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Smart money on Hanley Ramirez, Jay Bruce in prop bets

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Bovada released its player prop bets for the 2014 season on Wednesday, providing odds on the AL and NL MVP and Cy Young races, as well as MLB’s home run leader. Here’s a look at what I consider to be the best bets in each category. Please do note, though, all information here is for entertainment purposes only.

AL MVP

Mike Trout – 5/1
Miguel Cabrera – 6/1
Adrian Beltre – 16/1

This is one spot where I’d seriously think about going with the favorites. I’d say it’s better than 50-50 that Trout or Cabrera will claim the award, and the opportunity is there to bet both and still make some cash. Cabrera, of course, has won two in a row.

Since RBI remains king, Beltre, who has tied for the eighth best odds here, has the best chance to upset them. He’s in position to drive in a ton of runs behind Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus and Prince Fielder in the Texas order.

My favorite sleeper pick doesn’t get listed by Bovada, which probably means he’d get 50:1 odds. That’s Carlos Santana, who is also in position to drive in a whole bunch of runs behind Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis in the Cleveland lineup.

NL MVP

Hanley Ramirez – 25/1
Paul Goldschmidt – 9/1
Jay Bruce – 33/1

Ramirez was the NL’s best hitter in the half-season he was healthy last year, and his Dodgers are the clear favorites in the NL West. I see him making a run at a batting title and hitting about 30 homers. He’s my pick for MVP, long odds or no.

Goldschmidt has the third best odds here behind Andrew McCutchen (6/1) and Joey Votto (7/1). Because, again, RBI is king, I’d say he’s more likely to win than either of those two. However, for it to happen, he’ll need the Diamondbacks to make the postseason.

Bruce is going to have at least one 40-homer, 120-RBI season before he’s done. I doubt he’ll actually be a better player than Votto, but he’s the one of the two more likely to win an MVP, mostly because he gets to hit behind the guy with the .430 OBP.

AL Cy Young

Alex Cobb – 33/1
Justin Verlander – 12/1
Felix Hernandez – 15/1

Bovada and I agree: AL Cy Young is the most wide open of the four major awards. Their top choice here, Yu Darvish, has the highest odds (8/1) of the favorites. I don’t have a real favorite here, either. My projections call for Verlander, Hernandez, Darvish, David Price, Cobb and Chris Sale to all finish with ERAs in the 3.00-3.20 range, with no one lower than that. I’d be tempted to throw a couple of bucks on Cobb, but I’d probably otherwise shy away.

NL Cy Young

Clayton Kershaw – 13/2
Madison Bumgarner – 15/1
Stephen Strasburg – 8/1

I’d go with the favorite here: Kershaw seems like he should be closer to 4:1 to repeat, in my opinion. If he doesn’t pitch up to his ability, that might open the door for Bumgarner. One sleeper pick who didn’t get odds from Bovada: Homer Bailey. He’d be really nice at 50:1 or 66:1.

MLB home run leader

Jay Bruce: 25/1
Chris Davis: 8/1
Giancarlo Stanton: 10/1
Justin Upton: 75/1

I have nine guys projected to hit at least 34 homers this season:

39 – Davis
38 – Stanton
37 – Bruce, Fielder
35 – Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, Mark Trumbo
34 – Pedro Alvarez, Edwin Encarncion

Bovada has Davis as the favorite at 8/1, followed by Cabrera at 9/1 and Stanton at 10/1. So we line up rather closely here. Bruce at 25/1 seems like the best bet to me: very good HR ballpark, very durable, three straight 30-homer seasons. Trumbo at 20/1 isn’t bad, either.

For a long shot, Upton is rather tempting. I have him at 30 homers, but he’s capable of doing better. Last year, he hit 12 in April alone, and he’s just now entering his age-26 season.

Mets sign outfielder Roger Bernadina

Cincinnati Reds v Arizona Diamondbacks
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Veteran outfielder Roger Bernadina has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Mets that includes an invitation to spring training.

Bernadina was a semi-regular for the Nationals from 2010-2012, but never developed as much as hoped offensively and didn’t play in the majors at all last season.

At age 32 he’s a career .236 hitter with a .661 OPS in 548 games as a big leaguer and given the Mets’ outfield depth–they already have Alejandro De Aza and Juan Lagares in bench/part-time roles–Bernadina seems likely to begin the season in the minors.

J.R. Graham is in The Best Shape of his Life

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher J.R. Graham celebrates after the final out as the Twins beat the Chicago White Sox 12-2 in  a baseball game, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Minneapolis. The Twins won 12-2. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
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Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com reports that Twins reliever J.R. Graham has lost “roughly 30-40 pounds this offseason.” It’s not a result of workouts, though. Just a change in diet. Bollinger says that Graham cut out sugar, alcohol and foods heavy in carbs and focused on a high-protein diet with lots of salads, meats and vegetables.

That’s an awful lot of weight to lose in four months, but the dude is only 26 and guys in their 20s lose weight just by thinking about it. Which is so very annoying to those of us who aren’t guys in their 20s.

The real test, of course, will come when he is working out far more strenuously once spring training starts and gets into the season. Normal schmos like me can keep up that kind of diet without much of a hitch as long as we have the willpower. An athlete’s energy requirements are far greater and far more specialized, so he’ll need more fuel than he’s probably been getting this offseason. Word is, however, that professional sports teams have people on staff that, you know, have made monitoring that kind of thing their life’s work.

In the meantime:

“I can just feel the change,” Graham said. “The energy. Everything. I feel great. I’m excited to see how it’ll translate into spring. I know I shouldn’t have any problems because I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. I’m faster. All that. So it’s really exciting.”

It’s very exciting indeed. Because, with that, Graham becomes the latest baseball player to be . . . In The Best Shape of His Life.

The time my family invited itself to Gaylord Perry’s house for lunch

Gaylord Perry
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I mentioned my Gaylord Perry story in the last post. I feel like I’ve written this up before, but I couldn’t find it in our archives. Couldn’t find it anywhere. Maybe I’ve just told it to friends and radio hosts and people so many times that it feels like I’ve written it before. Oh well, I’ll tell it again because I like telling this story.

In 1984 I was on vacation with my family in the big RV, driving through North Carolina. As we always did on those long family road trips, my brother and I spent all of our highway time sorting through boxes of baseball cards we brought along with us. As we passed through a little podunk town, my dad suddenly pulled over and stopped to make a call at a pay phone. He got back into the RV and said “we’re stopping for lunch.” As we pulled away from the phone booth, I saw a sign that said “Welcome to Williamston, North Carolina, Home of Gaylord and Jim Perry.” Maybe Jim got first billing since he’s older. I don’t remember. But that was the upshot.

Five minutes later we are pulling up to a house next to a large farm. A woman came out of the house and said, “You’re the fella who just called? Come on in!” She welcomed us inside. “Gaylord will be here in a minute,” she said. My brother and I freaked out as we looked around the living room. There were photos of Gaylord Perry in action. Trophies and awards. Jerseys in frames. All kinds of other stuff. The thing I remember most was a giant leather chair shaped like a baseball glove that, to this day, I wish I had (maybe the 1984 version of this?). Five minutes later Gaylord freaking Perry walked in. He was wearing dirty jeans, work boots, a dirty white t-shirt and a Kansas City Royals cap. It was his first summer not playing baseball since he was a kid and he was spending it farming. Still had the cap on, though.

Gaylord and his wife, Blanche, were warm and welcoming. They said that not too many baseball fans just up and stopped by, but that they were happy someone did. Blanche made us sandwiches. Gaylord signed autographs (we had a few Perry cards in the RV stash). Even at that age I knew Perry’s reputation as a ball-doctorer. He told us a bunch of spitball jokes and stories which he had no doubt honed on the banquet circuit over the years, but they were mostly new to me. My parents, who were not baseball fans and didn’t know much about Perry apart from the fact that he was a famous baseball player, were delighted when Perry asked me to explain to them what I thought a spitball was. You could tell Perry thought that it was absolutely adorable that I thought the best way to doctor a ball was to, you know, spit on it. He talked about Vaseline and all sorts of other stuff, adding “or so I’m told” or “some people say” every now and again with a wink.

After lunch, Gaylord took us back to his office, in a separate building. He opened a file cabinet containing autographed baseballs from his former teammates and his friends in the game. I got a George Brett ball, which Perry said he gave me because Brett was the best player whose autograph he had sitting around handy. My brother said he was a Tigers fan so Perry gave him a Lance Parrish ball Perry had gotten somewhere along the way. He had a bunch of others too, but we weren’t greedy. He gave my mom a T-shirt he had which commemorated the Pine Tar Incident, in which he played no small part. He autographed the shirt for her, apologized for it being so big and said that maybe she could use it as a night shirt. My dad took Polaroids of my brother and me with Perry which I still have around here someplace. Then off we went, with Gaylord and Blanche Perry waving from the porch.

I was saddened to hear a couple years later that Perry’s life took an unfortunate turn not long after we met him. Two years later he lost his farm to bankruptcy. A year later Blanche died in an automobile accident. Perry went on to coach college baseball for a while. I remember seeing an interview with him around that time and he seemed like a much sadder guy than the smiling fellow we met that day in 1984. It makes sense given all that had happened.

In 2012, while in Scottsdale to cover spring training, I walked into the Giants clubhouse one morning and sitting at a table were Willie Mays, Ernie Banks and Gaylord Perry. They were there for some sort of pregame ceremony and were just shooting the breeze and telling old baseball stories. Perry was laughing and animated and at times was practically breathless due to all of the cackling. He had Mays in stitches too. It was fantastic to see him smiling.

When the conversation ended Perry got up and walked from the table. I thought about saying something to him about the time in 1984 when my dad impulsively took his kids to Gaylord Perry’s house and to thank him for the kindness he and his wife showed my family that day. I didn’t, though. He was soon in another conversation and, on some level, it seemed awkward for me to have brought that up there, in the clubhouse, wearing a press credential when people were working and preparing and things. In hindsight I wish I had.

I’m going back to Scottsdale to cover spring training again in March. I hope he’s there again. If so, this time I will.

Giants player who cheated in order to achieve milestones to be honored with statue

FILE - In this Sept. 3, 1973 file photo, home plate umpire John Flaherty checks Cleveland Indians' pitcher Gaylord Perry's cap, at the request of Milwaukee Brewers manager Del Crandall,  during the first game of a doubleheader against the Brewers,  in Milwaukee. Well after the end of his Hall of Fame career, Perry could still joke about his infamous spitball, but in 1982, the Seattle star was ejected for allegedly throwing the pitch against the Boston Red Sox. (AP Photo/File)
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Hey, I didn’t say “records,” I just said milestones. Milestones which I recognize as totally valid, by the way.

We’re talking about Gaylord Perry here, of course. As Hank Shulman reports, he’ll be getting a statue at AT&T Park. It will be unveiled on August 13, and it will go alongside statues of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal.

Perry was a fantastic pitcher, of course. A man who won over 300 games and struck out more than 3,500 dudes and, without question, belongs in the Hall of Fame, to which he was inducted eons ago. He belongs even if he cheated because, Jesus, a lot of dudes did or at least tried to do what he did and they didn’t become amazing pitchers as a result, so maybe the cheating didn’t make or break the man’s career? And because how on Earth can you have a baseball Hall of Fame without Gaylord Perry in it? That’d be preposterous.

Moreover, he’s a player for whom I have a great deal of personal admiration for personal reasons no matter what he did on the field (have I told you my Gaylord Perry story? If I haven’t told my Gaylord Perry story before remind me and I’ll do a post on it; he was a prince of a man to my family one time). UPDATE: Here’s that Gaylord Perry story.

See, you can separate the rule breaking from the rest of it if you try even a little bit.

Bonds next, please.