Why Hasn’t 2nd Wild Card Made MLB Waiver-Trade Window More Active?

Trading in Major League Baseball doesn't end until Aug. 31, but it sure feels like just about all the wheeling and dealing wrapped up back on July 31, doesn't it?

In part, that's because the non-waiver trade deadline brought not just a flurry but a full-on storm of moves, as 12 trades were completed between 18 different teams involving 37 players (and two draft picks). That was the most transaction action on deadline day since 1998, as Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com points out.

No wonder August's waiver-trading period has felt like a letdown by comparison.

It's not that there haven't been any swaps so since Aug. 1, because there have:

That's eight moves, which actually isn't far behind the 11 that happened last August.

What should be immediately discernible from the table, however, is that the trades just aren't all that exciting or impactful. Certainly not when the biggest name to change jerseys is Josh Willingham.

At least last August, fairly well-known players like Alex Rios, Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd found new homes.

And of course, there's still some residue remaining from that memorable, shocking August 2012 blockbuster when the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers essentially remade their rosters in one fell—and financially monstrous—swoop.

A waiver trade that big, both in names and dollars, is unlikely to happen again any time soon, if ever. But why has August been such a bummer this year?

It's not that there isn't a need or demand for pitchers and position players, especially with so many clubs still in the hunt because of the second wild card in each league. In fact, that's the biggest reason for the inactivity this month.

Through Wednesday's games, only 11 teams—five in the AL and six in the NL—could safely be considered completely out of the running for a playoff spot, depending on how one classifies the Tampa Bay Rays and Cincinnati Reds.

Because so many teams are still in it, there aren't nearly as many options as there might have been in the past, when only four teams in each league made it to October.

What's more, the few clubs that are out of it aren't exactly swimming in available players who might make an impact for a contender. That's why those teams aren't any good in the first place, right?

The other thing to remember, and it's related to the above, is that this remains a seller's market. That means the teams who would consider trading players away have the ability to ask for a haul, whether their players have passed through waivers entirely or were claimed by a specific team.

The only case when that doesn't apply is if a club views trading a particular player as a salary dump. That is more or less what happened when the Chicago White Sox sent second baseman Gordon Beckham—who hit just .221/.263/.336 for them despite a $4.175 million salary this year—to the Los Angeles Angels for the ubiquitous Player To Be Named Later.

Beyond that, a number of players were put on waivers already, only to be claimed and then pulled back by their team, which eliminates them from being traded for the rest of the season. This reportedly is what happened to, among others, Cole Hamels, Yunel Escobar and Chad Qualls.

Same goes for Byrd and Morneau, as Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports, otherwise those two players could have been involved in a waiver deal for a second consecutive year.

That's a formula for an inactive waiver-trade period.

As Brewers general manager Doug Melvin told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the prospects of his club making any last-minute additions via a waiver swap, "I'm not totally encouraged by it."

There isn't an easy fix to make Augusts of the future more trade-filled, either. Not unless there just so happen to be fewer contenders in a given season.

One possibility, though, could involve moving the non-waiver trade deadline back from July 31 into August, say Aug. 15 or Aug. 31. It's not like that hasn't been done before: Back in 1986, the deadline was moved to its current July 31 date—after six decades of being set at June 15.

As for the final days of this year's deadline, which remains Aug. 31, there still are some names to keep tabs on.

The following players already have cleared waivers, according to MLB Trade Rumors, meaning they can be traded:

Will any of them be traded between now and Sunday? Quite possibly, if an interested—or desperate—suitor is willing to pay the price.

Will others not on the above list get moved? Almost certainly.

Because even though this August hasn't been quite as gloriously chaotic as July was—and clearly won't be in the end—one thing should be clear: As long as teams can make trades, trades will be made.

 

Statistics are accurate as of Aug. 28 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

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

New York Mets: An Early Free-Agency and Offseason Primer

The New York Mets are desperately trying to stick around in the NL postseason race, even though it will be difficult to overcome what is currently a 9.5-game wild-card deficit.

The team, though, seems more ready to really compete in 2015, particularly with all the young pitching it has. However, this is not to say that the Mets are perfectly fit as is to be a postseason contender next season. There are certain areas that the front office will need to address for the future.

Here's a guide to what the Mets' offseason could look like.

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Tracey Thorn: The kids protest but sugary treats are an ever stickier issue

The low-fat yoghurts I shovel down my neck and the smoothies I’ve been promoting to my vegetable-allergic teenage son might just as well have been crystal meth.

Bake-off: a table of cakes for the Oxford-Cambridge boat race. Photo: Getty
Bake-off: a table of cakes for the Oxford-Cambridge boat race. Photo: Getty

I’m so obedient it’s tragic, really. I am a government campaign’s model audience. Give me a command, see how I run. A few weeks ago, the news was full of how sugar was killing us all. I approached the newspaper articles with some complacency, taking for granted that we were a virtuous household, but then was horrified to see from the pictures of all the things containing “as much sugar as a can of Coke” that I was wrong. 

The low-fat yoghurts I shovel down my neck and the smoothies I’ve been promoting to my vegetable-allergic teenage son might just as well have been crystal meth. Being a typical self-blaming middle-class mother, I spent the next hour gloomily pondering this unexpected failure, before mentally regrouping and deciding it was time to take action. That evening I announced to the dinner table that we were “having a crackdown on sugar”.

This went down about as well as you might imagine. Protestations that they were already being forced to eat a diet virtually Stone Age in its wholesomeness and frugality were met by my unyielding assertions that I was now in possession of New Information, rendering everything we’d thought up until now about our eating habits out of date. Rationing was about to begin. Foods that had once been a treat had insidiously wormed their way into every mealtime and were now back to being a treat. The response was a general wailing and gnashing of teeth, followed by despondency. For the next few days, cupboards would be opened ostentatiously with mournful sighs to reveal that where once there had been KitKats, now there was empty space; where once there were Honey Nut Clusters, now there was porridge.

A week or two went by, but then a certain sneakiness crept in. While I’d adjusted the shopping order, everyone else, it seemed, had adjusted their daily schedule to incorporate a trip to the shops for emergency biscuits. I had hidden a few chocolatey titbits, to be doled out at intervals and not exceeding the daily recommended allowance (although, the more I looked into it, the more this seemed to be an alarmingly vague and shifting figure, comfortingly high on the back of cereal packets, impossibly low according to World Health Organisation guidelines). Handing out the sweet treats without giving away the hiding places was tricky, and soon it became obvious that the secret stash was secret no longer and it began to disappear faster than I was distributing it.

Into this already fracturing scenario came a sudden and extremely unwelcome announcement. In the matter of vegetable consumption, it turns out that five a day is useless and that we should be eating seven, if not ten. And it can’t be fruit or, even worse, smoothies (yes, I’m looking at you, Tracey Thorn, as I read this out on the radio): it must be mostly vegetables; proper green, leafy, cabbage-smelling, earth-smeared vegetables. This was a bit of a blow. I might have deluded myself that our sugar consumption was Paltrow-ish, but there was no way I could stretch the youngest’s tally of baked beans and pasta sauce to look like ten portions of kale. I am defeated. Later that day, standing in the queue by the till at the local Tesco Express, I look at all the shiny things on sale. Reaching out, all I can touch is a floor-to-ceiling array of things that will kill me. Ciggies, booze, choccies; nothing that is necessary or good for me, but all of them in their own way representing a little shot of joy, a hit of pleasure to brighten the day. Despite my obedience, and my willingness to listen to health campaigns, I don’t know why we’re so surprised that we like these things. We wonder how we’ve ended up here, eating things that aren’t really food and ignoring all the health warnings, but it’s simply because we’re human.

We need treats, and it’s only a sliding scale of spending that leads you from the pricey ones that will do you no harm – trips to the cinema, new shoes, weekend minibreaks – to these little, cheaper ones, which will. If you’re lucky you can balance the two, and congratulate yourself for doing as you’re told, and being good, while you cross your fingers and hope that it’s good enough. 

Inside MLB Players’ Gambling Habits, 25 Years After Pete Rose

Portland, 2008. I'm standing at the entrance of the clubhouse, the cavernous confines of the now defunct Portland Beavers, staring at a list of horse names hastily scrawled in black magic marker across a hunk of brown cardboard. We're minutes from the start of the Kentucky Derby.

The latest Vegas odds are there, on the cardboard, next to the names of each horse that'll be running. The team's clubhouse attendant has been taking bets for the last few days, the totals marked near the horse names, little tickets marking picket fences around the board like horse pens.

I can't help but chuckle. After all, there is a strong possibility that no one in the room, not one of my teammates or the staff, has ever seen a horse race beyond the movie Seabiscuit. And yet, for the last few days, it's been horses, horses, horses. Almost everyone on the team has picked a horse and laid his money down. Some by the odds, some by the horse's name, some just to be an accessory to the chaos. Even the bat boys have made their bets.

"There's still time," says the team's clubhouse attendant/bookie, sliding up behind me, placing an encouraging palm on my shoulder. "Race hasn't started yet."

"Nah. I'm good," I say. "The only furniture I have back in my apartment is an air mattress, a lawn chair and an ironing board—I need all my money."

Minutes later, the team is gathered around the clubhouse's pair of flat-screen television sets, one at each pole, with its own cluster of players. The guys have long since tired of listening to all the hubbub about horses, what could be history, who might be a Triple Crown, what jockey is up for what…all they care about are the following words: "And they're off." The guys scream it, randomly, like a mini-bet that when they say it, the horses will actually obey them and start running.

"And they're off!"

"Aaaaaaand they're off!"

Sure enough, the bell rings and the horses break into action, charging down the thoroughfare, gulping air as the whip or their jockey forces them onward. No whip is required for the animals in the clubhouse, however. Insanity ensues. It's only the team, no elitists with big hats or billionaires with horse fetishes, just a pack of miserable Triple-A dirt bags with a meager sum of meal money on the line.

"Come on you son of a bitch, run! RUN YOU M----R F----R! I got $20 on this and I can't lose to Myro again!"

"Yes, he can!" yells Myro. "Yes he can. Trip! Fall! Break a leg!"

"Run! Ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuunnnnnn!"

It didn't matter who won. Winning and losing really wasn't the point of it all. It was something to do. Something to get a rush from. Maybe for a few players, like Myro, it was $20 and some vitriol fuel, but that was it. A byproduct of the competitive athlete culture, something to get the competitive juices flowing—or if not to get them flowing, then at least a place to collect them lest they spill into other, less friendly places.

Before the Kentucky Derby, it was the College World Series. Before the College World Series, it was the Masters. Before the Masters, it was March Madness. Depending on the time of the month, a good clubhouse attendant will always have brackets up on a poster board next to the clubhouse's announcement board, next to the roster and, ironically, close to the rules and consequences about betting on baseball.

Gambling is alive and well in baseball culture. Players may not be betting on the game like Pete Rose did, but they sure as hell are betting on something. If it's not betting on sports games, it's betting on cards; if it's not betting on cards, it's pretty much any style of bet that a player can come up with—golfing on the off day. American Idol. Ultimate Frisbee. Bowling. Bass fishing. I've even seen guys bet on games of Connect Four—now that's just pathetic.

There is a never-ending supply of impromptu challenges of skill, like back during one of my earlier years with the Padres, when David Wells was still around. The big league club brought in a basketball hoop and placed bets on consecutive free-throw totals. In 2008, my old San Antonio Missions team had an entire Olympics program made up, with individual and team events and fake countries.

While many of these examples are players taking relatively innocuous forays into the world of gambling, or buying a ticket on the roller coaster of team bragging rights, there were some serious, even damning gambling issues.

When I was injured in 2010, I missed an entire season of baseball. I didn't know what was going on in the big leagues or Triple-A—and Triple-A just happened to be Las Vegas, the gambling capital of America. I was locked up in the training rooms of Dunedin for most of the year, with my only news coming by way of injured players.

The skinny was that one of the new Las Vegas coaches had a serious gambling problem, to the point that he had to borrow several thousands of dollars from the established veteran players. He ran up hefty gambling debts, not to casinos but to the players and coaches he bummed money off of to go gambling with. To my knowledge, none of them were ever paid back. Moreover, they were afraid to draw a hard line about outstanding debts for fear of it affecting their possible promotion.

Though gambling among players is ubiquitous, Las Vegas represents a specific pitfall for players—and coaches—who are tempted by the rush of betting. Organizations know it. Of course they do. If they know about pot abuse and are willing to stick high-ceiling talent on the 40-man roster to shield players who like to toke up too often, they certainly know about the players who habitually lose their hat at the table. When I was with the Jays in 2009, they wouldn't send certain prospects to Las Vegas in order to protect their own bet on that player's talent.

I'll admit, I myself was worried about playing in Las Vegas. I didn't have a problem with gambling; I had a problem with losing. When I'd go there as an opposing player with a visiting club, like back when I was with the Portland Beavers, most of my team would be out at the tables nearly every single night we were in town.

Unless the home team, the Las Vegas 51s, imploded, the odds of us visitors winning any of the following games decreased each night we were in town. It was not uncommon for some players to sleep less than eight hours on a four-game road trip. "Vegas baby, Vegas," they would say, massaging the dark, low-hanging circles under their eyes.

The following year I became a member of the 51s. Naturally I assumed that the results would be the same. However, to my surprise, after about two weeks of going out every night, wasting money, chasing thrills and getting drunk on comps, the urge wore off. That kind of gambling, at least for the vast majority of players, wasn't as fun or exciting.

Sure enough, the best games of chance once again became those posted on locker room walls, or ones made up among teammates spontaneously. You could win or lose a few bucks at the tables, sure, but we all discovered that it was the social currency you won or lost that made leveraging fun.

That's not to say there weren't players who did both, or that the stakes never got higher than bragging rights and meal money. In 2006, while I was with the Lake Elsinore Storm in Lake Elsinore, California, the High-A affiliate of the Padres, there was a pitcher on our team who considered himself a professional online poker player, as well as a professional baseball player.

In fact, he felt he was so good that he could retire—if pro ball didn't work out—and rely on the checks he was making online. He said he was making $30,000 a month—more than any of us made in two years of baseball wages at that level.

He would sit outside the pools of crappy minor league motels, plugged into three or four different poker games simultaneously, just playing the odds. Announcing every time he won.

"It's really not that hard, if you know statistics. I learned most of this reading a book on what to do in certain hands. I just play those hands and most of the time I win. It's because most people who play are stupid and just play because they want the rush."

Many of the players saw him winning, bought that book, tried to do what he was doing and went broke or, worse yet, never got paid their winnings since the accounts were offshore with virtually no accountability.

When I was in the big leagues for the first time in 2009, the amount of meal money given to me, and I mean actual cash in hand, made me feel like I hit the jackpot. In Triple-A, $120 translated to nearly $800 in the bigs. It was more than I'd made in two months of work in short-season Single-A baseball.

But this wasn't short-season ball. It was the big leagues, and many of the players who'd been there long enough for the culture shock to wear off took that cash money and went to the rear of the big league jet, where tables and chairs were set up and continuous games of poker were always in session. Some of the veteran players could play for hands in the thousands and not feel a thing.

I don't want to make it seem like I'd never gambled before. In 2005, I took my money to Pechanga, just south of Lake Elsinore in California. I did dollar bets on an automated roulette table. I took $70 of meal money and turned it into $300. Then, half an hour later, I lost it all and more—trying to earn what I'd made back—about $400 in total.

I had to eat peanut butter and jelly for the next 10 days because of it. That's when I decided gambling wasn't for me. Well, that's not exactly true. More precisely, that's when I decided that the only gamble I was interested in was the long odds of winning the lottery known as trying to make it to the big leagues.

 

Dirk Hayhurst is a former pitcher who spent nearly a decade in professional baseball between MiLB and MLB. He is also an accomplished author and has appeared on Baseball America, ESPN, TBS' MLB postseason broadcasts, Sportsnet Canada and more.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Hanley Ramirez’s Path to Large Free-Agency Payday Is Switch to Third Base

If Hanley Ramirez knew what was good for him, he wouldn't be playing shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

That's not to say Ramirez shouldn't be wearing Dodger blue. He should, however, consider wearing it at a different position.

Namely, third base.

That's not a new idea. Before Ramirez came off the disabled list August 24, he made headlines by taking grounders at the hot corner. Was a positional switch in the works?

Turns out, no.

“I think he thinks, moving forward in his career, that he’s a third baseman,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told JP Hoornstra of the Los Angeles Daily News.

But, Mattingly insisted, there's been "no real talk" about making the change this year.

"He likes making everybody raise their eyes and making me answer questions,” the L.A. skipper added.

Since being traded to the Dodgers in 2012, Ramirez has played just eight games at third base, and none in the last two seasons.

In fact, he explicitly told the Dodgers upon arriving that he didn't want to move around the diamond in-season, Hoornstra notes.

In his days with the then-Florida Marlins, Ramirez was adamant that he was a shortstop. "Hanley doesn't want to play third base and the Marlins were informed of that," an unnamed source told Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportesLosAngeles.com in 2011.

Still, the 30-year-old has started nearly 100 games at third in his MLB career.

So far his current club has honored his desire to remain one half of the keystone combo. Entering play Friday, all three of Ramirez's starts since coming off the DL have been at shortstop.

Yet, why not make the switch now—or at least seriously entertain the notionfor the good of the Dodgers and Ramirez's own future?

For Los Angeles, the primary consideration is defense. As Hoornstra points out:

Miguel Rojas, who’s been playing the majority of innings in Ramirez’s stead, ranks first among major-league shortstops in UZR per 150 games. Ramirez ranks 37th, above only two other shortstops.

UZR, or Ultimate Zone Rating, isn't the final word on defensive ability. But most every defensive metric puts Ramirez at or near the bottom of the league, per FanGraphs.

That should at least give the Dodgers pause.

Los Angeles, after all, is pushing toward the postseason. Their primary concern should be to put the best possible team on the field. Period.

Justin Turner, who's been getting the bulk of the action at third base with Juan Uribe on the disabled list, is hitting .321 in 284 at bats. So it's not as if the position is caught in a black hole.

But Ramirez is a known commodity. His .270/.359/.443 slash line and 12 home runs aren't the production L.A. was hoping for, but the Dodgers want his bat in the lineup.

Yet he's fielding less and less like a quality big league shortstop. Which brings us to Ramirez's best interests.

While it behooves the Dodgers to slide Hanley over, it behooves Hanley just as much.

An impending free agent, Ramirez would automatically hit the market as one of the more attractive third-base options, possibly eclipsed only by Pablo Sandoval (assuming the San Francisco Giants don't make a last-minute move to lock up the Kung Fu Panda).

Ramirez could go a long way toward solidifying his value if he gave prospective suitors (including the Dodgers) an extended audition in the heat of the pennant race.

It's a risk, certainly. If he shows rust at a position he hasn't played in nearly two years, or if the move disrupts his performance at the plate, his value could take a hit.

It's a risk worth taking, though. Both for Ramirez's future and the Dodgers' present.

 

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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San Francisco Giants: An Early Free-Agency and Offseason Primer

The San Francisco Giants' 2014 regular season is winding down and has just over four weeks remaining.

As the Giants scratch and claw to make the playoffs, general manager Brian Sabean must also begin planning for the future. Sabean will have several critical decisions to make, as he builds the roster for the 2015 season.

The Giants have five key free agents about whom they must make decisions. These include Pablo Sandoval, Michael Morse, Jake Peavy, Ryan Vogelsong and Sergio Romo. 

At approximately $150 million, the Giants have one of the top payrolls in Major League Baseball, according to baseballprospectus.com. It remains to be seen how much, if anything, the Giants ownership group will allow Sabean to increase this number for the 2015 season.

Sabean will need to bolster the pitching staff and try to bring in more consistent bats this winter. If he does not get the buy-in from ownership to increase the payroll, this task will be almost impossible.

Let's take a look at some of the potential moves Sabean and the Giants could make prior to the 2015 season. The final outcome will be largely based on the money.

 

All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com.

All contract and free agency data courtesy of baseballprospectus.com.

 

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MVP or Not, Alex Gordon Is Driving Force of Royals’ Resurgence

Alex Gordon is the most underrated player in baseball.

Alex Gordon is a big, fat, juicy reason why Kansas City Royals employees can’t yet make plans in October unless they include being at Kauffman Stadium.

Alex Gordon is not the American League MVP. Period. Paragraph.

In recent days, there has been an outpouring of Gordon love, and rightfully so. He is one of the better all-around players in the majors, and the Royals aren’t very good when he’s not in the lineup—small sample size alert: one win in six games missed. He is a top-five player in WAR in both the FanGraphs metric and the Baseball-Reference measurement.  

That is why Royals fans are starting to shower him with “M-V-P!” chants when he steps in the box or makes a play in the field. 

Gordon leads an offensively challenged lineup in runs created, doubles, home runs, on-base percentage and slugging. He is the team’s MVP, especially since you can’t give it to three back-end relievers. No question about that.

But there are still plenty of realists out there.

Gordon leads the Royals in plenty of categories, but again, Kansas City doesn't score much. Gordon is not in the AL top 10 in any offensive category, but it is his defensive numbers—21 defensive runs saved (fifth in the majors), 23.9 ultimate zone rating (second), according to FanGraphs—that put him on the fringes of the MVP conversation. 

Gordon’s arm is a threat that keeps opposing runners at bay. They don’t run on him the way National League runners don’t run on Yasiel Puig and Jason Heyward. That is what makes him a standout defender.

As for him turning batted balls into outs, another of his statistical strengths, well, he has some help there. Kansas City center fielders Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain can flat out go and get it. Together they combine to give the Royals 26 defensive runs saved in center, which is a boost to Gordon’s defensive numbers since it means he doesn’t have to cover as much ground as a left fielder with average center field help.

Let’s not take away from Gordon’s defense, though. The guy is a superb defender in left field, easily the best in the majors. But exactly how good is still hard to measure, even in 2014.

Defensive metrics are getting better. But this MVP discussion is highlighting that there are still flaws. Depending on the formula for WAR, Gordon’s defense has made up so much ground on better offensive players that exactly how accurate or weighted the defensive numbers are has to be questioned.

Several Twitter discussions have revolved around that very topic recently; Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan had this to say:

The obvious has also been brought into the MVP discussion: Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout is still regarded as the best player in baseball, and he leads Gordon in WAR in both formulas.

And besides Gordon, Oakland A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson is the only other player in the majors with at least an .800 OPS and 20 runs saved. Donaldson is also in the league’s top 10 in four offensive categories and leads the league in Baseball-Reference's WAR.

If you need more reason why Gordon is not the MVP, the Royals are still on the cusp of a playoff berth, which means they are also on the cusp of watching another October like the vast majority of the free world—from the couch/bar stool.

The A’s and Angels are both virtual locks for the playoffs at this point, and they are jockeying with each other for the game’s best record.

This is not meant to be a Gordon bash session, though. He can play. He can hit. He can defend. He is to Kansas City baseball what BBQ and the blues are to the city as a whole. He has spent seven mostly miserable years in the majors on a losing team—the Royals topped the .500 mark last season for the first time since 2003.

And when you are the face of a franchise—Gordon was drafted second overall in 2005—that is finally sniffing a playoff spot and leads the wealthy Detroit Tigers in the AL Central, you deserve the M-V-P chant.

If the Royals miss out on the playoffs once again, as they have for the last 28 seasons, at least the baseball world will now be familiar with Gordon’s ability, which has been stuck under a Missouri rock for too long.

If nothing else, Alex Gordon won’t be underrated anymore. 

 

Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent the previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News, and four years before that as the Brewers' beat writer for The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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Why the Pittsburgh Pirates Should Re-Sign Catcher Russell Martin in 2015

Behind almost every great pitching rotation, there is an experienced catcher who knows how to work with his pitchers.  

That is the case with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have been fortunate over the past two seasons to have had the presence of Russell Martin behind the plate.  

After leaving the New York Yankees following the 2012 season, Martin signed a two-year deal with the Pirates, and the move paid great dividends for the organization.  

In 2013, Martin led his team to the postseason for the first time in over 20 years and finished 24th in the race for the National League's Most Valuable Player award.  

Now, as his team is currently in the thick of another postseason run, the veteran knows his contract will expire after this season.  

Behind a smart general manager in Neal Huntington, the Pirates have risen from perennial losers to an all-around solid baseball team. Without Martin behind the plate, however, the team would take a serious hit.  

Although Martin missed almost the entire month of May due to injury, he is having one of the best seasons of his career at the plate, batting .295 with 51 runs batted in and an outstanding on-base percentage of .417.  

To put those statistics into perspective, no starting catcher has gotten on base at a higher rate than Martin has in 2014.  

Now, age does have to be considered before the Pirates offer Martin a long-term deal, as he will turn 32 years old prior to the start of the 2015 regular season.  

Still, Martin hasn't shown any signs of slowing down any time soon, and his presence both in the lineup and behind the plate calling games has been hard to match. Based on the way he has played over the past two seasons for the Pirates, there is no reason for them to doubt his ability to perform into his mid-30s.  

According to a report on Pittsburgh's local CBS radio show 93.7 The Fan, Pirates broadcaster Bob Walk believes in Martin's playing abilities despite the fact that he is getting up there in age.  

It would scare me with an awful lot of guys.  With Russell Martin, I’m not sure it would scare me, because I know what kind of shape he is in. I know how he takes care of his body. Now, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything, for the future.  Age is age. You can’t stop that. But, if there’s anybody that has a younger body than what the number says on the back of the baseball card, I would say it’s Russell Martin.

Another thing to consider for the Pirates is the team's farm system, and according to a report from Baseball America, Pittsburgh's No. 8 prospect is a catcher by the name of Reese McGuire.  

However, McGuire is just 19 years old, and he is currently playing for Single-A West Virginia. The young prospect is doing well there this season, batting .265 with 99 hits in 94 games.  

Regardless, the Pirates probably wouldn't even consider bringing this kid up to the major leagues without any experience past Single-A minor league baseball.  

The Pirates have an array of talented offensive stars such as Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez who can do damage with just one swing of the bat, but it is Russell Martin who is the main leader on the field. 

Solid catchers like Martin are not easy to come by in the major leagues, but it is this type of player who usually makes the biggest difference both on the field and in the clubhouse.  

The Pirates need Martin's leadership, and if they want to continue to build on what is already a solid foundation of young players, Huntington and the Pirates organization should bring Martin back for another couple of seasons.  

 

Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference

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Brewers’ Francisco Rodriguez Reaches 1,000 Career Strikeouts

When Milwaukee Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez struck out Abraham Almonte of the San Diego Padres to finish the ninth inning Wednesday night, he recorded punch-out No. 1,000 of his career, per MLB.com.

It wasn't really a milestone to celebrate, though, as Rodriguez began the inning by allowing a solo home run to Rene Rivera, resulting in his fifth blown save of the season. While he was able to finish the frame without any more damage done, the Brewers eventually lost the contest on Rivera's walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th.

Frequently overlooked in the cloud of a tough loss, Rodriguez became the ninth member among the top 20 of the all-time saves list to record 1,000 strikeouts. His 343 saves recently elevated him above former Brewer Rollie Fingers for the No. 11 spot on the career list. With just four more saves, he'll draw even with Randy Myers for 10th place.

Currently, K-Rod's 39 saves this season tie him with Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves and Trevor Rosenthal of the St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the National League. Greg Holland of the Kansas City Royals is the MLB leader entering Thursday's action, having saved 40 games for the American League Central leaders.

Rodriguez has been living up to his nickname so far in 2014, owning a 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings, according to FanGraphs. He's also on pace for a career-low 2.1 walks per nine innings but has been victimized by the long ball more than usual this year, surrendering a career-worst 1.8 homers per nine innings.

K-Rod will take an even 3.00 ERA and 0.97 WHIP into the final month of the season, where he'll attempt to aid the Brewers in their quest for the NL Central title by acting as a steady force in the ninth inning.

All stats courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise specified.

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Did Seattle Mariners Make Right Move Extending Jack Zduriencik?

The Seattle Mariners announced a multiyear extension for general manager Jack Zduriencik on Wednesday, according to Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN Seattle and other media reports.

Zduriencik’s first year at the helm in 2009 led to a 85-77 campaign, but Seattle lost at least 87 games for each of the next four years before fielding a contending squad in 2014.

After another dismal campaign in 2013, Zduriencik was firmly on the hot seat, but the Mariners gave him another shot with a one-year, do-or-die extension.

He responded with a solid offseason and strong trade deadline, leading the Mariners into playoff position deep into August for the first time in several years. A solid season that’s going to end well above .500 means that Zduriencik was all but guaranteed to return next year, but the Mariners decided to reward him with a multiyear extension.

Zduriencik’s performance as general manager has been hotly debated in Seattle over the past couple of seasons. Are the Mariners overreacting to one strong year, or has Zduriencik shown his ability to build a long-term contender?

Mariners President Kevin Mather seems to believe in the latter. He spoke highly of Zduriencik's persistence and patience, via Jerry Brewer of The Seattle Times

"Not once have you asked me about your contract,” Mather said to Zduriencik when the two shared a lunch recently. “Not once have you made a decision that made me think, ‘Hey, you’re being a short-term thinker.’ ”

While he may not have proven that he can keep the team competitive for more than one year at a time, Seattle takes no risk by signing Zduriencik to a multiyear extension, one which doesn’t guarantee his job security.

Zduriencik was going to get one or two more years based on the 2014 season alone, and he will be fired if the team slides again.

Maybe the Mariners should have waited until the end of the season, but it doesn’t change the situation much overall. Zduriencik will still have to field a consistently contending team to keep his job, and a multiyear extension prevents having a potential lame-duck general manager on another one-year deal for consecutive seasons. 

Despite the results not always being there, Zduriencik’s true ability is likely better than his record indicates. He’s had a few moves and trades that were good in theory but unfortunately backfired, but he's also had a few gems. 

Zduriencik’s very first move of his tenure still ranks as possibly his best, as he managed to trade spare parts for Franklin Gutierrez and Jason Vargas (plus a few other bargaining chips). Gutierrez’s health has impacted the results since, but it’s still strong overall.

He pulled off a similar trade about a year later, sending three prospects who would never pan out to the Philadelphia Phillies for a legitimate ace in Cliff Lee. Of course, Lee would leave just a few months later, but it still ranks as a clear win for Zduriencik.

Those are the two best trades of Zduriencik’s tenure, but he’s had a number of solid moves. Zduriencik traded basically nothing of value for players like David Aardsma, Brendan Ryan and John Jaso, who all contributed positively in the majors in Seattle.

The past calendar year has been Zduriencik’s best yet. Starting with the addition of Robinson Cano, one of the few moves that truly changed the culture in Seattle, the Mariners had an impressive offseason, as Gary Hill Jr. of 710 ESPN Seattle highlights:

Zduriencik’s biggest test came at the July 31 trade deadline, as he could have easily mortgaged Seattle’s future for a team flirting with the second wild card. Instead, Zduriencik traded minor pieces for improvements in Kendrys Morales and Chris Denorfia, and he also swung a brilliant trade to land Austin Jackson at the cost of Nick Franklin, who was buried at Triple-A.    

Recovering from the Bill Bavasi era was going to take an extensive amount of time, and it looks like Zduriencik has finally turned a corner six years later. At the very least, credit Zduriencik for drafting well and replenishing a barren farm system into respectability.  

Apart from the necessary move of locking Felix Hernandez up for the long term, Zduriencik has completely overhauled what looked like a hopeless team, as Jason Churchill of Prospect Insider points out:  

Of course, there have been plenty of negative moments during Zduriencik’s tenure. His success as a general manager is closely tied to the careers of Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero, both of whom have failed at the major league level.

Even the trade to get Smoak was widely praised at the time. The Mariners traded half a season of Lee for Smoak, Baseball America’s No. 13 prospect in 2010, plus a potential solid starter in Blake Beavan.

It hasn’t worked out at all, but the trade made sense from Seattle’s perspective. While that particular trade may have been good process with unfortunate results, Zduriencik has also had his share of head-scratchers over the past six years.

Dealing Doug Fister, a cost-effective young starter, at the 2011 deadline made absolutely no sense at the time and looks awful in retrospect. Four years of Jaso in exchange for one year of Mike Morse prior to the 2013 season was also puzzling, particularly considering that Jaso was coming off a 2.6 WAR season while Morse was below replacement level.  

There’s been a few free-agent misses as well before Cano, who is currently working to perfection. Perhaps the biggest concern is that Seattle’s player development, particularly for position players, has been lackluster over the over the past six years, but Kyle Seager has developed nicely, and Dustin Ackley may have finally tapped in to his potential. 

Overall, Zduriencik ranks as a decent, but far from great, general manager. He may not be the man to build a perennial World Series contender, but his strong drafting and shrewd moves over the past year have led Seattle to a possible playoff appearance for the first time in 13 years.

For that, Zduriencik deserves one or two more years, which he was going to get regardless of the extension. The pressure is still on Zduriencik, as now he will have to avoid another slide and keep the team contending or else risk being let go.

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Yusmeiro Petit Sets MLB Record by Retiring 46 Consecutive Batters

San Francisco Giants right-hander Yusmeiro Petit can now say there was a stretch in his career when he was literally more unhittable than any other pitcher in history. 

After retiring the first eight batters in a spot start against the Colorado Rockies on Thursday, Petit ran his consecutive-batters-retired streak to an astounding 46, breaking Mark Buehrle's previous MLB record.

The Giants' official Twitter feed confirmed the news, while SportsCenter broke down the streak a little more: 

Naturally, the streak was immediately ended on a double by Rockies pitcher Jordan Lyles, while Charlie Blackmon followed up with an RBI single. That does nothing to take away from the 29-year-old's unbelievable feat, though. 

CSN's Andrew Baggarly applauded the stretch that nearly equaled two perfect games:

The streak dates back to July 22, a poor start that ended with one batter retired, and really got started four days later. Petit made six relief appearances over that span, tossing 12.1 perfect innings. His most impressive outing came last week against the red-hot Washington Nationals, in which he provided 4.1 innings of long relief for Tim Lincecum, retiring all 13 batters he faced. 

Of course, Petit very nearly had a perfect game in 2013, when Eric Chavez of the Arizona Diamondbacks broke it up with two outs in the ninth inning.

Not an overpowering pitcher, he recently attributed his success to command and confidence, via USA Today's Jorge L. Ortiz:

I'm not known for having an overpowering fastball, and in today's baseball a 95 mph fastball is average. I don't get it up there. Sometimes in (his earlier days) I would be afraid to throw my fastball, so I would throw the wrong pitch, and that's why I failed so much. Now I only think about attacking the strike zone. If they get a hit off me, I'll try to get a double play. I've developed a lot of confidence in my fastball.

With Lincecum's demotion to relief appearances, it will now be crucial for Petit to translate his success from the bullpen to the starting rotation. 

The Giants are currently five games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West but have a solid hold on the second wild-card spot. If Petit continues to be anywhere near as effective as a starter, it's a massive boost for San Francisco moving forward. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Yusmeiro Petit Sets MLB Record by Retiring 46 Consecutive Batters

San Francisco Giants right-hander Yusmeiro Petit can now say there was a stretch in his career when he was literally more unhittable than any other pitcher in history. 

After retiring the first eight batters in a spot start against the Colorado Rockies on Thursday, Petit ran his consecutive-batters-retired streak to an astounding 46, breaking Mark Buehrle's previous MLB record.

The Giants' official Twitter feed confirmed the news, while SportsCenter broke down the streak a little more: 

Naturally, the streak was immediately ended on a double by Rockies pitcher Jordan Lyles, while Charlie Blackmon followed up with an RBI single. That does nothing to take away from the 29-year-old's unbelievable feat, though. 

CSN's Andrew Baggarly applauded the stretch that nearly equaled two perfect games:

The streak dates back to July 22, a poor start that ended with one batter retired, and really got started four days later. Petit made six relief appearances over that span, tossing 12.1 perfect innings. His most impressive outing came last week against the red-hot Washington Nationals, in which he provided 4.1 innings of long relief for Tim Lincecum, retiring all 13 batters he faced. 

Of course, Petit very nearly had a perfect game in 2013, when Eric Chavez of the Arizona Diamondbacks broke it up with two outs in the ninth inning.

Not an overpowering pitcher, he recently attributed his success to command and confidence, via USA Today's Jorge L. Ortiz:

I'm not known for having an overpowering fastball, and in today's baseball a 95 mph fastball is average. I don't get it up there. Sometimes in (his earlier days) I would be afraid to throw my fastball, so I would throw the wrong pitch, and that's why I failed so much. Now I only think about attacking the strike zone. If they get a hit off me, I'll try to get a double play. I've developed a lot of confidence in my fastball.

With Lincecum's demotion to relief appearances, it will now be crucial for Petit to translate his success from the bullpen to the starting rotation. 

The Giants are currently five games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West but have a solid hold on the second wild-card spot. If Petit continues to be anywhere near as effective as a starter, it's a massive boost for San Francisco moving forward. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

White Sox Fan Uses Cup to Haul in Bouncing Foul Ball, Drinks out of Cup

On Wednesday night, one Chicago White Sox fan realized that he could use his cup for more than just drinking. 

A foul ball came the fan's way in the fourth inning, but he was unable to barehand the ball and watched it bounce back onto the field. The fan was then able to use some quick thinking to haul the ball back in.

Naturally, he had to take a drink out the cup with the ball still in it.

He lost some of his drink in the act of catching the ball, but it looks like the fan was content with the trade-off. 

[MLB.com]

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For All Chefs of the Universe: Millennium Falcon Chopping Board

Millenium Falcon Chopping Board

 

Every chef needs a chopping board. If you’re on the market for a new one and have a love for Star Wars like no other, then the Millennium Falcon chopping board is the one for you. Made from food-safe acrylic, the chopping board features a reversible design so you have both sides of the ship at your disposal.

The board measures 9.5 10-18 Parsecs x ~1.3 10-17 Parsecs (that’s equivalent to 11 1/2″ x 15 1/2″) and is available online for $39.99.

[ Product Page ] VIA [ C|NET ]

The post For All Chefs of the Universe: Millennium Falcon Chopping Board appeared first on OhGizmo!.

Cleveland Indians: An Early Free-Agency and Offseason Primer

The Indians have managed to keep themselves in the playoff discussion this season, but it's never too early to begin thinking about the offseason and where the team can improve upon what has been a somewhat disappointing season.

The team we see already has needs in the starting rotation and the bench.

The bench is likely to be filled with an influx of young talent, as the Indians boast a number of young outfield and middle-infield prospects looking to make a permanent jump to the next level. The rotation, however, needs a considerable amount of work.

In addition to these needs, the club will have to deal with said influx of young talent, as well as the departure of at least one player who is currently under contract.

So, over the course of this article, I'll detail all of these areas of concern, including projected departures, incoming prospects, areas of need and a couple of possible targets for the team to pursue this offseason.

Let's get started.

Begin Slideshow

MLB Network Host Loses It After Predicting Buster Posey Walk-off HR on Air

San Francisco Giants star Buster Posey hit a walk-off home run against the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday night, but his celebration was much calmer than that of MLB Network host Greg Amsinger.

You'd expect the player who hit a game-winning home run to be the most excited person in the world at the time, but that wasn't the case. That honor belongs to Amsinger, who—just seconds before Posey hit the ball—had predicted that the Giants star would hit a home run to end the game.

Nobody can deny Amsinger of his moment. He called it on the air, which meant he was allowed to celebrate.

Posey's two-run shot with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the Giants a 4-2 victory.

[MLB.com, h/t HardballTalk]

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Yankees Catcher Francisco Cervelli Needs Time to Regroup After Painful Foul Ball

There's no crying in baseball, but nobody would've blamed New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli if he had decided to shed a tear after taking a foul ball to a very sensitive part of his body during Wednesday's game.

The Detroit Tigers' Rajai Davis hit a foul ball that could not have wound up in a worse place. Let's just say that Cervelli went down quickly.

The broadcasters originally thought that the ball had hit Cervelli in the collarbone, but they quickly realized that was not the case.

[MLB.com, h/t Next Impulse Sports]

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Top 5 Memories for Derek Jeter in Detroit

On Thursday afternoon, Derek Jeter will bid farewell to Detroit as he plays his final regular-season game at Comerica Park. Detroit is the fifth-last stop in Jeter’s swan-song tour, which brings to an end a glittering 20-year MLB career.

Undoubtedly, Jeter’s name will be etched in baseball folklore as one of the game’s all-time greats. You name it, he has achieved it: five World Series titles, 14 All-Star appearances, five Gold Gloves, five Silver Sluggers and the list goes on.

The ensuing slides include Jeter’s personal achievements, as well as significant happenings for the New York Yankees.

Higher rankings were given to important team games/series than Jeter’s own achievements. This was done because team accomplishments (and failures) that he was a part of are more important than individual ones and sit longer in our memories. They would also be more meaningful to Jeter, who has always put his team first.

Jeter has experienced plenty of big moments—both positive and negative—over the years in Detroit. His skills and grace have been on show for Michiganders for nearly two decades, and with only one game left to savor him, now is the time to look back at Jeter’s best (and worst) times in the Motor City.  

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Crying Baby Really Doesn’t Like Being Held by Hanley Ramirez

Some may wonder why there was a baby in the Los Angeles Dodgers' dugout, but that's not what the important question is. We want to know what Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez did to the baby to make it cry.

For whatever reason, the baby didn't look like it was a big fan of Ramirez. The Dodgers star didn't seem too fazed by the crying, though.

Just take a minute to enjoy this picture:

[h/t USA Today's FTW

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Pittsburgh Pirates: Analyzing the Payroll and Offseason Moves

The Pittsburgh Pirates are set to have nearly $30 million come off the payroll this offseason when five players hit free agency, but don’t look for the team to bring in any big-name free agents.

Perhaps the biggest free agent on the Pirates’ radar already plays for the team.

Catcher Russell Martin has been a gigantic piece of a puzzle that helped the Pirates escape last year from two decades of futility. He’s having an even better season this year and will likely command a multiyear deal that will take the 31-year-old Martin into retirement.

But that won’t be the only hole to fill this winter.

Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, Clint Barmes and the already departed Wandy Rodriguez will all have their contracts come off the $71.9 million payroll, and all will be free agents.

As mentioned in a previous Bleacher Report article, Liriano and Volquez aren’t likely to return as other teams will offer more in free agency. The Pirates aren’t known for outbidding teams with much higher payrolls, and both of those players are likely to take the best offer dangled before them.

Vance Worley, who has a 3.14 ERA in 80 innings, has surpassed expectations this season and could very well replace one of the two starters in the rotation.

That leaves at least one starting spot in the rotation to fill as well as a backup infield position, given that the Pirates might not re-sign aging shortstop Clint Barmes.

One of those rotation spots could be filled with players currently in the system, including Nick Kingham or Jameson Taillon, who is working his way back from Tommy John surgery.

However, the Pirates won’t be able to use most of the $30 million coming off the payroll to sign free agents. That’s because players like Neil Walker, Josh Harrison, Mark Melancon and Tony Watson, among others, are all likely to get raises in arbitration, and some of those raises could be significant.

That also includes Pedro Alvarez, who is under team control until after next season but will also likely head to arbitration over the winter.

That’s not to mention other players with contracts, like Andrew McCutchen, Charlie Morton, Starling Marte and Jose Tabata, who are due for raises. Those players combined will take another $8.25 million out of next season’s payroll.

Arbitration hearings and findings are so complicated that there’s no way to predict how much each player will command. It involves in-depth contractual arguments between clubs, agents and arbitrators as well as other factors like service time.

However, the folks over at From Forbes to Federal have taken their best shot at estimating how much money will come off the payroll after arbitration is finished.

There are 12 players who are arbitration-eligible, and the writers estimate that could correlate to about $12 million in raises added on the books after the process is over.

When it’s all said and done, the front office should have about $9 million remaining after contract and arbitration raises are factored into the equation. That $9 million is assuming the Pirates’ payroll stays at its current rate, which it certainly might not do.

That doesn’t leave a tremendous amount of wiggle room for signing free agents, although that $9 million could go a long way in bringing Russell Martin back to the Steel City.

As mentioned in a previous Bleacher Report article, the Pirates at a minimum can expect to pay Martin $10 million a year for a multiyear deal. He is hands down the best free-agent catcher on the market, so even that amount might not be enough to bring him back.

Unfortunately, the front office has already given an indication that the market rate for Martin will be too high.

David Manel of Bucs Dugout quoted general manager Neal Huntington as saying in a recent press conference that the team might have to “become creative” if “the market goes where we think the market is going to go” on Martin.

Huntington also told local radio station 93.7 The Fan (via CBS Pittsburgh) several days ago that the team will make every effort it can to re-sign Martin, but he stopped short of making any promises.

“We’re going to do everything that we feel we can do," Huntington said. "It may meet Russ’ needs, it may not. It may not meet our fans determined needs, it may not meet our media’s determined needs."

Don’t look for the Pirates to spend big bucks this winter on any big-name free agents. The front office will likely take its $9 million and spend it elsewhere, like signing a backup infielder (or re-signing Barmes) or bolstering a shaky bullpen.

It’s a shame they won’t use that money to bring back one of the best catchers in baseball.

 

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