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2012 American and National League MVP Awards Announced

Friday November 16th, 2012

Bernie Olshansky:  The final awards have been announced. Both races could have gone either way, with deserving candidates in each league. In the end, each winner won by a large margin (Cabrera 362-281 and Posey 422-285). There really were not any surprises in this year of MVP voting. Here’s my analysis for each league.

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San Francisco Giants: 2012 World Series Champions – A Season For the Ages

Monday October 29th, 2012

Bernie Olshansky:  The 2012 San Francisco Giants can be described in various ways. They were exciting, quirky, hard-working, and persevering to name a few. Pablo Sandoval, when asked of a word that could describe the team- said “heart”. After all the team went through, this was the absolute perfect word to describe what the team was made of. The Giants did it all in the playoffs. The team came back from a 0-2 deficit in the NLDS against the Reds and a 1-3 deficit in the NLCS against the Cardinals. The World Series was a breeze for the Giants as they swept the Detroit Tigers in incredible fashion. It took extra innings in game 4. But after 2 straight shutouts, the Giants had to work at least a bit to get their rings.

At the beginning of the season, fans had high hopes for the club as all fans do. The team got off to a bit of a slow start but picked up the pace as expected. The Dodgers looked to be a threat after an unexpected hot start, and the race was on. The Diamondbacks hung with the top two teams for a short period of time but in the end it became a two-team race. It was at the beginning of the year when the Giants were faced with the first bit of adversity. Closer Brian Wilson was lost to his second Tommy John Surgery. The team decided to go with closer-by-committee, and that worked fabulously (mainly Sergio Romo stepping up as the closer towards the end of the season).

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How Much do the Giants miss Melky Cabrera?

Thursday October 18th, 2012

Bernie Olshansky: When the San Francisco Giants made the playoffs this year for the second time in three years, there was one major question:  Should Melky Cabrera be activated at some point? There were two schools of thought: the business side, which leaned toward activating him; and the emotional fan side, which was against activating him. If Cabrera was activated, there was no doubt he would help the Giants offensively. Cabrera’s .346 average would have won him the batting title (he disqualified himself) and helped the Giants greatly in the postseason. Granted, if Cabrera had not gotten suspended, the Giants might not have gone after Hunter Pence. Still, a lineup going Cabrera-Posey- Sandoval in the three-four-five holes would be dangerous. And, if Pence was added, the offense would be even more potent.

If the emotions and distractions of players and fans were not considered, the Giants would have activated Cabrera immediately. But, with all of the drama surrounding Cabrera’s suspension and him likely lying to many of his teammates, bringing him back might not have been the best decision. Cabrera would definitely draw an abundance of unwanted media attention into the clubhouse and would undoubtedly cause a distraction. Giants’ fans were also mixed. Some wanted him back while some wanted him run out of town. Although not as important, Cabrera’s return could anger some fans, giving the usually electric AT&T Park a different atmosphere.

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MLB Free Agent Closer Carousel

Friday November 11, 2011

Rob Bland (Baseball Writer – MLB reports):  Every one of the MLB’s franchises will be looking for bullpen help, and most will be looking to add a major contributor to the back-end.  The closer position is one that is seen as the most underrated as well as the most overrated job in all of baseball.  On one hand, some people may over-value a closer’s “makeup” and poise, where others say “it’s the same as pitching at any point in the game.”  While I like to sit somewhere between these two concepts, most fans like knowing that their team employs a “proven veteran closer.”  All you have to do is look at the St. Louis Cardinals of 2011 to notice that is not necessarily the case.  Their closer was Jason Motte, although Tony La Russa refused to officially anoint him so.  Motte had 12 career saves going into the postseason, 9 of which were in 2011.  However, the fireballer was dominant in the postseason, and helped to bring in another World Series title to St. Louis.

In 2007, the Boston Red Sox employed a closer by the name of Jonathan Papelbon, a 2nd year closer, and they went on to win the World Series.  There are several other times where a homegrown closer has led his team to a championship, Brian Wilson of the 2010 San Francisco Giants being another recent one.

There are many closers without a set home for 2012, with Papelbon headlining that list.  It has been said that Papelbon is looking for a 4 year contract, and could even get a 5th guaranteed year on the open market.  Much of the early talk about closers this off-season has surrounded Ryan  Madson, formerly of the Philadelphia Phillies.  It was rumored that he had agreed with the Phillies to a 4 year, $44M contract with a 5th year as a vesting option.  It was said that the Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. was awaiting approval from team president David Montgomery.   It has recently come to light that Amaro Jr. has vehemently denied these rumors.

Frank Francisco, Francisco Rodriguez, Heath Bell, Jonathan Broxton, Joe Nathan and Francisco Cordero are all closers who may be looking for new homes in 2012.  Also available are Matt Capps, Jon Rauch, David Aardsma, and Takashi Saito.

The Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres, LA Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins, Florida Marlins and Houston Astros are some of the teams who figure to be in the market for a closer, if not to upgrade.

Because of the Madson fiasco that has been taking place, I doubt he re-signs with the Phillies.  The Phillies seem to have moved on to their next target, Papelbon.   All Papelbon has done in his 6+ seasons with the Red Sox is accumulate 219 saves with a 4.43 K/BB ratio.  His career ERA sits at 2.33 while his FIP isn’t far off at 2.60, showing just how good he actually is.  I think a 4 year deal worth $51M and a vesting option of $15M would likely get the job done.

Madson’s early “almost signing” may have set the bar for Papelbon, and Madson will be looking for something in the same range. He may have to settle for a bit less as the Phillies look to get the signing done quickly.  Madson took over for Brad Lidge, who battled injuries in 2011 as the Phillies closer.  A 3.88 K/BB ratio and a ground ball rate close to 50% ensured a very successful season where his FIP was 2.25.  4 years and $40M should get it done, and I see him going to the LA Dodgers.

Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod) was traded at the deadline from the Mets to the Milwaukee Brewers, but didn’t get an opportunity to close out games.  His displeasure with the situation was coming out, even though incumbent closer John Axford was performing extremely well, and the club was on its way to a playoff berth.  The Miami Marlins (still doesn’t feel right to say) are looking to be huge spenders this off-season, and I see no difference with K-Rod.  Rodriguez  has 291 saves in his career, including a single season record 62 in 2008 with the LA Angels of Anaheim.  I see the 30-year-old signing a 3 year deal worth $30M to usurp the incumbent Marlins closer, Juan Oviedo (previously known as Leo Nunez).

Heath Bell is a closer who has had tremendous numbers over the last three seasons, albeit in ultra spacious Petco Park as his home field.  His K rate dipped this year, and may have been a bit lucky with a .261 BABIP.  San Diego Padres GM Josh Byrnes has already said he would likely offer arbitration to Bell, a Type A free agent.  Bell has also said in the past that he would accept arbitration, as he likes San Diego.  This presents a slight problem for the cash-strapped Padres, who prefer to keep their payroll lower.  Bell will be due a raise from the $7.5M he made in 2011, so a $9-10M 1 year deal will likely be in place here with the Padres.

Joe Nathan is a special case, because he had an option of $12.5M declined by the Minnesota Twins, who would still like to bring him back.  Nathan did not pitch in 2010 after undergoing Tommy John Surgery, and threw 44 2/3 mediocre innings in 2011.  However, over his last 27 innings, he gave up only 20 hits, 5 walks and 10 runs, really finishing strong and proving he is healthy again.  The downfall is that by spring training, he will be 38 years old and clearly looking at the end of his career.  The Toronto Blue Jays are looking for a closer to anchor a bullpen that will see a lot of turnover, and Nathan could be had for $4M and a club option for 2013.

Jonathan Broxton is another closer looking to establish his value.  The hulking 6’4” 300 lb closer had a disappoint 2011 season, and just had surgery to remove loose bodies from his elbow in September.  His K rate has steadily declined from the career high of 13.50/9 IP in 2009.  His ground ball rate, BB/9, ERA and FIP have all suffered at the same time.  Broxton will likely get a one year, incentive-laden deal to prove he is healthy.  He will likely have to settle for a setup man role, and I think he could work with the Mets in spacious Citi Field.

Francisco Cordero has had a 13 year career that started in Detroit, then took him to Texas, Milwaukee then finally Cincinnati.  The Reds recently declined his $12M option, but GM Walt Jocketty has said he hopes to bring the closer back.  However, I don’t see him donning the Reds jersey any longer, as the soon to be 37-year-old will look to move on and close out his career.  While his fastball still averages 93 mph, it is 3 mph slower than Cordero’s prime.  Because of this, his K rate has dipped to 5.43/9IP from 12.22/9IP in 2007.  While his stats have declined, he has averaged 39 saves the last 5 seasons.  He will probably settle for a one year deal worth $6M, where the Minnesota Twins will sign him.

It’s a carousel in the closing world, as more teams are beginning to put less stock in having an established closer at the back of a bullpen.  Homegrown closers are becoming a more popular choice, but some teams look for that slight edge, and if it means overpaying for a pitcher who will throw roughly 5% of the team’s innings, they will do so. 

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Rob Bland.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Rob on Twitter.***

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Top 5 Closers Available at July 31 MLB Trade Deadline

Friday July 22, 2011

 

MLB reports:   The MLB Non-Waiver Trade Deadline is rapidly approaching.  With only nine days to go, MLB teams need to decide if they are buyers or sellers.  Right up until July 31st deadline, the baseball world will be buzzing on potential deals.  While transactions can occur after July 31st, the respective players will need to first pass through waivers, which makes trades more difficult to happen.  Especially in the category of closers, who are sought after by almost every team.  Whether to obtain a 9th inning stopper or upgrade their middle relief, the majority of MLB teams are currently on the prowl.

There are some contending teams would love to add a closer, including the Rangers and Cardinals.  The host of other teams battling for a playoff spot are ready to take a current closer to pitch the 7th or 8th inning.  To win today in baseball, you usually need 2-3 closer-type pitchers in your pen.  The Brewers recently added Francisco Rodriguez to compliment John Axford.  The New York Yankees signed Rafael Soriano to pitch in front of Mariano Rivera, although David Robertson has since grabbed the role.  True closers will always be in demand and teams with playoff aspirations will always find room for these guys on their rosters.

As the line between buyers and sellers becomes less blurry, we take a look today at the top five closer candidates to be traded by the July 31st MLB Trade Deadline:

 

1)  Heath Bell:  San Diego Padres

The Rolls Royce of available closers, the Padres are talking to teams on a daily, if not hourly basis on the availability of Heath Bell.  Nearly every team has been linked to Bell in the past few days, from the Rangers, Cardinals, Phillies, Red Sox, Jays and Tigers.  The prize of the closing market, expect the Padres to demand a king’s ransom for his services.  At least two top prospects, with one being major league ready should get this deal done.  With 28 saves and a 2.45 ERA, the 33-year old Bell is having another fantastic campaign before his impending free agency.  The Rangers and Cardinals are most in need of a closer, with the Rangers the most likely destination based on availability of prospects.  The Rangers have the superior farm system and could match up best with the Padres.  The Phillies and Jays are the dark horses according to reports and need to decide if they are willing to pay the price.

 

2)  Brandon League:  Seattle Mariners

A first time All-Star in 2011, Brandon League has raised his stock this year and given the Mariners an interesting trade chip to work with at the deadline.  League has chipped in 23 saves already this year, with a 3.35 ERA and 1.088 WHIP.  With a team friendly contract and under team control for another season, League should draw much interest on the market.  St. Louis seems like a logical choice, as the Cardinals will be looking for a long-term solution to their closing woes.  I cannot see the Mariners dealing in their division and having to face League next year with the Rangers.  A top prospect or two middle prospects should make this one happen.  With the Mariners far out of contention and in complete rebuild mode, a top closer seems like a luxury that the Mariners cannot afford at the moment.  The Mariners need offensive help and need it quickly, with League being one of many candidates likely to leave Seattle by July 31st to replenish the farm system.

 

3)  Frank Francisco, Jon RauchOctavio Dotel, Jason Frasor:  Toronto Blue Jays

If Heath Bells is a Rolls Royce, the Blue Jays are running a used Ford dealership in their bullpen.  Frank Francisco is like a used mustang with transmission problems, while Jon Rauch is a pickup truck without the V8 engine.  The Jays have assembled a collection of the middle-of-the-road closers and setup men this year in their bullpen.  Francisco will likely draw the most attention, despite his mostly awful numbers this year.  At 31-years of age and throwing big time heat, Francisco still has potential.  Rauch has served as the Jays closer for much of the year and could be in demand as well.  Octavio Dotel, the eldest member of the pack, has bounced around during his major league career and could be a useful trade deadline pickup.  The most effective reliever though for the Jays has been Jason Frasor and a smart team should consider him.  While the Jays are unlikely to offer any true closers to contending teams, there are middle relief candidates to be had.  Expect the Phillies to come calling and pickup one of the above.

 

4)  Kevin Gregg:  Baltimore Orioles

For those teams that like to play with fire, closers don’t get more dangerous than Kevin Gregg.  A 4.00 ERA and unsightly 1.583 WHIP are not numbers that scream out lock-down closer.  Gregg has shown though the ability to get hot at times during his career and will be considered by many teams over the next week.  Signed through next year, the Orioles will look mainly for salary relief in shedding Gregg’s contract.  Personally, I wouldn’t consider Gregg if I was running a team.  But somehow he will likely move by July 31st.

 

5)  Leo Nunez:  Florida Marlins

Another up-and-down closer in the Gregg mold, Leo Nunez is quietly having a very solid season for the Florida Marlins.  Up to 27 saves, with a 3.22 ERA and 1.187 WHIP, Nunez might actually be the best affordable option on the closers market.  The Rangers and Cardinals will sniffing around here, as will the Red Sox, Indians and Tigers.  As the Marlins and Tigers have matched up well before in trades, I can see this swap happening.  The Tigers have the ability to surrender a decent pitching prospect and can use Nunez down the stretch as Valverde insurance.  With the Tigers in contention and the majority of their bullpen being fairly unstable for most of the year, Nunez might be a late inning option that the the Tigers can ill-afford to miss out on.

 

Send us your comments and opinions on available closers for the trade deadline.  Other names thrown around have been Joakim Soria, Matt Capps, Joe Nathan, Andrew Bailey and Brian Fuentes.  The trading of players, especially closers, is especially reliant on the competitiveness and status of a team in the standings.  With so many teams still in their respective races, there are not as many top bullpen arms available at this point in the season.  But come August, as more teams continue to drop out, expect to see even more trade activity.  Exciting times, as the MLB pennant races continue to heat up, and baseball trade talk is on everyone’s lips.

 

 

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Vernon Wells Trade Discussion: Midseason Winners and Loser

Sunday July 17, 2011

 

Rob Bland (Intern- MLB Reports):  January 21, 2011 is seen as a bit of a turning point in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays.  General Manager Alex Anthopolous traded away long-time face of the franchise, Vernon Wells.  Wells had been with the Blue Jays since he was drafted in the first round, fifth overall by the Jays in the 1997 amateur draft.  After making his debut in 1999, he played in a Toronto uniform through the 2010 season.  His name is littered across franchise record books, and he was a beloved figure in the clubhouse.  On December 15, 2006, Wells signed a seven-year, $126 million contract extension, which at the time was the 6th largest contract in MLB history.  Over the next few years, Wells’ lack of production and time spent on the disabled list, made his contract “unmoveable”.

That was of course until Alex Anthopolous took the helm as Jays GM, and was able to find a taker for Wells and the four years and $86 million remaining on the contract.  Into the picture came Tony Reagins, GM of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  It has been said that Reagins approached Anthopolous about Wells.  One would think that in order for a deal to work, the Blue Jays would have had to send a large sum of cash to the Angels in order for the deal to go through.

The deal that was finally consummated was to send Wells and approximately $5 million to the Angels in exchange for OF Juan Rivera, and C/1B Mike Napoli.  Rivera was seen as a throw-in, as his $4M contract was more than the Angels wanted to pay.  Napoli had fallen out of favour in manager Mike Scioscia’s eyes; despite hitting at least 20 home runs in each of the three previous seasons despite receiving limited playing time.  Toronto then flipped Napoli to the Texas Rangers for standout reliever Frank Francisco.  The Rangers received the powerful, right-handed versatile hitter they coveted, and the Blue Jays thought they received the closer they needed.

It is quite obvious that no matter how any of those players perform, the Blue Jays are the big winner because of the payroll space they have cleared and can use to extend their star players, see Jose Bautista.  However, this deal has not been so cut and dry.  While Napoli has swung the bat with authority, Juan Rivera has been traded to the LA Dodgers, and Francisco has been awful out of the Jays bullpen.

Let’s take a quick look at each player’s production and how their respective teams have fared so far.

 

Mike Napoli

Again performing as a part-time player at three positions, Napoli has been very solid for the Rangers.  He has hit 13 home runs and driven in 34 RBI in only 187 plate appearances.  While his average leaves something to be desired, he makes up for it in his ability to take walks and hit the ball to the gaps.  With his OPS at .906, he has proven that he is a tremendously underrated player.  His WAR through half the season is at 1.7, and he is on pace to break his career high of 2.6.

 

Juan Rivera

Because he was seen as a salary dump for the Angels, the Blue Jays took him on and saw him as the everyday left fielder and DH out of spring training.  He was never able to get it going, and quickly fell out of favour in Toronto.  His OPS sat at .666 when traded, with a limited ability to get on base and very little power.  This on top of the fact that he played atrocious defense led to his -1.2 WAR.  He was traded to the LA Dodgers for a player to be named later or cash considerations on July 12, 2011.

 

Frank Francisco

Seen as a pretty successful power arm for the late innings, Francisco was picked up from the Texas Rangers along with cash.  He continues to strike out a ton of batters, (10.1 K/9), but he is giving up more hits than he has in the past.  However, part of this is due to a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .359.  His xFIP is actually almost two runs lower than his ERA, 3.56 as opposed to 5.40.  I think that Francisco has been unlucky, and when it all evens out, it will show that he is at least a competent late inning reliever.

 

Vernon Wells

Wells was obviously the big fish in this trade.  He has the ability to be an MVP-caliber player (see his 2003 and 2006 seasons).  He has two gold gloves in center field, as well as three All-Star appearances in his career.  He has hit 30 home runs three times and driven in 100 RBI three times.  Wells’ production in 2011 has been nothing short of horrendous.  He has 14 home runs so far, but other than that, hasn’t done anything particularly well.  His OPS is .671 with an OBP of .254.  Wells is striking out in over 20% of his plate appearances, and walking in less than 4%.  Now, you could look at his BABIP (.228) and think he has been unlucky, but it is that low because of his awful 10% line drive rate.  With a flyball rate of 47% and by hitting a ton of infield flies, his BABIP won’t likely rise much.  It is unlikely that Wells will ever return to being the player he once was.

 

VERDICT: 

Taking a look at these stats, we can see that the Rangers were an instant winner.  They gave up an expendable reliever, and gained a valuable bat off the bench.  The Angels are the big losers in the deal, as they owe Wells over $60M over the next 3.5 years.  That kind of production out of a left fielder is unacceptable for a team trying to contend for the playoffs.  Toronto knew that with the trades they made, they would not be as good of a team without Wells.  They are in a rebuilding mode, and the money they save can be used on drafting and developing young talent.  Francisco could be a Type B free agent at the end of the year, so another draft pick could be theirs. 

**The grand winner in this series of moves is the Blue Jays, as with the departure of Wells, they have been able to extend Jose Bautista with a five-year, $65M contract.  They have been aggressive in international signings this month as well, and look to pour more resources into the draft. ***  

 

***Thank you to Rob Bland for preparing today’s article on the Vernon Wells trade.  You can follow Rob on Twitter.***

 

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E-MAILBAG: Ask the Reports, Wednesday June 8th

Thank you for reading the E-mailbag.  Please send all your questions to mlbreports@gmail.com and please include your first name and City/Country.

 

We will be compiling a list of your questions from our e-mailbag and posting the responses on Wednesdays.


 

Wednesday June 8, 2011

 

Q:  Do you think that  Kansas city will trade Wilson Betemit to a contender while he his playing well and with Mike “Moose” starting to hit great in Triple-A?  If so to whom will he get traded to possibly?  From Pam

MLB reports:  Thank you for the question Pam.  I see that you have beeen following the Reports closely, as you know that I enjoy discussing Royals prospects, especially the up-and-coming bats.  With Hosmer on board, it is only a matter of time before Mike “Moose” Moustakas is next.  In 54 games played in Omaha, the Moose has 10 home runs,  43 RBIs, 36 runs scored, .282 AVG and .835 OPS.  His 18/43 BB/K ratio does not get me terribly excited, as it does not appear that Moose will ever have the batting eye of Eric Hosmer.  That being said, Moustakas should hit for decent average with a ton of power.  At 22 years of age and on his second tour of duty in AAA, it is only a matter of time before he gets called up.  Wilson Betemit, on the other hand, has played fairly well this year, with a .297 AVG and .776 OPS.  The power is down with only 2 home runs but he has 13 doubles already.  I see the Royals keeping him around for insurance and versatility.  With the Royals very much in contention, they do not have an incentive to trade Betemit unless they got young pitching back (which few teams would give up at this stage).  Betemit also has a very affordable contract ($1 million/2011) and will not likely be moved. 

 

Q:    What do you think of the rumored group of Garvey and Hershiser to purchase the Dodgers?   From Larry, Laughlin.

MLB reports:  This story has surfaced and has started to gather steam.  If not for Steve Garvey, I could see the Orel Hershiser name attached to the bid providing a great deal of credibility.  Hershiser is seen as a clean-cut individual with great heroics in years past for the Dodgers.  Garvey on the other hand, while a strong player in his day, does not have the best reputation.  Based on the news that I am hearing, I think having Garvey on board will likely kill the chances of this group winning any future bids to control the Dodgers.  Frank McCourt is still lurking in the background, but his time is almost done.  With all the turmoil surrounding the Dodgers in recent years, MLB and Selig will take their time to find the best possible ownership situation for one of its prized franchises.  Stay tuned as this story is far from over.

 

Q:  So has Matt Purke pitcher for TCU been drafted yet? If so, where to?  From Nolan, Texas

MLB reports:  What a fall from grace.  Purke, drafted by the Rangers 14th overall in 2010, was drafted in the 3rd round, with the 96th pick by the Washington Nationals this year.  After battling a sore shoulder and having signability issues based on the Rangers failure to sign him, many teams got scared off from this prospect.  I expected Purke to go in the 1st round this year, likely to the Jays or back to the Rangers.  But the Nationals, who continue to stock up top prospects, landed a 1st round talent in the 3rd round.  A very successful selection as Purke will become a solid #3 solid for the Nationals down the road, as early as 2013. 

 

Q:  Hosmer have a legit chance at AL ROY this year?  From Jerry, Lawrence KS

MLB reports:  You think?  At age 21 (a year younger than Mike Moustakas), Eric Hosmer has simply dominated major league pitching since getting the call to join the Royals.  In 29 games, Hosmer has 5 home runs, 20 RBIs, 14 runs, .304 AVG and .834 OPS.  His batting eye has not been on par with his numbers from the minors, as he sits at a 7/22 BB/K.  But with his strong average and power to-date, Hosmer will cut down the strikeouts and increase the walks as the months and years go by.  We are watching the Royals first baseman for the next decade or so.  He has the potential to match the bat of Will Clark and Mark Grace and the sky is the limit for this future all-star.  I compare him most to Logan Morrison of the Florida Marlins, as they are very similar players.  Great company to be in.  Michael Pineda has been outstanding for the Mariners but as the summer is upon us, his arm may get tired and innings become limited.  On the flip-side, I can see Hosmer getting hot as the season progresses and could make a strong push for the Rookie of the Year award in the American League.  Definitely keep an eye on this kid.

 

Q:  What’s your thoughts on the White Sox drafting Keenyn Walker at 47?  From James, London, ON

MLB reports:  I was very surprised to see Walker drafted this early.  After being drafted by the Cubs in the 16th round in 2009 and the Phillies in the 38th round in 2010, I did not expect Walker to go as high as he did.  The kid is a speedster, stealing 65 bases in 63 games played this year.  Compared by some to Devon White, he sees himself as the next Torii Hunter.  Despite his strong bat and 6’3″ frame, I have concerns if his bat will translate to the major league level.  The speed and defense are definitely there, but it’s the power and batting eye that he will need to prove to advance in the minors.  A good project player with a high ceiling, but much too early for the White Sox at this slot.

 

Q:  Looks like Francisco brought his “A game” again. Why is he still closing?  From Jennifer, Toronto

MLB reports:  For some reason, there is a code in baseball that you stick with your “established” closer(s) and keep trotting them out there until they absolutely cannot be trusted.  Looking at the Frank Francisco’s numbers, I believe that time has come.  He has given up far too many hits and runs on the season and with a 6.06 ERA and 1.78 WHIP, in my opinion he should have been pitching in middle relief long ago.  With Jon Rauch also struggling to maintain consistency, many so-called experts have looked to Octavio Dotel to take the closing job in Toronto.  While Dotel has been steady, he has not shown the necessary consistency in my estimation.  If it were up to me, I would call upon Casey Janssen or Jason Frasor to become the new Jays stopper.  Both have brilliant on the season and earned the right ot pitch in the 9th inning.  Frasor has the experience but I would give the role with Janssen and see if he can run with it.  The Jays are fortunate to have so many closing options and can try out different pitchers until they find the right fit.  But why Francisco continues to get the call is beyond me.  He is most suited to pitching the 7th or 8th inning and has proven in Toronto, like he did before in Texas, that he is not a dependable closer. 

 

Q:  What are your thoughts on the season that Jonny Venters is having so far?  Also what about how terrible Uggla has been?  From Kyle

MLB reports:  Craig Kimbrel has pitched well this season, with 17 saves (2nd in the NL), 2.79 ERA and 1.23 WHIP.  But while Kimbrel has been good, Venters has been great.  All Jonny Venters has done is given up 2 ER in 35.2 innings pitched, to a the tune of a 0.50 ERA and 0.76 WHIP.  Kimbrel is younger at 23 compared to Venters at 26 and was seen as a stronger prospect going into the season.  Also Venters is a lefty and baseball for some reason favors right-handed closers.  But the numbers don’t lie and should Kimbrel falter at all, Venters will be given the first crack at the job.  The Braves are in a really good situation with these two youngsters pitching at the back end of their bullpen.  If their worst problem is who should pitch the 9th, the Braves will not mind that at all.  As far as the slumping Uggla goes, there are several factors for his poor season.  At 31-years of age, he starting to hit his decline.  He always had high strikeout numbers but his walks have taken a huge dive this season.  For whatever reason, he has not been comfortable playing in Atlanta and has had troubles adjusting to his new team.  Add to that the pressure of living up to his new 5-year, $62 million contract and you have a case of player that is out of place and playing under pressure.  Uggla though is a solid veteran and I expect him to heat up as the summer is upon us.  The only direction for him is to go up and as long as he goes back to basics and does all the little things that has made him successful in the past, he should rebound nicely.  Uggla is still Uggla, give him time.

 

 

 

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Mike Napoli – The Next Jose Bautista?

MLB reports:  What a difference 48 hours make.  At this time Wednesday night, I was plotting to prepare my blog on Mike Napoli.  The theme was going to be the unappreciated and neglected catcher of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and what he needed to finally break through.  This blog was born by way of my promise on twitter to write a blog of choice for my 500th follower.  Little did I know that one of my tweeps who is a devoted Angels fan would un-follow and follow me on twitter purposely to rig becoming #500.  As a compromise, this tweep allowed me to blog on one of my favorite players who also was playing on his team, the said Mike Napoli.

We discussed the reasons why Napoli was often riding the Angels’ bench and seemed to be disliked by manager Mike Scoscia.  My theory was that 2nd catcher Jeff Mathis was built more in the Scoscia mode from his player, strong defensively with a weak bat.  Napoli on the other hand, with Adam Dunn type power in his bat, was the anti-Scoscia.  With  bat envy in mind, Scoscia continued to let Napoli rot on the bench essentially for 4 years while rotating the catchers.  This blog was meant to discuss what additional playing time and confidence would do for Napoli in allowing his talent to blossom.  At approximately 6:30p.m. on Friday January 21, 2011, everything changed when my sports radio station announced in my car while I was driving “…Ken Rosenthal reports that the Toronto Blue Jays have acquired Mike Napoli from the Angels, details to follow.”

Now please realize that I was born in Toronto and have lived in this city my whole life.  I am a life-long baseball fan, but never considered myself a Jays fan.  I admired many players throughout the years, regardless of which team they played for.  I became a fan of the Detroit Tigers based on location, which grew over time and as the team developed.  But I would never consider myself a Jays fan, not until this offseason.  First came the signings of the pitchers, Dotel, Cordero and Rauch.  The trade for Brett Lawrie.  The previous trades for Drabek, D’arnaud, Wallace and later Gose.  I started to see the vision of Alex Anthopoulos and what he was building in Toronto.  But never imagined that he would bring Napoli to my hometown team.  So what started off as a “play Napoli” piece became a “Napoli will play” blog.

To everyone who has been reading my tweets tonight, there is no need to further voice my opinions on this blog about the trade itself.  The fact that the Jays were able to unload the Wells contract in full without adding in money was a miracle in itself.  The Vernon contract was labelled by many as the most un-tradeable contract in baseball.  If AA was able to unload this albatross in itself, he would have been heralded a genius.  The fact that Vernon was traded and the Jays were able to acquire Mike Napoli was truly the icing on the cake.  Juan Rivera, in the last year of his contract at $5.25 million becomes a spare part 4th outfielder for the Jays, who may be moved before the year is out or may perform well and earn the Jays a supplemental pick in the 2011 draft.  Either way, the Rivera addition/cost is negligible in the equation.  The trade boiled down essentially to the deletion of Wells and the success of the Jays in this regard.  What I believe will be forgotten in the equation is the addition of Mike Napoli to the lineup.  By the end of the season, this will no longer be the case.

Mike Napoli (Napp-uh-lee) was born on Halloween, October 31, 1981, stands an even 6’0″ tall and weighs a sturdy 215 pounds.  I remember watching Napoli for the first time on television in 2006.  The things that stood out to me were the open buttons on his jersey and that the bat in his hand looked like a toothpick.  Very Adam Dunn like.  Napoli proceeded to crank one of the longest home runs I had ever seen in his first at-bat that I ever saw.  I was in awe.  That year Nap0li in 99 games and 268 abs hit 16 home runs, hit .228 but had a .360 obp and .455 slg.  Napoli is part of the new wave of Nick Swisher, Adam Dunn type money ball players, where batting average becomes less relevant and obp/slg/ops become more key.  Looking at the numbers, Mike Napoli has had 3 straight 20+ home runs years, last year cranking out 26 home runs playing in a career high 140 games.  For his career to-date, Napoli has a .251 avg with a .346 obp and .485 slg.  Very lofty numbers, particularly for a catcher.  Playing in an Angels lineup without many mashers, I always wondered why he never had a chance to play every day and prove what he can do.  In 2011, that chance will now come in Toronto.

Between catcher, 1B and DH, Mike Napoli should finally have a chance to truly play every day with the Toronto Blue Jays.  On a young developing team playing in a home fun friendly park, the sky will be the limit for Napoli.  Looking at Jose Bautista and what playing in Toronto has done for his career, I see very good things happening in Napoli’s career.  Dwayne Murphy and the Toronto coaching staff  did some great work with many of the Toronto hitters in 2010, particularly Vernon Wells and Jose Bautista.  Bautista in particular was always seen with power potential in his bat when coming up, but was never given the opportunity to thrive.  Working with Napoli and allowing him to grow and play every day, he will not have to press to produce each game in the fear that one false move will result in a banishment to the bench.  With new-found confidence instilled, Napoli can relax and develop into the power hitter that he was meant to be.

For all the talk of Vernon Wells leaving town, what the Jays have also done is acquired themselves their potential future cleanup hitter for the next 3+ years conceivably.  Playing at the Rogers Centre, Napoli has the potential to hit 40+ home runs, make the all-star team and win silver slugger awards.  Sound familiar?  If all goes according to my visions, the trade consummated on January 21, 2011 will one day centre on the fact that the Toronto Blue Jays acquired Mike Napoli rather than the focus on Vernon Wells being dumped on the Angels.  Welcome to Toronto Mike Napoli.  You are finally home.

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