Buster Olney: Insider MLB

Drew StorenMitchell Layton/Getty ImagesDrew Storen had a successful 2014 season with the Nationals.
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Drew Storen, closer of the Washington Nationals, grew up as a huge fan of sport, and given his current vocation, he’s had an opportunity to meet some legends, which he relates enthusiastically.

Storen has a picture of longtime Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully from 1957, and so Storen used the power of the Internet to acquire the exact model of microphone that appears in that picture. During one of the Nationals’ trips into Dodger Stadium, Storen took the microphone upstairs to the booth where Scully works and asked him to autograph it -- and, as Storen recalls, he got to sit and listen to 30 minutes of incredible stories from Scully.

Another time, Storen visited the same physical therapist as future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, and Storen’s appointment happened to be just before Rivera’s appointment. As his time with the therapist ended, he got to meet Rivera, but then a moment later, the therapist summoned him back into the room, and over the next 45 minutes or so, Storen got to chat with the greatest closer of all time.

“Of course I asked the one question that anyone [in baseball] would ask him,” Storen said.
Martin PradoJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesMartin Prado is preparing for multiple roles with his new team, the Miami Marlins.
JUPITER, Fla. – The memory is clear in Martin Prado’s mind, and as he spoke about it Friday in the Marlins’ indoor batting cages, the rain falling outside, Prado wasn’t so much describing as he was reliving. He used his hands and gestures to replicate and convey the sheer horror of the moment.

This was about the instance in which Prado manned third base and Giancarlo Stanton used the full force of his 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame and blistered a baseball right at Prado’s soul and body, although not necessarily in that order.

Prado smiled slightly as he began to relate the story, but he is a dead-serious professional, which is part of the reason the Marlins traded for him during the offseason.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

MLB faces tough decision on Hamilton 

February, 27, 2015
Feb 27
10:03
AM ET
Josh Hamilton Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsAngels outfielder Josh Hamilton reportedly suffered a cocaine and alcohol relapse.
JUPITER, Fla. -- Josh Hamilton’s status is still unknown. The Daily News reports that Hamilton suffered a relapse, using alcohol and cocaine.

But the details of what has happened with Hamilton are still sketchy. Maybe even for Major League Baseball officials who have spoken directly to Hamilton. Maybe even to Hamilton himself. Such is the nature of addiction.

As Rob Manfred faces his first major discipline case since he assumed the role of commissioner, he is faced with the question of what to do with a star player -- one of the highest paid in the sport -- who has a long and serious history of addiction.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Adrian Beltre Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesThe Texas Rangers are likely to pick up the 2016 option for third baseman Adrian Beltre.
Adrian Beltre is at the heart of the Rangers, writes Gerry Fraley.

From his story:
The Rangers want him to stay a while. At least two years.

General manager Jon Daniels indicated the club could soon pick up an option on Beltre for 2016, at a salary of $16 million. Beltre could guarantee the option with 586 plate appearances this year, but Daniels hopes by acting now to avoid creating a subplot that would hang over the club all season.

“We’ll address that relatively soon,” Daniels said. “We don’t want that to be a distraction nor even a story as we go through the year.”


The Rangers’ 2014 season disintegrated quickly in an avalanche of injuries, from Derek Holland to Yu Darvish to Prince Fielder to Shin-Soo Choo, and it made sense for them to at least consider some trades of players not tethered to their future. For example, they spoke with other teams during the summer about Alex Rios, who became eligible for free agency last fall.

But when I’d ask various sources about the possibility of Beltre being marketed, I’d be shooed away from the idea. The Rangers view Beltre as a legacy player, an all-time great third baseman who could finish his career with Texas and perhaps have the Rangers’ cap on his Hall of Fame plaque.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Why a pitch clock seems inevitable 

February, 20, 2015
Feb 20
10:11
AM ET
Tim TimmonsAP Photo/Alex BrandonThe role of the MLB umpire is set to change in the coming seasons as new rules for hitters develop.
A lot of parents would tell you they mostly concern themselves with the A-list of priorities. Keeping the kids safe, properly fed and on time to school, with homework completed.

Most tension is rooted in the murkiness of the B-list of priorities: the timely completion of chores, the condition of the room, time spent with electronics.

The daily challenges facing umpires hover along parallel lines. The A-list is correctly applying rules most integral to the play on the field, from the definition of the strike zone to safe-or-out calls on the bases.

Almost all of the trouble between umpires and players stems from a piece of the B-list: on-field conduct. Different umpires, managers and players have different views on how and when an umpire’s decision can be questioned, with so much hinging on the interpretation of facial expressions and tone.

This is the fault line in Major League Baseball’s effort to speed up the game, and why inevitably, the sport must turn to a pitch clock.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

MLB win totals worth a look 

February, 14, 2015
Feb 14
9:51
AM ET
Chase HeadleyJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesDespite limited offseason moves, expect the Yankees to come back stronger in 2015.
To understand how adept casinos are in their business, all you have to do is look around as you walk the Las Vegas Strip. Those massive buildings, with all f their glitter and lights, are there because the folks who run them know what it takes to win. When betting lines are established, well, you’d be crazy not to take them seriously.

But there are times when the lines raise an eyebrow -- like when they set their over/under victory projections for each of the 30 teams in baseball. On Friday, the Atlantis sports book in Reno posted their numbers. As usual, some are surprising -- and heck, they might even look like an opportunity, if I ever bet on baseball (and I don’t).

Here are five, in particular.

1. New York Yankees, 80 wins

The Yankees’ fan base is really concerned because unlike in past offseasons, New York wasn’t chasing the biggest stars.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Top 10 linchpin players of 2015 

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
8:52
AM ET
Brandon BeltAP Photo/Patrick SemanskyCan Brandon Belt fill the void left behind in San Francisco by Pablo Sandoval?
Madison Bumgarner will go down in history as one of baseball’s most transformative players, because we can say with Richard Sherman-level confidence that without Bumgarner, the Giants never would have won the World Series last year -- not even close.

Bumgarner pitched well in the first half of the 2014 season, posting a 3.47 ERA in 20 starts and earning an All-Star bid. But he was better in the second half before hoisting the Giants' franchise onto his shoulders in October, when he threw more than twice as many innings as any other pitcher who picked up a ball in the postseason.

The left-hander reminded a generation of how one player can make a difference, as Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson did in 2001, and Orel Hershiser did in 1988. Not all transformative players will reach their level of course, but there are individuals whose performances could be linchpins to success for their respective teams. And this is not always just about the best and most expensive players who generate their usual production; it’s understood that Clayton Kershaw’s performance is crucial for the Dodgers, and Joey Votto, who has nine years left on his deal with the Reds, must produce for Cincinnati.

This is also about players who can be the difference between a team denting October, or not -- such as the Pirates’ Edinson Volquez in 2014, the Royals’ Wade Davis, the Angels’ Garrett Richards, or Bumgarner.

Here are 10 pivotal players going into spring training:


1. Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants

The Giants haven’t had more than a decent offense even while winning championships, but now Pablo Sandoval is gone and it stands to reason that run scoring could be a problem that prevents San Francisco from making the postseason.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Top 10 bullpens in MLB: Royals No. 1 

January, 13, 2015
Jan 13
10:03
AM ET
DavisBrad ManginGetty ImagesWade Davis ranked No. 1 among all relievers with 60 or more innings in limiting opponents' OPS.
When baseball executives and players try to explain why run production has plummeted in recent seasons, they offer a range of theories, from MLB played without amphetamines and steroids to the impact of defensive shifts. But there is one common thread: The bullpens have become stacked with guys who throw really, really hard, with many teams presenting a parade of relievers firing mid-90s fastballs after the fifth inning.

In the second part of our top 10 team element rankings, let's break down the bullpens.

1. Kansas City Royals

If not for Giants starter Madison Bumgarner's superhuman feats, the Royals would’ve won the World Series and their relief corps would’ve taken a place in history alongside the Reds’ Nasty Boys for being the core of a championship. But in some ways, the Royals’ trio of Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera accomplished stuff we really hadn’t seen before. That group faced 960 hitters last season, struck out 309 and allowed a total of three homers. Davis ranked No. 1 among all relievers with 60 or more innings in limiting opponents’ OPS last season (.408); Holland was sixth, and Herrera was 21st. Even if the Royals had a lot of mediocrity in other spots in their pen, the work of that trio would have Kansas City at No. 1 in these rankings.

But the Royals will also have Jason Frasor and Tim Collins, and Luke Hochevar is expected back after missing all of last season because of elbow reconstruction.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Top 12 surprise stats of 2014 MLB season 

December, 26, 2014
12/26/14
10:44
AM ET
Garrett RichardsAP Photo/Mark J. TerrillGarrett Richards allowed an MLB-low .261 slugging percentage in 2014.
No sport overflows with information the way baseball does, with each pitch of each plate appearance adding to the growing expanse of an analytic universe. The players begin generating these numbers in early March, in exhibition games, and this continues until the final pitch -- and in 2014, that meant a popup caught by Pablo Sandoval in foul territory in Kansas City.

But in spite of the eight months spent peeling away the layers of this daily data, there are still surprises to be found in the winter, upon further review:

1. Garrett Richards allowed an MLB-low .261 slugging percentage last season.

So, in other words, Richards effectively reduced hitters into the immortal Mario Mendoza, for whom the Mendoza line is named; Mendoza had a .262 career slugging percentage. This number reflects the hitters’ sentiments last season that the challenge of trying to hit Richards was an absolute nightmare because of the staggering movement of his cut fastball and because of how hard he threw.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Top 10 MLB storylines of 2015 

December, 25, 2014
12/25/14
10:11
AM ET
Rob ManfredAP Photo/Steve RuarkNew MLB commissioner Rob Manfred should have a plan to better market stars nationally.
As 2015 approaches, here are my 10 biggest storylines to watch in the world of baseball.

1. The new commissioner

Rob Manfred can probably relate to Prince Charles somewhat, because he’s been waiting patiently for his turn at the throne in recent years. But his time will begin next month, when Bud Selig will follow through on his threat of many years and walk away from the job.

Manfred presumably will get all of the perks of the post, the use of the private jet -- hopefully, its code name is Fastball -- and the staggering salary that all commissioners get these days. We’ve already gotten a reaffirmation of what matters most to Manfred in recent days, when MLB worked out a new five-year collective bargaining agreement with the umpires. The current labor agreement with the players’ union has two years remaining before it is set to expire, and if Manfred stays with a proven formula for financial growth in the sport, he’ll make the next agreement happen.

But what’s next for him?

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Who’s ready to move on from 2014? 

December, 24, 2014
12/24/14
10:09
AM ET
Shin-Soo Choo, AP Photo/Richard RodriguezShin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder, major acquisitions by Texas last offseason, both struggled in 2014.
These are some folks in Major League Baseball who probably can’t wait to put 2014 behind them.

1. The Texas Rangers

Last year began with what was effectively a season-ending collision between Derek Holland and his dog Wrigley, and it went downhill from there. Prince Fielder played his last game May 16, managing just three homers, and Shin-Soo Choo reached base 180 times, after reaching base 300 times leading up to his free agency in 2013. The Rangers’ win total plummeted from 91 in 2013 to 67 last season, and Texas finished 31 games out of first place. Manager Ron Washington resigned after a personal scandal.

Texas should have better luck in 2015.

Right?

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Hamels would make Pads a top contender 

December, 22, 2014
12/22/14
10:07
AM ET
Cole HamelsHunter Martin/Getty ImagesCole Hamels is owed $90 million for the next four seasons, with a vesting option for 2019.
The Padres are said to be pursuing Cole Hamels, writes Ryan Lawrence.

San Diego still has three of its top four prospects remaining after its flurry of trades, based on Baseball America’s rankings -- catcher Austin Hedges, pitcher Matt Wisler, and outfielder Hunter Renfroe -- and the Padres have a potential trade chip in Wil Myers, who will be under team control for five more seasons. So San Diego has the roster firepower to put together a trade for Hamels, because it’s hard to imagine the Phillies trading the left-hander without at least asking for at least two in that group of four players.

Don’t forget that Hamels grew up in the San Diego area and the Padres are among the teams to which he could be traded without his permission. This distinguishes the Padres from a team such as the Red Sox, who are one of the teams to which Hamels could veto a trade.

But the money involved ... that’s where the most significant question of any San Diego-Hamels deal will linger.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

A-Rod a mystery for the Yankees 

December, 16, 2014
12/16/14
9:55
AM ET
Alex Rodriguez, Joe GirardiTim Farrell/USA TODAY SportsJoe Girardi and the Yankees face many questions as Alex Rodriguez returns to the team this season.
The strangest spring training saga will begin when the Yankees’ full squad emerges from the clubhouse for their first pre-workout stretch. International star Masahiro Tanaka will be there, and so will Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran and Andrew Miller and other players of renown, but the platoon of cameras will be focused on a guy with an undefined role: Alex Rodriguez.

Reporters will trace his every movement and log Rodriguez’s interaction with teammates, looking for signs that the others around him might shy away from him. After all, the last time he was with the Yankees, folks on the staff were wary that any conversation they had with him would be subject to subpoena. Will he be embraced by his teammates? Will they keep him at arm’s length, generally? Will they be merely polite with a disgraced player coming back from the longest PED suspension in baseball history, or will they treat him warmly?

The search for signs of awkwardness will continue the first time the Yankees’ infielders move to their positions. Given that the Yankees just signed Chase Headley to a four-year, $52 million contract, Headley will go into camp as the third baseman. But players have long respected a pecking order, and whatever you think of Rodriguez, he is still a former MVP, and he is still stalking Willie Mays on the all-time home run list. Will A-Rod step in the front of the line, in front of Headley, among those awaiting grounders at third base? Or will Rodriguez defer to Headley?

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

What it will take to acquire Jon Lester 

December, 8, 2014
12/08/14
9:08
AM ET
Jon LesterKyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsJon Lester is arguably the top left-handed starter available this offseason.
SAN DIEGO -- The Levinson brothers, Seth and Sam, are the gatekeepers of these winter meetings as the representatives for free-agent pitcher Jon Lester, and they are known among club executives for being grinders in how they negotiate.

They don’t really accept team offers, one club official noted. They determine what they believe to be a fair market price and then challenge the clubs to meet it, dangling a number. In the current circumstances, of Lester being pursued by big-market teams, you might think of the Levinsons the way you would someone holding a treat over a dog that leaps repeatedly, while saying, You can get it, Sparky! You can get it! Just a little higher!

Except in this case, there are four leaping dogs. And by the time it’s over, all will be exhausted, only one happily.

Early in the process, the perception of the target to reach -- the place that those involved thought the Levinsons wanted them to aim for -- was $150 million. But there’s no telling where that is now that the Dodgers are involved, either to grab Lester for themselves or to push the division rival Giants.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Gregorius a significant upgrade for NYY 

December, 6, 2014
12/06/14
9:25
AM ET
Didi GregoriusThearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesYankee Stadium will suit Didi Gregorius' left-handed swing.
A scout who isn’t employed by the New York Yankees spent some time Friday lauding the defense of Didi Gregorius, especially his range. Gregorius is not an elite player with the glove, the scout said, but he's certainly above average.

A natural question to the scout followed: What do you think about him offensively?

“He’s a good defender,” the scout replied drolly.

There were similar responses about the 24-year-old Gregorius from other evaluators Friday, after the Yankees traded for the guy who will be the first primary shortstop after Derek Jeter. “Can’t hit,” one executive texted. Said another evaluator: “You can throw the ball by him.”

I couldn’t find anyone with the Yankees claiming that Gregorius -- who has a .680 career OPS in 191 career games -- is a future Silver Slugger winner. But they do think Yankee Stadium suits his left-handed swing, and that he will improve.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES