Baseball’s All Underrated Team

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Jayson Stark’s latest is what he believes to be baseball’s “All Underrated Team.”  The roster:

C: Carlos Ruiz
1B: Adam Dunn
2B: Ian Kinsler
SS: Starlin Castro
3B: Ryan Zimmerman
RF: Michael Cuddyer
CF: Andrew McCutchen
LF: Ryan Braun
SP: Josh Johnson
CL: Joakim Soria
MR: Mike Adams

It’s not a terrible list, though as many people have noted since it came out a a few minutes ago, there is a serious omission: Shin-Soo Choo in right. He’s both better and less-heralded than Cuddyer. Maybe this is performance art: by not even including him on an underrated list, Stark is showing just how truly underrated he is!

I’m a little skeptical about Carlos Ruiz’s inclusion.  He’s good, but if anything I think that, by virtue of some big hits he’s had during nationally-televised games, people are quite high on him. Maybe even a touch too high.  In some ways he’s the baseball equivalent of basektball’s Ben Wallace: he was underrated for so long, but the minute people began to take notice, he became slightly overrated. At no time has anyone rated him truly fairly.

Fun list, though. Stark’s explanations of all of his inclusions are all illuminating.  It’s certainly a list of guys who don’t tend to get a lot of spotlight and it’s good to read about them even if we debate the severity of their underrating.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.