Category Archives: MLB

Top 10 Players in Baseball Right Now Countdown: Second Basemen

As the countdown to the MLB season draws closer, I take a look at the ten best second basemen in the league right now. If you missed my catcher or first baseman countdowns, you can find them here. Let’s dive in.

10. Ian Kinsler, Angels

At 35, Kinsler’s best years are likely behind him. However, that’s not to say he isn’t still a solid player. With the Tigers last year, Kinsler hit .236 with 22 HR and 52 RBI. This is a guy who hit .288 with 28 HR and 83 RBI just two years ago in 2016. After being traded to the Angels this offseason, let’s see if Kinsler can inject some life into a lineup that also features Mike Trout, Justin Upton, and Albert Pujols.

9. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox

I hate this rat-faced fuck. One of my most hated Red Sox ever. It sickens me that he once won an MVP award and Derek Jeter never did. Now that my Yankee fan bias is out of the way, Pedroia has been one of the top second basemen in the game for years. While he is for sure not an MVP-caliber player anymore, he is a consistent hitter and an overall scrappy guy who does what it takes to help his team win. However, Pedroia has had his share of health issues lately. He played in only 105 games last year, and he had a cartilage restoration procedure performed in the offseason that’s expected to keep him sidelined until the end of May. Hoping for a speedy recovery for one of my favorites!

8. Javier Baez, Cubs

Sometimes overlooked in Chicago because of guys like Bryant and Rizzo, Baez is one of the best young second basemen in the game. Hitting .273 with 23 HR and 75 RBI a year ago, the 2016 NLCS MVP looks to build on the successful start to his career.

7. DJ LaMahieu, Rockies

Part of a Rockies lineup that can absolutely mash, LaMahieu has hit above .300 in each of the past three seasons. While he does not overwhelm you with power, he can certainly swing the bat. He’s a two-time All-Star, the 2016 NL batting champion, and a two-time Gold Glover.

6. Starlin Castro, Marlins

This poor soul. The unfortunate victim of the Yankees acquiring Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins, Castro is now one of the only legitimate baseball players left on what the Marlins are still attempting to call a team. After watching him start for the Yankees past two years, it’s clear this guy can flat-out hit. A four-time All-Star, Castro hit .300 with 16 HR and 63 RBI in 112 games last year, missing some time due to injury. He’s sure to be unhappy in Miami, and with the current situation there, I’d be surprised if he’s a Marlin for too long.

5. Robinson Cano, Mariners

The one that got away. As much as it bothered me that Cano left the Yanks for Seattle (or that they gave his money to Jacoby fucking Ellsbury), you can’t deny he has one of the sweetest swings in baseball. I mean, look.

Just gorgeous. Cano’s resume speaks for itself. 8-time All-Star, 5-time Silver Slugger, 2-time Gold Glover, 2017 All-Star Game MVP. While Cano may be nearing the end of his prime, he’s still among the game’s elite second basemen.

4. Brian Dozier, Twins

When Dozier led off the Wild Card game with a home run, my heart dropped. This guy is a hitter, and he can hit for power. With 34 homers last year and a whopping 42 the year before, it’s rare to see this kind of power from a second baseman. He’ll be one of the headliners of an intriguing free agent class following this season.

3. Jonathan Schoop, Orioles

The Yanks play the Orioles 18 times a year, and I still didn’t realize Schoop was THIS good. He hit .293 with 32 HR and 105 RBI last year. At just 26, he looks to be one of the game’s best for a long time.

2. Daniel Murphy, Nationals

After carrying the Mets to the World Series in 2015, Murphy has continued to mash with the Nationals these past two seasons. At .322, 23 HR and 93 RBI, Murphy helps to form a dangerous duo along with Bryce Harper. Like Harper, Murphy is also a free agent after this season, so 2018 will be a crucial one for the Nats.

1. Jose Altuve, Astros

Just the clear-cut best. The 2017 AL MVP hit a league-leading .346 with 24 HR and 81 RBI last year, leading the Astros to a World Series title. 5-time All-Star, 3 batting titles, 4 Silver Sluggers at just 27. Altuve is one of the best players in baseball, and if he keeps his current pace, will go down as one of the best second basemen of all-time.

Is This the Worst Proposed MLB Rule Change Ever?

In an era where 98% of sports TV is unwatchable, I actually really enjoy Colin Cowherd. I agree with most of his takes, and he does a pretty good job of mixing up his topics of discussion and having opinions that differ from what you’d hear 9000 times a day on SportsCenter. But every once in awhile, he says something that I just can’t get on board with. During the NBA Playoffs last year, he claimed it didn’t matter that everyone and their mother knew the Finals would be Warriors vs. Cavs again because “you go into movies knowing how it’s going to end.” First off, I try not to hear how a movie ends until I go, when applicable. And yes, while you obviously go into some movies knowing how it’ll end (spoiler alert: the Titanic sinks at the end), you watch the movie to see how it all plays out to cause that ending. Forgive me for not exactly finding the Warriors going 12-0 in the West and the Cavs go 12-1 in the East particularly entertaining. Long story short, when Cowherd has a bad take, it’s usually a REALLY bad one. Then I came across this video the other day.

I’m not necessarily a baseball purist that will scream and shout at any potential rule change, but this one is just really bad. First off, if anyone should be for this rule, it should be me as a Yankee fan. Would I rather see Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton bat again in the 9th with the bases loaded rather than Ronald Torreyes? Obviously I would. But that’s the beauty of baseball, you don’t know how the game itself is going to pay off. Every move is strategic. Do you use your best reliever to get out of a jam in the 6th inning, or save him for the 9th? At what depth do you play your infielders when it’s first and third with one out and you’re ahead by one? Every little decision can make a major impact, and this proposed rule change would just make a manager’s job too easy. Imagine if the Astros had 7-8-9 in the order coming up in the 9th, and A.J. Hinch could just say “hey, Correa, go grab a bat.” Where’s the strategy in that? What happens if Terry Francona already used Andrew Miller to get Correa out two innings prior to that? Is he allowed to come back into the game too?

I’ll listen to anything  that can help make baseball even more entertaining, not because the sport needs help, but why not make improvements? I’m all for pitch clocks and limits to mound visits because while cutting 5-10 minutes off of a game may not make a real impact/attract any new fans, they just make the game itself run more smoothly. But this idea? Scrap it immediately. It’s the Jessica Mendoza of ideas. (If you watched even just one Sunday Night Baseball broadcast last year, you know how awful she is at her job). So thanks for trying Colin, but let’s never talk about this idea ever again.

MLB Teams That Could Surprise in 2018

FINALLY this offseason is starting to heat up a little. I’ve been dying to write about baseball, but literally nothing has happened. A few free agents remain unsigned, but the bulk of the “big names” have found a home. Teams, for the most part, have their rosters ready to go into Spring Training.

Obviously this year you are going to have the powerhouse teams, and the bottom-of-the-barrel rebuild teams, but what about the dark horses? The ones that have always found themselves somewhere in the middle, but never leaned one way or the other, and now they have a legitimate chance to contend for a playoff spot.


Key Additions: SS Freddy Galvis, 1B Eric Hosmer, 3B Chase Headley

The San Diego Padres have been a joke for a really, really long time.  I’ve watched the sport since I was six, and I honestly cannot remember a time they were even close to good. But I think 2018 might be their year to be slightly above average! Adding some depth to their lineup in Hosmer, Galvis, and Headley (his name still sends chills down my spine), in addition to their talented young outfielders (Margot, Renfroe), can actually make them a threat on the offensive side of things. But their rotation lacks any consistency, so don’t expect them to be making a wild card push this season. I’d consider anything over .500 a wildly successful season for the Padres.

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This just felt like it needed to be here


Key Additions: SP/OF Shohei Otani, SS/3B Zack Cozart, 2B Ian Kinsler

With the Messiah in center field (others call him Mike Trout), the Angels are always going to contend in some way. But I’m legitimately excited to see them contend in the AL West this year. They are getting a full season out of slugger Justin Upton and added All-Star infielders, in addition to already having defensive wiz Andrelton Simmons and Albert Pujols.

But, of all the teams in this blog, they have the highest chance of failure. With the exception of Otani, they are bringing in old, declining talent, with the hopes they are the players their reputation holds them to. Upton could begin to lose power like Pujols has already done, as could Kinsler. Cozart is no sure thing, especially while playing a new position (3B). And what if Otani isn’t ready? What if he pitches like a 24 year old is supposed to. They could fly high, or they could fall hard. It’ll be very intriguing to see what happens.


Key Additions: OF Marcell Ozuna, RP Luke Gregorson, RP Dominic Leone

After falling for the good ol’ “Have Derek Jeter become the owner so he can trade that team’s best player to his former team” trick, the Cardinals recovered quickly and added Marcel Ozuna to an already stacked outfield. With Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham, and now Ozuna, their lineup is scary. They were already on the verge of being a playoff team, but with ace Carlos Martinez a year older, and a few added pieces to the bullpen, this squad could be ready for the postseason once more.


Key Additions: OF Lorenzo Cain, OF Christian Yelich

The theme of a “stacked outfield” continues here, but like the Cardinals, this team wasn’t missing a whole lot. I don’t think they’re championship caliber, but a few midseason moves could direct them towards the promised land. They have some great prospects to dish out at the deadline, and Jake Arrieta still remains unsigned.  With the Cubs and the Cardinals both getting better this offseason, be on the look out for the NL Central to be best division in baseball.

Image result for yelich brewers


Key Additions: 3B Evan Longoria, OF Andrew McCutchen

It’s an even year, so the Giants are automatically a contender. Minus the weirdest trend in sports, the Giants actually made significant moves to be a better team. Longoria and McCutchen are veteran players that still have something to offer, and getting Mad-Bum healthy already gives them a few more wins. I can see them switching between the 2nd and 3rd spot in the NL West throughout the year with the Rockies, and the Diamondbacks falling into mediocrity.


Key Additions: 1B Carlos Santana, RP Pat Neshek

The Phillies didn’t make a huge splash this offseason, but they are a young team that continues to get older, and this season could finally be the year they breakout as a unit. Fans got a glimpse of what OF Rhys Hoskins can do last season, and as their rising stars continue their gradual pace towards becoming All-Star caliber players, the Phillies have a chance to compete for a wild card spot come October.


Just kidding, they’re a dumpster fire

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What the Balance of Power Looks Like in the AL East after the JD Martinez Signing

After months of negotiations, the best hitter on the free agent market has finally signed. JD Martinez signed with the Red Sox today, as expected, for 5 years and $110 million. Martinez signed for less than the 5 years/$125 million that was previously rumored to be on the table, and far less than the 7 years/$210 million that agent Scott Boras claimed he was seeking. Martinez is coming off a career year in which he hit .303 with 45 HR and 104 RBI for the Tigers and Diamondbacks. While he may not be as flashy of a name as Giancarlo Stanton, Martinez is definitely a huge addition to the Sox lineup that was desperate for a power hitter.

The real question is, does this shift the Red Sox back to the favorites in the AL East? If not, how much does this move close the gap between them and the Yankees? Despite both teams adding two of the game’s top power hitters, these moves are completely different. The Yankees added on to their biggest strength, their powerful lineup. The Red Sox addressed their biggest need, a lineup that was starved of power. The Yankees actually led the majors in home runs last year, while the Red Sox ranked 27th.

In a division decided by only two games in 2017, who is the favorite going into 2018? The gap between these two teams and the rest of the division is still too wide to consider the Rays, Orioles, or Blue Jays division contenders, in my opinion. So we’ll just compare the Yanks and the Sox and see where they stand in terms of chances of winning the division.


Prior to the Martinez signing, I would’ve given this to the Yankees without question. But adding a player of his caliber definitely opens up the debate. Like the Yankees, most of the Red Sox’ meat of the order guys come from their outfield/DH spots, in the form of Martinez, left fielder Andrew Benintendi and right fielder Mookie Betts. Betts had a down year in 2017, hitting only .264 after a .318 year in 2016. He’s still a stud on both sides of the ball, but he doesn’t scare me nearly as much as Benintendi. I personally think that guy is gonna be an absolute star, and he would’ve been an easy Rookie of the Year choice if not for Aaron Judge’s historic season. Benintendi is what you could call a “Yankee killer”, and third baseman Rafael Devers seems to fall in that category as well (the game-tying homer off Chapman in the ninth is still tough to watch.) In addition to Devers, the infield is comprised of All-Stars Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia, as well as first baseman Mitch Moreland. Bogaerts, like Betts, had a strong 2016 but really regressed in 2017. Bogaerts vs. Yankee shortstop Didi Gregorious was an interesting debate going into 2017 until Didi’s career year that made him the obvious choice. It will be interesting to see if Bogaerts can make that a discussion again. Don’t get me started on Pedroia, he’s the guy I’ve hated the most for a long time, especially considering he’s won an MVP and Jeter never did. He’s not a guy that’s really gonna scare you when he’s at the plate, but he’s a scrappy guy with a .300 career average that’s gonna help you win games. Moreland is a nice player over at first, a guy who won’t hit for average but can give you some solid power numbers. Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon handle the catching duties, neither of whom are super imposing at the plate but do a solid job.

The Yankees boast Judge and Stanton in the outfield, the last pair of teammates to have both hit 50 homers in a season since Mantle and Maris. Hopefully Stanton can help Judge cut down on the strikeouts, something he has done a good job of himself over the last few seasons. The keys for these two will be Judge staying out of deep slumps like the one he got into in 2017, and Stanton staying healthy. Brett Gardner will play left field and bat leadoff, and while he won’t steal as many bases as he used to, he is fantastic at working counts and getting on base. Aaron Hicks is somewhat of an X-factor to this lineup, as he was All-Star caliber before he got hurt and less than stellar once he got back last year. Regardless of how he is at the plate, Hicks is quietly one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball.

Hopefully he can perform at the plate, as it’s possible the Yanks could turn to Clint Frazier or even Jacoby Ellsbury *gasp* if Hicks isn’t the hitter he was a year ago. The infield is extremely interesting for the Yanks, as it includes two rookies, Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres. Andujar has raked in the minors, but there have been concerns about his defense. As of now, he figures to be the opening day third baseman for the Yanks. Torres will likely spend the first month in AAA before getting promoted to the bigs so the Yanks can gain an extra year of his service time, as the Cubs did with Kris Bryant when he was coming up. Torres is supposed to be one of the best prospects in baseball, and if he lives up to the hype, could be an absolutely electric addition to the lineup. Shortstop Didi Gregorious returns after a career year that included postseason heroics like his game-tying home run in the Wild Card Game, or taking Corey Kluber deep twice in the decisive ALDS Game 5. First baseman Greg Bird looks to reach his full potential after a 2017 season that includes a disastrous 6-60 start, months on the disabled list, and a promising September/playoff stretch. At catcher, Gary Sanchez is one of the team’s most important players. Although he’s been somewhat overshadowed by Judge and Stanton, Sanchez may legitimately be the best hitter on the team. His rocket arm makes him a huge threat to throw out stealing baserunners, and hopefully the weight he lost will help him improve his ability to block balls in the dirt, which was a huge problem last year.

Conclusion: The Red Sox have a deep lineup. A good lineup. But the Yankees simply have too many guys that are not just good hitters, but great hitters. The Red Sox definitely have significant advantages and second and third base right now since you don’t really know what you’re gonna get from Torres and Andujar, but if they live up to their hype that gap wouldn’t be too wide. Sanchez is the clear cut choice at catcher, Didi is better than Bogaerts, Bird at his best is better than Moreland, and I’ll take Judge/Stanton/Gardner/Hicks as my outfield/DH over Martinez/Benintendi/Betts/Bradley any day.

Advantage: Yankees

Starting Pitching

The Red Sox staff is anchored by the best starting pitcher in the American League in lefty ace Chris Sale. I know he wasn’t great in the playoffs last year, but there’s no denying the guy is absolutely filthy. If I was picking a team to make a one-year run at the World Series and I needed a starting pitcher, Sale is probably the first guy I pick not named Clayton Kershaw. I’d consider Max Scherzer or Noah Syndergaard too, but point is Sale is a beast. David Price is an interesting guy at the #2 spot in the rotation. Sure, we’ve seen him perform as one of the best pitchers in the league in the past. But his time in Boston has been riddled with elbow troubles, trouble with the Boston media, and overall sub-par performance. That being said, he still has the ability to shut down any lineup on any given night, as he did to the Yanks on Sunday Night Baseball last year. Rick Porcello followed up his 2016 Cy Young Season with a horrid 11-17, 4.65 ERA 2017. It will be interesting to see which Porcello we get in 2018. Drew Pomeranz quietly had a great 2017 season, going 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA. For a middle of the rotation guy, he is more than solid. Veteran knuckleballer Steven Wright figures to be the 5th starter, although offseason domestic violence charges could come into play there.

The Yanks staff is led by young ace Luis Severino, whose breakout 2017 netted him a third place finish in the AL Cy Young vote, behind Kluber and Sale. However, he has a lot to prove in 2018, coming off of the most innings he’s ever thrown, to prove this was no fluke. He’s followed by Masahiro Tanaka, who had an interesting 2017 to say the least. From shutting out the Sox at Fenway during his early season dominance, to basically forgetting how to pitch for a few months, seemingly getting shelled every time out, until he finally put it back together again for September and the playoffs, you simply don’t know what you’re gonna get from Tanaka. Veteran CC Sabathia returns after a solid 2017 that included a great playoffs, and lefty Jordan Montgomery figures to project as the 5th starter following a solid rookie campaign. The X-Factor of this staff, however, is Sonny Gray. He was good for the Yanks last year after coming over from Oakland in the deadline, but not great. Will he step up to be the ace-potential guy the Yankees thought he could be when they traded three top prospects for him, or will he continue to be a middle of the rotation starter? To me, that’s a huge question regarding not only the Yankees’ division chances, but their title hopes.

Conclusion: These staffs are both interesting. They both boast Cy Young caliber aces (Sale and Severino), and guys who are All-Stars at their best, but pretty bad at their worst (Price, Porcello, Tanaka, Gray). But, considering the Sox staff is overall more experienced, I feel like they have to get the nod here.

Decision: Red Sox


This one is honestly a no-brainer. Sure, the Sox have one of the best closers in the game in Craig Kimbrel, but who’s in the pen besides him? For as demoralizing as it is to go into the 9th losing to face Kimbrel, who’s the bridge between him and the Sox’ starters? Literally no one. The Red Sox bullpen was a huge weakness all season in 2017, and they didn’t really do anything to upgrade it going into 2018.

The Yankees, however, boast the best bullpen in baseball. Sure, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman make you want to pull your hair out, but when they’re pitching well they’re elite. Chapman was great in the playoffs, and hopefully Betances has figured it out this offseason. Chad Green was quietly one of the best relievers in baseball in 2017, and David Robertson is extremely reliable. Tommy Kahnle finally looked like the stud the Yankees thought they were getting in the playoffs, and Adam Warren is more than capable.

Conclusion: The Yankees have the better bullpen, and it’s not close.

Decision: Yankees

Overall, the Martinez move is a good one for the Sox. It gives them the power hitter they needed. But do I think it makes them better than the Yankees? No shot. I may be biased, but to me, the Yankees have a better lineup, much better bullpen, and a rotation that, if healthy, gives them a fighting chance on any given night. In my mind, as great as I think the Yankees can be, I don’t think they should be the favorites to win the World Series. That’s still the Astros in my mind, no doubt about it. But in the East? On paper, the Yankees are better than the Red Sox. The Indians even scare me more than the Sox do at this point. But baseball is a long season. If what’s on paper really mattered, they wouldn’t play the games. Let’s hope I don’t regret this blog once October rolls around, but I have a feeling this is gonna be a great year for the Bronx Bombers. Opening Day, where you at??

Top 10 Players in Baseball Right Now Countdown: First Basemen

With Spring Training just days away, we continue our countdown of the top 10 players at every position in baseball. We started with catchers, and now we’re on to first basemen. So without further ado, here are the Top 10 first basemen going into 2018.

10. Carlos Santana, Phillies

Santana signed a 3-year, $60 million deal this offseason to become the new first baseman in Philadelphia. He leaves the established Indians to become a veteran presence on a Phillies team with a promising young core. A career .249 hitter, Santana’s power numbers will add a lot to the Philadelphia lineup, hitting 23 HR and driving in 79 runs in 2017 after a career-high 34 and 87 in the Indians’ pennant-winning 2016. Look for the Phillies’ lineup to be better than expected in 2018.

9. Justin Smoak, Blue Jays

A highly touted prospect for years, Smoak finally had a breakout season in 2017, batting .270 with 38 HR and 90 RBI en route to his first All-Star nod. In a lineup that saw down years from the likes of Jose Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki, Smoak shined. As a Yankee fan, a healthy Blue Jays lineup performing up to its potential might scare me as much or more than the Red Sox’ power-dry lineup. Time will tell if Smoak has really figured it out, or if 2017 was just a fluke.

8. Wil Myers, Padres

Myers has been a bright spot in what’s been a rough stretch for the Padres. After a breakout .259, 28 HR 94 RBI 2016, his average dipped a bit to .243 last year, but the power numbers stayed high at 30 HR and 74 RBI. In a deeper lineup, perhaps Myers could be even better. But for now, he’ll have to figure it out in an NL West that already includes last season’s World Series runner-up in the Dodgers, two more playoff teams from 2017 in the Rockies and Diamondbacks, and an improved Giants team.

7. Eric Hosmer, Free Agent

In what has been the weirdest MLB offseason to date, Hosmer is one of the top-tier free agents who remains unsigned just days before Spring Training. This is despite reportedly having lucrative multi-year deals on the table from both his team, the Royals, and the Padres. Not only can Hosmer hit, as he batted .318 with 25 HR and 94 RBI last year, he is also one of the game’s best defensive first baseman as a four-time Gold Glover. It’s interesting to see where Hosmer will sign as the season quickly approaches.

6. Jose Abreu, White Sox

Abreu has done nothing but rake since his Rookie of the Year 2014 season. When the Red Sox were rumored to be in talks to acquire him earlier this offseason, THAT scared me. In four seasons, he hasn’t hit any lower than .290, any less home runs than 25, and has driven in 100 or more runs each season. He doesn’t get enough attention as the White Sox have been dismal and played in the Cubs’ shadow basically since Abreu broke into the league, but make no mistake, Abreu is one of the premier hitters in baseball.

5. Cody Bellinger, Dodgers

Bellinger had a historically great rookie campaign, with 39 HR and 97 RBI leading to an All-Star nod, World Series appearance, and the NL Rookie of the Year. If not for Aaron Judge, Bellinger would have gotten even more attention. Just as with Judge, we will have to see whether Bellinger will build on his dominant rookie season or suffer a sophomore slump, but I’ll bet he figures it out just fine.

4. Freddie Freeman, Braves

As is the case with Abreu, Freeman can get overlooked because his team is bad. A career .290 hitter, Freeman has improved on his power numbers in the last two seasons with 34 and then 28 home runs. Already a two-time All-Star, Freeman is still just 27 with room to improve. Look for him to be one of baseball’s best again this year.

3. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs

Along with Kris Bryant, Rizzo has been a huge part of the Cubs’ recent success, including their 2016 World Series victory. He has topped 30 HR in the last four seasons while maintaining a solid batting average. He is also an elite defender, with a Platinum Glove in 2016. He and the Cubs both got off to shaky starts in 2017 before hitting their stride, let’s see if Rizzo can come out of the gate strong this year.

2. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks’ playoff appearance came as somewhat of a surprise last year, and Goldschmidt was no small reason for the team’s success. He hit .297 with 36 HR and 120 RBI while also stealing 18 bases, pretty unusual for a first baseman. An All-Star in the last five seasons, a two-time runner up for NL MVP, and a three-time Gold Glover, Goldschmidt is quietly one of the best players in all of baseball. If not for this next guy, it would be easy to make a case for him as the number one first baseman today.

1. Joey Votto, Reds

Votto is hands-down the best first baseman in baseball. A career .313 hitter, he can also hit for power, with 29/29/36 homers in the last three seasons. As a Gold Glover, he also fields the position well. But the best part of his game is his ability to get on base, as he’s led the league in on-base percentage SIX times.

All things considered, there are a lot of great first basemen in the game today, but Votto is the best.

That’s all for this list, check back for more Top 10 lists as the season approaches on Below The Belt.

What if the Yankees Had Signed Vlad Guerrero in 2004?

Not only am I a huge Yankee fan, I’m a huge baseball fan. I can admire great players no matter what team they are on, unless it’s the Red Sox which leads to a burning hatred. The one exception being Manny Ramirez, who I obviously hated while he was killing the Yankees at the plate, but how could you not love this guy?

That’s the best This is SportsCenter commercial ever, and there were a lot of great ones. Remember the good old days when ESPN was actually good? As Mr. Walker would say, I digress.

I really started to get into baseball around first or second grade. I was absolutely obsessed with baseball cards, baseball video games, you name it. I could tell you every team’s lineup and pitching rotation off the top of my head, and definitely wasn’t a loser or anything. One of my favorite players at that time was Vladimir Guerrero. This guy was absolutely unreal to watch. First of all, he had a CANNON for an arm

On the other side of the ball, the guy could flat-out hit. He finished with a lifetime .318 average and 449 home runs, so he was as well-rounded hitter as you’ll see. But the most fascinating part of his game to me was always his ability to hit a pitch thrown anywhere, or being a “bad ball hitter.”

How do you pitch to a guy who can literally get hits off of balls in the dirt? Vlad’s ability as a bad ball hitter meant he hardly struck out, averaging only 74 strikeouts per season in his career. By comparison, Aaron Judge had 208 in his sensational rookie season, and even MVP Jose Altuve struck out 84 times despite his .346 batting average.

So back to my original point: Imagine if the Yankees had signed Guerrero? In the offseason prior to the 2004 season, George Steinbrenner was following up the Yankees’ World Series defeat at the hands of the Marlins the same way he always did after a Yankees playoff loss: spending money. The Yanks added the likes Alex Rodriguez, and Gary Sheffield to a lineup that already boasted big bats such as Hideki Matsui, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada. Steinbrenner locked up Sheffield with a 3-year, $39 million deal to become the team’s every day right fielder. For just $1 million more per year, the Yankees could have had Vlad instead. That is painful to think about. How much of a difference would Vlad have made? For argument’s sake, let’s just look at 2004.

Sheffield was no slouch for the Yanks in 2004, hitting .290 with 36 HR and 121 RBI. That was good enough for second in that year’s AL MVP voting. Who finished first? I’ll let you guess. Guerrero took home the honors with a .337 average, 39 HR and 126 RBI. I don’t even want to think about what peak A-Rod and peak Vlad in the same lineup would have been like. Call me biased, but it’s hard for me to believe the Yankees let the Red Sox come back in the ’04 ALCS with Vlad in the lineup. But then again, that entire series was wild, and it’s hard to say one player would have changed anything. Add in the fact that Sheffield would only have one more solid season in New York while Vlad would be great the next five years with the Angels, signing Vlad would have also made sense for the Yanks long-term.

Although we never got to see him in Pinstripes, Vlad will always be one of my favorite players of all-time.  Congrats to him and the rest of the MLB Hall of Fame Class of 2018, which also included Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, and Trevor Hoffman. Although all four of these players were greats, to me Vlad stands out in this class. He was more than deserving of being a first ballot Hall of Famer, and anyone who watched him in his prime knows he’s certainly a player they’ll tell their grandkids about.

P.S. Vlad in this game rivals Michael Vick in Madden ’04 for most dominant player in any video game. Any fastball near the strike zone was going for a home run, no doubt about it.

Steroids and the Baseball Hall of Fame

One of the most polarizing issues in sports is how to handle steroid users and suspected steroid users and the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Therefore, I would like to share my views.

Every year, when I see the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, I ask myself two questions about each player on said ballot:

  • Was this guy a dominant player during his era?
  • When I tell my hypothetical children about the best players from previous generations, would I bring up this guy’s name?

These are the two biggest criteria for me in determining a Baseball Hall of Famer.  (Note: this policy does not quite work for the NFL, because it would essentially mean that I would never vote for a non-skill-position player.)  After I answer the two afore-mentioned questions, I then look at the player’s statistics.  If I have answered “Yes” to the two questions, I consider the player a Hall-of-Famer unless the stats prove otherwise.  However, if I have answered “No” to at least one of the two questions, I consider the player a non-Hall-of-Famer unless the stats prove otherwise.  It is the Hall of Fame, not the “Hall of Impressive Stats”.  Granted, the two usually go hand-in-hand, but Hall-of-Famers should be players who felt like Hall-of-Famers while I was watching them.

Until the “Steroid Era” (loosely defined as 1993 through 2008, aka “Len Dykstra’s magic-pill Spring Training” through Roger Clemens’s “misremembering”), HOF voters generally got things right.  They put the dominant players in the Hall of Fame, without admitting too many undeserving players.  At least, I think the voters got things right.  After all, I saw only the latter years of obvious HOFers’ careers, like those of Tony Gwynn, Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount, and George Brett.  Meanwhile, I did not experience any of the careers of the bulk of Hall-of-Famers.

Image result for roger clemens

I started watching baseball in 1990 and have been an avid baseball fan for the past 28 seasons.  It has been a great feeling in recent years to see HOF inductees who played their entire careers during my time as a baseball fan.  This list is headlined by Mike Piazza, Ken Griffey Jr., Pedro Martinez, Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Randy Johnson.  Those names all belong in Cooperstown, but there is a problem.  During the “Steroid Era”, the list of dominant players included the players listed above but also featured non-Hall-of-Famers Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez, and Alex Rodriguez.  This bothers me greatly.

When I ask myself Questions 1 and 2 from above, six of the seven players listed are slam-dunk HOFers.  Palmeiro is the only player who never struck me as dominant, but he ended up with more than 3000 hits.  That number is an automatic HOF indicator.  Therefore, by that logic, he should be a HOFer as well.  While his 569 homers are less impressive than they would have been in a previous era, the 3000 hit/500 homer combo remains quite impressive.  Again though, none of these seven players (granted, A-Rod is not yet eligible) is actually in the Hall of Fame, and that is a travesty to me.

The way I see it, there are essentially three levels of “steroid guys”.

Level I: “Guys Who Look Like They Probably Took Steroids”

Level II: “Guys with Mountains of Steroid Evidence but Who Never Actually Failed Drug Tests”

Level III: “Guys Who Failed Drug Tests”

It took a few years, but the Level-I guys are now in the Hall.  Mike Piazza broke that barrier in 2016, and Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez followed Piazza’s path in 2017.  Albert Pujols should feel great about this, because he is likely the best “Level-I” guy not yet in the Hall.  I know, I know, Pujols is still playing, but he should be a slam-dunk HOFer someday.

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Then, we get to Level II.  This is for guys who were on the Mitchell Report or other steroid reports but never actually failed an MLB-authorized drug test.  It covers people who had to testify before Congress in 2005 and people who ostensibly had Androstenedione in their lockers while chasing homerun records.  Yes, this list covers Mark McGwire.  It also covers Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and David Ortiz.  While Ortiz will not be on the ballot for a few years, he will get into the Hall of Fame because everyone loves him.  That said; the other four guys should also absolutely be in the Hall of Fame.

When I talk about being a “dominant player”, I compare players to their contemporaries.  It is silly to compare numbers from the “Steroid Era” to players from other eras.  This is why a guy who averaged 25 homers per year in the 1960s has a better resume than a guy who averaged 25 during the “Steroid Era”.  However, “hitting 25 homers” was not the case with McGwire, Bonds, and Sosa.  McGwire and Sosa hit 70 and 66 homeruns, respectively, in 1998. Even among league-wide bloated homerun totals, these two guys managed to shine. They even helped greatly to resuscitate baseball three years after the strike.  For the last two months of the 1998 season, fans all over the country – myself included – tuned in whenever the Cardinals or Cubs were on TV.  We wanted to watch these two guys make history and break Roger Maris’s single-season homerun record.

By the way, we all knew that something was up with McGwire and Sosa.  I am not saying that we all knew that they were on steroids.  However, most of us knew that something shady was happening, and guess what?  We didn’t care!  More importantly, MLB did not care.  Likewise, when Barry Bonds hit 73 homeruns in 2001 and ultimately made his way to a record of 762 career homeruns, many of us did not care either.  As for Roger Clemens, I cannot stand the guy.  Maybe one could argue that he accidentally beaned Piazza in the head, but there is no defense (other than him being on steroids) for Clemens throwing a bat at Piazza.  Goodness gracious do I hate “Rogah”, but he did win seven Cy Young Awards.  Yes, we have a Baseball Hall of Fame; we have a guy with 7 Cy Young Awards; and that guy is not in the Hall of Fame.  Similarly, Barry Bonds is a 7-time MVP.  7-time!!!   Plus, he has a career batting average of .298 and was a great defensive player.   These men need to be in the Hall!  Also, for good measure, Sammy Sosa won an MVP as well, in 1998. From 1995 through 2002, his homerun totals were 36, 40, 36, 66, 63, 50, 64, and 49. He should be in the Hall too!

Some HOF voters did not vote for McGwire on the grounds that he was too one-dimensional.  I would argue that his one dimension (homeruns) was so great (11th all time in homeruns) that he should be a Hall-of-Famer anyway.  (and yes, I did just break my rule of comparing a player to players from different eras)  In his career, he had single-season homerun totals including 70, 65, 58, 52, 49, and 42.  Like with Sosa and Bonds, his single-season homerun totals look impressive in any era.  Regardless, in the late ‘90s, the eight most dominant players in baseball were these four guys plus  Hall-of-Famers Griffey, Pedro, A-Rod, and Maddux.  All eight should be in the Hall of Fame.

Image result for mcgwire 62nd home run

I believe that at least 90% of players from the “Steroid Era” used at least one banned substance.  I do not have proof of this, but I base it off human nature.  MLB turned a blind eye in the late ‘90s and early 2000s while everyone knew players were abusing steroids.  What would you have done if you were a player at that time?  Would you have stayed “clean” while everyone around you had bulked up unnaturally, begun hitting more homeruns, and earned bigger contracts?  The ethical decision is to say “Yes”.  The answer in favor of your long-term health is to say “Yes”.  However, if you knew that you could make a lot more money for your family at the expense of a sliver of morality and potential long-term health issues, you would have likely taken steroids too.

This is why I blame MLB, not the players, for the steroid abuse.  To be clear, I am in no way condoning steroid use.  Taking steroids is a horrible, horrible choice to make for your life.  However, most people who take steroids do not have the potential of earning millions of dollars as a reason to do so.  If the reason for your taking steroids is that you know your family will be covered financially for the rest of their lives, I cannot criticize your for making that choice.  Also, let us not act like all eras of baseball have been so sacrosanct.  As Colin Quinn’s character discusses in Trainwreck, Babe Ruth never faced an African American or Hispanic pitcher during his entire career.  Until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, white players never faced some of the greatest players in the world.  Meanwhile, in the 1970s and 1980s many players popped amphetamines (and did cocaine) like they were M&Ms…..but sure let’s vilify only the “Steroid Era” and keep only guys from that era out of the Hall of Fame.  That makes total sense.

To the contrary, I feel it is the job of the Hall-of-Fame voter to admit the dominant and legendary players, while it is the job of the Hall-of-Fame visitor to provide the context – positive or negative – he or she is warranted for each player.  In other words, many people probably visit Ty Cobb’s plaque and talk about what a horrible person and racist he was, but he still has a plaque.  Now, people can visit Tim Raines’s plaque and talk about how his nickname “Rock” came from his poor decision to keep a rock of cocaine in his pocket (while playing!).  Visitors can judge him for that, but his plaque remains.  Likewise, HOF visitors should be able to look at McGwire’s, Sosa’s, Bonds’s, and Clemens’s plaques and talk about the unsavory choices they made with steroids in their careers….but the plaques should be there.

With that, we now arrive at our Level-III candidates.  While I criticized MLB for allowing steroids to run rampant during the Steroid Era, I applaud MLB for cracking down on the matter over the past ten years.  Now, steroid issues involve actual failures of drug tests, not speculation.  Thus, I feel that, if a player has failed an MLB drug test, this occurrence should certainly affect his HOF candidacy.  How much should it affect his candidacy?  It depends upon how good the player was and how many tests he failed.  For example, Manny Ramirez and A-Rod are two of the greatest players of the past 30 years.  Since they would be sure-fire HOFers with no steroid issues, their candidacies can withstand these major black marks on their resumes.  However, if someone like Mike Mussina (who I consider a borderline “Yes” for the HOF) were to have failed a drug test, that negative on his record would have knocked him down to a “No” from me.  Don’t worry, Mike.  I don’t actually think you took steroids.

Anyway, now that you know my stance on steroids and the Hall of Fame, here is my hypothetical vote for the 2018 Hall of Fame Induction:

My Fictional Hall of Fame Votes