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.

Kyle Seager – Quiet Star

Posted on July 21st, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

If you look at the offensive statistics among A.L third baseman so far in the 2014 season, you will find some things that aren’t surprising at all. Sorted by OPS, Adrian Beltre and Josh Donaldson are 1-2 in the rankings. No surprise there at all – both are considered to be among the best in the game, and for good reason. Donaldson already has 17 homeruns on the season, while Beltre has been a perennial standout throughout his long career.

In the third position, however, is a name that many would not have expected to find. Kyle Seager, third baseman for the Seattle Mariners, has an .810 OPS for the season – easily good for third among qualified players in the A.L. Evan Longoria, star player for the Tampa Bay Rays, for example, is fifth at .732. In addition to hitting well for Seattle, Seager also plays excellent defense and takes the field almost seagerevery day. He certainly isn’t a superstar, but he is teaming with Robinson Cano to form a formidable punch in the middle of the usually meek Seattle offense.

Not a Surprise

While Seager isn’t well known across the country, his performance shouldn’t be seen as that big of a surprise. He has hit 20 homeruns in both of the last two seasons, and has been improving his on base percentage year after year as well. Seager wasn’t as heralded out of college as other draft picks within the Mariners organization, but he has become possibly the best player they have developed from within since Felix Hernandez – and the best home-grown hitter since well before that.

Contract Talks Soon?

Kyle Seager isn’t due to be a free agent until the 2018 season, but he is arbitration eligible next year. For the Mariners, the time might be right to start talking about a contract extension that locks up Seager for the foreseeable future at a fair rate to both sides. As hard as it has been for the Mariners to develop hitting talent, getting Seager under contract at a controlled rate is something that is likely high on their priority list. With Cano in place for the next decade, locking up Seager could shore up half of the infield spots with quality hitting and defense.

A Potential Collectible Target

Outside of the Seattle-area, there likely aren’t many baseball collectors with Kyle Seager pieces in their collection. However, that could be due to change in short order, so you might want to get ahead of the curve and start picking up a couple items when you get the chance. It is not a stretch to see Seager as a future All-Star third baseman in the American League – especially after Adrian Beltre decides to hang it up. With the ability to hit for power in terms of both doubles and homeruns, and to drive in runs in the middle of the Seattle order, Seager could stack up the kinds of numbers over the next few years that finally get him the recognition he deserves.

Not So Fast for Albert Pujols

Posted on July 14th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

It’s no secret that Albert Pujols has seen a steady decline in his performance since moving west from St. Louis to Anaheim. The slugger is among the best right-handed hitters of all-time, however, his performance over the last couple of seasons has many wondering if the Angels made a huge mistake in committing as much payroll as they did to Pujols. His first year in L.A. was 2012, during which he put up good-but-not-great numbers. Last season, he struggled with injury and had the worst season of his career by far.

Coming in to 2014, the thinking around the Angels was that Albert was fully recovered from his injuries and was ready to return to form. pujolsThrough the first month of the season, that looked to be exactly the case. Pujols had a .927 OPS in April, with nine home runs and 23 RBI’s. The power was back, the production was back, and it looked like the Angels had the player they hoped to get when they signed him a couple years ago.

Not So Fast

Unfortunately for the Angels and their fans, that production has not lasted. In May, Pujols hit only .234 with a .732 OPS and just nine RBI’s. So far in June, his numbers have dipped even further, with just a .689 OPS to his credit in 14 games. For a lumbering first baseman who doesn’t offer anything in terms of speed or other contributions, the Angels need Pujols to hit if he is going to be a valuable contributor to their success. At least at the moment, that isn’t happening.

Could They Have Seen This Coming?

Every player, no matter how great, eventually declines due to age. It is inevitable, and only a matter of when, not if. Pujols is in his age-34 season, and has amassed over 2,000 games in his Major League career. For a big guy who relies on strength and power to get his numbers, this is something the Angels possibly should have been concerned with. Big players don’t often age well, with David Ortiz being something of an exception to the rule. Considering the fact that the Angels owe Pujols $30 million in the 2021 season, it is safe to say they are worried about his sudden decline in production and what it might mean for the rest of his contract.

Still A Hall-of-Famer

As with other players who begin to decline, all of this doesn’t mean that Albert Pujols is suddenly a bad player who doesn’t deserve a place in your baseball collection. He still is, and will remain, one of the best right-handed hitters of all time, no matter how the rest of his career plays out. The numbers he put up for the Cardinals will not be taken away, and Pujols is sure to be headed to Cooperstown when his career comes to an end. Of course, none of that makes the Angels feel much better at the moment. For Angels fans, a return to the hitter that Albert used to be is what they are counting on in order to challenge the A’s at the top of the American League West.

The Loss of a Legend Tony Gwynn

Posted on June 30th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

Tony Gwynn, one of the best hitter of all-time, recently passed away at the age of 54. Gwynn played 20 incredible seasons for the San Diego Padres, and became the face of that franchise – and in many ways, the city as a whole. In addition to starring for the Padres, Gwynn also played basketball for San Diego State University and still holds many school records in that sport, as well. Gwynn was as much respected for his personality and attitude as his baseball ability, and his passing has been hard on the baseball community as a whole.

A Legitimately Great Hitter

Sometimes, baseball fans are too quick to pass around the word ‘great’ when referring to a specific player. In Gwynn’s case, however, it gwynncertainly applies. His hitting ability was part natural born talent, part hard work and dedication. He started hitting as soon as he reached the big leagues, and didn’t stop for two decades. He also was a quality defensive outfield and amassed plenty of stolen bases – but his bat is what will always be remembered, and what took him all the way to the Hall of Fame.

When you look over the statistics that represent Tony Gwynn’s Major League career, it is hard to decide which numbers stand out most. Of course, a .338 career batting average is hard to ignore. He had a .847 career OPS, which is incredible for someone that was known more for contact hitting than power ability. Also, he hit 135 homeruns and stole 319 bases for the Padres. By any measure, Tony Gwynn is among the best to ever pick up a bat.

Strikeout Totals Not to Be Believed

If there is one line on Tony Gwynn’s stat sheet that stands apart from the rest, it has to be his strikeout numbers. To a baseball fan who is familiar with ‘average’ numbers for hitters in terms of walks and strikeouts, they simply don’t seem like they could be correct. Over a 20 year Major League career, Tony Gwynn struck out a total of 434 times. That averages out to just 29 K’s per 162 games! In today’s game, it isn’t uncommon to see a player strike out 29 times in a single month. In 1995, while winning the batting title with a .368 average, Gwynn struck out a grand total of 15 times. He faced Greg Maddox more than 100 times in his career, and never struck out. The list could go on and on.

A Must for Collectors

If you are a baseball memorabilia collector and don’t have Tony Gwynn represented in your collection, now is the time to change that. This isn’t a financially-motivated move – but rather, one that will help your collection better represent modern baseball history. Gwynn is a legendary player, and a collection without him in it just wouldn’t be complete. Take the time to hunt down some great pieces of memorabilia related to ‘Mr. Padre’, and your overall collection will be better for it.

Jose Abreu’s Amazing Start

Posted on June 23rd, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

Baseball is not caught off-guard when a player makes his way from Cuba and has impressive success early on. There have been a great number of players come from Cuba to make a mark in the Major Leagues. Most recently, the arrival of Yasiel Puig to the Los Angeles Dodgers has dominated the headlines as his play and off the field behavior have both been headline grabbers. With less fanfare, but no less success, comes Jose Abreu abreuto the Chicago White Sox.

Abreu is older than some of the other players who have made their way to the states, debuting in his age 27 season as a Major League rookie. That doesn’t mean, however, that his work has been any less impressive. Through the first 44 games of his career, Abreu has already hit 15 home runs and has an OPS of more than .900. No matter what the White Sox expected from the slugger when they initially signed him, his performance on the field has certainly surpassed their hopes. For the first six weeks of the season, he has been nothing but one of the very best hitters in the league.

Are there holes in his game?

Those looking to criticize the ability of Abreu to keep up his great performance with the White Sox will point to his questionable strikeout and walk numbers as a sign of possible trouble ahead. He has already struck out 50 times, and walked just 10. That isn’t usually a great sign for a hitter, as pitchers continue to try and exploit the holes in their swing and rack up more and more strikeouts along the way. To be sure, Abreu will need to address this issue if he wants to maintain his power-hitting ways.

However, that doesn’t mean that he is destined to be a guy that strikes out too much in pursuit of his homers. Remember, this is only the first 44 games of his career against the best competition in the world. Many rookies struggle with plate discipline before they settle in and learn how to command the strike zone with a more discerning eye. All it will take is for Abreu to start laying off a few more pitches outside the zone and he could quickly become one of the most-feared hitters in all of baseball.

The other issue that might pop up is his ability to stay on the field healthy for a full season. He has already landed on the disabled list with an ankle problem, and the calendar hasn’t even hit June yet. That doesn’t mean that he will be injury prone throughout his career, but it is something worth keeping an eye on. Great players are only valuable when they are on the field producing runs for their team.

It is great to have exciting new players in Major League Baseball, and Jose Abreu fits the bill perfectly. If you are able to pick up one of his rookie cards before his name is known by baseball fans across the country, you might just have a great find and addition to your collection.

Nelson Cruz-ing

Posted on June 16th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

The qualifying offer in Major League Baseball has become one of the most-controversial elements of the collective bargaining agreement due to its effects on many prominent free agents. When a player turns down a qualifying offer from his previous team and becomes an unrestricted free agent, there is compensation attached to him if he were to sign with another team. That team would have to forfeit a high draft pick to the previous team if they are to sign the player to a free agent contract. Among the more-prominent players that have been affected by the qualifying offer recently include Kendrys Morales, Stephen Drew, and Nelson Cruz.

Despite being one of the more-productive power hitters in baseball over recent years, Nelson Cruz found his free agent market less than robust when he started shopping his services over the winter. Cruz initially had cruzlofty expectations for his contact, but those hopes were dashed as the market started to take shape and it became clear that there weren’t as many suitors as Cruz and his agent had hoped. Without a doubt, the qualifying offer and associated draft pick had done some measure of damage to the kind of contract that Cruz could receive.

However, that was not the only issue. Cruz had a suspension for performance enhancing drugs in his past, and doesn’t offer much in the way of defense to go along with his power at the plate. Those elements, when added together, made for a small market and fewer dollars than many expected. In the end, Cruz would take a one year contract from the Baltimore Orioles for just $8 million. His hope was that he could use the one year deal to build his value and make a larger splash next off-season. So far, that plan is working out beautifully.

Impressive Start

Through the first six or seven weeks of the 2014 season, Nelson Cruz has been powering the Orioles offense with an OPS north of .900 and a league leading home run total. As far as $8 million contacts go, Nelson Cruz is giving the Orioles about as much value as possibly could be expected. At the moment, he is playing more like an All-Star than a one year contract recipient.

Of course, that begs the question – can this kind of performance continue? The answer to that question likely has everything to do with health. If Cruz can stay healthy, he has a long track record of solid performance at the plate which would lead one to believe that he can remain highly productive all season long. At age 33 however, there is always the possibility that Cruz will break down at some point over the summer and have to miss part of the schedule. The Orioles, and Cruz himself, obviously hope that won’t happen.


The Price is Wrong?

Posted on June 9th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

David Price is an outstanding pitcher by almost any measure. Through the first few years of his career, he has been one of the best pitchers in baseball, and even has a Cy Young award to his name. Twice he has struck out more than 200 batters in a season, and he has also twice posted a season-long ERA of under 3.00. When talking about the best starting pitchers in the American League, no conversation would be complete without mention of the hard-throwing lefty.

All of that background makes the start to his 2014 season all that much more confusing. After ten starts, Price pricehas posted an incredible combination of 77 strikeouts to only 6 walks. Usually, strikeout and walk numbers like that lead to great success – but that has not been the case just yet for Price. After those ten starts, his ERA is 4.28 and he has just a 4-4 W/L record to his name. There have been some excellent starts included in those ten, but there have been some less-than-excellent ones as well.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the Rays have not had the start to the season that they hoped for, either. Picked by many to be a contender in the AL East this season, they have fallen to the bottom of the standings facing struggles with injuries and scoring runs. If the Rays are to fulfill preseason expectations and contend for a playoff spot, they will certainly need Price to return to his previous levels of performance.

Is he going to turn it around?

When faced with a case of a pitcher who is under-performing his career averages, it is always best to assume that he will resume his previous level at some point. That is certainly the right approach when it comes to David Price. One only has to look at the incredible strikeout and walk numbers that Price has posted so far in 2014 to see that things aren’t as bad as they might seem. If his actual pitches were not as good as they once were, it should show in his K’s and BB’s. In fact, the high ERA might come down to nothing more than plain old bad luck.

There is some measure of luck involved in all of baseball, and certainly within pitching. If a pitcher gets a batter to hit a blooper – but it falls in for a hit – the pitcher is charged with a hit given up even though he managed to induce weak contact. Considering the fact that the season is still so young, it is very possible that Price is simply in the middle of a run of bad luck and that it will soon turn around for him and the Rays. If he keeps the strikeout and walk rate at such an amazing level, it is hard to imagine that he will keep allowing runs with such frequency. It will be one of the most-interesting stories of the 2014 season to see if David Price is able to average out the bad luck and start turning in the kind of starts that we have come to expect from him during his excellent career.

Jeff Samardzija’s Bad Luck

Posted on June 2nd, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

Among the best starting pitchers in the National League, Jeff Samardzija is a right-hander who has had more than his share of headlines already this season. For one thing, he is a free agent after the 2015 season and it is samardzijawidely assumed that the Cubs will use him as the centerpiece of a trade package that can be used to try and rebuild their team. Samardzija is a powerful young pitcher who should have many successful years ahead of him – and that kind of promise usually returns an impressive package on the trade front.

There is only one thing wrong with Samardzija’s profile so far in 2014, and it has absolutely nothing to do with his ability – he is yet to be crediting with winning a game. Thanks to the Cubs paltry offense, Samardzija has no wins and four losses to his record, despite having the best ERA in all of the NL after ten starts. Fair? No – it is not his fault that his team is unable to score enough runs to provide him with a few wins along the way. He is doing his part and then some – but the rest of the team isn’t holding up their end of the bargain.

A reliever earlier in his career, Samardzija seems to be getting better with age. He already has 54 strikeouts through his first ten starts, and is getting deeper into the game than ever before. Any team lucky enough to land his services, should the Cubs decide to trade him, will be getting a starter than can be counted on for an excellent effort every five days. For the former Notre Dame wide receiver, the transition to baseball has gone about as well as could have been expected.

When will he get traded?

For most people, the question is when Jeff Samardzija will get traded, not if. The Cubs, of course, are not making their plans known, but a trade seems to make the most sense. The Cubs don’t appear ready to contend anytime soon, so using this valuable piece to get several young players is probably the wise way to try and jump start the franchise. For a team that feels they are only a pitcher away from a possible run to the title, investing some prospects in a trade to the Cubs for Samardzija might end up looking like a great option.

However, since he isn’t a free agent until after next season, there is no guarantee that Samardzija will be moved before the end of July trade deadline. The Cubs will be in the enviable position of getting to sit back and listen to offers for their talented pitcher. If none of the offers are suitable for their needs, the Cubs can simply let him pitch out the rest of the season and wait until this winter to reassess their options. Considering the condition of much of the Cubs roster at the moment, what they decide to do with Jeff Samardzija will likely say a lot about the near future of the team they are able to put on the field at Wrigley.