Predicting the 2014 MLB All-Star Game Starting Lineups

John Farrell and Mike Matheny have some difficult decisions looming. 

Those are the skippers tasked with putting together the All-Star lineups for the American and the National Leagues once the final fan votes have been tallied. 

The players who comprise the following batting orders are the current leaders on the All-Star ballot. AL vote front-runners are courtesy of the MLB Public Relations Twitter account. The top picks from the NL are provided by Jackson Alexander of MLB.com

The process of settling on the respective starting pitchers is more complicated. Those decisions are ultimately up to the All-Star managers. In these predictions, a crucial factor is the availability of the candidates. Some of the top arms are slated to pitch in the final game before the All-Star break, which knocks them out of contention. 

The predictions begin with the AL before moving to the NL. Now, let's see how it all lines up. 

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Ranking Toronto Blue Jays’ Best All-Star Game Candidates

Halfway into the 2014 MLB season, the Toronto Blue Jays (45-39) hold the top spot in the American League East. This record wouldn’t be possible if several players on the team hadn’t stepped up and delivered All-Star-caliber performances.

This makes the Blue Jays one of the few teams in the league to boast multiple players that could make a successful case to be selected to represent the American League during the upcoming All-Star game in Minnesota.

Indeed, Toronto already has two players that are favorites to be starters at the Midsummer Classic and two more players that should probably get in as reserves.

Let’s take a look at each of the Blue Jays’ All-Star Game candidates.

 

All stats are from MLB.com.

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San Francisco Giants: 5 Takeaways from Hunter Pence’s 1st-Half Performance

Even though the San Francisco Giants have been mired in a slump for the last several weeks, Hunter Pence has been one bright spot for a team that has seen its share of struggles recently.

While the baseball season is just about halfway over, here are the five biggest takeaways from Pence’s first-half performance so far, and they are paramount to the Giants’ chances of advancing to the playoffs this season.

 

Pence’s Passion Can Help the Giants Win Games

Pence’s work ethic and passion for baseball are undeniable.

In fact, MLB.com correspondent Richard Justice says, “No player in baseball–and I realize this is a fairly risky statement–works harder or cares more.”

Despite winning a title with the Giants in 2012 and being a two-time All-Star, the outfielder still plays the game with the same passion he had during his first start. Per Justice:

Pence cares every bit as much now as he did in those first days with the Astros. He's relentless in his work ethic, meticulous with nutrition, preparation, etc. To put it another way, he's absolutely what we'd like every professional athlete to be. And, yeah, if you see bags of kale chips in the Giants clubhouse, they're probably Hunter's.

Pence can’t win the next title on his own if his team doesn’t improve, but his hard work and perseverance will help inspire the team to follow his lead. Even if the Giants miss the playoffs this season, Pence’s leadership and presence on the team will more than likely lead San Francisco to another title in the next few years.

 

Pence Knows How to “Set the Table”

According to San Jose Mercury News writer Alex Pavlovic, Pence is thriving in his secondary role for the team:

After losing Marco Scutaro indefinitely due to a back injury, Pence stepped into the No. 2 role and is helping Angel Pagan form a one-two punch atop the lineup.

This tactic allows Pence to help players on base score; because of his consistency, he has been able to help players on second or third get that extra base and put runs on the board for the team.

Placing one of the team’s best hitters second in the lineup is starting to be seen more frequently around the league, and Pence says he is excited to be a part of a movement that is helping the team win more games:

"I didn't really mean for myself to adjust to it, but I definitely have," Pence said. "My mindset is a little different. Normally I'd be like, 'All right, I'm driving him in.' But I was trying to set the table and get him over just because we have so many big bats right now."

 

Pence Is Worthy of All-Star Candidacy

Pence is a stud.

Just take a look at this video to see him crush a homer to the upper deck of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field:

Though he probably should be in the running for making an appearance at this year’s All-Star Game, he’s trailing his peers by several million votes and more than likely won’t be, according to Ryan Hood of MLB.com:

Although the Giants have maintained throughout the season that they don't care about All-Star appearances, Pence has a case to make a third squad. His .295 batting average is his highest since 2011. He's batting .339 with three home runs and six RBIs in his last 13 games and is tied for the most multihit games in the NL. with 28.

 

Pence Is Worth His Contract

After Pence signed a five-year, $90 million contract last year to stay with the Giants, there were those who thought the Giants had overpaid for the outfielder.

Among them, CSNBayArea.com senior insider Ray Ratto:

Bleacher Report’s Joe Giglio, was also skeptical following the inking of Pence’s deal, but he concluded that the deal was neither a rousing success for the team nor a failure. It was somewhere in the middle:

At first glance, the deal seems to be an egregious overpay, but when looking at some recent contracts for corner outfielders, the deal simply becomes a risk for San Francisco. Unless Pence totally breaks down or reverts into a league average player in the very near future, the contract shouldn't cripple the Giants franchise.

Pence still has several years left on his contract, and only time will tell if he was truly worth $90 million; however, in terms of production this season, Pence has been worth every penny.

Justice sums up his season thus far in the following quote, which is a great example of how Pence is earning his contract:

"There's Pence, who is again doing pretty much everything well. He's hitting .286 with an .801 OPS. He has 11 doubles, three triples, four home runs, six stolen bases, 20 walks. Everything, right? His 1.4 WAR is second among Giants regulars to Pagan."

 

Pence Is a Workhorse

Need another reason Pence is worth his contract?

He never misses any games. He was among the elite few last year who played all 162 season games, and he’s on pace to hit the same mark this season, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

His dedication to the team was part of the reason that he was rewarded with such a lucrative contract, and hopefully his energy and leadership will inspire the rest of the team to follow suit.

It may not happen this season, but if Pence has anything to say about it, he might just be giving more postgame speeches such as this one. Check out the first 50 seconds to see Pence in all his glory:

Mike Martinez is a contributor for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @MikeMartinezBR.

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Deal Of The Day: 40% Off On Super-Fisheye iPhone Lens

redesign_fisheye_mf1

The vast majority of photos are taken on a mobile device these days, so it makes sense to make a bit of an effort to get a better quality picture. There are tons of lens attachments for the iPhone; the one you’re looking at is a “super fisheye” lens that’s a little different than other similar offerings. Instead of the regular 180°, you’re getting 235°. That’s a much wider field of view and can make for some interesting shots. It’s also easy to remove and install so you won’t have a large lens sticking out at all times. Normally you’d have to pay $49, but with this deal it’s only $29.

redesign_235fisheyecomparison

[ 40% Off On Super-Fisheye iPhone Lens ]

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Fleshlight iPad Attachment Now A Reality

fleshlight-ipad-case

Oh come on, you’ve thought about it. Now that most pr0n is consumed on mobile devices, it’s only natural that a sex-driven ecosystem would spring up around them. And nothing would appear more natural than the above Launchpad iPad case. It holds your iPad on one end, and a Fleshlight (not included) on the other. Launch POV video, insert peener, and go to town! We’re not saying you should, we’re saying we think you probably already want to, and at $28 it’s really not expensive at all. Granted, the Fleshlight itself isn’t that cheap but for all we know you already have one. Right? Right.

[ Product Page (NSFW!) ] VIA [ Geekologie ]

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The Only Thing Better Than Waffles Are Waffles On A Stick

waffle-french-toast-sticks-breakfast-treats-maker-xl

Let’s face it, no one likes to sit down to eat. Why be so formal? Food-on-sticks is the natural evolution of our eating habits, or at least it should be. That’s why we’re very bullish on the above Nostalgia Electrics FTW200 2-in-1 Breakfast Treats Maker. It comes with interchangeable plates so you can just as easily make French Toast or waffles. Included in the box are also 25 sticks, so you can get started on the snacks right away. Perhaps more interestingly, it’s only $32!

[ Product Page ] VIA [ TheGreenHead ]

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Matador Pocket Blanket Is A Must-Have Outdoors Accessory

pocket_for_product_features-01_887x328

If you’re out walking in the woods and suddenly feel the urge for a nap or a picnic, it might not be a bad idea to have a blanket around. The Matador Pocket Blanket is an ultra-compact piece of fabric that you can whip out in an instant, providing you with some protection from the elements or a barrier from the ground. It’s waterproof and puncture proof, and has weighted corners so it won’t fly away in the wind. It’s made from “HyprLyte Nylon”, a special fabric that’s only 90 microns thin. This means that once it’s folded, the Matador is the size of a small pack of smokes. In order to help you fold it up again, there are stitch marks all around the optimal fold lines; just follow the patterns and you’ll be able to get it back in its pouch in no time.

It’s $25 for the full-size Matador, while a Mini version will set you back $20.

[ Product Page ] VIA [ TheAwesomer ]

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Microsoft Will Trade Your MacBook Air For A Surface Pro 3

microsoft-surface-pro-3

The MacBook Air is a very capable laptop, so much so that its success pretty much ushered the era of Ultrabooks all by itself. “Capable laptop” however doesn’t stop companies like Microsoft from competing, and the boys from Redmond are pushing the Surface Pro 3 pretty hard. To reach their target demo, the company is running a promotion until July 31st where you can get up to $650 if you trade in a used Macbook Air. That amount then has to be put towards the purchase of a Surface Pro 3. Considering the laptop/tablet hybrid starts at $799, you’ll have relatively little money left to pay. Whether or not you consider this a good deal probably depends on the amount of cynicism you harbour towards Microsoft’s products. But if you’ve got an MBA just lying around, now’s a good time to get something for it.

[ Fine Print ] VIA [ Geek.com ]

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How the S.F. Giants Can Fix Problems Exposed During Recent Failures

Go ahead, Giants fans. Close your eyes tight and pretend it's June 8. No one will blame you.

A mere three weeks ago—doesn't it feel like longer?—the Giants were 42-21, 9.5 games up in the National League West. They were, quite simply, rolling—pitching well, hitting even better and in all ways exceeding expectations.

Then, without warning, the wheels came off.

Since June 8, San Francisco has gone 4-15, including a 4-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds Sunday afternoon at AT&T Park that sealed a gut-punching four-game sweep and a dismal 1-6 homestand.

The Giants have now lost six consecutive series—three of them sweeps—and watched their comfortable division lead evaporate. Entering play Monday, the Los Angeles Dodgers had moved into a tie for first. 

It's easy to look at the Giants' slide and draw a straight line to last season, when, after a promising start, San Francisco was undone by a June swoon. 

There are differences. By the end of last June, the Giants already had a losing record. This year, even after those dreadful three weeks, they stand at 46-36. If they'd gone on a 15-4 tear to move 10 games over .500 and catch the favored, hated Dodgers, there'd be joy by the Bay.

Instead, there's hand-wringing, head-shaking and a host of questions. Most pressingly: With June in the rearview, what can the Giants do to restart the engine and resume their winning ways?

Let's begin in the bullpen.

Closer Sergio Romo has blown three of his last five save attempts and seen his ERA balloon to 5.17. Worse, he has looked eminently hittable; his once-devastating slider is suddenly unreliable against righties and a liability against lefties. (As CSN Bay Area's Andrew Baggarly notes: Last year Romo threw 506 sliders and only one was hit for a home run; this year he's thrown 244 and five have been hit out.)

Recognizing the need for a change, manager Bruce Bochy announced before Sunday's game that Romo will be relieved of closing duties. Instead, Bochy said, he'll use a mix of pitchers to get the "final six outs," per SFGate.com's Henry Schulman

"I think it’s the right time we tweaked this a little," Bochy told Schulman. "[Romo is] still going to be part of the mix, but we’re going to back off a little bit and do it by committee."

It could work. Bochy's committee includes weapons like lefty Jeremy Affeldt (1.33 ERA) and righties Santiago Casilla (1.17 ERA) and Jean Machi (1.36 ERA), all of whom have proved their late-inning mettle.

On the offensive side, things are equally dicey. The Giants have scored just 12 runs in their last seven games, and they've been shut out twice. Their power and situational execution—two early strengths—have virtually disappeared.

After an uncharacteristic slump, Buster Posey has begun hitting the ball with authority (his game-tying double Saturday night against flame-throwing Reds closer Aroldis Chapman was a true thing of beauty). Yet others—including, notably, Michael Morse—have tailed off.

Morse still leads the Giants with 13 home runs, but he's been stuck on that number since June 5. As a team, the Giants hit only 14 home runs in June after clubbing 63 in the season's first two months. Meanwhile, their batting average with runners in scoring position has fallen to .243.

There is help on the horizon. Brandon Belt, who was leading the team in home runs when he broke his thumb in May, could return by next week, according to MLB.com. So could leadoff hitter Angel Pagan, who has battled a back strain.

The Giants may also look for reinforcements at the trade deadline. 

Second base is the most obvious place for an upgrade. After flashing some early power, Brandon Hicks has gone stone cold—he entered play Monday hitting a pedestrian .168. Joe Panik, the Giants' first-round pick in 2011, had two hits in his first start June 22, but he has managed just two hits in 16 at-bats since. And Marco Scutaro, still rehabbing his ailing back, remains an enigma.

The Giants have been linked to several names, per MLBTradeRumors.com, including the New York Mets' Daniel Murphy. 

San Francisco is also rumored to be considering a trade for a starting pitcher—the Tampa Bay Rays' David Price and the Chicago Cubs' Jeff Samardzija are the big fish—though, for now, that doesn't appear to be a pressing need.

Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson are having terrific seasons. Matt Cain pitched like his old self in his most recent start against Cincinnati. Ryan Vogelsong is in the midst of yet another improbable renaissance. And Tim Lincecum just tossed a no hitter.

Really, scanning the Giants' roster, it's hard to find many glaring holes. Hunter Pence is hitting .293/.356/.469 while playing almost every inning. Pablo Sandoval has shaken off his early funk and made the panda-hat crowd stand up and cheer. Posey, again, looks like Posey.

Even the admittedly thin bench has been bolstered by unexpected contributions from the likes of minor league free agent Tyler Colvin, who got the call after Belt's injury and has posted a .717 OPS in limited action.

The Giants almost certainly aren't as bad as they've been for the last three weeks, or as good as they were for the first two months. Meet somewhere in the middle and you get a team that can contend but likely won't run away with the division.

Pretty much what most people expected.

The key, for now, is to stop the bleeding. Whether they do it through a reshuffled bullpen, the return of injured players, a couple of deadline pickups or some other means, they've got to do it. And soon.

Otherwise, there could be a whole lot of Giants fans with their eyes closed tight. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

The Truth Behind MLB’s 10 Biggest Surprises of 2014’s 1st Half

The first half of the 2014 MLB season is in the books, and as with any season, there has been no shortage of surprises on both an individual and team level around the league.

From the impressive debut performances of Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu as they made their way to a new league, to the Oakland Athletics' dominance from a run-differential standpoint, to the contention of teams such as the Seattle Mariners and Milwaukee Brewers, surprises abound.

So here is a look at the 10 biggest surprises of the 2014 first half and whether they will continue for the remainder of the season and beyond.

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Stock Up, Stock Down for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Top 10 Prospects for Week 13

The Los Angeles Dodgers farm system has followed a remarkably similar pattern all year: The relievers at the back end of this list have been inconsistent, the starters in the middle have showed flashes of excellence but have otherwise been average, and the three elite prospects have been great.

With Joc Pederson’s injury, that pattern has been broken, and the Dodgers receive their first truly bad news surrounding the top three. And while the injury is not expected to be serious, it is certainly not a development the Dodgers will welcome.

 

Notes: All statistics courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise indicated. All statistics updated through June 28 unless otherwise indicated. Prospect list courtesy of MLB.com. Nos. 8 and 9 Ross Stripling and Onelki Garcia are injured, so Nos. 11 and 12 Jose Dominguez and Matt Magill will take their place.

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Toddler Fan Turns Pirates’ Poster Giveaway into a Chew Toy

The life of an infant is simple.

The Pittsburgh Pirates gave away Neil Walker posters to fans at PNC Park on Sunday. Most fans probably made sure that nothing happened to their poster, so they could put it up on their wall when they got home.

Protecting the poster is a little tougher to do when you have a young child at the game with you.

This child looked perfectly content to sit there and just use the poster as a chew toy. The poster kept the kid more engaged than the game between the Pirates and the New York Mets, which shows just how great it is to be that young.

[MLB.com]

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Mets’ Bartolo Colon Loses Helmet Twice During At-Bat Against Pirates

Bartolo Colon may be 41 years old, but he swings as hard as a rookie looking to show that he belongs in the majors.

The New York Mets pitcher has had his fair share of funny moments in 2014, including losing his helmet on a big swing early in the season. Let's just say that Colon switching back from the American League to the National League over the offseason has been a real treat for fans.

On Sunday, Colon was back at it. The pitcher had a tough time keeping his helmet on his head on back-to-back pitches from the Pittsburgh Pirates' Edinson Volquez:

It's safe to say he doesn't get cheated at the plate.

It was a tough day for Colon. Not only did he struggle to make contact at the plate, but he also took the loss in the game, as he allowed five runs over six innings.

[MLB.com]

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James Harden Throws Out 1st Pitch Before Tigers-Astros Game

James Harden is a star athlete in Houston, but it looks like he picked the right sport.

Harden had the privilege of throwing out the first pitch before the Detroit Tigers-Houston Astros game on Sunday. There have been some pretty terrible first pitches this season, but he made sure that he didn't join that list.

It looks like the umpire may have given the Houston Rockets star a generous strike zone. 

Although Harden's first pitch was a bit high, he certainly didn't embarrass himself.

[MLB.com]

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Hanley Ramirez Injury: Updates on Dodgers Star’s Calf and Return

Just as the Los Angeles Dodgers started making a push for the National League West division lead, one of the biggest stars on the team in shortstop Hanley Ramirez has suffered a calf injury.  

Brian Kamenetzky of ESPNLosAngeles.com reported the news and provides commentary from manager Don Mattingly on the injury:

I think we'll probably find out more tomorrow. ... I think we're built on pitching, and if we can defend [we'll be OK]. The only positive is I think we're a little better defensively with someone else.

[Still] I like our lineup a lot better with him in it.

After the report of the injury, the Dodgers released the lineup for Sunday's game against the St. Louis Cardinals with Ramirez not listed:

Ramirez has played in 74 games this year, batting .272 with a .358 on-base percentage, 11 home runs and 46 RBI. The player taking over the position for Ramirez on Sunday is Miguel Rojas, who has a .255 average, .271 OBP and four RBI during his first 20 games in his MLB career.

This isn't the first injury Ramirez has suffered this season, but he has done his best to avoid the disabled list, as Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times notes:

Despite the slew of injuries for Ramirez this season and over the course of his career, he still hopes to sign a new contract with the Dodgers. While his production on the field is worthy of a huge deal, the questions about his health might linger over the talks.

The calf injury also comes just days after Ramirez missed time with a shoulder issue. Will Carroll of Bleacher Report points out what that could mean for his future:

As for the team, Los Angeles must face a difficult Cardinals team without Ramirez in the lineup and host the Cleveland Indians at home over the next three days. Luckily, the Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw on the bump and several other stars still healthy and producing.

Much will likely be made about his health as Ramirez continues to miss time, along with his worth with contract talks still brewing.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Matt Kemp Trade Rumors: Latest Buzz, Speculation Surrounding Dodgers Star

It turns out the Boston Red Sox's supposed interest in acquiring Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp was much ado about nothing.  

Rob Bradford of WEEI.com recently reported there is "no momentum" for a deal for the All-Star slugger. Boston has been linked to Kemp in recent weeks after team scouts were in Los Angeles—ostensibly to see him play.

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti told Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe that Kemp would not be traded. Colletti cited the dearth of right-handed power bats around the league for the team's decision. That largely falls in line with a report from Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, which notes that while Kemp will probably be traded at some point, it will likely not be until the offseason.

MLB.com's Ollie Connolly chimed in on the matter:

Kemp has been oft-mentioned in trade rumors because of the Dodgers' logjam in the outfield and his high salary. The 29-year-old center fielder has five years remaining on the eight-year, $160 million deal he signed with Los Angeles before the 2012 MLB season. The deal calls for salaries of more than $21 million per season until 2019.

While the Dodgers have no issue paying a premium for talent, their outfield is clogged with high-cost talent. Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford each make eight figures per season. Yasiel Puig, unquestionably the biggest star of the foursome and arguably the face of the franchise, makes just $3.7 million total this year.

With only three outfield spots, manager Don Mattingly has been left having to creatively juggle his lineups to keep players happy. Crawford's recent ankle injury made things a bit easier from a logistical standpoint, but he'll be back in the lineup soon. Right before Crawford went out of the lineup, Mattingly had pulled Kemp from his starting spot and used him for only one at-bat in a four-day span.

Once considered one of the best all-around players in baseball, Kemp has struggled mightily each of the last two seasons. He's hitting .270/.327/.452 this year with eight home runs and 30 RBI. Couple that with his frustrating and injury-plagued 2013 campaign, and the Dodgers have what amounts to a season-long sample of Kemp being a replacement-level player.

That said, Kemp's trajectory has been pointing upward of late. In June, he's hitting .309/.365/.511 with three home runs and 15 RBI. He has in many ways regained his MVP-level form—or at the very least something close enough to it to justify his presence in the lineup.

“It’s tough,” Kemp told Robert Morales of the Long Beach Press-Telegram, via the Los Angeles Daily News. “I think it’s tough for anybody to try to go from being something to being something else and you’re trying to get back to where you were. Sometimes injuries take time to heal. It could be one year, two years, three years. But for me, every year I’ve had to deal with a different injury."

His regaining of form in theory makes a deal more realistic. The Dodgers aren't going to want to give someone of Kemp's talent away for free, regardless of their roster composition. Contenders for his services—a select few, big-market teams with the resources to take on his contract—are not going to give up top-level prospects for the version of Kemp that showed up the first couple months.

It's a high-cost, high-stakes game of weighing risk and reward. The Dodgers probably need Kemp to keep pace with the San Francisco Giants in the National League West. They also need to hope his recent resurgence continues and is not a mirage that masks a player who is three years removed from his peak and two removed from being consistently effective.

Crawford's contract is toxic. Ethier's is nearing a similar status, and the team wouldn't be able to recoup anything of value in a trade regardless. Kemp is the only tradeable commodity among the four outfielders and at this point might be too important to actually deal.

This situation is one to monitor going forward.

 

Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter:

 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Matt Kemp Trade Rumors: Latest Buzz, Speculation Surrounding Dodgers Star

It turns out the Boston Red Sox's supposed interest in acquiring Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp was much ado about nothing.  

Rob Bradford of WEEI.com recently reported there is "no momentum" for a deal for the All-Star slugger. Boston has been linked to Kemp in recent weeks after team scouts were in Los Angeles—ostensibly to see him play.

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti told Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe that Kemp would not be traded. Colletti cited the dearth of right-handed power bats around the league for the team's decision. That largely falls in line with a report from Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, which notes that while Kemp will probably be traded at some point, it will likely not be until the offseason.

MLB.com's Ollie Connolly chimed in on the matter:

Kemp has been oft-mentioned in trade rumors because of the Dodgers' logjam in the outfield and his high salary. The 29-year-old center fielder has five years remaining on the eight-year, $160 million deal he signed with Los Angeles before the 2012 MLB season. The deal calls for salaries of more than $21 million per season until 2019.

While the Dodgers have no issue paying a premium for talent, their outfield is clogged with high-cost talent. Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford each make eight figures per season. Yasiel Puig, unquestionably the biggest star of the foursome and arguably the face of the franchise, makes just $3.7 million total this year.

With only three outfield spots, manager Don Mattingly has been left having to creatively juggle his lineups to keep players happy. Crawford's recent ankle injury made things a bit easier from a logistical standpoint, but he'll be back in the lineup soon. Right before Crawford went out of the lineup, Mattingly had pulled Kemp from his starting spot and used him for only one at-bat in a four-day span.

Once considered one of the best all-around players in baseball, Kemp has struggled mightily each of the last two seasons. He's hitting .270/.327/.452 this year with eight home runs and 30 RBI. Couple that with his frustrating and injury-plagued 2013 campaign, and the Dodgers have what amounts to a season-long sample of Kemp being a replacement-level player.

That said, Kemp's trajectory has been pointing upward of late. In June, he's hitting .309/.365/.511 with three home runs and 15 RBI. He has in many ways regained his MVP-level form—or at the very least something close enough to it to justify his presence in the lineup.

“It’s tough,” Kemp told Robert Morales of the Long Beach Press-Telegram, via the Los Angeles Daily News. “I think it’s tough for anybody to try to go from being something to being something else and you’re trying to get back to where you were. Sometimes injuries take time to heal. It could be one year, two years, three years. But for me, every year I’ve had to deal with a different injury."

His regaining of form in theory makes a deal more realistic. The Dodgers aren't going to want to give someone of Kemp's talent away for free, regardless of their roster composition. Contenders for his services—a select few, big-market teams with the resources to take on his contract—are not going to give up top-level prospects for the version of Kemp that showed up the first couple months.

It's a high-cost, high-stakes game of weighing risk and reward. The Dodgers probably need Kemp to keep pace with the San Francisco Giants in the National League West. They also need to hope his recent resurgence continues and is not a mirage that masks a player who is three years removed from his peak and two removed from being consistently effective.

Crawford's contract is toxic. Ethier's is nearing a similar status, and the team wouldn't be able to recoup anything of value in a trade regardless. Kemp is the only tradeable commodity among the four outfielders and at this point might be too important to actually deal.

This situation is one to monitor going forward.

 

Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter:

 

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Mike Napoli Calls Masahiro Tanaka an ‘Idiot’ After Hitting Game-Winning Home Run

The Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees rivalry is alive and well.

During Boston's Saturday night 2-1 win over New York, Mike Napoli was batting against Masahiro Tanaka with two strikes and two outs in the top of the ninth inning and the score tied at 1-1.

Tanaka grooved a fastball over the plate, and Napoli deposited the pitch into the right-field bleachers for a go-ahead solo home run.

The real action comes at the 30-second mark of the video below. As Napoli heads into the dugout, he says "what an idiot" as he refers to Tanaka giving him a pitch to hit when ahead in the count 1-2.

Napoli addressed the insult after the game, via John Harper of the New York Daily News:

While it's refreshing to hear an athlete own up to what was said on the field of play, it's hard to believe Napoli when he says the "idiot" comment was "nothing towards him."

It will be interesting to see what happens next time Napoli steps into the box against Tanaka, that is for sure.

[MLB, h/t: HardballTalk]

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Fantasy Baseball 2014: Updating the Top 150 Big Board at Midseason

With the 2014 baseball season going full tilt, the fantasy version of the sport needs all kinds of attention. Like, every-week attention—lest we fickle fantasy team owners get frustrated and cranky, and that just isn't good for anyone.

With that in mind, it's time for the weekly update of the Big Board, which focuses on evaluating players' values over the rest of the season. Below is a ranking of the top 150 players from now until the end of September. With opinions and circumstances changing since the last iteration, including player performances, transactions and injuries, a refreshing is in order.

Think of it as your security blanket in an otherwise insecure world.

Before getting to that, though, some housekeeping is needed, as this lengthy list of the top talents comes with a few key qualifications. First, everything is based on 10- or 12-team mixed leagues with standard 5x5 rotisserie scoring for hitters (BA, R, HR, RBI, SB) and pitchers (W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV).

Second, lineup construction accounts for 22 active roster positions, consisting of: one each for catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, corner infield, middle infield and utility, along with five outfielders and nine pitchers.

And third, to be eligible at a particular position, players must have played at least 20 games there in 2013 or 10 games in 2014.

With that out of the way, get ready to count down, starting with No. 150 and working all the way to No. 1.

 

Ins and Outs

This time around, seven players fell off the Big Board:

  • Howie Kendrick: His hot start was just that—a start—and Kendrick has gone back to being a useful but not impactful fantasy second baseman/middle infielder.
  • C.J. Wilson: He's still having a solid year all around (3.70 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8.4 K/9) but June wasn't great (5.46 ERA).
  • Adam Lind: He's worth starting at utility or first base (on a fill-in basis) because his .338 average plays up in the Blue Jays lineup, but Lind remains a platoon player with limited upside.
  • Xander Bogaerts: Just when it looked like the rookie was about to go bang, he went bust: .140/.182/.258 with a 27-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in June.
  • Joe Mauer: Even going 14-for-36 (.389) during a modest nine-game hitting streak couldn't save Mauer from falling off amid the worst season of his career.
  • Shelby Miller: A superficially solid season—a 3.75 ERA but a 4.76 FIP—took a turn for the worse when he had to leave his last start with a back injury.
  • Brett Lawrie: He's out until at least late July after breaking a finger via a hit-by-pitch, which you can watch below.

The seven newbies replacing them, highlighted on the Big Board, are:

  • Corey Dickerson: While playing regularly in June after Carlos Gonzalez went down, Dickerson has hit .333 with 16 runs, four homers, 17 RBI and three steals in 23 games.
  • Devin Mesoraco: His second crazy-hot stretch of 2014—a homer in five straight games from June 19 to June 24—puts Mesoraco on the Board for the first time.
  • Sean Doolittle: On Saturday, he actually blew his first opportunity—and gave up his first run—since taking over at closer in mid-May for the team with MLB's best record, but Doolittle's digits in that time are still ridiculous: 20.0 innings pitched, five hits, one earned run, a 32-1 K-BB ratio and 10 saves.
  • Matt Adams: Doubts remain about a guy with a 51-7 K-BB ratio, but his performance since coming off the disabled list—.328 batting average, 10 runs, six home runs, 16 RBI in 16 games—has to be acknowledged.
  • Josh Beckett: So the 34-year-old is pitching over his head (3.78 FIP); the actual numbers (2.11 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 8.5 K/9) are Board-worthy.
  • Jonathan Papelbon: Remember when everyone said Paps was done after he blew his first save chance of 2014 by allowing three runs while getting but one out back on April 2? Well, he's thrown 30.0 frames since then—and allowed just two runs.
  • Adam LaRoche: He won't reach the 30 homers and 100 RBI he managed back in 2012, but LaRoche's 11 and 43 so far are plenty good, and so is his .308 average.

 

On the Bubble

Because you're probably wondering about some players just outside the top 150, disregarding those who fell off this week, that list includes:

  • Dallas Keuchel, Mark Teixeira, Christian Yelich, Salvador Perez, Steve Cishek, Joakim Soria, Lance Lynn, Alex Gordon, Khris Davis and Marcell Ozuna

Keep in mind: When a few players at the same position are bunched together—like outfielders Angel Pagan, Starling Marte, Brett Gardner and Jason Heyward—it means they're more or less in the same boat, with no clear favorite at the moment.

That can and will change as more information, news, injuries and performances come to light. But for now, when players are grouped, consider their value to your team based more on specific category need than overall ranking.

 

Risers and Fallers

The right-most column marked "LAST" on the Big Board indicates a player who rose or fell in the rankings by at least 10 spots in either direction from the previous edition. Similar to the new additions, players who saw their value improve by that margin are highlighted.

Here are the reasons for some of the biggest risers this week:

  • David Price: You've seen this, right?
  • Todd Frazier: Heading into 2014, Frazier seemed like just another corner infield option, but after three months of surprising across-the-board production (.284 BA, 51 R, 17 HR, 46 RBI, 11 SB), we may be looking at the top fantasy third baseman.
  • Yoenis Cespedes: Sure, a few more steals would be nice—Yo has only one—but his 47 runs, 14 homers and 55 RBI provide big boosts in those categories, and his average is up to .272.
  • Jay Bruce: Over the past 10 days, Bruce has found it by hitting .457 with two homers, nine runs and nine RBI during a nine-game hitting steak, the last four of which have been multi-hit efforts.
  • Bryce Harper: You've seen this, too, right? Out since late April with a torn ligament in his thumb, Harper has been ripping it up on his rehab assignment and could be back as soon as this week.
  • Billy Hamilton: All of a sudden, Hamilton's 36 steals are only six behind Dee Gordon, and he's hit .333—with three homers and 17 RBI—in June.
  • Gregory Polanco: OK, so he's gone 0-for-9 the past two games. Polanco still has at least one hit in all but four of his first 18 big league games, to go with 14 runs, two homers, 10 RBI and four swipes.
  • Garrett Richards: The 26-year-old's breakout continues, as Richards' ERA (2.76), WHIP (1.12) and K/9 (8.8) are in the top 15 among all starters.
  • Justin Verlander: Two quality starts in a row isn't quite enough to buy all the way back in, but the 16 strikeouts over those 13.0 innings certainly is a promising sign Verlander is on his way to regaining top-30-starter status, thanks to his mechanical adjustments.
  • Nolan Arenado: Having begun his rehab assignment, Arenado should make it back to Colorado—and fantasy lineups—right around Independence Day.

Meanwhile, the big fallers dropped because of the following:

  • Andrew Cashner: On his second DL stint of 2014 and getting harder and harder to rely on, Cashner might be the Rich Harden for this generation of fantasy owners.
  • Michael Wacha: A stress reaction in one's shoulder just sounds painful, so expect the Cardinals to handle their prized second-year pitcher very, very carefully.
  • Yadier Molina: A .279 average from Molina, who hit .313 from 2011 to 2013, has everyone wondering what exactly happened to the real-life MVP candidate who used to be in the running for fantasy's best backstop.
  • Matt Holliday: Yikes—our third Cardinal in a row. Holliday's production so far (.267 BA, 40 R, 5 HR, 39 RBI) looks like something you might find floating around your waiver wire these days.
  • Carlos Gonzalez: His recovery from finger surgery is going to be a slow go, and with the Rockies falling out of the playoff picture with a 7-19 June, there's no motivation to get CarGo back before he's absolutely ready. That may be August.
  • Alexei Ramirez: Before his one-homer, two-RBI effort on Friday, Ramirez hadn't managed a single one of either since—get this—May 26. (Seriously, dude went a full month without a home run or a run batted in.)
  • James Shields: Very quietly, Shields has been mediocre—at best—in 11 outings since the start of May: 4.77 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 5.8 K/9.
  • Dustin Pedroia: No. 65 overall actually might be too high for Pedroia, whose 44 runs scored is saving an otherwise dismal season (.268 BA, 4 HR, 27 RBI, 2 SB).
  • David Wright: His 2014 wasn't all that hot to begin with, and now Wright is dealing with a sore rotator cuff that kept him out over the weekend. He will be re-evaluated on Monday.

 

Wrapping Up

In case you haven't noticed, this week marks the midway point in the 2014 season, as teams will have surpassed the 81-game threshold.

On one hand: Wow—that was fast, huh? But on the other: 81 more games is still a long way to go—and a lot of time to lose or make up ground in your league.

By now, there's a good chance at least a few of your fellow owners have checked out, probably those who are at or near the bottom of the standings. But please: Don't join them.

After all, if you're in good shape, you need to maintain your edge. But even if you're not, the whims of your competition just means you'll be facing less of a climb back into the race.

Whether you've been waiting for a stud like Harper to get back, planning a blockbuster trade to shake things up or expecting some underperformers to finally start, you know, performing, it's time for that second (half) wind.

 

Statistics are accurate through June 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

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