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

Can the Orioles Slug in October?

Posted on October 16th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Teams

No team in all of Major League Baseball hit more home runs in 2014 than the Baltimore Orioles – and it wasn’t particularly close. The Orioles lived and died by the long ball this season, and most of the time they were living right. They finished with the second-best record in the American League and will host the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series. Led by Nelson Cruz, the Orioles were able to overpower most of their opponents even while getting a sub-par year (and suspension) from Chris Davis. If the homers keep coming, the Orioles could cause some serious trouble for opponents in October.jones

Power Outage?

But will they? That is the question. Traditionally, teams that are built on power struggle to keep up the pace during the playoffs. The pitching naturally gets better, making it more difficult to hit home runs. The weather usually gets colder, depending on the location of the games. Since most teams don’t end up using their back-end starters, or lesser relievers, during the playoffs, it’s simply tougher to use power to score runs. Generally, teams that are able to create runs with speed and singles are the ones that rise to the top.

Big Home Field Edge

With that said, the cozy confines of Baltimore’s home park could be a big help in terms of getting on the scoreboard. Camden Yards is one of the easiest parks in the league in which to hit homeruns, so the fly balls should still be able to reach the stands even if the weather cools off. The Orioles will have home field advantage over everyone else in the American League other than the Angels, but of course the games in L.A. should still be plenty warm. Thanks to the American League victory in the All-Star game, the Orioles would have home field advantage in the World Series as well, should they advance that far.

The bats of guys like Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Nelson Cruz, and more will have a lot to say about how far the Orioles are able to advance in the playoffs. Baltimore doesn’t have the quality pitching of some of the other teams in the playoffs, so they will have to have the big bats step up if they want to advance. Those bats have proven all season long that they are capable of rising to the occasion, but it is a different kind of game in October. Only time will tell if they are able to keep sending the home runs over the fence as the temperatures drop and the pitchers improve. If they do, the Orioles just may be the team to beat.

Felix Hernandez is King

Posted on October 9th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards, Players

One of the biggest stories of last offseason was the Seattle Mariners surprising acquisition of Robinson Cano. The Mariners had been struggling for the better part of a decade, and no one expected for the future Hall-of-Famer Cano to end up taking his game to the Pacific Northwest. It was a high priced gamble for Seattle that has already paid off – the Mariners had their best season in years in 2014 and were just one game short of Wild Card position in the American kingfelixLeague. With Cano locked up for years to come, it seems that the Mariners might be on the right track after all these years.

Already a Star Shining Bright

However, lost in the discussion about Cano coming to Seattle, was the fact that the Mariners already had a legitimate superstar on the roster. Felix Hernandez is a Cy Young winner who is on a very short list of the best pitchers in the world. Most would agree that Hernandez, known as King Felix in Seattle, is the best pitcher in the American League, and is probably the pitcher on the planet not named Kershaw. While a starting pitcher doesn’t play every day like a second baseman does, there is no debating the star status of the King.

Still Getting Better

Amazingly, it would seem that Hernandez actually had his best-ever season in 2014. It didn’t seem possible for him to improve on his previous years, but he managed to take home the ERA title in 2014 and will very likely be the winner of the Cy Young award for the second time in his career. Beyond his on-field statistics, Hernandez has become an institution in Seattle and is easily the most-popular player in the city. He has already signed a long-term contract extension, and he and Cano are poised to be the face of the Mariners for many years to come. Hopefully for Mariners fans, it is a partnership that will lead the team back into October soon enough.

In terms of collectibles, Felix Hernandez is certainly one player you want to have represented in your collection. Rookie cards of the King are highly desirable, as are pieces that relate to his 2012 perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays. If you are serious about assembling a collection that represents all of the best players in baseball from each time period, Felix has more than earned his spot for the last several years in Major League Baseball. Be sure to track down a few of your favorite Felix-related pieces and add them to your collection. If the Mariners are able to make it into October and the King adds a ring to his already impressive mantle, your collection will be all the more impressive.

Diminutive Altuve Leading the Way for Astros

Posted on September 1st, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

There hasn’t been much reason to pay attention to the Houston Astros over the last few seasons. They have remained near the bottom of the standings, and have mostly filled out their roster with young, unproven players. While significant help appears to be on the horizon in their farm system, the current crop of major leaguers playing altuvefor the Astros has been nothing to write home about.

However, so far in 2014, there has been one very notable exception to that rule. Jose Altuve, originally known mostly for his small stature, is surprising everyone by leading the league in hitting as well as stolen bases. He was selected for the All-Star team this season, and appears to be the first piece of the puzzle for a rebuilding Astros squad. With Altuve already in place as a blossoming star, the Astros can work on filling in the pieces around their second baseman to put together a contending team.

Altuve is listed at a height of 5’6’’, but even that seems like it might be a little bit generous. He is among the shortest players to ever reach the major leagues, yet that hasn’t stopped him from becoming a challenging opponent to face. Not surprisingly, he has only hit 18 homeruns in his 4-year major league career, but has already produced more than 100 doubles – thanks in large part to his speed. That speed, along with talent running the bases, has allowed him steal over 40 bases so far this season, before the month of July is even over.

Just 24 years old, Altuve seems to be positioned well to remain at the top of his game for many years to come. For baseball collectors, adding some pieces that represent this young man’s growing career would be a wise choice – especially considering how unique it is to have someone of such short stature doing big things in a game dominated by men six feet and above. His size makes him a crowd favorite, as does the exciting way in which he plays the game.

It is not hard to envision the Astros returning to near the top of the standings with Altuve leading the way in the leadoff spot in the order. If they are able to assemble some more young hitters behind him – such as George Springer and Jonathan Singleton – brighter days might not be far off. The Astros are considered to have one of the better farm systems in all of baseball, thanks in large part to all of the high draft picks they have had in recent years. As long as those players develop on schedule through the minor leagues, the Astros could very well be a force to be reckoned with in the very near future.

Will Troy Tulowitzki Remain a Rocky?

Posted on August 25th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

By almost any measure, Troy Tulowitzki is one of the very best players in baseball. The shortstop for the Colorado Rockies plays great defense, hits for average, hits for power, draws walks…and on and on. It is rare to find a shortstop that offers the complete package of skills on both sides of the game that Tulo brings to the table, which is why he is recognized as one of the truly elite players in either league.

With a long term contract in place through 2021, it would seem like Tulo isn’t leaving Denver anytime soon. After all, why would a team that possesses one of the best players in major league baseball be looking to get rid of him? Well, for the Rockies, Tulo is one of the only things they have moving in the right direction. The team is out of contention again this year, and there have been rumors that Tulowitzki might prefer to be traded away to a team that has a better chance of contending while he is still in his prime. With a certain Yankee shortstop retiring at the end of the season (Jeter, Derek), the rumors practically write themselves.

The question the Rockies face is one that many teams have run into over the years – do you trade away your best player and risk angering your fans in the hopes that you can bring back enough young talent to turn around the fortunes of tuloyour team? It is a gamble to be sure, but it is one that needs to at least be considered. At age 29, Tulowitzki is right in the middle of his prime, and would be sure to command an impressive return in any trade negotiations.

There is, however, one ongoing issue regarding Tulo that put a hamper on the offers that the Rockies would receive in trade negotiations. Tulowitzki has had something of a problem staying healthy throughout his career, missing most of the 2012 season, playing in 126 games in 2013, and already having missed some time in 2014. While he certainly isn’t old at 29, players with injury problems tend to have more injury problems as they age – raising red flags for teams that might want to trade for the star shortstop.

Does that mean that the Rockies would be unable to trade him for a nice package of players in return? Of course not. However, it might make it hard for them to find the mega-deal that would make it worth trading away a fan favorite and one of the best players in the game. It stands to reason that the Rockies would have to be overwhelmed by a trade offer in order to move their star player, and it remains to be seen whether or not that will happen given the off-and-on injury history that Tulowitzki has demonstrated over the past few seasons.

The Time is Now for Michael Brantley

Posted on August 18th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

Not all major league players develop at the same pace, if they develop at all. There were high hopes for Michael Brantley of the Cleveland Indians when he broke into the majors at just 22, but he largely struggled for the first few years of his career. He made his debut in the 2009 season, and by the end of the 2012 season he had only 16 career homeruns to his credit. In 2013 he did hit 10 homeruns and drive in 73, but his OPS was just .728.

In many ways, 2014 could be viewed as a make or break season for Brantley, and he is sure making the most of it to this point. He has already surpassed his best ever homerun season by hitting 15, and there are still a couple months of baseball to be played. His OPS is way above his career average, as are almost all of the rest of his numbers. Brantley made his first all-star team in 2014, and seems poised to finally make good on all of that potential and claim his place among some of the best outfielders in the game.

Even better news for the Indians and their fans is that Brantley is already signed to a very team-friendly contract for the next several seasons. He is signed through 2017 at least, with a team option for 2018. He is due to make 5 million in 2015, 6.5 million in 2016, and 7.5 million in 2017. While those are impressive salaries for anyone to take home, they brantleyalso represent a significant discount over his true market value if he is to keep performing at his current all-star level.

Baseball runs in the family for Brantley, who is the son of former major leaguer Mickey Brantley, who played in parts of four seasons for the Seattle Mariners in the mid-80’s. At 6’2’’ with good speed, he has the prototypical build and athleticism for an outfielder. So far in 2014, the Indians are hanging right around .500 and trying to contend for the second wild card position. If the Indians are able to improve their pitching to go along with the offense led by Brantley, they just may be able to hang in the race and grab a playoff spot for the second year in a row.

It has only been four months of excellent play so far in 2014, so Brantley likely has a little further to go before he is commonly thought of as one of the games top players. However, with the impressive skills that he possesses, and the numbers he has put up so far this year, very few will be surprised to see him continue at or near this pace.