Tag:AL West
Posted on: January 26, 2012 8:35 pm
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Mariners may drop Ichiro from leadoff spot

Ichiro Suzuki

By C. Trent Rosecrans


In the end, lineup construction has been shown not to matter much, but this time of year it always becomes a topic of discussion, because, well, there are no games.

Since Ichiro Suzuki joined the Mariners, the Seattle skipper du jour has had an easy start when filling out his lineup -- writing Ichiro in first and then figuring out the rest from there. Ichiro's batted leadoff in 1,722 of the 1,749 games he's played with the Mariners in the last 11 years.

Eric Wedge said Wednesday night in a radio interview that he was considering moving Ichiro from the top spot and reiterated those comments on Thursday at the Mariners' spring training luncheon. Here's exactly what he said, from Larry Stone of the Seattle Times:
"It's as much to do about his teammates as it does with him -- in regard to the collective nine we're putting down on paper. I haven't made any firm decisions. I've made it very clear over the course of the winter I'm thinking about it. I'm even further down the road to where I'm leaning in that direction to have Ichi hit somewhere else.

"I know it's a big deal to everybody. I can't get caught up in that. My job is to make sure I communicate that to Ichiro, make sure everyone understands what the options are, and what they're fighting for, and what I'm thinking about. That's what I'm going to continue to do.

"Right now, I'm going to be very open-minded to what I'm going to do, but I'm going to go into spring training leaning a certain direction. And we'll make the decisions from there."
As for where Ichiro would hit? Wedge said he's thought about all three of the top three spots in the lineup, including leadoff. And who would lead off? The candidates, in addition to Ichiro, are Dustin Ackley, Chone Figgins and Franklin Gutierrez.

Suzuki is coming off a career-worst .272/.310/.335 season with 40 stolen bases. He has a career .370 on-base percentage. The problem may be that the candidates to replace Ichiro aren't going to be any better. Figgins has been an unmitigated disaster in Seattle and hit just .188/.241/.243 last season, but does have a career .352 OBP and even put up a .340 OBP in 2010, his first year in Seattle. Guiterrez was plagued by a mysterious stomach ailment the last two seasons and put up a .224/.261/.273 line last season and has just a career .308 OBP. Ackley hit .273/.348/.417 last season, but that was in his only 90 games in the big leagues.

As most lineup discussions this time of year, it's purely conjecture and subject to change once games starts, injuries happen and performance patterns take shape. But when it does happen, it will seem pretty odd for Ichiro not to lead off games for the Mariners -- but not as odd as seeing him in a different uniform. Ichiro is in his last year of his contract with the Mariners and could easily be in his last season in Seattle.

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Posted on: January 24, 2012 10:03 pm
 

Report: Uehara blocks potential trade to Toronto

By Matt Snyder

Evidently relief pitcher Koji Uehara isn't a fan of Toronto. The Rangers had agreed to trade the right-hander to the Blue Jays, but Uehara invoked his no-trade clause and rejected the deal, according to ESPN Dallas. This wasn't a full no-trade clause, either. Uehara reportedly has a list of just six teams with which he could reject a trade, and the Blue Jays happened to be one of those six.

This means, at least for now, Uehara will remain in the Rangers' bullpen. For what it's worth, a report from Japan said that Uehara didn't want to move his family from Baltimore to Toronto. Of course, he plays in Arlington, Texas, now, so that doesn't seem to make a ton of sense. But it's certainly his right to reject the trade.

Uehara, 36, was having a great season in Baltimore before being traded to Texas last season. He had a 1.72 ERA, 0.70 WHIP and 62 strikeouts in 47 innings for the Orioles. For the Rangers, though, he had a 4.00 ERA and ended up pitching his way off the World Series roster. Much of his decline could be traced to him stranding an absurd 97.6 percent of baserunners with the Orioles, so it was only natural more of those runners would start crossing the plate. Still, he did pitch worse for the Rangers.

Uehara remains in a crowded bullpen. The Rangers have Joe Nathan as closer and Mike Adams as the setup man. Alexi Ogando and Scott Feldman also figure to have more prominent roles than Uehara.

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Posted on: January 24, 2012 6:08 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2012 7:50 pm
 

'Mystery Team' goes from joke to major player

Mystery Team

By C. Trent Rosecrans


Once again, the Mystery Team got its man, as Prince Fielder is headed to Detroit -- not Washington or Texas.

Last November, the idea of a "Mystery Team" was a joke -- a meme making fun of writers who dared to suggest there were things they didn't know, a team that could get by the new world order of Twitter and the 86,400 second news cycle. One blogger even called the chance of Cliff Lee signing with anyone other than the Yankees or Rangers "the invention of an agent" who was using a writer who dared to buck the status quo. That blogger even highlighted his jabs at the writer with a picture of the Mystery Machine, the vehicle of choice for Scooby Doo and pals. And it wasn't just snarky bloggers who have more jokes than information, mainstream writers got in on the meme as well.

Prince to Tigers
And then, well… Cliff Lee signed with the Mystery Team.

And so did Adrian Beltre.

But that didn't stop the barbs. After Albert Pujols went to Anaheim and now Prince Fielder to Tigers, the Mystery Team is no joke.

It's almost to the point where for the biggest of the big free agents, the Mystery Team is a favorite. And if we're not there, we're probably to the point where the Mystery Team should never be counted out of the running, and certainly to the point where it shouldn't be mocked.

The biggest reason there's more Mystery Team chatter is because there's more chatter, the people making the biggest decisions are doing so with respect to Twitter and the proliferation of outlets reporting on baseball and sports, in general. We're at the point where fans see an interviewing Theo Epstein in a Chicago Starbucks and it makes national news. The teams aren't laughing about "bloggers in their mother's basements" anymore -- it's serious stuff. If rivals learn of a team's plan, it can cost them on the field and off the field in terms of money.

In response, teams are being much more careful about where they are seen and who they are seen with. At the winter meetings, teams will use service elevators and back hallways, places unavailable to the public -- and the press -- to get around.

Also, when it comes to the highest levels of free agents, the type that could cost $100 or $200 million, you're not talking about a general manager having the final say, it's the owners who have to pull the trigger. That leads to an agent, such as Scott Boras, dealing with the money people, not the baseball people who have less of an incentive to keep quiet. The more people who know that a team is considering signing a player, the more chance it can leak out. At some point, the GM can say, "yeah, I'd love to have Albert Pujols." And that's a no-brainer. It's all up to the owner to decide if he wants to spend the money, so he meets with the agent, and maybe the player.

There are still cases like Jose Reyes, where pretty much everyone assumed he'd end up in Miami, but we're also at the point where you should never, ever count out the Mystery Team.

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Posted on: January 24, 2012 4:25 pm
 

Would You Rather Have: Pujols or Fielder?



By Matt Snyder


Two superstar first basemen helped lead NL Central teams into the playoffs in 2011. In 2012, each will be playing in the American League.

Albert Pujols signed a whopping 10-year, $254 million contract to leave St. Louis and head to the Angels. Several weeks later (today), Prince Fielder accepted a nine-year, $214 million deal to join the Detroit Tigers.

We long had this matchup slated to run at some point in this Would You Rather Have series, but wanted to hold off until the dollar figures were known. Obviously if Fielder signed for half what Pujols did -- especially being younger -- he'd be the choice. But we now have contracts that are essentially apples to apples, as they're close enough in average annual value. 

Would You Rather Have
The case for Pujols

Ever since Barry Bonds retired, Pujols has been either the consensus best player in baseball or the runner-up (at times Alex Rodriguez was considered superior). Pujols has won three MVPs and finished in the top 10 of MVP voting every single season of his career -- and the top five all but one time. He already has 445 home runs and sports an absurd 1.037 career OPS (170 OPS-plus).

On top of all the considerable damage Pujols can do with his bat, he's a well-rounded player. He's widely regarded as an exceptional baserunner and an above average defender. He's certainly a much better defender than Fielder, so leave the puns alone.

Pujols also doesn't have the weight concerns many attach to Fielder.

The case for Fielder

He's no slouch with the bat himself. In only six full seasons -- and change -- Fielder has 230 homers and a .929 OPS. Last season he hit 38 home runs and drove home 120. For the third consecutive season, Fielder drew more than 100 walks, too, so his plate discipline can rival that of Pujols. And Fielder does have three top-four finishes in MVP voting in the past five seasons.

Despite concerns about weight, Fielder trumps Pujols in the durability category. Prince has only missed one game in the past three seasons combined. In his six full seasons, Fielder has averaged 160 games played. And that's a segue to the age issue.

Prince Fielder is only 27 -- he'll turn 28 this May. Albert Pujols just turned 32. And Pujols' contract is one year longer.

So, obviously Pujols would have been the choice for this past decade, but what about the decade to come?

Our call

I'm sticking with Pujols in a ridiculously difficult choice. Each player probably switches to designated hitter around the same time and I'll take Pujols' defense as the separation point in the next few years.

Fan Vote:



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Posted on: January 24, 2012 10:41 am
Edited on: January 24, 2012 11:05 am
 

'Moneyball' receives six Oscar nominations

By Matt Snyder

"Moneyball" has made the playoffs, if you will, now let's see if it can do what the real-life Oakland A's of the 2000s could not: Win it all.

More Moneyball
The movie based upon the book that was based upon Oakland general manager Billy Beane struggling to keep up with the large-market clubs in the early 2000s has received six Oscar nominations (IMDB.com) -- and they aren't all trivial ones, either.

The film has been nominated for best picture. It'll have to compete with the following: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, The Tree of Life and War Horse.

The two main characters also got some love. Brad Pitt -- who played Beane -- has been nominated for best actor and Jonah Hill -- who played "Peter Brand" aka Paul DePodesta -- has been nominated for best supporting actor.

Other nominations: Best screenplay, best achievement in editing and best achievement in sound mixing.

Oh, and to those who wish to complain about how the movie ignored Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez, let's note that the film was not nominated in any of the categories recognizing documentaries. It was supposed to be entertaining while based loosely on a true story.

Here is the theatrical trailer:



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Posted on: January 23, 2012 7:09 pm
 

Report: Cordero narrows field to four teams

By Matt Snyder

With Andrew Bailey traded and Ryan Madson's signing out of the way, the market for free agent closer Francisco Cordero has finally surfaced. The latest report comes from MLB.com and says that Cordero expects to sign by the end of this week. He is reportedly choosing from four suitors, including the Angels. The other three teams are not mentioned in the report.

If Cordero does land with the Angels, it wouldn't be surprising at all. They currently have Jordan Walden, Scott Downs and LaTroy Hawkins at the back-end of the 'pen and don't seem comfortable with any of the three closing. Walden did so last year and even made the All-Star team, but he blew 10 of his 42 save chances.

FREE AGENT TRACKER

It wouldn't be surprising if the 24-year-old Walden ended up being the Angels' closer of the future, as he has great stuff, but adding a veteran like Cordero would be preferable for manager Mike Scioscia.

Cordero, 36, had 37 saves in 43 chances with a 2.45 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 42 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings last season for the Reds. With 327 career saves, only the great Mariano Rivera has more among active pitchers.

As for who the other three interested teams are, your guess is as good as mine. The short list of teams who are in need of a closer (Astros, White Sox, Orioles) doesn't seem to include teams willing to spend. The Angels really seem like the most logical fit.

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Posted on: January 22, 2012 6:04 pm
Edited on: January 22, 2012 10:21 pm
 

Mariners agree to sign Kevin Millwood

By Matt Snyder

The Seattle Mariners and free agent pitcher Kevin Millwood have come to an agreement on a contract, CBSSports.com insider Jon Heyman has learned. It is a minor-league contract with an invite to camp, but Heyman notes Millwood has a good chance to make the team -- maybe even the rotation -- as Mariners skipper Eric Wedge managed Millwood in Cleveland.

FREE AGENT TRACKER

Millwood, 37, nearly retired last season as he failed to find work for much of the spring. Finally he struck up a minor-league deal with the Yankees. After not making the majors come May 1, he was granted free agency and signed by the Red Sox. Then, in August, the Red Sox released Millwood and he was scooped up by the Rockies. For Colorado, Millwood went 4-3 with a 3.98 ERA and 1.22 WHIP and 36 strikeouts in 54 1/3 innings.

The right-hander was an All-Star for Atlanta, but that was all the way back in 1999. In addition to the familiarity with Wedge, Millwood played in the AL West for four seasons, as he was in the Rangers' rotation from 2006 through 2009.

As I alluded to earlier, the Mariners could have a rotation spot for Millwood. After having traded Michael Pineda to the Yankees, the only certainties in the Seattle rotation are Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas. Hisashi Iwakuma is probably the third man, with Millwood, Blake Beavan, Charlie Furbush and Hector Noesi competing for the final two spots. And, of course, last season's first-round draft pick Danny Hultzen is waiting in the wings -- possibly even breaking camp in the rotation and causing that aforementioned group to fight for one spot.

Millwood is 163-140 with a 4.10 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in his 15-season career.

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Posted on: January 22, 2012 11:51 am
Edited on: January 22, 2012 9:42 pm
 

Would You Rather Have: Trout or Harper?



By Matt Snyder

Pop quiz: Heading into the 2011 season, who were the top two prospects in all of baseball?

Hint: You're looking at them (above).

On the left we have Mike Trout of the Angels, a 20-year-old outfielder with all the potential in the world.

On the right we have Bryce Harper of the Nationals, a 19-year-old outfielder with even more potential, per most scouts.

We're living in a baseball world where some people freaked out about how much the Nationals gave up -- in prospects, mind you -- for Gio Gonzalez, a known quantity. Over 55 percent of our fans voted that they'd rather have six years of Eric Hosmer than two of Joey Votto. So, yeah, people make a habit of judging prospects they've never seen before. Why not do so here?

Let's take a look at the respective first rounders.

The case for Trout

He's a phenom. Trout hit .338/.422/.508 in his minor-league career. He hits with some power (18 doubles, 13 triples and 11 homers in 91 Triple-A games last season) and has great speed (33 steals in Triple-A). He has only scratched the surface of what he can do at the big-league level, as Trout got 135 plate appearances in the majors last season -- being promoted at the tender young age of 19. He showed flashes of being ready to perform at a star-like level already, like on August 30th when he hit two homers, drove home five runs and scored three times.

The Angels could head into the 2012 season with Trout slated as a starter. This isn't some small-market club either, as they just shelled out a king's ransom for Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. And, again, Trout is only 20. This should show how good he is. 

Would You Rather Have
Also, for now -- and what we have is an admittedly small amount of data due to lack of defensive metrics in the minors -- Trout appears to be the superior defender. He has lots of range, especially if he's used on the corners, and doesn't commit errors. In 527 minor-league chances, Trout has just three errors, good for a .994 fielding percentage. He also has 15 outfield assists. Harper, meanwhile, has a pretty poor, for a corner outfielder, .961 fielding percentage.

The case for Harper

When I spoke to a few baseball people about this entry into our series, I was told that Marlins slugger Mike Stanton would be a better "comparison" for Harper because Trout just can't measure up. Yeah, that's how highly regarded Harper is. Last season was his first in professional baseball, and he was only 18.

Harper hit .297/.392/.501 between Class A and Double-A with 17 homers, 24 doubles and 26 stolen bases. He had rough starts at both levels before figuring things out. Remember this when he's promoted to the bigs, in case he suffers a bad first two weeks.

In terms of defense, it should be noted Harper grew up a catcher, so he's still learning the outfield. Thus, improvement -- especially when you consider how good Harper is at doing everything else -- should be expected. He already has a cannon for an arm that passes the eye test and has yielded 13 outfield assists in just 108 minor-league games.

But the bottom line here is that Harper is said to be a Hall of Fame talent, especially in terms of power. It says a lot that the Nationals are thinking of playing Jayson Werth in center field, simply so they have a corner spot open for Harper before his 20th birthday.

Our call

I'm going Harper. Trout is going to be a stud who visits the All-Star Game perennially while gathering MVP votes, but Harper is going to be better.

Fan Vote:



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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com