Previewing the Home Run Derby: Prince Fielder aims for third crown

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Prince Fielder can join Ken Griffey Jr. as the only three-time winners of the Home Run Derby on Monday night, but to do it, he’ll have to best Chris Davis, who is currently on pace to hit 60 bombs this year.

This year’s Home Run Derby field is unusual in that it features just three players currently among baseball’s top 20 home run hitters:

Davis – 37
Pedro Alvarez – 24
Robinson Cano – 21
Michael Cuddyer – 16
Fielder – 16
Yoenis Cespedes – 15
David Wright – 13
Bryce Harper – 13

Davis is the major league leader, of course, but the next three on the list are absent: Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Gonzalez, who chose to pull out due to injury. Other All-Stars with 20 homers missing include Domonic Brown, Nelson Cruz, Paul Goldschmidt and Jose Bautista.

Besides Fielder, 2011 champ Robinson Cano is the only other former HR Derby winner in the field. David Ortiz no longer appears interested in competing after winning in 2010 and finishing tied for third in 2011.

Fielder and Cano are also the only holdovers from last year’s field. Fielder won with 28 homers, include 12 in the finals to beat Bautista. Cano, who hit 32 homers in winning in 2011, went homerless last year, the only player to do so the last three years. He should be pretty motivated tonight.

Alas, Cano is one of the biggest long shots, according to Bovada:

Davis: 11/4
Fielder: 3/1
Harper: 5/1
Alvarez: 6/1
Cespedes: 6/1
Cano: 13/2
Wright: 10/1
Cuddyer: 14/1

One other thing that should be noted here: since Citi Field altered the fences prior to 2012, it’s been a better home run park for right-handed hitters than left-handers. Before that, the opposite was true.

For that reason, I think Cespedes is the real sleeper pick tonight, though it wouldn’t surprise if expends a little too much energy in round one and doesn’t have enough left for the subsequent rounds. The last time a round one leader went on to win the Derby was Fielder in 2009.

But Fielder should be considered the favorite based on experience. My guess is that Davis disappoints. The Home Run Derby is typically about pulling the ball, and Davis hits his homers all over the place. As for Harper, while I think he’ll win one or two eventually, I doubt it’s his time just yet.

The Giants are winning but they’re still gonna sell

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The state of baseball in general, the state of the National League in particular and the state of the San Francisco Giants as a competitor are conspiring to create what seems like at least a mildly absurd situation.

The Giants, a veteran-laden team that, as recently as this past offseason but definitely within the past couple of years, were at least talking about being on a win-now footing, just swept a four-game series, have won five straight games and have won 12 of 14 to pull themselves to within two and a half games of a playoff spot.

Yet, that’s all for temporary show, because they’re about to sell off. At least according to Jeff Passan at ESPN. Giants president Farhan Zaidi tried to push back on that in a radio interview yesterday, denying that the club has foreclosed the possibility of a postseason push, but I’m not really buying that and I don’t think most people are.

On one level it makes sense to ignore the recent surge and forge on with a rebuild. Sure, the Giants are winning but they’re not exactly good. They’re two and a half out of the Wild Card, but there are many teams ahead of them. There’s a lot of reason to think that they’re playing in good fortune right now and that that, rather than finding some extra gear of sustainable better play, is what’s to credit. Hot streaks can happen at any time but the trade deadline only comes once a year. When you have the best starter available in Madison Bumgarner and the best reliever available in Will Smith, you gotta make those deals. That’s what I’d probably do if I ran the Giants and I think that that’s, wisely, what Zaidi will do.

Still, it’s an odd look, less for the Giants specifically than for baseball as a whole. We may in an era of cheap front offices who don’t like to contend if it means spending money, but it’s unfair to paint the Giants with that brush. They’ve spent money and acquired talent and have done whatever they can to extend their 2010-2014 mini-dynasty a few more years and in doing so they’ve made a lot of fans happy. That team has pretty much reached the end and, even in an earlier, more competitive era, they’d not be properly criticized for starting in on a rebuild. Heck, they’d be excused if they had done it a year or two earlier, frankly.

But, because so many teams have punted on improving themselves, these aging Giants are at least superficially competitive. As such, when they do sell off in the coming days, it’ll look to some like they’re waving a white flag or something when they’re not really doing that. I mean, the Rockies and the Pirates, among other teams, should be much better than they are but didn’t seem all that interested in improving, thereby helping the Giants look better, right? It’s less a knock on the Giants for rebuilding when they’re within striking distance of the playoffs than it is on the rest of the league for allowing a team like the Giants to be within striking distance of a playoff spot.

But that’s where we are right now. An insanely competitive Wild Card race from teams that, on the whole, are rather unconcerned with being competitive. What a time to be a baseball fan.