If I had a Vote for the National Baseball Hall of Fame….

Earlier this past week, the Baseball Writer’s Association of America released the list of players on the ballot for 2014 election for the Hall of Fame. There are 20 newcomers and several returnees trying to get into Cooperstown this year.

Slam Dunks On the First Ballot: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas

Maddux and Glavine combined for 650 wins, close to 9500 innings, six Cy Young awards, 18 All-Star appearances, and 18 gold gloves. Along with John Smoltz (who will be on the ballot next year), they formed one of the most dominant rotations ever. Thomas hit over 520 home runs and is fifth among all players in the last 40 years in OPS. The Big Hurt did it without ever being one of the accused in the steroid era. Slam dunk.

Maybe Not This Time, But Soon: Mike Mussina, Jeff Kent

Mussina won 270 games with the Orioles and Yankees. He never won a Cy Young, but he finished in the top six in the balloting nine times. His 3.68 career ERA would be one of the highest ever in the Hall, but pitching in the AL East in the steroid era helps his cause. Moose’s career 123 ERA+ is better than Tom Glavine. I’ll bet you he’d be an easy choice if Maddux, Glavine, and Thomas weren’t also on the ballot.

Kent is the all-time home run leader for second basemen with 377 blasts. He also has the most 100 RBI seasons at the position with eight. He protected Barry Bonds at his peak, and even stole an MVP from him in 2000. There are some suspicions, as his numbers immediately took off at the age of 30 when he arrived in San Francisco after being just an above average hitter with the Mets. But hey, the five All-Star was also on Survivor last year. What’s not to like?

Why Didn’t They Get In Already?: Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, Tim Raines

How does somebody with over 3000 hits not get in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot? That’s the biggest reason why the fact that not a single player was elected last year. Biggio may not have been of the greatest hitters, but he was consistent and played three or four different positions well in his 20 year career. Piazza had 427 HR and a .922 career OPS, both highest ever for a catcher. Their omissions last year and probably this year are likely due to the suspicion of PED use. Simply absurd that voters are using mere suspicion and not concrete proof as grounds for keeping them out.

One of the most ridiculous snubs for the Hall since Bert Blyleven is Tim Raines, who is on the ballot for the seventh time. He’s arguably second behind only Rickey Henderson for greatest lead-off man of all-time. His case is getting stronger every year, as he has received more votes each, peaking at 52.2% last year. However, with several strong candidates in the coming years, it may be a while before Rock gets in. He had a career .385 OBP, averaged close to 5.0 WAR per full season, and won a batting title with Montreal in 1986. He also helped the Yankees win two World Series in the 90s. Then of course, he’s fifth all-time in stolen bases with 808, never getting caught more than 15 times in one season.

Juusssttt Short: Curt Schilling, Larry Walker, Fred McGriff, Edgar Martinez, Jeff Bagwell

Walker, McGriff, and Martinez were three of the most feared hitters of the 1990s. Walker won three batting titles and an MVP. McGriff just missed the 500 home run club. Martinez won two batting titles and single-handily kept baseball in Seattle. Bagwell slugged .750 once and hit close to 450 homers. However, the cloud of the steroid era seriously hurts their causes. Martinez has the anti-DH bias against him, and Walker had his numbers juiced by Coors Field. Bagwell’s career ended prematurely due to arthritis. All four didn’t truly have the longevity as elite players.

Curt Schillling is a very interesting case. Other than Roger Clemens, all other eligible members of the 3000 strikeout club are in the Hall. Out of those guys, only Schilling, Maddux, Pedro Martinez, and Ferguson Jenkins had less than 1000 walks. The guy was an absolute horse, and formed one of the most dominating 1-2 punches ever with Randy Johnson. That 11-2 record and 2.23 ERA in 19 postseason starts cannot be ignored.

Juicers I Would Put In Anyway: Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds

In a vacuum, it’s impossible to argue against Clemens or Bonds. Clemens won 354 games and seven Cy Youngs (and an MVP), and struck out almost 4700 batters, third of all-time. Bonds, obviously, is the home run king and won seven MVPs and led the league in average, OBP, slugging, and OPS many, many times.

Of course, the performance enhancement drug cloud will keep both (and many others) out of the Hall for the foreseeable future. At the very least, for as long as the current voters of the Baseball Writer’s Association are calling the shots. I will take a more liberal, lenient point of view. Cheating has been apart of baseball since the beginning. Gaylord Perry and Ed Walsh made Hall of Fame careers often using the spitball. Hank Aaron and others of his time were rumored to have used amphetamines (also known as greenies). Why are steroids and HGH any different? If I’m a voter, I’d let some of these players in, but I’d be a hard judge. Bonds and Clemens are in, but eventually.

Juicers I Wouldn’t Put In Regardless: Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro

Before that fateful 1998 season, Sosa was a Dave Kingman type hitter, hitting just .257 and striking out over 25% of the time in over 4000 career at-bats. His peak was fantastic but lasted only about six or seven years. That’s why I wouldn’t vote for him, not for the steroid reason alone.

I’ll use similar criteria in judging McGwire. Only once over a full season did he hit over .300, as he hit just .263 over his career. He did have a .982 career OPS and a 163 OPS+, but he was a very incomplete hitter like Sosa. He claims to have used PEDs due to his long injury history, so one has to wonder if he would have ever put up those numbers if he wasn’t ever healthy. No to Sosa, no to McGwire.

Yeah, Maybe Try The Veterans’ Committee: Jack Morris, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell

The case for Jack Morris has been discussed over and over again, so thankfully this is the last time we will regardless if he gets in or not. His supporters point to his success in the 80s, as he had the most wins of that decade. They’ll bring up his reputation for being a big game pitcher, as he won four World Series and pitched one of the greatest games ever: a 10 inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 Fall Classic. His detractors will point to his mediocre 3.90 ERA which rates out to only five percent above league average during his career. Personally, I think if Morris manages to get in (he received close to 68% of the vote last year), you have to put in Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina, as they have better numbers pitching in the steroid era.

Now, as for Smith and Trammell, it’s highly unlikely either will get in. Both have not gained much momentum in the balloting in recent years, despite the fact that Smith is formerly the all-time saves leader and Trammell put up a solid offensive career at a time shortstops still were light hitters.

Verdict: Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, Biggio, (also Piazza, Clemens, Bonds, Raines, Mussina, and Schilling)

Remember, voters can fill in up to 10 players on their ballot. These are the guys I would vote for if I had to pick 10. I personally think Biggio is going to get in this year along with Maddux, Glavine and Thomas. The other guys may have to wait longer with Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey, Jr., John Smoltz, and Trevor Hoffman coming on the ballot in the next few years. Tough crowd indeed.

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Who Should the Yankees Sign? Part Six: Carlos Beltran

Part Six:

OF Carlos Beltran

Born: April 24, 1977 (will be 37) in Manati, Puerto Rico

Major League Debut: September 14, 1998

Teams Played For: Kansas City Royals (1998-2004), Houston Astros (2004), New York Mets (2005-2011), San Francisco Giants (2011), St. Louis Cardinals (2012-2013)

By the numbers-

2013 numbers: .296/.339/.491/.830, 128 OPS+, 24 HR, 84 RBI, 2.4 WAR

Career numbers: .283/.359/.496/.854, 122 OPS+, 358 HR, 1327 RBI, 308 SB, 67.5 WAR

Previous contract: 2 years, $26 million, $13 million AAV

Projected contract (from FanGraphs): 2 years, $26.8 million, $13.4 million AAV

Pros- Beltran continues to rake into his late 30s despite a lengthy injury history. He would easily be the best outfielder on the team, and make the lineup very deep. A middle of the order containing Beltran, Robbie Cano, Mark Teixeira, and the newly signed Brian McCann would be one of the deepest lineups in all of baseball, and Beltran may only have to bat 6th! When healthy, he’s still one of the better players in the game, especially in the postseason.

Cons- He is a huge injury risk. A HUGE injury risk. Let me emphasize that. His knee history with the Mets was the primary reason I didn’t want the Yankees to sign him two years ago, but he somehow managed to stay healthy and produce in the NL. Despite this, he has seriously declined as a defensive OF, which could make him a DH half the time. The Yankees can’t afford that.

Verdict- The age and injury history makes signing Beltran a giant risk. He really can’t play the outfield anymore, so he could end up clogging the DH spot, which has be rotated between Jeter, A-Rod (if he isn’t suspended), McCann, and possibly Alfonso Soriano. Also, he is asking for a multi-year deal, so giving him that as a 37-38 year old would be very foolish. A big N-O to Carlos Beltran. There are younger, and even cheaper alternatives like Shin-Soo Choo or Corey Hart.

Who Should the Yankees Sign? Part Five: Matt Garza

First time I’m doing a pitcher in this series with……

Part Five:

RHP Matt Garza

Born: November 26, 1983 (Age 30) in Selma, CA

Major League Debut: August 11, 2006

Teams Played For: Minnesota Twins (2006-2007), Tampa Bay Rays (2008-2010), Chicago Cubs (2011-2013), Texas Rangers (2013)

By the Numbers-

2013 numbers: 155.1 IP, 10-6, 3.82 ERA, 106 ERA+, 136 K, 1.24 WHIP, 3.88 FIP, 3.73 xFIP

Career numbers: 1182.1 IP, 67-67, 3.84 ERA, 108 ERA+, 1001 K, 1.28 WHIP, 3.98 FIP, 4.00 xFIP

Previous contract: 1 year, $10.25 million

Projected contract (from FanGraphs): 4 years, $58.7 million, $14.7 million AAV

Pros- Garza is a perfect choice for a #2 or #3 starter. He’s good for close to 200 innings when healthy. He has plenty of experience in the AL East, as he had a 3.89 ERA during his three years in Tampa Bay. His control and strikeout power have improved over the last three seasons, as he put up rates of 8.4 K/9 and 3.13 K/BB.

Cons- He has a tendency to give up the long ball; that’s the first thing that jumps out. He’s given up 102 home runs in his last five seasons, a 1.1 per nine innings rate. That could balloon in Yankee Stadium. He’s had a recent history of injuries, as he’s started just 42 games in the last two seasons. Double red flag.

Verdict- Garza may be a safer bet than Ubaldo Jimenez or Rickey Nolasco. The contract he is projected to get is similar to what John Lackey and A.J. Burnett (uh-oh…) got. With the Yankees desperate for starting pitching, he may be a good investment and a perfect #2 or #3 guy.

Yankees Fill Their Biggest Need In Signing Brian McCann

Arguably the biggest reason for the Yankees missing the playoffs this year was the catching situation. In the previous offseason, they let Russell Martin sign with Pittsburgh, so they went with a revolving door of Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli, later Austin Romine and later J.R. Murphy.

Predictably, it was a disaster, as they finished near the bottom of the majors in almost every offensive category. With any top catching prospect at least a year or two away, they had to make an immediate upgrade this winter.

They got their upgrade on Saturday, and it was a big one. They signed former Braves backstop Brian McCann to a five year deal worth $85 million with a sixth year option. McCann has a career 117 OPS+ with 20+ home runs in seven of his last eight seasons playing at Turner Field.

Yes, the contract is pretty big, especially for a catcher going into his 30s. But there’s a lot of  factors to consider that make this move a total no-brainer for the Yankees and should be the start of a series of moves that will put New York in position to be contenders again in 2014.

Obviously, he is just about the biggest upgrade they could have made to their biggest hole. Since coming into the league in 2005, only Joe Mauer and the now-retired Jorge Posada have put up better numbers at the catching position. With his left-handed swing, the move from the Ted to the new Yankee Stadium will sustain his power numbers and help him fight the age curve.

Although he only throws at about 24% of base-stealers, he does rate out above averagely in pitch-framing and blocking the plate. He’s not a total liability behind the plate. The way the Yankees payroll is currently set-up, they could easily put him at first base or DH in his last few years once Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are gone.

One of my favorite parts of signing McCann is an intangible one. Yes, he came under fire recently this year for his antics against show-boating players like Carlos Gomez and Jose Fernandez. But you know what? I think that’s what the Yankees need. They didn’t have that last year. Posada used to be that guy who brought the emotion and the fire to this team.

I can already see him taking exception to David Ortiz showboating on one of his home run trots. Also, if A-Rod wins his appeal, and the Red Sox try to hit him again, McCann will make sure the Yankees don’t back down and retaliate, swiftly.

With this move, the Yankees have shown that they are serious about bucking the $189 million trend and spending to build a contender in 2014. Expect them to make more upgrades this offseason, particularly in the outfield and the rotation. Hopefully it also means that they will be ready to pay Robinson Cano (not $300 million, of course, but still a pretty big, but fair deal).

NFL Picks Week Twelve

Last Week: 8-7

On the Season: 91-71

Teams on Bye: Buffalo, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Seattle

Had Atlanta over New Orleans on Thursday (Upset), Lost

1:00PM Games

Pittsburgh over @ Cleveland (CLE by 1)

@ Detroit over Tampa Bay (DET by 9, UNDER)

@ Green Bay over Minnesota (GB by 5, UNDER)

San Diego over Kansas City (KC by 4, UPSET)

Chicago over @ St. Louis (STL by 1)

Carolina over @ Miami (CAR by 5)

@ Baltimore over NY Jets (BAL by 3, OVER)

@ Houston over Jacksonville (HOU by 10, UNDER)

Later Games

Tennessee over @ Oakland (TEN by 2, OVER)

@ Arizona over Indianapolis (ARI by 3, OVER)

Dallas over @ NY Giants (NYG by 3)

Denver over @ New England (DEN by 3, OVER)

San Francisco over @ Washington (SF by 5, OVER)

Does Fielder-Kinsler Swap Take Rangers and Tigers Out of Cano Sweepstakes?

The first big move of the offseason was a sudden and surprising one. The Detroit Tigers and the Texas Rangers swapped two high-priced stars on Wednesday. Prince Fielder and $168 million went to Arlington, while Ian Kinsler and his $69 million deal went to Motown.

Both teams benefit from this deal. The Tigers can now extend reigning AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and can strengthen their defense by moving Miguel Cabrera back to first. The Rangers finally got the power bat they’ve needed.

It also may help the Yankees, as the trade may take both teams out of the running for Robinson Cano. Going into the offseason, I considered the Tigers and Rangers the primary opponents in the wooing of Cano. After this trade, it doesn’t make much sense for either team to sign him.

Kinsler is one of the better overall second baseman in the game, so it’s unlikely Detroit would move him to another position or flip him elsewhere to get Cano. They made the Fielder trade to give Max Scherzer an extension, so it’s hard to see them going after #24 with second locked up for the next five years.

Texas, on the other hand, is a more interesting story. Their new TV deal allows them more financial muscle, and besides Fielder, they don’t have many long-term financial commitments to players. They may go after Cano, but they very well may not. The Rangers have been trying to move Kinsler for a while in order to break in Jurickson Profar, one of the top prospects in all of baseball. It’s hard to see them commit over $300 million to two players for the next seven years

Rather than taking on two albatross contracts, the Rangers could decide to go after other top free agents that fills their other needs: catcher and outfielder. Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran could fill these holes and make their lineup deeper and less expensive.

This trade makes Cano in either Motown or Dallas/Ft. Worth illogical and unlikely. Doesn’t make sense financially or structurally. It sure does help the Yankees’ chances of retaining their superstar though.

Cheaper, Alternative Options the Yankees Should Pursue this Offseason

 

The Yankees are planning on making some moves this offseason after failing to make the playoffs for only the second time in 20 years. For the last few years we’ve heard how they’re trying to cut their payroll to $189 million to get under the luxury tax, but in order to compete next year, it is clear that they have to very aggressive this winter.

Currently, the 2014 team’s payroll is at $96.4 million (could be $25 million lower if Alex Rodriguez is suspended). However, much of that money is invested in three or four players. With a certain second baseman along with other top free agents this offseason  asking for high pay, it may be better for the Yankees to pursue other, cheaper options to put a team together in the fashion of the Red Sox. Here are four players the Yankees should consider if they decide not to go crazy.

1. Second base: Omar Infante instead of Robinson Cano

Cano is by far the best second baseman in baseball and it isn’t even close. It will be completely impossible for the Yankees to replace his .300+ average, 25+ HRs, 100+ RBIs, and ~.900 OPS that he is good for every year. However, with his asking price at about $300 million, it may be wise for them to let him walk. So then they to get creative to get a replacement, and nobody is as good as Cano.

Omar Infante has had a relatively quiet career, having two spots with the Tigers while playing a few years in Atlanta and two with the Marlins. Since 2009, he’s pretty much been league average offensively, but did managed to hit .318 with a 113 OPS+ this year. He plays a sound second base, with a positive UZR/150 in the last few years. He is not Robinson Cano, nobody is, but he will be significantly cheaper, as he made just $4 million in the last two years. He’s only a year older than Cano, and he’s projected by FanGraphs to get a three year deal worth $27.5 million. That may be more worth pursuing than giving in to Cano’s demands.

2. Catcher: A.J. Pierzynski instead of Brian McCann

The Yankees are desperate for stability behind the plate, as their catcher situation’s (mostly journeyman Chris Stewart and rookie Austin Romine) combined offensive production was in the bottom five in the majors. Brian McCann is an easy answer; he’s been one of the best in the game for the last eight seasons. However, he too is looking for a big pay day, possibly one that’ll get him $80-$100 million. It could be a huge risk, and the Texas Rangers are also after him, so the Yankees could look elsewhere on the market.

A.J. Pierzynski is a guy the Yankees could look at if they don’t pursue McCann. After a career season in Chicago in 2012, the 37 year-old only got one year for $7.5 million from Texas. He put up decent numbers closer to his career norms this year; 17 HR, 70 RBI, amd a .722 OPS. He threw out basestealers at a much higher rate than McCann (33% vs 24%). A one year deal is possible, and a two year deal isn’t too bad even for a guy in his late 30s, especially if they decide to go cheap at catcher.

3. Outfield: Corey Hart over Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Shin-Soo Choo

The three big free agents in the outfield this offseason are all looking for big pay days, but all could end up on the wrong side of 30 very soon. Carlos Beltran, once again associated with the New York Yankees on the rumor mill, has manged to stay healthy in each of the last three years and has been productive, but it would be a mistake to give a to-be 37 year-old with knee problems a two year deal, especially since his defensive skills have declined sharply.

Shin-Soo Choo would bring an excellent batting eye to the top of the Yankee order but his defensive skills are also getting worse and he’s slowly becoming a platoon player (.612 OPS vs LHP this year). Jacoby Ellsbury is potentially an MVP candidate and top five-tool talent, but his injury history is a red flag for a player who’s primary skill (speed) hardly ever beats the age curve. He could be the next Carl Crawford.

Enter Corey Hart. Over his previous three seasons, he’s averaged close to 30 HR and a .857 OPS while totaling close to 10 wins in that span. You’d think he too would be up for a raise, but he missed all of 2013 with surgeries on both knees. This will easily knock down his value by a lot, making him cheap for the Yankees to pick up. When healthy, the guy can hit, especially LHP (career .896 OPS against southpaws). He’s a decent outfielder and can also play a little first-base. When you compare what Ellsbury, Choo, and Beltran will get, a one year deal for Hart has a great chance of becoming an absolute steal.

4. Pitcher: Josh Johnson over Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ricky Nolasco

The top three pitchers of this offseason (other than Masahiro Tanaka) come with plenty of risk. Ricky Nolasco and Matt Garza have been around; solid, middle of the order pitchers who aren’t exactly overpowering but give you innings. But that’s just it. They’re really just middle of the rotation caliber starts, probably not worth the $50-$60 million they’re projected to get.

Ubaldo Jimenez is an interesting case. He has some of the best potential stuff in the game and showed it in the first half of 2010 with a 15-1 record and a 2.20 ERA. After that, he struggled in the years to follow. Only this year did he get back to his capability, as he finished the season with a 2.40 ERA and 131 strikeouts in his last 120 innings (20 starts). Jimenez isn’t asking for as much as Nolasco or Garza, but he seems to be a higher risk. High risk, high reward.

A safer option is Josh Johnson. Like Jimenez, he was once budding into one of the game’s best pitchers three years ago, but injuries have derailed him. He strikes out a lot of guys and has good control. Yeah, he was pretty brutal with the Blue Jays this year but he was limited to just 81 innings due to a series of injuries to his arm. He gave up home runs at a 18.5% clip, much higher than his career norm. A 3.58 xFIP suggests a rebound could be in the works for Johnson in 2014 if he’s healthy. With his injury history, he will be much cheaper than the three I already mentioned (and I don’t even want to mention Ervin Santana. He’s got red flags all over him). Johnson could be a perfect #2 or #3 in the Yankees rotation.