MLB Hot Stove Headlines From An Alternate Universe

  • Friday, November 4, 2011 1:23 PM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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Somewhere out in the great beyond, there exists an alternate universe with an alternate Major League Baseball. Here are some recent headlines from this league's Hot Stove season.

Yanks’ Sabathia Opts Out of Contract, Eyes Homecoming With A's
By Buster Olney, ESPN.com

The New York Yankees drafted, developed and groomed CC Sabathia, but it appears the chronically cash-strapped organization is going to lose yet another homegrown talent to a team with considerably more payroll power.

Sabathia's agent Brian Peters said Monday that the left-handed former Cy Young winner will opt out of his current deal with the Yankees, with four years remaining, and become a free agent. Speculation among several high-ranking baseball front office personnel indicates that Sabathia wants to sign with his hometown team, the Oakland Athletics, who are looking to significantly increase their payroll thanks to their brand new stadium that will open next season.

Oakland general manager Billy Beane declined comment, but one American League GM said he would set the chances of a Sabathia-to-Oakland deal at “above 80 percent.”

Sabathia signed an extension with the Yankees when he first reached free agency after the 2008 season, but demanded the opt-out clause in case he felt the organization did not come through on its promises to field a competitive team. ...

Three Hospitalized After Camden Yards Stampede
By Baltimore Sun Staff Reports

Seven unidentified men were taken to a Baltimore hospital and three will be held overnight for observation after sustaining injuries in a stampede at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Thursday afternoon.

Details remain scarce about the incident, but witnesses told The Sun the stampede was caused by a large group of candidates for the Orioles’ open general manager position all trying to rush into an interview room at once. Only eight candidates were officially scheduled to interview for the much sought-after job, but at least three times that many people showed up at the ballpark Thursday in an attempt to gain consideration.

“This is the job that everyone wants, and so we all were trying desperately to be first to speak to (Orioles owner Peter Angelos),” said one of the potential GMs, who was released from the hospital with minor injuries and asked not to be identified by name. “We’re talking about a successful, stable organization with the best owner in baseball. Who wouldn’t want to step into that situation?” ...

Padres Said to Be Leading Charge for Fielder
By Ken Rosenthal, FoxSports.com

The San Diego Padres could be close to adding another big bat to their stable of sluggers.

According to multiple baseball sources, the team is currently the favorite to land free agent first baseman Prince Fielder, whose contract with the Milwaukee Brewers expired after this past season.

With chunks of excess cash burning a hole in the pockets of new general manager Josh Byrnes and Fielder said to be keen on playing 81 games a year at the bandbox known at PETCO Park, there is reason for both sides to be optimistic about an agreement.

“Money, as we all know, is no object for the Padres,” said a source with knowledge of the negotiations. “And even though they already led the National League in home runs last season, they have an opening at first base. Plus, Prince feels he could hit 60 homers a year thanks to PETCO’s practically Little League-sized right field.” ...

Red Sox Lock Up Epstein, Francona For Long Term
By Gordon Edes, ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Just days after finishing off their third World Series Championship in eight years, the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday ensured that two key pieces of their operation will remain with the team for years to come.

Team officials confirmed that general manager Theo Epstein will receive a five-year contract extension that will kick in when his current deal expires after next season; they also confirmed that manager Terry Francona’s 2012 and 2013 options, worth a total of $8.75 million, will be picked up and supplemented with two additional years at a slightly higher rate. Exact terms of the extensions were not disclosed, but a press conference has been scheduled for Wednesday at Fenway Park.

Epstein and Francona presided over a Red Sox club that won 93 games in the regular season, holding off the Tampa Bay Rays for the American League wild card, then breezed through the postseason, beating the Atlanta Braves in five games in the World Series.

Epstein has been lauded for his recent signings of Carl Crawford and John Lackey, key pieces of the team’s 2011 success, while Francona’s relaxed clubhouse -- characterized by in-game sessions of fried chicken, beer and video games -- is said to have been crucial in preventing panic as the Rays made a late-season push. ...

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The Great AL East Panic Of 2011

  • Friday, April 8, 2011 2:05 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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On Thursday afternoon, the Red Sox and Rays both lost and moved to 0-6. Coupled with the Astros’ win over the Reds, this left the two AL East would-be contenders as the last teams standing – in only the loss column.

Of course, everyone is debating what these slow starts mean, particularly when it comes to the Sawx, a popular World Series pick just a week ago.

In Boston, panic has gripped the streets like in no other time since the Revolutionary War. When Darnell McDonald’s baserunning blunder accounted for the final out in Thursday’s loss to the Indians, I kind of imagined Paul Revere putting the butt of his musket through the TV, mounting his horse and galloping off to warn everyone of impending doom.

Now, the logic-inclined sector of the Internet baseball-following community has mostly refrained from stocking-up-on-canned-goods-level apocalypse angst. And not just because most moms’ basements already feature a nice stash of canned goods.

Look at it at this way: The Red Sox and Rays both have played slightly less than 4 percent of their schedules. And while both teams are now clearly in a hole, the situation is really not that dire.

In terms of the division, the Yankees are four games ahead, but Boston and Tampa each get 19 head-to-head matchups included in the remaining schedule. That’s a lot of opportunities to gain ground. And then think in terms of the wildcard. If we assume teams like Baltimore, Toronto, Kansas City and Cleveland are not serious playoff contenders – a fairly safe assumption – Boston and Tampa are right in the mix. The Twins, Tigers and Athletics are all 2-4, while the Angels are 3-3.

Just out of curiosity, I went back to the start of the six-division, wildcard format and looked at the teams with the longest season-opening losing streaks each season. Here are the results, listed with the streak, the overall season record and the finish in the division.

2010: Astros, 0-8, 76-86, 4th
2009: Nationals, 0-7, 59-103, 5th
2008: Tigers, 0-7, 74-88, 5th
2007: Astros, 0-4, 73-89, 4th
2006: Pirates, 0-6, 67-95, 5th
2005: Mets, 0-5, 83-79, 3rd
2004: Mariners, 0-5, 63-99, 4th
2003: Tigers, 0-9, 43-119, 5th
2002: Tigers, 0-11, 55-106, 5th
2001: Brewers, 0-4, 68-94, 4th / Marlins, 0-4, 76-86, 4th / Royals, 0-4, 65-97, 5th
2000: Phillies, 0-3, 65-97, 5th
1999: D-backs, 0-4, 100-62, 1st
1998: Expos, 0-7, 65-97, 4th
1997: Cubs, 0-14, 68-94, 5th
1996: Red Sox, 0-5, 85-77, 3rd
1995: Reds, 0-6, 85-59, 1st

With three teams tying in 2001, that gives us a pool of 18 teams, which averaged a 6.3-game losing streak to begin the year. These clubs went on to win an average of 70.6 games (71.1 if you account for the ’95 Reds’ strike-shortened season).

Seven of the 18 finished in last place, two finished third, none second and two first.

The 1999 Diamondbacks, in the franchise’s second year of existence and coming off a 65-win campaign, started 0-4. By May 18, they were 23-17 and leading the NL West. They took the lead for good on July 24 and went on to win the division by 14 games

The 1995 season was delayed due to the strike. The Reds played their first game on April 26, lost, then lost five more in a row. They then went 12-5 to get over .500 and were leading the division for good by June 5, going on to take it by nine games.

Of course, neither of these teams were dealing with anything like the present-day AL East, but the main point holds: Hope is not lost.

Unless you lose again today. Then you’re definitely screwed.

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MLB Predictions: What WON'T Happen In 2011

  • Wednesday, March 30, 2011 9:02 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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Months of waiting are finally over, and the 2011 season has arrived. To mark the occasion, everyone is making their predictions, saying what they think will happen this season.

What a boring, glass-half-full approach. Here is what WON’T happen in MLB in 2011.*

* To answer your first question, yes, I hate your favorite team and am out to get them, and no, I don’t know what I’m talking about. Just wanted to be upfront about that.

Last year’s World Series participants get back to the playoffs.
Since the six-division wildcard format was introduced in 1995, 19 of 30 World Series teams have returned to the postseason the next year, with five returning to the championship round. This will not be one of those years. Rather, this will be like 2006 or 2007, when neither World Series participant from the year prior played extra ballgames.

To be clear, I don’t think what the Giants or Rangers accomplished last season was a mirage. Those were both talented clubs, and they certainly have a good shot to reproduce their success. But a lot of things – not everything, of course – broke right for both teams last year, and that rarely happens twice in a row. Both San Francisco and Texas are flawed teams, flawed enough that I have them being overtaken this year by Colorado and Oakland, respectively, and finishing behind the second-place team from the East for the wild card.

The Yankees and Red Sox both make the postseason.
Sorry, TV network executives! For the seventh straight year, your dream ALCS will not come to fruition. Now, you certainly could argue that the Yankees and Sox look like the two best teams in baseball, and that would be hard to dispute. There are concerns with both, but you also know they will do what is necessary to address any issues with in-season trades.

That said, whether it’s my NY-BOS fatigue or the fact I’m currently reading Jonah Keri’s fascinating The Extra 2%, I’m going to say the Rays find a way to steal one of the two playoff spots that will almost certainly go to the AL East. Losing Carl Crawford to Boston and the whole bullpen to various other teams were tough pills to swallow for Tampa, but I think additions like Manny Ramirez and Jeremy Hellickson will push the Rays through.

The Phillies starting rotation proves to be the greatest of all time.
No, I’m not invoking the SI cover jinx. And I do believe the quartet of Halladay-Lee-Hamels-Oswalt is good enough to drag the Phillies’ wounded lineup into the playoffs and maybe even the World Series. That said, I think expectations probably have gotten a bit outlandish in the off-season.

The Big Four have been a pretty durable bunch in recent years, but of course it’s not hard to imagine one of them going down with an injury somewhere along the line. Pitching is a tough business. And consider this: The 1997 Braves had four starters with an ERA+ of at least 138 (100 is league average). The Phillies’ four have combined to reach that number in 15 of 29 seasons in which they made at least 20 starts. So while it’s certainly possible all four will enjoy great years, I think it’s pretty reasonable to believe at least one will get hurt or have a down season. And I’m not convinced run support will be in abundance, which means that those paying attention to pitcher wins might be disappointed.

The Reds take the next step toward building an NL Central power.
Those were heady days in Cincy last season. Joey Votto was NL MVP, Jay Bruce took a step forward, Scott Rolen managed 537 productive plate appearances, and Dusty Baker and company cobbled together a decent pitching staff. The result was a division title and the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 1995.

Granted, the Reds played as well as their record indicated last year, based on run differential. And they are a young club with room for growth. But as we’ve seen in recent seasons with teams like Arizona, young and talented teams can hit some speed bumps after initially finding success, and I think that happens with the Reds in 2011. The rotation in particular has some blow-up potential with Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey likely starting the year on the DL, Edinson Volquez not too far removed from major arm surgery and the rest of the bunch awfully short on big league credentials. With the Brewers improved, the Cardinals still dangerous and the Cubs likely to be better, I think someone overtakes Dusty’s crew this time around.

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2010 Preview: Boston Red Sox

  • Tuesday, March 16, 2010 12:28 PM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 95-67, 2nd in AL East. Pythagorean record of 93-69.
Key Additions: SP John Lackey, 3B Adrian Beltre, CF Mike Cameron, SS Marco Scutaro
Key Losses: LF Jason Bay, 1B Casey Kotchman, RP Takashi Saito, SS Alex Gonzalez
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 98-64, 1st in AL East. CHONE – 93-69, 2nd (Wild Card). CAIRO – 93.8-68.2, 2nd (Wildcard).

Pitching: 2009 – 4.14 FIP (8th in MLB), 4.14 for starters, 4.15 for relievers
2010 – The signing of Lackey was obviously huge, as he will team with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester to give the Sox a great 1-2-3 punch. A resurgent Daisuke Matsuzaka and a blossoming Clay Buchholz would mean the best rotation in baseball.
Hitting: 2009 – .352 wOBA (2nd in MLB)
2010 – The additions of Beltre, Cameron and Scutaro have gotten a lot of attention for being signs of a shift toward defense by Boston's brass, but it's not like these three guys can't hit. The Sox lineup still has plenty of firepower.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of -16.3 (16th in MLB)
2010 – It's been one of the big topics of the offseason: Boston's defense should be much better with its new free agent signings in tow. Plus, the team already had a brilliant defensive right side of its infield with Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia.

Reasons to Watch
1. The new guys: How accepting will Red Sox Nation and the media be if the team gets off to a rocky start and Beltre, Cameron and Scutaro aren't hitting much? Offensive prowess is easier to see than steady defense, and the team's new additions could turn into easy scapegoats if things aren't going well.
2. David Ortiz: 2009 was a bizarre year for Big Papi, who was hitting below .200 with one home run entering June before getting things going and finishing the year with 28 homers and a .340 wOBA. These weren't the types of numbers we've been accustomed to from Ortiz, but they were enough to fend off the he's-done talk for a while. But it will be interesting to see what happens if Papi gets off to another snail-paced start.
3. Young flamethrowers: Clay Buchholz finally started to put things together at the Major League level last season, while Daniel Bard made a name for himself in the bullpen with his 97-mph average fastball.

Paint By Numbers: Bard's average fastball velocity last season (officially 97.3 mph) was the second-best in the majors, trailing only Jonathan Broxton. But according to FanGraphs' PitchFx data, even though Bard threw the fastball 73 percent of the time, his slider was actually his most effective pitch, coming in at 5.1 runs above average. ... Jacoby Ellsbury stole 70 bases, making him the first AL player to reach that plateau since 1997. It also meant that Ellsbury swiped more bags than three teams: the Cubs, Braves and Brewers. ... Dustin Pedroia's strikeout rate of 7.2 percent led all qualified hitters, while his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.64 put him behind only Albert Pujols.

Blog Jog: Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe's Extra Bases blog examines the rumor that has Mike Lowell headed back to the Marlins. ... Logan Lietz of Over the Monster frets over Clay Buchholz's first Spring Training outing. ... Wicked Clevah provides an illuminating Q&A on what the Red Sox front office is thinking.

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2 Things I Want To Happen In '10

  • Monday, February 15, 2010 12:00 PM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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We're getting close.

Teams officially start reporting to Spring Training on Wednesday, so with two days left before then, I give you "2 Things I Want to Happen In '10."

Just two? Well, I certainly could think of a lot more. But hey, I'm not greedy.

1. I want the Rays to recapture the AL East championship.

You see, there are these two teams, the New York Somethings and the Boston, uh, I forget. Something to do with footwear, I think? It's so hard to remember, given their obscurity and utter lack of coverage in the media (What's with that West Coast bias, ESPN?).

In all seriousness though, the Rays winning the 2008 AL East title was so refreshing, I find myself wanting more. Sure, Yankees and Red Sox fans and the TV networks don't want it to happen, but I think a lot of others do. The fact is, the Yankees are probably too good not to win, and if they don't, the Sox probably will. Yet the (Not Devil) Rays have compiled a fantastic group of talent, and with a few breaks, you never know. In fact, the PECOTA projected standings for this season see the AL East as essentially a dead heat for the top three spots.

It's a fact that for the foreseeable future, New York and Boston are bound to win the vast majority of division crowns. Yes, they have a huge monetary advantage, but both teams also are spending their fortunes more wisely than ever before. Can't stop me from hoping, though.

2. I want another one-game playoff.

Incredibly, for three straight years, 162 games have not been sufficient to decide one of the pennant races. In 2007, it was the NL Wildcard, and for the past two seasons, it has been the AL Central. I say, let's keep it going.

For one thing, there is no such as too much baseball, so an extra game is never unwelcome, especially when the stakes are so high. And that's what makes these games so riveting: Each one is like a Game 7. What's more, all three play-in games have been incredible. Three years ago, the Rockies beat the Padres, 9-8 in 13 innings; two years ago, the White Sox outlasted the Twins 1-0 on Jim Thome's seventh-inning homer; last year, the Twins beat the Tigers 6-5 in one of the greatest games I've ever seen, finally pulling it out in the 12th inning.

On one hand, it seems unlikely this could happen for a fourth consecutive season. On the other hand, there figure to be several tight races in 2010 -- including in the AL Central, of course -- so don't count out the possibility. I know I'll be wishing for it.

4 Series to Mark on Your Calendar

  • Saturday, February 13, 2010 10:43 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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Four more days until the first pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. Therefore, it seems like a good time to look ahead to four potentially interesting series on the schedule for this season.

I didn’t include matchups between division rivals here, since those are pretty obvious and provide intrigue every year.

April 12, 14-15, Red Sox @ Twins – On the 12th, outdoor baseball will return to Minneapolis for the first time since 1981, the last year of old Metropolitan Stadium. Ever since, the Twins have been safely tucked away in the ugly but warm confines of the Metrodome. Until this season, that is. Target Field is opening its doors for this prime series against the Red Sox. These two teams figure to put on a good show, as long as they’re not frozen solid. The average temperature in Minneapolis in April is a high of 57 and a low of 36, with the record low being a balmy 2 degrees. At least all three games in this series are day games, with the first night contest taking place to start the following series against the Royals. For the sake of Twins fans, let’s hope Target Field has hot chocolate dispensers in the backs of every seat.

June 22-24, Cubs @ Mariners – This interleague series is certainly interesting on its own merits. These two teams figure to be playoff contenders, and the Cubs have visited Seattle only once before, in 2002. But these three games have another storyline as well: Milton Bradley’s first appearance against his last team. Bradley’s brief tenure in Chicago ended with him getting suspended late in the season. The veteran outfielder might have gotten some undeservedly rough treatment from fans and the media – his on-field performance wasn’t as bad as many perceived – but he never fit in a clubhouse that generally got along well. Even Ryan Dempster, a first-class act, said after Bradley’s suspension, “It became one of those things where you see him putting the blame on everybody else, and sometimes you have to look in the mirror and realize that maybe the biggest part of the problem is yourself and wanting to be there and wanting to play every day and wanting to have some fun. It didn't seem like he wanted to have very much fun, even from Spring Training.” There could be some serious tension here, assuming Bradley is still on the active roster at that point.

June 25-27, Yankees @ Dodgers – This will be the Bronx Bombers’ first trip to Chavez Ravine since 2004. These are two franchise with a ton of history between them, including 11 clashes in the World Series (four since the Dodgers left Brooklyn). And this series figures to come with both squads near or at the top of their respective divisions. A lot will be made of Joe Torre managing against his old club, but what’s really more interesting is what happens on the field, and this series could feature some exciting matchups. Personally I’m eager to see LA’s 22-year-old lefty strikeout machine Clayton Kershaw test his stuff against New York’s nightmare-inducing lineup, or closer Jonathan Broxton try to finish off a close game against A-Rod. Not to mention that Manny Ramirez against the Yankees tends to be entertaining.

Sept. 17-19, Angels @ Rays – Most of the series at the very end of the season are divisional matchups, as they should be, but this is one late-season interdivisional series that could have huge playoff implications. The Rays seem to be in position to stand up to the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East again, while the Angels likely will have their supremacy in the AL West challenged by at least two division competitors. Depending on how things shake out, this could even turn into a crucial battle for a wildcard berth. Plus, you have a showdown of the minds between Mike Scioscia and former bench coach Joe Maddon, now managing Tampa, and Angels pitcher Scott Kazmir potentially squaring off against his old team for the first time.

Tomorrow: 3 teams to keep an eye on