Ricky Nolasco Injury: Updates on Twins Pitcher’s Elbow and Return

Currently mired in one of his worst statistical seasons at the major league level, it was revealed on Monday that Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco is dealing with an apparent elbow injury.   

Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com provides details on the injury for Nolasco:

Bollinger shared more information about the supposed recurring issue:

Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press details what the next step is for Nolasco and he also spoke with a member of the Twins front office:

Nolasco, signed to a four-year, $49 million free-agent deal during the offseason, left the team on Monday and flew back to the Twin Cities. The Twins’ Opening Day starter was due to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam on Tuesday, when he will be examined by Twins medical director Dr. John Steubs.

According to Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony, Nolasco had not sought treatment from the club’s training staff all year. Nolasco mentioned the elbow issue during a Monday meeting with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson.

“After some coaxing he finally admitted he’s been struggling since spring training with a bit of a sore elbow,” Antony said. “He said he can’t get loose more than anything. Said it gets tight. Some days it’s better than others. (Sunday) he had a real difficult time getting loose, so we called it a day after two innings.”

The Twins signed Nolasco to a lucrative deal during the offseason, but he has yet to live up to the four-year contract. The 31-year-old currently holds a 5-7 record with a career high in ERA (5.90) this season.

In his final start with the Twins prior to the apparent injury, he gave up six earned runs in just two innings pitched. That final start sparked some controversial comments from manager Ron Gardenhire, per Derek Wetmore of 1500ESPN.com:

It starts with him. He's got to do a better job. The bottom line is he needs to figure out something because today wasn't any good at all. He didn't do anything. He didn't locate anything. They were all over every pitch. We have to figure out where we go next. That's what we're going to do and do here.

Whether the injury is similar to the one he had in 2007 when he pitched in just five games before ending his season, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press provides more details:

In a year where several starting pitchers have gone down with elbow injuries, Zachary D. Rymer of Bleacher Report wasn't shocked by the report about Nolasco:

The Twins are scuffling late in the season. They're already nine games under .500 at 39-48 and well outside of the AL Central race. Though the status of Nolasco is not known at this point, they might be better off to allow him full time to recover from the injury.

Nolasco has shown potential during his career, but has clearly struggled this season. If the elbow issues really are the root of the problem, the three years remaining on the contract might be equally as rough if they push him to return quickly.

Looking up at surging teams like the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals, getting back into the race will be difficult. But with the way that Nolasco has pitched this season, making sure he returns to full health should be of the utmost importance.

 

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AL All-Stars 2014: Biggest Snubs from the Junior Circuit

Perhaps the only thing more certain about the 2014 MLB All-Star Game heading into the year than the presence of Derek Jeter in the starting lineup was the fact that there would be a notable list of players left off the respective rosters.

After all, there is for every All-Star Game in every single sport every single year.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the biggest snubs from the American League side. For the purpose of this exercise, the players on the final fan vote are not considered snubs, and all stats are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and ESPN.com entering play Monday.

 

Ian Kinsler, Second Baseman, Detroit Tigers

Remember when the Detroit Tigers traded slugger Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler, and it looked like their lineup may suffer because of it?

Not so much.

Kinsler’s name is littered all over the American League leaderboard. His 3.7 wins above replacement (WAR) rank fourth among AL position players, his 1.3 defensive WAR ranks sixth, his 60 runs scored rank second, his 107 hits are good enough for fifth, his 170 total bases rank eighth, his 26 doubles rank second and his 39 extra-base hits rank seventh.

His .302 batting average pairs nicely with his 11 home runs and 45 RBI as well.

Kinsler breathed life into Detroit’s offense and is a major reason why the Tigers have a stranglehold on the American League Central. Yes, the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians are within striking distance, but assuming good health, Detroit is going to win that division.

Kinsler is a superstar on defense and with the bat in his hands, and he deserves to be in the All-Star Game.

 

Wade Davis, Relief Pitcher, Kansas City Royals

Matt Snyder of CBS Sports points out just why Wade Davis should be an All-Star:

Davis is one of baseballs best setup men, sitting with a 1.23 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 58 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings. He has 16 holds against two blown saves. Get this: He hasnt allowed a single extra-base hit all season and is holding opposing hitters to a .120/.234/.120 line.

It’s not fair for Davis, but the deck is simply stacked against him when it comes to earning a spot on the roster.

He plays for Kansas City, so he isn’t in the spotlight very often. What’s more, he is a setup man, which is simply not as sexy of a position as closer in many baseball circles.

Davis is a strikeout machine who just doesn’t allow solid contact. If we are truly working under the assumption that this game means something with World Series home-field lingering over it, National League hitters will be relieved that they don’t have to face him with the game on line.

 

Erick Aybar, Shortstop, Los Angeles Angels

Erick Aybar’s name is not on this list to say that Jeter should or shouldn’t be in the game. There will be plenty of that type of debate throughout the week leading up to the event, and it’s really not the worst thing in the world if an all-time great player gets the All-Star recognition one last time from the fans and the media for an incredible career.

After all, we are still talking about what basically amounts to an exhibition game, even if World Series home-field advantage is on the line.

Jeter’s merits aside, Aybar deserves to be at the All-Star Game. In a Los Angeles Angels lineup that has so many marquee names in it, Aybar stands out on defense and offense. He does a little bit of everything and has a .278 batting average, .315 on-base percentage and .414 slugging percentage.

Throw in 21 doubles, three triples, six home runs, 43 RBI, 45 runs and 11 steals, and it’s clear what type of impact player we are discussing.

His head coach, Mike Scioscia, certainly thinks Aybar should be there, via Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register:

He should be an All-Star. ... There is no doubt he’s playing at the level he’s capable of defensively. This guy is a premium defender. And as he’s gotten into the season and gotten healthy, you are seeing his offensive side.

Hard to argue with the manager.

 

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2014 MLB All-Star Snubs: Most Noticeable Absences from NL and AL Rosters

Every year, there are numerous notable MLB players who didn't see their names included in the All-Star Game festivities. 2014 is no different.

While the fans tend to get it right for the most part, not every deserving player can get in, and there are bound to be apparent snubs. This year, there seem to be both young, up-and-coming players as well as experienced, household names who failed to see their names called.

Here's a look at the top-two snubs from both leagues.

 

National League Snubs

Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo has gone from a highly touted prospect to a staple of the Cubs lineup, but he still missed out on his first-ever All-Star appearance.

The 24-year-old has made a name for himself as one of the National League's top power hitters. His 17 home runs are tied for third-best in the NL, and he also ranks in the top 10 in walks, times on base and at-bats per home run. 

To be fair, you can't argue with having Rizzo behind starting NL first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and reserve first baseman Freddie Freeman. Both are two of the top power hitters in the league. But there's no doubt that Rizzo deserves a ticket to Minnesota for this year's festivities.

Although Rizzo was snubbed, he's not out yet—Rizzo tweeted that he can still be included with the NL Final Vote:

If the fans don't get Rizzo into the All-Star Game with the final spot, he'll have an extra chip on his shoulder until the voting next year.

 

Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals

Anthony Rendon of the Nationals joins Rizzo as youngsters who deserved their first appearance in the All-Star Game but will have to hold out for the NL Final Vote.

Rendon's resume is hard to deny: He ranks fifth in the league in runs scored, fourth in triples, ninth in extra base hits and just outside of the top 10 with 21 doubles. His versatility in starting at second base, then switching to third when Ryan Zimmerman got injured, then back to second has been crucial for Washington.

In fact, playing two positions may have actually hurt Rendon's chances of getting in at either second or third base with the fan vote. 

Alas, Scott Allen of The Washington Post brought the good news that Rendon will rock a mullet in the All-Star Game should he win the vote:

If his immense stats aren't enough to get him in, that mullet should be.

 

American League Snubs

Ian Kinsler, 2B, Detroit Tigers

Three All-Star selections in Ian Kinsler's career simply doesn't do his first eight years in the league justice, but his snubbing in 2014 was undoubtedly the worst yet.

His WAR is fourth-best in the AL among all position players and tops for his position. Second in runs scored, fifth in hits, second in doubles and seventh in extra-base hits in the AL certainly sounds like an All-Star.

Many players don't respond well when traded unexpectedly from a contending team, and Kinsler's departure from Texas was tough. But he settled in quickly in Detroit, and has turned into one of the top sluggers on a club that is gunning for another deep postseason run.

Whether Kinsler is recognized with an All-Star selection or not, the Tigers have one of the best hitting second basemen in their lineup as they chase a World Series this October.

 

Chris Sale, P, Chicago White Sox

When it comes to All-Star snubs, you won't hear about any more than Chris Sale.

The 25-year-old has dazzled in his fourth season, posting an 8-1 record with a 2.16 ERA and nearing the top of the charts in almost every statistical category in the AL. If it weren't for a wealth of premier pitchers nestled in the AL this year, Sale would have been an easy pick.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura was quick to question Red Sox manager John Farrell, who is managing the AL All-Stars, for not selecting Sale, per David Laurila:

Sale will still have his shot to get into the All-Star Game with the AL Final Vote, and with the uproar over his snubbing, he has a good chance to win the vote. But if he doesn't, his absence from the game will be quite noticeable. 

 

Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.

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Athletics’ Brandon Moss Has Team’s Highest RBI Total Before Break Since 2000

With 62 RBI heading into Monday's game against the San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics first baseman Brandon Moss has his team's highest RBI total before the All-Star break since 2000, per the A's' official Twitter account.

Oddly enough, the A's had three players top 62 RBI before the break in 2000, with Jason Giambi (78 RBI) leading the way, followed by Ben Grieve (65) and Miguel Tejada (63).

Though the A's have had plenty of team success since 2000, they've largely relied on pitching, defense and a balanced lineup.

Giambi famously left Oakland to sign with the New York Yankees after the 2001 season, and Tejada left for the Baltimore Orioles following the 2003 campaign. Around the same time, third baseman Eric Chavez started to decline, morphing from a borderline superstar into a glove-oriented player who still offered a bit of pop with the bat.

Fortunately for the Oakland faithful, the lack of offensive firepower appears to be a thing of the past. Moss already has 19 home runs this season, and he has an outside shot to reach 70 RBI before the All-Star break, needing eight more over the next seven games. While his .272 batting average is nothing special, his .530 slugging percentage is exceptional for a player who logs half of his games in the cavernous O.co Coliseum.

Joining Moss in the race toward superstardom are third baseman Josh Donaldson and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Donaldson is in the midst of an awful slump that has sunk his numbers, but he was a fringe MVP candidate last season and is still on pace for 35 home runs and 114 RBI in 2014. Cespedes, meanwhile, is on pace for 26 homers and 101 RBI.

If one of the three emerging stars reaches 100 RBI—seemingly a near certainty—he'll become the first Athletic since Frank Thomas in 2006 to hit the century mark.

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Athletics’ Brandon Moss Has Team’s Highest RBI Total Before Break Since 2000

With 62 RBI heading into Monday's game against the San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics first baseman Brandon Moss has his team's highest RBI total before the All-Star break since 2000, per the A's' official Twitter account.

Oddly enough, the A's had three players top 62 RBI before the break in 2000, with Jason Giambi (78 RBI) leading the way, followed by Ben Grieve (65) and Miguel Tejada (63).

Though the A's have had plenty of team success since 2000, they've largely relied on pitching, defense and a balanced lineup.

Giambi famously left Oakland to sign with the New York Yankees after the 2001 season, and Tejada left for the Baltimore Orioles following the 2003 campaign. Around the same time, third baseman Eric Chavez started to decline, morphing from a borderline superstar into a glove-oriented player who still offered a bit of pop with the bat.

Fortunately for the Oakland faithful, the lack of offensive firepower appears to be a thing of the past. Moss already has 19 home runs this season, and he has an outside shot to reach 70 RBI before the All-Star break, needing eight more over the next seven games. While his .272 batting average is nothing special, his .530 slugging percentage is exceptional for a player who logs half of his games in the cavernous O.co Coliseum.

Joining Moss in the race toward superstardom are third baseman Josh Donaldson and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Donaldson is in the midst of an awful slump that has sunk his numbers, but he was a fringe MVP candidate last season and is still on pace for 35 home runs and 114 RBI in 2014. Cespedes, meanwhile, is on pace for 26 homers and 101 RBI.

If one of the three emerging stars reaches 100 RBI—seemingly a near certainty—he'll become the first Athletic since Frank Thomas in 2006 to hit the century mark.

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Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista Is Right to Call MLB’s Replay System ‘A Joke’

When MLB announced the implementation of a new replay system before the 2014 season, it was widely assumed that this initiative would make wrong game-changing calls a thing of the past.

But the replay system has not worked as advertised, often upholding calls on the field despite video footage showing enough evidence for those calls to be overturned.

The Toronto Blue Jays have already been on the receiving end of several of these questionable calls that the replay system has upheld. That’s why it wasn’t surprising to see Jose Bautista blasting the entire concept of video review after having yet another challenge go against his team.

"This whole replay thing has become a joke in my eyes," Bautista told reporters following a game against the Oakland Athletics on Saturday, via Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star. “I think they should just ban it, they should just get rid of it. I don’t really understand the purpose of it, but getting the right call on the field is not the purpose. That’s pretty obvious and evident.”

These frustrations stemmed from a play in the eighth inning of Saturday’s game. With the Blue Jays losing 3-1 to the A’s and Melky Cabrera on base, Bautista hit a two-out double that Cabrera tried to score on, only to be called out at home. Toronto challenged the call and despite replays showing Cabrera appearing to dodge the tag from A’s catcher Derek Norris, the call at the plate was upheld.

Had that call been overturned, the Blue Jays would’ve made it a 3-2 game with the tying run standing at second base.

“I feel like a chance for Adam Lind to tie the game in the eighth inning was taken away from him,” said Bautista.

Like mentioned above, this wasn’t the first time Toronto has run afoul of the replay system.

Just days before this latest incident, the Blue Jays had two replay challenges go against them during the same game against the Milwaukee Brewers. On the first play, Munenori Kawasaki had appeared to dodge a tag but was called out by the umpire. The call was still upheld despite replays showing that Kawasaki might have dodged the tag. On the second play, Steve Tolleson was called safe by the umpire after a steal attempt. But the Brewers challenged the call, and it was overturned.

The main problem with the replay system is that it requires sufficient evidence before being allowed to overturn a call. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen so far, there is no clear-cut definition of what is considered to be sufficient evidence.

A video replay might appear to show that a call on the field was wrong, but umpires in the replay center might not treat that as sufficient evidence and still uphold the call. The whole process is still much too judgmental.

Until the umpires looking at the replays let technology do the work and start making calls based on what the video shows, the whole concept of the replay system remains unclear and only invites further criticism.

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Bronson Arroyo Injury: Updates on Diamonbacks Pitcher’s Elbow and Return

Updates from Tuesday, July 8

Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk has the latest on Arroyo:

But maybe it was a tough break that should’ve come a couple of weeks earlier? Get this, from 98.7FM in Arizona:

“(My elbow) was hurting my last six starts, but I pitched against (Washington Nationals’ Stephen) Strasburg, beat him and got the complete game [on May 13], and I’m pretty sure it (the ligament) must have torn off during that game at some point,” said Arroyo on Monday.

Original Text

Bronson Arroyo has been attempting to work his way back from a sprained ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow, but on Monday, he decided to put the rehab on hold and announce his decision to opt for Tommy John surgery.     

The Arizona Diamondbacks' official Twitter feed confirmed the news: 

Arroyo, via MLB.com's Steve Gilbert, provided some more details concerning his injury, which sidelined him in the middle of June: 

Jack Magruder of FoxSportsArizona.com noted the possible date the injury occurred:

No one should be questioning Arroyo's toughness. Many 37-year-old pitchers who have 145 wins and over 2,300 innings pitched would likely start discussing retirement at this point, but Arroyo is already talking about a potential comeback: 

Arroyo has made at least 29 starts and 32 appearances in each of the last 10 MLB seasons, finishing with under 200.0 IP just twice over that span. As Rotoworld's D.J. Short noted, this is just another indication that no one is safe from the dreaded elbow injury: 

As for the Diamondbacks, who sit at 37-53 and 13.5 games out in the NL West entering Monday, the rotation remains a mess. 

Arroyo and Patrick Corbin are out for the season, Daniel Hudson is out until at least August and Brandon McCarthy was just traded for Vidal Nuno.    

Wade Miley, Josh Collmenter, Chase Anderson and Mike Bolsinger will continue to hold down the rotation, while eyes will remain on top prospect Archie Bradley in the minors. 

For Arroyo, he'll begin the long process of getting fully healthy so that he can potentially return to the mound once he is recovered.

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MLB All Star Voting 2014: Analyzing Biggest MVP Candidates at Midsummer Classic

When it comes to sensational plays, massive home runs and memorable moments, there is no better stage than the MLB All-Star Game.

The 2014 rosters for both sides have been announced, with a few replacements and the final vote for each side yet to be finalized. With all of the players already on the two star-studded rosters, picking an MVP will be a difficult task.

Names like Mike Trout and Yasiel Puig obviously come to mind, but there's the potential of a veteran stealing the prize away from the young guard. Both Andrew McCutchen and Miguel Cabrera are deserving of the honor and could very well shine during the All-Star Game.

As for one living legend who might just make a statement, Derek Jeter certainly has a chance to steal the show. After former teammate Mariano Rivera took the honor last year, could The Captain be the second straight New York Yankees player to earn the award?

Here's a look at some of the top contenders for the award heading into the Midsummer Classic.

 

Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels

He can hit massive home runs, steal bases and change the game with his glove. What part of Trout's game doesn't scream All-Star MVP?

Hitting .308 with 20 home runs, a 1.005 OPS and 63 RBI, Trout leads the Angels in all four categories. In a lineup that boasts both Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, that's a pretty staggering accomplishment.

As for his clutch ability with the game on the line, Trout might just have the final say for the American League if he remains in the lineup. ESPN Stats & Info points out just how good Trout has been this season in late innings:

Then there's what he can do with the leather. Mostly known for his speed on the basepaths, Trout has also shown great closing ability during his career roaming the outfield.

Here's a look at a recent web gem, via MLB.com:

For a player who can affect all aspects of the game, expect Trout's name to be one of just a few to be considered for the MVP by the end of the contest. But he's certainly not the only outfielder who can do it all on the diamond.

 

Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

How good is McCutchen? Oh, you know, he was only named the National League MVP last season ahead of both Paul Goldschmidt and Yadier Molina.

What has he done for an encore? Oh, just put up a better batting average (.324), OBP (.424) and is on pace for nearly as many home runs with 13 to this point.

Making his fourth appearance in the Midsummer Classic, McCutchen spoke about the making his first start, per Tom Singer of MLB.com:

I've been on All-Star teams before, but to make it as a starter is a dream come true. It shows that the fans see something in me, and that's something that means a lot to any player.

... It takes us winning to get that recognition, and we've done that the last couple of years. It's good to see. Being in the All-Star Game is enough in itself. Being No. 1 [in voting for outfielders] is a plus, really cool.

What comes next for McCutchen might be sensational. Given his first chance to trot out with the starting lineup, the 2013 NL MVP has a chance to make an impact right from the start.

Much like Trout, he can do it all with 13 stolen bases and an amazing defensive ability that won him a Gold Glove in 2012. Put that all together, and Cutch might just be adding another MVP trophy to his case on June 15.

 

Derek Jeter, SS, New York Yankees

When it comes to greats in the game, the final All-Star appearance is typically a special one.

For both Rivera and Cal Ripken, Jr., it also turned out to be an MVP performance. For Jeter, his 14th appearance in the All-Star Game might lead to similar results.

Ironically enough, he shares something in common with Ripken heading into his final appearance, per Numbers Never Lie:

While Ripken hit a home run in his final game as an All-Star, don't expect Jeter to do the same. The Captain has hit just two homers this season but is still hitting .273 with a .323 on-base percentage.

If he can simply contribute for the American League squad and help it pick up a win for the second consecutive year, Jeter might just be the one taking the hardware. A fitting end for his career at the All-Star Game, much like another great shortstop before him.

 

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Why the San Francisco Giants Must Not Trade for a Starting Pitcher

To say the least, problems have been plentiful in San Francisco lately.

The Giants offense has gone cold, and as a result, the team's 9.5-game lead in the NL West has evaporated in less than a month. The team is currently behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West standings.

San Francisco hasn't scored more than five runs in 14 games, and it's reached that plateau only three times in that span. Even though promising first baseman Brandon Belt just recently returned from an injury, the offense has its issues.

Angel Pagan's back injury and Pablo Sandoval's minor elbow contusion mean that the team still has ample offensive woes.

Second base has also been a season-long issue, and while the team called up prospect Joe Panik, he isn't a sure thing at second base.

San Francisco's team OBP shows this immense problem. It ranks 25th in this category with a miserable .305 mark.

Because below-average players like Brandon Hicks, Tyler Colvin, Joaquin Arias and Gregor Blanco have been forced to play so much, the team's hitting numbers are down significantly.

Injuries haven't helped, but it's still clear that even at full strength, the team needs an offensive jolt.

With the team's offensive funk resulting in this lengthy downward spiral, it's certainly a bit astonishing to think that the team would bolster its world-class starting rotation.

While there aren't many, there are certainly available hurlers. David Price and Ian Kennedy are among the premier targets. The Giants could trade for one, and it would add depth to the rotation.

But still, it wouldn't be a good idea.

Fifth starter Ryan Vogelsong has a 3.86 ERA, and the rotation's stellar 3.61 ERA ranks eighth in the league. Even though Matt Cain, who boasts a superb 3.39 career ERA, has struggled, the rotation is doing well.

With Cain, who has a 1.35 ERA in his last two starts, and Lincecum, who had thrown 23.2 consecutive scoreless innings before giving up a solo home run in his last start, finally on track, the rotation is poised for second-half dominance.

Because of these three and Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson, who have both been phenomenal, there isn't a starting pitcher who deserves to be replaced. There is a second baseman who does. Hicks is hitting .164, Arias has a deplorable .392 OPS and Panik has a mediocre .639 OPS.

2013 starter Marco Scutaro has begun his rehab period, but he might not be the same player he was last year. Either way, he has never been a power hitter, and the Giants still need offensive depth.

In other words, adding a second baseman would allow Scutaro, who has experience at shortstop and third base as well, to recover from his nagging back ailment by mostly pinch hitting and substituting for resting or injured players.

According to Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News, Scutaro won't be a full-time player when he returns. This enhances the need for a second baseman. 

Luckily for the Giants, there are trade opportunities. All-Star second baseman Daniel Murphy isn't garnering much attention, but he's been phenomenal for the Mets. He has a .344 OBP and .758 OPS, and he's scored 52 runs in just 86 games.

Gordon Beckham, who showed promise in his rookie season and currently has a .697 OPS, is also an option. Both players have had respectable seasons, and both would provide a spark to the bottom of the order.

But even if the Giants decide not to pursue one of these players (or Phillies star second baseman Chase Utley), the rotation shouldn't be the main issue to address. The bullpen has good numbers, but there is now a glaring weakness.

Sergio Romo was ousted as closer after blowing three saves in a span of 16 days. The former closer has five blown saves and a putrid 5.35 ERA. Now the Giants lack a true closer.

Santiago Casilla has been a solid setup man, but he also blew six saves in fewer than four months as the team's closer in 2012. Jeremy Affeldt, while a very good reliever, has never been a full-time closer, and Javier Lopez has always been most effective as a left-handed specialist.

That means the Giants could benefit from adding another late-inning reliever. Huston Street, who has just one blown save with the San Diego Padres, could be an option. He has a 1.13 ERA this season, and he could stabilize San Francisco's bullpen.

He is in the NL West, which would seem to make a deal less likely. However, he is also an impending free agent.

This deal likely wouldn't come back to bite the Padres, so it would make sense for the team, which at 39-49 is extremely unlikely to win the division, to trade him to whomever to get some value for him.

San Francisco could also pursue Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon, who has a 1.35 ERA and has surrendered an opponent OPS of just .469.

He has a hefty salary, but if the Giants ate a large portion of it, they could land him without unloading the farm.

The team has holes, but those holes aren't in the rotation. There's a reason why the team has a 4-7 record in its last 11 games despite nine quality starts. The sputtering offense and the crumbling bullpen are to blame.

San Francisco needs to address second base, the closer situation and potentially outfield depth (if Pagan doesn't return soon) before adding a starting pitcher. Offense has hampered the Giants for a long time, and it needs to be solved.

The Giants have the resources to make these deals. Brian Sabean needs to pull the trigger if the deal is right, but he needs to make sure he's solving the right problem.

And right now, that problem is not in the rotation.

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Why the San Francisco Giants Must Not Trade for a Starting Pitcher

To say the least, problems have been plentiful in San Francisco lately.

The Giants offense has gone cold, and as a result, the team's 9.5-game lead in the NL West has evaporated in less than a month. The team is currently behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West standings.

San Francisco hasn't scored more than five runs in 14 games, and it's reached that plateau only three times in that span. Even though promising first baseman Brandon Belt just recently returned from an injury, the offense has its issues.

Angel Pagan's back injury and Pablo Sandoval's minor elbow contusion mean that the team still has ample offensive woes.

Second base has also been a season-long issue, and while the team called up prospect Joe Panik, he isn't a sure thing at second base.

San Francisco's team OBP shows this immense problem. It ranks 25th in this category with a miserable .305 mark.

Because below-average players like Brandon Hicks, Tyler Colvin, Joaquin Arias and Gregor Blanco have been forced to play so much, the team's hitting numbers are down significantly.

Injuries haven't helped, but it's still clear that even at full strength, the team needs an offensive jolt.

With the team's offensive funk resulting in this lengthy downward spiral, it's certainly a bit astonishing to think that the team would bolster its world-class starting rotation.

While there aren't many, there are certainly available hurlers. David Price and Ian Kennedy are among the premier targets. The Giants could trade for one, and it would add depth to the rotation.

But still, it wouldn't be a good idea.

Fifth starter Ryan Vogelsong has a 3.86 ERA, and the rotation's stellar 3.61 ERA ranks eighth in the league. Even though Matt Cain, who boasts a superb 3.39 career ERA, has struggled, the rotation is doing well.

With Cain, who has a 1.35 ERA in his last two starts, and Lincecum, who had thrown 23.2 consecutive scoreless innings before giving up a solo home run in his last start, finally on track, the rotation is poised for second-half dominance.

Because of these three and Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson, who have both been phenomenal, there isn't a starting pitcher who deserves to be replaced. There is a second baseman who does. Hicks is hitting .164, Arias has a deplorable .392 OPS and Panik has a mediocre .639 OPS.

2013 starter Marco Scutaro has begun his rehab period, but he might not be the same player he was last year. Either way, he has never been a power hitter, and the Giants still need offensive depth.

In other words, adding a second baseman would allow Scutaro, who has experience at shortstop and third base as well, to recover from his nagging back ailment by mostly pinch hitting and substituting for resting or injured players.

According to Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News, Scutaro won't be a full-time player when he returns. This enhances the need for a second baseman. 

Luckily for the Giants, there are trade opportunities. All-Star second baseman Daniel Murphy isn't garnering much attention, but he's been phenomenal for the Mets. He has a .344 OBP and .758 OPS, and he's scored 52 runs in just 86 games.

Gordon Beckham, who showed promise in his rookie season and currently has a .697 OPS, is also an option. Both players have had respectable seasons, and both would provide a spark to the bottom of the order.

But even if the Giants decide not to pursue one of these players (or Phillies star second baseman Chase Utley), the rotation shouldn't be the main issue to address. The bullpen has good numbers, but there is now a glaring weakness.

Sergio Romo was ousted as closer after blowing three saves in a span of 16 days. The former closer has five blown saves and a putrid 5.35 ERA. Now the Giants lack a true closer.

Santiago Casilla has been a solid setup man, but he also blew six saves in fewer than four months as the team's closer in 2012. Jeremy Affeldt, while a very good reliever, has never been a full-time closer, and Javier Lopez has always been most effective as a left-handed specialist.

That means the Giants could benefit from adding another late-inning reliever. Huston Street, who has just one blown save with the San Diego Padres, could be an option. He has a 1.13 ERA this season, and he could stabilize San Francisco's bullpen.

He is in the NL West, which would seem to make a deal less likely. However, he is also an impending free agent.

This deal likely wouldn't come back to bite the Padres, so it would make sense for the team, which at 39-49 is extremely unlikely to win the division, to trade him to whomever to get some value for him.

San Francisco could also pursue Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon, who has a 1.35 ERA and has surrendered an opponent OPS of just .469.

He has a hefty salary, but if the Giants ate a large portion of it, they could land him without unloading the farm.

The team has holes, but those holes aren't in the rotation. There's a reason why the team has a 4-7 record in its last 11 games despite nine quality starts. The sputtering offense and the crumbling bullpen are to blame.

San Francisco needs to address second base, the closer situation and potentially outfield depth (if Pagan doesn't return soon) before adding a starting pitcher. Offense has hampered the Giants for a long time, and it needs to be solved.

The Giants have the resources to make these deals. Brian Sabean needs to pull the trigger if the deal is right, but he needs to make sure he's solving the right problem.

And right now, that problem is not in the rotation.

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Why the San Francisco Giants Must Not Trade for a Starting Pitcher

To say the least, problems have been plentiful in San Francisco lately.

The Giants offense has gone cold, and as a result, the team's 9.5-game lead in the NL West has evaporated in less than a month. The team is currently behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West standings.

San Francisco hasn't scored more than five runs in 14 games, and it's reached that plateau only three times in that span. Even though promising first baseman Brandon Belt just recently returned from an injury, the offense has its issues.

Angel Pagan's back injury and Pablo Sandoval's minor elbow contusion mean that the team still has ample offensive woes.

Second base has also been a season-long issue, and while the team called up prospect Joe Panik, he isn't a sure thing at second base.

San Francisco's team OBP shows this immense problem. It ranks 25th in this category with a miserable .305 mark.

Because below-average players like Brandon Hicks, Tyler Colvin, Joaquin Arias and Gregor Blanco have been forced to play so much, the team's hitting numbers are down significantly.

Injuries haven't helped, but it's still clear that even at full strength, the team needs an offensive jolt.

With the team's offensive funk resulting in this lengthy downward spiral, it's certainly a bit astonishing to think that the team would bolster its world-class starting rotation.

While there aren't many, there are certainly available hurlers. David Price and Ian Kennedy are among the premier targets. The Giants could trade for one, and it would add depth to the rotation.

But still, it wouldn't be a good idea.

Fifth starter Ryan Vogelsong has a 3.86 ERA, and the rotation's stellar 3.61 ERA ranks eighth in the league. Even though Matt Cain, who boasts a superb 3.39 career ERA, has struggled, the rotation is doing well.

With Cain, who has a 1.35 ERA in his last two starts, and Lincecum, who had thrown 23.2 consecutive scoreless innings before giving up a solo home run in his last start, finally on track, the rotation is poised for second-half dominance.

Because of these three and Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson, who have both been phenomenal, there isn't a starting pitcher who deserves to be replaced. There is a second baseman who does. Hicks is hitting .164, Arias has a deplorable .392 OPS and Panik has a mediocre .639 OPS.

2013 starter Marco Scutaro has begun his rehab period, but he might not be the same player he was last year. Either way, he has never been a power hitter, and the Giants still need offensive depth.

In other words, adding a second baseman would allow Scutaro, who has experience at shortstop and third base as well, to recover from his nagging back ailment by mostly pinch hitting and substituting for resting or injured players.

According to Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News, Scutaro won't be a full-time player when he returns. This enhances the need for a second baseman. 

Luckily for the Giants, there are trade opportunities. All-Star second baseman Daniel Murphy isn't garnering much attention, but he's been phenomenal for the Mets. He has a .344 OBP and .758 OPS, and he's scored 52 runs in just 86 games.

Gordon Beckham, who showed promise in his rookie season and currently has a .697 OPS, is also an option. Both players have had respectable seasons, and both would provide a spark to the bottom of the order.

But even if the Giants decide not to pursue one of these players (or Phillies star second baseman Chase Utley), the rotation shouldn't be the main issue to address. The bullpen has good numbers, but there is now a glaring weakness.

Sergio Romo was ousted as closer after blowing three saves in a span of 16 days. The former closer has five blown saves and a putrid 5.35 ERA. Now the Giants lack a true closer.

Santiago Casilla has been a solid setup man, but he also blew six saves in fewer than four months as the team's closer in 2012. Jeremy Affeldt, while a very good reliever, has never been a full-time closer, and Javier Lopez has always been most effective as a left-handed specialist.

That means the Giants could benefit from adding another late-inning reliever. Huston Street, who has just one blown save with the San Diego Padres, could be an option. He has a 1.13 ERA this season, and he could stabilize San Francisco's bullpen.

He is in the NL West, which would seem to make a deal less likely. However, he is also an impending free agent.

This deal likely wouldn't come back to bite the Padres, so it would make sense for the team, which at 39-49 is extremely unlikely to win the division, to trade him to whomever to get some value for him.

San Francisco could also pursue Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon, who has a 1.35 ERA and has surrendered an opponent OPS of just .469.

He has a hefty salary, but if the Giants ate a large portion of it, they could land him without unloading the farm.

The team has holes, but those holes aren't in the rotation. There's a reason why the team has a 4-7 record in its last 11 games despite nine quality starts. The sputtering offense and the crumbling bullpen are to blame.

San Francisco needs to address second base, the closer situation and potentially outfield depth (if Pagan doesn't return soon) before adding a starting pitcher. Offense has hampered the Giants for a long time, and it needs to be solved.

The Giants have the resources to make these deals. Brian Sabean needs to pull the trigger if the deal is right, but he needs to make sure he's solving the right problem.

And right now, that problem is not in the rotation.

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Angels Win 10 Consecutive Home Games for 1st Time Since 1996

For the first time since 1996, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have won 10 consecutive home games, according to MLB Stat of the Day on Twitter. Win No. 10 came Sunday against the Astros, thanks in large part to a standout performance from starting pitcher Garrett Richards.

Richards, who has surprisingly emerged as the Angels' true ace this season, allowed just one run over 7.1 innings while piling up a career-high 11 strikeouts. With Sunday's strong outing, the 26-year-old right hander improved his ERA to 2.71 and his record to a lofty 10-2.

Though it was Richards who led the way in Sunday's 6-1 win, the entire Los Angeles team has been excellent at home this season. Carrying a 30-14 home record into Monday's game against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Angels own an MLB-best .682 winning percentage at home.

Unfortunately for the Halos, the division rival Oakland Athletics sport baseball's second-best home record, sitting at 28-15 (.651 winning percentage) after Sunday's 4-2 win over the Blue Jays.

While the Angels are just 21-22 on the road this season, the A's have gone an impressive 27-18 away from home. Thus, despite sporting MLB's best home record, the Angels sit 3.5 games out of first place in what's shaping up as the American League's most competitive division.

The Angels have an excellent opportunity to make it 11 straight home wins Monday night, when they face shaky Blue Jays lefty J.A. Happ at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Already without starting second baseman Brett Lawrie, the Jays lost star first baseman Edwin Encarnacion to a quad injury during Monday's game. With long-time ace Jered Weaver scheduled to pitch, the Angels look like a heavy favorite to make it 11 in a row at home.

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Pittsburgh Pirates: Who Gets Bumped from the Starting Rotation?

Francisco Liriano is getting closer to coming off the disabled list, meaning the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to have the unique problem of having six pitchers vying for five rotation spots.

Any general manager will say there’s no such thing as too much pitching depth, and surely manager Clint Hurdle won’t complain about having to bump someone from the starting five.

But the question remains as to who gets bumped and where he goes, given that several current Pirates pitchers are out of options and would have to clear waivers before returning to the minor leagues. That means those pitchers would likely end up in the bullpen well before they’d be designated for assignment or optioned back to the minors.

However, that’s not the case with Jeff Locke, which means Locke will likely be the odd man out when Liriano makes his return.

That’s a shame because Locke has pitched brilliantly for a Pirates team that has desperately needed quality outings. Since being called up in early June, he’s started six games and has pitched into the eighth inning three times, never giving up more than three earned runs in any start.

His earned run average currently sits at 3.08, a number that would be much lower if it weren’t for a poor outing in early May when Locke was making a spot start.

Unfortunately for Locke, solid play and quality pitching aren't always enough to earn a player a permanent roster spot. Indeed, the team sent Brandon Cumpton back to the minors last week despite Cumpton giving up only two runs in his last 14 innings pitched.

His exit cleared a roster spot for Gerrit Cole, the team's injured ace who came off the disabled list and promptly gave up five runs in four innings in a loss to the New York Mets on June 28.

Locke could be headed for the same fate whenever Liriano makes his return to the roster, according to Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

No matter how well Jeff Locke pitches – and he’s pitching very well – there’s a chance he will simply not remain in the rotation. It’s simple math: when Francisco Liriano is healthy, the Pirates have six starting pitchers vying for five spots and Locke is the one pitcher who has options.

Simply put, any of the other starting pitchers for the Pirates would have to go unclaimed on waivers by the other 29 Major League clubs before being sent back to the minors. In the case of pitchers Edinson Volquez and Vance Worley, that’s a risk the front office probably doesn’t want to take.

That’s why Locke is almost certainly the odd man out this time around, and it’s only because he’s the last player with options remaining.

There are a bevy of alternative theories and lineup switches that could happen if the team really wanted to keep Locke in the majors.

The Pirates could send Worley to the bullpen despite the fact that he has pitched to a 2.28 ERA in four starts since being called up in June. The same could be said for Volquez despite the fact that he has given up only two runs in the last 21 innings over his last three starts.

There’s no such thing as having too much starting pitching in Major League Baseball, which any general manager will attest to. And as in any season, there are bound to be more injuries and call-ups in the second half of the season.

Even if Locke is sent back down to the minors, there’s a good chance he might not be there long, according to Sawchik:

He’s upgraded his status in my eyes, and even if he is sent down to Triple-A, he’ll likely be back at some point after the All-Star break. He’s certainly in the club’s long-term plans with Liriano and Volquez as free agents after the season.

 

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Yankees’ Derek Jeter Becomes 8th Player with 3,400 Career Hits

New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter recorded three hits in Sunday's 9-7 win over the Minnesota Twins to become the eighth player in MLB history with 3,400 career hits, per MLB.com.

Officially named as the American League's starting shortstop for the All-Star Game while he was playing in Sunday's contest, Jeter turned in a vintage performance that included two RBI and a run. He entered the game with 3,997 career hits, poised to reach 3,400 well before the All-Star break.

Though he previously had just three games with three or more hits this season, Jeter reached the milestone mark faster than expected while also sparking the Yankees to a high-scoring victory. He singled in the first inning and came around to score on a Brian McCann double, then gave the Yanks a 3-0 lead with a sacrifice fly in the top of the second.

Already off to a fast start, Jeter added an RBI single in the fourth before grounding into an inning-ending double play in the sixth for his only unsuccessful plate appearance of the night. Not to be denied, the future Hall of Famer recorded hit No. 3,400 in the top of the ninth inning, slapping a single into left field to lead off the frame. He was ultimately stranded at first base, but the Yankees still managed to hold on for a 9-7 victory after leading 9-0 early in the game.

With the exception of Jeter and all-time hits leader Pete Rose, all of the players with 3,400 career hits have a plaque in the Hall of Fame. Ty Cobb (4,191), who is one of two members in the 4,000-hit club, is followed on the all-time hits list by Hank Aaron (3,771), Stan Musial (3,630), Tris Speaker (3,515), Honus Wagner (3,430) and Carl Yastrzemski (3,419).

Barring a significant injury, Jeter will pass both Yastrzemski and Wagner before the end of his final season, leaving him sixth on the all-time list. Fifth place, however, is out of reach, as Tris Speaker sits 115 hits ahead of Jeter with just 75 games remaining on the Yankees' schedule.

 

All stats courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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MLB Handicapping: Division Race Odds and Betting Predictions

The 2014 MLB regular season heads into the final two series of games before next week’s All-Star break, which traditionally marks the start of the real race for the playoffs. Doc’s Sports has reshuffled the deck to post its current MLB betting odds for which six team will win their respective divisional races to secure an automatic spot in the playoffs.

Starting in one of the trickier divisions to handicap, the American League East, the Baltimore Orioles (48-40) and the Toronto Blue Jays (47-43) remain the favorites at 7-4 odds, followed closely by the New York Yankees at 9-4. Boston has faded to 12-1 after starting the season as the favorites to win, and Tampa Bay has fallen way down to 25-1.

The value to me still lies in New York’s odds. It is just one game above .500 as of this past Sunday’s results, but that is only 3.5 games off the pace. Toronto has started to fade after a strong run in late spring to give way to Baltimore, which now leads the division by two games. I question whether the Orioles have what it takes to be the lead horse in a very tight race.

The Detroit Tigers opened the season as prohibitive favorites to win the AL Central, and despite a roller-coaster ride that has resulted in a 48-37 record through their first 85 games, they are still heavily favored as 1-5 favorites. The surprising Kansas City Royals have kept pace in the chase with a record of 45-42, and their odds to pull off the upset now stand at 17-4. Cleveland is six games off the pace, and its odds to emerge on top at the end of the year are 9-1.

All the Tigers need to do is win the majority of their series over the second half of the season to lock things up, but there has to be some genuine concern in the lack of balance between a 25-15 record on the road verses a 23-22 record at home. If they can turn things around at Comerica Park, it should be an easy stride to the finish line.

The AL West has been dominated by Oakland so far. However, even though the Athletics have the best record in the American League at 55-33, they have an unwanted visitor coming up close in their rear-view mirror.

Over the past 10 games, the Los Angeles Angels have matched Oakland win for win with a 7-3 record and a current four-game winning streak. The A’s lead still stands at 3.5 games, and the odds they hold on an win the West are still in their favor at 1-3. But things are definitely getting a bit close for comfort.

The Angels’ odds to win the West are currently 11-4 and more than worth a second look when looking for value in the numbers. Los Angeles is ranked fifth in the AL in pitching with a team ERA of 3.87, a far cry from Oakland’s league-leading 3.15 ERA. These two teams remain neck and neck at the very top of the AL in scoring with an average of five runs a game.

The National League East was supposed to be a two-team race this season between Atlanta and Washington, and as we cross the halfway point, that is exactly what we have. Atlanta is 49-39 and holding a half-game lead on the strength of one extra win compared to Washington’s record of 48-39.

Both teams are coming into their last two series before the break hot, with the Braves winning nine of their last 10 games and the Nationals posting a 7-3 mark during the same stretch. The current odds favor the Nationals at 5-9, so the value lies in Atlanta at 3-2 in what appears to be a dead heat.

The most intriguing division in the majors has to be the NL Central. Milwaukee busted out of the gate to a blazing start, and it has been able to maintain the pace at 52-37 through its first 89 games. The surging Pittsburgh Pirates are now in second place and just 4.5 games back after a 8-2 run in their last 10 games.

Meanwhile, the favored St. Louis Cardinals have fallen five games off the pace with a 4-6 record in their last 10 outings. Cincinnati (45-42) remains a legitimate contender and is sitting six games back.

The odds to win this four-team race favor the current leader at 10-11. The Cardinals are listed as 9-5 favorites, followed by the Pirates at 5-1 and the Reds at 15-2. I would have to go with St. Louis as the proven entity in this division despite the team’s current form. There is still plenty of time to turn things around between now and September.

The final MLB division race takes us to the NL West, where the early favorites are starting to play that role. The Los Angeles Dodgers were almost a given to win this division as the top favorite to win the NL pennant this season. Do not tell that to the upstart San Francisco Giants, who until recently had the lead in the West. The Dodgers (51-40) are playing up to their potential and currently hold a slim half-game lead, while the Giants have gone 3-7 in their last 10 games to fall to 49-39 on the year.

Los Angeles’ odds to win the NL West are now set at 1-2, and the odds that the Giants hang on over the second half of the season and win are 3-2. While you might be tempted to try and squeeze some value out of San Francisco, these teams appear to be headed in opposite directions just as things are starting to heat up.

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Daniel Murphy: Most Underrated 2nd Baseman in MLB?

This past week, Daniel Murphy received word from Mets skipper, Terry Collins, that the second baseman was elected to the 2014 All-Star Game.

Murphy seemed shocked to get the nomination for the classic game, but true New York Mets fans know that he has been a consistent producer for the team this year and in years past. But it seems as though most analysts and fans around the league take Murphy’s abilities as a hitter and as a fielder for granted.

Initially, when Murphy was called up to the big leagues, there was nowhere to put him in terms of a position, which forced the Mets to stick him in the outfield—a position with which he was not too familiar. The results showed as he made numerous errors in the outfield.

Then the Mets tried to move him to first base where he was adequate but still a subpar fielder. Finally, the team moved him to second base, a position he was much more comfortable with as he was seemingly able to make the transition.  

Despite his defensive ambiguity in the past, his hitting has made him a constant threat in the lineup. In his first year in the bigs, Murphy hit an impressive .313 in only 49 games. In 2009, Murphy led the team in home runs with 12 on a team that was egregious.  

In 2010, he put up even more outstanding numbers when he batted .320 with six home runs and 49 RBI. Then in 2011 and 2012, he batted .291 and .286, respectively.

After being criticized at the beginning of the season by multiple sports pundits due to his absence on Opening Day, Murphy has been on a mission to quiet his naysayers with his stellar play.

This year, the 29-year-old has taken his game to another level. Currently, he is hitting .294 with seven home runs, 35 RBI and 11 stolen bases. Furthermore, his 106 hits puts him within the top 10 in the bigs.

Yet he is hardly considered one of the best-hitting second basemen in the big leagues. Names such as Chase Utley, Brandon Phillips, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler and Robinson Cano are the primary players mentioned when discussing top second basemen in baseball. His WAR is 1.9, which ranks him 10th for second basemen.

Perhaps, it is because Murphy has served as a utility man in seasons past that has led fans to disregard him as one of the better second basemen in the big leagues. But he is a player who comes through in clutch situations and plays consistently. He played in 161 games in 2013 and 156 games in 2012.

The Jacksonville native has been a dependable bat in the Mets lineup and has slowly become reliable in the field. This All-Star nomination finally paid some recognition to one of the most unnoticed bats in the big leagues.

And perhaps this is only the first step for Murphy in terms of getting his name thrown into the spotlight of elite second basemen.

 

Follow Evan on Twitter @Emoneyball22. 

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Aiken, Correa, Appel Trio Showing the Dangers of Building Through MLB Draft

The past few weeks have been challenging for the Houston Astros, and that's being kind.

At 37-54, not only is the big league club once again sporting the worst record in all of Major League Baseball after a brief respite in May, but there also was that controversial and embarrassing leaking of reported trade discussions that came with this season's trade deadline merely a month away.

Worse than all of that, however, is the fact that the tear-it-all-down-and-start-from-scratch-again Astros, who went 15-14 in May for their first winning month since September 2010, have been faced with severe struggles and significant injuries to their most prized prospects.

Houston, though, isn't the only team to have such problems.

The Astros, who became the first franchise in MLB history to have three consecutive No. 1 overall selections—losing 106 games or more each of the past three seasons will do that—now have to worry that the players chosen with those very picks suddenly aren't the can't-miss kids they appeared to be.

First came problems for Mark Appel—No. 1 overall in 2013—as the right-hander out of Stanford battled minor ailments, including tendinitis in his right thumb, and failed to adapt well to the Astros' tandem-starter schedule they use for developing pitchers. In that format, pitchers throw every four days instead of five and are followed by another starting pitcher.

The soon-to-be 23-year-old has been better of late, but he's still stuck with an ERA of 8.91 through his first nine starts (32.1 innings) at High-A.

While Appel was bottoming out by allowing 10 runs in just 1.1 innings in an awful outing at the end of May, Carlos Correa—No. 1 overall in 2012—was looking just about ready to advance to Double-A at the tender age of 19.

That's when disaster struck. Again.

Correa, a shortstop, was triple-slashing .325/.416/.510 at the time he suffered a broken fibula as his spike got caught while sliding into third base on a triple in late June. The injury, which required surgery, not only ended his season but also brought his promising development as one of the sport's very best prospects to an abrupt and painful halt.

The latest on the bad news front for the Astros, which Jon Heyman of CBS Sports broke Monday afternoon, is that Brady Aiken, the high school left-hander who was taken at the top of the draft barely a month ago, has a problem with his elbow ligament:

Making this Aiken scenario that much more of a gut punch, Heyman writes the following: "The Astros are said to have discovered the issue at a medical exam done just prior to when they were expected to announce a deal."

To be clear, this does not mean that Houston won't still sign Aiken by the July 18 deadline, only that the club has indicated that the initial agreed-upon signing bonus of $6.5 million now will be reduced. Heyman cites sources who claim the Astros are offering $5 million in the wake of this discovery.

Just recently, Aiken had this to say, via Brian McTaggart of MLB.com, upon arriving in Houston with the intention of signing a pro contract prior to any concern over his elbow: "I know all the fans and everyone are looking forward to this, and I'm looking forward to it this just as much as they are. I'm more excited than they are, probably, to be honest with you. I'm really excited to see what the future holds."

All of this goes to show that the future doesn't always hold promise. When it comes to building from within with prospects, even the very elite ones like Appel, Correa and Aiken, the only thing that's predictable is that they—their performance, their health, their development—will be unpredictable.

This is why rebuilding in baseball is often such a long, patience-testing, frustration-filled process: The progression from failure to success is never linear, even with a carefully thought-out and executed plan like the Astros have in place.

Just think about other MLB franchises that have gone through—or are still going through—what the Astros are attempting to do by picking, growing and nurturing talent from the ground up.

It took the Kansas City Royals years under general manager Dayton Moore's seemingly never-ending "process." Even with former top prospects like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon before them, only just last season did the club post its first winning season since 2003. At 46-42 so far this year through Monday, the Royals are chasing after what would be their first postseason appearance since 1985.

The Baltimore Orioles went through a dead decade-plus from 1998 through 2011 without a .500 season, let alone a playoff berth, before all those high draft choices—theirs and those acquired via trades—paid off in the form of Manny Machado, Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Chris Davis and Chris Tillman.

And sure, the Chicago Cubs look loaded, what with newly acquired Addison Russell added to a pile of position-player prospects that includes, among others, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez, the club's top selections in 2011 and 2013, respectively. But that core won't break into the bigs until 2015, and it might not come together until 2016 or 2017, at the earliest.

Time is one factor that can be tricky to estimate. So, too, is performance, as the Boston Red Sox have seen this year, what with young supposed-to-be studs Xander Bogaerts (.675 OPS) and Jackie Bradley Jr. (.613) going through serious adjustments in their first full seasons in the majors.

No wonder the team itself, fresh off a 2013 championship, enters play Tuesday in last place in the AL East, in part because so much was put on those perhaps-too-young shoulders.

And of course, there's injury, which is the most impossible factor to project and the most troublesome to endure. Ask the Seattle Mariners about this one.

Although they're in the thick of the playoff race as is, imagine how much better they'd be were it not for losing chunks of time from right-hander Taijuan Walker and lefty Danny Hultzen, a pair of first-rounders from successive drafts (2010 and 2011) who have been dealing with ongoing shoulder problems.

Speaking of prospects and injuries, there have been disabled list stints galore in 2014. Focusing on top-25 prospects alone, according to Baseball America's preseason Top 100, the following names have spent time on the shelf this year:

  • Byron Buxton (Twins, No. 1)
  • Miguel Sano (Twins, No. 6)
  • Carlos Correa (Astros, No. 7)
  • Archie Bradley (Diamondbacks, No. 9)
  • Taijuan Walker (Mariners, No. 11)
  • Francisco Lindor (Indians, No. 13)
  • Addison Russell (Athletics/Cubs, No. 14)
  • Dylan Bundy (Orioles, No. 15)
  • Noah Syndergaard (Mets, No. 16)
  • Jameson Taillon (Pirates, No. 22)
  • Kyle Zimmer (Royals, No. 23)
  • Eddie Butler (Rockies, No. 24)

That's 12 prospects—nearly half of the Top 25—on 11 different teams, so clearly the Astros are not the only organization that has been hit hard on the farm in one way or another this year. But given how much time—and how many losses—they've invested in returning to relevance, their recent misfortune is starting to stick out.

That doesn't mean general manager Jeff Luhnow and his staff have made poor decisions or done anything wrong. Rather, it goes to show that between timing, performance and injuries, a lot can—and often does—go wrong when a baseball franchise tries to tear down and push the reset button.

Can the Astros still have success with this approach they've taken, this path they're on? Certainly. Heck, it's even likely. But that must be qualified with "at some point in the future."

And with all that's happened with Appel, Correa and now Aiken over the past few weeks, that future might be a little further off than expected.

 

Statistics are accurate through July 7 and come from MLB.comBaseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com, except where otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

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MLB System Check 2014: Seattle Mariners’ Top Prospects

The Seattle Mariners Systems Check video offers a quick overview of the team's farm system, addressing its strengths and weaknesses and how it can improve moving forward.

The video also provides a breakdown of the Mariners’ top prospects for 2014, right-hander Taijuan Walker, third baseman D.J. Peterson and left-hander James Paxton, including each player's ETA in the major leagues and potential long-term role within the organization.

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Brady Aiken’s Injury Doesn’t Ruin Pitcher’s Huge Upside

It seems like quite the roller coaster, going from the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 MLB draft to being told that your pitching elbow didn't pass the team's physical. That's what Brady Aiken is facing, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. The lefty from San Diego with the All-American looks may have an all-too-common elbow issue and could be facing Tommy John surgery in the near future.

Beyond the shocking headline and the $1.5 million difference between what Aiken was going to get and what the Houston Astros want to pay him now—which is admittedly quite the difference—this isn't that worrisome. Tommy John surgery simply doesn't scare teams the way it once did, and in many situations it barely moves the needle. If anything, the Astros may see the physical issue as a way to save money more than a reason to be particularly concerned about Aiken.

One indication is the reported $5 million offer. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, the Astros could offer Aiken (or player that does not pass the physical) as little as 40 percent of the original bonus, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. That would be $2.6 million or almost half of what the Astros actually have offered. The agreed to $6.5 million is under the slot value, so some reports have the needed offer higher, at 40 percent of the $7.9 million slot.

Confused? Don't be, because at either value, it's clear that the Astros came in knowing they could get a good young pitcher at a below-slot value, once again appearing to go cheap in the draft. With both previous No. 1 picks, Carlos Correa and Mark Appel, the Astros signed them well below their slot value. They were able to use the extra money to sign other players, so it's not a purely cheap strategy.

Aiken did have a heavy usage pattern in the last two seasons. He pitched two full seasons at Cathedral Catholic in San Diego, as well as playing for the Under-18 National Team and participating in several showcase events. This isn't uncommon, but there wasn't much of an offseason for Aiken leading up to the draft either.

For what it's worth, Aiken's personal trainer is refuting reports, as noted here in the Houston Chronicle. It should also be noted that Paul Flores is not a certified athletic trainer as he was initially identified in the Chronicle article. It was corrected. While Flores could speak to Aiken's physical conditioning, there is no note in his bio of medical training. As with the Chronicle, both the Astros and Aiken's agency refused comment on the issue.

One scout I spoke with gave me his report on Aiken, done early in the scouting process:

"He has a distinct 'back and uphill' motion. That indicates a soft core. Easily correctable, but it will change the timing. We normally see this with adolescent pitchers who are growing into their bodies. I would be curious to know more about his conditioning and overall strength levels. The Hamels comp is pretty solid, but Hamels doesn’t have any of these flaws and didn’t as a HS senior."

The comparison to Cole Hamels is an easy one. Any good lefty from Southern California is going to get that, but in this case, it's not a bad one given their similar motions.

The "back and uphill" motion is not necessarily a negative. Work done by Alan Jaeger, a top pitching consultant, points to this type of move, seen in the picture of Hamels here, as something of a positive. The front shoulder is slightly higher than the back shoulder, though they level out at release. There haven't been biomechanical studies to prove this move is good or bad, but it is common and shows no correlation to elbow injuries.

However, two teams that I spoke with said that they had concerns about Aiken. "We didn't red-flag him," said one scouting official from the AL, "because we knew he wasn't getting to us. If he had, the workload he had in high school and showcases was a bit worrisome. Maybe he'd have passed, but we'd have checked."

Another scout, who watched Aiken closely heading into this year's draft, had another concern. "There were a lot of stories about the kid being a workhorse, but he's skinny and developing. I don't know how all his crossfit [stuff] fits into baseball. It's too new and our strength guys don't like it for our major leaguers. Did he hurt himself pitching or playing with ropes?"

The Astros are in good position to make a sound medical judgment. Dr. Thomas Mehlhoff is an orthopedist for Houston and has become one of the few surgeons that teams trust to do Tommy John surgery. It is unlikely that the Astros would have ignored Mehlhoff's opinion in this process, though it is not known officially whether Mehlhoff is involved. 

If Aiken does have a compromised ulnar collateral ligament, he would hardly be the first or even the best pitcher in this situation. Lucas Giolito, another hard-throwing Southern California kid, was a top pick of the Washington Nationals a couple of seasons back. Baseball Prospectus recently ranked Giolito as the top pitching prospect in the game.

Giolito's mechanics were very questionable. (Giolito's father, Rick, heartily disagrees with my assessment.) Giolito almost immediately tore his UCL and headed for surgery. He's back and dominating Single-A as expected, so the loss of a year of development doesn't seem that bad compared to his upside if he can stay healthy.

Several pitchers over the past few years have followed a similar pattern. One pitcher that was watched closely this year was Bryce Montes De Oca. The Kansas fireballer missed his junior year after spraining his elbow and having Tommy John surgery. He came back very well in his senior year, and while he was used judiciously, his fastball tempted many teams. He ended up going in the 14th round to the Chicago White Sox, largely because of high bonus demands rather than the injury.

All this comes from the experience of the Los Angeles Angels. Former scouting director Eddie Bane, now a special assistant with the Boston Red Sox, thought enough of a high schooler who was facing Tommy John surgery to take him in the 14th round for about $700,000. Bane believed that Dr. Lewis Yocum, then the Angels' team physician, could get Nick Adenhart back on the mound. The Angels ended up with a great young pitcher who was tragically killed before he could reach his full promise, but the gamble definitely paid off for the team.

Compare this to Mark Appel, a right-hander who just a year ago was the consensus best pitcher in the draft. He had almost no injury concerns coming out of Stanford and got regular comparisons to Mike Mussina. He's had trouble adjusting to the Astros development system and dealt with thumb injuries in his first full season, so there's never a guarantee.

That development system, which is a modified tandem system, could help protect Aiken when he comes back. The team is conservative with its usage and workload patterns, so Aiken will have plenty of protection both before and potentially after surgery. 

Even if Aiken needs Tommy John surgery immediately, this is hardly a major problem for him or for the Astros. While the return rate from Tommy John surgery is not perfect, it's conservatively marked in studies at 85 percent. Aiken has a lot going for him physically and on talent, so this is likely to cost him money, not his baseball future.

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Odds of Possible Boston Red Sox Trades Actually Happening

For the past few weeks, this author has written a number of articles about the Boston Red Sox, their possible trade targets and the thought that this team would turn their fortunes around during the 2014 MLB season.

Many of these forecasted transactions were intended to fix some of the various flaws Boston has encountered this year—primarily within the outfield.

During all of these, the hopes that the Red Sox could "right the ship" were at the core of the discussion.

This discussion put Boston into a buyers' market, projecting the team would add a player, or two, on or before the July 31 trade deadline to help bolster its roster. The Red Sox had—and still have—a plethora of prospects under development in the minor leagues with which to utilize in a potential trade.

But Boston's most recent homestand—six games that saw the Red Sox go 1-5, including being swept by the lowly 38-48 Chicago Cubs—might have been the final indication that this season is all but lost. This aspect is further described by Joe Meehan of FanSided.

Granted, there is still plenty of baseball left to be played, and we have seen teams turn around their fortunes in short order. Yet one cannot overlook the fact that the 39-49 Red Sox sit in last place within the American League East—a full nine games behind the division-leading Baltimore Orioles.

It is time for general manager Ben Cherington to accept the inevitable; the Red Sox need to concede this season and focus on what the organization can do to put a better team on the field in 2015 and in years to come.

As tough as that realization is, it may be the best option for the franchise at this point during a lackluster, disappointing season.

This may shift the focus on Boston being a buyer at the deadline into a seller. There are a number of pieces that could be moved which, in turn, could bring in a number of talented prospects to better build this franchise for years to come.

Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com put together an excellent summary of some of these pieces that could be moved on, or before, the deadline. He lists, among others, guys like pitchers Jon Lester, Koji Uehara and Jake Peavy as potential trade candidates. 

Also listed are position players like Jonny Gomes, A.J. Pierzynski and Stephen Drew.

In this article, let us take a look at four of the top trade candidates that Cherington could send away in the coming weeks—Lester, Uehara, Pierzynski and Drew.

We shall evaluate why each player is a candidate, which teams may have interest and the odds of a potential deal happening.

 

Jon Lester: Starting Pitcher

Statistics

Contract: Six years at $42.75 million, expiring in 2015

Lester may be one of the hottest commodities on the Red Sox' roster heading towards the deadline. Thus, we shall first evaluate the chances of him being moved.

By this point, Red Sox fans are well aware of the lack of a contract extension for Lester this season. We also know that Lester has indicated he does not want to discuss the possibility of an extension until the conclusion of the 2014 season, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.

Lester owns a 9-7 record this season along with a 2.73 ERA and a 1.148 WHIP. The 30-year-old is still pitching at a playoff-caliber level, which means teams would be interested in adding his services if the were was right.

This begs two significant questions—would the Red Sox be willing to part ways with their No. 1 ace, and would teams be willing to offer a package that's enticing enough to Cherington and the team's front office?

It is tough to envision a trade taking place within the American League East. While Heyman acknowledges the New York Yankees as being possible suitors if and when Lester becomes a free agent, Boston does not want to aid a division rival at any point in the near future.

Thus, we can rule out an inter-divisional transaction from taking place.

But other playoff contenders would be interested. According to Tyler Drenon of SB Nation, the trade market is highly influenced by what may happen with Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price. He writes:

The same teams pursuing Price would likely show interest in Lester. The Braves, Cardinals, Dodgers, Giants, Pirates, Angels, Mariners and Royals have all been mentioned as potential Price suitors. No matter what happens with Lester and the Sox, there's sure to be a lot of posturing between now and the point at which a transaction is made.

Drenon also lists the possibility that the Red Sox hold onto Lester and see where contract negotiations go. Holding onto him would obviously be the most popular option. If Lester does depart, Boston will assuredly receive a first-round draft pick in 2015 earned by meeting the qualifying offer.

This would be the preeminent question facing Cherington as the deadline approaches. Should he feel that Boston could get more via a trade, then moving the lefty is feasible. If a possible deal does not look enticing enough, we'll have to wait until the offseason.

***

Odds: 5-1. Boston would be asking for a number of ready-to-go prospects in exchange for Lester's services, which would make the possibility of a move more difficult for a number of other contenders. Additionally, the Red Sox can sit on a potential first-round compensatory pick if Lester walks. There is also the possibility of an offseason extension.

 

Koji Uehara: Relief Pitcher

Statistics

Contract: Two years at $9.25 million, expiring in 2015

Replacing a No. 1 ace is a difficult thing to do. Finding a replacement for a closer is much more reasonable and easy.

This is especially the case when considering Boston's incumbent closer, Uehara.

At 39 years old, it is safe to assume that Uehara has only a limited amount of baseball left in his body before age finally takes its toll.

There is no doubting Uehara still has significant value—a 1.30 ERA with a 0.744 WHIP and 18 saves in 2014—but closing out games is of little value to a team that is quickly dropping out of contention.

Unlike Lester, the Red Sox must understand that Uehara's age will be a primary factor. A contract extension would make sense in Lester's case if that were the direction Boston wanted to go, but giving a 39-year-old a multi-year deal makes little sense during a rebuilding period.

While teams would be wary of Uehara's age, they would be attracted to the statistics he has put up over the past two seasons. Additionally, playoff contenders are always looking for bullpen help as they enter the postseason stretch. Uehara could fit that bill for a number of teams in this situation.

Edes points out a couple of possible trade partners, citing the Angels, Giants and Tigers as teams who could be interested in adding bullpen help.

The Red Sox would not be able to command as high a trade package as they would with Lester, but they also would not be gambling away a key cog to the pitching staff. As stated, Uehara's time is limited, and Boston should attempt to get something valuable in return.

But as Lou Merloni of WEEI points out (h/t CSNNE.com), moving Uehara would be the truest of indications that the Red Sox have become sellers at the deadline.

***

Odds: 2-1. Boston's only reason to keep Uehara at this point will be directly related to whether or not the team gets back in the race. This possibility is looking bleaker as the trading deadline looms. If the Red Sox continue to fall out of contention, do not be surprised if such a deal happens.

 

A.J. Pierzynski: Catcher

Statistics

Contract: One year at $8.25 million, expiring in 2015

Moving a player like Pierzynski would be another plausible option given the fact that he was brought in on a one-year deal prior to the 2014 season, filling the void left by Jarrod Saltalamacchia. 

Like Uehara, Pierzynski is an aging veteran with perhaps only a handful of productive years left in his body. Unlike Uehara, Pierzynski's 2014 performance has not exactly been overwhelming.

In his first year with the Red Sox, the 37-year-old backstop is hitting .253 with four home runs, 31 RBI and an OPS of .633—surprising numbers considering his career .300 batting average at Fenway Park prior to the 2014 season.

Pierzynski essentially becomes expendable at the end of the season when considering Boston has two catching prospects working their way up through the farm system—Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart.

Mark Polishuk of MLB Trade Rumors points out that Pierzynski could be an easy commodity to move because of this, citing the desire to get Vazquez some major league experience.

Now the only question is what teams would want his services.

The trade market for catchers is an interesting one. Playoff teams typically have solid rapports between pitching staffs and their backstops. These rapports are often critical elements to their success. Still, there are teams out there who could use some help.

Matt Collins of SB Nation points out two AL East rivals who may be interested in a possible trade for Pierzynski—the Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays. Baltimore is without Matt Wieters for the remainder of the year after he suffered a season-ending injury.

The Blue Jays have Dioner Navarro, but he has put up better numbers than Pierzynski and offers better defense, per Collins.

Collins also lists the Los Angeles Dodgers as potential candidates given the injury sustained to incumbent starter A.J. Ellis. But Ellis has since returned and, like Navarro, offers good on-base numbers and better defense.

This essentially leaves the Orioles as the only legitimate option for a Pierzynski trade offer. The Red Sox would ideally like to get something—anything—in return for his services, but given the nature of the market, such a deal would not command much in return.

***

Odds: 5-1. Pierzynski is perhaps the easiest commodity to move from the Red Sox's vantage point, but there are few teams looking for help behind the plate and even fewer that would be willing to offer up anything substantial. The odds are in favor of Pierzynski simply walking via free agency at the conclusion of 2014.

 

Stephen Drew: Shortstop

Statistics

Contract: One year at $10.1 million, expiring in 2015

"Ready or not, here comes Stephen Drew," was the statement made by Alex Speier of WEEI.com back in June after Boston re-signed the shortstop earlier this summer.

Drew was brought in as reinforcements for a Red Sox infield that was suffering the lingering effects of an oft-injured, underwhelming Will Middlebrooks and defensively challenged Xander Bogaerts.

Since returning to Boston, Drew is hitting a paltry .141 with a .429 OPS—numbers that unquestionably drive down his trade value.

Sure, Drew is still shaking off the rust of having been off a major league roster during spring training and for the first couple months of the 2014 season, but the numbers don't lie.

So do the Red Sox regret re-signing him and potentially hindering the development of Bogaerts?

According to OutsidePitchMLB.com, they do—citing sources within the organization. But according to Peter Gammons' comments on the Dennis & Callahan Show (h/t Conor Ryan of WEEI.com), Boston doesn't regret the transaction when considering the entire context of the situation.

We'll let the fans and other pundits be the judge of that, but one cannot overlook the fact that the future resides in Bogaerts and not Drew.

Bogaerts' development at shortstop will take time. Many rookies can struggle with this adjustment, so we should not jump to conclusions so quickly. But we can take away the notion that Drew is hindering Bogaerts' future at shortstop simply by taking away opportunities for maturation.

Okay, so moving Drew makes a lot of sense from Boston's future prospective, right? 

Well, there are a couple of problems that get in the way.

First, Drew's statistics drive down any asking price, as we've already indicated.

Then there is the contract. At $10.1 million, Boston would have to eat a sizable portion of his deal in order to come close to enticing potential suitors—an argument made by Edes when it comes to moving Drew.

However, Edes does mention that Drew's defense provides a little upside.

So which teams would be interested?

According to OutsidePitchMLB.com, the only likely landing spot would be with the Detroit Tigers, who would probably offer very little as far as a return goes.

But in this case, addition by subtraction may be the key.

It may be best, and most realistic, for the Red Sox to "bite the bullet" on Drew's return and accept whatever ramifications that may follow.

***

Odds: 6-1. Drew simply doesn't command a huge market at this point during the season. Enough can be said by the lack of interest he drew from other teams before re-signing with Boston. If Drew is moved—and that's a big if—only the Tigers seem to be of interest. 


Trades are extremely difficult, complex maneuvers to predict. We can all speculate which deals may happen and what chips will be used in exchange. 

But the reality is that few deals offer up the best-case needs for both parties involved. In short, one has to give up something to acquire something else.

For the Red Sox—assuming they become sellers—a fire sale of aging veterans on short-term contracts may produce a decent return in prospects and young talent. Unfortunately, names like Lester and Uehara are plausibly the only commodities that could garner something substantial in return.

A Lester trade would be a tough transaction for Boston to swallow. The ramifications would be long discussed. Uehara would be easier to handle, and a Pierzynski or Drew deal would shortly become an afterthought.

In the end, we will not be able to grasp what the Red Sox' future holds until the team decides whether or not it has conceded the 2014 season.

But that decision is looming.

 

All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated. Contractual information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.

Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox. 

Follow @PeterMcShots on Twitter.

 

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