NBC Sports welcomes Joe Posnanski


And now it’s my privilege to introduce NBC Sports’ latest addition, even if he’s a man who needs no introduction around here: welcome aboard, Joe Posnanski.

Joe’s track record is well known. He comes to NBC from Sports on Earth. Before that he wrote for Sports Illustrated and before that, for many years, the Kansas City Star. Joe was named National Sportswriter of the year by the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame in 2011. He was named best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors twice. He’s the inaugural winner and namesake of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s “Joe Posnanski Award,” given to the top Internet baseball writer of the year. He’s written four books, one of which — The Soul of Baseball — is, in my view, a top-5 all-time baseball book.

Apart from all of that official stuff, I say — and have said, long before I knew he’d be joining me at NBC — that Joe is the best baseball writer around. I know that’s subjective — we all have our favorites — but in my estimation Joe loves the game, understands the game and writes about the game better than any other guy who gets paid to do so, full stop. Along with Rob Neyer and Bill James, Posnanski is one of the biggest single influences on my understanding of baseball and on my writing. Rob and Bill helped me approach baseball analysis in a different way. Posnanski changed the way I thought about the personalities and stories which surround the game. And now Joe’s going to be writing here. So, yes, I’m a little bit giddy.

He’s going to writing all over NBC Sports.com, actually.  He will be doing what he’s always done, covering all sports, and you’ll be able to read all of that work at our main page.  But if you know anything about Joe’s work you know he’s rather baseball-heavy and quite prolific, writing both long columns and blog posts (sometimes long blog posts).  Which will be great for us because that means his work will be showing up here at HardballTalk as well.

Joe’s first column for NBC drops today. It’s about Alex Rodriguez and what he used to be, back before the quarter billion dollar contracts and back before the celebrity. How he got to where he is now and how things could have been different (if, in fact, they ever could have been).

Jose’s first “[Player] is in The Best Shape of His Life” post is TBD, but I assume we have that in his contract.

2018 Preview: Oakland Athletics

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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 2018 season. Next up: The Oakland Athletics.

The A’s have finished last in the AL West for three straight years. If you believe the folks at Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus and anyone else who makes projections, they’ll either finish in last again or come within a game or two of it. There’s not a lot of suspense to my prediction here — I’ll end up picking them to finish fifth — but the prediction is not really what a preview is about. It’s about the shape of the team and what we can expect in broad brushes.

While I can’t foretell greatness for the 2018 Oakland Athletics, I can’t say the broad brushes are bad. At least if you grade on a curve. It won’t be a good team, but they’ll be worth watching because they have a lot of good, fun and interesting players who are likely to be on that next good Oakland A’s team in the way Stephen Vogt and Brett Lawrie were not.

Their lineup is pretty spiffy for a second division team. Khris Davis, Matt Joyce and new acquisition Jonathan Lucroy are known commodities both inside and outside A’s fandom, but people who don’t pay much attention to the goings on in Oakland may not be fully aware of just how good and promising Matt Olson and Matt Chapman are. Olson hit 24 homers in 59 games last year. That’s not a sustainable pace — the league will figure him out to — but even regression from that will be fantastic. Chapman hit 14 in half a season and played superior defense at third base. He also struck out 92 times in half a season but who’s counting? [editor: everyone counts everything in baseball]. Hey, look, dingers! Yonder Alonso and Ryon Healey are gone from last year’s crew and Stephen Piscotty is new in town. Marcus Semien is a decent bat for a shortstop. All-in-all that’s a lineup that will play, and play very, very well if Chapman and Olson are what they’ve shown themselves to be thus far.

At the risk of criminal understatement, allow me to observe that the starting pitching is not as promising. Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman are at the top of the rotation. On good teams they’d be in the middle or the back. The rest of their rotation options — Daniel Mengden, Andrew Triggs, Paul Blackburn, who will miss the start of the regular season with a sore forearm — are less-than-impressive. They just signed Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson from the scrap heap hoping, I guess, to recreate some of that, uh, 2010 magic? 2010 was a long time ago!

Jharel Cotton would’ve been in the mix but he’s now out for the year for Tommy John surgery. A.J. Puk, the A’s top prospect would be a nice midseason upgrade, but he’s hurt. Not seriously, but the A’s will probably be more careful with him now than they would’ve been, which still would’ve been careful. All-in-all, there was a lack of quality arms to begin with, but with the injuries mounting, starting pitching could be a trash fire for the A’s.

The bullpen has a new look with newcomers Ryan Buchter, Yusmeiro Petit and Emilio Pagan joining 2017 in-season additions Blake Treinen and Chris Hatcher. That’s a pretty good and pretty interesting group which was going to see a lot of innings as it was in our new bullpenning era, but now that the rotation looks shaky as hell, they’ll see even more. If you’re curious about the limits of leaning on a bullpen, postseason-style are, Oakland will be running a pretty fun experiment to that end in 2018.

I look at this club’s bats — especially the young guys upon whom its so very easy to project so much promise and optimism, because I’m a sucker for hitting prospects — and think that they can outperform those statsy projections and be better than the Rangers and Mariners. Then I think about how the upside — UPSIDE! — for the rotation is 380 innings from Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson and I sorta wanna cry.

If the A’s get some breaks and some unexpectedly good (or average) pitching performances, they could certainly finish above the cellar. Perhaps well above the cellar. For now, though, I’m guessing that they’ll be in 80-win territory at best and finish last in a division that does not have any teams totally punting, making for a competitive and, subsequently, tough year.

Prediction: Fifth place, AL West