Shedding Light on Adrian Beltre’s Under-the-Radar Hall of Fame Career

When Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre was introduced as an American League reserve for the 2014 MLB All-Star Game at Target Field on Tuesday, the crowd offered a hearty hand—and yet, one bereft of the enthusiasm a future Hall of Famer usually garners.

As Beltre's 17th big league season commences, an under-the-radar career has taken shape: Despite playing in major media markets like Los Angeles, Boston and Dallas, the 35-year-old is rarely discussed as the Cooperstown shoo-in his numbers suggest.

In a sense, it's easy to understand why.

Beltre's career has offered overwhelming value during earlier and later seasons, but these were coupled by a void from 2005-2009—what should have been his prime seasons—with the Seattle Mariners.

Rarely are players above-average at such a young age, level off and then reappear as all-time greats. That, however, has been Beltre's story.

His offensive excellence, value and superior defensive numbers notwithstanding, many fans have overlooked one of the best careers a third baseman has ever owned.

Yes, folks—ever.

Let's start with the raw numbers for the Rangers' veteran rock. While it's easy to make the case that Beltre will reach 500 career home runs, the idea isn't to look at Beltre's future in baseball. Instead, his present and past is what matters.

With 389 homers, 2,530 hits and an OPS+ of 115, Beltre is one of just two third baseman in history to post such offensive benchmarks across the board.

The other? Cooperstown-bound former Braves star Chipper Jones, per Baseball Reference (subscription required).

Of course, one could point out Beltre's major league beginnings at the young age of 19—he had 214 plate appearances in his 1998 rookie season—and his longevity as conducive to the amassing of stats.

But stats aren't the only way Hall of Fame credentials are tallied in modern baseball circles.

When it comes to total value, Beltre is up there with the best third basemen of all-time.

As the following chart shows, only six third basemen provided more during their respective careers. Among that group, five are in the Hall of Fame, and Jones will surely join them when eligible in 2018.

At first glance, the wins above replacement totals could be overwhelming. In Beltre's case, they carry even more weight outside of his position.

"Seventh most valuable third baseman ever" is an impressive label, but this might be even more eye-opening: Among all active players, Beltre's 74.3 WAR is the third highest, behind only Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols.

Think about that—fans and media members talk about "generational" stars and "once-in-a-lifetime" athletes all the time. With a higher WAR than even Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran, Chase Utley or Miguel Cabrera, a case can be made that Beltre is one of them.

Despite these credentials, Beltre seemingly hasn't given much thought to comparisons or future stats among all-time greats. That was evident during a recent conversation with the media following Beltre's 2,500th career hit, per Calvin Watkins of ESPN Dallas:

It's humbling to (be) mentioned with a couple of guys. It's nice to get there. Maybe when I retire, I'll look back at what I've done, maybe my son can appreciate what I've done. The way I look at it, I try to come out here every day and win ball games. It's what I do. I can't deny the fact I've collected some things I should be proud of, and I'm looking forward to getting some more.

If Beltre does collect some more accolades, it would fall in line with his aforementioned roller-coaster career path: up, down, up.

By the time he was 24—in campaigns with the Dodgers from 1998 to 2003—Beltre had 99 home runs, putting him in more good company among history's third baseman. Only Eddie Matthews, Cabrera, Bob Horner, Troy Glaus, Eric Chavez and Ron Santo hit more during the same age range, per Baseball Reference.

In 2004, Beltre leapt to an even higher level, and the Dodgers star arrived as one of the biggest bats in the game.

That year, he crushed 48 home runs, posted a 163 OPS+ and—combined with his consistently great glove—had a 9.5 WAR, further buoying his free-agent profile.

When a five-year, $64 million deal led him to Seattle, MVP awards were expected. Instead, Safeco Field robbed Beltre of his power, resulting in a (barely) above-average OPS+ of 101 from 2005-2009.

Two Gold Gloves and 4.2 WAR per season couldn't rescue Beltre from unfounded and unfortunate fan labels ranging from "one-year wonder" to "overrated."

Since 2010, the script has flipped again. Beltre has gone back to dominating the game by racking up numbers, accolades and All-Star Game appearances—all four of his career selections for the Midsummer Classic have come in the last five seasons.

Not only that, but from 2009 through the ongoing 2014 campaign, Beltre has been worth 33.1 WAR, third most amongst third baseman at age 35.

Regardless of which metrics you prefer, Beltre has had an outstanding career deserving of praise. Considering all factors—stats, longevity, value and a unique path of success during both youth and late-career seasons—a special player has emerged.

This has all somehow run quietly beneath the surface over the last 17 years.

However, when Beltre stands behind a Cooperstown podium in some future July, millions of fans will be given a lasting reminder of a player who has forged a signature career.


Agree? Disagree?

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.comFangraphs and ESPN unless otherwise noted. 

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2014 MLB All-Star Game: Biggest Takeaways from the Midsummer Classic

The 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game lived up to the billing on Tuesday night. Thanks to a combination of dominant pitching, superb hitting, excellence defense, thoughtful baserunning and a tribute for the ages, the sport did a great job showcasing the best it has to offer.

In the midst of a 5-3 win by the American League, Derek Jeter stole the show, Mike Trout was the best player on the field and the National League's decision to start Adam Wainwright over Clayton Kershaw will be a narrative that has legs through the end of October, especially if the AL captures a World Series-deciding game at home.

After watching the festivities at Target Field, here are the biggest takeaways from the annual Midsummer Classic.

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Where David Price’s Trade Value, Suitors Stand at the All-Star Break

David Price won't be pitching in the 2014 All-Star Game, but the buzz around the Tampa Bay Rays star lefty is certain to create a buzz around Target Field during the Midsummer Classic. As July rolls on, Price's future has the ability to change the direction of Tampa's franchise and the entire 2014 season.

With just over two weeks until the non-waiver trade deadline, the Rays have a critical decision to make regarding Price and how to handle the trading season. At first glance, it makes too much sense for Tampa's front office to hold on to Price. As each turn in the rotation commences, the 28-year-old inches closer to free agency after the 2015 season.

If Tampa were leading the AL East or in prime position to grab a postseason berth, Price's future would surely be determined in the offseason. At 44-53, that's not the case. It's worth noting that the Rays have streaked into the All-Star break with a 20-11 record since June 11, potentially saving what looked to be a lost season.

Unfortunately, that's further complicated matters for general manager Andrew Friedman. Barring an eight- or nine-game winning streak immediately after the break, Tampa will likely sell veteran parts—starting with Price. Despite the surge over the last month, ESPN's postseason odds currently give the Rays just a 3.9-percent chance of reaching the playoffs.

The prospect of shopping Price—the greatest and most accomplished pitcher in Tampa's brief franchise history—could net a franchise-changing haul. As the following chart shows, Price's 2014 numbers stack up among the top starters in baseball:

After a dominant outing July 13 (8 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, 5 SO, 1 BB), Price left the field to a smattering of hugs and praise from his teammates. Although the signs of affection could just be considered team camaraderie, speculation began about a possible trade and inside knowledge manifested in a public goodbye. 

During a media session in Minnesota on Monday, the 2012 AL Cy Young winner sounded resigned to his ultimate plight and understanding of the business model in Tampa Bay that has resulted in high-profile pitchers being traded, per Barry M. Bloom of "I'd love to stay there and continue to be competitive, but I don't know if that's even a possibility," Price said. "They signed Longoria, so it's not unheard of, but I don't know if they can do two people that way."

When asked about moving on to a bigger market such as New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, Price didn't hesitate or tip his hand about a preference:

It takes time to fit into a new clubhouse. I understand that. But I think I have good people skills. I could be anywhere, actually. The Rays said they don't have a problem trading me in the division. That opens the doors for a couple of other teams. I don't think I'd have a problem fitting in anywhere. I know a lot of guys in the big leagues now. I at least know somebody from every team. That always helps.

Without free agency looming until after the 2015 season and Price's consistent excellence well worth the one-year, $20-plus million commitment he'll likely garner in arbitration next season, few contending teams would balk at the notion of making a move for the ace.

Of course, the asking price will be high. Over the last few months, according to the MLB Trade Rumors David Price archive, the Rays star has been involved in rumors with the Dodgers, Angels, Cardinals, Athletics, Orioles, Yankees, Blue Jays and Mariners.

Most recently, the Indians joined the mix. According to Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish, Cleveland scouts have been encouraged to follow the Rays, a potential precursor to a deal. At 47-47 and 7.5 games behind the AL Central lead, Cleveland wouldn't jump off the page as a perfect Price destination for the remainder of 2014. Yet, with one year left on his deal, 2015 is part of this equation. 

Considering Price's overwhelming talent, postseason experience and contract status, any team listed above would be wise to give up the assets necessary to pry him from Tampa's starting rotation and into a postseason race. 

As Price mentioned, the Rays don't seem to be adverse—at least publicly—to moving Price within the AL East. If that means a move to Baltimore or Toronto, it's likely that one of the Boston-New York-Tampa Bay trio will fail to win the AL East for the first time since 1997.

As rumors continue to swirl over the next few weeks, keep this in mind: Price is a unique combination of value on a team uniquely in position to move a franchise player without scorn from local or national media.

Anything is in play. From the first-place Dodgers to an AL East rival to the seemingly mediocre Indians, Price's next destination is poised to be a shock to those both inside and outside of the game of baseball. 

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.comFangraphs and ESPN unless otherwise noted. 

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Yoenis Cespedes’ Home Run Derby Display Shows He Performs Best on the Big Stage

When the lights shine brightest, Oakland Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes stars. In the aftermath of a second consecutive Home Run Derby crown, it's becoming abundantly clear that the 28-year-old has a flair for the dramatic. 

On Monday night, Cespedes stole the show once again.

A year after taking home the crown at Citi Field, the All-Star put on a show in the final round to hold off Cincinnati Reds third baseman Todd Frazier. In total, Cespedes hit 30 homers in the competition at Target Field, putting him in rare company among stars who have thrived in back-to-back seasons.

Amazingly, despite only two trips to the derby and three total years in the majors, Cespedes is now sixth all-time in derby blasts. The names ahead of him consist of some of the most well-known sluggers in recent baseball history: David Ortiz, Ken Griffey Jr., Prince Fielder, Jason Giambi and Sammy Sosa.

As a whole, the 2014 event was, well, underwhelming. Due to format changes and a rain delay, the night was robbed of momentum for both fans and participants. Despite showing off light-tower power early in the battle, Miami Marlins outfield Giancarlo Stanton was frozen by the time the lights turned back on for him. 

While Stanton and the other participants struggled at times, Cespedes soared. Although the Cuban import has been a solid, if not spectacular offensive player since arriving to the majors in 2012, the midsummer homer fest is truly where he has put his talent on display and game on the map. 

Across 354 regular-season games, Cespedes has hit 63 homers and slugged .465. Over the last two Home Run Derby contests, he's hit 62 homers. Although the comparison isn't totally fair, it speaks to how much different Cespedes can be when the cameras are truly watching. 

Last year, Cespedes delivered a telling quote to's Jayson Stark in the aftermath of the victory. When asked about pressure or living up to expectations, he cited the culture and fan passion in his home country of Cuba.

"Before I came, they asked me if I was going to be nervous because I would be participating in front of possibly 50,000 people," Cespedes said. "But when I was in Cuba, I participated in five Home Run Derbies. It wasn't 50,000 people, but it was 30,000 or 32,000. And I wasn't nervous."

Home Run Derby victories, despite the prime-time billing, truly profile as nothing more than glorified batting practice. In order to become a superstar in the majors, day-to-day excellence is needed from the Athletics' gifted specimen. 

That was on display when Cespedes' eye-opening and buzzworthy throw from the outfield earlier this season became one of the highlights of the year. Amazingly, earlier in the play, Cespedes actually had a defensive miscue, but he recovered enough to make a highlight-reel play out of thin air. 

With the actual season well past the halfway mark, it's clear that Oakland is heading toward meaningful September baseball and likely a third straight trip to October.

If that occurs, Cespedes can look to add to an outstanding career postseason ledger. Over the last two American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers, Cespedes has posted a .350/.395/.525 slash line and racked up 21 total bases in 10 games.

During the broadcast, Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson spoke about how Cespedes loves to perform when people are watching. Unfortunately, that wish isn't granted on a night-to-night basis in Oakland's Coliseum. Despite a gaudy 59-36 record, the A's rank just 23rd in average attendance, per ESPN.

That, along with television and media exposure, is about to change for this group in Oakland. If a magical season commences for the AL West leaders, fans will flock to the park to watch a team compete for a title and tune in around the country. 

As media descend on Oakland, expect Cespedes to be there to stand up to the challenge, exude a flair for the dramatic and do what he seems to do best: play better when all eyes are on him.


Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.comFanGraphs and ESPN, unless otherwise noted. 

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2014 MLB All-Star Game Starting Lineups: Complete AL vs. NL Breakdown, Preview

As the middle of summer arrives, baseball is set to once again take over center stage in American professional sports. With the biggest stars in NBA free agency committed to new contracts, NFL training camps weeks away and the World Cup ending with a superb finish, the sporting world belongs to baseball's Midsummer Classic. 

With the starting lineups set and the starting pitching battle announced, it's time to imagine what will unfold at Target Field on July 14. As the American and National Leagues battle for home-field advantage in the 2014 World Series, the opposing managers from last year's Fall Classic—Boston's John Farrell and St. Louis' Mike Matheny—will battle wits once again.

Let's take a look at the lineups, starting pitchers and moves to watch for each squad in the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

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Biggest Takeaways from This Week’s MLB Action

The final weekend of the first half of the season is upon us, baseball fans. Unlike many years, the sport didn't coast into the All-Star break this time around. With big-time performances, major injuries and season-changing moves, the baseball world has been turned upside down as the vast majority of those immersed in the game take a few days off.

Here at Bleacher Report, we don't ever take time off from baseball. After watching the games, analyzing the numbers and dissecting the rumors, the most important narratives from the week have emerged.

Here are the biggest takeaways from the last week of MLB action.

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How Freddie Freeman Lives with the Pressures of New Mega-Contract

Earlier this week, Bleacher Report had an exclusive opportunity to speak with Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman.

Aside from Freeman's stellar play and National League All-Star status, the five-year professional has teamed up with the ACE Brand, helping to launch the ACE My Ace All-Stars baseball player card app that allows Little League players to have their own digital baseball card.

I had the opportunity to represent Bleacher Report in a wide-ranging conversation with Freeman that touched on Atlanta's new stadium, his recent contract extension, what it means to be a face of the franchise and how Chipper Jones influenced how he approaches the game.

B/R: How did you feel when hearing about the new stadium that the Braves are building in Cobb County?

Freeman: At first, very surprised. The team kept the plans and idea hidden, even from us. Really, from everyone around the game, too. I'll miss Turner Field. We have made so many great memories, walk-off wins and great, successful seasons in this park. 

It's an opportunity, though. We can hopefully attract more fans and play in a stadium that can be easier for people to get to on a nightly basis. It's bittersweet, but I know it's probably best for the long-term interests of the Braves organization.


B/R: You signed a long-term contract extension (eight-year, $135 million deal) prior to the season. How did that come about? Tell us about the process.

Freeman: Frank Wren called my agent and then me personally with the idea and thought of discussing an extension. I was shocked and surprised. Young players have been signing deals prior to free agency often lately, but it really hadn't crossed my mind until he rang the phone.

The actual negotiation was really easy and smooth. My agent talked to Wren, and we were sitting with the media discussing the details within three weeks. Both sides really wanted to get it done and had no reason to drag it out. 

B/R: Has there been added pressure since signing the deal?

Freeman: It's there, but you try to put it aside and just play the game. I really try not to think about money, contract or anything but baseball when I'm around the game and my teammates. I have tried to play like I don't have a contract or as if I am still looking to earn one. As long as I keep that mentality, my effort can't diminish or be allowed to change because of pressure.


B/R: Have you changed anything about your game? Your numbers are similar, with the exception of more walks and fewer strikeouts, both positive outcomes. 

Freeman: Some players may try to hit more homers or drive in more runs, but I've tried to be myself and follow a routine. That's more about what I do before the game than during the actual nine innings each night. I found a pregame routine that worked for me a few years ago and won't deviate from that. It allows me to prepare, stay in shape, watch film and get ready each day.

Hopefully the walks keep going up and strikeouts down even more! [chuckles] I hadn't realized that, but it means that I am seeing the ball well out of pitchers' hands and bringing a good approach to the plate in each at-bat. 

B/R: Over the last 25 year, the Braves franchise has been synonymous with long-term stars that became faces of the franchise: the trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz to Chipper Jones to Brian McCann. Now, after signing your deal, the franchise has positioned you to be the next in line. How does that feel?

Freeman: It's an absolute honor. Really, it's a thrill to even hear my name with the great Braves that you just mentioned. This organization cares so much about its players that it's so nice to be a part of this lineage and hopefully follow in the footsteps of those greats. I truly hope to be here my entire career the way Chipper Jones was for all his great seasons. 

B/R: What did you learn from Chipper Jones?

Freeman: His mindset was amazing. It was simple, yet telling. He strove to be the best player he could be using a simple process and simple hitting mechanics. He wasn't a guy that tried to re-invent himself or out-think everyone. He just worked hard and truly studied opposing pitchers.

He really knew pitchers and what the opponent was trying to do out there. I tried picking up on some of that, but it might have been a gift that can't just be passed along. He would set up pitchers, not the other way around.

Have you ever talked with him? He'll make you feel dumb about your baseball knowledge. You know the game as a writer, I know it as a player. He knows it more than both of us combined! He kept it so simple and precise from both sides of the plate.

I can't take away his knowledge, but his ability to not make hitting too complicated will always be part of my game now.


Final Thoughts

Heading into play on July 10, Freeman owned a 145 OPS+ and .500 slugging percentage. Those marks were eerily close to his 2013 output of 146 OPS+ and .501 SLG, making him one of the most consistent sluggers in the game. For the Braves, that type of consistency and talent is what likely made Wren's contract offer and long-term gamble so easy to swallow.

If you are interested in teaming up with ACE and Freeman's digital baseball card initiative, visit or text ACEALLSTARS to 44844 to get the link to create a keepsake digital baseball card for your baseball star.  

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MLB Players, Prospects with Most Fantasy Value to Gain at 2014 Trade Deadline

For Major League Baseball teams, the annual trade deadline is a battle between the present and future for executives, managers and players. Every move, regardless of the motive and reasoning, comes with a trickle-down effect on the rest of the organization.

In many cases, the aftermath of blockbusters is felt by young players and prospects. When a losing team moves a veteran, spots often open for less-heralded players to emerge and fill a role for the rest of the season. Similarly, when a contending team sells prospects for veterans, those aforementioned prospects may land in a better situation.

When it comes to fantasy baseball, every real life decision carries consequences in your leagues. In order to best position your teams for the stretch run of the season, be ready for the value of some players to change dramatically over the next few weeks.

Here are five prospects or current MLB players who could see an increase in fantasy value between now and the non-waiver trade deadline.

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MLB Rumors: Analyzing All the Latest Whispers, News and Speculation

If you love rumors, speculation and banter about the Major League Baseball trade market, it's your time of the year. With less than a month remaining until the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, talk is ratcheting up within every front office around baseball.

The time is now to improve contending teams, dismantle losing groups and for general managers and owners to chose paths that will define the short- and long-term future of each organization around the sport.

As trade talk flies, Bleacher Report is here to unearth the best rumors, dissect the ramifications and bring perspective to the season thus far.

Here is what you need to know about the latest banter surrounding the game right now.

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Imagining Events, Ideal Participants for an MLB All-Star Skills Challenge

When the best and brightest stars in Major League Baseball ascend on Target Field in Minnesota next week, the sport will be showcased for current and future fans. While the All-Star Futures Game, Home Run Derby and All-Star Game are a tremendous yearly showcase, it's time for baseball to evolve and add to the yearly events.

Due to the way baseball markets the game, many casual fans likely don't realize the type of athletes currently donning major league uniforms. With the sheer athleticism of soccer players in the World Cup, NFL players and NBA superstars always on display, baseball needs to show the best talents of its current crop of stars.

The following five event ideas could spruce up the All-Star Week festivities and give baseball a fresh look for new, impressionable eyes.

When reading, suspend the notion reality for a few minutes. No, owners and general managers wouldn't want or allow their players to subject themselves to injury, especially for the running and throwing contests. If they did, however, baseball's mid-summer event would be a better and more interesting product for fans.

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Dark-Horse MLB Awards Contenders as 2014 All-Star Break Approaches

As the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game approaches, the major narratives of the season have been well-established. Alongside the best teams (Oakland and the Dodgers), disappointing squads (Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays), a hierarchy of dominant players has set the stage for respective chases at individual glory. 

Over the next three months, expect to hear chatter about Mike Trout taking home the first of many AL MVP awards, Troy Tulowitzki bringing an NL MVP to Coors Field, and the best pitchers in baseball—Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw—running away with the AL and NL Cy Young crowns, respectively.

Yet, with just less than half of the season to play, not every projected award winner will continue to play at a high level. Injuries or dips in performance could arrive, opening the door for dark-horse candidates to emerge and take home the hardware.

Here are the six players to watch over the next three months. By November, don't be shocked if one or more takes home a major award from the 2014 season.

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Masahiro Tanaka Fighting Rookie Wall After Phenomenal June Run

Masahiro Tanaka is human. After opening his major league career with three months of brilliant outings, the New York Yankees rookie has hit a wall in July. On Tuesday night, the Cleveland Indians touched the AL All-Star up for five runs, 10 hits and the worst outing of his career.

Coupled with allowing nine hits and four earned runs last week in Minnesota, Tanaka has now allowed nine runs over his last two starts. Over 37 innings in the month of June, the 25-year-old allowed a total of nine runs and entered July with a streak of 16 consecutive quality starts.

Now, that run is over. With it has gone Tanaka's otherworldly dominance and unbeatable aura on a start-by-start basis. While there's little reason for New York baseball fans to panic, the idea of Tanaka simply breezing through his rookie campaign without losses, struggles or resistance has now been rendered a moot and ridiculous point.

With one start remaining before next week's All-Star Game, the Yankees need to find a way to get Tanaka back on the dominant track. For a team without anyone else capable of providing excellence in the rotation, the idea of Tanaka possibly hitting a rookie wall has to be a frightening thought for the AL East contenders.

In the immediate aftermath of the loss, (New York) Daily News writer Mark Feinsand wondered if the league had caught up to Tanaka or if the $155 million pitcher has simply hit the proverbial rookie wall as the midway point of the summer arrives. As Feinsand wrote, it's ultimately irrelevant, because the team is counting on Tanaka to rebound soon.

It looks as if Tanaka's recent struggles are more about command and deception than the league suddenly hitting his best offerings. Over his last two outings, Tanaka has posted an 8-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, almost a point better than the 7.22 mark he took into play on July 8.

If the Yankees ace was nibbling or walking an excessive number of batters, it would be time to worry. Instead, it looks as if good left-handed hitters, specifically Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana of the Indians, have been able to detect his split-fingered fastball and lay off the devastating out pitch.

This could be a sign of scouts finally delivering usable and accurate reports on Tanaka's skill set, movement and deception. Or, the more likely scenario: Tanaka hasn't executed his delivery, pitches or set the opposition up enough over his last two outings.

Regardless of where Tanaka's struggles stem from, adjustments are now necessary. Even if you believe the Yankees landed a legitimate Cy Young contender in the first year of a lucrative, long-term deal, no starter avoids a clunker or two over the course of a 30-plus-start season.

The rookie wall was inevitable despite Tanaka's excellence, work ethic and skill level. In fact, considering that New York took home a victory in Tanaka's start last week against the Twins, sounding the alarm around a pitcher that owns a 2.51 ERA is probably over the top.

If not for a 2.10 ERA and 11-3 ledger across April, May and June, perhaps these two subpar outings would be lost in the shuffle of a long season. Even with New York's 24-hour news cycle and passionate fans, the idea of fretting over two below-average starts in early July isn't par for the course among Yankees supporters.

In this instance, Tanaka is a victim of his own early success in Major League Baseball and recent dominance in Japan. When baseball's latest international sensation began his Yankees career with a personal 6-0 ledger, it was natural to reference the impossible replication of the 24-0 win-loss record he posted during his final season in Japan.

After allowing four runs to Minnesota last week, Tanaka referenced his inability to hit spots and make the pitches he needed to throughout the game, per Feinsand. "This outing was one of my worst ones this season as far as hitting the spots and making pitches," Tanaka said.

Once again, location, not stuff or velocity, was the issue. When Tanaka was hitting his spots against the Twins and Indians, outs followed. As you watch him fight through this stretch, look for location and command on Sunday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

Over the next few days, some fans might panic or claim that Tanaka is tired due to pitching more often in America than he did in Japan. While those are interesting talking points, don't be fooled into thinking that back-to-back non-quality starts are anything more than a rookie starter going through a rough patch commanding his pitches.

When a star sets the bar so high from the start of the season, there's almost nowhere to go but down as the summer transpires. For Tanaka and the Yankees, this is a reality of a full season in the big leagues. As the second half of the season commences, don't be surprised if one of baseball's best pitchers replicates his June success.


Agree? Disagree?

Comment, follow me on Twitter or "like" my Facebook page to talk about all things baseball. Statistics courtesy of, FanGraphs and ESPN unless otherwise noted.

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Biggest Snubs of 2014 MLB All-Star Game Rosters

The annual announcement of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game rosters doubles as a coronation for deserving players and debate among fans for which stars were unfairly left out in the cold. When the sport descends on Minnesota's Target Field next week, most of the best and brightest players in the game will be showcased for fans.

Despite the combination of smart fans, peers and an extra vote to elect one more player from each league, snubs are inevitable. Baseball is filled with talented athletes in the midst of excellent seasons on a yearly basis, and sometimes players who have better stats and are more valuable overall are left off in favor of less-deserving stars. 

By next week, injuries, Final Vote results and roster changes could make this list look instructive. Don't be surprised if a handful of our snubs do end up finding their way to Minnesota. For now, though, a list of snubs emerge for the Midsummer Classic.

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Brandon McCarthy Trade, Alfonso Soriano Designation Show Yankees’ Desperation

As the New York Yankees took the field Sunday afternoon at Target Field vs. the Minnesota Twins, a stark reality faced a team struggling to climb over .500: the depth of legitimate American League contenders. From the Baltimore Orioles to the Toronto Blue Jays to the Detroit Tigers to the Kansas City Royals to a trio of really good teams in the AL West, the Yankees are in for a dogfight in order to reach October.

When the Oakland Athletics essentially stole two potential pitching targets—Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammelfrom the field in Friday evening's deal with the Chicago Cubs, desperation set in for New York. Soon after, Saturday's loss, stemming from an error in extra innings, exasperated the Yankees' plight.

On Sunday, general manger Brian Cashman acted aggressively, changing the Yankees roster in a way that can be described right now as more desperation than brilliance.

First, the team shipped Vidal Nuno to the Arizona Diamondbacks for veteran right-handed starter Brandon McCarthy, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Hours later, manager Joe Girardi announced that the squad had designated outfielder Alfonso Soriano, in the midst of an awful season, for assignment, per Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News.

In the span of one morning, the Yankees added a starter with a 5.01 ERA and cut ties with a former homegrown prospect who helped carry the team after a July 2013 trade reunited Soriano with Yankee Stadium.

On one hand, McCarthy's peripheral stats (3.79 FIP, 2.89 xFIP) could point to an impending turnaround, and Soriano's lost season could be viewed as addition by subtraction for a team that's struggling to sustain offense throughout games.

Yet that's a kind view of Cashman's moves. They may work, but McCarthy's arrival and Soriano's departure are hardly season-changing moves or the blockbuster deals that many fans have clamored for in New York. If the transactions are a precursor to a move for Cliff Lee, David Price or Cole Hamels, perhaps the ball is rolling in the right direction.

For now, however, the Yankees look like a team searching for answers and looking to improve—even by just a game or two—at the margins. In a sport with an unparalleled amount of parity, Cashman's moves and philosophy could turn out to be prescient. With projected stars like Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran on the roster, the idea of the Yankees' highly paid assets playing better isn't crazy.

Until then, McCarthy's spot in the rotation must suffice as enough of an upgrade to keep the Yankees afloat in the AL postseason race. With CC Sabathia closer to the operating table than a pitching mound, Girardi needs a starter who can shut down opposing offenses.

As noted, McCarthy's ERA may not be a fair indicator of how well he's actually pitched this season for the Diamondbacks. With an excellent ground-ball rate (55.3) and fielding-independent numbers, it's not unrealistic to expect an uptick in performance for the 30-year-old.'s Wallace Matthews sees the positives in the move, but he notes it is far from a game-changer: "While McCarthy likely represents an upgrade over Nuno, he is not going to carry the Yankees to the division title or pitch them through the playoffs and into the World Series." 

Girardi and the Yankees clearly believe in what McCarthy can bring to the table, per

"McCarthy is an experienced starter, that we expect to pitch well for us," Girardi said. "I know he's had his struggles, but he's seemed to turn it around. He has a good arm. His last few starts have been pretty good."

Of course, that's conjecture, hope and projection for a pitcher sporting a 3-10 record. For now, McCarthy's unsightly ERA is worse than all but two qualified starters, per FanGraphs. If not for the struggles of Ricky Nolasco and Justin Masterson, the Yankees would have the distinction of acquiring the pitcher with the worst ERA in the sport. As it is, the team has traded for the only NL starter with an ERA over 5.00.

If those numbers are stark, almost everything about Soriano's 2014 stat line (.221/.244/.367) is cringe-worthy. After crushing 34 home runs, driving in over 100 runs and contributing more than 2.0 WAR during stops in Chicago and New York last season, the 38-year-old might be finished as a big league player. That idea is all but confirmed by Baseball-Reference: Soriano cost the Yankees 1.5 wins this season.

Addition by subtraction is admirable, but Beltran's injury-plagued season and full-time designated hitter role now leaves the Yankees with a seemingly punchless outfield. If Ichiro Suzuki takes over as the full-time right fielder, the Yankees could sport an outfield alignment that combines for fewer than 25 homers over the course of the 2014 campaign.

To put that in perspective, no outfield grouping hit fewer than 34 homers last year, per FanGraphs. Soriano's season looked lost, but his powerful bat was always streaky. The idea of a diminished, aging Soriano catching fire and hitting 15 home runs over the next few months wasn't outrageous. Thus far, Brett Gardner (eight), Ellsbury (four) and Suzuki (zero) have combined for 12 home runs. 

In the aftermath of Oakland's aggressive and timely moves, desperation hit home for Cashman and the Yankees. At 43-43, status quo wasn't working and couldn't be counted on to turn around anytime soon in a competitive AL race.

Now, the team certainly has a new look and could be improved. If you believe in the idea of McCarthy's peripherals and Soriano's unsolvable issues, the moves will likely earn praise.

Skepticism, however, is warranted. The Yankees are desperate to improve and acted like it Sunday morning.


Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.comFanGraphs and ESPN unless otherwise noted and valid through the start of play on July 6. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Roster projections via MLB Depth Charts.

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Biggest Takeaways from This Week’s MLB Action

The marathon feel of Major League Baseball's 162-game season can be broken down into easily digestible and debatable segments. As the 2014 campaign enters the stretch run of the first half of the season, let's take a look back on the last week of action.

While making long-term evaluations or declarations based on one week of play can be a fool's errand, each small sample does provide perspective on the season. As the months pass and each game becomes more important in a season full of pennant chases, day-by-day results take on extra meaning.

Here are the biggest takeaways from the last week of MLB action.

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What Does CC Sabathia’s Impending Return Mean for Yankees’ Playoff Chances?

When CC Sabathia hit the disabled list on May 11, the 33-year-old lefty sported a 5.28 ERA. At that moment, a case could have been made that the former Cy Young winner was hurting the team on a start-by-start basis.

Nearly two months later, his impending return is a major piece to New York's second-half puzzle. If vintage Sabathia can return with a healthy knee and command of a declining fastball, the Yankees can overcome a 41-42 start to make a postseason charge. If not, a $203 million payroll could be on the path to a losing season.

After Sabathia's last start, the Yankees departed Miller Park in Milwaukee with a 19-17 record. Since that moment, the team has gone 22-25 and lost ground in the AL East to both the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays.

As the first half of the season careens toward its conclusion, Sabathia's knee has healed enough to support rehab assignments and the path back to New York's rotation. On July 2, the former Yankees workhorse and ace threw 55 pitches for Double-A Trenton.

Despite poor results—3.2 IP, 5 R, 3 ER—Sabathia was encouraged by the outing, his health and progress since landing on the disabled list in early May, per Ken Davidoff of the New York Post.

“I felt good,” Sabathia said. “Secondary pitches weren’t that good, but my fastball felt like it was going up pretty good. I felt good health-wise, so I’m ready to go."

Unfortunately for the veteran, health status took a turn for the worse on Thursday. One day after the 55-pitch outing, Sabathia woke up with swelling in his knee. During an appearance on WFAN in New York, manager Joe Girardi suggested that the team will shut Sabathia down as they wait for the results of a new MRI, per David Lennon of Newsday:

For the Yankees, finding sustained health for Sabathia is now the most important thing. If he can return soon, his potential impact can still be significant.

The team will welcome back the veteran with open arms when he's truly ready to return. Even a diminished Sabathia is an upgrade over Vidal Nuno (5.42 ERA, 5.14 FIP) in a rotation currently tasked with carrying an offense that entered play on July 3 ranked 12th in the American League in runs scored, per ESPN.

When dissecting how much of a difference Sabathia can mean to a postseason push in the Bronx, it's instructive to look at two factors: how the veteran was truly performing before hitting the shelf and a track record of success across the second half of seasons.

First, take a look at Sabathia's peripheral stats (expected fielding independent pitching, strikeouts, ground ball percentage) across his first eight starts this season. While an ERA over 5.00 is alarming for a pitcher making $23 million this season, it's not unfair to say that Sabathia was unlucky in April and May.

The following chart compares Sabathia's K/9, GB% and xFIP to some of baseball's most successful pitchers in 2014. Despite the poor ERA, the Yankees will soon welcome back one of the only starters striking out at least a batter per inning while generating a 45 percent ground ball rate.

As you can see, that group—aside from Sabathia—has enjoyed immense success across the first half of the season. Yet, within the numbers, some pitchers have been luckier than others. With a xFIP of nearly a run better than actual ERA, Strasburg has been unlucky. On the other hand, Arrieta's sub-2.00 ERA suggests luck has played a factor in his breakout campaign for the Cubs.

For the Yankees, Sabathia's numbers indicate a pitcher that has displayed the ability to generate strikeouts and grounders alongside the best in baseball—a signal that fortunes could change soon.

If a turnaround occurs, the second half of the year would be a fitting time for Sabathia's revival and boost to New York's rotation. Over the course of a 14-year career, Sabathia's ERA, winning percentage and strikeout-to-walk ratio have all been better in the second half of the year.

In fact, Sabathia's 3.49 career ERA in the second half ranks 12th among active starters with at least 400 innings during that portion of the calender, per Baseball-Reference (subscription required). While some pitchers tend to tire out during the dog days of August and September, Sabathia has always thrived.

As Sabathia's rehab has progressed from pool work to jogging to tossing to rehab starts in Double-A, the veteran has kept tabs on his struggling teammates and admitted that the losses aren't easy to view, per Austin Laymance of

"It's been tough to watch, man," Sabathia said. "We've been just trying to grind. But it's always hard when you're not there. It's hard to watch on TV, it's hard to listen to, so hopefully I can get back as soon as possible and start helping the guys." 

With the Blue Jays (47-39) and Orioles (45-39) winning, the road back to the postseason won't be easy for a Yankees team that missed out on October last season. Without a second-half surge, the perennial AL East contenders will be shut out of the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since 1992-93.

Yet despite occupying the top two spots in the competitive AL East, neither Toronto nor Baltimore look like 95-plus win teams, opening the door for an improved Yankees team to get back in the race over the next few months. 

If Sabathia returns as a healthy, productive and less unlucky pitcher in the second half, the Yankees could have enough to make another run at glory. If not, an expensive and aging roster is headed for a long and uncomfortable summer in New York.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.comFanGraphs and ESPN unless otherwise noted and valid through the start of play on July 3. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Roster projections via MLB Depth Charts.

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Steve Pearce’s 4-Hit Night, Huge 2014 Numbers Help Push Orioles into 1st

The Baltimore Orioles are tied for first place in the American League East thanks to the bat of one of the unlikeliest breakout candidates in recent memory. On a roster filled with stars like Chris Davis, Adam Jones and Nelson Cruz, 31-year-old journeyman Steve Pearce has emerged as a recent sensation in Baltimore.

On Thursday night, Pearce's four-hit performance led the way in a 5-2 victory over the Texas Rangers at Camden Yards. With the win, Baltimore moved to seven games over .500. Coupled with a Toronto Blue Jays loss in Oakland, Buck Showalter's team is now tied atop the division with a slight lead due to percentage points.

Amazingly, the former Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston Astros, New York Yankees, and, yes, Orioles castoff has been front and center in the success for this Orioles team. With four more hits in the books, Pearce's season slash line is now up to an eye-opening .338/.397/.618. Prior to the start of the 2014 campaign, Pearce owned a .238/.318/.377 career line across 743 at-bats.

While baseball routinely provides breakout stories that are nearly impossible to believe, Pearce's season is truly remarkable. From 2007-2013, Pearce hit 17 career home runs at the big league level. In 157 at-bats this summer, he's hit 10 more.

If the numbers don't blow you away, consider this: Baltimore designated Pearce for assignment in April, leaving the versatile outfielder and first baseman out of work for two days. Eventually, the team actually released him before re-inking a deal. 

Without those roster moves working out in its favor, Baltimore would likely be looking up at the Blue Jays and Yankees in the AL East. Prior to the first pitch on July 3, Pearce had played in 47 games for the 2014 Orioles. Over the span, he racked up 2.2 fWAR. After his big night against Texas, that number undoubtedly rose. 

Although the day-by-day WAR leaderboard rankings haven't reached mainstream sports conversation, Pearce's value is undeniable. With a higher mark than Yadier Molina (2.1), Ryan Braun (2.0), Buster Posey (1.9) and Jose Reyes (1.5), it's time to take notice of what Pearce is accomplishing.

In the midst of a recent series against the Tampa Bay Rays, Pearce sounded like a player just happy to be part of a major league lineup on a consistent basis, per The Associated Press (via Delaware Online).

“And I want to keep continuing it and doing what I can do to help the team win,” Pearce said. “That’s 10 at-bats in two days, I don’t know if I’ve ever had that in my career.”

As long as Pearce continues to crush the baseball, he'll get at-bats. In fact, Showalter wanted Pearce's bat in the lineup so much that he moved Davis—one year removed from a 53-HR season—to third base for a night in order to open first for the hottest hitter in Baltimore. 

To illustrate just how productive the former eighth-round pick has been, let's give some perspective to the wOBA (weighted on-base average) and wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) that Pearce is currently sporting.

With a .437 wOBA—defined by FanGraphs as an attempt to measure a hitter's overall value, weighting each hit or walk in proportion to its actual run value—Pearce is currently performing close to the level of 2011 Miguel Cabrera or 2006 Ryan Howard.

The startling numbers don't stop there. Heading into the July 4 weekend, Pearce owns a 179 wRC+, a statistic defined by FanGraphs as a measure of runs created compared to league average. Much like the popular OPS+, wRC+ uses 100 to define league average. Right now, Pearce is creating runs for the Orioles 79 percent better than an average hitter. 

Over the last five completed seasons (2009-2013), here's a full list of hitters to post full campaigns with wRC+ marks of at least 179: Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Albert Pujols. That's it, folks. Not Mike Trout or Joey Votto or Ryan Braun or Josh Hamilton. At this point, Pearce is featuring a small sample size run that equates to vintage Cabrera, Bautista and Pujols.

Before the season began, it was easy to get excited about Baltimore's offense without mentioning or even thinking of Pearce's name. From Davis to Jones to Cruz to Matt Wieters to Manny Machado to Nick Markakis to J.J. Hardy, the Orioles looked poised to crush 200-plus home runs and score 750-plus runs. In the depressed run-scoring environment of today's game, that's an accomplishment.

Yet, things haven't gone as planned. Wieters is out for the season due to elbow surgery. Machado, currently serving a suspension for throwing a bat at an opposing player, owns an unimpressive adjusted OPS of 83. Hardy, after averaging 26 HRs per year in his first three years in Baltimore, has hit just two thus far this season. 

Even Davis, the third-place finisher in the 2013 AL MVP vote, is slugging under .400. With possible lingering effects from a strained oblique suffered in May, it's hard to peg when or if Davis' 50-plus-homer bat will resurface.

Despite all that, the Orioles are hitting enough to win and keep pace in the competitive AL East. Few outside of Baltimore likely realize that Pearce, a player deemed unfit for multiple organizations and condemned to over 2,600 minor league plate appearances since 2005, is a major part of the current Orioles puzzle.      


Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.comFanGraphs and ESPN unless otherwise noted.

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MLB Rumors: Analyzing All the Latest Whispers, News and Speculation

The Major League Baseball trade deadline is officially just four weeks away. By the end of business on July 31, the landscape of the 2014 season will have changed, potentially altering the fate of October in the process. 

With each passing day, the news cycle will be littered with rumors, speculation and nuggets from the best beat writers and columnists around the game. In reality, much of the conjecture will come to pass, proving to be nothing more than talk between active and smart executives.

As trade talk flies, Bleacher Report is here to unearth the best rumors, dissect the ramifications and bring perspective to the season thus far.

Here is what you need to know about the latest banter surrounding the game right now.

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Gregory Polanco’s Success Latest Sign Pirates Know How to Find Elite Talent

When the Pittsburgh Pirates introduced general manager Neal Huntington on September 25, 2007, a once-proud franchise was in disarray. Nearly seven full years later, the Pirates are coming off a postseason appearance and overflowing with young talent.

Since the start of play on May 6, Pittsburgh has won 30 of 50 games to climb within two games of the second wild-card position in the National League. Over that span, 2013 MVP Andrew McCutchen has raked, 25-year-old Starling Marte has provided all-around value and super prospect Gregory Polanco has arrived to stake a claim to the NL Rookie of the Year award.

That trio, led by the emergence of Polanco, is the latest sign of a franchise heading in the right direction due to a knack for finding elite talent in the international market, annual June amateur draft and trades.

Alongside the young, ascending outfield, the Pirates roster is filled with under-30 players, most of whom have been added to the organization during Huntington's tenure. From third baseman Pedro Alvarez to staff ace Gerrit Cole to closer Mark Melancon, the Pirates have become a model organization for unearthing contributors.

The following chart highlights how Pittsburgh acquired its best and most valuable contributors. As you can clearly see, the free-agent market isn't a major source for a low-revenue Pirates team. Instead, Huntington and the front office must continue to develop elite talent to win.

When looking back to the date Huntington was hired, a stark contrast becomes evident. The 2007 Pirates were in the midst of a nine-game losing streak, on the path to a 15th consecutive losing season and with little hope of reversing course.

With a roster filled with underwhelming players such as Ronny Paulino, Jack Wilson, Matt Morris and Salomon Torres, the pre-Huntington days never showed direction or much promise. For every young star like Jason Bay, the team would fail in the draft or international market, wasting prime years from All-Star-caliber contributors.

Now things have changed due to a roster littered with elite talent at the same time. In baseball, it's not just about talent evaluation, but rather the ability to develop players and graduate them to the big leagues around the same time.

That's part of the reason the Pirates won 90-plus games in 2013 and are on the path to another pennant race this summer.

Polanco, of course, is the youngest and most recent talent to arrive from Pittsburgh's farm system. After tearing the cover off the ball at Triple-A Indianapolis, the five-tool talent was summoned to the big leagues in early June, giving manager Clint Hurdle an embarrassment of riches across the outfield.

Former Philadelphia Phillies manager and current senior adviser Charlie Manuel recently gushed about Polanco's skill set, per Hal Bodley of "And Polanco, the exciting rookie, is the final piece," said Manuel. "He's been everything the scouts predicted. He's got great plate discipline for a rookie, speed and power."

While Manuel may have been speaking solely about the exciting outfield configuration at PNC Park, the thought could work in this sense: Polanco is the final piece of the rebuild that began in the late days of the 2007 season.

When the Pirates broke through in 2013—finally finishing over .500 for the first time since the days Barry Bonds patrolled left field at Three Rivers Stadium—baseball had a Cinderella story for the summer and fall. Beneath the fuzzy narratives, however, a possible long-term contender has emerged.

Pirates international scouting director Rene Gayo has had a large influence on the current roster, as evidenced by the slew of international talents on the roster and in the system. He recently spoke about what he saw when scouting Polanco, per John Perrotto of Sports on Earth.

"There's a fine line between projection and insanity," Gayo said. "But I thought once this guy gets man strength, he's going to be a special animal. He jumped out at me."

Much like in the case of Manuel's comments, that quote can be used in reference to the entire Pirates organization and future. A quick look at Cot's Baseball Contracts illustrates a stark reality for Pittsburgh's NL Central opponents: The sextet of McCutchen, Marte, Polanco, Alvarez, Cole and Melancon is under team control through at least the 2018 season.

In the current landscape of Major League Baseball, there's no perfect way to build a baseball team or long-term contender. In Oakland, Billy Beane has a knack for finding talent where others fail to look. In Los Angeles and New York, money is available to purchase high-end contributors. In Miami, drafting and development trump all. In Detroit, general manager Dave Dombrowski consistently wins trades.

For the Pirates, a knack for finding elite talent is becoming evident. With the exception of highly priced free agents, the rising NL power has used almost every avenue to rebuild a franchise that was once moribund and lost.


Statistics courtesy of, FanGraphs and ESPN unless otherwise noted. Stats valid through the start of play on July 1.

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Predicting the Biggest Buyers and Sellers at MLB’s Midway Point

The 2014 All-Star Game is still a few weeks away, but don't let that distort your vision of the 2014 season. By the start of play on June 30, almost every team in baseball will have reached its midway point. With 81 games in the books, ample time has been provided to determine buyers and sellers in the upcoming trade market.

In theory, at least.

Due to factors such as the second wild card, revenue sharing, cable television dollars and regional sports networks, more teams are in the race than ever before. The days of only five or six teams truly having a chance to win the World Series are long over. With that, market factors shift.

Over the next five weeks, don't expect more than a handful of true buyers and true sellers to emerge and complete deals. With teams like the Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins teetering on the edge of contention or acceptance of lost seasons, the landscape could shift quickly.

At this moment, only 10 teams are operating with clear goals in mind. With five buyers and five sellers clearly emerging, here are the teams to watch. 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics are courtesy of and FanGraphs and are accurate entering play on June 27. 

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