Results tagged ‘ Cubs ’
Too long for Twitter, too short for a story …
* Joe Blanton and Sean Burnett are scheduled to undergo their physical examinations on Tuesday and their two-year contracts are expected to be official by Wednesday.
* Blanton’s deal will pay him $6.5 million in 2013 and $7.5 million in 2014, plus an $8 million club option (and $1 million buyout). The 31-year-old right-hander can also make an extra $500,000 each year for reaching 200 innings. Burnett signed a two-year, $8 million contract with a $4.5 million club option for 2015 (with a $500,000 buyout).
* Zack Greinke‘s six-year, $147 million deal with the Dodgers has been finalized. His press conference will take place Tuesday, at 1:30 p.m. PT, at Dodger Stadium. It’ll be streamed live on Dodgers.com, too.
* The first workout for Angels pitchers and catchers is Feb. 12. The first full-squad workout will take place Feb. 15. You can see the full Cactus League schedule here.
* Major League Baseball Advanced Media and StubHub.com announced a new five-year deal on Monday, but the Angels, Yankees and Cubs backed out of that extension. The Angels seek an alternative partnership in the secondary ticket market and are expected to announce a new deal soon.
In honor of Paul Simon, who told you about the 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, below are Five Ways To Leave Vernon Wells. Not as catchy, I know. And it’s not as easy as slipping out the back (Jack), or making a new plan (Stan), or hopping off the bus (Gus) — OK, I’ll stop.
The best way to get it done may be a little bad-contract swapping.
Look, it’s no secret the Angels would prefer to part ways with Wells, who’s owed $42 million through the 2014 season. At this point, they can’t expect much salary relief (if any) in the process, but what they can do is create some breathing room in a clogged-up outfield and perhaps get a player back who can help them in an area of need. At the same time, they’d probably be helping Wells, sending him to a place where he can play more regularly. The best way to do it, perhaps, is to try and find a match with a team that has a similarly unfriendly contract. The Cubs did it in 2009, sending the volatile Milton Bradley to the Mariners in exchange for Carlos Silva. The Angels themselves tried to do it last offseason, with Bobby Abreu slated to return to the Yankees before A.J. Burnett evoked his limited no-trade clause.
Is there a similar partner for Wells this offseason? Below are some possibilities. Two things to keep in mind: 1. This is merely speculative — nothing more than my own opinion; 2. The Angels may consider the next two years of Wells’ contract a wash, so perhaps they’ll have little issue with paying the difference in a trade. The benefit for them is creating flexibility in the outfield — perhaps easing a return for Torii Hunter — while getting a player who may help them. If they can save a couple million dollars, too, even better.
BOS SP John Lackey ($30.5M thru ’14)
After winning 102 games, posting a 3.81 ERA and having a few memorable postseason moments in eight seasons with the Angels, Lackey put up a 4.40 ERA in his first year with the Red Sox, followed by a 6.41 ERA in 2011, followed by Tommy John surgery in October that knocked him out for all of this past season. But the soon-to-be 34-year-old progressed towards the end of the year, should have a normal offseason and is expected to be ready to go by the start of Spring Training. Would Boston go for it? They have Jacoby Ellsbury in center and there appears to be strong mutual interest in Cody Ross returning. Other than that, though, they have several uncertainties in Daniel Nava, Ryan Sweeney and Ryan Kalish. Wells, meanwhile, may be a nice fit for the Green Monster, and to them, Lackey may represent part of that toxic clubhouse they’re still trying to fumigate.
NYY 3B Alex Rodriguez ($114M thru ’17)
It’s an easy place to go these days, since A-Rod is getting benched in the playoffs while being booed mercifully by the home crowd and the Angels could use an upgrade at third base. But A-Rod’s deal extends three years longer than Wells’, at $61 million. I’m thinking one $200 million deal (Albert Pujols) is enough in Anaheim.
CWS DH Adam Dunn ($30M thru ’14)
Bringing him on board as a lefty middle-of-the-order hitter could free up a trade for Kendrys Morales, who’s heading into his final year before free agency. But Dunn turned it around in 2012, raising his OPS from .569 to .800, and may claim AL Comeback Player of the Year honors for it (Morales is also in the running). This no longer looks like a salary dump for the White Sox.
SEA UT Chone Figgins ($8M in ’13, $9M vesting option in ’14)
This is one that seems to make sense for both sides. Figgins has said he wants out of Seattle, and he’d probably embrace a return to the place he thrived from 2002-09. The Angels could use a utility man with Maicer Izturis expected to depart via free agency (though Figgins doesn’t help them at shortstop). The Mariners, meanwhile, are in desperate need of power and Wells may be a nice fit now that they’re moving the fences in at Safeco Field. One problem: The money. In case you hadn’t noticed, Figgins’ deal is a lot friendlier than Wells’. But, hey, if the Angels see Wells’ contract as a wash, that may not be an issue. By the way, Figgins’ 2014 option automatically vests with 600 plate appearances in 2013 — meaning it probably won’t automatically vest.
SFG SP Barry Zito ($20M in ’13, $18M club option — and $7M buyout — in ’14)
Another one that may fill needs on both sides. Zito would move into the Angels’ rotation — a rotation that could lose up to three-fifths of the 2012 makeup — and Wells would go to a team that, like the Mariners, is perpetually looking for offense. Plus, Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan will hit free agency this offseason. But do the Giants really benefit from this? Though obviously no longer the same pitcher, Zito had a descent year with a 4.15 ERA in 184 1/3 innings. And in their desire to upgrade the offense, the Giants, three wins away from the World Series, may have higher aspirations than Wells. Zito, by the way, has a full no-trade clause — but he is a SoCal product.
Not mentioned: CHC LF Alfonso Soriano ($36M thru ’14); NYM LF Jason Bay ($16M in ’13, $17M club option in ’14); NYM SP Johan Santana ($25.5M in ’13, $25M club option in ’14); LAD SP Josh Beckett and 3B Hanley Ramirez ($31.5M thru ’14 each); LAD LF Carl Crawford ($102.5M thru ’17); MIA RP Heath Bell ($18M thru ’14).
Here’s all you need to know about the pitching staff lately: During a just-completed 10-game road trip, the Angels’ offense averaged seven runs per game, notched double-digit hits seven times and totaled 23 homers … and still lost six of those games. That’s because, of course, the pitching was that bad. Angels pitchers combined to post a 6.78 ERA, giving up 72 runs (66 earned) and 21 homers in 87 2/3 innings during that trip.
The rotation posted a 5.07 mark, getting only four quality starts (two by Jered Weaver, one each by Dan Haren and Ervin Santana) and watching as C.J. Wilson and Zack Greinke combined to give up 24 runs (21 earned) in 22 1/3 innings. The bullpen was even worse, combining to post a 10.54 mark (or, 32 earned runs in 27 1/3 innings), losing five games and blowing five save chances.
Now, through the second half, the Angels rank ninth in the American League in ERA from their starters (4.78) and dead last — by a wide margin — in ERA from their relievers (6.65).
Houston, we have a problem.
Now, how do you fix it?
We’ll get the easy one out of the way first. You don’t do anything to fix the rotation. You simply expect proven commodities like Wilson and Greinke to figure it out, continue to lean on Weaver (15-1, 2.13 ERA, Cy Young favorite), get encouragement out of the recent outings of Haren (2.00 ERA last three starts) and Santana (five earned runs last 11 innings), and rest easy with Garrett Richards as a fall-back option.
There’s no reason why this rotation shouldn’t turn it around. (If it doesn’t, then I would hate to be pitching coach Mike Butcher.)
The bullpen situation is a lot more dire. It looked set, as it rolled through May and June with a collective 3.02 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. But that was with Ernesto Frieri going on a ridiculous (unrealistic?) run and, most importantly, with Scott Downs healthy. You really notice just how thin this relief corps is when Downs isn’t there. Suddenly, you’re relying on two 39-year-olds (LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen), one guy who was in Triple-A a little over a month ago (Kevin Jepsen), two guys who would be in Triple-A if not for injuries (David Carpenter and Hisanori Takahashi) and one guy very few had heard of before May (Frieri) to hold leads.
The optimists’ view: Downs and Jordan Walden are slated to start rehab assignments soon and should be back shortly thereafter, and this latest rough stretch is only an anomaly for a bullpen that put together eight really solid weeks.
The cynics’ view: Downs is rehabbing a shoulder strain, was hit around right before landing on the DL and there’s no telling how effective he’ll be upon returning; Walden hasn’t looked right all year; and general manager Jerry Dipoto has to do something to address this ‘pen.
The Angels’ first-year GM didn’t find the reliever market very appealing in July, however. Granted, this was before the road-trip meltdown, but nontheless, here’s what Dipoto told me just after the non-waiver Trade Deadline when asked whether Downs’ injury made addressing the bullpen an even greater priority in August: ”Not at all. You’re always open to any way that you can get better. Scotty’s been terrific for us all year, we don’t anticipate this being a long, drawn-out process, but like I said, you never know. And as a result, like I said all along, you remain as flexible as you can be. We’ll keep turning over the stones.”
Will gold show up under any of them?
Keep in mind: Now that the non-waiver Deadline has passed, deals involving players on the 40-man roster cannot be made unless the players already have cleared waivers. In other words, the player must be offered to the other teams in reverse order of the standings — with his own league first — and if he is claimed by someone, he cannot be traded. The club that placed the player on waivers can either withdraw the request and keep the player, or let the player go to the claiming team, which would then have the rights to the player.
I was personally shocked that ex-Royals lefty Jose Mijares slipped through 13 AL teams and landed with the Giants on Aug. 6, given his success and salary. Other names to keep in mind this month (and this is just a rough assumption): Darren Oliver (Blue Jays), Matt Reynolds (Rockies), Joe Thatcher (Padres, but out until mid-to-late August with knee tendinitis) and Wesley Wright (Astros) for lefties; Matt Belisle (Rockies), Rafael Betancourt (Rockies), Shawn Camp (Cubs) and Casey Janssen (Blue Jays) for righties.
Thing is, the Angels don’t have much flexibility on the payroll (especially not after taking on the pro-rated portion of Greinke’s expiring deal) or on the roster. Takahashi and Carpenter can be optioned, but that would be for when Walden and Downs are activated; adding someone extra before rosters expand would probably mean one of their out-of-options guys (Hawkins? Isringhausen? Jerome Williams?) are placed on waivers, since there’s no chance they option Frieri or Jepsen.
Perhaps that’s why the Angels’ front office is hesitant to add someone unless he’s a clear upgrade.
Question is: Is it too late to find that clear upgrade?
Hypothetically, what do you think the Angels would have to give to get a Shields/Garza type? — @MattPainter85
Yesterday, Angels GM Jerry Dipoto said pitching will no doubt be available before the Trade Deadline, as it is every July, but added: “You’re going to pay a premium for it.” How much of a premium? Well, if the Tigers-Marlins trade is any indication — with top pitching prospect Jacob Turner going to Miami in exchange for a rental in Anibal Sanchez and second baseman Omar Infante — than a big one. Pitching’s always expensive. But with two new CBA wrinkles (additional Wild Card and no Draft-pick compensation on rentals) it may be more expensive than ever this year.
There’s no doubt the Angels prefer to acquire a starter who’s under contract for more than just the next two months — rather than shelling out top prospects for a guy who may leave in the offseason and leave them with nothing. That’s why guys like James Shields (affordable club options in 2013 and ’14) and Matt Garza (not a free agent until after ’13) are intriguing.
What will it take to get them? That’s what everyone’s still trying to figure out. My guess, from the Angels perspective? I’m thinking one of their top young Major League-ready young players (Peter Bourjos or Garrett Richards) along with at least one highly-regarded low-level guy (John Hellweg? C.J. Cron? Jean Segura?). The Rays may probably want instant offense, too.
But, again, that’s a guess. Nothing more.
Another name to keep in mind: Josh Johnson (signed through 2013), since the Marlins seem to be sellers.
The Angels want to add a starter. It’s more likely that they don’t have the chips to acquire a premium one, but they’re doing their due diligence anyway.
This week could be a big one with regards to that pursuit.
This is the week when the erratic Ervin Santana will make two tough starts (against the Tigers on Monday and against the Rangers on Saturday), this is the week more will be known about the health of Dan Haren (he’ll make a rehab outing today, and if all goes well, he could start against Texas on Sunday), and this may be the week that dictates how aggressive Jerry Dipoto is in his pursuit of another rotation arm.
We’re now 15 days away from the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. And the more time passes, the less likely it seems that the Angels can acquire a guy like Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels.
First, there’s the fact each of their teams would like to resign them. The Phillies, Paul Hagen writes, are entering a critical stage with Hamels. The Brewers, according to Adam McCalvy, pushed back the struggling Greinke to give him a blow (making him less appealing on the trade market and more likely to be retained, perhaps?).
Second, there’s the whole “assets” thing. The Angels don’t have a lot of that to give up. As one executive said, if they’re going up against the Rangers for a starter (T.R. Sullivan says Roy Oswalt’s effectiveness could determine how aggressive they get) it would be “like taking a butter knife to a gunfight.” The only heavy artillery the Angels carry is Peter Bourjos, the high-upside center fielder who’s without an everyday role but is a big part of their long-term plans. Dipoto has continued to stress that the Angels will not trade Bourjos, but things can certainly change. The only way I see them giving him up is if it’s for a starting pitcher they can resign — not one who’s going to walk away in two months and leave them with nothing.
And that brings me to the third reason — the new CBA. The extra Wild Card has put more teams in the race for the playoffs, making less of them sellers in July. But a bigger reason for a possibly slow market could be that the only players who bring back Draft pick compensation upon signing with another club are those who spent the previous full season with the same team. For example, if a team trades for Hamels and he signs elsewhere, that team gets no additional Draft picks in 2013. If he stays with the Phillies and he signs elsewhere, the Phils do get the compensation. One scout said the trade market so far is “extra quiet” and “not much is happening” yet. No surprise there.
Of course, there are other, more-attainable starters out there (Wandy Rodriguez and Ryan Dempster come to mind). Will the Angels go outside of themselves to add another front-line guy?
It may depend on how this week goes.
Mike Trout, CF (.343 BA, .399 OBP, 23 SB)
Rookie of the Year? How about MVP? Trout has elevated himself to that level already.
Robinson Cano, 2B (.316 BA, 20 HR, 50 RBI)
Best second baseman in baseball. And it isn’t even close.
Miguel Cabrera, 3B (.323, 18 HR, 68 RBI)
Best hitter in the AL, in my mind, and better at third base than I thought he’d be.
Josh Hamilton, LF (.318 BA, 26 HR, 74 RBI)
Somebody’s going to give this guy an absurd amount of money this offseason.
Jose Bautista, RF (.911 OPS, 27 HR, 64 RBI)
As Mike Scioscia said in Toronto, “How is this guy only batting .240?” He’s as fun to watch hit as anyone.
David Ortiz, DH (.302 BA, 22 HR, 55 RBI)
Remember when we all thought he was finished?
Paul Konerko, 1B (.333 BA, 14 HR, 42 RBI)
Like fine wine, Konerko seems to get better with age.
Joe Mauer, C (.327 BA, .415 OBP, 38 RBI)
He’s only catching about half the time, but he’s healthy and back to being himself offensively. Huge sigh of relief for Twins.
Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (.370 OBP, 11 HR, 42 RBI)
As slick as there is with the glove and a great hitter.
SP: Justin Verlander (9 W, 2.58 ERA, 128 SO)
Weaver’s numbers are better, but the reigning MVP deserves to start one of these.
Andrew McCutchen, CF (.360 BA, 16 HR, 54 RBI)
Oh, and 14 steals. The guy does it all. An absolute freak.
Ryan Braun, LF (.309 BA, 23 HR, 59 RBI)
It was a rough offseason. Good to see him pick up right where he left off from his MVP year.
Joey Votto, 1B (.350 BA, 14 HR, 47 RBI)
Here’s all you need to know about how good a hitter Votto is: He’s hit ONE infield pop-up since ’09.
Giancarlo Stanton, DH (.364 OBP, 19 HR, 50 RBI)
Man, I sure hope he can compete in the Home Run Derby.
Carlos Gonzalez, RF (.340 BA, 17 HR, 58 RBI)
Like McCutchen, this guy does it all on the field.
David Wright, 3B (.350 BA, 10 HR, 55 RBI)
What a travesty that Pablo Sandoval is starting at third base over him.
Aaron Hill, 2B (.300 BA, 11 HR, 39 RBI)
Two cycles in one half? Yeah, he gets the nod.
Carlos Ruiz, C (.357 BA, 13 HR, 46 RBI)
Ruiz was always lost in those deep Phillies lineups. Not anymore. Without him, they have nothing this year.
Starlin Castro, SS (.291 BA, 40 RBI, 16 SB)
Tough year for NL shortstops. I’ll take the one with the most upside.
SP: R.A. Dickey (2.15 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 12 W)
Great story, great person, great season. I don’t care if he’s a knuckleballer. He deserves it.
*** I’ll be taking the Baltimore series off. Follow Joe McIntyre for Angels updates, and look for stuff on the Angels’ first half and the upcoming Trade Deadline very soon. I’ll catch up with y’all from KC.
Leading up to Opening Day, I’ll roll out an All-Star team for each of the six divisions in baseball — that includes a manager, a starting nine (with a DH also for the National League), three starters and two relievers. One catch: Each team must have at least one representative, and the skipper doesn’t count. Feel free to submit your own lineups below. I’d love to see how yours differ.
Day 3: NL Central
Probably the most wide-open division in baseball (except you can probably count out the Astros).
Manager: Dusty Baker, CIN
Andrew McCutchen, CF (PIT)
Starlin Castro, SS (CHC)
Ryan Braun, LF (MIL)
Joey Votto, 1B (CIN)
Matt Holliday, RF (STL)
Aramis Ramirez, 3B (MIL)
Carlos Lee, DH (HOU)
Yadier Molina, C (STL)
Brandon Phillips, 2B (CIN)
Chris Carpenter, STL (if healthy)
Yovani Gallardo, MIL
Adam Wainwright, STL
Joel Hanrahan, PIT
John Axford, MIL
Two things about the free-agent market this offseason: It sure is thin, and it sure is top heavy. If you’re looking for a lights-out closer, there are many. If you’re looking for a front-line starter, there are little. And if you want a premier slugger, you better be prepared to pay up.
Without further ado, here’s my guess (with emphasis on the word “guess”) at the destination of who I consider to be the top five free agents …
Albert Pujols: Cardinals
The notion that Tony La Russa‘s retirement somehow has some relevance with regards to Pujols’ situation is silly. Pujols is signing a deal that could reach 10 years. And even if La Russa, at 67, did come back, he’d only manage for another, what, two years? Pujols knows this. And this may just be me falling victim to the moment, but I can’t see Pujols signing with a different organization just because he’ll be making a few extra millions. With the Cardinals, Pujols goes to a city where he’s revered, an organization where he basically makes the rules and a team that consistently has a chance to win. The Cardinals’ contract offers may not have been lucrative enough before, but they got some extra money with a World Series run, restructuring Chris Carpenter‘s contract and signing Lance Berkman to a rather bargain deal. Plus, if they make third-base coach (and Pujols’ buddy) Jose Oquendo the manager, their chances of him staying are even greater. It’ll be a long, drama-filled battle. But in the end, I’ve got the Redbirds. … Perhaps it’s just that part of me that wants to believe a star player can stay with one franchise.
Other options: Rangers, Cubs, Giants, Dodgers, Marlins, Blue Jays, Nationals
Prince Fielder: Dodgers
I can’t see Fielder picking his team until Pujols signs first and, thus, sets the market for him. And though Brewers owner Mark Attansio expressed his team would “be in the game” for Fielder, it’s long been considered a foregone conclusion that the 2011 season was Fielder’s last in Milwaukee. The West coast seems to be the logical landing spot for the big vegetarian. It’s a big market, Prince and Matt Kemp are pals, the Dodgers badly want to improve their offense, and general manager Ned Colletti is expected to have $25 million to spend on free agents this offseason. Of course, a lot of this will hinge on how quickly the sale of the Dodgers goes through and who buys them. But if this gets done quickly, and MLB proclaims it will be, the Dodgers and Prince look like a great match.
Other options: Brewers, Rangers, Cubs, Giants, Mariners, Marlins, Blue Jays, Nationals
Jose Reyes: Tigers
The Tigers are right there. They just need to improve their defense and get some sort of consistency out of the top of their order. Hello, Jose Reyes. The Tigers’ biggest deficiency in 2011 was third base, but that can easily be solved by moving the defensively-inept Jhonny Peralta — signed through next year, with a team option for 2013 — over to his more comfortable position of third base and obtaining Reyes, who would allow Austin Jackson and his .317 on-base percentage to move lower in the order. Two things that may stand in the way: GM Dave Dombrowski has said he prefers to keep Peralta at shortstop, and the Tigers already have two players making $20-plus million a year in Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. But owner Mike Ilitch has shown he’ll do what it takes to build a championship-contending club, and the Tigers may be a Reyes away from that. The Mets will give it a valiant effort, but barring significant payroll-shedding moves, they don’t have the capital to keep up.
Other options: Mets, Marlins, Red Sox, Cardinals (if no Pujols)
C.J. Wilson: Marlins
The Marlins have money to spend, and they keep telling everybody they’re going to be in play for the major free agents. That includes Wilson, who would give Florida something it badly needs headed into its new ballpark: A frontline starting pitcher, particularly a left-hander. The price for Wilson will be high, considering he’s clearly the best of what’s a shallow free-agent pool of starters and plays a position that’s always coveted. Projections have him attaining something in the range of the five-year, $82.5 million deals A.J. Burnett and John Lackey previously signed in free agency. But he may get an ever bigger deal. Regardless, the Marlins want to prioritize the rotation and, for one of the rare times in franchise history, have the means to do it. Wilson would give them a solid No. 2 behind Josh Johnson.
Other options: Rangers, Yankees, Blue Jays, Padres, Nationals, Red Sox, Twins, Orioles, Rockies, Royals
Yu Darvish: Yankees
The Yankees are prioritizing the rotation once again, but reports say they don’t want to go all-in on Wilson. If he’s posted, the Japanese Darvish seems like the perfect answer for general manager Brian Cashman, who continues to put a premium on accumulating young starting pitching (something he showed while refusing to trade his top prospects for Ubaldo Jimenez at the non-waiver Trade Deadline). Darvish will have a much cheaper contract than Wilson because he’s only 25, but because of the posting fee that would come with him — remember, Daisuke Matsuzaka required a $52 million posting fee, and that was five years ago — he won’t be much cheaper. The Yanks will face a lot of competition for Darvish, but when it comes down to dollars, they usually win if they have enough desire. And they definitely desire another rotation piece.
Other options: Rangers, Blue Jays, Nationals, Red Sox, Mariners, Twins, Orioles, Rockies, Royals (and probably a bunch of others)
** Photo courtesy of The Associated Press.
Earlier this week, I wrote about baseball’s most pleasant surprises of the season. Now I thought I should take a look at the other end of that spectrum; the guys we didn’t expect to have down seasons. Take a step back, and you’ll find there’s a lot of star (or star-ish) players that are having bad years.
Here’s a look at the five of the best (or, worst) …
Not-so-great signings: Jayson Werth — $126 million; .230 batting average, .713 OPS. Adam Dunn — $56 million; .165 batting average, 11 homers. Carl Crawford — $142 million; .290 on-base percentage. All were signed in order to get their respective teams over the hump, all have been nothing besides a hindrance so far. If not for a 33-game, season-saving hitting streak, Dan Uggla would’ve been a part of this group, too. Regardless, the cases of Werth (pictured right by The Associated Press), Dunn and Crawford are all head-scratching, and the most troubling is perhaps the situation of Dunn (an unfathomable 3-for-81 versus lefties).
Still not ready?: That’s probably what we can say about Kyle Drabek and Zach Britton, two young guns we thought would compete for the American League Cy Young Award but have struggled this year. Drabek posted a 5.70 ERA through his first 14 starts, prompting a demotion to the Minor Leagues. Now, he has a 6.51 ERA in 13 Triple-A starts. Britton is 7-9 with a 4.54 ERA, was demoted once and missed about two weeks with a shoulder injury recently.
We thought they were on the rise: But Jason Heyward, Carlos Santana, Pedro Alvarez and Brett Wallace only took steps back this year. Heyward, we thought, was a can’t-miss prospect, and he can of course still be a star. But right now, he’s the definition of “sophomore slump.” He’s been mired by injuries, he’s hitting only .220 with 13 homers, and now he’s been supplanted by a man named Costanza (no, not this one). Wallace won the Astros’ starting first base job with a great spring, but hit just .268 with four homers in 101 games before being sent down. He’s 25 now, and has played for four organizations. Will he ever produce like a first baseman should? Santana, one of baseball’s best young catchers before missing the final two months of last year with a concussion, has 19 homers but is only hitting .241 and can’t even be considered the AL’s best catcher in a year when Joe Mauer is struggling (that title belongs to Alex Avila). And Alvarez not only doesn’t look too adept defensively at the hot corner, but he’s hitting .196 with three homers in 56 games in a struggle- and injury-filled second year.
Stars? Not this year: Hanley Ramirez, Ubaldo Jimenez, Chase Utley and Mauer have all had uncommon struggles. By his lofty standards, Hanley’s 2010 season — .300 batting average, 21 homers, 32 steals — was a down one. This one — .243 batting average, 10 homers and 20 steals through 92 games — is flat-out mystifying. He has caught flak from teammates — particularly Logan Morrison – and now, he’s in Class A Jupiter rehabbing. Mauer missed time with leg weakness, has just one home run in his 70 games this year and has been tried out first base and right field this year. The Twins must obviously consider moving Mauer to a different position so they can keep him on the field, but does his bat play elsewhere? For the last six years, Utley has been one of baseball’s most consistent players and arguably its best second baseman. But knee tendinitis put him on the shelf at the start, and now he sits with just a .278 batting average and nine homers in 78 games. And one year after placing third in National League Cy Young Award voting, Ubaldo has a 4.71 ERA in 26 starts this season. Many felt his head simply wasn’t in it in Colorado after frustrations over his contract situation, but he has a 5.79 ERA in his first five starts in Cleveland (though he did pitch seven innings of one-run ball on Friday night).
The lukewarm corner: So, who’s baseball’s best third baseman this year? Not Ryan Zimmerman; he has a .299 batting average but only nine homers and has been limited to 72 games. Not Alex Rodriguez; he has solid numbers for anyone else (.292 batting average and 14 homers) but was set back by a recent stint to the disabled list. Not David Wright; he missed almost 60 games with a back injury. Not Evan Longoria; he’s hitting just .237 after also missing time with injury. Nope, it’s none of those guys. Baseball’s best third baseman this year is … Aramis Ramirez, owner of a .311 batting average, 24 homers and 83 RBIs.
Honorable mentions: Ichiro Suzuki (.331 batting average and 224 hits per season in his first 10 years. This year? Career-low .273 batting average and .313 on-base percentage). … Rafael Soriano (Given $35 million to be a setup man; now has a 4.94 ERA as a middle reliever). … Shin-Soo Choo (One of baseball’s best-kept secrets while hitting .302 with 56 homers and 47 steals from 2008-10. This year, he’s hitting just .261 with eight homers in 83 games).
* Also filed this week: Aces’ contract decisions deliver parity.
… But only slightly.
See, I never expect perfection when so many fans from so many different places and with so many different biases vote so many times. But, I gotta say, the 32.5 million of you who voted this year didn’t do half-bad. Of course, I would’ve made a few changes.
Here’s my lineup …
Catcher- Alex Avila, Tigers: Easy choice. Joe Mauer has barely played, Carlos Santana has struggled, and Russell Martin‘s production at the plate went south after a hot start.
First base- Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox: Another no-brainer. He’s fitting in perfectly at Fenway, and if not for a man named Bautista, he’s the best hitter going.
Second base- Robinson Cano, Yankees: Something tells me he’ll be dominating this position for years to come.
Third base- Alex Rodriguez, Yankees: Solid, healthy year — and you can’t say the same about Evan Longoria.
Shortstop- Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians: I’m sorry, but you can’t pick Derek Jeter (pictured above by The Associated Press). I could understand if this was his final year and you want to send him out a la Cal Ripken Jr. But Cabrera has been an offensive and defensive key for the thriving Indians.
Outfield- Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: Um, yeah, he’s good.
Outfield- Curtis Granderson, Yankees: Off to one of his best starts while looking very good in that 2 hole.
Outfield- Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox: He’s providing what Boston needs from him — getting on base, stealing bases and serving as a steady presence at the top of the order — while putting up power numbers to boot.
Designated hitter- David Ortiz, Red Sox: “Big Papi” needed a good start in his walk year, and he has it.
Catcher- Brian McCann, Braves: Unreal that he’s made it to six straight All-Star Games and hadn’t started one until this year. Glad that will change.
First base- Joey Votto, Reds: He’s the reigning NL MVP and is off to another great start even if the power numbers aren’t where they were at this point last year. (I know what you’re thinking, but keep reading.)
Second base- Rickie Weeks, Brewers: All-around solid year, and Chase Utley is still working his way back.
Third base- Aramis Ramirez, Cubs: Having a solid year, and for some reason very few realize it.
Shortstop- Jose Reyes, Mets: No doubt about this one. Not sure why it took him so long to pass Troy Tulowitzki.
Outfield- Ryan Braun, Brewers: One of baseball’s best keeps getting better.
Outfield- Matt Kemp, Dodgers: He’s the first half’s NL MVP if not for a guy named Reyes. Looks like a change in managers has done him well, for whatever reason.
Outfield- Lance Berkman, Cardinals: Didn’t expect him to have the first half he’s had, but glad to see I was wrong.
Designated hitter- Prince Fielder, Brewers: Not fair? Hey, it’s my lineup!