MLB: Boston Red Sox at Detroit TigersTony Paul of The Detroit News is reporting that former Detroit Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter relayed to Mark Whicker of the Los Angeles News Group that he has whittled down his list of potential teams to the Baltimore Orioles, Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers, and Seattle Mariners.

Other teams including the Kansas City Royals, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, and Toronto Blue Jays had been previously mentioned as possible suitors for the 39-year-old outfielder.

The Mariners, who have been aggressively searching for right-handed power bats during this offseason, have been connected with numerous players including Russell Martin and Victor Martinez before their signing and Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, Nelson Cruz, Matt Kemp, and Yoenis Cespedes.

The addition of the 18-year veteran, who posted a respectable 111 OPS+ (.286/.319/.446) in 2014, would provide a reliable right-handed bat at manager Lloyd McClendon’s disposal. Last year, 88% of his 586 plate appearances were at the 2nd and 5th spots in the batting order while he held down right field and was used sparingly as a designated hitter. It’s reasonable to expect that he would be used similarly by the Mariners.

Breaking into the majors with Minnesota in 1997, the nine-time Gold Glove centerfielder with the Twins and Angels before moving to Detroit in 2013. The veteran outfielder, who will turn 40 next July, has seen his fielding prowess diminish greatly over the last two years. After registering +15 Defensive Runs Saved in 2012, he deteriorated to -10 and -18 in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Despite his declining numbers, the Pine Bluff, AZ native has been a durable performer averaging 142 games during the last three seasons and hasn’t landed on the disabled list since missing 32 games in 2009 with a groin strain.

Based on his durability and previous performance, getting a two year contract seems like a reasonable expectation for the former Tiger, who will turn 40 next July. Offers would likely be less than the two year/$21 million contract that the New York Mets gave to Michael Cuddyer this year. His 2014 wRC+ of 113 falls short of Cuddyer’s 151, who is also four years younger than the five-time all-star.

Ultimately, the team that Torii Hunter selects will be for reasons that he only knows at this time. He lives in the Dallas-Ft. Worth suburbs, so Texas may be attractive to a veteran at the end of his career. After starting with Minnesota, he may want to end his career where it all began. Opting for either Seattle or Baltimore would signal that he wants to play for a winner. Whatever team gets him, will be getting a veteran leader and reliable hitter who has been a consistent performer for nearly two decades.…

MLBLogo2Effective organizations already have laid the groundwork for a successful season by the time the first pitch is thrown on Opening Day. The offseason — not the July trade deadline — is when successful teams establish a winning foundation. One doesn’t have to look any further than the eight entrants from this past postseason to see the evidence.

A comparison of Opening Day and postseason rosters for the eight clubs that reached the division series illustrates that each team changed 4-7 players from their Opening Day 25-man roster amounting to 51 in-season changes from the original 200 players who broke camp in April. On the surface, that may sound like significant upheaval until you take a closer look at those transactions.

Over half of all changes made by playoff teams — Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, Kansas City Royals, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals — were organic in nature (minor league recall or DL returnee). Few external additions were impactful and were used to add role players, replace injured players (especially in Baltimore), and augment pitching staffs. Not surprisingly, pitchers composed all of the notable additions because no one ever has enough pitching. The most recognizable names were the Giants’ Jake Peavy, Cardinals’ John Lackey, Angels’ Huston Street, Tigers’ David Price, and Orioles’ Andrew Miller.

In Season Transactions

As noted earlier, Baltimore suffered significant losses during the regular season, which may explain why they executed the most in-season trades (five). They suffered the injury loss of C Matt Wieters and suspension loss of 1B Chris Davis. On top of that, they lost 2013 All Star 3B Manny Machado, who had a season defined by injury and suspension. Despite losing these three key players, Baltimore added only one front line performer; relief pitcher Andrew Miller. This is certainly a testament to the team’s roster depth and strong leadership within the organization and the clubhouse.

Two teams risked trading starters to upgrade for their playoff run. St Louis, who’s been the NL representative for two of the last four World Series, acquired playoff experienced John Lackey from Boston in exchange for 1B/OF Alan Craig and P Joe Kelly. Detroit made a three-team blockbuster deal that brought them David Price, while dispatching Austin Jackson to Seattle and Drew Smyly to Tampa Bay.

The Angels improved their bullpen by trading deposed closer Ernesto Frieri to Pittsburgh for Jason Grilli and acquiring San Diego closer Huston Street. The other team in LA improved organically. The Dodgers’ biggest upgrades were the return of Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw from the disabled list. Similarly, Washington’s biggest improvement came with Doug Fister’s return from injury.

The most significant move by the team that has won three of the last five World Series was getting the playoff-tested Jake Peavy. Otherwise, the Giants called upon rookie Joe Panik, who became their starting second base man after being recalled from Triple-A Fresno. Travis Ishikawa’s acquisition (via minor league free agency) wouldn’t generally be considered significant, although he did have a memorable NLCS.

The most impactful of Kansas City’s three trades was the addition of Jason Frasor to an already strong bullpen. Organically, they added relief pitcher Brandon Finnegan, who also pitched in the 2014 College World Series and starting pitcher Danny Duffy. And who can forget the speedy Terrance Gore who may have evoked memories of Herb Washington.

Amazingly, the Royals had the same starting ten in game 1 of the World Series as they did on Opening Day. The order was different, but the names were the same. Certainly, that success could be attributed to superb organizational foresight. On the other hand, it certainly helps to have the great luck of no unplanned losses due to injury or suspension.

Each of the eight 2014 MLB playoff teams had strong Opening Day rosters with minor league options ready to contribute in the big leagues needed. Measured use of trades and free agency can be used either to improve an underachieving aspect of the roster, like pitching, or to respond to injury losses. No team that reached the postseason did so because of what they added in July.

Right now is when postseason bids are won, during the cold months when gloves and bats are stored away and executives text and email their way into October.…

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Seattle MarinersTo many, this weekend’s matchup against the Oakland Athletics was the biggest series of the season for the Seattle Mariners thus far. For Lloyd McClendon and the boys, it was probably heralded as nothing more than games 93, 94, and 95 of 162, all of which being important. Whatever you decide to call it, there’s little doubt that a series beginning with a matchup between King Felix Hernandez and Jeff Samardzija is bound to be a good one. The M’s would defeat the Athletics 3-2 and 6-2 on outstanding outings from Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma, but couldn’t complete the sweep on Sunday as they lost 4-1.

Now, before we talk about the games themselves, I’d be remissed if I didn’t make mention of the incredible atmosphere that fell upon Safeco Field this weekend. Just under 100,000 made their way through the gates in total, including myself and 39,204 on Saturday alone — although I don’t know how much of a factor the Kuma bobblehead giveaway played in that. Maybe it’s finally set in that the Mariners are in fact, not a terrible baseball team, and people are starting to actually buy into it. I can’t remember the last time I was at a game where every single section was populated, or when the Seattle fan base was able to out-cheer the pesky A’s fans that always seem to show up in droves when Oakland comes to town — and I must say, I enjoyed it. Even the mood outside of the stadium on Saturday night was something I haven’t seen in an extremely long time.

The M’s don’t have the Boston Strong mentality that encapsulated the Boston Red Sox fan base in 2013 and catapulted the club to a World Series title. Even the young players expected to play big roles this year like Taijuan Walker, Brad Miller, and James Paxton haven’t been able to provide what spark that many hoped would carry over from September of last year. Of course injuries derailed the seasons of the aforementioned pitchers, but aside from the addition of Robinson Cano, there wasn’t any major change to the Mariners personal heading into 2014 outside of the management team — which should be given due credit as well. But what the club has been doing is simply getting it done; any way they can. Guys like Chris Young and Joe Beimel having resurgent seasons and James Jones and Roenis Elias bursting onto the scene with key contributions have propelled this club to a 51-44 record — and people have rallied around that.

Perhaps it all started with the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks reigniting Seattle as a sports city, or maybe people are starting to take my advice and attend at least one Felix start this year — more likely the former — but the most likely scenario is simple: people want to see winning teams. But I digress.

On Friday night Felix continued his dominance and allowed just a pair of earned runs across eight innings of work in the victory. He did have a rocky start however, giving up both runs — one of which was a solo home run by Stephen Vogt — in the first inning, but settled down from there on and finished the night with nine strikeouts and just six hits allowed. The win gives the King 11 before the All-Star break for the first time in his career and his 2.12 earned run averaged eclipsed Randy Johnson‘s 2.20 mark for a new team record at the break. The offense managed to even things up quick by scoring a run in both the second and third innings — including a Logan Morrison solo shot — before Cano hit an RBI-double in the sixth to give the club the lead. Fernando Rodney would pitch a scoreless ninth which concluded with a strikeout of Nick Punto on a questionable pitch. He offered this gem of a quote after the game.

Saturday night featured another strong pitching matchup between Iwakuma and A’s right-hander Jesse Chavez. In fact, the Japanese star would’ve earned a shutout on the night if it wasn’t for a two-out Brandon Moss home run in the top of the ninth. Otherwise it was nearly a perfect night for Seattle that featured a pair of home runs from All-Stars Kyle Seager and Robbie Cano and a double for Corey Hart that would lead to the first run of the game. The M’s managed to rack up a total of 14 hits on the night, but more importantly they managed to pick up three of those with runners in scoring position — something that seemed impossible at times during the previous series with the Minnesota Twins.

It almost looked as if the M’s were more interested in their plans for the four-day break than Sunday’s matchup against Sonny Gray who, aside from an RBI-ground out from Cano in the first, shut the team out. Closer Sean Doolittle managed to neutralize the left-handed bats of Seager and Morrison en route to a four-out save. Cano and Seager led the sixth inning off with a pair of hits to give the M’s runners at the corners with no outs, but Cano would be left stranded at third in what would become the last real opportunity Seattle had to do some damage on the night. Veteran starter Chris Young gave the club six innings of work while allowing three earned runs and continues to be a dependable arm in the rotation. This was a classic 2014 Mariners game where the offense just wasn’t able to muster up anything of substance. The club was 0-for-5 on the night was runners in scoring position.

All in all, the Mariners managed to take two of three from the best team in baseball, and that in itself should be worth celebrating to some extent. It’s always nice to go into the break on a winning note, but after a tough week prior to the serious, it was significant to see the M’s step up when it counted in games that provided the closest thing to a playoff atmosphere that this city has scene in years.

Heading into the second half of the season, the boys in blue and teal sit seven games above .500 with a decent grip on a Wild Card berth. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?…