Bobby Valentine offers high praise to John Farrell, Ben Cherington

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This Boston Globe/Nick Cafardo interview with Bobby Valentine is going to get linked and tweeted about a lot today because, buried deep inside, Valentine opines that, had he stayed with the Red Sox for 2013, he thinks he could have turned the ship around. But to the extent people play the “OMG, look at what that deluded nut Valentine said!” game, they’re being pretty unfair to the guy.

Yes, he said he thinks he could have won with the 2013 Red Sox. But that little bit is surrounded by tons of high praise for John Farrell, Ben Cherington and the players on the 2013 Red Sox team. Indeed, if anything, this is about as magnanimous and un-self-centered a set of comments Valentine will ever offer when something directly related to him comes up. Here’s the entire quote:

“I’d like to think that if I came back for my second year that, given the changes and improvements, I would have been able to do the same thing,” Valentine said. “Ben did a great job this offseason rebuilding the team. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it before. Usually a team will go after one or two free agents and hope they work out. When you’re signing seven or eight guys and they all work out and blend in together as well as they did, that’s amazing to me. The entire organization should be very proud of what they did. They should take a bow. It was amazing work.”

The “blending” thing — in addition to some more direct comments earlier — is clearly Valentine’s hats-off to Farrell. The comments about Cherington and the roster makeover are clear. The bit about “if I came back …” well, what do you expect him to say?  “Really, Nick, if they brought me back this season it would have been like a flaming bag of crap on someone’s front porch. I mean, we woulda stunk on ice!”  Of course the guy is going to say he could have done a better job. He’s a former athlete and all-around confident person. It’d be news if the guy was suddenly defeatist.

As it is: good on Valentine for offering praise in a situation where a lot of guys may have offered it more backhandedly or, more likely, declined comment at all. If anyone is playing the “Bobby V. said something crazy!” game with this, they’re misrepresenting the man.

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.