Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Time to Rebuild Is Now

Chris Saunders believes the Padres need to rebuild soon in this weeks article. 

Article by Christopher Saunders

That was not what Padres fans wished for on the Opening Day of the 2016 season. A loss Monday at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers, a commanding 15-0 shut- out, was certainly not the result they wanted.  The Dodgers blanked the Padres again Tuesday in a 3-0 win, then blitzed their National League West rivals one more time Wednesday in a 7-0 shutout.  For those who are math whizzes back at home, the Padres have been outscored 25-0 this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, they are the first team in MLB history to be shut out in their first three games of the season.

That being said, the Padres definitely need to make some critical changes, beginning with the major league club itself continuing down to the A-Ball level. This is a franchise that is licking its wounds from last season and slowly rebuilding.  It's not a full-on tank job rebuild where losses approach the 100s each year, but it's a rebuild nonetheless.  When they received compensation for Justin Upton signing with the Tigers, that put a nice bow on their offseason goals to help the rebuild.  So far they have traded pricey relievers (Craig Kimbrel and Joaquin Benoit) for prospects, let 2 free agents walk (Upton and Ian Kennedy), exchanged for 1st round draft picks, and acquired a couple of players that can pretty easily be dealt at the deadline for prospects after potential bounce back seasons (John Jay and  Alexei Ramirez). These moves are not what you might consider to be major, but they are necessary ones, nonetheless.  This is a workman's effort and a necessary attempt at restructuring the team. 
         Major league sports teams tend to copy what successful clubs do.  For example, the Broncos won the Super Bowl utilizing their defense, especially pass rusher Von Miller and his fellow players in the backfield. What NFL teams did this offseason was spend over a quarter of a billion dollars on defensive players hoping to copy the Broncos' championship magic. The same can be said for the Cincinnati Royals who have been successful for the latter part of the last two years (one being their WS Championship in 2015) as a result of the bullpen.
The Houston Astros and possibly the Chicago Cubs could be looked at as "how-to" templates for rebuilding.  The Astros really took it seriously, but they needed to do so, arriving late to the rebuilding process.  From 2007-2010,  they had enough of a core to attempt to contend, but their best players were getting old and expensive.   They also had raided the farm teams years earlier, so no one was on the way to supplement the team.  By 2011, it was too late.  Mostly by accident, they lost 100 games and started selling players.  Unfortunately, the Astros truly tanked in 2012.  The 2013 draft proved to be vital to their calculated rebuild.  The Astros actually made the playoffs last year, but the  team still hasn't seen a single player from the 2013 draft make the majors.  They'll benefit from it soon enough, but making the playoffs last year highlights how tanking isn't the most important part of a rebuild.  A similar picture could be painted for the Cubs.

The Astros are a prime example of the positive effects of player development work.  Jose Altuve and Dallas Keuchel, who weren't even high draft picks, are two of the top players at their  positions.  Jason Castro , Carlos Correa and George Springer stand as 1st round picks that the Astros have cultivated into starters.  They've also picked up players that other teams deemed expendable, namely Colin McHugh, Marwin Gonzalez and Luis Valbuena.  The Astros have turned them into regulars.
As the Astros' management has shown, player development is the most important part of a rebuild.  Obviously, there needs to be talented players to develop, explaining why the Padres acquired players like Manuel Margot and Javier Guerra in the Craig Kimbrel trade.  Team managers are excited about getting two extra 1st round picks (one of those 1st round picks being the result of Ian Kennedy signing with the Royals) in this draft.  There's no guarantee, however, that prospects will be productive major leaguers.  The Padres have had talent in their farm system over the years, but currently Cory Spangenberg , Travis Jankowski, Colin Rea, a couple of relievers and possibly Austin Hedges will carry the torch for the farm with this year's big league club. Wil Myers will represent the fruits of trading a couple of highly touted prospects (Joe Ross, Trea Turner and a couple of others).
This is what the Padres need to strive for as part of their rebuilding efforts, turning talent into production.  It doesn't necessarily require a tank job or a fire sale to do so.  It requires a skilled front office and coaches that can cultivate talent.  It's hard to envision these concepts working here, though, mainly because we haven't seen it before. The Padres haven’t taken the first couple of steps towards getting talent that can be turned into big leaguers (and they will probably take some more at the trade deadline and next offseason), but only time will tell if the organization is capable of anything different than what we have seen in the past.  The series with the Dodgers that opens up the Padres 2016 season will hint at things to come for this franchise.

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Yankees Preview 2016

Chris Saunders discusses his opinion on how the New York Yankees will do this season. 

Article by Christopher Saunders

The Yankees have high expectations for both their experienced and their younger players throughout the 2016 season; in fact, they’re depending on them to really step up and help carry the team.  A closer look at the positions and the players who cover them will help both the diehard and novel Yankee fan begin the season with some useful information.

Let’s begin with the players already in the rotation:  Luis Severino, Michael Pineda, and Nathan Eovaldi.  All three are keys to the Yankees' success and their ability to advance in the standings.  Severino will get his first opportunity to prove himself at the big league level and for a full season after being completely impressive in his initial taste of MLB in 2015. The biggest task for Pineda and Eovaldi will be to avoid injuries. Both seemed right on the verge of putting it all together last season before injuries sidelined them for extended periods of time. With all of the uncertainty that continues to surround Masahiro Tanaka's elbow, these are the pitchers on whom the team will depend to carry them.

If there's one thing the Yankees do well, it's compiling a strong bullpen, something they have done year after year for close to a decade now.  The 2016 bullpen will be no different with Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller , Dellin Betances, and others finishing out games this season. This year, the Yankees have compiled one of the strongest bullpens in baseball with these three pitchers.  Either one could be the team's closer. Even without Chapman for the first 30 games of the season, Miller could be the team's closer (if he can pitch through a chip fracture in his non-throwing wrist which he suffered Wednesday against the Braves), with Betances as the setup man and possibly the closer if Miller is unable to pitch. 

Beyond the Yankees top three guys in the bullpen, New York will be depending on some young middle relievers to bridge the cap.  LHP Chasen Shreve is the lone lefty option out of the Yankees pen, while RHPs’ Luis Cessa (acquired in the Wilson trade), and Johnny Barbato (acquired via the Shawn Kelly trade with Padres) will be the middle relievers.  Both pitchers will need to mimic former Yankee reliever Adam Warren and try to make the middle part of the ball game easier for the big three. 
Next, let's take a look at the infield.  Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius give the Yankees an exciting double play duo, something the Yankees haven't seen in quite awhile.  Gregorius showed Yankees fans what he was capable of last year when he took over for Derek Jeter, improving as the season went along.  Castro has it a bit easier this season, replacing Stephen Drew instead of a legend. His career has been a bit of a roller coaster to this point, but perhaps pinstripes are the cure to what has ailed him.  Wearing white and blue stripes has certainly had a positive effect on a couple of his teammates, namely Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi.
Health will also be one of the biggest things hanging over the Yankees in 2016. Many of the team's regular players experienced injuries that hampered performance or forced them on to the disabled list in 2015.  Keeping older players fresh and injury-free will be a huge task for Joe Girardi as he tries to keep Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, and Mark Teixeira in the lineup.

The outlook for the outfield is especially fragile with all three starters prone to injury.  The 2015 Yankees were at their best when Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury were healthy and producing at the top of the lineup. Both of them experienced injuries and struggles last season that they'll be looking to shake in 2016.  Hopefully, they can get back to being a dynamic duo that sets the table for power bats in the middle of the order.

The final yet vital thing to keep an eye out for in 2016 will be the team's continued youth movement to progress forward.  Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Rob Refsnyder, and Ben Gamel are right on the doorstep of the majors heading into the season.  None of the above, except maybe for Sanchez, will likely find their way into a starting role unless a starter is injured, but having that kind of player ready to step in if there is an emergency could be huge.

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What Legacy Will Arod Have?

Chris Saunders discusses what he believes Alex Rodriquez's career will mean when he hangs up the cleats. 

By: Christopher Saunders

This is the only way it could have ended.  It appears Alex Rodriguez has decided to conclude his baseball career on his own terms.  I expected nothing less from A-Rod.  If his surgically-repaired hips and baseball’s drug-testing policy allow him to play out the last two years of his contract –a contract which totaled more than $252 million and has $42 million remaining on it – then, by golly, he’ll play it out. That part seems simple, straightforward, and obvious. Rodriguez, the New York Yankees current designated hitter and former pariah, told ESPN's Andrew Marchand on Wednesday (3/23) that he intends to retire after the 2017 season.

By then, the veteran would have played 23 major league seasons, as well as being forty- two yrs. old when his contract is up. Rodriquez was reported as saying “I won’t play after next year,” according to Marchand. “I’ve really enjoyed my time.  For me, it is time for me to go home and be dad.”
In terms of the baseball world, it’s time to do.....what, exactly? The subject of the end of Rodriguez’s career will, of course, bring up that nebulous but pertinent question: What will his legacy be?  In a sport with a history of difficult-to-decipher reputations – from Ty Cobb to Barry Bonds – Rodriguez’s might be the most complex. In terms of his overall career, taking away the HGH and off-the-field problems, Rodriquez is a Hall of Famer.  The numbers stand by the accolades that have been bestowed on him.  Rodriquez has 687 home runs, trailing only Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. Only Aaron, Ruth and Cap Anson have driven in more runs. He has been an All-Star 14 times, an MVP three times, and a home run champ five times. Every time A-Rod approaches the plate, it is a must-see.  The promise of a mesmerizing swing leading to one of his infamous home runs is irresistible.  He is unmistakably one of the best hitters of this or any generation.

However, A-Rod's off-the-field issues have been more than controversial.  It would be difficult to argue that he is a fraud, a cheater and a liar.  Although Rodriquez stated on numerous occasions that he didn’t take performance-enhancing drugs, he then twice admitted to doing exactly that. He was suspended for the entire 2014 season following the Biogenesis scandal, even after he said he had only used PEDs in his younger, more innocent days with Texas.  Yet, he continued to take them while with the Yankees. His every word must be discounted, because he has proven to be at best, unreliable, and at worst, deceitful. All of this evidence sets up fans and sportswriters to debate this question for the next two years:  Will Alex Rodriquez be remembered more as hitter or as a liar?  The reality is that it appears unlikely Rodriguez will land in Cooperstown, because the Baseball Writers Association of America, which comprises the electorate, has thus far prevented the entry of both suspected performance enhancing drug-users Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.  It should be noted that Bonds and Clemens were never proven guilty of this offense.  Conversely, the writers approved Mark McGwire, an admitted HGH user.

Alex’s Rodriguez’s case is unique in that even from the aspect of a distant fan, he seemed to always sincerely care about what others thought of him, sometimes to a fault. His every move seemed orchestrated, driven by ego. There are a variety of indelible images from A-Rod's career, but which will you remember most, the fist pump after his 600th home run or the slap at the arm of Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo in Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship? You might choose to remember the celebration of his lone World Series ring with the Yankees in 2009 or Rodriguez staring at his reflection in the mirror, kissing himself, in that vaguely creepy photo shoot for Details magazine.  This is all further complicated by his return from exile last year, which was odd for its silence yet effectiveness. He played in 151 games, so his health wasn’t an issue. He hit 33 home runs and posted an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .842, so his performance wasn’t an issue. He made not a peep, sought no attention beyond helping the Yankees to the playoffs, which they accomplished despite being quite flawed, with A-Rod’s help.   In some ways, his surgically-repaired hip and age made playing third base every single game too much, thus making him a true DH player in this stage of his career.

As of now, his career has an official expiration date.  He will make $21 million this summer and $21 million more next season. With 28 more home runs, he will pass Babe Ruth. With 69 more, he would pass Hank Aaron, which seems VERY unlikely.  It does raise the question that even if he passes the Babe....How will those milestones be marked, both in the Bronx and elsewhere?  In 2014, Derek Jeter played his final season for the Yankees and was feted everywhere, the full rocking-chair-into-retirement world tour. The All-Star Game that summer in Minneapolis was a celebration of Jeter’s career, which was viewed quite simply: He played the game the right way every single night, made nary a headline off the field (save for dating supermodels), and won. It’s nearly impossible to imagine Rodriguez standing at midfield in, say, Boston, receiving congratulations on a fine career from his old nemeses.  Maybe in Seattle, where it all started for him as a teenager? Maybe Texas, where he first became an MVP?  One thing we do know, Alex Rodriguez will possibly walk away after the 2017 season having earned more than $420 million!  His career has solicited nearly that many opinions on how he should be remembered, and sadly it will continue even through his retirement.

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