Posted on May 13th, 2015 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards, Photos, Players
One of the top off-season story lines wasn’t actually a story at all – it was the non-trade of Cole Hamels. Despite constant speculation and rumors throughout the winter, Hamels was not traded and remains a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. Considering the low expectations for the 2015 Phillies, most expected that they would move Hamels to a contending team in order to acquire some young talent. That has not yet happened, but there is a long way to go in 2015.
Phillies Off to a Predictable Start
There have been plenty of surprised in the early 2015 season, but the Phillies have not been one of them. They are 4-9 after 13 games of the 2015 season, and have been outscored by 24 runs already. The expectation that they would be one of the worst teams in the National League appears well on its way to becoming reality. That means that by the trading deadline at the end of July, the Phillies should be safely in the ‘sellers’ camp.
Hamels Not Helping
The big gamble that the Phillies are taking is that Hamels will maintain his value throughout the season until the trade deadline rolls around. So far, that hasn’t necessarily been the case. After three starts, Hamels is carrying an ERA of 5.00 and has already walked nine batters. His total of 18 strikeouts is impressive, but the seven home runs that he has surrendered could be a potential warning sign to any possible trade partners. Certainly three starts won’t undo all of the good that Hamels has done in his career, but the Phillies are hoping for the maximum return trade value from their top asset – and his start to the season has not helped toward that end.
Boston Playing Well
One of the likely trade targets for Cole Hamels is Boston, as they have assembled a team that appears to have a strong lineup with a questionable starting rotation. However, the Red Sox have started 8-5 on the young season, and the rotation hasn’t been quite as bad as some were predicting. If the Red Sox don’t need to send young talent to Philly for Hamels, the market for their ace will suddenly get smaller. While there is always a need for quality pitchers, the package that Philadelphia is able to receive in return will be directly related to the size and competitiveness of the market as July draws to a close.
Posted on May 6th, 2015 by Matt | Posted in Players
During the offseason, the Seattle Mariners signed Nelson Cruz to a lucrative four-year contract after his excellent season in Baltimore in 2014. Cruz is among the leading right handed power hitters in baseball – something that Seattle has been sorely missing for a long time. The Mariners fell just a game short of the playoffs in 2014, and they were counting on Cruz to be the added punch in the middle of the lineup that they needed to put between All-Stars Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. So far, Cruz has delivered on those expectations, and then some.
Early Home Run Surge
In just 13 games, Cruz has already logged eight home runs for the Mariners. There was some concern that the expansive Safeco Field would put a damper on the home run totals that Cruz could post, but that simply hasn’t been the case so far. He has been homering both at home and on the road, and already has 16 RBI to his credit. It has only been two weeks, but the Mariners have to be thrilled with the early returns on their investment.
Not Just Power
While Cruz will always be known mainly for his power, the early season hot start has included more than just homers. He is hitting .358 currently, and getting on base at better than 40%. Perhaps even better news for the Mariners is the reasonable strikeout numbers found on his stat line – just 10 k’s in 57 plate appearances. Cruz is never going to be a contact hitter, but keeping that strikeout rate at a reasonable level will be key to maintaining his productivity.
An Intimidating Trio
Just as it was imagined in the offseason, the 3-4-5 combination of Cano, Cruz, and Seager is already causing problems for opponents. In a game against the Rangers, Cano came to the plate with first base open and the winning run standing on third. Rather than giving Cano a chance to win the game, the Rangers chose to walk him and pitch to Cruz with the bases loaded. Cruz singled to left, and the Mariners won in walk-off fashion. There was no great option available to Texas in that scenario, because of the middle of the order quality that the Mariners now have to offer.
As a team, the Mariners aren’t off to a great start – due mostly to sub-par starting pitching. However, Nelson Cruz has certainly been doing his part to boost the offense of a team that has long struggled to score runs. If the starting pitching in Seattle can return to its form from previous years, the Mariners may be the team to beat in the West.
Posted on April 23rd, 2015 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards, Players
The biggest single story of the early baseball season has been Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. A top prospect and just 23 years old, Bryant certainly appeared to have done enough in spring training to earn a spot on the Cubs roster. However, Chicago chose to have Bryant start the season in the minor leagues, likely to delay the start of his service time for contractual reasons. Whatever the motivation behind his early demotion, Bryant is in the Windy City now and he is likely to make an immediate impact in the Cubs lineup.
Minor League Pedigree
Having played college baseball at the University of San Diego, the 23-year old Bryant has only played a total of 181 games at the minor league level. While that is a small sample of professional experience, the results have been nothing short of amazing. In those 181 games, he has hit 55 homeruns and driven in 152. He also showed impressive plate discipline, accumulating 99 walks along the way. All of that adds up to a minor league career OPS of 1.092. It doesn’t matter which numbers are used, the minor league career of Kris Bryant has been short but memorable.
Power is the name of the game for Bryant, even though he sports an impressive .327 career minor league batting average. That power comes from a 6’5’’ frame, and it seems very likely that he will be able to continue producing power numbers even facing the best pitchers in the world at the major league level. Just four games into his major league career at this point, Bryant already has a pair of doubles to his credit, along with four walks and four RBI.
Big Name Infield in Chicago
Many baseball fans and writers are predicting big things for the Chicago Cubs in coming years, and much of that has to do with the names that now line up across their infield. Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Starlin Castro, and Kris Bryant are currently the starting infielders for the Cubs. Each is young, and each comes with a background as a high-profile prospect. If even three of these players is able to translate into a quality major leaguer, the Cubs will have one of the best infields in baseball. If all four are able to do it, Chicago may just have what it takes to break the longest title drought in sports.
Posted on March 14th, 2015 by Matt | Posted in Players
After sitting out the entire 2014 season, Alex Rodriguez will be back in uniform for the New York Yankees as spring training gets underway in Florida. Rodriguez will turn 40 during the season, and it is easy to say that no one knows exactly what to expect from the former star at this point in his career. Major league pitching is hard to hit for anyone, let alone a player who had to sit out an entire year and is approaching forty years of age. A-Rod is owed more than $60 million total over the next three seasons, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him released at any point by the Yankees if his performance does not return to a reasonable standard.
Not only is Rodriguez returning after sitting out all of 2014, he also only played in 44 games in 2013, hitting just .244. So, if he is going to return to form as one of the best hitters in the league, he is going to have to overcome an extended period of inactivity to restore the timing and power that used to be so impressive. Rodriguez is truly one of the best hitters in baseball history, and the Yankees are hoping that some of that former glory will be able to return for at least the 2015 season.
What position will he play?
Of course, Rodriguez moved from shortstop to third base when he came to New York because of the presence of Derek Jeter. However, the Yankees signed Chase Headley during this offseason to handle the third base duties, meaning that Rodriguez is likely headed for a DH role on the 2015 squad. There is also the possibility that he could take reps at first base as well, with Mark Teixiera often struggling with injuries of his own.
Spring Training Will Be Important
For most players, spring training is just a time to work off the rust, get in game shape, and get into the rhythm of playing games every day. However, for Alex Rodriguez, spring training 2015 is likely to be far more important. Not only will Rodriguez be making his return to the field after an extended break, but he will also need to show the Yankees what he can do before heading north to start the year. If he is unable to find the timing in spring training, the Yankees could face a tough decision when the start of the regular season comes around. This will be one of the most-interesting stories to watch from all around baseball in March.
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 version 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.
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 point 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.
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.
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 difficulty 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.
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 Chicago 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.
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 quite 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.
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 League. 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.