Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thoughts on the Offseason so Far

Stanton extension
     At the beginning of the offseason I would've bet anything that the Marlins would trade Giancarlo Stanton. I would've bet even more that it was for nothing more than a few unproven prospects; I've always thought their Miguel Cabrera Dontrelle Willis for Cameron Maybin trade never gets enough attention for being terrible. Anyway, as huge of a contract it is, it's a good deal for the Fish. Stanton's been so good for so long it's easy to forget he's only 25. He'll keep getting better for at least a few more years, and it's not out of the question to think he'll still be useful at age 38 when the deal expires. Of course, it isn't out of the question that Jeffery Loria will be too cheap to get him any help, but that's a separate issue.
Martin to the Jays
     Maybe a slight overpay, but a good move for the Jays. He'll fit in nicely with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion and help mentor their young pitching staff.
Heyward-Miller trade
     This was a logical trade for both teams, the Braves needed pitching depth with the possibility of Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang leaving, and the Cards needed an outfielder after the tragic death of Oscar Taveras a month ago. Even though Heyward will be a free agent next year, I like this deal for the Cardinals. Heyward may have been a slight disappointment in Atlanta, remember that 1) he played in a pitchers park, 2) while his numbers look average to the naked eye, analytics love him. He's one of the best fielding outfielders in the game right now, leading all right fielders in range factor per game last year at 2.56. He's also a very disciplined hitter, swinging at just 28.1 percent of pitches outside of the zone. and 3) he's only 24 years old.
     That last one is a biggie, because as I said before, he was a tiny bit disappointing for the Braves, but, much like Stanton, people forget how he isn't close to peaking.
     As for Miller, he's been a bit of an enigma the last few years, posting an ERA+ of just 98 last season, a frustrating follow up year on a solid 2013 campaign where he went 15-9 and had an ERA of 3.06. It's too early to tell who won this but if Heyward resigns with the Cardinals next year I'll award it to them for all the reasons I said earlier about Heyward and I'm not completely sold on Miller, whose spike in ERA came last season despite a lower BABIP.
Sandoval and Ramirez to the Sox
     I'll start with Panda: In the era of constant shifts, someone like him who can spray the ball all over the field is a great asset to have. However, he's struggled to hit lefties, batting .199 against them last season, which will make it hard for the switch-hitting Sandoval to take advantage of the close proximity of the Green Monster to home plate with lots of power from the right-handed side. Still, I'm on board with this move, he's an underrated fielder, has excelled in a pitchers ballpark his entire career, and always comes alive in the postseason.
     Ramirez is a different story. He hasn't played more than 130 games since 2012 and is a disaster defensively. He can't play short at this point in his career especially when the Sox have Xander Bogearts.* Obviously Panda's occupying third, so his only option is left field. To create space, I wouldn't be surprised if they packaged some combination of Yoenis Cespedes Will Middlebrooks and Jackie Bradley Jr. to trade for someone like Cole Hamels.
* I like to call him The Bogy Man, but I think I'm in the minority with that one.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

College Basketball Preview

Big Ten
Best Team
Wisconsin. And nobody else is even close. They're bringing four of their five starters back from their Final Four run last year. They're very well coached by Bo Ryan and of course they have...
Best Player
Frank Kaminsky! He's a classic case of the simplest way for a post player to get great. In high school he was a 6'3" shooting guard before shooting up to 6'11". People who do that learn how to play the game like perimeter players and become incredibly hard to guard. While he can occasionally be stopped by long, athletic defenders, he's also proven to have the ability to adjust like last year in the Elite Eight against an Arizona team with one of the best defenders in the country, Aaron Gordon.
Best Coach
Michigan State may have lost Adrien Payne and Gary Harris, but they still have Branden Dawson and more importantly, Tom Izzo. The Spartans haven't missed the tournament since 1996. That's 18 recruiting classes, and the only constant through all those years has been Izzo. If as much of the success were on the players as the media says, they would've missed at least once. That's the problem with the preseason AP rankings, they focus too much on incoming freshmen, and not enough on recent history. I wouldn't hesitate to take MSU over Kentucky. See the "Biggest Disappointment" section for all the gory details.
Gopher Outlook
Things are looking up for the Gophers. In his first year of recruiting his own players, Pitino's gotten athletes like Nate Mason, Carlos Morris and Josh Martin who fit in well with his up tempo system. They'll also have DeAndre Mathieu and a healthy Andre Hollins back this season, so I wouldn't be surprised with a tournament birth and an 8-10 seeding.
Everyone Else
Best Team
Arizona added the seventh ranked recruit Stanley Johnson to a unit that was oozing athleticism last year. Johnson's versatility should give them more lineup options, like going small by shifting him to the power forward and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to the center. With those two, plus T.J. McConnell, the Wildcats will be the team to beat this year.
Best Player
I'm not counting any freshmen because we've barely gotten a chance to see them play this year, and although he would be in the discussion, I'm throwing out Frank Kaminsky because we've already discussed him, so there's really only one option left: Montrezl Harrell. He was the toughest guy to handle on the block last year not named Julius Randle, and is a relentless rebounder and rim protector. He's improved his jump shot, he's up to "makes it when he's open," which is a lot better than he was last year. The most terrifying part of this is the fact that he still has a lot of potential to reach. Now all he needs is an intimidating nickname.
Biggest Disappointment
The voters never seem to learn. For the third straight year, Kentucky's in the top three of the AP rankings at the beginning of the season, and for the third straight year, the Wildcats will disappoint. Nobody seems to realize that their ringer studded team of one and dones rarely comes together and immediately does well. Keep in mind, they were a eight seed going into the tourney last year and sweated out four games before losing to UConn. And the year before that, they bowed out in first round... of the NIT. The AP can't seem to figure out Cal's strategy rarely works.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Look at Free Agency

The Cream of the Crop
Pablo Sandoval
In basketball, you always hear about big guys like Joel Embiid or Hakeem Olajuwon who play like they're smaller than they are, but you never hear about that for baseball, despite it being really applicable. Kennys Vargas and Panda are to two of first guys that pop into my head when I think of that. Both of them are excellent fielders with better range than people give them credit for who spray the ball all over the place despite the reputation of being pull hitters, 32% of Sandoval's hits going to other way.
Nick Markakis
Right now, it's looking like Markakis will resign with the O's, who have offered him a new contract for six years, worth about 66 million dollars. Even if someone else gives him an offer in that area, the Orioles are the only team he's ever played for and it's hard to picture him playing anywhere else.
Melky Cabrera
I have no opinion of Cabrera. He's a decent player, but has an inconsistent history. I bet he gets 2-3 years for about 20-25 million.
Russell Martin
Lots of people are predicting Martin to the Dodgers because he's played there before, they have the money to sign him, A.J. Ellis is their current catcher and when the Dodgers don't have the best a position they go get it damnit! Even with Los Angeles making the push, the Pirates are going to go hard to resign him. He put up pretty good numbers last year and was their clubhouse leader. I bet he stays in Pittsburgh.
High Risk, High Reward
Victor Martinez
It may seem weird saying this about someone coming off of a career season, but I wouldn't touch Martinez with a ten foot pole. He's probably going to want around four years, On top of that, he can't field so he clogs up your bench in the late innings, he blew out his ACL in 2012, and have I mentioned he'll 36 by the time the season starts? Call me pessimistic, but there's no chance in hell that he's going to repeat last year's season at this age. His body's had too much wear and tear throughout his career, and players naturally decline in their late 30s. In other words, he'd be a perfect fit for the Yankees.
Hanley Ramirez
Hanley's one of those guys who I always forget how good he is until I watch him play. Of course, part of the reason for that is because I don't see him play very often. Since 2011, he's only averaged 116 games per season. He also desperately needs a switch from short. At his best, he was a slightly above average fielder, and last year he had a UZR of -10 and a revised zone rating of .765.* He'd be a good fit with the Yankees. Unlike last paragraph, I'm serious about this one. They need a third baseman, and if Ramirez can switch, they have the funds to take the risk.
*That means that he made a play on 76% of the balls hit to his area. 76% is very below average.
Nelson Cruz
I like how Cruz was suspended for PEDs in 2013, then put up career numbers the next year at the age of 35. I wouldn't be surprised if he resigns with Baltimore for a lot more money than he made last year, but if I were Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, I'd make a pretty big push for him. Seattle still needs a big bat to go with Robinson Cano, and sorry, M's fans, Kendrys Morales isn't that guy.
The Aces
Max Scherzer
Scherzer turning down a 144 million dollar deal might turn into a blessing in disguise for the Tigers. As the GMs who signed Johan Santana, C.C. Sabathia and Barry Zito will tell you, giving pitchers big money is a huge risk. It's often guaranteeing you a few dominant years, but the great unknown is after that. Sometimes he'll stay healthy and effective the entire time, other times, the guys I listed above happen. In the case of Scherzer specifically, I'd put the odds of him resigning with Detroit somewhere between little and no chance. He didn't decline that extension because he wanted more money, he's not interested in returning. I bet he goes to one of the typical big market teams, (Los Angeles, New York, Boston) with the Cardinals looming as a possible sleeper.
Jon Lester
The Red Sox are the clear favorites to retain Lester, it's not the A's style to spend like that, and he seems to have quite a bit of loyalty to Boston.
James Shields
After his postseason implosion can we strip him of nickname "Big Game"? Not that any teams will be looking at that, he'll be receiving 100 million from a team not in Kansas City. Obviously the Red Sox and Yankees will be players, but the Marlins could emerge as a dark horse candidate like the Mariners with Cano last year.
The Veterans
Michael Cuddyer
Yeah, he's 35, and yeah, his numbers have been ballooned by Coors Field the last few years, but Cuddy's leadership and versatility will get him a decent one year deal.
UPDATE: Cuddyer's signed a two year deal with the Mets. Decent move by New York. They seem to be stockpiling veterans to try to sneak into the playoffs and get on a Royals like hot streak with their starting pitching.
Nori Aoki
Billy Butler
Dayton Moore's first priority should be resigning these two guys. I'm a big believer in the, "keep as many guys on a good team together" idea, and Shields is gone no matter what, so there's no point in focusing too hard on him.
Torii Hunter
Just like Cuddyer, Hunter's a former Twin who someone could sign because of his intangibles for as much of a reason as his skills. There have been a lot of discussions about him possibly returning to the Twins, but I just don't see it. All he'd do is take up room that they could be giving to Hicks. On top of that, last year we saw Ryan's "sign as many former twins as possible" strategy failed miserably. I'll pass.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Scattered Thoughts on the Minnesota Sports Scene

     A ton of stuff happened in the last week so we need a column to sort through it all. Here it is.
     Obviously the big story is the Twins hiring Paul Molitor. I'm a little nervous about the fact that he's never managed before, but all the players clearly trust and respect him. Also, as the Royals taught us this October, managers are pretty overrated. I agreed with the Twins decision to fire Gardy last month, I felt like the game had passed him up, but one of his strengths was dealing with the media and pressure, something Molitor hasn't had any experience with.
     Teddy showed some serious flashes this week against Washington, going 26-42 for 268 yards and no interceptions. The deep ball is a concern, but his decision making is much better than most young quarterbacks. As great as all of that is that is, he could be even better if Turner wasn't so frustratingly stubborn about not getting Patterson more involved in the offense. Even Musgrave figured that out at one point last year. The plays don't need to be that intricate either, with Peterson leaving gave the Vikings the perfect opportunity to get him more involved from out of the backfield. He's a great weapon for Teddy to use and Turner just can't figure out what to do with him.
     You know what other Minnesota athlete made me pumped for the future this week? Mr. Andrew Christian Wiggns, that's who! He's constantly looking for his shot, and hasn't been settling for jumpers very often, one of the big knocks against him at Kansas. I haven't noticed a huge difference between this team and last year's Kevin Love lead team. Both of their losses are types of games they lost all the time last year, and the types of games the Cavaliers are already losing this year through four games, en route to a worse record than the Wolves so far. I better move on before Flip pulls a muscle patting himself on the back.
     We close today by talking about Peterson and the plea deal. I was happy when it was over because of the type of person Peterson is. He's not a headcase like Harvin, who always seemed like a ticking time bomb, that's why the news of what happened was so shocking. He should definitely be suspended, so at the very least he's given up some of his salary he was making while doing nothing the last eight weeks, but he should also be allowed back this season. He committed a crime, was punished and has hopefully learned his lesson. There isn't much more to ask for.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

2014 Season in Review

     The MLB season is officially over. As disappointing as that is, there's only about 113 days until pitchers and catchers report! Before that happens, let's take a look at what happened this year.
     The first thing anyone will think about when they think 2014 will be the Royals. I've never seen a more improbable run in my life. The most amazing part was how comebacks seemed inevitable. Only Madison Bumgarner could stop it. And even he needed Joe Panik to bail him out. If Panik doesn't make that play the Royals win the game. They would've had runners on first and third with Butler and Gordon coming up. You can't get all the breaks.
     Speaking of Bumgarner, you've heard all the stats by now, a career 0.25 World Series ERA, pitching five innings on two days rest, 17 strikeouts and one walk, and all of those tell a lot. But what they can't point out is how in charge he was. After he came into game seven, you could see the panic levels rising with Royals fans. Not only did he dominate, but you couldn't picture him not dominating.
     We knew we would be talking about Clayton Kershaw going into the offseason, but not for this reason. After his two seventh inning meltdowns in the NLDS, Bumgarner vs. Kershaw is a legitimate argument. Do you take the guy who will almost guarantee you a win once every five days during the regular season and run out of gas in the playoffs, or someone who will give you a good chance to win almost every game in the regular season and raises his game when it counts? I would still take Kershaw right now because of the possibility that he turns it around, but it's closer than I thought it would be.
     For the Twins, this was just a lost year. For the future, I feel optimistic about Hughes, Santana, Vargas, Gibson and Arcia. That's the full list. Mauer was better than the naked eye indicates, but he's still not the same version of himself from a few years ago, we lost a year of development from our two best prospects, and that's what concerns me the most. My biggest fear with Buxton is that he'll turn into what Bryce Harper is right now: A talented player who can't stay on the field. Although part of me stays optimistic because, for the most part, none of his injuries are related. His concussion came on a freak accident and he broke his finger diving for a ball. The wrist is what concerns me. One bad body part can do a lot. I'll be holding my breath for Buxton all of next year.