Your Monday Afternoon Power Rankings

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Last week’s Power Rankings are here.  As is usually the case, they have changed.

1. Yankees: Their rise to first has been occasioned by a lot of games against poor teams and the Rays’ recent slide. Not to be one of those people who nitpick success, but first place or not, they have room to improve.

2. Braves: Heyward and McCann have been slumping, they might add an outfielder and they will be getting Jair Jurrjens back soon, so we may not even be seeing this team at its best yet.

3. Red Sox: En Fuego. Cue the Mark Twain quote.

4. Rays: Still ahead of the Sox by a skinch in terms of winning percentage, but on a decidedly different trajectory. While everyone as totally high on the Rays for so long, it’s becoming apparent that this is a team that can be pitched to.

5. Mets: No one is ever as good as they look beating up on Baltimore and Cleveland and no one is ever as bad as they look losing two of three to the Yankees. I’m still not convinced that they’ll hang in it, but if they make a big move . . .

6. Rangers: En fuego like the Sox and could make a big move like the Mets. If they go from bankruptcy to winning the division I don’t think we’ll be able to hold back the “rags to riches” headlines.

7. Twins: Their idling has not only allowed Detroit to pull close, but it has allowed the Chisox to get back in it too. Or at least to think they can.

8. Padres: This is the kind of thing that you can’t do until late July or early August. Even then might be too soon. Sensors are picking up an enormous amount of hubris emanating from that nearby nebula, Captain.

9. Tigers:  The Pirates, Nationals and Diamondbacks are not the stiffest of challenges. Up ahead: Mets, Braves and Twins.

10. Cardinals: I had figured that the Reds would hit a skid or three and that the overall talent of the Cards would ultimately prove superior, but I’m going to write a bunch of crap this fall about how the acquisition of Jeff Suppan made all the difference. And don’t you think for a minute that I won’t!

11. Giants: Fun conversation going on in the Giants’ blogosphere: do you have to give credit to Brian Sabean for the fact that a bunch of his old guy and bargain bin pickups are hitting? My gut reaction: I’ll give him credit the minute he takes the blame for his old guy and bargain bin pickups who didn’t hit for the previous several seasons. And I’m still mad at him for not having Stan Conte’s back way back when

12. Dodgers: I’ve been yo-yoing them for a couple of weeks now. I had them too low two weeks ago and too high last week. This feels about right, though. 

13. Reds: You’re not going to have a more dispiriting series than the Reds had this weekend against the M’s. One run in three games. The only saving grace is that most of the fans back east were asleep when the games were going on.

14. Phillies: The lack of offense has been the problem during their big swoon, but Saturday’s atrocity against the Twins reveals what some of us thought was Philly’s biggest problem all along: a suspect pen. Sure, it was covered over to some extent back when Jose Contreras was doing his Dennis Eckersley impression, but that seems to be over now.

15. Angels: Brian Fuentes gives all of us hope that one day even we can close for a major league team. I mean, it appears as though results don’t matter, so why not us?

16. Blue Jays: Two of three from the Giants and two of three from the Padres. Too bad they don’t play in the NL West.

17. Rockies: Tulowitzki out for two months? Well, we’ll always have Ubaldo.

18. White Sox: Well, look who’s at .500. Give me another good week and I’ll pay closer attention. Two more good weeks and I may start believing.

19. Marlins: Four of six from Tampa Bay this year is almost enough to make fans forgive the vuvuzelas.

20. Athletics: Optimism in the A’s blogosphere: “no matter how bleak things feel right now it could be worse. At least
we’re not the Pittsburgh Pirates.”

21. Cubs: I was on the radio with Brian Moline at the mighty WDWS in Champaign, Illinois on Friday night and the subject of the Cubs’ maybe needing to sell off some players came up. I’m paraphrasing, but the conversation basically went like this:

Brian: So, is it time for the Cubs to make some moves? Maybe have a bit of a fire sale?

Me: [thinking for a second] . . . man, I don’t know that they have any players anyone wants . . .

Brian: Yeah, I think you’re right.

22. Nationals: 4-8 since Strasburg was called up. Which is probably the best thing that could happen for his development, really.

23. Royals: I’m finding myself scoping out Royals games just to watch David DeJesus to see if he’d be worth the Braves trading for him. It just feels so . . . dirty.

24. Brewers: Attention Brewers fans who think that the team needs to move Prince Fielder for some much needed pitching and a bat and some magic beans and stuff: it ain’t gonna happen.

25. Mariners: Your Cliff Lee quote of the day: “Another walkless performance from Cliff Lee last night puts him at four
unintentional walks and zero hit batters of 305 batters faced. That’s
1.31% of hitters.Cliff Lee also strikes hitters out, works fast, smiles and isn’t Carlos
Silva. He also isn’t going to be a Mariner for as long as Silva was.”

26. Indians: Carlos Santana is hitting .393/.514/.786 since being called up from Columbus. The Indians today send David Huff back down to Columbus. This is why I don’t go crazy to make it to a ton of Clippers games.

27. Diamondbacks: The Dbacks could trade a bunch of dudes here pretty soon, so at least fans will have something to hold their interest.

28. Astros: You could put any of the bottom three teams at the bottom and I’d be cool with it. We’ll lead with the Astros because they come first alphabetically, but really, you can make an argument that they are worse than the Pirates and Orioles.

29. Orioles: Signs you’re not having a good season: when you have to ask your manager how his current team differs from the team he coached for which lost 119 games.

30. Pirates: More telling signs you’re having a bad season: when you feel it necessary to fire an anthropomorphic potato dumpling for dissent.

Shohei Otani may come to the United States after 2017

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Last week it was widely speculated that Shohei Otani, the highly-touted Japanese pitcher/designated hitter who stars for the Nippon Ham Fighters, would not come to the United States to play due to changes in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The upshot: the new CBA caps money available to international free agents under age 25 at $5-6 million and Otani, 22, would be worth way more than that, so why take the pay cut?

Now, however, Jeff Passan of Yahoo reports that the Fighters are set to post Shotei Otani following the 2017 season. Passan says that his sources have told him that there are potential ways around the limit on spending for under-25 players like Shohei Otani and he links a Japanese article from Sponichi which says the Fighters would post him after the 2017 season.

It’d be interesting to see what that loophole is. Without knowing the exact terms of the CBA on this score it’s impossible to know, but one possibility is that there are different rules applicable to those with professional experience in other countries as opposed to amateur free agents.

Whatever the case, the notion that we could see Otani in the U.S. at age 23 or 24 is pretty exciting.

Report: Phillies close to signing Joaquin Benoit

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Joaquin Benoit #53 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during the seventh inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 15, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly reports that the Phillies are close to signing free agent reliever Joaquin Benoit. An announcement is expected before the winter meetings end on Thursday.

Benoit, 39, has quietly been among the better relievers in baseball over the past seven years. This past season with the Mariners and Blue Jays, the right-hander put up an aggregate 2.81 ERA with a 52/24 K/BB ratio in 48 innings. That included a 0.38 ERA in 23 2/3 innings after the Jays acquired him from the Mariners.

Benoit suffered a torn calf muscle during a benches-clearing brawl with the Yankees near the end of the regular season. He’s expected to be healthy for spring training.

The Phillies have now added three relievers this offseason with Benoit, Pat Neshek, and David Rollins.