pirates – I expect a fall from grace of sorts from a team that over-achieved last year. Don’t get me wrong, I loved seeing them in the post-season, but I think their chances have worsened with the loss of A.J. Burnett. Everything has to go right again for them to have a chance.

Cubs – It’s so hard for me to be nice to a team that appears content letting Luis Valbuena be it’s starting third baseman along with the general acceptance of utter mediocrity. They also don’t appear to have a plan given how they freely admitted signing Edwin Jackson maybe was a year too early. This organization needs to shape up and get their act together.

NL West

Dodgers – The class of the division, the Dodgers will remain champs as they feature the best pitching and, if healthy, a good lineup that will put up oodles of runs.

Diamondbacks – Another mystery organization here where they traded Justin Upton last offseason only to acquire another power hitter in Mark Trumbo this offseason. Still, they’re going to be a good team since they have significant talent, but I don’t think it’ll be enough to win the division.

Padres - Many people are high on the Padres this year, and while they could surprise due to improved depth and upside in the rotation, a lot of players need good healthy seasons for San Diego to compete. In that ballpark, they are going to be decent in preventing runs, the big question is whether they can score them.

Giants – GM Brian Sebean has brought back mainly the same group (plus a few minor additions), which under performed last year. Now they could rebound and win it all in 2014 since it’s an even numbered year, or they could flutter again around the .500 level. I’ll pick the latter.

Rockies – I have to tip my cap to the Rockies who are certainly trying to be more competitive as they’ve brought in Brett Anderson and Franklin Morales to help fill out their rotation. Will it work necessarily, that still remains to be seen.

POST-SEASON

Wildcards:  A.L.) Red Sox over Rangers; N.L.) Braves over Diamondbacks

Division Series: A.L.) Rays over Royals; A’s over Red Sox. N.L.) Nationals over Braves; Dodgers over Cardinals

League Championship Series: A.L.) Rays over A’s; N.L.) Nationals over Dodgers

World Series: Rays over Nationals

Varying Opinions and Fifth Starters

Here’s a quick post about a favourable couple of articles I’ve posted recently at Players View. First, if you and your friends had to rank the players by position in the AL East, how would it turn out? Would it vary a bit, or be kind of similar? Click here to find out just how varied a ranking can be amongst fans of other AL East teams.

Secondy, I looked at the fifth starter competition in Cleveland, which was of interest to see who had the inside track at the job. Speaking of fifth starters, do you agree with this:

I don’t know where Sportsnet’s Zwelling is coming from, but to me, Santana’s always been a #3 starter except for last year when he was a #2 behind James Shields in Kansas City. I’d envision a rotation of Dickey, Morrow, Buehrle, Santana and then likely Hutchison so the Jays can separate two righties with Buehrle.

Let’s hope Santana chooses the Jays, baby!

Will the Blue Jays have to blow it all up?

Last night on Sportsnet590, with Jeff Sammut, Sportsnet’s own Shi Davidi was on the air and essentially said that the Jays are weary of signing someone like Ervin Santana because what if they get stuck with a bad contract if the team is unsuccessful this year and have to blow it all up. This kind of defeatist thinking, if true, completely befuddles me. How does this kind of attitude inspire belief and confidence to its players, its fans, and to the entire organization?

Now I have to admit, I’m not certain if this was just Davidi’s own perception of the Jays, or if he’s actually heard this line of thinking from within because I was unable to find the audio link to have a listen again. If it’s just Davidi speaking for himself, then fine, it’s absolutely okay to speculate about the future. But if it’s from actual talk he’s heard within the Blue Jays, then verbalizing such a comment a media guy such as Davidi about this possibility is just utter bewildering.

Yes, I readily admit, there is that potential of having to start from scratch should this team not make a strong push in 2014. Selling off assets this July or in next year’s hot stove makes sense given the value that would be associated with these players that have another year or two remaining on their contracts. Just look at the contracts below that are soon expiring (all info from Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

2015 2016 2017 2018
Buehrle last year $15M
Dickey $12M $12M option
Morrow $10M option
Happ $6.7M option
Romero $7.5M $13.1M option
Reyes $22M $22M $22M $22M option
Bautista $14M $14M option
Encarnacion $10M $10M option
Lind $7.5M option $8M option
Izturis $3M $3M option
Navarro last year $5M
Thole option
Santos $6M option $8M option $8.75M option
McGowan $4M option

Clearly there is a window for the next two years and maybe even for 2016 should most of the options be picked up, but beyond that, it’s a whole new ball game. Yet that is hardly a reason to not sign Santana. We all know what the cost is; 4 years at $50M is the going rate now, the same as Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza and just one million dollars more than Ricky Nolasco. Santana would just be another asset that the Jays could potentially trade if they fall down this distressing path.

Personally, I’d much rather see a signing and proclamation that says, “yes, we’re in this race and believe in ourselves. We’re going to do whatever it takes to bring a winner back to this city,” and so forth.

And given how Happ, Stroman and Redmond have pitched so far this spring, maybe there will still be such a signing (or trade) and proclamation … but that remains to be seen.

Trying to Validate Blue Jays Relying on Internal Options

By now, everyone’s seen the latest comments by Alex Anthopoulos via Jayson Stark of ESPN, “We’d love to add a starter to maintain that depth,” Anthopoulos said. “But we’re comfortable with what we have. If the right guy were to come along at the right price, we’re definitely open-minded to the idea of adding one more starting pitcher.

“But again, we’re comfortable with our internal options.”

Say what?

The common theme earlier in this offseason was that the Jays need to do something to not only make the starting pitching stronger but also to show something to the casual fan that would maintain their interest and ultimately propel the Jays to the promised land! Now the team is spewing lines like the above indicating that they’re okay with what they have. Richard Griffin had a nice commentary about how AA said this and AA said that, however considering that right now nothing has materialized to improve the team, this offseason is an utter failure.

At the State of the Franchise event, AA used terms like emergence by referring to players like Bautista and Encarnacion that have only become what they’ve become thanks to this organization.  Even R.A. Dickey is preaching that there are real sleepers on this team that every organization needs in order to win championships. In essence, we as fans are being told to wait and watch what we already have. The common fan however cries “give me a solid starter!” and that is hard to argue with.

Common sense dictates that the Blue Jays buy another pitcher to combat injuries that will invariably occur, and to bide time for the young arms in the minors while awaiting an opening thus creating sufficient depth that all organizations need. It really does make sense. But somehow, the Blue Jays are going against that grain by drawing a line in the sand and telling all listeners that they will not budge from their own interval valuations of free-agent pitchers. In the end, what they are left with are their internal options which by the way, they’re quite comfortable with it seems.

Let’s pretend we’re a Blue Jays analyst working in the Baseball Operations department, deep in the bowels of the Rogers Centre underbelly, we’ve done some number crunching, manipulated some variables and the computer spits out the following comparables:

i) Marcus Stroman is our Michael Wacha – see below.

ii) Drew Hutchison is our Shelby Miller – hey, why not another Cardinal.

iii) Kyle Drabek is our Charlie Morton – two guys that have had injuries. Morton’s been pretty okay since his return to the Pirates.

iv) Sean Nolin is our Tony Cingrani or Jeff Locke – good lefty arms.

v) Todd Redmond is our Kevin Slowey — the April 2013 one, not the May, June, July, August or September 2013 one.

vi) Esmil Rogers is our Scott Feldman – a reliever turned starter had success last year.

vii) Rickey Romero is our Scott Kazmir — the reinvented one, not the one that was out of baseball for two years prior.

viii) Finally, probably for 2015 though, Aaron Sanchez is this year’s Archie Bradley.

Are you buying any of these comparables? Didn’t the 2012 Jays fall into a lack of depth as a result of relying on two many young guys to hold rotation spots that went down due to injury?

To go a full season with this list of pitchers is questionable at best. A lot has to break right for any one from this list to even resemble their respective comparable. It just doesn’t infuse confidence to the fan base, and if this doesn’t work, AA will have to be ready to pack his bags should this experiment implode.

Who knows, maybe I’ll be the one with egg on my face after this season. I’d like to hope that the front office knows what it’s doing and us fans can just enjoy the ride. I really hope that’s the case.

My Latest: A Baseball Hot Corner Update

As readers of this blog, and as a contributing writer to Baseball Hot Corner (BHC), I’m happy to announce that the team of BHC has merged with PlayersView.net (PV) to become their baseball writing arm. If you’re not familiar with PV, you’re not alone. They’ve primarily focused on NFL, NBA, MMA coverage, but will now also have additional MLB coverage thanks to the BHC team.

I have to say it’s been especially fun writing amongst a team of writers who are passionate about baseball at BHC, and it’s founder Clayton Richer (Twitter @MLBHotCorner), found a way for all writers to start earning some money for their writing, hence PV. As part of their exclusive content agreement, I am unable to paste the first paragraph of my work on here, but will strive however, to provide links to my stuff and other interesting reads.

So without further ado, here’s my first post on PV: (p.s. it’s about the Mariners who’ve just become so darn interesting lately).

Has GM Ben Cherington Assembled a Team Capable of a Repeat?

ben cherington2

Earlier in the off-season I read Phil Jackson’s newest memoir, Eleven Rings, where he said

“The mistake that championship teams often make is to try to repeat their winning formula. But that rarely works because by the time the next season starts, your opponents have studied all the videos and figured out how to counter every move you made. The key to sustained success is to keep growing as a team. Winning is about moving into the unknown and creating something new.”

Now obviously, studying all the ‘moves’ in basketball is a lot different than baseball…Continue reading→

Highlights from State of the Franchise

me state of the franchise

Last night, I had the privilege of attending my first State of the Franchise event at Rogers Centre, and here are the main highlights from the Q&A session:

1) Anthopoulos spoke of the emergence that both Bautista and Encarnacion experienced as players while with the Blue Jays and pretty much said for fans to believe in the club because of the potential for others to emerge. I believe this absolutely refers to Goins and Lawrie with even further gains to be gleaned from the likes of Rasmus and Lind.

2) As the below tweet shows, Gibbons got his words criss-crossed at one point by referring to Happ as A.J. instead of J.A.

Needless to say, signing Burnett would be a huge gain for the organization. Personally, I’d love to see him back in Toronto especially after the quality of performance he’s shown in Pittsburgh the last two years. Considering he wasn’t successful in winning a championship his first go around with the organization, maybe he can be a part of it this time! I think that would make his former mentor, Roy Halladay, a little bit happy.

3) Anthopoulos also said Sierra would absolutely be given a shot in the spring to win the right handed DH job due to the fact that he’s out of options, however it is no guarantee. No doubt, AA is looking for a RH bat to platoon with Lind, and I believe he will eventually find someone to fill that role, the most likely of which will involve a trade during this spring of one of his surplus, out of options, relievers.

4) Perhaps the most revealing highlight of the night was from Gibbons who said that Kevin Seitzer was brought in to be that “veteran” hitting coach compared to that of the former Chad Mottola. This clearly speaks to how Mottola pretty much left Bautista and Encarnacion alone and focused instead on the younger players who needed more support. Clearly, Gibbons thought the team needed a more veteran presence and spoke last night of the effect that hits to the opposite field can have. He specifically mentioned how Bautista and Encarnacion can take that approach as well especially in games against the league’s best pitchers. Personally, I love this mindset because Bautista, although still great, is in decline and could use some useful tools in his back pocket to take to the plate with him as opposed to always looking to knock one out.

Aside from that, I was fortunate to shake hands with John Gibbons, and learned that he loves his breakfast taco’s in the morning!! Seriously though, watching him meander amongst the fans gave me the impression that he really is an incredibly upbeat, jovial and fun-loving guy. Essentially, J.P. Riccardi was right when he said, if you can’t work for John Gibbons, you can’t work for no one. For me as a fan, it’s impossible not to love him.

As you can see from above, I got a quick picture with AA, and was able to chat with a couple of other bloggers like Ian Hunter from BlueJayHunter.com, and Gideon Turk & Chris Sherwin from BlueJaysPlus.com. They also wrote stories on the event and you can check them out by clicking on the links above.

Let’s Talk About the Rays

Rays2

Image courtesy of Tampa Bay Times.

Let’s talk about the Rays, baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let’s talk about the Rays
Let’s talk about the Rays
Let’s talk about the Rays
Let’s talk about the Rays

Did you catch the tune from Salt ‘N Pepa?

So, the Rays then. After having lost the ALDS in October, and fearing David Price may have pitched his last game for the team, the Rays found themselves at a crossroads prepared to retool their roster by trading away their star player.

All of that hasn’t come to fruition yet. In fact, it appears…Continue reading→