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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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.

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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??

Is the Stretch Between the Super Bowl and March Madness the Worst Time to Be Alive?

Bold title, I know. But think about it. The month-ish (yeah that’s the word I’m going with, freaking sue me if you have a problem with it pal) long period between the Super Bowl and March Madness is commonly referred to as the worst time of the year for sports. No football whatsoever. Baseball is in Spring Training, which is exciting if you’re a baseball junkie like me, but it’s still not even close to the real thing. And the NHL and NBA are both in full swing, but at the point of the season where it’s not quite close enough to the playoffs to get too intense. So sporting wise, obviously these few weeks suck. But as I was thinking about that, I tried to think of ANY benefit to this period of time. Let’s take a deeper look.

The Super Bowl this year was on February 4th. The NCAA Basketball Tournament technically starts on Tuesday, March 13th this year, but those are just play-in games. Everyone knows March Madness really starts on Thursday, which is March 15th this year. That leaves 39 days between the Super Bowl and March Madness. Weather wise, it’s still pretty cold, at least here in Jersey. Maybe you get the occasional day where it’s nice enough to chill outside (it’s supposed to be 65 this Thursday), but other than that the weather pretty much sucks.

The only national holiday between the Super Bowl and March Madness is Presidents’ Day, which if you go to a public school like Rutgers, you don’t even get off for. The most noteworthy holiday between them is Valentine’s Day which kinda just blows whether you’re in a relationship or not. Either you have to watch everyone else post mad annoying lovey-dovey Instagrams, or you spend a bunch of money on your significant other because that’s what you’re supposed to do. St. Patty’s Day comes right after March Madness starts, even falling on the first Thursday last year, so a solid holiday just misses the Super Bowl/NCAA Tourney time period cut-off.

Not only is there a lack of holidays/days off during this period, but school itself just sucks. In college, this is prime midterm time. You’re too far past syllabus week to be doing nothing in your classes, and you can be sure to be flooded with exams/projects/papers at any given time. Sure, spring break may potentially start near the end of this 39-day period (mine starts like 5 days before March Madness), but that still makes for a brutal 30+ day stretch. On top of all of that, Day 1 of this whole ordeal is one of the worst days of the year. The Monday after the Super Bowl is right up there with January 2nd for worst work/school day of the year.

So between the lack of sports, absence of relevant holidays, bad weather, and classes, I’ve come to the conclusion that the gap between Super Bowl Sunday and March Madness Thursday is 100% the worst time of the year. So what’s the plan of attack here? Be productive. Get in shape, work more hours at your job, get ahead on your schoolwork, crush your midterms. Are you a degenerate, so none of what I just said sounds appealing to you? Then find other ways to entertain yourself besides sports. Binge-watch a show, get drunk and watch the Olympics, play some baseball (the drinking game, not the sport.) Anything to help speed up time. As rough as these 30+ days are, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Spring Break, March Madness, St. Patty’s Day, and MLB Opening Day all happen within about two weeks of each other. But until then, we’re just gonna have to suck it up and figure something else out.


Olympic Hockey is So Much Better Without NHL Players!

I have not been this pumped for Olympic hockey since 1994, the last time that NHL players were not allowed in the Olympics.  I realize that I am in the minority with this opinion, but I do not mind being in the minority on sports opinions. (See “Eli Manning”)

There are three major reasons why I dislike having NHL players in the Olympics.  I will list them now in declining order of importance.

  • I associate players with their current NHL teams. I cannot stop on a dime and change the players for whom I root for two random weeks in February, only for me to change back at the end of those two weeks.  This issue became most pronounced in the 2002 Gold Medal Game.  In that game, two players were on the ice for the full 60 minutes – Mike Richter and Martin Brodeur.  Yes, Ranger Mike Richter and Devil Martin Brodeur.  Yes, American Mike Richter and Canadian Martin Brodeur.

While I have written in the past about my strong dislike for the Yankees, I despise the Rangers a thousand times more.  I cannot stand the Rangers.  I loathe the Rangers.  Anyway, from 1993 through 2002, I watched countless Devils/Rangers games featuring Martin Brodeur and Mike Richter.  To that point, I had always rooted for Brodeur, my all-time favorite athlete, to come out on top over Richter.  However, now that the players were wearing different uniforms for two weeks, I was suddenly supposed to change for whom I am supposed to root?  Look, I agree with Jerry Seinfeld that, in sports, we are really always just rooting for laundry.  (Sidebar: I love Todd Frazier now!)  However, expecting me to overhaul my rooting habits for a mere two weeks in the heat of the NHL season (and then overhaul them back again) seemed patently ridiculous. Thus, I found myself rooting for Team Canada on that day in 2002.  I am not proud of that, but, given the circumstances, I find my actions defensible.  Meanwhile, this issue did not disappear after 2002.

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In subsequent Olympics (2006, 2010, and 2014), I have rooted for Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, and Patrik Elias on other countries’ teams.  Meanwhile, I have rooted against Rangers, Flyers, and Penguins on the American team.  In fact, there was no post-1994 Olympics – until this year’s – in which I found myself pouring all of my heart into the US Olympic men’s hockey team.  Once a player is playing for an NHL team, I associate him with that team, not with his country.   (Do not get me started on the World Baseball Classic, which will not “happen” until long after “fetch” “happens”.  Also, I would never root for Bryce Harper, Chipper Jones, or Derek Jeter!)  Plain and simple, my emotions are too fragile and my loyalty too deep to root for players one week, against them the next two weeks, and for them again afterward (and vice versa).

  • Having NHL players in the Olympics makes zero economic sense for the NHL.   Can you imagine Adam Silver, Roger Goodell, or Rob Manfred stopping his respective season at the ¾ mark so that his top players can play in an intense, physical tournament for which his league receives ZERO revenue???  That is comical….and I am sure that all three of these commissioners and their predecessors have laughed at Gary Bettman because of it.  Interestingly, Islanders GM Garth Snow took flak four years ago for blasting the practice of having NHL players in the Olympics.  Snow spoke out after Islanders star John Tavares hurt his knee in the Olympics and thus missed the remainder of the NHL season.  Snow complained that a player under an NHL contract should not play for another team, risking major injury and/or fatigue, during an NHL season.  Somehow, many people thought Snow was out of line for his comments, which confounds me.  Snow was absolutely right.  (Fittingly, Garth Snow was a goalie on the 1994 US Olympic team, the last edition comprised solely of amateurs.)

Of course, some people counter my economic argument by saying that the NHL draws more interest following the Olympics.  Well, my friends, that argument is baloney.  It is Grade-A baloney.  There is not a single person who watches Olympic hockey and thinks to him/herself, “You know, I did not watch the NHL before, but now I am definitely tuning into the Flyers/Stars game next week.”  That does not happen.  The NHL does not get a ratings bump off the Olympics.  People who would have watched the NHL continue to watch the NHL; people who would not have watched it continue not to watch the NHL.  It is no different than the situations with most other Olympics sports and me.  I love watching Olympic skiing, speed skating, luge, bobsledding, figure skating, curling, swimming, gymnastics, track and field, and slalom-kayaking.  What is the key word in that sentence?  “Olympic”.  That is all I am watching.  The week after the Olympics, those sports are all dead to me, as they are to many Olympic fans.  Likewise, this is how hockey is for Olympic, non-NHL fans.  These individuals tune in for Olympic hockey and then wait four years to watch hockey again.

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Given all that logic, why the heck should NHL teams be expected to expose their players to major injury and fatigue 5-7 weeks before the NHL playoffs?  It is asinine.  It is a major cost with no benefit for the NHL.  Sure, I know that players really want to be able to play in the Olympics, but that is life.  These players cannot have their cake and eat it too.  Plus, many of you know that I think the MLB season is too long.  Well, I certainly feel the same way about the NHL season, and having the players go to the Olympics makes the season even longer!  Craziness.  I am very glad that is not the case this season.

  • Lastly, I do not feel much American pride watching a team that has had all of one or two practices together suddenly play together in the Olympics. I do not feel much American pride watching a team that flies to the Olympics 3 days after the Opening Ceremonies and now plays 3 to 6 games together.  Both of these afore-mentioned scenarios describe the American teams of the previous five Olympics.  Meanwhile, if you have seen Miracle, you know that one of the joys of the 1980 American gold medal came from the adversity the team had to overcome over more than a year’s worth of training.  “A bunch of guys from Minnesota and Massachusetts” spent months getting over their differences and individuality to realize that they were playing for one team.  These players committed themselves every day for over a year to their teammates and to winning a gold medal for the United States.

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On the other hand, let us look at 2014. During the Sochi Opening Ceremonies, I was at The Rock, watching the Devils beat the Oilers in overtime.  Patrik Elias, Jaromir Jagr, and Marek Zidlicky suited up for the Devils that night, which is interesting considering that they were on the Czech Olympic team.  Similarly, the next night, I went to a bar in Hoboken.  On one TV, I saw the Olympics; on the neighboring TV, I watched the Capitals and US Olympic defenseman John Carlson defeat the Devils.  Thus, the Olympics had begun, yet most of the players on the top-8 Olympic hockey teams were still focused on their NHL teams.  Only a day or two later did the NHL Olympic players finally fly to Sochi, Russia, to commence their participation in the Olympic games.

It is very hard to get psyched to watch an Olympic team full of guys who were still playing NHL games during the first few days of the Olympics.  These NHL/Olympic hockey players spend little thought on their Olympic teams and gold medals before boarding those planes three days into the Games.  This does not exactly evoke memories of “Mike Eruzione…I play for the United States of America!!!”  Plus, some people claim that it is better to have NHL players in the Olympics, because Olympic medals are meant to reward the best players and best teams in the world.  However, in reality, it takes months for a hockey team to jell and for the cream to rise to the top.  The probability is relatively slim that the best hockey team will win the gold medal, given that the players have essentially no practice time, play three games, and then enter a single-elimination tournament.

Anyway, I have now listed and explained my three reasons why I do not like having NHL players in the Olympics.  Granted, I realize that many of the American players this year are not amateurs like we used in all of the Olympic Games through 1994.  Many of these players, like captain and Devils single-season goal-scoring leader Brian Gionta, have played in the NHL at some point.  Also, these players have not trained together for a full year or longer.

That said, at least these players been practicing together – as a team – in pursuit of a gold medal for a few months.  That is enough for me.  Plus, even if some of these players – like Matt Gilroy and Bobby Sanguinetti – did once play for the Rangers, it was a few years ago….not right now.  After a few years away from the Garden, I am able to erase the Rangers “stink” from a player, as I have with Devils Brian Boyle and John Moore.

This leads me to my last point.  In 1994, I had the pleasure of watching both the Devils and Olympic hockey on the same days.  That was one of the greatest thrills of my sports-watching life.  Throw in the facts that the 1993-4 Devils had their best season in history to that point and that the current Devils are now having their best season since 2012, and I am very excited to have a sports repeat of February 1994…minus Nancy Kerrigan, Tonya Harding, and a messed-up shoelace.

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.

Tom Brady is the GOAT

It seems that most football fans decided several years ago that Bill Belichick was the GOAT (“Greatest of All Time”) when it comes to coaches, yet there are still plenty of fans who have not wanted to call Tom Brady the GOAT among quarterbacks.  To those individuals, I say it is time to give it up.

Seriously, on what grounds can one claim that Tom Brady is not the GOAT?  Let me now rebut any argument in favor of a non-Brady being the GOAT:

  • If you think the GOAT is anyone who played before 1980, you are picking a quarterback who played in an era when a) QBs threw somewhat rarely, b) the running back was the focal point of the offensive backfield, c) teams did much less elaborate scheming than you see now, and thus d) quarterbacks spent much less time perfecting their craft. Sure, Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, and Terry Bradshaw played when there was a different bar for “greatness” for a quarterback.  It is just that said bar was 75% lower than the current bar.  Nobody in his/her right mind would say that a Night at the Roxbury cell phone is the GOAT of the cell-phone world, simply because that phone was considered amazing in 1998.  The same premise goes for calling an old-time QB the GOAT.  Brady is an iPhone, so please do not tell me you would rather have a Cingular


  • It is not John Elway, Troy Aikman, Brett Favre, or Dan Marino. Remember that Tom Brady has a 196-55 regular-season record and a 28-9 playoff record.  He has 488 touchdowns and 160 interceptions in the regular season and 71:31 numbers in the postseason.  Oh, he also has been to a record 8 Super Bowls and won a record 5 of them as a starting QB.  The four guys I have mentioned cannot come near a resume like that.

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  • It is not Aaron Rodgers. Yes, when Rodgers is healthy, he is the best quarterback in the league right now.  However, Brett Favre and injuries have kept his career performance down a bit.  Plus, consecutive seasons of legendarily devastating playoff defeats in Seattle and Arizona quite possibly kept him from having three championships, instead of 1.  I cannot say that a guy with one Super Bowl appearance is the GOAT.  Rodgers still has much of his career ahead of him.  Therefore, I cannot count him out in terms of taking over as GOAT.  However, he has a long way to go.


  • It is not Peyton Manning. Yes, there were times when we thought that Peyton was better.  However, Brady ultimately surpassed Peyton everywhere that matters.  Manning’s regular-season record of 186-79 falls short of Brady’s.  His 9-10 playoff record falls light years short of Brady’s.  While it is fair to say that Peyton’s playoff record is hurt by having several byes (and thus avoiding easy Wild-Card-Round wins), Brady’s is hurt by the same factor, and his record is doing just fine.  Both Brady and Peyton put up gaudy numbers on some very talented teams, while both dragged a few untalented teams to 10-win seasons.  Yes, Peyton threw for nearly 72,000 yards, while Brady threw for a little more than 66,000, but that is a negligible difference in the grand scheme of their careers.  Plus, Peyton was not good in Super Bowls.  He was average while winning Super Bowl MVP against the Bears (I thought Dominic Rhodes should have won the honor), was decent in the loss to the Saints, put up an epically horrendous performance against the Seahawks, and was dragged to a championship by Von Miller and the Broncos’ defense to finish his career.  Meanwhile, Tom Brady has played well to incredibly well in all eight of his Super Bowls.  In big game after big game, Brady has fought back through adversity.  However in big game after big game, Peyton performed worse as things got worse.  (Save for the 21-3 comeback against the Pats in the 2006 season).  Seriously, when the Broncos were down 8-0 in the first quarter of Super Bowl XLVIII, Peyton already had a look on his face of “I don’t want to be here anymore.”   Having watched Peyton and Brady for their entire careers, I can say that Peyton Manning is incredible.   However, Brady is clearly better.

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  • It is not Joe Montana. Montana has the best non-Brady case for being the GOAT, outside of Brady.  However, it is still not Montana.  A 117-47 regular-season record and a 16-7 playoff record are impressive, but Brady’s are better.  Plus, Montana threw for 40,551 yards, which is a far cry from Brady’s numbers.  I know that Montana played in an era when defensive players tried to murder any receiver cutting across the middle of the field, but a 26,000-yard difference is too sizable to attribute solely to that fact.  (Keep in mind that it was not until the second half of Brady’s career that the rules changed as mentioned here to receivers’ and QBs’ benefits.)  Therefore, I do attribute much of the yardage difference to the difference in eras (see the cell-phone analogy).


That said, I know the #1 argument that people make in favor of Montana being the GOAT.  These people say, “The guy never lost in the Super Bowl.  Brady has lost three times.”  OK, that argument would have merit if quarterbacks were randomly assigned Super Bowl trips.  However, it does not actually work that way.  Because a QB must earn a trip to the Super Bowl, a Super Bowl loss is a positive for a quarterback’s resume.  Of course, it is nowhere near as big a positive as a Super Bowl win, but it is positive nonetheless.  Furthermore, if Brady were 3-3 in Super Bowls, Montana sympathizers would have a leg on which to stand.  However, Brady is not 3-3.  He is 5-3.  He has won more Super Bowls than Montana, and he has been in twice as many.


Also, some people talk about how Montana “dominated” his Super Bowls, while Brady “has not”.  Yes, Montana dominated 3 of his 4 Super Bowls, his first being the only one in which he had pedestrian numbers.  People remember that two of his Super Bowls ended 38-16 and 55-10.  Yes, that is incredibly impressive.  However, Brady put up great numbers in all except his first Super Bowl, in which he led a game-winning drive in the last minute.  It is also worth noting that the Niners allowed 21, 16, 16, and 10 points in Montana’s four Super Bowl wins.  Meanwhile, the Patriots have allowed 17, 29, 21, 17, 21, 24, 28, and 41 points in Brady’s eight Super Bowls.  While I am not going to list all of Brady’s Super Bowl game stats, I can tell you that they are quite impressive (especially Sunday’s 505 yards with zero interceptions!) and rival Montana’s on a per-game basis.  I can also tell you that Brady’s lack of a dominant Super Bowl win is more of a function of the Pats’ and Niners’ defenses than it is of Montana’s and Brady’s play.  That said, Montana does get a point over Brady for having two lopsided Super Bowl wins.  I have to acknowledge that, so that Point #6 does not later turn me into a hypocrite.  (Montana should also lose a point for having a 49-3 playoff loss to the 1986 Giants.  Brady has no playoff losses that were so lopsided.)

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All that said, I feel strongly that 8 total Super Bowls, 5 Super Bowl wins, and 4 late-game Super Bowl-winning drives more than offset Montana’s two blowout wins and 4 total SB wins/appearances.


  • Sure, Brady’s career has been helped immensely by Bill Belichick, but that does not keep Brady from being the GOAT. All great players in team sports are functions of their teammates, coaches, and other external factors.  If Drew Bledsoe never got hurt or if Tom Brady were drafted by the Cleveland Browns, Tom Brady might not have become anything special at all.  However, you could say play the “What if?” game with anyone.  What if Bill Walsh were not in San Francisco with Montana?  What if the Colts picked Ryan Leaf and Peyton ended up on the Chargers?  Heck, what would Michael Jordan be if either Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen, or both had never shown up in Chicago?  We do not know.  Nobody knows.  Therefore, we can judge greatness only by what we do know.

Yes, being the GOAT often requires some luck, but many people get good luck.  To be the GOAT, a player has to make the most out of every single morsel of luck that he receives.  Tom Brady was forced into action on an 0-2 Pats team that was following up a 5-11 season.  Let us not act like he was gifted a Hall-of-Fame career on a platter.  For every Tom Brady, there are countless John Skeltons, Brian Hoyers, Greg McElroys, Tim Rattays, Charlie Whitehursts, Trent Edwardses, and so on who make very little out of their good fortune.

Simply put, Tom Brady was given an opportunity in September of 2001; he grabbed that opportunity; and he has spent 17 years becoming the GOAT of NFL quarterbacks.

BREAKING: Tom Brady Listed as Questionable for Super Bowl LII

Sources are saying that Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady’s right throwing hand is still not 100% going into tomorrow’s Super Bowl LII matchup against the Eagles. Just kidding, no shot any of you guys bought that, and if you did, you need to work on your reasoning skills. Anyway, now that I’ve got you here, here’s the real point of this blog.

Never ever forget. Fuck the Pats, fuck the Birds, XLII is the best Super Bowl of all-time and you’re never taking that from us. Go G-Men baby.