Albert Pujols: 30 homers for ten straight years

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In my mind, the nutsiest thing about Albert Pujols is that he really wasn’t supposed to make the Cardinals in 2001. He had a nice overall season in the minors in 2000 — his only season in the minors — but 440 of his 544 plate appearances were in A-ball. Bobby Bonilla was supposed to the the Cards’ starting third baseman, not Pujols. But for an injury to Bonilla I’m assuming Albert would have started the year Memphis. I haven’t gone back to look this morning, but my memory of that spring is of people wondering if the kid could hack it and some cautious predictions about how he might be a three-true-outcomes kind of power player until he figured out the league a bit better.

But here we are, ten seasons in. Ten seasons in which El Hombre — and I don’t care if doesn’t like it, it’s an awesome nickname — has hit 30+ homers each season. In which he’s hit .300+ each season. In which he’s knocked in 100+ each season. In which we can take no issue with anyone citing his triple crown numbers because his OBP and other peripherals are so stunning that we can be excused for dwelling on the classic stats.

With nearly ten full years under his belt we’ve just about reached the “if Pujols gets hit by a bus tomorrow he’s in the Hall of Fame” point, though given how amazing the guy is I assume Cooperstown would have made an exception for him before now.  Short of that, even a Dale Murphy-style decline isn’t going to prevent him from making the Hall one day.  A normal decline starting now has him cruise in smoother than cream cheese, safely near the top percentile of all time greats. A couple more years of his current level and he’s in the extreme inner circle. If he isn’t already.

Sorry for the rather pointless gushing here, but sometimes you just have to stop and realize what you’re witnessing.

Brandon Belt signs $6.2 million deal, avoiding arbitration with Giants

Brandon Belt
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In a last-second compromise before a scheduled heading today, first baseman Brandon Belt and the Giants have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $6.2 million deal.

Belt requested $7.5 million and the Giants countered at $5.3 million, so they’ve settled slightly on the team-friendly side of the midpoint. Belt will be arbitration eligible again next season for the final time before hitting the open market as a free agent.

He’s coming off a very good season in which he hit .280 with 18 homers and an .834 OPS in 137 games and Belt has a lifetime .803 OPS through age 27, making him one of MLB’s most underrated all-around first baseman.

Orioles sign ex-Padres reliever Dale Thayer

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Right-hander Dale Thayer and the Orioles have agreed to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

Thayer had a rough 2015 season for the Padres, posting a 4.06 ERA and spending time in the minors, but he was a solid part of San Diego’s bullpen from 2012-2014 with a combined 3.02 ERA and 173/50 K/BB ratio in 188 innings.

At age 35 there’s no guarantee that Thayer will look good enough to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’s got a strong chance to wind up pitching middle relief for Baltimore.

Phillies acquire Taylor Featherston from Angels

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Taylor Featherston, who was designated for assignment by the Angels last week, has been traded to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash.

Featherston stayed in the majors with the Angels for all of last season due to being a Rule 5 pick from the Rockies organization, but the 25-year-old infielder hit just .162 in 169 plate appearances.

He’s been much better in the minors, but nothing about his track record there screams quality regular and the Phillies are likely viewing him as a defense-first bench option for now.

Keith Law: The Braves have the best farm system in baseball

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Flags fly forever! Hooray for The Process championship!

Ah, sorry. This is about as much rooting as I’ll get to do this year, so cut me some slack.

This is the week when ESPN’s Keith Law releases his prospect and farm system rankings. He kicks off his content this week with a top-to-bottom ranking of all 30 farm systems. As a rule he limits his analysis to players who are currently in the minors and who have not yet exhausted their rookie of the year eligibility. The top system: the Atlanta Braves. The bottom: the Los Angeles Angels, about whom Law says “I’ve been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen.” Enjoy Mike Trout, though, you guys.

If you want to know the reasons and the rankings of everyone in between you’ll have to get an ESPN Insider subscription. Sorry, I know everyone hates to pay for content on the Internet, but Keith and others who do this kind of work put a lot of damn work into it and this is what pays their bills. I typically don’t like to pay for content myself, but I do pay for an ESPN Insider subscription. It’s worth it for Law’s work alone. And though he drives me crazy sometimes, Buster Olney’s daily column/notes thing is also worth the money over the course of the year.