Joe Girardi

Your inaugural Power Rankings

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The only thing sillier than predictions about who wins each division several months before the season ends is judging which team is the best before any games are played.  But hey, that’s never stopped me before, so let’s have a Power Ranking, shall we?

And yeah, there is that big of a gap between the AL and the NL. It’s just astounding how much better the top teams in the junior circuit are.

1. Yankees: A 97-win team with rotation problems adds a couple of really good starters. Yeah, I think that plays.

2. Rangers: The two-time defending AL champs lose their top starting pitcher but add another one who, in my view anyway, will be better.  That plays too.

3. Angels: Huge additions in Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, obviously, but they also had ten games to make up from the Rangers.

4. Tigers: Fielder and Cabrera are gonna be awesome to see. But there are holes in the lineup and, while still awesome, Justin Verlander can’t match 2011’s numbers again because, really, no one can do that. Right?

5. Rays: The deepest rotation in baseball means that if they have any problems — say Luke Scott is a bust and the bullpen falters — they have the chips to make some deals.

6. Red Sox: Nowadays everybody wanna talk like they got somethin’ to say, but nothin’ comes out when they move their lips, just a bunch of gibberish, and motherf***ers act like they forgot about how good this team was until September last year.

7. Phillies: Infielders on this team have a worse life expectancy than the drummer for Spinal Tap. But having Halladay, Hamels and Lee hanging around makes up for a lot of stuff. The 1990s-early 2000s Braves won division after division with dudes like Mark Lemke and Keith Lockhart in the infield. I think  the Phillies will be fine.

8. Diamondbacks: Will Ian Kennedy have a repeat year? Exceedingly doubtful. But Trevor Cahill has joined up, I’m curious about an entire year of Paul Goldschmidt, Justin Upton is still awesome and I don’t think the Giants will be substantially better than they were last year. Ergo, the Dbacks.

9. Braves: If Freddie Freeman’s spring training is any indication of how he’ll do this year the perpetual offensive problems this team has will be somewhat mitigated.

10. Giants: Whether you think this team will return to 2010 form has a lot to do with whether you think Melky Cabrera’s 2011 season was indicative of some new normal for him and that he’ll repeat it in AT&T Park. I kinda think it was a fluke.

11. Cardinals: I’m feeling kinda shaky about this given the Carpenter and Furcal injuries, but man, I JUST picked them to win the Central an hour ago, so I have to stick with this a bit longer, no? UPDATE: I have no idea why I thought Rafael Furcal was hurt. I haven’t slept a lot lately.

12. Brewers: Prince Fielder gone, but Aramis Ramirez in (and Casey McGehee out) is pretty decent compensation.

13. Blue Jays: The rotation is kind of a mess and the lineup is depending on a handful of bounceback years. But I could see this team competing and even winning the NL West or Central. Unfortunately, they play in the AL East.

14. Marlins: A bigger deal than all of their offseason additions is the return of a healthy Josh Johnson.  But more than this team’s prospects, I’m curious to see if Carlos Zambrano and Ozzie Guillen can avoid their particular brand of performance art this season.

15. Reds:  I’d feel better if not for the bullpen injuries, but the Reds are going to be pesky and, if things break right — or wrong for St. Louis and Milwaukee — they could take the division.

16. Nationals: Still a year away, methinks, but they’re not that far behind Atlanta and Florida. Injuries to those two teams could push Washington toward second place.

17. Indians: They’re gonna do what they always do: surprise for a nice long stretch, disappoint for a nice long stretch and finish fairly far back of the Tigers. Then next winter we’ll all talk about how they’re underrated again.

18. Rockies: Jamie Moyer is a great story, but it is telling that a 49 year-old soft-tosser made this rotation.

19. Royals: So many people’s sexy, breakout pick. Still a year — and a couple of starters – away in my view. Especially in light of the Soria and Perez injuries.

20. Pirates:  A.J. Burnett, Erik Bedard and James McDonald could — if they all hit the top end of their potential — make this team a potentially dangerous one. Still, the most realistic goal here is breaking the streak of sub-.500 finishes, not going to the playoffs.

21. Dodgers: Kershaw and Kemp, then a whole lot of nothing, all mitigated by optimism about the new owners.

22. Twins: If Mauer and Morneau are both really back this will look like a really low ranking in hindsight. But they gotta show me first.

23. Athletics: It’s probably going to be more fun to watch the farm system this year — which is stocked — than the big club.

24. Padres: Same here, really. They got a lot of talent back in the Mat Latos deal.

25. Cubs: The future is pretty darn far from now. How long will Theo and Jed’s honeymoon last?

26. White Sox: On the early stages of a rebuild. There will not be any sneaky contention here.

27. Mets: The legal cloud over the team has lifted. Johan Santana appears to be healthy again. Beyond that, I’m kind of at a loss as to where to find optimism here.

28. Mariners: They’ll score more runs this year. But that’s not saying much. They should still have one of the worst offenses in baseball, even with some dramatic offensive improvement.

29. Orioles: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: how they do will depend on young pitching taking a step forward.

30.  Astros: I think they’re gonna settle in this position for the long haul.

Two elite Cuban players defect

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Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com just reported that Yulieski Gurriel & Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who are brothers, reportedly defected and will be seeking MLB deals. There aren’t any details yet, but Sanchez will be updating with a full story that we’ll link here when he has it.

Yulieski is a 31-year old third baseman and, according to Baseball America’s Ben Badler he was the No. 1 player remaining in Cuba. He was one of the Cuban players who was permitted to play in Japan recently, and he just put up a .305/.349/.536 season with 11 homers in 62 games for the Yokohama Bay Stars and has continued to rake in Cuba. He is likely major league ready right this instant. He’d be an unrestricted free agent given his age and team’s signing him would not be subject to international bonus pool limits.

Lourdes is only 22 years old. He’s hit .269/.355/.414 in 1036 Serie Nacional plate appearances and Badler thinks he has 20-homer potential in the majors one day. He’s currently a shortstop, but is probably destined for a corner. He is young enough to where he would be subject to bonus pool limits. Several teams have already exceeded those limits for the current signing period, limiting the number of teams who could sign him. If, however, it takes MLB a long time to clear him as a free agent — and with immigration issues and the like, that’s very possible — he may not be eligible to be signed until next year, which could bring some other teams into the fold.

 

Indians close to signing ex-Nationals reliever Craig Stammen

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Right-hander Craig Stammen, who spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Nationals, is expected to sign with the Indians.

Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that the Indians “hope to finalize a deal” with Stammen today, adding veteran depth to the bullpen. It’ll likely be a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Stammen missed nearly all of last season following elbow surgery and the Nationals non-tendered him, but he’s scheduled to be ready for spring training. After struggling as a starter early in his career he’s posted a 3.02 ERA in 280 innings out of the bullpen, so if healthy it’d be a nice addition for Cleveland.

A Mexican team wins the Caribbean Series for the third time in four years

Mexican players celebrate their victory in the Caribbean Series baseball final against Aragua Tigres of Venezuela, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. Designated hitter Jorge Vazquez hit a game-winning home run leading off the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday, lifting Mexico's Venados de Mazatlan to a 5-4 come-from-behind victory and the championship of the Caribbean Series. (AP Photo/Roberto Guzman)
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For those who aren’t familiar, Serie del Caribe, or the Caribbean Series, is the highest club level baseball tournament in Latin America, pitting the champions of the winter leagues in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela against one another in a bacchanalia of baseball that, if there was justice in the world, we’d all be watching instead of football.

This year’s installment ended last night with Mexico’s Mazatlan Venados beating Venezuela’s Aragua Tigres 5-4 in the final game at Estadio Quisqueya in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Jorge Vazquez — who Yankees fans may remember from a few years back — provided the winning margin when he hit a home run to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning.

This is the third Serie del Caribe title for a Mexican club in the past four years, with Naranjeros de Hermosillo winning in 2014 and Yaquis de Obregón winning in 2013. Pinar del Río from Cuba won it last winter. This is the first time the Venados have won it.

As we noted yesterday, this was longtime MLB starter Freddy Garcia‘s last game. He gave up four hits and allowed two earned runs over five and a third innings for the Tigres, getting a no-decision.

Report: Teams reluctant to gamble on Cliff Lee

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park Thursday, July 31, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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In Saturday’s column for the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo suggests that free agent Cliff Lee is seeking a guaranteed major league deal between $6 and $8 million plus incentives. That is turning some otherwise interested teams away, as the lefty is still recovering from a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow. Lee hasn’t pitched since July 31, 2014.

Last month, Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker said the pitcher would need “a perfect fit” to pitch in 2016. He also noted that Lee has begun a full offseason throwing program.

In his most recent season, Lee compiled a 3.65 ERA with 72 strikeouts and 12 walks in 81 1/3 innings for the Phillies. The Phillies had signed him to a five-year, $120 million contract in December 2010 but declined a club option for the 2016 season, instead buying him out for $12.5 million.