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2014 AL Central Preview

By: Jon

The AL Central has experienced a lot of change in the past few years and this offseason was no different. The division leader from a season ago, the Detroit Tigers, were able to make the American League Championship Series before losing to the eventual Champions in the Boston Red Sox.

 

1) Detroit Tigers

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The Tigers were one of the busiest teams during the offseason. Over the last few seasons, the Tigers have been one of the most successful teams, but have not won the World Series. This season, the Tigers have a great chance of winning the title as they may have the best team on paper.

Like other seasons, the Tigers offense should be incredibly effective and dangerous. The leader of the offense is their star third baseman, Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera is the best all-around hitter in baseball and is rising on the all-time list. If Cabrera can remain healthy for at least 140 games, he will hit over .320 with 40 home runs, 100 runs, and 125 RBI. Although Cabrera was protected by Fielder the past two seasons, the Tigers traded Prince to the Texas Rangers in return for star second baseman Ian Kinsler. Although Kinsler does not have the same power potential, he is a proven run scorer and should get on base at a high level in front of Cabrera. Although Cabrera will not have Prince to protect him, the Tigers must rely on the skill of Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter. The Tigers should be able to continue their excellence on offense and score enough runs to win a lot of games. In terms of defense, the team will have more problems with the loss of Jose Iglesias. Although Jose is young, he showed last season that he is one of the best fielders in the league because he has great range, hands, and a fantastic throwing arm. The Tigers do not have a great defense, which could ultimately lead to their downfall.

Along with the Tigers’ great offense, the Tigers’ pitching staff is one of the best in the league. The staff will be led by two Cy Young Award winners, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. Along with the two stars, the Tigers have Anibal Sanchez, Drew Smyly, and Rick Porcello. Although the trio do not have the star power like Max and Justin, they have great potential and skill. The trio must continue their success from last season if they are going to compete for the best record in the AL and claim home field advantage throughout the postseason. During last postseason, the Tigers showed how dominant their starting pitching would become because of their power and ability to strike out opposing batters. The Tigers would have advanced to the WS and possibly won the championship if they had a better bullpen. During the offseason, the Tigers improved their bullpen by signing Joba Chamberlain and star closer Joe Nathan. Along with Bruce Rondon, the new and enhanced bullpen should make the Tigers an improved ball club.

The Tigers won 93 games last season and should be able to win a similar amount of games this season. The Tigers are by far the best team in the AL Central and should win the division by at least 5 games. Without Doug Fister and Fielder, the Tigers will probably lose more games during the regular season without the power bat and quality pitcher.

Predicted Tigers Record: 91-71

2) Kansas City Royals

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The Royals were one of the surprise teams in baseball last season and almost made the playoffs last year. The young Royals’ offense has an incredible amount of talent and should propel the Royals to success this season in the AL Central.

The Royals will be led on offense by Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, Omar Infante, Billy Butler, and Mike Moustakas. The leader of the Royals’ offense is certainly Eric Hosmer. Hosmer took great strides toward the end of last season and became the best player on the team. The Royals are hoping that Mike Moustakas will take the next step forward like Hosmer and become a dominant part of their offense. If Mike and Salvador Perez can become stars and Hosmer a superstar, the team will have a chance to compete in the AL Central with the Indians and the Tigers. The Royals have a lot of good complementary players, but need a superstar to strike fear into opponents and win more games. On defense, the team should be very good and the outfield should be the rock of the team. The combination of Gordon, Aoki, and Cain should produce a great defensive unit because they are quick, have good instincts, and good arms in the outfield. In the infield, the team has a few good defensive players, which will make the team stable.

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In terms of pitching, the Royals have a few questions that must be answered in order to win enough games. The starting staff will be led by “Big Game” James Shields who pitches like an ace and is a good pitcher to build around. If the Royals do not stay competitive throughout the season, the Royals will look to trade Shields because it is unlikely that they will be able to sign him to a long term deal next offseason. Behind James, the team has Jason Vargas, Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, and Jeremy Guthrie. The biggest X-Factor of the pitching staff will be Yordano Ventura. Yordano has excelled during the spring season because he can throw heat. Yordano has averaged around 98 MPH during the innings he has pitched this spring. Along with Ventura, Duffy and Vargas will be important for the Royals. Vargas is a consistent pitcher and should be a quality pitcher for the Royals. Duffy has extreme talent and the Royals hope that he can harness his potential and succeed with the club.

If the Royals’ pitchers can meet their expectations, the team will be competing for the second wild card position and win over 85 games. Like last season, the Royals’ bullpen should be consistent and dominant throughout the regular season. Last season, Greg Holland was one of the most dominating teams because he has the ability to throw hard and strike out opposing hitters at an amazing rate. Along with Holland, they have a lot of quality arms in the bullpen that should keep leads. Although the Royals may not outlast the Tigers for a the division championship, they will be in a tight battle with the Cleveland Indians.

Predicted Royals Record: 87-75

3) Cleveland Indians

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The Indians were the biggest surprise last season because manager Terry Francona was able to lead them to the second wild card position. Although they did not have great talent, they came together as a team and went on a great streak toward the end of the season. However, the Indians lost a few players that were important to their late season run and failed to sign people to replace their starters.

Although the Indians do not have any superstars in their lineup, they recorded the fifth most runs in the league. The key contributors for the Indians are Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Michael Brantley. Since the Indians do not have a player that can carry an offense for a month, each player must play at a high consistent level and exceed expectations if they are going to score enough runs to win games. In terms of defense, the Indians have quality defensive players such as Cabrera, Kipnis, Bourn, and Brantley, which will help them stop opposing teams from scoring.

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The Indians’ pitching staff is extremely interesting because they do not have a legitimate ace. The Indians need to replace Ubaldo Jimenez, who had a great stretch toward the end of last season and pitched like an ace. The leader of the pitching staff this season must be Justin Masterson. Masterson pitched well last season, but needs to make the next step and pitch like an ace if the Indians are going to make a run next season. Behind Masterson, the Indian’s have Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar, Cory Kluber, and Shaun Marcum filling out the other four spots in the rotation. The quartet has not achieved much success at the major league level during their careers; however, they must stay healthy and pitch well throughout the season. It is unlikely that they will be able to meet expectations and stay healthy because Marcum was a disaster last year and the other three did not pitch many innings last season. Although the trio had ERAs in the 3s last year, they each pitched under 150 innings and it is unknown if they can achieve the same success over an entire season or the 175 innings each that the Indians are expecting from the three starters.

While the starting rotation may present questions, the relief staff should be the most consistent part of their squad. Although they lost former closer Chris Perez, they replaced him with closer John Axford. Although Axford has not experienced success in the last few seasons, he has experience and should be able to obtain success. The Indians have retained the rest of their bullpen, which includes Cody Allen, Marc Rzepczynski, Vinnie Pestano, and Josh Outman. Each reliever has experienced success in the past and should be able to succeed next season for the Indians. The Indians’ bullpen needs to pitch well because they cannot afford to lose leads. Although they won 92 games last season, it is unlikely they will achieve similar success this season. The Indians are a quality team with many solid players but do not have any stars.

Predicted Indians Record: 81-81

4) Chicago White Sox

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The Chicago White Sox had a horrible season last year as many players had the worst seasons of their careers. The White Sox are in full rebuilding mode and traded a few of their elder, more expensive players last season before the trade deadline. The White Sox have a lot of young talent on their roster and will be starting these young players this season. Although these players have talent, they will go through their struggles and face a few losing streaks during the season.

The White Sox made a big signing this offseason when they signed Jose Abreu, a young Cuban, to a long term deal. The White Sox hope they can build a strong lineup with Abreu, Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia, Matt Davidson, Tyler Flowers, and Gordon Beckham. The White Sox feel that they have a strong core so they can eventually become a playoff team in a few years. Unless the White Sox are a major surprise, they will probably trade away Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, or Alexei Ramirez at the trade deadline because it is unlikely that they are part of the White Sox’s future.

On the pitching staff, the White Sox have Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, John Danks, Felipe Paulino, and Erik Johnson. The White Sox are led by Chris Sale, a legitimate ace and one of the ten best pitchers in the league. Sale is a young pitcher with great skill and has the ability to strike out over 200 batters in a single season. Outside of Sale, the rest of the staff pose many questions. Danks and Quintana are solid pitchers, but they can be inconsistent and occasionally perform very poorly. The back of the rotation Paulino and Johnson are young starters with little experience. Although they will go through their struggles, the White Sox hope Paulino and Johnson will improve with more experience and exposure and eventually become reliable starters in the rotation.

Like the other parts of their team, the bullpen has a few questions. First, the Sox must find a new closer because they traded Addison Reed to the Diamondbacks this offseason. The White Sox hope Matt Lindstrom can become a consistent closer and achieve success again. Before Robin Ventura will give the ball to Lindstrom, the ball will likely go through Ronald Belisario, Nate Jones, Donnie Veal, Scott Downs, and Dylan Axelrod. Many of these pitchers are unknowns for the White Sox. If the relievers are able to exceed expectations, the White Sox may be able to win a few more games than expected. The White Sox may not win many games, but they will be fun and exciting to watch because they have a lot of young talented players that will be relied on to play a lot this season.

Predicted White Sox Record: 70-92

5) Minnesota Twins

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At the start of the offseason, the Twins were one of the most active teams and signed a few starting pitchers. The Twins, like the White Sox, are in full rebuilding mode and do not have much talent on their roster, especially on offense. Besides Joe Mauer, the Twins do not have many players that the average fan has heard of in the past.

Some of these players include Josmil Pinto at catcher (Mauer has moved to first base), Pedro Florimon at third base, Alex Presley in center field, and Oswaldo Arcia in right field. Although these players have talent, especially Oswaldo Arcia, none of the players are expected to be All-Stars in the future. The Twins’ two best prospects Michael Sano and Bryan Buxton, the best prospect in baseball, are not expected to play with the Twins this season, but should be stars for the next 2 decades. Like the White Sox, the Twins will probably be auctioning some of their elder players during the trade deadline such as Josh Willingham, Jason Kubel, and possibly Brian Dozier or Trevor Plouffe.

In terms of the Twins’ pitching, their pitching staff should be dramatically improved because they signed a few starters to long term deals, Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. The Twins have an improved staff, but they do not have an ace or a very deep rotation. Nolasco pitched well last season, but he is not a true number one pitcher. Hughes had trouble in New York, but he should be able to improve because he will not allow as many home runs in the spacious Target Field. Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey are quality, experienced pitchers and should pitch a lot of quality innings. At the fifth spot, the Twins have Vance Worley. Worley is a young pitcher with potential and the Twins hope that he will be part of the rotation for another decade. Worley has been injured since being traded from the Phillies, but he will not be asked to pitch an exorbitant amount of innings. The Twins have some nice pieces in the rotation, but will need to pitch well because the offense will not score many runs.

In the bullpen, the Twins have a few good options like Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing, and Anthony Swarzak. Although these pieces may not be on the team the entire season because other teams will trade for them at the deadline, they should pitch well and allow the Twins to hold the leads they are able to gain. The Twins’ fans need to have patience because in a few years the team should be good once their prospect gain experience and mature their bodies and game.

Predicted Twins Record: 69-93

All pics and stats from ESPN

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Derek Jeter’s Legacy and his Future Replacement

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By: Jon

 

5 time champion, 4th member of the core four, 3 top 3 MVP seasons,  2 is his jersey number, and 1 legend.

 

On Wednesday February 12, 2014, Derek Jeter announced on his Facebook page that he would retire after the 2014 season. Jeter’s impact will be felt on and off the field when he leaves the team after the season. Jeter is the 11th captain of the New York Yankees and will be a future Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible in 6 years.

Jeter’s Legacy on the Field:

The Flip Play against Jeremy Giambi Courtesy of MLB.com
The Flip Play against Jeremy Giambi
Courtesy of MLB.com

This season, Jeter will play in his 20th season and this will be his 19th season as the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees. Jeter is part of the new breed of shortstops that are bigger and have more offensive skills than the shortstops that played before the 1970s. When Jeter entered the league, he was compared to Nomar Garciaparra, who retired a long time ago, and Alex Rodriguez, who switched positions when he came to the Yankees. While Jeter never had the power like Ripken or Rodriguez, he had the ability to score runs, get on base, and have a high batting average. Although Jeter will be remembered for his intangibles and leadership skills, he is arguably the best shortstop since Honus Wagner, who retired in 1917.

Derek has a career batting average of .312 and an on base percentage of .381, which are impressive numbers from a position that normally does not provide offensive output. During his career, Derek has batted over .300 twelve times, scored 100 runs thirteen times, accumulated over 200 hits eight times (including leading the league twice), and stole more than 20 bases eight times. In terms of offensive production, Jeter has the highest offensive WAR of any shortstop in the modern era, which includes Cal Ripken, who many believe is the best offensive shortstop. Although Jeter does not have great power like Ripken, he hit over 250 home runs and has slugged .446 during his 19 years. Derek has the 10th most hits in MLB history and the most among active players with 3,316 hits. If Jeter can collect 119 hits, he will move into 6th place. If he can garner 198, which will be difficult and probably unlikely, Jeter can pass Tris Speaker for 5th place on the all time list. Jeter is currently ranked 12th in runs scored, but has the chance to move into the 9th spot, if he can score 73 runs during the season.

After Jeter flew into the stands Courtesy of ESPN.com
After Jeter flew into the stands
Courtesy of ESPN.com

Although Jeter’s offense has made him one of the best shortstops in MLB history, many people have questioned his defensive ability. Throughout Jeter’s career, many scouts and people in baseball have criticized his range and true value on defense. The defensive metrics do not favor Jeter. His Defensive WAR, -9.2, is the reason why he does not rate well compared to other great shortstops in MLB history. Jeter has posted a positive dWAR only 3 times during his career. Although Jeter does not have great range, he is one of the most sure handed shortstops in the league. Many managers and executives have noted that they would not want any other player, but Derek Jeter to make a play with 2 outs in the ninth. Although Gold Gloves have lost their value because many feel the selections are a popularity contest, he has won 5 Gold Gloves during his illustrious career.

Mr. November Courtesy of Newsday
Mr. November
Courtesy of Newsday

While the regular season has made Derek Jeter one of the best players in history, his postseason career has made him a legend and an immortal. Jeter has played nearly an entire season, 158 games, in his postseason career. Remarkably, Jeter’s postseason stats are similar to his regular season stats, which is rare for a great player. Jeter has batted .308 with 20 home runs, 61 RBI, 18 stolen bases, 200 hits, 111 runs, and played in 16 of the last 18 playoffs with the Yankees. He has also played in the most playoff games, which has allowed him to record the most at-bats, plate appearances, runs scored, hits, total bases, doubles, triples, and singles. Jeter is additionally top five in walks, RBI, and home runs. Along with his great numbers, Jeter has had many great moments, the flip play, home run against the Diamondbacks, and home run against the Orioles. These moments validated his nickname as Mr. November and Captain Clutch. If the Yankees meet expectations, he could have a chance to improve his numbers and possibly reach his 6th championship before he retires from the game.

Legacy off the Field:

The 11th Captain of the Yankees Courtesy of the NineRoute
The 11th Captain of the Yankees
Courtesy of the NineRoute

Although Jeter has been at the center of attention since he won the Rookie of the Year and led the Yankees to their first title in 18 years in 1996, he has always said the right things and has never made a major mistake like others in the past. In today’s world with constant media involvement, it is likely we will never see another superstar succeed as much on the field while maintaing a perfect image off the field. As many have noted, Jeter is the perfect captain for the Yankees because he has the ability to absorb all the pressure while maintaining a stoic complexion. Many players look up to Jeter during difficult situation because they know he will not allow his nerves to overcome himself and affect his play on the field. Unlike Alex Rodriguez, who is a superior player and has more talent, Derek has the rare ability to slow down the speed of the game and perform at the highest and most pressure filled situations. Derek has been able to keep his personal life away from the media, which limits the amount of distractions on the team and him. This talent helps explain his crazy .321 average and .384 on base percentage in World Series play. Jeter has a great work ethic which has made him a better player and has inspired his fellow teammates to improve and exceed their expectations. It is interesting that Derek announced his big news on Facebook because many people didn’t even know he had a Facebook page since he rarely posts on Facebook. Although Derek will always be remembered for his skills and talent, he will mostly be remembered as a great person and teammate that helped his teammates win and succeed.

Awards:

2000 WS MVP Courtesy of Sportingnews
2000 WS MVP
Courtesy of Sportingnews

During Jeter’s great career, he has won numerous individual and team accolades, which adds to his legend. Derek Jeter broke out in his first full season when he hit .314 with 104 runs, 183 hits and won the Rookie of the Year in 1996. Although Jeter will likely never win an MVP, he has finished in the top-3 3 times and top-10 8 times. Derek has competed in 13 All-Star Games and was the first Yankee to win the All-Star Game MVP in 2000. He became the first player ever to win the All-Star Game MVP and the World Series MVP in the same season in 2000. During his career, Jeter has won 5 Silver Slugger Awards at shortstop and won 2 Hank Aaron Awards in 2006 and 2009.

Future:

Will Troy Tulowitzki be the next star shortstop for the Yankees? Courtesy of ESPN
Will Troy Tulowitzki be the next star shortstop for the Yankees?
Courtesy of ESPN

Although the future for Jeter looks bright outside of baseball because he is well known and beloved by many, the Yankees may have a difficult time finding his replacement. Currently, the Yankees do not have any viable options on their current roster or in the minor leagues. Eduardo Nunez and Branden Ryan are no full time shortstops and cannot be the shortstop to replace the great Derek Jeter. In the minors, the Yankees tried to replace Derek by drafting CJ Henry and Cito Culver, but neither have shown the ability to make the Yankees’ roster in the future. The Yankees will need to find Jeter’s replacement outside the organization, if they want to continue winning and competing for Division Titles and World Series Championships.

If the Yankees want to continue spending money and draft picks this year, they could sign Stephen Drew to a long term deal. Drew is a competent shortstop who batted .253 with 12 home runs and 67 RBI. If Drew can return to his 2008 form when he hit .291 with 21 home runs and 67 RBI, the Yankees would hit a home run with him. However, Drew’s market is remarkably down and I do not think that the Yankees should sign Stephen Drew because he is not a very good statistical performer and will face a lot of pressure in New York. After this season, the Yankees can sign a shortstop because the class is pretty deep with talent. Currently, there are three shortstops that could play for the Yankees and provide quality production, JJ Hardy, Jed Lowrie, and Asdrubal Cabrera. JJ Hardy will turn 32 during the 2015 season and has been an All-Star twice during his career. Last year, Hardy had a very good season when he hit .263 with 25 home runs and 76 RBI, while winning the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award. Last year, Hardy posted a WAR of over 4, which is great. Hardy may cost about $30-$36 million over about 3 years because of his recent success. Another option is Jed Lowrie, who will be 31 during the 2015 season. Lowrie has been improving over the last few years since he has been given more playing time. Last year, Lowrie hit .290 with 15 home runs, 75 RBI, and a WAR of 2.8, but a OWAR of 4.3. Although Lowrie does not have a great glove, he can hit for a good average and should be considered by the Yankees next year. Lowrie will probably demand a contract for about 3 years and $21-25 million.  Last of these three is Asdrubal Cabrera, who will be only 29 during the 2015 season. After 2 consecutive quality seasons in 2011 and 2012, when he made the All-Star team and compiled a WAR of over 4, Cabrera had a horrible season last year. Cabrera hit only .242 with 14 home runs and 64 RBI. The Yankees should consider Cabrera next offseason because he will be cheaper than the other alternatives, unless he has a big year, and has more overall potential and talent. If Cabrera can return to his 2011-2012 form, the Yankees would have a shortstop that could bat .275 with 20+ home runs and 75 RBI while playing above average defense at shortstop. Cabrera is also at least 2 years younger than the other shortstops, which means the Yankees will be receiving him during the last of his peak years, unlike the other players. If Cabrera has another poor season, the Yankees may be able to sign him for a deal similar to Lowrie, which could be a steal.

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If the Yankees want to make a splash and spend a lot of money through a free agent signing or a trade, they should go after Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, or Troy Tulowitzki. After this season, Hanley Ramirez will be a free agent. In 2015, Hanley will be 31 years old, but is coming off of a great season with the Dodgers. Although he played only 86 games, he showed that he still has the talent that made him one of the best players in the game with the Marlins. During his 86 games, Ramirez hit .345 with 20 home runs, 57 RBI, and 62 RBI while finishing 8th in the MVP voting. If Hanley repeats his performance this season, he will easily make over $100 million in his next contract. Ramirez will be a perfect fit for the Yankees because he would be an improvement at the position and could fit into the middle of the order. Hanley would be able to man the position for a few years before converting to 3rd base. Hanley is a great player and the Yankees should go after him hard next offseason if he makes it to free agency. If the Yankees do not want to sign a shortstop next offseason, they should consider making a trade for one. Jose Reyes is currently on the Toronto Blue Jays, but may become available if the team fails to meet expectations during the season. Like Ramirez, Reyes was limited to only 93 games, but was effective during his time on the field. Reyes, a four time All-Star, batted .296 with 10 home runs, 57 runs, 15 stolen bases, and 37 RBI.  Reyes’ injured hamstring from  last season inhibited his explosiveness and stopped him from stealing many bases. However, when healthy, Reyes has the ability to steal 40+ bases, collect 65 extra base hits, and bat around .300 at the top of the order. However, Reyes is due a lot of money over the next 4 years of his contract. If the Yankees trade for him during the middle of the season or at the end of the year, they will owe him at least $70 – $76 million dollars over 3 – 3.5 years. Since his contract is an albatross, the Yankees may be able to include lesser prospects in the deal.

If the Yankees want to go for the home run, besides Ramirez, they should attempt to trade for Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies shortstop. Like the other stars, Tulo has been hampered by injuries over the past two season, which has limited him to only 173 games. However, Tulo has shown that he is an MVP candidate and the best shortstop in the game, when healthy. In 126 games last year, Tulo hit .312/.391/.540 with 25 home runs, 82 RBI, and 72 runs scored.  Although some of his stats may be inflated because of Coors Field, he has the potential to hit above .300 with 25+ home runs, 100 RBI, 100 runs, and slug .540. Like Reyes, Tulo has a ginormous contract. If the Yankees trade for him at the deadline, they will owe him at least $126 million over 6.5 years, plus they can exercise a team option which would push the deal to $136 million. If the Yankees are willing to eat the whole contract, they may be able to facilitate the deal, although their farm system is depleted. If they were to make a deal, they probably would have to part ways with Gary Sanchez, a pitcher, Nova or Pineda, and maybe another prospect.

 

Pics and Stats from ESPN.com and BaseballReference.com

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