Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Frank Thomas should be elected to the Hall of Fame ... this year

As we noted on Tuesday, the Baseball Writers Association of America has announced its 2014 Hall of Fame ballot.

There are three slam-dunk, no-brainer choices who were added to the ballot this year: pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and former White Sox 1B/DH Frank Thomas.

Well, at least I think those guys are locks for enshrinement this year. They should be, but I awoke this morning to a front page story in the Chicago Tribune sports section that questioned whether voters will allow Thomas in on the first ballot. Frankly, I can't believe this is even up for debate. But since it is, let me make the case for Thomas:

1. He is 18th on the all-time list with 521 home runs. He hit over 30 home runs in a season nine times and topped the 40 mark on five occasions.

2. He finished with lifetime career batting average of .301. Only five players in the history of the game have hit more home runs and had a higher batting average. Those players are Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Manny Ramirez and Jimmie Foxx

3. He hit .300 or better in nine seasons, including seven consecutive years from 1991 through 1997.

4. His career on-base percentage is .419. He had 10 seasons where his on-base percentage was over .400, and his on-base was never lower than .426 during his seven years of dominance from '91 to '97. He led the league in walks three times.

5. He finished with 1,667 RBIs, including 11 seasons of 100 RBIs or more. He had 100 RBIs or more in eight consecutive seasons from 1991 to 1998. After a rare down season in 1999, he posted a career-high 143 RBIs in 2000.

6. He is a two-time MVP (1993, 1994) and finished in the top four of MVP voting on three other occasions. Nine times, he placed in the top 10 in the MVP balloting. 

7. His .974 career OPS ranks 14th all-time. He had seven seasons where his OPS was over 1.000, including a sick 1.217 mark in his MVP season of 1994.

8. If you're into the new-age statistical analysis, Thomas' lifetime war is 73.6. By way of comparison, the average WAR of first baseman already in the Hall of Fame is 65.7.

The evidence is overwhelming. How can anyone not vote for Frank Thomas for the Hall of Fame? If voters are willing to enshrine Tony Perez with his .279/.341/.463 career slash line, then they cannot ignore Thomas and his .301/.419/.555 career slash line.

I've heard arguments about Thomas being "one-dimensional." I've heard people pooh-pooh his candidacy because he had over 5,000 plate appearances as a DH. Well, I think the "purists" can take a leap. Designated hitter is a position in baseball now. It's been around for 40 years. It's not going anywhere. I see no reason why players like Thomas and Edgar Martinez, who defined greatness at that position, shouldn't be enshrined in the Hall.

One-dimensional? Pffftttt. The Hall is already full of one-dimensional players. They are called pitchers. Nolan Ryan couldn't hit his way out of a brown paper bag. Neither could Tom Seaver. And neither of those two men were winning a bunch of Gold Gloves for their fielding prowess either. But who cares? They were quite rightfully elected into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot because they rank among the greatest pitchers the game has ever seen.

Likewise, Thomas should be elected into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot because he ranks among the greatest hitters the game has ever seen. The numbers don't lie.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Hall of Fame voting is broken

The Baseball Writers Association of America announced it's 2014 ballot on Tuesday, so this is as good a time as any to point how derelict in its duty to elect worthy players the BWAA has been in recent years.

Among the first-time candidates are former Cubs and Braves ace, Greg Maddux, a four-time Cy Young Award winner with 355 wins to his name, and all-time White Sox great Frank Thomas, who collected two AL MVP awards and belted 521 home runs to go along with his .301 batting average and .419 on-base percentage.

With fellow first-timer, 300-game-winner Tom Glavine, it looks like there are three no-doubt Hall-of-Famers added to this year's ballot.

But what about the rest of the ballot?

Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina are two more additions who I think have pretty strong Hall cases. Kent ranks among the best-hitting second basemen of all time. Mussina didn't collect as many wins or pitch as many innings as Glavine, but you could argue they were better innings.

How much traction Kent and Mussina -- or even Maddux, Thomas and Glavine -- receive really depends on how the BWAA approaches the backlog of candidates on the ballot.

Among the holdovers are Craig Biggio, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. I mention those players by name because they are the players I would vote for if I were a BWAA member. And if you could include more than 10 players on your ballot.

That's ignoring Rafael Palmeiro, Jack Morris, Lee Smith, Larry Walker, Fred McGriff and Don Mattingly. None of whom I'd vote for, even as a Big Hall supporter, but are other guys who have a strong statistical case (Palmeiro, Walker) or support from other corners (Smith, Morris).

How is it so many obviously qualified guys are getting left out?

If it were just a matter of the BWAA voters being stingy with who gains entry, that would be a good explanation. Except the voters have enshrined guys like Jim Rice (not that good), Tony Perez (also not that good) and Kirby Puckett (not good for long enough).

Part of it might also be a reluctance to render any verdict on baseball's Steroid Era, particularly with regard to Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro and others.

This is another area where the logic gets fuzzy. Some of those players are suffering the steroid stigma when the evidence of PED use is flimsy and anecdotal at best (Bagwell, Piazza). Sometimes it's downright convoluted ("I think Bagwell was a 'roider, and that Biggio guy must have been, too!").

Other writers feel like it's just a great opportunity to grandstand, so submit ballots with no selections, thus demonstrating they don't really take the vote all that seriously. At least not seriously enough that we should pay attention to their nonsense. Just abdicate the duty if you don't want it.

Perhaps it will take a Veterans Committee to sift through some of these candidacies once more time has passed, though for my part, I don't think you can whitewash any steroid era, or pretend like it never happened.

The games were played, and for the most part they were with none of those players violating any MLB rules. They can't be replayed with any retroactive standard in place.

Though baseball, by and large, hasn't tried to follow professional cycling down that rabbit hole to nowhere, stripping its former champions of hardware with the largest effect being to taint the entire sport, the Hall of Fame seems willing to let column-writing voters test the institution's relevancy.

So it goes, I guess.

Man, I missed my chance to bid on the Metrodome 'Baggie'

Why didn't anybody tell me there was an online auction for pieces of the Metrodome? For the low, low price of about $3,000, I could have obtained a piece of the right-field "Baggie" to display in my home or office. I can't believe I missed out.

The Metrodome is scheduled to be demolished next year. I don't believe it will be missed by anyone in Chicago. Accordingly, we'll take this opportunity to post a video of my favorite moment in Metrodome history.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

AL Central might be happy to see more Jason Vargas

The Royals signed left-handed starter Jason Vargas to a four-year, $32 million contract last week, no doubt hoping he'll fill the gap in their rotation left by the likely exit of Ervin Santana, who just turned in a terrific season for Kansas City.

While Vargas, with his 4.30 career ERA, including 4.02 last year for the Angels, probably can't match what Santana just did for the Royals (3.24 ERA over 211 innings), he can maybe improve what Kansas City got from guys like Wade Davis (5.32) and Luis Mendoza (5.36) across nearly 40 mostly poor starts.

To do that, Vargas is going to have to prove he's not the creation of his home parks. Toiling mostly for the Angels and Mariners, who both have pitcher-friendly homes, Vargas has a career ERA of 3.46 when he's sleeping in his own bed. When he hits the road, however, he's been reached for a 5.17 ERA.

There's some talk about how Kauffman Stadium, where the Royals play, is a good fit for Vargas. While the K might keep some home run numbers down, overall it isn't a pitcher's haven like the ballparks in Los Angeles or Seattle.

If the Royals think Vargas might have an advantage in some of the AL Central parks, the proof hasn't been in the pudding:

ERAs vs. AL Central Teams
6.31 vs. White Sox
5.40 vs. Indians
5.28 vs. Twins
4.60 vs. Tigers

It looks worse in each of those teams' home parks. Vargas has been slammed by the Twins for a .386/.440/.603 batting line against (9.16 ERA). The Sox have whipped him for a .283/.333/.554 line (6.45 ERA). The Tigers have mauled him at a .311/.354/.556 rate (8.71 ERA). Only the Indians have been held in check at home by Vargas for a .235/.291/.353 line (1.93 ERA).

Granted, you can divide numbers up into portions so small that they're meaningless. Vargas has pitched no more than 22 1/3 innings in any of those ballparks, though the aggregate picture when all of those innings are combined isn't pretty. Nor is the 5.31 ERA Vargas has turned in over 20 1/3 innings as a visitor to Kauffman Stadium.

Still, the Indians, who last year hit left-handed pitching much better than right-handed pitching, are probably looking forward to getting more cracks at Vargas. White Sox DH Adam Dunn, who at times struggles against left-handers, isn't going to be sad to see more of a guy who he has hit .429/.636/1.286 against in his career. (No type-Os there. Dunn has crushed Vargas.)

That's not to say the past keeps on repeating itself. Maybe Vargas will prove to be resilient. Perhaps now that he's reached his 30s he will remain durable, and is becoming crafty as we're sometimes wont to describe left-handers without great stuff.

I'm not seeing enough evidence of that to warrant the largess of this contract. Even understanding that in today's free agent dollars, $8 million per year isn't all that much, and might be within Vargas' reach to be worth that money, I don't know why the Royals had to rush out to make sure the ink dried on this deal before the end of November.

Not when there are so many better options still available, including a few options that might be better and much cheaper.

Brian McCann near deal with Yankees; Jhonny Peralta to Cardinals

The first major free-agent domino has fallen as reports indicate veteran catcher Brian McCann will sign a five-year, $85 million deal with the New York Yankees.

That's a high price to pay, but the Yankees were willing to ante up-- especially since Chris Stewart and Austin Romine were their catchers last season. McCann's numbers have remained consistent throughout his career with the Atlanta Braves. He has hit 20 home runs or more in six consecutive seasons, and seven out of the last eight seasons.

Being a left-handed hitter, he should be able to duplicate -- if not slighty improve -- those numbers at Yankee Stadium, which has a short porch in right field.

The Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels were among the other teams reportedly interested in McCann. The questions with the Yankees remain: Will they sign second baseman Robinson Cano? And can they do it without paying a king's ransom in luxury tax? 

Cardinals agree to terms with Peralta

Maybe I spoke too soon Saturday when I said all those nice things about the Cardinals. Do they really think putting Jhonny Peralta at shortstop makes them better?

Apparently so, because reports say Peralta is going to sign a four-year deal with St. Louis.

The Cardinals should have gone defense first with that position. Peralta can hit, but he can't field. St. Louis has no shortage of hitting. Maybe the Cardinals know free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran is leaving (to Detroit?), so they feel the need to replace his offense.

I'd like the signing a little better if they were planning to put Peralta at third base. But that doesn't seem to be the case.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Should the Cubs part with Samardzija?

Maybe the most interesting choice the Cubs face this offseason is what to do with right-hander Jeff Samardzija.

It will be interesting not just because of what Samardzija is -- not really a No. 1 starter, though maybe the best pitcher the Cubs have -- but the choice will signify the team's intent over the course of the next couple years.

Last year the Cubs reached for Edwin Jackson to plug a hole in the rotation, figuring someone had to pitch, so why not Jackson? The free agent had some upside, and teamed with Matt Garza, Samardzija, Travis Wood and a hopefully healthy Scott Feldman, if enough things broke right among the position players on the roster, you could squint at this team and see a contender. Or at least a team that could look competitive in a possibly weak NL Central.

Obviously, not much of that happened as the division was strong, high hopes for guys like shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo sank, and Jackson revealed himself to be the innings eater he is. Nothing more and nothing less.

Samardzija himself took a step back, at least as far as results go with his ERA climbing from 3.81 to 4.34, though advanced stats like fielding-independent pitching indicate his results weren't that much of a drop-off from 2012.

The Cubs should probably expect Samardzija to be what he's been over the last two seasons, which is a right-hander with a big fastball and a lot of strikeouts who is still pretty hittable, maybe walks a few too many guys, but isn't exceptionally homer-happy.

Maybe most people look at that and think Samardzija is a decent No. 3 starter, a pretty good No. 4 or a great No. 5. Maybe some teams look at the increasing ground ball-to-fly ball ratio (0.71 in 2011, 0.81 in 2012 and 0.97 last year) and think he just needs a better defense behind him to close the gap between his actually ERA and his FIP (3.45 last year). Some of those teams probably also look at the big strikeout rate (9.0 per 9 IP), consider the slow start to his baseball career while he played football at Notre Dame, and think he's still got the tools to blossom into a real No. 1 starter as he approaches his 30th birthday.

I don't buy that most optimistic version of Samardzija's future, because you really have to be sold on arguments that can't be made with numbers alone. However, I can see how those arguments might become more convincing to a team that finds itself unable to trade for David Price this winter.

Obviously, the offers the Cubs gets should determine their willingness to pull the trigger on any Samardzija trade. Though the haul for Garza and Feldman was underwhelming when those pitchers were dealt last summer, Samardzija is still under team control for two more years.

If I were the Cubs GM, though, it would have to be a pretty nice package, because just like a piece of the rationale for the Jackson signing, somebody's got to pitch.

The Cubs are not so deep in pitching that they can easily fill Samardzija's spot. They can't count on mining free agent gold like Feldman again. Jackson will be another year older, and any diminishing results from him might lead frustration from those expecting more to boil over into his ouster from the team. For as tough a time as Samardzija has had with his ERA not matching his FIP, Wood has exceeded expectations there by more than half a run each of the last two seasons, and that might not happen again. Other options like Chris Rusin and Jake Arrieta look underwhellming.

In other words, trading Samardzija would mean the Cubs aren't pretending they might start getting things together next year. Not without risking big bucks on a replacement pitcher, or getting an MLB-ready pitching prospect back.

Current Cubs president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer have been pretty candid from the beginning that this was going to be a long rebuilding process. While a lot of Cubs fans have accepted that, it's a different matter being asked to suffer though a third straight season of embarrassing baseball. Not when the second straight year led to the manager being fired

So unless the Cubs are offered a package that looks to surely exceed the value of two more seasons from Samardzija, plus a draft pick when he's offered a qualifying offer before free agency, Hoyer and Epstein should elect to keep their hurler for at least one more season.

Cardinals trade David Freese to Angels in four-player deal

I've been saying over the last couple months that I'm jealous of the St. Louis Cardinals' success. I think they are a smart organization. They seem to make the right moves at the right time.

And I agree with their decision to trade third baseman David Freese. The Cardinals sent Freese and reliever Fernando Salas to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Friday, in exchange for center fielder Peter Bourjos and outfield prospect Randal Grichuk.

Why do I think it was smart to move Freese? Well, I think injuries are taking their toll on the 2011 World Series MVP. Freese slumped to just nine home runs and 60 RBIs in 2013, after totaling career highs in both home runs (20) and RBIs (79) in 2012.

Freese looked like a guy who has injuries to his knees, ankles or both in the playoffs this year, when he was limited to a .179 batting average. If you look at his swing, it was all upper body. He couldn't use his lower half at all, and that robbed him of his power. It's not an accident those home run totals were cut in half. In addition, he lost all his range at third base. St. Louis manager Mike Matheny was using Daniel Descalso as a defensive replacement for Freese in the late innings of close games throughout the postseason. That's a sure sign that something isn't quite right with Freese. It was time to cut him loose.

I also like the return St. Louis got in this deal. The Cardinals don't have many weaknesses, but outfield defense was among them. John Jay is a decent offensive player, but defensively, he shouldn't be playing center field every day. Bourjos can play a Gold Glove-caliber center field. Will he hit a bunch? Probably not. He's a career .251 hitter. However, the Cardinals have the luxury of batting him eighth. With Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina and Matt Adams on the roster, the Cardinals don't need Bourjos to hit. They just need him to run the ball down in center field. He will do that.

Who will play third base for the Cardinals? Carpenter will make the move from second base. That opens a spot for at second for former top draft pick Kolten Wong, who struggled in limited playing time this year but is ready for a full-time shot.

As for the Angels, I understand why they traded Bourjos. They have a crowded outfield with Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and J.B. Shuck. But I don't think third base was their biggest hole. The Angels don't have much starting pitching, Once you get past Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, there is really nothing there -- especially now that Jason Vargas has left for Kansas City.

With Freese, the Angels are acquiring more of what they already have: veterans hitters. What that team really needs is some rotation help, and I'm surprised they moved Bourjos for something other than a starting pitcher.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Tigers trade Prince Fielder to Rangers for Ian Kinsler

How is this for a trade nobody saw coming? The Detroit Tigers have agreed to send first baseman Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers in exchange for second baseman Ian Kinsler.

The particulars are still being finalized, but it's a one-for-one deal. There are no prospects involved, and that's the thing that makes this trade so intriguing. How often do you see two established major league players traded straight up for each other? Not too often. Most trades nowadays involve veteran players being dealt for future considerations. That's not the case here.

So, which team got the better of this deal? It's an interesting debate, and I've heard good arguments made for both sides. My vote goes to Detroit, even though I acknowledge that Fielder will likely be more productive for Texas in 2014 than Kinsler will be for the Tigers.

To me, Detroit wins this deal because of the money it just freed up. Fielder's contract is an albatross. The 29-year-old slugger has seven years and $168 million remaining on his deal, and his numbers have slipped. You can make a case Fielder's production in 2013 did not justify his hefty paycheck. If he's overpaid now, he's really going to be overpaid three or four years down the road when his skills further erode.

Here are Fielder's statistics over the last three years. Note the downward trend in on-base and slugging percentage:

2011: .299/.415/.566, 38 home runs, 120 RBIs
2012: .313/.412/.528, 30 home runs, 108 RBIs
2013: .279/.362/.457, 25 home runs, 106 RBIs

To be fair, the 31-year-old Kinsler's numbers have slipped as well:

2011: .255/.355/.477, 32 home runs, 77 RBIs
2012: .256/.326/.423, 19 home runs, 72 RBIs
2013: .277/.344/.413, 13 home runs, 72 RBIs

However, Kinsler is owed just $62 million over the next four years, a much more manageable figure, and he plays a premium defensive position. Reports indicate the Tigers are paying the Rangers $30 million to take Fielder off their hands. So, instead of paying $168 million for Fielder, Detroit is coughing up a combined total of $92 million for Kinsler and the payout to the Rangers.

That provides the Tigers with a net savings of $76 million, which is huge because Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2014 season. Two-time league MVP Miguel Cabrera hits free agency after the 2015 season. Suddenly, Detroit has a lot more money to play with if it desires to extend the contracts of those two players, both of whom have been more important to the team's success than Fielder.

In addition, the Tigers will be able to bolster their defense by moving the immobile Cabrera away from third base and back to first base where he belongs. Kinsler solidifies second base for them. Third base is an open question, but prospect Nick Castellanos seems poised to get a look. Detroit could also sign a defense-first infielder like Juan Uribe to provide some insurance at the position. With Victor Martinez as the designated hitter, Cabrera still should have adequate protection in the lineup. Even without Fielder, the Tigers will look like favorites in the AL Central, and they'll have money to spend to retain key pieces like Scherzer and Cabrera.

What about Texas? Well, the Rangers needed a middle-of-the-order bat, and they got one. Fielder is a clear upgrade over Mitch Moreland at first base. Texas could pursue Robinson Cano to take Kinsler's place at second base, but more than likely, the Rangers will slide highly regarded prospect Jurickson Profar into that spot.

I tend to believe Fielder will help the Rangers in the short run, maybe another two decent-to-good years, but players with Fielder's body type don't tend to age well. By the time 2017 rolls around, Texas is going to be stuck with a bad contract for a portly first baseman who can't play anymore. Better win now, Rangers.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A position-by-position look at this year's free agent class

The free agency period has already begun in Major League baseball, so I figured we should take a look at the top players available at each position. I think I'm up-to-date on all the signings, but forgive me if I list someone who has already been inked to a deal.

The Philadelphia Phillies have been active early, picking up outfielder Marlon Byrd and resigning catcher Carlos Ruiz. Veteran pitcher Tim Hudson is also off the board; he was picked up by the San Francisco Giants on Monday.

For purposes of this list, I will not include international free agents, because I find players I've never seen play before impossible to rank.

As of Tuesday, Nov. 19, these are the best guys available, sorted by position:

Starting pitchers

1. Ubaldo Jimenez -- The right-hander made quite a contract push the second half of 2013. Jimenez had a better ERA than all pitchers not named Clayton Kershaw after the All-Star break. He regained the form he showed when he was with Colorado and was Cleveland's ace coming down the stretch.

2. Matt Garza -- Can you tell it's a weak crop of free agent pitchers this year? It must be if I have Garza at No. 2 on this list. The guy has plus stuff if he's healthy. That's a big if.

3. Hiroki Kuroda -- Might be a available on a one- or two-year deal. He tapered off in the second half this year, which hurts his value. Throws a lot of ground balls, which might make him appealing to teams that play in hitters' ballparks.

4. Ervin Santana -- He'll get paid because he had a solid year for Kansas City, but I wouldn't trust this guy. He has trouble putting together more than one good season in a row, which means it doesn't make much sense to offer him a multiyear deal.

5. Bartolo Colon -- Eventually the magic has to run out, right? Based upon his 2013 numbers (18-6, 2.65 ERA), he probably should be higher on this list. But the dude is 40. The decline has to start sometime.

Relief pitchers

1. Joe Nathan -- Speaking of old guys, Nathan will be 39 on Opening Day, but I can't find any relievers who are better than him on the market this year. The Tigers need a closer and are reportedly hot on the trail for Nathan.

2. Grant Balfour -- He's always had the power arm. He's got a great fastball, and he's effective as long as he controls his craziness on the mound. Throws a lot of fly balls and pop ups. Teams with short porches in their home stadiums should probably stay away.

3. Brian Wilson -- His late-season performance with the Dodgers was enough to convince me he's made it back from Tommy John surgery. He'll be an effective reliever for somebody, provided they can live with the fact that he looks like an ax murderer.

4. Joaquin Benoit -- The career setup man got forced into the closer's role this year in Detroit. He held up well enough that he'll get closer's money on the open market. Whichever teams pays him will be overpaying in my opinion.

5. Fernando Rodney -- His mechanics stink. He has trouble repeating his delivery. He walks too many guys. But, if he gets in a groove, he can dominate hitters for an extended period of time with his fastball-changeup combination.


1. Brian McCann -- It seems like McCann has been around forever, but he's only 29 years old. He's a left-handed power bat at a position where it's hard to find players who can hit. He proved he was healthy this year, and you have to figure he's got at least three more prime years in him.

2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia -- Not the best defensive catcher in the world, and he strikes out a ton. But he's a switch-hitter with power, and he's only 28. Those two factors should net him a nice payday this offseason.

3. A.J. Pierzynski -- He's going to be 37, but his offensive skill set still seems to be there. Still an agitator, still one of the smartest players in the league.

4. Kurt Suzuki -- Hey, somebody has to be fourth on this list. Why not Suzuki? He's a decent defensive catcher.

5. Dioner Navarro -- Showed surprising power with the Cubs last season, hitting 13 home runs in a part-time role. I wouldn't count on that happening again.

First baseman

1. Kendrys Morales -- Can anyone tell me why Seattle didn't trade this guy for prospects last July? He's finally healthy, he's a switch-hitter who produces from both sides of the plate, and he's got good pop. He can't run a lick, and he's probably better suited to DH than first base. But I'd take him on my club for the right price.

2. Justin Morneau -- I don't think he'll ever regain the MVP form he had with the Twins in the past, but he can still be a productive hitter. If a team is looking for a left-handed bat to hit fifth or sixth in its lineup, it could do worse than picking up Morneau.

3. Mike Napoli -- Someone will overpay here. People think Napoli is a better player than he actually is because he just won a championship as a member of the Red Sox. In 2014, look for Napoli to hit 20 home runs, strike out about 180 times and make a lot more money than he's worth.

4. Corey Hart -- He didn't play in 2013 due to knee problems, which makes him a risk. It also means he'll come on a one-year deal. If healthy, he's a good bet to hit 25 home runs.

5. James Loney -- He got off to a hot start last season, but in the second half he turned into, well, James Loney. He hit only four home runs after the All-Star break. He's left-handed, but he doesn't have enough pop for an everyday first baseman.

Second base

1. Robinson Cano -- There is only one superstar available in this free agent class, and Cano is it. Typically, you see the Yankees find a way to retain their own free agents. I don't think that is anywhere close to a given with Cano, who is asking for $310 million over 10 years. The Yankees are offering $160 million over seven years. Can they bridge the $150 million divide?

2. Omar Infante -- His main value is his ability to play multiple positions. He also hit over .300 last season, which can't hurt him as he hits the open market.

3. Kelly Johnson -- Another guy who can play multiple spots. He hits left-handed and has some extra-base power.

4. Mark Ellis -- He plays good defense, and there is value in that when we're talking about middle infielders.

5. Brian Roberts -- He's been a good player when healthy. Problem is, he's never healthy.


1. Stephen Drew -- He struggled offensively in the playoffs and caught a lot of crap from Boston fans, but he's a strong defender at the most important position in the middle of the diamond. No, the bat isn't great, but he's the best of a weak crop.

2. Jhonny Peralta -- He can hit. That's the best thing you can say about Peralta. Defensively, he has no range whatsoever, and he's probably looking at a position change sooner rather than later. Put a bat in his hands, though, and he'll give you production.

3. Rafael Furcal -- Yes, he is still alive. He figures to be back from Tommy John surgery in 2014. Some team will roll the dice on him.

4. Clint Barmes -- He plays good defense, and there is value in that when we're talking about middle infielders. Oh yeah, I said the same thing about Mark Ellis, didn't I?

5. Ramon Santiago -- Can't play everyday, but can play multiple position. Useful in a backup role.

Third base

1. Eric Chavez -- Can you tell there are no good third basemen on the market? Chavez can't field the way he used to, but his bat is still good enough to make up one half of a platoon for somebody.

2. Juan Uribe -- The former White Sox shortstop can still play defense. He's best suited for a utility role at this stage of his career.

3. Michael Young -- The veteran could be a nice pickup for some team looking for a guy who can play three times a week and pinch hit. Might come cheap for a contending team.

4. Kevin Youkilis -- Yes, the former White Sox rent-a-player is still alive, although he barely played because of back issues in 2013.

5. Mark Reynolds -- Streaky power, tons of strikeouts. Somebody has to be No. 5 on this list.


1. Carlos Beltran -- He'll provide the best value among available outfielders. Yeah, he's getting old, but that means he can be had for a reasonable number of years and dollars. Not only does he still hit, he hits good pitchers well. He's as good as anyone in the postseason. He could benefit from a switch to the AL, where he could DH some to keep his legs healthy.

2. Shin-Soo Choo -- He does what a team needs its leadoff hitter to do: He gets on base. I think he was out of position playing center field in Cincinnati. A move back to right field will do him good. He's got some power, good speed and he's a good outfielder. The only drawback is his agent is probably going to demand a six- or seven-year deal.

3. Jacoby Ellsbury -- The most overrated player on the free agent market this year. Some stupid GM is going to give this player over $100 million, even though guys who make their living with their legs always start to decline around age 30. Guess what? Ellsbury is 30. Aside from one season (2011), Ellsbury has never been a power hitter. His two best skills are his basestealing and his ability to play center field. Those are two things that leave with age. Caveat emptor.

4. Curtis Granderson -- Injuries ruined his 2013, but he hit 40-plus homers in both 2011 and 2012. Even though his numbers were aided by the short porch at Yankee Stadium, a healthy Granderson figures to provide some power production. Would be a decent value for somebody, if the injuries are behind him.

5. Nelson Cruz -- His stock fell because of his Biogenesis suspension. Some will ask whether his power production is a mirage. Maybe it is. But some team is going to get him for cheaper than the usual market rate for a player with Cruz's numbers, and that could pay off.

Friday, November 15, 2013

No surprise: Miguel Cabrera and Andrew McCutchen win MVPs

I don't have any brilliant analysis to offer about this year's MVP awards, but since we've been talking about postseason honors on this blog this week, I should probably note that Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera and Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen have been named the MVPs of their respective leagues.

Neither vote was a surprise. Cabrera led the American League in batting average (.348), on-base percentage (.442) and slugging percentage (.636). He ranked second in home runs (44) and RBIs (137) behind Chris Davis of Baltimore.

Cabrera got 23 of the 30 first-place votes and finished comfortably ahead of Los Angeles outfielder Mike Trout. Davis took third in the balloting.

McCutchen won in a landslide, picking up 28 of the first-place votes in the National League. He batted .317 with 21 home runs, 84 RBIs and 27 stolen bases. He also played an excellent center field in leading Pittsburgh to its first winning season and first playoff appearance since 1992.

Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt finished second, while St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina took third.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

So, trading for Max Scherzer worked out well for the Tigers

I often say it's hard to make snap judgments when a trade is made. You often need three or four years before you can decide whether a particular deal is good or bad for the parties involved.

It's now been four years since the Detroit Tigers acquired right-hander Max Scherzer as part of a three-team deal with the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Arizona gave up Scherzer in that trade, and I'll bet that's a move they still lament to this day. On Wednesday, Scherzer was named the Cy Young Award winner in the American League by a landslide. He received 28 of the 30 first-place votes.

Scherzer, the lone 20-game winner in baseball this year, finished the season 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA for the AL Central champion Tigers. He easily outdistanced second-place finisher Yu Darvish in the voting.

Let's go back and look at that trade from December of 2009.

The Tigers traded pitcher Edwin Jackson and outfielder Curtis Granderson and received Scherzer, outfielder Austin Jackson and relief pitchers Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth.

The Yankees dealt pitcher Ian Kennedy, Coke and Austin Jackson and acquired Granderson.

The Diamondbacks gave up Scherzer and Schlereth and got Edwin Jackson and Kennedy.

If you're an Arizona fan, are you gagging yet?

Edwin Jackson had a brutal year for the Diamondbacks in 2010. He's played for three teams since. Currently, he's the Cubs' problem. Kennedy did have a couple good years in Arizona, including one very good year in 2011, but he's since fallen on hard times. The Diamondbacks traded him to San Diego for spare parts and future considerations in a midseason deal this past summer.

Likewise, the Yankees got a couple good years out of Granderson, but he had an injury-plagued 2013. He's a free agent this offseason and is likely headed elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the Tigers got a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter in Scherzer and a leadoff hitter and top-notch center fielder in Austin Jackson.

Shrewd move by Detroit. The Tigers have made more good moves than bad over the last five years, and that's why they go to the playoffs every season.

Kershaw wins NL Cy Young

The National League Cy Young Award voting was also one-sided. Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw was a slam-dunk choice, earning 29 of 30 first-place votes.

Kershaw finished 16-9 for the NL West champions, and his 1.83 ERA was the best mark by any qualifying pitcher in the last 13 years.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Rick Hahn: Door is open for Paul Konerko to return to White Sox

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn and manager Robin Ventura visited with free agent first baseman Paul Konerko last week at Konerko's Arizona home, according to media reports.

Hahn says he told Konerko the door is open for him to return to the Sox in a reduced role for 2014, despite the team's decision to sign first baseman Jose Abreu.

“We had a real good open and honest conversation about where his mind is at and his hopes for going forward, and a good talk about the club and our hopes for moving forward,” Hahn said. “At this time, he’s still going through his process of deliberating about what he wants to do next year.”

Konerko has offered no timetable on his decision, but I suspect we'll know within the next month whether he intends to play next year.

I would be surprised if we see Konerko back with the Sox. Resigning him would create a logjam of first baseman/designated hitter types. Are there enough at-bats to go around for Abreu, Konerko and Adam Dunn? I don't believe so, and Abreu and Dunn are already under contract for next season. The Sox aren't paying Abreu $68 million to start the season in the minors. He's going to be on the club. Dunn is going to be on the club, too, unless Hahn can find a taker for his $15 million salary. Unlikely. So where does that leave Konerko? Probably elsewhere or retired.

In this day and age where clubs carry 12 pitchers, it's really hard to go into a season with three 1B/DH types. You only have four position players on the bench, and you'd really like to have some speed and versatility there. Neither Konerko nor Dunn provide you with those things. In my mind, it's impossible to justify keeping both of them around when neither of them is going to play every day.

For now, we are in a holding pattern.Will Konerko take a reduced role with the Sox? Will another team offer him a full-time job at first base? Will he just retire? We'll see.

Four 'untouchables'

In other news, rival executives say Hahn is willing to trade anyone except these four players: Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Abreu and Avisail Garcia.

I agree with three of the four, but I'm a little surprised to see Quintana's name on that list. Not that I don't like Quintana. He's a tough kid, a good competitor, an above-average pitcher in the American League. As an added bonus, he's left-handed. I'm just not sure his skill set ascends him to the level of "untouchable," especially since the Sox have so many other holes to fill.

I would never trade Sale, because I think he's a special talent that only comes along every so often. As effective as Quintana is, he's not in that class. If Hahn could fill two or three other holes by trading Quintana, wouldn't he have to consider that?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Rookies of the Year; Cubs radio booth; and Joe Mauer

The announcement of the Rookies of the Year on Monday proved to be anticlimatic. The two favorites won easily: Tampa Bay outfielder Wil Myers and Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez.

Myers, 22, hit .293 with 13 home runs and 53 RBIs in just 88 games after being called up from the minors June 18. His middle-of-the-order presence was key to Tampa Bay's surge to the playoffs. His selection as Rookie of the Year was a no-brainer, since the rest of the AL crop was weak.

Myers got 23 of the 30 first-place votes, easily outdistancing Detroit infielder Jose Iglesias, who got five first-place votes. Tampa Bay pitcher Chris Archer and Oakland pitcher Dan Straily each earned one first-place vote.

I thought the NL voting would be a little tighter, just because of the hype surrounding Yasiel Puig. The outfielder plays in a major media market and was widely credited with turning around the Los Angeles Dodgers' season, but in the end, substance won out over style.

The year Fernandez put together was too good to ignore. He earned 26 of the 30 first-place votes, while Puig got the other four. Fernandez is also a finalist for the NL Cy Young award, as well he should be. The 20-year-old went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA and recorded 187 strikeouts. Those are gaudy numbers for anybody, but it's especially impressive when you consider Fernandez pitched for the 62-100 Marlins.

I was wondering if Fernandez would be forgotten by some writers because he toils in relative obscurity on a bad team. He was not forgotten. Unlike Puig, he was in the majors the whole season and excelled the entire year. Accordingly, he is more deserving of the award.

Former players vie for opening in Cubs radio booth

I saw an entry on Robert Feder's blog on Monday that the Cubs have pared their list for the analyst job in their radio booth. The position is open after Keith Moreland resigned to spend more time with his family.

As you might expect, many of the candidates are former Cubs players: Rick Sutcliffe, Kerry Wood, Todd Hollandsworth, Mark DeRosa, Ryan Theriot, Eric Karros, Doug Glanville and Dave Otto.

Feder reports former WGN broadcaster Andy Masur is also on the list, but I would think he would be more of a candidate if they were looking for a play-by-play guy. My guess is one of the former players gets the gig.

If they pick Sutcliffe, I will probably vow to never tune into a Cubs radio broadcast again. I can't stand Sutcliffe on ESPN. He never shuts up. Baseball is a sport where you have to let the game breathe a little bit, you know?

If it were my call, Hollandsworth, Karros and Glanville would be the finalists. 

Joe Mauer permanently moves to first base

I read an article the other day that said Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer is making a permanent move to first base.

Thank goodness.

Whoever the Twins put behind the plate next year will probably make about 75 percent fewer trips to the mound than Mauer, whose propensity for conferencing with the crappy Minnesota pitching staff is enough to make a sane man brain himself. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Cubs name Rick Renteria manager

The painstaking five-week search is over. The Cubs have named former San Diego Padres bench coach Rick Renteria manager.

Renteria, 51, reportedly agreed to a three-year contract with club options for 2017 and 2018. Terms have not been disclosed.

Did the Cubs get their man?

Well, to hear Sun-Times reporter Gordon Wittenmyer tell it, Renteria was "by all accounts" the Cubs' first choice all along. Hmm.

Who is making these accounts? Wittenmyer? Cubs front office people who are trying to frame this hire in the best possible way? Steve Rosenbloom from the Tribune had a little different take on the whole thing, and I'd probably fall more in line with his opinion than Wittenmyer's.

About a month ago, Wittenmyer and everybody else who covers the Cubs reported that the team was talking with New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi "through back channels," and that Cubs brass was "poised to make an offer." That leads me to believe Girardi was the first choice, as well he should have been. The Cubs went for the home run hire and missed. It happens. But it doesn't make any sense to backtrack now and say Renteria is the guy they wanted all along. If that were the case, the Cubs could have made this hire a couple days after they fired Dale Sveum or at any other time over the last month.

Instead, they pursued Girardi. That didn't work out. The Cubs also interviewed Brad Ausmus, who ended up taking the Detroit job amid local speculation that the Tigers wanted to move quickly to prevent Ausmus from going to the Cubs. There's also strong evidence the Cubs waited until the World Series was over in hopes of interviewing Boston Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo. That request was denied by the Red Sox front office, which is still unhappy about the way Cubs president Theo Epstein left the Boston organization.

So, at best, Renteria was the Cubs' second choice. He might have been no higher than their fourth choice. All that said, this doesn't mean he is incapable of doing the job. I think experience is overrated when it comes to managers. Sure, you'd like to have a manager with experience, but it's not necessarily mandatory for success. Other guys who have never managed before have had success in their first job. Just look at St. Louis manager Mike Matheny, who has guided the Cardinals to two playoff appearances and one National League pennant in his first two years on the job.

Of course, Matheny has a number of good players on his roster. Renteria, in contrast, takes over a team with a losing clubhouse culture, with few established major league players, and with no real hope of contending in 2014. And that's really the issue at hand. It doesn't matter whether Renteria was the Cubs' first choice or their 10th choice. It doesn't matter how much experience he has, or what his reputation in the game is. Players win and lose games, and the Cubs simply have too few good players for anyone to reasonably expect Renteria to thrive in his new position.

Like Sveum before him, Renteria appears set up to fail.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

White Sox decline to make qualifying offers to Paul Konerko, Gavin Floyd

The White Sox on Monday declined to give qualifying contract offers to first baseman Paul Konerko and pitcher Gavin Floyd.

I was a little bit surprised to see the story splashed across the top of the Chicago Tribune sports section on Monday morning. I think the decision on this was pretty obvious. It really wasn't big news.

Qualifying offers are for one year and $14.1 million. Why $14.1 million, you ask? Well, that's the average of the highest 125 contracts in baseball. That's how they arrive at that figure, and obviously, neither Konerko nor Floyd is worth that kind of money at this stage of their respective careers.

Konerko, 37, is mulling retirement after a lackluster 2013 campaign in which he batted just .244 with a career-low 12 home runs and 54 RBIs.

Floyd, 30, is recovering from Tommy John surgery after going 0-4 with a 5.18 ERA in just five starts in 2013. It has been assumed for months that Floyd has thrown his last pitch in a Sox uniform.

Both players are free agents and are now able to sign with any team. If they do, the White Sox will not receive draft pick compensation as the result of their decision not to extend a qualifying offer.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

White Sox to season ticket holders: 2013 season 'simply unacceptable'

I received my White Sox season ticket renewal notice in the mail on Thursday. Prices for next year are the same as they were this year. They better be, given the woeful 99-loss performance the Sox had in 2013.

The first couple paragraphs of the letter enclosed, written by Senior Vice President for Sales and Marketing Brooks Boyer, were interesting. They read as follows:

Dear White Sox Season Ticket Holder,

Thank you for your support of our team despite what was a very trying baseball season. Your passion is what drives our organization and any success we have is only because of your continued loyalty.

We want you to know we share your frustration and disappointment regarding the 2013 season, but everyone with the White Sox is confident we will be competitive again, and soon. We are going to be better. No one in the front office is willing to sit through another season like the past one. That is simply unacceptable to all of us, and I am sure, to you.

Indeed, it was simply unacceptable. I'm still renewing my tickets for 2014, and I do expect much better from the White Sox next season. The team that was put on the field this summer was embarrassing, not much better than Triple-A quality. Major changes are needed this offseason, and hopefully the signing of international free agent Jose Abreu is just the start.

It's worth noting that Boyer is not the GM. He's the marketing guy, so his words are not necessarily a foreshadowing of significant moves on the baseball side. However, you would like to think Boyer has some inside information about the direction the organization will be taking this offseason. Would he have written what he did if the club didn't plan on being active this winter?

As a season ticket holder, I'm going to take it as a positive sign they didn't send me a letter asking for patience. They don't seem like they are getting ready to undertake a lengthy rebuilding. Instead, they are boldly telling their best customers, "We are going to be better."

Good. That means they can't stand pat this offseason. To be better, change is necessary.. I'm anxious to see what general manager Rick Hahn has in store for us.