Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies

Your Monday Morning Power Rankings

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The All-Star Break is here, and even though the season is more than half over, it’s that time when everyone assesses the so-called first half.  We’ll do the same here today. The rankings represent the current state-of-the-league, but the comments about each team are a bit more first-half all-encompassing.

As always, last week’s rankings are in parenthesis.

1. Phillies (1): They are who we thought they were. The best team in baseball. Not invincible as some predicted, but there are idiots who predict a lot of stuff.

2. Red Sox (3): Same story, though certainly a more tumultuous path to their current ranking. Slow start, pitchers’ injuries. It’s enough to keep them in a tight race. Probably tighter than everyone thought.

3. Yankees (2): It’s been a while since we’ve seen a combination of (a) a damn successful team; and (b) fan-base freaking out like we have with the 2011 Yankees. If you only paid attention to the commentary and not to the scores, you’d think they were .500 or something. Maybe worse.

4. Braves (4): Being 3.5 behind the Phillies is like being the plain Jane next to the homecoming queen. If the plain Jane were standing near anyone else, people would go “saaaay, look at her.”  I’d offer up the old Jan Smithers/Loni Anderson/WKRP analogy here, but every time I do that, I get about 10 pro-Smithers comments to every one pro-Loni comment. Which I get on some level — I’m a Bailey man myself — but it has made plain Jane/bombshell comparisons very, very tricky.

5. Rangers (11): Their place in the standings is about what we all expected. The number of games they are ahead of the second place team: not so much. Like a few teams, they look fabulous one week (like last week) and kind of blah the next. Hard to get a read, but you get the sense they’ll pull away eventually.

6. Giants (6): Winning close games, doing it without much offense. Yep, these are the Giants we’ve come to know and, well, know.

7. Angels (12): I thought they’d crater. I think a lot of people did. The only person I know who didn’t was my HBT Daily amiga Tiffany Simons, who predicted they’d win the AL West and bet me a nice meal in New York on the matter. The fact that they’re keeping it close has me worried. Then again, the fact that if I “lose” this bet, I take Tiffany out to dinner someplace in New York means that there really would be no losers here. Well, Tiffany maybe, but I don’t care.

8. Rays (5): Kind of what I figured. A little better than what I figured, but a solid third place with occasional friskiness seemed right. Losing Carl Crawford and all of that bullpen talent wasn’t nearly as big as some folks made it out to be given the young pitching. Of course, if you would have told me that they’d lose Evan Longoria for a while and that, when he came back, he’d be not-so-good, I would have guessed that they’d be behind Toronto at the moment.

9. Cardinals (8): Kind of the same thing here: a fair pick — not my pick, which I totally whiffed on (see Cubs below) — but a fair pick by anyone to be up at the top of the division. But not if you said that Pujols would struggle early and then break a bone in his friggin’ arm. Yet he did and he did and here they still are.

10. Diamondbacks (10): Anyone who says they thought the Dbacks would be here is lying. Show me the article with the time stamp verified by MLB authenticators and I’ll believe it, but this is not what anyone was expecting.

11. Brewers (9): Pre-season conventional wisdom was that the Greinke and Marcum moves could help fix the bad pitching and if that happened, watch out babies, because Milwaukee would be in it. Greinke has been the Brewers’ worst starter, but look out babies, Milwaukee is in it.

12. Pirates (14): Another shocker. I think people had generally positive thoughts about the direction of the team, but they were positive in the “OK, the sheer horror is probably over, so now we only have some run-of-the-mill misery ahead.” In contrast, this has been delightful.

13. Tigers (13)/Indians (7): The AL Central: everything you wanted in a division. And less.  Look, the Indians’ little run has been nice, but the fact that it has lasted this long without anyone else asserting themselves says less about the strength of the Tribe and more about the weakness of the division.

15. Mets (16): It was so easy back in February and March to feel like doom surrounded these guys, but so much of that was Wilpon/Madoff-related and relatively little of it was about the actual team. To me they felt like a .500 team. Maybe a skosh better if things broke right. Well, things have broke right. Or at least pretty darn well. I think folks should be pretty pleased about what has gone down, even if the future is uncertain.

16. Nationals (20): Another team that tells us how damn foolish we are to try to predict baseball. Did we expect this? Nah. Did anyone see Jim Riggleman quitting? Nah. Davey Johnson at the helm? Nah.

17. Blue Jays (18): In contrast, some things are kind of predictable: the Jays scoring well and hitting lots of homers yet being on the outside looking in in a tough division. Joey Bats is nice though.

18. Reds (15): Last year you got the sense that they caught every break. This year they have the best run-differential in the division yet they’re in fourth place. The worms turn, ya know?

19. Marlins (24): If, over the past 18 years, you said “the Marlins are gonna be a lot tougher than they seem on paper and than their payroll suggests, you’d be right most of the time. This is one of the few years you’d be wrong. Hanley Ramirez not showing up for most of the first half hasn’t helped. Nor has Josh Johnson’s injury.  This was not the team you’d guess would be most notable for hiring the second oldest manager of all time in the middle of the season. I’d guess that Kansas City or someone might, but not the Marlins.

20. White Sox (19): Adam Dunn: .160/.292/.305?  Hell, I would have guessed 10 games out of first, not just five. Either way, disappointing.

21. Rockies (17): Speaking of disappointing. Lots of smart folks figured they’d do better.

22. Twins (27): You could say disappointing here too. Or you could say: “Mauer and Morneau would have OPSs of .592 and .619, respectively, and they’d still only be 6.5 out?”  Eh, always look on the bright side of life.

23. Mariners (21): Down and up and down again, I still think you have to look on the season as successful so far, even with the current downward trajectory.  They learned that they can win with pitching and a couple of young bats at times. Even if more young bats to go along with Smoak and Ackley would be really, really useful.

24. Dodgers (26): Just dreadful. And unlike the Mets, they really can’t leave the business stuff to the side and just play because the empty seats and the much more high-profile nature of the business stuff makes it impossible to ignore.  Some nice pitching, give ’em that.

25. Athletics (22): Pretty dreadful here too. The idea was great: “OK, our pitching is awesome and our hitting sucks, so let’s try to fix the offense.”  The execution, though: not so good. They’re scoring fewer runs this year than last.

26. Padres (23): We now have scientific proof that, if you take away the lone elite bat from the lineup of a team that is always going to struggle to score runs, the prospects for success are somewhat diminished.

27. Royals (29): Early excitement notwithstanding, this is how it was supposed to be: awful pitching, some pop on offense, but mostly just vamping until the kids can mature.

28. Cubs (28): My pick of the Cubs to win the Central was not one of those deals where I would have been willing to bet the mortgage. I was feeling optimistic about a bunch of talented and overpaid people putting it together in such a way where the talent would show itself one final time. Bounce back seasons for Pena, Soriano and Ramirez. A good back end of the pen with Wood and Marmol. A pretty decent rotation, at least on paper.  Yeah, it would have taken some luck for it all to break right, but this struck me as a good break-right kind of club. And one, I must admit, that had I guessed right on, would have allowed me to look pretty damn clever come October.  Ah, well, you win some and you lose some. I mostly lose some when I try to make clever predictions.

29. Orioles (25): Amazingly, this wasn’t the .596 team Buck Showalter had after he took over last year.  I figured they would improve and, again, if everything broke right, challenge for 75-80 wins.  Not happening, though.

30. Astros (30): I got my Cubs, Steve Berthiaume has his Astros. Everyone has a pick like this from time to time. But really, that Astros pick was just nutso.

Jacob deGrom open to extension with Mets

New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom talks during media day for the Major League Baseball World Series against the Kansas City Royals Monday, Oct. 26, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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The Mets are currently enjoying the spoils of the best young rotation in the game, but the big question is whether this is just a brief window or the start of sustained success. Given the huge prices on the free agent market, it’s going to be next to impossible to keep the band together, but at least one member of the rotation is open to sticking around for the long-term.

While there haven’t been any talks yet, All-Star right-hander Jacob deGrom told Kevin Kernan of the New York Post that he could see himself discussing an extension with the Mets.

“I’m a little bit older, so I might be more willing to do something like that,’’ deGrom told The Post at Mets pre-camp. “You just have to look at what is fair so both sides get a decent deal. It’s something I’d have to look into and make sure I agree with it.’’

It makes sense from deGrom’s perspective. He broke into the majors later than most prospects, so he’ll be 28 this June. Depending on whether he qualifies as a Super Two, he’ll be arbitration-eligible for the first time after either 2016 or 2017. Either way, he’s under team control through 2020, which means that he’s currently on track to hit free agency after his age-32 season. The market might not be kind to him even if he manages to stay healthy, so it could behoove him to get as much guaranteed money as possible right now. The Mets could always decide to play things year-to-year, but perhaps deGrom would be willing to settle for a discount in order to get them to buy out a free agent year or two. It’s a really interesting situation to think about, but odds are the two sides will wait on contract talks until he’s arbitration-eligible for the first time.

DeGrom owns a 2.61 ERA in 52 starts over his first two seasons in the majors. Among starters, only Zack Greinke, Jake Arrieta, and Clayton Kershaw have a lower ERA since the start of 2014.

Royals, Mike Moustakas avoid arbitration with two-year deal

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas celebrates after hitting an RBI single against the Toronto Blue Jays during the eighth inning in Game 2 of baseball's American League Championship Seriesagainst the Toronto Blue Jays  on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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The Royals and third baseman Mike Moustakas have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a two-year, $14.3 million deal, reports Jon Heyman of MLB Network.

The deal, which was initially discussed last month, buys out Moustakas’ final two years of arbitration. Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com reports that it’s believed he’ll make $5.6 million in 2016 and $8.7 million in 2017.

The 27-year-old Moustakas posted an underwhelming .668 OPS over his first four seasons in the majors, but he enjoyed a big postseason in 2014 before breaking out last season by batting .284/.348/.470 with 22 home runs and 82 RBI.

Report: Rays having “advanced talks” with free agent reliever Tommy Hunter

Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Tommy Hunter throws to the Miami Marlins during the seventh inning of a baseball game in Miami, Friday, May 22, 2015. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
AP Photo/J Pat Carter
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ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported this morning that free agent reliever Tommy Hunter required core muscle repair surgery earlier this offseason. Coming off a disappointing 2015, it’s understandable why he’s still on the market, but it sounds like he has at least one significant lead.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times hears that the Rays are having “advanced talks” with Hunter as they attempt to add an experienced arm to their bullpen. Nothing is considered close and Hunter is also talking to other clubs. Meanwhile, the Rays have been in touch with veteran reliever Ryan Webb while monitoring the trade market.

Hunter posted a 2.88 ERA as a late-inning arm from 2013-2014, but he compiled a mediocre 4.18 ERA over 58 appearances last season between the Orioles and Cubs. On the bright side, his velocity has held steady and his control is still very good. Despite the down year and core muscle surgery, Topkin writes that Hunter may be holding out for a multi-year deal.

Pirates sign left-hander Cory Luebke

Cory Luebke Getty
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Eric O'Flaherty wasn’t the only reclamation project added by the Pirates today, as the club also announced that they have signed left-hander Cory Luebke to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Luebke once looked like a solid rotation piece for the Padres, but he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since April 27, 2012. He’s undergone a pair of Tommy John surgeries since. Now 30 years old, he logged seven innings in the minors last season before requiring a procedure to remove loose bodies around a nerve in his forearm. The Padres cut ties with him in November after declining a $7.5 million club option for 2016.

It’s hard to count on much from Luebke at this point, but he told Adam Berry of MLB.com that he feels healthy and hopes to compete for a bullpen job in the spring.