2015 National League Preview

Posted on February 28th, 2015 by Matt | Posted in Teams

As seems to be the case in every even-numbered year, the San Francisco Giants were once again the National League ishikawaChampions in 2014. Although the only got into the postseason as one of the two wild cards, the Giants were again able to call on their October magic and make it all the way through to another World Series title. The most-memorable moment from their playoff run is likely the walk-off, series-ending homerun against the Cardinals by outfielder Travis Ishikawa.

So, are the Giants a safe bet to head back for another World Series? Not so fast. With the loss of Pablo Sandoval, there will be questions about the offense in San Fran as the 2015 season get started. Here are some other National League teams worth paying attention to.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals just might be the most-talented team in the entire National League – and maybe in all of baseball. With Bryce Harper anchoring a deep offense and an incredible pitching staff including the likes of Jordan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals are a team to be reckoned with for sure. Also playing in their favor is the fact that the rest of the National League East – specifically the Phillies and the Braves – figure to have down years.

Los Angeles Dodgers

If the Nationals aren’t the best team in baseball, then it probably is the Dodgers. Another incredibly deep team, the Dodgers traded away former star Matt Kemp to the Padres and yet still have a powerful roster from top to bottom. The pitching staff is led by Clayton Kershaw, certainly the best pitcher in all of baseball. On offense, Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig are just a couple of the many threats that the Dodgers can send to the plate. The defending National League West champions are certainly going to be difficult to knock off of their spot at the top of the league.

San Diego Padres

After one of the most-active off-seasons in baseball history, the Padres are going to be interesting to watch, if nothing else. They will feature a whole new outfield including the afore mentioned Kemp, Justin Upton acquired from the Braves, and Wil Myers who was received in a trade with the Rays. Despite the list of names that will fill the outfield, and the addition of James Shields on the mound, there are still serious questions about the quality of the infield that the Padres will be able to put in the lineup. Win or lose, few teams are likely to be as interesting to watch as the 2015 San Diego Padres.

2015 American League Preview

Posted on February 23rd, 2015 by Matt | Posted in Teams

In the end, the 2014 American League Champions turned out to be the Kansas City Royals. Not many would have predicted that outcome at this time last year, but what an incredible ride it ended up being for the loyal fans in KC. The Royals played countless dramatic games coming down the stretch in September and October, including the stunning rally against the A’s in the A.L. hollandWild Card game.

However, as we turn the calendar and get ready for the 2015 season, things don’t look so rosy for the defending league champions. They had a very quiet offseason, and saw James Shields depart for San Diego along the way. It isn’t outside the realm of possibility that the Royals could repeat as A.L. champs, but it doesn’t seem particularly likely. So, if they fall short of the mark this season, which teams are poised to take their place? Following are three possibilities.

Boston Red Sox

Despite having a dismal season in 2014, the Red Sox appear ready to get right back into the mix. They have added a number of new faces, including Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez both moving from their previous homes in California to the northeast. Those two should provide a significant upgrade for the Red Sox, who will also be hoping the David Ortiz can continue his production even with another year on the odometer. One of the biggest questions surrounding the Red Sox might actually be Dustin Pedroia, who had a down year in 2014 after being such a consistent performer for so long.

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners fell one game short of the postseason in 2014, and basically that entire team returns for another run – with the notable addition of 2014 homerun leader Nelson Cruz. By adding Cruz, the Mariners will be able to present a formidable 3-4-5 in the order, with Cruz presumably hitting between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. All three of those players were All-Stars in 2014, so Seattle may finally have the offense they have been searching for to pair with their impressive pitching staff. Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and James Paxton all return to the rotation, along with new addition J.A. Happ from Toronto.

Toronto Blue Jays

There is a chance for an exciting race to develop in the A.L. East this season between the Red Sox and the Blue Jays. It seems like the Jays have been expected to improve for several years now, but this just might be the season where it all comes together. Sluggers Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista are still in place, but they have added to that lineup with All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson via a trade with the A’s. If their young pitching can come through for a full season, the Blue Jays could be tough to deal with for the rest of the league.

Victor Martinez Quickly Returns to Detroit

Posted on January 5th, 2015 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards, Players

While Miguel Cabrera gets most of the offensive headlines in Detroit – and for good reason – it was Victor Martinez that had an incredible season in 2014 and led the Tigers to another playoff appearance. While the Tigers fell short in the playoffs again this past season, they have been making regular appearances thanks in large part to the production of Martinez. As a free agent, and coming off of his best season, it was thought that Martinez would be one of the hottest commodities on the market this winter. In reality, that market never really heated up, as he quickly resigned with the Tigers for a lucrative contract.

A Question of Age

In terms of performance at the plate, there were no doubts as to what Martinez accomplished in 2014. His OPS of .974 led the American League, and he was highly ranked in just about every offensive category. As primarily a DH, his value is tied to the performance on his bat – but that bat is about as valuable as they come. However, Martinez has been in the league for some time, and will be going into his age 36 season in 2015. That means that the four year contract he signed with the Tigers will carry him through his age 39 season, while paying him a total of $68 million. If the Tigers are going to look back fondly on this contract, they are going to need to hope that Martinez stays healthy and productive right up to his 40th birthday.

Other Questions for Detroit

While getting Martinez back in the fold likely means good things for the 2015 martinezversion of the Tigers, there could be signs of trouble ahead. The starting pitching in Detroit, such a strength in the past, is starting to show some cracks. Max Scherzer, one of the best starters in baseball, is a free agent currently and unlikely to return to Detroit. David Price was acquired by trade last season, and has one year remaining before he hits free agency. There is a good chance that 2015 will be his last in Detroit.

And then there is Justin Verlander. With a full six years left on a massive contract, Verlander struggled mightily in 2014 and remains a question mark heading into 2015. If he is unable to regain his previously dominant form, the Tigers will have a major problem has they have a large portion of the payroll dedicated to the big right hander. Without elite performance from Verlander, it seems unlikely that the Tigers will remain at the top of the A.L. Central, especially with the Royals coming off of a World Series appearance.

Nelson Cruz Heads to Mariners

Posted on December 29th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

After a great season in Baltimore which saw Nelson Cruz lead the major leagues with 40 home runs, Cruz is taking his power and heading to the Pacific Northwest where he will attempt to boost a Mariners team that fell just one game short of the playoffs in 2014. Cruz provides much needed right handed power for the Mariners, where he figures to see most of his playing time at DH. While Cruz is already 33 years old, and will be 37 during the final year of his new four year contract, the Mariners will hope to keep him healthy by keeping him out of the outfield the majority of the time.

The Potential Upside

Looking at the glass half full, the Mariners hope that Cruz can represent one of the last pieces that they needed to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2001. If Cruz can replicate most of his production from last season with Baltimore, he will form a formidable middle of the order group along with Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. While hitting 40 home runs again, in the larger Safeco Field, seems like a longshot, even a 30 home run season may be all that the Mariners need. After all, Seattle led the American League in ERA last season, and will be returning the majority of that pitching staff for 2015.

The Potential Downside

One the other side of the equation, Cruz is a slugger nearing his mid-30’s – a pointcruz where many power hitters begin to decline. If his power starts to go away quicker than expected, most of his value will be gone along with it. Cruz doesn’t offer many other notable skills, as his value is tied directly to the amount of power he is able to bring to the order. As a DH, Cruz will have to keep hitting for the next four years if the Mariners are going to get a good return on their investment.

What’s Next?

For the Mariners, right field appears to be the final spot that needs to be filled before the roster will be ready to head to spring training in 2015. Most likely, the Mariners will look to make a trade to fill that spot in right field, whether it is a big name like Justin Upton or Matt Kemp, or a small acquisition. If they are able to locate a quality right fielder to add to the everyday lineup, Seattle could enter the season as the favorite in the difficult A.L. West.

As for Nelson Cruz, this contract represents what he has been looking for over the last couple of years. He signed a one year deal with Baltimore last year in order to prove his value – which he did, and then some. The reward is a lucrative four year deal, and he will now attempt to help complete the Mariners return to postseason competition.

Josh Donaldson the Latest A’s Player to Leave Town

Posted on December 22nd, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

In a surprising move that was foreseen by no one in the baseball world, Josh Donaldson was traded by the A’s to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Brett Lawrie and a group of younger players. Donaldson has been one of the best players in the American League in recent years, bringing a solid bat and an excellent glove at third base. While Lawrie is a talented and powerful young player, he has had donaldsondifficulty staying healthy and his performance has been up and down when on the field. In the end, the evaluation of this trade from Oakland’s perspective may come down to the success of the younger players included in the trade.

What’s the plan in Oakland?

The last few months in Oakland have been interesting, to say the least. In July, they were leading the way in the American League and were the consensus pick to make it to the World Series. After trading away Yoenis Cespedes in exchange for Jon Lester, the A’s fell apart and had to hang on to even make the playoffs at all. They got into the last wild card spot on the final day of the season, and proceeded to lose that wild card game to the Royals. Instead of challenging for the World Series, the A’s went away quietly and were left to figure out where it went wrong.

It Might Be a Rebuild

In light of the Donaldson trade, it is fair to wonder if the A’s are trying to rebuild by selling off some of their valuable pieces before they get too expensive or leave as free agents. Beyond Donaldson, there is also the possibility that Brandon Moss will be moved as well before the offseason is over. Oakland is noted for their small budget in comparison to the rest of the league, so they frequently have to trade away talented players so they can acquire more affordable young players. While the A’s would certainly like to contend again in 2015, that might quickly become an impossibility if they continue to liquidate the talented players that had led them to success early in 2014.

For Donaldson, this trade could serve to take his profile even higher as he heads toward eventual free agency down the line. The Rogers Centre where the Blue Jays play is known for being a great place to hit, and his power stroke is likely to play well in that environment. Additionally, the Blue Jays are assembling a potentially contending team for the coming season and Donaldson should have a great chance to return to the playoffs in 2015.

Where Will Jon Lester Cash In?

Posted on December 15th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards, Players

Until a few months ago, Jon Lester’s entire career has been played in a Boston Red Sox uniform. Lester has had considerable success with the Red Sox, and the team has had great success as well. For those reasons, most people assumed that Lester would be a lifelong Red Sox member despite his impending free agency. It seemed like only a matter of time until the two sides would agree on a contract extension that would keep Lester in place throughout his prime.

Maybe not so fast. Prior to the trade deadline this past season, Lester was traded to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes. Of course, at the time, the Red Sox were out of the race and didn’t want to risk losing Lester for nothing at season’s end, so they made the move to add the Cuban slugger. Even still, many people expected that once the season ended, Lester would sign back with Boston. However, as the offseason has moved along, it has become clear that the Red Sox aren’t the only team with designs on signing the powerful lefty.

The Windy City Comes Calling

While the Red Sox are still very much in the mix for the services of Lester, the lesterChicago Cubs are another strong contender who appears will to spend big (among others, such as the Giants and Cardinals). The Cubs are in a great position to bring in a high priced free agent because much of their roster is made up of young, talented, and affordable players. If they can combine and experienced veteran with the ability of a Jon Lester with their young core of talent, the fortunes of the Cubs could finally be turning around. In the end, the team that is able to offer an extra year on the contract will likely be the one to win the bidding.

Which City Offers More Potential?

While the past decade would indicate that Lester would be better off returning to Boston if he wants to win, the future might look different than the past. The Cubs are a young and talented team, and the Red Sox are signing older free agents in an effort to recover from a disappointing season. Only a year removed from a World Series title, the Red Sox seem to be farther away than they have in recent years. Of course, the addition to Jon Lester would go a long way toward putting Boston back near the top of the A.L. East.

The money that is offered to Jon Lester is likely to be pretty similar between Chicago and Boston, so it will likely come down to where he prefers to pitch. Does he go back to the familiarity of Fenway Park, or accept a new challenge with a young Cubs team? It will be interesting to see how this decision is settled.

Boston Doubles Down to Improve Their 2015 Outlook

Posted on December 9th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Teams

2014 didn’t go well for the Boston Red Sox. The 2013 Red Sox won the World Series, but the 2014 version never really got off the ground, and was out of the race by the middle of the season. With one of the biggest budgets in baseball, seasons like the one they had in 2014 don’t sit well in Boston. The team was sure to take quick action in an effort to turn around their fortunes in the season to come – and they did just that, signing two of the biggest free agent names on the market.

From Coast to Coast

Both of the players that Boston has signed to significant contracts for the next few seasons – Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval – are coming to the Northeast from California where they were playing in L.A. and San Francisco, respectively. Also, both were playing in the National League, and neither has ever played significant time for an American League team. Sandoval has played his whole career with the Giants, while Ramirez actually began his career in Boston but only recorded two total at bats before being traded to the Marlins. He then spent severalpablo seasons in Miami before heading across the country to L.A.

Both Players Have Questions

There is no doubt that Sandoval and Ramirez each bring an attractive set of skills to the table. Sandoval is a solid defensive third baseman, and a productive hitter. Ramirez will likely need to make a position change into the outfield, but the majority of his value comes from his bat. However, each player has concerns going forward. Sandoval has never been a physical specimen, and some worry about how he will age as he heads into his thirties. Ramirez looks like an athlete, but has a history of injury trouble that comes with him. Boston has committed big dollars to Hanley through his age 35 season, so they are going to hope that those injury problems are a thing of the past.

If it goes right, the Red Sox will have quickly kick started their offense for 2015 and beyond. Both are talented offensive players with track records of excellent production. If it goes wrong, each player could spend significant time on the disabled list over the next few years, or have their production decline quicker than expected. There is a gamble associated with any free agent signing, but these two moves seem to carry a little more risk than average. A team with the financial resources of the Red Sox can afford to take that gamble more than other teams, but their fortunes are still going to be closely tied to the production of these two players.

Trout Should Finally Get His Trophy

Posted on November 6th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards, Players

For many people, Mike Trout has been the unquestioned best player in baseball for the last couple of seasons. However, in each of those two years, he has lost out on the Most Valuable Player award to Miguel Cabrera. The debate has been a lively one, in terms of which player is actually better, or more valuable to their team. Cabrera’s contribution is almost entirely thanks to his bat, as he doesn’t run well and isn’t particularly adept on defense. Alternatively, Trout is the ultimate all-around player – he has great power, elite speed, and excellent defense in the outfield. While Cabrera still had a good season in 2014, he wasn’t troutquite up to the level that he was in ’12 and ’13, likely setting the stage for Trout to get his first MVP.

A Deserving Winner

With no disrespect to the incredible talent of Miguel Cabrera, Trout probably should have won the MVP at least once already given his all-around game. Even on nights where Trout doesn’t hit a homerun or drive in a runner with a hit, he can still help the team by drawing a walk and stealing a base, or by taking a hit away in the outfield. If salaries were no factor and general managers could pick any one player to start a franchise with, there is little doubt that each and every one of them would select Trout as their top choice.

If you are a baseball collector of cards and other items, you should already have a section in your collection for Mike Trout collectibles. It is not hype to suggest that by the time he is done, Trout could very well be among the best players to ever play the game. Through the first 3+ years of his career, Mike Trout is on a pace that has rarely, if ever, before been seen in baseball history. No baseball collection will be complete without at least a few items representing this incredible talent, regardless of which team you happen to root for.

Eyes on a Different Prize

Of course, the award that Trout has his eye on this season is not the MVP, but rather a World Series title. The Angels are the top seed in the American League playoffs, and Trout will form a scary tandem with Albert Pujols for any opposing pitcher to deal with this October. Although their pitching took a big hit with the loss of Garrett Richards, the Angles are still going to be a tough team to knock out of the playoffs thanks to a solid bullpen and intimidating lineup. If Trout is able to help lead the Angles to the World Series title, he likely won’t be worried at all about who ends up taking home the MVP award.

The Royals are Back

Posted on October 30th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Teams

No team in Major League Baseball has waited as long as the Kansas City Royals to make a return to the postseason. The last time the Royals were in the playoffs, they won the World Series – but that was 1985. It has been a long time since baseball has been celebrated in Kansas City, even though the city has some of the best baseball fans in the country. Finally, in 2014, the Royals were able to clinch the first Wild Card position in the American League and earned the chance to host the Oakland A’s in the Wild Card round.

The Royals are Back

So what has changed in Kansas City to put them back in this position? It is hard to say, specifically. To look at the Royals, you might notice just how ordinary gordontheir roster seems to be. There is an absence of star players, aside from the dominating back end of the bullpen comprised of Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Alex Gordon is an outstanding player left field, but he is not someone who is recognized as a superstar around the country. The Royals put together an impressive season, but they did it without the big stars that are often found in bigger cities.

This is a team that is built on speed, quality pitching, and timely hitting. The starting rotation is anchored by James Shields, who is a good-but-not-great starter. Jason Vargas, Yordano Ventura, and Danny Duffy have also provided significant contributions to the starting rotation during the 2014 season. The Royals tend to play close games, but they also tend to come out on top of those games thanks to an excellent bullpen and the kind of speed that can push a run across late in the game.

Keep it Low

If the Royals are going to succeed in the playoffs, it seems likely that they will need to keep the scoring to a minimum and win a bunch of low-scoring, close games. Should they find themselves in a series with the Angels, Tigers, or Orioles, they will most likely lack the firepower to keep up if the pitching falters at all. Tight, close ballgames are going to be the winning formula if KC is going to stick around in October.

Even for fans of other teams, it is good to see Kansas City back in the baseball playoffs for the first time in 29 years. Kansas City has always supported their baseball team, and the fans deserve to see some exciting playoff baseball after such a long layoff. If the pitching and defense can come through for Kansas City in the playoffs like it has all season long, there just might be some thrills ahead.

2014 Major League Baseball Playoff Predictions

Posted on October 23rd, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards, Teams

With the 2014 regular season in the books, baseball fans across the country turn their attention to the playoffs and get ready for another October full of drama and surprises. While the baseball playoffs are often unpredictable, this year seems even more wide-open than most, making predictions a serious challenge to say the least. While the following guesses are almost sure to be wrong, here is our projection for the outcome of the 2014 baseball playoffs.

Wild Card Round

In the American League, the A’s will visit the Royals and the Pirates will play host to the Giants. These are only one-game playoffs, so a quick nine innings will decide who moves on to the division series in each league. The A’s and Royals are both low scoring teams who rely on their pitching, which is also true of the Giants. However, the Pirates seem to have a little more danger lurking in their lineup.

Winners: Royals over A’s, Pirates over Giants

Division Series Round

If those results hold, the division round would be as follows: The Los Angeles Angels would play the Royals, and the Tigers will play the Orioles in the other American League series. In the NL, the Nationals would face the Pirates, while the Dodgers and Cardinals will hook up in a rematch of last season’s NLCS. cabreraDespite the fact that the Angels and Nationals have the best records in their respective leagues, all of these series seem wide-open and each could be closely contested.

Winners: Royals over Angels, Orioles over Tigers, Pirates over Nationals, Los Angeles over St. Louis

League Championship Round

Those results would set up a series between the Royals and the Orioles, and the Pirates and Dodgers. In the American League, it would be a serious contrast of styles, as the Royals are built on defense and pitching, while the Orioles love to hit homeruns. In the National League, the high-priced roster of the Dodgers would be taking on the younger group from Pittsburgh anchored by superstar Andrew McCutchen.

Winners: Royals over Orioles, Pirates over Dodgers

World Series

In an unlikely World Series matchup, the Kansas City Royals would face the Pittsburgh Pirates. Each team has struggled for most of the last 20+ years, although the Pirates did manage to make it into the playoffs last year as well. The Royals will have the advantage if they can get even a small lead and turn the game over to their bullpen, while the Pirates will hope to get the games to be higher scoring where their better offense would have an advantage.

Winner: Kansas City Royals