July 2014

Where’s The Beef?

Does it concern you that we are seeing a reduction in scoring by a number of teams in baseball? I think fans really like offense more than a great pitcher’s dual or stellar defense. Maybe not the diehard fans like us, but the people that might see one or two games a year on television or at the closest ball park. They want offense. No doubt, I think the triple is the most exciting play in baseball. But offense seems to be taking a back seat. There are some calling for an elimination of the defensive shift as a way to increase offense. I disagree. I think the offense has to adapt to what they see. Bunt if you have to. How about lowering the pitcher’s mound back to where it was in the 60’s? Not bad. I can like that reversal to the past. I don’t think that’ll happen. But I still love to watch two great pitchers go head to head and frustrate the opposition. Where’s the beef? The beef is gone. But some guys are still hitting tremendous home runs. We haven’t lost that.

The beef I’m really missing is the good ol’ fashioned nose to nose, throw dirt on the umpires shoes argument. It’s gone. Replaced by instant replay. That’s a part of the game I think fans miss. The vein popping, raise the hair on your neck beef. Earl Weaver, Billy Martin type beefs. The best. But gone.

I think the Rangers made a fantastic deal for Joakim Soria. The two young arms going back to the Rangers from Detroit are both solid pitchers with upside. Maybe not now, but in the future. Jake Thompson is a starter with sink on his fastball and a good repertoire. Thompson is 6-4 and 235 pounds. Huge. Corey Knebel is an able reliever with some big league experience. For his part, Soria is slated to pitch the 7th inning for the Tigers. We’ll see how long that lasts. He could easily slip into the 8th or 9th inning in a mix or match scenario with Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan.
Jake Peavy to the Giants? That’s a big, big home park. It fits him nicely. And he likely slots as the #5 starter behind Bumgarner, Hudson, Lincecum, and Vogelsong. He probably won’t have to work the playoffs from the rotation. The need was great for San Francisco and I don’t think the price was that high. I do think Heath Hembree has a big arm for the bullpen and maybe Edwin Escobar can help the Red Sox as a starter from the left side. But they aren’t proven. Peavy has some quality starts left in his right arm.

Trades and free agent signings are risky. I give you the Cleveland Indians. I know, you don’t want them. Anyway, I give you their situation. The franchise was in the dumper in 2012. Fans were staying away in droves. They had to do something in the off-season to perk up interest. So—they gave the moon, the sun to Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. They ended up with no stars. The rest is history. Financially, the team’s hands are tied. They have to find inexpensive, controllable right-handed hitters and pitchers to fill gaps.
Good luck with that. Everybody wants those type players. Swisher and Bourn are signed thru…2017.

Once he gets some protection in the lineup, I think Anthony Rizzo can be the next big star in the National League.

What happened to Nelson Cruz? Who’s the real guy? The first half slugger with a great batting average or the hitter scuffling now? Hope he comes back. The Orioles need his big bat.

Miguel Cabrera still looks hurt to me. He can’t open his hips and use his lower body as he has in the past. Run? Fuget abow did.
What happens to the Royals after this season if they don’t make the playoffs? What does the team do with Hosmer, Moustakas, Butler and Gordon? I’m just askin.

I think the Giants would have been better off with the defense of Darwin Barney than the ??? of Dan Uggla. I’m just sayin.

OK-I get it with the Astros thinking Brady Aiken has injury issues. What the team does with their first round draft selection is up to them. However, they had a deal on the table with Jacob Nix, a right-handed pitcher from Los Alamitos, Texas. He was an innocent victim in the entire process. He is now without a contract to chase his dream. He couldn’t be signed due to the bonus money tied to Aiken. It’s a sad situation.

The Rays are proving how critical pitching is to winning baseball. They’ve come from nowhere to be somewhere. I still think they’ll fall short, but their surge has put the brakes on any movement of David Price in trade. Healthy pitchers=they’re winning.

I guess any team can have Ryan Howard if they agree to pay the rest of his $25MM salary this year and the same amount for 2015 and 2016. But there’s good news. The price drops to $23MM in 2017-a bargain. Of course, the Phillies could pick up some of the money for a team to obtain the contract. Yikes!

Did any of us ever think the Texas Rangers would have the worst record in baseball at the end of July? That they would have won only 41 games? By the way- I still like the Orioles to win the East. I haven’t wavered.

If you haven’t seen David Peralta of the DBacks play, make it a point to watch a game if you can. He’s an exciting left-handed hitter nobody talks about. I think he’s a legit Rookie Of The Year candidate. And I like Jose Abreu for that honor in the AL.

Time to look at some mid-season numbers that strike me as fascinating:

As of today, B J Upton has struck out 127 times. He leads Marlon Byrd-the subject of many trade rumors, by two. Upton is hitting .217. Byrd .266. Upton is having to get by this year on $14MM. 2015 $15MM, 2016 $16MM, 2017 $17MM and then….in 2018 he becomes a free agent. It’s actually more each year, but I rounded it down.

Carlos Santana has walked 72 times. Jose Bautista is next at 69.

Jose Altuve has 148 hits. Dee Gordon has ten triples.

If you would have told me Stephen Strasburg would have more losses (eight) than wins (seven) at this point of the season I wouldn’t believe you. But he does. And Scott Kazmir has a 12-3 record.

Thank you for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s It. I’m Done.

Reflections From Minneapolis-All Star Game

There’s something about seeing so much talent on one baseball field that is electrifying. Last night’s game just made me love the game of baseball even more-and I don’t know how that’s possible. I’ll tell you why a bit later.

The day began with the red carpet parade of players right outside my hotel door. There was excitement in the air. The hotel had set up a charcoal barbecue station with hot dogs, hamburgers, etc. right outside the revolving doors. The smell of charcoal provided a fantastic backdrop to the parade. The crowd was about eight people deep lining the sidewalks for as far as my four eyes could see. Minnesota has these fantastic walkways (with shopping malls and restaurants) above the streets for pedestrian traffic during inclement weather. The walkways were packed with people-their noses pressed to the window if they were in the front row. It was great to see and be part of.

Right down from my hotel is a statue to Mary Tyler Moore-star of the bygone days sitcom about a Minneapolis news room. The statue is wonderful and I’m glad I got to see it.

The All Star Game was really Derek Jeter Night, and he didn’t disappoint. I know there are people who don’t like him or anything Yankees. However, don’t count me among them. He’s a great player-a team player. He’s a gentleman. Classy. Intelligent.
His play on Andrew McCutchen’s first inning grounder set the tone for his overall game.

It was more than fitting that Jeter and Mike Trout hit one and two in the AL lineup. Because if Jeter is No. 1 now, at the end of the season, Trout will take that honor. And he deserves it. And he deserved his MVP Award last night. Imagine what he’ll be like when he’s in his prime at 27. Or if he plays until he’s 40, like Jeter.

I missed seeing Big Papi and Albert Pujols. They belong on the biggest stage of stars.

Chris Sale didn’t seem comfortable coming in during a game as opposed to starting.

I don’t know if anyone will ever hit a home run further in Target Field than Giancarlo Stanton hit during the Home Run Derby-just had to get that in. Sorry about that.

Jonathan Lucroy may now be a household name and not a secret anymore. The man is a double’s machine. He can hit, plays great defense and his game is coming to its peak.
He could help the Brewers into the playoffs if he keeps swinging like I think he can.

Dee Gordon was a blurrrr circling the bases faster than I could swallow a swig of water on Lucroy’s double. And he made a fine defensive play on Michael Brantley.

Yasiel Puig may have gone back to Los Angeles with a bit of humility. All Star Week saw him take a donut in the Derby and strike out three times in three plate appearances at the ASG.

I would have started Clayton Kershaw on the mound for the NL, but nobody asked me.

How cool was it that Glen Perkins of the Twins finished the game throwing to Kurt Suzuki of the Twins.

American League gets home field advantage in the World Series. Think it isn’t important? Ask the Dbacks and Yankees.

Next year the ASG will be in Cincinnati. The following years have not been announced. Here are my guesses-two of these three: Washington and either Los Angeles Dodgers or Oakland. I have no inside information. Just my hunches.

There was an ASG first yesterday-no pitcher went more than one inning.

Aroldis Chapman hit 101 mph twice.

Broadway singer Idina Menzel did a spectacular job with the National Anthem. It was stirring. Don’t know if they showed it on television, but if they didn’t, you missed a beautiful moment. F-16’s buzzed the field as she concluded.

I would like to hear God Bless America sung at every park in every 7th inning or before every game. It’s a beautiful song and it reminds us who we are, what we have and where we are.

I heard that Adam Wainwright said he threw Jeter a pitch in the first inning he knew Jeter could hit. Um…I’m not buying. I think Adam Wainwright threw Jeter a mistake Jeter could hit in the first inning.

Did you like the greeeeen shoes and the orange laces and trim? I’m just wondering.
I’d love some greeeeen shoes, but I can’t find any in my size. I wear a wiiiiide. Did you like the caps? I think I did. I had to think about it for a while, but I decided I liked them.

I walked back from the park last night. It was the most peaceful, happy, non-threating crowd I’ve seen in years. Folks were having a great time. I didn’t see one drunk.

Derek Jeter’s was the first car in the Red Carpet parade yesterday.

I really got a laugh seeing 6-foot-5 Jose Abreu standing next to 5-foot-5 Jose Altuve.

Isn’t it time for Fernando Rodney to put his cap on straight? I’m just asking. Or maybe he can just have a head tilt operation. I think the tilted cap is so…what’s the word….yesterday. So…… last decade.

Name the pitcher: 1 inning, 3 hits, 3 earned runs, 0 walks and 2 strikeouts. Does that sound like Adam Wainwright? Remember when Justin Verlander blew up in Kansas City? And how about Jon Lester?…1 inning, 3 hits, 2 earned runs. He let the NL back in the game. And one more. Pat Neshek. 1/3 of an inning, 3 hits, 2 earned runs and a closing ERA of…54.00. I’m sure each of them wanted the ground to open so they could crawl in.

So now I return to Phoenix. All Star Game activities are over for another year. It was great. Thank you Minneapolis. Thank you Twins, MLB and MLB.com. This was a wonderful week. And thank you for reading my Reflections From Minneapolis.

I hope you will keep up with my work on MLB.com and MLBPipeline.com and follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. I have the best followers in the world and you can become one yourself.

That’s it. I’m done.

Reflections From Minneapolis-Home Run Derby

My seat last night during the Home Run Derby was directly behind 3B in the Auxiliary Press Box. Usually the auxiliary box is in the outfield. These seats were outstanding. I’m hoping to claim the same seat tonight for the All Star Game.

The rain came and went three different times. Fans were getting restless and wondering if the Derby would ever begin. But the end result was worth the wait.
Mother Nature made a cameo appearance to make up for the rain delays. The rainbow was spectacular. Full arc. I’ve seen lots of those in Arizona, but this was very fitting as sort of a “consolation prize” for the long wait.

I did a poll on twitter asking who would win each league and who would win the overall competition. I had tons of entries, but only one was correct. The fly in the ointment was Todd Frazier. Surprisingly, several people picked him to win the NL. But two people had him winning the entire competition.

Be honest with me here-were you among those that cheered when Yasiel Puig took a donut? The crowd in the stands was kind of pleased.

The ovations for Justin Morneau were spectacular. I expect to hear similar volume tonight for Derek Jeter.

I’m not sure the new format helps the first round winner. They didn’t remain in a groove and both seemed to cool off with the time off.

Lots of people on twitter told me they were bored watching the lengthy Derby. I was only bored during the rain delay. However, I wish they had an umpire and that a called strike would count as an out. That’s how it was in the 1960’s original Home Run Derby television show. It would speed the process tremendously. Lots of pitches are taken that are down the middle of the plate. But then again, all the sponsors and network wouldn’t have the time to get their needed revenue.

I wish we could have seen Big Papi, Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt and Miguel Cabrera just to name four big boppers. Then I think it would have been a much more competitive and exciting event. A truer Home Run Derby.

Most everyone in the contest looked exhausted at the end of the first round. Not just from the physical standpoint, but from the mental wear and tear as well.

Did you like the new format?

I want to see a “Baseball’s Fastest Player” contest replace the Home Run Derby. For example, imagine seeing Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon settle the issue from home to first. Each club would get to send one player. Elimination rounds would go quickly.
Injury worries? Maybe. But these guys are in great shape. I don’t think there would be more injury potential than in the Home Run Derby. We could settle the speed questions once and for all. is Mike Trout faster than Peter Bourjos? I like it. I really do.

I would like to see the All Star Game players wear their regular uniforms during the week’s activities. Whites for the home club, grey for the visitors. Simple. Clean. Many fans in attendance never get to see those uniforms. Even if there are duplicate numbers, the uniforms would be different.

I thought Jose Bautista would win it all.

Cespedes hit the longest shot at 452 feet. Cespedes was also second at 447 feet. And um, he was third at 446 feet. Giancarlo Stanton went 430 feet in the first round.

Stanton and Cespedes are the two guys I try not to miss during batting practice. At Chase Field, Stanton hit the restaurant at the top of the left field bleachers this month.

In my twitter contest, not one person picked Troy Tulowitzki to even win his league. Imagine, Frazier was picked several times. Not Tulo.

The infield wasn’t covered with a tarp during any of the downpours. I thought that was odd. Maybe they wanted the rain to soak into the ground and soften the infield. Anyway, during the Derby puddles were evident.

The Derby was a sellout.

Yasiel Puig not only has a form of a mohawk, he has a star cut in as well.

Tomorrow I’ll provide my reflections of tonight’s All Star Game. I feel very fortunate to be here for Derek Jeter’s last All Star Game. As usual, he is handling this event with calm and cool. Almost like it’s just another game. The players, the media and especially the fans know it’s different. By the way-he’s the only guy to come to the media interviews in a suit and tie. I’m just sayin. He’s just different. In a positive, special kind of way. Some people dislike Jeter because he plays for the Yankees. I think that’s silly.

With Ken Griffey, Jr. being the last guy to win back-to-back Home Run Derby contests before Cespedes, people are wondering if Cespedes can be the first to win three in a row? I wouldn’t put it past him.

I didn’t have time to visit the candy store yesterday. I could almost feel the lack of carmel corn with nuts ruining my entire day. I’ll try to make up for that today.

Thanks for reading my articles on MLBPipeline.com and MLB.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. Your support is always appreciated.

That’s it. I’m done. For today.

Reflections From Minneapolis-Futures Game

Way Cool. No doubt about it, Minneapolis is way cool. I walked outside today in just a short sleeve logo shirt and almost got blown away. The forecast isn’t too good for tonight’s Home Run Derby. But hey, this is only July.

When I arrived in Minneapolis on Saturday it was pouring. I mean pouring. Living in Arizona, I hadn’t seen rain for months. It was a welcome sight and it went away quickly.

The City of Minneapolis is all dressed up in All Star finery. The local folks have been great. Very friendly. They bring warmth to the chilly outdoors.

Yesterday was my first look at Target Field. The stone on the outside gives it a special look and the interior is done tastefully as well. I enjoyed that everything is well marked and easy to find. Beautiful place.

I was pleased to speak with several of the players prior to the Futures Game. Joey Gallo told me about he and Kris Bryant growing up together and Gallo’s dad throwing batting practice to the guys. Gallo’s older brother played with Bryant. Gallo is a bit younger.

Kris Bryant indicated he is really happy to be playing with Manny Ramirez, one of his new coaches. He said Ramirez takes time to help him and that Ramirez is a very hard worker. Bryant really appreciates being around him. Bryant wore number 23 in the Home Run Derby, but he won’t be getting that number when he’s with the Cubs. It belongs to Ryne Sandburg.

I asked Indians shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor to tell me something he’s never told another writer. He laughed and said he was a member of Concert Choir in high school. He loved it, but he said he can’t sing.

I can’t tell you how impressive Joey Gallo’s batting practice was. He cleared the stadium over the right field wall and shattered a window on a display car. He said he broke a window once before in his Minor League career. This guy has awesome power. And he’s working hard to control his strikeouts.

Yankees prospect Peter O’Brien put on quite a show. Usually a guy goes easy in his first round of batting practice. Not O’Brien. He was swinging for the fences on the first pitch. I was standing next to the batting cage and I asked him about it. He said he “had to get his rips in when he could.” Makes sense to me. Everybody was watching. He’s definitely on my radar now. And he took every swing with a smile on his face.

The Red Sox Henry Owens and the Mets Noah Syndergaard both told me before the game they would mix in some off speed pitches to go along with their wicked heat. They did and it kept hitters off balance. Syndergaard is sporting a “modified” mohawk. He loves it and it looks good on his tall, thin frame.

It was amazing to see legend Tony Oliva out on the field with the World Team. He can probably still hit. He still walks with a limp from his bad wheels, but Oliva looks like he can play today. Bert Blyleven threw batting practice to the World Team and kept telling the players “I gave up lots of homers in my career, so don’t be shy about doing it to me here.”

Nationals pitcher Lucas Gioloto got touched for 2 hits, and 2 earned runs in his 2/3 inning of work. He suffered a blown save. Larry Doby Futures Game MVP Joey Gallo saved the day for the U S Team with the Tigers Jake Thompson getting the win. Syndergaard picked up the save.

The U S Team struck out eight times. The World Team 10. There were only two walks issued in the game, one by the Angels Victor Alcantara and the other by the Orioles Hunter Harvey.

I was blown away by Mariners prospect Gabby Guerrero’s physical resemblance to his uncle Vladimir Guerrero. He looks, swings and acts just like him. I predict a huge future for him as a game-changing hitter. He needs some more meat on his frame, but he has all the makings of a star. He doesn’t wear batting gloves…yet.

Orioles outfielder Daniel Alvarez has a great arm. Both in strength and accuracy.

We may have Big Papi junior in Twins prospect Kennys Vargas. I’ve heard comparison to former Pirates star Dave Parker. I agree.

Keep your eye on Tigers prospect outfielder Steven Moya. This guy has big time power on a tall, thin body. He has work to do on recognizing pitches coming off the bat, but he’ll hit his way on to the Tigers club. Big upper body with thin legs. Quick hands can take the pitch to the opposite field for him.

OMG-there’s a candy and popcorn store right next to my hotel. I promise I’ve only purchased the smallest size carmel corn…twice. The one that’s loaded with a variety of nuts.

Food carts are huge here in Minneapolis. They’re on every corner. But I haven’t ventured down that road…yet. If I do, I’ve learned to choose the one with the longest line. Makes sense, right? Or is that just because people are told to choose the food cart with the longest line? You see my point, right?

A guy in the Celebrity Softball Game was named Fat Joe. He was.

Ricky Henderson could probably play today and steal bases. He’s in great shape. Looks wonderful and can still play the game.

I think the World Team had better overall players yesterday, but they still lost the game. I’m just sayin’.

It’s such a shame that Twins prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton weren’t in the Futures Games lineups. Buxton is just now returning and Sano is still hurt. But Alex Meyer threw 95-96 in his four pitch inning, making the Twins proud. And of course, Vargas represented the club well. Jose Berrios threw well.

Tonight is the Home Run Derby. You may want to check out my MLB.com feature on the original 1960 Home Run Derby television show. I loved watching that and I wanted to bring it back to life in my MLB.com piece. Hope you like it.

As always, thanks for reading my work on MLB.com and MLBPipeline.com. Thanks for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. And please listen to Short Hops, our podcast on iTunes.

That’s it. I’m done.

Only Yellow Bananas

The last thing any analyst should do is criticize a front office or ownership group for not spending the money to put his team over the top. Opportunity knocks infrequently for some clubs. Teams have to take advantage when the opportunity presents itself.

I think of the 2013 seasons of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians and can’t help but wonder. Why didn’t they finish the job? Why didn’t the Pirates go out and find that additional pitcher or do whatever it took to sign A.J. Burnett? Why didn’t the Indians strike quickly to keep Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez? Then I remind myself that I’m not in those meetings. I didn’t hear the conversations. Maybe they both did try. Maybe the players just wanted to pitch elsewhere. So I give them a pass. Reluctantly.

This past winter Oakland General Manager Billy Beane struck quickly and took Kazmir off the board as a free agent. It was a swift move and it left the Indians reeling. I was told he was their first priority in the off-season. But they waited too long. Kazmir is now pitching for the Athletics. And doing well, thank you. There will be hiccups along the way, but he has helped a starting rotation that is without A. J. Griffin, Jarrod Parker and Drew Pomeranz. Actually, he’s done more than helped. He’s saved the bacon.

And now Mr. Beane has struck again. The man is fearless. And his timing is usually impeccable. Why wait until the trade deadline to pluck one of the two best starting pitchers from this year’s trading block? And, oh, by the way, why not get another outstanding arm in the same deal? Two starting pitchers were added to the Athletics rotation in one striking, swift and savvy deal. But once again, that’s Billy Beane. He must have ice water in his veins. He traded away one of the most athletic players I have scouted in quite some time. Addison Russell has it all. Size, strength, speed, great hands, quick feet and a wonderful temperament. He has the tools and demeanor of a winner.

Billy Beane lives for the moment to win. He sees the opportunity to win a World Championship this season-not two or three years down the road. Billy Beane buys bananas when they are ripe. He’s not waiting for green to become yellow. Actually, he wanted Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel in yellow and green. And he got them. Just where he wants them. I believe they will be one and two in the new Athletics rotation, followed by Sonny Gray, and Scott Kazmir. And then some configuration from among Tommy Milone and Jesse Chavez. And maybe even Brad Mills. That, my friends, is pitching depth.

Oakland now has a chance to get past the Tigers in the postseason. That’s something they haven’t been able to do. In a short series, they will need all the pitching they now have. This trade had “beat the Tigers” written all over it. Who can blame them?

For their part, the Cubs get another fantastic piece to their ever growing prospect puzzle. At some point, at least one of the shortstops from among Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, or even middle infielder Arismendy Alcantara will have to be moved in a trade for starting pitching or they will have to change positions. But the adage is true-a team can’t have enough good prospects. And man, do they have prospects. Billy McKinney came over in the recent deal with Oakland. He’s a former number one draft choice. And he’s a center fielder. Not to mention guys like Kris Bryant (who I feel is their best overall prospect), Jorge Soler and Albert Almora. They also have starting pitching prospect C J Edwards. And don’t forget that the Cubs got Dan Straily in the deal. He’s got starting pitching experience-but for me, he’s doesn’t have quite the same type upside the Cubs need long term. But if needed, he’s an option.

The winner in this deal? Fans of both the Athletics and the Cubs.

Oakland has shown again that they will do whatever it takes to win. Top prospect Russell? But—unproven at the big league level. Great upside. Great makeup. A physical presence. Jeff Samardzija? A proven, experienced top of the rotation pitcher to get the team through the playoffs and give them a chance to win a World Championship. Now. This year. Not later. Now. And Jason Hammel is right behind him.

The Cubs buy more time to find the right starter. They have a perfect group of chips to throw in the pot when the stars align. Could it be David Price? Why not? Could they hold the prospects and go head first in the pitching market next year? Why not?

And now the rest of the AL West reacts once again to Billy Beane. So must the Tigers react. They need bullpen help.

No tomorrow for the Oakland Athletics. They want their run now. Before opportunity stops knocking at the door. Before their core players get too expensive or lose skill or drop in value. Not tomorrow or next year. Now. The Cubs? Tomorrow may have come a bit sooner. Take another great prospect and turn water into wine. Maybe. We’ll see. The proof will come when the prospects are promoted. But this deal gives them even more hope.

I loved this deal. Just loved it.

Thanks for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. Catch Short Hops weekly on iTunes.

That’s it. I’m done.