C70 At The Bat

Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

Seattle Mariners
86-76, second in AL West
Last year’s Pepper

Seattle was in a pretty similar position to the Cardinals last year.  They both won 86 games, both finished second (but not really a close second) in their division, and both went home after the last game.  Seattle has stars and some young talent, but can they put it all together and get into October this season?  We’ve got a couple of bloggers here who should be able to give us plenty of insight on the team in the Pacific Northwest.  My special appreciation to Tim, who came out of blog retirement to give the Pepper another go.

Blogger Blog Twitter Podcast
Zach Sanders Lookout Landing zvsanders Lookout Landing 2.0
Tim Chalberg ex-Seattle Mariners Musings msonmnd24

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

LL: Jerry Dipoto has become well known for making moves, and for the second offseason in a row he’s largely made the right ones. Sending Taijuan Walker out of town for a (hopefully) high-level shortstop and a starting outfielder was huge. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the trade at the time, it has grown on me as Segura has hit the ball well this spring. Drew Smyly brings upside to the rotation, and Jarrod Dyson improves the outfield defense tremendously.

Jerry made a mistake, however, in acquiring Yovani Gallardo, who simply isn’t a good pitcher anymore. Unless the market for Seth Smith was completely barren and this was literally the only offer, there’s no other explanation for the trade. Moving Smith for literally a bag of balls and then signing Jason Hammel would have been a much better option.

SMM: This was a tremendous offseason for the Mariners. It went from good to great with the Drew Smyly trade. That’s the one that really made all of the moves (and there were so, so many) worth it. Since the Mariners seemed to be involved in every deal this offseason there is certainly no additional one I would have liked to see. It will be interesting to see how all of the trades look in retrospect because Jerry Dipoto put a high premium on lower ceiling prospects close to the majors. No trade epitomizes that more than giving up Alex Jackson for the likes of Rob Whalen and Max Povse.

C70: How are the Mariners going to win most of their games, by pitching or by hitting?

LL: It’s strange, but this team is going to be competitive because of its offense and its defense, not necessarily the pitching. Unless James Paxton continues to step up, there’s no Ace on this staff; Edwin Diaz is a terrific closer, but the rest of the bullpen is made up of role players and questionable assets, not dominant pieces. With Dyson and Segura in the fold, the team can improve the offense while helping the pitching staff in the field.

SMM: Hitting. I’m not sure the M’s have the best offense in baseball but I think it could be the most excited. Jean Segura and Jarrod Dyson add speed to all the extra base hits the middle of the order (Cano, Cruz, Seager) produces. Also, even lesser guys in the lineup like Mike Zunino and Leonys Martin possess individual offensive tools that are exciting to watch.

C70: Robinson Cano had an outstanding year last year. Is there any indication he’s slowing down or is that going to be the normal for a few seasons?

LL: I don’t think Cano can be a six-win player again in 2017. That being said, he’s better than the two-win player he was in 2016. Odds are, his new normal is somewhere in between, with Cano being worth about four wins this year, and then declining from there. He’s still a quality middle of the order hitter, but as he ages the defense is becoming an issue that will be progressively harder to overlook. The last three years of his contract are going to be a disaster, but at least it’s only three years and not five.

SMM: I don’t know. Cano’s bounce back in 2016 was a pleasant surprise to me. I expect the power to diminish simply because of regression to the mean, but by no means will it evaporate. I think Cano has such a broad mix of nice tools that he will age gracefully. Perhaps three years from now he will be a .270 hitter with a .330 OBP and 15 homers and we’ll realize he has decayed but gracefully.

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

LL: All aboard the Shea Simmons train. Simmons was a high-quality reliever with the Braves a couple years ago, but has struggled with injuries. He could be the companion to Diaz over the next few years if all goes well, bringing another big arm into a bullpen that lacked them as recently as 18 months ago.

SMM: Mitch Haniger. He raked in AAA last year and was as key to the Taijuan Walker trade as Jean Segura. Segura is the headliner of that return for the Mariners (and rightly so), but Haniger has a chance to be the everyday right fielder for the Mariners. He’s running with it in spring training so far too. The Mariners also feature a number of players that I think are known but have the potential to blossom and become household names across the sport. James Paxton and Edwin Diaz top that list.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

LL: The Mariners will win 86 games and finish second in the division, but narrowly miss the wild card spot.

SMM: I predict that the Mariners will go 90-72 and finish second in the division (behind the Astros). However, they are the first wild card and thus break the longest playoff drought in baseball right now.

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Mariner and why?

LL: Jay Buhner was my favorite player when I was coming of age as a baseball fan, so I have to go with him. He was, objectively, a very mediocre player, and is now a horrific part-time announcer, but nostalgia is powerful.

SMM: Edgar Martinez for so, so many reasons. He was my favorite player growing up thanks to his poise and balanced approach to hitting. It doesn’t hurt that he authored the greatest hit in franchise history (the double that won the 1995 ALDS against the Yankees), or that he’s a borderline Hall of Famer edging towards enshrinement!

Again, thanks to Zach and Tim for their thoughts on the Mariners.  This also may be the only Seattle preview that doesn’t mention Felix Hernandez as well, which would have been impossible to believe a few years ago.  Look forward to seeing how the club does this season!


Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

San Francisco Giants
87-75, second in NL West, lost in NLDS
Last year’s Pepper

All good things come to an end, it seems.  While the Cardinals were mourning the end of their five-year playoff run, Giants fans saw a playoff series loss for the first time since 2003.  The Even Year Magic, which seemed to always carry San Francisco not only to but through to a title ran out a little early (unfortunately, as that led to a Cubs title).

Cardinal fans have had their issues with the Giants and their faithful over the years, but this is a good group of guys that I’ve rounded up for the Pepper Six today.  Programming note: I’ll be participating in another #ShopTalk over at Craig’s site tomorrow, which is always a lot of fun.

Blogger Blog Twitter Podcast
Michael Saltzman Around the Foghorn CandlestickWill
Richard Dyer The Giants Cove GiantsCove
Craig Vaughn THE San Francisco Giants Blog 1flapdown77

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

AtF: It was a productive off-season for the team. Bobby Evans has now had two off-seasons and his goal this year was a closer. In true Giants fashion, they went out and spent big on Mark Melancon, spending less than other teams did for other closers, but also not being afraid to overspend to get the right fit. He admitted he was disappointed in himself for not getting Melancon at the deadline, so to see him get his guy now shows he is staying consistent to the type of team the Giants have been in recent years.

Fans wanted a left fielder, and I had some dreams of a Joey Bats home run hitting the glove in left center field, but it wasn’t the right move. Going with Mac Williamson or Jarrett Parker right now is the smart move, with minor league free agents brought in like Michael Morse and Justin Ruggiano in case they struggle and one of the veteran options catches fire in Spring. The Giants know they can always go out and make a trade for a left fielder like J.D. Martinez as the season unfolds and his price tag drops. At the moment, however, it is smarter financially to let two rookies be given a chance. Ultimately, we are talking about the likely 7 slot in the batting order. If the Giants lineup is going to be strong, the production of Joe Panik, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence will be much more important than whoever plays left field.

GC: The San Francisco Giants had a much-publicized bullpen meltdown last season that quickly became dumbed down to “they need a real closer”. And that became the team’s one-dimensional focus this offseason.  But of the bullpen’s 30 blown saves in the 2016 regular season, only 9 occurred in the 9th inning. The real problem was the overall construction and use of the bullpen.

The Giants front office addressed that issue by signing free agent RH reliever Mark Melancon this offseason. Typical of San Francisco’s myopic approach, Melancon will be used the way closers were used in the 1990s: he will only pitch in the 9th inning, and then only when the Giants have a three run lead or less.  At a time in the game when bullpenning is the cutting edge of innovation, the San Francisco Giants shelled out a $62 million four-year deal for one of the better relief weapons in the game but will only use him in the narrowest way possible.

Amazingly, the Giants did not fix their gaping holes in left field or third base. Eduardo Nunez has little power and is below average defensively. Every time the Giants start Conor Gillaspie at third in place of Nunez they weaken their bench.  Left field has been hyped as a “battle” between Mac Williamson (27 this year) and Jarrett Parker (29), two aging rookies who strike out a great deal. Either way, all indications are that the loser in this battle will be the offense.

On a more positive note, it looks like San Francisco may finally put some professional hitters on their bench for the first time in years. Players like C Nick Hundley, IF Aaron Hill, and 3B Conor Gillaspie (re-signed) are capable of scoring runs and winning games in the 8th and 9th innings.

SFGB: They did the bare minimum by adding Melancon but I don’t think they did enough. Their outfield is a joke. Even the most optimistic person can’t look at the platoon in LF and Span and Pence and think that’s an outfield that will stay healthy and be productive over the course of a season. 

C70: Is this going to be another Giants team that’s focused on pitching and hoping to get enough hitting to be successful?

AtF: Yes. Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Matt Moore along with Jeff Samardzija and Matt Cain are an essential part of this team’s success. With much not many new faces in the everyday lineup, there is going to be an emphasis on them doing a little more while the pitching and defense leads them. If they can get slightly more consistent production from each member of the everyday lineup, they can ride their staff and defense to another postseason trip.

GC: Yes, but progressive franchises dumped that model years ago. Today successful MLB teams like Houston, the Cubs, St. Louis, Boston and the Dodgers are built to be balanced offensively and defensively, with quality multi-positional hitters and flexible bullpens.

The Colorado Rockies demonstrate how just having the best offensive in the game is not enough; and the Tampa Bay Rays show how just having above average pitching isn’t enough.

SFGB: Yes. I’m not really *allowed* to argue against the philosophy because of its success but I don’t see the point in actively ignoring your offense. 

C70: What caused last year’s second-half collapse and is there any reason to think it will rear its head again?

AtF: The Giants didn’t seem to have all three phases of the game ever working together in the second half. They seemed to lose 1-0, followed by an 8-7 loss. Some nights the bats were strong and the pitching was awful. Sometimes it was the opposite. The team that always seemed to dig deep in the late innings couldn’t hold leads and couldn’t come back from any deficit. Their performance in games where they were losing after 8 innings was anemic. That can weigh on a team that is struggling. I do think that final game of the season against the Cubs was due in part to the scar tissue of the bullpen’s lack of success throughout the season. It seemed like whoever Bruce Bochy put in the game, they didn’t get the outs they needed. Because every pitcher in their pen had some struggles, it felt like none of them could be counted on. In reality, Santiago Casilla, Hunter Strickland, Derek Law, Will Smith and others had good seasons. However, because of all of the blown saves by every member of the bullpen, Bruce Bochy continually had a quick trigger and it cost them.

With Mark Melancon signed, I do think the Giants will have a more structured bullpen, which will give pitchers more confidence, knowing what situations they will be asked to pitch in. That should help limit the chances of 2016 repeating itself.

GC: The Giants’ 2016 season was actually the reverse. Between the first and second halves of last season, it was the first half that was the false positive.  The schedule up to the All Star break featured a preponderance of weak teams, and San Francisco was able to put up wins. The second half was a much more challenging and the team folded.

Over the past several years the Giants have been constructed as a one-dimensional team with little depth. When key hitters or pitchers are injured (which predictably happens to every team every year) or need rest, San Francisco has no league average replacements to back them up.

As I noted in a recent blog: the Giants’ front office blueprint for 2017 is very familiar– get the fans to buy into the “magic” hype, keep your fingers crossed, and hope for the best.

SFGB: They played over their head in the first half so the *collapse* probably wasn’t as drastic as it looked in the standings. Bochy is famous for sitting around and *waiting* on his guys to perform. He probably did too much of that last summer. As long as he keeps trotting Span out there at leadoff I could see more long stretches of under performing from this team. 

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

AtF: Matt Moore was outstanding for the Giants at the end of the season. His performances against the Dodgers as well as his final outing of the postseason against the Cubs showed that he is right there with Bumgarner and Cueto.

Conor Gillaspie became a household name in San Francisco this year for even the casual fan with his Wild Card performance, but he will still be just a utility player in 2017.

One young player to keep an eye on is Derek Law. He was a possible closer for the Giants before Tommy John surgery a few years ago and he became the most consistent relief pitcher last season. He could end up taking over as the 8th inning guy in front of Melancon. If he can win that job, the Giants bullpen might get a lot shorter and a lot more dangerous.

The other guy to look at is Mac Williamson. The Giants have several left handed hitters, so if Williamson and Parker are even at the start of the year, Williamson might win the LF job. He has all 5 tools, and has shown them in the minor leagues, but he also had Tommy John surgery a couple of years ago. If he can put together a 500 at bat season, the Giants will be in the postseason. They won’t let him play that much unless he wins the job and keeps it.

GC: Because he always seems to be under everyone’s radar I always tout 1B Brandon Belt. Belt has been the team’s #1 offensive weapon for the past three years— more than Buster Posey or (certainly) Hunter Pence.  In 2017 Belt had 104 walks and a .394 OBP. His .868 OPS was 5th among all National League hitters and his 66 XBH was 14th best in the NL.

I think RHP Chris Stratton is a player who could break through this season and I expect 2B Joe Panik to finally play to his impressive potential.

SFGB: He’s gonna have to make the team and then find consistent at bats but I am a big fan of Jae-gyun Hwang who is affectionately known as The Donger at The Flap. His power blossomed nicely in Korea the last couple of years and I had a Flapper in AZ last weekend who said he’s *bigger* than advertised (ie, looks like a MLB player). He’s my guy assuming he’s on the team.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

AtF: I think this can be a 90 win team. Even with all the injuries over the last couple of years, the Giants have proven they are willing to make trades and go get players if they need to. I do not see the Rockies, Diamondbacks or Padres challenging the Dodgers and Giants for the West, but I do see them each improving. Especially the Rockies. The Dodgers could win the West again with all of their talent, but I don’t see them having the same success if they have all those injuries again. Clayton Kershaw was having the greatest season I have seen from a starting pitcher at the beginning of last year, so he will always make them a contender. Their trade this week for Logan Forsythe makes them even better.

GC: It’s not just that the Dodgers will win the NL West, they also built to go deep into the postseason next October. The question here is can the Giants finish second in the West with just enough wins to again qualify for a Wild Card spot?  The Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies may not have enough in the tank to grab a second place finish in the NL West this season, but their days as doormat teams are over.

That translates into 38 games that will be a lot tougher for the Giants (and Dodgers) in 2017.

SFGB: Their pitching will always keep them in the race but I am suspicious of this offense. I’ll say 88 wins and it could be 10 off that if Cueto or Bum get hurt.

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Giant and why?

AtF: Matt Cain. I grew up in the 1980’s and while every 80’s Giants fan loved Will Clark, I loved Kevin Mitchell more. His trade to the Seattle Mariners in 1991 crushed me. Even Barry Bonds replacing him didn’t help much at first. However, with all the great bats and all the great players, the Giants continued to struggle. As I got older, I realized that the 1989 A’s swept the Giants because their pitching was just better. In 2002, the Giants lineup was potent, but the Angels bullpen was stronger and ultimately outpitched the Giants staff.

Cain came up as a 20 year old and he had 2 pitches. He was throwing complete games with a fastball and a curveball. His fearlessness was amazing. What made me forever a fan was when he was our best pitcher in 2007 and 2008. Matt Cain was 22 and was the best pitcher on the staff. Our team was horrible, as Barry Bonds and his fellow retirees were well beyond their prime years. While Bonds was still hitting a few home runs here and there, nobody on that team was any good.

And yet, every fifth day, Cain pitched. He outpitched opponents consistently and then the Giants bullpen would collapse or even worse, we would just lose 1-0. Cain’s record in 2007 and 2008 was 15-30. However in those two seasons, he had a combined 3.71 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 120 ERA+ and a 9.2 WAR over 417.2 innings. To put those numbers in perspective, not pitcher in Giants history has a higher combined WAR in the their Age 22 and 23 seasons in the last 100 years. The only two pitchers who were better were Amos Rusie and Christy Mathewson, who pitched 926 and 734 innings respectively in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

With all of that, he never once publicly complained about a lack of run support. He always said he could have pitched better and that we have to find a way to win together. When the Giants finally built a team around pitching and defense, Cain shined. His 0.00 ERA in the 2010 postseason was overshadowed by Tim Lincecum. In 2012, his best season, he threw a perfect game, started the All-Star game and pitched in every clincher in each round of the post-season.

It kills me that injuries have crippled his Hall of Fame career. From 2005-2012, Cain was on pace to be one of the best pitchers in baseball history to that point. His injury in 2013 has led to four years of injuries and inconsistencies. He will forever be my favorite Giant for helping lead them to the 1st championship in 2010 and the journey of excellence he showed to get there.

GC: Can’t pick one “all-time”. While I appreciate the historic NY and SF Giant icons of the past I really enjoyed watching Angel Pagan play the game. His talent and cool leadership made 2012 a standout season for me.

SFGB: Will Clark is my favorite baseball player of all time and there really isn’t a close second. I loved his swing and his fiery attitude on the field. He made going to games at Candlestick fun again. When he hit that grand slam off Maddux I just about jumped out of my college dorm window. The Thrill is probably the main reason why I love baseball.

Good stuff, as always, from the guys by the bay.  Appreciate their help and look forward to seeing just which Giants team shows up this year!

1 comment

It’s hard to believe that, one week from today, the Cardinals will be done with the major league portion of spring training, with only games in Memphis and in Springfield to complete their preseason docket.  While spring training can, at times, feel like it’s dragging, it’s still one of those things where you blink, you turn away for a second, and it’s over.  The 2017 season is just about upon us.

Which means that decisions have to be made.  Mike Matheny announced one of his yesterday, installing Carlos Martinez as the Opening Day (well, Opening Night) starter and Adam Wainwright as the second pitcher of the year.  I expect Matheny had made this decision a while back, but with Martinez with the Dominican squad for the World Baseball Classic, he didn’t want to make it public until his ace had returned.  Wainwright’s rough outing against the Mets on St. Patrick’s Day, when he gave up 10 runs, probably didn’t have a huge impact, but it may have helped confirm that Martinez was the right call.

And it is the right call, there’s no doubt about that.  Even Wainwright admitted as much, though it’s clear that he’d like to start the first game of the season.  He says that he “doesn’t want anything I didn’t earn” and that he hopes Matheny has a tough decision next year when both he and Martinez win 20 this year.  I hate to break it to Wainwright, who I truly am a fan of, but this probably means his days of being the opening starter are over.  As a tie goes to a runner, so there is inertia toward whomever did it last in these things, assuming all things are equal.  It can happen, I guess–Chris Carpenter started 2005-07, then again in 2010-11, but there were some injury issues in there for both him and Wainwright–but there’s a strong chance that 2016 was the last time Wainwright kicks off a Cardinal season.  Time sucks, folks.

The news didn’t get to Martinez’s head at all, given the fact that he threw five scoreless innings against the Nationals afterwards.  With the last week of spring training upon us, it’s probably about time to start taking results seriously, for good or ill.  Martinez has been outstanding all spring, whether in camp or in the World Baseball Classic, and if anyone was concerned about him they were wasting their time when they could be concerned about a lot of the real issues in camp.  Still, it’s good to see him continuing the dominance we saw last season and really need to have going forward if this team is going to do anything this season.

Matheny (and, I imagine, John Mozeliak) made another call yesterday, sending down Sam Tuivailala as they continue to get the roster into game shape.  Tui’s got a lot of fans and that fastball is a big reason why, but as intriguing as the 12 strikeouts in 6.2 innings were this spring, they also came with four walks and six hits.  Command has always been Tuivailala’s downfall and hopefully he can get something to click in Memphis this year.  With him having an option (granted, the last one, but that’s an issue for next year), it made sense for him to try to get things going at AAA and be ready for the inevitable need at the big league level.

Matt Carpenter seems to be truly over his back issues, driving in four runs on two hits (one a triple) and a sacrifice fly yesterday against Washington.  My non-educated medical opinion (not to be confused with my non-educated baseball opinions) is that this is something that could flare up at any time, but until it does, there’s nothing to do but let Carpenter go out there and be Matt Carpenter.  If this lineup does what we think it could do, having Carpenter hitting third will provide a lot of the scoring for this squad, at least early in games, and he’s going to be a huge key to the team’s success.  I’m not sure he’s to the “he goes, we go” level the Cubs had with Dexter Fowler last year, especially since Fowler is going to be big in setting the tone over here this season, but I wouldn’t want to imagine this club without Carpenter for an extended period of time.

In an attempt to increase his versatility and to increase his chances of making the roster, Matt Adams played outfield yesterday in a game.  He didn’t have anything hit to him, so it’s still hard to judge just how this experiment is going to turn out (though most would say it’s not going to be a success), but he didn’t hurt himself and apparently he looks fine shagging balls in batting practice, for what that’s worth.  Although he might need to work on his awareness, given that Seung-hwan Oh almost needed a new translator afterwards.  Eugene Koo is not going to be stand up to Adams, even in his lightened condition.

(I do think it’s ironic a bit that John Mozeliak said that last year’s club might have been too flexible for the manager, yet here we are seeing Matheny trying to add that flexibility back in.  I get it, especially since you don’t want to lose Adams, but it almost has the feel of “I’m going to have these tools whether you give them to me or not”.)

Probably the overarching controversial storyline of this coming season is going to be how Kolten Wong is handled and how he is performing.  Spring has not been terribly kind to Wong, who is hitting .179 with one extra-base hit.  Again, it’s spring, people work on things and games are treated as experiments and extended practice rather than results at all costs (which hopefully is the issue behind Stephen Piscotty‘s .158), but this is troubling enough that Wong ran the gauntlet of minor league games yesterday, trying to get the timing working on his swing.  It’s also possible Wong was setting a little groundwork with his manager through the media with this quote to Derrick Goold:

“Basically, just going back there and getting my timing down. My timing hasn’t been there all spring. For me, as a player, I know I’m a rhythm player. In order to get me going I have to get that consecutive amount of ABs to make it happen.”

That well may be true and I have no reason to doubt that it is, but there does come a point that you have to balance giving him enough rope versus wondering if it is ever going to happen.  I’m rooting hard for Wong and I hope that Matheny will leave him out there for a good span of time (even some against lefties) to see if he can get going.  However, there’s going to come a time when the Matheny excuse runs out (if he leaves him along) and Wong’s going to have to produce.  Hopefully he’ll do that early on and we can let this topic of conversation wither on the vine.

Yadier Molina will be back in camp today or tomorrow, having come just short of leading his Puerto Rico squad to the World Baseball Classic title.  (Congrats to the USA for their first win in tournament history!)  As I said on Twitter recently, I do wonder if all the heart and fire that Yadi poured into this contest is going to leave him a bit drained for the beginning of the season.  I mean, every time I saw a PR highlight, there was Yadi doing something outstanding and being completely fired up.  How could you not slide after reaching such a mountaintop experience of emotion?  I’m not saying that Molina’s going to have a bad year or anything, but I wonder if going deep and drawing on such reserves won’t leave less than 100% to start the season.  That’s still better than a lot of folks, of course.

#CardsMadness resumes today and my matchup with @Jstriebel22 will go off sometime this afternoon, I expect.  Justin’s a great follow and I expect this will be a tough contest, so I’d appreciate it if you keep an eye on The Redbird Daily’s account today and vote for me when it comes around.  Thanks in advance!


Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

San Diego Padres
68-94, fifth in NL West
Last year’s Pepper

It’s been a rough recent road in San Diego.  No matter what path they take, they tend to wind up as a sub-.500 club.  In eight of the last nine years, the Friars have wound up with more losses than wins, plus there’s been some off-the-field drama as well.  Whether it’s starting to name a plaza after Bud Selig (before changing their mind) or some questionable ethics when it comes to medical records, it feels like nothing goes right for the boys in brown.  (Wait, they aren’t even in brown anymore!)

To see if the club is on the upward swing, we’ve got three great Padres bloggers to go over the Pepper Six.  Some great content with these guys so check them out!

Blogger Blog Twitter Podcast
Scott Dunsmore Ghost of Ray Kroc GhostofRAK
Richard Dorsha East Village Times outsidepaint
Geoff Hancock Left Coast Bias LeftCoastBias

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

GRK: Depends on how you define good. A.J. Preller seems to have a plan that ownership has gotten on board with. I know it’s going to be a few years before this team has a chance to be competitive, but I’ve seen others who are not so understanding. Some fans are confused and wondering why they haven’t signed a big-time free agent pitcher or something.

I think the Padres haven’t done a good job of explaining to the average fan what their plan is. Especially after they “won” the 2014-15 offseason by trading for Wil Myers, Matt Kemp, & Justin Upton and signing James Shields as a free-agent. They then turned around and sent all of those players packing — with the exception of Myers — for prospects. I know what they were trying to do and what they’re trying to get to, but I’m not sure the average fan gets it.

The Myers extension was a good thing this offseason, but otherwise, they just filled roster spots with lukewarm bodies. Jhoulys Chacin isn’t my idea of upgrading anything, especially a pitching rotation. We have a few years before some of these prospects might be ready for the Majors, and it’s going to be a lot of roster filling in the meantime.

The one thing that I wish the Padres did would be to sign Jake Peavy. He’s only 9 wins from breaking Eric Show’s Padres career record of 100 [insert laugh track]. The reason given, allegedly, was that Peavy wouldn’t sell tickets. Really? And Jered Weaver will? Okay.

EVT: If you consider the offseason as starting when the team gave up on 2016, then… absolutely! Padres fans know the team spent 2016 ridding itself of payroll to create capital to invest during the international signing period and the draft.

Now, if you’re referencing the true offseason then the answer is still yes. The team is not trying to contend in 2017. It will tread water until all the kids are ready. So, this past offseason the team picked up a bunch of reclamation projects hoping at least some of them stick. If/when the cast-offs perform the team will flip them for prospects. If/when they fizzle out the team will let them go and think nothing of it.

I wish they would have signed Jake Peavy, but that is only for sentimental value. They did exactly what I wanted: save resources so they can make a run at contending in a year or two.

LCB: All three of these questions are somewhat dependent on what the goal of the 2017 season is. I, for one, am all in on playing for the future and thus have little expectation for the 2017 season. To that end, this offseason was a good one in that the long term plan was not derailed for short term gain, or rather, perceived gain. The most notable offseason move was the extension of Wil Myers, a move I wholeheartedly agree with. Myers is (knocking on every piece of wood I can find) the cornerstone of this team and will be the catalyst when they are competitive again (2019? Fingers crossed). Myers was locked up through 3 arbitration years and 3 free agency years. He’s still only 26 and I think (hope) that 2016 was more of the Wil Myers that people saw when he was a prospect with Kansas City and Tampa Bay. I for one am a believer. So, did they do what needed to be done? They did, by locking up Myers and not spending money otherwise. For 2017, that’s fine by me. 

A quick aside as to a move I wish they had made. I would have said signing Jake Peavy as that seemed a very realistic chance considering both sides 2017 outlook. Jake Peavy is on my Padres Mt. Rushmore and I would have loved to hear some Sweet Home Alabama pumping through Petco Park. Sadly, Peavy’s personal life has taken a pretty rough turn and baseball is not, and can not, be his priority now. I wish him the best and look forward to rooting for him when and if he comes back to baseball.

C70: Will the fact that the Padres are now the only professional game in town, as it were, be a good thing or a bad thing for the club?

GRK: At first glance, you would think it would be a good thing. You would assume fans of the Team Formerly Known as the Local NFL Team* would then refocus their fandom on the Padres. But I’ve found that NFL fans are a cut from a different cloth than baseball fans. Yeah, there’s a lot who are fans of both, but I’m not concerned with them.

*I refused to call them by their real name, even before they left. I haven’t been a fan since the Spanos family bought the team in the late 1980’s.

Kyle Glaser of Baseball America wrote a piece in February in which he quoted the executive director of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, David Carter:

“There’s a potentially very important business development part of this. Now that (the Padres) have the market to themselves, it will really help them with gaining advertisers and sponsors trying to reach sports fans and consumers. An NFL fan is not exactly the same as a baseball fan, but any time you have fewer competitors in the marketplace, the better opportunity for you to move the needle in terms of advertising or sponsorship, whether that’s radio or selling suites and signage in venue.

“That, and they now have the ability to capture some of that disposable income fans were spending on the Chargers and divert some of that through some great marketing and other campaigns. Even if it’s just a little bit, it can be a boon for the Padres.”

However, with the Padres now being the “only game in town” (we do have San Diego State football and basketball, the AHL Gulls, and Sockers, which is at least an option), the fans can’t help but have a little piece of our brains whispering, “Now they don’t have a reason to do anything for the fans.” A great example of this possibility is the promotional schedule, which is underwhelming and — like the 2017 uniforms — boring and uninspired. Padres’ chairman Ron Fowler talked about this in the Union-Tribune in January:

“We’re probably not going to be as edgy or creative,” he said, “because we want ones that people said they liked and the ones that demonstrated significant attendance regardless of which team we were playing that night.”

Those of us who follow such things as promotions and giveaways just shook our heads after we looked at that promotional schedule and then Fowler’s comments. There’s a real fear that, now that they have no real competition for fans’ dollars, they don’t even have to try anymore. Granted, the promotions were probably decided upon before the NFL bolted,** but it definitely isn’t a good look.

**I had to. Sorry.

Don’t get me started on the Padres stubbornness on bringing back the brown, because I want to keep this at a reasonable length, and I’ve nearly gone off the rails as it is.

Then again, the Padres organized and hosted the Celebrate San Diego rally — in which pretty much every team left in San Diego, professional and college was represented — and it drew more than 10,000 people. It was deemed so successful that there are calls to make it an annual event.

In summary, beats me. Only time will tell.

EVT: It probably won’t matter very much. The football fans and baseball fans in this town are different groups of people with very little bleed-over. The Padres might be able to grab a few extra corporate sponsors who can’t advertise at football games any longer, but fans won’t really notice. Some football fans may try out Petco Park but they won’t measurably affect the team’s bottom line.

LCB: That really depends on how they leverage this new spotlight. The Padres management has been pretty hit and miss when it comes to fan interaction. While I’m not a die hard Bring Back the Brown person, it doesn’t take a focus group to see what the majority of fans are wearing to games, and what sells better. It’s a rough patch to try and gain new fans as I anticipate some lean years ahead so, timing wise, it’s not ideal. I guess I’d say, the jury is still out on whether this is a good or bad thing. 

C70: What’s the strength of this team going to be?

GRK: Outfield defense? Austin Hedges’ defense? Wil Myers’ overall game? The bullpen?

That’s a really tough question to answer, given how this team looks on paper. We know the starting pitching is going to be serviceable, at best. Unwatchable, at worst. Fowler keeps referring to the 2010 season and how everyone had the Padres stinking. But then he follows it up with not believing in lightning in a bottle, which is what that 2010 team was.

EVT: Team defense. The team rid itself of the lumbering oafs in the outfield and one behind the plate. There are some studs in their place. Austin Hedges has a chance to be Yadier Molina good behind the plate. Manny Margot can be elite in centerfield, Hunter Renfroe has a cannon in right and a natural center fielder, Travis Jankowski, will spend most of the time in left. The Padres outfield will be where extra-base hits go to die. Wil Myers is also better than most people know at first base. Yangervis Solarte is pretty good at third. The only questions are up the middle, mostly because I have no clue who will get the lion’s share of innings at those positions.  

LCB: There are a ton of young players that are unproven that, while maybe not a strength, at least will be entertaining. With young players comes a lot of unknowns but they will be names that Padres fans have heard a lot about. Hunter Renfroe, Austin Hedges, Travis Jankowski, these guys have had cups of coffee but now they get real playing time. I think they are still a few years away, but with a lot of well regarded, yet unproven, talent, you just never know. 

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

GRK: Unheralded? You might have to clarify. Nearly the entire roster qualifies, if that’s the one requirement.

I want to say Hunter Renfroe, but that’s probably too much pressure to put on a rookie. I’m instead going to say Cory Spangenberg, who missed the entire 2016 season to injury and effectively lost his starting 2B job to Schimpf. If he can win the 2B job back this spring, that is.

EVT: If he can even be average with the bat, Austin Hedges will post one of the best WAR numbers in the National League based on the defense alone. Granted, the bat is a mad-sized “if”, but no one outside of San Diego knows how good this guy is defensively. He is a big reason why Yazmani Grandal is in Los Angeles. I’m encouraged by his season in AAA last year, but it remains to be seen if he can duplicate his offensive production at the next level. If he can, he is going to turn heads and will be a Gold Glove candidate in year one.  

LCB: LOL, I feel like the entire team is unheralded. I’ll say Yangervis Solarte has been a pleasant surprise since coming over in the Headley trade and I think he has the potential to continue to grow as a player. Plus, the prospect of Christian Bethancourt attempting to pitch could be really fun. I wouldn’t call Austin Hedges unheralded, but if he has figured out how to hit big league pitching, he could be REALLY fun to watch this year. 

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

GRK: Oh, dead last. And I’m perfectly okay with this. Preferably dead last in the Major Leagues. Gotta crack some eggs to make an omelette. Granted, the Padres history with top-5 overall draft picks is shady, at best. But I believe they finally have a baseball operations staff that can reverse that trend.

At least, I sure hope so.

EVT: The Padres will not lose 100 games, as many are saying. Don’t get me wrong, I know this is a team full of question marks. I’ve read the over/under anywhere from 64 up to 70 and most pundits say it will be under those already small numbers. I’ll probably sound like the world’s biggest homer for my team but I will certainly take the over on the 64 and I might even take the over on the 70 number. The Padres have at least 8 legitimate contenders for the starting rotation. A few of them will be pretty good because that always happens. The Padres always seem to find gold in someone else’s garbage. The team will play great defense, the team has speed through-out the roster and the line-up can’t be much worse than some of the dreck it rolled out last year. If I had to pick a win total, 70-75 sounds pretty good.

LCB: I’ll say 70-92 and 4th place is looking about right. 

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Padre and why?

GRK: Tony Gwynn. Duh. Any self-respecting Padres fan is answering with that. And that’s a boring read, because it’s almost always the same no matter who you talk to. Yeah, sure, you might have that rebel who throws out Randy Jones or Trevor Hoffman as an answer. But we all know their favorite is Tony, as it should be.

Rather, let me tell you about my 2nd favorite player, Mark Loretta, and why that is.

Back when I used to play fantasy baseball (I stopped a few years ago because it stopped being fun to me), for a couple of years I picked up Loretta because he was playing ¾ of the infield spots and he was putting up good numbers doing it. Next thing I know, I’m winning in all of leagues that I had Loretta in. This was all while he still a Milwaukee Brewer.

Cut to a couple of years later, and Loretta is the starting 2B for the Padres. And he’s still qualified at multiple spots and putting up good numbers. It could be argued he was the best player on those early-Petco Park Padres teams. You know, back when they actually were doing things like winning the division (and getting swept out of the Divisional Series by the Cardinals. But, uh… [clears throat]).

EVT: It is a total cliche, but there really isn’t another answer other than Tony Gwynn. Padre fans do not adore the guy for his greatness. 8 batting titles speak for themselves. Padre fans love Tony because he was not the best baseball player, at first. He worked for everything he achieved. He had a terrible arm, but he ended up playing right field. Tony’s solution wasn’t to demand a change to left. Tony got to the field early, every day, and threw over and over again to make himself better. Tony wasn’t the best hitter coming out of college. He literally got better in the big leagues because he worked harder than everyone else, whether it was batting practice or watching video. Other fans may not know that Tony was sort of a pioneer when it comes to video swing analysis. He requested the Padres organization invest in the equipment he needed to watch himself on video. This was during the mid-1980’s when video equipment required VHS tapes.

In addition to the work ethic, I loved Tony’s smile, his laugh, his accessibility. He was always on Padres pre and post game TV and radio broadcasts. Put it in perspective: in a year and a half, Matt Kemp did the radio post-game show twice. Tony did that each and every week. The team sucked and he never complained. I watch old Tony Gwynn interviews and videos on Youtube at least a few times a month. It was obvious he loved baseball, he appreciated his fans and he loved the city of San Diego. I should also add he took a lower salary here than he could have collected somewhere else.
I’m probably writing too much but I could fill page after page writing about Tony. I still miss him.

LCB: I cannot imagine anyone answering this question any other way than to say Tony Gwynn. Nor can I think of a better player for a kid in Oceanside and Tucson, AZ to look up to in the 90’s. He was quiet, he was a professional, he studied and practiced and didn’t just rely on natural talent and he did so with such grace and humility. I’m still in shock he’s no longer with us. 

My thanks to Scott, Richard, and Geoff for their time and efforts in letting us get a little smarter about the Padres.  They might be an interesting team to watch on MLB.tv after some Cardinal games this season!


Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

Pittsburgh Pirates
78-83, third in NL Central
Last year’s Pepper

Over the past few years, as Cardinal fans we’ve had a front row seat as the Pirates not only threw off their stretch of sub-.500 baseball but became a significant challenger to St. Louis’s rule of the NL Central.  Last year, the Cubs snuck by both teams as the Pirates again finished with less than 81 wins.  To determine if that’s a bump in the road or an ominous trend, we’ve got five Pirates bloggers here to give us the lowdown on the black and gold.  (Please note: As an actual employee of MLB, Michael Clair recused himself from question three.)

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

PB: It was a weird offseason for the Pirates; on one hand they did re-sign Ivan Nova to a deal well-below market value, which was a MUST for their 2017 rotation. On the other, they were hotly engaged in a couple of big-time trades that did not pan out. They failed to deal Andrew McCutchen after engaging with the Nationals and other “mystery teams.” They also did not land White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana, after being the strongest team linked to him over the hot stove. GM Neal Huntington has gone on record as saying the price for Quintana was exorbitant and that the club did not feel pressured to deal McCutchen, but the lack of a Quintana trade in particular – one I wish they would have done – has left a bad taste in many fans’ mouths.

PP: No, not really, it was not a good offseason. The perennially PR-challenged Pirates botched the whole situation with the McCutchen trade talks. They were shopping him at his lowest possible value, expecting a return commensurate with an MVP-caliber player, and shocked by the chasm between the two. I wished they would have done whatever it took to get Jose Quintana from the White Sox. I would have been fine with emptying 3 top tier prospects for him, as prospects have high bust/disappointment rates and Quintana is an established #2 starter. It would have deepened the whole rotation and put them on par with the elite staffs in the NL.

643: It was a reasonable off season. The big need was starting pitching and they partially addressed the by re-signing Ivan Nova. There were plenty of rumors about a trade for Chicago’s Jose Quintana, but apparently the Sox want a deal comparable to what they got for Chris Sale and they Bucs just aren’t going to give up THAT much. I would have been fine sending a package built on Tyler Glasnow but not not Josh Bell and Austin Meadows. Another need that wasn’t addressed is for a 4th outfielder. Pittsburgh is on the list of rumored destinations for Angel Pagan. Signing Daniel Hudson gives the bullpen a lot of depth.

C4: It was an interesting offseason, to say the least. While some will dream of the cache of golden prospects that could have been acquired had they dealt Andrew McCutchen, and others will wish the team unloaded the farm for Jose Quintana, it ended up being pretty quiet.

Personally, I wouldn’t have been upset had the team gone all in on Quintana. Even though the superpowered and terrifying Cubs look to have the NL Central on lock for quite some time, the Pirates roster is about as good as it could be without tearing the whole thing apart and trying to build from the bottom again. (And with caps on international spending and in the draft, there is no guarantee they would be able to do so as quickly as the Astros have.)

The signing of Ivan Nova looks to be a good one — especially for the amount of money he was brought in on — but the concerning issue is what happened last July when the team acquired Drew Hutchison, giving up two prospects and Francisco Liriano in what appeared to be a salary dump.

If Hutchison makes the roster and proves to be an adequate mid-rotation stalwart, then fine, I’ll never bring it up again. But if the players they gave up just to offload Liriano were still in the system, could the team have made a run at a frontline starter like Quintana? That thought will plague me until Opening Day.

WHYG: I guess it was sort of a neutral off-season for the Pirates, in the way that most of their off-seasons are neutral. They didn’t do anything huge, but they didn’t fail to accomplish any basic necessary task, either. The signing of Ivan Nova was an excellent deal for them, in that it’s for a reasonable sum of money ($26 million plus incentives over three years), and Nova really took to Ray Searage’s coaching almost immediately with anabsolutely bananas walk rate after he was traded to the Pirates (3 BBs in 64 2/3 innings). The Pirates needed to add some sort of pitching depth this winter, with Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon’s injury histories, the demise of Francisco Liriano’s Pirate career, the slow development of Tyler Glasnow, etc. etc. I would argue that the Pirates should’ve gone a bit further and tried to pick up some kind of starting pitching project in the Tyson Ross mold, and the Pirates certainly had pitching eyeballed in the proposed Andrew McCutchen deals (more on this in a bit), but Nova adds some stability and if Taillon and Cole stay healthy (IF! IF! IF!), they’re more than halfway to a full rotation with plenty of young internal options to at least give auditions to (all across the talent spectrum from Tyler Glasnow to the Chad Kuhl/Steven Brault/Trevor Williams tier down to the Drew Hutchison type options). 

C70: It was surprising to me to hear Andrew McCutchen’s name bandied about in trade talks. Did that makes sense to you and will McCutchen get moved this year?

PB: It made total sense. The guy is about to turn 30, had a down year but was still an attractive piece at a bargain price with two years of control left. I would expect that Huntington will field MANY calls at this year’s trade deadline, but he’d have to be blown away by an offer. If the team is in contention, true contention, McCutchen would not be available until next offseason.

PP: (Ed. note: See above for general McCutchen comments.) If the Pirates are out of it in July, they’ll try and move him.  Otherwise, in the offseason they’ll pick up his option for 2018 and move him then.

643: It made perfect sense from every logical perspective. Which doesn’t mean I liked it one bit. Barring the proverbial offer-you-can’t-refuse, Cutch only gets traded during the season if he’s having a good year and the team is out of contention. Once the off season comes around again I’d put the odds that he gets traded at around 80%.

C4: For a franchise like the Pirates, it is just a sad reality that players like McCutchen will continue to be brought up in trade discussions. Though a contract extension doesn’t seem to be a realistic possibility, his current contract is team friendly enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s kept through the end of it in 2018.

So, if the Pirates are truly in the playoff discussion and McCutchen has bounced back, I’d imagine he’s with the team all year. Otherwise — including a year in which the Pirates could, maybe, if-you-squint make a run a the second Wild Card — I’d expect they’ll try to unload him for a near-Major League ready-talent and not the kind of high-risk, high-reward players in the lower Minors.

Because this is a team that has 80-ish win talent, I’d imagine they are going to keep rolling the dice until both die have been lost under the table and everyone agrees it’s time to give up and go home.

WHYG: It is the unfortunate reality of small market baseball that these things happen and it seemed to me like a sure thing that the Pirates would shop McCutchen after they cut and run on Liriano’s extremely manageable deal at the deadline. McCutchen spent small stretches of 2015 and huge swaths of 2016 not looking like his old MVP-type self, and with the Pirates’ extreme outfield depth (Austin Meadows is a very promising outfield prospect knocking on the door behind the already excellent Starling Marte and the blooming Gregory Polanco), trading McCutchen was a reasonable channel to explore for the endless search for pitching. I will admit that I’m surprised the Pirates didn’t dump him off for a less-than-expected return after the rumored Nationals’ deal fell through, and I’m happy to see that they were apparently only willing to consider the deal if it was going to improve the team.

I have no idea if he gets moved this year; the easy logic is that they won’t trade him if they’re in contention, but they did trade Mark Melancon to the Nats at least year’s deadline despite being in the thick of the wild card race. The answer is probably that if McCutchen is mediocre again and Meadows is knocking hard on the door at AAA, a Nomar Garciaparra type deal is not entirely out of the question even if the Pirates are in the thick of a playoff race. If he falls off even further, I don’t know what his value is on the open market, though I’m sure the Pirates will find a way to move him rather than lose him for nothing. This all comes with the caveat that I suspect that McCutchen has been nursing a number of injuries the last few years and while there’s no guarantee of health at this point in his career, if he is healthy and producing at his old levels and the Pirates are contending, then I’m sure the Pirates will defer a decision on his future (he has an ~$18 million player option for 2018, so there’s a decision coming either way) to the off-season.

C70: There have been some legal problems with Jung Ho Kang this offseason. Is he expected to face any punishment from the team or MLB?

PB: He is expected to face some kind of suspension from MLB, and the Pirates acquired a depth piece in UT Phil Gosselin to guard against this.

PP: With regards to Kang, it’s now my personal belief that he misses a large portion of the season (if not the whole season) due to issues securing a work visa, due to his record and still-unresolved sex assault case here in the United States.

643: Jung ho Kang was sentenced to an eight month suspended sentence for his third DUI in Korea. Basically it means he was placed on probation and as long as he meets the terms he will not serve any time. However, even having a suspended sentence makes if much more difficult for him get get a visa to return to the United States. Kang is currently trying to get the sentence reduced to a fine so he can return sooner. I doubt the Pirates will place any punishment on him beyond some sort of mandatory counseling, and MLB has never before come down on any player for drunk driving. Due to the unknown length of time it will take for Kang to make his return, the Pirates placed him on the restricted list so he will not count against the 25 man or 40 man rosters. Speculation: Kang will be required to enter a substance abuse counseling program and may receive a short suspension of no more than 10 days.

C4: (omitted)

WHYG: Neither the Pirates nor MLB have indicated either way whether Kang will be disciplined for what turned out to be his third DUI in recent years, as I believe it’s league and team policy to defer discipline until the court process finished up. Given that that didn’t end until late February and Kang has yet to obtain a work visa to re-enter the US, he’s still well in limbo. It’s also worth mentioning that he’s still under investigation for an alleged sexual assault in Chicago during the season last year, though the last news update I can find there was in September of last year and it indicated that the accuser was not cooperating with the investigation.

I have no idea what the answer to this situation is; I’ll say that I’ll be disappointed if the Pirates don’t suspend him, given the repetitive nature of his DUIs in South Korea, but if he misses the season’s first six weeks due to his visa issues, I don’t know how likely it is that they’ll add a suspension onto him on top of that (he’s currently on the restricted list due to his visa issues). I can, as a fan, speculate that the Pirates probably anticipated some issues with Kang given that their extension of David Freese last summer felt pretty uncharacteristic in a vacuum, though there will never be any way to find an answer to that question. The Pirates will miss Kang’s pop for as long as he’s out, but between Freese, Adam Frazier, Josh Harrison, Alen Hanson, and Phil Gosselin, they can probably find some kind of rotation that fills third base out reasonably, and I think that’s the best we can hope for at this point.

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

PB: Keep your eye on Adam Frazier. He’s a bench bat who can play both corner outfield spots as well as second and third base. He was solid but unspectacular as a rookie, but has potential to be one of the best part-time players in baseball thanks to his plate discipline and approach.

PP: I think Felipe Rivero, the main component received from the Nationals in the Mark Melancon trade last July, is a stud closer in the making. He’ll be in 7th/8th duty to start the year, but his role could evolve throughout the year.

643: Chad Kuhl had a perfectly cromulent rookie season. He doesn’t rack up the strikeouts but limits walks and hits enough to be a successful mid-rotation starter.

C4: The entire back of the rotation will be interesting to watch. Can Nova prove that his second-half was for real, when he simply stopped walking batters was for real? Will Chad Kuhl’s sinker make him an effective innings eater? What will become of Tyler Glasnow’s command?

The other option is Adam Frazier. The new super utility man, Frazier rode some excellent contact abilities and some batted ball luck to a fantastic .301/.356/.411 line in 2016. He hasn’t hurt his cause by blasting the ball in Spring Training and, while the numbers most certainly don’t matter, it’s hard to see his 1.146 OPS at the time of this writing and not get excited. While some fans liken him to the new Josh Harrison, and would prefer to see Frazier take the starting role due to his patience at the plate, I’m not ready to go there. Yet. After all, Josh Harrison and Freddy Sanchez each started their Pittsburgh careers on the bench.

WHYG: I think that in general the players that will come into focus for the Pirates this season will be pretty heralded; Tyler Glasow’s rough edges showed quite a bit last year and still occasionally jut out in spring training, but any competitive Pirate team is probably going to require a big contribution from him. Gregory Polanco made a big leap forward last year, but I think there’s still plenty of room for him to grow. I guess I’ll go with Felipe Rivero, the main return from the Nats in the Melancon trade. Rivero throws an easy 98-100 as a lefty and put up some ridiculous strikeout numbers in black and gold in August and September. If they reign his control in some, he’ll be ready to close basically on the spot. He’ll probably need to, too, since Tony Watson’s awful spring training resembles his shaky close to 2016, and in doing so has opened the door for someone like Rivero to step in.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

PB: Tough to say. This is a GOOD team. But their ceiling is low thanks to a shaky back end of the rotation. I would expect 85-88 wins, good enough for second in the NL Central, but playoffs may be asking a lot.

PP: I think they’ll get around 85-86 wins. That’s probably a 3rd place finish behind Cubs/Cards.

643: This year’s Pirates are a talented team with some holes. I see them getting 85 or so wins and battling for 2nd with the Cards.

C4: I don’t know if I’m clouded with delusion and dreams of wild success, but I believe in this team and think sweet Lady Luck will finally smile upon them. (those two Wild Card game losses means they’re due, right? )

87 wins, a Wild Card and … a Division Series loss.

WHYG: My hunch is that this is a .500ish team. Cole looks good this spring, but he’s dealt with arm-related problems in two of the last three seasons and I’m concerned about his ability to pitch a full season. The same basically goes for Taillon, though he’s been mostly healthy since his post-Tommy John hernia in 2015. That means there’s a good chance the Pirates are forced to lean pretty heavily on Glasnow, who I’m not convinced is ready, and guys like Kuhl, Brault, Williams, and Hutchison, who I’m not convinced are much better than the guys they previously had to lean on when the chips were down. I do think the ceiling is there for 85 or 90 or, on the upper end of the bell curve, a return to the 95+ wins of 2015, though that’s almost entirely dependent on (in order of importance) Cole’s health, McCutchen returning somewhat to form, Taillon’s continued health, and Glasnow’s emergence (the tail exists in the other direction, too, of course). Most likely, I’d say that the Pirates will probably find themselves in another wild card race without truly being able to threaten the Cubs, but I guess nothing’s impossible. 

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Pirate and why?

PB: This is very tough; I gravitate towards pitchers in general so I think I might just say Steve Blass. He was on the World Series winning club in 1971 before somehow catching the yips and completely forgetting how to throw strikes. He does not dwell on that, however, and loves to talk baseball in his current position as a Pirates broadcaster. His love for the game shines through every time he winds up to talk about some random story from the 70s. He also had two holes in one in one round of golf, which is incredible.

PP: That’s hard to say, because I’ve had favorite Pirates at different checkpoints of my life for differing reasons. I’d say Doug Drabek is right up there. We used to get our hair cut at the same place by the same lady, so I would pester him about his pitch usage of fastball/curve/slider and he probably thought, “I’m going to punch this 14 year old kid in the face.”  

643: I came of age as a fan around 1988, and Andy Van Slyke was my guy. Who wouldn’t love a wise-cracking, All-Star, Gold Glove center fielder?

C4: Somehow, I fell in love with this team in 2005. Looking at that roster, it’s hard to see why, but I did. Jason Bay, Craig Wilson, Zach Duke, Jack Wilson … these are my dream Bucs. While it’s hard not to say Andrew McCutchen, the answer is none other than Jose Castillo.

At the time I fell in love with the team, Castillo was the subject of nightly defensive highlights. He would range deep into the hole, dive and make magic happen. Add in Jack Wilson at shortstop and the middle infield was turning some of the prettiest double plays. (Of course, they were helped by the number of baserunners and balls in play that the pitching staff allowed…)

Castillo was young and it looked like he would be set for a long career of 20-plus home run seasons with a half-dozen or so Gold Gloves in his cabinet. That unfortunately did not happen. His plate vision never improved and he quickly grew thicker, ending the days of endless highlights and moving him to third and then to other teams.

I still remember the promise I felt while watching him and will think back quite fondly on highlights like this one whenever I wonder, “Why did I love a player with negative rWAR so much?” And I’ll remember.

WHYG: I guess given the blog name and online moniker everyone expects me to say Andy Van Slyke, but honestly, it’s McCutchen. He existed for so long as this shining idea that the Pirates could be better someday, and then he arrived and was actually better than anyone could’ve anticipated. There hasn’t been a more important Pirate in my life and I’m not sure that there will be. I’ll be sad when he’s gone, and what I want more than anything for 2017 is for his Pirate career to be properly sent off so that we can remember it for what it was, and not how it ended. 

Good stuff here about one of our division rivals.  My thanks to everyone that contributed and look forward to a lot of great Cards/Pirates games this season!


Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

Philadelphia Phillies
71-91, fourth in NL East
Last year’s Pepper

We’ve seen the Phillies go from World Champions down the slope to an also-ran team.  Are we about to see them start the upward climb?  After all, they won eight more games and moved out of the basement last year with some young and intriguing players.  There could be some hope here, which is what every fan wants to have.

The four bloggers below were willing to give their thoughts about where the club is and what we might see in 2017.  Check them out and read on!  (A note: Eric announced today he was leaving Crashburn Alley and heading over the MLB’s Cut 4 site, so you’ll find him there going forward.)

Blogger Blog Twitter Podcast
Matt Veasey Matt Veasey matthewveasey
Eric Chesterton Crashburn Alley CF_Larue
Rich Baxter Fightin' Phillies FightinPhillies Phillies Talk Podcast
Scott Butler Phils Baseball PhilsBball

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

MV: It’s difficult for me to characterize the moves this offseason as either “good” or “bad”. The Phils are entering a very interesting period in their program of building back to contention. What they did this winter was add a few age 30+ veterans to buy more time.  The last two seasons have seen the influx of talented kids into the lineup, rotation and bullpen, players who the team hopes will be around for the long run: Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph, Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Jake Thompson, and Hector Neris.

This off-season the club added Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders, expected to see most of the time in the corner outfield slots. They also added
Clay Buchholz to the rotation mix, and both Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek to the bullpen mix. These additions should allow a little more time for players such as outfielders Roman Quinn, Nick Williams, and Dylan Cozens to develop further. Same for the bevy of young pitchers that the club has who have already debuted, and who are still pushing from the minors.

Some fans wanted to see them make a bigger splash in free agency, especially since there is plenty of money available. But for me, throwing big bucks
at a fading, one-dimensional hitter like Jose Bautista simply didn’t make sense from the Phillies current perspective.

CA: Even without a loud move like last year’s Ken Giles trade, General Manager Matt Klentak quietly put together a solid offseason. There’s been addition by subtraction with the departures of Ryan Howard, Cody Asche, Jimmy Paredes, and your old friend Peter Bourjos as well as addition by addition with trades for Howie Kendrick (for Darin Ruf, another addition by subtraction guy), Clay Buchholz, and Pat Neshek and signing Michael Saunders and Joaquin Benoit. None of those players move the needle all that much, but, taken together, we could be looking like something close to a double-digit improvement.

The only move I openly lobbied for was the signing of Michael Saunders, and they did that, so I’m happy. This is picking nits for a team that is going to lose 85-90 games in 2017, but they could have looked a little harder for a left-handed reliever either in free agency or trade. As it stands, Joely Rodriguez is the only major-league ready lefty reliever on the 40-man roster. Unless NRIs Sean Burnett or Cesar Ramos revive their careers, or Pat Venditte proves to be a bit more effective than he has thus far in his career, this could be a source of trouble.

The Phillies are at a stage in the rebuild where there really isn’t much for them to do in any particular offseason, especially one without a ton of alluring free agents. The success of the rebuild, at least in the next two years, will be based on internal improvement and player development rather than a big offseason splash. So, boring, like the 2016-17 offseason, is good.

FP: The Phillies added a couple of veterans (Howie Kendrick from LA and Michael Saunders from Toronto in the offseason for the outfield. Some trouble with that is, they also have a couple of younger players (Brock Stassi – OF and 1B) and Aaron Altherr (OF) who has shown some great prospect for this Phillies team. Will these players get their chance?

They also inked Jeremy Hellickson to a 1-year qualifying offer for $17.5M to solidify their pitching. The Phils added Clay Buchholz from the Red Sox.

GM Matt Klentak went out and added some players who are all on 1-year deals, the team seems poised to get a bigger, longer termed free agent after this season. Will that help the Phils this year?

PB: I absolutely love what this front office has been doing. They are a bit boring and this long rebuild is getting old, but it’s the way it has to be. Dare I say, Trust the Process? From John Middleton to Andy MacPhail to Matt Klentak, the Phillies have a plan and the patience to follow through with it.

They needed to improve their outfield and they did that with the additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders. I would have been hesitant to sign both of those players because it blocks any outfield prospect from starting, but Aaron Altherr will get his chances, Roman Quinn can certainly benefit from some time at triple-A, and Nick Williams wasn’t going to start the season in the bigs. If things go well, there will be two openings later in the season anyway. I especially like the Kendrick signing because the Phillies desperately needed a professional bat, some veteran to show these young guys the ropes.

Clay Buchholz was another nice addition. The move creates a logjam of young starters, but he gives the team another trade chip and stabilizes the rotation. With injury questions for both Nola and Velasquez, it’s not a bad insurance policy, either.  They also signed Odubel Herrera to a team friendly deal, which could pay off big in the next few years.

C70: Odubel Herrera had a very nice season last year. Will he be able to build on that for 2017?

MV: That is a huge question for me. The Phillies are quite obviously convinced, because they handed him a contract that takes him through the next 5-7 years.  However it is a very team-friendly deal at just $30.5 million guaranteed.  ‘El Torito’ as he is known (“little bull”), has put together two solid seasons in his first two MLB years. He plays the full 2017 season at age 25, so theoretically he still has a couple of years before entering his prime.

I would love to see him continue his defensive development in center field. At the plate, he has the ability to become a consistent 20+ homers and 30+ steals guy.

CA: The Phillies certainly think so, having locked him up on a five-year, $30.5 million dollar extension with team options that could bring it to seven years. While his 2016 slash line was essentially a carbon copy of his 2015, there were multiple positive underlying developments that suggest even bigger things could be in store–which is something for a player who has produced, respectively, 4.0 and 3.8 fWAR in his first two seasons.

In 2016, Odubel nearly doubled his walk rate, cut his strikeout rate, hit for more power, and stole more bases at a more efficient rate. He’s only entering his age-25 season and his third season above AA. I don’t see any reason to doubt that he will continue to get better.

FP: Odubel Herrera got a 5-year deal from the Phils in the offseason, and I was surprised they signed him for that long. Yes, it may have been for a bargain price ($30.5M) in reference to other contracts, but the length of time is concerning to me. I’d like to see him get more RBIs in 2017 and I’d like to see him blossom into a player that is better than last year.

PB: I think he will. Herrera had a brutal few weeks after the All-Star game and you had to wonder if the success got to his head or the league finally caught up to him, or both. But just like he did in his rookie season, he finished nicely. Overall, his batting average dropped in his second season, but his walk rate nearly doubled and his strikeout and home run rates both improved. Herrera is not yet a finished product and his best years might be still in front of him. 

C70: What’s the starting rotation going to be to open the year?

MV: The hope is that the rotation will be: Jeremy Hellickson, Clay Buchholz, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, and Aaron Nola.  Alec Asher is likely going to get the first opportunity if any openings, as long as he is healthy and effective this spring.  Further openings would see Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, Adam Morgan, Ben Lively, and Nick Pivetta battling this spring.

CA: This is the easiest question here. Barring injury, the starting rotation is set. Aaron Nola, Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, and Clay Buchholz. The order there is a little trickier. With potential injury concerns for Aaron Nola–shut down in 2016 with an elbow injury–and Velasquez’s difficulty consistently pitching deep into games, they might want to avoid them going back-to-back for the sake of the bullpen. 

FP: It’s Vince Velasquez, Clay Buchholz, Aaron Nola, Jered Eickhoff, and Jeremy Hellickson. Right now, Velasquez seems like he may emerge to me to be the best early on, Hellickson will probably get the Opening Day start though.

PB: Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz, Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez.

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

MV: Last year my guy for this question was Eickhoff, and he had a solid season. This year that guy is Ben Lively for me. He is never very highly rated by prospect evaluation lists, and yet all he does is produce when he takes the mound. I like guys who get it done.

Early in the spring, non-roster invitee Brock Stassi has been on fire. He has been the darling of the media. My comment has been that I’ll let you know
what I think of him if he does it all of March, not just for a couple weeks.

Among position players, Roman Quinn is the guy to watch for me. He has game-changing speed, tons of confidence and personality, and can play defense in the outfield. He has had major problems staying healthy. If he can final do so, he will push the Kendrick/Saunders combo out of a job at some point.

CA: Tommy Joseph is, to me, the easy answer here. He was probably the best prospect the Phillies got back years ago when they traded Hunter Pence to the Giants when he was a catcher with a well-regarded hit tool. Concussions moved him off catching, which most assumed meant the realistic end of his chances of becoming an impact player in the major leagues. That he even played in the majors last year is a huge accomplishment. That he hit 21 home runs there and locked up the opening day job for 2017 would have been unimaginable a year ago. As the year went on, he consistently improved, particularly against right-handed pitching (he hits right-handed) and was an above-average hitter against both lefties and righties by season’s end. A full season of playing time could vault him to whatever tier of NL first basement sits just below Anthony Rizzo, Joey Votto, and Paul Goldschmidt

FP: Well, there are a couple early on, if they make the team that is. Brock Stassi and Scott Kingery have done really well in Spring, it will be interesting to see what happens if they should make this team going North after Spring Training.

PB: I’m not sure if he qualifies as unheralded considering how well he played last year, but Cesar Hernandez is worthy of your attention this season. I don’t think his 2016 campaign was a fluke. Hernandez always seemed to have a natural ability to hit the baseball and he finally showed it. Confidence is a big thing with Cesar and I think he finally believes in himself. One swift kick from Larry Bowa seemed to send the message and Hernandez really took off. Hernandez earned the chance to be the leadoff hitter with this team for the entire season and it will be fun to see if he can replicate what he did last season. If that happens, it will be fascinating to see what the Phillies do at second base with Scott Kingery and Jesmuel Valentin lurking in the minors.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

MV: This is a toughie for a “glass half-full” guy like myself. But then again, I’ve been able to stay realistic since the .500 finish of 2012. Many around town think that the club can push for that .500 mark once again. I am not in that crowd, for a few reasons.

First, I think that when the Phillies again challenge for .500 and even beyond, it will be with their own best prospects on board, supplemented by a couple of real, difference-making free agents.  Second, I believe that the NL East will be even tougher this year. The Nationals are still the team to beat, and they look like a World Series contender to me.  The Mets still have scary pitching, and re-signed Cespedes, which was huge for them. Even with the Jose Fernandez tragedy, the Marlins still have a bunch of good, young talent, including one of the better looking young outfield groups in the game. And the Braves veteran additions, combined with the enthusiasm generated with their new ballpark, will be better – they already showed it over the 2016 season’s final six weeks.

I will be rooting very hard each game to be proven wrong on this one, but I see the Phillies treading water in the standings this year. Call it a 74-88 finish. However, if the month of September finds J.P. Crawford at shortstop, Quinn in the outfield, and all of Franco, Joseph, and Herrera producing then the table will be set for real improvement in 2018.

CA: Once again, the Phillies and the Braves will be battling it out for last place in the NL East and I think the Phillies beat them out for the second year in a row. As far as a record, they’ve done enough this offseason to cover up last year’s weaknesses, that they’ll certainly improve substantially. I’ll put them at 77-85, a six-game improvement over 2016.

FP: I’d like to be optimistic, I think they will be a 85 win team this year, they’ll probably be a 4th place club, maybe even 3rd if the Marlins fade.

PB: I’m going to put them exactly where they were last year record-wise and in the standings: fourth place (ahead of the Marlins) with 91 losses. The Phillies played way above their heads last season – they were tied for first in May for crying out loud – and their Pythagorean win/loss percentage gave them 100 losses last year. Another 91-loss season would be an improvement and the 2017 Phillies should be a better team.

The Phillies had the worst offense in baseball last year and if you are only as good as your weakest link, they made a huge improvement by adding Kendrick and Saunders in the outfield. While neither player is all that special, they are a huge upgrade considering the Phillies left fielders and right fielders combined to hit .223 with 21 homers in 2016. And let’s be real here, it will be nice to have Ryan Howard’s bat out of the cleanup spot. The offense will be bad once again, but they shouldn’t be the worst.

On the pitching side, the Phillies have a solid starting staff with a ton of depth. Regardless of what they do with the bats, a reliable pitching staff will keep them in most ballgames.

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Phillie and why?

MV: Now THAT is a real toughie. Only because I have been following the Phillies closely since Veteran’s Stadium opened in my South Philly neighborhood when I was just nine years old.  All of the players from 1980, 1993, and 2008 will always be special to me. That especially means Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Steve Carlton, Tug McGraw, John Kruk, Darren Daulton, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, and Jimmy Rollins. My first-ever favorite Phillies player was a little second baseman named Denny Doyle. He played the position for the first three years that I followed the club.

But if you twisted my arm, I would say that my personal favorite player was Scott Rolen. I saw Schmidt’s entire career, and honestly believe that Rolen was at least Schmidt’s rival as a defensive player at the hot corner. He played here for the first seven years of his career, winning the 1997 NL Rookie of the Year Award and the first three of his eight career Gold Glove Awards. Besides being an elite, athletic defender, Rolen had power, knew how to get on base, and ran the bases well.

It was a real shame, the way he left town. Especially because of my affection for him. He could have been a veteran cornerstone with the team as built to that 2007-11 contention. Rolen is a Phillies Wall of Fame nominee this year. I think he loses out to Pete Rose. But he deserves a place there.

CA: Cliff Lee. Not only did he come at the 2009 trade deadline and help lead the team to its second consecutive World Series appearance, but, less than two years later, he turned down more money from the Yankees to play in Philadelphia. On the field, he captured a lot of what Philadelphia is about. Despite lacking the quality of stuff of his rotation-mates like Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay, Lee was just as good due, in part, to his refusal to walk batters. He also worked incredibly quickly, something both I and Rob Manfred appreciate in a pitcher. 

FP: My favorite all-time Phillie is tie between Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton, they were clutch performers who never really got a lot of accolades for what they did. Of course both are Hall of Famers but there just doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of fuss made of them even now. I really liked Pete Rose too when he was on the Phillies, I was a youngster when he played for the Phils, but I still remember the ‘hustle’ attitude and that made an impact on me as a young teenager watching his style of play. 

PB: I was shocked to realize I did not have an immediate answer to that question. As much as I want to say Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins or Mike Schmidt, I am going to go back about 50 years and pick Robin Roberts. He wore a Phillies uniform for 14 seasons, he is the club leader in games and innings, and tossed a ridiculous 272 complete games. Robbie was a true baller who took the baseball with no questions asked and finished what he started. He openly said he would not throw at a batter, but he was never afraid to challenge a hitter. One thing I think is pretty cool is that no matter who the batter was, he had only two locations: up and in and down and away.

Ask me ten years from now and my answer might be Odubel Herrera. He is one of the most entertaining players – dude flips the bat for walks! – and he works the count, makes contact, and just has an overall skillset that is fun to watch.

My thanks to the guys from Philly (either literally or spiritually) who brought the heat in this one.  We’ll see if the team can do the same!


Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

Oakland Athletics
69-93, fifth in AL West
Last year’s Pepper

It has to be tough to be an A’s fan.  They can redefine the game but they can’t get over the hump in the playoffs and then tend to wind up destined for another cycle of rebuilding.  Trades send players out for younger versions, who often then wind up developing and getting traded for more prospects, as the front office tries to thread the needle between being good and being good on a budget.

It’s probably not too surprising that Oakland is one of the teams I have the toughest time getting contributors for.  However, as he did last year, Jason Leary came to my rescue to make sure the Green and Gold was represented in the series.  You can find Jason on Twitter at JasonALeary and his writing over at Junk Ball, so check him out!

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

JB: Overall, it was an unspectacular offseason for the Oakland A’s in the wake of a forgettable 2016 season that saw them finish in last place in the AL West for the second consecutive year. There were no big trades or splashy free-agent signings this winter as the A’s focused on leaving the door open for their young players to develop.

Stopgap free agents Matt Joyce, Rajai Davis, Trevor Plouffe and Santiago Casilla were brought in on short-term deals to provide some veteran leadership and solid play while Oakland’s prospects round into form.

The biggest news for the A’s this winter had nothing to do with players coming or going via trade or free agency. The real news is the team’s reinvigorated push for a new ballpark in Oakland. With the franchise’s revenue sharing checks set to run out in a few seasons thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement, the club appointed a new team president, Dave Kaval, to spearhead the search for a new stadium.

Kaval says the A’s will announce a site for a new ballpark in Oakland with a timeline drawn out from that point to the venue’s first Opening Day.

With the A’s coming off a couple of down years, a wave of young players coming up and revenues set to decline for a few seasons it’s understandable that the team basically decided to tread water in the offseason.

C70: What is the strength of this team?

JB: Right now the strongest part of the 2017 A’s is the franchise’s pitching depth.

Ace Sonny Gray will start the season on the disabled list but once healthy, he’ll be looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2016. Youngsters Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton will look to build on promising rookie seasons. Kendall Graveman, just 26 years old, established himself as a solid workhorse in 2016 and Jesse Hahn, 27, will try to re-establish himself as a promising starting pitcher after stumbling the past couple of years.

Beyond that there’s a logjam of intriguing pitchers such as Andrew Triggs, Daniel Mengden and Raul Alcantara who will probably spend most of the season vying for their shot in the big league rotation.

Down on the farm, fireballing Frankie Montas will be worth keeping an eye on along with a slew of live-armed youngsters such as A.J. Puk.

C70: There was talk about teams being interested in Sonny Gray. Do you think the club moves him sometimes this season?

JB: If you wear green and gold, you’re trade bait so of course Gray could end up packing his bags and going where the trade winds take him.

If Gray can shake off the lat strain he recently suffered and regain his All-Star form it’s easy to imagine the A’s selling him to the highest bidder at the All-Star break.

With revenue sharing tapering off over the next few seasons and a new ballpark hopefully coming into play around the same time, it would make sense for the A’s to deal Gray for prospects who are more likely to be part of a winning team in a new venue than Gray is.

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

JB: Among the position players, minor league outfielder Jaycob Brugman could be someone worth keeping an eye on. He’s no blue-chip prospect but he’s been a solid all-around performer throughout his minor league career (slashing .285/.347/.438 least season in Triple-A Nashville) and with short-term veteran rentals Davis and Joyce manning Oakland’s outfield Brugman may have an opportunity to play himself into a big league role.

As for the pitchers, I believe Hahn has a great opportunity to grab the fifth spot in the rotation and run with it. Hahn could emerge as a post-hype sleeper if he can turn his fastball-curveball combo into a weapon again. Of course, I said that last year and Hahn promptly went out and posted a 6.02 ERA in a lost season.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

JB: The A’s could improve by 10 games and still finish in last place with a sub-.500 record which is about what I expect from them. Pencil me in for 79-83 with a pie-in-the-sky dream that they can catch lightning in a bottle like they did in 2012 when they came out of nowhere to win the AL West on the last day of the season.

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Athletic and why?

JB: That’s easy: Rickey Henderson. Greatest leadoff hitter of all time, an Oakland native, a Hall of Famer, a member of Oakland’s 1989 World Series winner, speed, power, a big personality. Rickey was always fun to follow whether he was leading off with a home run, driving opposing pitchers and catchers crazy with has baserunning, making a snatch catch or delivering a memorable quote.

As always, I appreciate Jason’s thoughts on the team in Oakland.  There’s always a story out there!


Brotherly Love

For all those that thought that the Yadier Molina contract issue might be done peacefully and without incident, sorry about that.

Earlier this week Yadi’s brother, Bengie Molina, was on MLB Network Radio and said a number of things that, honestly, he’s said either directly or indirectly on his regular appearances on the Two Birds on a Bat podcast, that Yadi wants to stay a Cardinal but that he’s fine with leaving and that the front office of the Cardinals hasn’t been very active in trying to retain him.  (Bengie talks about these comments in the most recent TBoaB, but I’ve not had a chance to listen. I doubt he softens them any, however.)  Both points are a bit disturbing to Cardinal fans who want to make sure that possibly the best catcher in franchise history doesn’t done another team’s jersey–which would be an overwhelming percentage of them.

As Bengie notes in some comments for Jose Ortiz’s article on the subject, he (apparently) doesn’t speak for Yadi and he doesn’t talk to his brother about the contract discussions.  While the latter might be true in the details, there’s obviously some discussion on the tone or the frustration Yadi is having for Bengie to feel comfortable going public with comments like this.  While Bengie may not feel like he’s standing in for Yadi in the public arena, there are very few that aren’t going to believe that he’s speaking for his brother, especially if Yadi doesn’t contradict or ask him to tone it down somewhat.  I know that Bengie is a very proud brother–with every reason to be!–but that doesn’t always help when it comes to contract negotiations.

Honestly, there seems to be a lot of pride here on both sides.  We talked back in December about this situation and I noted then that Yadi’s pride in his work, his unwillingness to accept being a backup, could cause a problem when it came down to signing a deal.  Again, the money isn’t the issue, or at least it shouldn’t be.  I’ve heard fans from across the spectrum, even sabermetric types who tend to focus on what a player can do and quantify a contract in some manner, who say give Yadi what he wants.  The deal isn’t going to destroy payroll or keep you from doing other things to improve the team, if necessary.  Just take a small portion of that billion-dollar FOX contract that starts next year, earmark it for Yadi, and go on.

However, there’s probably some pride in the front office as well that’s hanging this up.  They’ve got a reputation for being a smart, fiscally conscious organization that is able to get the most out of a little.  They’ve got a reputation for having quality guys in the minors that can fill in gaps created by injuries or departures.  They got some kudos for being strong enough to let Albert Pujols go (even though they offered him $200 million, so that legend is a little overblown).  That’s a reputation they are proud to have, I believe, and aren’t necessarily eager to throw it away (even in part) to make an unwise deal with a franchise catcher, not with Carson Kelly waiting in the wings.

Still, they have to get this done.  This isn’t Albert Pujols.  As much as many of us hated to let Pujols go, you could easily make the case that the organization did the right thing.  Ten years is a long time, $240 million a lot of money.  Not only is the Molina contract not going to be nearly that much of a commitment, the financial status of the organization is different than it was five years ago when Pujols signed.  We saw the Cardinals go big on David Price and Jason Heyward an offseason ago and there’s a strong possibility they’ll be able to at least be in the hunt for a Bryce Harper or a Manny Machado in a couple of years.  I’m not saying Molina’s contract is going to be chump change, but MLB last year sold a portion (just a portion!) of their Advanced Media cash cow to Disney for $3.6 billion.  While I know that all of that won’t be distributed straight to the clubs, that’s still $120 million per franchise.  Say that each team got 10% of that.  $12 million goes a long way toward cushioning the price of Yadi’s deal.

I’m sure the Cardinals want to be cautious, but I’d rather see them be creative.  I think it was our friend Bob Netherton on Twitter that suggested a four-year contract with a 10-year personal services contract at the end of it, which is a great idea.  Not only does it lock Molina into this organization for a long time, it lets him be treated like his friend Pujols.  That’s respect.  Perhaps you work in a deal that if he misses X amount because of injury, the playing part decreases (well, I guess you’d have to add bonuses for playing time rather than deductions, given the nature of MLB contracts) or that the personal services contract kicks in earlier.  I don’t know, but I don’t think the Cardinals have any excuse for not getting something done with one of the legendary figures in the history of the club.

I wanted to spend some time talking about Trevor Rosenthal‘s outing, how Tyler Lyons might be back to games soon, Matt Carpenter‘s back, and the return of Seung-hwan Oh but I’ve pretty much ran out of time this morning.  Hopefully we can get to topics like that soon.  Don’t forget that #CardsMadness is going on over on Twitter, with the Gibson regional going today.  If the schedule stays like it did yesterday, my matchup with DrMilesM5 will go off mid-afternoon or so and I would appreciate your support, even though the good doctor is a great Twitter follow and made his UCB Radio hosting debut on Wednesday night.  If you want some more #CardsMadness insight, Tara Wellman, Allen Medlock, and I broke down the ballots in the latest episode of Meet Me At Musial.

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, which means that we have to deal with those terrible green uniforms again.  I still don’t know who buys those things.


Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

New York Yankees
84-78, fourth in AL East
Last year’s Pepper

Talk about a tough crowd.  Usually when you finish six games over .500, you are going to wind up a little bit better than next-to-last in the division.  However, both wild cards came out of the same division and so the Yankees, who actually sold off some pieces at the trade deadline, missed out by a handful of games.

The Yankees have to be encouraged by how the season finished up, though, and we’ve got a handful of Bronx Bomber Bloggers to take us through the ins and outs of the club.  Settle in and enjoy! (A note, the answers from Bleeding Yankee Blue came from the entire staff, so the author’s name is at the end.)

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

PP: The offseason was mediocre. Nothing special, but nothing awful either. I liked the Matt Holliday signing. I think he’s got something left in the tank and stands to benefit from not playing the field now that he’s transitioning to designated hitter. I’m not a huge fan of the Brian McCann trade. While I understand the rationale behind trading him (Gary Sanchez being ready), I had thought they’d get more especially after kicking in some cash. I guess I’m not as bullish on the headliner prospect they received, Albert Abreu. Though he has great stuff, it sounds like he may wind up in the bullpen given his control issues. I didn’t like the Chapman signing at all. The obvious reason is because of his domestic violence allegations, but I also don’t understand the on-field aspect to this move. The Yankees aren’t ready to be serious contenders in 2017 (and perhaps 2018), quite possibly Chapman’s last two prime years.

I would have liked them to add another starting pitcher for the back-end of the rotation and one more left-handed bat with some power to add some lineup balance. The rotation is full of question marks after Masahiro Tanaka and the lineup’s run-producers are predominantly right-handed hitters. They don’t have the traditional lefty slugger that thrives in Yankee Stadium, though it seems that they’re counting on Greg Bird to recover from shoulder surgery and be that guy.

BYB: It was a good off season from what I can tell. We picked up a potential bat in Matt Holliday, we signed the fast-pitching Aroldis Chapman and I am hopeful that the Baby Bombers will elevate our level of competition and endurance particularly in the later summer months. I would have liked another starting pitcher but not at the expense of our farm. We need to tend our farm and let it pay off big dividends in years to come. I wish that Dellin Betances was strong enough to take on the closing role. But today’s closer is too valuable to leave in the hands of someone who is simply not ready and may not ever be ready. I wished we didn’t have to sign Chapman and could have gone for a strong starter, but I know we had to do what we needed to do. (Suzie Pinstripe)

YGY: Offseason was marked by the addition of Matt Holiday, but generally, GM Brian Cashman maintained a “let’s see that we have in Spring Training mode”, which for most fans is judged as wise.

LATB: In terms of their general plan to groom their prospects to play, as Yankees, on the Major League level (something unheard of in recent years), the team did have a good off-season. However, I don’t think they did enough to replace the left-handed power they lost when they failed to re-sign OF Carlos Beltran and traded away C Brian McCann. Based on what he has done in spring training so far, 1B Greg Bird appears to have completely recovered from the shoulder injury that kept him out for all of 2016,so he could replace some of that power. Also, though RF Aaron Judge is a right-handed hitter, he is strong enough to hit the ball out in right field. It remains to be seen, though, if Judge will make the Opening Day roster.

The Yankees have two open rotation spots this spring, another thing unheard of in recent years. I was hoping that they would have, at least, signed one pitcher during the off-season, since the guys holding down the first three spots (Tanaka: health, Pineda: ineffectiveness, and Sabathia: age and ineffectiveness) are so questionable. There are five guys vying for those two open spots, including Luis Severino, who failed miserably as a starter in 2016 after bursting upon the scene in the second half of 2015. So far the competition has gone well, but I’m worried about what might happen once the season starts.

SNY: The Yankees had a good offseason because they did exactly what they felt they needed to do. They traded Brian McCann in order to shed some more payroll after the summer purge, knowing he would merely be a backup to Gary Sanchez. They wanted another veteran presence and needed a DH, so they signed Matt Holliday to a one-year deal. Finally, they coveted Aroldis Chapman because he exhibits a “star quality” and desired a closer despite already having Dellin Betances. The area I thought they might invest in a front line starting pitcher via trade. They had feelers out, but the caveat that the player was controllable for at least a few seasons limited options. For a time the Yankees were interested in Jose Quintana, and that seemed to be the right fit. They might circle back to Quintana if the price comes down.

PA: It was an okay offseason. There weren’t as many big trades as the Yankees have made in past years, but it was a good decision to move Brian McCann. The Yankees really wanted Aroldis Chapman back, and they got their guy. Whether that contract will work out for them remains to be seen, but adding Chapman obviously strengthened the bullpen for the time being. I think it was smart to bring in Matt Holliday and Chris Carter. I do wish that the Yankees could have found a way to improve the rotation, but there really weren’t many options out there. 

BPB: I thought it was a perfectly acceptable offseason. No matter what the front office says, they’re not really trying to contend this year. It’s all about the future. I didn’t like the re-signing Chapman but that’s all I’ll say about that particular subject. My feelings about him seem to get me into trouble.

SS: The Yankees are out of the blockbuster move business for the next few years. Given that, I was fine with their winter. Trading Brian McCann made sense, given the rise of Gary Sanchez. Nobody will miss Nathan Eovaldi. Giving Matt Holliday a one-year deal made sense, even though I don’t think he’s worth $13 million at this point.

My personal favorite player move was them signing Jon Niese because I would like nothing more than for him to do well and stick it to my Met fan blogging partner. (It’s good for our blog. So sue me!)

The thing I am also interested in seeing is how the Yankee Stadium renovations and enhancements are going to be. The one good thing about the team being in decline in recent years is that the lack of attendance and interest has forced the franchise to be a little more fan-friendly than they have been.

If they can’t compete with the Mets as far as what they put on the field, the least they can do is make the fan experience better. I have said since the two new ballparks opened that Citi Field was a better ballpark and had great food and drinks. I am looking forward to see what the Yankees implement next year to compete with that.

C70: What’s the one thing that has to go right for the Yankees to contend in (or win) the AL East?

PP: To be honest, I don’t think any one thing would put them ahead of Boston. They’re too far behind them at this point. If I had to choose one, perhaps a second starting pitcher to step up and perform similar to Tanaka. They’ve long hoped that Michael Pineda would be that guy, but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen.

BYB: In order for the Yankees to contend in the AL East they will need to overachieve. There will be new rookies on the team that will need be productive and contribute in addition to the veterans. The pitching and hitting both need to come together and do more than what everyone expects. A lot of people have written the Yankees off, but there is a lot of potential on the team and if they play good fundamental baseball, I think they will surprise a lot of the doubters. (Jeana Bellezza)

YGY: Their starting pitching has to be better. Sabathia is another year older and Michael Pineda needs to step it up. Tanaka is Tanaka, so barring injuries, he should compete for the Cy Young again. There’s a wealth of talent in the minors that could easily be promoted if any of the five fail. On the offense side, the Yankees need to improve on their situational hitting in order to score more runs. Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, and Aaron Judge figure to help with that.

LATB: It’s safe to say that the Yankees will not win the AL East, but they can contend if their starting pitching goes right. That is the biggest question mark with this team. Tanaka must stay healthy. Pineda must become the pitcher he was as a rookie with the Mariners. Sabathia must expand on what he learned last season: how to be a finesse pitcher. Severino must perfect and continue to use his change-up. If most of these things happen, the Yankees have a chance. If they don’t, it will be a long season in the Bronx.

SNY: One thing? Haha! The Yankees need a few things to go right, but in my opinion, the main aspect pertains to the youth movement. Each of the Yankees highly touted young players — Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino has to meet or exceed their perceived upsides. Without that type of production, it will be tough for the Yankees to contend for the division title.

PA: The bullpen has a handful of great relievers and the lineup has arguably improved. However, the rotation is filled with question marks. Aside from Masahiro Tanaka, it seems unwise to expect a great deal from Michael Pineda or CC Sabathia. The final two spots are expected to be filled by some combination of Luis Severino, Adam Warren, Bryan Mitchell, Chad Green, and Luis Cessa. The rotation really needs to come together and exceed expectations for the Yankees to have any chance of making the playoffs.

BPB: Nearly every other team in the division has to bomb in order for the Yankees to win the AL East. I can see them doing what they did last season: not get officially eliminated until real late in the season even though you know deep down they don’t really have a chance of making the playoffs.

SS: I think it’s more than one thing. It’s everything. They will need not just every rookie they are starting to compete, but they’ll need Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia to pitch like aces, and Michael Pineda to finally put it together. The bullpen is the one thing without question marks.

C70: CC Sabathia was a bit better last year. What’s the thinking on how his season will go?

PP: I’m not sure what to make of CC Sabathia in 2017. Obviously, I was pleasantly surprised to see his success last year, but I have a hard time expecting him to repeat such a performance as a 36 year-old with a lot of mileage on his arm. Hopefully a league-averagish performance isn’t out of the question for him.

BYB: Sabathia is out to prove that he still has something in the tank and last season he was able to find it. I think this season he can probably get us 13 wins. Remember, he wants to keep pitching so after this season he’ll be hoping to get picked up somewhere. Overall, the guys a gamer. I see good things. He is a true leader in that clubhouse. (Robert)

YGY: CC is a big man and his knees have taken a pounding over the years. He’s gritty, though, and he’s made and is still making adjustments in becoming a “pitcher”, not just a thrower. He’ll be fine, but he’s not able to lead the staff at this juncture in his career.

LATB: I think Sabathia can build on what he did last year. I believe he knows what he is at this point in his career, has accepted it and is ready to contribute in the only way he can at this point: as a back of the rotation veteran who can provide valuable advice to the Yankees’ up-and-coming arms.

SNY: The consensus of fans seems to ask whether he can do it again. I believe he can. The transformation last season came only because he bought into it. Sabathia has finally embraced the pitcher he had to become years ago. Gone are the days in which Sabathia will take a team on his back and carry them, but at this stage in his career, that type of production is not necessary. Sabathia simply needs to log innings and keep the team in the games he starts, just as he managed to do last season.

PA: I’m choosing to remain optimistic on this one (despite what I just said about it being unwise to expect too much from him). I think that after a few years of struggling, CC Sabathia has finally figured out how to get by with decreased velocity. He also seems to have found the right knee brace to help him get through the season with a degenerative knee condition. I’m hopeful that he will finish his last season with the Yankees on a high note. 

BPB: It would be nice if he could have a season that’s similar to last season. The days of CC Sabathia the ace are long gone but the days of CC Sabathia crafty lefty are upon us and I’m here for it. 

SS: Hard to say. It all depends on him being healthy. I don’t think he’ll go out in his last year (or at least his last year as a Yankee) with a 20-win season the way Mike Mussina did, but you never know.

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

PP: I don’t know if it’s fair to call Aaron Judge unheralded because of his historical prospect status, but he’s caught a lot of flack for his propensity to strike out during his debut last year. Reports have indicated that he’s been working on his swing this offseason to improve contact, which is unsurprising. But what I think is also important to note is that Judge has had a history of needing some time to adjust at each minor league level. For instance, in his first trip through Triple-A in 2015, he hit .224/.308/.373 with a 28.5% strikeout rate. His second stint at the level in 2016: .270/.366/.489 and a 23.9% strikeout rate. He’s always going to strike out at a high clip, but I don’t think it’s fair to doubt him just yet. Not after only 95 plate appearances in the big leagues.

BYB: As pretty much everyone knows, the Yankees are in transition and they have many unheralded players coming into the season. An argument could be made for many including Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin or Greg Bird in his return from injury to name a few. For me though, one guy who is lesser known that I will be following closely is LHP Jordan Montgomery. In just his third professional season, and second full season, Montgomery made the jump to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre in 2016 where, between Double-A Trenton and Scranton, Montgomery compiled a 14-5 record with a 2.13 ERA, 134 strikeouts and just 45 walks while allowing 122 hits over 139.1 innings. In six starts at Triple-A, Montgomery held opponents to a 0.97 ERA, posted a 5-1 record and averaged over six innings per start.

Montgomery may not have the highest ceiling of any Yankees pitching prospect, but I expect the former fourth rounder to be a contributor in the Bronx in some way in 2017. He’s a strike throwing southpaw who has proven his worth at every level and whether he earns a roster spot out of spring training (which I’m routing for) or makes his debut mid-summer, Montgomery is someone I’ll be keeping tabs on this season. (Dan Lucia)

YGY: Absolutely. Didi Gregorius had a breakout season in 2016 and he has all the makings of a player who is just getting started. He has surprising power (20 HR’s last year) and his defense reminds of Derek Jeter – steady, not flashy – he just makes all the routine plays with no lapses in the field.

LATB: Billy McKinney is probably that guy for the Yankees. McKinney, a 22 year-old outfielder, was a throw-in in the Aroldis Chapman deal, which brought the Yankees Top-5 MLB prospect Gleyber Torres. Plagued by injuries over the past couple of years, no one gave much thought to McKinney when he arrived last year, but he has opened many eyes during spring training. He has not played higher than AA, but if he continues to impress, he could receive a September call-up in 2017.

SNY: I’ll go to the minor leagues for my pick — Dustin Fowler. He torched Double-A pitching in 2016 (57 extra-base hits in 574 plate appearances) and he’s had an impressive spring with the big league club as of my submission to Playing Pepper. Fowler should start the season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but it’s easy to believe he will continue to play above his level. I’ll suggest by midseason, Fowler will be viewed as the first person to be called up if either Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury go down with an injury.

PA: This is a tough one. Luis Cessa surrendered a ton of home runs during his brief stint in the majors last year, but he has potential if he can get that in check. The Yankees seem to like his repertoire so it will be interesting to see if he earns a spot in the rotation. 

BPB: I’m not sure if he’s unheralded but I expect Matt Holliday to be better than people think he’s going to be this season. I really like him as the righty DH. I thought that was a nice move by the front office.

SS: I’d like to see Tyler Austin get another chance when he’s healthy again. (I’m Facebook friends with his mom!)

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

PP: 81 wins, 3rd place. No Wild Card.

BYB: 90 wins 72 losses and we will finish second behind the Red Sox. I think we will get to the Wild Card and depending on our longevity and injuries, could make it to the ALDS. Remaining hopeful. (Suzie)

YGY: The Yankees are the wild card in the AL East. Their young talent can take them a long way. Boston is the obvious favorite, but the Yankees can give them fits. The rest of the division is overrated. The Yanks can win 85-87 games and have an outside chance for a Wild Card spot.

LATB: If all goes well (meaning, if the pitching steps up, the kids play well and everyone stays healthy), the Yankees can contend for a Wild Card. However, things do go wrong, so I don’t see them finishing higher than the middle of the pack in the division. This is a transition year for the Yankees. Things should really get moving in 2018.

SNY: The Yankees have recently outperformed their preseason projections and I suspect 2017 will bring the same result. However, and admittedly, I’m forever the optimist. With that in mind, I believe the Yankees can reach 87 wins this season. That mark might be enough to sneak them into a wild card spot.

PA: The Yankees will probably finish the season right around where they were in 2016. I could see them ending the season in the middle of the pack in the division with an 82-80 record.  

BPB: I predicted 84-78 in 2014 and I was right on the nose so I’m going with that record again. They’ll probably finish third or fourth in the division. I don’t really see them fighting for a playoff spot. 

SS: I’m going to say 79-83 and that they finish in fourth place.

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Yankee and why?

PP: A-Rod! Underappreciated for how great of a player he was and his performance in the 2009 playoffs.

BYB: Without exception my favorite all-time Yankee is The Warrior, Paul O’Neill. He was the ‘rev’ of the Yankee engine that drove the Dynasty years in the Bronx. Paulie played the game like a US Marine takes a beach head. He was intense and focused every time he stepped between the lines in the pinstripes or road grey. O’Neill was one of a kind. (Mike O’Hara)

YGY: Hands down, Derek Jeter. Time after time he delivered in the clutch and his demeanor both on and off the field made him the perfect Yankee. And all those hits…..

LATB: My all-time favorite Yankee is Don Mattingly. He began his Major League career around the same time I really started to understand the game. Before that, I was more of a superficial fan. Mattingly is one the best hitters I have ever seen. He struck out so rarely, that it caught me off guard when it happened. It’s such a shame that his back betrayed him and he was never able to be a part of the Yankees late ’90s dynasty. I always root for his team, except when they play the Yankees!

SNY: I’ve been fortunate to be able to watch many great Yankees — Reggie, Winfield, Mattingly, Rivera and Jeter among them — but I would say Paul O’Neill was my favorite. I enjoyed watching O’Neill during his time with the club because I could relate to his determination to excel and his reactions to failure. For some, the tantrums became annoying, but for me it showed he was busting it each time he stepped on the field. O’Neill was never the best player on the team, but he expected to be and it was evident to fans how much he cared about his performance. That’s really all a fan can ask for.

PA: My most recent favorite has been Mark Teixeira, but my all-time favorite has to be Mariano Rivera. He was such a talented player, had a very likable personality, and it was fun to watch him pitch.

BPB: Don Mattingly is my all-time favorite Yankee because I grew up in the 1980s and he was the man. He was the guy who made a whole bunch of us rabid Yankee fans during a time when the team could never make the playoffs. He was the best.

SS: I will only call somebody an all-time favorite if I actually got to see them play. So Reggie Jackson would be at the top of the list. After him, Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte. (And I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Alex will be joining them in Monument Park one day.)

My appreciation to the ladies and gentlemen that let us know about the players in pinstripes.  And hey, take care of Matty for us, will ya?


Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

New York Mets
87-75, second in NL East, lost in Wild Card Game
Last year’s Pepper

While it’s not like their heyday in the mid-’80s, the last couple of years haven’t been too bad for the Mets faithful.  They won the National League and were very close to a championship in 2015 and then last year they again reached the playoffs, albeit very briefly.  The Nationals are still the powerhouse in the East, but the Mets have to like their chances to be quite competitive overall.

To that end, we have a slew of New York bloggers to give us all the information about the Metropolitans.  Check out their sites, follow them on Twitter, and then settle in for a lot of Mets talk!  (You can also find Matthew’s answers here, beautifully illustrated with some current Mets baseball cards.)

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

MM: The offseason is still in play.

If you ask 100 Mets fans how the offseason has gone, 95 would tell you that the Mets have done nothing to improve the team, but, at the same time, they signed one of the top five ‘bats’ in the game, that also was a free agent… outfielder Yoenes Cespedes.  Cespedes opted out of his deal with the Mets and was on the free agent market, but Sandy Alderson knew that he would have no chance to return to the World Series without this guy.

The problem with the off-season is the inability to trade outfielder Jay Bruce so they can clear this salary. The trade was also supposed to target receiving either a quality reliever or a couple of blue chip prospect.  Nobody seems to want Bruce and reports now out of the Mets camp is that he will start the season as the rightfielder.

MP: This offseason was very interesting, only because it was fairly uneventful. The only major transactions that were made were re-signings. (Cespedes, Neil Walker, Jerry Blevins, Rene Rivera, Fernando Salas, etc.) And, for the most part, I believe they did what was necessary. There are no gaping holes in the roster, and there is a good amount of depth. I am a little worried, however, that players like Jay Bruce that come with a hefty price tag and little production in Queens will hold up the development of younger players like Brandon Nimmo or Michael Conforto

FFF: Resigning Yoenis Cespedes was most of what they needed to do and they did that at the end of November. Once they did that, there was nothing
to complain about, an odd situation for a Mets fan in winter. Really what had to happen, besides Cespedes, was recovery from injuries for those who missed significant time in 2016. Other than David Wright experiencing a shoulder impingement, thus far everybody seems to be on his way back, knock wood, cross fingers, don’t experience stiffness crossing fingers or get splinters knocking wood.

PRBS: The Mets had a solid offseason. They kept the core of a team that went to the playoffs together, and they should be in very good shape if they can keep their starting rotation off the DL. I would have liked to see them rework the outfield and acquire a better defensive centerfielder than Curtis Granderson, but upgrading the outfield defense might not have resulted in a stronger overall team.

CTM: The Mets basically brought back a team that made it to the postseason after a ton of injuries, so all they really need to do is get healthy. The jury’s still out on that one. Getting rid of Jay Bruce is the obvious move they didn’t make, but there were some little things they could have done to improve like bringing back Kelly Johnson (who will be on the team by August regardless…) and improving the bullpen. It’s a good starting point though, we’ll just have to wait and see how things go wrong from here.

MPR: If I had to describe the Mets offseason this year, I would use the term reassuring. Yoenis Cespedes professed his love for New York by signing a four-year deal to stay in Queens, GM Sandy Alderson shored up the bullpen by resigning lefty Jerry Blevins and by bringing back right-hander Fernando Salas, and youngsters Michael Conforto and Travis d’Arnaud are slowly gaining confidence as they try to live up to their expectations.  

SS: The main thing the Mets needed to do was to bring Yoenis Cespedes back and they re-signed Cespedes to a four-year deal. They also needed to bring back Jerry Blevins or find another lefthanded reliever and they brought back Blevins. With Neil Walker becoming a free agent, the Mets needed to replace the player who had the second-highest OPS (.823) after Cespedes among Mets regulars last year, and Walker ended up accepting the Mets’ qualifying offer.

The Mets, however, failed in their attempt to trade Jay Bruce. Bruce hit just .219 in 50 games as a Met, though he at least finished strong, hitting .500 in the last week of the season with 3 HR and 7 RBI. So Bruce could end up being more valuable to the Mets than generally expected, meaning that they were wise not to trade him if it just would have been a salary dump. But keeping Bruce means that Michael Conforto could be the odd man out in the crowded outfield. Conforto, who had such a promising debut in 2015 before a lost season last year, is off to a good start this spring and needs to be in the lineup.

AA: To some Mets fans, this offseason wasn’t good enough, even though the team made one of its biggest moves in recent history when it brought back Yoenis Cespedes on a four-year deal. That was the anchor of the offseason for sure, and bringing back Neil Walker on the qualifying offer that he accepted should prove to be a good move, too. Bartolo Colon will be missed, but my biggest wish from the offseason was that they bring in more help for the bullpen. With a Jeurys Familia suspension looming, things look a bit shaky after you get past Addison Reed out in the bullpen.

DS: I am very happy with the team as currently constituted, although I would have been a bit more aggressive at addressing the bullpen. Bringing Yoenis Cespedes back was obviously huge, and retaining Neil Walker, Jerry Blevins and Fernando Salas was important, but I would’ve liked another arm. The Nationals got Joe Blanton for cheap. He was a guy I wish the Mets were in on.

C70: What are the expectations for Matt Harvey, both in when he will return and how effective he’ll be when he does?

MM: I don’t think the average Mets fan has much expectations for him right now.  Harvey has caught a lot of flak for his attitude, the fact that he has Scott Boras for an agent, and the average Mets fan just know in their heart that this guy is just playing the string out until free agency rolls around.

I believe he will be effective because he always has been. With all the ups and downs, he has a 2.94/1.08, 9.09-K/9 stat line in the four seasons he has been a Met.  My guess is the Mets brain trust will start the season off with a 6-man rotation and limit the innings for Harvey and the other pitchers coming off surgery (Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler).

The hope here is that Harvey stays healthy and puts up killer numbers before the All-Star break so the Mets can put together a deal for 2/3 quality players/prospects for his service.

MP: I’ve never been a huge Matt Harvey fan. I believe his persona isn’t a perfect match with the Mets, and I’ve said the best thing about him is his trade value. Unfortunately, with his injury and lack of production last year, he will need to put up some numbers this year to improve that value. I think Harvey will put up decent numbers, but won’t come in handy as much as Noah Syndergaard or even Jacob deGrom will. 

FFF: Matt Harvey is operating not exactly below radar but out of the primary glare of the spotlight. Because Noah Syndergaard has so
blossomed, Harvey is being allowed, to a certain extent, to forge his comeback in a safe and sane manner. Expectations that he will pitch at
his 2013 All-Star level have diminished. If he exceeds 2016, he will make a lot of people happy, I among them.

PRBS: I expect Matt Harvey to start the year in the rotation for the Mets, but I don’t know how effective he will be. The good news is that Harvey doesn’t have to be the Mets’ ace. Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom have both shown they can handle that role. If Harvey is even up to the standards he set in 2015, the Mets will have one of the best rotations in baseball.

CTM: What did I say two years ago? That. We’ve been down this road before, move along…

MPR: As Harvey works his way back from another offseason mired in major surgery, Mets fans will be asked to muster up their enthusiasm when and if he takes the mound. Assuming he’s ready for Opening Day, fans are hoping to experience more Dark Knight than Bruce Wayne. Matt has a lot riding on this season as he looks to get his baseball life back on track and become the dominant figure Mets fans witnessed early in his career.  

SS: After a largely successful return from Tommy John surgery in 2015, Harvey had a disastrous 2016, going 4-10 with a 4.86 ERA, 1.47 WHIP and 76 strikeouts in 92 2/3 innings pitched. In his three previous seasons, his highest ERA was 2.73. Harvey’s season ended in July when he underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome.

Coming back from Tommy John surgery is hard enough (just ask Zack Wheeler), but many pitchers have successfully done so. However, the track record is not as good for pitchers returning from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, which often involves removing a rib. Harvey, now 28, struggled in his first spring start, topping out at 94 MPH (in his first game back from Tommy John surgery, his fastball hit 99 MPH) and complaining of a sore neck. He did better in his second start, but his velocity remained lower.

The hope is that Harvey can stay healthy and be productive, but a return to his Dark Knight heyday may be wishful thinking.

AA: Every indication has been that Harvey will begin the season on time. We’ll see how things go for him as he ramps up for his return, but nothing has happened thus far that wouldn’t have him taking a turn in the Mets’ first time through the rotation. Given the history of pitchers returning from surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, I’d say expectations are a bit lower than they would be for him otherwise, but don’t be shocked if he turns out better than people expect.

DS: That’s the million dollar question. Harvey has consistently sat around 92-93 MPH during his spring starts, and that may be the new normal for him. Can he win like that? For sure. But you don’t get as many mistakes to get away with when you’re not throwing 97-98. Harvey may have to find a new way to get guys out, because the old Matt Harvey may be an idea of the past. For the Mets and my fantasy team’s sake, I sure hope I’m wrong.

C70: What’s the biggest weakness for this team?

MM: In my opinion, the pen.  As of today, there are only three quality relievers under contract. One (Jenrry Mejia) is serving out his second lifetime ban for drugs and won’t be available until (baseball’s definition of “lifetime”) the 2018 season.  The second is all-star closer Jeurys Familia, who will start the season on the suspension list after smacking his wife around.  And the last is Addison Reed, who can’t do everything.

Familia will probably be back by the end of April, and future star Hansel Robles is expected to step into the 7th inning role, but one more ++ reliever would sure make a difference on this team.

MP: The biggest variable that will prevent the Mets from getting back to the Postseason will be their health. The Mets always seem to have issues with injuries, and keeping the rotation on the field throughout the year will be the key. Unfortunately, seeing players drop like flies the last few years has not given me much confidence, and has spotlighted the importance in having depth at each position. 

FFF: Until proven otherwise, catching. A year ago, I’m pretty sure I told you Travis d’Arnaud was going to be an All-Star. What I think I meant
was he might watch the All-Stars on TV. He has looked very good in spring games thus far, but he has never fully avoided the DL or, as a
result, spent an entire season on the active major league roster. René Rivera is a dynamite defensive catcher but barely hits. Kevin Plawecki
has been a quiet disappointment in several phases of the game. Best I can say for the catching is they can’t be much worse as a unit than
they were last year, and they made the playoffs anyway.

PRBS: Defense. With Curtis Granderson projected as the regular centerfielder and Jay Bruce likely to start the season in right, there will be a lot of balls that fall in because no one was able to get to them. Good defensive positioning may be able to overcome lack of range in both the infield and the outfield to some degree, but the decision to prioritize offense will let opponents put some extra runs on the board.

CTM: Development of young non-pitching talent at the major league level. We’ve seen it before with Juan Lagares and Wilmer Flores, but Michael Conforto may be the most talented position player yet to be blocked from regular playing time with the Mets (most recently by “star” Jay Bruce). Everyone seems to agree that he needs to be playing just about every day, and yet that doesn’t seem to happen. This is especially troubling when you consider that the next two big prospects to debut will be position players. They’ve gotten helping pitchers make that last big step down to a science, hopefully they start to recognize a need for a similar approach with position players.

MPR: You could say that having a rotation where four-fifths of the starters are returning from either rehab, or surgery, or a combination of both, is a weakness. However, if the ‘Fab Five’ of Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, and the all-powerful Noah Syndergaard remain upright for the majority of the season, it could be seen as their biggest strength. The Mets were hampered last season with a dreadful batting average with runners in scoring position, so the offense needs to do more in that department to keep their young starters from pitching in too many high-pressured situations.  

SS: The Mets have trouble scoring runs without hitting homers. They hit a franchise-record 218 longballs in 2016, fifth-best in MLB. But their 671 runs scored tied for 25th best. The Mets finished 25th in batting average and 28th in steals.

The Mets did finish 10th in runs after the All-Star break, and it was probably not a coincidence that they had Jose Reyes back as their leadoff hitter for much of the second half. His 60-steal seasons may be well in the past, but the Mets went 35-25 in games started by Reyes, and 52-50 in their other games.  But Reyes, injury-prone as a younger player, turns 34 in June. In his brief stint with the Mets last season, he managed to find his way to the disabled list yet again.

The Mets have only two starters under 31 – the inconsistent and injury-prone Travis d’Arnaud (28) and Bruce (29). A younger lineup could conceivably be better able to manufacture runs without the home run, making it that much more frustrating if the 24-year-old Conforto starts the season on the bench or in the minors.

AA: Right now, it’s the bullpen. The starting pitching depth behind the excellent major league rotation would be suspect if there’s a need to rely on it heavily. The lineup looks pretty solid at every position, but it’s the fifth, sixth, and seventh guys in the bullpen that concern me most at the moment.

DS: Catcher, but I can’t wait for Travis D’Arnaud to shut us all up. I was very surprised the Mets didn’t at least bring a guy in to compete, but this is a make-or-break year for him. Despite what Kevin Long says, Spring Training only means so much. He needs a strong start for his confidence. I may be in the minority, but I’d give Derek Norris a minor league deal as insurance, although he’ll most definitely get a better offer than that elsewhere.

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

MM: This season, no.  There are three ‘nobodies’ that should continue to carry their weight on this team… SPs Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, and utility infielder T.J. Rivera, but the ‘A’ rated prospects won’t begin to arrive until September when the minors shut down.

One long shot… watch for pitcher P.J. Conlon, who was the Mets minor league player of the year and had the lowest ERA last season in all of minor league baseball. Word is the lefty may be converted from a starter and fast tracked from AA-Binghamton to the Mets pen in Queens.

MP: I was genuinely impressed with T.J Rivera last summer, and while he will probably start the season at Triple-A or on the Major League bench, I think he might surprise a lot of people during the 2017 campaign. 

FFF: I harbor an unhealthy adoration of former Cardinal farmhand Ty Kelly, who was dropped from the 40-man roster, but I’m convinced he’ll be
back and contributing off the bench before long. T.J. Rivera showed a very lively bat last year when he filled in for an injured Neil Walker
and I wouldn’t be surprised if he hits his way into playing more than currently projected.

PRBS: I think Jerry Blevins could transition from the lefty specialist role he’s been used in during his first two seasons with the Mets to become a key late-inning reliever. If Major League Baseball suspends Jeurys Familia and Addison Reed is forced into the closer’s role, Blevins could take over the eighth inning. While he’s been great against left-handed batters, Blevins is also effective against righties. He limited them to a .243 / .332 /.387 line during his career.

CTM: No. We’re at the point where we’re wondering whether most of these guys can return to form and/or realize their full potential. We know what they all could be, so it’s hard to call any of them unheralded. You would have to dig down into the minors to dredge up any names that would fit here, probably guys like Paul Sewald and Tomas Nido who will open the season in the upper minors and could be called on if there’s an opening for a backup role at some point down the road.

MPR: Tim Tebow? He’s as unheralded in terms of baseball acumen as they come. Seriously though, names you’ll want to keep in your back pocket; outfielder Brandon Nimmo, who has shown patience at the plate, and could land himself a spot on the bench and pitcher Rafael Montero. Although he’s been a disappointment in the past, the right-hander has been generating some buzz lately in Mets camp with better command of his pitches.

SS: In 2014, Jacob deGrom came up during the season as an unheralded injury replacement and ended up as the National League Rookie of the Year. Last season, Robert Gsellman came up in August as an unheralded injury replacement. In eight games, Gsellman had a 2.42 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 42 strikeouts in 44 2/3 innings. In six September starts, Gsellman’s ERA was 2.06.

With Zack Wheeler likely to begin the season in extended spring training, Gsellman could break camp as the fifth starter, and with so many injury questions surrounding the Met rotation, the 23-year-old has the chance to stick around for a while and give the Mets yet another long-haired starter.

AA: Travis d’Arnaud isn’t exactly unheralded in general, but he was awful at the plate last year. People seem to have lost confidence in him, but if he can stay healthy—a challenge thus far in his career—and hit nearly as well as he did in 2015, he’d be a major asset to this team. I’m expecting good things.

DS: Lucas Duda. It’s hard to point out a guy who’s hit more than 25 homers twice, but he’s the guy. For some reason, a lot of Mets’ fans are down on him, and I think he’s got a lot left to prove and a lot left in the tank. Although he’s streaky, his power bat makes the Mets’ lineup that much deeper. If he struggles, he’ll lose at bats, as he may already do so to Wilmer Flores against tough lefties.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

MM: If everyone stays healthy (especially the rotation) I see 86-76 as a target, but Washington will easily win the division and Atlanta has done loads to improve their team.  My prediction: Third place behind the Nats and Braves.

MP: If the Mets stay healthy, and play to their ability, they are definitely the best team in the National League East. However, like I said before, it’s one of those things that’s easier said than done. If I had to guess today, which I never really like to do, I’d guess 92 wins and a NL East Championship, but a lot of things will have to be done to get to that point, so there is a huge asterisk next to that prediction. 

FFF: The Nationals will scare me until they don’t. One among the Phillies, Braves and Marlins are is bound to step up and surprise a little. That
said, the Mets are a very sound club and I can see them winning the East or at least pushing Washington. Let me say they’ll make the postseason one way or the other and exceed their 87 wins from 2016.

PRBS: I expect the Mets to finish right around 90 wins, which might not be enough to win the division but should give them a shot at the title as well as a wild card spot. 

CTM: Last year I said 89-73 and second place, so let’s go with that. Theoretically, they should be able to pad their record a bit with all those games against the non-Nationals segment of the division, but that didn’t work out so well last year.

MPR: I have high expectations for this season and wouldn’t be surprised if the Mets gave the Nationals a run for their money and win the NL East. With a combination of a top tier starting rotation, a strong veteran bullpen, and an offense with a high propensity to hit the ball out of the ballpark, there’s no reason why the Mets shouldn’t be expected to make a deep run in the postseason.  

SS: 89-73 2nd place to Washington.  The Mets won 87 games last year while being wracked with injuries and are bringing back largely the same team (alas, no Bartolo Colon, who actually led the team in wins last year with 15). But enough health concerns remain that it’s hard to project them to do too much better than they did in 2016.

AA: I’ll go with 93-69, National League East champions.

DS: I think this is the Mets’ year to win the NL East. I think they’ll make a mid-season trade for either a 3B or bullpen arm (or both if Jose Reyes gets hurt). I will go 90 wins. I think that’s enough to win the NL East. 

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Met and why?

MM: For me, this is an easy choice.  I grew up a Brooklyn Dodgers fan and worshiped Gil Hodges.  I danced in the streets when he became a New York Met and I cried quietly in my bedroom when he passed.

Many would answer this question with the name Mike Piazza. Others would say it was ‘The Captain’, David Wright.  For me, it will always be Number 14.

MP: Considering I’m only 17 years old, I’ll limit myself to players I’ve actually watched play, and, while he’s currently an enemy, Daniel Murphy would be the guy that I would consider my favorite Met I watched. He was fun, enjoyable to watch (at times), great in the community and was a huge team player. Of course, David Wright possess all of those qualities as well, but the fact that Daniel Murphy did this without being the fan favorite like Wright has been is the reason I’ll pick Murphy. 

FFF: Tom Seaver was my first favorite Met when I was a kid and has yet to be unseated. He was Tom Terrific from the moment I discovered him and
never stopped being so. The excellence, the professionalism, the articulate nature of what he had to say, the perfect motion, never taking losing well…nobody has filled the role of “pitcher,” let alone “ace” the way Tom has in my eyes.

PRBS: Gary Carter. When the Mets traded for Carter, he was the last big piece they needed to turn a pretty good team with talented young players into a World Series champion. He was one of the best catchers to ever play the game, and he did it with a smile on his face.

I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Carter years later when he briefly managed the Long Island Ducks. He always made time to greet fans, take photos and sign autographs. While many players grow to resent autograph seekers over time, Carter found a way to use his fame to benefit a cause that mattered to him. He’d sign any Ducks merchandise for free, but he asked for a small donation in support of leukemia research.

CTM: There’s only about a thousand to choose from, so… There were lots of better and more popular players who spent time with the team, but every time I think about this I keep coming back to Ed Kranepool. Kranepool was a September call-up as a teenager in 1962 and played all of his 1853 games with the Mets. Though he played almost all of those games before my lifetime, he has been active in the Mets community throughout the decades since his retirement. I first met him in the early ’90s when he was doing signings at small card shows frequented by many of the ’69 Mets, back when I was a kid who knew next to nothing about that team or the pre-’80s Mets in general. More recently, I had the opportunity to chat with him for a few minutes and he still remembered the details of that show, right down to the location and the promoter’s name, more than 20 years later. He has been a great ambassador for the team, helping to link current fans to the team’s history in a much more personal way than the team’s afterthought of a museum at Citi Field ever could.

MPR: It’s pretty hard to pinpoint an all-time favorite. I have such affinity for that ’86 team, anyone of those players could be at the top of the list. But, if I had to choose, I would lean toward Doc Gooden. Now, I know, he’s had plenty of chances yet continues to battle his inner demons. But as a kid watching him pitch, seeing how downright electric he was — it’s just something you don’t forget quickly.  

SS: Decades after his retirement, Tom Seaver remains “The Franchise.” When Seaver joined the team in 1967, the Mets were a national joke. Two years later, Seaver won 25 games and the Cy Young Award and the Mets were one of the most unlikely World Series champions in baseball history.

Seaver won a total of three Cy Youngs as a Met and also helped lead the Mets to the 1973 World Series. Of his 311 career wins, 198 came as a Met.

Seaver is the only player in the baseball Hall of Fame who achieved most of his success as a Met. Before Mike Piazza last year, Seaver was the only player in the Hall of Fame with a Met cap on his plaque.

AA: It changes, and it’s tough not to say Carlos Beltran here. But at this point, it’s David Wright. He’s clearly the best position player in team history, and it’s been tough to watch him deal with major injuries that have sidelined him for the majority of the past two seasons. Watching him hit a home run in the World Series in person is a top-five Mets moment for me and probably always will be.

DS: Well it used to be Bobby Bonilla, and then Todd Hundley, but that’s all before Mike Piazza’s time. Nobody can touch Piazza, as far as I am concerned. I have been part of so many magical moments in Queens with him, and he forever will be my favorite player. From the first game after Sept. 11 to the 10-run eighth inning on Fireworks Night, Mike Piazza will always be my number one. 

Plenty of informative and interesting info here on the National League squad from the Big Apple.  Thanks to all of these guys for the insight!


Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

Minnesota Twins
59-103, fifth in AL Central
Last year’s Pepper

Well, that was a bit of a turnaround, wasn’t it?  In 2015 the Twins finished second in the division, albeit 12 games out.  Looking through the Pepper answers last year, I can tell our contributors didn’t necessarily expect things to improve, but they didn’t think the bottom would fall out either.  It did, though, which means it’s time to sort through the rubble and start building back up toward contention.

The rough year didn’t run off the Twins bloggers and I’m very glad to have them return (or, in the case of Maija, make their debut) to talk about this club 30 years after our teams met in the Fall Classic.  (Please note, all entries were submitted before this weekend’s news about Trevor May, which may color some things.)

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

TIS: Not really. It looks like Falvey and Levine are looking at 2017 as an assessment season vs. as a rebuilding season. They kept pretty much all of the front office, minor league managers, coaches and player development personnel, as well as most of the MLB-team intact, including the manager and coaches. I wish they were more aggressive, but I can see why they want to see more of what they have and whether the old dogs can learn new tricks. Good luck. On the other hand, as far as players go, not selling high on Dozier, E. Santana, and a bunch of the veterans makes zero sense for a rebuilding team.

NDTF: I don’t think you are going to find many Twins fans that are overly excited with the team’s offseason. Minnesota made a big switch to their baseball operations department by hiring Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to try and turn around the organization. Jason Castro was the only major free agent addition for the club and not many fans are going to be bouncing off the walls for a defensive minded catcher. Pitching was the team’s biggest weakness a year ago and the team only made minimal bullpen additions. Many Twins fans were disappointed that the team couldn’t work out a trade that included Brian Dozier. There were plenty of rumors swirling about a potential Dodgers deal but the Twins were never going to send Dozier away for one player.

TD: The Twins offseason started off fast, but it was probably slower overall than most Twins fans would have anticipated. Obviously it started with the announcement of Derek Falvey taking over as the Twins Chief Baseball Officer. Soon after, they announced that Thad Levine was the new General Manager. and then they went out and improved their catcher position very quickly by signing Jason Castro before the end of November. And then things got quiet.

It appears that the new leadership has decided to use the same strategy for players that they are for much of the front office. They are going to take their time and evaluate the current options. The Twins have a lot of young talent that they need to let play, so I don’t think I expected them to do a ton. Late they signed reliever Matt Belisle (MLB contract) and Craig Breslow (MILB contract) to help out in the bullpen. Not exciting names but guys that could certainly help.

TT: It wasn’t a terrible off-season for the Twins, but it wasn’t great either. I think the team was obviously hindered by the bad free agent market, and lack of trading partners for Brian Dozier. Dozier was the Twins’ biggest trade chip, and they tried to trade him, but there weren’t many second baseman suitors out there with young pitching to give in return. It was basically only the Dodgers, who only wanted to trade Jose De Leon for Brian Dozier in a one-on-one deal, and I’m glad the Twins didn’t do that.

The Twins did go out and get catcher Jason Castro, pitch framer extraordinaire, in a creative attempt to help pitching in a thin market. That was cool, I guess. We’ll see how it works.

It was also a weird off-season because the entire front office was transitioning power. There was a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff going on that I’m sure took a lot of the new Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey’s time, and new GM Thad Levine’s time. The fact Falvey’s previous team–the Indians–made a deep, deep playoff run also delayed the reorganization of the front office, because he couldn’t officially accept the job until after the Indians’ season was over.

10KT: It was an interesting offseason to say the least. The Twins began a new era by bringing in Derek Falvey as President of Baseball Operations and Thad Levine as General Manager replacing longtime GM Terry Ryan. The working theory for most is that the Falvey-Levine combo are sitting back and seeing what they have before making any major moves. The big move of the offseason was bringing in catcher Jason Castro, at least that’s how everyone has been framing it. It would’ve been nice if the Twins could’ve added some more pitching before the season, but I understand the waiting and seeing game that Falvey and Levine are playing.

C70: What’s the feeling on Byron Buxton? Is the fanbase still patient with him or a little disappointed about how his career has started?

TIS: Yes to all of the above 🙂 Unfortunately Terry Ryan rushed Buxton who has had a serious problem with breaking pitches all his minor league career. It seems that he turned the corner after his mid-season demotion and his September call up. Still very young and still tons of potential. Not part of the problem.

NDTF: There have been some frustrations with Buxton but he began to show marketable improvements near the end of last season. During the season’s final month, he hit .287/.357/.653 with nine home runs, six doubles, and three triples. Add these numbers to his tremendous defensive ability and fans should be excited about what the future could hold. Unfortunately, many fans weren’t paying attention to a 100-loss team in September so Buxton will need to prove himself again this season.  

TD: It’s a mixed bag, I’m sure, for Twins fans on what to expect from Byron Buxton. there would be a lot more concern if not for his remarkable September when he showed off not only his incredible defensive ability, but also hit and showed off the type of power that he possesses. That month gives people a lot of hope that he can continue it and start 2017 strong. I think most Twins fans know that he can be a Gold Glover at worst, but if he can be a guy who gets on 34% of the time and hit 15-20 homers and a bunch of doubles and triples, he has All Star ability.

TT: Most Twins fans are excited about Buxton and think he’ll have a good year. I would not be surprised at all if he is the best player for the Twins in 2017. He took a big step forward in September of last year, and we’re all hoping it carries over. There are some parts of the casual/less informed/complain-y fan base that likes to call him “BUST-on”, but basically everyone who actually watches and is more informed is pretty excited. He literally just turned 23 years old in late December, and most fans are aware of his youth. Plus, his incredible speed is undeniable.

10KT: I believe that people are still excited for Byron Buxton. On Wednesday night, the Twins played Team USA and Buxton made another remarkable catch in centerfield. Buxton started playing quite well in the last month of the season so there have been flashes of what his potential could be. Twins folks are peddling a good idea about being patient on Buxton. Both Kirby Puckett and Torii Hunter didn’t breakout into being a very legitimate MLB player until their age 25 season, 2017 will be Buxton’s age 23 season. There’s plenty of time for Buxton to live up to the hype.

C70: How long before the Twins contend for the AL Central title?

TIS: Contend is a scary word, because it means so many things to so many people 🙂 I suspect they “contended” in 2015, but they did not really contended. I think that they are a couple of top of the rotation pitchers away from contending and if everything works out well for them, it will be 2019 or so. They have the bats for sure. For me contending means building a team that year in and year out will be in the top 2 positions of the division and has the potential to go deep in the post-season. The Twins have not done that since 1991…

NDTF: Cleveland seems to have a hold on the division at this point. The Royals are not that far removed from a World Series title. Chicago is rebuilding. With a young core, the Twins will need to get back in contention over the next two-three years before Buxton and Sano reach free agency. There’s a small window and the new front office needs to attack it. 

TD: l don’t think the Twins are as far off as a lot of people do. However, Cleveland is going to (or at least should) run away with the division in 2017, and they should be strong again in 2018 and maybe even longer. I think the Twins can jump from 59 wins to 75-78 wins in 2017. So I think that they could contend for a playoff spot as early as 2018. 

TT: They will win the division in two years.

10KT: The Twins are much closer to the 2015 team that barely missed the playoffs than the 100-plus loss team of 2016. Nothing would really surprise me for when this team would contend, but that just might be my Twins-colored glasses talking. I’d say the Twins could start contending in 2017, after Falvey and Levine make some moves, and might really, really start contending in 2018. I think they are close. 

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

TIS: Jorge Polanco. Pretty much written off as a shortstop, I expect him to turn into an two way All-Star caliber player, and 2017 will be his season.

NDTF: The Twins front office is very high on Max Kepler. He showed flashes of brilliance during his rookie campaign but the team is looking for him to take a big step in 2017. There are some that think more highly of him than Buxton and that is putting him in some elite company. 

TD: Everyone knows (and talks about) Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Max Kepler and Jose Berrios, but one young player that doesn’t get talked about as much is Jorge Polanco. A year ago, he was near the bottom of some Top 100 lists. He has the ability to take quality plate appearances most times up. The question with him will be if he can improve (dramatically) and become just an average defensive shortstop. If he can do that, it would be huge for the Twins. 

TT: Most of the Twins players are either bad or super young, so it’s hard to say. Not that I expect them to be good, but the most curious cases to me are starting pitcher Phil Hughes, who is coming back from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery (the rib removal thing), and Korean Slugger Byung Ho Park, who was removed from the 40-man roster but could very well still make the club. Park started off well last year, but suffered multiple wrist injuries that I think contributed to his decline. He’s looked pretty good so far in spring training and has been working hard. Everyone seems to love him.

10KT: I feel like Max Kepler isn’t as heralded as he should be. Kepler has been overshadowed by the coming of Buxton, Miguel Sano and Jose Berrios. There’s a good chance that Kepler will be an American League All-Star and a fighting chance that he might make it there before the other three. I’d keep my eye on Kepler.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

TIS: I do not make my prediction of record before I see them play every Spring Training and the roster is close to being set, so my official prediction will come at the end of March. As far as finish goes, they better finish ahead of the White Sox, winning 75+ games. They might even challenge the Royals. Too early to tell.

NDTF: 77-85, third place in the AL Central

TD: I think that the Twins will go 77-85, and if they do, Twins fans should be happy and excited for 2018. I would think that would be good for third in the AL Central. 

TT: I would be happy with 76 wins.

10KT: Every year I say the Twins finish around .500 and I think that’ll be the case again this year. It’s not going to be another 100-loss season, I know that much. The Twins will be right around .500, maybe a little above or below, and will finish third in the division. I’m drinking the Twins Kool-Aid.

C7o: Who is your all-time favorite Twin and why?

TIS: Kirby Puckett. If one has seen him play, the why is obvious. Gave it 100% every day and carried the team to two World Championships (and a few more if La Russa and his cheating A’s were not around.)

NDTF: Kirby Puckett will always be my all-time favorite Twin. From his small demeanor to the championships he brought to the Twin Cities, he is a legend in Twins lore. Other famous Twins like Killebrew, Olivia, and Carew were before my time so Puckett gets the nod. 

TD: Easy choice. I was 8 years old in April of 1984 when Kirby Puckett was called up. I think it was mainly just his name. But as I grew up and got to actually know more and more about baseball, and more games were on TV, my appreciation for Kirby Puckett grew. I always wanted to wear #34. Obviously going through 1987 and 1991 furthered that admiration. I liked the stocky build. I liked the leg kick. I loved that he was smiling all the time. Game 6 of 1991. When he retired, I was devastated, and when he died, I had to leave work. I went to Cooperstown in 2001 to see him inducted into the Hall of Fame. Despite his off field issues that came out starting in 2002, Puckett was my childhood hero. 

TT: Kirby Puckett. Hans down. He made me love baseball.

10KT: It’s hard to pick just one, because the Twins have had so many fun players throughout the history of the franchise. If I had to pick one, I’d have to go with Doug Mientkiewicz. The first Twins game I ever attended, I got a promotional Mientkiewicz jersey and that hooked me. He had a weird name and he had an amazing glove. He’s the reason I wanted to play first base and was one of the main reasons I got hooked on baseball. The potential future manager of the Minnesota Twins is my favorite Twin.

My appreciation to all that brought the knowledge today.  It’ll be interesting to see how the Twins respond to a rough 2016!


Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

Milwaukee Brewers
73-89, fourth in NL Central
Last year’s Pepper

The seasons come and go, but it feels like of late it’s always been a struggle up in The Good Land.  The NL Central always seems to have teams waxing and waning and it could be that the Brewers are about to start back up the ladder.  Whether they’ll do it with their biggest name, Ryan Braun, is a question to be asked.

Hey, that’s what I did!  We’ve got three Milwaukee bloggers to give us information about the club.  I’ll note that soon you’ll find my answers to some Cardinals questions posed by Enrique over at The Brewers Bar, so be on the lookout for that as well as checking out all these guys.  (Kyle and Jaymes still show up on the Disciples of Uecker masthead, but it seems most of their work now is at Brew Crew Ball.)

Blogger, Blog, Twitter, Podcast
Kyle Lesniewski, Brew Crew Ball, brewerfan28,
Enrique Bakemeyer, The Brewers Bar, C_Enrique_B,
Jaymes Langrehr, Brew Crew Ball, JaymesL,

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

BCBK: This was a pretty good winter for the Brewers. They didn’t really need to do much other than keep the ball rolling on building to the future. I’m a big fan of the Tyler Thornburg deal – if Travis Shaw is a 2 WAR third baseman, he essentially replaces the lost WAR that what we might’ve expected from ~70 innings of Thornburg and comes with two additional years of control. Beyond that, Mauricio Dubon has been praised as an organizational top 10 prospect since coming back in that trade and could provide MLB value in the not-so-distant future, and Josh Pennington is the hard-throwing wild card in the deal.

It doesn’t look like there’s much of a market for Chris Carter, so in hindsight it may have been wise to cut bait rather than pay him some $9 mil in arbitration. The projection systems seem to love Eric Thames, and if he can even be a useful platoon bat at first base he’ll earn his keep on a 3 year, $16 mil deal.

Neftali Feliz was the big bullpen signing and figures to be the closer after the trades of Thornburg, Jeffress, and Will Smith last year. The club seems to think his home run issues last year were a bit of an aberration, so if he pitches well in the first half he’ll likely become a trade candidate. The club has also added some interesting arms on minor league deals, including Joba Chamberlain, Forrest Snow, and Andrew Barbosa. My only real complain about the winter was leaving Miguel Diaz unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft, which allowed the Padres to pick him first overall and add a potential 50-60 OFP arm to their system.

BB: Since the Brewers are in the middle of a rebuild, it would have been tough for them to have a bad offseason. Brewers fans’ expectations are realistic at this point, so we weren’t planning on any splashy free agent signings. We will have to get used to the fact that the few familiar faces still on the club – Ryan Braun, Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson, and Matt Garza – could well be traded by mid-season if they aren’t injured or miserably underperforming. Longtime role players like Tyler Thornburg and Martin Maldonado were traded in the offseason, and homerun/strikeout title holder Chris Carter was non-tendered.

But the offseason wasn’t just about guys leaving. The Brewers signed a guy out of Korea named Eric Thames who seems like a low-risk first base option for a non-competitive team. They also picked up reliever Neftali Feliz, who I suspect is a time-server that won’t be part of the future, but he could eventually be tradeable for someone who will be part of the future. One of the players the Brewers got in the Thornburg trade, third baseman Travis Shaw, is expected to see a fair amount of playing time in 2017.

Coming into spring training, principal owner Mark Attanasio said, “This year will inform us as to where we are on the timeline for competing.” Given the position the Brewers are in, it’s hard to be very disappointed or excited about any offseason moves. We’ll see what happens.

BCBJ: It’s hard to tell whether it was a good offseason for the Brewers, mostly because it was such a quiet one. They didn’t do much, outside of a couple of minor free agent additions in Eric Thames and Neftali Feliz. For the most part, they stuck to the minor league free agent pool, trying to replicate the success they found last year when they picked up Junior Guerra out of obscurity and he became one of the best starters in their rotation.

It is a little surprising to still see Ryan Braun wearing a Brewers uniform, but I don’t know if I’d go as far to say I wished they did trade him. He may not be an MVP candidate anymore, but he’s still an extremely good hitter, and since the Brewers’ rebuild has gone so well to this point, they don’t need to trade Braun just for the sake of trading him.

C70: What’s going to be the strong point of this team?

BCBK: The strong point of this team looks like it’ll probably be the offense. It seems apparent that former MVP Ryan Braun will once again anchor the middle of the lineup after posting 30 homers and a .900+ OPS last season. Jonathan Villar broke out last year and will shift to second base in 2017, and both Domingo Santana and Keon Broxton looked like they could be potentially above-average regulars when healthy last year. The club will be counting on positive contributions from new acquisitions Thames and Shaw at the infield corners and both appear to be capable, and hopefully Orlando Arcia can show some improvement on his relatively meager offensive production during his first two months in the big leagues last summer.

BB: Young players who surprise us with their moxie and make the most of their opportunity will be the strong points. Last year, Jonathan Villar emerged as a capable leadoff hitter and led the league in stolen bases. (Villar also led the league in being caught stealing by miles, but hey.) Pitcher Zach Davies had a solid first full season in the majors, and 31-year-old rookie Junior Guerra surprised us all by being the Brewers’ best starter.

There are numerous unproven players who could blow our minds in 2017, such as Orlando Arcia, Yadiel Rivera, Keon Broxton, Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips, Andrew Susac, Lewis Brinson, and Josh Hader, to name a few. Who will step up? Enquiring minds want to know…

BCBJ: I think the lineup could be sneaky dangerous. Jonathan Villar is coming off a breakout season and Keon Broxton is coming off of a ridiculously hot second half of the season after he made some mechanical adjustments in his swing. If both can hit the way they did to close last year, that’s a dangerous 1-2 punch to have hitting in front of Braun. I’m a big fan of Domingo Santana’s power potential, and Travis Shaw’s power should play well at Miller Park, too. If Eric Thames can be a league-average bat, that’s six pretty good hitters in the lineup.

C70: There always seems to be a buzz about Ryan Braun being traded. Is that something that is realistic or just a lot of internet rumor?

BCBK: It doesn’t appear as though Ryan Braun is going anywhere. The best shot may have been last year at the non-waiver deadline, and the trade to the Dodgers that everyone expected coming into this winter never really materialized. There haven’t been any real substantive rumors about Braun all winter, and now that the Dodgers have brought in Logan Forsythe, I’d say it’s a safe bet Braun starts 2017 with Milwaukee. He gains full 10-5 no trade rights at the end of May, so the Brewers may very well have another four years of Braun to look forward to.

BB: Apparently the Brewers were minutes away from trading Braun to the Dodgers in August, so it would seem to be more than rumor. Still, there are a number of things standing in the way of a Braun trade, primarily his no-trade protection on all but six teams. Although it came close to happening a few months ago, it seems unlikely, but you never know. If Braun is traded this year, I have a feeling it will be like the collapse of the Soviet Union – obvious that it was going to happen in hindsight, but it will be surprising at the time.

BCBJ: Braun was reportedly very nearly traded to the Dodgers for Yasiel Puig and Brandon McCarthy at the end of August last year, but the teams couldn’t agree on a final deal before the deadline that would’ve kept Braun eligible for the postseason. Since then, though, there hasn’t been any legitimate rumors that a deal with the Dodgers or anyone else was close. Braun does have a limited no-trade clause that allows him to block trades to all but a handful of teams, and he’ll get his 10-and-5 no-trade rights in May.

Braun says he loves Milwaukee and he’s started a family there now, so he may be reluctant to accept a deal elsewhere. He also likely knows he won’t get the kind of fan support he gets now in Milwaukee anywhere else. If he does end up getting traded, I would expect it to be to a team in California that’s contending for a championship.

C7o: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

BCBK: I was ahead of the game last year by predicting Junior Guerra’s breakout (#2016BrewersAce), but there are two rather unheralded guys that have been generating some hype this winter. Zach Davies has been hailed as potentially the next Kyle Hendricks and lead the league in command last year according to Baseball Prospectus’ new CSAA statistic. He posted a 3.92 ERA last year so he’s not exactly coming out of nowhere, but he could improve upon that already solid level of run prevention. The other is Keon Broxton. Everyone in Milwaukee is talking about Lewis Brinson’s impending arrival in the bigs, but he’ll have to get past Broxton first, who hit 9 homers and stole 23 bases in just 75 games last year before breaking his wrist in September. His exit velocity last year was among the best in the big leagues after a midseason mechanical adjustment with his hands, and if he can carry over that success (and keep his K’s in check) it wouldn’t be outrageous to hope for a 100-110 OPS+ with plus defense in center field.

BB: I would think that all Brewers other than Braun are unheralded as far as baseball fans outside of Milwaukee are concerned. That said, I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for Keon Broxton, who didn’t get a hit until May 21 last year, but improved with regular playing time and is projected to be the Brewers’ starting center fielder in 2017. He’s a fun player to watch, particularly when he’s robbing a homerun from Anthony Rizzo

BCBJ: I mentioned him before, but Keon Broxton has the potential to be a really exciting player. His overall stat line from last season (.242/.354/.430, 9 HR, 23 SB) may not look all that impressive, but after returning from the minors and fixing his swing, he hit .293/.399/.538 in the second half. That’s a .937 OPS from a guy who’s also a great defensive centerfielder and is dangerous on the basepaths. Is he going to put up a .900 OPS over the course of a full season? Probably not. But he still has a chance to be a very valuable player for the Brewers this year and in the future.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

BCBK: I’ll pick the Brewers to go 77-85 and finish fourth in the division.

BB: I’d prefer not to speculate on the Brewers’ 2017 record except to say I’d be over the moon if they got to .500. I’m hopeful they can finish fourth and avoid ending the season in last place.

BCBJ: Most of the projections seem to have the Brewers in the 75-77 win range, and that probably sounds about right. I will say, though, that there are a lot of young guys in the lineup that have the potential to truly break out this year, which might push them close to 80 if they can get a little lucky. That would put them pretty squarely in third place in the division, in my opinion, but that also depends on a largely unproven pitching staff producing a few surprises.

On the other hand, I could also see the pitching staff bursting into flames — especially the bullpen — and the Brewers finishing worse than their 73-89 mark from last year. There’s a wide range of possibilities for this bunch.

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Brewer and why?

BCBK: I’ve always been very partial to Geoff Jenkins, and I do love Ryan Braun. But when I really think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever lived and died with a player as much as I did during Junior Guerra’s 20 starts last year. I’ve got his jersey hanging in my closet, and I hope that when I’m wearing it to Miller Park on April 3rd that it’ll be during a well-earned Opening Day start for the 32 year old. The guy was pitching in Italy a couple year’s ago, for goodness sakes, and he posted a sub-3.00 ERA in over 120 innings last year! How do you not root for a story like that?

BB: Prince Fielder. After losing interest in the Brewers during the 90s and early 00s, I became a fan again in 2007 thanks to a core of young players led by Fielder. I saw plenty of great Fielder moments from 2007-2011, and one that stands out is his 14th inning walk-off homer against the Rockies on May 20, 2011. The Brewers were scuffling in the early part of 2011, and that comeback victory was an emotional turning point in what would end up being an NL Central winning year. Unfortunately, they went on to be knocked out of the playoffs by a team whose name escapes me at the moment…

BCBJ: Ben Sheets. That curveball was incredible, and it’s rare you can see a starting pitcher have that much success with just two pitches. He was really, really good for some really, really bad teams during his career and never complained about it or signed elsewhere. By the time 2008 came and the Brewers were finally making a postseason run, his body gave out. He tore ligaments in his elbow during the last month of the playoff race and still kept pitching (during a contract year, no less!), knowing the Brewers needed every win they could get. He ended up having to miss the playoffs, but he gave up his body — and ultimately his career — to help get the team there. He missed all of 2009, then pitched parts of two seasons after that but was never the same.

Appreciate all the guys helping us out with this NL Central rival.  We’ll get to see these young guys a lot over the coming years!

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