This is how Derek Jeter got deified in the first place

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I’ve had several conversations with non-baseball obsessives lately about Derek Jeter. Friends. Family. Sports radio hosts who talk about football 97% of the time and are desperate to talk about anything — anything! — besides the NFL labor thing.  Those conversations always come back to the same place: Where does Derek Jeter rate all-time?

At that point I usually don’t actually rate him, but I talk about how it’s difficult to talk about Derek Jeter right now. Because for years he was so overhyped and then lately all of his greatness has been forgotten by many who are rushing to bury him due to his decline. And then it gets complicated again when he approaches the 3000-hit plateau and we lerch back toward deification.  This kind of deification, by Ian O’Connor of ESPN New York:

Jeter didn’t merely become the 28th major leaguer and first Yankee to reach 3,000 hits, and the only man not named Wade Boggs to do so with a homer; he turned the afternoon into a this-is-your-life review of his greatness, claiming five hits and the winning RBI against the Tampa Bay Rays and choking the life out of the non-stop talk of his imminent demise.

One last time, with feeling, Jeter was No. 2 in your program and No. 1 in your heart.

And it just goes on and on like that.

This is what I’m talking about when I say that Jeter gets overhyped. An educated sports observer who watches tons of games and should be expected to have at least an ounce of perspective about Jeter’s place in the universe allows himself — and the readers who trust his judgment — to launch into the starry-eyed stratosphere over hit number 3,000. A great accomplishment, sure, but not one that needs or justifies this kind of prose.

Prose that will soon be forgotten, I’m guessing, when Jeter’s demise as an elite player comes back to the forefront.  My friend Repoz from the Baseball Think Factory website reminded us over the weekend that Jeter’s chances of choking the life out of that kind of talk can’t be any better than Mickey Mantle’s. The same Mickey Mantle, Repoz noted on his Facebook page, who went 5 for 5 — the first 5 for 5 game of his career — on May 30, 1968, which led to a lot of people talking about Mantle being back. After the 5 for 5 Mantle went 2 for his next 24 and retired nine months later saying, “I just can’t hit anymore.”

I’m not saying that Jeter will do the same. And I am certain that we will all one day agree that Jeter was one of the best ever, because it happens to be true.  But he’s a ballplayer. No different in kind than any other ballplayer, and no more immune to the effects of time and vagaries of fortune, both good and bad, than anyone else.  To write about his game on Saturday as if that wasn’t what was happening — that he has somehow slayed a dragon and discovered a fountain of youth, and boy aren’t we blessed to have witnessed it — is a bit much for me. And ultimately does us all a disservice as we try to assess the true gravity of Derek Jeter the ballplayer and hit number 3,000 the accomplishment.

Jose Canseco to join NBC Sports California as an A’s analyst

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Hey, I have a new coworker: Jose Canseco has been hired by NBC Sports California as an Athletics pregame analyst.

OK, maybe he’s not technically a coworker, as the folks at NBC Sports California — formerly CSN Bay Area — and I do not hang out at the water cooler, have potlucks in the conference room or exchange secret Santa gifts at Christmas time, but dang it, I’m gonna TELL people I work with Jose Canseco. The only downside will be people assuming that, because he and I are on the same team, my performance is something less than authentic. Or, perhaps, Canseco may write another book and tell all of my secrets.

Anyway, Canseco will be part of NBC Sports California’s A’s Pregame Live and A’s Postgame Live shows. Live TV can be hard. I’ve done a bit of it, and there is certainly more to that gig than meets the eye. You can’t always prepare for what happens on the fly. I’m sure Canseco will do well, however, as he’s great with coming up with the best stuff off the top of his head.

2017 Preview: Cleveland Indians

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Cleveland Indians.

The Cleveland Indians almost won the World Series without their best hitter for the whole season and two of their starting pitchers for the playoffs. This year that hitter — Michael Brantley — is back and the starters — Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar — are healthy. Oh, and they added arguably the best free agent bat available in Edwin Encarnacion.

Baseball teams love to downplay their expectations, but given where the Indians are at the moment, anything less than another American League Pennant will have to feel like a disappointment, right? Fortunately for the Indians, they stand as the favorites to do just that.

They didn’t lose much in the offseason. Yes, World Series hero Rajai Davis is gone, but the Indians outfield will be fine if Brantley remains healthy. Mike Napoli‘s loss will be felt but it will be made up for with Encarnacion’s bat and probably then some. Coco Crisp left too, but he was not a key part of the equation.

The biggest losses are guys from last year who will start the year on the disabled list, most notably Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall. Kipnis is just starting to work out following time off to rest his sore shoulder. Chisenhall ran into a wall the other day and is being evaluated. There is no sense that either will miss extended time, however.

Otherwise, the lineup should score a lot of runs, with on-base machines Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor setting the table for Encarnacion, Brantley and Carlos Santana, who is entering his walk year. The Indians trailed only the Red Sox in runs scored in the American League last year and they should score a lot of runs this year as well.

The strength of the club, however, remains its pitching. Corey Kluber looked like his old Cy Young self last year, particularly in the playoffs. Danny Salazar built on his excellent 2015 season in the first half before falling prey to injury. Carlos Carrasco posted an ERA+ of 141 before breaking his hand and Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer both stood out for fourth and fifth starters.

The bullpen is excellent too, as relief ace Andrew Miller is joined by Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and newcomer Boone Logan make up one of the relief corps in baseball.

Pitcher health is probably the biggest uncertainty for any contender, but the Indians have the best pitching in the AL if everyone stays healthy. And maybe even if one or two guys don’t.

It’s hard to find much fault with the 2017 Cleveland Indians. They are the class of their division and, while the slog of the regular season turns a lot of surefire contenders into hash before it’s all said and done, there is no reason to look at the Indians right now and think of them as anything other than the best team in the American League.

Prediction: First place, American League Central.