White Sox bridging a gap with deals 

November, 24, 2014
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Adam LaRoche Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY SportsNew White Sox player Adam LaRoche, at two years, $25 million, was a modest overpay.


The White Sox made two modest signings late last week, landing first baseman Adam LaRoche for two years, $25 million, and left-handed reliever Zach Duke for three years, $15 million. LaRoche fits well as

Red Sox get premium player at good price 

November, 24, 2014
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RamirezAP Photo/Jeff RobersonHe might not be a defensive stalwart at shortstop, but Hanley Ramirez can still hit the ball.
I thought Hanley Ramirez might crack the $20 million per year mark given his age, offensive potential and the fact that a "down" year from him still produced 3.5 WAR -- and that's including his atrocious defense at shortstop. Assuming the reported deal goes through OK, the Red Sox seem likely to move him to another position, maybe left field, where his glove shouldn't be a problem and his bat will still profile well. There's a good chance he has two or three years in the next five in which he's much more than an $18 million player.

Ramirez is still a premium offensive player, although 2014 was a weak year for him; he has a visibly slower bat and didn't perform as well against high velocity as the year before. That said, he'll be just 31 in the first year of the deal, quite young to be starting any age-related decline, which is probably what Boston is betting on.

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Hellickson a poor fit for Diamondbacks 

November, 17, 2014
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Jeremy HellicksonEzra Shaw/Getty ImagesThe Diamondbacks hope starter Jeremy Hellickson bolsters their rotation in 2015.
The Arizona Diamondbacks desperately need starting pitching, Wade Miley was their only bona-fide major league starter who'll be fully healthy coming into 2014 when the offseason began. Trading for Jeremy Hellickson seems like the right idea poorly executed, as Hellickson is just about to get expensive and isn't a great fit for the team they have on the field.

Hellickson is a strike-thrower, throwing four pitches (two- and four-seamers, curveball, changeup), none of them plus, with good feel for pitching. His arm seemed to work well, but he had minor elbow surgery that cost him more than half of 2014 and wasn't very good after he came back. He also didn't have much deception in the delivery to keep hitters off his fastball, which lacks life and is where he gets hurt the most. He's now moving to one of the worst defensive teams in the majors, and to a hitter's park where his propensity to give up home runs might hurt him more.

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Russell Martin will help Jays' young arms 

November, 17, 2014
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The market for Russell Martin quickly established itself at the four-year mark for $70 million to $74 million, and the first team to commit to five years seemed likely to get the player. With the Dodgers and Cubs both involved and working with seemingly infinite payrolls, the Jays had to go to five years to have any hope of landing him. They've done that in a deal that pays Martin $82 million.

In practical terms

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Trade: Cards go all-in, Braves get younger 

November, 17, 2014
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Jason Heyward Jason Getz/USA TODAY SportsSt. Louis-bound right fielder Jason Heyward quietly posted a career-high 6.4 WAR in 2014.
Monday's trade between the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves indicates the Cardinals are going all-in for 2015.

Jason Heyward is just a year from free agency, but that one year will be a very valuable one, even if he just maintains the status quo. Getting away from the parade of dubious hitting coaches he worked with in Atlanta may help him unlock the still-untapped reserve of superstar potential in his bat.

Heyward consistently rates among the majors' best defensive outfielders in terms of both advanced defensive metrics and traditional evaluations. A decent center fielder in high school, he outgrew the position but maintains the athleticism and strong reads that allowed him to play there as an amateur. He's a smart, disciplined hitter who gets on base at a good clip and doesn't strike out excessively. He did have some trouble maintaining a consistent swing around some shoulder issues; he often cuts off his load, producing too many ground balls with a shorter swing path.

Oscar Taveras' death last month left the Cardinals without a clear right fielder for 2015, and this move locks down the position for just $7.8 million, making the team four or five wins better right away.

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Thoughts on Cuddyer, V-Mart and more 

November, 13, 2014
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Michael CuddyerHyoung Chang/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesMichael Cuddyer played in just 49 games for the Rockies in 2014.
Michael Cuddyer was just 48th in my ranking of the top 50 free agents; he's a broken-down 35-year-old (36 in March) outfielder who can no longer play that position and is probably just suited for platoon duty. The Rockies shocked most of the industry by making him a qualifying offer, running the risk of paying him $15.3 million when his production was extremely likely to be worth less than half that. The Mets, undaunted, decided to double-down on this insanity by giving Cuddyer a two-year, $20 million contract and giving up the 15th pick in the 2015 draft, in effect paying Cuddyer about four times any reasonable estimate of his value while totally misunderstanding where their roster is.

Cuddyer's list of problems as a player is lengthy, but the biggest one is that he's no longer an outfielder in anything but name.

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My NL Rookie of the Year ballot 

November, 10, 2014
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Jacob deGromMike Stobe/Getty ImagesJacob deGrom had an excellent rookie season for the New York Mets.
For the third time in the past four years, I had the National League Rookie of the Year ballot -- which is fine with me, given how much of my job revolves around watching young players -- and found it to be a debate between two players for the top two spots, with a number of worthwhile names for the third space. Every time I vote for a postseason award for players, I reveal my ballot and give my rationale once the BBWAA and MLB announce the winners. Here's my ballot this year, and some thoughts on why I ranked these players as I did

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Draft no 'crapshoot' for Giants and Royals 

October, 30, 2014
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Brian Sabean & Dayton MooreAP PhotoFirst-round talent was crucial for Brian Sabean and Dayton Moore in roster construction.
When I pointed out on Twitter after Game 5 that the two most important players on the Giants' roster, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey, were both high first-round picks (10th and fifth overall, respectively, in consecutive drafts), a few readers misread the tweet as a definitive statement on the value of the first round. That research has been done at great length by folks inside and outside the industry, and the conclusions are clear: Your best chance to get a star comes high in the first round, and the expected value of a pick drops almost logarithmically from the top overall pick on down.

My point on Twitter was aimed more at the litany of folks who don't follow the draft closely and call it a "crapshoot." It's not -- it's far from perfect, but if you want an anecdotal example of how important nailing your first-round picks can be, take a look at the two clubs in the Series.

Below I've simply laid out the most important/most-used players on each roster and broken down how they came into the organization. If you're going to claim that scouts are little better than random chance when selecting amateur players in the draft, you've got an uphill battle.

Kansas City

Looking at their nine primary position players (below)

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Takeaways from Arizona Fall League 

October, 14, 2014
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Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsRed Sox center fielder Rusney Castillo impressed in the field but didn't show much effort otherwise.
My five-day run in the Arizona Fall League is over. I saw nine games across that period, watched every team's batting practice and also saw more than half of the pitchers on the six rosters.

My first post from the trip focused on the big arms I saw in the first three days; this post covers all of the bats of note plus a few more arms I saw after that last file.

Here's a look at more than two dozen players competing in the 2014 AFL.

Hitters

• This was my first live look at Boston outfielder Rusney Castillo, who signed a $70 million deal in August and debuted with the Red Sox at the end of September. He can certainly play the heck out of center field, with above-average speed but more importantly good reads, making plays into both gaps with ease.

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Examining pitchers in the AFL 

October, 11, 2014
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ZimmerAP Photo/Brian WesterholtKansas City's Kyle Zimmer is back to his pre-injury form.
This year's Arizona Fall League season kicked off on Tuesday, and it's one of the best crops of pitching prospects the league has featured in a very long time, with tons of high draft picks, top-100 prospects and big velocity. This is my first post, based on what I saw in the first five games over three days, and focuses more on arms than bats. I'll do another post when I leave here Sunday and will cover the position players in more detail then.

" The best starting pitching prospect I've seen was either Pittsburgh's Tyler Glasnow or Kansas City's Kyle Zimmer, both of whom showed great stuff and good deliveries but didn't get commensurate results.

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My predictions for the NLDS matchups 

October, 3, 2014
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Jake Peavy and Stephen StrasburgUSA TODAY SportsJake Peavy and Stephen Strasburg square off in Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday afternoon.
I posted my thoughts on both American League Division Series yesterday, so here is the companion piece, predictions for both National League Division Series and with my rationales. My early guess at the World Series matchup and winner is below.

San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals

 
 

I think the Nationals are the best team in the postseason, and also the team best built for the postseason, which is not necessarily the same thing, but both are applicable in this case.

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My predictions for the ALDS matchups 

October, 2, 2014
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Royals CelebrateDilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesThere was joy in Kansas City on Tuesday, but can they continue to win despite their manager?
I'm of the opinion that most playoff series odds are no better than about 55-45, even when one team is clearly superior to the other, because of the randomness inherent in short series and in baseball in general.

The two AL Division Series matchups this year strike me as even closer than that because of key injuries on the rosters of both teams with home-field advantage. Here are my predictions for both series, with some general reasons behind them.

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Players who've exceeded my expectations 

September, 24, 2014
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Jonathan LucroyMike McGinnis/Getty ImagesSlight adjustments made by Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy have made a difference this season.
This is the third annual installment of what I think of as the "guys I got wrong" piece. I'll look at players who've become much better big leaguers than I ever forecast them to be, and try to explain where I made mistakes in evaluating them.

In the past two editions, I discussed only players I had offered strong opinions about, saying they wouldn't be as successful as they became. This year I've included some players I didn't discuss much as prospects or young major leaguers, errors of omission that are errors nonetheless.

Jonathan Lucroy, C, Milwaukee Brewers

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Lucroy made my top 10 Brewers prospects list just once, going into 2010, the first year I did a full top-10 ranking for all 30 teams. That list turned out to be well-stocked with future big leaguers:

1. Brett Lawrie, 2B
2. Alcides Escobar, SS
3. Eric Arnett, RHP
4. Kyle Heckathorn, RHP
5. Jonathan Lucroy, C
6. Wily Peralta, RHP
7. Lorenzo Cain, CF
8. Jake Odorizzi, RHP
9. Kentrail Davis, LF
10. Zach Braddock, LHP

Arnett, Heckathorn and Davis had just been drafted and the shine hadn't come off them yet; the real stars of that draft class turned out to be seventh-rounder Khris Davis, 16th-rounder Scooter Gennett and 22nd-rounder Mike Fiers.

In Lucroy's case, the stats told a more accurate story than the scouting reports did.

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2014 Prospects of the Year 

September, 16, 2014
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Kris BryantMark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsThe Cubs' Kris Bryant crushed minor league pitching in 2014 (.325 average, 43 homers, 110 RBIs).
While the process of selecting the top prospects was ultimately subjective, I focused primarily on legitimate prospects who performed well relative to their age, level and experience in pro ball. In short, the younger a player was relative to the other players in his league -- especially when compared just to the players in his league with a chance to have some impact in the majors -- the more impressed I was with a strong performance.

The winner here won't surprise anyone, so I discuss a number of other players who would have merited strong consideration if we didn't have such a clear favorite. I also give a separate award to the 2014 draftee who had the best pro debut, as well as a pair of runners-up.

Prospect of the Year: Kris Bryant | 3B | Chicago Cubs

I'd say it was a unanimous vote, but considering I'm the only voter, that was sort of an inevitable outcome. Still, Bryant blew away the field, dominating at two levels, leading the minor leagues in home runs and slugging percentage, finishing second in OBP (behind a 21-year-old in low-A) and ascending the rankings to become baseball's top prospect, all in his first full year in professional baseball.

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'Keep calm' on these young players 

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
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Javier BaezAP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastNot to worry, Cubs fans, despite his initial struggles this season, Javier Baez will be fine.
A lot of highly touted prospects and other young major leaguers had what might appear to be disheartening seasons in 2014. Here are five examples of players whose stat lines this year shouldn't dampen your enthusiasm about their futures.

Javier Baez

It's not the debut Cubs fans were expecting, at least not given his showings in spring training and the Futures Game, but a rough first time around the carousel is pretty much in line with Baez's career to date. Baez has 153 plate appearances in the majors so far, with 63 strikeouts and a .175/.229/.364 line. In his first 153 plate appearances in Triple-A, coming earlier this year, he hit .201/.268/.388 with 53 strikeouts.

He started slowly in Double-A as well, failing to get his OBP over .300 until his 120th plate appearance, but he came around sooner and was at least up to .273/.329/.580 by the time he passed 153 plate appearances. The primary skill that made him such a highly rated prospect -- he was No. 7 coming into the year -- is still intact: He has some of the best bat speed and strongest hands I've ever seen on a hitting prospect. He needs to overhaul his approach to at-bats, as he still seems to be deciding whether to swing before he could possibly have identified the pitch type, but he's so talented that he can make mistakes and still turn it into hard contact.

Xander Bogaerts


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