Buster Olney: MLB

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.

MLB faces tough decision on Hamilton 

February, 27, 2015
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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.

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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.

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Why a pitch clock seems inevitable 

February, 20, 2015
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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.

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Progressive FieldDavid Richard/USA TODAY SportsCleveland's Progressive Field will be open for business almost an hour earlier for six games in 2015.
Start times for several Cleveland Indians home games will be a little different this year. From Zack Meisel's story:
The Indians are trying something new this season, with six weeknight games in April and May being designated with 6:10 p.m. start times. Those games fall on the following dates:

• Tuesday, April 14 vs. Chicago

• Monday, April 27 vs. Kansas City

• Tuesday, April 28 vs. Kansas City

• Wednesday, April 29 vs. Kansas City

• Tuesday, May 12 vs. St. Louis

• Wednesday, May 13 vs. St. Louis

When asked about the reasoning behind the 6:10 p.m. starts, an Indians spokesperson said the club will make a formal announcement in the coming days.

Existing within an area that has seen more than its share of financial difficulty, the Indians have endeavored to be as attentive to what their fans need and want as any organization in baseball. The Indians will soon explain their thought process, as Zack writes, but presumably, the fact that school is in session in April and May was a major consideration.

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Notes from the MLB awards dinner 

January, 25, 2015
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Clayton Kershaw and Sandy KoufaxGetty Images, USA Today SportsClayton Kershaw has dominated his era, just like former Dodger great Sandy Koufax.
Our colleague Willie Weinbaum filed this from Saturday night’s annual baseball soiree.

On a night of transitions and tributes, the 92nd annual awards dinner of the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America began with a moment of silence in memory of Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks. The evening concluded with the remarks of obscure former Cub Bob Hendley, who pitched a one-hitter nearly 50 years ago in the same game that the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax achieved perfection.

Koufax, who sat on the dais between one commissioner whose term was about to begin and another whose tenure was about to end, fulfilled the wish he articulated at the event a year ago -- to present Los Angeles' Clayton Kershaw with another National League Cy Young Award. Kershaw’s three awards equal Koufax’s career total, and he also received the NL MVP Award from Koufax, so the dominating lefties of eras a half-century apart each have one MVP too.

About 24 hours before Kershaw traveled to the banquet, his wife Ellen gave birth to their first child. In an emotional speech citing his family, Kershaw gave thanks by name to every Dodgers player and staffer he said he encountered daily last season. Surprisingly, he also expressed gratitude to the St. Louis Cardinals, the team that eliminated him and the Dodgers from the postseason.

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Top 10 bullpens in MLB: Royals No. 1 

January, 13, 2015
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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.

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Top 12 surprise stats of 2014 MLB season 

December, 26, 2014
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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.

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Top 10 MLB storylines of 2015 

December, 25, 2014
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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?

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Who’s ready to move on from 2014? 

December, 24, 2014
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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?

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Hamels would make Pads a top contender 

December, 22, 2014
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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.

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A-Rod a mystery for the Yankees 

December, 16, 2014
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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?

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What it will take to acquire Jon Lester 

December, 8, 2014
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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.

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Will Cole Hamels reject a deal to the AL? 

November, 11, 2014
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Cole HamelsAP Photo/John BazemoreCole Hamels finished with a career-low 2.46 ERA in 30 starts last season in Philadelphia.
Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux has long been known as a great source of wisdom, and other pitchers quote him the way that politicians draw on the words of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.

I’ve never actually heard Maddux discuss the difference in pitching in the American League versus pitching in the National League, so I can’t tell you whether the words attributed to Maddux are apocryphal or actually reflect his feelings. But through the years, I’ve probably listened to a dozen or so pitchers cite Maddux as a primary source in this vein of thought:

Stay in the National League.

Or: If you can, leave the American League and go to the National League.

Which brings us to Cole Hamels, the Philadelphia Phillies pitcher who may come face to face with that very decision in the days and weeks to come.

Hamels, who turns 31 years old next month, is in the prime of his career, having posted a career-low 2.46 ERA in 30 starts last season. When the Phillies surrendered in their negotiations with the left-hander and signed him to a $144 million deal in the summer of 2013, their expectation was that Hamels could lead the staff for the foreseeable future.

But since then, the Phillies have collapsed, and executive Pat Gillick declared recently that the team likely won’t contend for at least a couple of more seasons -- and with the niceties aside, this stance allows them to openly shop Hamels and others for the prospects the team can build around.

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Is Ryan Howard tradable? 

November, 4, 2014
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Ryan HowardAP Photo/Alex BrandonRyan Howard is owed $60 million, with $25 million salaries for each of the next two seasons.
Ryan Howard has had his last at-bat as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.

That’s what the Phillies hope, anyway. That’s their goal, according to rival executives.

The Chicago Cubs want to add high-end pitching and contend. The Los Angeles Dodgers are thinking World Series or bust, again. And the Phillies want to trade Howard (and others).

If you imagine general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. doing his offseason work like this guy, you might not be that far off. The mantra on Howard appears to be: He is priced to move.

But it will cost the Phillies, undoubtedly, because Howard -- who turns 35 later this month -- is still owed $60 million, with $25 million salaries for each of the next two seasons, plus a $10 million buyout of a 2017 team option of $23 million.

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