The Growing Jose Fernandez Bandwagon

Posted on April 16th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards

You really can’t be blamed if you have no paid much attention to the Miami Marlins over the last couple of seasons. They haven’t been particularly relevant or interesting, with the exception of power hitter Giancarlo Stanton. However, there is a new reason to watch the Marlins, and he is taking the National League by storm over the past year+. His name is Jose Fernandez, and you should expect to see a lot of him in coming seasons.

Just 21 years old, Fernandez hails from Cuba and is already one of the best strikeout pitchers in baseball. In only 185.1 innings in the major leagues, he has already K’d an impressive 204 batter, while walking only 60. fernandezHe started 28 games last season for Miami, recording a 2.19 ERA along with a 12-6 record. He won the Rookie of the Year award, was an All-Star, and finished third in the Cy Young voting. Not a bad start to a major league career.

Fernandez dominates games with classic stuff that you would expect from a big right-handed pitcher. His fastball is intimidating, and he has the control over his secondary pitches necessary to make batters respect them. He hasn’t been doing it with smoke and mirrors – this kid has all the tools to be one of the best pitchers in baseball for years to come.

When you start talking young Marlins players, the natural question is whether or not they will stay with the team long-term. Miami has made some big trades over the years, and seen some impressive players head off for new cities. However, Fernandez is young and under many years of team control, so it seems likely he will remain in South Florida for the foreseeable future. Also, the Marlins have expressed interest in keeping Stanton around for the long-term, giving them the possibility of having a star player on offense and in the pitching staff.

Picking up some Jose Fernandez collectibles soon would be a great idea for any collector. Rookie cards should be easy to find since he was just a rookie last season and, given good health, his stock seems to be headed nowhere but up. Beyond his ability on the field, he has already gained many fans with a quick smile and great story. If you have a collection of cards or other items that highlight some of the best power pitchers in history – names like Clemens, Ryan, Johnson, and more – you will want to make sure Fernandez is represented sooner rather than later. He hasn’t earned a place among the greats just yet, but his ability is of that caliber.

Things seem to be turning around for the Marlins, who just might have a better 2014 season than most would expect. They probably aren’t ready to contend for a playoff spot in a tough division with Atlanta and Washington, but the Marlins are starting to build around two of the best players in the game in Fernandez and Stanton. With that kind of a base in place, winning seasons may be just around the corner.

The Dodgers’ Outfield – One Man Out

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

According to just about everyone who is anyone in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers are the early season favorite to win the pennant and head to the World Series. With the highest payroll in baseball and a long list of star players both in the field and on the mound, the Dodgers aren’t exactly a surprise pick. In fact, it will be a surprise if they don’t contend strongly come playoff time.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s all fun and games in Southern California. One of manager Don Mattingly’s biggest issues is how to divide up playing time among four very capable outfield options. In a league with no DH, Mattingly doesn’t have the option of keeping the odd man out happy by getting him at bats in the DH slot when not in the lineup.

The four outfielders in question are Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier. All four of the players are very well paid, and would be starters on just about every team in the league. In addition to that logjam, the Dodgers havepuigkempstar prospect Joc Pederson waiting in the wings to get his chance as well. It’s a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.

Previously, this issue has been solved by the poor health of superstar Matt Kemp. When healthy, Kemp is the best of the four players, but his health has been fickle in recent years. He is back in action now, and if he is able to perform like his old self, will be safe bet to land in the lineup on a nearly daily basis.

With Puig, the issues have been more behavioral than performance or health related. Puig has had a series of minor incidents like speeding tickets and tardiness that have left him in the dog house from time to time. Also, on the field errors like overthrowing the cutoff man and getting picked off on the base paths have taken attention off of his amazing natural talent.

Crawford has had his own health issues, and Ethier has been hit and miss with the bat over the last couple seasons. Both players can be strong contributors when right, and sitting either is a hard pill to swallow considering their large salaries.

So what can Don Mattingly do? Is a trade inevitable?

While there might be a trade coming down the road, Mattingly can probably make do for the time being just by rotating these four players around. For one thing, the injury history of Kemp makes him a good candidate for a rest every few days. If Ethier doesn’t hit up to his previous level, it will make it a little easier for Mattingly to justify his time on the bench. Also, Crawford has been in the league for many years now and could also benefit from some rest on his legs throughout the course of a long season.

To be sure, the Dodgers are loaded with talent. Whether they choose to hang on to all four of these outfielders, or if they trade one to address another area of weakness is yet to be seen. Either way, it seems like a good bet that the Dodgers will be playing into October this season.

Is AL West Best?

Posted on February 27th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Divisions, Teams

For years, the AL East has been considered the best division in baseball. After all, the Yankees and Red Sox are perennially quality teams, the Rays have been consistent for several years, and the Orioles and Blue Jays have also made moves to strengthen their position. However, with some free agent moves and young talent, the AL West might soon be considered the toughest division in the game.

Oakland Athletics

Having won the division two years in a row, the A’s still seem to somehow fly under the radar. They have an impressive minor league system which has been generating most of the talent that has led to their success. Also, some impressive trades and a couple of free agent signings have all combinedcespedes to make the A’s the leader in the West division. The next step for the Athletics is to parlay their regular season success into some postseason hardware.

Texas Rangers

Many people might point to the Rangers as the best team out west despite having finished runner up to Oakland two years in a row. The Rangers have done their best during this off-season to improve their team and catch the A’s – most notably, they have added Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo to the lineup, although they also suffered the loss of closer Joe Nathan. The rotation is still anchored by ace Yu Darvish, and the Rangers look positioned for another quality season.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

While the shine might have worn off of the free agent acquisitions of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, the Angels still have a team with the potential to get back into the playoff conversation. Mike Trout might be the best player in all of baseball, and Jered Weaver is a legitimate ace pitcher when healthy. The Angels might need to find production from a couple more pieces to really contend with the Rangers and A’s, but they should not be overlooked.

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners have made the biggest splash of the off-season, pulling Robinson Cano away from New York with some $240 million. The question for the Mariners is whether or not that is enough to move up the standings and be a legitimate contender in 2014. The M’s already have excellent starting pitchers Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, and have been rumored to be the front runners for Masahiro Tanaka. With good performances from some young players like Brad Miller, Kyle Seager, Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, and Justin Smoak, the Mariners could surprise and be a major player in the 2014 pennant race.

Houston Astros

While the other four teams in the division appear to be playing for the present, the Astros seem to be more oriented toward their long-term future. However, that isn’t to say that Houston will remain out of the race for long. With an impressive farm system and very little in the way of long-term payroll commitments, the Astros could be on a faster-track to success than many observers would have guessed.

The Astros might be a year or two away from being a real contender, but a case could be made for any of the other four teams winning the division in 2014. For the runners-up, the wild card seems like a possible landing spot. With some free agent additions and plenty of young talent, the AL West just might be the division that rises above the rest in the coming season.

Moving On from Mo

Posted on February 14th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Hats and Caps, Players

For the first time in what seems like forever, the Yankees will be heading into the 2014 season without Mariano Rivera as their closer. While they did go through a period of time without Mo in 2012 when he was injured, this time it is permanent. The Yankees will need to find a solution at the end of the game to try and lock down at least most of those saves that Mariano was logging so regularly. It certainly seems unlikely that they will find anyone to be as successful as the sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, but move on they must.

What’s Next?

It is not an enviable position to be the player that has to replace Mariano Rivera, but that task is likely the one that is facing David Robertson. The team hasn’t officially named Robertson the closer robertsonfor the 2014 season, but he seems like the logical choice unless the Yankess are able to make a move in free agency or via trade. The good news for the Bronx Bombers is that Robertson is a very capable right-handed pitcher. He has been a reliable setup man for the Yankees over the past three seasons, racking up impressive strikeout totals while running an ERA of well under 3.00.

The Biggest Hurdle

Certainly it would seem that the biggest challenge for the Yankees and whomever takes on the closer role is the fear of the unknown. While Mariano Rivera didn’t actually save every game successfully, it felt like he did. When the Yankees took the field in the 9th inning with a lead, it seemed like the game was over. At times, it seemed like even the opposing team was resigned to its fate. When the new closer takes to the mound for the first time, and probably for a good while after that, everyone in the stadium will be nervous in a way that they haven’t been in years. The aura of Mariano Rivera taking the mound in the 9th was almost as impressive as his pitching – and that is something that just can’t be replaced.

A Good Start is Crucial

Whether it is David Robertson or someone else who starts the 2014 season as the Yankees new closer, a good start to the season will be paramount for their confidence, and the team’s success. If the new closer is able to go out and nail down the first few saves, it will probably go a long way toward moving on and writing a new chapter. However, if there are a few blown saves in April and the fans start to get restless, the task will likely become all that much more daunting. For an organization that sets its sights on the title each year, every loss is put under the microscope. When those losses come due to a blown save in the last inning, the pressure can quickly multiply.

If it is David Robertson that assumes the mantle of closer, he seems positioned well to be successful. Having experience working closely with Mariano Rivera, and already used to the Yankee Stadium atmosphere, Robertson might be more comfortable than a free agent who is just forced into the spotlight. Whatever the Yankees end up doing with the closer role in 2014, it certainly will be exciting to watch.

Don Mattingly to Remain with Dodgers

Posted on February 7th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards, Coaches

Despite being rumored to be on the hot seat for much of the 2013 season, and even having his status somewhat up in the air after the season ended, reports are that the Dodgers have signed Mattingly to a contract extension through the 2016 season. Thanks to the large payroll and young talent that is currently suiting up for the Dodger blue, it seems like a good time to be the manager in the City of Angels. However, there is no lack of pressure to parlay that payroll into some postseason success. The Dodgers of 2013 made an incredible 2nd half run to an easy division title, but were bounced from the playoffs one round short of the World Series. While an NLCS appearance is nothing to sneeze at, the goals are clearly higher for this bunch.

What Mattingly Has to Work With

Nearly every manager in baseball must be privately jealous of the talent that has been assembled for Mattingly to work with. On the pitching side of the ledger, mattinglythere is Clayton Kershaw, whose name speaks for itself at this point. To go along with Kershaw, the Dodgers can send Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Greinke, and Dan Haren to the mound as well. That is a list of starting pitchers that rivals any rotation in baseball, and makes for some long series when opposing teams arrive at Dodger Stadium. The lineup, for its part, isn’t lacking for star power either. Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, and others combine to create one of the most formidable orders in the game. On paper, the Dodgers are a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

What Mattingly Brings to the Table

Don Mattingly was a great player for the Yankees for more than a decade. With a lifetime batting average of over .300, and 222 career home runs, Mattingly has no lack of authority in the clubhouse. The one thing that Mattingly lacks, however, might be what the Dodgers need the most – playoff experience. Despite playing in parts of 14 seasons for the Yankees, Don Mattingly only once made the postseason, losing to the Mariners in the 1995 Divisional Series. He never played in the ALCS, and never reached the World Series. Is that going to present a problem in trying to take the Dodgers to the promised land? Only time will tell. Plenty of great managers never played in the World Series, so it may be a non-factor when all is said and done.

Mattingly Collectibles Still Attractive

The presence of Don Mattingly in the dugout of the Los Angeles Dodgers is serving to introduce his name to a whole generation of baseball fans who never had the chance to see him play. A variety of great Don Mattingly collectibles can still be found on websites such as eBay, most with him dressed in the classic Yankee pinstripes, although a few  items with Dodger blue are popping up from time to time. Given his sizable place in baseball history, a piece of Mattingly memorabilia should have a place in every baseball collection.

Masahiro Tanaka is Coming

Posted on January 31st, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards, Players

After much discussion and debate, Masahiro Tanaka seems to be headed to the American Major Leagues for the 2014 season. Where he will be putting his skills to use, however, is still open for discussion. Just about every team in the league could use the talent that Tanaka possesses, but only a few will be willing to enter the high-stakes bidding that is sure to develop. Any team that wishes to negotiate with Tanaka will have to commit $20 million in a posting fee to Tanaka’s team in Japan, although only the team that ends up signing the star pitcher will actually have to pay the $20 million.

What does Tanaka Bring?

As with any player that makes their way over from Japan, there are plenty of question marks as to how their performance will translate to the American game. With that said, there is no lack of success stories of players to make the transition from NPB to MLB tanakawith great results. Some of the most notable examples include Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, and Yu Darvish. On the other side of the coin, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kei Igawa were both acclaimed starting pitchers who failed to find their footing with the Red Sox and Yankees, respectively.

In the case of Tanaka, most analysts agree that he is on track to be a successful starting pitcher in the major leagues. He has experienced incredible success in Japan, including a 24-0 record last season. Tanaka is just 25 years old, has a powerful fastball, and a 6’2” frame. On paper, he would seem to compare reasonably with Yu Darvish, who has been successful with the Texas Rangers for the past two seasons.

Which Teams are in the Race?

Most teams don’t divulge their free agent interests ahead of time, so there is only speculation as to which teams will be significant players for Tanaka’s services. Six teams that are believed to have strong interest, and the funds to make a deal, are the Rangers, Yankees, Mariners, Diamondbacks, Cubs, and Angels. How much each of those teams is interested, or if there any other other ‘sleeper’ teams waiting in the wings, is yet to be seen. On the surface, the Angels and Rangers seem like long shots simply because of their previous financial commitments. During this off-season, the Rangers have taken on Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, both with significant contracts. The Angels spent big in the last two off-seasons, with Pujols and Hamilton. While the Mariners just spent a fortune on Robinson Cano, rumor has it that there is more room in the Seattle budget. The Yankees, for their part, can never be counted out of the bidding for any free agent – especially given their lack of depth presently in their starting rotation.

No one can be sure as to what Masahiro Tanaka will bring to MLB when he arrives for the 2014 season. With his impressive resume from his career in Japan, it seems likely that he will have success on American soil as well. If he lives up to the potential that he brings with him, the team that wins this sweepstakes will have gotten a great asset for their pitching staff.

Robinson Cano has Landed – in Seattle?

Posted on January 23rd, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards, Players

Well – nobody saw that coming. While the Mariners were rumored to be interested in the services of star second baseman Robinson Cano (and why not?), the consensus thinking was that any negotiation with the Mariners was simply an effort to drive up his price with the Yankees. Wrong. Cano received a huge offer from the Mariners, and decided to pack up and head out west. He will team up with Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and others to try and bring back a contending team to the Pacific Northwest.

What the Mariners Can Expect

In Robinson Cano, the Mariners are getting one of the most accomplished and productive players in all of baseball over the last robinsoncanoseveral years. Cano hits for average, hits for power, plays great defense at second, and more. Of course, at $240 million over 10 years, the Mariners are banking on the fact that Cano will continue to be the productive player that he has been for many years to come. Given the struggle that Seattle has faced in scoring runs over the last few seasons, any offensive addition will be a welcome one for both fans and pitchers in the Emerald City.

Are They Contenders?

One of the major questions in the days after Cano signed with the Mariners was whether or not this move alone is enough to make the Mariners a contending team in a division with the Rangers, A’s, and Angels. The answer, at this point, is probably not. However, the Mariners are likely not finished making moves during this off-season, and their opening day roster could very well look different than it does today. On the pitching side of the game, the Mariners seem to be positioned pretty strongly, with stars Hernandez and Iwakuma backed up by young talent like Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. While the offense remains a concern, young hitters such as Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak might have an easier time fulfilling potential with an established star like Cano hitting in the middle of the lineup and taking some of the pressure off of their shoulders.

What to Expect from Cano?

The safe bet is to expect Cano to keep on doing what Cano has always done – hit and field. He isn’t a player that will impress you with his all-out hustle and effort – he is more akin to another player that is legendary in Seattle, Ken Griffey Jr. Junior was know for the ease with which he played, and Cano is similar in that way. He is very much a natural on the baseball field, and has a knack for making the game look easier than it is.

It remains to be seen if Robinson Cano is able to take the Mariners to the next level and make them a team that the Rangers and A’s have to worry about in the standings. What is already clear, however, is that fans in Seattle have their first star hitter in many years, and there will be more anticipation for the 2014 Mariners’ season than any in recent memory.

 

 

Replay, Finally

Posted on December 30th, 2013 by Matt | Posted in Games

Instant replay in baseball is long overdue, but it seems that the wait is finally over. Sure, there has been replay on disputed home runs for years, but that was as far as they were willing to take it. While other sports, specifically football, have leaned on replay heavily for years with great success, baseball has been stubborn to follow suit. Whether it was due to the traditions of the game, or worries about making games longer, or whatever else, no plan of action was ever put into place. For the 2014 season, however, that appears to be changing for the better.

Challenge System?

While the details of the Major League Baseball replay system have not yet been announced (or finalized), there has been some hint to the system thanks to the Arizona Fall League. The Fall League used limited replay challenges as a test for next season. Managers were able to challenge calls they felt were incorrect, umpsuch as safe/out at first base, or a fly ball that might not have been caught on the dive. Balls and strikes are not challengeable. This system seems like a great solution because managers will be able to simply challenge the umpire and ask for review as opposed to dragging out the game with long-winded arguments that never go anywhere. Take the time that is used for the argument to replay the play, and the game can be up and running faster than before.

Avoiding the Disaster Call

The biggest area of improvement for baseball by implementing a challenge review system will be the avoidance of a major mistake changing the course of the game. For example, the Armando Galarraga near-perfect game from 2010 would not have been wasted on a bad call from umpire Jim Joyce. The 27th out of the game was clearly made at first base, but Joyce called the runner safe and the party was called off. Joyce is actually one of the best umpires in the game, but he made a mistake. Unfortunately for him and Galarraga, it happened at the worst possible time. If replay was in place at that time, the call would have been overturned, and the perfect game would be on the record books for all of history. This rule change can’t go back and fix that mistake, but it can prevent it from happening again.

Time to Move Forward

There are certainly ‘traditional’ baseball fans who don’t want to see expanded instant replay, but they are probably in the minority. Most fans just want a fair game with correct calls, and this is a major step in that direction. For baseball to continue its massive growth in popularity, it will need to stay on top of new technology and use it to improve the product on the field. For fans, players, coaches, and even umpires themselves, having more access to instant replay is a great thing. It will be exciting to see how it is put into use and what new chapters will be written in baseball history with the help of the replay challenge system.

Polar Opposites – David Freese for Peter Bourjos

Posted on December 14th, 2013 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards, Photos, Players

The St. Louis Cardinals have a well-earned reputation as one of the best-run franchises in all of baseball. One look at their recent resume would suggest that they do, in fact, know what they are doing. A constant presence in the playoffs, the Cardinals seem well-positioned to remain as a force in the National League for many years to come.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, on the other hand, seem to be trending in the opposite direction. After a very successful first decade of the new century, the Angels have started throwing money at their problems – only to end up with more problems. The last two off seasons have seen the Angels making the biggest splash, first with Albert Pujols, and next with Josh Hamilton. Neither of those moves have paid off to this point, and the Angels appear to be going nowhere fast.

An Obvious Move for St. Loius

Given the fact that the Angels have a glut of outfielders and no third baseman to speak of, the Cardinals made sense as trade partners. The Cardinals have plenty of infielders to go around, but were a little thin in bourjosthe outfield department – especially center. Peter Bourjos is one of the fastest players in baseball and a great defensive outfielder. In addition, he hits better, and for more power, than your average speedy outfielder. When he can stay healthy, Bourjos is an enviable player that forces the opponent into a lot of uncomfortable positions.

But Not for the Angels

While it is easy to see why the Cardinals would be interested in Bourjos, it is not so obvious why the Angels would be willing to deal him for David Freese. Although Freese will live in St. Louis history forever after his amazing 2011 World Series performance, his 2013 campaign left a lot to be desired. He posted career lows in just about every category, and flopped in a big way in October. He is only under contract for two more years, as opposed to three for Bourjos, and will be more expensive to boot. Sure, the Angels needed a third baseman, but way Freese? And freesewhy give up Bourjos?

Seemingly One-Sided

As it stands, this trade seems like an easy win for the Cardinals. They addressed a significant need without having to part with anything of too much value or pay high free agent prices. The only obviously trouble that could be lurking on St. Louis end is the injury trouble that seems to follow Bourjos. If he can stay on the field, he’s an asset – but that’s a big if. For Anaheim, the deal seems less than desirable. Sure, Freese could rebound and be a useful player for the next couple years, but there is a chance that his useful days are behind him. Typically, hitters numbers get worse when moving from the National to American league, and Freese certainly can’t afford to go down much from where he was in 2013. It will all play out in time, but St. Louis fans sure have to feel better about this deal as it looks today.

The Robinson Cano Sweepstakes

Posted on December 7th, 2013 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards, Jerseys, Players

It isn’t breaking news that Robinson Cano is one of the best players in all of baseball. He has been excelling for the Yankees for the better part of the last decade, and as a power hitting second baseman, his skills are rare. As the biggest fish in the free agent pond this offseason, Cano is looking to cash in big-time. In a strange move, Cano has ditched super-agent Scott Boras in favor of rapper-turned-businessman Jay-Z. The idea of Jay-Z sitting down with some of the general managers and owners around the league is an entertaining thought all of its own. Cano, and Jay-Z, have floated the idea of landing a contract north of $300 million in total value. Crazy? Maybe, but then again maybe not.

Abundance of Riches

The game of baseball has never been wealthier than it is right now. Revenues are at an all time high, attendance is strong, TV ratings are up, and on and on. In short, it is a good time to be a baseball player. As it relates to Cano, it is a great time to be a free agent with a great track record of reliable and durable performance. Great canosecond basemen are hard to find, and ones of Cano’s level are basically once-in-a-generation players. This is obviously a player that is going to land a giant contract, no matter which uniform he happens to put on.

Sustained Greatness

On the most visible team in the most visible market in the league, somehow Robinson Cano has flown slightly under the radar. The last time Cano missed more than three games in a season? 2006. This isn’t Cal Ripken, but pretty darn close. During that span, Cano has only hit below .300 once, and that was five years ago. He has amassed 200+ homers and has a career OPS of .860. The numbers on the back of his baseball card are so consistent they almost seem like a misprint. There should be no mistake when considering the talents of Cano – he is truly one of the very best players in the game.

Potential Suitors

It seems inevitable that Cano will go back to the Yankees, because it doesn’t seem like they ever let a great player like this get away. However, with the Yankees insistence on getting below the luxury tax number next season, it might not be as sure a thing as it seems from the outside. Also, there is the Jay Z factor to consider. This is his first free agent negotiation, and his first chance to make a big splash. Can he convince a team in another market to take the leap on Cano and sign a contract near that $300 million mark? Not only would that mean a huge payday, but it would also put him in position to land future clients impressed with his work. The Rangers, Mariners, Dodgers, and others have all been tossed out as possible landing spots, but only time will tell where, and for how much, Robinson Cano will sign on the dotted line.