Craig Calcaterra

Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey is back, “And he’s got great hair, too”

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New York Magazine has a feature on Mets pitcher Matt Harvey. It starts with him in a salon, “his hair still glistening from a vigorous shampooing,” after his stylist mentioned that Ian Schrager, the founder of Studio 54, had asked him to inquire about Harvey’s workout habits.

Think people are hungry for a new megastar ballplayer in New York?

The story, based on interviews done before spring training started, sets up the interesting and precarious position in which Matt Harvey finds himself as a personality, separate and apart from his identity as a ballplayer. He’s outgoing and doesn’t appear to have a shred of anxiety about being in the spotlight. He loves New York — lives and breathes the city — and wants to experience everything it offers. He’s basically a budding Joe Namath figure.

However, baseball — and especially the New York baseball media — has had 20 years of the quiet, businesslike Derek Jeter as its celebrity “face,” if you will. It and the baseball public expect bland quotes, no controversies and little if any information about how the ballplayer spends his downtime. It also has, in ways it never did before Derek Jeter came around, decided that one is almost not allowed to be recognized as a superstar until one has won a championship ring or five. Throw Harvey into that mix, and you’re bound to get criticism, thinkpieces, counter-thinkpieces and all manner of noise.

The interesting part of this: Jeter himself has told Harvey to be himself. Has even given him a platform at his Players’ Tribune to do just that. Is that enough to mollify the fans, the reporters and the sports radio goons who get on Harvey’s case for, by all appearances, simply being himself? Or are we simply in an age when no one is allowed to be Joe Namath anymore and everyone has to be Derek Jeter?

The Yankees want their players to eat right

Crop of vegetables. Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other vegetables.
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The Yankees have hired a nutritionist in an effort to make sure the players eat performance enhancing food:

As teams in every sport try to upgrade players’ nutrition for a competitive advantage, the Yankees have joined the fray. This winter they hired Cynthia Sass, a nutritionist, and gave her a mission to recommend the finest and healthiest food spread in baseball and persuade the players to eat it.

“We’re trying to build a more perfect beast,” Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said.

Notable also because the club hired a minor league nutritionist as well. As we’ve documented here before, minor leaguers are paid like crap and eat accordingly. Taco Bell, after all, is way cheaper than a place that has a lot of fish and fresh vegetables. Better that the team is helping them make good dietary choices be it by giving them more money or by providing that food themselves.

I find it crazy that it’s still a relatively new phenomenon. People have linked good diets and good athletic performance for way longer than most of us have been alive. Seems like they should’ve been doing this years ago.

Andrew McCutchen is the best because he hates “Centerfield” too

mccutchen getty
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If you asked me who my favorite current player is, the finalists would all be triple-threat guys. Guys who can hit, field and run at elite levels are just who I’m into today. That gives us Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen at the top. A notch down from them is Puig. If Michael Brantley strings together a couple more years like last year he’s up there too. I have a type these days.

Because of time zones I see McCutchen play more than the other guys, so I’d guess he’d be the one I’d have to say is my favorite current player. But if there was any doubt about that before, his answers to these random questions over at The Players’ Tribune may end it.

His least favorite song at the ballpark is “Centerfield.” He calls it “Put me in Coach,” but he clearly means “Centerfield.” It’s horrifying. And it’s played almost every single baseball game you go to, spring or regular season. The guy is subjected to that song pushing 200 times a year, I imagine, and it has to be the worst thing in the world.

Also: I like his favorite sandwich. And his choice of Bugs Bunny as the best cartoon character of all time is objectively correct.

This is why he is an MVP, people.

Deviled eggs on a slab of bacon at the ballpark? Sure, why not?

Comerica Park
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The Tigers already sell bacon on a stick at Comerica Park. Really, it’s just a hunk of thick-cut bacon on a stick. They sell it at the craft beer stand in right field. Righteous place, actually, even though I’ve never got the bacon.

They’re kicking it up a couple of notches this year:

Nothin’ says “baseball” like deviled eggs and bacon. Give me one of those, wash it down with a Bell’s Oberon and it may as well be 1979 at Tiger Stadium all over again!

2015 Preview: Boston Red Sox

Ortiz Ramirez Sandoval
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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 2015 season. Next up: The Boston Red Sox

The Big Question: Can the Sox go from Worst to First once again?

The Giants win the World Series in even years. The Red Sox stink in even years. It’s quite a pattern.

The Red Sox aren’t counting on that being a pattern, however. They decided to help it along by improving an offense that was near the bottom of the American League in runs per game. The big additions: Pablo Sandoval at third base and Hanley Ramirez in left field. The Sandoval contract may look bad later, but it should certainly help the offense now. Ramirez, when he’s healthy, provides a nice bat, but he’s never played in left field and his presence there creates a roster crunch of outfielders with three guys — Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo and Shane Victorino filling the other two positions. And don’t forget about Jackie Bradley Jr., who is still hanging around. At the moment both Castillo and Victorino have some health issues (Castillo is set to return this weekend) and of course, Ramirez is not exactly a portrait of durability, so that may clear itself up on its own.

The rotation has received a makeover as well, but it’s an open question as to whether it’s good enough to push the Sox back to the playoffs. Jon Lester was traded away and didn’t come back via free agency, so the Sox went with something of a volume approach with their starters. Rick Porcello is coming off a fine season for the Tigers, but it was his first year in the past five with an above average ERA+. Justin Masterson, before last year, looked to be a budding ace, but he struggled mightily in both Cleveland and St. Louis. Porcello seems like the better bet to approximate an ace — so many of his statistical issues of the past few years can be laid at the doorstep of the Tigers’ horrendous infield defense — but neither one is your prototypical stopper. The hope is that Clay Buchholz can return to ace form he showed before getting injured in 2013, but he has either been feast or famine since then. Mostly famine. In Wade Miley and Joe Kelly the Sox have guys whose ceilings seem to be in the back-of-the-rotation. Which is fine if that’s all they’re expected to do. If the three guys up top falter, however, it could be a less-than-fantastic staff.

The lineup will be better than it was in 2013. The rotation, well, it’s really hard to say. In both of the Sox’ recent last place finishes, they didn’t feel like a last place team heading into the season. Likewise, this year’s edition feels like it could be a really competitive club. But they will require a lot of things to break right, especially with the rotation, but also with the development of young position playing prospects like Betts, Castillo and Xander Bogaerts. That is not the stuff of a last place team, but it’s no guarantee whatsoever of a first place team, and they shouldn’t be the favorites to finish as one.

What else is going on?

  • Benches are often afterthoughts in the minds of fans, but the Sox’ bench will have some big names on it and will likely give John Farrell a lot of flexibility. Jackie Bradley Jr., Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, Brock Holt and whichever of the Betts-Castillo-Victorino crew isn’s starting is pretty cool.
  • Koji Uehara fell off big in the second half last year. Health? That’s what he and the Sox say. But he’s also gonna be 40 on Opening Day, so you have to wonder. Beyond him it’s a revamped bullpen with guys like Anthony Varvaro, Alexi Ogando and Robbie Ross added to the mix. Junichi Tazawa is still solid. Edward Mujica and Craig Breslow are still hanging around. Not the team’s strength, not it’s worst weakness. Most of it depends on Uehara keeping up his usual level of strong work.
  • I like catching combos like Christian Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan. Neither are offensive stars, but both rank extremely highly in pitch framing metrics. I can’t say I understand how those work, but if reality is even close to what the people talking about the numbers say it is, they’re going to steal a lot of strikes for that pitching staff. That will be especially helpful for sinkerballers like Procello and Masterson.
  • The Sox’ minor league system has gotten a nice boost lately and Blake Swihart and Yoan Moncada have gotten a ton of ink. That’s nice, but neither will be contributing to the 2015 Sox. Or, if they are, it means everything that was supposed to go right for the club has gone wrong.

Prediction: I don’t like all of the uncertainties with that rotation. I don’t know that Dustin Pedroia will return to form. I don’t know that Pablo Sandoval is good enough to truly elevate that offense (note: his fame is based way more on the playoffs than recent regular season dominance) and I don’t know if it’s fair to expect (a) Hanley Ramirez to be healthy all year; and (b) the youngsters to all take the big step forward they are capable of taking. John Farrell doesn’t need a Hail Mary completion for this club to contend, but he does need a lot of things to break in his favor. Because it’s baseball, not all of them will.

I think the Sox will be in the playoff hunt all year, but I don’t think they’re be a dominant team. Or as good a bet as the Orioles to win the division. Even a weak division. My guess: Second Place, American League East.