Oh, how nice it is to have baseball back.
On Tuesday, Spring Training games finally began. Teams began with clean slates, and after three long winter months, two teams played organized games for the first time. Yes, I am very happy. The Yankees and Tigers made my day today, they did me a favor. They reminded me that every day from now until October will include baseball. Oh joy!
So now that my rambling is finally over, let's get to the recaps of the inaugural Spring Training games.
Detroit Tigers 12, Florida Southern Moccasins 0
Win: Robbie Ray
Loss: Nate Carter
When you put a college team up against professionals, you should expect to see a landslide of a victory, even if the professionals may not be starters. The Tigers were all over Florida Southern's pitching, getting thirteen hits, while only allowing three. Steve Lombardozzi, acquired from the Nationals for Doug Fister, got two hits (a single and a double) and scored two runs. Daniel Fields and Tyler Collins each swatted home runs. Pitchers Drew VerHagen, Robbie Ray, Kyle Lobstein, Jose Ortega, Jhan Martinez, Jose Valdez, and Melvin Mercedes tossed a combined shutout to a Florida Southern team that only was able to get three base runners.
Players of the Game:
Robbie Ray: Win, two innings pitched, one hit, no runs, five strikeouts
Tyler Collins: 3-3, home run, one run scored, one RBI
New York Yankees 8, Florida State Seminoles 3
Win: Vidal Nuno
Loss: Pete Miller
The Yankees made this one a tad bit closer; their lead was only two heading into the bottom of the sixth inning. They didn't play as many starters as the Tigers, only Brett Gardner is a sure thing in making their roster, but they ended up winning by a fine margin. Gardner got a hit in his only at bat; the Yankees got two hits from JR Murphy, Ramon Flores, and Jose Gil to power them to victory. Flores had a good game: he hit a solo home run, and scored another. The Seminoles got all three of their runs from John Sansone, who hit a bases-clearing double in the top of the sixth inning.
Players of the Game:
Vidal Nuno: Win, two innings pitched, one hit, no runs, three strikeouts
Ramon Flores: 3-3, home run, two runs scored, one RBI
There's more baseball tomorrow. Whoo-hoo!
The NCAA has indefiniely suspended left-hander Ben Wetzler for inappropriate contact with a financial advisor after he was selected by the Phillies in the fifth round of last year's draft. According to Baseball America's Aaron Fitt, the Phillies turned Wetzler into the NCAA, perhaps for being unable to reach a contract agreement. Wetzler was from the college of Oregon State University.
The Phillies also attempted to report sixth-round pick Jason Monda to the NCAA, but he was cleared to play with Washington State without any issues.
Many believe that what these players deserve agent representation to avoid this from happening. A draft pick has to represent themseleves. Some players are picked at the age of 17, and when negotiating with a multi-billion dollar industry, this can sometimes be an issue in properly signing a contract in the future.
This also hurts the Phillies. Now it will be harder to sign with a team that can sens you back to the NCAA and force you go back through the draft again. This definitely will hurt their representation in drafting college talent.
Today is February 16. The last few teams' pitchers and catchers have reported for duty as Spring Training is almost underway. Two of the best free agents, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, have yet to sign on with a team. I recently asked myself if Santana should have taken his qualifying offer due to the lack of serious interest from many teams. The same could go for Jimenez as well.
The pitchers' sweepstakes have finally started to intensify. The Yankees, Orioles, Mariners, and Blue Jays are all showing interest in these pitchers. I ultimately see the Mariners ending up with Santana and the Blue Jays ending up with Jimenez. However, I pose the question: Who needs Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez the most?
Let's start with the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners' pitchers allowed the fifth-most runs in the Major Leagues in 2013. Behind ace Felix Hernandez and All Star Hisashi Iwakuma, the Mariners' starting rotation posted ERA+'s of 70, 64, and 59/74 (split fifth starter's role), respectivelly. Ervin Santana posted a very good 127 ERA+ in 2013, while also racking up 211 innings. The Mariners rotation was ugly behind Hernandez and Iwakuma. This offseason, they've done nothing to improve upon it, which is why I think they will sign Santana when it is all set and done. We've seen that they are willing to spend, and this was definitely an issue for them. Expect the Mariners to make a starting pitching move this offseason, which I believe will be Santana.
The New York Yankees just recently showed interest in Santana. This puzzles me. We know the Yankees are willing to spend, but they've got a pretty good rotation of C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Masahiro Tanaka, and David Phelps. As a total, Yankees pitchers posted a 103 ERA+, just 2% above the league average. Yankees starters finished 18th in the MLB in ERA and 13th in innings pitched. However, they lost Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes this offseason, and gained Masahiro Tanaka. In a hitter's park, however, the Yankees should focus on hitting. They have done exactly that this offseason, signing Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brian McCann. Signing Ervin Santana nor Ubaldo Jimenez doesn't make sense to me, but the Yankees can, and will, do whatever they want.
The Baltimore Orioles are focusing in on a smaller payroll, so I believe Santana or Jimenez will end up a tad bit out of their reach. Signing Suk-Min Yoon this offseason seems to be their prize, and likely will be their last rotation piece. The Orioles' staff posted a 100 ERA+ in 2013, just 1% below the league average. One alarming thought, however, is that the Orioles finished 27th in the MLB in starters' ERA. Jason Hammel, whom posted the lowest ERA+ of the rotation, is no longer with the club. Bud Norris, whom was traded from the Astros to the Orioles at the trade deadline, is likely to have a good season. And now the Orioles get Yoon, a top Korean pitching prospect. In my view, the Orioles are set in 2014.
And finally, we have the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays pitchers averaged 30.9-years-old in 2013. They allowed 4.67 runs per game, 4.26 of which were earned runs. The Jays' rotation consisted of R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, J.A. Happ, Josh Johnson (now with San Diego), and Todd Redmond. Zero of these pitchers posted an ERA+ over 100. Zero. Although Buehrle and Dickey tossed over 200 innings, none of the other three threw over 100. Buehrle led the staff in ERA with a 4.15 mark. Nobody on this staff could allow less than 4 runs a game. Also Happ and Johnson were hampered by injuries. The Blue Jays starters' as a whole posted a 4.81 ERA. The Blue Jays have made zero starting pitching moves. Zero. They will need either Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez to turn this staff around.
As you can see, the Blue Jays are in dire need of a starting pitcher, so I believe they will ultimately sign Ubaldo Jimenez. They've shown more interest in Jimenez than Santana, and more teams are interested in signing Santana. They will end up with Ubaldo Jimenez. For Santana, I said earlier that I thought the Mariners would sign him, and now you can see how bad their rotation was behind their studs in Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Consider the Yankees in the least need of a pitcher, while the Orioles could sign a pitcher, but I believe it remains unlikely that they sign Santana or Jimenez.
The Philadelphia Phillies have plenty of uncertainty heading in to 2014. One of the things that is a real wild card is the starting rotation. It could be very good and help this team, or it could crash and burn, leading the Phillies to another season of disappointment, missing the playoffs. Let's take a look at the Phillies starting rotation and break it down.
The Sure Things: Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee
They have been excelling for years. Hamels and Lee will lead this staff as they have in the past. Since Lee came back to the Phillies in 2011, the duo has a 132 ERA+. Hamels has a 3.15 ERA in that time and Lee has had a 2.80 ERA in that time. They've also been to a combined four All Star appearances. In order to contend, the Phillies just need to excel behind their aces. In 2013, the Phillies went just 29-35 behind Hamels and Lee, a number that needs to change in 2014. Hamels and Lee will pitch strong in 2014, but for the Phillies to make the playoffs, they need to get some wins behind them.
Could Be Good, Could Be Bad: A.J. Burnett and Kyle Kendrick
These guys are exactly what the title says, they could be good or they good be bad. Burnett was very good in 2013, but he is 37-years-old, and posted a 5.20 ERA and a 83 ERA+ not too long ago in 2010 and 2011 with the Yankees. Some say that the Yankees were not a fit, but Burnett heads back to a hitter's park in Citizens Bank Park. However, he's in a better situation than teammate Kyle Kendrick, who the Phillies are still trying to make a good rookie season out of. Kendrick went 10-4 with a 3.87 ERA in 121 innings in his rookie season in 2007. They both need to excel to give the Phillies some hope.
The Questions: Jonathan Pettibone, Roberto Hernandez, Miguel Gonzalez
These three guys will be battling for the fifth spot in 2014. First, we have Jonathan Pettibone, the only pitcher to have pitched in a Phillies uniform prior to this season. Pettibone posted a 95 ERA+ in 100 1/3 innings pitched with the Phillies. He was good at times, but never great. Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona) was an All Star in 2010, but has a below-average 75 ERA+ since. I personally do not think he is the answer there. And finally, we have Miguel Gonzalez, the complete wild card here. Gonzalez is an interesting case. The top international prospect initially signed a $48 million deal, which ended up getting reduced to $12 million after physical issues. One of these guys will have to step it up in 2014.
My Prediction for the 2014 Phillies Rotation:
1. Cliff Lee
How can you not go with Cliff number one? Now that we know Hamels won't be ready until the second or third week in April, Cliff is almost a lock to get the Opening Day start. He's a very good pitcher and will lead this Phillies staff throughout the season. If he pitches well (he usually does), and the Phillies have to win behind him, a lot of good things will happen.
2. Cole Hamels
Hamels won't be ready by Opening Day, but he'll still be back to make 25+ starts. Again, Hamels is an ace and the Phillies need to win behind him to have a chance in the tough National League East. If Hamels can win 15-18 starts this year, and the Phillies take three or four more of his no decisions, the Phillies again could be put into a good situation. However, it's not that easy, and execution is key.
3. A.J. Burnett
Nothing surprising here. Burnett was paid $16 million this offseason, following two very strong showings in back-to-back seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Burnett led the National League in K/9 rate and still managed to pitch over 190 innings. Burnett could be the make-or-break of the Phillies rotation; if he pitches well, the Phillies could have a feared staff. If not, well the Phillies may actually show zero improvement from last season.
4. Kyle Kendrick
In my opinion, Kendrick deserves to be in the bullpen, but since this is a prediction, and not analysis, Kendrick will realistically be in the starting rotation. But since I've got no good stats to share with you, I'd like you to know that Kendrick has a career 3.50 ERA out of the bullpen, compared to a 4.44 ERA from the starting rotation. Batters' career OPS+ against Kendrick out of the rotation is 101 compared to a 84 out of the bullpen (lower is better). Just saying guys.
5. Jonathan Pettibone
I believe the Phillies don't trust Miguel Gonzalez and that Roberto Hernandez is a dud. While Gonzalez still may make the bullpen, Pettibone's the guy who will take the fifth starting rotation spot. This isn't necessarily a bad thing by any means. Pettibone will improve in 2014, knowing that he's got a real shot at the rotation. (He made the rotation in 2013 due to a Roy Halladay injury.) In his last seven starts in 2013, Pettibone posted a 3.46 ERA in 39 innings.
6. Roberto Hernandez
As I said, I believe Herandez is a dud, but the Phillies don't trust Miguel Gonzalez enough to give him the sixth spot. Hernandez will likely open the season in Philadelphia due to Hamels' injury, but shouldn't be given much more thought if everyone remains healthy.