In the big scheme of things, adults playing a child’s game pales in comparison to the very real COVID-19 crisis. Still, whenever we finally turn a corner with the current situation, sports could provide a sense of normalcy, serve as a source of comfort. They did just that for me and others after the events of 9/11.

That’s why the news MLB and the MLB Players Association have hammered out financial details to eventually restart baseball offers cause for optimism. Granted, when a 2020 season actually begins depends on the progression of the COVID-19 outbreak and its aftermath. Plus, subsequent agreements on season length, roster sizes, and postseason format will be required.

Still, overcoming major obstacles now should speed up the process once it’s time to play ball. In the interim, we’re left to speculate on what an abbreviated season might look like. Naturally, such conjecture is fuel for sports talk radio, other media platforms, and the blogosphere.

Even the venerable duo of Ken Rosenthal and Jayson Stark recently joined the conversation. In the Athletic, they highlighted fun and innovative ways MLB could tinker with the season and playoffs. Meanwhile, Keith Olbermann of ESPN presented the radical idea of playing a 32-game schedule starting in September.

Talking about these and other ideas is a nice distraction, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the reality that an abbreviated season likely presents a different outcome than a full 162-game schedule.

I’m not suggesting MLB shouldn’t play a season unless they can squeeze in x-number of games. Only that the postseason picture could be vastly different with a season significantly shorter than the usual campaign.

To demonstrate this point, I’ve devised a science project using the 2019 season. Let’s see which teams would’ve reached the postseason if we ended 2019 after 32, 75, and 100 games.

Two notes before proceeding:

* The dates selected are when the average number of games played by all 30 teams matches the milestone selected. Some clubs will have played the exact number; others will be over/under the mark. Remember, we’re simply attempting to gain perspective on how an abbreviated season might influence the final standings; not determine postseason berths.

* To ascertain team records on our chosen dates, I used Baseball Reference, which provides users with the capability to review standings on a specific date. It also permits us to quickly determine how clubs fared from that point moving forward. It’s a fun tool I turn to often.

Without further ado, let’s begin.

American League

Regardless of when the season started, the Twins and Astros won their respective divisions. But the Yankees would’ve been relegated to a wild card spot using the 32-game micro-schedule.

At least New York makes the postseason under any scenario. The same isn’t true for other clubs.

The Rays, an actual 2019 wild card, win the AL East in a season lasting just five weeks. The team also nets a wild card spot through 75 games. However, Tampa Bay is on the outside looking in at the 100-game mark.

The Indians meander between playoff team and also-ran depending on when the season concluded. A mediocre 12-17 win-loss record in May certainly didn’t help the squad keep pace with the powerhouse Twins. The Tribe would rebound going 35-17 in June-July, but fell short of the postseason for the first time since 2015.

In a 75-game scenario, Boston fans would be pleased. In reality, the Red Sox went 35-37 in the second half of an otherwise lost season. Still, it’s tough feeling bad for fans in New England. Their Sawx won the World Series the year prior.

The Athletics have been late bloomers in recent seasons; 2019 was no different. Only Baltimore and Kansas City had a worse record in the AL than Oakland through 32 games. By June 20, the A’s were surging and just a half-game behind Boston.

Surprisingly, a tie in the standings existed between Oakland and division-rival Texas at 75 games. The Rangers were five games over .500, but an 8-16 record in July squelched any playoff aspirations. Despite the dreadful month, the club had a winning record as late as August 11.

There’s another also-ran worthy of mention – the Mariners. Seattle had an MLB-best 13-2 record through mid-April. Then came a rapid descent towards the cellar. Still, the Olbermann plan would’ve provided a glimmer of hope.

On May 3, the Mariners were just a game behind division-leading Houston. Seattle had already played 34 games. However, two games earlier, the club based in the Pacific Northwest had the same record as the Astros. Imagine the rebuilding Mariners breaking their 19-year postseason drought thanks to a torrid two-week start in a 32-game season.

Wouldn’t that be something?

Here’s a not-so-fun fact for fans in the Motor City. On May 3, the Tigers were just a game under .500 and 2.5 games behind division-leading Minnesota.

Unfortunately, things went downhill afterwards. Detroit won 33 games for the remainder of the season. That’s 10 less wins than the next terrible team – the Orioles. At least the Tigers locked up the number-one overall draft pick.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the Senior Circuit.

National League

As with the AL, the division out west remains unchanged regardless of when the season ended. The Dodgers would still win their seventh consecutive NL West title.

Every other division experienced some level of churn, especially under the 32-game scenario.

Philadelphia was five games over .500 on May 3 and would’ve been NL East division champions. But the club finished with a mediocre 81-81 and replaced its manager. It’s not as if the Phillies cratered, but expectations were high in the City of Brotherly Love after the team signed Bryce Harper to an enormous 13-year/$330 million deal.

The Cubs were a wild card team early and even rose to division leader at later checkpoints. But Chicago fell out of contention later in the season. As late as the last day of August, the team held the second wild card slot with a 4.5 game lead. Then, a disappointing 11-16 run in September finished the North Siders. They too have a new manager now.

Arizona managed to be relevant through 32 games clinching a wild card spot and being just a game behind the division-leading Dodgers. However, the D-Backs would fall to the .500-mark by June 20 and remain there at our next milestone. The team did enjoy a late-season surge going 31-22 down the stretch. When the dust settled, they finished four games behind the second card team – Milwaukee.

Speaking of the Brewers, they were inconsistent throughout 2019. The Brew Crew’s monthly record was .500-or-worse in June-August. Milwaukee finally caught fire with a spectacular 20-7 mark in September, which was enough to get them into the postseason.

Three games behind Milwaukee in the wild card standings at season’s end were the Mets. At the All-Star break, New York was 10 games under .500 – second worst in the NL at the time. But the team then erupted with the second best record (49-26) in the league behind the Dodgers. Too little, too late for the Amazin’s.

And how about the Rockies?

By the end of the 2019 season, Colorado would tie Baltimore for the fifth worst record in the majors. Yet, on June 20, the club was six games over .500 and in possession of the first wild card spot. Then came the crater-job – a 31-57 record the rest of the way.

Ironically, our first two scenarios would’ve excluded the eventual World Series champions – the Nationals.

During last year’s postseason, announcers frequently noted Washington started the season terribly. It’s true; only two NL teams had a worse record than the Nats did at the end of May. That’s when they took off.

Starting on June 1, the Nationals went 69-36 giving the team the best record in the NL from that point moving forward. Only their eventual Fall Classic opponent – Houston – performed better over the last four months of the season.

What’s Next?

As we’ve seen during our discussion, the length of the season can drastically affect the final standings. Having said that, I’m not against any scenario providing us with major-league baseball this year.

Yes, Olbermann’s innovative and fascinating idea feels more like a tease than something that I’d find satisfying. Then again, the alternative is nothing and I vote against nothing when given options leading to games.

By now, MLB has undoubtedly developed contingencies to address multiple potential scenarios, including cancellation of the 2020 season altogether. Hopefully, zero baseball isn’t the endgame. If we’re fortunate to see action this year, it’ll certainly be gratifying for two reasons.

Most importantly, the resumption of sports would suggest we’ve beaten down COVID-19. Baseball returning this year would also symbolize some semblance of normalcy sooner than later. Right now, we could all use some of that.

Wouldn’t you agree?

My Oh My…

Photo: D. Ross Cameron / USA TODAY Sports

Madison Bumgarner Photo by Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports

Advanced metrics suggest Madison Bumgarner may be regressing. But the Diamondbacks are betting five years and $85 million on the belief the 30-year-old pitcher’s career is primed for a strong second act.

The D-Backs’ confidence in MadBum prompted my pea-brain to wonder about previous pitchers having great second acts. It turns out quite a notable names enjoyed success later in their career. So, I made a list.

Please note I chose pitchers with stories compelling to me. Your list would probably look different and that’s okay. This is an exercise in fun, not being right or wrong.

As you’ll see, my definition of “second act” isn’t necessarily age-related. Sometimes, injury or change of location marked a turning point for these distinguished players.

First up, a familiar name from Bumgarner’s home state.


Gaylord Perry

Throughout his 22-year career, opponents accused Perry of throwing the spitball. Despite the suspicions and increased scrutiny from the league and umpires, his effectiveness as a thirty-something led to Cooperstown enshrinement.

Perry was superb in his twenties, but didn’t win a first Cy Young Award until he was 33-years-old. He’d receive the honor again at 39 and finished top-4 in balloting two other times. The North Carolina native also played in four All-Star games with his last appearance coming at age-40.

Now 81-years-old, Perry remains coy about throwing a spitter.


Zack Greinke

The first of three active pitchers on our list enjoyed a career-season at 25-years-old winning his only Cy Young Award with the Royals. Nevertheless, Greinke found a second gear in his thirties.

During his age-31 season in 2015, Greinke posted a 1.66 ERA. Since MLB lowered the mound in 1969, only two other pitchers have recorded lower marks – Dwight Gooden and Greg Maddux (twice). Neither were in their thirties at the time. He’s also earned six consecutive Gold Gloves.

Greinke has remained effective and available as he ages. Since 2015, the Florida native is one of just three pitchers to throw 1,000-plus innings. The others – Max Scherzer and teammate Justin Verlander.


Roger Clemens

In 13 seasons with the Red Sox, Clemens was a three-time Cy Young winner and MVP. But the former Texas Longhorn left via free agency in 1996 when his career appeared to be in decline. That’s when Act II began for Roger Rocket.

Clemens joined the Blue Jays the following season and immediately won two consecutive Cy Young Awards. He’d win another with the Yankees and a final plaque with Houston in 2004 – his age-41 season. A year later, his 1.87 ERA was best in the majors.

Thanks to his career renaissance, Clemens finished with seven Cy Young plaques and 354 wins. Not bad for a player appearing washed-up when he left the Sawx.


Tommy John

Tommy John’s second act happened after undergoing the groundbreaking elbow procedure bearing his name. Prior to the surgery, John was a successful 12-year veteran and All-Star spending time with the White Sox, Indians, and Dodgers.

A year after returning to action with the Dodgers in 1976, John was Cy Young runner-up to Steve Carlton as a 34-year-old. In 1979, the southpaw finished second as a Yankee behind Mike Flanagan.

When John finished pitching at 46-years-old, the former Indiana State Sycamore had finished top-four in Cy Young voting three times and was a three-time All-Star after TJ surgery.

Fun fact: John’s bWAR was virtually identical before and after his surgery:

Pre-surgery = 31.1

Post-surgery = 31.0

That’s good, right?


John Smoltz

Smoltz following Tommy John is fitting since the Michigan native wouldn’t be a Hall of Famer without TJ surgery.

Prior to his elbow injury, Smoltz was an established star with the Braves – Cy Young awardee, NLCS MVP, four-time All-Star. He’d miss the 2000 campaign, but returned a year later in a new role – Atlanta’s closer.

Smoltz would go on to appear in four more midsummer classics and earn MVP votes in three consecutive seasons. In 2002, he saved a league-leading 55 games and finished third in Cy Young voting.

After four seasons of closing games, Smoltz returned to the Braves’ rotation in 2005 as a 38-year-old. Naturally, he was an All-Star.

Fun fact: In August 1987, the Tigers were in a heated pennant race, so they traded Smoltz (a minor leaguer) to the Braves for Doyle Alexander.

That’s bad, right?


Steve Carlton

Speaking of trades not aging well, Carlton’s second act followed one of the worst deals in Cardinals history. In 1972, the club dealt the future Hall of Famer to the Phillies for Rick Wise.

During seven seasons in St. Louis, Carlton was a three-time All-Star. But he’d win three Cy Young Awards in Philadelphia, including his first season with the team. The final plaque arrived when he was a 38-year-old.

Lefty also finished fifth in MVP voting three times, earned selection to seven All-Star games, and was a Gold Glover in the City of Brotherly Love.


Greg Maddux

Maddux’s second act also began in a new city. He left the Cubs as the reigning Cy Young winner and signed with the Braves. The right-hander won the award his first three seasons in Atlanta and finished top-5 on three other ballots.

Being highly effective and available were cornerstones to Maddux’s epic 11-season run as a Brave. The Professor’s 342 starts during his thirties (1996-2005) were the most logged during that decade; his 3.7-percent walk rate was the best in baseball.

With Atlanta, Maddux also won four ERA titles, appeared in six All-Star games, and earned 10 Gold Gloves. He’d return to the Cubs for two seasons before finishing his 23-year career with brief stints as a Padre and Dodger.


Max Scherzer

Scherzer was already a Cy Young winner and All-Star when left the Tigers via free agency in 2014. As with Maddux, the best was yet to come for the former Missouri Tiger.

Since joining the Nationals, Scherzer has been one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. He’s won the NL version of the Cy Young twice and finished top-3 in two other years. Moreover, he’s led the league in strikeouts three times and accrued the most bWAR by a pitcher since 2015.

Most importantly, Scherzer helped propel Washington to their first World Series championship this year.


Justin Verlander

Through his age-29 season, Verlander appeared destined for the Hall of Fame – Rookie of the Year, Cy Young winner, and MVP. Unfortunately, signs of regression appeared when he turned 30.

Verlander’s ERA crept upward and his availability declined in his early thirties; a point many pitchers begin to fade. However, the former Old Dominion Monarch experienced a career rebirth.

As a 33-year-old in 2016, Verlander finished second in Cy Young voting. A year later, Detroit dealt the right-hander to Houston where he immediately helped the Astros win their first World Series.

In 2018, Verlander was Cy Young runner-up once again. This year, he won his long overdue second award edging out former rotation-mate Gerrit Cole. The odds of the Virginian earning a Cooperstown plaque are better than ever.


Mariano Rivera

Through his first-half of his career (ages 25-33), Rivera was a superb reliever – five All-Star games, a pair of third place Cy Young finishes, and MVP consideration in five seasons. Then, he decided to defy Father Time for a while.

During his age 34-41 seasons, Rivera accrued 27.3 bWAR – easily the best of any full-time reliever with Joe Nathan (18.4) a distant second. Amazingly, only 13 starters bettered the Panamanian. He’d also be a Cy Young runner-up two more times.

Rivera’s strong second act during a precedent-setting 19-year career earned him the first unanimous selection into the Hall of Fame this year.


Randy Johnson

Johnson was a recognized star when the Mariners traded him to the Astros in July 1998. With Seattle, he tossed a no-hitter, won a Cy Young and was runner-up twice. That said; the Big Unit became a Hall of Famer after his Emerald City stint.

With the Diamondbacks, Johnson won four consecutive Cy Young Awards and was MVP of Arizona’s lone World Series victory in 2001. Three years later, the former USC Trojan tossed a perfect game as a 40-year-old making him the oldest player in MLB history to achieve the feat.


Nolan Ryan

By his thirtieth birthday, Ryan was a two-time Cy Young Award runner-up and four-time strikeout leader. However, the hard-throwing righty kept going and going and going like the Energizer Bunny.

In his thirties (1977-86), Ryan ranked tenth in bWAR. During his age-34 season, he led the majors with a 1.66 ERA and a .188 opponent AVG. Remarkably, the Texan faced 605 hitters and surrendered just two home runs.

The Ryan Express didn’t lose steam entering its fourth decade. During his age 40-44 seasons, Ryan delivered 21.1 bWAR – seventh best during this span. Moreover, the former twelfth rounder won another ERA title, led the league in strikeouts four times, and finished fifth in Cy Young voting as a 42-year-old.

In a way, Ryan had second and third acts.

Fun Fact: Only four pitchers have thrown a no-hitter as a forty-something. Nolan Ryan is the only person to do so twice.


Bumgarner isn’t the only veteran pitcher hoping to improve next season. Former Mariners ace Félix Hernández, who’s been regressing for several years, wants to prove he can still provide value.

Now a free agent, the 33-year-old Hernández is seeking an opportunity to have his second act. As we’ve discussed previously, history doesn’t favor King Félix. But who cares?

Perhaps MadBum and Félix won’t rebound. But rooting for them to succeed is more fun than being a curmudgeon about their future during the offseason.

Wouldn’t you agree?…

Photo of Austin Nola by Ted S. Warren / AP

Marwin González, Brock Holt, and Ben Zobrist are three of the more prominent super-utility men in MLB. But there are other versatile performers poised to help their teams win. I decided to have a little fun identifying some of my favorites.

Most of the names you’ll see played the outfield and infield. Two donned the tools of ignorance to squat behind the plate. One even toed the mound on a recurring basis. Some could be regulars next year depending on their club’s offseason maneuvering.

One note before we begin. Player tables list their WAR (Baseball Reference) and number of games at each position in 2019. With one exception, mound appearances weren’t included.

Leury García – White Sox

With the White Sox potentially transitioning from rebuild to contention this offseason, the switch-hitting García’s positional flexibility could prove beneficial.

García’s .310 OBP was below average, although he did hit 27 doubles and steal 15 bases in a career-high 140 games this season. The native of Santiago, Dominican Republic also led the majors with 14 outfield assists this year.


Ehire Adrianza – Twins

Adrianza rewarded the 2019 AL Central champions for claiming the switch-hitter off waivers from Milwaukee in 2017 with a career-best .272/.349/.416 slash.

With shortstop Jorge Polanco recently undergoing surgery for a chronic ankle issue, Adrianza may have to hold down the position if Polanco were to need more time than expected to recover.


Niko Goodrum – Tigers

After serving as a Swiss Army knife for the 114-loss Tigers this year, the team plans on giving Goodrum a shot at being its full-time shortstop next season.

The switch-hitting Goodrum logged a league-average .248/.322/.421 this year, although the Georgia native did hit 12 home runs and steal 12 bases in 112 games.


Chad Pinder – Athletics

If Oakland upgraded left field – Pinder’s primary position – the club could consider trading the former Virginia Tech Hokie. Still, such a move might be problematic.

The A’s reportedly may deal or non-tender Jurickson Profar, a player with a history of being a super-sub too. Losing Profar would make a trade of Pinder, who appeared in a career-high 124 games this year, less likely for the budget-conscious team.


Willians Astudillo – Twins

Okay, I get it. A 5-foot-9, 225-pound player with a -0.2 WAR and rated one of the 25 slowest runners in MLB by STATCAST isn’t appealing at first glance.

Then again, Astudillo started games at catcher, second base and both corner outfield spots – for a contender. He even played center field for an inning in 2018.

How can’t this be fun?

At the plate, Astudillo had decent numbers during limited opportunities – .297/.322/.424 in 301 career plate appearances since 2018.

Assuming free agent catcher Jason Castro doesn’t re-sign with the Twins; the team could install Astudillo into the regular catching rotation. Another option, acquire a backstop and continue using the Venezuelan in a utility-role.

Either way, watching “La Tortuga” play next season should be an exercise in fun. After all, who can’t root for a player sporting the “regular guy” look?

Fun fact: Astudillo is one of just 42 players to appear at catcher, second base, and both infield and outfield corner positions in the same season.

Next up, someone who also achieved this feat in 2019.


Austin Nola – Mariners

Nola began his career as a shortstop in Miami’s system in 2012, but transformed himself into a utility-man capable of catching.

As a rookie with the Mariners in 2019, Nola hit .269/.342.454 with 10 home runs in just 79 games. By doing so, the former LSU Tiger may have earned a bigger role.

Seattle is reportedly shopping starting catcher Omar Narváez, which potentially opens an opportunity for Nola to pair with Tom Murphy. Adding fuel to this speculation; the 29-year-old honing his catching skills with Estrellas de Oriente of the Dominican Winter League this offseason.


Chris Taylor / Kiké Hernández – Dodgers

Since 2017, Taylor and Hernández have combined for 280 extra-base hits (including 99 home runs), 44 stolen bases, and 17.4 WAR. Still, change could be on the horizon.

MLB Trade Rumors projects the duo will receive sizeable raises in arbitration – Taylor ($5.0 million) and Hernández ($5.5 million). Retaining two right-handed hitters with redundant skills at this cost may be too pricey for the Dodgers. Perhaps the team leverages its super-sub surplus to reshape the roster and maintain payroll flexibility.

Another potential reason for change, the Dodgers are reportedly pursuing free agent third basemen Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson. If Rendon or Donaldson signs with the Dodgers, current third baseman Justin Turner likely moves to first base. The entirety of these moves would reduce the need for both Hernández and Taylor.


Danny Santana  – Rangers

Signed to a minor league deal prior to the 2019 season, Santana proved to be a pleasant surprise for the Rangers. The six-year veteran enjoyed a career resurgence hitting 28 home runs and 23 doubles with 21 stolen bases.

With Texas expected to be active this offseason, it’s tough predicting where Santana plays next year. The team could use the switch-hitter in a super-utility role again or employ him on a more permanent basis in one of several spots – center field, second base, third base.


Michael Lorenzen – Reds

Two-way players Shohei Ohtani and Brendan McKay justifiably receive significant fanfare. But Lorenzen pulled off something not accomplished since Babe Ruth did it in 1931. Be the winning pitcher, hit a home run, and play the outfield in the same game.

Lorenzen isn’t just a novelty. The Cal State Fullerton product’s .273 xwOBA was top-25 among MLB relievers facing 250-plus hitters this year. He also saved seven games for Cincinnati.


Scott Kingery – Phillies

Kingery demonstrated average-ish on-base ability during his sophomore campaign with the Phillies. But the 25-year-old did hit 34 doubles and 19 home runs with 15 stolen bases in 126 games.

Where Philadelphia plays Kingery next year depends on the roster moves made by the front office in the offseason. Considering his 2019 production and youth, the Arizona alum will be central to his team’s plans regardless of position on the diamond.


David Fletcher – Angels

Fletcher’s 30 doubles led the Angels this year, plus his .290 AVG and .350 OBP ranked second on the team behind reigning AL MVP and future Hall of Famer Mike Trout (.291/.438). Excellent production for a player moving around the diamond on a regular basis.

More than likely, Fletcher makes the majority of his starts at second or third base next year. However, new manager Joe Maddon typically takes advantage of his team’s positional versatility. No matter where the Loyola Marymount product plays, the Halos will need a repeat of his 2019 offensive output.


Jeff McNeil – Mets

Our lone 2019 All Star slashed .318/.384/.531 with 23 home runs and a team-leading 38 doubles in 133 games this year.

With Robinson Canó at second base, the Mets could continue moving McNeil around or make the former Long Beach State Dirtbag their full-time third baseman – a problematic position since losing David Wright.

Ironically, McNeil’s name was reportedly in the mix during trade negotiations between the Mets and Mariners prior to New York acquiring Canó and Edwin Díaz last offseason.

Imagine the furor in Panic City now if the Mets had dealt McNeal.

Also, how cool is it to have “Dirtbags” as your college team’s nickname?


We’ve seen multi-position players become increasingly important to successful teams. Since many of these dynamic performers are relatively young (and inexpensive), we’re going to see more of them appearing.

Personally, watching this new wave of versatile contributors is fun. That’s a good thing since baseball is supposed to be fun.

After all, baseball is the best sport.…

During the last round of Hall of Fame voting, Larry Walker appeared on 56.4-percent of ballots submitted – well short of the 75-percent necessary for selection. A disappointing outcome for someone with just one year of eligibility remaining and deserving of better support.

The most frequently cited reason for Walker’s relatively low vote count is 10 seasons with the Rockies. It appears the hitter-friendly reputation of the team’s ballpark – Coors Field – has unduly overshadowed his Hall of Fame candidacy. An unfortunate development considering his greatness regardless of era, venue, or elevation.

Some of you may not agree with my take and that’s okay. But please give me a chance to explain why Walker’s home field shouldn’t cloud his Hall worthiness. First, let’s quickly set the stage for our conversation by identifying where the left-handed hitter’s career slash line places him among the all-time greats.

For anyone who didn’t follow Walker’s career, he played 17 season with the Expos, Rockies, and Cardinals. When his career ended in 2005, only nine Hall of Famers had a higher career OPS. Since then, Frank Thomas became the tenth Cooperstown honoree to better the Canadian.

Hall of Famers With A Better OPS Than Walker

Walker’s slash certainly appears to place him in exclusive company. However, a vocal segment of writers and fans believe his statistics are bloated and thereby misleading thanks to a decade at Denver’s high altitude.

Mile High Club

There’s no denying Coors Field enhances a batter’s production like no other ballpark. A review of Walker’s career home/away splits with the Rockies provides visual proof.

Walker’s Colorado Splits

No one, including Walker, would disagree his home and overall numbers benefited from his time with Colorado. The Rockies’ home field is a hitter’s delight and a pitcher’s nightmare.

Still, sabermetrics can help us effectively compare player production and value irrespective of era, league, or ballpark. Two such metrics (WAR and OPS+) suggest Walker is a Hall of Fame caliber player.

The following illustrates Walker’s career WAR (Baseball Reference version) and OPS+ along with his AVG/OBP/SLG. Also on display, the rank of each stat compared to position players enshrined in Cooperstown.

Walker’s Ranking Against The Very Best

Walker’s WAR and OPS+ are elite level. However, those having no use for sabermetric analysis are unmoved by WAR or any stat using a lower-case letter or a plus sign.

Fair enough, we’ll avoid the seam-head stuff moving forward.

Instead, let’s perform a series of comps using conventional stats from Walker’s career and Rockies tenure – specifically his away numbers. Perhaps doing so alters the perception his brilliance was exclusive to Coors Field.

Road Warrior

In 1997, Walker won the NL MVP with a league-leading 49 home runs and an imposing .366/.452/.720 slash. Playing approximately half his games in Denver undoubtedly aided his production. However, he was arguably better away from home.

Over half of Walker’s home runs occurred outside of Colorado. In fact, his 29 road dingers tied Ken Griffey Jr. for most in the majors. Moreover, the five-time All-Star’s away OPS bested this impressive group of hitters with 300-plus road plate appearances – all Hall of Famers.

Top Road OPS (1997)

That’s right. Walker delivered a higher road OPS in 1997 than his mile-high output (1.169). Moreover, his roadwork would’ve been good enough to lead the majors.

How many of you saw that coming?

I didn’t.

Oh, and 1997 wasn’t a fluke.

Walker never duplicated his MVP season at home or on the road. That said; he was one of just eight players with a slash exceeding .300/.400/.500 during his peak Colorado years (1997-2002).

Over .300/.400/.500 On The Road (1997-2002)

Not everyone listed above may enter the Hall of Fame. However, these players were among the best hitters during the period we’re discussing. Walker’s road numbers were commensurate with these great performances.

Hall Worthy Roadwork

Walker doesn’t just stand out compared to peers during his peak. The three-time Silver Slugger winner’s career road production is on par with a sizeable portion of all-time greats from the past seven decades.

Only 10 Hall of Famers with 4,000-plus road plate appearances since the end of World War II posted a better away AVG/OBP/SLG than Walker did. It’s a remarkable group comprised of recent stars and legends.

Better Road Slash Than Walker Since WWII

As we move forward, it’s important we acknowledge a common misperception about hitting at Coors Field – its principal benefit isn’t more power. Instead, a spacious outfield increasing the opportunity for hits remaining in play is the ballpark’s secret sauce.

Walker’s detractors may suggest those outfield dimensions – and Denver’s thin air – are why he won three batting titles. To address this contention, I identified notable Cooperstown inductees with a lower career road OBP than the former MVP.

The results may surprise you.

The following isn’t all-inclusive, but should provide a sense of how well Walker’s ability to reach base away from Coors Field compares to some of baseball’s most recognizable hitters. Included are a Triple Crown leader, numerous batting champions, and 3000-hit club members.

Hall of Famers With Lower Road OBP Than Walker

Now, I’m not suggesting having a higher career road OBP than these players means Walker is better. Then again, reaching base more often than such celebrated hitters demonstrates Coors Field wasn’t the only reason he thrived with the Rockies.

And Current Hall Candidates?

Okay, we’ve demonstrated Walker outperformed a significant number of Hall of Famers. How does he measure up to the most prominent position players appearing on the current ballot?

Once again, Walker shines.

Road Slashes For Current HOF Candidates

Although David Ortiz isn’t on this year’s ballot, I included him to provide added perspective on Walker’s standing among the best to play the game in recent years. Barring unforeseen circumstances, “Big Papi” is a Hall of Famer shortly after he becomes eligible.

Who Else Enjoyed Home Cooking?

We’ve already established Walker received a hefty Coors Field boost. Yet, it’s important to note other renowned hitters also enjoyed a “home field advantage” during a considerable portion of their respective careers.

The following Hall of Famers and candidates experienced a substantial home/road OPS split.

Sizeable Career OPS Home/Away Splits

As expected, Walker leads the pack with former Colorado teammate Todd Helton trailing. No one else played for the Rockies.

The late Ron Santo leveraged 14 seasons of home games inside the friendly confines of Wrigley Field into build a Hall of Fame résumé.

Wade Boggs had a .153 OPS difference during his 18-year career with the Red Sox, Yankees, and Devil Rays. Bur the five-time batting champion had a much larger home/road split (.199) during 11 seasons at Fenway Park.

The majority of remaining names played most or all of their home games at either Wrigley or Fenway. Kirby Puckett is one of the exceptions having spent his entire career with the Twins, who called the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome home until 2010.

A .945 road OPS tells us Frank Thomas was an all-time great hitter anywhere. Yet, the Auburn alum’s bat was even more potent during 15 campaigns at the stadium now called Guaranteed Rate Field.

And Junior?

During Griffey’s first tour with the Mariners, he owned a .998 Kingdome OPS performing well on the road too (.901). The large split displayed above formed during nine seasons with the Reds. His home OPS was .917 – significantly better than away from the Queen City (.838).

To be clear, I’m not questioning the credentials of any Hall of Famer appearing in our comps. Downgrading one person’s legacy to elevate another is unbecoming.

Still, it’s important to recognize home park dimensions and/or weather conditions significantly helped other notable names too – not just Larry Walker.

Fun fact: Carl Yastrzemski had exactly the same number of home and away plate appearances (6,996) during his 23-year playing career.

Big Home/Away Gaps Still Exist

Our final comp illustrates several recognizable active players having relatively large career home/away OPS splits with their current team since 2017.

Just for fun, I included three finalists for 2019 end of season awards – each recorded a much better OPS on the road than at home.

OPS Splits Among Active Players (Since 2017)

Please remember most of these players are relatively young. Their career road/away numbers could look considerably different by the time they finally hang up their cleats.

Fun Fact: Mike Trout has an identical 1.000 OPS at home and on the road.

Of course he does.

Time Card

For me, Walker’s decade at Coors Field isn’t the primary issue to consider when deliberating his Hall worthiness. Instead, a relatively small body of work merits further scrutiny.

Injuries throughout his distinguished career resulted in Walker making just 8,030 plate appearances. In fact, he played 130-plus games in just ten of his 17 seasons surpassing 150 contests only once – his MVP campaign.

To put Walker’s small sample into perspective, Mike Piazza (7,745) and Puckett (7,831) are the only Hall of Fame position players not to reach 8,000 plate appearances in the last half-century. Piazza played a position (catcher) known for truncating careers; glaucoma forced Puckett into early retirement.

Perhaps Walker experiences similar good fortune as Edgar Martinez did during his last year of eligibility. Edgar finally overcame the combination of the DH stigma and a relatively low number of plate appearances (8,674) to receive his well-deserved plaque this year.

Looking Forward

Whether Walker enters the Hall next year not only affects his legacy, but also sets a precedent for all Rockies hitters. If someone with as much success as him struggles to gain traction with the electorate, what will be required of a future Colorado position player to earn selection?

Helton, who spent his entire career with Colorado, made his debut on last year’s ballot garnering 16.9-percent of support from the electorate. After the Tennessee alum, Rockies fans face a long wait.

The Rockies’ best active hitters – Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon – are years from ending their respective careers. Moreover, there’s no guarantee their final numbers will merit a Hall plaque.

If Walker’s exclusion were due to a small body of work, it’d be a more palatable explanation than the alternative – a Coors Field bias.

The premise a club’s home field can hamstring a hitter’s chances of earning a Cooperstown plaque would be unfair, especially when Wrigley and Fenway haven’t affected great players in a similar manner.

There’s a somber realization Colorado fans may have to acknowledge, assuming Walker misses the Hall. Will a Rockies hitter ever receive baseball’s greatest honor?

What a demoralizing proposition for a franchise in existence for over a quarter-century and still without a Hall of Famer.

 …

Major League Baseball’s arbitration process often results in an enlarged talent market rather than clubs semi-committing to guaranteed salaries for the ensuing season.

Clubs will eye such scenarios in an attempt to add talent.

There are two ways teams players can become available: Trade, either before the tender deadline or after the player is tendered by their current club, and via free agency, after the player is non-tendered.

I’ve identified a handful of those possibilities for the Seattle Mariners, keeping in mind team needs, the club’s preference to avoid taking away playing time from their youth, and to avoid bloated salaries — even of the one-year variety.

The 2020 Mariners, as of season’s end, appear to be shy in two main areas — rotation, and bullpen — but could benefit from a key addition to other areas, too.

The goal isn’t to fill long-term future roles, necessarily, but to find value and potentially flip the proven major-leaguer for future assets.

Below is a small handful of players set for arbitration as of October 18, 2019, who may be trade-available or have a reasonable chance to be non-tendered, or both, and Seattle would benefit from considering the acquisition path.

This isn’t typically how clubs acquire all-stars, but arbitration spans a lot of talented players, some of which have yet to blossom.

I already discussed arbitration-eligible stars Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs, right here, and Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians, right here, from the Mariners’ point of view.

Projected salary ranges derived from MLBTradeRumors.com.

Starting Pitchers

Dylan Bundy, RHP — Baltimore Orioles
Projected Salary: $5.5M-$6.5M

Bundy isn’t getting non-tendered at that price range, even by a rebuilding Orioles club, and a trade may not be a sure thing, either. But the former first-rounder is headed into arbitration for the second time and the O’s could be gauging what’s more value, his potential and control years (two), or the plausibility of a breakout first-half of 2020, which likely increases his value over present day.

Bundy’s velocity has dropped about a half-mile per hour three years straight and is down more than 2.5 mph since he debuted in 2012. But his slider remains well above average and his changeup took a step forward this past year, perhaps a sign of things to come.

He’s 27 in November and has made 89 starts the past three seasons. Bundy represents an interesting case for both Baltimore and a club with interest in acquiring him.

At about $6 million, it’s a risk, but just a small one for a club in Seattle’s position, but the payoff could be bigger, and the Mariners need innings from starters. Might as well get some upside, too.


Kevin Gausman, RHP — Cincinnati Reds
Projected Salary: $10M-$11M

I still list Gausman as a starter — as do the Reds looking to next season — but the fastball value must improve, or a relief role is the limit.

On top of the fastball, he also offers a slider, a plus splitter, and occasional curveball. Gausman’s command has lacked his entire big-league career, but we’ve seen flashes in Baltimore and Atlanta.

He’s still sitting 93-96 mph and is durable, generally missing starts due to ineffectiveness. He posted a 3.98 FIP in 2019, 4.29 as a starter, 2.72 as a reliever.

The Reds would be morons to tender Gausman at that projected salary range, suggesting a non-tender scenario and a free-agent result for the former first-round pick.

If the Mariners hire a pitching coach they feel is capable of taking talents like Gausman, 29 in January, and boosting his stock through pitch development or mechanics, the club should be interested, regardless of the role they prefer.


Jon Gray, RHP — Colorado Rockies
Projected Salary: $5M-$6M

Gray is more of an opportunity for the Rockies than a situation where the projected salary doesn’t fit.

The stuff suggests Gray should be a notch or two better than he’s been;  94-98 mph fastball, a power slider that’s one of the better breaking balls in baseball and an average curveball he can backdoor to lefties.

The changeup is underdeveloped and therefore underutilized, which likely explains, at least partially, Gray’s struggles versus left-handed batters (.272/.361/.457).

He’s never logged more than 172 innings in a season but he’ll be 28 next month and could be ripe for a breakout. The Rockies may very well want to benefit from that, but if the club is looking to take advantage of the potential upside and fill other holes, Gray could be available.

It’s not going to cheap, but in no way should two years of Gray, who has posted FIPs right around four the past two seasons in 56 starts, cost elite prospects such as Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez and Logan Gilbert.

It’s highly unlikely Seattle goes down this road, but if Gray is shopped, Jerry Dipoto should inquire, despite the fact the club control rolls only into the start of the Mariners’ projected window. If Gray makes 30 starts and fulfills more of that upside, he’s a booming trade chip or a candidate for an extension beyond his free-agent years, and for a club that lacks projectable starting pitchers.

*Average of 10 Postseason Qualifiers


Relief Pitchers


Alex Colome, RHP — Chicago White Sox
Projected Salary: $10M-$11M

The White Sox have no business tendering Colome, whom they acquired from Seattle for Omar Narvaez last winter and paid over $7 million. Also, it seems highly unlikely a contender would trade for the right-hander and willingly pay him $10 million or more, not after the season he just had.

Colome was ordinary in 2019, posting a 4.08 FIP and 22% strikeout rate in 62 games.  He’s still throwing hard, averaging 94.5 mph on his fastball, per PITCHf/x, and the hard cutter remains a plus offering.

He’s probably not closer material, but relievers rebound almost as often as they dive and the 31-year-old Colome is a candidate for the former in 2020.

Seattle needs reliable arms and veterans like Colome offer that.


Keone Kela, RHP — Pittsburgh Pirates
Projected Salary: $3M-$4M

The 26-year-old Kela isn’t going to be non-tendered, but he could be traded if the Pirates go in full sell mode — or even if they don’t.

Kela’s value to a club that doesn’t have a chance at a playoff berth — and that’s what the Pirates 2020 is looking like at the moment — is minimal. It may come down to trading Kela now versus in July when sometimes reliever prices skyrocket.

But at this price, it may motivate the cheap Pirates ownership enough to shed 5% of their payroll and get a decent return without risking the volatility of relief pitchers.

He throws 97 mph with a plus curveball.

Kela was solid in 2019 with a 3.52 FIP and nearly 28% strikeout rate. He tends to walk too many batters to be a true high-leverage option for a contending club, but he’s a quality middle innings reliever with experience, something of which the Mariners have zero after trading Hunter Strickland and Roenis Elias in July.


Sam Dyson, RHP — Minnesota Twins
Projected Salary: $6M-$7M

Dyson, unlike Kela, could very well be non-tendered at the projected rate, despite being very good before the trade to Minnesota.

Dyson the free agent probably gets guaranteed dollars, but for a non-contender, he could get late-inning chances that boost his future free-agent value.

He’s closed before — 38 saves for Texas in 2016 and 14 with two clubs in 2017 — suggesting a club like Seattle could sign him with the idea he starts 2020 as the main option in the ninth.

Dyson sat 93-95 in 2019, throwing more cutters than ever (24%) and mixing in useful sliders and changeups.


Outfielders

Kevin Pillar, CF — San Francisco Giants
Projected Salary: $9.5M-$10M

Pillar, 31 in January, has been among the better defensive centerfielders in baseball his entire career, but has been merely playable offensively with a wRC+ of 86 in five seasons.

Pillar made $5.8 million in 2019, batting .259/.287/.432 with 21 homers in 161 games. He’s never walked a lot but he makes a lot of contact, can run some and remains a valuable glove, even if he’s not the plus defender he once was.

The Mariners start the offseason with an outfield group of Mitch Haniger, Jake Fraley, Braden Bishop, Mallex Smith, Kyle Lewis, and Domingo Santana. Smith and Santana may end up dealt, which could open a spot for a veteran to solidify the group and avoid the club feeling forced on multiple young players who may need more time in the minors, namely Lewis, Bishop, and Fraley.

A veteran like Pillar, at the right price, makes a ton of sense for Seattle and there’s no chance the Giants tender him anywhere near the projected range, so he’ll be available via the free-agent route.


Corner Infielders

Maikel Franco, 3B/1B — Philadelphia Phillies
Projected Salary: $6M-$7M

Franco was once a top prospect in Philly, but owns a .249/.302/.431 triple-slash in four full seasons and parts of two others. He earned $5.2 million in 2019 and batted .234/.297/.409 with 17 home runs.

He came up a third baseman and is playable there, but athletically profiles well at first base, where he has limited experience — just 59 innings.

There may be untapped offensive potential here for the 27-year-old Franco, who is two years from free agency, and while it’s not a need position, Seattle could benefit from having such upside, depending largely on how they manage the roster spots of Omar Narvaez, Domingo Santana and Daniel Vogelbach this offseason.

The Phillies may prefer not to pay $6-7 million for a player that hasn’t cracked two wins in any season and was most recently worth -0.5 fWAR. Franco could be traded or non-tendered by the Phillies.


Other Notes

The Oakland Athletics have an intriguing decision on former ace reliever Blake Treinen (5.14 FIP, 22.2% K, 13.9% BB), who is projected at $7.5-8 million in 2020. While non-tendering isn’t going to happen, the A’s could tender and keep or dangle Treinen in trade talks, and see what happens…

The Phillies probably shouldn’t pay Cesar Hernandez (.279/.333/.408, 1.7 fWAR) $11-12 million considering how many holes are apparent on the roster, suggesting trade or even a non-tender scenario…

The Rays’ Tommy Pham was terrific in 2019 (3.3 fWAR, 21 HR) but there’s a chance he’s priced out of Tampa with a projected arbitration salary of $8-9 million. Decent chance for a trade this winter, so look out for contenders in need of quality centerfield play…

Detroit didn’t trade Matt Boyd in July, but could this winter. He’s set to make around $6-7 million in 2020, which isn’t a motivator for the Tigers, but he’s only getting pricier as time passes, and his control years are starting to dissipate. Expect his name in rumors this offseason…

Do the Kansas City Royals sit on Jorge Soler at $10-12 million or trade him while his value is higher than it may ever be again?

Same goes for the Twins and Eddie Rosario, who is set for about $9 million. But Minnesota could choose Rosario as one of a few extension candidates. Any sensible trade including Rosario returns the Twins now-help, perhaps mostly on the mound, to back the club’s 2019 division title…

Mookie Betts is going to be on the block, but the market for him may not be very large, considering his projected 2020 salary ($25-30 million) and pending free agency…

I’m curious to see what the Arizona Diamondbacks do with their arbitration cases this winter. Lefty Robbie Ray ($11M), outfielder David Peralta ($8.75 M) and infielder Jake Lamb ($5M). They cut some salary in the Zack Greinke deal and don’t have a ton on the books before their arbitration-eligibles are taken into consideration, but unless they see a route to 95 wins in 2020, it might make sense to shop all three.

Ray, in particular, is interesting since he’s both the most valuable one-year asset and a pending free agent…

Do the Blue Jays pay Ken Giles $8 million or more in 2020 as a non-contender attempting to build from within?…

Kris Bryant Chicago Cubs trade Seattle Mariners

Recently, ESPN’s Jeff Passan wrote about a few stars that may be dangled in trade this winter. Kris Bryant was one of them.

The Chicago Cubs have a tough question to answer. But any questions regarding Bryant and the Seattle Mariners are easy. At least for the Mariners themselves. Because it all comes down to timing.

Bryant is a really good player. A sound defender at third base, though not quite as cat-like as a few years back. A big bat anywhere from the two-spot to the No. 5 hole in a very good lineup. He has shown leadership skills on a perennial contender that won it all not long ago. He’s remained healthy with very few exceptions, is still in the prime of his career (he’ll be 28 in January) and there’s no discernable drop-off in production.

Why would the Cubs trade him if he’s so good?

Well… timing. Bryant, who is earning $12.9 million this season as a result of arbitration, is set to become a free agent after the 2021 season. He’s likely to cost a ton to keep, and an extension may be out of the question, since Bryant is represented by Scott Boras, who believes in the open market for his players.

Bryant’s value on the open market is likely to be well into the nine-figure range. He already turned down a $200 million extension.

So, the way I see it, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the Cubs have four choices.

1. Keep Bryant for two more years after 2019, hope to re-sign him following the 2021 season as a near-30-year-old, while dangling an extension just in case the player loves Chicago and the Cubs so much he doesn’t want to entertain leaving and is fine with potentially leaving millions on the table — despite barking at $200 million last fall.
2. Keep Bryant into the 2020 season, attempt to move him if the club isn’t contending around mid-season, or if they are competing, after the season is complete.
3. Keep Bryant into his walk year and sell him off as a rental if the club isn’t a true contender, giving the Cubs a chance to win with him two more times.
4. Trade Bryant this winter.

The last option gives the Cubs the best chance at a very high return, one that could replenish both their 25-roster with talent, but also lend a hand in their fading farm system (following tremendous success graduating talents such as Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Wilson Contreras and Bryant himself over the past five or so season). Every segment of time that expires over the course of the baseball calendar reduces Bryant’s trade value; he’s getting older, control years willow away and his arbitration years are making him a pricier acquisition in salary terms. His $12.9 million salary in 2019 probably gets closer to $20 million for 2020 and could net the former first-round pick a $25-30 million payday in 2021, his last  of four runs at arbitration before free agency.

Trading for a 28-year-old Bryant for two years and $40-45 million is vastly different than the acquiring team getting him for a full season plus a few months at the end of another, just one full season or even just the final two months of a regular season.

The Cubs would be idiots not to entertain the idea of moving Bryant this offseason, and per Passan’s report, it sounds like that’s a distinct possibility.

For Seattle, the question also is about timing.

While Seattle should have internal discussions about every available player as good as Bryant, he is controlled through 2021 only. They’ll have the same problem — likely to a much higher degree — getting Bryant to sign an extension as the Cubs. So how valuable is Bryant to this Mariners club for the next two years?

Certainly valuable, he’s a top-10 MVP type player. But the Mariners’ timeline suggests spending significant trade assets on a player more likely to walk after 2021 than any other scenario plausible is prohibitive.

There are scenarios, however, where trading for Bryant make more sense then they do after the surface discussion we just had above.

What if Seattle acquired Bryant this offseason and moved him in July? What if they acquired Bryant this winter and traded him away next winter?

All reasonable thoughts, at least in process. But the price to acquire Bryant is going to be greater than the selling price any other time moving forward.

Let’s create some arbitrary scenarios in order to attach value to the transactions.

Lets say Bryant costs the Mariners Julio Rodriguez, Logan Gilbert and Brandon Williamson. (Yes, it’s going to be a steep price, though the exact cost isn’t as important here.)

Then Bryant plays three months for Seattle and hits .280/.370/.530 and plays the same average or better defense at third base.

What’s he worth in July, 2020?

Not Rodriguez, Gilbert and Williamson. Maybe two of those players and a throw-in, and the premium name (Rodriguez in our sample) may not part of it anymore.

What’s Bryant worth after the 2020 season? Maybe Gilbert and a low-level upside play.

Reminder: Bryant’s arbitration salaries matter here, too. He was a Super Two, which got him started in salary increases after his second full season in The Show, escalating his annual numbers. The vast majority of clubs will balk at paying a steep price in talent, then paying the player they acquired $20-25 million a year. Not that Bryant isn’t worth it, but that’s the way a lot of clubs operate.

July 2021? Not getting a premium prospect in return. Might get few B+ players … maybe a George Kirby and an Evan White type if the market squeezes and the demand is higher than the supply, but that’s rarely the case in the middle of the season for hitters.

On top of that, what’s Bryant truly worth to the 2020 Mariners? Would the club have a realistic and legitimate chance to win anything? And are those chances worth the difference in the trade cost and the assets potentially recouped by moving the player months later? That’s a pretty risky proposition and I don’t know if there’s a soul or group of souls on the planet so good at market valuation that far ahead to come up with a reconcilable result in favor of the Mariners putting forth such efforts at this point in their rebuild. And if Bryant doesn’t promise to make a significant difference in the club’s ’20 outcome, it’d be all about ’21, the last year they’d own Bryant’s contract.

The Mariners’ assets should be aimed at winning, not just winning more than they are right now. Bryant helps the Mariners win more games in 2020 and 2021, but there are few signs he can help them actually win in 2020, and not many more signs ’21 would be different.

In the end, Bryant isn’t likely the best fit for Seattle, at least via the trade route anytime soon. Especially since the best values in the Mariners’ farm system could have legitimate ETAs of 2021 or 2022, not only generating the club’s timeline, but supporting it with absurdly high value.

If Bryant remains the fringe-MVP candidate he’s been the last 2-3 years until he hits free agency, maybe Seattle uses the one asset they know they can and will replenish every year — cold, hard cash — to land Bryant, or someone like him, and insert him into a lineup with the likes of Rodriguez, Jarred Kelenic and company.

It’s also worth noting Kyle Seager‘s contract with the club ends after the 2021 season, so the hot corner opens up organically if Seattle wants to go that route.

One last thing: Yes, this all can change if Jerry Dipoto goes out early this winter and makes a few impact starting pitching additions, because perhaps a major trade acquisition, like Bryant, on top of that makes the Mariners a legitimate Wild Card contender in 2020, with a chance at more than that in 2021.

To get to that point, those pitching adds will have to be pretty darned good, and it doesn’t appear a Gerrit Cole-Mariners relationship has any chance of happening.

But Seattle will have other opportunities to add star talent from outside the organization. Passan, in the same piece, mentioned Mookie Betts and Francisco Lindor, too.

Stay tuned.…

Whenever watching Albert Pujols play, I uneasily consider which Pujols younger fans will remember. After all, the 39-year-old had two distinct MLB careers.

Will it be the St. Louis Cardinals version of Pujols, who was arguably baseball’s best hitter for a decade? Or does the less productive model now wearing a Los Angeles Angels uniform eclipse the memories of that brilliant era in St. Louis?

I’m hoping it’s the former.

Yes, I’m being nostalgic about an aging player. But strolling down memory lane is worth it when discussing a player of Pujols’ stature.

Best Of The Best

In 11 campaigns with the Cardinals, Pujols was NL Rookie of the Year and a three-time NL MVP. He also won a batting title and six Silver Sluggers and earned a pair of Gold Gloves at first base. That’s an impressive collection of hardware.

Even if you ignore the accolades, Albert’s stat line places him in rarefied air occupied by the very best to play baseball since World War II. Only one player delivered more value (based on bWAR) than Pujols during his first 11 campaigns – Willie Mays.

Here’s how the Angels slugger compares to Mays and other all-time greats.

Best First 11 Yrs In A Career Since WWII
bWAR PA 2B HR AVG OBP SLG
OPS+
Willie Mays 87.5 6666 301 368 .315 .390 .588 159
Albert Pujols 86.6 7433 455 445 .328 .420 .617 170
Mickey Mantle 84.8 6697 241 374 .308 .425 .579 175
Barry Bonds 83.6 6713 333 334 .288 .404 .548 161
Hank Aaron 80.6 7216 351 366 .320 .376 .567 157
Mike Schmidt 74.2 6223 253 349 .265 .382 .536 150
Eddie Mathews 74.0 7124 248 399 .282 .386 .543 152
Wade Boggs 71.9
7323
422
85
.338
.428
.462
142
Frank Robinson 71.5 7088 352 373 .304 .391 .562 154
Alex Rodriguez 71.2 6385 309 381 .305 .381 .574 143

Clearly, Pujols’ early résumé places him among the elite. But I went a step further to demonstrate his greatness by contrasting the native of the Dominican Republic to contemporaries from his debut decade.

To provide a relatively even comparison, I focused on players with 5,000-plus plate appearances during 2001-10 and then identified the players with the highest bWAR.

Included below are a Hall of Famer, others destined for Cooperstown, and several very recognizable names.

Most Valuable Position Players (2001-2010)
bWAR PA 2B HR AVG OBP SLG OPS+
Albert Pujols 81.4 6782 426 408 .331 .426 .624 172
Alex Rodriguez 71.4 6691 280 424 .299 .394 .577 150
Ichiro Suzuki 54.7 7339 258 90 .331 .376 .430 117
Carlos Beltran 51.2 5933 304 251 .283 .366 .509 125
Scott Rolen 48.0 5367 333 195 .284 .367 .492 124
Chipper Jones 47.3 5582 289 247 .308 .412 .536 146
Lance Berkman 45.7 6313 352 302 .297 .412 .547 147
Adrian Beltre 45.0 6115 331 236 .275 .325 .467 110
Todd Helton 44.5 6187 390 226 .321 .428 .539 139
Derek Jeter 41.3 6983 315 156 .310 .380 .445 117

Today’s version of Pujols is best known for his still potent home run power. During his heyday though, he was adept at reaching base.

Albert tied Ichiro Suzuki for highest batting average. Additionally, he trailed only Todd Helton in the more significant category – on base percentage (OBP).

In the power department, Pujols didn’t disappoint. He hit the most doubles and registered the highest slugging percentage in MLB between 2001-10. Only Álex Rodríguez clobbered more home runs.

Now that we’ve brushed up on the early history of Albert Pujols, let’s consider the second career alluded to at the onset.

Albert Pujols: Act II

After the 2011 season, Pujols left St. Louis signing a 10-year/$240 million deal to join the Angels. Shortly thereafter, the wheels began wobbling for the player known as “The Machine” when injuries and age-regression began taking root.

Albert Pujols’ Two Careers
Yrs Ages PA 2B
HR AVG OBP SLG OPS+
bWAR
2001-11 21-31 7433 455 445 .328 .420 .617 170 86.6
2012-18 32-38 4253 184 188 .260 .315 .453 113 12.7

Pujols’ power bat continued to deliver averaging 29 home runs between 2012-16. However, the 10-time All-Star’s .300 OBP over the last three seasons is a far cry from the production provided in a Redbirds uniform.

Since 100 OPS+ is always the average, Pujols’ 113 OPS+ suggests he’s been 13-percent better than the league-average hitter. That sounds encouraging on the surface, although it’s substantially lower than his 170 OPS+ during his first 11 seasons.

Conventional stats don’t paint a great picture either. Between 2012-18, non-pitchers averaged a .257/.323/.414 slash-line. That closely resembles Albert’s overall production with the Halos.

Do you remember the 10 players with the best first 11 seasons illustrated earlier? This time, they’re sorted by bWAR through their next seven campaigns.

How All-Time Greats Have Aged
Years 1-11 Years 12-18
Barry Bonds 83.6 60.6
Willie Mays 87.5 55.5
Hank Aaron 80.6 51.4
Alex Rodriguez 71.2 44.6
Mike Schmidt 74.2 32.6
Frank Robinson 71.5 31.4
Mickey Mantle 84.8 25.5
Eddie Mathews 74.0 22.7
Wade Boggs 71.9 19.5
Albert Pujols 86.6 12.7

As you can see, Albert isn’t a front-runner this go around. In fact, he ranks at the bottom with his value is well below what other all-time greats delivered during the second half of their respective careers.

Albert Isn’t Alone

Okay, Pujols’ performance dramatically declined during his age 32-38 seasons. But every player, great or otherwise, confronts age-related regression at some point. There must be Hall of Famers who had significant drop-offs later in their careers, right?

Yes, there have been.

The following illustrates the 10 Hall of Famer position players with the lowest bWAR during their age 32-38 seasons since 1947.

Note: Catchers and players who didn’t reach their age-38 campaign or have 3,000-plus plate appearances were omitted.

Hall of Famers Who Struggled In Their Twilight
bWAR PA HR AVG OBP SLG
OPS+
Andre Dawson 18.5 4018 187 .283 .325 .497 121
Willie McCovey 16.9 3008 152 .256 .387 .496 147
Tim Raines 16.7 3104 63 .291 .384 .428 117
Tony Perez 15.5 4222 138 .275 .334 .455 117
Eddie Murray 14.3 4406 153 .275 .345 .445 119
Reggie Jackson 13.9 3764 190 .260 .350 .481 130
Lou Brock 13.3 4465 29 .302 .359 .393 110
Harold Baines 13.2 3487 134 .295 .377 .478 128
Albert Pujols 12.7 4253 188 .260 .315 .453 113
Ernie Banks 10.8 4194 162 .259 .307 .441 107
Ken Griffey Jr. 5.8 3006 151 .267 .355 .497 118

Everyone on our list possessed an above average OPS+, but all were providing significantly less value by the time they reached the wrong side of 30. Two players stick out to me more than the rest.

Harold Baines was a controversial selection by the Veteran’s Committee late last year. Baines never enjoyed the same elite-level success as Pujols, but the newly-minted Hall of Famer did have a higher OPS+ than Pujols and a similar bWAR to Albert’s tally.

Conversely, Ken Griffey Jr. received a then-record percentage of Hall of Fame votes from writers. Yet, his production numbers decreased significantly as a 30-something.

Much like Junior, Pujols’ past achievements have already cemented his status as a first ballot Hall of Famer. Remember, he’s one of only four members in the 3,000-hit/600 home run club along with Hank Aaron, Álex Rodríguez, and Willie Mays.

Looking Ahead

With Pujols’ contract running through his age-41 season in 2021, it’s plausible we’ll be watching him continue to play – and regress – for several more years.

My hope is a richly deserved Hall of Fame legacy won’t become a casualty of this extended stay.

That would be a shame.…

Brendan Gawlowski of The Athletic and Luke Arkins of Prospect Insider join host Jason A. Churchill to preview the 2019 MLB season. Did the Red Sox do enough? Is this the Astros’ last shot? WHo’s the most vulnerable contender? Mitch Haniger next for a contract?


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With the offseason behind us for the most part, let’s take a look at the best move by every American League team since the end of the 2018 season.


MORE: Best Move by Every NL Club


Baltimore Orioles

The most impact-laden transaction of the offseason for the Orioles, in terms of the big club’s 2019 season, might be the signing of RHP Andrew Cashner in February. But the best move of the winter was a move they didn’t make.

Considering the departure of Adam Jones, Tim Beckham, Manny Machado, Zack Britton, Kevin Gausman and others over the past year, Baltimore is in rebuild mode. Clearly.

Generally, in those scenarios, it’s best for clubs to clean house, Get what you can for players with any kind of proven record and look toward the future. But trading Dylan Bundy with three years of control left coming off a year when a trace of his upside revealed itself likely would have backfired.

By keeping the 26-year-old, they take a shot he can stay healthy again — 31 starts, 171/2 IP in 2018 — and stave off some of the implosions that ruined his season line (5.17 FIP, 0.8 fWAR).

The return on such a player over the offseason certainly wouldn’t have been much but there’s reason to dream here which suggests the O’s could get a lot more for Bundy this summer or after the season than they could have in December.

Bundy’s 12.7% swinging strike rate ranked No. 10 among starters in all of MLB last year Bundy also ranked No. 19 in contact rate on pitches in the zone at 84.3%, ahead of Zack Wheeler and a tick behind Trevor Bauer.

The raw stuff suggests there’s more, too:

91-93 mph FB, occasional sinker, above-average slider, average curveball and a changeup that has been significantly better than it was in 2018. Even just that one aspect — having a better version of his changeup — could pay rather large dividends.

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox didn’t add much this winter after winning it all last fall. In fact, they lost more than they added.

While many might suggest the lost of Craig Kimbel is big — and it might be — handing Kimbrel six years and $100 million — reportedly the closer’s initial asking price — would likely have been one they’d regret as early as THIS SEASON, so for me the club’s best move was passing on Kimbrel, at least at that price.

Dave Dombrowski has a lot of future money with which to concern his payroll, including reigning AL MVP Mookie Betts, shortstop Xander Bogaerts and ace Chris Sale, not to mention outfielder Andrew Benintendi another year or two down the line.

Sake and Betts are elite players are will be paid as such. If Boston wants to keep them both it’s likely to take north of $400 million combined, and that number could exceed $500 million.

Now, the Red Sox, as a franchise, could afford to pay all of those players AND Kimbrel, but because they CAN doedn;t mean ownership doesn’t have its self-imposed limits.

Besides, it’s not fun having a $15 million per season sunk cost on a closer you’re stuck paying for six years. Kimbrel is 31 in May and just had his worst season as a major leaguer.

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox were in on Manny Machado with limits and eventually were outbid by $50-plus million TOTAL, which truly is shameful. If a player is worth $240 million to you, how is he not worth $300 million? Weird.

But the Sox did little else over the winter, suggesting their interest in Machado was never more than one of those “if he’s a bargain” ventures, so we’ll have to settle for the signing of RHR Kelvin Herrera.

The Sox’s bullpen needed veteran arms and they added two with late-inning experience in Herrera and Alex Colome. Since they gave up no talent to get Herrera, he’s a better value than Colome, who cost the club bat-first catcher Omar Narvaez.

Herrera’s best days may be behind him but he’s still sitting 95-98 mph and in The Cell, the White Sox need to miss as many bats as possible.

Cleveland Indians

There were rumors Cleveland was shopping ace Corey Kluber and right-hander Carlos Carrasco, but neither were moved. In fact, Carrasco was signed to a terrific team-friendly deal worth $47 million over four years with a 2023 option at $14 million. The deal replaced the option year of Carrasco’s previous four-year, $22 million deal signed back in 2015 and is tremendous value for the club.

Carrasco was acquired in 2009 from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Ben Francisco and Cliff Lee and as good as Lee was for the Phillies — 16 fWAR first three full seasons — Carrasco has already surpassed that at 22.7 and the past two have been near-Lee like at 5-plus wins each.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers are in the early stages of a rebuild and may have failed miserably not maximizing the trade value of Nicholas Castellanos, who is a free agent after 2019.

But Detroit added two upside plays in RHP Tyson Ross and LHP Matt Moore and either or both could contribute to the rebuild by way of trade return this summer.

Ross received $5.75 million guaranteed for one year and a 1.0-win season split between the Padres and Cardinals in 2018.

Moore received $2.5 million for 2019 after his option was bought out by the Giants in October. The lefty made 39 appearances last season, 12 of them starts.

There may be more upside with Moore if he’s given a shot to start again, but Ross found a way to give 150 league-average innings last season and serves as a safer bet. Either way, there’s at least a chance one of the two pops and nets the Tigers something useful in return in July.

Houston Astros

Considering Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton were free agents — Morton signed with Tampa and Keuchel sits in purgatory at press time — amd Lance McCullers Jr. will miss the 2019 season, the Astros didn’t do much to fortify the rotation they’ve leaned on so heavily the past two years.

Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole remain, but the rest other 100ish starts will go to Collin McHugh,  free agent pickup Wade Miley and Brad Peacock, at least until the club calls upon top prospect Forrest Whitley.

Left fielder Michael Brantley was the best offseason move for the Astros, however. Brantley signed a two-year, $32 million deal and is coming off his healthiest season yet. He’ll hit for average and play good enough defense in a smallish but oddly-shaped outfield at Minute Maid Park. He makes a lot of contact, walks a bit and offers average power that should play well in Houston.

Even if he reverts back to 120-130 games a year, he’s well worth the contract because the chance he performs is high.

Kansas City Royals

I didn’t love the Whit Merrifield contract for the Royals — he’s 30, not a long-term future asset and now might be tough to trade if for some reason he regresses in performance. The Royals are nowhere near contention and Merrifield is more of a sprinkle than a main ingredient.

But the club made a few moves over the winter that are very likable, including hanging onto Danny Duffy rather than selling low, though that really was a no-brainer.

The Brad Boxberger addition cost only money, but the best move was not blocking Aldaberto Mondesi. Sounds like a no-brainer, too, but clubs so often can’t help themselves when a veteran player — in this case Jose Iglesias, Alcides Escobar, Tim Beckham — is available for so cheap.

The Royals passed and can hand all the playing time at shortstop to their 23-year-old coming off a solid half-year at the plate: .276/.306, 14 HR, 101 wRC+.

Mondesi is a bit of a hacker, but has shown the ability to be more selective in the minors so if he can at least raise the walk rate to the 5 percent range and reduce the strikeout rates a bit, he’ll be an above-average shortstop headlined by plus defense.

Los Angeles Angels

While the Halos failed more miserably this winter than any team in baseball — seriously, where is the pitching to support a Mike Trout-led offensive attack now supported by Justin Upton, Zack Cozart, Justin Bour and Andrelton Simmons?

Trevor Cahill was the starting pitcher the Angels added and while Cahill can eat innings, he’s not going to help the Angels compete against teams that throw Verlander, Cole, Kluber, Carrasco, Sale and Porcello at them. And now Andrew Heaney‘s been shut down.

But the Angels did go out and add Jonathan Lucroy at catcher and their best move was bringing in Cody Allen to help at the back end of the bullpen.

Allen wasn’t dominant in 2018 (4.56 FIP, 11.4% BB rate) and his velocity was down for the fourth year in a row, but he’s still 93-95 mph with a plus curveball and a better bet late than anything else the Halos had in 2018.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins went out and did a few things over the winter that stand out and give the club a chance to surprise some folks.

The addition of Martin Perez was a terrific move that is edged only by the two-year deal to land Nelson Cruz.

Cruz is 38 years old but a good bet to hit .250/.320 with 30 homers and anchors a lineup with potential if Max Kepler takes a step forward and Byron Buxton figures it out a bit.

Perez is a bit riskier, but a fun arm to keep an eye on for 2019. He’s 28 in April but has a history of 92-95 mph with a plus changeup and has been up to 98 this spring.

New York Yankees

The Yankees are my favorite to win the World Series in 2019 based very much on their pitching — even though they’re very much seen as a club that can score runs in bunches.

Luis Severino will miss the first month but the Yankees added J.A. Happ and James Paxton to the rotation and added Adam Ottavino to an already-potent bullpen.

Check out this projected bullpen and their 2018 FIPs & K %:

Aroldis Chapman — 2.09 / 43.9%
Dellin Betances — 2.47 / 42.3%
Adam Ottavino — 2.74 / 36.3%
*Zack Britton — 3.45 / 19.9
Chad Green – 2.86 / 31.5%
Tommy Kahnle — 4.19 / 28%

*career marks

If I had to pick one move it’s the deal the club made to land Paxton. Even though it cost them Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson and Dom Thompson-Williams and Paxton is controlled for just two years, there’s No. 1 stuff in that left arm and he can go toe-to-toe with anyone.

Oakland Athletics

The answer here could easily be RHR Joakim Soria or even RHS Marco Estrada, but the upside of Jurickson Profar still is real, even if not as high as it once was.

Profar probably isn’t an everyday shortstop, but the A’s have Marcus Semien for that. Profar still is just 26 and in just under 600 plate appearances last year showed some of the ability at the plate we’ve waited to see since 2012.

I expect Profar to be used in multiple spots, replacing Jed Lowrie in that role, which could end up being as the regular second baseman if Franklin Barreto doesn’t step up and take the job.

In any scenario, a producing Profar can handle both middle-infield spots, third base and left field and is equally dangerous from both sides of the plate: more power as a lefty but more contact and OBP as a right-handed batter — he posted a .341 wOBA and 108 wRC+ from each side in 2018.

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners’ reimagine season — seriously, that’s one of the words they’ve used for 2019, the first year ever the club has admitted they’re not chasing every last win toward a playoff goal — led them to trading Paxton, Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Jean Segura, Juan Nicasio, James Pazos, Alex Colome and Mike Zunino and letting Cruz walk via free agency.

In return, GM Jerry Dipoto greatly strengthened the farm system and added a few key major leaguers with four years of control remaining in CF Mallex Smith and C Omar Narvaez.

Among the prospects acquired, their new No. 1, LHP Justus Sheffield, is near-MLB ready and certainly sees time in the bigs in 2019. Another, RHP Justin Dunn, may be within two seasons of filling another rotation spots and a third, RHP Erik Swanson, offers ready back-end assistance immediately, if necessary.

Seattle also swapped Ben Gamel for power bat Domingo Santana, which may be the safest trade of the winter yet carries upside for the Mariners in Santana’s pop.

But the best move of the winter by Dipoto and company was the addition of LHP Yusei Kikuchi.

Up to 96 with the fastball, a savvy cutter, slider, splitter set of secondaries and a forward-thinking head on his shoulders for four years and $56 million, or roughly half what the New York Mets will pay Yoenis Cespedes over the same time frame. Also $26 million less than the Red Sox will pay Rick Porcello. Also, $12 million less than the Cardinals will pay Miles Mikolas over the next four seasons. It’s also $1 million less than Baltimore will have paid Alex Cobb over four seasons (2018-21).

Now, jury still is out on how well Kikuchi will perform, but there’s a good chance this is a bargain, considering what the lefty brings to the table, and no chance this is a bad contract, considering what Patrick Corbin (6/$140M) and Nathan Eovaldi (4/$68M) signed for this same offseason.

At his best, Kikuchi could be a legit No. 2 starter with above-average strikeout rates and a batted ball profile similar to Kyle Freeland, boasting above-average ground ball rate, a below 20-percent line drive rate, and a fly ball rate in the low-30s that keeps the home run ball from ruining the day far too often.

Freeland, by the way, is a solid comp for Kikuchi in that he’ll miss some bats and throw strikes, but won’t be elite in either area, but does a good job of inducing weak contact with a five-pitch mix.

Freeland (4.2 fWAR in 2018), sits 91-94 mph with a cutter, sinker, slider and changeup.

Kikuchi also cuts the fastball and offers a slider, splitter and what was described to me as a “short curveball” that I’m not sure we’ve seen him use in Spring Training. Kikuchi also varies the action on his four-seamer to climb the ladder.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays made a few smaller moves over the winter after a fairly busy summer. Truth be told, the addition of Tyler Glasnow last summer may prove to be huge for them, but for this past winter, filling the catcher vacancy with Mike Zunino was a really good get.

For all of Zunino’s shortcomings at the plate — he will hit for power but he also will strike out and not hit for much average, and it wouldn’t shock anyone if he struggled to stay above .200 — he’s a terrific defender, leader, game caller and framer and despite having Wilson Ramos a year ago, Tampa upgraded here.

HOW?

Zunino is very durable — Ramos played just 79 games in 2018. Zunino’s MLB game and innings totals aren’t that high but it’s not due to injury. It’s because he’s been shipped to Triple-A to work on standard hitting adjustments.

Texas Rangers

I hated the Rangers’ offseason almost as much as the Angels’. It’s clearly rebuilding time for Texas yet they not only held onto veteran assets like Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Delino DeShields and Rougned Odor, but they added veterans with little upside, including C Jeff Mathis, RHP Lance Lynn, RHP Jesse Chavez, IF Asdrubal Cabrera and RHR Shawn Kelley.

None of the four are likely to return enough in July to be worth the combined $50.75 million the club spent to get them, and none will be a significant force on the next competitive Rangers club, so it makes zero sense.

The Ranger, however,s also brought it upside plays in Shelby Miller, Zach McAllister and Drew Smyly and will pay $10 million combined for them.

Smyly has the best resume, but also the most significant injury history. Having said that, he’s still the best addition here, despite the cost, since he could reasonably return to good No. 4 starter form and net the Rangers a useful piece or two at the deadline.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Jays actually made a few under-the0radar moves for arms, including Matt Shoemaker, Clayton Richard and David Phelps, but I adore the deal to add Clay Buchholz to the mix.

The Jays gave Buchholz just $3 million guaranteed ($3m more in incentives) and while it’s tough to bet on the right-hander staying healthy for 30-plus starts — something he’s never done — he was efficient and his changeup was a legit weapon for him in 2018.

The Jays need assets — as many as possible — as they look to compete as early as 2020 and their farm system, despite the presence of Vlad Guerrero Jr., isn’t going to provide enough on its own. Short of trading Marcus Stroman for more future value, the Jays need to hope someone like Buchholz does something for them in 2019.…

With the offseason behind us for the most part, let’s take a look at the best move by each National League club since the end of the 2018 season.


MARINERS: Seattle May Have a CF Problem


Arizona Diamondbacks

Acquiring Carson Kelly, Luke Weaver and a Competitive Balance draft pick in exchange for 1B Paul Goldschmidt.

It was either going to cost the D-Backs $200 million to keep him or they had to move him. They chose wisely.

The haul may seem a tad light for what amounts to the game’s best first baseman over the past six seasons, not to mention the third most valuable position player by fWAR (32.9) over that same span.

But Goldschmidt is 31 and entering the final year of his contract and in return Arizona acquires five years of control of Kelly, who may be their next No. 1 catcher and as early as 2019, and five years of Weaver, who has a chance to be a mid-rotation value right away with a ceiling that could scrape No. 2 starter at his peak.

Kelly brings power potential and arm strength but is working on the hit tool, having struggled mightily in his short stints in the big leagues with the Cardinals.

Weaver sits 92-95 mph with plus control and command and an above-average changeup. His cutter is at least average and if his curveball, currently fringe-average at best, reaches average or better levels, he has a shot to hit the aforementioned ceiling.

On top of that, both players will combine to earn about $3 million total over the next two years — at best.

And for a club that’s kinda-sorta retooling, adding draft capital is never a bad idea.

Atlanta Braves

One could easily make an argument the best move the Braves made this offseason was NOT trading multiple prospects for a veteran, but instead it’s the addition of former MVP Josh Donaldson that takes home the trophy.

Donaldson has had trouble staying healthy, but the Braves take a chance on the 33-year-old for one season and $23 million.

That deal pays off if Donaldson repeats either of his last two full seasons when he batted .284/.404/.549 with 37 HR in 155 games in 2016 and .270/.385/.559 with 33 HR in 113 games in 2017.

He wasn’t awful last season (117 wRC+) but managed just 219 plate appearances, but his peripherals look similar enough to his better days, even though he played much of ’18 at less than 100 percent:

Last 3 Years, Most Recent First
BB%: 14.2, 15.3, 15.6
K%: 24.7, 22.4, 17.0
EV: 90.2, 90.6, 92.0
LA: 11.8, 13.5, 14.7
Hard Hit%: 41.0, 44.0, 49.5

The Braves were already No. 5 in the NL in runs scored a year ago and add a boost with Donaldson, but there are two hidden values here:

If Donaldson holds down third base, utility man Johan Camargo (.272/.349/.457, 19 HR) can move around and spell Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies or venture into the outfield, while also providing insurance for Donaldson and giving the veteran time off when needed.

Also, the Braves were the NL’s best offense versus left-handed
pitching last season with a 107 wRC+. Donaldson not only helps the club improve upon that, but offers another boomstick to complement lefty-hitting Freddie Freeman.This could be especially helpful since the division went out and got more left-handed on the mound the past year and a half.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs’ best acquisition for 2019 probably came last summer when they stole Cole Hamels from the Texas Rangers, but the best move this offseason by Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein was to avoid the panic trade and hang onto Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora, Duane Underwood, Carl Edwards Jr., Dillon Maples, Adbert Alzolay, Miguel Amaya, among others.

It was clear before the winter hit the Cubs weren’t likely to splurge on payroll and buy Bryce Harper or Patrick Corbin, which means the Cubs brass had two choices; stand pat and get better from within or trade young pieces on the way up for above-average to great proven veterans.

But if the Cubs want sustained success, bailing on the present core as well as the future in one offseason could be disastrous and more likely than anything else ends in failure or at very best, short-term success but a shallow farm system and no 0-3s to build upon moving forward.

The Cubs weren’t one player away. They probably weren’t even two. The roster likely needs four or five upgrades to win 100 games and contend for the World Series, and the best bet for that to occur is to ask the same cast of characters to handle the chore.

There’s no reason Kyle Schwarber can’t improve on a .238/.356/.467 season or Anthony Rizzo can’t go from a .283/.376/.470 showing back to where he was in 2015, 2016 and 2017 when he hit 32 homers per season. Kris Bryant‘s 125 wRC+ pales in comparison to what he’s proven he’s capable of (146, 148, 136 his first three seasons), not to mention he played just 102 games last season.

Getting Yu Darvish back healthy may not be a guarantee, but the club had just one starting pitcher compile more than 1.7 fWAR last year and only two went over 180 innings.

While no one would have blamed them for spending on Harper or Corbin, the Cubs did the right thing avoiding the panic trade.

Cincinnati Reds

In their attempt to become more competitive, the Reds went out and added proven talent, but the best deal they made was the one that landed them LHP Alex Wood and OFs Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig and cash.

The Reds control the trio for just a year, but it cost them but Homer Bailey and two prospects not likely to help in the majors for a while, if at all, and the Dodgers are footing $7 million of the bill.

The move led them to more — trading for Sonny Gray, then extending Gray’s contract, signing Jose Iglesias and Derek Dietrich as key role players — and was set up by the club’s deal to acquire RHP Tanner Roark.

The Queen City could be fun this summer and the veterans give the Amir Garretts, Robert Stephensons and Jesse Winkers more traction to finish off their development, which lends confidence to the success of the club well beyond 2019.

Colorado Rockies

The easy one here is the contract extension handed to Nolan Arenado to keep him in Denver for the next eight years, barring a player opt-out. But in terms of winning in 2019, the Rockies didn’t do a whole lot in terms of personnel. But the signing of Daniel Murphy could be huge for them.

Murphy can hit, even if he can’t play a legit second base anymore – if he ever could in the first place. Colorado got Murphy on the cheap — two years, $24 million — after the 33-year-old had microfracture surgery and missed a lot of time in 2018.

With DJ Lemahieu leaving via free agency, the Rockies potentially replace the production and then some by using Ryan McMahon at second and keeping Murphy at first base.

Don’t be surprised if Murphy runs out a .320/.380/.500 season again, as he did with the Nationals in 2016 and 2017.

Los Angeles Dodgers

If L.A. would have grabbed Manny Machado or Harper or added Corbin or Dallas Keuchel to their rotation, the best move they made this offseason might be the deal that sent Kemp, Puig and Wood to the Reds, which would be weird, but it saved them $40 million off the 2019 payroll.

But they didn’t do any of those things, so …

I like the Pollock move a lot, despite his injury history, but the biggest reason it’s their best move is the cost, or lack thereof, I should say.

Pollock received $60 million over four years and if the Dodgers get even two 140-game seasons out of him it will be worth it.

In two abbreviated seasons in 2017-18 that totaled 926 plate appearances, Pollock was worth 4.7 fWAR. His last full season was 2015 when he posted a 6.8 fWAR in 673 PAs.

Anywhere in between is a huge win for the Dodgers.

Miami Marlins

It’s not often trading your best player is the best move, but in the case of the Marlins and J.T. Realmuto, the club did well to trade two years of control of the All-Star catcher to Philadelphia for pitching prospects Sixto Sanchez and Will Stewart, and catcher Jorge Alfaro.

Sanchez offers a potential frontline arm in a year or two when Derek Jeter‘s club wants to start competing again and the ceiling there is at least of a No. 2 starter. He’s up to 99 mph with a promising curveball and changeup and present average control and command. He’s just 20 and likely starts 2019 in Double-A.

Alfaro is a big-league catcher with five years of control remaining and coming off a 2.1 fWAR season of his own at age 25.

Stewart is the forgotten player in this trade. He’s a ground-ball lefty with a sinking fastball generated from a low 3/4 arm slot. He offers some deception to go with a potential big-league slider and changeup.

Milwaukee Brewers

Yasmani Grandal signed a one-year, $16 million deal with the Brewers in January, and that’s the first of many reasons this move sits atop the list for the defending NL Central champs.

Grandal, 30, has had some defensive issues, primarily late in 2018 and into the postseason, but continues to offer above-average power and some on-base percentage. He batted .241/.349 with 24 long balls last season and posted a career-best 3.6 fWAR.

Despite the cult heroism of Erik Kratz in October, the Brewers struggled mightily at the plate from the catcher’s position in 2018, posting a 76 wRC+ (21st in MLB), .363 slugging percentage (20th) and .294 on-base percentage (19th).

Despite the issues at catcher, as well as second base and third base, the Brewers ranked No. 7 in the NL in runs scored, just three runs from ranking No. 5. Grandal shores up the position and then some.

New York Mets

Easily one can argue NOT trading Noah Syndergaard or Jacob deGrom is the best move by new Gm Brody Van Wagenen this offseason, but the Mets made enough additions to go that route instead.

A year ago, the Mets posted the No. 4 FIP in the NL and the rotation ranked No. 1. The bullpen, by itself, struggled, finishing dead last in the National League in FIP (4.61) No. 14 in fWAR (-0.6) and piled up the most losses (36).

If Edwin Diaz has anything to say about it, those lows won’t be repeated in 2019.

Diaz, acquired along with Robinson Cano and cash in exchange for Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak and prospects Jarred Kelenic, Justin Dunn and Gerson Bautista, was the game’s best reliever last season and comes with four more years of control and the first one costs under $600,000.

Diaz is relentless up to 100 mph with a wipeout slider and greatly improved control and command that led him to stardom in 2018. He struck out 44.3 percent of the batters he faced a year ago, walking just 6.1 percent and is as dominant as any reliever in baseball.

If Jeurys Familia, Seth Lugo and company can hand leads to Diaz, the Mets are going to win a lot of games they didn’t win a year ago.

Philadelphia Phillies

This one’s easy: Harper (13/$330).

Despite landing J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura via trade and signing David Robertson and Andrew McCutchen, Harper is the championship get.

The former MVP will change games with one swing as much as anyone in baseball when healthy and anchors a loaded lineup full of speed, power and patience. Harper can carry a team at times, but the Phillies won’t need to ask him to do that very often.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates might be No. 1 on a rankings list of moves the club should have made but didn’t, but …

Pittsburgh landed Chris Archer last summer at a steep price but did almost nothing to help their club this offseason.

If they’re banking on Jameson Taillon and Archer leading the charge to a surprising 2019, it also means they’re hoping Colin Moran is the answer at third base and Corey Dickerson repeats 2018.

It appears the move of the offseason for the Pirates was simply not tearing it all down, because the next best option is the signing of Lonnie Chisenhall.

The upside of the Pirates roster is high, but it also comes with tons of risk. And in one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, the Bucs could play relatively well and lose 85 or more games.

Not really a great time to stand pat, but it isn’t the time to cut bait on Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte, Josh Bell, Adam Frazier, closer Felipe Vazquez and the top of the rotation, either.

San Diego Padres

Another easy one. Manny Machado (10/$300) gives the Padres a bona fide star in the middle of the lineup.

The winning might be a year or two away, but Machado’s presence allows the Padres brass to focus on developing Manuel Margot, Luis Urias, Francisco Mejia and to target pitching in the majority of future signings and trades.

The signing also legitimizes, a little bit at least, the Eric Hosmer signing (8/$144M) from last winter.

San Francisco Giants

The Giants flirted with Bryce Harper and perhaps made serious offers, but in the end, the biggest addition to the Giants over the winter is probably lefty swingman Drew Pomeranz.

As a result, the best move the Giants made over the offseason was NOT committing $300 million to Harper. With the Giants boasting an aging core, Harper likely would have ended up serving as the start of a rebuild rather than finishing off a title-contending roster.

Had they added more earlier in the winter when more options were available — like a high leverage reliever or two, more rotation depth behind Madison Bumgarner and another bat in an outfield that right now boasts three unproven players — Harper would have made more sense.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals’ addition of Goldschmidt not only adds a legit MVP candidate to their roster — a roster that had an MVP candidate a year ago in Matt Carpenter — it allows that other MVP candidate to play a position perhaps more fitting to the team’s needs.

But the best move of the offseason for the Cardinals is the signing of Andrew Miller to help solidify the bullpen.

It cost only money (2/$25M) and Miller’s experience and willingness to pitch in any role — closer, setup, situational, middle relief, setup — helps manage the usage of Jordan Hicks, who appeared in a career-high 73 games last season in his first year as a full-time reliever.

Washington Nationals

The signing of Patrick Corbin (6/$140M) reestablishes the Nationals’ Big Three when Jordan Zimmermann was posting 3-5 win season in D.C, and it gives the club the power lefty it’s lacked during the current run.

Corbin, 29, had a career year in 2018, posting his first 200-inning season since 2013. He posted his third healthy season in a row, however, and struck out 30.8 percent of the batters he faced.

With Max Scherzer still at the top of his game and Stephen Strasburg healthy this spring, the Nationals boast the league’s best 1-2-3 and despite the loss of Harper, added Yan Gomes to Anthony Rendon (6.3 fWAR), Juan Soto (3.7), Trea Turner (4.8) and a healthy Adam Eaton (1.9 in 95 G).

Corbin may put the Nationals over the top in the senior circuit in 2019.…

One can argue — and I have — the Seattle Mariners have needs up and down the roster, despite winning 89 games in 2018.

The numbers will suggest starting pitching and outfield prodiction lead the way, but more specifically, GM Jerry Dipoto‘s club needs impact starting pitching, an everyday centerfielder and right-handed power.

As a whole, where do the free agent options rank?

Note 1: The following is not a ranking of how good the players are or the Mariners interest, it’s a ranking of how they fit the club, projecting roster and salary impact, with trade and free agent market considerations such as supply and demand.

Note 2: Multiple sources have indicated RHP Charlie Morton is approaching free agency as if it’s World Series or bust, and two have suggested he only wants to play in Houston or he may retire. As a result, I have left off Morton from the following rankings. Initially, he ranked No. 13.

BOOTH: The Astros & Free Agency
BOOTH: Astros Pitching Pursuit

Note 3: Free agency is impacted by other roster moves, including trades, extensions, injuries, and many other factors. The status below could change for players based on a single move. For example, if Michael Brantley is re-signed by Cleveland, the market for similarly-valuable outfielders may change, depending on interest and the precedence Brantley’s contract may set.

Another; if CC Sabathia decides to play in 2019 (at this point the expectation is he’s done) it changes the market for back-end starters a bit. All it takes is one club to go nuts or a blockbuster trade to occur and the market is altered significantly. Keep that in mind as the winter unfolds.

1. Andrew McCutchen, LF

McCutchen is nowhere near the MVP candidate he was 3-4 years ago, but hit enough in 2018 to suggest anything under three years guaranteed makes some sense.

He’s not a centerfielder anymore — and really was never that good out there anyway — but he’s fine in a corner and brings tons of intangibles to the table to help a club get over the hump.

Seattle could use a reliable right-handed bat and despite the fact he’s a name, I don’t see McCutchen’s market getting out of hand.

2. Yusei Kikuchi, LHP

Kikuchi, 28, has been a flamethrower in Japan and can still reach the mid-90s, but he’s using his full arsenal more rather than trying to blow the doors off every hitter, and that may bode well for his career in MLB.

He’s had some shoulder problems thanks to poor arm action — it’s mostly an arm lag (timing) — but he also lands on a stiff front leg that impacts his command and finish.

At the bottom of his delivery, his hand — and the ball — disappears below his backside. Seriously. Look.

I suspect even at 91-94 mph he has a terrific chance to succed in the states, thanks to deception, solid-average command and three offspeed pitches (slider, splitter, short curveball) that play.

He’s athletic and has shown he understands how to use his stuff.

The trio of scouts I’ve spoke to that have seen Kikuchi suggest he’s got No. 2 stuff , but the shoulder concerns are likely to suppress his market a bit. A clean health history and better mechanics and we’d be talking about the top free agent starter on the market this winter.

As-is, he’s probably going to get three years or more at No. 3 starter AAV with upside in the contract that equal his on-field ceiling, and it’s probably a risk worth taking for the Mariners.

3. DJ LeMahieu, 2B

Yep, you read that right. While LeMahieu is far from a star and doesn’t even have that kind of upside at 30 years of age, he’s ideal for the Mariners as a player still with a few prime years left and few glaring weaknesses.

One argument against such a player coming from a career at Coors Field is the home-road splits. Not only is that a terrible way to assess a player’s ability to hit outside Coors, but LeMahieu’s value isn’t balled up into his offensive production, despite being an imposing 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds.

A former shortstop, LeMahieu has clung well to second base defensively, and his presence at the position fully opens the door for Robinson Cano to play primarily first base and Dee Gordon to be used as the utility option his bat strongly suggests he should be (salary be damned, this is what he is).

LeMahieu also shouldn’t be very expensive, and the fact he hits the fastball well and isn’t simply a guess hitter gives him a chance to be an average or better offensive 2B to go with the above-average defense.

In a scenario where LeMahieu, who has been a two-win player three of the last four seasons (was a 4.4 fWAR player in 2016, clearly an outlier) is in the fold, Gordon gets most of the PAs give to Andrew RomineTaylor Motter, Ichiro, John AndreoliZach Vincej and Kris Negron in 2018 (231 PAs combined) rather than those lesser players getting them, and instead of handing Gordon another 588 trips to the plate as a regular.

Like with all acquisitions, the cost will dictate, but this is under-the-radar type target that could pay dividends for multiple roster spots.

4. Lance Lynn, RHP

Lynn could be one of the bigger bargains on the market this winter if what he showed after his trade to the Yankees (9 GS, 2.17 FIP, 61 SO, 14 BB) was real, and there’s reason to buy it is, considering he did it with a different fastball approach and the results aren’t based on randomness.

Lynn is 31, is entering Year 3 after Tommy John surgery and has a career 3.67 FIP and above-average strikeout rate. He’s also shown an ability to generate ground ball outs enough to stave off the long ball problem many others haven’t.

There’s a good chance he’s back to STL form as a No. 3 starter with a full workload available.

In other words, Mike Leake.

5. Matt Harvey, RHP

Harvey was discussed by media and fans alike last summer but the Reds held onto him. Why? I have no idea, but there’s a non-zero chance they bring him back.

Harvey is another upside play but I’m not sure clubs aren;t going to buy some of that upside, rather than be rewarded with it. He’s a Scott Boras client and one that comes with a very high opinion of how good he WILL BE.

Still, he’s very intriguing. He’ll be 30 in March and improved his strikeout rates this season to 20 percent after that dipped to 15.6% in 2017. At his best, Harvey was striking out a quarter of the batters he faced and while that might never return, he;s also throwing more strikes than ever and avoiding the base on balls.

He still throws hard — 94.6 average fastball in 2018 — and his slider was pretty good with the Reds. If he can get back some of the fringe changeup he had in his prime or find the better version of his curveball, he may have a better shot to go deeper into games and supply No. 3 value.

If I’m the Mariners I want my pitching coach to come to me and say “hey, I know Harvey’s history and have a plan that kicks his game up a notch, let’s go get him” or I’m probably stopping at two years and a relatively low guaranteed number, which likely eliminates a club from contention. But with such a plan, I’d have more confidence I can get some upside in a contract he might actually take.

6. Nathan Eovaldi, RHP

I’ve been told the Boston Red Sox plan to re-up with Eovaldi on a multi-year deal, so he may never get out to talk with other clubs.

If that does not occur, he will be a sought after commodity, despite some warts, incouding injury history — he has had two Tommy John surgeries and the second time around, late in 2016, he had his flexor tendon worked on, too.

The soon-to-be 29-year-old also has some performance concerns to go along with the durability issues. Over the course of his 148-start career, he’s posted a solid but not special 3.82 FIP.

But despite not being the best starting pitcher on the open market, he’s exactly the kind of option Dipoto and the Mariners should be after. Here’s why:

  • Upside
    Eovaldi has the raw stuff to dominate at times and essentially is a right-handed James Paxton..
  • Cost
    While he’s not going to be cheap, per se, he’s also not likely to receive the kind of offers left-hander Patrick Corbin is expected to, a market that could reach or exceed Yu Darvish (6 years, $126 million) territory. If the bidding gets to this range for Eovaldi, Seattle will likely be, and should be, out of the running, assuming the player would have any interest in the first place.
  • Versatility
    Eovaldi has shown this fall he’s versatile, pitching out of the bullpen in between starts for the Red Sox in the postseason. This strongly suggests a very high floor as a multi-inning reliever, reducing the risk of a relatively aggressive contract.

Side Note: I wrote this the morning before Nathan Eovaldi’s relief heroics in Game 3 of the World Series. I’m not sure if that game helped his free agent cause or hurt it, considering the way some FOs assess risk, but I imagine it helped his cause and hurt a mid-market club’s shot to pry him away from the kind of team and winning atmosphere he’s now experienced. Prior to that game, Eovaldi ranked No. 1 on this list.

I’ve heard anything from 3/$40m to 5/$75m. The lower range makes some sense, the upper one does not. Not for Seattle, anyway.

7. Jesse Chavez, RHP

Chavez is the most underappreciated (by media, fans) arm on the market right now. He’s 35, pounds the zone (3.4% walk rate) and just posted a career-best 24.4% strikeout rate. He covered 95 innings in 2018 without making a single start and was the Cubs best reliever late in the year.

He can spot start if need be, has no discernable splits and his five-pitch mix is legit — 4FB, CUT, SL, CB, CH — even if his changeup is inconsistent and fringey.

Despite the fact many clubs will have strong interest, Chavez’s age probably keeps the years down to two, maybe three for an aggressive front office.

Chavez is a multi-inning middle reliever that fits well in a new-age bullpen, aiding clubs with less impact and depth in their rotation.

Sound familiar?

8. J.A. Happ, LHP

Happ, 36, is a reliable, league-average starter that gets by without a plus offspeed pitch thanks to how much value he gets from a 91-93 mph fastball he commands very well and some deception in his delivery.

His slider was as effective as ever in 2018 and his changeup is useful, but he’s throwing the curveball less every year since 2014 — usage rates of 10%, 7.4%, 5.3% and 1.7%.

Happ is probably due a multi-year deal, though I’d steer clear of a guaranteed third year if we’re talking north of $10 million AAV — and most likely we are.

9. Derek Holland, LHP

Holland, now 32, had a pretty solid 2018 in San Francisco, logging 171 1/3 innings and posting a 3.87 FIP. He also struck out 23.3% of the batters he faced, missed bats on 10% of swings and stayed healthy.

There’s some risk here, but Holland, who sat 90-94 mph with his fastball last season, is a clear and present upgrade to at least one spot in the Mariners’ rotation. If it matters, he’s also been around a lot of winning and winners, and a lot of very successful pitching minds.

Holland should be cheap on guaranteed dollars and short on years. He also pushes Hernandez to the bullpen — even though that’s not a fix for King Felix without drastic changes this winter.

10. Adam Ottavino, RHP

Ottavino, somehow, is 34 now, and he comes with an injury history on top of 40-grade command, but he sits 93-96 to go with a plus slider and a cutter. His sinker has enough movement to keep batters from sitting dead red when they see backspin and he’s coming off a strong 2018.

Clubs are going to both love Ottavino — he’s nasty, leading to a 36% strikeout rate — and question his consistency and availability, which likely limits the upside on his market.

He’s unlikely to get more than two years, but should surpass the deal Juan Nicasio received a year ago from Seattle, at least in AAV.

11. Anibal Sanchez, RHP

Sanchez has done nothing but prove people wrong for years, starting with his trade from Miami to Detroit. He’s not without his warts — he’s 35 in February, has battled arm injuries and never logged 200 innings in a season — but he just popped a 2.4 fWAR in 136 2/3 innings for the Braves and doled out a 3.62 FIP.

His velocity is fine at 90-92 mph, he’s throwing a lot of cutters these days and doing it with tons of success (.195 BAA, .329 SLGA) and his swinging strike rate is still very playable at 10.5 percent.

Sanchez likely has hit the portion of his career where he’s going to get a series of one-year offers, but there might be a few teams willing to go two years and Seattle should be one of them if the guaranteed dollars aren’t out of whack, and it’s difficult to believe that will be the case.

Even if Sanchez can’t get beyond 140 innings, he’s an upgrade over Felix HernandezErasmo Ramirez and perhaps Wade LeBlanc, too, depending how long the lefty can keep up his little magic trick.

The Mariners, BTW, paid Ramirez $4.2 million this past season knowing he was a health AND performance risk. Sanchez is only one of those. If he’s healthy, he’ll give you quality innings — something Hernandez hasn’t done much of the last three seasons.

12. Patrick Corbin, LHP

Despite likely being too pricey for Seattle to compete, Corbin ranks this high because he’s far and away the best starter on the market and the Mariners’ biggest need is impact arms in the rotation.

He’s had some injury issues in the past but at 29 just tossed his second 200-inning campaign and has less wear and tear than most 29-year-old starters (945.2 IP).

I’ve seen some projections of 5/$90m for Corbin, but I believe he’s going to get Yu Darvish dollars (6 years, $126 million), or more.

With the Yankees and perhaos the Dodgers, Nationals, Angels and Cubs also in the mix, the Mariners aren’t likely to compete.

But if they decided to compete in free agency, Corbin fits and his presence in the rotation changes everything for the club’s pitching staff and the roster. Even as-is on November 4, 2018, adding corbin would make for a projectable Wild Card contender just a few pieces from legitimacy the club hasn’t warranted in nearly two decades.

If the ownership wants to flip the script, Corbin is the way to do it. Not only would they be adding a significant, star-level piece to their weakest unit, they’d be taking that piece from an elite-market club, perhaps sending them scrambling to make a trade.

13. David Robertson, RHP

Robertson’s age (34 in April) may scare some away but he’s still very good, albeit not as dominant as he was a few years ago.

He’s still missing bat at a high rate — 32.2% in 2018 — with a 92 mph cutter and a plus to plus-plus curveball. He has a true slider he mixes in about 8-10% of the time.

Robertson is a terific idea for a team like Seattle, since at 34 Robertson isn’t likely to command more than three years, perhaps just two guaranteed. But I’d trust him, which is why he ranks this high.

14. Michael Brantley, LF

Brantley, in theory, is the best fit of any outfielder on this list because he’s the best player of the group. He’s also going to have tons of suitors and likely to get more years and dollars than likely will make sense for Seattle, especially considering Brantley’s recent dealings with the DL.

Brantley is essentially a younger, better version of Denard Span, and Span was solid for the club a year ago. If the Mariners decide it’s a go-for-it 2019 before they strongly consider tearing it down (big if on both fronts), Brantley makes a lot of sense to strongly consider paying.

15. Kelvin Herrera, RHP

Herrera, 29 in December, has seen his strikeout rate drop from 30.4% in 2016 to 21.6% in ’17 and 20.7% in 2018, which explains his BABIP numbers and ultimately his drop in value.

He’s also had some availability issues the past two years.

Herrera, however, still throws hard and might be willing to sign a one-year deal to prove he still can be dominant and get a multi-year deal next winter. In that scenario, Seattle makes sense. If he’s your fourth reliever to start the season you’re probably in good shape.

16. Jeurys Familia, RHP

Familia is the most intriguing reliever on this year’s market for me, from a Mariners perspective.

He’s going to want closer money and he may get it. He’s 29 and coming off a 2.65 FIP, 27.5% strikeout 2018, his second-best by fWAR.

He’ll still run into occasional control problems, but it appears he’s getting better at avoiding barrels as he ages and there’s no sign his velocity is going anywhere anytime soon (97 mph in 2018).

Familia has a plus slider, average split and is probably one of the safer bets among the top relievers this offseason. I’d much prefer to give three or four years and $15-20 million per season on Familia than Craig Kimbrel.

For Seattle, they’d have to be very aggressive in terms of dollars to acquire Familia, but if they’re going to spend big on the bullpen this is the guy.

17. Edwin Jackson, RHP

Jackson rebounded in Oakland and pitched like a mid-rotation arm at times. He ended the year with a 4.65 FIP after his run ended and some warts reemerged — command, control.

Jackson is more of a back-end option, but he’s one with some upside. I’d like to see him use his fastball a little more — 18% in 2018 — and perhaps throw fewer offspeed pitches. He has the makings of a FB-cutter combo that can take pressure off the changeup, slider and curveball.

A multi-inning bullpen role on a good team is an ideal role for Jackson, but he can be expected to cover a No. 5 spot in the rotation, and there is some upside here, despite the right-hander having just turned 35.

18. Jed Lowrie, IF

I’ve wanted Lowrie for years because he;’s versatile, smart and knows how to hide his weaknesses at the plate. He’s 35 now but still worth two-year deal. Problem is, there are many who believe he can get 3/$30 and that’s a lot for a player I’d be hoping to play 100-110 games at three or four positions, rather than everyday.

The good news is, if Seattle isn’t a legit landing spot — probably not — Lowrie may have also priced himself out of Oakland.

Lowrie, on a two-year deal, would rank higher here, but I see better opportunities for a super-utility type considering the resources.

19. David Phelps, RHP

Phelps missed all of 2018 after having Tommy John last spring but could be ready early in ’19 if not from the outset. The injury and surgery suppress Phelps’ market a bit but teams are going to be interested in some guaranteed dollars plus incentives for Phelps to make a full-market salary next season.

Seattle should be interested in supplementing their Alex-Colome-Edwin Diaz back end with arms like Phelps and he may end up a bargain if his recovery and rehab have gone well.

20. Dallas Keuchel, LHP

Keuchel may be somewhat overlooked in free agency — overshadowed by Corbin and even Eovaldi — but he made 34 starts in 2018 and posted a 3.69 FIP. He countered a drop in strikeouts — 17.5% down from three straight years over 20% — by doing a better job keeping the ball in the ballpark.

Doing so with significantly lower ground ball rates — 54% down from a career mark over 60% to start the season — suggests some luck.

But Keuchel’s xWOBA was .290, in line with 2017’s .286 and better than his career mark of .317 prior to the season. He does a good job avoiding the barrel — 4.5% barrel rate in 2018, down from 5.1% in 2017; 3.4% his Cy Young season in 2015 — and tallied 204 2/3 innings, the second-highest total in his career.

He’s 30, so any idea of a six or eight year contract for $20m AAV is probably too steep for anyone not in an elite market, but I’ve seen some 5/$90m projections and I’d be comfortable if Seattle went down that road, considering there seem to be no signs of physical decline by Keuchel.

I expect the Angels to be all over Keuchel (and Corbin).

21. Cody Allen, RHP

Allen fell off the map in 2018, but he only had the one and a half dominant seasons. He’s a fastball-curveball guy who throws a ton of the latter (40%) and when one of the two aren’t working he’s in trouble. In ’18, it was the curveball.

The fastball has lost a little zip, too, however — down to 94 mph from 95.2 in 2016 — and the spin rate is down, also. Both, in combo with a loss in command, explain why Allen has struggled with the four-seamer recently (.516 SLGA, 11 HR).

But there’s a chance he IDs the issues and returns close to form. Ignoring the outlier season in ’16, Allen has always been a 1-1.5 WAR reliever and he could easily get back there, making him a bargain at two years and $18 million.

22. Joakim Soria, RHP

Soria just had his second best season by fWAR but I’d be concerned his secondaries have faded and batters are going to figure him out sooner than later.

He gets a lot of from his 92-94 mph fastball but has relied on a plus changeup he just didn’t have in 2018, and at 34 there’s no guarantee he’s getting it back.

Soria is more of a risk than most of the relievers on this list, but if the rest of the league sees it the same way, Seattle could be a two-year landing spot as a third reliever.

23. Nelson Cruz, DH

I wouldn’t close the door on Cruz returning to the Mariners, but to get a deal done this past summer would have cost the Mariners $38-40 million guaranteed over two seasons.

Even if the Twins and Rays are legitimately interested, as some have speculated, neither they nor the Astros are going to such levels to bring back Cruz, who finally showed signs of slowing down the second half of 2018.

If the Mariners can’t find a way to replace Cruz’s value to the club with a combo of players, payroll and roster flexibility, bringing him back for another year may be in order, but it won’t be for $20 million.

24. Garrett Richards, RHP

Richards isn’t likely to pitch at all in 2019 thanks to Tommy John surgery, and he’s been on the DL a ton in his career and has made just 28 starts since 2015.

But like the Tampa Bay Rays did with Nathan Eovaldi and the Chicago Cubs did with Drew Smyly, there’s value in rehabbing an arm with upside and Richards is another such opportunity.

When he’s healthy, Richards is No. 2 starter in stuff, No. 3 starter in command and consistency, but will flash as an ace with his power stuff, including a fastball up to 98mph and a plus slider.

A two-year deal similar to that of Smyly’s ($10m) makes some sense here.

Side Note: Richards could be the next starter-turned dominant reliever, and there’s a chance it helps him stay healthy. Something clubs may consider — a floor — in free agency.

25. Zach Britton, LHP

Britton isn’t going to get elite closer offers thanks to the injury issues that have clouded the past few seasons. His stuff wasn’t all the way back late in 2018, but he did show flashes of what he was in 2016.

If the 30-year-old’s market never develops, he may take a one-year prove-it deal somewhere, which strongly suggests Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, et al, but a three-year, $40 million offer might be too good to pass up for the lefty and that kind of deal could be out there.

26. Joe Kelly, RHP

Kelly helped his free agency with late-season and postseason performances that showed how valuable he can be as a multi-inning, high-leverage option.

His command still is below average but the fastball is legit 97-100 with life and he has three offspeed pitches that hover in the average range. The slider is the best of the three, but batters can’t sit on the heat.

Kelly’s likely to garner three-year offers, perhaps four, as a 31-year-old without a lot of wear and tear despite time as a starter, and he’s likely to get an AAV north of $10 million. He fits any club in baseball, offering more relief per-appearance for clubs without a deep rotation, but that’s going to cost.

A lot.

27. Wilson Ramos, C

Ramos has had injury issues, but he’s the most complete catcher on the market. He has power, improved plate skills and is starting to work counts and draw more walks.

Problem is, the catcher market is slim pickins, per usual, and clubs that want more than a part-time catcher will pony up more dollars for more years than Seattle can possibly justify for even an even split timeshare with Mike Zunino, who probably is going to get one finals hot at being an average or better regular catcher before Seattle considers moving toward other options.

28. Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP

Ryu has had injury issues but did post a 3.00 FIP in2 018 over 28 starts and 153 innings. Not many are talking about him and after Friday’s QO deadline, there won’t be much reason to in Seattle.

Ryu was tendered the QO by the Dodgers, meaning if the Mariners signed the 31-year-old to a deal he’s likely to command — perhaps three or four guaranteed years at $10-14 million per season — they’d also forfeit their 2019 second-round pick.

Ryu in a vacuum, isn’t all that different than Lynn or Happ in the short term. If the market collapses, perhaps Ryu could make some sense, but don’t hold your breath.

29. A.J. Pollock, CF

Pollock is a good player, but at 31 and a worrisome injury history, there’s tons of concern over a long-term deal. I still believe someone gives him four or five years, and that should not be the Mariners.

Pollock is solid in center now but isn’t likely to hold that for long, which puts a lot of pressure on the power to play in a corner. He’s more of a doubles bat than a home run guy outside of Arizona’s friendly confines.

He makes good contact and carries a career ,.338 OBP into 2019 but reduce the power and we’re talking about an average player, nothing more, nd one that may be less than in three years.

30. Gio Gonzalez, LHP

Gonzalez is now 33, has never had even average control and command the last two years has seen his 92-95 mph fastball dip to 89-92 with an average of 90.7.

As a result, his two-seamer was shellacked in 2018 and he lost the command of his curveball, once his bread and butter pitch he threw for strikes better than anything else. If he gets that back, he’s a No. 4 starter, otherwise there’s a huge risk he’s a No. 5 with no weapon to combat the modern game’s power play.

31. Brad Brach, RHP

Brach is 32, not a premium arm and struggled some versus left-handed batters in 2018, but he offers dominating stuff versus RHBs and isn’t likely to command more than two years and $12 million. It’s plausible he signs for less.

32. Devin Mesoraco, C

Mesoraco has one good season with the bat — 2014 with the Reds that produce a .359 OBP and 25 homers — but he’s sound enough at the plate and behind it to warrant half-time play. He’s 30 and has had trouble the past three years with velocity, but works counts, will draw walks and gives himself a chance.

Mesoraco isn’t a great framer (fringe-average or so) but is average or better at blocking, throwing and receiving.

A one-year deal for modest guarantees makes sense for Seattle, who lost Chris Herrmann , their best non-Zunino option, to waivers (HOU).…

It’s still Opening Day.

Whether your team is a World Series favorite like the Houston Astros or Chicago Cubs, a darkhorse like the Milwaukee Brewers or Arizona Diamondbacks, a rebuilding club such as the Chicago White Sox or Cincinnati Reds or a team stuck in the middle — the Seattle Mariners — Thursday is a tremendously glorious day that serves as the start of a tremendously glorious seven-month run.

And just like any day during the baseball season, lightning can strike.


Baseball.

Baseball represents a lot of things. Hope, competition, comradery among players, fans and even one another. It also represents those that love it, just as those who love it represent the game.

Thursday marks the 133rd season of Major League Baseball, and it starts very similarly as the 132 before it.

With hope and promise.

Even if your favorite team is likely to lose as many games as the Astros are likely to win, it’s still baseball. The intracasies the game brings are replicated by no other.

Win or lose, it’s baseball. Of course winning is better, and relatively speaking, losing sucks. And it sucks more and more the longer your team struggles to garner some glory.

In this sense, baseball is like ice cream, or pie. It may not be your favorite flavor, but it’s still ice cream or pie.

Fans get caught up in the anxiety of their desire to cheer for a winner. We all do this to some extent.  Years of losing wears on us. Winning spoils us. Constant mediocrity crushes the soul.

But I hope Thursday, March 29, 2018 marks the start of something special for all of you. Just as it did last spring, the spring before and the spring before… and… well, you get it. Baseball is better than no baseball.

At approximately 12:40 PM eastern time, Miami Marlins right-hander Jose Urena will fire the first pitch of the 2018 Major League Baseball season. At this point, all 30 teams will be tied for first.

In that game, Kris Bryant probably hits a home run and Javier Baez shows us all why baseball is fun and inique with some sort of back-handed, no-look flip, or something. There will be gifs.

A little while later, Cardinals righty Carlos Martinez will go toe-to-toe with Mets ace Noah Syndergaard at Citi Field. That’s a lot of 95-100 mph fastballs.

As the Marlins-Cubs game winds down, Chris Sale and the Red Sox’s stacked lineup will go after Rays star Chris Archer. A stacked lineup may very well be stymied while his teammates — no longer including Logan Morrison, Lucas Duda and Evan Longoria — scratch across a run or two.

At the end of the evening, Rockies right-hander Jon Gray will face Paul Goldschmidt, and Nolan Arenado will probably make some crazy defensive play and hit a home run. There will be gifs.

In Seattle, Cleveland will send Cy Young contender Corey Kluber to the mound versus the Mariners at Safeco Field. Felix Hernandez will take the ball with the King’s Court in session.

Hernandez isn’t the pitcher he was four years ago. The Indians are probably 10-20 wins better than Seattle when all is said and done.

But Thursday, that doesn’t matter. It’s Game 1 of 162 and just about anything can happen. Lightning can strike. And if it doesn’t that day, it might the next. And until you can’t say that anymore, it’s a great day.

Opening Day is the rebirth of baseball in America that comes once a year. I hope you’re as excited about it as I am. Because despite my belief about the baseball team in my city, I’ll still watch. I’ll still love it. Because it’s still baseball.

And there’s still hope.…

The 1973 baseball season will always be special to me. I was a middle-school kid growing up in Bellerose, Queens and my favorite team — the New York Mets — reached the World Series. More importantly though; that was the year my Mom first became interested in the game.

You see, my parents were immigrants from Ireland. Much of what they knew about American sports, they learned through me. In some ways, it was a journey for all of us.

For instance, when my mother took me to a department store to buy my first glove, she purchased one that went on my throwing hand. She didn’t know any better; neither did I. That’s how I became a lefty thrower, who hit right-handed.

My parents’ unfamiliarity with baseball also led to my Mets fandom. The team had won the 1969 World Series and my father convinced his young son to be a fan of the champions rather than the Yankees. This made a lot of sense in a household with no emotional attachment to either club.

By the time the 1973 season rolled around, I didn’t need convincing to be a Mets fan. Dad was quietly along for the ride. He was never one to wear his emotions on his sleeve. On the flip side, Mom had no interest in baseball, although that was about to change.

During the season, Mom collected coupons from Dairylea milk cartons with the intent of getting a pair of tickets to a Mets game. Her plan worked and she received two tickets to a game on September 25 against the Montreal Expos.

The first cool thing about Mom’s undertaking was the fact she surprised me with the free tickets right before the game — on a school night no less. Adding to the excitement, the Mets entered the night with a half-game lead in the National League East division over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Oh yeah, it was Willie Mays Night too.

That’s right; my Mom unwittingly scarfed up two free tickets so me and Dad could attend the ceremony honoring the Say Hey Kid. How awesome is that?

I’d like to believe thrilling her oldest son with those tickets kindled an interest in baseball for Mom. If it didn’t, the buzz in New York surrounding the Mets making the playoffs certainly did.

Despite not knowing much about the game, Mom sat on the edge of her seat watching each game with Dad and I. Our team eventually fell to the Oakland Athletics in the Fall Classic, but she would never find a cure for her newfound Mets addiction.

A friend once told me the best way to describe fandom was with a “D” word. He said it’s either “dedicated” or “dumb.” In the case of Mets fans, I think both words apply. That was Mom and me — dedicated and dumb together.

Through thick and thin, Mom stuck with her Mets. So did I.

Even when the Mets traded Tom Seaver.

Even when the New York tabloids referred to Shea Stadium as “Grant’s Tomb” in honor of team president M. Donald Grant’s mishandling of the club.

Even when the Yankees got good — I mean really good.

It didn’t matter; Mom remained faithful to her Mets.

Dad’s fandom wasn’t as obvious as Mom’s. Yes, he’d take us to Mets games and watch them on TV. But he was quick to criticize their poor play. Back in the day, there was plenty to gripe about. Some would contend there still is.

When the Yankees became a force in the Nineties, Dad would routinely ask “why can’t the Mets play that well?” My oh my, that didn’t go over well with Mom. She’d steadfastly defend her players, her team. Naturally, their back and forth made me chuckle.

In reality, Dad was a fan too. Just in his own unique way. The channel never strayed to the Yankees unless the Mets weren’t playing.

Thankfully, Mom did get to see her Mets win it all in 1986, although watching them lose to the Yankees in the 2000 World Series was especially frustrating.

And about those Yankees. Mom was a very kind person, but she wasn’t particularly fond of several Bronx Bombers. Topping her list was Paul O’Neill, who she considered “rude” because of his dugout temper tantrums. From what I’ve gathered, O’Neill wasn’t too popular in Seattle either.

After joining the Navy, I rarely had a chance to watch games with my parents. Yet, my weekly calls home would always shift to the Mets when Mom and I chatted. She’d revel in the good stuff, while fiercely defending them when I pointed out their blemishes. I guess I have some of my Dad in me after all.

When I deployed overseas, Mom would regularly send care packages to bring a little bit of home to the ship. There were plenty of treats, but I could always count on her sending newspaper clippings about the Mets.

When the Internet became readily available at sea, I didn’t have the heart to tell Mom I already knew what was going on with our team. What did it matter? Our Mets fandom always kept us connected. I didn’t want to mess with a good thing.

Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s took care of that.

Even before Dad passed away in 2008, Mom was already showing signs of the unrelenting disease. Alzheimer’s robs you of everything you once were as your loved ones helplessly watch.

As the disease advanced, talks about baseball or anything substantial were no longer possible. Eventually, Mom would ask me if I was an Arkins or if I had ever visited her home before. The worst part of the long goodbye is that it traverses along on a broken road. There are no smooth landings.

Since leaving the Navy, I’ve become a fledgling baseball writer. As such, I now keep my fandom in check. I still watch lots of Mets games, plus the Seattle Mariners. But I’ve become a neutral party.

Still, I have to admit I wanted the Mets to win the 2015 World Series. Not for me, but for Mom. She was past knowing what was going on with the team. But so what?

Unfortunately, the Mets fell short against the Kansas City Royals. At the time, I had plenty to say about the way Terry Collins managed the team. I’m sure Mom would’ve defended Collins to the end and simply told me to be quiet. To be honest, having Mom tell me to be quiet one more time would’ve been cool.

Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.

Early last month, Mom succumbed to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. I find comfort in knowing she’s finally at peace with my Dad. But I have to admit that knowledge doesn’t make me miss them any less. I would be nothing without their love, patience, and guidance.

Still, whenever the Mets are on TV, I often think of Mom and Dad. I wonder what they’d think of the team’s current crop of players. Mom would certainly root for them as she did for Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Mike Piazza, and so many others. She’d be pleased Jose Reyes was back too.

Dad probably wouldn’t care for the long hair sported by Noah Syndergaard or Jacob deGrom last year. But Mom would tell him to be quiet. All the while, I’d be laughing inside.

Yep, baseball is the best sport and it will always be for me. I know Mom would agree.

Hey Mom…Let’s Go Mets!

 …

The New York Yankees have a formidable pair of big men — Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge — anchoring the middle of their lineup this year. The thought of the these two behemoths wreaking havoc across baseball made me wonder. Who were the most interesting big and tall players I’ve seen through the years?

That burning question inspired me to put together a list. As you peruse the individuals selected, please remember these are the players I enjoyed most. More than likely, you’d probably have come up with different names.

J.R. Richard

For just over four years, Richard was among the best pitchers in baseball. Only Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan had more strikeouts than the 6-foot-8 right-hander did between 1976-79. During that span, Tom Seaver and Jim Palmer were the only starters with a better ERA.

Unfortunately, Richard suffered a life-altering stroke in July 1980 during a workout at the Astrodome. Although the Arizona State University product attempted a comeback, he never pitched in another big league game.

In later years, Richard would end up homeless living under an overpass in Houston. Fortunately, the now-68-year-old was able to get off the streets with the help of a ministry he now serves.

Dave Kingman

The man referred to as “Kong” led National League hitters in strikeouts three times during an era when striking out was far less acceptable than it is now. But the man could hit tape measure bombs.

In 1976, the 6-foot-6 Kingman had 30 homers by the all-star break creating a buzz in New York. Could the Oregon native approach or even break the single season home run record set by Roger Maris in 1961?

The drama didn’t last long. On July 19, Kingman had 32 homers when he injured his thumb diving for a ball. The slugger would miss over a month and only hit five round trippers for the remainder of the season.

Kingman would go on to hit 442 homers for seven different clubs. In fact, he actually suited up with four teams in 1977 alone.

In June, the Mets first traded Kingman to the San Diego Padres for pitcher Paul Siebert and their future manager — Bobby Valentine. In early September, the Padres shipped the right-handed hitter to the California Angels. A week later, he returned to New York as a member of the Yankees.

Sid Fernandez

Known for his hefty waistline, high walk rate, and knack for missing bats, Fernandez’s one inning of work during the 1986 All-Star game summarized his career. After walking the first two hitters the southpaw struck out the next three hitters — Brook Jacoby, Hall of Famer Jim Rice, and Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly.

Despite his volatility, Fernandez proved valuable during the 1986 World Series. The native Hawaiian struck out 10 and walked just one hitter during 6.2 innings of work against the Boston Red Sox. In the end, “Big Sid” helped the Mets win their second World Series.

Mark McGwire

One of my favorite ballpark memories happened during the last weekend of the 1998 season. That’s the year McGwire and Sammy Sosa were chasing Maris’ single season home run record.

My buddy Jim and I were lucky enough to be in St. Louis to witness McGwire cap off his historic season. During the first game of the four-game series we attended, McGwire went 1-3 with a walk, but no homer. That would the last game he didn’t go long that season.

The next night, McGwire hit a long foul ball Shayne Bennett of the Montreal Expos in the bottom of the fifth inning. The 6-foot-5 slugger followed up the long strike with a bomb to deep left field. In the final two games, he’d hit a pair of homers both days to end the season with 70.

I have to admit the experience was emotional for me. Being there to see history with an adoring crowd on hand was moving.

Bartolo Colon

Anyone called “Big Sexy” belongs on my list. The former Cy Young award winner and four-time all-star wasn’t always as large as he is now. But he’s grown into a reputation as a big man after 20 seasons.

For me, Colon’s home run in 2016 and the call of it by Mets’ play-by-play announcer Gary Cohen is my favorite “Bart” moment.

Colon is currently battling to earn a spot on the Texas Rangers roster. Assuming he makes the team, it’s not likely manager Jeff Banister calls on the the 45-year-old to hit though. But it would be fun seeing the veteran pitcher take another shot at hitting a round-tripper.

Prince Fielder

Fielder stood just 5-foot-11 and weighed in at 275 pounds, but he could hit. Between 2007-12, the son of former major leaguer Cecil Fielder slugged more home runs (230) than anyone in baseball. Furthermore, he was second in walks and top-five in OBP.

During his 12-year career, Fielder was a six-time all-star and the winner of three Silver Slugger awards and the 2015 American League Comeback Player of the Year. Moreover, he is a two-time Home Run Derby winner and earned 2011 All-Star game MVP honors.

Sadly, Fielder was forced to discontinue playing in 2016 due to herniated discs in his neck. When he hung up his cleats, the left-handed hitter had exactly the same number of home runs (319) as father Cecil.

How about that?

Aaron Judge

Just like the fictional Saturday Night Live character Bill Brasky, Judge is “a mountain of a man.” In my mind, the most impressive moment of his rookie season came the night he almost hit a ball out of Safeco Field. A feat that’s never happened during game action.

Making the memory of Judge’s monster shot even more cool me was the way he didn’t stop to admire his work. He just put his head down and started running.


Considering his young age (26 in April), Judge will have plenty of opportunities to make Safeco history by literally hitting a ball out of the park. With a little luck, I’ll be there to see it happen.

Dave Winfield

The first of three Hall of Famers on my list was an amazing athlete. At the University of Minnesota, Winfield was a two-sport player as a member of the Golden Gophers’ baseball and basketball teams.

After college, four teams from three sports drafted Winfield: the San Diego Padres, Atlanta Hawks (NBA), Utah Stars (ABA), and Minnesota Vikings of the NFL even though he didn’t play college football.

While the late George Steinbrenner once referred to Winfield as “Mr. May,” he had a distinguished career thanks to a unique blend of speed and power.

The Minnesota native retired as a member of the 3,000-hit club and the owner of seven Gold Gloves and six Silver Sluggers. Five years after hanging up his cleats, he’d be a first ballot selection into the Hall of Fame.

Frank Thomas

The “Big Hurt” began his collegiate career as a football player for the University of Auburn before transitioning to baseball. MLB fans everywhere should rejoice Thomas switched sports

After being the seventh overall pick of the Chicago White Sox in 1989, Thomas became arguably the best right-handed hitter in baseball. Between 1991-2000, the Georgia native the highest OBP among players with 5,000-plus plate appearances — only Barry Bonds had a better OPS.

Randy Johnson

My last entrant measured 6-foot-10 tying for him for the second tallest major leaguer ever behind Jon Rauch, who was an inch taller.

An imposing figure on the mound, Johnson struggled with his control early in his career as a member of the Montreal Expos. After being traded to the Mariners, he finally realized his immense potential after receiving advice from fellow flamethrower Nolan Ryan.

The big southpaw would win four of his five Cy Young awards and a World Series MVP after being traded by Seattle in 1998.  But “The Big Unit” will forever be remembered in the Emerald City as arguably the best pitcher in Mariners’ history.

I was living in the Pacific Northwest when Johnson made his dramatic entrance into game five of the 1995 ALCS as a reliever. Having said that, I’ve heard about this moving moment from many Mariners fans, including my wife. In fact, I believe I she described it in great detail during our first date.

The following video is a bit grainy, but I suspect it’ll be good enough to fire up Mariners fans everywhere.

My Oh My…

 

 

 

 …

Most fans understand that payroll is paramount when a major league general manager is building a team. That said; it’s not just total dollars obligated that comes into play.

Two clubs can spend approximately the same amount on players, yet be on completely different trajectories. An organization’s payroll structure — how it distributes the money across the roster and contract lengths — matters too.

To validate this point, I performed a salary review for each AL West team.

As you’ll see, I listed their projected 2018 payroll based on salary data pulled from the Baseball Prospectus compensation page. Please note the numbers you’ll see are projections — financial obligations fluctuate throughout the year.

You’ll also find tables illustrating each club’s five highest players. Information included; 2018 salary, percentage of payroll consumed by each salary, the last year of financial obligation, whether the player has a no-trade clause.

Let’s start with the team with the highest projected payroll.

Los Angeles Angels — $164.3 million

Two years ago, $66 million going to three players — Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson, and Jered Weaver weighed down the Angels’ payroll. Each either struggled greatly or didn’t even play. Moreover, a fading Albert Pujols accounted for another $25 million.

Since then, the Halos have turned a corner with only Pujols remaining. Because of his team’s newfound financial flexibility, general manager Billy Eppler secured veterans capable of helping Los Angeles contend in 2018.

After trading for Justin Upton last August, Eppler signed the 30-year-old to a five-year/$106 million extension during the offseason. He followed that up by acquiring infielders Zack Cozart and Ian Kinsler. The duo will earn a combined $23.7 million this year.

Not only did the Angels add established players this offseason, the club pulled off a baseball and financial coup by winning the rights to Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani. The 23-year-old could be an impact player this year, while earning the major league minimum.

After this season, four players earning a combined $32.3 million could walk as free agents. They are Kinsler, Garrett Richards, Jim Johnson, Luis Valbuena. Going into next offseason — or even this summer — Eppler could reinvest that money to make his club more competitive.

Winning with their current squad is clearly the priority for the Angels. Especially with perennial MVP candidate Mike Trout, shortstop Andrelton Simmons, and Cozart eligible for free agency after 2020.

Still, the club must spend more wisely than it has previously to achieve their desired outcome of winning the World Series.

Seattle Mariners — $154.7 million

It’s easy to see why the Mariners have avoided large financial obligations in recent years.

Over 60-percent of Seattle’s payroll is tied up in five players. All are over 30-years-old with most having limited trade value due to age, diminished performance, and/or an exorbitant contract.

The Mariners’ two most expensive players — Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano account for 33-percent of the club’s 2018 payroll. King Felix’s on-field value has been trending downwards for three seasons, although his deal does end in 2019.

Cano is under contract through the 2023 season when he’ll be 40-years-old.

On a positive note, the Nelson Cruz contract signed before the 2015 season is one of the best free agent acquisitions in franchise history.

The Mariners’ top-heavy payroll structure has limited general manager Jerry Dipoto from adding significant major league pieces since his arrival in September 2015.

To his credit, Dipoto has creatively added talent without breaking the budget by picking up former all-stars Dee Gordon and Jean Segura via trade.

Gordon is under team control through his age-33 season at an annual average value (AAV) of $13 million. Last June, the Mariners signed Segura to a five-year extension putting his AAV at $14.3 million for the next six seasons.

Last summer, Dipoto shrewdly acquired Mike Leake from the St. Louis Cardinals for a low-level minor leaguer. Sweetening the deal, the Redbirds will be sending the Mariners $17 million to help pay Leake between now and 2020.

Still, the Mariners are hamstrung by budgetary considerations. This offseason, the club appeared unwilling or unable to make the financial commitment required to land the top-shelf starting pitcher they desperately need.

Compounding matters for Seattle, a relatively barren farm system — especially at the upper levels — that can’t be used to land a premium rotation arm.

If the Mariners wanted to flip the switch and sell this July, they would have options. Cruz, Leake, and Seager don’t have trade protection although each would net varying levels of value.

Assuming Dipoto resets his roster, other players such as relievers Juan Nicasio, David Phelps, Marc Rzepczynski, and even closer Edwin Diaz could be in high demand.

Moving Diaz would be unpopular. But the 23-year-old could potentially bring back a significant haul, assuming he’s performing at a high level.

I’m not suggesting Seattle will or should hold a fire sale this July. But a large financial commitment to a small number of thirty-somethings appears to be stalling efforts to add quality veterans.

It’s plausible the team is a wild card contender, as they were last summer, and Dipoto chooses to upgrade his roster.

Houston Astros — $151.9 million

At nearly $152 million, Houston has a payroll comparable to the Angels and Mariners. However, the reigning World Series champions have a lower percentage of money committed to their five highest paid players than any team in the division.

In fact, only six Astros are making over $11 million this year. One of them isn’t 2018 AL MVP Jose Altuve, who is a relative bargain at $6 million.

Having a payroll that’s not top-heavy gives general manager Jeff Luhnow the fiscal flexibility to systematically add less recognizable, but valuable free agents — Josh Reddick, Joe Smith, Charlie Morton, Yuli Gurriel, and Hector Rondon are examples.

As Dipoto did with the Cardinals, Luhnow convinced two trade partners to help pay the salary of players he acquired.

The Detroit Tigers are paying the Astros $8 million in each of the next two years, decreasing Houston’s obligation to Justin Verlander to $20 million annually. Similarly, the New York Yankees are contributing $5.5 million towards the salary Brian McCann receives this year.

Certainly, a bountiful minor league system helps the Astros to efficiently allocate funds and win.

Homegrown talent includes Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers, George Springer, and Dallas Keuchel. This group has already earned a Cy Young award, plus league and World Series MVP honors.

With McCann, Keuchel, and Morton pending free agents after the season, Houston will have the flexibility to grow their payroll as their young stars become more expensive.

More importantly the Astros are in a position to acquire talent during the season, if needed. Just as they did with Verlander last year.

Texas Rangers — $125.7 million

Even though the permanently inactive Prince Fielder is still on their ledger for $9 million this year, the Rangers’ payroll is substantially lower than in years past.

Still, Texas didn’t go on a spending spree this winter. In fact, financial obligations could decrease even more during this season, depending on general manager Jon Daniel’s approach.

You see, the Rangers aren’t projected contenders and appear poised to begin a rebuilding phase. If that turns out to be true and the club falls out of serious contention, Daniels could flip veterans for prospects.

Three of the team’s best-compensated players have expiring contracts after the 2018 season and could be candidates to move on. Specifically; Cole Hamels, Adrian Beltre, Matt Moore. Moreover pending free agent reliever Jake Diekman could draw interest from buyers.

Others who may garner interest are players with limited financial obligations after this coming season. Pitchers Doug Fister and Martin Perez, plus catcher Robinson Chirinos are examples. Naturally, these individuals must deliver on the field to have trade value.

Daniels used a similar strategy last summer when he moved pending free agents Yu Darvish and Jonathan Lucroy.

The Darvish deal netted prospect Willie Calhoun from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Calhoun projects to be the Rangers’ primary left fielder this year.

The Rangers’ farm system was highly productive for many years yielding major league talent and prospects Daniels could use in deals.

It may be time for the club to accelerate replenishment this summer.

Oakland Athletics — $50.7 million

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the low-revenue Athletics have the smallest payroll, or that none of the club’s highest paid players is a signed to a long-term deal. More than likely, Oakland will do this year what it does whenever they are out of contention — trade pending free agents.

As you review the following table, it’s worth noting recently released Brandon Moss and his $4 million salary remains on the Athletics’ books. Additionally, Stephen Piscotty will earn $1.3 million this season. However, his pay increases to $7.3 million next year. That would make him the second highest paid player on the 2018 team.

Assuming general manager David Forst follows his organization’s standard playbook, any of their top-five players could be wearing new uniforms by August — even if they’re under team control through next year. Last July, Forst traded Sonny Gray for a haul of prospects despite the fact the club owned his rights for two more seasons.

It certainly must frustrate Oakland fans to see their favorite players routinely leaving via trade; during the season no less. But the organization appears to be building a solid base thanks to those deals.

Over the last two summers, Forst has acquired major league contributors Blake Treinen, Jharel Cotton, Frankie Montas, and Boog Powell. Moreover, half of his top-10 prospects arrived via in-season deals. Specifically; Grant Holmes, Jesus Luzardo, Dustin Fowler, James Kaprielian, and Jorge Mateo.

Will the Athletics ever spend the big dollars? Probably not, but their youthful foundation may propel them ahead of their high-spending competition.…

With Spring Training slogging along at a snail’s pace, I thought it’d be fun to discuss five AL West rookies worth keeping an eye on once the regular season gets underway.

Before going any further, I want to acknowledge not all of these players will make their respective club’s Opening Day roster. In fact, some won’t see the majors without an injury or trade clearing a roster spot for them.

As you’ll see, I didn’t necessarily select the most obvious names. However, these five young players intrigued me enough to write about them.

Willie Calhoun – Texas Rangers

The 23-year-old was the primary piece received in the deal shipping Yu Darvish to the Los Angeles Dodgers last summer. Calhoun was a second baseman in the Dodgers system, but Texas plans to use him in left field. The underlying reason for the move is the University of Arizona product’s poor reputation as a defender.

What makes Calhoun so appealing to the Rangers is the fact he’s one of the best hitting prospects in baseball. Last year, the left-handed hitter slugged 31 home runs, while slashing .300/.355/.572 with two Class-AAA teams.

With Texas not expected to contend, the club could keep Calhoun in the minors a little longer. Doing so would permit him to gain more seasoning as an outfielder. Moreover, such a maneuver would preserve service time and lengthen club control.

Whenever Calhoun does arrive in the majors, this hit-first prospect will have to deliver at the plate. Otherwise, it’ll be challenging for him to remain a factor in the Rangers’ plans.

A.J. Reed – Houston Astros

During several short stints with the Astros since 2016, Reed hasn’t impressed. But the sample sizes are too small to make any substantive conclusion about the former Kentucky Wildcat.

Still, the loss of Yuli Gurriel to hand surgery for 5-6 weeks means Houston will be without starting first baseman for several weeks into the season. Perhaps, Reed takes advantage of Gurriel’s unplanned absence and impresses enough to break camp with the club in late March.

Reed got off to a slow start with Class-AAA Fresno last season. But he posted a 1.061 OPS in 174 plate appearances during the second half. Overall, the 24-year-old slashed .257/.354/.519 with 31 home runs in the minors last year.

Reed faces stiff competition to replace Gurriel. Fellow rookie J.D. Davis and Tyler White are in the mix, plus super-utility man Marwin Gonzalez could be an option for manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow.

Eduardo Paredes – Los Angeles Angels

Paredes made his big league debut last season delivering mixed results during several stints with Los Angeles. Still, the 22-year-old and his power arm should be a factor in the club’s bullpen this year.

Last year, Paredes proved capable of missing bats with 10 SO/9, while assigned to the Angels’ AA and AAA clubs. That said; the right-hander permitted 4.1 BB/9 during 37 innings with Class-AAA Salt Lake.

Assuming Paredes proves to have better control; it’s highly likely he’ll be seeing lots of action with the Halos as a middle reliever in 2018.

Franklin Barreto – Oakland Athletics

Barring unforeseen circumstances, Barreto begins the season with Class-AAA Nashville. But the shortstop could be starting games for Oakland by August.

Second baseman Jed Lowrie a pending free agent, so there’s a distinct possibility the rebuilding Athletics move the veteran before the July 31 trade deadline. If that happens, Barreto could be the team’s new starting second baseman — he has 500-plus innings of experience at the position.

With Marcus Semien currently entrenched at shortstop, second base may be Barreto’s ultimate landing spot. Even if Oakland retains Lowrie through the end of the season.

Max Povse – Seattle Mariners

After beginning the season as a starter with Class-AA Arkansas, the organization experimented with Povse in a relief role — picture a Seattle version of Astros’ versatile reliever Chris Devenski. That’s when the ride got bumpy for the 24-year-old.

From that point forward, Povse endured three tough relief outings with the Mariners, a promotion to Class-AAA Tacoma, a hamstring injury, and was finally converted back to a starter.

Entering Spring Training this year, Povse is back in Seattle’s rotation mix and ready to go. Barring an unprecedented wave of injuries in Peoria, the 6-foot-8 hurler will begin the season with Tacoma.

Based on the club’s recent difficulties with starting pitching, it’s likely Povse gets another taste of big league action later this year.…