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Brad Beneke

The Chicago Cubs are in the middle of what might be the greatest movement of young talent in the history of baseball. I guess that will play itself out; however, that does make finding people to look to bounce back on the offensive side of things difficult. Thank God for the Cubs pitching staff however, because they have two guys that can’t get much worse than they were last year. The bad news is that I don’t see Edwin Jackson improving. The good news is that Travis Wood’s track record suggests that last year was a blip.

In Cincinnati we find the opposite problem as most of their team under-performed last season. In a blind round robin, throw a dart at the board and figure out which offensive player was going to bounce back seemed like as good of a standard as any, but I owe it to you to do a little more work than that. Is Brandon Phillips done? Probably not, but he’s closer to the end than he is to the beginning and the Reds will trade him as soon as he’s producing. They are already trying to trade Jay Bruce (who I really like), so it’s probably not Jay. Joey Votto is going to have to turn it around or soon people will mistake him for Ryan Howard. All of this is nice, and it’s easy, but I think that Billy Hamilton is going to have a breakout season. I could see him hitting .288 with a .389 OBP, and with that I see him stealing 75+ bases and becoming the next Kenny Lofton.

Milwaukee is home to a lot of beer companies, and in the non-baseball world I’ve heard people refer to it as Chicago’s trash bin, but thanks to the Cubs… in baseball Milwaukee might as well be Mecca. This one is a slam dunk for me in the fact that Juan Segura has a ton of talent, had a great track record and then broke out big time in 2013 before looking more like a Minnesota Twin than a Major League ball player last season. The only thing I would like to add is that a buddy of mine once told me that Jonathan LuCroy was going to be a real ball player. I laughed. Tony, I was wrong.

My beloved Pittsburgh Pirates have seen a dramatic turnaround from the last 4-5-19 years (haha). McCutchen is about as close to the truth as a Midwest ball player can be, and had he played for a team on the east or west coast it would be a battle between him and Mike Trout for the new face of baseball. However, Andrew disqualifies himself in this post because he’s freaking awesome, and that isn’t what this is about. I admitted right at the start of this that they are my beloved, and it’s hard to say that .291 is a down year, but I think 2015 is the year that Starling Marte becomes a household name. If he can improve on his disgusting habit of striking out far too often he could put up numbers that look more like Cutch than you might expect. I also feel that Gerrit Cole is far better than his numbers suggested last year as well, and I expect him to have a breakout season.  Again breakout and bounce back are two different things, and looking at this team the person that let this team down the most was former first round pick and 3rd baseman of the future was “Potato” Alvarez. Sadly, he is what he is and this is going to go to last year’s rookie Gregory Polanco, who has been one of the best prospects in baseball for a little while now, and the poor kid was lost at the plate against major league pitchers last year. His talent is too much to be this big of a flop. He’s also got an even bigger prospect behind him in the minors, so this is his year to prove he’s the man or Austin Meadows will be here in September and Polanco will go the way of Jose Tabata.

The Cardinals are coming off of another stellar season, and have about as well run organization as there is in the game right now. The offseason started out with tragedy when the uber-talented and prized piece of the future Oscar Tavares made the mistake of drinking and driving, which ended his life at 22, and the life of his fiancé. However this is the one team in baseball that always seems to bounce back from adversity and injury. In 2015 they are still the class of this division, and it’s hard to see anyone taking a step back. If they stay healthy they will be as dangerous as any team in baseball. Looking for a bounce back player is also rather difficult because they did have a lot of injured players last year that were supposed to contribute chief amongst them is starting pitcher Jamie (hi-me) Garcia. He defines why the Cardinals are great, and sadly will likely be ahead of my Pirates once again come October.

Bouncing Back in 2015: NL East

The Atlanta Braves have a lot of pitchers that were injured last year and players they rely upon who underperformed, so to choose one isn’t easy, but I’m a huge Mike Minor fan so that’s where I start. He had an awful season last year. His 4.77 era was the worst on the staff, while his 20 more hits than innings pitched didn’t seem fitting either. I look for him to have a bounce back season. Offensively, I don’t see Andrelton Simmons as a great hitter, but if he can bring his average up to .280’s level he will be without a doubt the best SS in baseball for the total package.

In Miami it’s even easier… this team will go as far as Giancarlo Stanton’s bat and Jose Fernandez’s arm will lead them.  When healthy those two are spectacular. Mike Redmond did an amazing job last year as the manager, and he could be the next big deal manager. I also want to send a shout out to Chaska’s own Brad Hand who had an excellent season with the Marlins last year, but this team’s unsung hero will be Christian Yelich… he has a batting title in him in the near future, and if the Marlins contend in 2015 like I think they will the future starts now.

The Mets have always been the NY little sister that had to get crazy to get the tabloid love that the Yankees generate by just being the Yankees. My hope is that they stop that silliness and decide to just ride this pitching staff of young aces all the way to the World Series in the not so distant future. Matt Harvey is healthy, and Zack Wheeler looks solid. Jacob DeGrom was beyond outstanding last year, and phenom Noah Syndergaard might be as good if not better than any of them. However, this team will not go anywhere until David Wright is 100% healthy and puts up the big numbers that he used to be capable of. Now you have idiot Daniel Murphy causing issues with his homophobic rhetoric, and as a result you have more tabloids crap and less focus on the field. The guy I pick to be the bounce back player of the Mets overall is Matt Harvey as I don’t trust this offense or defense. The Mets could lead the NL in strikeouts and ERA in 2015 while having the Rookie of the Year, and still finish 7-10 games under .500.

The Phillies are a mess, and Philly fans aren’t exactly forgiving. They need a full scale rebuild but are unable to trade Howard, and no one wants to just dump 60 million dollars by cutting him. Keeping him is going to hinder the future a great deal as prize minor leaguer Maikel Franco will most likely have to start the season in AAA. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels could and should replenish a mostly blah minor league system. A lot of people here in Minnesota believe the Twins should never have given up Ben Revere, and he didn’t make their argument less powerful with the yea he had last year, but if the Phillies are to have a future the guy that needs to bounce back is Ryan Howard. The guy who will however is not Howard.  I believe it will be a healthy Cliff Lee who will then be traded in June or July for a small ransom with Hamels bringing in the lottery load.

The Nation’s Capital is sitting pretty with an excellent team that improved dramatically in the offseason by picking up Max Scherzer in free agency with the most unique contract in a long time. This team is set up for the long haul and right now. I don’t need to blow smoke for a team that already proved how good it is last season, and should be even better this year if healthy. The person that stands to be the biggest problem child is also the guy I expect to bounce back and show that the early career comparisons to Mike Trout weren’t a waste of our time. That is Bryce Harper, who was mostly boring and sometimes terrible last season when he was healthy. His attitude sucks, and his bat hasn’t done what it’s capable of.  I think it does this year, but it may only further enhance his reputation as the next Barry Bonds (without a hint of crème, clear, or HGH).

Here’s a little game called Judge(s), Jury(s), and Executioners that the BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) perform every year. The masses call it the MLB Hall of Fame Ballot. Many will never see it, many will face it, and very few will survive it, but the agony is in the purgatory of being on the ballot year in and year out knowing you are worthy of consideration but not quite making it in. I equate it to when the girl just wants to be your friend. Sometimes she dates a scumbag drug-addicted jerk who beats her, but would never dare ask you. At least when I think of a guy like Dale Murphy, who was on the ballot for his allotted forever and left to die alone just short, or a guy like Jack Morris who she even winked at, but just wasn’t what she was looking for.

Well, today I want to pretend to play god over someone else’s career as well, so here are my choices. Remember, by the rules of the HOF you have to have played for a certain amount of years to get on the ballot so if you didn’t play 10 years you don’t even get your name on the ballot. You have to be retired 5 years, and finally even as GOD I am only allowed to have 10 votes… so apparently I’m only a demigod and not as high of a moral authority as the HOF board of directors.  HYPERLINK “http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/12115949/jayson-stark-explains-2015-hall-fame-ballot” http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/12115949/jayson-stark-explains-2015-hall-fame-ballot Jayson Stark has a brilliant piece on this for ESPN.com.

I suppose I should give you the list of players eligible, and I almost forgot: you are now only allotted 10 years on the ballot. Think of it as a 40 days and 40 nights kind of thing. Here is your list to choose from… oh wait, you don’t choose… I do, but not really, they do! Who are they? They are not you (the fans)!  HYPERLINK “http://www.baseball-reference.com/awards/hof_2015.shtml” http://www.baseball-reference.com/awards/hof_2015.shtml

Randy Johnson. Why? The single most dominating pitcher of my lifetime, slightly ahead of #2 Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens and maybe even Tom “Terrific” Seaver.

Pedro Martinez. Size isn’t everything, stuff is, and Pedro had the cocksure and creativity to beat you with a 94 mph fastball or a 78 MPH curve. He simply knew he was better than you were even if you were on this list or made this list in years past.

Craig Biggio. Catcher, centerfielder, and second baseman…All Star at all three positions, 3000 hits, and when you’re not a home run hitter a couple of other stats have to be looked at like oh this one:  HYPERLINK “http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/2B_career.shtml” http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/2B_career.shtml this kids is what we like to call gap power. And while he wasn’t the best defensive player at his position, 414 stolen bases and a career .363 OBP makes him a top of the lineup nightmare for, oh, about 20 years!

Barry Bonds. But But BUT!!! He did PEDs Brad!!!! Yeah, he also was the best player of the generation, and it’s me playing god here not you so judge not lest ye be judged

Roger Clemens. See Bonds but remove the bat and add a pitching rubber.

Mike Piazza. Did he or didn’t he? Maybe, but despite being a below average defensive catcher the man was a warrior and an offensive machine for his career. To me the question is do you go in as a Met or a Dodger?

Mike Mussina. Go back and click the link on the HOF ballot and then look at Moose’s numbers…realize he left on top after winning 20 games. While he never won a Cy Young award he was a perennial vote getter, and he pitched his entire career in the AL East.  Going new school on this one…look at his WAR.

Curt Schilling. Damn it! I hated Schilling as a player…truly one of my all-time least favorite players, but that blind hate did just that… it blinded me from how impressive he truly was. Bloody sock, or bloody moron aside he was big game Curt and no one was ever better over a career.

John Smoltz. He wasn’t quite ECK, but for a two way pitcher (starter and closer) no one else compares, and in big games? John didn’t get the notoriety that Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine got, but in the postseason they hid behind his back… he was the Braves best chance to advance every season, and a key reason they made the playoffs every year.

Fred McGriff. No steroids, no tabloids, and the only reason he didn’t hit the 500 home run club is because his back gave out on him at 493 (the same number that some guy named Lou Gehrig had). 100% class on and off the field. He was a dangerous hitter, a power hitter, and he was a devil to get out with his career OBP, and K rate. And as a god/demigod (pretend)… how can one not have appreciation for The Crime Dog?

Why didn’t I vote for the others? Because I’m subject to the laws of the HOF.

11. Don Mattingly 12. Allan Trammell 13. Gary Sheffield 14. Jeff Kent 15. Larry Walker 16. Nomar Garciaparra 17. Carlos Delgado 18. Tim “Sniff” Raines

It’s getting harder and harder as a baseball fan in Minnesota to be excited about the game. The Twins needed to make some drastic moves, and they didn’t make any. They hired the safe, fan-friendly Paul Molitor to be their manager. They topped it off by bringing back or promoting almost every position of his coaching staff from within the organization, which does not give me a single shred of hope for the foreseeable future.   

The team needed to upgrade its pitching staff dramatically and to improve the outfield defense. They did upgrade the pitching staff, though not likely enough to make a real difference in this division. Ervin Santana’s non-traditional stats prove that he was better than his numbers showed last season, but he was on a much better team than the 2015 Twins are looking to be. They also brought in Tim Stauffer from the Padres to replace Anthony Swarzak, which is going to be a slight upgrade in talent, but it’s going to be difficult to imagine he’s going to sacrifice himself like Swarzy (ode to Gardy) did for this team. Tommy Millone should be healthy, and a strong competition between him and the two big dogs barking for the major leagues in Trevor May and Alex Meyer will be competing for the 5th spot in the rotation and maybe a bullpen spot. This is hardly breaking news.

The team also needed to upgrade its outfield defense, and it’s very likely that they didn’t do that because now questionable outfielder Oswaldo (all bat and no glove) Arcia has to learn a new position. Replacing him is Torii Hunter, who at age 39-40 showed to have the worst defensive metrics in all of baseball in Detroit last season. So while Arcia is likely an upgrade over Josh Willingham in LF, is Hunter an upgrade from Arcia, who is already below average?

This is all hardly breaking news… this, however, is all we have in Minnesota.

As for my ideal offseason overhaul: I would have put 4 years and $84 million into James Shields, put 1 year and looked at a 2 year, $20 million dollar deal with Nori Aoki (formerly of the KC Royals as well). Granted, this is more money than what the Twins have shelled out so far, but these players are proven and the contracts would have been productive contracts. I would also have put a contract together for starting pitchers Brandon Morrow and Kris Medlen. As for what I’d do away with, I’d be shopping Trevor Plouffe, Eduardo Escobar, and Ricky Nolasco. Plouffe would have been a much cheaper addition to the Yankees than Chase Headley was, and the Giants were in need of a 3rd baseman pretty badly as well following the departure of Pablo Sandoval. Escobar came out of nowhere and had a slightly better than average year and a much better season than anyone expected. He might have brought us a Stauffer-style pitcher and saved us the free agent.

Why would I go for so many veteran pitchers especially with injury concerns? Because every staff goes through injuries and needs depth and I would rather overpay for too many pitchers than continue to have the worst rotation in baseball.

Oh well, I’m just a writer and a fan. What do I know?

On that note… the Padres still have Cameron Maybin collecting mothballs in San Diego. He would likely be an upgrade at CF over Hicks (who can’t hit) and Scott Schaeffer, who caught lightning in a bottle last year here to become an average 4th outfielder.

My hope is that Molitor is more than just another Terry Ryan stooge, and someone who will accept the Twins Way of losing is winning as long as the owners keep making $100,000,000.00 a year in take home.

Jim Morrison once wrote “death makes angels of us all.” Well, Sunday the St. Louis Cardinals lost their brightest star for the future in Oscar Tavares. His game clinching homer in the playoffs this year, and his steady-but-not-spectacular play as a rookie in 2014 was supposed to be the springboard to a superstar career.

Oscar was a consensus top-five prospect going into both the 2013 and 2014 seasons. He was tabbed to be able to hit for a high average with better than average power. Had he lived up to his hype we could have expected a .300/.480/.385 kind of hitter with 30 doubles and 25 homers most seasons for the next decade if not better.

Sadly he didn’t get to live up to the hype … he didn’t get to live.

I was Facebook friends with him. His English was improving and, while his interaction with his fans was minimal in a direct way, you could see that with assistance from his management he was trying to embrace the 21st century star athlete role through digital media, the social media and on the field, where it is reported that he planned to come into 2015 in much better shape so he could gain serious playing time with the perennial central division champs.

Sadly, his girlfriend was also in the accident with him, and has passed as well.

It’s a tragedy when a Roberto Clemente or Thurman Munson are killed during their careers, but at least they were allowed the chance to have careers. At 22 years old Tavares’ was just starting. His ceiling was the stars, and his potential will now be put to rest.

My heart goes out to his family, his friends, his teammates, and to the family and friends of his GF.

I know that I’ve been MIA for a while now, and I’d like to take a quick moment to explain why. As a lot of you know I am a lifelong Twins fan. Hearing Terry Ryan’s vote of confidence for Ron Gardenhire last month broke my heart. When you couple that with the Ray Rice situation, and the Chris Kluwe issue, which I wrote about in my last article, I needed a break.

Continue reading

I’m a Minnesotan. Over the last week, the only sports headline that has come close to competing with the many Kevin Love trade rumors is the lawsuit filed by former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe against his former team.

Without going into every detail, Kluwe’s case deals with claims that his special teams coach, Mike Priefer, created a hostile work environment by saying things such as: “put all gay people on an island and nuke them until it glows.”

The Vikings coach denied it several times, but once it was corroborated by current Vikings player then Priefer admitted it. He was suspended by the Vikings for three games, which will be reduced to two if he completes sensitivity training.

Sticking with the NFL (this does lead to MLB, I promise), the league came out Thursday with its punishment for Baltimore Ravens star running back Ray Rice, busted during the off-season for dragging his unconscious girlfriend out of an elevator (this is on video).

The NFL slapped Rice on the wrist with a two-game suspension for domestic violence. This is half the punishment that Rice would have received had he used performance enhancing drugs. These penalties, respectively for Priefer and Rice, make a mockery of both domestic violence and gay bashing.

To read the rest of this post click here.

It’s that time of year again. And if you’re an amateur GM like me, then the fast-approaching trade deadline means you are glued to www.mlbtraderumors.com (currently my home page on both my desktop and laptop).

We’ve already seen the Oakland A’s land the second best pitcher in Jeff Samardzija. They also picked up Jason Hammel, who has been having an amazing season.

With no glaring holes, and now the strongest rotation in baseball, the A’s look tough to beat. Should one of their players go down they still have as a trade chip Tommy Milone to dangle.

But that is just a couple of pieces and two teams. With this being a down year for a lot of teams (loving  Boston Wrong this season personally) I see this having the potential to be a massive trade deadline. Continue reading

It was 1979 … my uncle was taking me to my first Twins game. It was also the first time I truly found a favorite player. The bad thing for my uncle is that his name was Eddie Murray. Murray went 3-5 with three homers and drove in seven RBI that day.

In 1983, my uncle promised to take me to a bunch of games because the previous year I’d broken my leg and wasn’t able to play or go to a single game. We ended up going to one game and then, for the rest of the games, he just paid for me to go on the bus. Why? Because we went to see the Baltimore Orioles and I was able to see Eddie Murray again. He was coming off of a monster year in 82, and sure enough he jacked another. I was just in heaven. All I could talk about was Eddie Murray. My friends were into Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Robin Yount, and Kent Hrbek. For me, it was Eddie Murray, George Foster, and Lance Parrish – but mostly Eddie Murray.

In 1985 I begged to get to go to the All-Star game, but my uncle said there was no way we were paying $45 for tickets to a baseball game.

I was pretty young, so I expected to get to go to another All-Star Game at some point. Side note… the game is here in Minnesota in 2014, and the average price is $450 for a ticket. Ugh.

I did get to go to a couple of games in 85 though. I saw the Brewers, the Red Sox, and I was able to see the Orioles again. Ken Schrom was pitching yet again for the Twins and Murray hit a Grand Slam. Continue reading

The reception that Tony Gwynn Jr. received upon his first at bat after the tragic loss of his father was beautiful. MLB.com writes about it, but putting into context the passion that Phillies fans have for the game, it’s meaning, and the players that play for them and around the country make them my favorite fan base in the entire game.  Their reaction to Gwynn’s at bat last night was passion at its finest and respect for the loss of his father.

Devin Mesoraco has hit a homerun in five consecutive games played. I remember when Ken Griffey Jr and Don Mattingly had their great homerun streaks, and not to be mean to Devin, but they were superstars… . His stats are showing that he is riding the wave of his career.  Will it last?  His numbers are gargantuan compared to previous seasons… I for one hope he’s for real, and that we will not be seeing his name smirched for PEDS, but look what it’s come to!  Because he’s not Griffey Jr. or Mike Trout a person can’t help but have a seed of doubt sewn in. I wonder how long the tarnish will be on the game? Continue reading

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